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Christmas in Kilts by Bronwen Evans, Terri Brisbin, Lecia Cornwall, Lavinia Kent and May McGoldrick

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‘Tis the season to fall in love! These five bestselling authors bring you great tiding of highlanders and romances this holiday season!

A HIGHLANDER’S HOPE by Terri Brisbin
A village harlot who would never dream she could have a different life meets a Highlander visitor for the holidays who brings with him an offer and hope!

A HIGHLAND CHRISTMAS WAGER by Lecia Cornwall
When a snowstorm forces a charming lass hiding a broken heart to take shelter in a castle with three fine Highland lairds just days before Christmas, there’s a game afoot—who will be the first to win a kiss and maybe her heart.

A SCOT FOR CHRISTMAS by Bronwen Evans
She’s ready to embrace her life and future as a spinster, he’s trying to have one last hurrah before he gives into his family’s wishes and proposes marriage to his neighbor, but fate has other ideas when the lady and the Scot meet at a holiday house party in the wilds of Scotland.

MISTLETOE by Lavinia Kent
What happens when a highlander finds himself stranded, maybe kidnapped, with an English lady around Christmas… maybe the mistletoe will help answer that question.

SWEET HOME HIGHLAND CHRISTMAS by May McGoldrick
A chance encounter between a ship’s captain and a desperate aunt trying to keep custody of her young niece leads to a little magic during the holidays.


Publisher and Release Date: Swerve, October 2017

Category: Historical Romance anthology
Time and Setting: Scotland, Various
Heat Level: 1.5
Reviewer Rating: 3 stars overall, but 4.5 stars for Sweet Home Highland Christmas.

Review by Jenny Q

I like Christmas anthologies because the novellas tend to focus solely on the holiday rather than it just being a backdrop or only figuring into a few scenes in a full-length novel. Plus it gives me a chance to try out authors that are new to me, as all of these are. And five Christmas historical romances set in Scotland? Yes, please! Here we have five different stories in locations ranging from the Highlands to the Lowlands, and from the 14th century to the 19th. I’m giving you a brief rundown of my thoughts on each story along with my thoughts on the collection as a whole.


A Highlander’s Hope by Terri Brisbin

DNFed. I don’t think a novella allows for enough time to have a satisfying arc for a heroine who is a courtesan. I just found the premise really unbelievable: An older soldier still grieving the death of his wife five years earlier, lonely, being pushed to remarry by his clan, suddenly decides that the perfect wife for him is the prostitute he visits once a year when he visits another clan? A prostitute who is still working? I just couldn’t buy it. Added to that was choppy writing and a complicated backstory dump with too many people to keep straight from previous books in this author’s series, and I just didn’t have any interest in continuing past the second chapter.

A Highland Christmas Wager by Lecia Cornwall

At first I worried this was going the way of the first with an extremely unlikable male lead, but it turned out there were three different men in this tale, snowed in with an unwed beauty from a powerful clan, all vying for her physical attentions and her hand in marriage, but only one of them wants her heart. Some over-the-top moments and a silly misunderstanding, but the romance is sweet.

A Scot for Christmas by Bronwen Evans

A compelling hero and heroine, a grieving widower and the woman who has always secretly loved him and happens to be the younger sister of his best friend, but the story is too short to allow love to blossom believably. I also find it unrealistic when a widower who has been grieving his wife for years and has vowed never to love again, falls in love in the blink of an eye and realizes he never really loved his first wife. And there was no Christmas in this tale.

Mistletoe by Lavinia Kent

A newly orphaned woman unwittingly becomes wrapped up in a plot to keep an angry brother away from his sister’s wedding and ends up trapped in a cabin with him during a snowstorm. He decides they will have to marry since they are spending a night in each other’s company, even though no one knows they’re together. They are complete strangers and decide after twenty-four hours, a handful of conversations, and some steamy sex that they are going to get married and live happily ever after. It’s really well-written, but again, I found it completely implausible.

Overall, I’m sorry to say I found this collection underwhelming, for a variety of reasons. In every novella, I felt like the love story had been sacrificed to make room for lengthy sex scenes. Don’t get me wrong, I like spicy romances, but I like a good story better. Insta-love abounds in each, the progression of feelings happening too quickly to be plausible, though in the case of the first three stories, at least the lovers knew each other before the story opened. Flimsy and sometimes fairly implausible circumstances drive each story’s conflict. And the Regency period is over-represented, featuring in three of the five stories. I had hoped for a little more variety.

So by now you may be wondering what I did like and how I can still recommend the collection! Despite my quibbles, (and aside from the first story), I found the characters to be well-drawn, the sex scenes tastefully steamy, and there are some tender romantic moments. And the bottom line is that they delivered on what they promised: Scotsmen, romance, and holiday ambiance. Not a bad way to spend a winter weekend, but aside from the last one, not my favorite Christmas tales either.

