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An Affair With a Notorious Heiress (Scandalous Gentlemen of St. James #4) by Lorraine Heath

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

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

Publisher and Release Date: Avon, May 2017

Time and Setting: London, 1882
Genre: Historical Romance
Heat Level: 2
Reviewer Rating: 3 stars

Review by Wendy

I love Lorraine Heath’s books. They’re empathetic, sensitive and frequently deal with issues we come across in our modern day lives, but without the two hundred years or so of information and research available to us today, or the benefit of hindsight. But An Affair with a Notorious Heiress didn’t work as well for me as her previous books. In it, Ms. Heath tackles a scandalous divorce and its effects on the ex-wife of an earl. However, the distressing feelings that Mathilda (Tillie), Lady Landsdowne, must have experienced as a social outcast were lacking in the intense emotion that Lorraine Heath is so good at evoking and I kept waiting for the lump in my throat – but it didn’t happen.

Alistair Mabry, Marquess of Rexton, is the product of a loving, albeit, unconventional union. His mother began her early life thieving on the streets of London in order to survive, and eventually became a partner in a successful gaming hell where she met, fell in love with, and married The Duke of Greystone (Surrender to the Devil). Rexton adores his wise and worldly mother but even so, ran the gauntlet of cruel jibes and treatment from schoolmates until he learned to fight back and eventually gained the respect of his peers. Now a grown man he knows it’s time he was thinking of marriage, but in light of his own experiences he is determined that his wife will be the model of propriety.

One of Rexton’s passions is his race horses, so when an opportunity arises to secure the stud services of a much lauded stallion, he cannot resist the bargain he is offered. All he has to do is to bring American heiress, Miss Virginia (Gina) Hammersley, into fashion by allowing the ton to believe he may be interested in her as a potential bride. How difficult can it be? She’s very young, but she’s also pretty, personable and without guile – but and it is a big but, she is also the younger sister of the notorious Mathilda Paget, who brazenly fought through the courts for the right to keep her empty title and London residence following her divorce. Still, Rexton is prepared to do his best to ensure Gina’s acceptance by the ton, but he reckons without his immediate attraction to big sister Tillie, who is not in on the subterfuge and believes him to be earnestly courting Gina. She is determined that her sister will marry a man who cares for her and not her considerable fortune. Most importantly though, he must treat Gina with the respect she, Tillie, did not receive at the hands of her husband and his family. Tillie accompanies Rexton and Gina as chaperone whenever she is able, and soon sees that Rexton is not the husband for Gina, mainly because she feels his attraction to her. I found this difficult to fathom; Tillie is notorious and was caught kissing a footman whilst still married – although this is explained later in the story. Surely even she can see that her chaperonage could be the kiss-of-death to her sister’s aspirations?

As the story unfolds, Rexton and Tillie’s already strong attraction to each other becomes more and more apparent, but although the building of the romance is sweet and sexy, especially on Rexton’s part, Tillie is rather prickly and not as likeable as he is. I also didn’t feel the intense sensuality that Lorraine Heath is usually so adept at conveying and normally achieves with satisfying and swoon-worthy results.

There are no startling revelations, although because this is a Lorraine Heath book, I kept expecting something more to happen. She does, however, do a very good job of highlighting how unfair life was for a divorced woman of the time – shunned and cut by the very society that accepts her-ex husband as a ‘jolly-good-fellow’. Rexton is a lovely, honourable man and Tillie a beautiful, still young, but embittered woman who rarely smiles, but is chipped from her block of ice by the love of a good man; these two belonged together and I did want them to reach their HEA, but there is something of the substance normally prevalent in Ms. Heath’s writing missing.

An Affair with a Notorious Heiress might compare well to other historical romances, but it’s not not up to the standard I have come to expect from this author. With that said, her writing is no less eloquent and most of the characters are no less likeable and well developed as many of her others. Someone choosing to read a Lorraine Heath novel for the first time may enjoy this one, but I’m afraid her fans, like myself, may be slightly disappointed.

AUDIO REVIEW: Fair, Bright and Terrible (Welsh Blades #2) by Elizabeth Kingston, narrated by Nicholas Boulton

fair bright and terrible

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Wales is conquered, and Eluned has lost everything: her country, her husband, her hope. All that remains is vengeance, and she will stop at nothing to have it.

When Robert de Lascaux is asked to marry the woman he has loved for eighteen years, he never hesitates. No wealth has ever mattered to him as much as Eluned has. But she, it seems, does not want him at all. Trapped in a web of intrigue, revenge, and desire, they cannot forget their past – but can they dare to share a future?

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Publisher and Release Date: Elizabeth Kingston, April 2017

Time and Setting: Wales, 1282
Genre: Romantic Historical Fiction
Heat Level: 2
Reviewer Rating: 5 stars content; 5 stars narration

Review by Wendy

In my opinion, Elizabeth Kingston is one of the best – if not THE best – newly published author writing in the historical genre. Fair, Bright and Terrible, the second in her Welsh Blades series ticks every single box on my list of requirements for a stimulating, entertaining and engrossing read/listen. With narrator Nicholas Boulton added into the mix I was quite literally in book heaven – enthralled from beginning to end. This story follows directly on from The King’s Man and covers the true and bloody period in Welsh/English history where the last Welsh Prince Llewelyn is ruthlessly disposed of in the most barbaric of medieval methods.

In book one of the series, we met Eluned of Ruardean who was a strong driving force in the life of her daughter, Gwenllian whom she relentlessly controlled. I disliked Eluned intensely and she didn’t grow on me one iota, so when I realised that Fair, Bright and Terrible was Eluned’s story, I approached it with trepidation and some pre-conceived prejudices. I carried on disliking her, especially after she marries the compellingly likeable and adorable hero of the story, Robert de Lascaux. How, I wondered, could this gorgeous man have loved this woman for eighteen years? And this is where Elizabeth Kingston shows her immense talent for character development – because by the end of the story I understood, respected, and actually liked and admired Eluned.

