AustenStudent

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

Read: CALLANDER SQUARE by Anne Perry

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Murders just don’t happen in fashionable areas like Callander Square–but these two have. The police are totally baffled. Pretty, young Charlotte Ellison Pitt, however, is curious.
Inspector Pitt’s well-bred wife doesn’t often meddle in her husband’s business, but something about this case intrigues her–to the point that staid Charlotte Pitt is suddenly rattling the closets of the very rich, seeking out backstairs gossip that would shock a barmaid, and unearthing truths that could push even the most proper aristocrat to murder.

The second book in the Charlotte and Thomas Pitt mystery series by Anne Perry, this book was first published in 1980.

This is a very plot-driven mystery series set in Victorian London so, if you’re looking for in-depth characterization, you won’t find it here. However, if you enjoy a good story, Perry writes a riveting mystery with an emphasis on very strong female characters. I think the best part is the fascinating social history of British Victorian conventions and strictures of its time. Author Edith Wharton is an excellent primary source example of American Victorian society in New York city, while Perry explores the intricacies of British society in hindsight.

There is some effective narrative thought, but the characters’ narrative thoughts are very brief. However, they do convey a lot of powerful meaning in their brevity:

“There were years of icebound convention between them.” (p141)

This is a well-ordered world of propriety where everyone knows their place—or should know it. Spouses discover things about each other that surprise them. For example, a husband is shocked to learn that his wife knows that a neighbor sleeps with his maids and that their daughter has lain with the handsome and upstart footman. Or that she will stop at nothing to rid herself of an unwanted servant.

And neighbors, too, become suspicious of one another as their secrets and liaisons threaten to become scandal, the ultimate taboo in ton society. Thomas Pitt disrupts their privileged and secure lives as he inquires into the everyday happenings of fashionable Callander Square.

Charlotte Ellison has married Thomas Pitt, an inspector with the London police, after their introduction in The Cater Street Hangman. They are happy but live in much more modest accommodations than the well-to-do Charlotte was raised in. When Pitt’s latest case involves the discovery of the remains of two infants, Charlotte and her society smart sister, Emily, are eager to conduct their own (albeit secretive) investigation.

I love the strong females in this series. Emily, married to a peer, knows what she wants and is confident in getting her way. She finagles her way into the Callander Square set and snoops around while Charlotte insinuates herself as a secretary to assist a Callander Square general in his military research, thus giving her prime access to all the goings on.

As I’ve mentioned before, you will get an excellent overview of Victorian society with this series. For example, here is an apt Victorian marriage description as Emily, Charlotte’s sister, advises a young and unhappy bride to be:

“…if you wish to be happy, you must realize that it depends upon your husband being happy, and upon his being agreeable to your conducting your life in the manner that best pleases you. You must teach him to want what you want, and if possible even to think that it is his idea. If he believes he has suggested a thing, he will never refuse you, even if he changes his mind. You must learn to be courteous to him at all times, or nearly all; never to argue with him, or disobey him, in public, and if you must do it in private, then do it either with a smile, or with tears. Don’t waste your time trying to be reasonable, men do not expect it, and it disconcerts them.” (p158)

and

“‘But do not confuse romance with love.’” (p159)

As with the last book, the ending is abrupt but, again, I did not see the resolution until the very end. An absorbing read where nothing is as it seems.

Listened to: VENETIA by Georgette Heyer, Read by Phyllida Nash

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Venetia Lanyon, beautiful, intelligent and independent, lives in comfortable seclusion in rural Yorkshire with her precocious brother Aubrey. Her future seems safe and predictable: Either marriage to the respectable but dull Edward Yardley, or a life of peaceful spinsterhood. But when she meets the dashing, dangerous rake Lord Damerel, her well-ordered life is turned upside down, and she embarks upon a relationship with him that scandalizes and horrifies the whole community. Has she found her soul mate, or is she playing with fire?

This is a very mature historical romance novel. It reminds me of Jane Austen’s Persuasion with its two older protagonists and, like Austen, there is a lot of clever and witty dialogue that moves the story forward as hero and heroine get to know one another. They become good natured friends who also happen to be very attracted to each other.

