Tag Archive | England

The Most Dangerous Duke in London (Decadent Dukes Society #1) by Madeline Hunter

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NOTORIOUS NOBLEMAN SEEKS REVENGE
Name and title: Adam Penrose, Duke of Stratton.
Affiliation: London’s elite Society of Decadent Dukes.
Family history: Scandalous.
Personality traits: Dark and brooding, with a thirst for revenge.
Ideal romantic partner: A woman of means, with beauty and brains, willing to live with reckless abandon.
Desire: Clara Cheswick, gorgeous daughter of his family’s sworn enemy.

FAINT OF HEART NEED NOT APPLY
Clara may be the woman Adam wants, but there’s one problem: she’s far more interested in publishing her women’s journal than getting married—especially to a man said to be dead-set on vengeance. Though, with her nose for a story, Clara wonders if his desire for justice is sincere—along with his incredibly unnerving intention to be her husband. If her weak-kneed response to his kiss is any indication, falling for Adam clearly comes with a cost. But who knew courting danger could be such exhilarating fun?

Publisher and Release Date: Zebra, May 2017

Time and Setting: Warwickshire and London, 1822
Heat Level: 2
Genre: Historical Romance
Reviewer Rating: 4.5 stars

Review by Caz

The Most Dangerous Duke in London gets Madeline Hunter’s new Decadent Dukes Society series off to a strong start with an extremely readable and engaging tale of a man seeking revenge, an old family enmity and the woman caught in the middle. The romance is a delightful, sensual slow-burn, and in addition, there’s mystery and intrigue, a whiff of espionage, lots of witty banter and a wonderfully written friendship between the hero and his two closest friends (both of whom will feature in future books).

Adam Penrose, the Duke of Stratton has recently returned to England after living in for the past five years, during which he has acquired a reputation for having a quick temper and for fighting and killing his opponents in duels – thus earning himself him the moniker of “The Dangerous Duke”. Adam left the country following his father’s death, which is widely thought to been at his own hand following rumours that he was engaged in treasonous activities, rumours Adam believes were fuelled by the hints and accusations of the late Earl of Marwood. There has long been bad blood between the two families, and now Adam is determined to find out if his suspicions about Marwood are true and to make someone pay for driving his father to his grave. Given the long-standing enmity between the Penroses and the Cheswicks, Adam is therefore surprised to receive an invitation to visit the dowager Countess of Marwood, who states her belief that it’s time the two families patched up their differences.

Adam is highly sceptical, but plays along until the countess proposes that he should marry her sixteen-year-old granddaughter, thus burying the hatchet in the time-honoured tradition of marital alliance. Lady Emilia is pretty and amiable, but Adam isn’t interested in a schoolroom chit – he prefers spirited women with minds of their own, and when he meets Lady Clara, the current earl’s half-sister, Adam decides straight away that she will suit him very well indeed.

Lady Clara Cheswick is the only child of her father’s first marriage and was his favourite among his children. He left her very comfortably off when he died, so Clara doesn’t need to marry if she doesn’t want to, and, at twenty-four, she is on the shelf and quite happy to keep it that way. She’s intelligent, strong-willed and independent, and is content to focus her considerable energies on her publishing venture, Parnassus, a magazine written and produced by women for women which is starting to achieve success. When Adam proposes marriage, Clara doesn’t take him at all seriously, telling him that she isn’t interested in marrying him or anyone, but Adam won’t take no for an answer and sets about courting her.

Clara can’t deny that Adam is a very attractive man, or that she’s drawn to him; he’s sexy and witty and clever and makes it very clear that the qualities that her family regard as problematic and unladylike – her desire for independence and the fact that she not only has her own opinions but makes no bones about voicing them – are qualities he likes and admires. He is genuinely interested in what she has to say about any number of topics, and doesn’t talk down to her or treat her as though she’s a hothouse flower. Adam insists his proposal of marriage was quite serious – and as Clara spends time with him and gets to know him, she is increasingly tempted to believe him, but can’t quite shake her suspicions that there is something else behind his stated intention. Perhaps, given her close relationship with her late father, Adam is primarily interested in getting close to her in order to find out if she knows anything about the late earl’s possible involvement in his father’s death? Or maybe he wants to use her – somehow – as an instrument of revenge?

The sparks fly between Adam and Clara right from their first meeting, and their relationship unfolds gradually and deliciously as Adam finds ways to spend time with Clara – to her initial exasperation – and they slowly come to appreciate each other’s wit, intelligence and sense of humour. These are two mature adults who never underestimate each other as they match one another quip for quip, their verbal sparring a deliciously sensual courtship and prelude to a later, more intimate relationship. The romance is very well-developed; there’s none of the immediate and anachronistic bed-hopping or insta-lust that characterises so many historical romances these days, which is always a refreshing discovery. Adam never wavers in his determination to marry Clara, and his persistence is charming and often funny; he’s generous and forthright, answering Clara’s questions about his motivations honestly and is never less than charming and gentlemanly towards her. I was also impressed with the way that Ms. Hunter has managed to create a credibly independent heroine who is not too modern; Clara wants to make her own way in the world, but is also mindful of her reputation and knows she has to at least appear to operate within the confines of society.

The plotline that revolves around Adam’s search for the truth about his father is well set up and executed, weaving in and out of the romance but never overwhelming it; and when the resolution comes it’s unexpected and quite clever.

With two multi-faceted and strongly characterised principals, an entertaining and well-drawn secondary cast, a sensual romance and a dash of intrigue, The Most Dangerous Duke in London is a thoroughly engaging read and one I’d recommend to fans of the author and of historical romance in general.

VIRTUAL TOUR: Lord Sebastian’s Secret (The Duke’s Sons #3) by Jane Ashford

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Proud. Cunning. Battle-hardened. Lord Sebastian Gresham is the epitome of military might and excellence. He’s wealthy. The son of a Duke. There’s just one problem: he can’t read. It’s those damned words. He doesn’t see them in the same way everyone else does. It’s a secret he’ll never tell, certainly not to his new bride-to-be.

