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beyond scandal and desire

(Sins for All Seasons, #1)

Genre: Historical Romance (Victorian – London 1840 and 1871)

Book Blurb:

At birth, Mick Trewlove, the illegitimate son of a duke, was handed over to a commoner. Despite his lowly upbringing, Mick has become a successful businessman, but all his wealth hasn’t satisfied his need for revenge against the man who still won’t acknowledge him. What else can Mick do but destroy the duke’s legitimate son—and woo the heir’s betrothed into his own unloving arms . . .

Orphaned and sheltered, Lady Aslyn Hastings longs for a bit of adventure. With her intended often preoccupied, Aslyn finds herself drawn to a darkly handsome entrepreneur who seems to understand her so well. Surely a lady of her station should avoid Mick Trewlove. If only he weren’t so irresistible . . .

As secrets are about to be exposed, Mick must decide if his plan for vengeance is worth risking what his heart truly desires.

♥♥♥♥♥♥

This is the first book in Lorraine Heath’s new Sins for All Seasons series and she weaves an emotional, captivating and sensual love story with a totally unexpected twist at the end.

There’d never been anything gentle in his life. Everything he’d experienced had been hard, harsh and challenging.

Raised in poverty in the Rookeries, Mick had clawed his way up to become wealthy, successful, self-assured and powerful. He is stubbornly obsessed with wreaking revenge on his father, the Duke of Hedley, for his refusal to acknowledge Mick as his illegitimate son; a father who tossed him away like a piece of garbage. Mick has no qualms about ruthlessly using his father’s legitimate son, the Earl of Kipwick, and his ward, Lady Aslyn Hastings, in his revengeful plans.

As first, Mick seems hard and ruthless but I soon saw a very different side to him. He cares deeply for his family and knows that he owes his ‘mother’, Ettie Trewlove, a debt he can never repay and does everything he can to make her life comfortable. They may not be related by blood, but he loves all his siblings and would die for each of his brothers without hesitation. He is protective towards his sisters but also willing to fulfil their wishes, whether it be shopping for a parasol for one sister or buying a tavern for the other. I admire his genuine altruistic desire to improve the lives of those in the poorest areas of London by providing homes, and shops that will provide jobs.

Aslyn has been the Duke of Hedley’s ward since her parents died in a railway accident when she was a girl. Beautiful and dignified, she has led a confined and sheltered life, always being the perfect lady, only too aware that her life has been planned out for her as Kip’s wife and a future duchess. But, deep down, she longs for independence and excitement.

Aslyn longed for more: the independence afforded those who weren’t expected to make a suitable match, the carefree moments enjoyed by those not shackled by duty, the excitement offered within the shadows of the night.

I love how Ms, Heath really takes the time to develop the relationship between Mick and Aslyn. The initial meetings engineered by Mick and their secret assignations allow them to talk and get to know each other in a way that feels real and natural. I could see how they compliment each other and felt that they are truly meant to be together.

I enjoyed seeing Mick’s plans begin to unravel as the seducer becomes the seduced…

His purpose was to draw her in while keeping himself at a distance. Instead, she’d managed to entice him into a maelstrom of emotions and sensations, needs and desires, that were foreign to him.

I love his protectiveness, his kindness and the fact that he actually talks to Aslyn and encourages her to be herself. He finds himself longing for her smiles, her laughter, the lilt of her voice and just enjoying being with her. One of the most poignant moments is when he says…

“Never in my life have I longed to be legitimate more so than I do at this very moment.”

Aslyn has never met a man like Mick. He instils in her a desire to break free of the pampered and stifling existence she has led and makes her aware of herself as a woman with needs that go beyond the strict rules of society.

What was it about the man that had such wicked thoughts bursting forth as though they were perfectly normal?

Her feelings for Mick also make her question her relationship with Kip and their suitability, because he has never made her feel alive as she does when she’s with Mick. I love how she never looks down on Mick or his family and regards him as extraordinary for having achieved such success, despite the stigma of his birth. I really respect Aslyn for her courage, determination, compassion and her willingness to stand up for injustice.

I knew that their idyll could not last because Aslyn would eventually learn of Mick’s scheme, and when she does I could feel her anger, her sense of betrayal and her heartbreak, knowing that he would seek to destroy those she loved. When the mystery surrounding Mick’s birth is finally revealed, the twist is one I never expected. I can’t say more other than it is truly heartbreaking and it changes everything that Mick believed to be true. But his actions reveal what an honourable and compassionate man he is, even though it means giving up the woman he loves. When all seems lost, it is Aslyn who finds a solution and ensures their Happy Ever After.

