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To Steal a Heart

(Secrets and Spies, #1)

Genre: Historical Romance (Regency, 1815)

Cover Blurb:

Forced to do the bidding of a corrupt government minister, Marianne de Bonnard agrees to plant incriminating evidence in the offices of France’s most notorious spymaster. Under cover of night, the tightrope-walking thief puts her skills to good use—until her aerial stunt is foiled when her target appears in the window and, with consummate poise, helps Marianne off the wire and into his lair. The tremors that run through her body are not just from fear; there’s an unwanted frisson of desire there, too. But is it because of her elegant, wickedly handsome host . . . or his proposition?

Nicolas Valette has had plans for his graceful trespasser since he witnessed her unique skills at the Cirque Olympique. Sinuous as a cat, Marianne is perfect for his next mission, but she refuses his generous offer for fear of disobeying her family’s tormenter. When their mutual enemy auctions off her virginity to the highest bidder, Nicolas leaps at the chance to purchase her cooperation. Keeping her will be like trying to tame a wild animal, but what’s life without a little risk? Besides, Nicolas and Marianne both want the same thing: revenge—and, perhaps, something else that’s equally delicious.

♥♥♥♥♥♥

I loved this impressive 2016 debut novel from K. C. Bateman. Set in France just before the final defeat of Napoleon at the Battle of Waterloo in 1815, it combines a well-written, action-packed story, intriguing characters and a sensual romance.

Following the death of his younger brother, Nicolas carries a deep sense of guilt for having survived when his brother didn’t, and his life no longer has any real meaning. The danger, intrigue and excitement inherent in the world of spying and his desire for revenge against Napoleon, whom he holds responsible for his brother’s death, are what keep him going, earning him a reputation for being bold, arrogant and uncompromising. Handsome, virile and seductive, there are any number of beautiful women only too eager to share his bed, but he has long ago built an impenetrable wall around his heart and his emotions are never engaged.

He always enjoyed their company, but he’d never wanted more from them than a few nights’ entertainment. He had absolutely no difficulty keeping his emotions separate from his physical needs.

Ever since her parents’ death in a fire, Marianne has worked at the Cirque Olympique as a tight-rope walker and knife thrower and as a spy for her corrupt and loathsome cousin and guardian, Jean-Jacques Duval.  She is resourceful, intelligent and stubborn but has an Achilles heel – her younger sister, Sophie. Having suffered Duval’s perverted attentions, she is willing do anything to protect Sophie from him.

She felt him (Nicolas) smile against her skin. “Whore for her?”
   A wave of shame rolled over her as she forced herself to admit the unpalatable truth. To save Sophie? Yes. She’d suffer any indignity. She closed her eyes in despair. “Yes.”

Ms. Bateman blends the romance and suspense perfectly and I love the back-and-forth verbal sparring between Nicolas and Marianne and one of the most memorable early scenes is where Nicolas buys Marianne and Sophie in a brothel auction arranged by Duval and then has to pretend to relieve Marianne of her virginity.

He sat up slowly so as not to startle her and held his hands up in surrender. “I’m at your mercy, mademoiselle. Please say you’re going to have your wicked way with me.”
   She scowled, unimpressed with his attempt at humor.
   He sighed. “I suppose we’ll have to go with the backup plan then.”

The backup plan turns out to be hilariously reminiscent of the famous Meg Ryan scene in “When Harry Met Sally”!

I enjoyed the interplay of danger and sexual tension and seeing how their relationship changes and how they grow and evolve both as individuals and as a couple.

At first, Nicolas sees Marianne as merely an integral part of the mission and would willingly sacrifice her in his search for revenge. However, during the gruelling course of training for the mission, she is a constant distraction with her rebellious nature and sheer determination and gradually the dynamic between the two of them changes.

Something had changed between them, some indefinable twist to the dynamic that was both unnerving and exciting. He liked her. Respected her. Wanted her. They were no longer master and apprentice; instead of opponents, they were suddenly a team.

After his brother’s death, Nicolas didn’t really care whether he lived or died but now he finds himself beginning to care about life again all because of Marianne who has slowly broken down his defences and stolen his heart.

Marianne is an intriguing combination of strength and vulnerability. I love how she isn’t afraid to stand up to Nicolas and refuses to give in when the going gets tough.  She has to rely on her own skills, resourcefulness and inner strength.  Emotionally, Duval’s abuse left her feeling tainted and believing that she would never be able to respond to any man again, so her response to Nicolas is unexpected.

She’d thought herself immune, irrevocably tainted by Duval’s abuse. It was highly disconcerting to discover she might have been wrong. One look from Valette, and her blood heated to a slow boil.

I was frustrated by the decision Nicolas makes towards the end of the book, but I admired the way Ms. Bateman kept him true to  character. I think it was the only way he could put the past behind him. Besides, Marianne is a woman quite able to take care of herself.

Duval is a suitably odious and slimy toad while I was definitely intrigued my Raven, the mysterious smuggler. I shall look forward with interest to A RAVEN’S HEART, in which he is paired with Nicolas’ younger sister, Heloise.

Ms. Bateman has obviously undertaken a lot of research to create a real sense of the period and I particularly like how she uses a little artistic license to incorporate Louis-Charles (the “Lost Dauphin”) into the plot.

I was disappointed there was no Epilogue, which made the ending seem rather abrupt. I’m therefore hoping that I may see more of Nicolas and Marianne in the next book.

MY VERDICT: An very impressive debut novel which I can definitely recommend.

 

REVIEW RATING: 5/5 STARS

SENSUALITY RATING: WARM

 

Secrets and Spies (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

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Mr Ridley

(The Whipping Society Saga, #1)

Genre: Historical Romance (Regency, 1830)

Cover Blurb:

HE’S ALL BONES AND SHE’S ALL SUNSHINE.
Meet Mr. Ridley.