As the story begins, Eluned’s dreams of a successful uprising to bring independent sovereignty back to Wales is in tatters following King Edward I’s ruthless suppression of the recent rebellion. Coming hard upon the heels of this defeat is the news that her long absentee husband has died in the Holy Land and her son is eager for her to remarry in order to augment his lands and standing. Her husband-to-be is none other than Robert de Lascaux, with whom she had a passionate affair some eighteen years earlier. She put this behind her long ago, but Robert is delighted and immediately agrees to the match, hoping to take up where they left off. Throughout the story, Eluned appears as a woman who does nothing without good reason; she always comes across as cold, calculating and controlling, and her marriage to Robert is no different. Overjoyed at being re-united with his former love, he is destined to be disappointed as he quickly realises that the love he has nurtured is not returned. It quickly becomes apparent that Eluned has a hidden agenda, her goal being admittance to the court of Edward and his inner circle.

I continued to dislike Eluned, especially as she treats the sweet natured and utterly honourable Robert with such cold disdain. But, slowly and cleverly over the course of the story, Ms. Kingston peels away, layer by layer, Eluned’s prejudices and shows her reluctant and hidden love for Robert, well buried under the baggage her life has acquired over the past eighteen years. Ironically it is the appearance and actions of her despised Norman son-in-law, Ranulf (The King’s Man), which finally knocks down the walls she has erected and we are finally allowed to see the woman she really is. Bravo Elizabeth Kingston – what a compelling, clever story and the fact that you persuaded me to like and admire this woman whom I had disliked for the best part of two books is quite remarkable.

As to the narration – what can I say other than that as usual, Nicholas Boulton gives a faultless performance and shows what a first rate actor he is? His voice is smooth, pleasing and utterly addictive to the listener; anything with his name on it is always going to get my attention. My initial dislike for Eluned was perpetuated by the exceptional manner in which he portrays her cold disdain, the emptiness and hopelessness she feels and can’t change… but then, as her defences begin to crumble, he effects a subtle softening of tone; her voice still recognisable but transformed from cold disdain into loving warmth. Mr. Boulton is one of only a handful of narrators who is equally good at portraying men and women. I particularly enjoyed his rendition of Robert – at first buoyant and happy as he meets his beloved after eighteen years apart, but then as he realises his love is not returned, quiet, wary and subdued. And of course, a particular favourite of mine is the fierce Norman lord, Ranulf Ombrier – a fierce man brought to his knees by the love of his warrior wife, Gwenllian and their two little boys. I can’t recommend this book highly enough and I hope that this isn’t the last in the series. Hopefully we may get to see what happens to William, Eluned’s sixteen year old son.

Fair, Bright and Terrible is an exciting, heart warming piece of historical fiction with a beautiful romance at its centre and is strongly recommended.

A Warriner to Protect Her (Wild Warriners #1) by Virginia Heath

a warriner to protect her

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An heiress in distress and an earl in disgrace…

When heiress Violet Dunston escapes from an abduction, she finds an unlikely protector in Jack Warriner – a member of one of England’s most infamous families. Ensconced with mysterious Jack behind his manor’s walls, soon escape is the last thing on Letty’s mind!

Jack may be an earl, but his father’s exploits have left him with nothing to offer except a tarnished name. He’s turned his back on the ton, but with Letty tempting him day and night, he finds himself contemplating the unthinkable – a society marriage!

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Publisher and Release Date: Harlequin Historical, May 2017

Time and Setting: Nottinghamshire, 1813
Genre: Historical Romance
Heat Level: 2
Reviewer Rating: 4.5 stars

Review by Wendy

Virginia Heath’s new Wild Warriners series looks to me to be a winner if A Warriner to Protect Her is anything to go by. The Warriner brothers are gorgeous, well developed, multi layered characters, each with their own story to tell, and I can’t see how Ms. Heath can fail.

Jack Warriner little realises how drastically his life is about to change when, one stormy winter’s night, on his way back from the local tavern, he comes across a terrified young woman, hands bound, a gag around her mouth – stumbling exhausted and frozen with fear. His protective instincts immediately come to the fore and he takes her home to his remote manor which is occupied only by himself and his three younger brothers. Too poor and destitute to afford staff, the brothers are jacks of all trades, caring for each other and trying to eke out a living on their crumbling estate. The author has done a terrific job of developing the relationship between the brothers and I loved the obvious affection, respect and camaraderie between them. All look to Jack, the eldest, as their leader – and it’s not hard to see why his brothers admire and follow him without question. Jack is actually an earl, an appellation he has long since shunned as it only serves to remind him of his notorious father; plus with no fortune or respect to back it up he sees it as an empty title. The four of them have always been cold-shouldered and despised by the locals as a result of their infamous ancestors, but more recently, and still in living memory, their despicable father. The produce and livestock they work so hard to raise and grow has to be traded and sold many miles away as no one wants to do business with the so-called ‘Wild Warriners’. So life really does have to be lived one day at a time with the brothers isolated from the society they have every right to be a part of.

Into this household drops Violet Dunston and immediately the brothers close ranks around her after discovering that she is being hunted by unscrupulous men who are trying to force her into marriage in order to avail themselves of her vast fortune. Because of their isolation and lack of staff, the Warriners are able to keep her safe from her abductors. Violet – Letty – is seriously ill after her ordeal and the brothers care for her tirelessly, Jack even going so far as to sleep on the bedchamber floor which he has vacated for her comfort, until she is out of danger.

Once she is recovered, the penny eventually drops and Letty realises how very poor the family is, she is determined to help them out in some way, especially when it becomes clear that they are too proud to accept her money. She sets out to prove to them all, but Jack in particular, that she is not the useless, beautiful and merely decorative, ‘Tea Heiress’, much lauded by the ton. As it is necessary for her to stay ‘lost’ for a complete month until she can gain control of her fortune, she decides that she will use the time to help the brothers in the house. Firstly by tackling their dusty, uncared for home and then in other ways such as cooking and caring for them, freeing them to be about their many outside duties on the estate.