All his life he’d been searching for acceptance, and here it was in the form of a woman with a tilted-up nose and crooked smile.

I like how Ms. Heath highlighted the practice of baby farming in the late Victorian era, a practice that often meant death for the unfortunate illegitimate or unwanted babies handed over to such women.

We meet Mick’s intriguing siblings, each with their own stories to tell in future books, and I was delighted to see Dr. Graves (the hero of The Last Wicked Scoundrel, the final book in Ms, Heath’s Scoundrels of St. James series) in a cameo appearance. There is also a heart-warming Epilogue which left me with a smile on my face.

MY VERDICT: An excellent start to her new series and Ms. Heath delivers everything I look for in historical romance. Highly recommended.


REVIEW RATING: 5/5 STARS

SENSUALITY RATING: WARM

 

Sins for All Seasons series so far (click on the book covers for more details):

Beyond Scandal and Desire (Sins for All Seasons, #1) by Lorraine Heath When a Duke Loves a Woman (Sins for All Seasons, #2) by Lorraine Heath The Scoundrel in Her Bed (Sins for All Seasons, #3) by Lorraine Heath – 26 February 2019

 

 

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Holiday by Gaslight

Genre: Historical Romance (Victorian, 1861)

Book Blurb:

A Courtship of Convenience

Sophie Appersett is quite willing to marry outside of her class to ensure the survival of her family. But the darkly handsome Mr. Edward Sharpe is no run-of-the-mill London merchant. He’s grim and silent. A man of little emotion—or perhaps no emotion at all. After two months of courtship, she’s ready to put an end to things.

A Last Chance for Love

But severing ties with her taciturn suitor isn’t as straightforward as Sophie envisioned. Her parents are outraged. And then there’s Charles Darwin, Prince Albert, and that dratted gaslight. What’s a girl to do except invite Mr. Sharpe to Appersett House for Christmas and give him one last chance to win her? Only this time there’ll be no false formality. This time they’ll get to know each other for who they really are.

♥♥♥♥♥♥

This was such a charming, heart-warming romance – just the perfect start to my Christmas reading. 

Sir William Appersett is virtually bankrupt, having squandered most of the family fortune, together with his eldest daughter Sophie’s dowry, on modernisations to Appersett House. With no male heir, he regards the house as his only enduring legacy. Now he and his wife have brought Sophie and her younger sister, Emily, to London in the hope of finding them wealthy husbands.

Edward (Ned) Sharpe, a draper’s son, is a highly successful and wealthy factory owner. For the past twelve months, he has been considering marriage, but it is only when he sees Sophie Appersett that he seriously contemplates getting married and approaches her father for permission to court her

He’d wanted her from the first. Had known as soon as he looked at her that she was someone worth having in his life, no matter the cost.

Sir William is more than agreeable to Edward courting his daughter because he fully expects that Edward will provide the necessary funds for the next phase of his modernisations. Sophie is not averse to marrying Edward, hoping that, given time, he would come to care for her or even love her. But, after two months of courtship, she can no longer contemplate spending her life with a man who is so solemn, unemotional and lacking in conversation and calls off the courtship.

He never betrayed his feelings with a look or a word. And when it came to conversation, silence was, by far, his favorite subject.

Being unfamiliar with all the rules governing courtship among the upper classes, Edward had turned for advice to the Gentleman’s Book of Etiquette…not very sound advice as it turns out. It seems he has burnt his bridges as far as Sophie is concerned and is most surprised when the lady in question turns up at his office. Sophie has reconsidered and is willing to continue the courtship…perhaps if they talk openly and really get to know each other, she might find she was wrong about them being ill-suited. So, Sophie invites Edward to spend Christmas at Appersett House in Derbyshire.

Sophie and Ned are such appealing characters and the Christmas festivities provide the perfect setting for their romance to flourish. Ned is a man who rarely shows his emotions but feels things deeply, which is evident in his reactions after Sophie calls off the courtship. I enjoyed seeing him slowly emerge from behind that stern appearance and reveal something of his real self to Sophie; the way he treats his parents with respect and shows kindness to her mother, and even to her spoilt sister, Emily; his patience and attentiveness; how, when he smiles, there was a sparkle in his eyes that made her catch her breath; how he surprises her by teasing and flirting!

”…unless you very strenuously object, I intend to kiss you this Christmas.”
Sophie stared at him, her mouth suddenly dry. It took all of her strength of will to compose herself. To moisten her lips and formulate words more substantial than a breathless squeak. “Under the mistletoe, I presume.”
“Under the mistletoe. Under the gaslight. Under the stars.” Ned bent his head close to hers. “Perhaps all three.”