However…

In a bit of a departure, I’m reviewing the fifth and final story, May McGoldrick’s Sweet Home Highland Christmas, on its own because it is far and away the best of the bunch and a rather fine Christmas romance. An army engineer and a woman desperate to retain custody of her beloved niece – whom she’s raised since birth – are traveling across Scotland to the same estate for the holidays. Allowing time for the leads to get to know each other and fall in love, and with a delightfully precocious and wise-for-her-years child who conspires to bring them together, this author knows how to craft an oh-so-satisfying romantic novella. Features a swoon-worthy hero and a very festive Christmas gathering at the end too. I will definitely be reading more by May McGoldrick.

 

Count the Shells (Porthkennack #6) by Charlie Cochrane

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Michael Gray returned from World War One injured, but at least he returned. Others were not so fortunate, including his first and greatest love, Thomas Carter-Clemence, with whom Michael had parted bitterly before the conflict began.

Broch, the Carter-Clemence home in Porthkennack, was an integral part of pre-war holidays for the Grays, the two families drawn together in the wake of their sons’ friendship. Returning to the once-beloved Cornish coast for a break with his sister and her family, Michael has to find the courage to face old memories . . . and dare new relationships.

When Thomas’s brother Harry makes an unexpected appearance, Michael is surprised to find himself deeply attracted to Harry for his own sake. But as their relationship heats up, it unearths startling revelations and bitter truths. Michael must decide whether Harry is the answer to his prayers or the last straw to break an old soldier’s back.

Publisher and Release Date: Riptide Publishing, October 2017

Time and Setting: Cornwall, post WW1
Heat Level: 2
Genre: Historical Romance
Reviewer Rating: 3 stars

Review by Em

Count the Shells is the sixth standalone novel in the loosely linked Porthkennack series.  The series – comprising a mixture of contemporary and historical romances – started off strongly, but I have to confess the last few novels haven’t quite lived up to their predecessors and sadly, Charlie Cochrane’s entry fares much the same.  Set during an idyllic summer on the Cornish coast shortly after the end of the World War I, Count the Shells is a nostalgic trip down memory lane for Michael Gray, a soldier who survived the war but can’t seem to shake off his memories of the friends and lovers he lost.

The novel begins on a promising note.  Holidaying with his sister Caroline and her family, Michael is on the beach with his precocious nephew Richard, counting the shells in the many languages he knows – much to Richard’s delight.  Ms. Cochrane paints a lovely picture of the pair enjoying a splendid summer afternoon together… until Michael’s counting segues into a mental tally of former lovers.  I couldn’t help but wince as Ms. Cochrane juxtaposed the innocence of Richard’s enjoyment with Michael’s memories of sexual partners and liaisons.  His thoughts seem off-note to the setting and scene until it becomes clear that the counting ritual is simply the means by which Ms. Cochrane introduces the other principal character of the story, Thomas Carter-Clemence.  Killed shortly after the start of the war, Thomas was the love of Michael’s life, and his memories of Porthkennack are linked inextricably to Thomas and his lingering regret over their angry parting before the war.

This first, best part of Count the Shells details Michael’s return to Porthkennack and High Top, the house he where he spent halcyon summers with this family and with Thomas, who lived nearby.  This is Michael’s first trip back to Porthkennack since his fight with Thomas, and he’s a bit overwhelmed by memories of a happier, simpler time in his life.  Thoughts of Thomas creep up on him unawares and are triggered by the inquisitive nature of his nephew, who likes nothing more than to hear about his uncle’s history and friendships during summers on the coast.  Michael is filled with longing and regret for Thomas and the other men he loved and lost over the course of the war.  His nostalgia, tinged with regret over Thomas, have prevented him from moving on with his life.

One afternoon walking with Richard, the pair are nearly run over by a motorbike.  When Michael angrily approaches the rider, he’s shocked when the man removes his helmet – it’s Thomas.  Only it isn’t – it’s Harry Carter-Clemence, Thomas’s younger brother.  After getting over their initial surprise, the men exchange pleasantries and Michael feels a frisson of attraction for the younger man, though he assumes it’s because he reminds him of Thomas.  Later that day when his sister encourages him to invite Harry for a visit, Michael is anxious – seeing Harry has stirred up long repressed memories of his parting with Thomas, and he isn’t sure he’s prepared to deal with them yet.

Nevertheless, Harry visits and Michael enjoys the visit more than he anticipated and the pair make plans for Michael to visit the Carter-Clemence estate, Broch, the following afternoon.  Michael initially avoided a visit – too many memories of Thomas and afternoons sneaking away to make love – but he finds himself eager to spend time with Harry.  Reader – are you sensing a theme here?  You should be! Michael spends an inordinate time thinking about sex, his former lovers (especially Thomas), and wondering who his next lover will be (maybe Harry?), and truly not much else.  Oh, he also spends a good bit of time entertaining his sweet (if overly mature) nephew.  But that’s pretty much it.  Anyway, the visit goes surprisingly well and as he gets to know the charming Harry – visiting him at Broch, Michael finally begins to feel the return of a sense of hope and happiness.  Despite barely giving him a passing thought before the motorcycle incident, the relationship between Michael and Harry progresses quickly (this is an understatement), setting in motion several plot lines, not the least of which is an affair between the men (which apparently seems strange to no one but me).  Unfortunately, during a post-coital cuddle wherein Harry admits to having admired Michael for years, he also inadvertently makes a revelation about Thomas that shakes Michael to his core.  [Side note: They’re talking about Thomas – Harry’s brother and Michael’s former lover – in bed after having sex.  It’s weird.]