 Venetia Lanyon is a very elegant and level headed woman. Raised in the countryside of Yorkshire and considered “on the shelf” at five and twenty, she lives quietly with her eccentric and sickly younger brother, Aubrey. She feels the beginnings of attraction to well-known rake, Lord Damarel, their nearest neighbor. He befriends both Venetia and Aubrey after Aubrey suffers a riding accident near his estate. Aubrey stays with Damarel at  his estate, known as the Priory, while he recuperates and Venetia visits him there, much to the shock of their country society, including her two stuffed-shirt suitors.

But Damarel quickly distances himself from Venetia once he realizes that he feels much more for her than he wants to or intended. He fears for her reputation that an acquaintance with him might endanger her reputation. She is heartbroken but doesn’t show it or dramatize; she is a true lady to all outward appearances, even if she is pained when he harshly trivializes their “idyll” in the country.

When her eldest brother, Conway, takes Charlotte, a timid young woman, as his wife who will displace her as lady of the house—encouraged along by Charlotte’s harridan of a mother, Venetia travels to London for a Season. 

This is a dialogue heavy and introspective novel read beautifully by Phyllida Nash. Her voice is appropriately deep and older sounding for the pushing forty Damarel—to tell the truth, he’s exactly Mr. Knightley’s age, thirty-eight, so not so very old after all. And she reads Venetia with an air of elegant ease and confidence, aptly capturing her self-assuredness, her no nonsense personality, and maturity. The scene when Damarel separates himself from Venetia is quite heartbreaking to hear, a sure sign of an effective reader.

I admire Venetia’s determination to make a home for herself when she realizes that marriage isn’t a possibility, even if Edward Yardley persists in his most unwanted attentions. She refuses to marry if she cannot marry for love, a position that takes great strength of character and fortitude in a time when women usually had to marry to survive. And, despite her aunt’s disapproval, she forges ahead on plans to take a house for herself and to live her own life. When circumstances bring Venetia’s long lost mother back into her life and she learns of some interference that threatens to thwart her own happiness, she smoothly takes control once again.

I had to almost smile, however, at the lighthearted way that both Aubrey and Venetia talk about their mother, a self-centered woman who has absented herself from the family for years. They seem not the least bit bothered by her lack of maternal love and affection, nor even at the scandalous divorce of their parents. Perhaps this is a case of the famous British “stiff upper lip” and all that? Anyway, it is quite amusing to this American reader.

Venetia was published in 1958, later in Heyer’s prolific and successful career.

THE OTHER HARLOW GIRL: A REGENCY ROMANCE by Lynn Messina

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Note: page references are from a PDF copy, courtesy of the author. This is an honest review.

A woman in the British Horticultural Society! The very idea horrifies everyone, including ardent horticulturalist Lavinia Harlow, whose own name has been put forth for membership by the provoking Marquess of Huntly. He does it as a joke, of course, to get back at her for an imagined slight—well, to be fair, she had insulted his writing—and Vinnie, older sister to the infamous Harlow Hoyden, is far too sensible to rise to his ridiculous challenge. 

Determined to head off further scandal (her name has already been recorded in the betting book at Brooks’s!), Vinnie dashes off a polite note refusing the honor—which she has every intention of sending. Really. Only she can’t help but chafe at the way everyone keeps demanding that she decline at once, even the marquess. Oh, especially the marquess, whose perfection she finds intolerable. Who ever heard of a gentleman being so handsome and so intelligent and so well informed about foreign flora? Clearly, the man needs to be taken down a peg, and somehow, despite all twenty-four years of faultless propriety, Vinnie is just the hoyden to do it.

The second book in the Love in Bloom series by Lynn Messina.

I love books that make me smile, sigh, and laugh. It’s the number one reason I mostly now read historical romance.

Lynn Messina has created another enchanting historical Regency romance with this utterly charming and beguiling sequel to The Harlow Hoyden, which I reviewed and loved earlier this year. In a light and bright tone reminiscent of the novels of manners by Julia Quinn and Maya Rodale, this is the very happy ending for Lavinia Harlow, Emma’s older twin sister.

When we left Lavinia—Vinnie, as her beloved sister calls her—at the end of The Harlow Hoyden, she was a widowed fiancée, whose betrothed’s death left her the pity of the ton. To hide her true part in the tragic event, Emma circulated the ridiculous story that Vinnie’s vain fiancé suffered a “wardrobe accident!” Only a select few know the true story, which involves the Home Office and espionage. As a result, she has to pretend to mourn her late betrothed, a man she eventually came to loathe.

