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Posts Tagged ‘Victorian Era’

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.

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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 and 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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Mad for the Marquess

(Reluctant Hearts, #1)

Genre: Historical Romance (Victorian, 1863)

Cover Blurb:

James Drake, Marquess of Devlin, had everything—until he was found covered in blood, standing over a dead girl. Now locked away in a madhouse, he has one short year to recover his memories and prove his sanity, or be condemned for life. But the demons inside Devlin’s head are far easier to battle than the evil surrounding him at Ballencrieff Asylum.

Anne Winton hardly expects to find her calling—or love—while working in a lunatic asylum. But despite all warnings, the “Mad Marquess” proves dangerously fascinating to innocent Anne. She vows to save him not only from his adversaries, but from himself.

Initially, Anne is only a pawn in Devlin’s bid to gain his freedom, until he begins to see her not just as a means to an end, but as a beautifully passionate woman. He must choose: compromise the woman he loves, or languish forever in hell.

♥♥♥♥♥♥

AMAZING – that’s the first word that came to mind after I’d finished reading MAD FOR THE MARQUESS.  Ms. Russell drew me into this compelling, dramatic and intensely emotional romance from the very first pages and kept me totally immersed in the story right up to the last page.

Ballencrieff’s walls pressed more firmly in on him. If he didn’t get out soon, they would crush him into oblivion.

James Drake, Marquess of Devlin, and heir to the Malvern duchy, has enjoyed a life of excess – drinking, gambling, taking opium and enjoying the company of beautiful women. He is also a gifted painter who has exhibited his paintings. However, everything changes when he is found next to the body of a young girl, covered in her blood. He has no memories of the past and his mind has become unbalanced. To secure the succession, his ailing father has James committed to Ballencrieff Asylum for a month, hoping that a cure can be found. Drugged, constrained with chains and manacles and confined in a straight-jacket, James struggles with his inner demons and fears that, unless his memories return and he can prove his sanity, he will never leave the asylum. His salvation comes in the unlikely form of an innocent, naïve and drab young woman.

She squeezed her eyes shut. There was no going back. Her fate lay within the walls of this madhouse

Anne Winton, who was orphaned at the age of four, spent 15 years at Ardsmoore Charitable School. At first, her unusual gift for healing made her the subject of malicious gossip and earned her the name The Witch. Slowly she comes to be accepted by most of the other girls but one jealous, spiteful girl fabricates an incident and accuses Anne of witchcraft. The kindly vicar arranges for her to work at Ballencrieff Asylum as a general companion to two lady inmates, but fate, in the form of the ‘Mad Marquess’, steps in to take her life in a direction she never thought possible.

I loved the complexity of James’ character and Ms. Russell conveys his seeming ‘madness’ with such chilling realism. I felt his pain, fear, anger and desperation; experienced his harrowing nightmares and watched him battle his inner demons. James needs a special kind of heroine and Anne is just that… kind, caring and with a quiet inner strength. I like how she uses her healing powers to bring James an inner peace he has never felt before and understands him in a way no one else does.

You believe the answer to my demons lies in my dreams?”
“I do. Perhaps not all the answers, but dreams are a window into greater clarity.”

I love how she believes in him, challenges him and gives him strength and hope.

Anne has always thought of herself as plain but James sees her with an artist’s eye; he sees beyond her drab appearance to the woman beneath.

Despite her drab feathers, this woman was color, all color. He wanted to show her what he saw. To see herself in glorious color.

I enjoyed seeing James becoming a better man as he recovers. He intends to marry Anne as a means of gaining his freedom from the asylum but, ultimately, he is willing to let her go because she deserves to be loved. It is Anne who willingly sacrifices her freedom to set him free.

The romance provides a sharp contrast to the darker elements of the story. It is tender, poignant and sensual but, not without its problems. Neither are willing to confess their love for each other and Anne believes that James still loves his former mistress, Nora. It is James’ painting that finally brings them together and I love the scene where Anne goes to view the portrait James is exhibiting at The Queen’s Charity Exhibition, believing his model to be Nora.  It is such a beautiful, romantic scene which had me all watery eyed.

