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a-splendid-defiance

Genre: Romantic Historical Fiction (English Civil War, 1644-1646)

Cover Blurb:

Justin Ambrose, dashing cavalier and close companion to Prince Rupert, was bored with life in the Royalist garrison in Banbury, until he met the sister of a local merchant. Famous for his romantic conquests, Justin had never before let a woman touch his heart.

But Abby was no ordinary woman. She was beautiful and she was brave. She was also young and terrified of her brother, a religious fanatic and self-sworn enemy of all Royalists.

When the rebel army unleashed its might on the castle, Justin fought tirelessly to break the siege. But even his closest friends did not know what tormented him. And Abby, as she sat with the rebel commanders at her brother’s table, dreamed of a man she could not, must not love…

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Since reading her fabulous Rockliffe series, Stella Riley has become one of my top favourite authors and it’s no surprise that I was eager to read more of her books.

In A Splendid Defiance, set during The English Civil War between the Royalists (Cavaliers) and the Parliamentarians (Roundheads), Ms. Riley weaves a wonderful story of love blossoming between a sarcastic, cynical Royalist captain and a young, innocent Puritan girl.

The story takes place in the town of Banbury in Oxfordshire where, while the town itself overwhelmingly supports the Parliamentarians, Banbury Castle is held by a small garrison of 360 Royalists, including Captain Justin Ambrose. One of Prince Rupert’s top cavalry officers, Justin has been ‘exiled’ to Banbury Castle as punishment for criticising a Royal favourite. He deeply resents not being in the thick of the action, which often makes him short-tempered and sarcastic.

The war was being won or lost elsewhere while Justin dealt in bread and coin and barrels of powder; a merchant, a carrier and sometimes a thief –but only infrequently a soldier.

However, he’s also honourable, loyal and trustworthy with a deep sense of duty. Secretive about his past,  it becomes evident, during the course of the story, that something happened that hurt him deeply.

Abigail (Abby) Radford lives a joyless existence.  Every aspect of her life is controlled by her fanatically religious older brother, Jonas, even to choosing the man she will marry – a man who makes her skin crawl.  She is constantly criticised and lectured by Jonas’ overbearing wife, Rachel

‘Well?  What are you waiting for?  There’s the table to be set for supper and Betty to be watched if she is not to burn the meat.  Do I have to tell you everything?’

Her only friend is her younger brother, Samuel (Sam) who has always been her closest companion.

I love how Ms. Riley takes the time to build the romance between Justin and Abigail showing the gradual changes in their relationship and making their falling in love seem natural and believable. There is no great spark when they first meet; Justin treats her with polite indifference and Abigail has no wish to linger with this shameless Cavalier. Gradually an unlikely friendship develops between them and they meet secretly once a week.  I like how they talk and enjoy each other’s company but there is a growing sense that this is more than just friendship and I could feel the deep attraction and growing sexual tension between them.

Initially, Justin’s motive is to encourage Abigail in small acts of defiance against Jonas whom he dislikes intensely but…

…their Tuesdays had become a part of his life –a part he looked forward to –and he didn’t want them to end.

Strong emotions have never been part of his life, but he finds he has a compulsion to protect Abigail and the thought of her being hurt by her bully of a brother is unbearable.

In her earlier meetings with Justin, Abigail sees beyond the irascibility and cursing to a man who is kind, trustworthy and makes her feel safe.  He is also attractive, witty and very sexy, a combination any woman would find hard to resist.

He was attractive and dangerous and he had the power to completely shatter her peace of mind.

It’s a journey of self-discovery for both of them. Justin shows Abigail a world beyond the rigid confines of a life controlled by her brother and gives her the courage to defy him and pursue her own life. Even if she never experiences it again, she has known what love feels like.

Abigail has given Justin – the kind of peace and warmth he had not known in twenty years and had not thought he needed. But she had shown him the myth of that.

It is difficult to see how they can ever find happiness when so much conspires against them -the war and its aftermath, Jonas’ religious zeal and a dark secret from Jonas’ past that threatens Abigail’s life. There is a heart-breaking scene where it seems that their happiness hangs in the balance until Justin realises…

However honourable, sensible or right, he could not bring himself to part with the only good thing life had brought him in a decade; a warm, beautiful girl who, incredibly it seemed, wanted nothing but him and who he loved beyond anything he had ever imagined.

This is a wonderful blend of history and romance and Ms. Riley’s extensive research is evident in the realism she brings to the story. I felt as if I was there in Banbury, experiencing the emotions of the townspeople and what it was like to be one of the defenders in the besieged castle.

Fire-hooks and buckets!’ he yelled.  ‘If the next one hits, it could –’
‘I know.’  Justin gestured curtly to where his troopers were already drenching the thatch of the outbuildings.  ‘But I’ll wager a bottle of claret that the next one is –’ His words were drowned by a whining crescendo that culminated in a deafening, earth-shaking blast.