I admire Sophie for her loyalty to her family, even though her profligate father and spoilt sister hardly deserve it. She has shouldered the responsibility for trying to keep the family from financial ruin and I love how Ned is willing to shoulder this burden for her, while he is in Derbyshire, with no strings attached and the freedom to choose what happens afterwards.

Sophie is intelligent, strong, gracious, warm and kind, qualities that Ned recognises and values, unlike her father, and I love how he views marriage as a partnership where they will be equals.

“A partner,” Sophie repeated. “Is that how you think of me?”
He made a soft sound of assent as he enfolded her back into his embrace. “Not very romantic, is it? But I don’t want you to feel powerless with me. I value your intelligence and your strength. I’d rather you stood at my side than in my shadow.”

This was a time of great change both socially and economically and I like how Ms. Matthews explores the theme of adaptation to change by referencing Darwin’s work, which Sophie and Ned discuss, and in comments Sophie makes to her sister.

“We’re part of the modern age,” Sophie tells her sister. “We must change along with it or be left behind in the dust.”

The author’s love for and knowledge of the Victorian era is perfectly reflected in the historical details, the social commentary, and how she captures the essence of a Victorian Christmas.

MY VERDICT: This is a lovely, entertaining and heart-warming novella and the perfect accompaniment to the festive season.

 

REVIEW RATING: 5/5 STARS

SENSUALITY RATING: KISSES

 

 

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Duke of Shadows

Genre: Historical Romance (Victorian – Delhi, 1857 and London, 1861)

Cover Blurb:

In a debut romance as passionate and sweeping as the British Empire, Meredith Duran paints a powerful picture of an aristocrat torn between two worlds, an heiress who dares to risk everything…and the love born in fire and darkness that nearly destroys them.

From exotic sandstone palaces…

Sick of tragedy, done with rebellion, Emmaline Martin vows to settle quietly into British Indian society. But when the pillars of privilege topple, her fiancé’s betrayal leaves Emma no choice. She must turn for help to the one man whom she should not trust, but cannot resist: Julian Sinclair, the dangerous and dazzling heir to the Duke of Auburn.

To the marble halls of London…

In London, they toast Sinclair with champagne. In India, they call him a traitor. Cynical and impatient with both worlds, Julian has never imagined that the place he might belong is in the embrace of a woman with a reluctant laugh and haunted eyes. But in a time of terrible darkness, he and Emma will discover that love itself can be perilous — and that a single decision can alter one’s life forever.

Destiny follows wherever you run.

A lifetime of grief later, in a cold London spring, Emma and Julian must finally confront the truth: no matter how hard one tries to deny it, some pasts cannot be disowned…and some passions never die.

♥♥♥♥♥♥

I’m not sure why it has taken me so long to read DUKE OF SHADOWS, Meredith Duran’s much-praised 2010 debut novel, because I was totally swept by this powerful and beautiful love story.

Accompanied by her parents, Emmeline (Emma) Martin is on her way to Delhi to marry her fiancé Marcus Lindley, an army colonel employed by the British East India Company. Tragedy strikes when the ship sinks in a storm, leaving Emma as the sole survivor. She is rescued by a passing freighter, but the knowledge that she has spent time alone with a crew of rough and ready sailors leaves her reputation, among the Anglo-Indian, tainted by association. Emma discovers that her fiancé is no longer the charming man she knew back in England; he is now a philanderer, gambler and only interested in marrying her for her money. Emma is determined to break off the engagement.

Julian Sinclair, Marquess of Holdensmoor and heir to the Duke of Auburn, has mixed blood – his father was British and his mother was of mixed British and Indian descent. He is torn between two worlds, neither of which he feels he truly belongs to and both cultures regard him with suspicion and disdain. Julian is aware that there is unrest among the Indian troops (sepoys) in the service of the British East India Company and fears a mutiny. However, the British authorities consider Julian an alarmist and fail to heed his warnings.

From their initial meeting, it is obvious that Julian and Emma share a mutual attraction and I love how Ms. Duran develops their romance in the first part of the book. It is so beautifully done and I really believed in their falling in love.

She stirred, small twitches and movements. Soft, sleepy noises. He kissed her again, more deeply this time, and ran a hand down her side, to the swell of her hip. Her eyelashes fluttered up; color came into her cheeks. He smiled against her. Fairy tales were wasted on children. Until this moment, even he had not fathomed the power of waking someone with a kiss.

