Tag Archive | harlequin historical

The Wallflower Duchess by Liz Tyner

the wallflower duchess

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No other woman will do for the determined duke…

To Lily Hightower, Edge is still the adventurous boy she grew up with, even though he’s now become the formidable Duke of Edgeworth. So when he doesn’t propose to her sister as everyone expects, shy Lily marches right up to him to ask why…

Wallflower Lily is amazed to learn that she is the duke’s true choice. She’s hiding a secret that, if he found out, could threaten everything. But Lily is the duchess of his dreams–and Edge is determined to make her his!

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Publisher and Release Date: Harlequin Historical, March 2017

Time and Setting: Regency England
Genre: Historical Romance
Heat Level: 1
Reviewer Rating: 3 stars

Review by Caz

Being a fan of friends-to-lovers stories, The Wallflower Duchess sounded as though it would be right up my alley; a fairly simple story about two long-time friends and neighbours starting to see each other in a new light and falling in love. That is, in essence, exactly what it is, but I was less than enthralled by the execution; the writing is quite disjointed in places and the central characters are barely two-dimensional. Neither of them made much of an impression on me, making it impossible for me to really get invested in their rather lukewarm romance.

Ever since he was old enough to understand, Lord Lionel, heir to the Duke of Edgeworth, knew what it meant to be a duke. He has been raised to be mindful of his responsibilities for those who depend on him; to display impeccable manners and good breeding at all times – in short, to be perfect. But after he became the duke, he began to realise that perhaps his father’s insistence on perfection had removed him too far from the people in his charge. Unfortunately, however, an accident when he ventured to move among his tenants to see what their lives were like led to Edgeworth – Edge to his intimates, of which there are not many – being so badly burned (on his legs) that at one point, his life was in jeopardy.

Upon his recovery, he discovers that the accident – and another recent life-threatening incident in which he was thrown from his horse – has somewhat altered his perspective on life. He knows that his father had always intended him to marry Miss Abigail Hightower, the younger daughter of their life-long neighbours, but secretly had always preferred the elder daughter, Lily, with whom he had sometimes played when they were children. Two brushes with death mean that Edge isn’t going to put off asking for her hand any longer, and he does so, in full confidence of his being accepted.

But Lily isn’t going to fall into his arms so readily. First of all, she had no idea that Edge had any interest in her, given that she believed he was destined for her sister, and second of all, she doesn’t want to be married to as high profile a figure as a duke. Lily has her own reasons for wanting to blend into the background and live a quiet life, not least of which is her belief that she is illegitimate; and her parents’ disastrous marriage, which often led to scenes of high drama and histrionics on the part of her highly strung mother, has most definitely given her a distaste for the institution, which she insists, is not for her.

Edge is not particularly upset by her refusal, and calmly goes about the business of changing her mind, his first step being to prove that the man she calls father really IS her father, and that her illegitimacy was a cruel taunt made by her mother when her parents were in the midst of a particularly vitriolic row. Lily finds it difficult to believe the truth, and is, naturally, hurt at the discovery that even her own father hadn’t bothered to disabuse her of her belief that she was the daughter of the local blacksmith.

With this barrier to her acceptance of Edge removed, Lily does start to soften her attitude towards him, and to allow herself to acknowledge the truth, which is that she is deeply attracted to him and always has been. His gentle persuasion gradually erodes her resistance to his suit and she agrees to marry him, even though she is still keeping one rather large and important secret from him. Unfortunately, the uncovering of one secret leads to the uncovering of others, one of which is like a slap in the face for Edge, who had never envisaged that the woman he has loved for so long could effect such a betrayal.

