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Posts Tagged ‘Stellar 5 Star Book’

The Black Madonna audiobook.jpg

(Roundheads and Cavaliers, #1)

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

 Cover Blurb (Amazon):

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

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

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

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

♥♥♥♥♥♥

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

REVIEW RATING: STELLAR 5 STARS

NARRATION RATING: STELLAR 5 STARS

SENSUALITY RATING: WARM

 

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Black Sheep Audio

Genre: Historical Romance (Regency)

Cover Blurb (Goodreads):

With her high-spirited intelligence and good looks, Abigail Wendover was a most sought-after young woman. But of all her high-placed suitors, there was none Abigail could love. Abigail was kept busy when her pretty and naive niece Fanny falls head over heels in love with Stacy Calverleigh, a good-looking town-beau of shocking reputation and an acknowledged seductor. She was determined to prevent her high-spirited niece from being gulled into a clandestine marriage with handsome Stacy, a plausible fortune-hunter. The arrival to Bath of Stacy’s uncle seemed to indicate an ally, but Miles Calverleigh is the black sheep of the family.

Miles Calverleigh had no regard for the polite conventions of Regency society. His cynicism, his morals, his manners appalled Abigail. But he turns out to be her most important ally in keeping her niece out of trouble. He also turned out to be the most provoking creature Abigail had ever met – with a disconcerting ability to throw her into giggles at quite the wrong moment. Yet she was irresistibly drawn to his knowing smile. But how could she persuade her wealthy, respectable family to accept this unconventional, unsuitable man?

First published in 1966

♥♥♥♥♥♥

Witty and laugh-out-loud funny – Black Sheep is priceless. Having read all of Georgette Heyer’s Regency romances in my youth, I’m now revisiting, where possible, some of my favourites in audio version. A talented narrator/actor adds a lot to a well-written story, especially when it is peppered with eccentric and out-of-the ordinary characters. This is one such story and I’d forgotten how much I loved it. Definitely a comfort read/listen, if one needs a pick-me-up.

This has to be one of Georgette Heyer’s best novels. Abigail Wendover is a sparkling, witty young woman with an outrageous sense of the ridiculous. Never having experienced lasting love, she believes herself to be immune and firmly ‘on the shelf’, and has become a prop for her nervous, hypochondriac elder sister, and de facto ‘mother’ to orphaned niece Fanny, on whom the story hinges.

Fanny is 17 years old, beautiful but romantic and unworldly – perfect pickings for an older, handsome, glib-tongued man-about-town who is on the hunt for an heiress, in this case Mr. Stacy Calverleigh. Abby is absolutely determined that her niece will not fall foul of such a man.

The first couple of chapters are perfectly captured by accomplished actress Barbara Leigh-Hunt who flawlessly characterises the neurotic Selina, witty Abby, and slightly silly, but sweet Fanny. The fun really begins, however, when the incomparable Miles Calverleigh enters the fray. Abby confronts Mr. Calverleigh after hearing him addressed as such, not realising that there are two – uncle and nephew. What follows must be one of the most comical and entertaining dialogues between two characters that I’ve ever read/heard! Mr. Calverleigh senior is carelessly dressed and sadly lacking in tonnish manners, but so enigmatic and laid back that it is impossible to rile him, no matter how hard she tries. It becomes apparent, after a witty, lengthy exchange, where they are hilariously talking at cross purposes, what Miles is being berated for; but not having had any intercourse with his nephew for twenty or so years, he has no wish to now. He does, however, drag out the conversation for the fun of it, and because of the instant attraction he feels between himself and Abby. This attraction is obvious, although Ms. Heyer doesn’t say so, she simply conveys it by clever words and innuendo.

The ingenious way Miles contrives to separate the would-be lovers, without appearing to be interested in his nephew’s actions, is brilliantly executed and obviously done to please Abby. Unlike most other novels of Ms. Heyer’s, Miles declares his love quite early on in the story but the obstacles of his early disreputable life, which led to him being banished to India in the first place, and other familial circumstances of Abby’s, appear to be insurmountable. Although aware of his tarnished youth and less than salubrious reputation, Abby could not care less and realises that she loves this funny, apparently capricious but honourable man. However, she cannot see any way they could ever have a Happy Ever After. But Miles has other ideas!