I could feel how torn Julian is when he makes the difficult decision to leave Emma in Sapnagar. He wants to protect the woman he has come to love and also ensure that his Indian family are safe but, most importantly, he sees it as his duty to try to stop the bloodshed between the two sides. He is a honourable man and does what he believes to be right, unaware of how much it will cost him personally.

Ms. Duran doesn’t shy away from portraying the horror and brutality following the uprising and some of the scenes are harrowing to read., but I feel this is crucial to understanding Emma’s emotional state and her motivations in the second half of the book.

The second half, which takes place in London 4 years later, is such an emotional roller-coaster and I felt as though I was living every moment with Julian and Emma, such was the power and skill of Ms. Duran’s writing. Julian is full of guilt for having left Emma and there is so much anger on Emma’s side, believing that Julian had broken the promise he made and deserted her. I could understand Emma’s anger towards Julian, knowing all the horrific sights she saw and everything she had endured. It is heart-breaking to see how emotionally fragile she is and her paintings seem to represent a way of purging herself of those terrible memories.

When Julian sees Emma for the first time in 4 years, his pain and yearning is a palpable thing but I love him for being so patient with Emma and refusing to let her go. Emma fears that should he learn the truth about her, he would surely reject her.

He was so sure his opinion would be unaffected by anything she told him. But he could not know what was in her head. What was in her. And he would not like it. He would recoil and she would not be able to bear it. Seeing him leave again.

There is no doubt that they still love each other, but it seems that the past will always remain an insurmountable obstacle. Only when they are forced to work together to solve the mystery of who is trying to kill Emma are they able to talk openly and honestly and shed the darkness of the past to find the happiness they truly deserve.

Marcus Lindley was truly despicable in his actions towards Emma and his betrayal and gets a suitable comeuppance in the end.

I was especially intrigued in Julian’s friend and Emma’s patron, Lord Lockwood, whose story is told in Ms. Duran’s latest release The Sins of Lord Lockwood.

MY VERDICTIf you are in the mood for something dark and intense with an original plotline, fascinating characters, suspense and a heart-stopping romance, I can definitely recommend this book.

 

REVIEW RATING: 5/5 STARS

SENSUALITY RATING: WARM

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Hello Stranger UK
(UK Cover)

(The Ravenels, #4)

Genre: Historical Romance (Victorian)

Cover Blurb

A woman who defies her time

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

A man who breaks every rule

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

♥♥♥♥♥♥

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

and include lovely touches of humour…

 “Good heavens.”

Ethan lifted his head and gave her a questioning look.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

REVIEW RATING: 5/5 STARS

SENSUALITY RATING: WARM

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

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

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The Lost Letter

Genre: Historical Romance (Victorian)

Cover Blurb:

England, 1860. An impoverished Victorian beauty is unexpectedly reunited with the now beastly earl who once broke her heart. Will they finally find their happily-ever-after? Or are some fairy-tale endings simply not meant to be?

A PROUD BEAUTY 
Society beauty Sylvia Stafford is far too pragmatic to pine. When the tragic death of her gamester father leaves her destitute and alone, she finds work as a governess in a merchant’s household in Cheapside. Isolated from the fashionable acquaintance of her youth, she resigns herself to lonely spinsterhood until a mysterious visitor convinces her to temporarily return to her former life–and her former love.

A SCARRED BEAST
Colonel Sebastian Conrad is no longer the dashing cavalry officer Sylvia once fell in love with. Badly scarred during the Sepoy Rebellion, he has withdrawn to his estate in rural Hertfordshire where he lives in near complete seclusion. Brooding and tormented, he cares nothing for the earldom he has inherited–and even less for the faithless beauty who rejected him three years before.

A SECOND CHANCE
A week together in the remote Victorian countryside is the last thing either of them ever wanted. But when fate intervenes to reunite them, will a beastly earl and an impoverished beauty finally find their happily-ever-after? Or are some fairy-tale endings simply not meant to be?

♥♥♥♥♥♥

I loved this tender, emotional and romantic debut novel from Mimi Matthews which features a second chance story, one of my favorite themes. 

Colonel Sebastian Conrad followed the career expected of all the second sons of the Earls of Radcliffe and became a soldier. Orderly, disciplined and rather serious, life as a career cavalry officer suited Sebastian perfectly. While on leave in London, he accepts an invitation to a musical evening where he is captivated by the lovely Sylvia Stafford.