BOOK 1 of 3, one man and one woman bent on one passion of making the other writhe.

LONDON, ENGLAND – 1830
Criminals fear the iron fist of justice he delivers. Scotland Yard will do anything to get their hands on his mind. Whilst women? They crawl in the hope of becoming his. But only one woman is about to hold his body and his mind hostage.

Jemdanee Lillian Watkins is a botanical savant from India who ends up getting arrested for a crime she didn’t commit. Only one man believes her: Mr. Ridley. Drawn to him and the rope he knots in her presence, she realizes this overly regimented dark hero hides nothing but his passion.

Themes include wit, humor, BDSM, mystery, and romance. Lots of it!

Author’s Note:  Unlike most historical romances where the hero & heroine’s attraction and love for each other stops at a mere one book, this full length book is the beginning of many (Full length book episodes!) following the highly charged, erotic saga of a couple through the rise and fall and storms of their relationship. Every book is tied up in own way.

♥♥♥♥♥♥

I love Delilah Marvelle’s books. She’s always willing to push the boundaries of conventional romance, as she does in her new, The Whipping Society Saga. As mentioned in the cover blurb and Ms. Marvelle’s note, the story unfolds over three books. Usually, I prefer books to be complete in themselves with a definite ‘Happy Ever After’ but, once I started reading Mr. Ridley, the story was so compelling and the characters so intriguing that I just can’t wait to read the next instalment!

Ridley’s life has been steeped in darkness ever since the night of his father’s gruesome murder 20 years earlier, shadowed memories of which still haunt him. Working as a private inspector with Scotland Yard, he comes face to face with violent crime and its aftermath which only serves to intensify that darkness in his soul. Gaining some justice for those victims who no longer have a voice is what drives him to work tirelessly, reliant on a potentially lethal cocktail of drugs to keep him going. He is gruff, serious, controlled, never smiles and has little time for women until a certain Jemdanee Lillian Watkins enters his dark world, accused of a murder he knows her to be innocent of.

Ms. Marvelle has created a fascinating and tormented hero in Ridley. As the story unfolds, some of the many layers surrounding this complex man are peeled away and it’s easy to understand how Ridley could have become so damaged – so flawed and suicidal at times. However, I’m sure there are many more secrets to be revealed in the later books, making this saga so very addictive.

The illegitimate daughter of an Indian mother and a British father, Jemdanee was eight when her mother disappeared, forcing her to survive alone on the streets of Calcutta. When she’s spotted by Dr Peter Watkins, he takes her in and becomes her guardian. His financial help enabled her to study and become an expert in medicinal biology.  On a trip to London, she is separated from Peter and finds herself arrested on a charge of murder. Only one man believes in her innocence – the unnerving Mr. Ridley, who needs her botanical expertise to solve the crime.

I love Jemdanee because, despite her painful past, she has chosen to embrace life with a smile and to bring happiness to those around her.  Although her actions sometimes reflect her youth, her mind is sharp and her life experiences in Calcutta have given her a maturity beyond her years.

I enjoyed watching the relationship developing between Ridley and Jemdanee. At first, Jemdanee only sees the morbidly serious, sarcastic side of Ridley, but soon realises that he is noble, generous and kind; willing to risk his life to protect others. She also sees what a lonely existence he leads and I love how she offers him true, unconditional friendship. Ridley has never met anyone like Jemdanee, so full of smiles and compassion. She is the only woman who has been able to compete with him on an intellectual level, something he definitely needs. He is attracted to her but doesn’t want to be, fearing what might happen if he ever lets himself fully embrace his true nature, but Jemdanee refuses to let him hide from the attraction between them.

The verbal thrust and parry between them provides some delightfully humorous moments like these:

“Let us be clear in this, little Kumar, lest the money I am giving you and the elaborate prison escape I conducted was not enough to translate your situation. You need me more than your plants will ever need the sun. Don’t disrespect that.”
“So says the man who needs me to solve this crime. Given what I did in that carriage with a mere dappling, I believe my talents are far, far greater than anyone you have ever met. I am a botanical savant and if I were conceited –and fortunately, I am not –I would demand you bow.”

♥♥♥

“I suggest a hookah. It makes less of a mess.”
He stretched, cracking his neck. “Oh, yes. I can imagine myself on the streets of London now. Bumping into passing citizens while asking them to excuse the size of my hookah.”
A bubble of a laugh escaped her. Her eyes brightened as her lips curled.
His chest tightened at the glorious beauty of that sound.

♥♥♥

She leaned far back.
Ridley jerked her back toward himself. “Ey. I need you to hold still.”
“Your stamen.”
“My what?”
She scrunched her nose, realizing she had used a botanical term for his lower half. “Your reproductive organ. You keep wagging it in my face.”
He rolled his eyes. “Pardon the wagging, but every man has one. Or did your plants never tell you that?”

I admire Jemdanee for standing up to Ridley particularly in the scene where she lectures him on the dangers of chewing coca leaves and resorts to a rather painful method of forcing him to spit them out.

There is great chemistry and sexual tension between these two and Ms. Marvelle creates one of the most erotic scenes I have read, without either of them touching or even being in the same room!

I like Dr Peter Watkins, Jemdanee’s guardian, because he isn’t afraid to tell Ridley some home truths towards the end of the book and I think his words have a profound effect on Ridley and the decision he ultimately makes.

…he now knew what his path was. There was no changing it. 
She had set it.
The real Ridley was coming for her.


Ms. Marvelle’s books are so well researched and I always discover things I never knew such as the existence of Scotland Yard at the time.  I like the way in which Ms. Marvelle incorporates real historical people into the story – Vidocq, the man regarded as the father of modern criminology, and Mrs Theresa ‘Elizabeth’ Berkley, a dominatrix who owned a high-class flagellation brothel, on whom Ridley’s former wife, Elizabeth, is based.