I loved this funny, romantic tale and, in my opinion, Miles is one of Heyer’s most endearing heroes and is definitely up there with Hugo (The Unknown Ajax) for his wit and humour. He’s an engaging character and proof positive that a man does not have to be handsome, rich or dressed to perfection to engage a lady’s heart.

Barbara Leigh-Hunt is an actress of some repute and, if I have any reservations about her reading of Black Sheep, it is because her rather unforgettable voice conjures up other forceful characters she has portrayed. She has, however, captured the fun and wit of this extraordinarily charming tale almost to perfection.

MY VERDICT: I loved it and Highly challenge you, dear reader/listener, not to adore Miles as much as I did.


BOOK REVIEW RATING:STELLAR 5 STARS

NARRATION RATING: 5 STARS

SENSUALITY RATING: KISSES

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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cadenza

(Rockliffe, #6)

Genre: Historical Romance (Georgian – 1778 )

Book Blurb:

Julian Langham was poised on the brink of a dazzling career when the lawyers lured him into making a catastrophic mistake. Now, instead of the concert platform, he has a title he doesn’t want, an estate verging on bankruptcy … and bewildering responsibilities for which he is totally unfitted.

And yet the wreckage of Julian’s life is not a completely ill wind. For Tom, Rob and Ellie it brings something that is almost a miracle … if they dare believe in it.

Meanwhile, first-cousins Arabella Brandon and Elizabeth Marsden embark on a daring escapade which will provide each of them with a once-in-a-lifetime experience. The adventure will last only a few weeks, after which everything will be the way it was before. Or so they think. What neither of them expects is for it to change a number of lives … most notably, their own.

And there is an additional complication of which they are wholly unaware.
The famed omniscience of the Duke of Rockliffe.

♥♥♥♥♥♥

Cadenza is the sixth and sadly the final book in the superb Rockliffe series and, as I have come to expect from Stella Riley, I was totally enchanted by this beautifully written story.

In this series, Ms. Riley has created some of the most memorable heroes and Julian definitely belongs to their exalted ranks. He is such a complex character and surely one of the most refreshingly unusual heroes to grace the pages of a Historical Romance. He is gentle, kind and shy, with a sweet smile, guaranteed to pierce even the stoniest heart. But what a dramatic transformation when he plays the harpsichord – gone is the hesitant, socially awkward young man and, in his place, is someone who is relaxed, confident and totally in command.

Music is paramount in Julian’s life and he would willingly have given up the earldom to fulfil his musical ambitions. So, it speaks volumes for the man he is – honourable, compassionate and selfless – when, despite being totally out of his depth, he refuses to turn his back on the estate workers, even working alongside them when they are shorthanded, or to abandon his predecessor’s three illegitimate children. It is heart-warming to see how everyone around Julian has such affection for him. As Max, Arabella’s brother, comments…

“The children idolise him; his servants and the villagers think the sun shines out of him; Belle’s totally besotted and Mother wants to adopt him. How does he do it?’

I put it down to Ms. Riley’s ability to create such an endearing character who effortlessly steals your heart by just being himself.

The romance between Julian and Isabella (Belle) develops slowly which makes it feel natural and believable. Young ladies like Belle have always terrified Julian, leaving him tongue-tied and feeling like a fool. Initially he is wary of her, but soon discovers that Belle is not like the other ladies he has known with their lingering, speculative glances. He finds that he can talk to her without feeling clumsy and foolish and her warm, melodic laugh is like music to his ears.

…a laugh which made his insides uncurl and yearn to hear it again in order to recapture the elusive phrase it had brought to mind. A rondo in a bright key, he decided. G major, perhaps?