Many of the secondary characters really existed but the fictional characters are so well drawn that it was difficult to distinguish the real from the fictional.

MY VERDICT: A beautifully written romance with fascinating characters and an engrossing story, rich in historical details. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.

 

REVIEW RATING: STELLAR 5 STARS

SENSUALITY RATING: WARM

 

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pride-and-prejudice-audiobook

Genre: Historical Romance (Regency)

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 Most Jane Austen fans will have read all her work and probably have their favourite amongst them. Almost certainly, one of the greatest favourites will be Pride and Prejudice and one of the reasons for this, I suspect, is the popularity of the 1995 BBC adaptation. There is no doubt that Colin Firth fixed a delicious wet and brooding Mr. Darcy in our minds (although Andrew Davies certainly took some liberties here because Mr. Darcy did NOT come face to face with Lizzie dripping wet!). Then there’s Adrian Lukis, aka Mr. Wickham, the naughty but loveable rogue with a twinkle in his eye, whose character most of us have a secret bad-boy soft spot for.

It’s years since I read Pride and Prejudice but I recently watched the BBC adaptation again (for about the tenth time in the past twenty years). Soon afterwards, I was lucky enough to receive the audio version performed by Alison Larkin, and all I can say is WOW! This one-woman show is simply outstanding and I’m so glad I was able to watch and listen within a short period of time, enabling me to make a fair comparison. For pure spine tingling romance (with no important bits missed out), humour, wit, satyr and astute dialogue, the Alison Larkin audio version wins hands down.

There is no point in reviewing the book in detail… a) because of the above and… b) because it’s the most well-known of this author’s work and has already been reviewed hundreds of times. I will, however, mention some of the characters, but that’s mainly in relation to the narrator’s performance of them.

For instance, Alison Larkin’s execution of the oily, obsequious Mr Collins is sheer genius. Hilariously funny but excruciatingly cringeworthy, it had me chuckling like a loon! He actually has a much larger part in the book but much of the brilliant mordacious dialogue was lost in the screen adaptation.

The venom, jealousy and downright meanness of Mr. Bingley’s sister, Caroline, is so well executed that I clearly felt her antipathy towards Lizzie and her hypocritical, lets-be-friends attitude to Jane.

The difference between the two elder Bennet sisters is well done too; Jane, gullible and believing the best of everyone – even the vitriolic Caroline – and all the while keeping her own emotions well hidden. It was clear to me why Mr. Darcy thought her feelings were not engaged in respect to his great friend, Bingley, which, of course, was the beginning of the big misunderstanding.

Then there’s bright, vivacious Lizzie whose character I have always loved. She sees people and their actions with eyes wide open, and is brought to sparkling life by this talented performer.

Even after reading/listening /watching Pride & Prejudice on numerous occasions and knowing what the contents of the letter contained, I still felt the deep emotion as Alison Larkin movingly reads – in her Darcy voice – that man’s explanation of his actions regarding Jane and Bingley, and his very justified (as it turns out) treatment of Wickham.

There is a fair amount of inner dialogue throughout, which is clearly and concisely conveyed. A good example is Lizzie’s crumbling prejudices and her changing attitude to Darcy, mostly conveyed through her inner musings. Her interest in him grows by degrees as she sees and learns more about the man and her feelings change, first to reluctant liking, then admiration and finally to bone-melting love. It takes an extraordinary performing talent to differentiate between verbal dialogue and inner dialogue without a need for explanation and Alison Larkin has that talent in spades.

When the five sisters are together and in conversation, she conveys with subtle nuances and tone exactly who we are listening to. Amusing and witty, we could be sitting at the dining table with them, listening to their gossip and being asked to “pass the potatoes”. Finally, with regard to individual characters, one of the stars of the show is, in my opinion, the outrageously silly, Mrs Bennett. She has lost the love and respect of her indolent husband in the early years of their marriage and consoles herself with one-upmanship over her female neighbours, especially in her quest to see her five daughters well married. There is a certain bitter sweetness to her character because, although she means well, she goes about it in such a ridiculous manner that she only earns her husband’s further derision and embarrasses her two eldest daughters. This is one of the areas where Alison Larkin’s outstanding talent shines because she artfully conveys the sadness beneath the silliness in a way that it’s possible for the listener to feel sorry for Mrs Bennett whilst still wishing she would just shut-up!

It’s hard to believe that Jane Austen wrote her books two hundred years ago, and therefore we are seeing Regency life through the eyes of someone who actually lived it. She was a satirist and an extremely tongue-in-cheek observer of people and her funny, witty and insightful outlook on life is only really captured in the complete unabridged version of the book. Add into the mix the extraordinary voice and talent of Alison Larkin and we have a recipe for success. If she’d been here to choose, I reckon that Ms. Austen would have selected Ms. Larkin to perform her wonderful stories. For anyone out there who has only ever watched the (even shorter) films or the abridged BBC adaptation of Pride and Prejudice, read the book or even listened to another audio version, I urge you to experience this superior rendition. I promise that you will not be disappointed.