Although Letty has a great rapport with all four brothers, it is Jack with whom she immediately clicks. She is more than happy to pursue a relationship with him and throws out many hints which are, to her chagrin, rebuffed. Although deeply attracted to her, Jack is too much of a gentleman to take advantage of a situation which he feels she might regret once her month with them is over and she is reinstated into her luxurious life. I did admire the fact that Jack sticks to his guns and refuses to act although sorely tempted. Letty becomes more and more frustrated by his apparent lack of interest in her despite her many invitations – some not too subtle.

Ms. Heath has shown Violet/Letty as two quite different people. There’s Violet, the incomparable of the season, pursued and admired for her beauty and wealth. And then there’s lonely Lettie, orphaned, unloved and feeling very strongly that her beauty and wealth are a millstone around her neck. Her unexpected but fortuitous meeting with the Warriner brothers is like a breath of fresh air in her life because they are prepared to help and keep her safe for no other reason than kindness for another human being, and she immediately warms to them and soon longs to be a part of this loving, dysfunctional family.

The author does an excellent job in developing the relationship between Jack and Letty, and the simmering, controlled sensuality between them fairly hops off the page. Jamie, very astutely, sees the battle his elder brother is fighting and teases him mercilessly about it in his quiet, taciturn manner. And the interaction between all four brothers, especially when the two younger members of the family join in are witty and amusing with a few double entendres thrown in which highlight Ms. Heath’s very amusing take on life and observational view of human nature.

The story nears its end and the ‘baddies’ re-appear – as they must if the story is to make sense and reach a satisfactory ending. Jack and Letty escape and the fraught chase back to London is plausibly achieved and obviously with the pair of them alone on the road for days… well,I’ll leave the rest for readers to find out. I’ll just say that it’s worth the wait!

If I have a criticism it is that the author imbues Letty with superpowers beyond even the most capable and resourceful of young ladies. In a few short weeks, she goes from being completely undomesticated, to cleaning, polishing, cooking (although to be fair her first attempt at cooking is an hilarious disaster) to eventually cooking a full Christmas lunch for five, making bread, washing for five and embroidering handkerchiefs for Christmas gifts in her spare time. I realise that the author had a lot to achieve in a relatively short word count, but this did stretch my credibility one step too far. Nevertheless, A Warriner to Protect Her is a lovely, heartwarming story with characters I loved and certainly want to know more about. Jamie’s is the next story in the series – A Warriner to Rescue Her – and as a secondary character in this book, he made a huge impression on me. I shall certainly follow this series on through to the end.

Waltzing With the Earl by Catherine Tinley

waltzing with the earl

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The Earl of Shalford needs to marry into money to save his estate. Wealthy and beautiful Henrietta Buxted should be the perfect candidate. So why does his eye keep wandering to her quiet cousin, Charlotte Wyncroft?

Charlotte watches Henrietta’s games of courtship with wry amusement. That is until a stolen dance reveals a hidden side to the earl. Penniless Charlotte knows that she’s far from a suitable match, yet, in Adam’s arms she can dream of the happily-ever-after she’s always wanted!

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Publisher and Release Date: Harlequin Historical, March 2017

Time and Setting: London, 1814
Genre: Historical Romance
Heat Level: 1
Reviewer Rating: 3 stars

Review by Wendy

Kindly but henpecked Mr. Frederick Buxted is placed in the rather uncomfortable position of having to explain to his overbearing wife why he has agreed to the temporary guardianship of his deceased cousin’s attractive young daughter, Charlotte. Her father, Colonel Sir Edward Wyncroft, has some loose ends to tie up across the channel before he resigns his commission and finally settles down. Until now, and following the early death of her mother, his beloved Lottie has followed the drum with him; but now, although father and daughter are normally inseparable, the Colonel needs to know she is safe and cared for while he gives his full attention to his last duties. Mrs. Louisa Buxted is less than impressed by the arrival of her husband’s young and attractive relative; especially as she has two daughters of her own and sees all other young women as competition in her aspirations for them.

Charlotte arrives at the Buxted household amid a bustle of excitement at the thought of meeting and spending time with her female cousins and also at finally seeing and experiencing the delights of London. Her natural exuberance and unaffected beauty is refreshing and attractive – too attractive for Henrietta, the eldest Buxted daughter, her mother’s favourite child and generally the centre of attention. The contrast between Charlotte and Henrietta is vast; whereas Charlotte’s beauty is quiet and understated and her nature kind and conciliatory, Henrietta is stunningly beautiful and she turns heads wherever she goes – but she’s shallow and selfish with a penchant for cruel jibes. She and her social climbing mother are on the hunt for an advantageous match.

Adam Fanton, Earl of Salford is the chosen target for Mrs. Buxted’s machinations. He has a beautiful country estate and the title to go with it but is unfortunately not wealthy, meaning his priority is to find a well dowered wife. He is thus the ideal target for a conniving mama and a superficial, spoilt young lady. No fool, Adam realises what the two of them are up to, so he decides to open the field, so to speak, and hold a house party. Along with a few unattached men, Adam invites the Buxted family, including their unwelcome houseguest, Charlotte, and, much to Henrietta’s disgust, another rich family with a mama on the lookout for a titled husband for her daughter. Adam, however, is in a dilemma because the more he is in Charlotte’s company the more he realises how very much he likes and admires her. In an understated manner she shows herself to be kind, capable and helpful – especially in her dealings with his elderly great aunt who becomes easily flustered at her added responsibilities in being Adam’s hostess for the duration of the party. Charlotte’s lack of dowry is a deciding factor, however, and Adam is a man who knows his duty, a fact which is laboured throughout and quickly becomes annoying. Charlotte finds Adam rather aloof and arrogant to start with, but her opinion of him changes as she spends time in his company and realises that he is a rather serious young man. As her feelings develop she sees the futility of falling for him.

