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AUDIO REVIEW: Romancing Mister Bridgerton by Julia Quinn, narrated by Rosalyn Landor

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Everyone knows that Colin Bridgerton is the most charming man in London. Penelope Featherington has secretly adored her best friend’s brother for…well, it feels like forever. After half a lifetime of watching Colin Bridgerton from afar, she thinks she knows everything about him, until she stumbles across his deepest secret…and fears she doesn’t know him at all.

Colin Bridgerton is tired of being thought nothing but an empty-headed charmer, tired of everyone’s preoccupation with the notorious gossip columnist Lady Whistledown, who can’t seem to publish an edition without mentioning him in the first paragraph. But when Colin returns to London from a trip abroad he discovers nothing in his life is quite the same – especially Penelope Featherington! The girl haunting his dreams. But when he discovers that Penelope has secrets of her own, this elusive bachelor must decide…is she his biggest threat – or his promise of a happy ending?

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Publisher and Release Date: AUDIOBOOK EDITION – Recorded Books, April 2017

Time and Setting: London, 1824
Heat Level: 2
Genre: Historical Romance
Reviewer Rating: Content: 4.5 stars, Narration: 5 stars

Review by Caz

The friends-to-lovers trope is one of my favourites in the genre, and one of my favourite examples of it is Julia Quinn’s Romancing Mister Bridgerton, the fourth book in her iconic series about the eight Bridgerton siblings.
Colin is the third son, and has featured in the previous books as a good-humoured, devil-may-care sort of chap; easy going with a killer smile, good sense of humour, able to laugh at himself and always ready with a quip or witty rejoinder. He’s all of those things, but by the age of thirty-three, has started to feel a little disgruntled at being thought of by practically everyone in society as just “A Bridgerton”. His brother is the viscount, his next eldest brother, Benedict, is making a name for himself as an artist but Colin… well, he’s not sure exactly what and who he is, and doesn’t quite know what he wants to do or to be, either.

Penelope Featherington has also appeared in the previous books as a close friend of the Bridgerton sisters, especially of Eloise. She was an object of catty remarks and ridicule for years, owing to her mother’s tendency to dress her in styles and colours that were completely wrong for her and for that lady’s almost maniacal desire to get her daughters married off. At twenty-eight, Penelope is now firmly on the shelf and is resigned to being the spinster daughter who will care for her mother into old age – although the one good thing about her being on the shelf is that she can dress how she wants and eschew the horrible clothes her mother made her wear.

Being a friend of the Bridgerton sisters means that Penelope has also been frequently in the company of the brothers, too, all of whom are friendly and treat her almost as one of the family, making a point of asking her to dance at balls or seeking her out at other functions. For years, Penelope has harboured a tendre for Colin, but has no hope of a return – why should he look at an unprepossessing woman like her when he’s one of society’s darlings; handsome, charming and witty, he is not without female admirers blessed with both youth and beauty and he can have any woman he wants.

Ms. Quinn freshens up the trope and gives it extra depth by virtue of her characterisation of the two principals. Colin is restless; he travels a lot and in fact spends more time abroad than he does in England. He is tired of being thought of as someone who is only good for a laugh and wants to actually do something with his life but he has no idea what until one day, Penelope inadvertently stumbles upon one of his travel journals and is so engrossed by his writing that she suggests he publish them. At first, Colin is furious at her having read his private journals and they quarrel, but eventually, her genuine enthusiasm and praise for his writing surprise and humble him and start him thinking that perhaps this is what he’s meant to do, and he takes her suggestion to heart.

Previously the perennial wallflower, Penelope has discovered that spinsterhood has its benefits; not only because she can dress as she wants, but because she feels free to be more herself and doesn’t have to put up with her mother’s constant attempts to marry her off. But Penelope has been keeping a huge secret from everyone around her for years; something that started as a way for her to fight back at those who looked down on her and that would ruin her if it ever got out. I’m not going to say more here because it’s a massive spoiler; but this secret is the book’s other major plotline and leads to some major conflict between Colin and Penelope later on.

But the real strength of this instalment in the series is in the characterisation and subtle development of the two leads. Penelope’s infatuation with Colin is of long-standing; she fell for his looks and charm without really knowing him, and during the course of the story discovers that he’s not the perfect man she had imagined. Colin knows Penelope only as the slightly plump, shy friend of his sisters, but through spending time with her, comes to realise that she’s also intelligent, quick-witted and lovely. Neither of them really knows how or why things are changing between them, they just know that they are, and those moments when they both start to really see each other – the best parts of any friends-to-lovers romance – are beautifully done.

Rosalyn Landor is, without question, one of the best narrators of historical romance around and her narrations of these previously unrecorded Bridgerton books (6, 7 and 8 were recorded some time ago, but not books 1-5) have been absolutely stellar. Romancing Mister Bridgerton is no exception; Ms. Landor’s pacing is excellent, her vocal characterisations of every single character are superb and in scenes where large numbers of characters appear, listeners can have no problems whatsoever working out who is speaking, so clear and expert is her manner of differentiating between all of them. It doesn’t matter if a character is old or young, male or female, aristocrat or servant, all are perfectly portrayed. I’m particularly fond of her interpretation of the formidable Lady Danbury, a wonderfully acerbic, perceptive but (secretly) kind elderly dowager of the sort so often found in historicals. Her portrayal of Colin, too, is spot on, and absolutely consistent with the way he was voiced in the earlier books in the series; suitably youthful and with a jaunty air that befits his reputation as a carefree young gentleman about town. But here, Ms. Landor is afforded the chance to explore another side of him, and she does it very well, adding a slight edge to his tone in some moments of heightened emotion or giving him a more seductive, husky note in the more intimate scenes.

If you’re a fan of historical romance audiobooks, you’ve no doubt listened to Rosalyn Landor already and know that her name on the front cover is a guarantee of an excellent narration. If you haven’t tried one, then the Bridgerton books can be listened to in any order, although I think you’ll get more out of them if you listen to them in order, as it will allow you to meet each sibling as they pop in and out of other stories in the series and get to know them better.

Whatever you do, though, Romancing Mister Bridgerton is another must listen for fans of this talented author/narrator pair and for fans of historical romance in general.

Stealing the Rogue’s Heart (Rookery Rogues #4) by Erica Monroe

stealing the rogue's heart

WHEN AN UNDERWORLD PRINCESS…

Beautiful, innocent Mina Mason has led a sheltered life as the sister to the most notorious crime lord in England. Her family’s wealth and expectations keep her in a gilded cage, never able to act on her true desires. Like kissing — and engaging in far more scandalous behavior with–Charlie Thatcher, her childhood best friend. As a member of a rival gang, Charlie is distinctly off-limits.

FALLS FOR THE WRONG MAN…

Charlie Thatcher has known since he was a boy where his loyalties should lie: with the Chapman Street Thieves, who saved him from a brutal death in the dark alleys of the Ratcliffe rookery. As a bartender for the Three Boars public house, he protects his fellow brothers with his mind and his fists. But when one of those members threatens Mina’s safety, Charlie’s primal, protective instincts are triggered–and his defense of her puts them both in danger.

PASSION MAY BE THEIR DOWNFALL.