MY VERDICT: I can definitely recommend this first book in what promises to be an addictive saga.


REVIEW RATING: 5/5 STARS

SENSUALITY RATING: WARM


The Whipping Society
 Saga (click on the book covers for more details):

Mr. Ridley by Delilah Marvelle The Devil is French by Delilah Marvelle Reborn by Delilah Marvelle

 

** I received a complimentary copy from the author in return for an honest review**

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Duke of My Heart

(Season for Scandal, #1)

Genre: Historical Romance (Regency, 1819)

Cover Blurb:

Scandal can be handled…

Captain Maximus Harcourt, the unconventional tenth Duke of Alderidge, can deal with tropical storms, raging seas, and the fiercest of pirates. But he’s returned home from his latest voyage to find a naked earl—quite inconveniently deceased—tied to his missing sister’s bed. And he has only one place to turn. Now he’s at the mercy of the captivating Miss Ivory Moore of Chegarre & Associates, known throughout London for smoothing over the most dire of scandals.

Miss Moore treats the crisis as though it were no more serious than a cup of spilt tea on an expensive rug. As though this sort of thing happened on the job every day. Max has never in all his life met a woman with such nerve. Her dark eyes are too wide, her mouth is too full, her cheekbones too sharp. Yet together, she’s somehow…flawless. It’s just like his love for her, imperfect, unexpected—yet absolutely true.

♥♥♥♥♥♥

I loved A Duke to Remember, the second book in Kelly Bowen’s Season for Scandal series, and knew I wanted to read the rest of the series. Ivory Moore and her husband, Maximus Harcourt, Duke of Alderidge, were important secondary characters in that book and Duke of My Heart is the story of how they met and fell in love.

Ivory Moore has a secret past that only a few trusted associates are privy to. Using only her wits and resourcefulness, she has forged a new, independent life as owner of Chegarre & Associates, an elite agency known for its discreet handling of indelicate scandals. Ivory prides herself on being very good at her job, provided she is in full charge of whatever needs to be done. However, a certain Duke of Alderidge seems determined to make her latest job difficult, with his heavy-handed manner.

The duke swung around to face her again, those ice-grey eyes impaling her as if she were somehow responsible for this debacle.

Maximus (Max) Harcourt is a captain first and a duke second. With two older brothers, his parents had always made it plain that he wasn’t needed and must make his own way in life, ensuring he brought no hint of scandal to the family name. Going to sea at the age of thirteen, he built a life for himself, one he is unwilling to give up. Since inheriting the title on the death his brothers a decade ago, he has spent most of his time captaining his fleet of trade ships, leaving his estate in the competent hands of his stewards, secretaries and solicitors. However, having returned home for a short visit, he does not expect to find his sister missing without trace, a dead earl’s body tied to her bed and a strange woman giving him orders!

He’d never in all his life met a woman with such nerve.

Max is used to commanding his men and being obeyed without question but the cool, calm and collected Ivory is not one to be daunted by this overbearing man. They are bound to clash and clash they do in a scene full of spirited dialogue.

The duke’s expression was positively glacial. “I give the orders here, Miss Moore, not you. Don’t presume that I will ever follow your lead.”
Irritation surged. “Take a look around you, Your Grace. Do you see a crew of sailors anxiously awaiting your direction?” She put emphasis on the last two words. “This is not your world. This is mine.”
“Get out of my house,” the duke said, his voice as sharp as cut glass. “Now.”

Of course, Max is forced to back down because he realises this is a problem he is not qualified to solve and must put his faith in Ivory Moore’s methods. Naturally, any reader of historical romance will know that behind these heated exchanges is an equally heated attraction between the hero and heroine.

Good heavens. She hadn’t had this sort of visceral reaction to a man in a very, very long time, and she wasn’t pleased. Desire was a distraction, and distractions were perilous.

No man with a pulse and eyes in his head would overlook her. She evoked images of dark nights and secret desires—

As they work together to solve the mysterious disappearance of Max’s sister, they come to know each other better. Max appreciates that Ivory is intelligent, clever, practical, logical, resourceful and fearless. Ivory is aware that Max can be hard-headed, arrogant, stubborn and controlling, but she has also seen his gentleness, kindness and deep love and concern for his sister. She senses that he is a man she could trust with her secrets.

They are so consumed with thoughts of each other that Ivory becomes distracted from the job she is supposed to be doing and misses an important clue, and Max feels guilty for pursuing his own selfish pleasures, when he should be doing everything he can to make sure his sister is safe.

I love how Ms. Bowen builds the sexual tension between these two with heated kisses, longing and unfulfilled desire creating a delicious feeling of anticipation. I love the scene in Max’s cabin where they share their innermost thoughts and secrets which creates a wonderful sense of trust and intimacy between them.

She had entrusted him with a gift. A piece of her past. A piece of who she was. That single gift was the most valuable thing any woman had ever given him. Ever.

Later in the story when they finally make love, it just feels right. The love scene is beautifully done – tender, romantic and sensual, but also revealing the raw desire they feel for each other.

I admire Ivory for the sacrifice she is willing to make for Max and his family, but I could also sense how vulnerable and alone she feels…

It was this that she hated. This bleak feeling of exposed vulnerability that reduced her to a thirteen-year-old girl who had learned hard lessons about how one survived when one started with nothing.

I love Max for being her knight-errant…

“You shouldn’t have to be fine, Ivory. You should be free. Protected from things that you survived once and that you shouldn’t have to survive again.” He brushed his lips across her forehead. “I want to do that for you.”

and for being willing to make his own sacrifice for the woman he loves…

“I am willing to try to be a duke. And the brother that Beatrice deserves. But I can’t do that if I don’t have somewhere I belong. And I belong with you.”