Brilliant. Witty. Beautiful. Lady Georgina Stane has always known she’d make the perfect bride, that is, if her eccentric family didn’t scare off every potential suitor from London to Bath. After carefully orchestrating a London season with her parents out of the picture, she secured an engagement to an impeccable gentleman. And when Lord Sebastian arrives at her family’s estate to meet her parents, she’s not about to let their antics ruin her perfect marriage.

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Publisher and Release Date: Sourcebooks Casablanca, January 2017

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

Review by Lady Cicely

Can love survive secrets? Lord Sebastian Gresham is madly in love with Lady Georgina Stane and she with him; however, they both harbor secrets.

Georgina’s secret comes to light the moment Sebastian steps foot in her family home. Georgina fears it will affect Sebastian enough for him to call off the wedding, and it soon appears her fears may be well founded.

Sebastian is terribly ashamed of his secret. So ashamed his family isn’t aware of it, and it’s something only his trusted valet knows. It’s a secret he prays his beloved will never uncover, for if she does he worries she will no longer love him. When Sebastian’s secret comes to light will it cement the love between them or break them apart?

A pack of pugs, an eccentric family (and that’s putting it mildly), mischievous sisters, and a loon governess provide added stress to the lovebirds while entertaining the reader.

Lord Sebastian’s Secret is the third in Jane Ashford’s series The Duke’s Sons. Ms. Ashford writes a sweet tale of love no matter the circumstances, and her writing style pulled me into feeling each character’s fears. She had me laughing at the antics of Georgina’s family, holding my breath in anticipation of Georgina’s reaction when she learns Sebastian’s secret and weeping when Georgina learns what it is and the way she handles it.

This is the first book I have read of Ms. Ashford’s, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. Her mention of Sebastian’s family, their suspicions of his difficulty and the way they handle it has me wanting to go back and read the rest of the series.

EXCERPT

Sebastian closed his eyes and gritted his teeth. He could all too easily picture the astonishing news that he had eloped running through his family—the letters flying back and forth, the disbelief and consternation. The surreptitious brotherly smirking. An image of his mother’s astonished face made him wince.

“Some people think I don’t care about convention,” muttered the marquess. “Not true. And this was too much. An elopement!”

“Except that it wasn’t, Papa,” Georgina pointed out. “It was an unfortunate accident. I think you might have had more faith in my character.”

Frowning at the floor, the older man said something too softly to be heard. Sebastian thought it might have been,

“It wasn’t you I was worried about.”

“The duchess is sending your brother,” said Georgina’s mother. She tried to speak blandly, but Sebastian got a clear sense of a woman getting the better of an argument at last.

The marquess glared at the group with a mixture of defiance and contrition.

“Which brother?” Sebastian asked.

“Randolph,” supplied his hostess.

Sebastian groaned softly. If anything could have killed his appetite at this point, the news that a brother had been dispatched to sort him out would have done it. He supposed this was his mother’s idea of just retribution for what she probably characterized as “antics.” She would have known that he would never elope.

If she’d had to send a brother, she could’ve drafted Robert. He’d have made a joke of the whole matter and charmed everyone so thoroughly that they saw it the same way. Alan or James might have refused to be embroiled in such a tangle at all. Nathaniel was still on his honeymoon. Mama couldn’t order him and Violet about quite so easily, anyway.

Randolph, though. Sebastian nearly groaned again. Randolph was usually glad for an excuse to take a few days’ leave from his far-northern parish. And he positively delighted in helping. Sebastian supposed that was why he’d become a parson. Part of the reason. He’d also been asking “why” since he could speak. According to family legend, that had been the first word Randolph learned. Sebastian certainly remembered being followed about by a relentlessly inquisitive toddler.

Nathaniel, a responsible six-year-old, had become so tired of saying he didn’t know that he’d taken to making things up. Sebastian still sometimes had to remind himself that discarded snakeskins were products of reptilian growth rather than intense surprise. Sebastian smiled. Randolph had spent several months trying to startle snakes out of their skin after that tale.

Then Sebastian’s smile died, and he put down his last sandwich. Randolph would revel in Mr. Mitra and the marquess’s lectures on reincarnation. There would be no end to his questions, or to the incomprehensible discussions after the ladies had left the dinner table. Sebastian only just resisted putting his head in his hands.

Georgina was looking at him, though, her expression anxious. He tried a reassuring smile. From her response, he judged that it was only marginally effective. He bolstered it, vowing to deal with Randolph. He would face anything to save her distress.

Georgina stood, holding her still half-full plate to her chest. “I believe I’ll go to my room now,” she said. “I’m quite tired.”

Her father looked guilty, her mother approving. Sebastian wondered at the determination on her face. It seemed excessive for a walk up a few steps. Was her leg hurting? One look at her father told him he would not be allowed to assist her to a bed.

Night had deepened by the time Georgina managed to hunt down Hilda and corner her in a little-used reception room, where she’d apparently been holed up for a good while, judging from the cake crumbs. Georgina stationed herself between her youngest sister and the door and confronted her with hands on hips. “Have you lost your mind?” she demanded.

For a moment, it seemed that Hilda might deny everything, but then she slumped back on the sofa and let out a long sigh. “I only meant to leave you overnight, but everything went wrong from the very first. Whitefoot didn’t like being led. He jerked the rein right out of my hand and ran away. I had to take your Sylph to the Evans farm before I could chase after him. It took hours before I got him there as well.” She paused and looked indignant. “Emma abandoned me! She turned tail and rode home. And she’s been practically hiding in her bedchamber ever since.”

“Perhaps she feels a sense of remorse for having done something absolutely outrageous,” Georgina suggested.

Hilda wrinkled her nose. “Well, we came back first thing the next morning to get you.”

“That does not excuse…”

“And you were gone!” Hilda actually dared to look reproachful. “As if you’d vanished into thin air.”

“Thick mud, more like,” said Georgina.

“If you had just waited, or only walked a little way along the trail, we would have found you. And there wouldn’t have been such a very great fuss. Why didn’t you? How could you be so clumsy as to fall into a gully?” Hilda cocked her head. “I never even knew it was there.”

“Don’t even dream of blaming this on me!” Georgina gazed at her sister. They were alike in coloring and frame, but apparently their minds ran on entirely different paths.