He smiled his pirate smile, and her breath hitched. “Not Nora. Never Nora. She is not you. She is not my little Owl. My heart.” She dashed at the tears streaming down her cheeks. Soon her nose would be dripping. This would not do.
His heart. He had painted what was in his heart.

As the story unfolds, it is evident that James has a malicious enemy who will do anything to sabotage his bid for freedom and keep him in the asylum permanently, where an unfortunate fatal accident might befall him. I feel that Ms. Russell maintains the suspense well until the dramatic scene where the villain’s identity is finally revealed. I also like how realistically the villain still has the power to hurt a certain someone from beyond the grave.

There are moments of humour which act as a welcome counterpoint to the darker tone of the story and one of my favourites is…

“What you perceived is a weapon—one Dev is all too adept at using—but it will not kill.” He turned away, shaking his head. “Perhaps slay, á la petit mort, but not kill.”
Little death? Her rudimentary French did not help. “I am not used to riddles, sir. I am afraid I do not understand.”
“No. Better you don’t, Miss Winton. Much better you don’t
.”

The secondary characters all add colour, interest and richness to the story including my particular favourites –  Ivo, James’ gentle giant of a keeper, whose most treasured possession is his pet mouse, and asylum inmate, Lady Matilda (Maddie) Tippitt, who tends to have a penchant for lewd displays, but later proves to be a staunch friend to Anne.

Ms. Russell concludes with a charming Epilogue and there is a rather cheeky reference to an earlier scene in the book.

She dusted off her skirts and then turned to her husband. “Lord Devlin, I believe I feel a cold coming on.”
 “Indeed, my dear?” Ellie reached out a hand trying to remove her father’s nose.
“Yes, I have an irresistible urge to sneeze. I am hoping you might provide some sort of relief.” 

If you want to know its relevance, I’m afraid you will have to read the book!

MY VERDICT: A compelling, intensely emotional and beautiful love story. A MUST READ!


REVIEW RATING: STELLAR 5 STARS

SENSUALITY RATING: WARM

 

Reluctant Hearts series so far (click on the book covers for more details):

Mad for the Marquess (Reluctant Hearts Book 1) by Jess Russell

 

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

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Obsession Wears Opals

(Jaded Gentlemen, #5)

Genre: Historical Romance (Victorian)

Cover Blurb:

Darius Thorne has learned to use his wit and intelligence to strategize a better life for himself. He is the White Knight amidst the small secret circle of gentlemen known only as The Jaded. The handsome scholar shields his heart by keeping a studied distance from the world…until he rescues a beautiful woman.

Isabel Netherton isn’t merely a damsel in distress. A highborn lady of quality unwilling to be a pawn, she is defiantly escaping an abusive husband. But under Darius’s protection she discovers an unexpected champion–a man who teaches her the power of true desire and what it means to be treated like a queen.

However, the law of the land supports her husband’s cruel claim. It will take all of Darius’s cunning to keep one step ahead of their enemies and protect Isabel. In a deadly game of chess, Darius must defeat the Black Knight and sacrifice himself for his Ivory Queen or forfeit all.

♥♥♥♥♥♥

This is the fifth book in Renee Bernard’s highly addictive Jaded Gentleman series.

Darius Thorne is the second son of a dockworker and a fishmonger’s daughter whose drunkard of a father regularly beat his wife and children. Believing he is cursed to become just like his father, Darius pursues an entirely different life, totally immersing himself in scholarly pursuits. He has never let anyone get too close because he’s always been afraid that ‘blood will tell’ and he will hurt someone. His resolve is to be tested when he discovers a half-frozen woman lying in his garden, who obviously needs his help and protection.

After a whirlwind courtship, Lady Isabel, daughter of the Marquis of Penleigh, had fallen in love with the handsome Earl of Netherton. He swept her off her feet with his tender and romantic gestures and her wedding day is filled with thoughts of their future happiness. Those thoughts are soon dispelled on her wedding night when she discovers her husband’s true depraved and sadistic nature. With no-one to help her and fearing for her life, she seizes the opportunity to escape on her beloved horse, Samson, with no money and only the clothes she is wearing. Riding until her horse becomes lame, she collapses from exhaustion, to be rescued by a man who offers her both his help and protection.