The three Regency songs added to the end give us a taste of what it would have been like to be actually in attendance and listening in the drawing room while genteel young ladies entertained us and their regency audiences. Alison Larkin has a pleasing singing voice to add to her many talents and I very much enjoyed this addition and we are also treated to her comedic talents as she cheekily propositions Mr. Darcy in between songs. I must say – as it always strikes me when listening to this narrator – that she has a ‘smiley’ voice and always sounds as though she is enjoying herself immensely, which is quite infectious and always makes me smile.

MY VERDICT: There is a reason why Alison Larkin has been selected for the ambassadorship of Jane Austen’s work and, after you have listened to her, it will become abundantly clear why. Highly recommended.  


REVIEW RATING: STELLAR 5 STARS

SENSUALITY RATING: KISSES

 

**I received a free copy of this audio book in return for an honest review. ** 

 

 

 

 

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salt-hendon-collection

Genre: Historical Romance (Georgian)

Collection Includes:

SALT BRIDE (Salt Hendon, #1)

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

SALT REDUX: SEQUEL TO SALT BRIDE (Salt Hendon, #2)

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

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

SALT ANGEL (Salt Hendon Novella)

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

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

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This is the second read for me of Lucinda Brant’s Salt Bride and its sequel Salt Redux. This time it’s with the added bonus of the original prologue to Salt Bride having been reinstated and the inclusion of a novella which was originally published as Fairy Christmas in an anthology and which has been newly extended for its addition to the set. The novella, light and sweet – neatly ties off the complete boxed set.

The Salt Duo was my first foray into Lucinda Brant’s gorgeously sumptuous Georgian world and I am now an addict of this author’s work and devour everything she has written, waiting with eager anticipation for her future work. I thoroughly enjoyed these stories – probably even more than I did initially – especially as I now fully appreciate the extensive research and work Ms. Brant has undertaken for each and every book in her fabulous backlist.

The added prologue, which had already been removed when I read Salt Bride (due to some controversy over its content) was not as shocking as I had expected. It tells the story of Miss Jane Despard’s miscarriage and, in my opinion, is very sensitively handled, with just the right amount of information revealed. However, having read the book with and without said prologue, I do not believe the story lacked anything by its absence. Ms. Brant very successfully drip feeds the circumstances of Jane’s miscarriage throughout Salt Bride and, on reflection, I preferred the edition without the prologue, as the gradual revelation of past events adds an extra element of mystery to the story.

Both Salt Bride and Salt Redux feature one of the most memorable female villains I have ever encountered. Lady Diana St. John, Salt’s cousin, is truly an exceptional bad-girl. Highly intelligent, but criminally insane, she operates in such a rational, self-possessed manner that her madness is hidden beneath her cloak of self-assured entitlement. She features highly in both novels and the prologue, completely stealing the show with her machinations and downright badness. The lengths to which she goes to achieve her objectives are truly mind boggling, but so expertly does Ms. Brant develop Diana’s character that she manifests as alarmingly believable. I wondered how the author would give Diana the comeuppance she justly deserves and when it came, I was not disappointed.

I loved the character of Magnus Sinclair, Earl of Salt Hendon. He’s an utterly gorgeous man who has been raised to feel completely comfortable in his own skin and fully accepts his powerful position. But he is finally knocked off his pedestal and brought down to the level of a mere mortal by the love and devotion of the serenely beautiful Jane Despard.

The first book is very much about the traumatic events leading up to their forced marriage (a premise I love in HR) and the development of their romance. It is already in its infancy when they marry, but they have some way to go and we see Salt finally becoming a more human, down-to-earth man, loving husband and future father.

The second book features Salt and Jane with a growing family but highlights Salt’s best friend and diplomat, Sir Anthony Templestowe who has recently returned from St. Petersburg where he was the darling of the Russian court. Salt’s little sister Caroline (Caro), and Anthony (Tony) have loved each other for a while, but a high-profile incident at the end of Salt Bride sent Tony into virtual exile in Russia. He now returns to help find a solution which will immobilise his diabolical sister, Diana, once and for all but also hopefully mend some fences with Caro. Anthony is a self-confessed alcoholic and I loved that Lucinda Brant tackles this very real problem in a pragmatic and practical manner, making it perfectly clear, along the way, that it can’t ever be resolved. Anthony has faced that – as alcoholics must – but, more importantly, has accepted that the fight with his addiction is an ongoing one. He is a darling man and his vulnerability just serves to make his character more real and compelling. Caroline, too, has confessions to make before they can reach their HEA and the two make an interesting and charismatic couple.

Lucinda Brant expertly gathers all her primary characters together to bring Diana down – no mean feat – and I wondered, more than once, how she managed to keep her intricate plotting and placing of characters clear in her head. There is so much going on, especially during the dramatic culmination, I had to think twice about where everyone was at any given time. Lucinda Brant doesn’t just write spine tingling romance; she always throws in an element of clever plotting and mystery too. Her ability to keep us guessing is one of the aspects of her writing that I love.

