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The Winter Bride audio

(Chance Sisters, #2)

Genre: Historical Romance (Regency, 1816)

Cover Blurb

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

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

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

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

♥♥♥♥♥♥

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

RATING: STELLAR 5 STARS

SENSUALITY RATING: WARM

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

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

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Deadly Affair

(Alec Halsey Mystery, #2)

Genre: Historical Mystery (Georgian, 1763)

Cover Blurb:

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

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

♥♥♥♥♥♥

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

MY VERDICT: Simply superb!


REVIEW RATING: STELLAR 5 STARS

SENSUALITY RATING: SUBTLE

 

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

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


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

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Proud Mary

(Roxton Family Saga, #5)

Genre: Historical Romance (Georgian, 1777)

Cover Blurb:

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

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

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

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

♥♥♥♥♥♥

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


RATING: STELLAR 5 STARS 

SENSUALITY RATING: SUBTLE


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

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

 

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

 

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Publication date: 30th March 2017

Proud Mary

(Roxton Family Saga, #5)

Genre: Historical Romance (Georgian, 1777)

Cover Blurb:

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

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

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

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

 

♥♥♥♥♥

This is the 5th book in Lucinda Brant’s superb Roxton Family Saga series and, once again, I was totally captivated by Christopher and Mary’s tender and beautiful love story. I know reading the previous books in the series will not only enhance your enjoyment of PROUD MARY,  but they are all wonderful books in their own right and shouldn’t be missed.

I always lose myself in one of Ms. Brant’s books, because she writes such intelligent and intricately layered stories with finely-drawn characters, and always makes me feel as if I am stepping back in time and experiencing life  through her characters’ eyes.

I invariably fall in love with her heroes and Christopher is no exception. Apart from being handsome and sexy, he is also kind, generous, sincere and fair. You see this in the benevolent way he treats his tenants and workers; the way he compliments Mary on her skill at embroidery and as an artist, something no one else has ever done; the positive way he treats Teddy while her father was dismissive because she wasn’t a boy.

When the eighteen-year-old Christopher discovers the truth surrounding his birth, I could understand the anger and sense of betrayal he feels towards the two people he loved and trusted.  He sees himself as ‘a bastard, the ill-begotten fruit of an illicit affair between two adulterers.’  His answer is to run away, something that youngsters with problems still do today. I couldn’t condemn him for his choice of employment whilst abroad. Alone and destitute, he uses the only assets he has. He knows that while his position is perfectly respectable in Italian society, it would be deemed scandalous by English society. It is no surprise that, once he returns home and assumes his position as Squire Christopher Bryce, he wants to keep his family secret and scandalous past well hidden.

Mary is such a sympathetic character. No wonder she is so docile and lacking in confidence given her rigid upbringing; a childhood spent with an overbearing mother who constantly drummed into her the correct social rules; a mother who still dominates her life. Then, marriage to the odious, self-centred Sir Gerald not only compounded her insecurities, but also left her believing she is emotionally and physically cold and incapable of enjoying intimacy.

Mary is a wonderful mother and her love for Teddy shines through, and I admire her determination to give her daughter a very different childhood to her own.

…if climbing trees and riding astride and being outdoors all day made Teddy happy, then she, as her mother, would do her best to see that she could do those things

As with all Ms. Brant’s books, the romance is beautifully written; tender, romantic and sensual, without being overtly explicit. I love how Christopher and Mary each let down their guards and confide in each other about their pasts and how Mary is willing to accept Christopher’s past and sees only the man he is now.

 “I truly do not mind about your past; it is who I see before me that matters.”

The unexpected return of someone, thought long dead, provides a definite obstacle to the romance or, perhaps not!

It is heart-warming to see Mary’s new-found confidence, happiness and contentment knowing that she is truly loved.

She looked confident and content, and it radiated. He smiled to himself as he sipped his tea, at the small part he had played in her new-found self-assurance and happiness.