GIVEAWAY

There are TEN (10) copies of the first book in The Duke’s Sons series – Heir to the Duke up for grabs – enter the giveaway at Rafflecopter!

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

jane-ashford_-author-photoJANE ASHFORD, a beloved author of historical romances, has been published in Sweden, Italy, England, Denmark, France, Russia, Latvia, and Spain, as well as the United States. Jane has been nominated for a Career Achievement Award by RT Book Reviews.

You can connect with Jane at www.janeashford.com * ~ * Facebook * ~ * Goodreads

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

vt-ladyclaireisallthat-mrodale_updated

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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.

You can connect with Maya at: www.mayarodale.com * ~ * Facebook * ~ * Twitter * ~ * Goodreads

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

the-earl

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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.

SPOTLIGHT: A Gentleman Never Tells (Essex Sisters #4.5) by Eloisa James

a gentleman never tells

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Eighteen months ago, Lizzie Troutt’s husband died in his mistress’s bed, leaving her determined to never marry again….and unfortunately virginal.

Eighteen years ago (give or take a few) the Honorable Oliver Berwick blackened his own soul, leaving him hardened and resolutely single.

When the chance for redemption in the form of a country house party invitation comes his way, Oliver is determined to prove himself a gentleman.

Until he breaks all the codes of gentlemanly behavior… once again.

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EXCERPT

August 13 1826
Telford Manor
Fontwell, Sussex

“I would prefer to take supper on a tray.” Lizzie didn’t look up from her book, because meeting her sister’s eyes would only encourage her.

She should have known Catrina wouldn’t back down. “Lizzie Troutt, your husband died over a year ago.”

“Really?” Lizzie murmured, turning a page. “How time flies.” In fact, Adrian had died eighteen months, two weeks, and four days ago.

In his mistress’s bed.

“Lizzie,” Cat said ominously, sounding more like an older sister—which she was—with every word, “if you don’t get out of that bed, I shall drag you out. By your hair!”

Lizzie felt a spark of real annoyance. “You already dragged me to your house for this visit. The least you could do is to allow me to read my book in peace.”

“Ever since you arrived yesterday, all you’ve done is read!” Cat retorted.

“I like reading. And forgive me if I point out that Tolbert is not precisely a hotbed of social activity.” Cat and her husband, Lord Windingham, lived deep in Suffolk, in a dilapidated manor house surrounded by fields of sheep.

“That is precisely why we gather friends for dinner. Lord Dunford-Dale is coming tonight, and I need you to even the numbers. That means getting up, Lizzie. Bathing. Doing your hair. Putting on a gown that hasn’t been dyed black would help, too. You look like a dispirited crow, if you want the truth.”

Lizzie didn’t want the truth. In fact, she felt such a stab of anger that she had to fold her lips tightly together or she would scream at Cat.

It wasn’t her sister’s fault. It wasn’t anyone’s fault except her late husband’s, and he was definitely late—i.e., dead.

“I know you feel ashamed to be in company,” her sister continued, energetically digging her own grave, as far as Lizzie was concerned. “Unfortunately, most people are aware the circumstances of your marriage, not to mention the fact that Adrian was so imprudent as to die away from home.”

That was one way of putting it.

Imprudent.

“You make it sound as if he dropped a teacup,” Lizzie observed, unable to stop herself. “I would call the fact that Adrian died in the act of tupping Sadie Sprinkle inconsiderate in the extreme.”

“I refuse to allow you to wither away in bed simply because your husband was infatuated with Shady Sadie,” Cat said, using the term by which the gossip rags had referred to Adrian’s mistress. “You must put all that behind you. Sadie has another protector, and you are out of mourning. It’s time to stop hiding.”

“I am not hiding,” Lizzie said, stung. “I take fresh air and moderate exercise every day. I simply like reading in bed. Or in a chair.”

Or anywhere else, to tell the truth. Reading in a peaceful garden was an excellent way to take fresh air.

OUR REVIEW

Publisher and Release Date: Avon Impulse, June 2016

Time and Setting: Sussex, 1826
Genre: Historical Romance
Heat Level: 2
Reviewer Rating: 4 stars

Review by Caz

This charming novella is loosely related to Eloisa James’ Essex Sisters series by virtue of the fact that the heroine’s sister is friends with Josie, Countess of Mayne. The central romance develops quickly – over the space of a couple of days – but it’s well done, with plenty of humour and crackling chemistry between the two leads which enables the reader to buy into this whirlwind courtship without the need for the suspension of too much disbelief.

Lizzie, Lady Troutt has been a widow for just over eighteen months. Not unusually for the time, her father chose her husband for her and chose badly; Adrian Troutt only wanted Lizzie’s money so that he could continue to live with his long-term mistress. Poor Lizzie had no idea of that until her wedding day, when her new husband unceremoniously dumped her at his mother’s home, told Lizzie to look after her and waved goodbye. Hurt and disillusioned, Lizzie ran back to her father – who sent her right back and basically told her to get on with it.

Adrian’s unorthodox living arrangements were widely known, which naturally made Lizzie into a figure of fun or pity, and his death ‘on the job’ only served to increase her notoriety. In the year and a half since his death, all Lizzie has wanted to do is to fade into the background, stay at home and read her beloved books.

Her older, happily married sister Cat, Lady Windingham, is worried about her, though. Lizzie used to be vibrant and quick-witted but has become entirely self-effacing and reclusive; she seems to be holding herself responsible for her late husband’s faults, and Cat wants to shake her out of her gloom. She extracts a promise from Lizzie to attend the house-party she and her husband are holding and hopes to find a way to bring Lizzie out of her shell.

Oliver Berwick still feels guilty over some youthful indiscretions that caused hurt to a couple of young women in society. When the opportunity to offer both ladies an apology presents itself, he grabs it, accompanying his fifteen year-old niece (and ward) to Lady Windingham’s houseparty. Cat makes Oliver very welcome, but Lizzie is quiet and aloof, making a reluctant appearance at the dinner table that first evening and skipping breakfast the next day, simply to avoid meeting him again. Oliver is funny, charming and far too handsome for Lizzie’s peace of mind; and besides, she doesn’t want a man. Widowhood comes with certain benefits, one of which is not having to be subject to the dictates of any man ever again, even a gorgeous, amusing and surprisingly straightforward one.