I love Belle and she is the perfect match for Julian with her cheerfulness, determination, resilience and obstinate streak. When she sees him struggling to keep the impoverished estate going, she tries to help in practical ways and recognising that, without his music, there will always part of Julian missing, she is determined to help him achieve his dream of becoming a concert performer.

Ms. Riley’s eloquent writing conveys their growing feelings for each other so beautifully.

His arms went round her automatically and for perhaps three seconds, they remained perfectly still, startled green eyes locked with grey ones in which laughter was fading into confused awareness.

In the second his mouth touched hers, the entire world was full of music … rare, elusive and utterly compelling. A melody more beautiful that any he had ever either heard or even imagined.

Again, we are treated to two romances running concurrently, the other being a secondary romance between Elizabeth (Lizzie) and Ralph Harcourt, Earl of Sherbourne. Those who have read Hazard will remember Sherbourne as Genevieve’s loathsome brother and it was hard to imagine how Ms. Riley could possibly redeem him. It is a mark of her skill as a writer that she redeems him without changing his intrinsic character. The gradual revealing of his past is masterfully done and the truth surrounding the duel was an unexpected twist and one I would never have suspected. I found myself not only sympathising with Ralph but also rooting for his Happy Ever After.

Lizzie is beautiful, honest, modest and warm-hearted. I admire her for refusing to take Ralph at face value and seeing something behind his chilly exterior that makes her believe he is not as black as he is painted. She believes in him and trusts him which means so much to Ralph because no one else ever has. She is also aware of his intense loneliness and the way he has walled off his emotions and one of the loveliest moments is when she says…

“But impeccable manners are your shield and armour, aren’t they?’
‘What?”
“And very effective they are, too.”
She rose to face him, hoping she looked calmer than she felt. “But you don’t need them with me. I could quite easily love the man they are hiding if only you would let me know him.”

I thought it was realistic that Aristide and Genevieve were never going to suddenly forgive Ralph, given his actions in Hazard, but I was pleased to see the hint of a possible future reconciliation.

Ms. Riley’s secondary characters always add richness and depth to her stories, whether they be much-loved characters from previous books or new characters. Tom, Rob and Ellie (not forgetting Figgy), the children whom Julian ‘adopts’, are just delightful and watching him gain their trust, loyalty and love, by just being himself, is so touching. I really like Max Brandon who is the sort of elder brother every girl should have and with a great sense of humour as well.

As always, the all-seeing, all-powerful Rockliffe is there to take charge and deal with the consequences of Belle and Lizzie’s deception in his inimitable way. I love how, beneath that ducal exterior, lies a man who can be kind, unbiased, generous and loyal to a fault when it comes to those he cares for. We see these qualities in the way he bestows his patronage on Julian and his belief in and support for Sherbourne. Oh, and I also love his dry wit.

“Pomp and magnificence? Do we have some of that?”
“You have a great deal of it”, grinned his wife.
“Really? How gratifying.”

Ms. Riley’s musical background and her in-depth research really show in her detailed descriptions of both the harpsichord, its workings and Julian’s repertoire. I love how she makes you feel as if you are in the room listening to him play and experiencing all the emotions his audience are. Under ‘Extras’ on her website, Ms. Riley has provided full details of the repertoire and, so readers can experience Julian playing, there is an opportunity to hear one of the pieces played by Jean Rondeau, a young, French harpsichord virtuoso. Now, that is what I call going above and beyond the call of duty for her readers!

I have yet to read Garland of Straw, the second book in Ms. Riley’s Roundheads and Cavaliers series, but I was interested to see in the Author’s Note that Arabella’s great-great-grandparents are Gabriel and Venetia, the hero and heroine of that book.

While I am sad to see this wonderful series end, I am waiting with relish for whatever Ms. Riley pens next.

MY VERDICT: A wonderful ending to this superb series. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.


REVIEW RATING:  STELLAR 5 STARS

SENSUALITY RATING: WARM

 

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Hazard - Stella Riley

(Rockliffe, #5)

Genre: Historical Romance (Georgian – 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.

