AustenStudent

I read and study Jane Austen obsessively,
love British and American history,
and adore historical romance novels.

Read: CLAIMING THE COURTESAN by Anna Campbell

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Note: page references are from a Kindle version of the book

The Duke of Kylemore knows her as Soraya, London’s most celebrated courtesan. Men fight duels to spend an hour in her company. And only he comes close to taming her. Flying in the face of society, he decides to make her his bride; then, she vanishes, seemingly into thin air.

Dire circumstances have forced Verity Ashton to barter her innocence and change her name for the sake of her family. But Kylemore destroys her plans for a respectable life when he discovers her safe haven. He kidnaps her, sweeping her away to his hunting lodge in Scotland, where he vows to bend her to his will.

There he seduces her anew. Verity spends night after night with him in his bed … and though she still dreams of escape and independence, she knows she can never flee the unexpected, unwelcome love for the proud, powerful lover who claims her both body and soul.

The lush and sensuous debut novel of Australian author, Anna Campbell.

This is a very controversial book. I will be upfront and state that the hero rapes the heroine so if that disturbs you, please do not read this book. This historical romance has all the gothic elements that I love to read in a Campbell novel: a dark castle, a brooding duke, and a very complex and emotional love story.

Verity Ashton is the daughter of a Yorkshire tenant farmer who has had the care of her younger brother and sister ever since her parents passed when she was fifteen. Her brother Ben acts as her servant to keep an eye on her. She creates Soraya, the most beautiful, discriminating, and famous courtesan in London. But she’s twenty-eight now and has enough money to retire to a life of quiet comfort with her family. Her yearlong liaison with the slightly younger Duke of Kylemore has finally allowed her this freedom. But she can’t escape so easily. She leaves him without a goodbye.

Justin Kinmurrie, the Duke of Kylemore, has had his eye on Soraya for six long years and his obsession is finally his. He has never wanted any other woman but her. And now he wants her for his duchess despite his mother’s (and, thus, society’s) protestations. But Verity knows such a suggestion is mad and, in a scene reminiscent of Elizabeth’s bitter refusal of Darcy,  she turns him down.

Perhaps if he’d phrased his ridiculous suggestion less arrogantly, she might have tempered her refusal.” (p14)

Verity believes he is merely using her as a tool against his aristocratic family and is only marrying her to spite them. But it’s not true; it was never true. Justin truly knows what he wants. He’s just a bit obsessive about it.

“Kylemore, you more than anyone know men don’t take care of women without asking something in return.’” (p204)

She retreats to the quiet seaside town of Whitby, which I thought appropriate for this gothic tale; it’s where Lucy Westenra and Mina Harker vacation in Dracula by Bram Stoker.

It’s easy to say that Justin’s childhood with an opium-addicted father and a domineering and promiscuous mother drive him to violating Verity. And that’s where the controversy lies in this story, understandably, of course, to our politically-correct standards. But in this story, it does play a part. Like Marcus in Sabrina Darby’s recent Lord of Regrets, he comes to loathe himself and his behavior. Madness runs in Justin’s family and he also fears he will inherit it.

In Verity, Justin finds a strong and brave woman and one who could never possibly love a broken man like him. Especially after he kidnaps her, spirits her away to his remote Scottish estate, and uses her. He’s desperate, especially as he hasn’t been to his childhood home in over twenty years, the sight of a miserable boyhood. But Verity has a kind heart, almost too kind, and his pain touches her. She feels empathy for the poor child he once was, kind of like Jane Eyre felt for Rochester. She comforts him from his tormented dreams, soothes his demons, and gives him peace.

…he’d witnessed her uncomplaining bravery on the long and difficult journey when she’d been so scared of where she’d been going. Of horses. Of him.” (p123)

and

Verity was his shield against the demons that pursued him.” (p174)

No one can help Verity when she tries to escape, as his servants, victims of the Scottish clearances, are wholeheartedly devoted to their master. They will do anything for him. Campbell writes with emotion and depth of feeling about the lives of Justin’s servants and his kinship with them. I especially enjoy the older and wiser father figure of Hamish Macleish who is often Justin’s conscience. Indeed, Hamish’s kind words about Justin force Verity to reconsider Justin, much like Elizabeth hears Mrs. Reynolds’ endearments about Darcy when Elizabeth visits Pemberly in Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice.

