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Hello Stranger UK
(UK Cover)

(The Ravenels, #4)

Genre: Historical Romance ()

Cover Blurb

A woman who defies her time

Dr. Garrett Gibson, the only female physician in England, is as daring and independent as any man—why not take her pleasures like one? Yet she has never been tempted to embark on an affair, until now. Ethan Ransom, a former detective for Scotland Yard, is as gallant as he is secretive, a rumored assassin whose true loyalties are a mystery. For one exhilarating night, they give in to their potent attraction before becoming strangers again.

A man who breaks every rule

As a Ravenel by-blow spurned by his father, Ethan has little interest in polite society, yet he is captivated by the bold and beautiful Garrett. Despite their vow to resist each other after that sublime night, she is soon drawn into his most dangerous assignment yet. When the mission goes wrong, it will take all of Garrett’s skill and courage to save him. As they face the menace of a treacherous government plot, Ethan is willing to take any risk for the love of the most extraordinary woman he’s ever known.

♥♥♥♥♥♥

This is the fourth book in Lisa Kleypas’ The Ravenels series and highly anticipated by many readers, including myself. I admit to being intrigued by the unlikely pairing of the level-headed Doctor Garrett Gibson and the mysterious government agent Ethan Ransom.

Ms Kleypas has created some of the most memorable heroes ever and Ethan certainly deserves to join that illustrious group. He is everything I look for in a hero – strong, flawed, passionate, smart, intriguing, honourable, loyal, tender and prone to saying the most heart-melting words.  I love how, from the first moment he set eyes on Garrett two years earlier, he was totally bewitched by her…

She was sunlight and steel, spun into a substance he’d never encountered before. The mere thought of her left him like a stray coal on the hearth.

and is determined to protect her from harm during her weekly rounds to dangerous parts of London. Garrett is far from defenceless as she is taking fencing lessons, but I enjoyed seeing Ethan castigate the fencing master, Monsieur Baujart, for not instructing Garrett how to defend herself properly against the likes of himself.

“I suppose when she’s lying on the street with her throat slit, at least she’ll be able to console herself that she didn’t score any illegal points.”

Not only that, but he arranges to have all the locks on her father’s house changed because they are inadequate.

I love how he accepts Garrett for who she is, admires and respects her abilities and encourages her to be herself.

I couldn’t help but love Garrett from the moment she said these words to Severin in MARRYING WINTERBORNE…

(Severin) “This is Mr. Winterborne. The one with the department store. He needs to be treated by a real physician with experience and proper training, not to mention—”
 “A penis?” she suggested acidly. “I’m afraid I don’t have one of those. Nor is it a requirement for a medical degree. I am a real physician, and the sooner I treat Mr. Winterborne’s shoulder, the better it will go for him.”

She had to be tough, resilient, independent and determined to succeed in a male dominated world. Her medical career has been the main focus of her life and she has steered clear of any emotional attachments which might have interfered with her work. At boarding school, she learnt endurance and self-reliance which has always made her keep people at a distance, afraid to let her guard down and trust anyone. She has always yearned to experience what it is like to be desired and loved but Ethan is the only man who has ever tempted her into such a relationship. I enjoyed seeing her throw caution to the wind and experience everything she has been missing.

Ms. Kleypas often pairs the most unlikely couples but the romance always works so beautifully. She can make a simple kiss feel so sensual…

His head dipped lower, until she felt a soft, hot pressure at the side of her neck. A shiver went through her, as fine and distinct as the vibration of a harp string. His mouth found an unbearably sensitive place and lingered in an erotic caress that made her toes curl inside her sensible walking boots.

and include lovely touches of humour…

 “Good heavens.”

Ethan lifted his head and gave her a questioning look.

“Your trapezius and deltoids are remarkable,” she said dreamily, her hands wandering over him. “And your latissimus dorsi are so perfectly defined.”

Ethan is the bastard son of the old Earl of Treanor and has always hated the Ravenels because of the way his mother was treated. I enjoyed seeing his attitude gradually soften towards the Ravenels when he realises that Devon and West’s lives have been far from easy. It was heart-warming to see Ethan feeling part a family for the first time in his life.