Some of the secondary characters, like part-time actress, Elise DeVries, and her brother, Alex, owner of London’s most exclusive gaming hell, are familiar from reading A Duke to Remember, as is the dangerously unpredictable King. However, having read book 2 first, King’s actions in that book gave me a different opinion of him and I believe that perhaps redemption is possible and I hope Ms. Bowen is considering writing his story. I was also intrigued by the roguish smuggler, Captain Black, who I feel is also deserving of his own book.

The mystery element provided some intriguing twists and turns and I never felt my interest waning. It wasn’t until near the end that I figured out the villain’s identity and was happy to see him get a fitting punishment thanks to Captain Black.

MY VERDICT: A captivating story, multi-layered characters and a passionate love story make this a book one I can definitely recommend.

 

REVIEW RATING: 5/5 STARS

SENSUALITY RATING: WARM

 

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

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

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The Winter Bride audio

(Chance Sisters, #2)

Genre: Historical Romance (Regency, 1816)

Cover Blurb

Award-winning author Anne Gracie delivers the second in her enticing new series about four young women facing a life of destitution—until a daring act changes their fortune and turns them each into a beautiful bride…

Damaris Chance’s unhappy past has turned her off the idea of marriage forever. But her guardian, Lady Beatrice Davenham, convinces her to make her coming out anyway—and have a season of carefree, uncomplicated fun.

When Damaris finds herself trapped in a compromising situation with the handsome rake Freddy Monkton-Coombes, she has no choice but to agree to wed him—as long as it’s in name only. Her new husband seems to accept her terms, but Freddy has a plan of his own: to seduce his reluctant winter bride.

Will Damaris’s secrets destroy her chance at true happiness? Or can Freddy help her cast off the shackles of the past, and yield to delicious temptation?

♥♥♥♥♥♥

Wonderful Anne Gracie. I adored your amusing, witty dialogue, and engaging cast of loveable characters. Freddy and Damaris, secondary characters from The Autumn Bride, are the star players, well supported by the rest of this delightful mishmash of a ‘family’, especially the outspoken and outrageous Aunt Bea. Lady Beatrice can turn any situation to her own advantage or to the advantage of her beloved adopted ‘nieces’. Nothing will stand in the way of their happiness as far as she is concerned; no bending of the truth is unacceptable.

She has decided that Freddy Monkton-Coombes, her nephew Max’s oldest friend, will meet her girls and she orchestrates this meeting shamelessly. Freddy is a confirmed bachelor and avoids what he refers to as, ‘muffins’’- young women intent on trapping a chap into marriage –  like the plague.  He has skilfully sidestepped this terrible fate for many years but, from the moment he comes face to face with the quietly serene and beautiful Damaris, he is hooked even though he doesn’t realise it at the time.

Whilst he is away on his honeymoon with Abby, Aunt Bea’s eldest ‘niece’, Max, whose story was told in The Autumn Bride, has coerced Freddy into acting as guardian/chaperon to the girls and his aunt. Although initially extremely reluctant, Freddy eventually agrees and takes his promise very seriously. Naturally, it throws him into regular contact with Damaris, and the die is cast as he begins to enjoy her company and she his. At this point, I must add that whilst The Winter Bride can be read and enjoyed as a standalone, I recommend reading The Autumn Bride first as there is quite a complicated back story and the relationship between Aunt Beatrice and her ‘nieces’ is explained in credible detail.

Freddy’s parents have decided that it is high time he settles down and produces an heir, and have therefore arranged a house party where hordes of these ‘muffins’ will be waiting to pounce. Damaris is just as set against marriage as Freddy and so he comes up with an idea which will keep them both free of a leg shackle. When he eventually persuades Damaris to his way of thinking, the two enter into a mutually agreeable pact. They will announce a fake betrothal which will serve the dual purpose of placating both his parents and Aunt Bea.  While Aunt Bea is intent on arranging a season for her, Damaris’ only ambition is to live quietly in the country in a little cottage with a few chickens and a vegetable garden. Here she hopes to have the peace and quiet to forget the past tragedies and horrific memories which plague her. On the face of it, this arrangement suits both Freddy and Damaris and, in return for her wholehearted compliance, Freddy sets about the task of arranging the purchase of a country cottage for Damaris.

Damaris’s peace is to be shattered, however, by the elegantly beautiful Freddy as he unwittingly worms his way into her life. He has worked very hard to present a rakish, devil-may-care appearance to the ton but behind this façade is a man with a keen business brain who is also kind, thoughtful and, most importantly, honourable with oodles of integrity. As the story unfolds, it emerges that he suffered a boyhood tragedy which has left him deeply traumatised and apparently, as a result of this tragedy, unloved by his parents. His outward devil-may-care persona is a carefully manufactured one, behind which he hides in their presence, and his self-deprecating manner and refusal to explain or defend himself to his cold and unloving parents only seems to perpetuate their annoyance and disregard for him even more. Observing all this on a visit to his family, Damaris intuitively sees how very unhappy he is whilst in their company. She is appalled by their treatment of their only son and sets out to get to the bottom of the rift between them and, in the process, show them how very wrong they are about him. There are a few amusing but bitter-sweet moments where she takes Freddy’s autocratic parents to task, and he is both touched and amazed by her courage, having only previously seen the quiet, gentle side of her nature. This is where we see the real Freddy Monkton-Coombes, as Damaris determinedly begins to strip away the layers of his past and hidden turmoil…. sniff!

