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Posts Tagged ‘Wendy’s Reviews’

 

(Glasgow and Clydebank Sagas, #1)

 Genre: Historical Romance (Glasgow, mainly during the Depression and WWII)

 Cover Blurb (Amazon):

A warm and poignant story of love, triumph over adversity and the building of the great ocean liner, the Queen Mary, set in Clydebank and the West of Scotland during the Hungry Thirties. Times are hard, but a close-knit community always manages to find a way to laugh at its troubles.

Robbie Baxter is the boy next door, the man Kate Cameron loves like a brother, the man who’s always ready to give her a shoulder to cry on, but it’s Jack Drummond who dazzles her. Kate meets him when she finally achieves her goal of attending classes at Glasgow School of Art in pursuit of her dreams of becoming an artist.

When Jack Drummond shows his true colours, it’s Robbie Kate turns to. Yet she cannot tell him the truth, which means that their growing happiness is a fragile flower, based on a secret which could blow their love and their family to pieces in an instant.

 ♥♥♥♥♥♥

This was a delightfully real, sometimes poignantly sad, but ultimately beautiful tale of Glasgow and its inhabitants. Set mainly during the Depression and WWII, it journeys through eight decades of the life and loves of Kathleen Cameron or Kate as she is mostly known. Her life is alternately joyous and heart-breaking, yet still she triumphs.

The story begins in 1924 when Kate Cameron is 16 and lives in a Glasgow tenement with her father Neil, mother Lily, sisters Jessie and Pearl, and little brother Davy. The family is poor but fiercely proud. Amongst other families sharing the same house are the Baxters, Robbie being the most prominent, as he has loved Kate and will continue to love her through many trials and tribulations. The two families share everything – their happiness, sorrows, even their baking and crockery when needs must. Ms. Craig describes how they prepare for Hogmanay – the scrubbing and cleaning, the first footing of a tall dark man with a lump of coal and black bun, and then the hooting of the ships on The Clyde. All of this I have heard from my own mother, a Glaswegian by birth, and therefore close to my heart.

Kate is a talented young woman and, unusual for the time, is still at school at the age of 16, but it is her father’s desire to see his favourite child continue with her schooling. Kate’s ambition is to attend the Glasgow School of Art, designed by Charles Rennie Mackintosh, one of the many facts incorporated into the story by Maggie Craig to set the scene and stimulate the senses. For anyone unfamiliar with Glasgow, this is a beautiful, iconic building in the Art Nouveau style. Then Kate’s father is laid off work at the Donaldson’s shipyard, along with a large proportion of the workforce of Glasgow. The Great Depression has begun and Kate is finally forced to leave school by her shrewish mother and made to look for work to supplement the family’s meagre income. She is fortunate enough to have the support of two of her former schoolteachers who recommend her for an apprenticeship as a tracer at Donaldson’s.

Two years on, her fairy godmothers further help by pulling strings to obtain Kate a bursary to the School of Art, where she attends as a part time student, and there becomes friends with Marjorie Donaldson, her employer’s daughter. Fellow student, Jack Drummond – upper-class, handsome, elegant, languid, idle, cynical, and a friend of Marjorie’s – begins a charm offensive on Kate but his intentions are far from honourable. Unbeknownst to Kate, he has aspirations of marrying Marjorie for her money. Eventually after plying Kate with champagne at a lunch given at his home, Jack takes advantage of her infatuation but leaves her without a backward glance. Kate discovers that he has become engaged to Marjorie and then that she herself is pregnant. Faced with the choice of an abortion or tricking the honourable Robbie into marriage, she chooses the latter and begins her deceitful secret life with an adoring Robbie. Grace is born, to all intents and purposes a premature baby, and Robbie is in raptures over his daughter.

Robbie Baxter is the epitome of the dark, brooding, honourable hero. He worships Kate and their child and, although Kate is grateful to him, she does not believe she loves him. A few years into their marriage, it takes a visit from Marjorie and Jack to show her what a fool she has been, and it is then she realises how much she loves Robbie, who at last has the love and devotion of his ‘nut-brown maiden’ as he has always called her.