Up until this point the premise – although a well-worn one – is reasonably well-handled and the dialogue is nicely written, with some witty repartée. Unfortunately, however, the book goes downhill when plausibility is stretched to its limits after Henrietta, on discovering that she is not the only young lady to be considered as a suitable match for the earl – lies on the floor like a two year old having a tantrum – wailing and drumming her heels! Things further descend into the realm of the farcical as the storyline becomes more and more outrageous with so much packed in that the author’s only success is overcomplication. At about 4O% into the story, events begin to switch back and forth between France and the house party – all very confusing – and I actually back-tracked to check to see if I’d missed something. It all feels contrived – maybe the author wanted to inject some real drama into her story but it only succeeded in taking me out of it. There is a twist at the end which I’ll admit I wasn’t expecting but even then (and I know this is Romancelandia) everything is just a little too neatly tied off. Adam and Charlotte share a few close interactions, although this is a very gentle romance with nothing more than kissing and smouldering looks; but frustratingly, after each occasion one or the other of them misunderstands the situation and I wished that they would just talk to each other!

I ruminated over the grading for Waltzing with the Earl and finally decided on three stars because although I had some niggles, the characterisation is good, it’s nicely written and it does contain some genuinely amusing and witty moments, especially between Charlotte and Adam. The book held my interest for at least the first half before running away with itself, so while I can’t give it a ringing endorsement, there are at least some things about it to enjoy.

And Then Mine Enemy by Alison Stuart

and then mine enemy

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A family ripped apart in a country divided by war . . .

England 1642: Hardened mercenary, Adam Coulter returns to England sickened by violence, seeking only peace, but he finds England on the brink of civil war. He has seen first hand what that will mean for every man, woman and child and wants no part of it.

King or Parliament? Neutrality is not an option and Adam can only be true to his conscience, not the dictates of his family.

Having escaped a violent marriage, Perdita Gray has found much needed sanctuary and the love of a good man, but her fragile world begins to crumble as Adam Coulter bursts into her life. This stranger brings not only the reality of war to her doorstep but reignites an old family feud, threatening everything and everyone she holds dear.

As the war and the family tensions collide around them, Adam and Perdita are torn between old loyalties and a growing attraction that must be resisted.

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Publisher and Release Date: Oportet Publishing, December 2016

Time and Setting: England, 1642
Genre: Historical Romance
Heat Level: 2
Reviewer Rating: 3.5 stars

Review by Wendy

And Then Mine Enemy, the first book in Alison Stuart’s new series set during the years of the English Civil War, begins just as the people of England are readying themselves for war. After years of peace and prosperity, men from all walks of life are expected to take up arms and are preparing to march off to face friends and relatives across battlefields with differing loyalties and opinions to themselves. Half hearted, amateurish preparations are underway and Ms. Stuart takes us through the war from when the first fight takes place and moves her story through major skirmishes and battles, date by date. I found this to be a helpful way of explaining unfolding events.

Adam Coulter, a career soldier and mercenary, has returned from the continent after six years to find his country divided. He is immediately summoned to a meeting with his two half-brothers who assume that he will fight alongside them, on behalf of Charles I and is offered a commission in their regiment. From the outset, Adam, who has had enough of fighting over his years abroad, is determined not to get involved and travels on to view the small estate he hopes to purchase and settle down on. En route, he makes a detour to visit his aunt, the only person in his life to ever really care for or about him. The circumstances of his birth have always been swathed in mystery; suffice to say that he did not share the same mother as his legitimate brothers even though he was brought up in the same household, and has always been resented, especially by Denzil, the elder of his brothers. Adam left the country under a cloud after having been involved in an abortive affair with Denzil’s betrothed which ended in a tragedy. The animosity between the half brothers has not diminished, especially since Denzil is now married to the lady involved in Adam’s scandal. Adam’s refusal to fight for the King’s cause has only widened the rift with Denzil who had hoped to utilise Adam’s not inconsiderable soldiering skills. Adam is an extremely likeable and attractive character, tough and fair and I was drawn to him immediately. In fact the image on the cover on this book is very true to how   imagined him – and it’s nice to see a cover that reflects the story for once.

Perdita Gray suffered a degrading and abusive marriage to a much older man of her father’s choosing. Now widowed, she is living with distant kin, who happens to be Adam’s aunt, Joan. Perdita has just become engaged to Simon, Joan’s step-son, whom Perdita likes and respects but does not love. Adam’s arrival is a blessing for Simon, who as a farmer has had no experience of soldiering but is expected to lick a band of farm hands and labourers into shape in anticipation of them all marching off to serve their King. Adam agrees to help, although again declines an offer – this time from Simon – to join in the fight for the Royalist cause. Adam and Perdita are quietly attracted to one another although Perdita’s respect and affection for Simon keep this attraction very much under wraps. And Adam likes Simon too much to disrespect his hospitality. Having said that, this is an historical romance with the emphasis being very much on the history; readers looking for multiple passionate encounters might be disappointed, but I liked that the author places the history – serious as it is – above all else. Still, the attraction is there, though quietly simmering. At first, Perdita seems cool and unapproachable, and she did not endear herself to me in the way that Adam did, although perhaps that can be accounted for by the suffering she endured in the past.

As the story evolves and Adam becomes involves in the country’s civil war despite his misgivings, he bucks the trend of his family, and joins the Parliamentarians. I must say that Adam’s capitulation is rather unexpected; suddenly he is explaining that he always believed the King was in the wrong and that he has accepted a commission in the Parliamentarian forces. Yet not long before this, he was adamant he was not getting involved and was on his way to buy his small estate.

I am a very recent convert to this period of history, so cannot say with any real certainty whether Ms. Stuart has her facts right. But as far as I can tell she seems to know what she’s talking about and I found it easy to follow and understand the sequence of events as she relays them. One thing she does well is to highlight the horror of civil war;  she’s made no attempt to glamorise it and the fact that families often fought on opposing sides and met in battle was a terrifying reality. The way each side had to deal with the casualties within their own troops too was really quite horrifying and Ms. Stuart used Perdita on more than one occasion to show how dying and wounded soldiers (from both sides of the war and often lying side by side) had to be treated by civilians, dragged off battle fields with field hospitals set up in barns; it’s all brought home with rather horrifying clarity.

As the story proceeds and Perdita and Adam cross each other’s paths frequently, their attraction deepens into something more intense and more lasting and they have to learn to hide their feelings. However, I did not feel truly invested in that growing love and felt that something was missing, some spark or chemistry between the couple. I couldn’t help wondering if perhaps Alison Stuart was so intent on getting the historical facts straight and the sequence of events correct that she did not develop the romance as well as she could have. But in any case, it wasn’t enough to put me off and I shall certainly read the next in this series.  I’d love to see more of Adam and Perdita and how they cope as a couple who began their life together on opposing sides of this terrible conflict.