Vinnie is an amateur horticulturalist, but only because the dictates of society prevent a woman of her time from pursuing an occupation or interest in anything outside the home. She is busy working on an invention for an elasticized hose in her sister’s conservatory—she’s an expert on drainage systems—when it goes haywire, startling and soaking Felix Dryden, the Marquess of Huntly, and her brother-in-law’s close friend. Felix, a botanist, is newly returned to England after two years in the South Seas, studying its flora and fauna and collecting sample specimens for his research with the British Horticultural Society. He is a proper gentleman and adheres to decorum at all times, but Vinnie throws off his equilibrium, a sure sign of love.

Vinnie is the “good” sister, unlike Emma. She’s very proper and ladylike at all times and adheres to the dictates of ton society. But where has it got her? They pity her and her interest in horticulture is just not done. Not to mention that most men think she’s a pariah. 

The unexpected longing for freedom was a new sensation for Vinnie, who had never chafed at the confines of her life.” (p49)

Please corrupt me.’” (p148)

When she meets Felix, she is captivated and charmed for the first time in her life and begins to act quite unlike herself. Indeed, Felix thinks she’s quite cracked at first, but he soon comes to admire and respect her and champion her great knowledge and expertise. But Vinnie fears if he learns the truth about her fiancé’s death, he won’t care about or respect her anymore.

"There was nothing less decorous than a lethal female." (p32)

"It would be beyond everything wonderful to marry a man who had so much faith in her talents and so much concern for her happiness that he would make such an outlandish request." (p78)

The happy tone of the book had me smiling throughout. The characters feel real in their pain and their passions. The sweet and loving banter between Trent and Emma is adorable and just as memorable as in The Harlow Hoyden—I love how he calls her “imp” and threatens her as she plans her schemes—and reminded me how much I loved the first book. Theirs is an Emma and Mr. Knightley kind of relationship; I was just so happy to be back in their little  world.

…for if he had learned one thing from loving Emma, it was that you couldn’t stop a person from being who she was.” (p160)

The love between Emma and Vinnie is well portrayed, as they support each other fiercely and, when they work to uncover peccadilloes among the men of the British Horticultural Society, it’s hilarious.

My favorite scenes are when Felix takes Vinnie to visit a company that can help her advance her hose invention and her presentation to the British Horticultural Society.

I love how Felix is entranced by Vinnie, not just her beauty and manner, but her passion for her work and her desire to do the right thing. It’s sweet to see these two very proper people throw caution to the wind in their quest for true love.

Giving another person the power to break her heart was the one thing that scared Vinnie more than making her presentation.” (p164)

There is also nicely built tension throughout the story as the esteemed male members of the British Horticultural Society try to keep Vinnie from becoming a member, and the “scheme” that Emma comes up with is very clever and amusing.  And there are also delicious hints of yet another story to come as the scandal involving Vinnie’s former fiancé is not yet resolved.

The pacing of the romance is energetic and shines with wit, humor, and adroit plot twists. It is a joy to read from beginning to end and has a wonderful feel-good tone. Messina uses slang of the period without excess to lend a sense of time and place to her novel.

Funny, endearing, and lively. I want to read more historicals from Lynn Messina.

Read: NIGHT STORM by Tracey Devlyn

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Note: page references are from a ARC PDF version, courtesy of the author for an honest review.

A promising young apothecary picks up the pieces of her life, only to collide with the ruthless thief-taker who once shattered her dreams and her heart.

When the love of his life chose an apprenticeship in Scotland over his marriage proposal, thieftaker Cameron Adair buried himself in his work—building an unmatched network of underworld spies. Forged by his reputation as a ruthless, greed-driven businessman, he has amassed a fortune. But he has one vulnerable spot in his armor—a brilliant, green-eyed apothecary, who continues to haunt his heart. When a murder investigation brings him back into contact with Charlotte Fielding, Cameron sets aside the past to find a killer and to distract a headstrong apothecary, clue by clue, kiss by kiss.

This is the first book in a new historical mystery series by Tracey Devlyn. Cameron Adair, a thief taker, and Charlotte Fielding, an apothecary, were first introduced in Devlyn’s exciting and romantic debut Napoleonic-era Nexus series last year.

There is a trend in historical romance for mystery series with a romantic element and this aptly fits that description.

This is a very well-written, plot-driven story, with excellent pacing and an interesting mystery, however, this reader prefers more romance in her historical romances. Romance readers expecting a central focus on a love story between a hero and heroine might be a little disappointed as most of it is centered on the mystery.