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Publisher and Release Date: Quillfire Publishing, January 2017
Time and Setting: London, 1833
Genre: Historical Romance novella
Heat Level: 2
Review Rating: 4 stars

Review by Sara

Two street gangs, both alike in villainy,
In filthy London where we lay our scene.
From old rivalries to a fragile peace,
Torn asunder fighting for a girl’s esteem.

There is nothing like a romance between star-crossed lovers. The conflicts seem insurmountable but the emotions are almost as large to keep characters fighting for their relationship. In Stealing the Rogue’s Heart, Erica Monroe borrows a little from Romeo and Juliet to set the stage for her tale of love ripped apart by the brutality of the London slums.

In the Rookeries, loyalty to your gang is more important than blood or family. Control of the East End between three equally powerful street gangs: the Kings, the Chapman Street Gang and the Tanners, has kept the area in a state of relative peace for many years. Unfortunately the death of the Tanners’ leader has created a power vacuum that the other two gangs are ready to fill. Tensions are high but Mina Mason has always found a safe refuge from the danger in the company of her good friend Charlie Thatcher. Mina’s position as the younger sister of the Kings’ leader has kept her insulated from threats and Charlie’s ties to the Chapman Street Gang have also shielded her from unwanted attention. Little does Mina realize that her feelings of safety and protection are an illusion easily shattered.

Charlie has loved Mina for almost as long as he’s known her but his allegiance to the Chapman Street Gang doesn’t exactly put him in a position to court her. The Mason family is viewed as near royalty within the Rookeries and Mina has grown up with every convenience the Kings’ money can buy her. Charlie has had to content himself with being Mina’s friend and companion when she leaves her virtual palace to sit in his bar while he works. What Charlie doesn’t realize is that Mina’s reasons for being at his workplace have everything to do with her own deep feelings for him. She has long known that her love for Charlie goes well beyond the friendship he offers. One word from him and Mina would give up all of the luxuries her name affords her to live a simple life with a man who appreciates her for herself and not what her connections would bring.

Mina’s fear that her brother is planning to marry her off to someone loyal to the Kings has her hiding where she is the most comfortable – in Charlie’s pub. Unaware that hostilities between the gangs has reached its boiling point Mina makes the mistake of lingering too long within Chapman Street Gang territory and catches the eye of the wrong man. When he tries to assault her, Mina finds protection in Charlie’s arms; however the fight that ensues in the bar lights a fuse within both groups and Mina’s brother feels the time is right to make his power play andMina becomes a bargaining chip in his plans for more money and influence. Charlie’s actions to defend Mina put a target on his back by his own people and the murder of his opponent in the bar fight forces them to make an example of his perceived disloyalty. With an all-out war on the horizon Mina and Charlie must decide if their devotion to each other is stronger than any influence the gangs have on their lives.

The Rookery Rogues series is like a unicorn within the genre of Historical Romance. The setting and all of the characters are far, far away from the nobility or lavish country estates normally found in such stories . Mina, for as much as she is a rich girl within the sphere that she and Charlie come from, is still living off money gained through criminal activities. Charlie comes from almost nothing and his position in the Chapman Street Gang has forced him to fight or steal just to keep his place as a trusted lieutenant in the organization. The odds are against their ever escaping the rookeries but they both cling to the small bit of happiness they find in each other. Both characters are exceedingly likeable even if the circumstances they live in are dreary or perhaps more on the morally grey spectrum.

I haven’t read the other stories within this series; however Stealing the Rogue’s Heart seems to be a tipping point for serious changes within the Rookeries and both gangs. Watching Charlie and Mina come together while the worlds of the Kings and Chapman Street Gang are poised to fall apart makes this simple love story even more complex. Erica Monroe has just gained herself a new fan and I’ll be interested to see if the events here will be mentioned in future stories.

To Tame a Wild Lady (Duke-Defying Daughters #2) by Ashlyn Macnamara

to tame a wild lady

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Lady Caroline Wilde is expected to ride sidesaddle, but she’s not about to embrace convention. She’s also expected to keep a chaste distance from men like Adrian Crosby, the new estate agent, yet she cannot cease her ogling—which is especially irksome considering their ongoing feud. Adrian insists that the fields must be planted; Caro needs those same fields to train her horses. But whenever she tries to put him in his place, Caro looks into his steely gaze and her words simply … disappear.

A bastard son who grew up on the Wyvern estate, Adrian was lucky enough to receive an education at the behest of the late marchioness. Now that he has set out on his own, Adrian knows better than to fall for Lady Caroline, the Duke of Sherrington’s daughter. Caroline is at once a thorn in his side and an exquisite temptation, especially when she’s playing the feisty daredevil. Adrian would give anything for a chance to tame her—and with Caro in the saddle, he just might get his wish.

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Publisher and Release Date: Loveswept, January 2017

Time and setting:  1822, Suffolk, England
Genre: Historical Romance
Heat Level: 2
Reviewer Rating: 4.5 Stars

Review by Vikki

This second book in Ashlyn Macnamara’s Duke Defying Daughters series, To Tame a Wild Lady is well-written with engaging characters, a great storyline and a fast pace. While there are no explosive, action-packed scenes, I did not miss them. This novel is an excellent example of why I love to read historical romance so much.

Lady Caroline loves riding astride with the wind tossing her curls about her face. Unfortunately, a duke’s daughter is expected to exhibit exemplary decorum, always. Her hoydenish ways get in the way of that much of the time.  The new estate agent is the type of man her father would never want her to acknowledge let alone find attractive, but she disagrees. He’s exactly the kind of man she wants.

Adrian Cosby arrives at Sherrington Hall, ready to take up the management of the duke’s estate. The previous steward was embezzling funds,  and now it’s Adrian’s responsibility to make sure the property becomes solvent again. What he does not count on is the duke’s hoydenish middle daughter trying to circumvent him at every turn.

Can he remember his station and deny his attraction when the lady is determined to capture his attention?

Lady Caroline’s character is charming in a different way. She is not interested in society. She loves her horses and wants to participate in a hunt desperate, which is not done by gently bred ladies during this history time. I loved her fierce determination to accomplish her goal. Her love for her sisters is endearing. I enjoyed her inner-turmoil over her growing feelings for Adrian. Ms. MacNamara writes with just the right amount of emotion, making me fall in love with Lady Caroline, even though, she is not my favorite character arch. Well done!

Who does not love an underdog? Adrian Crosby’s character fits that description perfectly. He is the son of a tenant and has no knowledge of his father. The steward at the Wyvern estate took him under his wing with the blessing of the late marchioness. Now he has a chance to fulfill a dream by taking the position of estate agent to the Duke of Sherrington. He has a problem. He is vastly attracted to the duke’s middle daughter, Lady Caroline, a hoyden to the extreme. I loved the inner-workings of his mind as he tries to push away the desire he feels for the lady. He is my favorite kind of hero, an honorable man.

Ms. MacNamara’s writing flows smoothly, it is descriptive without going too far, and she writes with plenty of heart. I now plan to read the first book in this series – not sure how I missed it. I highly recommend To Tame a Wild Lady to anyone who loves historical romances. This is one for my keeper shelf!

VIRTUAL TOUR : Lady Claire is All That (Keeping Up With the Cavendishes #3) by Maya Rodale

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Her Brains

Claire Cavendish is in search of a duke, but not for the usual reasons. The man she seeks is a mathematician; the man she unwittingly finds is Lord Fox: dynamic, athletic, and as bored by the equations Claire adores as she is by the social whirl upon which he thrives. As attractive as Fox is, he’s of no use to Claire . . . or is he?