“Oh, why couldn’t she have fallen in love with someone simple and straightforward?” (p251)

Both Verity and Justin share painful pasts and both created personas to cope with their lives.

When faced with an impossible choice, she’d created Soraya. In a similar fashion and for similar reasons, the terrors of the duke’s childhood had forced him to become Cold Kylemore.” (p210)

Campbell’s language is stark and blatant, an apt complement to a brooding and serious story. I like her outrageous and in-your-face narrative and dialogue; it’s very real. There are no simpering misses, gay ballrooms, or descriptions of beautiful fashions. This is the dark side of the Regency era.

“‘Whores tup for money, not for pleasure. You confuse me with some fine lady who chooses where she lies down. I spread my legs for men because they pay me to do it. In your case, they pay me a fortune.’” (p53)

The descriptions of the cold and wild lands of the Highlands are vivid and appropriate to the story’s dark romance. Even Justin’s hunting lodge is filled with his ancestors’ horrid taxidermied animals gathering dust all over the place. Demons from his dark and toxic past.

The ending is kind of a shocker in both its brutality and its abruptness. And the story’s resolution is both touching and emotional. A true gothic romance that will both disturb and entertain.

Read: THE DEVIL WEARS KILTS by Suzanne Enoch

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On a mission to rescue his runaway sister from the lure of flowery compliments and a useless lot of satin-clad scalawags disguised by their snooty titles, Ranulf MacLawry, Marquis of Glengask, has roared into British society like a storm across the Highlands. But he’s about to find out that satin has its appeal, especially when it covers the curves of Miss Lady Charlotte Hanover—whose tongue is as sharp as her skin is soft…

Lady Charlotte Hanover has had her fill of hot-headed men, having lost her fiancé in an utterly unnecessary duel. When did brawn ever triumph over brains? And yet there is something solid and appealing about the brash Highlander who’s as dangerous in the ballroom as in battle. Sometimes bigger really is better…

I read Rogue with a Brogue,  the second book in Suzanne Enoch’s Scandalous Highlanders series earlier this summer and enjoyed it immensely. This is a Regency-era series about handsome but unrefined Highlanders working through clan clashes among the elegant yet restrictive ton society of London.

Ranulf (Ran) is the laird of clan MacLawry, and as rough around the edges as Charlotte Hanover is refined. But he doesn’t intimidate her in the least. She’s not afraid to stand up to him for his boorish behavior in storming her house to retrieve his errant sister and this both intrigues and entices him. And worries him, too; it shouldn’t as she’s English, a Sassenach, just like his doomed mother. The last thing he wants to feel is an uncontrollable attraction to the enemy.

Ran is also quite chauvinistic and has no high opinion of women. Until Charlotte. She makes him question everything he has ever known and learned. In this way, he grows and matures throughout the story, though he still retains some of his attractive wildness. When someone sets fire to his stables, he finds he wants to see Charlotte rather than tear out his hair finding the perpetrator first.

But Charlotte is considered “on the shelf” at twenty-five, a lady who had a season and a disappointment, and this surprises Ran as he finds her enchanting. She challenges him, confounds him, and upsets his control. He has never met anyone like her. And he finds he’ll do anything to win her approval, and her heart.

And she has never met anyone like him either. I really like that Charlotte is a mature heroine, a lot like Venetia by Georgette Heyer. She’s not missish, silly, weak, or timid and she also has a loving and adult relationship with her family. She’s a lady in the truest sense of the word and Ran fascinates her.

They embark on a passionate no-strings affair that at first seems powered by lust—he wants a mistress while he’s in London and she wants to take any chance of happiness—but that doesn’t last for long. Soon, they find they care deeply for one another and want to be together as much as possible.

The intricacies and danger of clan politics threaten their happiness. Ran doesn’t think Charlotte, an Englishwoman, could ever live in the bleak and lonely land of Scotland while Charlotte struggles with Ran’s propensity for revenge and violence. Arran MacLawry, Ran’s younger brother, even comes to London concerned about his brother’s frequent mention of Charlotte in his letters, but Ran is the laird of their clan and his word is final; it is interesting to see the dynamics of family and siblings and the unquestioning respect that is simply expected.