I also prefer to read about the elegant lives of the upper classes and nobility rather than the toiling working classes. I like to escape into a breathtaking and sensual historical romance, not read about the grueling hardships people endured daily in early 19th century England.

Cameron (Cam) and Charlotte (Charley) are old childhood friends whose romance was abruptly thwarted when she left for a prestigious apothecary apprenticeship in Scotland. Supported by her parents wholeheartedly, she and Cam parted ways painfully.

When he shows up on her doorstep one night, five years later, and gravely injured, she reluctantly tends to his wounds but then quickly sends him on his way. They are still deeply attracted to each other, but she thinks he never supported her dreams and ambitions while he believes she loved her calling more.

When Charlotte inadvertently stumbles upon a murder scene while accompanying her two assistants to the theater one night, their paths cross once again as Cam takes charge of the murder investigation. Piper is Charlotte’s young apprentice and Felix, Piper’s younger brother, helps around the apothecary shop with odd jobs. They, too, become involved in the mystery as the murder occurs outside the theater where Felix had an audition.

While the mystery is absorbing, I really didn’t care much about its resolution as I much preferred to find out what would happen between Cam and Charley.

The romance between Cam and Charley is sweet with simmering sexual tension as they work through the great miscommunications of their past. Their friendship is an old one that both have missed.

There’s a rival for Charley’s affections with a handsome and dashing Scot, Lachlan Murdoch, the nephew of Charley’s mentor, Angus, but that cannot stop the true love between hero and heroine.

Another old friend from Cam and Charley’s childhood, Jules, is a hotel manager and I expect more mysteries to follow as Cam and Charley become problem solvers after they marry.

An entertaining mystery with a second chance romance, this book will be most enjoyed by mystery lovers.

Read: WAYWARD ONE by Lorelie Brown

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Note: page references are from a Kindle edition.

He’ll protect her with every vicious bone in his body.

During her ten years at the prestigious Waywroth Academy, Sera Miller clung to a strict code of propriety to shield herself from rumors that she isn’t an orphan at all. She’s a bastard. Now she wishes she had never allowed her friends to talk her into snooping into the mysterious source of her tuition.

Her benefactor isn’t the unknown father she dreamed of one day meeting, but Fletcher Thomas—underworld tycoon, gambling den owner, and a man so dangerously mesmerizing that he could spark the scandal Sera has worked so hard to avoid.

Fletcher is only two steps away from leaving the life of crime he inherited from his father. First he plans to join an aboveboard railroad consortium, then claim the one thing his ill-gotten gains have kept safe all these years—Sera.

With every wicked caress, Sera fights harder to remember society’s rules and reject the painful memories his touch resurrects. Accepting Fletcher’s love means accepting her past—a risk too great for a woman who has always lived in the shadows. No matter how safe she feels in his arms.

The first book in the Waywroth Academy series by new-to-me author Lorelie Brown, this is a very impressive and original working class romance set in Victorian England, about two childhood friends who find love and acceptance in society, with themselves, as well as with each other.

At first, the premise of a young lady (the daughter of a woman who felt she had no choice but to become a whore to survive) clinging to society’s strictures for proper etiquette and decorum despite her wildly passionate feelings for her childhood friend (a man raised in the streets but who has loved the heroine forever) might seem unrealistic to our twenty-first century sensibilities. But the only way that Seraphina (Sera) can even fathom acceptance by the ton is to marry Fletcher yet restrain her love and attraction for him to the bedroom; she holds herself back from all other affection. Fletcher desires a passionate wife in the bedroom (and elsewhere, of course) and a proper society wife, but above all else, he also hopes for her love.

This is a sweet romance with beautifully portrayed sexual tension. When Sera insinuates herself in Fletcher’s household and brings order out of the chaos that are his servants and inappropriate decor, he lets her have her way. He is trying to get ahead himself and let go of his unsavory businesses so that he can deserve Sera and marry her. But when circumstances bring about their marriage precipitously—due to a threat to Sera—they must face the truth about their own expectations of marriage.

I liked Fletcher though we don’t get his point of view as much as I wanted. It felt much more like Sera’s story. What does shine through beautifully, however, is his unwavering love and protection of Sera at every point in the story. He pays for her ladies’ education at a girls’ school—Waywroth Academy—reminiscent of one that Harriet Smith attended with Mrs. Goddard in Jane Austen’s Emma.