With her genuine warmth and kindness, baronet’s daughter, Sylvia Stafford, is very popular and has attracted many suitors. However, it is the rather serious and aloof Colonel Conrad to whom she is attracted.

Over the next two months, they meet ‘by accident’ at various events and it is obvious that they have fallen in love. Sylvia anticipates that Sebastian will propose, especially when he asks for a lock of her hair and they kiss, but Sebastian does not propose, fearing rejection. The following night, he is ordered back to his regiment in India to assist in putting down a rebellion. When Sylvia’s numerous letters to Sebastian go unanswered and Sebastian’s letters to Sylvia are returned unopened, both feel hurt and betrayed by the other.

Three years have passed, and both have experienced dramatic changes in their lives. After Sylvia’s father, an inveterate gambler, lost everything on a hand of cards, he committed suicide and, because of the ensuing scandal, Sylvia’s remaining family and her society friends deserted her. Forced to fend for herself, she obtains a position as governess to a merchant family’s children. It has taken a long time to recover from the pain and hurt of Sebastian’s rejection but now she is happy and contented with her new life.

Terribly scarred and blind in one eye, Sebastian has returned to England to find that both his father and elder brother have died of fever and he is now the Earl of Radcliffe. In continual pain, he lives a lonely and isolated existence in his apartments at Pershing Hall with no interest in running the estate and totally disconnected from his former life. I can understand Sebastian’s reasons for wanting to hide himself away; even his own sister, Julia, screamed when she first saw his face and he fears his tenants’ reactions should they see him.

It was too easy to imagine their horrified reaction to the sight of his scarred face. Granted, he had known most of his father’s tenants since his youth, but mere familiarity was no guarantee that they would not respond to him with pity and disgust.

Julia, however, is determined to draw her brother out of his state of apathy and, when she sees the lock of hair he always keeps with him, she will leave no stone unturned to find its owner.  Having discovered her identity, Julia visits Sylvia and is not above telling a few white lies to persuade a very reluctant Sylvia to return to Pershing Hall as her guest for a few weeks.  It is Julia’s fervent hope that spending time together will rekindle the love that Sebastian and Sylvia once shared. Even though she fears the reception she might get, I admire Sylvia for her courage and compassion in agreeing to accompany Julia.

No matter how cruelly Sebastian had treated her in the past, he did not deserve to be suffering in such a dreadful manner. No one did. If her presence could alleviate even a fraction of his pain, she must go to him.

I like how Ms. Matthews creates a palpable tension between Sebastian and Sylvia in the library scene. Driven by his feelings of hurt, bitterness and anger for having been shunned in such a heartless way, Sebastian is cold and distant towards Sylvia. Knowing of her reduced circumstances, he believes the worst…that her motives are purely mercenary now that he is an earl. While Sylvia is sure that her father’s scandalous death and her bold first letter to Sebastian offended him, and they were the reasons for him not answering her letters.

It is obvious that they are still very much in love, but the past remains an ever-present obstacle until the truth concerning the letters finally comes to light. Someone had deliberately set out to mislead them into believing they had forgotten each other and I felt so much sympathy for Sylvia, knowing that this person had deceived her for their own selfish motives with no thought for her happiness. This is a turning point for them because they are now able to talk openly. I like how Sebastian apologizes for his previous cruel and uncivil behaviour and Sylvia is determined that Sebastian will no longer hide himself away in darkened libraries and shadowy portrait galleries. He is fearful that, seeing him in the light of day, will drive Sylvia away and I love the poignant scene that follows.

…then she set her fingertips very gently on the scar at the side of his eye. Her touch was warm and soft and heart-breakingly tender. He tried to concentrate on his breathing. An impossible task as she began to trace the path of his scar down his cheek.

The romance is beautifully written – sweet, tender and romantic, with only one passionate kissing scene, which fits the mood of the story perfectly.

As in all good romances, the course of true love doesn’t run completely smoothly when Sylvia misconstrues something Sebastian says. It takes the discovery of the ‘Lost Letter’ to put them back on track for a Happy Ever After. It is such a touching moment when Sebastian reads the letter, sealed with a thousand sweet kisses only for him and I love the scene when he finally responds to her letter in person. So romantic!

I like how the secondary characters play an important role in the story, especially Julia and Sebastian’s valet, Milsom. Julia maybe annoying at times and her methods rather questionable, but her heart is in the right place and it’s obvious that she loves her brother very much. I like the genuine affection between Sebastian’s and Milsom. Julia and Milsom’s various ploys to bring Sebastian and Sylvia together are amusing and provide some lighter moments in the story.