Maggie Craig has absolutely captured the poverty, lives and loves of the people of Glasgow and has a rare talent for understanding together with a real sense of place and time. She captures the hopelessness of The Great Depression, with the proud, brave men of Glasgow traipsing from one place to another in search of work; the horror of the war, both for the families and the men sent to fight; the utter devastation of the bombs being aimed at the shipyards, often missing their target and wiping out whole streets and families. I had a tear in my eye on more than one occasion during this beautiful, turbulent story.

I will always listen to the audio version when one is available, because Maggie Craig employs the talented, versatile, Scottish narrator, Leslie Mackie, who is so in tune with the author’s sensitive storytelling. Ms. Mackie’s beautifully modulated tones capture the feisty, fiercely independent Kate, the languid, slightly bored Jack Drummond, the softly spoken Neil Cameron with his gentle highland lilt, and then there is the darling Robbie Baxter. Who couldn’t love this wonderful, dignified man, so perfectly characterised by the clever Maggie Craig? Ms. Mackie employs a slightly deeper melodious tone for him – the image of this darkly beautiful, decent man so expertly conjured up by this gifted actress. Even the excited childish voice of wee Grace when her father comes home is perfectly captured. The Epilogue is enchanting too.

MY VERDICT: A magnificent feast of a story with a fitting and moving ending. Maggie Craig’s love for her City and its people is apparent in the care and thought she has poured into this wonderful tale of triumph over adversity.

 

REVIEW RATING: STELLAR 5 STARS

SENSUALITY RATING: SUBTLE

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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A Kiss for Midwinter

(Brothers Sinister #1.5)

 Genre: Historical Romance (Victorian)

Cover Blurb (Amazon):

 Miss Lydia Charingford is always cheerful, and never more so than at Christmas time. But no matter how hard she smiles, she can’t forget the youthful mistake that could have ruined her reputation. Even though the worst of her indiscretion was kept secret, one other person knows the truth of those dark days: the sarcastic Doctor Jonas Grantham. She wants nothing to do with him…or the butterflies that take flight in her stomach every time he looks her way.

Jonas Grantham has a secret, too: He’s been in love with Lydia for more than a year. This winter, he’s determined to conquer her dislike and win her for his own. And he has a plan to do it.

If only his plans didn’t so often go awry…

A Kiss for Midwinter is a historical romance Christmas novella in the Brothers Sinister series.

 

First published December 2012

♥♥♥♥♥♥

This was a sweet, clever little novella. So much packed into this heart wrenching, sensitively executed short story.

At the tender age of fifteen, Lydia Charingford is diagnosed as being pregnant by a narrow minded, unsympathetic doctor, who advises her parents to have her put away because she is ruined. In the company of this physician is a young man named Jonas Grantham, about to embark on his medical training and accompanying the elderly doctor to gain experience. Warned to keep his opinions to himself, Jonas feels unable to intervene in the treatment proposed, although he does not agree with the medication prescribed – a decision he forever regrets.

Six years later Jonas returns, now a fully qualified Doctor with some ground-breaking ideas. Young, enthusiastic, tactless, sarcastic and incapable of being anything other than direct and truthful, he is on the lookout for a wife. He draws up a list of eligible young women of which Lydia, whom he does not recognise, is No.11 on said ‘wife list’. Lydia is immediately aware that this tall, good looking young man was present at the moment of her disgrace, and this knowledge puts her on the defensive. She decides she does not like him and, even after Jonas is made aware (by Lydia herself) that it was she six years earlier, Lydia is convinced he thinks her easy and could not possibly be attracted to her.

This is the catalyst for Jonas to decide that no other woman will do and he embarks on a sixteen month pursuit of Lydia, during which, due to the directness of his speech and his inability to lie, she misunderstands every remark he makes to her. To his credit, Jonas will not be turned from his goal and doggedly carries on trying to win Lydia’s heart. As a physician, he recognises that she has not recovered and is really very badly affected by her ordeal six years ago. He patiently tries to help her but his methods and manner of speech do not however endear him to her.