The novella is a nice addition and brings the whole series to a neat conclusion with not one but two delightful romances. Three of the characters appeared in the Salt Duo as secondary characters and the third, Prince Timur-Alexei Nikolai, makes his first appearance in the novella. Lucinda Brant has a pleasing way of including every age group in her romance. We are never too old for love and the elderly Russian Prince is an absolute sweetheart. His addition to the Fairy Christmas a delightful touch and his love story makes for a perfect ending to a terrific series.

I loved the Salt Hendon collection and if you have never read a Lucinda Brant historical romance or mystery, this is a good place to start.


Audio addition: narrated by Alex Wyndham:

It’s hard to believe that Lucinda Brant’s Salt Hendon Collection could be improved on, but with the addition of the highly talented Alex Wyndham’s performance that is exactly what has happened. This already powerful collection has been taken to a new level and I floated along on a cloud of bliss whilst listening to, and basking in, Alex Wyndham’s velvety tones.

In paragraph two above, I said after reading the eBook version:

 “on reflection, I would conclude that I preferred the edition without the prologue…………”.

I now retract that statement – at least with respect to the audio version – because Alex Wyndham’s portrayal of the disturbing and highly emotive scene where Jane Despard loses her baby is so compassionately and empathetically delivered that I fail to see how anyone listening to it could not be deeply moved. His performance and delivery added another layer to an already emotionally charged scene.

Mr. Wyndham goes on to capture every one of Ms. Brant’s host of fascinating characters and switches effortlessly between male or female, young or old with subtle intonations and nuances so the listener is never in doubt as to who he is, even during a multi character conversation.

Two personalities are deserving of a mention because of Alex Wyndham’s stupendous portrayal of them. One is the villainous Diana, so Machiavellian like in her evil and conniving, but so eye wateringly plausible that she’s just down-right scary but, at the same time, strangely fascinating. Mr. Wyndham’s performance of her comeuppance is nothing less than thrilling and, as the drama builds, Alex Wyndham delivers Lucinda Brant’s words with a slowly building suspense leaving the reader feeling emotionally drained at the culmination.

At the other end of the drama scale, we have the utterly irresistible pussy-cat, Prince Timur-Alexei Nikolai. Alex Wyndham uses a heavily accented, slightly scratchy Russian dialect to depict this kind, sweet, perfectly mannered and gentlemanly prince – a class act. One of those cuddly characters – full of wisdom – you can’t help but love.

The uber talented Alex Wyndham has delivered the Salt Hendon Collection to perfection, bringing Ms. Brant’s words into three-dimensional brilliance and offering us an insight into her opulent and fascinating Georgian world. Finally, there was an exceptionally nice touch when, right at the beginning of the book, Alex Wyndham tells us:

“For all the fans who requested the Salt books as a Brant/Wyndham audio collaboration, it’s all here”

I was especially touched by this statement because I was one of those “fans” and felt as if he was speaking directly to me. Is it any wonder that Lucinda Brant (and now Alex Wyndham) has such a loyal following, albeit well deserved, when she hears what her readers/listeners have to say and actually cares what we think?

MY VERDICT: I defy anyone not to adore this feast of a collection. Highly recommended!


REVIEW RATING: STELLAR 5 STARS

SENSUALITY RATING: SUBTLE

 

**I received free copies of both the ebook and audiobook from the author in return  for an honest review. **

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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the-mesalliance

(Rockliffe Series, #2)

Genre: Historical Romance (Georgian, 1767 and 1775)

Cover Blurb:

The Duke of Rockliffe is 36 years old, head of his house, and responsible for his young sister, Nell. He is, therefore, under some pressure to choose a suitable bride. Whilst accompanying Nell to what he speedily comes to regard as the house-party from hell, he meets Adeline Kendrick – acid-tongued, no more than passably good-looking yet somehow alluring. Worse still, her relatives are quite deplorable – from a spoiled, ill-natured cousin to a sadistic, manipulative uncle. As a prospective bride, therefore, Adeline is out of the question. Until, that is, a bizarre turn of events causes the Duke to throw caution to the wind and make what his world will call a mésalliance.

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This is the second book in Stella Riley ‘s Georgian  Rockliffe series and the hero, the Duke of Rockliffe (Rock), played a significant secondary role in The Parfit Knight. He was such a fascinating character that I was intrigued to meet the woman who would capture his heart.

Handsome, elegant, sophisticated and assured, with a wry sense of humour, Rock is a hero to set any woman’s heart aflutter. He is aware of his duty to marry and provide an heir but has postponed the inevitable, hoping to find genuine love. Having reached the age of 36, he realises the truth of the situation.

…if, in all this time, you had not found what you sought, it was probably because it did not exist.