Both Lizzie and Oliver are such well-rounded, engaging characters, that it’s not hard to get to know them quickly and to feel that they’re part of a longer story. It’s easy to understand what has driven Lizzie to want to hide herself away and to sympathise with her insecurities; and it’s clear that Oliver has grown up to be a conscientious, caring man. He is sweetly smitten with Lizzie from the start and determined to coax her out of herself and show her that not all men are selfish bastards. Lizzie is wary and at first wants nothing more than to hide away; but – and here I thoroughly applaud the author – Lizzie starts to realise ON HER OWN that she is doing herself down by dressing in drab clothes and living vicariously through the books she loves. I loved watching her succumbing to the warmth of Oliver’s personality and his gentle teasing, but I also loved that she was finally standing up for herself and discovering the women she was supposed to be.

In spite of the short page count, Ms. James manages to create a genuine connection between her central couple and to add in some swiftly but ably drawn secondary characters, too. A Gentleman Never Tells is a fun, quick read that can be enjoyed by fans as well as those new to the author’s work.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

ejamesELOISA JAMES is a New York Times best-selling author and professor of English literature who lives with her family in New York, but can sometimes be found in Paris or Italy. She is the mother of two and, in a particularly delicious irony for a romance writer, is married to a genuine Italian knight. Visit her at www.eloisajames.com

Connect with Eloisa James

Website – http://www.eloisajames.com/

Twitter – https://twitter.com/eloisajames

Facebook – https://www.facebook.com/eloisajames

Only Beloved (Survivor’s Club #7) by Mary Balogh

only beloved
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For the first time since the death of his wife, the Duke of Stanbrook is considering remarrying and finally embracing happiness for himself. With that thought comes the treasured image of a woman he met briefly a year ago and never saw again.

Dora Debbins relinquished all hope to marry when a family scandal left her in charge of her younger sister. Earning a modest living as a music teacher, she’s left with only an unfulfilled dream. Then one afternoon, an unexpected visitor makes it come true.

For both George and Dora that brief first encounter was as fleeting as it was unforgettable. Now is the time for a second chance. And while even true love comes with a risk, who are two dreamers to argue with destiny?

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Publisher and Release Date: Signet, May 2016

RHR Classifications:
Time and Setting: 1820s, London and Cornwall, England
Genre: Historical Romance
Heat Level: 2
Reviewer Rating: 5 stars

Review by Lady Wesley

Dora Debbins, music teacher to the children of Inglebrook in Gloucestershire enjoyed her life, but she still missed her younger sister Agnes, who had lived with Dora for a year after she was widowed. Agnes has recently married and moved away; both she and her husband had encouraged Dora to live with them, but Dora preferred feeling useful. Sometimes her mind wanders back to a party at nearby Middlebury Park, where Dora had played the harp and pianoforte after dinner. The Duke of Stanbrook had been especially kind to her, and Dora had felt more alive than ever in her entire life. But, as a thirty-nine-year-old spinster, Dora allowed herself to entertain no romantic notions.

Meanwhile, at Stanbrook House in London, George Crabbe waved farewell to his house guests and settled into his comfortable library chair, reflecting how nice it was to know that he could do anything, or nothing, with his time. During the past two years, he had traveled hither and yon attending the weddings of all six of his closest friends, all members of the Survivors’ Club. Now the weddings are over, and George finally admits to himself that he is lonely. He wants companionship, and wonders whether Dora Debbins might be the right woman for him.
Imagine Dora’s shock when George appears unexpectedly in her parlor, announces that he has just arrived from London, and asks, “I wondered, Miss Debbins, if you might do me the great honor of marrying me.”

Thus begins the seventh and final book in Mary Balogh’s Survivors’ Club series. The survivors – five men and one woman – each suffered traumatic injuries in the wars against Napoleon, and the Duke of Stanbrook, whose son had died in battle, opened his estate in Cornwall as a convalescent home. Out of more than two dozen officers who lived there, six had stayed for some three years, and the bond that developed between them was stronger perhaps than those of family. Each of the six previous books focused on one survivor’s struggles, their sometimes incomplete recovery, and their path to happiness in marriage. Although these are romances, Mary Balogh does not sugar-coat the realities of war and its aftermath. For this, she is to be commended, although sometimes it makes for uncomfortable reading.

Only Beloved is quite different from the other books, however. George was not a soldier injured in war. His only child was killed in battle, and shortly thereafter, his wife took her own life. Opening his home to those in need of longer-term care was one way of assuaging his grief. He has appeared in all six books, as a kind of loving father-figure to the others, but we know very little about him, really. And contrary to the standard romance plot, this books begins with the proposal and the wedding, and only afterwards tells the story of George and Dora truly falling in love.

This is a quiet book. Some readers may find the first half or so a bit slow, but I did not, probably because George and Dora are so well-written and their relationship so beautifully and gradually revealed. As an, *ahem*, older reader, I reveled in the notion that this mature couple could find romance and even passion as they experience the ordinary events of everyday life. But, if you’re looking for adventure, this book is not for you. There is no Great Villain or Big Secret shadowing their lives.

There are, however, a villain and some secrets – things which complicate but do not overshadow George and Dora’s lives. It becomes apparent to Dora that George, the deeply compassionate man who took on everyone else’s burdens, has never had anyone with whom to share his. George has suffered tremendously, but he is reticent to share his experience with anyone until his fear of losing Dora convincers him to open up. There is a bit of a mystery here, which is rather well done; I did not anticipate the outcome.

Dora has conflicted feelings about her parents. Her life was almost ruined when her father publicly accused her mother of infidelity. After her mother fled with her supposed lover, her parents divorced, and Dora gave up her hopes for a Season in London to stay home and raise Agnes. The two women have never forgiven their mother and also have some degree of resentment toward their rather distant father for his imprudent public accusation. When Dora learns that her mother, happily remarried for some twenty years, lives in London, that Agnes’ husband has been to see her, and that Agnes refuses do likewise, she is torn. She benefits from George’s huge talent for compassion and understanding, as he supports her through her decision whether to re-establish a relationship with her mother.