Harry’s inopportune words – and the secret he reveals – drive Michael from his bed.  Upset, angry and unwilling to hear anything else Harry has to say, Michael returns to High Top determined to ferret out the truth.  The secret has profound repercussions for everyone Michael loves, and leaves him feeling bitter and betrayed.  I won’t spoil it here except to say that Michael’s reaction and easy assignment of blame, grew tiresome.  Thomas, as any astute reader would have cottoned on to by this point, wasn’t perfect.  But Michael, who has embarked on an affair with his former lover’s brother, comes across as sanctimonious and hypocritical in equal parts.

I liked the Thomas plot twist.  It made sense in the context of the story and I think Ms. Cochrane shows a deft touch as she details Michael’s bewildered response to it – and the reactions of those close to him – as Michael finally begins to accept that Thomas wasn’t quite the man he remembers.  Michael’s relationship with his family is particularly well done, and his extended family – especially his kind and practical brother-in-law – are a nice contrast to Michael’s rather mercurial temperament.  It’s unfortunate that the same can’t be said of Michael’s other relationships.  Thomas was the love of his life, but after a foolish prank, Michael refused to speak to him again.  He instead spent the following summer with a different lover (number two if you’re keeping count).  Discovering that Thomas also had a liaison with someone else angers Michael – but his inability to see the hypocrisy of his anger, especially in light of his own behavior, is ridiculous.  Ms. Cochrane doesn’t spend nearly enough time developing Harry’s character or the relationship he forms with Michael, and in a novel that purports to be a romance, it’s a shame.  Michael barely had a thought for Harry even as a boy, but he suddenly develops a tendre for him and after a bit of perfunctory lovemaking, they’re talking about a future together in London.  The relationship simply isn’t well developed or romantic… and frankly, it was odd.

The setting, the sense of time and place, and the premise of this story are highlights in Count the Shells. Unfortunately, the central romance is disappointing and underdeveloped, and despite its strengths, the novel ultimately left this reader unsatisfied.

 

Wilde in Love (The Wildes of Lindow Castle #1) by Eloisa James

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Lord Alaric Wilde, son of the Duke of Lindow, is the most celebrated man in England, revered for his dangerous adventures and rakish good looks. Arriving home from years abroad, he has no idea of his own celebrity until his boat is met by mobs of screaming ladies. Alaric escapes to his father’s castle, but just as he grasps that he’s not only famous but notorious, he encounters the very private, very witty, Miss Willa Ffynche.

Willa presents the façade of a serene young lady to the world. Her love of books and bawdy jokes is purely for the delight of her intimate friends. She wants nothing to do with a man whose private life is splashed over every newspaper.

Alaric has never met a woman he wanted for his own . . . until he meets Willa. He’s never lost a battle.

But a spirited woman like Willa isn’t going to make it easy. . .

Publisher and Release Date: Avon, October 2017

Time and Setting: Cheshire, England, 1778
Heat Level: 2
Genre: Historical Romance
Reviewer Rating: 3 stars

Review by Sara

Eloisa James is an author who tends to be hit and miss for me.  Her stories are always well told and charming tales on the surface.  Unfortunately there’s often an undercurrent of cynicism that pulls me out of the story, coloring my feelings about the characters, their motivations and even the author’s intent.  Wilde in Love is a perfect example of the lighter story tone hiding some biting commentary on celebrity culture and those who cherish the superficial over substance.

Lord Alaric Wilde has traveled the world for ten years, publishing his journals telling of the exotic people and places he’s encountered along the way.  Unbeknownst to him, the Tales of Lord Wilde have become hugely popular back home in England and the female population has elevated the handsome adventurer into a celebrity on a par with Byron and the like.  Returning home from his latest trip, Alaric is surprised to see swarms of women waiting at the dock just to catch a glimpse of him leaving the ship.  That surprise turns into dismay when his brother informs him that his fame is based in part to a romantic play called Wilde in Love, an exaggerated tale of Alaric’s journey to Africa and a tragic love affair between him and the daughter of an English missionary.

While his family is amused by Alaric’s new fame, Alaric is angry at seeing his life becoming fodder for dramatic plays or his likeness used on prints sold across town.  Any chance of finding respite at his family’s home, Lindow Castle, is ruined by the house party being thrown to celebrate his brother’s engagement.  All the young women invited to attend seem to be obsessed fans of the romanticized Lord Wilde of the play.  Their constant questions about his fictitious encounters with cannibals or how he feels about losing his love in Africa begin to test his patience.  Only one woman seems unimpressed by Alaric’s notoriety, Miss Wilhelmina Ffynche.

Willa Ffynche has no interest in getting to know such a public figure as the famous Lord Wilde.  Her cousin Lavinia may be one of his ardent admirers but Willa is more interested in men who aren’t fame seekers.  Having finished her first season in London, Willa’s patience for posturing men has run thin and from everything she’s heard about Alaric Wilde he’s probably the worst of the worst. Willa gets her first glimpse of the man himself during an afternoon tea and it unsettles her perceptions.  Lord Alaric seems intelligent, well-spoken and isn’t happy with all of the women fawning over him.  Under different circumstances Willa could imagine herself even liking Alaric; however it goes against all of her proper rules of behavior to fall for a rogue who chases adventure across the world.