In an era where disgrace of this kind would have, under normal circumstances, completely ruined a young woman, Courtney Milan has tackled a taboo subject in a brave and sensitive manner.  Lydia may have escaped wider censorship with the aid of her friend Minnie and her own caring and loving parents, but she is deeply troubled and hides it with a cheerful and happy disposition. Her own worst critic, she is resigned never to allow herself to find love and is afraid of the natural urges of her own body.

There are also warm and evocative scenes with Jonas and his own father, a self-made man who is desperately ill….real tear jerkers….hankies at the ready!

MY VERDICT: 5 well deserved stars for this wonderful little gem.


REVIEW RATING: 5/5 STARS

SENSUALITY RATING: HOT

 

Brothers Sinister series (click on cover for more details):

The Governess Affair (Brothers Sinister, #0.5) by Courtney Milan The Duchess War (Brothers Sinister, #1) by Courtney Milan A Kiss For Midwinter (Brothers Sinister, #1.5) by Courtney Milan The Heiress Effect (Brothers Sinister, #2) by Courtney Milan The Countess Conspiracy (Brothers Sinister, #3) by Courtney Milan The Suffragette Scandal (Brothers Sinister, #4) by Courtney Milan Talk Sweetly to Me (Brothers Sinister, #4.5) by Courtney Milan

 

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The Black Madonna audiobook.jpg

(Roundheads and Cavaliers, #1)

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

 Cover Blurb (Amazon):

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

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

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

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

♥♥♥♥♥♥

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

REVIEW RATING: STELLAR 5 STARS

NARRATION RATING: STELLAR 5 STARS

SENSUALITY RATING: WARM

 

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Not Quite a Husband

(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?

(First published in May 2009)

♥♥♥♥♥♥

This was my second Sherry Thomas book and I became a firm fan of this author who has a very real and deep understanding of the complexity of the human psyche.

On the face of it, Leo Marsden and Bryony Asquith are a most unlikely pair; he an Adonis, beautiful, popular, outgoing, and a favourite with his family and peers alike; she cold, aloof, serious, a confirmed spinster by choice, and wedded to her work until she meets Leo. The two have been acquainted from childhood, although Bryony is four years his senior and barely noticed the child on the adjoining estate. He, on the other hand, has always been aware of Bryony, secretly watching and admiring the silent, withdrawn girl from afar; infatuated even before he knows the meaning of the word.

It is not until Bryony comes across Leo socially in London that she becomes aware of the incredible young man he has become. She is now twenty-eight years old, unmarried and still an innocent, although in every other way she is anything but, being a surgeon and physician of some repute and a well-respected woman in a man’s profession and world. At twenty-four, Leo has some remarkable achievements under his belt – a brilliant mathematician, an expedition to Greenland, and even a published and performed play. He is popular, well-loved and the darling of everyone who knows him. Bryony finds herself completely smitten and follows him around London while he gives intellectual lectures on subjects about which she knows little – happy to just gaze at him and listen to his voice.

Eventually, he becomes aware of her once more and his own infatuation is rekindled. This time, with the passing of years, they are on a more equal footing. So smitten is Bryony that it is she who does the chasing and eventually, in her forthright way, proposes marriage. A lady of black and white with no grey areas, not capable of any sort of subterfuge herself, she does not allow for any sort of human flaws in the object of her complete devotion; therein lies her downfall – put someone on a pedestal and they are likely to topple.

From the moment of their marriage, even during the ceremony, they are on a downward track. Leo is at a loss; he tries his hardest to make her happy and cannot understand why she eventually denies him her bed, having only just tolerated his advances. The locking of her door against him is the final blow in their brief, tumultuous marriage and Bryony makes the decision to ask Leo for an annulment and he agrees.

Bryony flees the country, eventually ending up in the far reaches of India. After three years, Leo appears after a long trek, to summon her back to London as her father is ill and Bryony’s sister, Calista, has persuaded Leo to find and bring her home. It is during the journey back to England, with a series of enlightening flashbacks, that the story begins to emerge. It is obvious that Leo and Bryony have never stopped loving each other, but the ‘problem’ which becomes apparent and is the reason for Bryony’s sudden change and appalling treatment of Leo, appears insurmountable, I really did not see it coming.