The family relationships between the Hanovers and the MacLawrys are well developed and I look forward to future stories in this engrossing series about the other MacLawry siblings, Rowena and Bear.

If Scottish romances or clan life are not your cup of tea, you will still enjoy this series because it is set in the elegant society of Regency era London.

Read: ONE BITE PER NIGHT by Brooklyn Ann

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The Dowager Countess of Morley asks Vincent Tremayne, Lord Vampire of Cornwall, to become guardian of her American granddaughter. Vincent honors the agreement and plans to get his new ward married and off his hands as soon as possible. 

When Lydia Price arrives, she soon turns Vincent’s gloomy castle upside-down, and he decides he wants Lydia for himself. But if Vincent can’t protect Lydia from her entanglement with scandalous portrait painter Sir Thomas Lawrence, the vampire community will make sure that he—and Lydia—face dire consequences..

The second book in the tongue-in-cheek Scandals with Bite series by Brooklyn Ann, who humorously describes her works as “supernatural smut.” But it’s so much more than that. Ann really knows how to tell a story, and a very, very romantic one at that.

Last year, I loved her original and funny Bite Me, Your Gracebut I think I loved this one even more.

Vincent is a hero to love, a beta hero with strength and admirable determination. He’s a vampire with a heart of gold, honorable, extremely kind and considerate and, of course, gorgeous. What girl wouldn’t fall in love with him? He knows what is right and wrong so, when Lady Morley, a rude and snobbish descendant of his old friend John Morley asks him to take her granddaughter, Lydia Price, off her hands or she’ll send her to an insane asylum merely to be rid of her, Vincent takes Lydia into his home and becomes her guardian. But he also makes sure that Lady Morley doubles her dowry. Then, being the kindly (and shrewd) gentleman he is, he doubles that, making her a true catch of the ton.

We quickly learn that Vincent often looks after misfits. As Lord (Vampire) of Cornwall, he keeps the law and rogue vampires under control, helps new vampires adjust to their transformation, and rules with a diplomatic and fair style. He is beloved by his people. And this endears Lydia to him, especially since her own remaining family rejects her. He is also proud of her talents as a painter, and not afraid to tell her so.

“‘I am so proud of you,’ he whispered in her ear.” (p319)

He is immediately charmed by Lydia’s beauty and kindness, and for her great concern for his welfare. But he knows nothing can come of a love between a vampire and a mortal. He would either have to Change her into a vampire and risk the wrath of the Elders or leave her alone forever. When he walks alone every night (to feed), she worries for him in the cold and the rain.

“A reluctant smile tugged his lips as he recalled Lydia’s concern for his well-being in the storm. No one had cared for him for centuries.” (p20)

Lydia is smart, considerate, and beautiful. She’s also curious, much like Catherine Morland in Jane Austen’s gothic spoof Northanger Abbey. And, too, like Austen’s story, their love is born of gratitude and true kindness.

She is an American, born of a forbidden love match between an earl and a merchant’s daughter. She is also a talented artist who admires and hopes to meet Thomas Lawrence, the famous portrait painter and favorite of the king.

The sweeping landscape of Cornwall is a perfect setting for this vampire Regency, with its rough and gothic seaside landscape. It also matches Vincent’s dashing description:

“Tall and lean, he loomed over her like a specter, his greatcoat flapping in the wind. Lightning illuminated his silvery-blond locks sweeping across sharp, angular features.” (p18)

Ann features some clever and playful historical details, too. There are two newish vampires, Sally and Maria Sidwell [aka Siddons], daughters of the famous actress Sarah Siddons, who become vampires after a tragic love triangle involving the charismatic artist Sir Thomas Lawrence.  There’s also mention of President James Monroe, who was in office 1817-1825.

And then there’s the unusual art form of phantasmagoria that fascinates and awes especially in a most touching and romantic scene between Vincent and Lydia. I was charmed.