George and Dora are expertly drawn. Dora is intelligent, modest, and sensible. Becoming a duchess does not make her giddy (as I believe it would me). Rank is not her purpose in marrying George, and she blossoms under his love and attention. George is downright adorable. His thoughtfulness – buying a harp for Dora, bringing her old piano to Penderris, encouraging her to play and sing for him – made me fall a little bit in love with him myself. They are the focus of the plot, but there are several vivid secondary characters. I was especially touched by the story of Dora’s mother and her husband and repelled by the gossipy Mrs. Parkinson.

I adored the story, and it was great fun to visit with all of the survivors, their spouses, and their growing families. The author spends a good deal of space on the backstory of the Survivors’ Club, which I found distracting. While technically this could be read as a standalone, I think that something would be lost from not knowing more about the Survivors.

Mary Balogh has been writing for more than thirty years, with seventy novels and almost thirty novellas to her credit. I believe that the Survivors’ Club series is her crowning achievement; all seven books are excellent stories of damaged people struggling to achieve some degree of recovery and happiness despite their injuries. I urge you to read them all.

To Lure a Proper Lady (Duke Defying Daughters #1) by Ashlyn Macnamara

to lure a proper lady

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When Lady Elizabeth Wilde and her sisters are summoned once again to their chronically anxious father’s deathbed, she’s shocked to find that his worries are at last justified. He’s terribly ill, and Lizzie suspects poison. But when she seeks help from the Bow Street Runners, her request is answered by a rough-hewn rogue known only as Dysart. Though his irreverent charm by turns shocks and captivates her, a man of Dysart’s background is an altogether inappropriate choice for a duke’s daughter—isn’t he?

Although Dysart has his reasons to disdain polite society, the promise of supplemental income from a noble’s coffers is too tempting to deny. But if Dysart means to apprehend the culprit who poisoned the duke, he’ll need to avoid any and all distractions—like the delicious swish of Lady Elizabeth’s hips. Yet as the investigation begins to unearth secrets he’d rather remain hidden, Dysart must decide at a moment’s notice whether to hold Elizabeth at arm’s length . . . or pull her dangerously close.

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Publisher and Release Date: Loveswept, April 2016

RHR Classifications:
Time and Setting: 1822, Suffolk and London, England
Genre: Historical Romance
Heat Level: 2
Reviewer Rating: 4 stars

Review by Lady Wesley

The Duke of Sherrington is a valetudinarian (that’s Regency-speak for hypochondriac) who wants to see his three daughters wed before he shuffles off this mortal coil. Hence, his insistence that their annual house party take place, in hopes that some eligible gentlemen will help fulfil his wish.

Lady Elizabeth Wilde, (Lizzie) the eldest daughter, is shocked by her father’s sudden change in condition and begins to suspect that someone may be poisoning him. Intrepid Lady Elizabeth takes herself off to Bow Street to hire a runner, and there she encounters Dysart (no first name), lounging on the pavement smoking a cheroot. He happens to be the only runner available at the moment, so Lizzie engages him. Despite his scruffy appearance and insolent manner, Dysart knows something about high society, so the plan is for him to join the house party as a guest, using a pseudonym and some concocted connections to the duke.

From the moment Dysart joins Lizzie for the carriage ride to Suffolk, sparks are flying, but neither one of them will acknowledge it. I knew that I would love Dysart when I read this exchange:

“I am Lady Elizabeth Wilde.” . . .

“Are ye now?”

“Am I what?”

“Wild.”

The maid let out a gasp.

Dysart is an enigma. He can drop his Bow Street accent and smart-arse attitude to converse like a gentlemen in a flash. He apparently has a gentleman’s wardrobe, for no mention is made of him being dressed inappropriately. He knows which fork to use. One of the guests, a nasty piece of work named Pendleton, even recognizes him and calls him “Gus.” Dysart, however, has the goods on Pendleton and threatens him with exposure to keep him silent. He roams the house at all hours investigating and he suspects everyone. From time to time, we see Dysart’s inner bad boy make an appearance; Lizzie sees it too, and she likes it.

But Lizzie does not want to like it; Dysart is completely unsuitable for a duke’s daughter. Besides, she is expected to marry her second cousin Snowley, her father’s fussy, fastidious heir. The thought of intimacy with him makes her shudder, but she must consider the possibility; it is her father’s fondest wish, and Lizzie is a dutiful daughter. Along with being dutiful, however, Lizzie is strong, intelligent, and brave. Due to her father’s years of illness, she is the de facto head of the household and is a substitute mother to her two younger sisters. While Lizzie is a modern character in some ways, Ashlyn Macnamara does an excellent job making her a woman of her time, although I must say that Lizzie is a good deal bolder in carnal matters that one would expect of a gently bred young lady. The sexual tension between her and Dysart is so palpable, though, that she might be forgiven her indiscretions.

Although there are plenty of secondary characters, some of whom are just there to set up the rest of the series, Dysart is the star of this book. He is taciturn, moody, clever, gallant, and hot as coals of glowing fire. (Fans of Deanna Raybourn’s Lady Julia series might be reminded Brisbane from time to time!) Clearly, he has a past, which he gradually shares with Lizzie as the investigation draws them closer; and the events of that past demonstrate just what a noble soul lies beneath the rough exterior.

Although the mystery was unexciting (until the surprisingly thrilling ending), I thoroughly enjoyed To Lure a Proper Lady and added a star to my rating just for Dysart. I look forward to reading the rest of this series.

VIRTUAL TOUR: Six Degrees of Scandal (Scandalous #4) by Caroline Linden

VT-SixDegreesofScandal-CLinden_FINAL

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Olivia Townsend is in trouble and out of options. Pursued by a dangerous man in search of a lost treasure she doesn’t possess, she’s got only two things in her favor: her late husband’s diary, which she was never meant to see… and the man who was her first—and only—love. Losing him broke her heart, though she’s been careful to hide it for the last ten years. But when he comes to her aid and vows to stand by her, no matter what, she can’t help but hope things will be different for them this time.

James Weston has blamed himself for letting Olivia down when she needed him years ago, and now he’ll do whatever it takes to keep her safe—and to win her trust again. He’s confident he can outwit the villain chasing Olivia. But being so near her again threatens to expose every secret in his heart … even those that he swore would stay hidden forever.