What should have been a fairly simple “hero-in-pursuit” story of two childhood friends realising they belong together is, sadly, marred by the fact that the book is overly busy. Lily comes from a difficult family – her parents were forever arguing and when her mother eventually left, it was relief Lily felt, rather than pain. Believing, herself to be “outside” the family (because she thought she was not her father’s child), Lily assumed the role of guardian to her younger sister and tried to protect her from the emotional fallout and the gossip, while she decided that becoming emotionally involved with anyone would only lead to misery. And while Edge’s early life was more settled than Lily’s he also had to adjust to the fact that his family wasn’t as perfect as he had believed it to be, and now has to face up to what he now regards as a serious mistake in the way he dealt with the effect of the revelations that split his family apart.

The biggest problem with the book, however, is that the two central characters are very poorly defined, in spite of all their emotional baggage. Lily is a mass of insecurities who just seems to want to hide away all the time, and Edge, while clearly the product of enormous privilege is fairly bland. There is almost zero chemistry between them; in fact the first sex scene (of two – and they’re both little more than a paragraph, really) happens pretty much out of the blue in the sense that there is no emotional build up to it at all, and no discussion of possible consequences or even why they are going to bed together.

I also didn’t find the writing style to be especially engaging; at the beginning of the book in particular, it’s choppy in the way the author jumps from scene to scene without really telling me what was happening, so I felt rather adrift for the first few chapters. Things are hinted at and alluded to, but not in a way that enabled me to get a firm grasp on either events or characters. The second half works better, and for all that Edge’s character is underdeveloped, I discovered him to be quite sweet in an awkward kind of way, while Lily’s insistence on believing she was like her mother was patently ridiculous and got very annoying very quickly.

Lily and Edge both had the potential to be interesting and attractive, but lacked depth and were instead pretty much one-note characters I didn’t really warm to. The number of plot elements introduced made the book perhaps a little too busy, and this, together with the lack of romantic chemistry and weak characterisation made The Wallflower Duchess a bit of a disappointment overall.

The Harlot and the Sheikh (Hot Arabian Nights #3) by Marguerite Kaye

the harlot and the sheikh

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A defiant woman… in a desert king’s world!

Inheriting a broken kingdom, Prince Rafiq made a vow – to restore its pride by winning a prestigious horse race. To ensure success he hires an English expert. But even notoriously controlled Rafiq is shocked when his new employee is introduced… as Miss Stephanie Darvill!

Stephanie is determined to leave her shameful past and broken dreams behind – she will prove to Rafiq she deserves his trust! But this hard-hearted desert sheikh calls to Stephanie in the most primal of ways…dare she give in to her wildest desires?

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Publisher and Release Date: Harlequin Historical, February 2017

Time and Setting: Arabia 1815
Genre: Historical Romance
Heat Level: 2
Reviewer Rating: 4.5 stars

Review by Wendy

If there’s one thing readers can be sure of with a Marguerite Kaye novel it’s superb writing, in-depth and expert research and captivating storytelling. In The Harlot and the Sheikh the third in her Hot Arabian Nights series we meet another of Ms. Kaye’s capable, independently-minded heroines. And even though I’ve never been attracted to ‘sheikh’ stories in general – I adored this one with its delectable but flawed leading-man and a heroine ahead of her time with nothing left to lose but maybe everything to gain if she can only pull off her audacious ploy.

Miss Stephanie Darvill has left home under a cloud after a liaison with an officer in her father’s regiment left her reputation in tatters. Her father has a considerable reputation as a veterinary surgeon attached to the Seventh Hussars and Stephanie has worked alongside him most of her life and is now almost as knowledgeable as he. Prince Rafiq al-Antarah’s string of valuable blue-blooded race horses are in danger from a mysterious disease which has beset his stud and which thus threatens his bid to win the prestigious Sabr, the famous endurance race that is key to the prosperity and prestige of his people. Some years earlier, Rafiq’s father lost the race in a moment of madness which has had far-reaching consequences not only for Bharym, but for Rafiq personally. Forced to make a decision based on his father’s actions, the prince is now severely troubled and feels that winning the race is the only way to make amends for his own actions.