I like Ms. Matthews’ elegant writing style and the story has an authentic Victorian feel to it.

MY VERDICT: A beautifully written, emotionally satisfying, character driven love story. Highly recommended.


REVIEW RATING: 5/5 STARS
SENSUALITY RATING: SUBTLE

 

**I received a complimentary copy from the author for the purposes of an honest review. ** 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Not Quite a Husband 2

(The Marsdens, #2)

Genre: Historical Romance (Victorian – North-West Frontier of India and England 1897)

Cover Blurb:

Their marriage lasted only slightly longer than the honeymoon—to no one’s surprise, not even Bryony Asquith’s. A man as talented, handsome, and sought after by society as Leo Marsden couldn’t possibly want to spend his entire life with a woman who rebelled against propriety by becoming a doctor. Why, then, three years after their annulment and half a world away, does he track her down at her clinic in the remotest corner of India?

Leo has no reason to think Bryony could ever forgive him for the way he treated her, but he won’t rest until he’s delivered an urgent message from her sister—and fulfilled his duty by escorting her safely back to England. But as they risk their lives for each other on the journey home, will the biggest danger be the treacherous war around them—or their rekindling passion?

♥♥♥♥♥♥

After reading NOT QUITE A HUSBAND, I wasn’t surprised that it won the RITA Award for Best Historical Romance in 2010.  I LOVED it and was totally swept away by this intensely emotional, second-chance love story.

I understood the importance of the Prologue in revealing Bryony as a woman who feels deeply, and not the cold, unfeeling and often unlikable person she appears to be in the story. Without this glimpse of Bryony’s vulnerability, it would have been hard for me to empathise with her. I also understood how Bryony’s childhood experiences shaped the person she became; not quite two when her mother died, she knew nothing but neglect from her absentee father and desperate loneliness. That all changed with the arrival of her stepmother, Toddy, who became her friend and companion and…

…her fairy godmother who’d dispelled loneliness and breathed magic into her life.

I could only imagine how devastated Bryony was when her beloved Toddy died in childbirth but, later in the story, Toddy’s daughter, Callista, provides some idea of how it affected Bryony.

“All your emotions were so intense—your anger like daggers, your unhappiness a poisoned well. Even your love had such sharp corners and dark alleys.

Eventually, Bryony left home to focus on becoming a doctor with a cool, impersonal dedication and, by the age of 28, she has had an illustrious career, although most of society disapprove of her occupation considering it, or any employment, as inappropriate for a gentleman’s daughter.

Leo is a handsome, charming, witty and extremely popular – a veritable Adonis. He is also greatly admired as a mathematical genius, a budding playwright and an explorer. From the first moment Bryony meets Leo, she falls hopelessly in love with him and can’t believe that such a gorgeous man could be interested in a spinster like herself. What she doesn’t realise is that Leo, who lived on the neighbouring estate, has been in love with her since he was a boy of eleven, 4 years her junior, but she had never even noticed him. When she proposes to Leo, it is the happiest moment of his life but, after the marriage, it is obvious that something is terribly wrong.  Bryony becomes cold, frigid and indifferent to Leo, eventually locking him out of her bedroom. Leo has no idea what the problem is and does everything he can to please Bryony but to no avail, and when Bryony asks for an annulment, Leo agrees.

In the intervening 3 years, after working in various parts of the world, Bryony is running a clinic in the North-West Frontier region of India. The last person she expects to see in this remote part of the world is Leo. Callista has sent him to escort her back home because her father is ill. During the arduous and dangerous journey, Ms. Thomas gradually reveals their past in flashbacks woven into the fabric of story, and these finally shed light on the reason for Bryony’s dramatic change of attitude towards Leo. I felt heartbroken for Bryony discovering that the man she idolized and loved was ultimately flawed. Forgiveness is not in her nature. Toddy had become the yardstick by which she measured everyone and Bryony couldn’t accept anyone who was less than perfect.

I felt Leo’s shame and self-loathing when he finally discovers the real reason for the deterioration of their marriage; knowing that his stupid youthful decision had shattered everything between them and caused Bryony such pain and heartache. But Leo more than redeemed himself in my eyes, because of his continuing love for and his to devotion to Bryony; following her around the world to ensure that she had someone close by if she ever needed help.

Each love scene is beautifully crafted and perfectly reflects Bryony and Leo’s emotional state and I especially love the ‘tub’ scene which is deliciously erotic.

It is obvious that these two still love each other but it is only when they are facing possible death that they are finally able to talk openly and honestly for the first time and realise that they both need to face their fears head on and put their trust in each other.