Freddy begins to see that Damaris is no ‘muffin’ and comes to the astounding realisation that he is not against marriage at all with the right girl, and that girl is Damaris. But how to persuade her? To this end, he sets out to make their betrothal fact rather than fiction. Freddy is such a darling man, that even his seduction and compromising of Damaris is somehow honourably achieved, especially as it’s done after she has confessed her distressing secret. And what a touchingly tender but sensual scene it is, and throughout Ms. Gracie maintains her legendary wit and humour, without undermining the love, affection and sheer sexiness which has grown between them. It’s one of those very memorable scenes that leaves the reader with a warm, fuzzy feeling.

Anne Gracie’s references to Jane Austen’s works add yet more humour and wit, especially in the scene where Freddy, initially horrified at being obliged to attend Aunt Bea’s literary society – deviously organised by her to introduce her ‘nieces’ to the young men of society – quotes the opening lines from Pride and Prejudice:

‘It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man in possession of a fortune must be in want of a wife.’ …he shudders….”What about the poor fellow’s wants, eh? Do they matter? No. Every female in the blasted story was plotting to hook some man for herself or her daughter or niece. If you don’t call that horror, I don’t know what is.

The serious underlying issues for both protagonists, which each eventually helps the other to overcome, make this so much more than just a fluffy romance and it is definitely my favourite of the Chance Sisters series, although I love them all. Both characters are utterly loveable and I have never forgotten Freddy’s character even though I initially read the book on its publication three years ago – a fair indication of how much of an impression this book and his lovely character made on me.

As previously mentioned, I read and loved this book when it was originally published and when I spotted that the audio version was at last available in the UK, I jumped at it, and immediately downloaded the whole series, especially when I realised that it had been recorded by the acclaimed actress and comedienne, Alison Larkin. Ms. Larkin is a special favourite of mine and her name on an audio book is always guaranteed to attract my attention. When I saw that she was in collaboration with Anne Gracie, there was never any doubt in my mind that this would be a wonderfully satisfying listen. In my opinion, Ms. Larkin is the perfect choice to perform this witty and charming series with its Austen quotes. I always think (and say it whenever I review one of her audio books) that she has a ‘smile’ in her voice, which, in this case, perfectly captures the humour always present in Anne Gracie’s novels.

In addition, her considerable acting skills are evident when dealing with the deeper, more serious issues. This is especially true when Damaris reveals her heart-breaking secret and Freddy’s childhood trauma emerges, and then the more serious side to his nature. Alison Larkin handles these revelations with supreme sensitivity.

As I have already mentioned, Freddy initially gives the impression of superficiality, seeming to prefer avoiding not only confrontation but responsibility too. But this impression is dispelled as we learn more about him and Alison Larkin sheds his light-hearted persona and exaggerated, slightly foppish accent as she subtly builds up the tension, especially during the scene towards the end of the book where Freddy, by this time devoid of all levity, is moved to violence. Between them, the author and narrator show his hidden mettle as he squares up to his opponent in defence of his love.

Alison Larkin’s rendition of Aunt Bea is also particularly clever as this manipulative but kindly, elderly lady, who is guilty of telling the biggest whoppers, is a tremendous character and a difficult one to capture with credibility I would imagine. However, Ms. Larkin gives a faultless performance, worthy of any West End stage, as she portrays this indomitable lady with her decidedly imperious upper crust accent, using just the right amount of intonation and nuance to indicate her age and air of entitlement.

I can’t praise Alison Larkin’s performance highly enough as she brings Anne Gracie’s lovely, tear-jerking, feel-good story to sparkling life with her accomplished interpretation of it. I would LOVE to hear Ms. Larkin perform The Perfect Rake by Anne Gracie (another of my favourite books) which I believe has yet to be recorded…. hint to the audio company and publisher!

MY VERDICT: I highly recommend THE WINTER BRIDE for both content and narration and, as I have all four books in my audio library, I look forward to many more hours of listening pleasure. 

RATING: STELLAR 5 STARS

SENSUALITY RATING: WARM

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

The Autumn Bride (Chance Sisters, #1) by Anne Gracie The Winter Bride (Chance Sisters, #2) by Anne Gracie The Spring Bride (Chance Sisters, #3) by Anne Gracie The Summer Bride (Chance Sisters, #4) by Anne Gracie

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A Warriner to Protect Her.jpg

(Wild Warriners, #1)

Genre: Historical Romance (Regency, 1813)

Cover Blurb:

 An heiress in distress and an earl in disgrace… 

When heiress Violet Dunston escapes from an abduction, she finds an unlikely protector in Jack Warriner–a member of one of England’s most infamous families. Ensconced with mysterious Jack behind his manor’s walls, soon escape is the last thing on Letty’s mind!

Jack may be an earl, but his father’s exploits have left him with nothing to offer except a tarnished name. He’s turned his back on the ton, but with Letty tempting him day and night, he finds himself contemplating the unthinkable–a society marriage!

♥♥♥♥♥♥

Having recently read and enjoyed Her Enemy at the Altar, I was keen to read more of Virginia Heath’s books.  I have a fondness for family orientated books and so I was delighted to discover that her new Wild Warriners series features four brothers. Jack, the eldest, is a proud man used to hard work and being in control; Jamie, a former soldier, has been left both physically and emotionally scarred; Joe, whose dream is to be a doctor; roguish Jacob, the youngest, who has a penchant for the ladies and reading society gossip columns. A Warriner to Protect Her is Jack’s story.

…history is peppered with infamous, and decidedly slippery, Warriners.

Jack’s father, The Earl of Markham, only compounded that reputation by being a violent, morally corrupt, drunken, vile scoundrel, who never paid his debts. On his death, the twenty-year-old Jack inherits a crumbling manor house, a run-down estate, crippling debts, a tarnished title, and a family reputation further debased by his father’s dishonourable behaviour. During the seven years since his father’s death, Jack assumed responsibility for raising his three younger brothers and, virtually penniless, they have been forced to work the land themselves, just earning enough money to keep a roof over their heads.  Jack’s attempts to rebuild the family’s reputation among the locals have met with little success and he fears that, even if they had the money to pay their wages, none of the villagers would ever trust a Warriner.