As the house party continues Willa has to keep reminding herself of those rules as Alaric seems intent on getting past her defenses.  For as much as Willa tries to dissuade him from focusing his attention on her it’s still flattering to be singled out from a room of women who hang on his every word.  To Alaric, Willa’s disinterest seems like a challenge that he must overcome, but as he begins to see the woman behind the cool demeanor it becomes a pleasure.  When a delusional young woman finds her way into Lindow Castle claiming to be Alaric’s wife, he turns to Willa in order to fake an engagement to convince the other woman he’s unavailable.  Willa’s willingness to help encourages Alaric to believe her feelings for him may have changed.  With his passion for Willa getting stronger every day, thoughts of a future with her in truth could be the greatest adventure of them all.

Wilde in Love is a character driven story stuck in first gear for most of its length.  I appreciate a strong, spirited heroine who knows her own mind, and Willa fits that description to a tee.  She’s also very stubborn, slightly arrogant about her own appeal and she’s too dismissive of things she doesn’t like. The book’s description of Willa having a love of books and bawdy jokes is misleading because those traits don’t come across as positives for her character.   She reads historical texts and demeans anyone – including her cousin – for enjoying popular novels or plays that are intended as entertainment.  Willa’s initial thoughts on Alaric are based on her prejudice against those who seek adventure and the extraordinary over normal, regular pursuits.  Her reasons for these feelings are understandable when we learn them, but it shows an immaturity that resurfaces many times as Alaric shows her he cares and she pushes him away.

It’s very hard to like Willa and to care about her enough to want to see her find happiness with Alaric.  Alaric is likeable hero, but you can only see him get rejected a couple of times before you start to question his choice of a lady love.  His single-minded pursuit of Willa is stale by the time the delusional young woman is introduced and he and Willa have to fake their engagement.  If I were creating the outline for the story this plotline would have come into play much sooner as it’s perhaps the strongest part.  Having a character who is obsessed to the point of being dangerous is intriguing.  It gives Alaric and Willa something to partner against and strengthens their relationship.

With all of that said, Wilde in Love does have enjoyable moments and there are several secondary characters who almost steal the show from Willa and Alaric.  It’s the slow pacing of the romance and the vague problems keeping them apart that prevent me from rating the book as much more than a merely decent read.

The Duke of Defiance (The Untouchables #5) by Darcy Burke

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Difficult and defiant as a child, Bran Crowther, Earl of Knighton left England as a young man to pursue independence and adventure. He never expected to inherit the title and when duty calls him home, he still finds Society’s codes constricting and others’ expectations oppressive. Nevertheless, he needs a wife to be a mother to his young daughter, preferably a woman of intelligence and warmth who is, above all, immune to his idiosyncrasies—and to falling in love.

Widow Joanna Shaw isn’t interested in a second marriage, not after the loveless, passionless union she endured. She’d much rather dote on her young niece and nephew since they will likely be the only children in her life…until she meets a precocious girl, in desperate need of a mother. But her father, the so-called Duke of Defiance, is as peculiar as he is handsome, and Jo won’t take another risk with her heart. Their rules, however, are made to be broken, even when the consequences could destroy them both.

Publisher and Release Date: Darcy Burke, June 2017


Time and Setting: London, 1817
Heat Level: 2
Genre: Historical Romance
Reviewer Rating: 3 stars

Review by Caz

I haven’t read all the books in Darcy Burke’s The Untouchables series, but I’ve enjoyed those I have read and can confidently say that each book works as a standalone.  The Duke of Defiance features a new central couple and briefly re-introduces readers to the “Untouchables”, gentlemen so named by their heroines because their lofty positions in society meant they were well beyond their touch.  Although as things have turned out, they obviously weren’t 😉

Mrs. Joanna Shaw is the widowed sister of Nora, the Duchess of Kendal, who was the heroine of book one, The Forbidden Duke.  Joanna – Jo – was unhappily married to a country clergyman for around eight years, and is now living with Nora while she decides what she wants to do with the rest of her life.  At thirty-one, she is still lovely and her position as the sister of a duchess gives her a certain cachet in society – but she is not sure if she wants to remarry.  Her late husband’s emotional cruelty has naturally soured her view of the institution, and her inability to conceive a child during eight years of marriage makes her a less attractive prospect as a wife.

Bran Crowther, the Earl of Knighton was a third son who never expected to inherit his father’s title.  But the recent deaths of his two elder brothers necessitates his return to England from the successful life he had built for himself in Barbados, and he and his five-year-old daughter, Evie, are finding it difficult to adjust.  Fortunately, however, Evie has found a good friend in Becky, the daughter of the Duke and Duchess of Kendal, and when Bran arrives to collect Evie from a play date, he meets Mrs. Shaw and is immediately struck by her wit and good sense, as well as by her beauty.