Plus His Brawn

Fox’s male pride has been bruised ever since his fiancée jilted him. One way to recover: win a bet that he can transform Lady Claire, Society’s roughest diamond, into its most prized jewel. But Claire has other ideas—shockingly steamy ones. . .

Equals A Study In Seduction

By Claire’s calculations, Fox is the perfect man to satisfy her sensual curiosity. In Fox’s estimation, Claire is the perfect woman to prove his mastery of the ton. But the one thing neither of them counted on is love . . .

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EXCERPT

“Just who does she think she is?” Fox wondered aloud.

“She’s Arabella Vaughn. Beautiful. Popular. Enviable. Every young lady here aspires to be her. Every man here would like a shot with her,” Mowbray answered.

“She’s you, but in petticoats,” Rupert said, laughing.

It was true. He and Arabella were perfect together.

Like most men, he’d fallen for her at first sight after catching a glimpse of her across a crowded ballroom. She was beautiful in every possible way: a tall, lithe figure with full breasts; a mouth made for kissing and other things that gentlemen didn’t mention in polite company; blue eyes fringed in dark lashes; honey gold hair that fell in waves; a complexion that begged comparisons to cream and milk and moonlight.

Fox had taken one look at her and thought: mine.

They were a perfect match in beauty, wealth, social standing, all that. They both enjoyed taking the ton by storm. He remembered the pride he felt as they strolled through a ballroom arm in arm and the feeling of everyone’s eyes on them as they waltzed so elegantly.

They were great together.

They belonged together.

Fox also remembered the more private moments—so many stolen kisses, the intimacy of gently pushing aside a wayward strand of her golden hair, promises for their future as man and wife. They would have perfect children, and entertain the best of society, and generally live a life of wealth and pleasure and perfection, together.

Fox remembered his heart racing—nerves!—when he proposed because this beautiful girl he adored was going to be his.

And then she had eloped. With an actor.

It burned, that. Ever since he’d heard the news, Fox had stormed around in high dudgeon. He was not accustomed to losing.

“Take away her flattering gowns and face paint and she’s just like any other woman here,” Fox said, wanting it to be true so he wouldn’t feel the loss so keenly. “Look at her, for example.”

Rupert and Mowbray both glanced at the woman he pointed out—a short, frumpy young lady nervously sipping lemonade. She spilled some down the front of her bodice when she caught three men staring at her.

“If one were to offer her guidance on supportive undergarments and current fashions and get a maid to properly style her coiffure, why, she could be the reigning queen of the haute ton,” Fox pointed out.

Both men stared at him, slack jawed.

“You’ve never been known for being the sharpest tool in the shed, Fox, but now I think you’re really cracked,” Mowbray said. “You cannot just give a girl a new dress and make her popular.”

“Well, Mowbray, maybe you couldn’t. But I could.”

“Gentlemen . . .” Rupert cut in. “I don’t care for the direction of this conversation.”

“You honestly think you can do it,” Mowbray said, awed.

He turned to face Mowbray and drew himself up to his full height, something he did when he wanted to be imposing. His Male Pride had been wounded and his competitive spirit—always used to winning—was spoiling for an opportunity to triumph.

“I know I can,” Fox said with the confidence of a man who won pretty much everything he put his mind to—as long as it involved sport, or women. Arabella had been his first, his only, loss. A fluke, surely.

“Well, that calls for a wager,” Mowbray said.

The two gentlemen stood eye to eye, the tension thick. Rupert groaned.

“Name your terms,” Fox said.

“I pick the girl.”

“Fine.”

“This is a terrible idea,” Rupert said. He was probably right, but he was definitely ignored.

“Let me see . . . who shall I pick?” Mowbray made a dramatic show of looking around the ballroom at all the ladies nearby. There were at least a dozen of varying degrees of pretty and pretty hopeless.

Then Mowbray’s attentions fixed on one particular woman. Fox followed his gaze, and when he saw who his friend had in mind, his stomach dropped.

“No.”

“Yes,” Mowbray said, a cocky grin stretching across his features.

“Unfortunately dressed I can handle. Shy, stuttering English miss who at least knows the rules of society? Sure. But one of the Americans?”

Fox let the question hang there. The Cavendish family had A Reputation the minute the news broke that the new Duke of Durham was none other than a lowly horse trainer from the former colonies. He and his sisters were scandalous before they even set foot in London. Since their debut in society, they hadn’t exactly managed to win over the haute ton, either, to put it politely.

“Now, they’re not all bad,” Rupert said. “I quite like Lady Bridget . . .”

But Fox was still in shock and Mowbray was enjoying it too much to pay any mind to Rupert’s defense of the Americans.

“The bluestocking?”

That was the thing: Mowbray hadn’t picked just any American, but the one who already had a reputation for being insufferably intelligent, without style or charm to make herself more appealing to the gentlemen of the ton. She was known to bore a gentleman to tears by discussing not the weather, or hair ribbons, or gossip of mutual acquaintances, but math.

Lady Claire Cavendish seemed destined to be a hopeless spinster and social pariah.

Even the legendary Duchess of Durham, aunt to the new duke and his sisters, hadn’t yet been able to successfully launch them into society and she’d already had weeks to prepare them! It seemed insane that Fox should succeed where the duchess failed.

But Fox and his Male Pride had never, not once, backed away from a challenge, especially not when the stakes had never been higher. He knew two truths about himself: he won at women and he won at sport.

He was a winner.

And he was not in the mood for soul searching or crafting a new identity when the old one suited him quite well. Given this nonsense with Arabella, he had to redeem himself in the eyes of the ton, not to mention his own. It was an impossible task, but one that Fox would simply have to win.

“Her family is hosting a ball in a fortnight,” Mowbray said. “I expect you to be there—with Lady Claire on your arm as the most desirable and popular woman in London.”

OUR REVIEW

Publisher and Release Date: Avon, December 2016
Time and Setting: England, 1824
Genre: Historical Romance
Heat Level: 2
Reviewer Rating: 3.5 stars

Review by Caz

The books in Maya Rodale’s current series, Keeping Up With the Cavendishes are all loosely based on well-known movie plots. The first book, Lady Bridget’s Diary… well, that’s pretty obvious. The second, Chasing Lady Amelia is a retelling of Roman Holiday and Lady Claire is All That is a reworking of the popular teen-movie from 1999, She’s All lady-claire-is-all-mm-cThat, which is itself described as a revamp of George Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion. This seems to be a bit of a trend in historical romance at the moment – if we’re not bombarded by overly-cutesy (and mostly ridiculous) song title-titles, we’re getting recycled plots from a medium that wasn’t even around at the beginning of the 19th century; and that makes it really hard to maintain any level of historical accuracy, as characters have to be made to think and do things to fit the plot that vary from “unlikely” to “implausible” to “Just – No.”

That doesn’t mean this isn’t an enjoyable book, because it is. I breezed through it in two sittings; it’s well-written, the two progagonists are engaging and Ms. Rodale has some good points to make about how we sometimes need to adjust our perceptions of self and others if we’re going to be true to ourselves and be the people we’re meant to be. I often find myself saying of this author’s books that they’re ones I will pick up when I want to read something light-hearted and fun and am prepared to check my “historical accuracy” hat at the door. And if that’s what you’re in the mood for, then it’ll likely work for you.