20-year-old Violet (Letty) Dunston is the darling of society, both beautiful and wealthy…a diamond of the first water. Her parents were killed in a carriage accident three years earlier, and the huge fortune the Dunston family made as tea importers was left in trust until she reaches her 21st birthday in just over a month’s time.  After her parents’ death, her uncle became her legal guardian and, although she has never been very close to her him, she always believed he had her best interests at heart, only to discover just how wrong she was. Her uncle is determined to marry her off to the odious Earl of Bainbridge, a gambler and a man old enough to her grandfather. The two men then intend to share her fortune and will go to any lengths to ensure Letty complies with their plans. When she refuses Bainbridge’s marriage proposal, Letty finds herself drugged, bound, gagged and in a carriage on the way to Gretna Green. Knowing that they will not hesitate to kill her once they get what they want, Letty makes a daring escape…

Instinct made her curl into a ball before she hit the ground, to protect her head and her limbs. Still the impact was sheer agony, pushing all of the air out of her lungs and blinding her with pain. Sharp stones embedded themselves in her skin as she rolled; muddy water shot up her nose and seeped through her closed eyelids, stinging them mercilessly.

Ms. Heath certainly captured my attention from the very start with Letty’s dramatic escape from the Earl of Bainbridge and my fondness for unconventional first meetings between the hero and heroine was more than satisfied.

Almost like a ghost, the woman appeared out of the trees. Her skin eerily pale in the flimsy moonlight, hair and thin dress plastered to her body, eyes as wide as saucers as she stared back at him. Then she fled, wet skirts and a pronounced limp hampering her progress.

Of course, Jack’s innate sense of responsibility comes to the fore; he rescues Letty, takes her home and, with Joe’s help, he nurses her back to health. On learning her story, he vows to protect her until it’s time for Letty to return to London to take control of her inheritance.

Although Jack and Letty share a strong attraction, they also have misconceptions about each other. Jack believes that an ‘incomparable’, like Letty, used to beautiful clothes, balls and parties, would never be interested in a country farmer with nothing to offer but a neglected manor house and a family name steeped in notoriety.

Letty had queues of eager, solvent suitors and would never look twice at a humble Warriner for anything more than necessary protection. She was so far out of his league he would need a stepladder to reach her. Perhaps twenty stepladders.

Jack’s overbearing attitude convinces Letty that he sees her as nothing more than a charming, vapid society lady, but this is not who she truly is. Since losing her parents at the age of seventeen, she has effectively been alone in the world, but all society sees is the self-assured heiress, not the lonely, unhappy girl beneath that façade.

Everybody believes I live this charmed existence. It never occurs to them that I am lonely or that Violet Dunston is a character I play in public. Nobody wants to see the reality of who I actually am

Her inheritance will give Letty the independence she longs for; a means of escaping her present life and helping those less fortunate than herself.

When she inadvertently insults Jack, Letty is determined to show him that she is not simply a frivolous, spoiled heiress. So, she toils, cleaning and polishing the neglected rooms and learning how to cook decent meals for the brothers. Now, at this point, I was willing to suspend disbelief and accept that Letty could become both a proficient housekeeper and accomplished cook in such a short space of time, mainly because of how she describes her first effort at cooking –

Far from being in a sea of thick, delicious sauce, her fowl à la Braise was now floating in a stagnant pond in the middle of a heatwave.

and the deliciously sensuous ‘chandelier incident’.

I enjoyed seeing their misconceptions gradually dispelled. Letty sees Jack’s strength, determination and self-sacrifice in not abandoning his brothers, while Jack recognises Letty’s courage, resilience, kindness and how her presence has made Markham Hall a real home.

Ms. Heath successfully builds the sexual tension throughout story,and it is only on their journey to London that Jack and Letty finally make love, in a scene that is both tender and sensual.

I adore the Warriner brothers and the love they share is evident to see. They are fiercely loyal and protective of each other and, when danger threatens, they will always be there for each other, as the villains find out to their cost.

“Did the fools not realise? When you mess with one Warriner, you mess with us all.”

I love how Letty captures the hearts of the brothers, especially Jamie.  I have a soft spot for troubled heroes and was immediately drawn to Jamie and it is lovely to see the rapport between Letty and this normally taciturn man, and I also enjoyed the way Jamie teases Jack about Lettie. Obviously, I am looking forward to reading Jamie’s story in A Warriner to Rescue Her.

MY VERDICT: A WARRINER TO PROTECT HER is a delightful, witty, entertaining and romantic story and a great start to what promises to be an excellent series. Highly recommended.

 

REVIEW RATING: 5/5 STARS

SENSUALITY RATING: WARM

 

Wild Warriners series so far (click on the book cover for more details):
A Warriner to Protect Her (Wild Warriners #1) by Virginia Heath A Warriner to Rescue Her by Virginia Heath

 

**I received a complimentary copy from the author in return for an honest review**

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


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Deadly Affair

(Alec Halsey Mystery, #2)

Genre: Historical Mystery (Georgian, 1763)

Cover Blurb:

Autumn 1763. Career diplomat Alec Halsey has been elevated to a marquessate he doesn’t want and Polite Society believes he doesn’t deserve. And with the suspicion he murdered his brother still lingering in London drawing rooms, returning to London after seven months in seclusion might well be a mistake. So when a nobody vicar drops dead beside him at a party-political dinner, and his rabble-rousing uncle Plantagenet is bashed and left for dead in a laneway, Alec’s foreboding deepens. Uncovering the vicar’s true identity, Alec suspects the man was poisoned. But who would want a seemingly harmless man of God murdered, and why?