Sera must settle the origins of her birth in order to realize she can be free to love Fletcher with all her heart yet still be accepted by society. With him, she sees that he will always be there for her no matter what happens. And that’s just about the best thing you can hope for in any relationship. They are kindred spirits.

Sera’s precocious friends, Charlotte (Lottie) and Victoria, will have their happy endings in future installments in this quiet and nicely written series.

Read: THE TRAITOR by Grace Burrowes

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As a young boy, British-born Sebastian St. Clair was abandoned in France and forced to join the French army in order to survive. 

Now that the war is over, he has returned home to his beloved England, and is determined to live a quiet life as a country gentleman. He believes that his wish is about to come true when he begins to fall for his elderly aunt’s lovely companion, Miss Millicent Danforth. 

But the French are not quite ready to let him go, and they’ve devised a devious plot that could destroy everything that Sebastian holds dear. He will have to use all of his wits if he plans on escaping this scheme with his life…and his love.

This is the second book in the Captive Hearts series by Grace Burrowes, a consummate writer who creates complex, poignant, and often extremely emotional stories. This is a darker series than her debut Windham family series, more like the Lonely Lords series but yet even darker than that as well. Themes of captivity, revenge, and loyalty are central in these very serious and rich love stories.

I prefer my romances on the lighter side but Burrowes (and also Sherry Thomas, another favorite) just writes so beautifully I can’t not read her oeuvre. It’s addictive in a way that good writing always is. 

I love that Millicent (Milly), the heroine, had two loving aunts who tried to protect her with a house, some money of her own, and a very loving cat. As a recent cat widow, this warms my heart. Of course, Milly’s resilience in the face of cruel relatives—greedy, grasping cousins in this case—and her courage to forge ahead on her own are very admirable. She is determined to take care of herself in the best way she can.

Millicent hides an embarrassing secret which her cousins hold against her and that Sebastian discovers almost immediately because he’s extremely observant. He accepts it without qualm just as she (incredibly, to him) accepts his terrible and dark past. 

Sebastian is Girard, known as the “Traitor Baron” and the “Inquisitor.” The heir to an English barony who, while visiting relatives in France, is left behind and forced to join the French army. He is distrusted by the French and loathed by the English and, in his determination to survive and endure, makes some painful decisions that haunt him. I honestly don’t know how someone can live with the decisions that Sebastian had to make but Burrowes asks many good questions in her portrayal of a man in difficult circumstances.

The love story between Milly and Sebastian is sweet. It’s more of a friendship than a passionate affair, one that will endure long after that in love feeling passes. Both are survivors who find comfort in one another.

Sebastian’s indomitable Aunt Freddy is a wonderful character whose own choices determine the course of Sebastian’s life. I admire her strength and how Burrowes creates willful and brave female characters.

And just who is Michael Brodie? Servant or spy? Sebastian is Michael’s former commanding officer and he’s also teaser for book three, The Laird,where he is the hero. 

This is a painful and difficult book to read at times, with subterfuge, distrust, and evil at its heart but, as in all historical romance novels, there is light and hope by the end.

Read: THE HIDDEN BLADE by Sherry Thomas

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

In the waning days of the last dynasty, in a quiet, beautiful corner of imperial Peking, a young girl’s blissful ignorance is shattered when she learns that she is the illegitimate daughter of an English adventurer and a Chinese courtesan. What future is there for such a girl? But a mysterious figure steps forward and offers to instruct her in the highest forms of martial arts—a path to a life of strength and independence.

Half a world away in England, a young boy’s idyllic summer on the Sussex downs implodes with the firing of a single bullet. Torn from his family, he becomes the hostage of a urbanely sadistic uncle. He dreams of escaping to find his beloved friend—but the friend is in China, ten thousand miles away.

The girl trains to be deadly. The boy flees across continents. They do not know it yet, but their lives are already inextricably bound together, and will collide one fateful night when they least expect it.

Sherry Thomas is a beautiful writer and her stories are complex and emotional. Yet there is always a happy ending. This is not a romance but, rather, a prequel that sets the stage for My Beautiful Enemy,introducing the hero and heroine in childhood as they come of age, Ying-ying in China, Leighton in England.

I will warn you now. This is a very powerful and extremely sad story about evil, imprisonment, blackmail, and cruelty, but there is hope at the end. And, after such angst, I should certainly hope so!