Bedchamber Games (Rakes of Cavendish Square #3) by Tracy Anne Warren

bedchamber game

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Rosamund Carrow has spent years learning the law by assisting her barrister father, despite the frustrating truth that the profession is closed to women. When he dies unexpectedly, necessity compels her to disguise herself as a man so she can step into the courtroom to finish his cases. She’s willing to put her reputation at risk, but she never expects that the greatest peril will be to her heart…

Lord Lawrence Byron is a rising star in London’s legal circles, despite his reputation as an unrepentant rakehell. When an upstart young barrister defeats him in court, he’s determined to discover everything he can about his rival. He’s stunned when he uncovers the shocking secret that his new opponent is actually a beguiling, brilliant woman…one he can’t help but want in his bed. Passion draws them together as they break all the rules, but it may lead to something more lasting—like love…

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Publisher and Release Date: Jove, March 2017

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

Review by Wendy

Bedchamber Games the third in Tracy Anne Warren’s The Rakes of Cavendish Square series is Lord Lawrence Byron’s story and I’ve been eagerly anticipating its publication. So far I’ve loved everything about the warm, unorthodox Byron family and the fact that this latest story has a barrister at its centre – well, two actually – only whetted my appetite more.  Tracy Anne Warren sets her scene particularly realistically as I know the part of London she describes and can see in my minds eye the barristers in their wigs, gowns billowing out behind them, hurrying along between their chambers and the courts, clerks struggling along with piles of documents in their wake.

Lord Lawrence and his identical twin, Lord Leo, whose extremely intriguing and unusual story was told in The Bedding Proposal, are the sexiest twosome on legs. Both studied law but only Lawrence has pursued it as a career, and he’s made quite a name for himself, as he rarely loses a case. It is with some shock that he finds himself out-manoeuvred in court by a clever young barrister he has met only briefly. Not a little miffed, he decides he needs to get to know his opponent and makes an effort to befriend the young, slightly awkward Ross Carrow. It takes only a few times in his company to uncover the truth; Ross Carrow, is in fact, Rosamund Carrow, a smart and clever young woman.

Women were not allowed to study or practice law in Regency England, but Rosamund, with the collusion of her brother, Bertram, dresses like a man and takes on the cases her father left outstanding at his sudden death. She uses the credentials and name of her cousin – who hasn’t practised law for many years and lives in the north of England – and in this way avoids detection by her peers. Bertram has always had a bad stutter which worsens when under stress, so they decide that Rosamund will be the lead counsel for the remaining cases. She had been her father’s ‘right-hand-man’ since she was a child and has learnt her skills well under his tutelage; has a keen, analytical brain, and a quick tongue and from the moment she out-argues Lawrence in open court and wins her case he is intrigued.

Lawrence Byron is a drop-dead gorgeous rakehell, and pretty much any woman he wants is his for the asking. But once he has discovered Rosamund’s secret and is over the chagrin of being duped by a woman he is enchanted by her. She not only attracts him physically, but her intelligence and ability to argue like a man has him captivated and charmed as no other woman has had the power to do and he cannot resist using his not inconsiderable charms to seduce her. For her part, Rosamund has been attracted to Lawrence from their first meeting, but no matter how intelligent and clever she may be, she’s still very much the innocent and succumbs to Lawrence’s seductive onslaught with alacrity and they embark on a clandestine, passionate and steamy affair which leaves them both reeling,

Normally the girl-dressed-as-a-boy trope leaves me cold but Tracy Anne Warren has really pulled this one off in a believable manner. No man of the time – in their very male world – would expect to see a woman in court wearing barrister robes, let alone arguing with male logic, therefore no-one questions it.  There are some amusing moments during Lawrence’s outings with the slightly effeminate young ‘man’ before he gets his light bulb moment. He begins to doubt his own sexuality after hoisting a rather drunken young barrister up into his curricle and is faced with a well-rounded bottom; a ladies man to his bones, he doesn’t feel at all comfortable and is left worrying and pondering his reaction for days.

Although the story is almost entirely centred around the love story and passionate affair of Lawrence and Rosamund there is a slight tension running throughout. Lawrence is an ambitious young man whose eventual goal is to become a judge and to this end, he is tentatively courting the only daughter of a renowned high court judge who would very much like to see his daughter aligned with the clever young barrister and his powerful family. Lawrence is blasé about the courtship, seeing it leading only to a marriage of convenience and being of the opinion that love, or the lack thereof, doesn’t matter, whereas his career does. That is – until he starts to fall for Rosamund, who has no such connections. This is Lawrence’s dilemma and he doesn’t handle it well; I wanted to give him a damn good shake and tell him to look under his nose.

I adored this story.  Tracy Anne Warren’s eloquent writing style is very much to my taste – witty, funny and sexy. My one complaint is that such a lovely story fizzled out with a rather mediocre ending – I would have liked to have seen more drama leading up to the final page. Don’t get me wrong Bedchamber Games is a compelling love story and one that I highly recommend, but I felt that Ms. Warren missed an opportunity to create a little more tension – everything was in place for it. Nevertheless this is a lovely, romantic story that does an excellent job in highlighting how very unfair life was in this period to women with the brains and inclination to use them but with society’s dictates refusing them the opportunity. I’m definitely planning on reading more of this author’s work – and if, like me, you love a sexy barrister – hold onto your hat!

Surrender to the Marquess (Herriard Family #3) by Louise Allen

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A battle of wills!

When Lady Sara Herriard’s husband dies in a duel, she turns her back on the vagaries of the ton. From now on, she will live as she pleases. She won’t change for anyone – certainly not for the infuriating Lucian Avery, Marquess of Cannock! Lucian must help his sister recover from a disastrous elopement and reluctantly enlists Lady Sara’s help. She couldn’t be further from the conventional, obedient wife he’s expected to marry, but soon, all he craves is for her to surrender – and join him in his bed!