 She rested her head against the bedpost and gazed at him. “Your trust gives me courage.”     He understood her perfectly. “And your courage gives me faith.”
   She smiled a little. “Do you trust me?”
“Yes,” he answered without any hesitation.
“Then trust me when I say that we will be all right.”
He trusted her. And he knew then that they would be all right, the two of them. Together.

The North-West Frontier of British India provides an unusual setting for the story, and I feel it adds an additional and fascinating layer to the story.  The difficult and dangerous journey seems almost to mirror Bryony and Leo’s turbulent relationship.

Having read the fascinating story behind the book, which Ms. Thomas features on her website, I appreciated her extensive research into the various regions traversed during their journey, the costumes, the culture, the politics and the various factions competing for control in the region. I would recommend visiting Ms. Thomas’s website (link below) before starting the book, because there are various photos including ones of the places mentioned on the journey together with a map.

http://sherrythomas.com/not-quite-a-husband.php

I absolutely love Ms. Thomas’s beautiful, emotive and evocative prose and here are just a few of my favourite quotes.

 To look upon her and know that he’d lost her through his own misdeed—love had become a thing of nails and spikes, every breath a re-impaling, every pulse a bright, sharp pain.
♥♥♥

She glowed. There was no other word for it, as if the walls around her heart had at last crumpled enough to reveal her hidden capacity for joy, for life. And what a radiant thing it was.
♥♥♥ 

“You were the moon of my existence; your moods dictated the tides of my heart.”
 ♥♥♥ 

She wanted them to grow old together, to gaze into each other’s clouded eyes and peck each other on the cheeks with lips sunken over toothless gums.
♥♥♥

The Epilogue provides one on those lovely moments when I knew that Bryony and Leo are assured of a well-deserved Happy Ever After.

On Sunday afternoons, rain or shine, Professor and Mrs. Marsden take a walk along The Backs, and treasure growing old together.

MY VERDICT: Complex, flawed characters, emotional intensity, powerful sexual chemistry and a fascinating historical backdrop all combine to make this an outstanding second chance love story. Highly recommended.


REVIEW RATING: 5/5 STARS

SENSUALITY RATING: HOT


The Marsdens
series (click on the book cover for more details):

Delicious by Sherry Thomas Not Quite a Husband by Sherry Thomas

 

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An Affair With a Notorious Heiress

(Scandalous Gentlemen of St. James, #4)

Genre: Historical Romance (Victorian – London 1872)

Cover Blurb:

The son of a duke and an infamous mother, Alistair Mabry, Marquess of Rexton, fought his way to respectability. Now, the most eligible bachelor in London, marriage-shy Rexton will take only a wife with an impeccable reputation, good breeding, and a penchant for staying out of the gossip sheets. But when he strikes a deal to be seen “courting” a sweet young debutante whose notorious older sister has blemished her chances for marriage, Rexton is unexpectedly drawn to the highly inappropriate, calamitous Tillie, Lady Landsdowne herself.

After a scandalous incident that sent shockwaves throughout society and disgraced her, Tillie refuses to cower in the face of the ton. Instead, she will hold her head high as she serves as chaperone for her younger sister, but Tillie is convinced Rexton’s courtship is shrouded with secrets—ones she vows to uncover. However, doing so requires getting dangerously close to the devilishly handsome and forbidden marquess…

♥♥♥♥♥♥

This is the 4th book in Ms. Heath’s Scandalous Gentlemen of St. James series and, while I enjoyed it, I didn’t feel it had the same emotional intensity which I found so satisfying in the other books in the series.

As heir to the Duke of Greystone, Alistair Mabry, Marquess of Rexton (Rex) enjoys a life of wealth and privilege but, at an early age, he learned that respect didn’t come automatically, it had to be earned. He loves both his parents but, at school, he had been subjected to bullying and insults because of his mother’s scandalous past, but with physical maturity came the ability to fight back and he gradually earned the respect of his fellow pupils. He is determined that his own children will never suffer the same way he did and when he finally chooses a wife, she will be someone ‘with an impeccable reputation, good breeding, and a penchant for staying out of the gossip sheets’.

American heiress, Mathilda (Tillie) Paget, Countess of Landsdowne, caused a scandal when she was caught kissing a footman, leaving her husband no choice but to divorce her. Further scandal ensued when the divorce courts agreed, at Landsdowne’s request, to strip her of her title, but she had the audacity to appeal to a higher court and won her case.  Appalled by her behaviour, society has shunned her, friends have abandoned her, and she has become the target for gossip and disdain. Only her sister, Gina, has remained loyal to her. Tillie is determined to protect Gina and ensure her sister does not make the same mistake she did.