In fact, the entire novel is richly detailed, creating a cozy and intimate atmosphere that runs through the story:

Vincent handed her a glass and added another log to the fireplace before settling in a burgundy velvet wing-backed chair across from the chaperone. They shared a brief companionable silence, sipping their smuggled brandy.” (p27)

“Her hair spread across the pillow like a midnight waterfall. He longed to touch it as he had earlier. No, more.” (p31)

But there is also plenty of humour, especially among the vampires. The rough-around-the-edges, dark and brooding Rafael Villar, a Spanish vampire who holds secrets and anger that will be revealed in the third book in the series. Ian, Lord Vampire of London, and his saucy wife, Angelica (from Bite Me, Your Grace), and Lydia’s harridan of a grandmother, Lady Morley. Her well-mannered and proper chaperone, the indomitable Miss Hobson, even plays matchmaker. After all, Vincent is an earl.

Like Edward Cullen in Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight, Vincent believes he is a monster, unworthy of love.  So when Lydia sees the sweet and protective man, she falls in love with him, shattering his defenses.  Long before he realizes his love for her, he Marks her to protect her as she walks amid vampires:

I, Vincent Tremayne, Earl of Deveril and Lord of Cornwall, Mark this mortal, Lydia Price, as mine and mine alone. With this Mark I give Lydia my undying protection. Let all others, immortal and mortal alike, who cross her path sense my Mark and know that to act against her is to act against myself and thus set forth my wrath, as I will avenge what is mine.” (p54)

“A devil would not give her a home and company and laughter.” (p67)

Vincent makes Lydia, an orphan and a stranger in a new land, feel comfortable. He gives her a home, plays chess with her, and makes her laugh. He becomes what she needs most: a friend. When she realizes he’s going to marry her off—she thinks he wants her off his hands—she’s fearful and afraid but faces her future bravely.

“‘…I will go from one stranger t-to another.’” (p93)

A truly romantic and breathless story, like falling in love for the very first time.

Listened to: THE FORTUNE HUNTER by Daisy Goodwin, read by Clare Corbett

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In 1875, Sisi, the Empress of Austria is the woman that every man desires and every woman envies.

Beautiful, athletic and intelligent, Sisi has everything - except happiness. Bored with the stultifying etiquette of the Hapsburg Court and her dutiful but unexciting husband, Franz Joseph, Sisi comes to England to hunt. She comes looking for excitement and she finds it in the dashing form of Captain Bay Middleton, the only man in Europe who can outride her. Ten years younger than her and engaged to the rich and devoted Charlotte, Bay has everything to lose by falling for a woman who can never be his. But Bay and the Empress are as reckless as each other, and their mutual attraction is a force that cannot be denied.

Full of passion and drama, THE FORTUNE HUNTER tells the true story of a nineteenth century Queen of Hearts and a cavalry captain, and the struggle between love and duty.

I have ambivalent feelings about this book, based on real life historical figures. Daisy Goodwin writes a beautifully complex story in a clear, readable, and austere style that drew me right into the story. Expertly narrated by Clare Corbett, the lives of these three complex individuals are fascinating and engrossing and come alive.

Captain Bay Middleton is an expert horseman who also has a weakness for women and forbidden affairs. What begins as a conquest and an exciting and illicit affair with the Empress Elisabeth (Sisi) of Austria eventually almost turns into one of captivity as he lives in fear of disobliging her. He covertly sends messages and will always be beneath her station despite their intimacy.

Even as he embarks on his affair with Sisi, Bay remains very interested in Charlotte Baird, a young and intelligent heiress. He is attracted to her and seeks her good opinion, and makes efforts to stay in touch with her. It’s almost as if he doesn’t want to close off any of his options and desperately wants to be well-liked and well thought of by everyone he meets. He is likeable but weak, a bit like the rakish Henry Crawford in Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park.

I really liked Charlotte. Her strength and innocence, yet clever intuition and knowledge keep her head above water even as her heart breaks. Her charming and colorful American friend, Casper Hughes, helps ease her fears and bolsters her confidence as they prepare for the London photographic exhibition with her beloved and dynamic godmother, Lady Dunwoody. Clare Corbett reads Casper and Lady Dunwoody with verve; her reading of Casper, especially, made me smile. Their friendship is lovely and true. Too bad she couldn’t find a passionate happiness with him instead.

Charlotte’s stuffy older brother, Fred, and his sniping fiancée, Augusta, are boors and brown nosers, desperate to keep their control over Charlotte and, thus, her fortune. They appear to be the real fortune hunters of this novel. Clare Corbett reads Augusta with a perfect high-pitched, shrill voice that grates on Charlotte’s (and the reader’s) nerves. 