The Cavendish family – three sisters, one brother – moved to London when James Cavendish unexpectedly inherited a dukedom. The three books in the series so far comprise the sisters’ stories, and the storylines run more or less concurrently – which means they can be read in pretty much any order. Their chaperone in London is the Dowager Duchess of Durham, and she is doing her best to ensure that the siblings are accepted into London society. That’s not an easy task, given the rigidity of English society of the time, and the propensity to look down noses at those uncouth, brash Americans – but it’s also true that the Cavendishes aren’t making it all that easy on themselves either. Youngest sister Amelia is impatient with all the rules and conventions and does her best to deliberately flout them, and oldest sister Claire has only one purpose in mind – to meet the renowned Duke of Ashbrooke and discuss advanced mathematics with him. To deter any potential suitors, Claire talks about maths to anyone who will listen – which isn’t anybody for very long.

Lord Fox is very much the equivalent of the US college Jock in the film. He’s gorgeous, fit and excels at pretty much every physical activity he puts his mind to; hunting, fencing, boxing… women… you name it, he’s the best at it. He readily admits that he’s not the sharpest tool in the box, and doesn’t see the trap being set for him when Lord Mowbray wagers that Fox can’t take a wallflower and turn her into the darling of the ton. Fox, whose equally lovely fiancée recently dumped him to run off with an actor, is feeling a little bit bruised – he’s a winner, not a loser – and only realises what he’s let himself in for when Mowbray insists on choosing the recipient of Fox’s assistance – Lady Claire Cavendish.

The plotline is straightforward and proceeds as expected, but what makes the book readable is the way Ms. Rodale handles the gradually evolving perceptions of Fox and Claire, both in terms of how they think of themselves and how they see each other. Not to put too fine a point on it, Claire thinks Fox is stupid; and even though, as the story progresses, she starts to see that his is a different kind of intelligence, she continues to believe that because they don’t match each other intellectually, they don’t belong together. And while Fox is initially all about the wager, he’s impressed by Claire’s “brainbox”; even when he has no idea what she is talking about, he likes the sound of her voice and way her passion for her topic animates her. He comes to appreciate her for what and who she is and doesn’t want her to change, even though it means losing the wager.

On the downside, however, Claire is fairly self-obsessed, and she’s the sort of person who keeps having to remind everyone how smart she is in order to validate her own sense of self-worth. And she’s pretty hard on Fox, making it clear that he’s too dumb for her even though she’s happy to snog and grope him at every available opportunity. He is, however, clever enough to recognise that she’s only interested in his body.

Fox isn’t perfect, either, and his constant refrain of “I win at everything” gets irritating fast, but he’s rather endearing for all that. He is what he is and doesn’t try to be something he’s not – and I liked that he is prepared to go out on a limb for what he wants and doesn’t care what anyone else thinks.

Another flaw is that while the couple does get to know each other well enough to begin to reassess their opinions, there’s no real sense of their actually falling in love. One minute, they’re not in love, and the next they are – and it’s something we’re told rather than shown.

In spite of those criticisms, there’s no question Ms. Rodale is an accomplished author and she writes the familial relationships in this story very well. This is very much a wallpaper historical though, so if you like historical romance that has a strong sense of period, in which the characters speak and act as though they could plausibly come from the 19th century instead of the 21st, then it might not work for you. And then there is the usual complement of Americanisms – by far the worst of which is the constant use of the word “math”. Given that Claire is a mathematician, this is only to be expected, but in England we refer to “mathS” with an “s” on the end (it’s a contraction of mathematicS, after all). It got very annoying very quickly.

Ultimately, Lady Claire is All That is a well-written piece of romantic fluff that’s entertaining and easy to read. Anyone in the mood for something in that line could do a lot worse than to pick it up.

 

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

maya-rodale-colourMaya Rodale began reading romance novels in college at her mother’s insistence and it wasn’t long before she was writing her own. Maya is now the author of multiple Regency historical romances. She lives in New York City with her darling dog and a rogue of her own.

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The Danger of Desire (Sinful Suitors #3) by Sabrina Jeffries – PLUS A GIVEAWAY!

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To root out the card cheat responsible for her brother’s death, Miss Delia Trevor spends her evenings dancing her way through high society balls, and her late nights disguised as a young man gambling her way through London’s gaming hells. Then one night, handsome Warren Corry, the Marquess of Knightford, a notorious member of St. George’s Club, recognizes her. When he threatens to reveal her secret, she’s determined to keep him from ruining her plans, even if it means playing a cat-and-mouse game with the enigmatic rakehell.

Warren knows the danger of her game, and he refuses to watch her lose everything while gaining justice for her late brother. But when she starts to delve beneath his carefully crafted façade, can he keep her at arm’s length while still protecting her? Or will their hot desires explode into a love that transcends the secrets of their pasts?

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Publisher and Release Date: Pocket Books, November 2016
Time and Setting: England 1830
Heat Level: 2
Genre: Historical Romance
Reviewer Rating: 4 stars

Review by Caz

This third book in Sabrina Jeffries’ Sinful Suitors features Warren Corry, the Marquess of Knightford, a man whose many and varied amorous exploits have earned him the reputation as a scoundrel of the highest order. Readers met Warren – briefly – in the previous book, The Study of Seduction, when he asked his best friend, Edwin, the Earl of Blakeborough, to keep an eye on his ward, Clarissa while he (Warren) saw to some important business abroad. Warren and Edwin are old friends and members of the St. George’s Club, a gentleman’s club like most others but whose members banded together with the aim of protecting their female relatives from fortune hunters, gamblers, womanisers and other unscrupulous men by regularly sharing information about the men of their acquaintance.

When Warren’s cousin Clarissa – now happily married to Edwin – asks him to see if any of the club members has heard any gossip about her friend, Delia Trevor, he is not keen at first, believing her request to be a poorly disguised matchmaking attempt. But when Clarissa explains that she is concerned because her friend has been behaving rather oddly of late, Warren takes notice and agrees to help. Having recently discovered what befell Clarissa in her début Season (she was stalked and assaulted by a suitor), Warren feels guilty for not having protected her, and, determined never to let another woman go through something similar, he agrees to see what he can find out.

Miss Delia Trevor has come to London for the Season not, as her aunt believes, to find herself a husband, but in order to discover the identity of the man who cheated her late brother out of a large sum of money and drove him to suicide. The only information she has to go on is the name of the gambling den at which Reynold last played and the fact that his lordly opponent had a sun tattoo on his wrist. So every evening, she disguises herself in man’s attire and sneaks out of the house, making her way to the hell accompanied by a trusty servant in the attempt to draw out the card cheat.

Delia is annoyed, therefore, when the Marquess of Knightford starts to take an interest in her and starts popping up at inconvenient moments and asking awkward questions. She knows she isn’t the sort of woman likely to attract him – her bosom is too small, her hips too wide and she has gone out of her way to dress in the most unflattering manner possible to put off any potential suitors – so she is immediately suspicious of his motives for flirting with her and singling her out.