Lucinda Brant’s Alec Halsey mysteries explore the darker side of her deliciously romantic 18th century world. Along with trademark wit and high drama there are deeper subplots and even quirkier characters that will have you shuddering and laughing in equal measure!

♥♥♥♥♥♥

This is the second book in the Alec Halsey Mystery series and, once again, Lucinda Brant’s superb writing and Alex Wyndham’s outstanding narration earned a Stellar 5 stars from me.

Ms. Brant weaves an intricate tale of murder, mystery and intrigue and the unexpected twists and turns kept me guessing as to the murderer’s identity and motive. It was like a dot-to-dot where you cannot see the complete picture until you have joined all the dots and I am in awe of her ability to keep track of all the various plot strands.

In addition to Alec, our handsome, honourable, intelligent and inscrutable hero, there is an extensive, well-developed and colourful cast of secondary characters. Some I had previously met in Deadly Engagement, Alec’s plain-speaking, irascible uncle, Plantagenet Halsey; the earnest, sincere Tam, Alec’s self-appointed valet and apprentice apothecary, and Selina Jamison-Lewis, the love of Alec’s life. Others, including the corpulent, drunken, appallingly vulgar Lord George Stanton, are new characters who provide an abundance of potential suspects.

As this is predominantly a mystery, the continuing love affair between Alec and Selina understandably takes a back seat but there is enough tension between the two to keep things interesting. Selina is harbouring secrets from Alec, which she is afraid to reveal for fear of losing his love, and her suggestion that she become his mistress rather than his wife, only creates a bigger wedge between them.

I love how Ms. Brant effortlessly transports me back to Georgian England, bringing to vivid life the elegance, opulence and decadence of this era as well as its darker aspects. Her extensive research is apparent, not only in the fashions, furnishings and etiquette of the day, but also in the political arena and the world of the apothecary.

The Epilogue promises more danger and intrigue for Alec and hopefully a happy resolution to the situation between him and Salina.

Yet another top-notch performance from the accomplished Alex Wyndham whose vocal range is so impressive, delivering distinguishable voices for each of the extensive cast, whether it is the super cool Alec, the crusty, old Plantagenet Halsey or the whiny, petulant Lord George Stanton. His ability to convey the drama, tensions and emotions kept me totally immersed in the story.

MY VERDICT: Simply superb!


REVIEW RATING: STELLAR 5 STARS

SENSUALITY RATING: SUBTLE

 

Alec Halsey Mystery series (click on book covers for more details):

Deadly Engagement (Alec Halsey Mystery, #1) by Lucinda Brant Deadly Affair (Alec Halsey Mystery, #2) by Lucinda Brant Deadly Peril (Alec Halsey Mystery, #3) by Lucinda Brant


**I received a complimentary copy from the author in return for an honest review**

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Proud Mary

(Roxton Family Saga, #5)

Genre: Historical Romance (Georgian, 1777)

Cover Blurb:

The Roxtons are back! Romance. Drama. Intrigue. Family secrets. There’s never a dull moment for the 18th Century’s first family…

Widowed and destitute, Lady Mary Cavendish is left with only her pride. Daughter of an earl and great-granddaughter to a Stuart King, family expectation and obligation demands she remarry. But not just any man will do; her husband must rank among the nobility. Falling in love with her handsome and enigmatic neighbor is out of the question. As always, Mary will do her duty and ignore her heart.

Country squire Christopher Bryce has secretly loved his neighbor Mary for many years. Yet, he is resigned to the cruel reality they are not social equals and thus can never share a future together. Never mind that his scandalous past and a heartbreaking secret make him thoroughly unworthy of such a proud beauty.

Then into their lives steps a ghost from Mary’s past, whose outrageous behavior has Mary questioning her worldview, and Christopher acting upon his feelings, and for all to see. The mismatched couple begin to wonder if in fact love can prevail—that a happily ever after might just be possible if only they dare to follow their hearts.

♥♥♥♥♥♥

I recently read a review of a Lucinda Brant novel which said that reading her books is like eating chocolates…you just can’t stop at one. That’s it in a nutshell for me because I love every book she has ever written and wait with eager anticipation for a new addition to her list, in this case PROUD MARY, book five in her acclaimed and addictive Roxton Family Saga.

Ms. Brant’s holistic approach is quite unique. Her books are wonderfully romantic but her stories are also very family orientated, a style which really appeals to me, and which I feel reflects life. Once that first flush of all-consuming, instalust/romantic love has waned then there must be something solid to build a life and family upon, and I like how she reflects that in this series. I’m also a sucker for a good epilogue and, with such a long, continuing saga, we have been privy to an epic one! With the Roxton family, Lucinda Brant has created a wonderfully complex Georgian aristocratic family whose story develops over a period of more than thirty years. The love and support they feel for each other is evident in every book throughout the series. Her remarkable talent for creating living, breathing people, who we remember vividly and with great affection, is where I feel Ms. Brant excels over so many others writing in this genre. I can think of only one other favourite author who has achieved this in an ongoing saga, with characters I adore and remember vividly.

Each book could be read and enjoyed individually but, quite honestly, I wouldn’t recommend it. This series is such a feast and so much of the pleasure of reading it comes from following her fascinating characters – experiencing their mistakes, loves, their growing families and their progress and maturing in later life. I also admire her skill in making her readers feel as though we are all members of the intriguing and loveable Roxton family.