The vivid descriptions of the sport of fox hunting, the culture of horsemanship, the new art of photography, the atmosphere of an upper class country house party, and the intricacies of diplomacy and etiquette with foreign dignitaries are brought to life. Historic figures of the time also make an appearance: Queen Victoria and her servant and companion, John Brown, and the Earl of Spencer.

The question of an affair between Bay and Sisi is just that. Questionable. But history always mentions a “reputed” affair. Bay is a man to both like and dislike. He’s a man with flaws who loves women. Unfortunately, he hurts them as well with his lack of singular devotion. I was on edge the entire novel as I knew what was coming; I simultaneously looked forward to and dreaded it. 

Charlotte is an innocent, but she’s not stupid. I liked how Goodwin conveyed both her curiosity and her sensibility. Bay is the first man to capture her interest but she is still determined to find her own happiness within the limits of her class and society. I admire her skill at photography and her loving relationship with her godmother; she has allies and friends. I got the feeling she would be just fine no matter what.

Sisi is a tragic figure. Beautiful, lonely, and in a loveless marriage, she seeks happiness wherever she can take it. I felt sorry for her yet I also disliked her because I liked Charlotte more.

This is why I am ambivalent about this story. Perhaps it is because I listened to the book read aloud and Sisi’s voice began to grate after awhile and her actions seem desperate. Bay is attracted to Sisi but he still wants Charlotte and this bothers me. 

I think the ending a little quick, romantic, and fanciful and I don’t think Charlotte could have been happy long-term with Bay. And that is perhaps the saddest thing of all.

An exceptionally well written and entertaining novel.

Read: WHAT A DUKE DARES by Anna Campbell

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What woman in her right mind would say no to marrying the dashing Duke of Sedgemoor? Miss Penelope Thorne, that’s who. She’s known Camden Rothermere since they were children-and she also knows she’d bring nothing but scandal to his name.

Cam can hardly believe Penelope turned down his proposal. But if she wants to run off to the Continent and set the rumor mill ablaze, he can’t stop her. Then her brother’s dying request sends him to bring home the one woman he thought he’d finally gotten over.

The only way they’ll both get back to London without their reputations in tatters is to pretend they’re married during the journey. That means kissing like they mean it and even sharing a bed-until it becomes hard to tell where the game ends and true desire begins …

The third book in the gothic Sons of Sin series by Australian author Anna Campbell.

Camden (Cam), the Duke of Rothermere, selects Penelope (Pen) Thorne for his future duchess because he believes she’s the opposite of his siren mother. He distrusts and abhors marriages based on love because he believes it destroys relationships, as evidenced by the promiscuous and fiery nature of his parents’ match.

Both Cam and Pen come from scandalous titled families and he (wrongly) assumes that Pen also wants a quiet, scandal-free life. But she is not the same girl he knew as a child and she chafes at the double standards and hypocritical conventions and restrictions for women of her time. He doesn’t quite know what to make of this independent woman.

“Pen was clever, determined, headstrong—he’d get that out of her soon enough—and stubbornly inclined to take a positive view of events. Or at least so he’d believed until today.” (p3)

Pen travels the world, at first to escape her mother’s constant harping on Pen’s refusal of a duke, but then simply to explore and enjoy life. Of course, the rumors that swirl about a woman traveling alone—though she has a chaperone and maid—back home have not helped her reputation in the least.

Nine years pass before they see each other again, but Pen has secretly loved Cam her entire life. But she’s afraid to let him know the truth and depth of her feelings because he’s so dead set against marrying for love. Yet he finds he is attracted to his beautiful childhood friend against his will, confusing and frustrating him.

Peter, Pen’s scapegrace brother, a close friend of Cam’s, asks him to retrieve Pen from the Continent and escort her back to England and, as Peter is dying, Cam reluctantly agrees. When he finds Pen, she’s in a rather sticky situation and he rescues her, the first of several exciting rescue.

They make their treacherous way back to England in the winter but when they are discovered traveling alone together, Cam honorably offers for her again and Pen has no choice but to agree.