♥♥♥♥♥♥

In HAZARD, the 5th book in Stella Riley’s wonderful Georgian Rockliffe series, Ms. Riley gives her readers two equally captivating romances which play out in tandem but are very different in tone. The tender romance between Aristide and Genevieve forms a nice contrast to the volatile one between Nicholas and Madeleine.

From their first meeting in The Player, the attraction between the charming, good-natured Lord Nicolas Wynstanton, the Duke of Rockliffe’s younger brother, and the stubborn, prickly Madeleine Delacroix, Aristide’s sister, has been palpable. It is obvious that Nicholas is head over heels in love with Madeleine but she pushes him away at every opportunity with her sarcasm. Although she has deep feelings for Nicholas, Madeleine sees their unequal stations in life as an insurmountable barrier, despite Nicholas’ protestations to the contrary. The situation comes to a head at the end of The Wicked Cousin when a thoroughly frustrated Nicholas issues Madeleine with an ultimatum…

…this is the last time I’ll ask. I’ve made a cake of myself over you for long enough. If you don’t want to know me, say so and I’ll walk away.’
Colour bloomed along her cheekbones. ‘That sounds like an ultimatum.’
‘It is an ultimatum.  Choose.’

Nicholas has given Madeleine the opportunity to cut him out of her life completely but she simply cannot do it. The knowledge that she is not indifferent to him makes Nicholas determined to break down the defences she has built around herself and claim her as his wife.

Madeleine’s attitude towards Nicholas annoyed me so much at times, that I was beginning to believe that perhaps Nicholas deserved someone better. However, the Prologue in Hazard gave me a real insight into both Madeline and Aristide’s characters and events in their pasts which were to affect each of them so profoundly. I saw the insecurity and vulnerability beneath Madeleine’s tough exterior and understood the reasons why…

She surrounded herself with an invisible thicket of thorns and a big ‘Keep Out’ notice for good measure.

I love how Madeleine, with no thought for her own safety, protects Nicholas when he is attacked. She is just magnificent!

 ‘Like a tigress, she was – and not a thought for her own safety.  You’ve got to admire a woman like that.’

I couldn’t help but be touched by her heart-felt words as Nicholas lies unconscious. All her defenses are down and the barriers she has erected around herself have finally fallen.

Nicholas has always been regarded as loveable and good-humoured with a dislike of dancing because of his unfortunate habit of stepping on ladies’ toes. Now we see a man who is relentless in his pursuit of the woman he loves.

It has been a bumpy ride, with lots of ups and downs, but I was delighted to see Nicholas and Madeleine finally get their hard-won Happy Ever After.

Ms. Riley creates a truly heart-warming romance between Aristide and Genevieve. Like his sister, past events have led Aristide to build emotional barriers around himself and I enjoyed seeing those barriers gradually start to crumble as he falls under his wife’s spell.

His awareness of his wife increased with every passing day and not merely when she was within touching distance.  He’d developed a habit of watching her across a room and thinking about her when she wasn’t there.

He may not be aware of it himself, but his love shines through in the patience, understanding and kindness he shows Genevieve. The scene where he buys her the little puppy is particularly telling because he realises just how devoid of kindness her life has been. Her late husband’s emotional and mental cruelty had destroyed Genevieve’s self-esteem but Aristide gradually restores her confidence in herself as a beautiful and desirable woman.

Genevieve gradually discovers that lurking behind that reserve, Aristide is a very different man …honourable, kind, patient, understanding, and someone she can trust; not to mention the other benefits!

That cool, business-like façade hides all manner of things … such as when he’s teasing or joking … and the wickedly seductive Frenchman who knows exactly where to touch me and how.