After fleeing a marauding mob, they eventually reach the relative safety of a British fort and land bang in the middle of large-scale tribal unrest against the British, initiated by the Pathan tribesmen along the North-West Frontier of India. Here Bryony’s skills as a surgeon and Leo’s talent with a firearm are much needed. In the terrible days that follow they become closer and begin to put their differences behind them, although the trust on both sides is a different matter.

At the start, it is hard to like Bryony as she is so cold, withdrawn and unforgiving, but, as her own story emerges, my sympathy for her grew. While I didn’t agree with her attitude and actions towards the thoroughly delectable Leo, I did understand. But if she had not behaved the way she did, we wouldn’t have the story, and the story is beautiful, angsty, compelling and utterly romantic.

Sherry Thomas writes in a unique and unusual way. I love her flashback method of telling the story from each point of view, drip feeding the reader and slowly, layer by layer, revealing the reasons and emotions behind Bryony and Leo’s actions. Watching Bryony and Leo rekindling the love that neither had ever lost for the other and, more importantly, regaining the trust necessary for their healing process to begin was so emotionally rewarding.

MY VERDICT: It is a lovely moment when one discovers a writer so in tune with one’s own taste and Ms. Thomas is a talented writer with a unique style that really appeals to me. With a writer of such calibre, I can overlook a few modern slips.

REVIEW RATING: 5/5 STARS

SENSUALITY RATING: HOT

 

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

Delicious (The Marsdens, #1) by Sherry Thomas Not Quite a Husband (The Marsdens, #2) by Sherry Thomas

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Black Sheep Audio

Genre: Historical Romance (Regency)

Cover Blurb (Goodreads):

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

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

First published in 1966

♥♥♥♥♥♥

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


BOOK REVIEW RATING:STELLAR 5 STARS

NARRATION RATING: 5 STARS

SENSUALITY RATING: KISSES

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Genre: Historical Romance (Regency)

Cover Blurb:

 A past dispute …

 When the irascible Lord Darracott’s eldest son dies unexpectedly, the noble family must accept their estranged Yorkshire cousin as heir apparent. They are convinced he will prove to be a sadly vulgar person, but nothing could have prepared the beleaguered family for the arrival of Major Hugo Darracott.…

A present deception…

His clever and beautiful cousin Anthea is sure there’s more to the gentle giant than Hugo’s innocent blue eyes and broad Yorkshire brogue would lead one to believe. But even she doesn’t guess what he’s capable of, until a family crisis arises and only Hugo can preserve the family’s honor, leading everybody on a merry chase in the process.…

(First published in paperback in 1959)

♥♥♥♥♥♥

A five star story and a five star plus audio experience. The extraordinary narration by Daniel Philpott brings this clever, funny, witty tale to life.

Major Hugo Darracott is summoned to Darracott House by his controlling, autocratic, manipulative grandfather. The old man has always known of his grandson’s existence, although the rest of the dysfunctional family do not. His son married a poor common Yorkshire weaver’s daughter against his wishes … or maybe, unbeknown to him, not so poor, or so common. Following the death of his sons and a grandson, Hugh is next in line and, despite his best efforts, Lord Darracott cannot disinherit him.

Hugo is a large amiable man with a determined streak and, despite all outward appearances, he is clever and wily, and very quickly recognises that his aristocratic family thinks him a gormless, cloddish, country bumpkin. And so he deliberately proceeds to live up to their expectations by pulling the wool over their eyes. He exaggerates a broad Yorkshire accent – with hilarious results. One of his cousins, the indolent, sarcastic Vincent, unkindly nicknames him Ajax after the blockish meathead in one of Shakespeare’s plays, Troilus and Cressida. Vincent particularly resents Hugo’s turning up as he himself would have been once removed from inheriting without the appearance of this, never before heard of cousin.