Pen believes Cam merely wants her to be a good and quiet duchess so she endeavors to become what he wants even as she hides her love from him. But Cam finds he wants more from her and their marriage than he first anticipated and this confuses her. Indeed, once they’re married, he sincerely misses the vexing woman who set his blood and temper on fire. 

Pen and Cam are old friends who become lovers and their love affair is very passionate. It’s a story about two people who love each other but are too proud to admit it.

Jonas and Sidonie (from Seven Nights in a Rogue’s Bed) and Genevieve and Richard (from A Rake’s Midnight Kiss) appear here, too. Jonas and Richard are good friends to Cam and they want to see their friend as happy as they are. The apparent camaraderie and confidences shared among the three Eton school friends is jovial and nicely portrayed.

There is a secondary love story (between Pen’s brother, Harry, and Sophie, an heiress) that, at first, seems oddly intrusive in the story but it is important, especially in the book’s exciting climax. Sophie’s brother seeks revenge on Cam for his exposure of a scandal involving Jonas Merrick from the first book in the series.

There is a wonderful family moment uniting both families and the dialogue and resolution are entertaining and unexpected.

A sweetly sexy, absorbing, and page-turning romance.

Read: MY BEAUTIFUL ENEMY by Sherry Thomas

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Hidden beneath Catherine Blade’s uncommon beauty is a daring that matches any man’s. Although this has taken her far in the world, she still doesn’t have the one thing she craves: the freedom to live life as she chooses. Finally given the chance to earn her independence, who should be standing in her way but the only man she’s ever loved, the only person to ever betray her.

Despite the scars Catherine left him, Captain Leighton Atwood has never been able to forget the mysterious girl who once so thoroughly captivated him. When she unexpectedly reappears in his life, he refuses to get close to her. But he cannot deny the yearning she reignites in his heart.

Their reunion, however, plunges them into a web of espionage, treachery, and deadly foes. With everything at stake, Leighton and Catherine are forced to work together to find a way out. If they are ever to find safety and happiness, they must first forgive and learn to trust each other again…

The second book in The Heart of Blade Duology series by Sherry Thomas. It is best to first read its prequel, The Hidden Blade, so that you get the full background and childhoods of both hero and heroine. This really helped me understand them better. Also, though this story is short (under 300 pages), it reads like a saga. There is so much going on, and the romance is only part of it, not the central focus of the story.

Catherine Blade (Ying-ying) is in London to retrieve two jade tablets belonging to her stepfather (her concubine mother’s lover). One is in the British Museum’s collections but she doesn’t know the whereabouts of the other. 

This is classic Sherry Thomas as she uses the flashback device. It is easy to follow and, more importantly, moves the story forward, but I realize many people do not like this feature.

Leighton Atwood takes care of Catherine as no one ever has before in her entire life. She sees herself as a burden, first to her mother, then her amah (her nanny), and her stepfather. Part of this feeling is cultural with respect to one’s elders but it’s also because she has led a strict and disciplined life, devoid of any affection.

Happiness eludes her. There’s a nice moment in the scene with the solicitor, Mr. Cromwell, when she recognizes his joy for life despite a great sadness.

"Could she hope for a fraction of his joie de vivre someday?" (p80)

The fight scenes are detailed and quite brutal, and all the more surprising because they involve a woman. The few love scenes are extremely brief and not very satisfying so if you’re looking for a lot of attention to this part of the story, you may be disappointed. Leighton and Catherine’s passion is a quiet and understated one. Each sacrifices their happiness together for the sake of the other.

I think my favorite parts of the book are the tranquil and lovely descriptions of Leighton’s beloved estate, Starling Manor. These were first lovingly mentioned in the prequel, The Hidden Blade, and are part of Herb Gordon’s fondest memories. Through their shared love of Herb, both Catherine and Leighton recognize and value the beauty of Starling Manor.

Leighton and Catherine are meant to be together, through their connection to Herb Gordon, through their own shared painful childhood experiences, and through their quiet strength. But it is a very arduous road to this precarious happiness. 

Catherine is a hard character to get to know. I really felt I knew Leighton better but perhaps it is because Catherine holds innate power in her healing and fighting skills? Her cool demeanor in the face of danger? She feels like a cipher to me. Yet a good part of the novel is told from her point of view. She just came across as a little cold to me.