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Publisher and Release Date: Harlequin Historical, March 2017

Time and Setting:  England 1818
Genre: Historical Romance
Heat Level: 2
Reviewer Rating: 4 stars

Review by Wendy

Surrender to the Marquess ticks all the boxes of a well-written regency romance; the author’s attention to detail is excellent, the setting perfect and so well communicated that one feels the waves on the Dorset beach, hears the seagulls and smells the saltiness of an English seaside. Even the cover is perfect, with the balcony and the sea in the background… add in well developed, three dimensional characters and all is in place for a satisfying read.

Lady Sara Harcourt has escaped to the quiet seaside town of Sandbay in Dorset after her scholastic husband’s tragic death in a duel. By day she is Mrs Harcourt, owner of a shop that sells art and craft supplies, and by night she reverts to being Lady Sara. The locals know who she is,and her connection to the aristocracy has never been a secret, and I admit that while I understood her need to escape after her shocking bereavement, I wasn’t quite sure why she needed to maintain two different identities.

Then we have ‘Mr L.J.  Dunton Esquire’ otherwise known as Lucian John Dunton Avery, Marquess of Cannock. He has taken his unwell young sister to the seaside town not only to attempt to heal her in body and mind but also to try to salvage what’s left of her reputation after a disastrous elopement with his private secretary left her alone and bereft on the continent. She miscarried a child and her erstwhile swain mysteriously disappeared, leaving her sick and without the benefit of a wedding ring. It’s imperative that brother and sister keep a low profile in order to protect Marguerite, but it isn’t long before his identity is uncovered by Sara who, recognising a fellow aristocrat by his manner and demeanour, confirms who he is after looking him up in Burke’s Peerage. Before that, however, Lucian asks Sara if she might have anything in her shop that might interest his sister, and Sara, a forthright, managing kind of female, suggests she come to their hotel to visit the young woman.

Lucian and Sara feel an immediate frisson of attraction from their first meeting and I must say that the author develops their relationship well although it isn’t long before the difficulties they face start to look quite insurmountable. Both are extremely attractive, independent people – Sara’s freedom has been hard won and she does not wish to be bound by convention. Lucian would like nothing more than to have a passionate affair with the intriguingly beautiful widow and eventually they do succumb to the overwhelming attraction between them but it is difficult to carry it on when she has become his sister’s champion. Society would not approve of his lover being his sister’s friend or chaperone.

There is a battle going on throughout the book which is the real gist of the story. Lucian is the epitome of an honourable aristocrat, brought up to protect his womenfolk whatever the consequences. Sara started out her life with a fair amount of freedom; her mother is half-Indian of superior birth, and her father was a major in the British army until he inherited a marquessate – and she spent the earlier part of her life with her happily married parents and brother in India living a fairly relaxed and normal life. On her father’s accession to his title, the family was obviously obliged to return to England. Sara was allowed to choose her own husband – a scholar – and lived a quiet but happy existence with him until he too was smitten by the honour bug and fought a duel to protect a perceived slight to her honour, and died in the process. As a result she is well and truly against anything that compromises her freedom and will not tolerate any man’s protection.  Duels are anathema to her and she won’t countenance them for any reason.

Lucian and Sara, it seems, will always be at odds over his uncompromising over-protectiveness and her independent streak and I wondered how they would ever be able to reconcile their differences. And that’s my dilemma and the reason I haven’t awarded the book a higher grade  – they do get their HEA but I still felt that the issues between them were not, nor ever would be, totally resolved. They simply had to agree to disagree.

The book is very well written, and although I had issues with certain aspects of this story, I plan to read more by this author, starting with Forbidden Jewel of India, which tells the love story of Sara’s parents.

 

AUDIO REVIEW AND GIVEAWAY: A Splendid Defiance by Stella Riley, narrated by Alex Wyhdham

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For two years, England has been in the grip of Civil War. In Banbury, Oxfordshire, the Cavaliers hold the castle, the Roundheads want it back and the town is full of zealous Puritans. Consequently, the gulf between Captain Justin Ambrose and Abigail Radford, the sister of a fanatically religious shopkeeper, ought to be unbridgeable. The key to both the fate of the castle and that of Justin and Abigail lies in defiance… but will it be enough?

A Splendid Defiance is a dramatic and enchanting story of forbidden love, set against the turmoil and anguish of the first English Civil War.

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Published and Release Date: Stella Riley, December 2016

Time and Setting: Banbury, Oxfordshire, England 1642-4
Genre: Romantic Historical Fiction/ Audiobook
Heat Level: 2
Reviewer Rating: 5 stars content, 5 stars narration

Review by Wendy

If you are a fan of historical fiction or historical romance, then you must, must, must, read or listen to Stella Riley’s work, and a good place to start is A Splendid Defiance. (Our review of the book is HERE.) It was this story and another of the author’s books – The Marigold Chain – that initially piqued my interest in this turbulent period in England’s history. Both are superbly researched standalone stories and each is eminently enjoyable. I wouldn’t have imagined it possible to improve upon my enjoyment of the print version of A Splendid Defiance but by employing the superbly talented Alex Wyndham to narrate her powerful story, Ms. Riley has done just that, because Mr. Wyndham brings her exciting, wonderfully romantic feast of a book to multi-dimensional life.

Captain Justin Ambrose is moodily kicking his heels at the Royalist controlled garrison of Banbury Castle in Oxfordshire owing to having made an ill-judged remark about one of the King’s favourites. A career soldier of considerable experience, he has earned a formidable reputation and naturally he feels resentful at being stuck in such a backwater. His generally acerbic and sarcastic tongue is even more prominent as the prolonged inactivity begins to take its toll on his temper.

Abigail Radford is a young, sweet, and innocent seventeen year old when this story begins. She lives and works in the home and drapery shop owned by her older brother, Jonas, but this is no happy household, for Jonas is an autocratic, over-bearing bully of a man whose hatred of the Cavaliers at the castle is topped only by his religious fanaticism.