How Hugo induces this eclectic mix of, “up their own backsides” relatives, to like and respect him is clever, funny and endearing. His grandfather has decided that Hugo will marry another cousin, Lady Anthea Darracott, for the dual purposes of bringing him some respectability and also marrying off his granddaughter, who will continue to keep the clod up to snuff and not embarrass the family. Both Anthea and Hugo appear to be against this idea when it is first suggested. However, it doesn’t take long, before Hugo realises that marriage is exactly what he would like to happen. How he goes about convincing Anthea to not only like him, but to care for him….well, I thought it rather lovely.

Other reviewers have commented that this is not a very romantic tale but I think it is – and sweetly so. It is also funny and farcical but has a cleverly written plot. Hugo is a most likeable character – large and apparently guileless – but, of course, he is not, being a well-educated Major, recently of a cavalry regiment, and definitely nobody’s fool. With some skill, he has the entire Darracott family doing exactly what he wishes. The females in the family are the first to recognise this fact.

I loved the wonderful narration by Daniel Philpott; he pitches his voice for each character so perfectly that male and female, young and older are entirely believable and recognisable. Hugo’s Yorkshire accent is plausible when he is laying it on thick to appear cloddish, or when he reverts to his well-educated self with a commanding demeanour and just a very slight Yorkshire burr. Mr. Philpott manages to turn Georgette Heyer’s excellent story into a fabulous one.

MY VERDICT: I highly recommend the audio version to any lover of Ms. Heyer’s work or why not just become a convert? Devotees of Regency Historical Romance won’t be disappointed.

 

REVIEW RATING: 5/5 STARS

NARRATION RATING: STELLAR 5 STARS

SENSUALITY RATING: KISSES

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Cadenza Audiobook.jpg

(Rockliffe, #6)

Genre: Historical Romance (Georgian – 1778)

Cover Blurb:

The performance finished in a flourish of technical brilliance and the young man rose from the harpsichord to a storm of applause.

Julian Langham was poised on the brink of a dazzling career when the lawyers lured him into making a catastrophic mistake. Now, instead of the concert platform, he has a title he doesn’t want, an estate verging on bankruptcy … and bewildering responsibilities for which he is totally unfitted.
And yet the wreckage of Julian’s life is not a completely ill wind. For Tom, Rob and Ellie it brings something that is almost a miracle … if they dare believe in it.

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

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

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After five books in her fabulous Rockliffe series, Stella Riley is finally (and sadly) bringing the series to a close.

But what a swan song!  CADENZA has two compelling love stories at its centre. And who knew that, as well as being an historian (English Civil War – more about that later) of some considerable repute, she is also a knowledgeable and talented musician who has quite simply astounded me with her scholarship, research, and personal knowledge of the world of classical music, and in particular, the harpsichord? 

I am a huge fan of this author who is both an eloquent and creative writer, and each time we are treated to a new book there is never any danger of repetition. Cadenza is a feast for the senses and it’s a treat worth waiting for – from the first page to the last. Each book in the Rockliffe series is quite unique, apart from the ever-present, but fascinating characters who have each had their own stories told in preceding books and who are always in evidence and add something extra special as the series progresses.

Cadenza centres around the world of music with the main character, Julian Langham, being a gifted and supremely talented, harpsichordist – a virtuoso in fact. Julian’s character is unlike any other I have ever encountered in Historical Romance. Since he was old enough to reach a keyboard, he has studied and played almost to the exclusion of all else and was destined to be a musician. At the age of twenty-eight and just teetering on the brink of success in his chosen career, his world of playing and composing is brought to an abrupt halt by a disreputable firm of lawyers who con him into putting his career on hold ‘briefly’ and leaving Vienna to return to the country of his birth to take responsibility for a crumbling, debt ridden estate, and an earldom he neither wants nor even knew he was heir to, so obscure was his claim.

Having lived in the world of music for most of his life, suddenly being faced with the reality of being responsible for his predecessor’s three feral illegitimate offspring and his bewildered tenants, and with debts and problems he cannot ever hope to meet or solve, has the effect on him of being doused by a bucket of cold water, especially when he realises there is no going back. The only tiny (and it is minute) light is a badly abused harpsichord which has been left in a sadly neglected state and is in pieces in the library. At the end of each long, hard day toiling on the estate, Julian begins to painstakingly restore it. Not only is Stella Riley a musician, but she has also carefully researched – with quite remarkable understanding – the inner workings of this instrument which shows in the terminology she uses as she describes Julian slowly beginning to restore it to working order.