Warren quickly discovers that Miss Trevor is not at all the simpering miss he had expected and is immediately intrigued by her reluctance to have anything to do with him. He finds he rather likes her waspish tongue, and her attempts to put him off only serve to put him on the alert as he realises that Clarissa’s concerns are not unfounded. Suspicious of Delia’s interactions with a servant, he waits outside her townhouse at night in the belief she has arranged an illicit assignation, only to be confused when the servant appears accompanied by a shabbily dressed boy. He follows the pair, ending up at one of London’s less salubrious gaming establishments where he discovers the reasons behind Delia’s evasiveness – the shabbily dressed boy is not a boy at all, but Miss Delia Trevor in disguise.

Warren is furious with Delia for putting herself in danger both physically and in terms of her reputation, and irritated that she will not confide in him or let him help. He is also aware that what began as curiosity liberally sprinkled with a helping of lust is turning into something else. He can’t stop thinking about Delia or stop wanting her, and while he’s bedded more than his fair share of women, he doesn’t dally with marriageable debutantes or respectable ladies, so he can’t understand his sudden fascination with a woman who is both those things. And Deila’s reaction to the handsome Marquess – most especially to his delicious, arousing kisses – is something she had never expected to experience, but once sampled, is quite helpless to resist.

The romance between Warren and Delia is nicely done, with plenty of verbal sparring and crackling sexual tension between them. While Warren is determined to discover Delia’s secrets, he is equally determined to prevent her from discovering his own, which have resulted in the debilitating nightmares he has suffered for most of his life. Believing them to be a sign of weakness, he has concealed them even from his own family, preferring instead to spend his nights in the company of whores or out gaming or drinking and then to sleep during the day when the dreams do not assail him. But when he and Delia are discovered in a compromising position and forced to marry, keeping his darkest fears from his new wife is going to be an enormous challenge, and one that could potentially derail their fledgling marriage before it has really begun.

While the romance is the main focus of the novel, Delia’s search for the card cheat is not forgotten, although the resolution to that plotline comes rather out of left-field, and is quite convoluted. There is no real build-up to the discovery of that person’s identity, and while explanations are given, anyone who hasn’t read the previous book might end up feeling confused, as the reasons behind the cheater’s actions relate directly to a character who has been hovering “off screen” in the background in the last two books, and whose story we will be getting in the next in the series. So while on the one hand, it’s quite a clever idea to relate the stories in this way, on the other, it feels somewhat contrived and as though it has been done purely to set up the next book. It also negates much of what Delia has gone through in her quest for justice for her brother and denies her any real sense of closure about his death; forgiveness comes very easily in order to satisfy the demands of the plot.

The Danger of Desire doesn’t break any new ground, but is nonetheless an entertaining read that is populated by well-drawn, attractive characters who are just a little different from the norm. While Warren is a rakish, marriage-avoidance minded bachelor, his motivations for eschewing the married state are other than the usual miserable-example-provided-by-parents, or earlier-relationship-gone-sour; and Delia’s talents at the card-table and her backstory as the daughter of a gambler lend depth to her character and explain her reluctance to trust. The ending is somewhat rushed, but the romance is given time to develop and Delia and Warren make a well-matched couple. I enjoyed the story in spite of my reservations, and am looking forward to the final book in the series.

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The Earl (Devil’s Duke #2) by Katharine Ashe

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How does a bookish lady bring an arrogant lord to his knees? Entice him to Scotland, strip him of titles and riches, and make him prove what sort of man he truly is.

Opposites…

Handsome, wealthy, and sublimely confident, Colin Gray, the new Earl of Egremoor, has vowed to unmask the rabble-rousing pamphleteer, Lady Justice, the thorn in England’s paw. And he’ll stop at nothing.

Attract.

Smart, big-hearted, and passionately dedicated to her work, Lady Justice longs to teach her nemesis a lesson in humility. But her sister is missing, and a perilous journey with her archrival into unknown territory just might turn fierce enemies into lovers.

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Publisher and Release Date: Avon, October 2016
Time and Setting: England and Scotland, 1822
Genre: Historical Romance
Heat Level: 2
Reviewer Rating: 3.5 Stars

Review by Jenny Q

I had not read Katharine Ashe before, and I found the description of The Earl so intriguing that I jumped at the chance to review it. This is the second book in the Devil’s Duke series, which is a spin-off of the popular Falcon Club series; and while some brief snippets of backstory are included for new readers like me, I did find myself a tad confused as a lot of names and incidents were mentioned throughout that I was unfamiliar with. Though I probably would have had a bit more understanding and appreciation for the backdrop this story is set against had I read the previous books, the main story and romance in The Earl was able to stand alone just fine.

The story begins with a heartbreaking prologue featuring Colin Gray, the future Earl of Egremoor, as a child who cannot speak, and I was instantly sucked into the story, burning through the early pages as Colin, aka Peregrine, and Emily, aka Lady Justice, are introduced, and we learn that though they don’t know each other’s true identities, these two enemies share a long and troubled history. Having been abandoned by her only friend at the age of nine, Emily has forged her own path in life, championing women’s and working class rights while eschewing the traditional role of wife and mother society expects of her. Her alter ego – crusading pamphleteer, Lady Justice – has made quite the name for herself, and she’s also made a few enemies, including Colin, who she calls out in her pamphlets for refusing to support her causes. She has also struck up a correspondence with the mysterious Peregrine, member of a shadow group that specializes in finding lost people, and now she needs his help. Her own sister has gone missing, and Emily is determined to find her. But the price may be too high to pay: Peregrine wants to meet Lady Justice face-to-face. She finally agrees to a nighttime meeting in a shadowy park, and manages to hide her identity; but during the brief and intense exchange, she discovers a shocking truth: Peregrine is none other than Colin Gray, the man who broke her heart and never looked back so many years ago, a man who represents everything she hates about English society. Emily abruptly tells him she’s changed her mind and no longer needs his help and flees before he can discern who she is.

Though the lady insists she no longer needs his help, Colin is determined to find the woman anyway, and when he does, he will finally unmask Lady Justice and expose her for the charlatan she is. He begins his journey in Scotland, planning to travel to the woman’s last-known location, when he runs into the last person he ever expected to see on the road, Emily Vale, his best friend from childhood, and a woman he has tried to hard to forget. She’s not best pleased to see him either. After realizing she can’t count on Peregrine to help, she’s taking finding her sister into her own hands and is answering a mysterious summons to visit Castle Kallin, home of the maligned “Devil Duke.” Unfortunately, she and Colin are quickly thrown into close quarters when they are mistaken for a pair of highwaymen wreaking havoc on the countryside, going so far as to murder an innocent woman, and all while one dresses like a woman and the other uses Colin’s name. On the run from vengeful villagers, the two try to stay a step ahead of vigilante justice as they make their way to the castle, Colin determined to find out why Emily holds such a grudge against him and Emily determined to fight her growing attraction to him. But danger and desire have a way of thwarting the best-laid plans…

This story has an interesting premise, and it does stand out as being different from your average Regency romance, but I found the execution a little disappointing. After a compelling beginning and an intense start to the adventure, the story grew repetitive. Colin and Emily run, they argue, they’re attracted to each other, they’re found, they escape, and repeat. Over and over again. I liked both characters, and they had interesting backgrounds, but they were both so stubborn, and they held on to their grudges and secrets for too long. However, when they finally did give in to their attraction, I found those scenes to be some of the sweetest, sexiest, and most romantic I’ve read in quite some time. And the descriptions of the Scottish countryside they are running through are thoroughly transporting. But the mystery of Emily’s sister is not resolved; in fact, it seems to be a setup for the next book in the series, so not getting a payoff there was rather disappointing. I found the resolution of the case of mistaken identity to be very predictable, as was the behavior of both Colin and Emily when Lady Justice’s identity was finally revealed. But I give Colin big props for calling Emily out on her hypocrisy in passing judgment on everyone else while she hides in anonymity, causing her to do some real soul searching and achieve true character growth; and his actions at the end are swoon-worthy.