They exchanged grins. The grip of their hands felt warm and solid. Safe. This must be a brotherly feeling, Ethan thought, this sense of camaraderie and connection, this unspoken understanding that they would always take the other’s side.

I have a HUGE crush on West Ravenel (so looking forward to his book) who always brings a smile to my face with his irreverent humour. Here are two of my favourite examples.

“Mrs. Abbot, I’m going to the kitchen to wash. You’ll want to warn the housemaids to shield their eyes from the sight of my manly torso.”

“I’ve always been skeptical when people say, ‘The pen is mightier than the sword.’ It’s only true if the pen is glued to the handle of a German steel cutlass.”

The extent of Ms. Kleypas’ research is always impressive and I was fascinated by the details of the medical procedures carried out in the 1870s, as described in the book. I was interested to discover that Elizabeth Garrett Anderson, the first woman to openly qualify as a physician and surgeon in Britain as well as becoming the first female mayor and magistrate in Britain, was Ms. Kleypas’ inspiration for Garrett.

The suspense and drama never overshadow the romance but do highlight Ethan’s moral dilemma when he has to choose between betraying his mentor, the man who has been like a father to him, and saving innocent lives.

I’m ending this review with my favourite, swoon-worthy, romantic quote.

“The first moment I saw you, I knew you were my share of the world. I’ve always loved you. If I could choose my fate, I’d never be parted from you. Acushla… pulse of my heart, breath of my soul… there’s nothing on this earth more fair and fine than you. Your shadow on the ground is sunlight to me.”

MY VERDICT: HELLO STRANGER combines everything you could wish for – a deeply romantic story, unforgettable characters, humour, passion and drama. Highly recommended.

 

REVIEW RATING: 5/5 STARS

SENSUALITY RATING: WARM

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

Cold-Hearted Rake (The Ravenels, #1) by Lisa Kleypas Marrying Winterborne (The Ravenels, #2) by Lisa Kleypas Devil in Spring (The Ravenels, #3) by Lisa Kleypas Hello Stranger (The Ravenels, #4) by Lisa Kleypas

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A Counterfeit Heart

(Secrets and Spies, #3)

Genre: Historical Romance (Regency)

Cover Blurb:

As Sabine de la Tour tosses piles of forged banknotes onto a bonfire in a Paris park, she bids a reluctant farewell to her double life as a notorious criminal. Over the course of Napoleon’s reign, her counterfeits destabilized the continent and turned scoundrels into rich men, but now she and her business partner must escape France—or face the guillotine. Her only hope of surviving in England is to strike a deal with the very spy she’s spent her career outrunning. Now after meeting the arrogant operative in the flesh, Sabine longs to throw herself upon his mercy—and into his arms.

Richard Hampden, Viscount Lovell, is prepared to take any risk to safeguard England from the horrors of the French Revolution. To lure the insurgents out from the shadows, he’s even willing to make a pact with his archenemy: Philippe Lacorte, the greatest counterfeiter in Europe. But when a cheeky, gamine-faced beauty proves herself to be Lacorte, Richard is shocked—and more than a little aroused. Unlike the debutantes who so often hurl themselves at him, this cunning minx offers a unique and irresistible challenge. Richard will help her. But in return, he wants something that even Sabine cannot fake.

♥♥♥♥♥♥

This is the third book in K. C. Bateman’s entertaining, witty and sexy Secrets and Spies series and I loved it just as much as the other two books. 

It is usually the hero who first captures my interest but, in A Counterfeit Heart, Sabine is truly a force to be reckoned with and I admire her intelligence, courage, resourcefulness and resilience. Her life has been far from easy, but Sabine has used her skills to survive and thrive in a difficult and dangerous situation, to become France’s greatest forger and scourge of the British Secret Service. I like how, despite everything, she retained her own moral compass and I admire her loyalty to and concern for her best friend, Anton Carnaud.