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EXCERPT

James pulled off his boots, and then his stockings, and then—to Olivia’s shock—he climbed up and stood on the highest rock, letting the water foam over his feet and wet his breeches. “Don’t you want to climb up?”

She looked longingly at the rocks. The thought of water running over her feet and ankles was tempting, but not worth it. “I’d get wet, and my mother would be displeased.”

“Pity that. It’s great fun.”

Slowly she looked down at her shoes and stockings. Maybe if she held up her skirts, very high . . . But that would also be improper. “I’d better not.”

“Oh,” he said in disappointment. “You’re a coward.”

Olivia’s eyes widened. “How rude!”

He shrugged, kicking at the water and sending a spray over the grass. “I can tell you want to get up here but you won’t.”

“I’d get all wet . . .”

“So walk around until your feet and skirt dry. That’s what my sisters do.”

Olivia stole another look at the frothing stream. “Your sisters climb up there?”

“And they’re even younger than you. But if you’re too scared . . .” He started to climb down.

Her mouth firmed. She was not scared. “Those rocks are slippery. I don’t want to fall.”

He grinned as if he knew he’d won. “I’ll hold your hand.”

And he did. Olivia peeled off her stockings and slippers, folded up her skirts as high as she dared—all the way above her knees—and carefully stepped into the water. She gasped at the cold initially, but it was a hot day and soon the water felt blissful. James held her hand as promised and coaxed her to stand on the topmost rock at the edge of the waterfall. She balanced on the wide flat stone and a grin spread across her face. The water rushed over her toes and ankles and she thought she’d never done anything this daring in her whole life. “How did I never discover this?”

Still holding her hand, James laughed. “Good girls stay at home.”

“So I’m a bad girl for coming out here?”

“No,” he said. “A curious girl. I like that kind.”

That allayed Olivia’s moment of worry. Curious didn’t sound so terrible. She exchanged a tentative smile with James.

When their feet had gone numb, he helped her climb down and back onto the grass.

“Do you play dolls still?” he asked as he put his boots back on.

Olivia shook out her skirts, relieved to see that she had kept dry except for a small spot on one side.

“Sometimes.”

“Good. Follow me.” He started off.

“Mr. Weston!”

He turned at her indignant cry. “Call me Jamie. James if you must. You might as well come meet my sisters, who drove me from the house today with begging me to play dolls. My mother said I had to entertain them but they don’t like the way I play dolls.” He made an aggrieved expression. “Why can’t a doll put on a fine dress and then have a sword fight with another doll? What else have dolls got to do all day?” He shrugged. “You probably know better how to do it the way they want.”

“But—I can’t—”

“Why not?”

“I can’t go into town without permission,” Olivia finally said. Privately she was curious to meet the Westons. Her parents didn’t view most of the local families as their equal, and Olivia and Daphne weren’t allowed much contact with other children. And even though she didn’t spend as much time with dolls as Daphne did, she wasn’t immune to wanting to see the Weston girls’ dolls, which were sure to be much finer than anything at Kellan Hall. But if Mother saw her, she’d be in such trouble.

He grinned as if sensing another victory. “We don’t live in town anymore. We took possession of Haverstock House this week, right over the hill.”

Her eyes popped open. Haverstock House was the finest house in the county, and lay between Kellan Hall and town. It belonged to the elderly Earl of Malke, who rarely visited since his wife’s death. Now the Westons owned it?

“I expect my mother will call on your mother soon, now we’re neighbors,” he went on. “Will she let you come visit then?”

Olivia doubted it. “Perhaps.”

Jamie Weston flashed his confident grin once more. “I’ll wager a copper penny she will.”

OUR REVIEW

Publisher and Release Date: Avon, April 2016
RHR Classifications:
Time and Setting: 1822, England
Genre: Historical Romance
Heat Level: 2
Reviewer Rating: 4.5 stars

Review by Lady Wesley

six degrees scandal coverWhat should a woman do when her first love, the man who deserted her in a time of need, returns a decade later ready to risk his life to save her from a murderous villain?

In the exciting, romantic conclusion to her engaging Scandalous series, Caroline Linden presents the story of Olivia Herbert and James (Jamie) Weston, who grew up on neighboring estates in Kent. The two families did not socialize, however, as Jamie’s father was an (immensely wealthy) attorney and Olivia was the daughter of a (spendthrift) baronet. Lady Herbert, adhering to the rigid class distinctions of the day, considered the “upstart Westons” to be beneath her notice. As the Herberts’ fortunes decline though, and when Jamie appears to show an interest in Olivia, Sir Alfred and Lady Herbert’s prejudices began to crumble.

Unbeknownst to them, Jamie and Olivia have fallen madly in love and given in to their passion, expecting that parental approval of their betrothal would be forthcoming. Eager to prove himself to his father and not realizing how precarious the Herberts’ finances have become, Jamie leaves on a business trip before formally asking for Olivia’s hand – a decision that proves disastrous for Olivia when her parents insist that she marry Henry Townsend, a man she doesn’t even know. Henry’s wealthy father has agreed to pay all of Lord Herbert’s debts to order to obtain a sensible wife for his frivolous son. When Olivia’s frantic letters to Jamie go unanswered, she sees no choice but to marry Henry; Jamie returns to find that Olivia has been married for four days. Olivia is furious and broken-hearted but she treats him with cool civility, as she wants to maintain her friendship with his sisters.

Ten years pass, and while Olivia remains close to Abigail and Penelope Weston, Jamie sees to it that he rarely crosses Olivia’s path. Olivia’s marriage is not a happy one but neither is it a horror. When Henry suddenly dies, however, Olivia finds that he has spent his inherited fortune and left her penniless. Henry’s friend, Viscount Clary, repeatedly visits Olivia, initially expressing sympathy but ultimately demanding that she return an item that belongs to him. Olivia has no idea what he is talking about, but his manner becomes increasingly threatening. After Clary tries to force Penelope Weston to tell him Olivia’s whereabouts, almost killing her (see Love in the Time of Scandal), Olivia flees London in search of Henry’s solicitor. He had sent Olivia a record-book that she believes may shed some light on Henry’s business, and she is beginning to suspect that that business was possibly illegal and that Clary was involved.