Justin is a man of integrity, honesty and honour and a Royalist to his bones – completely and unwaveringly dedicated to his King and cause; and a man who has sworn off love and marriage. At his first encounter with Abby – during which he saves her from being ravished by a couple of his subordinates – he doesn’t really see her as anything more than a terrified girl. It takes time and several more unplanned meetings before he notices that beneath the extremely plain clothing and white puritanical cap, there is a rather attractive young woman. Any possible furtherance of their acquaintance is delayed by the arrival in Banbury of a large Roundhead contingent, the senior officers of which take up residence at the Radford home. And the first siege of the castle begins. I admire the way Stella Riley grows her love stories in all of her novels but particularly in this one; understated and plausible, it is entirely in keeping with unfolding events. After the first siege is over, the Roundheads ousted and on the run after Royalist re-enforcements arrive, the garrison can breathe again and life returns to some semblance of normality. Ms. Riley then continues to develop the growing attraction between Justin and Abby, throwing them together in various situations which further advance their apparently ill-fated friendship. For how can two people on opposing sides of a civil war ever have a chance at happiness?

Justin is a multi-layered character with many deep dark secrets; even his closest friends know little about him other than he has a well-deserved reputation with the ladies. His is such a believable character, especially when one finds oneself getting cross with him because he’s given Abby an undeserved tongue lashing, upsetting her to the point that it feels as though he’s kicked a puppy. But then, conversely, one finds oneself going all gooey over him when he’s being particularly charming – and by God he certainly can turn it on when he chooses! Abby’s character grows over the course of the story from the timid girl we meet at the outset to an attractive young woman with a lot more oomph than she had to begin with. Justin sets out initially – not entirely altruistically – to help her stand up to, and defy his nemesis, the odious Jonas. But in the end, he’s hoist by his own petard, finding himself drawn more and more to her quiet, unassuming and undemanding presence. Eventually Justin realises that she is the only person in his life who has ever cared for him or gives a damn what happens to him, and their eventual acceptance of the love between them is heartwarming, tender and all the better for the waiting. And as is the norm with Stella Riley, she doesn’t need to resort to explicit love scenes – instead sensuality and tenderness is the order of the day and I was left with a warm glow as she eventually brought these two lovely characters together against all of the odds.

Alex Wyndham’s performance is stupendous. There are few performers who could have tackled such a varied and wide cast of characters and fool the listener into feeling as though they are listening to a rather superior radio play with numerous actors rather than one man’s narrative of a story. As this is a story set in time of war, it features a large number of male characters, but this poses no difficulty as Mr. Wyndham switches effortlessly between a variety of accent, tone and timbre to give each of them a distinct interpretation. I cannot recommend this audiobook highly enough because it has everything that I look for in an historical romance. Filled with atmospheric, superbly researched historical content and a spine tingling romance, A Splendid Defiance has to be awarded a straight 5 star rating for both content and narration, although quite honestly that doesn’t seem high enough. But whatever the star rating, this is another winner for this phenomenal writer/narrator team.

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An Unseen Attraction (Sins of the Cities #1) by K.J Charles

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Lodging-house keeper Clem Talleyfer prefers a quiet life. He’s happy with his hobbies, his work—and especially with his lodger Rowley Green, who becomes a friend over their long fireside evenings together. If only neat, precise, irresistible Mr. Green were interested in more than friendship. . . .

Rowley just wants to be left alone—at least until he meets Clem, with his odd, charming ways and his glorious eyes. Two quiet men, lodging in the same house, coming to an understanding . . . it could be perfect. Then the brutally murdered corpse of another lodger is dumped on their doorstep and their peaceful life is shattered.

Now Clem and Rowley find themselves caught up in a mystery, threatened on all sides by violent men, with a deadly London fog closing in on them. If they’re to see their way through, the pair must learn to share their secrets—and their hearts.

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Publisher and Release Date:Loveswept, February 2017

Time and Setting: London, October 1873
Genre: Historical Romance
Heat Level: 2
Reviewer Rating: 5 stars

Review by Wendy

I’m a recent convert to the talented writing skills of KJ Charles, my initiation being her magnificent Society of Gentleman series. I was therefore very pleased when given the opportunity to read and review An Unseen Attraction, the first in her new Sins of the City series. I admit that I approached it with a little trepidation, because not in my wildest dreams would I have believed that I could enjoy a story about a cockney Victorian taxidermist and an Anglo-Indian lodging-house keeper. I guess it’s testament to the author’s original and arresting style of writing that I was hooked from the first page and couldn’t put the book down. An Unseen Attraction is an engrossing and plausible story which only just touches on the aristocracy which in itself is a refreshing change in an historical romance. This story – and the two books we still have to look forward to in this trilogy – is about real people, with real personal problems and real jobs and I absolutely loved it.

Clem Talleyfer keeps a lodging house for skilled artisans, and prides himself on his standards. His lodgers like and respect him and that’s understandable because he is an extremely likeable young man; well spoken and with the darkly handsome good looks associated with his mixed race heritage – an Indian mother and an aristocratic English father. Rowley Green has taken the shop next door and has set himself up as a preserver – or, as we’d call him today, a taxidermist. Rowley is a quiet, unassuming and unexceptionable young man, whose dark past is reason enough for him to wish to blend in quietly and lead a non-confrontational lifestyle; another reason he prefers his rather solitary profession. He is neat and tidy, slight of stature, with a mop of tow-coloured hair and wire-rimmed spectacles – and Clem has been drawn to the quiet dignity of the man and more than a little attracted to him since he joined the lodgers at Talleyfer’s eight months previously. Unbeknownst to Clem, the attraction is mutual and their joint dilemma is how to discover if each feels the same about the other and how to make a move or declaration at a time when men such as they had to hide their sexual preferences for fear of prosecution. The two begin to explore their liking for each other in the simple domesticity of sharing a cup of tea by Clem’s parlour fireside of an evening in quiet companionship.