Richard Hampden, Viscount Lovell, Nicholas and Eloise’s older brother, was a secondary character in the previous two books but, to be honest, he didn’t leave a great impression on me.  Apart from his work as an agent for the British Crown, he seemed typically handsome, wealthy and self-possessed, with a bevy of ladies ready and willing to indulge in a no strings attached affair. In fact, ‘he had never met a woman he couldn’t walk away from’, until he meets Sabine of course. Well, I quickly changed my opinion of Richard in this book because he is incredibly sexy!

At first, Sabine sees Richard as everything that she dislikes about the aristocratic class, overbearing, lazy and dissolute, but gradually discovers that he is resourceful, loyal and protective of those he cares for, including herself. She also admires his steadfast determination to right wrongs and the way he champions those caught up in the political machinations.

“I don’t give a stuff about the politics, but I do care about all the innocent people who will be caught up in the subsequent violence.”

I love how he is more than willing to get his hands dirty literally, and his disguise as Sabine’s dumb brute cousin Jacob is a performance not to be missed.

Richard doesn’t trust Sabine and thinks she’s nothing more than a ‘blackmailing little crook’ but he can’t help being impressed and enthralled by her. She is unlike any of the other women he has known; she’s not afraid to challenge him and, where he is used to people treating him with envy and respect, Sabine is neither in awe of his title nor impressed by his wealth which he finds refreshing.

I love their verbal to-and-fro and Richard’s deliciously wicked innuendos.

“It’s amazing how attractive a man appears when viewed through the lens of an unencumbered estate and twenty thousand pounds a year.” ​
Hampden chuckled. “It’s closer to thirty thousand, actually. And I’m pretty sure it isn’t the size of my inheritance they’re interested in.”

♥♥♥

“Where do you want me? On the bed? The chair? The floor?” His eyes gleamed with teasing merriment at his deliberate double entendres. “Feel free to arrange me however you like. I’m completely at your mercy. Any position you choose will be perfectly acceptable.”
(Richard proposes Sabine paints him)

Ms. Bateman develops the relationship between them perfectly. I could feel their deepening attraction and the sexual tension positively sizzles as they struggle with their feelings for each other.

Awareness thickened the air between them, a bright, expectant tension, like the hush before a thunderstorm.

It was fun to see the interactions between Richard and his brother-in-law Raven, who is amused by Richard’s predicament and teases him mercilessly about Sabine.

Raven let out a long whistle and leaned back in his chair. “Oh, this is priceless. The great Lord Lovell bested by a French pixie.” He shook his head with a gleeful chuckle. “Do you know how long I’ve prayed for you to meet your match? Years, my friend. Years.”

I like the warmth with which Richard’s family treat Sabine and I enjoyed seeing the budding friendship between Sabine and Richard’s sister Heloise.

One of my favourite scenes is where Sabine orders all sorts of items in Richard’s name so that, in all the ensuing mayhem, she can sneak out of the house unnoticed. It is just hilarious, particularly the foul-mouthed parrot! I also became very fond of Argos, Richard’s ‘tongue-lolling, tail-thumping cross between a greyhound, a Bedlington terrier and a lurcher’.

The danger and intrigue are woven into the fabric of the story in a way that never overshadows the romance. In fact, the nail-biting climax and subsequent events are what propel Richard and Sabine to finally admit their love for each other and pave the way for this heartfelt proposal from Richard.

“Useless, disobedient organ that it is. My heart wants you. Needs you. And since I need it to keep on beating, you’re just going to have to marry me. That’s all there is to it.”

I love the way the author uses her knowledge of the antique and art world to incorporate fascinating details into her stories; such as cartographers’ ‘paper dolls’ and painting techniques. I always discover something new whenever I read one of Ms. Bateman’s books.

The Epilogue provided a most heart-warming ending to Sabine’s family’s story.

MY VERDICT: A worthy end to a wonderful series which I can wholeheartedly recommend. I’m now looking forward to Ms. Bateman’s new Desperate Desires series.