Bran and Jo are attracted to each other, and their interactions are nicely judged and generally very honest.  They are initially brought together when Nora offers to help Bran to find a new nurse for Evie and then has to send Jo in her stead.  Bran is pleased to discover that Jo’s views fit with his own, and also finds her comments about the dos and don’ts of London society very helpful as he tries to settle into his new life.  When he – and Evie – practically beg Jo to become Evie’s governess, she finds she cannot refuse, even as she knows that being in close proximity to Bran day after day is not a good idea.  But she has come to love Evie as she is coming to love the girl’s father, and agrees to a trial period, trying not to think about what will happen when Bran eventually takes a wife who will be able to give him more children and, most importantly, an heir.

Jo’s concern about her lack of fertility is the main source of conflict in the romance, and it’s one I’m not particularly fond of.  The women in such stories always blame themselves without any reason to do so other than that they’re women and therefore the fault must lie with them!  Bran at least has the sense to suggest that it might not be Jo’s fault, but she is naturally very sensitive about it, and isn’t prepared to let him take the risk that she won’t be able to give him any more children.  Her belief is not helped by the insecurities about her womanliness fostered in her by her late husband, but it’s nonetheless a plot point that always makes me roll my eyes.

Bran is a no-nonsense sort of person, and his years of living away from the strictures of London society have made him careless of convention and proper behaviour.  He thinks nothing of allowing Evie to go without shoes when they are at home – to the intense disapproval of some of his starchier servants – or of divesting himself of cravat and coat in front of Jo, when it is certainly not the done thing to ‘disrobe’ in front of a lady.  (Not that Jo minds, of course😉)  When he describes how clothes make him “itchy” and then explains how, as a child, his mother regarded him as defiant because he refused to wear clothing or eat what he was given; how he could never sit still or remain in bed all night, I thought Ms. Burke may have been setting him up as someone with a condition such as ADHD or on the Autistic Spectrum, but this is never made clear.  Jo comes to recognise and accept Bran’s quirks, but other than having been brought up by an extremely harsh, unforgiving mother and a father who didn’t bother with his third son, we’re not really given much of an explanation for them, and for the most part they are just glossed over.  There’s an implication that Evie, too, has anxiety issues, but these are handled in more or less the same way.

And on the subject of Evie, much of the time she comes across as much older than the five years of age she is supposed to be.  At one point, she tells her father: “I was certain you might be falling in love” – which sounds more like a teenager, for instance, and she reads as more of a plot-moppet than a real child.  Children are hard to write well (Grace Burrowes is one of the very few romance authors who is able to get it right) and I’m afraid Ms. Burke has missed the mark. She’s also way off the mark when it comes to the master/servant relationship that should exist between Bran and Jo.  He pretty much treats her as the mistress of the house as soon as she sets foot in it, assigning her a bedchamber in the family wing, a maid of her own, and insisting upon her eating meals with him, to name just a few things no over governess would have been granted.  I get that Bran is supposed to be unfamiliar with society customs but Jo should know better and allows Bran to wave aside her very weak protests.

As I said at the beginning of this review, the book does work as a standalone, but information about previous characters and situations is given in obvious info-dumps, rather than evolving naturally; and while the good-natured teasing between the four heroes of the previous books is one of the best things about the this one, it felt like overkill for all four of them to just happen to be around in order to meet Bran.

While the writing is strong and the love scenes are sensual, The Duke of Defiance is, sadly one of the weaker entries in this series. I do plan to read more by Darcy Burke, but I’m going to chalk this one up as a misfire.

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

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

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

Publisher and Release Date: Avon, May 2017

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

Review by Wendy

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Bad Luck Bride (Cavensham Heiresses #1) by Janna MacGregor

the bad luck bride

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IS MARRIAGE A BLESSING OR A CURSE?

A man of honor, Alexander Hallworth, Marquess of Pembrooke, will not rest until he exacts revenge on the man who destroyed his family. Just one more piece must fall into place for him to succeed he needs to convince his enemy s fiancee, the tragically beautiful Lady Claire Cavensham, to marry him instead.

Lady Claire s curse has always left her one misstep away from social ruin her past three engagements have gone awry, and now her fourth is headed in the same direction. . .until Alex, a man she barely even knows, shocks the ton and Claire by announcing their engagement. What begins as a sham turns into something deeper, and more passionate, than either Claire or Alex could have imagined. But when their secrets are revealed, will the truth behind their union scandalize them both or is their love strong enough to break the curse and lead them toward their happily ever after?

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Publisher and Release Date: St. Martin’s Paperbacks, May 2017

Time and Setting: London, 1812
Heat Level: 2
Genre: Historical Romance
Reviewer Rating: 3 stars

Review by Sara

The Bad Luck Bride is an uneven story about love and revenge and in which luck, whether good or bad doesn’t really come into play for the main characters’ issues. Their problems mainly stem from misunderstandings and an unwillingness to listen to the good advice of others. Fortunately, author Janna MacGregor brings a vulnerability to both the hero and the heroine that compelled me to finish their story.