After visiting the solicitor and getting nowhere, Olivia is walking home near dark and is followed by a shadowy figure. Fearing that it is Clary, she grabs a nearby shovel and wallops the stranger – who turns out to be Jamie. He has followed her to Gravesend to protect and help her, and thus begins a beautiful second-chance romance mixed with a road-trip aimed at resolving a puzzling mystery.

Six Degree of Scandal Teasers 3The unwinding of Henry Townsend’s schemes is very well done and kept me turning the pages far past my bedtime. But the beauty of this book is in Olivia and Jamie finding the happiness that eluded them a decade earlier. Jamie has never stopped loving Olivia, and he bitterly regrets his failure to be there when she needed him.

This time, he wasn’t going to let her down. This time, he wasn’t leaving her until Lord Clary was in prison and every nasty, dirty secret of Henry’s had been exposed and burned, and Olivia lost that worn, tense expression. And if she could be persuaded to give him another chance, he wasn’t going to let her go, either.

For her part, Olivia has spent ten years feeling like a fool for giving Jamie her love and trust, but with his return to her life, she realizes what she has forfeited by refusing his friendship.

Suddenly she wished she hadn’t done it. It had protected her wounded young heart, but at the cost of a friendship that had sustained her since she was a child. If she hadn’t pushed him away, Jamie might have helped her endure her lonely, loveless marriage. Henry wouldn’t have cared. And Olivia knew that, if she had asked, Jamie would have advised her when Clary started hounding her.

Olivia is an admirable heroine; she is strong and determined to solve her own problems. When Jamie offers his help, however, she is not too proud to accept and to forgive him. Jamie is utterly lovable and perhaps a little too good to be true, but I don’t object to that in my romance heroes. All of the main characters from the earlier books put in an appearance, but I was particularly struck by lovely vignette of one of the minor characters, a charming old fisherman/smuggler who helps them even though he does not have to. ‘A man’s oath is his bond,’ he said quietly, ‘but when a fellow dies . . .’ He shrugged. ‘I allow some duty is owed to the chap’s widow.’

All in all, Six Degrees of Scandal is a most enjoyable book, and I believe that the author has so deftly woven in details from the other books that this one works quite well as a stand-alone. If you have read those books, however, you may be wondering about Lady Constance, the courtesan whose supposedly true stories of her erotic adventures, 50 Ways to Sin, have consumed the ton with speculation about the author’s true identity. Her identity is indeed revealed here and I can almost guarantee that you will be surprised. Well done, Caroline Linden.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Linden, CarolineCaroline Linden was born a reader, not a writer. She earned a math degree from Harvard University and wrote computer software before turning to writing fiction. Ten years, twelve books, three Red Sox championships, and one dog later, she has never been happier with her decision. Her books have won the NEC Reader’s Choice Beanpot Award, the Daphne du Maurier Award, and RWA’s RITA Award. Since she never won any prizes in math, she takes this as a sign that her decision was also a smart one. Visit her online at www.carolinelinden.com * ~ * ~ * Facebook * ~ * ~ * Twitter * ~ * ~ * Goodreads

A Convenient Engagement by Kimberly Bell

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An independent young woman of means, Miss Hannah Howard is as stubborn as she is beautiful. After she moves to London for her first season among the ton, she immediately finds herself in a heated dispute with her neighbor, the ill-mannered Gavan Dalreoch, Earl of Rhone. Giving the Earl a black eye is a lapse in judgment—even though the Scottish scoundrel deserved it. Now with her reputation in jeopardy, her only hope for saving face is the man whose face she bruised.

Gavan is content to live up to his rakish reputation, but with family pressuring him to marry, he and Hannah agree to get engaged just long enough to appear respectable. Yet as the charade continues with stolen kisses and a trip to Gavan’s Scottish castle, Gavan and Hannah discover that their false engagement may be more real than they imagined.

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Publisher and Release Date: Intermix, Feburary 2016

RHR Classifications:
Time and Setting: Georgian England and Scotland
Genre: Historical Romance
Heat Level: 2
Reviewer Rating: 3 stars

Review by Caz

Kimberly Bell’s A Convenient Engagement is her historical romance début, a romantic comedy in which two feuding neighbours have to agree to a faux betrothal after the heroine, Miss Hannah Howard, is shunned by society because of what it sees as her hoydenish behaviour. The book is entertaining, the central characters are attractive and Ms Bell displays a deft touch with the humour, but while it started well (I was thinking I’d found a 4 star book), things went downhill after that and the novel didn’t live up to its early promise.

Gavan Dalreoch, Earl of Rhone, hasn’t been home to Scotland for sixteen years and intends to keep it that way. He’s perfectly happy wending his debauched way through London society – or he would be were it not for all the noise coming from the house next door which is undergoing extensive renovation. The continual hammering and banging only serves to exacerbate Gavan’s usual morning hangovers, and to make matters worse, his starchy, very proper cousin Ewan has just arrived from Castle Dalreoch to try to sober him up and guilt him into going home and fulfilling his responsibilities to his clan and the earldom.

After he’s ejected the two comely ladies currently sharing his bed, a furious, still drunk Gavan stomps to the house next door, insults the young woman who owns it and finds himself on the receiving end of her fist, falling down the steps and ending up flat on his back in full view of everyone on the select London street where they live.

When it emerges that Miss Howard’s reputation has been all but shredded because of such unladylike behaviour, Ewan, whose sense of honour and fair-play is unbending, demands that Gavan do something to help her – by marrying her, as it’s the only way to salvage her reputation in the eyes of society.

Naturally, Gavan is aghast – but Ewan’s method of persuasion is… unusual to say the least, and Gavan can do nothing else but agree. Well, sort of. He comes up with another plan. He and Hannah will become betrothed, and during the length of their engagement, he will introduce her to every eligible man he can think of so that she can jilt him and marry someone else.