When Stephanie arrives and declares herself to be at the palace at his invitation Rafiq is astonished and not a little displeased, because he had expected her father to respond to his request for help.  Stephanie persuades him that she is up to the job and as time is short and there is no one else he can call on, Rafiq gives her a contract as his Royal Horse Surgeon. Besides which, he is not a little impressed by her temerity, determination and strength of character not to mention her attractiveness and an ability to speak his language like a native, a fact for which she can thank her Egyptian mother.

These are two of Marguerite Kate’s most compelling characters yet. Stephanie has been badly hurt but is strong and determined to gain her independence, a fact she thinks will help her to rise above her fall from grace and repay the faith her parents’ have placed in her. She is highly intelligent, determined and shows she is no pushover as she fronts up to the prejudices she faces in Rafiq’s stables where a woman’s presence is considered to be unlucky. Rafiq is immediately struck by her uncompromising honesty, not a quality he has experienced much in his dealings with others. Stephanie doesn’t promise to save his beloved horses but she promises to try. Rafiq is utterly honourable as well as being the most deliciously handsome man that she has ever encountered and it isn’t long before the two are exploring their physical attraction to each other, although after her previous experience, Stephanie is naturally wary and anxious not to make this relationship into something it is not.

I loved the way Ms. Kaye developed the romance between Rafiq and Stephanie; the attraction between them simmers from their first meeting and builds slowly and sensually. He winkles out her past – bit-by-bit – and shows her by word and deed that he is not remotely shocked, and gradually helps her to rebuild her sense of her self-esteem by his actions and attentions to her. In turn she teaches him a little about bending his long held views and rules and relaxing the strictures in his everyday life and in his palace. In short, Rafiq begins to see Stephanie as a breath of fresh air and she quickly becomes a necessity in his life.

Marguerite Kaye has a special ability to drop the reader into place and time, the sights, smells, soft sand beneath feet, even the tinkling of water from a fountain – all are an experience one can almost see, smell, feel and hear – it is one aspect of her writing that I have always admired.   The Harlot and the Sheikh boasts a beautifully crafted romance between two captivating characters and a clever, plausible plot which Marguerite Kaye has backed up in her author’s notes showing us her extensive research into many of the areas covered in this story. I highly recommend this novel and after meeting Christopher Fordyce towards the end of novel I am really looking forward to meeting him again when he gets his own story in the last of the series.

In Debt to the Earl by Elizabeth Rolls

in debt to the earl

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“If you wish, I can take you out of all this.”

In his quest for revenge against a disreputable card sharp, James, Earl of Cambourne, discovers the man’s innocent daughter. While her surroundings are impoverished, her dignity and refinement are unmistakable, and James faces an unsettling question—what will be her fate if he brings her father to justice?

Although yearning for love and comfort, Lucy resists the earl’s surprising offer of protection. That is until a price is made on her virginity, and James is the only man who can save her.

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Publisher and Release Date: Harlequin/Mills and Boon Historical, December 2015

RHR Classifications:
Time and Setting: England, 1802
Genre: Historical Romance
Heat Level: 2
Reviewer Rating: 3.5 stars

Review by Caz

Elizabeth Rolls is an author whose books I’ve enjoyed in the past, and In Debt to the Earl was no exception, although there were some aspects of it that didn’t quite work for me. The story is engaging and well-told, although the characterisation is a little weak; and while the author certainly addresses some interesting themes – the gap between rich and poor and womens’ lack of agency – they are somewhat glossed over and left me feeling a little unsatisfied by the end.

When his young cousin is badly beaten up on the streets, James Remington, Earl of Cambourne determines to find the man responsible and bring him to justice. His cousin owed a gambling debt to a Captain Hensleigh, but James discovers that Hensleigh had sold his cousin’s notes of hand to a crime-lord named Kilby who arranged the beating when payment was not forthcoming.

The earl begins by going to the seedy gambling den where Hensleigh is to be found and wins a large sum of money off him at cards. After accepting Hensleigh’s vowels, James tracks the man to his cheap, dingy lodgings where he is surprised to encounter a rather lovely young woman he at first assumes to be Hensleigh’s mistress. He is shocked to discover that she is in fact Hensleigh’s daughter and even moreso when he realises that the “captain” has abandoned the girl to such poverty and squalor.