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 author for the purposes of an honest review**

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Hazard - Stella Riley

(Rockliffe, #5)

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

Cover Blurb:

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

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

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

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

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

♥♥♥♥♥♥

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


REVIEW RATING: STELLAR 5 STARS

SENSUALITY RATING: SUBTLE


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

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

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A Duke in Shining Armor

(Difficult Dukes #1)

Genre: Historical Romance (Late Regency, 1833)

Cover Blurb

Not all dukes are created equal. Most are upstanding members of Society. And then there’s the trio known as Their Dis-Graces.

Hugh Philemon Ancaster, seventh Duke of Ripley, will never win prizes for virtue. But even he draws the line at running off with his best friend’s bride. All he’s trying to do is recapture the slightly inebriated Lady Olympia Hightower and return her to her intended bridegroom.

For reasons that elude her, bookish, bespectacled Olympia is supposed to marry a gorgeous rake of a duke. The ton is flabbergasted. Her family’s ecstatic. And Olympia? She’s climbing out of a window, bent on a getaway. But tall, dark, and exasperating Ripley is hot on her trail, determined to bring her back to his friend. For once, the world-famous hellion is trying to do the honorable thing.

So why does Olympia have to make it so deliciously difficult for him…?

♥♥♥♥♥♥

A Duke in Shining Armor, the first book in Loretta Chase’s new Difficult Dukes series, is simply delightful and filled with all the elements I love so much about her books – an entertaining story, sparkling wit and a captivating romance. The series features the Dukes of Ripley, Blackwood and Ashton, commonly referred to as ‘Their Dis-Graces’ because of their notorious, rakish behaviour. All three had suffered miserable childhoods but formed an enduring friendship whilst at Eton and the three have been inseparable ever since.

After attending his sister Alice’s marriage to Blackwood, Ripley had spent a year on the Continent and, on his return, he is shocked to discover that Ashton is about to marry Lady Olympia Hightower. Furthermore, Ashton is relying on him to ensure that everything goes without a hitch – not an easy job when the bride fails to make an appearance and Ashton is imbibing too much, with the result that he would either ‘sink into a stupor and subside ungracefully to the floor‘ or ‘he’d pick a fight with someone.‘  When they go in search of Ashton’s elusive bride, Ripley finds her climbing out of the library window in all her wedding finery. True to his promise to Ashton, Ripley follows her out of the window, determined to bring her back.

Lady Olympia had not received a single offer of marriage in the past seven years of being out in society, and her only claim to fame was being voted the Most Boring Girl of Year for those years. Her parents are loving but, when it comes to money, they are not financially astute. Her father had wasted vast amounts of money on seasons for Olympia with the view to finding her a husband. Not once had he considered the adverse financial implications for his eldest son and heir, or his other five sons. So, when Olympia catches the eye of the Duke of Ashton and he proposes, it is the answer to her prayers. He might be a notorious libertine, but he is also wealthy, handsome, charming and he seems to like her. It is only on the day of the wedding that doubts, fuelled by rather too much brandy, start to set in and she runs away with Ripley in hot pursuit.

At first, Ripley has every intention of persuading Olympia to return to her fiancé but soon finds himself falling in with her plans to go to her aunt’s. It’s a journey that will change their lives for ever.

I love a good road-trip romance especially when it involves assorted mishaps and misadventures along the way, including a dunk in the river, a runaway dog, a naked duke and more-than-friendly kisses in a post-chaise. The delightful banter between Ripley and Olympia is full of Ms. Chase’s trademark wit and humour which I love so much about her books.

He blinked. “Remarkable. You have a plan.”
“Yes. I only needed the mental stimulation of your stimulating company.”
“Any chance of stimulating you into telling me what, exactly, you’re running from?” he said. “Better yet, any chance of your changing your mind, like a good girl, and turning back? Any chance of something, oh, you know, bordering on reasonable?

Although of short duration, the journey creates a sense of intimacy between Ripley and Olympia. They talk and get to know each other in a way that would not have happened in the normal course of things, given the constraints of society. Ripley discovers that Olympia is far from the boring person she believes herself to be. She is clever, spirited and funny, with a passion for rare books. Olympia discovers that beneath that rakish exterior (a lifestyle which had already begun to pall, according to his Aunt Julia) lies a man who is charming, kind, astute, witty and, most surprising of all, he reads romances!