I admired Genevieve for her courage when she stands up to her odious brother, Ralph, and champions her husband…

‘Birth and title don’t make a gentleman, Ralph. Character and manners do that and Aristide has both.  Also, although you sneer at him from your aristocratic pedestal, he’s already achieved more than you will in a lifetime.  He started with nothing and made it into something.  You started with every advantage – and wasted all of them. In short, he’s worth a dozen of you

Sir George Braxton’s accusation of cheating with regard to Aristide is resolved in a satisfying way and also adds some dramatic events to the story which are integral to moving one of the romances forward. It also provides one of my favourite scenes where Aristide and the unflappable Rockliffe confront Braxton and the duke scares him (Braxton) half out of wits with just the tone of his voice.

One of the highlights for me in this series is the mutual love, loyalty and friendship between the Rockliffe circle of family and friends. I am always guaranteed some delightful scenes, memorable moments, and witty banter. Among my favourite moments are:

  • Cassie’s warm and unquestioning acceptance of Genevieve.
  • Nicholas teasing Sebastian about arriving late to Adrian’s party…

My apologies.  We were … delayed.’
‘Yes – and I can guess by what.’
Sebastian didn’t reply but the look in his eyes said something along the lines of, Shut your mouth before I put my fist in it … which only increased Nicholas’s amusement.

  • Aristide’s embarrassment and his friends’ knowing looks when they hear the story of him saving the puppy for his wife.


MY VERDICT
: Beautifully written, with memorable characters, a well-plotted story and two captivating romances, this is another wonderful addition to this addictive series. Highly recommended.


REVIEW RATING: STELLAR 5 STARS

SENSUALITY RATING: SUBTLE

 

Rockliffe series so far (click on the book covers 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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the-player-audio

(Rockliffe, #3)

Genre: Historical Romance (Georgian)

Cover Blurb:

Tragedy drove him into unwilling exile. Death demands his reluctant return.

In the decade between, he has answered to many names and amassed a variety of secrets.

Now the actor known to Paris as L’Inconnu must resume his real identity and become Francis Adrian Sinclair Devereux, Earl of Sarre … a man he no longer knows how to be and whose name, thanks to the malice of a friend turned enemy, remains tarnished by an old scandal.

Revenge, so long avoided, slithers temptingly from the shadows. Grand-daughter of a wealthy wool-merchant, Caroline Maitland is not finding her Society debut either easy or enjoyable … but, to Marcus Sheringham, she is the perfect solution to his crushing mountain of debt.

Knowing she will be married for her money, Caroline never believed she would find love; but neither did she bargain for a certain charming French highwayman … and a surprising turn of events.

The stage is set, the cast assembled and the Duke of Rockliffe waits for the curtain to rise.

In the wings, Lord Sarre prepares to make his entrance.

He doesn’t expect to be greeted with applause.

♥♥♥♥♥♥

After reading The Mésalliance, I was especially intrigued by the actor known as ‘L’Inconnu’, whom Rockliffe recognises at the Comédie Française. Ms Riley subtly hints that a nasty scandal forced this man to flee England eight years earlier and I knew then that this mystery man was destined to have his own book.

The Player is the third book in Stella Riley’s fabulous Rockliffe series and we discover that ‘L’Inconnu’ is, in fact, Francis Adrian Sinclair Devereux, Earl of Sarre. Ms Riley excels in writing the most gorgeous heroes and Adrian is no exception. I also love the fact that he is such a complex character.

The 21-year-old Adrian, then Viscount Eastry, is about to marry Evie Mortimer, the woman he is head over heels in love with. Life seems perfect but suddenly everything changes; his fiancée is dead and there are accusations that Adrian murdered her. Though he professes his innocence and wants to clear his name, his father refuses to allow the family to be besmirched by such a scandal and eventually Adrian is forced to flee the country.

Angry and hurt over his family’s rejection, Adrian is determined to make a new life for himself in Paris. Discovering his aptitude for acting, he soon builds a career as a successful and renowned actor in the Comédie Française. His unique ability to ‘count cards’ and adopt various guises to cover his real identity ensure success at the gaming tables. For the past two years, he has also been a partner in Sinclair’s, an exclusive London gaming-club, with his friend Aristide Delacroix .

However, after an absence of 10 years, circumstances force him to return to England to assume his responsibilities as the Earl of Sarre, knowing that society will not be welcoming and all the old rumours and accusations will resurface.