One of my favourite scenes is where Mary finally stands up to her appalling mother and I was positively whooping when Julian, as head of the family, gives Lady Fitzstuart an ultimatum!

I applaud Ms. Brant for not making the issue of their differing social status conveniently disappear like a puff of smoke, but she deals with it in a realistic way. Mary is aware that she will no longer be accepted by certain elements of society, but she and Christopher are content to live in the depths of Gloucestershire, and, as their marriage is accepted and supported by the Roxton family, that is all that matters.

I adore the tomboyish Teddy and how she loves Uncle Bryce as much as her true uncles. There is one very poignant scene where she gives Christopher’s Aunt Kate, who is virtually blind, a personally embroidered pocket for her handkerchief.

I hated Sir Gerald for so cruelly using his daughter as a means of gaining revenge on the Duke of Roxton (Julian).

Poor Julian is often misunderstood and so I was pleased that Christopher immediately sees him as a good and honest man, one he would willingly trust with his life. I love the unlikely friendship that develops between the two men, but perhaps it is not so surprising as Mary observes…

…both were sticklers for exactness and truthfulness, both were honorable and honest, and both could be frustratingly pedantic at times.

I enjoyed all the secondary threads running through the story, the twists and surprises and the welcome appearance of familiar members of the Roxton family, especially Antonia, who seems to steal every scene she graces.

To my delight, there is also a charming Epilogue and is it possible that Teddy and Jack might get a book in the future? I do hope so.

MY VERDICT: Another superb book to add to an equally superb series. If you have not yet read this series, then you have many hours of wonderful storytelling to look forward to. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.


REVIEW RATING:  STELLAR 5 STARS

SENSUALITY RATING: SUBTLE


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

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

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

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A Splendid Defiance - audio

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…

♥♥♥♥♥♥

It’s fair to say that I’m a huge fan of Stella Riley. She can do no wrong in my eyes and I’m running out of superlatives to adequately describe or do justice to her writing. Nevertheless, I will try my best to initiate new readers/listeners and show what an absolute treat they have in store with this superbly performed version of A SPLENDID DEFIANCE.

If you are an historical fiction or historical romance fan, then you must read or listen to Stella Riley’s work, and a good place to start is A Splendid Defiance. It was this story and another of the author’s books, The Marigold Chain, that initially piqued my interest in this turbulent period in England’s history. Both books are superbly researched, standalone stories and each is eminently enjoyable. I couldn’t imagine improving on my enjoyment of the original print version of A Splendid Defiance but, by employing the superbly talented actor, Alex Wyndham, to narrate her powerful story, Ms. Riley has done just that. Mr. Wyndham brings her exciting, historically accurate, wonderfully romantic, feast of a book to multi-dimensional life.

Captain Justin Ambrose has been banished following an ill-advised comment he made about one of the King’s favourites, which unfortunately reached that officer’s ears. Justin is now moodily kicking his heels at the Royalist controlled garrison of Banbury Castle in Oxfordshire, apparently indefinitely. A career soldier of considerable experience, he has earned a formidable reputation and naturally feels resentful at being stuck in the Puritan backwater of Banbury. His generally acerbic and sarcastic tongue is even more prominent as the prolonged inactivity begins to take its toll on his temper.

Abigail Radford (Abby) is a young, sweet and innocent seventeen-year-old when this story begins. She lives and works, along with her mother, younger brother, Sam, and sister-in-law, Rachel, in the home and drapery shop of her elder brother, Jonas. But this is no happy household, for Jonas is an autocratic, over-bearing bully of a man, whose hatred of the Cavaliers at the castle is topped only by his religious fanaticism.