I love the way in which Ms. Chase gradually builds the sexual tension between Ripley and Olympia, but both are determined not to succumb to temptation. Ripley’s sense of honour prevents him from stealing his best friend’s fiancée, however much he might believe that Ashton doesn’t deserve her. While Olympia doesn’t want to destroy the lifelong friendship between Ripley and Ashton and neither does she want to hurt Ashton.  But the heart wants what the heart wants, and I was delighted to see Olympia throw away the rule book and be the one who takes the initiative. Poor Ripley doesn’t stand a chance!

There she was, the spirited general of a girl who’d mowed down a bully. There she was, in a lot of white underthings and a naughty corset, the most deliciously irresistible thing he’d ever seen.
Ripley never resisted temptation. He hardly knew how.
He couldn’t look away or run away or do the right thing. He’d never been a saint and he wasn’t about to start now, of all times.
She said, “Is this too subtle for you?”
“No,” he managed to choke out. “Dammit, Olympia.”
Two limping strides closed the space between them. Two more brought her up against the wall
.

Sometimes the scenes are so vividly written that they conjured up all sorts of wonderful images in my mind. I think my favourite scene must be the one with the mechanical invalid chair which Ripley is reluctantly using after he sprains his ankle. It’s had me laughing out loud at Ripley’s antics.

It is obvious that Ashton will not take kindly to his best friend running off with his fiancée and marrying her, and matters have to be settled in the time-honoured way. Luckily, this is a romance and therefore all ends happily.

With his excessive drinking and volatile temper, it seems Ashton will have a difficult journey ahead before he attains his Happy Ever After. I am intrigued by the reason for the obvious estrangement between Blackwood and his wife, and there is definitely some history between Ripley’s Aunt Julia and Ashton’s Uncle Frederick that I am keen to learn more about.

MY VERDICT: This is a delightful story filled with fascinating characters, sparking wit, laugh-out-loud moments and a captivating romance. I am certainly looking forward to the other books in the series. Highly recommended.

REVIEW RATING: 5/5 STARS

SENSUALITY RATING: WARM

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

A Duke in Shining Armor (Difficult Dukes, #1) by Loretta Chase

 

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The Marigold Chain Audio Book

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

Cover Blurb:

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

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

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

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

♥♥♥♥♥♥

The Marigold Chain was my very first book by Stella Riley and I loved it from beginning to end, consequently it has a special place in my heart and on my keeper shelf. After my first reading, more than two years ago, its characters, both main and secondary, remain with me as clearly as if I’d just put the book down. I couldn’t have been happier when I heard a whisper that the supremely talented Alex Wyndham was to record it and waited with much anticipation for its release. And, oh my…but it was worth the wait.

Set during Restoration England, The Marigold Chain follows eight months in the lives of Alex Deveril and Chloe Hervaux – a man and woman thrown together by unusual and unorthodox circumstances. The real events unfolding around their seemingly ordinary lives add to the thrill of this wonderfully rich story, in which our couple become well and truly embroiled. The fabulous cast of historical figures are so cleverly interwoven with fictitious characters that it is difficult to know for sure who lived and who is a figment of the author’s fertile imagination.

One night, Alex Deveril is out on a drinking spree to end all drinking sprees, having been rejected by the woman he believes he loves. Alex is outrageous and unconventional at the best of times but, this time, he outdoes even himself. Whilst involved in a card party at the home of Chloe’s step-brother, she is offered as the stake in a game gone too far, when her odious brother runs out of funds to pay his debts. Never one to turn down a challenge, Alex accepts and wins. To be fair to Chloe, she does try to refuse, but her step-brother (no blood relative) is vile and has become a nuisance with his unwanted, and some might say, incestuous advances towards her, and she is desperate to leave his house and her life of drudgery behind. Still drunk beyond reason, Alex convinces Chloe to leave with him in the dead of night and insists on rousing a clergyman, even going as far as shimmying up a drainpipe in order to persuade him into marrying them. Drunk or not, Alex knows what is right and the wedding takes place. While Alex sleeps off his excesses, Chloe has a long night of contemplation and faces up to the realisation that she may have taken unfair advantage of Alex in her haste to escape her brother. She should have refused his drunken proposal, no matter how gorgeous he is or how enticing the prospect of being his wife might be. After discussing the matter, they decide that eventually they will pursue an annulment, although neither is in a hurry to be free, each for reasons of their own.  So, for the time being, their marriage-in-name-only, will remain just that.