Since being orphaned, Adeline, now 24 years old, has lived a life of drudgery with her uncle and aunt, Sir Roland and Lady Franklin. Treated with indifference and resentment by her aunt, despised by her beautiful cousin, Diana, and mistreated by her aunt’s brother, Richard Horton, Adeline built a defensive wall around herself. Gradually, she discovered ways of fighting back.

…she had swiftly progressed to the discovery that it was also possible to fight back in small ways –if one was subtle. And the result was a now flawless technique for combining apparent docility with an under-current of clever, hard to combat acidity.

Rock and Adeline first met briefly eight years earlier and I like how the Prologue offers a glimpse of their younger selves. Rock was  still unburdened by the responsibilities of being a duke and Adeline was a wild, sensitive 16 year old. It is obvious that the meeting left an impression on each of them. When they meet again at the Franklin’s ball, Rock now sees a cold-eyed woman with a barbed tongue but is still drawn to her like a moth to a flame. She has a rare quality he can only describe as allure. Of course, although Adeline is everything Rock is looking for in a prospective bride – attractive, intelligent, desirable and won’t bore him to distraction – she is totally unsuitable both in social standing and family connections. However, when Adeline’s cousin Diana’s scheme to compromise Rock into marriage is thwarted, there are unforeseen consequences as Rock and Adeline are caught in a compromising situation and Rock proposes marriage, something he doesn’t appear too upset about.

My difficulty has been that, among all the young ladies of birth, breeding and beauty, I cannot find one who wouldn’t bore me to death in a week – and that, as you know, is the one thing I can’t tolerate.   You, on the other hand, don’t bore me at all; moreover … if you will pardon the indelicacy … I find myself experiencing an increasing desire to take you to bed.’ 

Adeline welcomes the marriage of convenience as a way of escaping her dreadful relatives.

I love the scene where Rock shows his protectiveness when he makes veiled threats to Lady Franklin about treating Adeline with the respect due to her as a duchess. Desperate to win his wife’s love, he is even willing to do something he has never done before – woo a woman. He also shows patience and consideration by allowing Adeline time to adjust to her new circumstances before consummating the marriage. However, I could sense his frustration as time goes on.

It was heart-breaking to see the marriage slowly deteriorate beneath the weight of Adeline’s secrets and her unwillingness to trust and confide in Rock. While I understood Adeline’s fear of losing Rock and her desire to protect him and his family from scandal, it was frustrating watching two people who obviously love each other descend into “a chilly state of impersonal courtesy”. The scenes between Rock and Adeline are so powerfully written and Ms Riley captures all the raw emotions of anger, fear, hurt and frustration.

The scene at the Queensbury Ball, where everything finally comes to a head, is a real tour-de-force and seeing the unflappable Rock finally lose control was definitely a highlight for me!!

Ms Riley always gathers a colourful cast of secondary characters who are all essential to the story. Rock’s friends, Amberley, Harry Caversham and Jack Ingram are only too ready to provide unwanted advice and some much-needed humour; the Franklin family could be described as the family from hell, particularly the malicious, scheming Diana and sly, sadistic Richard Horton.

I enjoyed the secondary romances between Harry Caversham and Rock’s sister, Nell and Jack Ingram and Althea Franklin, the only likeable member of the family. They played out in the background and never overshadowed the main romance.

Every time I listen to Alex Wyndham narrating a book, I close my eyes and it’s as if I’m listening to a radio play performed by several performers rather than just one. Each character has a distinctive and easily identifiable voice and Alex slips between the different characters so effortlessly that I am never in doubt as to who is speaking. It must be hard for a male narrator to voice female characters realistically but Alex succeeds brilliantly.

MY VERDICT:  An intelligently and well-written story with unforgettable characters and a deeply emotional romance, brought vividly to life by Alex Wyndham’s superb narration. A must read/listen to!


REVIEW RATING: STELLAR 5 STARS

SENSUALITY RATING: SUBTLE

 

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

The Parfit Knight by Stella Riley The Mésalliance by Stella Riley The Player by Stella Riley

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

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persuasion-audio-book

Genre: Historical Romance (Regency)

Goodreads Summary:

Twenty-seven-year old Anne Elliot is Austen’s most adult heroine. Eight years before the story proper begins, she is happily betrothed to a naval officer, Frederick Wentworth, but she precipitously breaks off the engagement when persuaded by her friend Lady Russell that such a match is unworthy. The breakup produces in Anne a deep and long-lasting regret. When later Wentworth returns from sea a rich and successful captain, he finds Anne’s family on the brink of financial ruin and his own sister a tenant in Kellynch Hall, the Elliot estate. All the tension of the novel revolves around one question: Will Anne and Wentworth be reunited in their love?

Poems

Austen did not take herself seriously as a poet but she did write occasional, mostly comic verses to entertain family and friends. Selected and introduced by award-winning narrator Alison Larkin, the poems range from lines found on a piece of paper inside a tiny bag she gave to her niece to When Winchester Races a poem she wrote just three days before she died.