When he proposes this idea to the stunned Hannah, she at first thinks he must have lost his mind. But she, too, sees that this is the only way she is going to be able to hold her head up in society, and agrees to it. For Hannah, this is her one chance to enjoy the delights of London and the Season. She is alone in the world now, having recently lost her autocratic, controlling father, and is determined to enjoy herself before retiring to the country to live out the rest of her days in quiet spinsterhood.

She doesn’t, however, tell Gavan that she intends never to marry. Her mother’s death turned her father into an automaton who had no time for his daughter and Hannah has no intention of falling in love and risking such an all-encompassing loss.

Gavan has his own inner demons, too, the ones that keep him away from home and living a life of drunken dissipation. His family situation is rather complicated; his father was not the man to whom his mother was married, a fact which is widely known and which meant that Gavan’s childhood was a difficult one. He left home as soon as he could, full of resentment towards his family and has never gone back, neglecting his tenants and his clan and carefully cultivating the lowest expectations possible.

Hannah and Gavan strike sparks off each other from the get-go, and their snarky banter is well done. They have great chemistry and I liked the way they came to understand and appreciate each other at more than a surface level. I also liked the little role-reversal the author engages in when she has Gavan be the one to admit his feelings and Hannah trying to deny hers and stick to her original plan of never marrying. On the downside, however, this is very much a wallpaper historical, and if it hadn’t been for a small number of pointers (reference to men wearing wigs, to the Jacobite cause and details about Gavan’s costume for a masquerade) I wouldn’t have been able to place it in any particular time-frame. There are also a lot of annoying Americanisms – we don’t have sidewalks, they’re pavements, Fall is Autumn, and we absolutely, categorically do NOT pour gravy on biscuits, which are sweet (think shortbread) – to list but a few. The overall tone is very modern, and although the author tries to explain away some of those modernisms (like Hannah’s frequent utterances of “Bloody Hell!”) by putting them down to the fact that she has lived outside society and doesn’t really know how to go on, it doesn’t wash.

But in spite of those negatives, I didn’t dislike the book and found it quite entertaining. For all his rakish ways, Gavan is a sexy, endearing doofus who undergoes significant change throughout the course of the story, and there is an engaging cast of secondary characters, from his enigmatic butler, Magnus, to the stock-in-trade but delightfully outspoken older lady who is probably the world’s most unsuitable chaperone. The author also makes some insightful character observations that give the story and characters a little depth, and that, together with the humour is what eventually put A Convenient Engagement into the 3 star bracket. It’s a light-hearted, funny romp, perfect for those times you want to switch off your brain and read something undemanding and don’t mind that the characters are essentially 21st century people dressed up in tight breeches and pretty frocks. But if you like your historical romance to have more historical content and accuracy, you’ll probably want to give it a wide berth.

A Rebel without a Rogue (The Penningtons #1) by Bliss Bennet

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A woman striving for justice…

Fianna Cameron has devoted her life to avenging the death of her father, hanged as a traitor during the Irish Rebellion of 1798. Now, on the eve of her thirtieth birthday, only one last miscreant remains: Major Christopher Pennington, the English army officer who not only oversaw her father’s execution, but falsely maligned his honor. Fianna risks everything to travel to London and confront the man who has haunted her every nightmare. Only after her pistol misfires does she realize her sickening mistake: the Pennington she wounded is far too young to be the man who killed her father.

A man who will protect his family at all costs…

Rumors of being shot by a spurned mistress might burnish the reputation of a rake, but for Kit Pennington, determined to add to his family’s honor by winning a seat in Parliament, such sala-cious gossip is nothing but a nightmare. To regain his good name, Kit will have to track down his mysterious attacker and force her to reveal the true motivation behind her unprovoked assault. Accepting the mistress of an acquaintance as an ally in his search is risky enough, but when Kit begins to develop feelings for the icy, ethereal Miss Cameron, more than his political career is in danger. For Kit is beginning to suspect that Fianna Cameron knows far more about the shooting—and the reasons behind it—than she’s willing to reveal.

As their search begins to unearth long-held secrets, Kit and Fianna find themselves caught be-tween duty to family and their beliefs in what’s right. How can you balance the competing de-mands of loyalty and justice—especially when you add love to the mix?

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Publisher and Release Date: Bliss Bennet, September 2015

RHR Classifications:
Time and setting: London, 1822
Genre: Historical Romance
Heat Level: 2
Reviewer Rating: 4 Stars

Review by Vikki

A Rebel without a Rogue is Ms Bennet’s début novel, and on the strength of it, I predict a promising future writing historical fiction and romance.

Fianna Cameron is determined to bring down the man who sent her father to the gallows and shredded his character afterwards. When she manages to get into the venue she believes he is attending, she is shocked to learn she has shot the wrong man.

Kit Pennington has no idea why a woman would shoot him, but he’s determined to get to the bottom of it. He seeks out Viscount Ingestrie, who has just returned from Ireland. He hopes the man can translate the etchings on the pistol used to shoot him. When Ingestrie drags in Fianna to see if she can tell Kit what the etching says, she wonders: “Did the English hang attempted murderers as quickly as they executed rebels?”

I was fascinated by the detail of the Irish Rebellion described in the book. The history is what kept me reading in the beginning, because for me, it didn’t really take off until a bit before the half way point. After that, the pacing picked up, the story pulled me in and by the end, I had become invested in the characters.

I didn’t warm to Fianna to start with, because she was so stiff and cold in the first part of the book, but as the story unfolds, she grew on me – and by the end, I liked her. I did, however, wonder why she waited so many years before she decided to seek vengeance on the man she held responsible for her father’s death. By the end, none of that mattered because the growth in her character is amazing, winning my empathy as she softens toward Kit and begins to see there are many shades of gray, both good and bad, even in her enemy.

I liked Kit Pennington’s character from the beginning, although at first he seemed a bit dull. Yet eventually, his passion for his family, his loyalty to the ones he loves, his willingness to accept Fianna and try to discover who she really is under her cold, calculating exterior, won my heart completely.

There is no doubt Ms. Bennet did an amazing amount of research for this book, her detailed accounts of the rebellion woven expertly into her story. Being part Irish myself, I love reading of Ireland’s struggles against British tyranny, and I definitely recommend A Rebel without a Rogue to anyone who enjoys a strong and well-researched historical element in an historical romance.