This is a very serious and bittersweet romance. I prefer my historical romances on the lighter side but there is no denying Sherry Thomas’ skill as a writer. She makes you feel for her characters and, as a person who takes too many things to heart, this is a little too effective here if such a thing is possible.

A complex, emotional, and powerful love story.

“Till now that she was threatened with its loss, Emma had never known how much of her happiness depended on being first with Mr. Knightley, first in interest and affection.”

– Jane Austen, Emma (1815)

Read: FALLING FOR THE PIRATE by Amber Lin

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Note: page references are from an ePUB version.

London, 1820 

After the deaths of his parents and a dark, troubled childhood, Captain Nate Bowen vowed he would have his revenge. But he never expected to have the tool of his revenge dropped so neatly into his lap. Juliana Hargate is not only the daughter of his enemy, but is destitute, very much alone - and exquisitely desirable. And now that Nate has saved her life, she’s at his complete mercy… 

Captive. All Juliana wanted was to clear her father’s name. Instead, she’s been struck with amnesia - unable to recall even her name - and imprisoned by a tall, imposing, and entirely unscrupulous pirate. A pirate whose eyes seem to look past her skirts and many petticoats, and whose touch sends delicious ripples of desire through her. With every passing day, she finds herself tempted to give him the very thing he’s determined to take

This is the second book in Amber Lin's Men of Fortune series but I haven’t read book one so I think this works as a standalone title.

This is not a traditional pirate story. It doesn’t take place on the high seas and there are no sea battles. The pirate in the book’s title is more an allusion to its hero, Nate Bowen; he reminds Juliana, the heroine, of a pirate with his dark and sexy looks (and their profound effect on her), his love of the sea, his taste for revenge and success, and his elusive yet captivating nature. It’s also representative of how he steals her heart along with her father’s company.

Juliana Hargate has fallen on hard times, due to her father’s covert and suspicious activity in his company, Hargate Shipping. At the story’s beginning, he has disappeared without a trace, which has left her helpless and alone in explaining to their creditors and shunned by society. Yet she’s determined to find out what happened to him. All her fortune has been lost. In short, her father has abandoned her; she doesn’t know if he’s dead or alive.

Nate is a self-made man, a part owner in the Hargate Shipping company with Adrian Mallory, the Duke of Sinclair who, despite his lofty title, is more of a peripheral character here. Nate’s has been a hardscrabble existence as he grew up in a whorehouse and lived a hand to mouth existence getting by on his wits and luck. After he catches Juliana sneaking into the company offices after hours on the docks of London, he rescues her when she falls and hurts herself. She loses her memory and can tell him nothing when he questions her.  Despite his suspicions, and distrust—she was breaking into his company, after all—Nate believes her, is drawn to her, and takes her into his house to care for her as her wounds heal and her memory returns.

As Nate gets to know her, he comes to care for her deeply. Juliana realizes he is a good and honorable man, as he helps with the local London charities. He helps others (as he helps Juliana) because no one took care of him long ago when he needed it most.

Nate is out for revenge against Stephen Hargate (Juliana’s father) for the murder of Nate’s parents and, thus, for leaving him destitute and alone. Indeed, he is a loner; he has no friends because he doesn’t trust anyone. All he has is his wealth and his beloved ship, Nightingale, a place where he feels most at home. Until Juliana makes him want more.

As Juliana’s memory gradually returns, she becomes torn between duty to her father and discovering the truth and her new love for Nate, his kindnesses to her, and his strength and protection. Who will she believe? And will Nate continue to seek vengeance or accept the unconditional love that Juliana offers?

I enjoy the little details Juliana discovers about Nate that fascinate her. That his library is filled with gothic literature,—provocative passages from The Monk fascinate and titillate her—that he has kindly servants. And that he has a passion for the sea that brings him peace.

The writing is very strong and almost lyrical in its calm delivery, the hero and heroine well drawn, and the pacing is steady throughout. It’s a quick read, perhaps a little longer than a novella. The amnesia plot, while always convenient, is not trite or trivial in the least; indeed, it moves the plot forward. Juliana accepts Nate’s care and protection as she gradually regains her memory, allowing her to adjust and make choices that will affect her life forever.

A quiet, dark, and compelling romance.

This review first appeared on Romantic Historical Reviews.