The year is 1666 and the country is still struggling and in debt, after years of civil war followed by an horrendous loss of life as a result of the plague. Now, to add to her problems, England is at war with the Dutch and France is about to join in. Alex has recently returned from soldering after fifteen years of fighting, both as man and boy, to discover that his birth right has been stolen during his absence. Always fiercely loyal to the crown, like his father before him, Alex cannot dispel the unfairness of it and, as a result, has become an embittered and acerbic young man. And yet, he retains the respect and affection of his peers who fought with him and know his loyalty and friendship are worth having. Alex’s inner group of friends who remember him as he used to b – charming, witty and reckless – are generally willing to overlook his biting tongue and tolerate his much-changed demeanour.  For his part, Alex does his best to push his friends away, but they refuse to abandon him, although there are moments when they wonder why. Then his occasional flashes of breath-taking charm, ever ready wit and obvious intelligence, remind them that the Alex they knew still exists. Chloe is no different to his friends; she was besotted with Alex from the moment she met him, and still is. However, an inner awareness tells her that her feelings must be kept hidden, not only to avoid his derision, but also because a strong sense of justice tells her that Alex must never feel trapped into staying married to her.

Chloe’s character and person are beautifully drawn – a compelling young woman with an understated beauty and gentle innocence. However, she is no pushover and knows how to run and care for a household on a limited budget, after suffering under her step-brother’s roof as an unpaid housekeeper. Alex may not realise it, but he has met his match… and his love. Chloe tolerates his moods, but only up to a point, and then quietly but firmly puts him in his place. She often risks his displeasure and bad humour by intervening in his plans – for his own good – such as when she realises he is about to embark on something he will later regret. Often, her intervention is done with the collusion of his friends, all of whom fall under her guileless spell and also realise, fairly soon after the marriage, that Chloe could be Alex’s salvation.

Their relationship develops through various phases; at first as strangers, then continuing onto friendship and confidantes and finally to the inevitable and, in true Stella Riley fashion, she grows their love story slowly and sweetly. At first, Alex accepts his wife’s company as just another person around him to be tolerated and often ignored, until without him realising it, she becomes necessary to him. He nicknames her Marigold from the beginning and, at one point, on her first visit to court with him, he presents her with a pretty necklace, the Marigold Chain. Alex has obviously chosen it with care, although he is very blasé about the giving of it to her. Its colour (matching her hair) and simplistic, understated beauty is Chloe to a tee and she cherishes it. I love the classy and unusual titles this author chooses for her books, but of all of them, The Marigold Chain is my favourite, given the special significance of this particular title.

While Alex is well aware of his flaws but unrepentant, he is also a highly intelligent man of unequivocal integrity. His previously proven military prowess has earned him the trust and respect of Prince Rupert, cousin to King Charles II and Commander of the Naval Fleet. Together with his friend Giles Beckwith, Alex is contracted into covertly searching for a possible traitor in their midst. There is no actual proof that a traitor exists, just a few unexplained ‘accidents’ which have cost the English Navy, ships and lives. The ensuing events are fast moving, exciting, and exactly what an adrenalin junkie like Alex Deveril needs to shake him out of the doldrums.