Julian may be gentle and slightly vague but he has an honestness, as rigid as a streak of iron, running through his backbone and, although he may not know what to do, he can’t be faulted for failing to do his best – rolling up his sleeves and working alongside his tenants – all the while slowly dying inside without his beloved music to sustain him. His obvious integrity and his determination not to increase rents, even though he desperately needs the money, earns him the respect of the locals and his tenants, not least the local doctor and his wife who befriend and help him as he flounders from one crisis to another. The children, whom he has tracked down and ensconced in the dilapidated nursery, are in turns angry and mistrustful, apart from the youngest, Ellie, who simply accepts him at face value. Tom and Rob are older, and Tom in particular – the twelve-year-old, self-elected protector of the threesome – doesn’t trust his motives. Why should Julian want them? No one has ever cared or wanted them before. Watching him win the boys’ trust, especially Tom’s, is heart-warming. Julian doesn’t employ artifice, he doesn’t know how to – he’s simply himself. In fact, it is his wholly innocent and sincere attitude in his dealings with the children which highlights the kind of man he truly is.

The doctor and his wife realise that Julian needs help, especially with the children and the running of his home, so they propose he employs a housekeeper-cum-governess and set about advertising for a suitable candidate. Elizabeth (Lizzie) Marsden, who wishes to help her family out financially, applies and, after some correspondence, in which she infers a greater age and experience than she has, is offered the position for a trial period. No-one could predict the outcome this action precipitates – a series of events, which once set into motion, escalates and forever changes Julian’s life and those of the children.

Meanwhile another drama is playing out at the home of Arabella Brandon, youngest of the four siblings at Brandon Lacey, where Arabella (Belle) has received the news that she has been jilted, after a three-year betrothal to her soldier fiancé who has not returned from the Colonial wars, instead marrying and settling in America. Her family, in particular her mother, want her to go to London for the season and she is reluctant to do so. She’s far from broken-hearted by the blow her ex-fiancé has dealt her, but, for reasons of her own, is not interested in husband hunting at present. Her closest friend, Lizzie, who happens to be her first cousin, would love a season in London but her clergyman father forbids it, even though the Duke of Rockliffe, a distant cousin of the girls’ mothers’, is happy to sponsor both of them with the aid of his Duchess. Lizzie, a dutiful daughter, realises the futility of trying to persuade her father and has instead begun the process of finding suitable employment.

Belle is the most outgoing and vivacious of the two cousins and I was drawn to her immediately. She is, of course, the one who proposes the outrageous plan which will benefit both of them – she will take up the position Lizzie has just been offered as housekeeper/governess to the children of the Earl of Chalfont and Lizzie will travel to London as the guest of the duke and duchess. The only fly in the ointment being that they must take on the guise of each other. Of course, neither girl gives much thought to the cause and effect of their actions, although to be fair it takes some persuading on Belle’s part. But, eventually realising that it will give Belle some much-needed breathing space, Lizzie agrees and at least she will get her season. After their adventure, the girls will simply return to their old lives – not quite so simple, as we discover.