The author does a terrific job in developing these two characters and I found myself drawn to the very ‘unusual-ness’ of them. It was obvious to me from early on in the story – and the author confirmed it in her notes at the end – that Clem suffers from dyspraxia. KJ Charles’ explanations of his foibles; his difficulty concentrating on a subject, his clumsiness – which some mistake for stupidity, his dislike at being part of a jostling crowd, his inability to understand a double-entendre, sarcasm or to take a hint – are spot-on. I have a friend whose child suffers with this condition which is why I recognised it immediately and it underscored to me how very thorough the author’s research is and how interesting and touching to give her character this very real problem which often goes undiagnosed, even in this day and age. Clem’s vulnerability only heightens his appeal – who couldn’t love him? And the fact that Rowley loves Clem – understands his idiosyncrasies and helps him to cope without being judgemental or critical only serves to endear him to me more; and it wasn’t long before this quiet, plain little man had wiggled his way into my affections along with the gorgeous Clem – two adorable, out-of-the-ordinary characters who are quite clearly made for each other.

The only fly in Clem’s ointment is the elderly, drunken vicar, Lugtrout, who lives at Talleyfer’s under sufferance, his presence being a condition of the lease set up by Clem’s aristocratic half-brother who owns the lodging house and employs Clem as its manager. There is an excellent plot going on at the same time as Clem and Rowley are discovering each other and making tentative steps in their love affair. The drunken vicar is delivered – extremely dead – onto the lodging house doorstep; there are empty teeth sockets in the vicars gaping mouth and some finger tips missing too – so this is definitely no accidental death! As well as this mystery, Rowley’s shop is illegally entered and searched and then later on in another incident it is set on fire and Rowley attacked. It isn’t long before Clem and Rowley accept that the crimes are connected and the two become even closer as they put their heads together to solve the mystery that is scaring them both to death.

An Unseen Attraction is a most unusual and compelling story and extremely well researched too – I know an awful lot more regarding the recording of births deaths and marriages in England than I ever did before! Plus the amount of research the author must have undertaken in order to write with such authority on a subject like taxidermy is phenomenal – lets face it, it’s not a subject that would appeal to the average reader – and her extensive research served its purpose because I was intrigued by Rowley’s craft; the skill and talent involved, and shall now look at stuffed animals with new eyes and added interest when next I visit the Natural History Museum. The murder/mystery is gripping and plausible and the setting sinister and threatening with the tension ratcheting up as a deadly fog descends and cloaks Victorian London in a pea-souper which thickens and obliterates the daylight to hang in the atmosphere and render visibility to nigh on nil. And the terror and fear felt by our two unlikely detectives as they finally discover the identity of the murderer and the reasons surrounding all that has befallen them is palpable. An Unseen Attraction is a fascinating page turner of a story with never a dull moment, some genuinely amusing ones and a charmingly tender romance between two ordinary yet extraordinary characters. My guess is that K.J Charles has another winner under her belt and I shall wait in anticipation for the next in what promises to be an excellent trilogy.

Claiming Mister Kemp (Baleful Godmother #4) by Emily Larkin

claiming mr kemp

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Lucas Kemp’s twin sister died last year. He’s put aside his mourning clothes, but not his heartache. If Lucas ever needed a friend, it’s now—and who should walk in his door but Lieutenant Thomas Matlock…

Lucas and Tom are more than just best friends; they’ve been in love with each other for years. In love with each other—and pretending not to know it.

But this time, Tom’s not going to ignore the attraction between them. This time, he’s going to push the issue.

He’s going to teach Lucas how to laugh again—and he’s going to take Lucas as his lover…

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Publisher and Release Date: Emily Larkin, February 2017

Time and Setting: England, 1808
Genre: Historical Romance
Heat Level: 2
Reviewer Rating: 4 stars

Review by Wendy

I have heard such great things about Emily Larkin recently and read some excellent reviews from respected reviewers and friends. When I was offered the opportunity to read and review Claiming Mister Kemp I jumped at the opportunity and was not disappointed. From the first page to the last, I was invested in this delicious love story, the fourth in the author’s Baleful Godmothers series and shall definitely read the first three books on the strength of it. Having said that, it can be read as a standalone, especially as I believe it is the only m/m romance of the series.

Lieutenant Thomas Matlock has arrived back from Portugal in time to celebrate the birthday of his long-time friend, Lucas Kemp, only to find him completely inebriated and wallowing in solitude and tears as he remembers his twin sister, Julia. who died tragically, sixteen months earlier. Tom knows he loves Lucas as more than a friend, and following a recent brush with death he is determined that he will not not hide it from Lucas any longer. Tom is aware that he risks their long and close friendship but has decided that the time has come to acknowledge his desire and love and to make Lucas face up to it at the same time. Living in an era when they could be hanged for their sexual proclivities, Tom is risking a lot more than simple rejection.

Very much the worse for drink, and with his defences down, Lucas shares a passionate encounter with Tom. The next day he is ashamed but nevertheless having had a taste of what a relationship with Tom can bring him he can’t help secretly craving more. The next few fragile weeks pass and their tentative steps towards a relationship and maybe love seems possible, and for the first time in the dreadful months since the death of his beloved twin, it seems likely that Tom’s love and support may help Lucas to retreat from the edge of the black abyss on which he has been teetering.

These are two very compelling characters. Tom, the devil-may-care, army officer who has little material wealth and needs to work for a living is a happy, upbeat chap whom I couldn’t help liking. And then there’s the utterly gorgeous, privileged Lucas, rich, handsome and hopelessly innocent to boot. He has tried to be ‘normal’ but despite his best attempts has had no success with the opposite sex and is deeply ashamed of that fact and the fact that he is so strongly attracted to his best friend.

I loved this voyage of discovery for these two lovely men who have nursed their secret love for one another since their youth and Tom’s determination to make Lucas accept and acknowledge his love and desire without shame. Claiming Mister Kemp has quite a small word count and yet the author has managed to convey sensuality, love and passion whilst still acknowledging and highlighting Lucas’s reluctant love and overwhelming guilt. The story doesn’t feel rushed, which is no doubt helped by the fact that the lovers have a shared past – albeit as friends. Ms. Larkin certainly carried me along on this ride and she had me rooting for these two young men every step of the way; I wanted Lucas to overcome his guilt and for him and Tom to arrive at their well-deserved happy ending.  This is a compelling, heart-warming story and now that I have experienced an Emily Larkin gem I shall certainly put her on my reading list for the future.