The one character tying them together is Herb Gordon, a close friend of Leighton’s father and later, Ying-ying’s English tutor in China. He is a beautiful and kind soul, who loves wholly and who becomes a very special person to both Ying-ying and Leighton.

"There was no force in the world strong enough to tear apart the bonds of their friendship."

The trials and hardships that Ying-ying and Leighton each endure are heartbreaking and almost too much to bear. Both are prisoners, but they are both strong and I cannot wait to read their happy ending next. 

"…everyone around him was a prisoner of some sort…"

Leighton is a lonely young boy who learns the meaning of true love. He is thwarted and manipulated at every turn yet through the kindness of strangers, he manages to find a way forward. His beloved tutor, Mr. Colmes, the sisters Violet and Mrs. McHenry, and even his horrifying uncle’s new wife all save him in little increments. Yet his spirit endures.

It could happen, the upending of life as one knew it. It could happen anytime.” 

Evil is embodied in Sir Curtis and Sherry Thomas has written a truly frightening character, one of the worst I have ever read.

The cover of this book is gorgeous and aptly depicts Ying-ying’s strength and power. She is the daughter of a courtesan and an Englishman who lives with her beloved amah—at once a nanny, friend, guardian, and tutor—in the household of her mother’s protector.

What is most impressive and amazing about Sherry Thomas’ writing is that English is not her native language. And it’s fitting that she finally write a story featuring her native country. 

If you enjoy a good story with wonderful solid writing, you will not be disappointed with this quietly compelling novel.

Read: UNRAVELED by Courtney Milan

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Note: page references are from a Kindle version.

Smite Turner is renowned for his single-minded devotion to his duty as a magistrate. But behind his relentless focus lies not only a determination to do what is right, but the haunting secrets of his past—secrets that he is determined to hide, even if it means keeping everyone else at arm’s length. Until the day an irresistible woman shows up as a witness in his courtroom… Miranda Darling isn’t in trouble…yet. But she’s close enough that when Turner threatens her with imprisonment if she puts one foot wrong, she knows she should run in the other direction. And yet no matter how forbidding the man seems on the outside, she can’t bring herself to leave. Instead, when he tries to push her away, she pushes right back—straight through his famous self-control, and into the heart of the passion that he has long hidden away…

The third and final book in the brilliant Turner series by Courtney Milan. This is the first and only series I’ve read by Milan and I’m extremely impressed with her voice, her pacing, and her very complex and troubled characters. This series is set in early Victorian England and is about three brothers raised by an unstable and overzealous mother. The impact on each brother is as varied as their personalities, yet they maintain a strong and implacable bond as adults. 

Smite Turner is a determined and scrupulous magistrate—known as Lord Justice—living minimally and in stark contrast for the brother of a duke in Bristol, England. As a child, he was abused by his mother and, as an adult, he doles out justice for those who go unheard, as he once did. His duty is his life. Until Miranda. Like the book’s title, his carefully crafted life becomes unraveled.

"When they needed someone, I was there. I listened. I acted. What happened to me won’t happen to them. Not while I can prevent it."

”’I fear being caged by luxury. I fear that one day I will no longer understand desperation, and with that, I will slowly stop listening to what others have to say.’”

“‘The truth is simply this: you can find a better man than I. God knows you wouldn’t have to look very hard. But I don’t believe you can find one who loves you more.’”

Miranda Darling is a survivor. Living in the slums with a young boy she saved, a child of fellow actors like herself, they live a hand to mouth existence. She is saved—sort of—by the protection of a dangerous entity known as the Patron, who keeps her safe, protects her virtue, but expects her to do illegal favors for them in exchange for this protection. She’s tied to them and walks a precarious line of fear and a desire to change her life for the better.

"So Miranda had kept him. In books, women reduced to straitened circumstances always surrounded themselves with kind, adoring loved ones through pluck and determination."

When she meets Smite, he is immediately enchanted by her. Like himself, she is a survivor, but he also feels a calm and peace with her that he has never felt before. He invites her to become his mistress and they embark on a one-month affair, growing closer together as the days tick by.

Miranda notices Smite’s kind heart behind the stoic facade, something that endears her to him.

”’No man is broken because bad things happen to him. He’s broken because he doesn’t keep going after those things happen. When you told me about your mother, and how it made you resolve to be the person you are…What I thought was, ‘Yes, please, I’ll take him.’ Because you didn’t break.”