In Proud Mary, it is the turn of the utterly gorgeous, Squire Christopher Bryce and Lady Mary Cavendish to find love and happiness within the Roxton clan. Having originally met eight years earlier, it was love-at-first-sight for Christopher but an over-bearing, unloving mother who had denigrated and bullied her all her life, a father who deserted her and marriage to the odious, sycophantic and obsequious, Sir Gerald Cavendish, have left Mary with a sad case of lack-of-self-esteem. It’s therefore difficult for her to believe that a man such as Christopher could find her attractive. Although secretly very attracted to him – who wouldn’t be? – she would never have considered showing it. So, the two have just worshipped each other from afar for eight years, even after Mary is widowed. The three components for love and a life together – the right person, the right place, the right time -were not initially aligned, but with the sudden appearance of a mysterious ‘ghost’ comes the catalyst for that alignment and the flame of Christopher’s and Mary’s secret love is finally ignited and is all the better for the waiting.

Ms. Brant is known for her subtlety in her ‘bedroom scenes’ but, in Proud Mary, she allows us a little more than a glimpse of the beautifully sensual connection between two people who deserve to find love. However, the course of true love seems unlikely to run smoothly because, although Christopher is a wealthy and innovative businessman and the much-respected local Squire, albeit with a few shocking secrets yet to be revealed, he is also Mary’s social inferior, as she is the daughter of an earl and the cousin of a duke. In addition, under Sir Gerald’s will, Christopher has been appointed to the lowly position of steward of the estate and lands held in trust for Sir Gerald’s underage heir, Jack Cavendish. He spends a couple of days per fortnight at the estate, which has been almost bankrupted by Sir Gerald’s excesses. Mary and her ten-year-old daughter, Teddy (Theodora) live on the estate under strict economies as Christopher works to increase and repair its fortunes. For spiteful reasons, Sir Gerald has also stipulated that Teddy becomes his steward’s ward, in effect denying Lady Mary any real control over her daughter, and he has also decreed that Teddy may not visit her Roxton relatives. This, however, has made little difference in Teddy’s world as she adores her ‘Uncle Bryce’ and likes to be nowhere better than in her corner of the Cotswolds and preferably with him.

Enter Antonia, arriving like a whirlwind as usual and making her presence known. She is the common thread that runs throughout the Roxton series and I just adore her character. In the first book of the series, Noble Satyr, Antonia is an intelligent but precocious seventeen-year-old, setting her cap at the dissolute Duke of Roxton, twenty years her senior, and her success in that quest is apparent in the ensuing books in the series. Over a period of thirty years, she has loved, lost, suffered and loved again and is still an incredibly beautiful, vivacious, fifty-year-old who is beloved by all and who loves fiercely in return. At some point in the series, pretty much every family member has sought her wise council and, as she puts her mind to resolving Mary and Christopher’s conundrum, we see her in all her splendid glory.

I do marvel at Ms. Brant’s clever and devious mind, because an apparently throwaway remark made a few books earlier in the series will suddenly take on great significance. I’ve had more than one light bulb moment when a character I vaguely remember suddenly becomes important. Christopher’s Aunt Kate is one such character and, if I hadn’t read the previous books, her significance would have been lost to me. I have wondered on more than one occasion how the author keeps everything straight in her mind – the intricate plotting and the intertwining lives of her characters. I think this is one reason why re-reading (or re-listening with the talented Alex Wyndham) her books is even more enjoyable because there is always something I’ve missed. Her books are great ‘keepers’ and much loved additions to my book shelves.

I must mention darling little Teddy, Lady Mary’s daughter, one of the stars of Proud Mary. She is such a beautifully developed and compelling little character who steals the show on more than one occasion. She has been encouraged by her mother and her beloved ‘Uncle Bryce’ to be a free spirit. She is never happier than when climbing trees or roaming the glorious Cotswolds hills and dales with Christopher’s dog, and Ms. Brant’s earlier career as a teacher in a girls’ school is very apparent in the intuitive way she brings Teddy’s character to life. There are some amusing moments when, in the way of a child who has heard or seen something they aren’t meant to, she unwittingly drops her guilelessly stored ‘bomb’ into a conversation with adults, causing havoc and often throwing those around her into uproar or helpless laughter while naively tucking into her dinner, completely unaware of the impact her innocent comments have made.

Lucinda Brant’s research is phenomenal, with nothing left to guess work, even down to the Blue Coat school Christopher attended as a boy which is only briefly mentioned but which Ms. Brant has researched extensively. I live in the Cotswolds where this story is set and now look at it with new eyes after reading Proud Mary. Perhaps I previously took it all for granted, but I can certainly confirm that Ms. Brant has perfectly captured the beauty and essence of this gorgeous area of the British Isles. As always, the sumptuous fashions and furnishings of the Georgian period are described in exquisite detail, bringing the opulence of this captivating period in British history to sparkling life. Ms. Brant’s Pinterest Boards contain all her research and they are works of art in themselves.

MY VERDICT: I shall be very sad when Lucinda Brant brings this series to a close and I know that time is looming. But I reassure myself with the fact that it’s all on my kindle, book shelves and audio library to reach for whenever I need a-love-and-fuzzy-feeling fix! I am so looking forward to SATYR’S SON which is a very apt title to bring this superb series full circle. 


RATING: STELLAR 5 STARS 

SENSUALITY RATING: SUBTLE


Roxton Family Saga – series so far (click on the book covers for more details):

 Midnight Marriage (Roxton Series #2) by Lucinda Brant Autumn Duchess (Roxton Series #3) by Lucinda Brant Eternally Yours Roxton Letters Volume One A Companion To The Roxton Family Saga Books 1–3 by Lucinda Brant Dair Devil (Roxton Series #4) by Lucinda Brant Noble Satyr (Roxton Series #1) by Lucinda BrantProud Mary A Georgian Historical Romance (Roxton Family Saga Book 5) by Lucinda Brant

 

 **I received a complimentary copy from the author in return for an honest review**

 

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