He wasn’t going back because he wanted to.   He was going because his presence had suddenly become an unavoidable duty.
He doubted if anyone would welcome him.

As the granddaughter of a wealthy cloth merchant with no great beauty and an appalling wardrobe, Caroline Maitland is realistic enough to know that her large dowry is the only reason any titled gentleman would be interested in marrying her. At the age of twenty-two, she sees her life as…

…a humdrum existence of Duty and Making the Best of Things; years and years of being sensible and responsible and never, even briefly, knowing what romance felt like.

Despite everything, she secretly dreams of being swept off her feet by a dashingly handsome fellow.

Adrian wants revenge on his onetime best friend, Marcus, Lord Sheringham, the man who betrayed him and destroyed his reputation all those years ago. He has been keeping tabs on Sheringham over the years and knows that he is deeply in debt, with creditors nipping at his heels. Discovering that his nemesis has Caroline and her dowry in his sights, Adrian sees it as the perfect opportunity to exact his revenge by ruining Sheringham’s plans. But first he wants to discover Caroline’s true character and if she is worth saving from Marcus’s clutches. So, he dons one of his disguises and becomes the dashing highwayman, Claude Duvall, not knowing that the tangled web he is about to weave could cost him the one thing he wants most in the world.

Adrian is such a wonderfully complex character. I could understand his sense of hurt towards the family who basically disowned him, and I could feel the anger and bitter resentment boiling beneath the surface during the fraught meeting with his unfeeling mother.

Over the years, he has played so many different roles that he no longer knows who he really is.

“I’d become a rag-bag of all of them; a collection of miscellaneous bits and pieces –so many that, somewhere along the way, I’d forgotten who I really was.”

In so many romances, there is an instant spark of attraction when the hero and heroine first meet and it was refreshing to see a very different scenario in this story. Adrian’s initial opinion of Caroline is that she is garishly dressed and socially inept while Caroline sees Adrian as cold, unsmiling and emotionless. It is only when Adrian is in his guise as Claude Duvall that he glimpses a very different Caroline…a woman of character, intelligence, quick-witted and stubborn. In fact, as he is in search of a wife, he could do worse than marry Caroline. However, without giving too much of the plot away, there are complications in the shape of a very determined Marcus Sheringham and it seems that Adrian might just have burnt all his bridges when Caroline discovers his deception.

I could sympathise with Caroline’s anger and disappointment at discovering Adrian’s duplicity, particularly as Claude Duvall had been the handsome, dashing hero she had always dreamed of. But she is not one of those heroines who refuses to see the reality of the situation, accepting that Adrian had never intended for matters to go this far or for her to be hurt. I also like her logic in reasoning that, if she enjoyed Claude’s kisses, and he and Adrian are the same person, there was no reason to suppose she wouldn’t enjoy Adrian’s kisses too!

Caroline also begins to see that there may be a very different Adrian lurking beneath that cloak of icy reserve.

He’s different, somehow. Is this what Bertrand meant? Am I being allowed a tiny glimpse of the man behind Lord Sarre? If so, it’s interesting. But though I’d like to push it further, I’d better stop before he realises what he’s doing and crawls back into his igloo.

When he reinstates two formerly dismissed servants, she realises that it is not just an act of responsibility, but he truly cares about them…that he has kind and loving heart which he doesn’t want anyone to see.

The romance is sweet and heart-warming and their gradual falling in love seems so natural. They complement each other perfectly; Caroline helps Adrian discover the man he was meant to be while Adrian sees Caroline’s inner strength and beauty. Their declarations of love are positively heart-melting.

“…there’s been a … a sort of void inside me for years.   A dark empty place that I’d become so used to, I no longer noticed it was there.   And then you came along and, in some way I can’t explain, you made me whole again. So I don’t just care for you, my darling.   I need you and want you and … love you.’