So as you can see, I have mixed feelings about this book. If you’ve read the previous books, of course you have to read this one, and knowing more than I did about the backdrop, you may get more enjoyment out of it than I did. It’s well written, and I was able to follow along well enough, but what started out as exciting and unique slowly grew tedious and predictable. But The Earl is saved by a good ending, and I was intrigued enough by the members of the Falcon Club to go back and add the other books to my reading list.

Dressed to Kiss (anthology) by Madeline Hunter, Caroline Linden, Myretta Roberts and Megan Frampton

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True love never goes out of style…

Once renowned for creating the most envied gowns in London, Madame Follette’s dressmaking shop has fallen far out of fashion. The approaching coronation of King George IV offers a chance to reclaim former glory by supplying stunning new wardrobes to the most glittering society in Regency England. In the face of long-held secrets, looming scandals, and the potential ruin of their shop, the dressmakers of Follette’s are undaunted, not even by the most unexpected complication of all: true love.

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Publisher and Release Date: Caroline Linden, September 2016

Time and Setting: London, 1821
Genre: Historical Romance
Heat Level: 2
Review Rating: 4.5 stars

Review by Sara

The best romance anthologies are where the stories are linked around a common theme or a single moment. In Dressed to Kiss all four authors have set their stories in and around a dressmaking shop that has seen better days but has a second chance to succeed with the upcoming coronation of King George VI. The women (and one man) who work in the shop each have unique stories to tell and each author puts wonderful spin on love beating the odds.


Madeline Hunter opens the book with her story The Duke’s Dressmaker. Head seamstress of Madame Follette’s dress shop Selina Fontane has made a new life for herself in London after leaving her small village in disgrace years earlier. She allowed herself to fall in love with a visiting lord who promised marriage but left her with a ruined reputation. Now she is put in the very awkward position of designing the wardrobe for the young woman who married her erstwhile suitor. Fortunately the client has no idea of Selina’s history with her husband but her brother-in-law Lord Barrowmore recognizes Selina right away. Selina fears that Lord Barrowmore will cost her an important patron for the shop while Barrowmore fears that a spurned woman could be a problem for his brother’s new wife. The reunion of former adversaries quickly morphs from a tentative truce into an affair of the heart. Barrowmore finds himself attracted to Selina and realizes that his perceptions of her as a scheming title grabber might have been misplaced. Selina makes peace with her ruined courtship years before and her eyes are opened to just how handsome and noble Barrowmore really is.

I loved how the emotional connection between Selina and Rand, Lord Barrowmore grows throughout the story. Both characters are rational about their budding relationship and they keep in mind their strange connection and their differing places in society. Both are comfortable with each other and Selina understands that what Rand offers her is what is expected of a man in his position. Fortunately Rand is also a man who is willing to ignore those expectations to keep close the love that is important to him. 5 stars


Myretta Robens is a new-to-me author and her story The Colors of Love is a cute addition to the mix. Junior seamstress Delyth Owen has a slight problem. She can design some of the best and most innovative gowns produced by Madame Follette’s but her choice of color is completely inappropriate for London fashions. A scathing review by a fashion columnist puts her job in jeopardy and Delyth is scared her one chance to design real dresses rather than costume pieces has been ruined. When a very fashionable brother and sister enter the shop looking specifically for Delyth, she hopes that her prayers have been answered to land an important client who also appreciates her design sensibility. Little does she realize that Mr. Simon Merrithew, author of Aglaea’s Cabinet fashion column, has set up his sister to play an interested party only to learn if Delyth is completely what she seems or if she is praying on helpless clients to make a mockery of the ton and the fashionable elite.

Delyth is guileless and a very sweet heroine. It has always been her dream to design clothing and her openness and joy makes her the kind of character a reader wants to root and cheer for when she gets everything she deserves. Her relationship with Simon was sweet too in that she quickly shows Simon that his cynicism has tainted how he looks not only at colors or fashion but in how he lives his life. I wish that their characters had a bit more depth to them; however their romance is cute and fits nicely with all the other stories in the collection. 3 Stars


Megan Frampton has some fun bringing two awkward characters together in her story No Accounting for Love. Henry Dawkins has always been the bookkeeper at Madame Follette’s dress shop, working first for his mother and now for his sister Felicity. Painfully shy and uncomfortable in such an overly-feminine environment, Henry usually hides in his small office, content to work behind the scenes. He is forced out of his hidey-hole when the daughter of an old family acquaintance arrives in the store with her companion Katherine Grant. Henry knows the young woman has always had a crush on him and he’s tried to dissuade her interest as gently as possible; however he lets himself get caught up in her new schemes if only to get close to the witty Miss Grant. Katherine enjoys getting to know Mr. Dawkins but is afraid that a relationship with him could cost her her position as a respectable companion. Knowing that society might frown on any potential relationship keeps Henry and Katherine on guard, but true love manages to push through both of their defenses.

Henry and Katherine are perfectly adorkable together. He’s a big man, uncomfortable about his size as well as his middle class status. Katherine is always aware of her curvier figure and how it challenged her during her own seasons. At the beginning of the story both of them seem slightly uncomfortable in their own skins. By coming together they realize that what they’ve seen as shortcomings might be attractive in another person’s eyes. Just as in the first story, there is an undercurrent about how London society judges people by their class and how each level is expected to remain with their own. I appreciated that Henry and Katherine find a way to buck the rules to find real happiness with each other. 4 Stars


Caroline Linden finishes out the quartet in A Fashionable Affair by bringing things back to the operator of Madame Follette’s, Felicity Dawkins. She has been a part of her mother’s shop ever since she learned how to sew and it is her dream to see the struggling business find a renaissance through innovative design. In the year she’s been in charge, Felicity has hired the right seamstresses and managed to land a few highly regarded patrons in society. What she doesn’t know is during that same period Lord Carmarthen has been working to create a renaissance of his own on the street on which her shop is located that doesn’t involve Madame Follette’s staying open. His dream is to rebuild Vine Street in a modern style and bring in new merchants. He’s managed to buy out all the other shops on the street but Felicity refuses to sell unless he can find a location with as much prestige as what she’s giving up. Their battles over the shop and real estate in the city get their blood heated, but it’s the underlying attraction between them that keeps that fire burning. It’s a challenge to Felicity’s heart to know that the one man she’s ever wanted could cost her a legacy she’s also dreamed of for years.

Felicity and Evan, Lord Carmarthen, start off on the wrong foot with each other but there is a mutual respect for how they each see the future. Before meeting Felicity, all of Evan’s plans were just business and while he understood there was a personal cost to some people it never touched him. Knowing her, loving her and seeing the other side of things makes it all very personal. Felicity and Evan don’t shy away from their feelings and use them to make their union stronger even with the challenges of her business and his development plans. This story reminded me of the film You’ve Got Mail which has always been a favorite. It was a perfect way to close out the anthology knowing that the future was secure for Madame Follette’s.  5 Stars

A Scot in the Dark (Scandal & Scoundrel #2) by Sarah MacLean

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Lonesome Lily turned Scandalous Siren

Miss Lillian Hargrove has lived much of her life alone in a gilded cage, longing for love and companionship. When an artist offers her pretty promises and begs her to pose for a scandalous portrait, Lily doesn’t hesitate . . . until the lying libertine leaves her in disgrace. With the painting now public, Lily has no choice but to turn to the one man who might save her from ruin.