Justin is a man of integrity, honesty and honour and a Royalist to the core. Completely dedicated to his King and cause, there is no room in his life for love and marriage. In his first encounter with Abby – during which he saves her from being ravished by a couple of his subordinates – he doesn’t even see her as more than a terrified girl. It takes several more encounters before he even remembers her and then only fleetingly. It takes several more unplanned meetings before he notices that, beneath the extreme plain clothing and, unflattering white cap, there is a rather sweet and attractive young woman. Any possible developing of interest on Justin’s part – for Abby is already clumsy and tongue-tied in his presence – is further delayed by the arrival of a large Roundhead contingent, the senior officers of which take up residence at the home of Jonas, being the most prominent Banbury citizen and the first siege of the castle begins.

I admire the way Stella Riley grows her love stories in all her novels, but particularly in this one, where it is understated and plausible and entirely in keeping with unfolding events. The historical aspect of the story is all important; Banbury castle was a strategic holding and central to the Royalist cause. Three hundred and fifty men held Banbury castle against almost impossible odds, nearly starving in the process.

After the first siege is over, the Parliamentarians ousted, and on the run after Royalist re-enforcements arrive, the Garrison can breathe again and life returns to some semblance of order. Ms. Riley then continues to develop the interaction and slowly growing attraction between Justin and Abigail, throwing them together in various situations which further advances their apparently ill-fated friendship. For how can two people on opposing sides of a civil war ever have a chance at mutual happiness?

Justin is a multi-layered character with many deep, dark secrets; even his closest friends know little about him, other than he has a well-deserved reputation with the ladies. He is such a believable character, especially when you find yourself getting cross with him because he’s given Abby an undeserved tongue lashing, upsetting her to the point that it feels as if he’s kicked a puppy. But then, conversely, you find yourself going all gooey over him when he’s being particularly charming – and my goodness, he can certainly turn it on when he chooses!  Then it’s clear to see what a terrific job Stella Riley has done in bringing us the very memorable Captain Justin Ambrose because he’s gorgeous – seriously flawed -but still gorgeous, and we love and castigate him in turns.

Abby’s character grows over the course of the story from a timid Puritan to an attractive young woman with a lot more oomph than she had to begin with. Justin sets out initially – not entirely altruistically – to help her stand up to and defy his nemesis, the odious Jonas. In the end, however, he is hoist with his own petard as he finds himself drawn more and more to her quiet, unassuming and undemanding presence. Eventually, Justin realises that she is the only person in his life who has ever cared for him or gives a damn what happens to him, and refreshingly requiring nothing from him in return. Their eventual acceptance of the love between them is heart-warmingly tender and all the better for the waiting. As is the norm with Stella Riley, she doesn’t need to resort to explicit love scenes. Instead, sensuality and tenderness is the order of the day, and I was left with a warm glow as she found a way to bring these two lovely characters together against all of the odds.

As usual, Alex Wyndham’s performance is stupendous. There are few performers who could tackle such a varied and wide cast of characters and fool the listener into feeling as if they are listening to a rather superior radio play, rather than one man’s narrative of a story. Obviously, as this is a story set in war time, it is top heavy with a large cast of men who are often in a multi-character conversation. This holds no difficulty for Mr. Wyndham who switches between a variety of accents, tones and timbres, giving each character a distinct interpretation. Artistically, his performance is faultless, and there is really nothing I could criticise in his portrayal of Stella Riley’s fabulous cast of characters, male or female. While listening to his performance, I discovered that Alex Wyndham has another interesting addition to his repertoire…a very pleasing, rich baritone singing voice. Rarely have I experienced a voice actor/narrator able to perform in this way and certainly none so well.

MY VERDICT: I cannot recommend this audio book highly enough because it has everything that I look for in an historical romance; living, breathing people and so well does Stella Riley blend her fictitious and non-fictitious characters, that it is impossible to see the seams; atmospheric, superbly researched historical content and spine tingling romance. A SPLENDID DEFIANCE is a Stellar 5 stars for both content and narration and another winner for this phenomenal writer/narrator team. 


REVIEW RATING: STELLAR 5 STARS

SENSUALITY RATING: WARM

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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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…

♥♥♥♥♥♥

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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