All goes to plan to begin with. The girls swap clothes, prime Belle’s reluctant lady’s maid and set off together. They part ways some distance from Brandon Lacey as agreed and each travel to their respective destination. Matters start to go awry when Belle arrives at Chalfont and the doctor who meets her is surprised to see how much younger she is than her letter indicated. Even worse, Julian is horrified as she is ‘far too pretty’ and he considers sending her packing. The doctor talks him into giving her a trial period, as she has already won him over with her forthright and practical manner. Julian has had limited experience with the opposite sex and is, quite frankly, terrified of women. He initially appears rude although Belle soon realises, with some surprise, that he is simply painfully shy. The truth is that Julian is deeply affected by Belle, much to his consternation. He is the one who thinks her ‘far too pretty’, whereas most people, including the doctor, think her ‘passably pretty’. A clear case of ‘beauty is in the eye of the beholder’. Not only is she ‘much too pretty’ but her warm, infectious laugh ‘does something to his insides’. I loved this and it is mentioned quite a few times throughout the story – he finds himself aware of her laugh and waits for it – it lifts his spirits and he is always affected in the same way. Of course, as a musician with a highly developed sense of hearing, he would notice such a thing whereas most others wouldn’t. The spark between them is definitely there, and Ms. Riley grows it slowly and sensitively until both are equally smitten with the other. Belle has grown up with three handsome brothers and is therefore not immediately taken in by Julian’s undeniable gorgeousness. But he has something rare which she’s drawn to – he’s totally unaware of his own physical appeal. He never attempts to dress up, in fact, most of the time, he’s downright scruffy, his hair overlong and untidy. She is impressed by his innate kindness, gentleness and thoughtfulness and moved by his complete disregard for what others may think of his taking in three illegitimate children and more – actually loving them.

When Belle realises the extent of his musical talent and what the lack of performing is doing to him, she is resolved to do something for him. It doesn’t take her long to learn that he will shrivel up and die emotionally if he is denied his music. She sets her mind to thinking of ways to help him with the estate. Having grown up at Brandon Lacey observing her brothers using tried and tested methods, set in motion during the English Civil War by their Great-Great-Grandfather, Gabriel, she is resolved to beg her eldest brother’s assistance. Extremely astute, Belle realises that to perform – as he must – Julian needs an estate running in the black to free him for what life intended for him. Belle is on a mission and that’s because she’s finally in love. Eventually the two share a kiss, no more, but it is sensual and loving and both realise that something monumental has occurred. Stella Riley does this so well – she can imply sensuality and sexuality without the need for explicit bedroom scenes.

As Belle is settling into Chalfont, Lizzie has a roadside catastrophe when her coach is damaged and she narrowly avoids serious injury obliging her to accept help from a passing traveller. Ralph, Earl of Sherbourne, isn’t too pleased that his journey has been interrupted by a dripping wet maiden in distress. But, being the consummate gentleman, he does what he must. In the end, with the roads impassable because of heavy rain, Lizzie is forced to spend two nights in his company. All goes well and nothing of importance happens, other than Lizzie becoming more and more intrigued by Ralph’s dark and brooding attractiveness, but he is uncommunicative, preferring to read his Greek copy of the Iliad than converse, except when he must. He does nothing that Lizzie could take the exception to. In short, he does not compromise her other than unwittingly and unwillingly having to escort her to safety. Lizzie is unaware that Ralph has a scandalous past and, without warning, it rises up to bite both of them. They are seen by two ladies travelling in the opposite direction who have stopped for refreshments at the same inn; these ladies put two and two together and come up with five. Sparks fly, especially as one of them quite evidently knows him well.

Stella Riley has set herself quite a task, Ralph Sherbourne is not a character I thought to be redeemable. In Hazard he treated his half-sister, Genevieve, quite abominably. However, we learn that there is so much more to him than meets the eye and the circumstances surrounding the reasons why society shunned him are revealed, although only in confidence to Rockliffe who consequently has a new respect for him. Plus, against the odds, Lizzie likes him and refuses to believe badly of him. It is this unadulterated acceptance of him which surprises and sees him start to thaw from the austere, unapproachable man he has always been. I sensed his deep, black loneliness, keenly. I felt deeply sorry for him, especially when we see him with the Rockliffe ‘gang’ and he secretly envies the camaraderie they share, something he has never experienced. From detesting him in Hazard, I now wanted him to be happy and it seems that vicarage bred Lizzie could be the one so this was quite a turnabout. Ms. Riley couldn’t make everyone love him – that would have been totally implausible, but she’s done an excellent job in at least beginning his redemption with the help of Lizzie. He is understandably bitter – no one has ever believed in him, especially without knowing the facts of his duel and the reasons for it, which when revealed are quite shocking. I certainly didn’t see it coming. There is one particular scene, which again I can’t go into, but which had me rooting for Lizzie and Ralph as she nails her colours to the mast – superb! Ms. Riley at her best.