Highland Devil turned Halfhearted Duke
The Duke of Warnick loathes all things English, none more so than the aristocracy. It does not matter that the imposing Scotsman has inherited one of the most venerable dukedoms in Britain—he wants nothing to do with it, especially when he discovers that the unwanted title comes with a troublesome ward, one who is far too old and far too beautiful to be his problem.

Tartan comes to Town

Warnick arrives in London with a single goal: get the chit married and see her become someone else’s problem, then return to a normal, quiet life in Scotland. It’s the perfect plan, until Lily declares she’ll only marry for love . . . and the Scot finds that there is one thing in England he likes far too much . . .

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Publisher and Release Date: Avon, September 2016

Time and Setting: London, 1834
Genre: Historical Romance
Heat Level: 2
Reviewer Rating: 3 stars

Review by Wendy

Having absolutely loved Sarah MacLean’s The Rules of Scoundrels series, and read all four novels back to back, I was very pleased to be given the opportunity to read and review A Scot in the Dark.

What a huge disappointment. Having romped through the earlier novels mentioned, I actually struggled to finish this one, and it was only Ms. MacLean’s eloquent writing skills that kept me reading and eventually dragged the book up into the three star bracket. The silly title of the novel should have given the game away; I’m assuming it is a play on words referring to the 1960’s farcical, Inspector Clouseau/Pink Panther film A Shot in the Dark, although I can’t see how that relates to this book at all.

Alec Stuart, twenty first Duke of Warnick, a Scotsman with a strong dislike of anything or anyone remotely English, has been recalled from the depths of Scotland to deal with a scandal his English ward has embroiled herself in. Alec had very reluctantly, five years previously, inherited the dukedom by default after the demise, in quick succession, of seventeen of his predecessors. Amongst his many responsibilities, his ward, Miss Lily Hargrove is about to give him the biggest headache of all.

Lilian, exquisitely beautiful, but without friends or a place in society, has spent most of her adult life in near isolation since the death of her land-steward father left her under the guardianship of the Dukes of Warnick – of which there have been so many. Somehow in the tumult that followed the demise of the string of would-be dukes, her existence has been forgotten, and she has lived quietly and simply, living in one of the many ducal residences and receiving the allowance she is entitled to from the estate under the terms of her wardship. Her nonentity as a person is suddenly changed, however, by her association with a talented but unscrupulous artist, who has offered her love and marriage; in return – she must sit for a nude portrait, which would be for his eyes only. Lonely Lily as she has been dubbed by society, is taken in by his smooth talking. Her world comes crashing down around her ears in front of all of London when her lover makes it very clear, publicly, that she is just his model and that he has no intention of marrying her. And worse, he has set a date to reveal his masterpiece and Lily’s nakedness to all and sundry. With ruin and ostracism staring her in the face she is in dire straits and without friends, and so it is, that after five years, Alec has finally been roused to take his responsibilities to his neglected ward seriously.

Alec has no liking for society nor for its dictates and even less liking for the English as a race. Here I must add that I found his constant harping on about his dislike of the English, REALLY IRKSOME! he blames everything that has ever happened to him on the English and really his reasons are all pretty trivial. He is a handsome man, large, exceedingly tall and broad, described as brutish by some, and yet women still want him, but only for his obvious attractions. He is treated like a stud, A Scottish Brute, and this only adds to his general dissatisfaction with life in general but especially with the English.

Although Lily wants to cut and run, Alec wants her to stay, believing – rightly – that the scandal will follow her wherever she goes. He decides that the best way to deal with it is to get her married off to an aristocrat before the date of the portrait’s public revelation in ten days time and to this end, he draws up a list of eligible, titled, but penniless aristocrats and instructs Lily to choose her future husband. Some pretty ridiculous scenarios follow – one of them involving a silly dress decorated with dogs – which just added to my general annoyance and difficulty in taking this novel seriously.

It is obvious that the Lily and Alec are attracted to each other but Alec is convinced that he is nothing but a big, brutish, uncouth Scotsman and believes Lily is far too perfect for him. Why? She’s been publicly disgraced and is the daughter of a land steward whereas he’s a duke. I could not believe in the attraction between them and found the constant, will-they-won’t-they, really frustrating.

A Scot in the Dark doesn’t even begin to compare with some of Ms.MacLean’s, earlier, deeper, more meaningful novels, and I was really disappointed with it. I’m hoping that this is just a blip and I can look forward to more great work from this author.

Mad for the Plaid (Oxenburg Princes #3) by Karen Hawkins

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Nikolai Romanovin, a royal prince of Oxenburg, has travelled to the deepest wilds of Scotland to rescue his grandmother the Grand Duchess, who was abducted while visiting an old friend in the Highlands. Wanting to avoid an international incident, Nik plans to quietly slip into enemy territory disguised as a groom at Castle Cromartie. But his plans go awry when he falls under the cool gray gaze of the laird’s daughter.

Pragmatic and clever, Ailsa Mackenzie has been left in charge of the family estate and her unruly grandmother in her father’s absence. Something about the new groom catches her eyes, and makes her think he’s not who he pretends to be—and even more shockingly, stirs her senses. Is it his obviously educated manners? His arrogant, non-servant-like presence? It’s certainly not his towering, powerful form, or slumberous, inviting green eyes!

After confronting the imposter and learning the truth, Ailsa agrees to help Nik—for she, too, understands difficult relatives and would do anything for family. Soon their secret partnership leads to growing respect, searing kisses, and then something far more perilous. And when their quest turns dangerous, Ailsa and Nik must discover this unknown enemy while facing the dangerous demands of their own unruly hearts.

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Publisher and Release Date: Pocket Books, September 2016

Time and Setting: 1824, Scottish Highlands
Genre: Historical Romance
Heat Level: 2
Review Rating: 3.5 stars

Review by Sara

The premise of The Oxenburg Princes series always struck me as a bit unusual. Eastern European princes finding love with women from the Scottish Highlands is a strange mix of cultures and character types but somehow Karen Hawkins makes it all work. The final book, Mad for the Plaid, uses this same formula to the greatest effect by focusing on the dangerous political aspects of a prince’s life and just how strong a true love must be to overcome those challenges.

Lady Ailsa Mackenzie has been playing hostess to the Grand Duchess of Oxenburg for several weeks, dealing with her direct ways and the challenging requests for her comfort. In order to secure all the items the duchess claims she needs during her visit Ailsa, has been corresponding with the Crown Prince of Oxenburg, Nikolai Romanovin. Unimpressed by the prince’s reputation Alisa writes to him with only the barest of formalities and hopes with each letter it will be the last time they have to talk with each other. Her wish is ignored when the duchess goes missing from Castle Leod and Ailsa has to report to the prince that she is now searching for his missing grandmother.