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PERSUASION, as far as I am concerned, is the best of Jane Austen novels. Her last, and written when she was close to dying, it demonstrates a maturity and deep understanding of relationships, betrayal, loyalty and love. Ms. Austen’s ability for ironic and comic observation, her knowledge of the social etiquette and customs of the period are incomparable and of course we have the bonus of knowing that she lived in these times and therefore her observations, albeit tongue in cheek, are a faithful account. Just as today there are silly, giddy, self-absorbed people, so there were in that period of history. Nothing has changed and I love her descriptions of the gossipy women and the preening and posturing of some of the gentlemen, also their shallow preoccupation regarding the wealth and looks of their peers.

The young Anne Elliot had rejected Frederick Wentworth, a Naval Officer, on the misguided advice of her friend Lady Russell, and forever regrets her decision. Captain Wentworth returns eight years later, a successful sea Captain who has acquitted himself with honour and made his fortune into the bargain and the tables have turned. Anne’s family are now on the brink of financial ruin and it is she who is not considered a suitable match for him, being penniless, and at 27, almost past marriageable age. Anne still admires and loves Captain Wentworth and, in the eight years following their separation, she has never shown any interest in other men nor been tempted to accept or encourage any proposal of marriage. She is also accepting of her fate, believing that she has thrown away her only chance of happiness with the man she loves

Wentworth is now considered an excellent match for her – if he were at all interested. However, he is still bitter at her rejection – at least to begin with. They politely circle each other being often thrown into the same social circle and Frederick slowly begins to realise that Anne is the same girl he loved and admired so much – worthy, sensible, dignified and without guile.

He overhears Anne having a discussion with a friend on the merits of fidelity and love, professing that men are more able to move on than women after a disappointment in love. ‘The letter’ – oh that letter written in response to this overheard discussion, is so beautiful and eloquent and would melt the most hardened of hearts, certainly mine anyway! Surely one of the most romantic moments in any of Ms. Austen’s wonderful novels.

Bittersweet, given that this was Ms. Austen’s last completed novel before her death at the age of only forty-one, this mature and beautifully crafted love story encapsulating a perfectly painted picture of genteel life in the nineteenth century, is nevertheless a fitting end to her career.

In this 200th anniversary edition, there are the added poems of Jane Austen. Most are light comic verses, for example I’ve A Pain In My Head, others are moving and more serious such as the one she wrote for her dear friend and neighbour four years after her death, To The Memory of Mrs. Leroy. Her last piece When Winchester Races, written in July 1817, just three days before she died, was about a furious Saint who threatens to bring rain upon his subjects for choosing to go to the races rather than honouring him. To me this epitomises Jane Austen’s character; she took life as it came and even when dying chose to be witty and entertaining instead of wallowing in self-pity.

The bonus to my enjoyment of this anniversary edition of my favourite Jane Austen novel is the performance (for she is far more than just a narrator) of the talented actress Alison Larkin. Ms. Larkin’s voice is perfectly suited to Jane Austen’s work – light, amusing, stuffy, pompous, or when called for serious and her range is phenomenal. She handles the vast cast of characters with aplomb and we are never left in any doubt as to who is talking at any given time, even in a multi character conversation. I particularly like how she handles the slightly lowered tones of some of the ‘strictly-in-confidence’ conversations especially when there’s a fair amount of genteel bitchiness going on! Alison Larkin has a lovely ‘smiley’ voice, it’s so pleasant to listen to. A terrific performance and one I wholeheartedly recommend.


REVIEW RATING: STELLAR 5 STARS

SENSUALITY RATING: KISSES

 

**I was voluntarily provided this free review copy audiobook for an honest review. **

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the-winter-crown

(Eleanor of Aquitaine Trilogy, #2)

Genre: Historical Fiction (12th Century – London, 1154)

 Cover Blurb:

 As Queen of England, Eleanor has a new cast of enemies—including the king.

Eleanor has more than fulfilled her duty as Queen of England—she has given her husband, Henry II, heirs to the throne and has proven herself as a mother and ruler. But Eleanor needs more than to be a bearer of children and a deputy; she needs command of the throne. As her children grow older, and her relationship with Henry suffers from scandal and infidelity, Eleanor realizes the power she seeks won’t be given willingly. She must take it for herself. But even a queen must face the consequences of treason…

In this long-anticipated second novel in the Eleanor of Aquitaine trilogy, bestselling author Elizabeth Chadwick evokes a royal marriage where love and hatred are intertwined, and the battle over power is fought not with swords, but deception.

♥♥♥♥♥♥

The Winter Crown is the second instalment in Elizabeth Chadwick’s trilogy of books about Eleanor of Aquitaine, and I devoured it! Ms. Chadwick weaves a rich tapestry of life in medieval England and France under the early Plantagenets – love them or hate them, they shaped English history in a manner that is far-reaching, fascinating and shocking, starting with the large, dysfunctional family of Henry and Alienor (as she was actually known).