I totally fell for the shy, bespectacled, thoughtful, intelligent, scholarly Darius. I love how he cares for Isabel without knowing anything about her, not even her name. He recognises the signs of abuse and, seeing her wedding ring, knows exactly who is responsible and vows to protect her from harm.

Every fiber of his being felt protective of her, unwilling to think too far ahead of his improvised plan to simply provide her a haven until she’d recovered and a better solution could be found.

I really felt all Isabel’s pain and humiliation and understood why, however foolhardy it might seem, escape was her only option. The law provided little or no protection for a married woman and she was at the mercy of her husband, and his threats to have her committed to an asylum or worse were only too real. I like how Ms. Bernard highlights the plight of women during that time and it makes me realise just how lucky we are today.

Although a stranger, Darius’ sincerity and kindness make Isabel feel safe for the first time in months and instinctively she knows that she can trust him.

He’d said he’d not hurt her for all the world and it made no sense in the world she’d experienced to believe him. But there she was, sitting in front of his fire with her bare feet tucked into his lap, half frozen and miserable— and inexplicably feeling safe for the first time in months.

Gradually in the compassionate care of Darius and his housekeeper, Mrs MacFadden, Isabel’s physical and emotions scars heal but she is still lives in fear of her husband finding her. I love how Darius uses the game of chess to convince Isabel that she can be strong and command power, just like the White Queen on his chess board. I enjoyed the fanciful stories they both create around chess pieces as Darius teaches Isabel the intricacies of the game, but also the sense of the growing attraction between them.

“And you?” he asked, still holding her hand across the board. His gaze was steady, the green in his eyes deepening as the contact between them lingered.
M-me?” Isabel tried to regain her mental footing and ignore the sweet fire curling up inside of her.

If there were ever two people who were meant to be together, it is these two. They complement each other in so many ways but there seems an insurmountable obstacle in their way… Isabel’s husband. I love how Darius uses his intellectual prowess and puzzle solving skills to outmanoeuvre Netherton and achieve Isabel’s freedom. However, his plan takes him into dark underbelly of London and he is sickened by the vile things he discovers about Netherton. I love how Isabel helps to dispel his despair in a rather unusual way.

Darius has never allowed himself to fall in love fearing that he could turn out to be a monster just like his father and he would never subject Isabel to such a fate. He also believes that, as a lady of quality, she will be repelled by his humble origins. I love how Isabel makes him realise that his origins do not matter to her; she fell in love with the gentle, caring and intelligent man he is, and he could never be like his father.

I adore Darius’ housekeeper, Ms MacFadden, who is ‘like a kitten that spits and hisses but has no claws’, to quote Darius. In public, she and Darius’ driver and houseman, Hamish, are constantly at each other’s throats, but secretly they are carrying on a clandestine affair which Darius swears is like watching ‘the courtship of porcupines.’

The other members of the Jaded Gentleman make an appearance and I always enjoy seeing the close bond between them, forged during their imprisonment in India.  I also like the genuine friendship that develops between Isabel and Caroline Blackwell, Ashe’s unconventional, American wife (Seduction Wears Sapphires).

The mystery surrounding the identity of their nemesis, the Jackal, and the exact nature of the sacred treasure is very much overshadowed by the romance in this book. I’m sure all will be revealed when I read Desire Wears Diamonds, the final book in the series.

MY VERDICT: Ms. Bernard pens an entertaining, romantic and sensual love story.  With only one more book to go, I will be sorry to say goodbye to the Jaded Gentlemen.

 

REVIEW RATING: 4/5 STARS

SENSUALITY RATING: WARM

 

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

Revenge Wears Rubies (Jaded Gentleman, #1) by Renee Bernard Seduction Wears Sapphires (Jaded Gentleman, #2) by Renee Bernard Ecstasy Wears Emeralds (Jaded Gentleman, #3) by Renee Bernard Passion Wears Pearls (Jaded Gentleman, #4) by Renee Bernard Obsession Wears Opals (Jaded Gentleman, #5) by Renee Bernard Desire Wears Diamonds (Jaded Gentleman, #6) by Renee Bernard

 

 

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