Lady Claire Cavensham has waited what seems like an eternity to get married. With three prior engagements broken due to unusual circumstances, Claire is all but convinced that the gossip about her being cursed must be true. Accepting the suit of fiancé number four was motivated more out of friendship and little bit of desperation, but Claire is ready to make the best of her upcoming marriage. With the announcement of her engagement to Lord Paul Barstowe scheduled for later that evening, Claire is hoping that her unlucky streak is finally at an end. Unfortunately the whispers in the ballroom about Lord Paul’s absence at the event and the note she receives from her missing fiancé quashes that dream. Mortified that she’s been jilted again so publicly, Claire makes her way out of the ballroom and is met by the handsome and friendly Marquess of Pembrooke. He offers her a sympathetic ear and a warm embrace just when she needs it the most. Bolstered by his calming presence, Claire prepares herself to reenter the fray but things go sideways as she’s discovered in Pembrooke’s arms. Suddenly the engagement announcement she anticipated is made, but with an entirely different fiancé!

Alexander Hallworth, Lord Pembrooke, couldn’t have planned the evening’s events any better. Hours before the ball ever started Alex had put the wheels in motion to secure Lady Claire as his betrothed and to humiliate Lord Paul in the bargain. The announcement of their engagement is the final piece in his revenge against the man who had been one of his closest friends until he betrayed Alex’s trust and in turn destroyed the life of Alex’s youngest sister. Now, all Alex has to do is marry the delightful Lady Claire and watch Lord Paul’s ruin as he now has no way to pay his outstanding gambling debts. Believing that he has the moral high ground, Alex allays Claire’s fears that she’s cursed to remain unmarried by wooing her and agreeing to the settlement demands she makes. There’s no need to let Claire know that their marriage was a set-up from the beginning if she’s happy with the final result.

Alex’s perceptions about his marriage and Claire change after they leave London for his ancestral home. There Claire finds little ways to heal some of the pain he’s held onto from memories of his sister’s tragedy. She becomes more important to him because of who she is rather than what she represented in his revenge against Lord Paul. Claire herself struggles to believe that her marriage to Alex is real and will last through any curse she carries. Hoping to break any spell she might be under, Claire forces herself to confront her own past, with varying results. It’s only Alex’s strong presence that lets Claire imagine she will overcome her fears to find happiness in the arms of someone who loves her. Sadly, when the truth of Alex’s revenge plot is revealed it breaks Claire’s heart and she runs from him. With his own heart firmly in Claire’s hands Alex has find a way to regain Claire’s trust before he himself is cursed with a lonely future.

The Bad Luck Bride starts off fairly strongly with Alex’s almost Shakespearean revenge plot and Claire’s wistful dream of finding a love that’s stronger than the demons she carries with her. The storyline unfolds much more dramatically than I expected from the cover description and I was ready to take the plunge with both characters into the darker sides of their psyches. Unfortunately once they are married things never quite get as deep or angsty as I thought they should have given all the emotional suffering Claire and Alex have lived through. Alex refuses to hear the advice from his best friend that his anger at Lord Paul is misplaced – or at the very least misconstrued from the facts he had about his sister’s tragedy. He pushes forward to influence Claire’s life without ever considering her feelings on the matter. Towards the end as he tries to reconcile with her Alex adjusts things to suit himself, not seeing how badly Claire has been affected by all of his manipulations.

I had more compassion for Claire throughout the story, but she, too, acts in ways that made it hard for me to completely side with her way of seeing situations. Claire is written as an intelligent and resilient young woman, and yet she is quick to believe in a curse that will eventually destroy any happiness in her life. After marrying Alex she suddenly becomes stubborn to the point of petulance and it strips her of all the definition she’s gained by staying strong in the face of gossip and unkind words. When she realizes that Alex has been steering their marriage from the beginning she fails to fight back and instead runs away to lick her wounds and turn to her uncle to fix the situation. I missed the plucky woman from the beginning of the book who stood up for what she wanted in her marriage even if the circumstances were out of her control.

While I had problems with The Bad Luck Bride I feel that Ms. MacGregor has some good stories to tell. The Bad Luck Bride just needed a bit of tightening of the loose threads and a clearer path towards Claire and Alex’s happy ending. Hopefully the series will improve upon this shaky start and another good voice in historical romance will be heard.

I Dared the Duke (Wayward Wallflowers #2) by Anna Bennett

I dared the duke

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Alexander Savage, the Duke of Blackshire, is known throughout the ton for three things: the burn scars on his neck, his ornery disposition, and the trail of broken hearts behind him. None of which would concern Miss Elizabeth Lacey in the least—if she weren’t living under his roof. As his grandmother’s companion, Beth is all too concerned with the moody and compelling duke. Incensed by his plans to banish the sweet dowager duchess to the country, Beth refuses to do his bidding. If Alex wants her help, he’s going to have to take her dare…and grant her three wishes.

Alex adores his grandmother, which is precisely why she must leave. A string of unfortunate incidents has him worried for the safety of everyone around him—including the dowager’s loyal and lovely companion, Beth. But the notorious wallflower isn’t as meek as she appears, and as their battle of wills heats up, so does Alex’s desire. He’s dangerously close to falling in love with her…and revealing secrets he’d rather keep hidden. How can he convince her that his darkest days are behind him—and that, for the first time in forever, his heart is true?