By now the fat is in the fire for both girls – their subterfuge has been discovered – how could it not? Rock is omniscient and never misses a trick. Once they are unmasked, there is so much to be sorted out to avoid irreversible damage to the reputations of both girls. I won’t go into how, where or what, as this is such a complex story and so deliciously different. And you, dear reader, need to absorb and enjoy! Let’s just say that, as usual Rock is a ‘rock’. His humour, dry wit and urbanity steal the show (I know I say this in every review, but it’s so true and Ms Riley didn’t name this series Rockliffe for nothing).

I promised earlier to mention the Brandon Lacey connection. Fans of Stella Riley will most probably have read her English Civil War series. If not – please do – you will not be disappointed. I myself have only just completed Garland of Straw in which Gabriel and Venetia Brandon are the hero and heroine of that amazing story and are the Great-Great-Grandparents of the current younger generation and I absolutely adored it. My point is, however, that Gabriel was almost bankrupt himself and, using his common sense, set in motion a method of farming which was highly successful and has by the time of Cadenza been used for generations. Belle persuades her brother, Max, to help Julian. I found the connection fascinating and, if I hadn’t read Garland, would probably have just skirted over it. And, by the way, having just mentioned Belle’s eldest brother Max… oh my! Please, please, Ms. Riley, having given us a taste of this gorgeous man – we need more!

Two compelling romances – although my favourite was Julian and Belle, only because they are a couple like no other. And just wait until you see Julian in musical action. I can say no more, other than, gone is the awkward, self-deprecating man and I can honestly guarantee that your heart will melt.

I believe the author intends to develop the Brandon connection (there are three unmarried brothers). I do hope so because I’m not ready to say goodbye to Rock and co.

I would imagine that Cadenza has been Alex Wyndham’s biggest challenge to date in so far as Ms. Riley’s books are concerned. The slow and intense emotional build-up in The Mésalliance and the complexities of Adrian’s character in The Player, both of which are particular favourites of mine, held that distinction for level of difficulty and performance brilliance until now, because Cadenza has also been awarded a special place in my heart; it has both intense emotional build-up and complexity on so many different levels.

Alex Wyndham has performed Stella Riley’s large cast of characters, accumulated over the six books in the series, to perfection. Keeping track would have taxed a less talented performer. He, however, makes it appear effortless.  I wondered how he would deal with the many facets of Julian Langham’s character – not that I doubted, of course – I just wondered and waited… with anticipation, and I was not disappointed. This is one book that is definitely improved by its conversion into audible, but only because of this actor’s consummate skill. The musical content in particular is brought to vibrant vivacity by him and I wondered as I listened – enthralled – how many readers may have missed the brilliance of the author’s writing if their preference is reading and not listening. Her wit and talent is also superbly highlighted; Arabella’s pert and cheeky, lady’s maid, Sherbourne’s valet, with his outrageous remarks and innuendoes, who quite obviously knows how far he can push his apparently formidable employer, and the incomparable Sebastian Audley, whose cat calls and cheeky remarks, which are so much a part of his character created in The Wicked Cousin, are interspersed throughout the latter part of the story. Clever Mr. Wyndham for so perfectly interpreting the author’s intentions for her characters and her eloquent and witty narrative.

I have reviewed Alex Wyndham’s narrating performances on many occasions and am always struck anew by his talent –  and he only gets better. His portrayal of Julian – a man who has so many different and complex traits, is sublime, all of which traits completely steal the show – no pun intended. The books in this series all flow perfectly without any repetition in plot, the only common denominator being the ‘gang’ who have come to mean so much to us, and whose voices and characterisation are all perfectly replicated throughout each book by this extremely talented performer, without any deviation from the original.

MY VERDICT: Another amazing story in this memorable series and one I shall listen to over and over and never tire of. Highly recommended.


REVIEW RATING: STELLAR 5 STARS

NARRATION RATING: STELLAR 5 STARS

SENSUALITY RATING: WARM

 

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

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

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