The story opens in Westminster Abbey in December 1154 with the coronation of the new king and queen. Already, Alienor has proven her worth in the short period of time she has been Henry’s wife, with one boy child and another in her womb at the time of her crowning – her position is secure. Alienor is Duchess of Aquitaine in her own right, and has brought her young, powerful husband, wealth and additional power through their dynastical marriage. However, he has no intention of allowing her any input into the governance of their lands, and instead keeps her firmly in what he believes to be her place – carrying a child most of the time. They had eight in all, seven of whom live, which was quite a rare feat in those days of high infant mortality.

Ms.Chadwick’s novels are richly character driven, and The Winter Crown is no exception. The intriguing relationship between Henry and Thomas Becket grows through Becket’s Chancellorship to his eventual position as the highest primate in the land – Archbishop of Canterbury. Henry wheels and deals and is eventually hoist by his own petard when his devious, self-serving plan to have Becket holding both offices simultaneously flounders, much to his chagrin. Henry’s intention to stop the church interfering in state business fails so spectacularly that far from being his ally, Becket becomes his enemy and the two men are eventually at loggerheads.

Alienor is depicted as an intelligent and discerning woman with a keen eye and quick brain, more than able to understand the workings of the politics and intrigue of the times; and more importantly, was usually one step ahead in working out her husband’s controlling machinations. A loving and caring mother to her brood, she was nevertheless pragmatic, even if she was not always happy that her children must be sold off in marriage to increase and ensure the continuing fortunes and power of the dynasty. As her family grew into young adulthood she had great influence in their lives, especially in that of her her sons – and most particularly Richard, whom she adored and was the heir to her Duchy. This influence was eventually to be the root cause of her downfall.

Henry is portrayed as being devoid of deep feeling, or at the very least unable or unwilling to show it. There was a powerful, almost animalistic passion between Henry and Alienor in the early days of their marriage, which inevitably burned out as quickly as it had begun. I can see how Elizabeth Chadwick reached her assumption that this was lust and duty as opposed to love; no tender lover would treat his wife and the mother of his children as abominably as Henry did Alienor, especially in his eventual cruel incarceration of her. It is also reasonable to assume that Henry was capable of more, if not love, then at least tenderness, as was shown in his long relationship with Rosamund Clifford.

Ms. Chadwick sets the scene for the emergence of William Marshal as a man to be watched – from his first appearance he is seen as a man of honour and unwavering loyalty. For anyone reading this who has not yet had the pleasure of reading The Greatest Knight you are in for a treat!

All in all, the author’s research into the background and real people in this richly decadent time is impressive. She captures the time and place so perfectly that the characters leap to life before our eyes. Ms. Chadwick’s careful and thorough historical investigation reveals itself in the detail, for instance:

…the tiny bone needle case, exquisitely carved out of walrus Ivory… a length of narrow red ribbon was tucked down the side of the case, and when drawn out, proved to be embroidered with tiny golden lions. It was skilled and beautiful work. One needle was threaded with gold wire mingled with strands of fine honey-brown hair.

Alienor finds this needle case in Henry’s chamber, and throws it into the fire in a fit of temper – the natural reaction of a woman scorned. It adds that touch of understanding and hurt that, despite her regal and dignified bearing, she would have felt when faced with the evidence of her husband’s paramour in his private chambers. And the seamless introduction of this historic artefact, obviously discovered during Ms. Chadwick’s extensive research, is just another way in which this author excels and delights.

MY VERDICT:  If only our children could be taught history in the way that Elizabeth Chadwick tells it – we would have a generation of young people growing up with a thirst for knowledge. The Winter Crown is highly recommended.


REVIEW RATING: STELLAR 5 STARS

SENSUALITY RATING: SUBTLE


Eleanor of Aquitaine Trilogy (click on the covers for more details):

The Summer Queen (Eleanor of Aquitaine, #1) by Elizabeth Chadwick The Winter Crown (Eleanor of Aquitaine trilogy) by Elizabeth Chadwick The Autumn Throne (Eleanor of Aquitaine, #3) by Elizabeth Chadwick


**I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher in return for an honest view.**

 

This review was originally posted on Romantic Historical Reviews:

VIRTUAL TOUR: The Winter Crown by Elizabeth Chadwick

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Dair Devil

(Roxton Series, #4)

Genre: Historical Romance (Georgian, 1777)

Cover Blurb:

 Opposites attract. Appearances can deceive.
A dashing and rugged facade hides the vulnerable man within. He will gamble with his life, but never his heart.
Always the observer, never the observed, her fragility hides conviction. She will risk everything for love.

One fateful night they collide.
The attraction is immediate, the consequences profound…

London and Hampshire, 1777: The story of Alisdair ‘Dair’ Fitzstuart; nobleman, ex-soldier, and rogue, and Aurora ‘Rory’ Talbot; spinster, pineapple fancier, and granddaughter of England’s Spymaster General, and how they fall in love.