At first James sees Lucy simply as a means to an end, believing that if he hangs around for long enough, Hensleigh will return and he – James – will be able to use him to get to Kilby, who, he has discovered, not only ordered the attack on his cousin, but who also caused the death of another young man in similar circumstances. But Lucy’s speech and manners clearly indicate that she was not born to such hardship and he finds himself increasingly curious and drawn to her. Horrified at her having so little, he insists on paying her rent and buying food and coal, but his well-intentioned actions only make things more difficult for Lucy when her landlady assumes she’s entertaining this handsome young gentleman on her back.

Lucy is initially suspicious of Cambourne’s motives in continuing to visit her. She’s proud and doesn’t want his charity, but she also can’t deny the strong pull of attraction she feels towards him, at the same time as she admits that a man of his station is well beyond her reach. James is equally smitten, and, wanting to give her a better life, decides to offer her carte blanche. Yet he doesn’t want her agreeing to become his mistress because she feels indebted to him, and sets about courting her properly. He wants her to want him as much as he desires her, so when he makes his proposition, he makes it very clear that his offer is independent of his dealings with her father and that Lucy has a choice. But, secure in his far more comfortable life, James fails to see that in spite of his scruples, Lucy has no choice at all. She can become his mistress and live in comfort and safety, or she can starve and probably end up walking the streets. This aspect of the story is perhaps a little uncomfortable, but I suspect it’s intended to be; James genuinely does want Lucy to come to him because she wants to, but doesn’t give any real consideration to what her life will be if she agrees.

The author’s depictions of the poverty endured by so many are well-written and really bring home to the reader the dreadful conditions in which so many people lived at this time. Lucy and James are likeable characters – in spite of James’ wrong-headedness – and Lucy’s struggle to decide between temporary luxury in the arms of the man she loves and a blackened reputation, or remaining true to the values with which she has been brought up, feels quite realistic.

In Debt to the Earl is not my favourite book by Ms Rolls, but it’s a quick and entertaining read, featuring a strong storyline and a sweetly sensual central romance.

The Beauty Within by Marguerite Kaye

 The Beauty Within by Marguerite Kaye

BEAUTY IS IN THE EYE OF THE BEHOLDER

Considered the plain, clever one in her family, Lady Cressida Armstrong knows her father has given up on her ever marrying. But who needs a husband when science is the only thing to set Cressie’s pulse racing?

Disillusioned artist Giovanni di Matteo is setting the ton abuzz with his expertly executed portraits. Once his art was inspired; now it’s only technique. Until he meets Cressie….

Challenging, intelligent and yet insecure, Cressie is the one whose face and body he dreams of capturing on canvas. In the enclosed, intimate world of his studio, Giovanni rediscovers his passion as he awakens hers….

RHL Classifications:

Regency England & Italy
Historical Romance
Heat Rating: 3
Reviewer Rating: 4.5 stars

Reviewed by Evangeline H

The Beauty Within is the third book in the Armstrong sisters series, but it stands alone quite easily. Kaye pairs her pitch-perfect characterization with her mesmerizing prose to create a sensual and deeply emotional romance between an ugly duckling and the darkly handsome Italian painter who finds her beautiful inside and out. This, however, is no typical “ugly duckling” story, for Cressida is confident in her scientific abilities in spite of her insecurities, which is a breath of fresh air. Giovanni is also not your standard rakish artist, possessing a likeability that goes far beyond his physical attributes. The romance burns slowly between Cressie and Giovanni as they gradually realize how perfect they are for one another, and when they do, the book sizzles with their delightful chemistry. A bonus to the story is Kaye’s expert weaving of Cressie and Giovanni’s families into their characterization and their plot, which further enhanced the romance. One wouldn’t think such a meaty and richly textured romance could fit into ~300 pages, but Kaye manages to do so and does it well.