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Publisher and Release Date: St. Martin’s Paperbacks, April 2017

Time and Setting: London, 1818
Genre: Historical Romance
Heat Level: 2
Review Rating: 3 stars

Review by Sara

I Dared the Duke continues the story of the three Lacey sisters, known as The Wilted Wallflowers after they were cruelly teased during their first season in London. Middle sister Beth Lacey gets the spotlight here and her story is enjoyable enough and a marginal improvement from the series’ début My Brown-Eyed Earl.

Miss Elizabeth Lacey hasn’t quite found her footing since her family’s social change of fortune. For years she and her sisters were cruelly teased for their unfashionable appearance, lack of fortune and their uncle’s eccentricities. Her sister’s recent marriage to an earl has raised their standing within the ton, but even with their newfound wealth, Beth isn’t comfortable facing the same people who so easily scorned her, so she offers herself as a companion to the elderly Dowager Duchess of Blackshire. The arraignment makes Beth feel needed and the duchess benefits from Beth’s attention. Everything is comfortable for Beth until the duchess’ grandson, the current Duke of Blackshire arrives home. Alexander Savage is strikingly handsome, even with the scars on his neck, but his attitude towards Beth is anything but attractive. He’s curt, dismissive and seems put-out that his grandmother has hired a companion without his knowledge.

Alex has arrived back at his London town house with the singular task of moving his beloved grandmother away from possible threats to his person. Over the last few weeks, Alex has fallen victim to more than a few accidents under very suspicious circumstances. The idea that someone is targeting him has him fearful that the perpetrator will shift their attention to the only person left that he cares for. Coming home to find that his grandmother has brought in a companion is an inconvenience and Alex makes it very clear to the pretty, young Miss Lacey that her services are no longer required. He doesn’t count on Beth digging in her heels about not leaving the duchess’ side and instead accuses Alex of neglect towards the only family he has left. That couldn’t be farther from the truth, yet to reveal his fears or his plans about capturing the person threatening him to Beth isn’t something Alex can do.

Beth and Alex are at loggerheads until he changes tactics on her. Rather than seeing Beth as an impediment to his plans, he instead asks for her help to convince his grandmother that moving to the country would be beneficial. Beth, still believing Alex to be a rogue who cares little for the aging duchess, adds the condition that she’ll help him if he’ll grant the older woman three wishes to make her remaining time in London more memorable. The requests the dowager makes seem easy enough for Alex to facilitate; however in spending time with his grandmother he is also enjoying Beth’s company and soon a friendship of sorts develops between the pair. It isn’t long before their closeness gives way to the attraction that’s been simmering since their first meeting, yet they are each reluctant to pursue a relationship for differing reasons. Alex still fears that anyone close to him could be in mortal danger, while Beth doesn’t want to give herself over to a man reputed to be a bed-hopping libertine.

I Dared the Duke is more light and fluffy than it is deep and character driven. Beth and Alex are easy to read about but they’re not very substantial past their interactions with each other. The gossip has painted Alex as a promiscuous rake; however he’s anything but. It’s never made 100% clear why Alex would want to have that kind of reputation follow him around London and it really only serves as a motivation for the accidents that have been following him. Otherwise, Alex is a fairly well adjusted individual and it makes him a little boring. There isn’t much of an edge to him or anything underneath the role he’s adopted as London’s greatest lover. A small secret about his awareness of Beth before meeting her is folded into his backstory but it only becomes a conflict for about a page. Then it’s dismissed in the name of love.

Beth’s misperceptions of Alex’s character are there so she doesn’t immediately swoon for him. She’s unwilling to be just another notch on his bedpost so she keeps him at arm’s length in order to protect her heart. When Beth discovers why Alex is so keen to have the duchess out of London she quickly drops her prejudices and wants to be a part of his investigation into who’s been threatening him. It’s a nice way to further the relationship building but once again it falls on the airy side of storytelling. Beth’s need to be needed is a character flaw; however everyone around her seems to think it’s her singular strength. Instead of being comfortable in her own skin, Beth needs the constant reassurance that she’s made a difference for someone else. It’s difficult to get behind a character who defines herself by how others see her.

Readers looking for an easy, light read will find that I Dared the Duke fits the bill nicely. The story has its charms and the emotions expressed towards the end of the book are heartwarming. I’m not compelled to continue The Wayward Wallflowers series past this story but it was a nice diversion between the more dramatic and weighty romances.

You May Kiss the Bride (Penhallow Dynasty #1) by Lisa Berne

you may kiss the bride

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Wealthy and arrogant, Gabriel Penhallow knows it’s time to fulfill his dynastic duty. All he must do is follow the ‘Penhallow way’: find a biddable bride, produce an heir and a spare, and then live separate lives. It’s worked so well for generations, certainly one kiss with the delectable Livia Stuart isn’t going to change things. Society dictates he marry her, and one chit is as good as another as long as she’s from a decent family.

But Livia’s transformation from an original to a mundane diamond of the first water makes Gabriel realize he desperately wants the woman who somehow provoked him into that kiss. And for all the ladies who’ve thrown themselves at him, it’s the one who wants to flee whom he now wants. But how will he keep this independent miss from flying away?