Prince Nikolai is in Scotland to facilitate a peace treaty between his country and the Tsar of Russia while meeting on neutral ground. There is no time in his schedule to deal with the problem of his missing grandmother; however his experience with the political machinations of both royal courts makes him believe that her disappearance might be more than just a simple kidnapping. Hoping to keep Oxenburg business private from the Russians, Nik decides to travel to Castle Leod and rescue the duchess, but he will travel incognito. Nik is dreading his meeting with Lady Ailsa as he’s pictured a shrill and greying old spinster as the woman to whom he’s been writing. He is surprised when the lady is in fact a young and pretty woman who is unimpressed by his royal pedigree.

The mission deep into the Highlands to find the duchess puts Nik and Ailsa in close quarters and away from the trappings that have cocooned them for years. Alisa has managed her father’s estate and created a tentative respect between her and her advisors, yet a mission of this importance leads to self-doubts about how much they really trust her judgement. Nik’s position as a prince has always given him instant respect from those under his command but Alisa and her men don’t fall in line with that way of thinking. He has to gain their trust by showing them the man that he is beneath the title but it leaves him vulnerable for the first time in his life. Along the way Ailsa and Nik find themselves growing closer to each other, discovering little things that change their perceptions and bring out emotions neither one expected.

Mad for the Plaid is a very light and airy romance that keeps itself mostly grounded by having Nik constantly thinking about his position as the prince of Oxenburg and what that means to him. He is torn by his feelings for Ailsa because his life doesn’t belong to him alone and if she were to become his wife all of the court intrigues could change her. He stubbornly holds himself at arm’s length from Alisa to keep her from breaking down the walls he’s put up to guard himself from those who would use him for their personal gain. Fortunately Ailsa is smart enough to call him on his B.S. and openly challenges Nik’s jaded approach to living.

Ailsa is a worthy partner for a prince as she understands the sacrifices that come with leadership. She has ignored thoughts of her own future in order to secure the lands and fortunes of people that she oversees. When the duchess is kidnapped, Ailsa immediately takes control of the search efforts and feels that the responsibility of bringing the captives home safely rests on her shoulders. Over the course of their rescue mission she discovers another side of herself, one that wants more than respect from others but also to be cared for and cherished for being herself. Nik brings out the more passionate side of Ailsa and it’s up to her to convince him that he deserves that same cherished feeling.

I had my ups and downs with The Oxenburg Princes series but I enjoyed Nik and Ailsa’s road to romance. Mad for the Plaid is a cute story that closes the book on the princes but perhaps opens up more possibilities for love in Oxenburg – if the Grand Duchess has anything to say about it, that is.

The Soldier (Windhams/The Duke’s Obsession #2) by Grace Burrowes, narrated by James Langton

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His idyllic estate is falling down from neglect, and nightmares of war give him no rest. Then Devlin St. Just meets his new neighbor….

With her confident manner hiding a devastating secret, his lovely neighbor commands all of his attention, and protecting Emmaline becomes Devlin’s most urgent mission.

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Publisher and Release Date: Tantor Audio, June 2016

Time and Setting: Yorkshire, England 1818
Heat Level: 2
Genre: Historical Romance
Reviewer Rating: 3,5 stars (4 stars for the story / 3 stars for the narration)

Review by Wendy

I always enjoy Grace Burrowes quirky writing style, it has a warmth and ‘homeliness’ about it which is quite unique and very recognisable as the author’s very own. The Soldier second in her Windham series, features Lt. Colonel Devlin St.Just, newly created first Earl of Rosecroft, who is the epitome of this author’s likeable, down-to-earth, male characters. Although I haven’t read all of the various series’ attached to this book, it wasn’t too hard to follow – even with the numerous friends and family members who pop up throughout the story, and I would say that it can be read/listened to as a standalone.

Devlin St.Just is the eldest – though illegitimate – son of the Duke of Windham, but lived with the Windham family from the age of five and has always been accepted and loved by the duchess and his younger half-siblings. For most of his adult years, Devlin was a soldier and fought with honour at Waterloo. Throughout the story it is obvious that he is suffering from what we know today as PTSD; obviously a sensitive and caring man he is tortured by flashbacks, nightmares and even – initially – impotence. He also suffers with a serious drink problem which his younger brother, Valentine, has helped him to overcome, although he still has to fight his urges for the liquor bottle – especially on a bad day.

On his arrival at his new estate, Devlin is presented with his predecessor’s by-blow, a small girl who was recognised by her father and grandfather, the old earl. Devlin understands, with the knowledge of someone-who-has-been-there-and-done-that, how important it is for the all but feral little Bronwyn – or Winnie as she is most commonly known – to be loved and accepted. It’s one of the really nice aspects of the story; the way Grace Burrowes shows this connection and understanding between the fully grown, product-of-his-past, man, and the tiny vulnerable little girl. Along with Winnie comes her very attractive, also illegitimate cousin, Emmaline Farnham. Emmie has lived on the edge of village society, barely tolerated by all but the local vicar who has a long-held affecton for her. Emmie is the only one who has ever really shown Winnie love, but as she is forced to earn a living – working herself into the ground in the process – baking for the local community, she has not been able to give much of her attention to her charge.

Emmie and Devlin are drawn together by their similar pasts but also by the love and concern they share for Winnie. It soon becomes apparent that the two belong together but Emmie has a secret which she is determined not to reveal, and for the second half of the book, as their attraction to each other ratchets up, she seems to do nothing but cry! And whilst I admire the fact that Grace Burrowes doesn’t shy away from mentioning bodily functions, I did get a bit fed up with Devlin talking about her ‘menses’ being the cause. Apparently with five sisters he knew all about such things! However, menses and bodily functions aside, I really liked Devlin; he develops throughout the story into a thoroughly decent and likeable man, his insecurities only making him more endearing and loveable. The author captures little Winnie perfectly. The child reacted as I would expect a child of her age to behave in certain situations, especially given the insecurities and tragedies she has suffered.

I do not think that James Langton was a good choice to narrate this story. Whilst he captures Devlin quite adequately and effectively portrays his caring side, I found his use of an Irish accent a little over the top. Devlin had lived with his Irish mother for only the first five years of his life and I find it difficult to believe that after well over twenty years living amongst the aristocracy, he wouldn’t have lost his strong Irish brogue. Emmie is described as extremely attractive with long blonde hair (which, in true Grace Burrowes fashion, Devlin likes to brush for her!), but as I said previously she cries a lot, and Langton’s high pitched tone of voice highlights her as a rather whingy, whining, misery. She was not a character I liked a great deal anyway, but the tone of voice employed dispelled any image in my mind of attractiveness. The vicar, whom Grace Burrowes indicated as handsome, caring and tolerant in her written portrayal of him has been given a lisping, foppish voice with a rather patronising edge to it. But by far the worst characterisation is that of Douglas Allen, Viscount Amery (Douglas – Lonely Lords, #8) apparently a rather dishy, youngish man, with a wife, stepdaughter and new baby who sounds like a pompous, ninety year old, his voice croaky and elderly.

As usual Grace Burrowes’ use of Americanisms is annoying. The sorts of muffins we eat for breakfast in England are toasted and not the sorts of things you can just put in your pocket (unless you want a pocket full of melted butter and jam!) and there is even mention of rabid dogs! Did we have rabid dogs in England in the nineteenth century? And a swing on the porch – reminiscent of the Deep South of America but not something I’d expect to find on a Yorkshire estate. On the whole, though, The Soldier is a solidly and empathetically written story, covering quite a few serious issues which are still relevant today.