‘I love you. I love your honesty, your unfailing kindness and the fact that –though you’ve had precious little of it yourself or perhaps because of that –you have a passion for justice. I think you are the most remarkable man I’ve ever met and utterly beautiful, both in body and spirit. And your smile doesn’t just make me sigh, Adrian. It steals my breath and lights the world.’

The Marquis of Amberley (The Parfit Knight), the Duke of Rockliffe (The Mésalliance) and Lord Nicholas Wynstanton, Rockliffe’s younger brother, all prove welcome allies for Adrian and I love their scenes together because, beneath their banter, there is always a sense of the close bond between them. I love Rockliffe…so unflappable even under the most extreme of circumstances.

I adored Adrian’s factotum, Bertrand, who is more friend than servant. Knowing Adrian better than anyone, he is the one who provides the impetus for Caroline to think that there might be more to Adrian than appears on the surface. Bertrand also provides some humorous moments with his broken English and questioning of Adrian’s actions.

I was certainly intrigued by the exchanges between Nicholas and Aristide’s sister, Madeline, and I do hope they get their own book.

Just reading this book is an absolute pleasure, but listening to the audiobook narrated by the sublimely talented Alex Wyndham takes the enjoyment to another level entirely. He brings Ms Riley’s wonderful story vividly to life and captures all the details and personalities of each individual character perfectly. He particularly excels in voicing authentic sounding women’s voices.

MY VERDICT:  Stella Riley’s brilliant storytelling combined with Alex Wyndham’s superb narration is sheer magic! VERY HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.


REVIEW RATING: STELLAR 5 STARS

SENSUALITY RATING: WARM

 

Rockliffe Series so far (click on the book covers for more details):

The Parfit Knight Volume 1 (Rockcliffe) by Stella Riley The Mésalliance Volume 2 (Rockliffe) by Stella Riley The Player (Rockliffe, #3) by Stella Riley

**I received a free download of this audiobook from the author in return for an honest review**

 

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I was delighted when my friend and fellow blogger, Eileen Dandashi, approached me with the idea of doing a joint review of NOBLE SATYR, an audio book we both loved. It was fun sharing our thoughts and I look forward to doing another joint review with her.

REVIEW RATING: STELLAR 5 STARS

SENSUALITY RATING: SUBTLE

Booktalk with Eileen: Journaling a Journey -- Learning the Art of Crafting a Novel

Eileen: Thank you for being on my blog and it’s lovely to chat with you today, Carol.  I’ve enjoyed getting to know you these past two years and even though you live in Wales and I in California, we’re not so far from each other.

Pettigrew Tea Room outsideFor the benefit of our readers, let’s talk about the place you picked for us to meet.  I’ve never been to Wales and this is a great opportunity to sit and talk AND visit a nice tea house– Pettigrew Tea Rooms in Cardiff Castle Walls.

So, are tea rooms frequently visited by people in Wales? And what type of people come?pettigrew-tea-rooms Carol: I’m delighted to be here today and I’ve enjoyed getting to know you too, Eileen. That’s the beauty of the internet, isn’t it?  It doesn’t feel as if we are separated by thousands of miles.

Pettigrew Tea Room insideEileen, tea is still Britain’s national drink and, despite the…

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(Roxton Series, #3)

Genre: Historical Romance (Georgian – 1777)

Cover Blurb:

A beautiful duchess mourns for her beloved.
A sun-bronzed merchant returns to claim a birthright.
Disparate souls in need of love and renewal.
Paths cross and the journey begins…

Hampshire, England, 1777: Antonia, Dowager Duchess of Roxton, has been mourning the loss of her soul mate for three long years. Her despair is all-consuming until into her life steps a devilishly handsome younger man. Unconventional and self-assured, wealthy merchant Jonathon Strang will stop at nothing to convince Antonia she can love again, and deeply.

♥♥♥♥♥♥

A beautiful and deeply emotional second chance love story by Lucinda Brant superbly narrated by Alex Wyndham – it doesn’t get any better than this!