The rich familial relationships Milan creates are wonderful. They remind me of the strong family dynamics that Grace Burrowes also writes about in her Windham series. Richard Dalrymple, a cousin and one-time best friend of Smite’s, begs forgiveness for a long-ago quarrel. It is a heartwarming reconciliation, however tentative. And Smite’s loving relationship with his brothers, Ash, and Mark. Words alone cannot aptly describe their camaraderie and understanding.

Miranda understands Smite like no other woman. Their love affair is passionate, sexy, and endearing. She gets him. And loves him for who he is.

”’What? That he’d fall in love and turn into an ordinary man?’ Miranda choked on the words. ‘Anyone who loved him would never want that. It would be like loving the ocean, but wishing it would change into a glass of water.’”

The covers perfectly capture Miranda’s orange red hair and are both beautiful.

A lovely and smart love story. I very much look forward to reading everything else this author has written.

Read: THE PIRATE TAKES A BRIDE by Shana Galen

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Note: page references are from a Kindle version.

Ashley Brittany is living a nightmare. She’s been mistakenly married to the one man she despises. Months ago, Lord Nicholas took her virtue then scorned her. Now, Ashley will do anything to have her revenge…anything but expose her ugly secret.

Nick Martingale has a secret, too: he’s Captain Robin Hood, a pirate with a fearsome reputation. But when Nick learns his archenemy, the Barbary pirate Yussef, attacked innocents Nick has sworn to protect, he can think of nothing but vengeance.

Only one person stands in his way.

His wife.

The final and long-awaited installment in Shana Galen’s Misadventures in Matrimony series is disappointing, but not for the usual reasons (such as poor writing). While extremely well written, exciting, fast-paced, and featuring a memorable hero and heroine, there are a lot of facets and layers to this story that make me uncomfortable.

I don’t really like the love child trope, especially when the hero talks of the child’s mother so unfeelingly. Nick and Zorah were lovers—she was a former slave—but he “never loved her.”

I also don’t like when the hero expects the heroine to accept his child so easily especially when he keeps so many other secrets; I want Ashley to resist more but she seems so blinded by lust she can’t see straight.

Ashley is a very strong-willed heroine but I wanted her to be even stronger than she was. I felt like she was the one always to give and Nick didn’t have to give much back; this felt unbalanced. Nick accepts Ashley as his wife and does his duty by her to protect her and, eventually, (possibly) love her. But I wanted more sacrifice from him.

So my quibble with this novel is of plot. Was it riveting? Yes. Was it sexy? Yes. Was it shocking and disturbing? Yes. All good qualities in a good read. But, needless to say, this is not my favorite in the colorful Misadventures in Matrimony series.

What I did like:

  • Physical description of the hero; I’m a sucker for a man with black hair and blue eyes.
  • Ashley’s feistiness and fearlessness; I just wanted her to resist a little bit longer.

"Ashley Brittany was more than a challenge. She was a trial by fire, a test of his patience and his sanity." (p15)

  • The detailed descriptions of shipboard life. Galen brings the excitement and danger of the lives of pirates to vivid life.

What I didn’t like:

  • Nick’s selfishness with Ashley. I wanted Nick to give in and give up more to win Ashley. It felt too much like he was piling on one new revelation after another and she had to adjust. I didn’t see that Nick had to adjust to anything, except Ashley’s temper. And the ending scene with her family felt like too little, too late for me."She’d already given her love, but she was not certain he was willing to give her anything in return." (p36)
  • The opening scene is very shocking and upsetting, at least it was to me. The way Nick goes about scaring Ashley off a relationship with him is cruel and very selfish. I had a hard time forgiving him after that or even liking him. I’m still not sure I have. Sex with other women after the hero meets the heroine just turns me off. Elizabeth Hoyt's hero, Griffin, has sex at the beginning of Notorious Pleasures, but he hasn’t yet met the heroine. What Nick does is the worst betrayal.

"Didn’t Ashley understand that he couldn’t love her? He was already too vulnerable." (p229)

"…but how was Nick supposed to fight when he didn’t have the ammunition she wanted? Not to mention, he had a small child to see to first." (p230-231)

Shana Galen is one of my favorite authors who spins exciting and adventurous historical romance tales so, while this book’s plot was not quite to my liking, I very much look forward to reading more of her wonderful stories in future.