Awards for this Book
2014 Readers’ Favorite International Book Award Medalist: Romance-Historical
2014 Readers’ Favorite International Book Award Finalist: Fiction-Historical

Book Details
Series: Stand-alone fourth book in the highly acclaimed ROXTON family saga
Classification: Parental Guidance Recommended (mild sensuality)
Style: Classic romance with a modern voice.

♥♥♥♥♥♥

A beautifully crafted, deliciously romantic love story from Lucinda Brant, superbly performed by the hugely talented Alex Wyndham – what more could I ask for?

Dair Devil is the fourth book in the Roxton series and, although it can be read/listened to as a standalone, I cannot recommend the other books in the series highly enough.

Lord Alisdair (Dair) Fitzstuart, cousin to Antonia, Dowager Duchess of Roxton, is a former major in the British army who fought bravely during the American Revolutionary War and survived despite having a reckless disregard for his own safety. Since returning from the war, he has garnered a reputation for drinking to excess, womanising, never refusing a bet and involving his friends, Cedric Pleasant and Lord Grasby, in all sorts of outlandish pranks. Not commonly known is the fact that he works for Lord Shrewsbury, England’s Spymaster General, as a spy for the Crown. Although Dair is heir to the Earl of Strathsay, his father, who has lived on his sugar plantation with his mistress for years, has given the Duke of Roxton control over Dair’s inheritance and all decisions regarding the estate.  In the meantime, the estate is falling into disrepair, his father refusing to allow any money to be spent on it, and Dair is left playing a waiting game…

Waiting for his father to die. Waiting to inherit. Waiting to do something other than wait.

Aurora Christina Talbot is Lord Shrewsbury’s granddaughter and Lord Grasby’s sister. Born with what we now know as a club foot, Rory walks with a pronounced limp.  At the age of 22, she has no expectations of every marrying , instead…

With no fortune and not enough beauty to overcome a meager dowry, Rory was resigned to living her days as she had begun them, as her grandfather’s dependent.

Both her grandfather and brother love her very much but are often overprotective. So she lives a safe, boring, conventional existence, only alleviated by her interest in the cultivation and caring of her precious pineapple plants.

I love the scene at the beginning where Rory and Dair get all tangled up (literally), Rory having become innocently involved in one of Dair’s escapades which goes dramatically wrong. I won’t spoil it for you because this scene is hilarious and reminded me of one of the old slapstick comedies. Of course, although they have met on occasion socially, Dair has never taken much notice of Rory and fails to recognise her. He is totally captivated by the lovely, witty, honest young woman in his arms and they share a passionate kiss… a kiss that that will turn both their worlds upside down.

I totally fell in love with Dair and Rory and watching their romance gradually unfold was a delight… unashamedly romantic but with just enough hurdles confronting the couple to maintain an element of tension. Rory sees through Dair’s devil-may-care façade to the vulnerable man beneath, whose childhood experiences, especially the reason for his fear of rowing Rory across the lake, are truly heart-breaking. Dair sees past Rory’s disability to the wonderful woman she is and realises how much she has changed his view on life.

Here was a young woman who, through no fault of hers, lived with an impediment every day. It was a circumstance out of her control, and yet she had not allowed it to rule how she viewed the world. She was not bitter. She did not blame others. She was joyful and full of optimism. He needed that in his life. He needed her in his life.

I love the scene on Swan Island where Dair and Rory finally consummate their love because Ms Brant weaves a lovely romantic, playful and sensual atmosphere without being explicit. I also love the story of the tapestry which has special significance having read Noble Satyr.

Dair and Rory have a champion in Antonia, now Duchess of Kinross, and when Lord Shrewsbury refuses to allow the marriage, she is more than a match for the England’s Spymaster General. As she tells Dair – “All men have secrets, Alisdair. Even spymasters.” –  and when she confronts Shrewsbury with his secrets, she is just magnificent.

I thought that Dair’s interactions with the Banks’ family and his acknowledgement of his illegitimate son showed what an honourable man he is. At the same time, I was very relieved that the storyline didn’t veer in the direction of a Big Misunderstanding.

Ms Brant has drawn together an excellent cast of secondary characters, all adding colour and depth to the story. There is also an element of mystery and intrigue as Dair works to uncover the identity of a traitor within Lord Shrewsbury’s spy network, and someone thought long dead is very much alive.

As other reviewers have commented, it is impossible to think of superlatives to describe Alex Wyndham’s performance that have not already been said. He does an amazing job of giving each character their own distinctive voice and literally breathes life into Ms Brant’s characters making listening to her books such a wonderful experience.

MY VERDICT:  Another winner from the magical team of Lucinda Brant and Alex Wyndham. Highly recommended!


REVIEW RATING: STELLAR 5 STARS

SENSUALITY RATING: SUBTLE

Read/Listened to August 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 an honest review**

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