This is the third book in the Roxton family saga and I would definitely recommend reading the first two books because I feel it gives the reader a fuller understanding of Antonia’s emotional state at the beginning of this book. They are also well worth reading.

It has been three years since her husband, Renard, passed away and Antonia, Dowager Duchess of Roxton, is still in deep mourning over the loss of the love of her life. She was 20 years younger than her husband and, at the age of 48, is still a beautiful woman. Her son Julian, the current Duke of Roxton, and his wife, Deborah, are very worried about Antonia’s state of mind and, over the past three years, Julian has tried everything to convince his mother that life is still worth living but to no avail. She refuses to put off her widow’s weeds and her lonely days in Crecy Hall, are only brightened by the twice-weekly visits of her beloved grandchildren.

Jonathon Strang Leven, a wealthy merchant, has returned from India having made his fortune there. He has inherited a title and estates in Scotland on the death of a distant relative, but is also seeking the return of an inheritance stolen from his ancestor Edmund Strang Leven over a century ago by the Roxton family. This inheritance being Crecy Hall. He also wants to secure his daughter Sarah Jane’s chances of marrying into nobility. Jonathon is completely self-assured, used to getting what he wants and cares nothing for society’s expectations.

…he did not do as Society expected. He did not apologize. He was not penitent. He did not bow and scrape and back away to be swallowed up by the crowd.

I was totally captivated by Antonia and Jonathan’s love story and enjoyed the older woman/younger man aspect. Having read Noble Satyr (Antonia and Renard’s story), it was easy to see the marked contrast between the vital, exuberant person she once was and the withdrawn, grief-stricken person she has become. I really felt for her son, Julian, who wanted so desperately to help his mother but didn’t know how. I knew he was only doing what he thought best for her although his actions often seemed cruel, unfeeling and misguided.

He was at a loss to know what else he could possibly do or say that he had not already done or said, to drag her out of the vat of grief and self-pity in which she was slowly drowning.

I absolutely loved Jonathon. Having lost his beloved wife in childbirth many years before, he understands Antonia’s grief better than anyone and he is the perfect person to reawaken her to the joys of living. I love his dogged pursuit of her regardless of the consequences whether it be asking her to dance or turning up for breakfast at Crecy Hall uninvited. I also adore him for accepting that “Monseigneur” will always have a place in her heart.

I loved watching Antonia’s initial reactions to Jonathan’s outrageous behaviour and comments. It creates some very funny moments and this is one of my favourites.

“In my experience, Mme la Duchesse, full breasts droop if—”

Pourquoi? Droop? Droop? What is this-this droop?”

Antonia was aghast. Angry pride spurred her to give an outrageously candid and thus indiscreet response. But she had always spoken her mind; it was second nature to her.

“Monseigneur he says I have the most perfect breasts imaginable because they are firm and full, and suspend like ripened fruit still on the tree. That is not droop.”

I also loved the inner conversations between Jonathon’s Business Brain, Heart, Stomach and Vital Organ. So funny!

Ms Brant weaves elements of factual history into the sub-plot involving Antonia’s cousin who is accused of aiding American Revolutionaries. This also provides some suspenseful moments.

If I have one small criticism, it would be that the story ends rather abruptly but, as this is a continuing family saga, I hope to see more of Antonia and Jonathon in later books.

Once again, Alex Wynham’s narration was superb. He continues to amaze me with the wide range of character voices he can produce, each distinctive and sustained throughout the book. I have listened to Noble Satyr and Antonia’s French accent is exactly the same pitch and tone that I remember from that book. His rich, smooth voice is perfect for the deliciously gorgeous Jonathon and his narration of the passionate, romantic scenes made my toes curl.

MY VERDICT: A beautifully crafted, superbly narrated and emotionally satisfying love story that truly touches the heart. Highly recommended.

 

REVIEW RATING: STELLAR 5 STARS

SENSUALITY RATING: SUBTLE

Listened to March 2016

 

Roxton Series so far (click on the book covers for more details):

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

 

**I received a free download of this audiobook from the author in return for a honest review**

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