Stella Riley covers so much in this story; a snapshot of warfare, death and injury on board his Majesty’s ships during wartime; the Great Fire of London, where we see the cramped wooden buildings in their narrow lanes, the fire eating its way relentlessly through London and the despair of her inhabitants as they fight fruitlessly to save their homes, and then the final devastating toppling of Paul’s cathedral. The licentious, gluttonous, fashion obsessed court of the womanising, but shrewd and enigmatic, Charles II, and the despair of his Queen as he flaunts his mistresses are all brought vibrantly to life by this talented author, whose love and obvious knowledge of her subject is indisputable. We are not overwhelmed with extraneous historical detail but rather Ms. Riley sets out the facts clearly and precisely and in a way that makes the reader/listener desirous to learn more and filling in the gaps with intelligent probabilities and a delicious romance to boot.

Alex Wyndham has quite a job on his hands as he handles, with great aplomb, the sarcastic, cynical, Alex Deveril. It would be all to easy to dislike this young man, but I loved his complex character.  Alex Wyndham captures him to perfection, showing along the way, with his intuitive interpretation of the author’s writing, that here is a decent and honourable young man who has had a raw deal and only needs that certain someone in his life to redeem him. Alex’s reckless disregard for his own safety sees him hurtling towards his own ruin and his friends, understanding the reasons, do their best to mitigate his behaviour. Alex Wyndham, consummate actor that he is, has to deal with all of this – an Alex Deveril who does not suffer fools gladly and thinks he neither wants or needs anyone, but who then undergoes a lightbulb moment of such epic proportions that he is left reeling from the shock and how to deal with it. A lesser actor could not have pulled off this transformation so effectively and believably.

Mr. Wyndham’s tone of voice undergoes a subtle change, but it is so well done that we are aware that we are still listening to Alex Deveril, an angry young man for the most part of the story, but one who suddenly finds himself again, after a long time in the wilderness. You immediately know that Alex Deveril’s feelings have undergone a colossal change simply by Alex Wyndham’s alteration in inflection while still retaining the recognisable ‘voice’ he has adopted for Alex Deveril. I was so taken by Alex Wyndham’s performance that I listened to this same part a few times just to enjoy and marvel at his expertise. There are a couple of places where he has to deal with Stella Riley at her emotional best – real tear jerkers – I promise – but no spoilers. All I’ll say is that listeners will not be disappointed by Stella Riley’s words or Alex Wyndham’s rendering of them – but have your tissues ready. Oh…and he sings in a couple of places AND quotes poetry – I could go on and on – just sit back and enjoy.

Before reading The Marigold Chain, I’m ashamed to say I knew little about The English Civil War and the Restoration. It was a war which split families apart and ravaged our country for the best part of ten years, and saw an anointed King beheaded. How could I not have been interested? However, this has all changed now because I have become totally hooked by Stella Riley’s world of Cavaliers and Roundheads. I strongly recommend the uninitiated to listen to The Marigold Chain and A Splendid Defiance and to read her English Civil War series, beginning with The Black Madonna which, by the way, is stupendous.

MY VERDICT: I can’t imagine anyone who enjoys superbly researched history, compelling and intriguing characters (fictitious and historical), a fast paced and exciting mystery, coupled with a bone melting romance, not loving THE MARIGOLD CHAIN. And let’s not forget the exceptionally talented, Alex Wyndham, who adds that extra spark of brilliance. Highly recommended.

 

 REVIEW RATING: STELLAR 5 STARS

 NARRATION REVIEW RATING: STELLAR 5 STARS

 SENSUALITY RATING: SUBTLE

 

 

 

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Salt Hendon Collection

REVIEW OF SALT REDUX 

 (Salt Hendon, # 2)

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

Cover Blurb

Sequel to Salt Bride

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

♥♥♥♥♥♥


REVIEW OF SALT ANGEL

(Salt Hendon Novella)

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

Cover Blurb

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


REVIEW RATING: STELLAR 5 STARS

SENSUALITY RATING: SUBTLE

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Salt Hendon Collection

(Salt Hendon, #1)

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

Cover Blurb

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

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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 Antony Templestowe, are pretending to look for the ‘rats’. Much giggling and laughter ensues which conjured up such a delightful picture in my mind.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

♥♥♥

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

♥♥♥

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

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


REVIEW RATING: STELLAR 5 STARS


SENSUALITY RATING: SUBTLE

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