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Publisher and Release Date: Avon, April 2017

Time and Setting: England, 1811
Genre: Historical Romance
Heat Level: 2
Review Rating: 3 stars

Review by Sara

Author Lisa Berne had a great idea creating a series revolving around a wealthy and influential family without a peer in the mix. Her début ,You May Kiss the Bride is a throwback to the classics where characters like Mr. Darcy were a catch without a title in front of their names. Unfortunately the author’s inexperience shines through more than her unique ideas, with poorly rendered characters and a rather juvenile storyline.

Livia Stuart is constantly making the best of the circumstances she’s been dealt in life. When her parents died in India she was shuffled off to her aunt and uncle’s home in Wiltshire but their care has been anything but attentive. Their neighbor Lady Glanville’s daughter Cecily is a constant thorn in her side, parading her wealth and beauty in front of Livia at any social gathering and gifting Livia with her old dresses in the name of Christian charity. Livia has tried to remain above Cecily’s pettiness but it’s becoming harder to swallow her envy when the girl and her mother are always visiting her home to share news of their good fortune.

Their latest visit brings news that the esteemed Mrs. Penhallow has chosen Cecily as the perfect bride for her grandson, Gabriel. The Penhallow family is one of the wealthiest in England and an association with them will bring prestige to any young woman lucky enough to marry the heir. Lady Glanville brags that Mrs. Penhallow and her grandson are visiting their estate so that Cecily can be presented to Gabriel and their betrothal made official. Livia finds herself a little jealous of Cecily’s betrothal but is happier that the neighborhood mean girl will be off to marry and will leave Wiltshire behind.

Gabriel Penhallow isn’t thrilled at the idea of marrying a woman hand-picked by his grandmother but the time has come for him to continue the family’s legacy. It’s expected that all the Penhallow men will marry, sire an heir and use their wealth and connections to influence noblemen around England. Gabriel escaped the pressures of his name for a time by working abroad as a diplomat, but his grandmother has started reminding him that it’s his duty to continue the Penhallow tradition. Arriving at the Glanville estate, Gabriel is unimpressed by his potential bride but figures that one debutante is much like another and their marriage will be comfortably convenient. When he leaves the house for a walk, Gabriel gets lost in the unfamiliar lands where he meets a beautiful woman walking through a wooded area and he’s immediately attracted to her. From her dress and her manner of speaking Gabriel sees that she’s a servant and isn’t be the sort of woman he could dally with.

Livia is furious when the handsome man she meets in the forest arrogantly assumes she’s an uneducated servant. From his fashionable clothes and haughty manner Livia is certain this is Mr. Penhallow, but rather than correcting his presumption, Livia acts up the role of a servant and gives Gabriel confusing directions back to Cecily’s home. Later than evening when her aunt is discussing their invitation to Lady Glanville’s ball, Livia sees a chance to get one-up her neighbor and throw Gabriel’s arrogance back in his face. She creates a stunning gown from Cecily’s cast-offs and makes a dramatic entrance at the ball. Gabriel notices her right away, and is angry at her deception as well as aroused by her beauty. When he catches Livia leaving the ballroom with their host’s son it bothers Gabriel more than it should, but he follows her out onto the terrace where he interrupts her conversation and then rashly allows his temper and attraction to get the better of him. He kisses her in full view of the ballroom and soon he and Livia have an audience of his almost-betrothed, her mother and his grandmother. The last witness is Livia’s uncle who insists his niece is now ruined and must marry Gabriel.

What should follow this episode is the standard romantic storyline of a marriage of convenience between two enemies, soon to be lovers. It doesn’t quite work out that way and most of that can be attributed to Livia and Gabriel’s childish behavior. Livia doesn’t want to be married to an arrogant ass like Gabriel so she runs away. His pride gets in the way of managing Livia’s own anger and fear at their situation so he makes a rash declaration that they will marry but in name only. Within a matter of chapters Gabriel has taken sex off the table when that was the only motivation he had for getting married in the first place. These two knuckleheads have a very hard time talking without taking petty jabs and exploiting the insecurities they can see in their partner. As they are forced into each other’s company, lust seems to take over all the decision making. Gabriel’s no-sex policy is quickly thrown out the window, but they still don’t seem to see eye-to-eye on anything important between them.

The story picks up a bit when Gabriel and his grandmother are faced with evidence that the Penhallow legacy is rather hollow. Livia then becomes the strongest character because of her experience having to take control and reshape her life in unfortunate circumstances. Both Gabriel and Mrs. Penhallow come to appreciate Livia for the kind and loving woman she really is underneath all the emotional walls she’s had in place since her parents death years before. She holds the family together through the crisis and Gabriel discovers that giving his heart over to his wife is a long buried tradition within the Penhallow family that should be revived.

While there are some problems in You May Kiss the Bride I feel like the story should be graded on a bit of a curve as this is the author’s first published work. The characters could have used just a tad more common sense; however there was still a romantic side of the story that I liked. I will reserve my judgement on Ms. Berne and the entire Penhallow Dynasty series until the next book is released.

Waltzing With the Earl by Catherine Tinley

waltzing with the earl

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

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

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Publisher and Release Date: Harlequin Historical, March 2017

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

Review by Wendy

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

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

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

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

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

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.