She wanted to help Gina find the right man to wed. She wanted nothing more than she wanted her sister’s happiness.

After seeing, Gina settled, Tillie has every intention of returning to America and making a new life for herself.

The sisters’ uncle, Garrett Hammersely, is aware that Tillie’s notoriety is having an adverse effect on Gina’s chances of finding a titled suitor and persuades Rex to feign an interest in Gina. Mr Hammersley hopes that, as Rex is the most sought-after bachelor in London and well respected by his peers, his attentions will pique the interest of other suitable gentlemen. If he succeeds, Rex will acquire the stud services of Hammersley’s prize Arabian stallion. It’s an agreement he simply can’t refuse. Rex and Tillie, who is acting as Gina’s chaperone, are frequently thrown into each other’s company and soon an undeniable attraction flares between them.

Unaware of the arrangement between Rex and her uncle, Tillie feels guilty because Rex is courting her sister and she would never jeopardise Gina’s happiness. Even when she discovers the true situation, she is wary of ever trusting a man again, which I could understand given her husband’s infidelities. Tillie is just the sort of woman Rex has sworn to avoid but he is fascinated and intrigued by her.

Rex comes to appreciate how difficult it must be for Tillie to chaperone her sister, leaving herself open to society’s censure and wants to protect her from the unkindness of others. I loved him for wanting to do things that bring Tillie joy, especially in the scene where he takes her to a secret destination and she is expecting something nefarious, only to find something magical.

I loved Tillie’s unconditional love for her sister and her determination that Gina would have the happiness she never did. I also admired her for having the strength, courage and determination to fight in any way possible to escape her unhappy marriage, knowing full well the personal cost to herself.

She’d sacrificed her reputation, her standing, her place in Society for a chance to be free of Landsdowne. She’d forced a life of solitude, an absence of friends, onto herself.

Landsdowne’s mother and sister always made it clear that they didn’t consider Tillie good enough for him and treated her atrociously. So, I loved seeing Rex’s sister Grace, the Duchess of Lovingdon, spike the sister’s guns, when she tries to have Tillie and her sister removed from The Royal Tea Palace.

“Come along,” the duchess said to Tillie and Gina.

 Lady Blanford had the audacity to step in front of them. “Mr. Wadsworth, I must insist you prevent this rabble from entering.”

“Come now, Countess,” the duchess said, her voice tight but controlled, “do you really think he is going to adhere to your wishes when doing so will mean that my party immediately leaves to never return? And let’s not forget Lady Landsdowne’s pistol. Scars can be a symbol of courage but I’m not certain that would hold true in your case. Now step aside and do not make a further fuss or you will find yourself being the one escorted out.”

What makes Ms. Heath’s books so special for me is her ability to write beautiful and emotionally moving love stories, but the romance between Rex and Tillie didn’t elicit the same strong emotions that I felt when reading the other books in this series. For me, there were no moments when I thought my heart might break or tears streamed down my face.

I liked Gina who is much wiser than anyone appreciates and I’m looking forward to following her own journey to a Happy Ever After in Gentlemen Prefer Heiresses. I loved how Rex’s family and friends offered their unconditional support for Tillie and it was wonderful to see Rex’s parents, Frannie and Sterling and know that their love is as strong as ever despite the obstacles they face. Their story is told in Surrender to the Devil, the third book in the original Scoundrels of St. James series.

I like how Ms. Heath highlights the unfairness of Victorian society where a divorced wife would be ostracised while her unfaithful husband could carry on as before without any repercussions.

As with all the books in this series, Ms. Heath ends with a lovely Epilogue.

MY VERDICT: This may not be my favourite book in this series but there were still many things I enjoyed about it.


REVIEW RATING: 4/5 STARS

SENSUALITY RATING: WARM

 

Scandalous Gentlemen of St. James series (click on the book covers for more details):

When the Duke Was Wicked (Scandalous Gentlemen of St. James, #1) by Lorraine Heath Once More, My Darling Rogue (Scandalous Gentlemen of St. James #2) by Lorraine Heath The Duke and the Lady in Red (Scandalous Gentlemen of St. James, #3) by Lorraine Heath An Affair with a Notorious Heiress (Scandalous Gentlemen of St. James, #4) by Lorraine Heath Gentlemen Prefer Heiresses (Scandalous Gentlemen of St. James, #4.5) by Lorraine Heath

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