Read: MUST LOVE DUKES by Elizabeth Michels
She Can’t Resist the Dare
Lillian Phillips could not imagine how her quiet, simple life had come to this. Blackmailed by the Mad Duke of Thornwood into accepting one wild dare after another…all because of a pocket watch. Desperate to recover her beloved father’s pawned timepiece, Lily did something reckless and dangerous and delicious—something that led to a night she’d never forget.
He has a Reputation for Scandal
When Devon Grey, Duke of Thornwood, runs into a mesmerizing, intoxicating, thieving woman who literally stole from his bedchamber—with his new pocket watch—Devon plots his revenge. If the daring wench likes to play games, he’s happy to oblige. After all, what’s the use of being the Mad Duke if you can’t have some fun? But the last laugh might just be on him…
Time and place: 1815-1816, London and Whitby, England
Love scenes: brief, sensual, explicit
The first book in Elizabeth Michels' Tricks of the Ton series, this is her debut.
I’ve been reading historical romance since November 2011, and the genre continues to delight, entertain, and even surprise me.
This is a very different and unusual plot. The heroine, Lillian (Lily), is an educated lady, a great reader, and under the heavy thumb of her older brothers and at their mercy where her very survival is concerned. This was, unfortunately, usual in women’s history in England during this time as an unmarried woman became the responsibility of male family members to provide for them. Jane Austen and her sister and mother were all supported by Jane’s brothers as women of their class at this time did not work, of course. If they were lucky. Some women, like Lily, had no such luxury or advantage. “’Lillian, the affairs of men are truly none of yours. Now run along. I have business to see to with Mr. Habersham.’” (p54)
Fortunately, Lily has one kind brother and ally in the dapper Nathaniel, whom she stays with in London while her other brothers, Josiah and Solomon, husband hunt for her so they no longer have to provide for her.
Devon and Lily’s first meeting is quite surprising and unexpected, both to Lily as well as this reader. It sets their unorthodox courtship on an amusing and haphazard course. When they meet again, his blackmail schemes for her and their shared juvenile pranks are some of the funniest and craziest scenes in the story. It’s how they get to know each other.
Devon is a reluctant duke with interests in science and investments in shipping. Like Edward Ferrars, Jane Austen’s reserved hero in Sense and Sensibility, he prefers the simple private life but he has little choice in what is expected of him. His father was considered mad so it is rumored that Devon is as well; he is known as the “Mad Duke of Thornwood,” a rather gothic moniker in this rather lighthearted romance and he is happy to oblige the ton to live his life as he wishes.
There is a wonderfully heated dance between Devon and Lily at the Dillsworth ball that brought to mind the fiery encounter between Darcy and Elizabeth at the Netherfield ball in Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. During this scene, we also meet Sue Green and Viscount Steelings, hero and heroine of the next book in the series, Desperately Seeking Suzanna who act quite mysteriously here.
The titles in this series are clever takes on books and movies, this one being Claire Cook’s Must Love Dogs. But the plot of this romance reminded me at first of Jennifer McQuiston’s debut, What Happens in Scotland, when the heroine woke up in bed with the hero and he also thought her a thief when she disappeared.
Secondary characters are strong, especially Devon’s persistent mother, the Duchess of Thornwood; she was a girlhood friend of Lily’s late mother. And Lily’s brother, Nathaniel, is a dear with mysterious secrets of his own.
“'I am the side dish next to her roast. No one orders simple greens.'” (p174)
”’Dear, you are Thornwood. Whenever you decide to arrive, it is always precisely the right time.’” (p275)
“Even after all he’d done, a small part of her still wanted to say yes. It was the same part that liked seeing flowers about to bloom and reading stories about love, and that believed the best of people, even liars.” (p281)
A charming and quirky novel of manners. Fans of Valerie Bowman and Samantha Grace will enjoy.
Jane Austen=pure entertainment.
Read: THESE HAUNTED HEARTS: A REGENCY GHOST STORY by Anna Campbell
On one fateful wedding day at Marston Hall in 1818, four linked destinies hover in the balance.
Josiah Aston, Earl of Stansfield, wakes to discover he’s seventy years dead and he alone can free his beloved wife Isabella’s tormented soul. But first he must convince her to trust him against all the evidence…
Lady Isabella Verney, beautiful and tempestuous, married the man of her dreams, only to die violently on her wedding day. Every clue points to Josiah as the murderer…
Is true love strong enough to defeat ancient malevolence forever?
Miles Hartley, Viscount Kendall, is society’s ideal catch, but what does that matter if he can’t convince Calista Aston that he loves her? When an age-old curse strikes, only by proving himself worthy of her faith can he save their happiness…
Lady Calista Aston, noted bluestocking, fears she loves Miles Hartley not wisely, but too well. On her wedding day, her doubts place her at evil’s mercy. When death and disaster loom, is it courage or mad folly to believe that Miles loves her in spite of all her faults?
On one fateful wedding day at Marston Hall in 1818, will the lovers emerge triumphant or will darkness conquer all?
I will read anything by Anna Campbell. She writes beautiful and lyrical love stories that are very romantic. I haven’t read too many historical romances with a supernatural element to them—Katharine Ashe’s lovely Captive Bride comes to mind. However, when I enjoy an author’s writing style, I will read almost anything they write.
Here there are two couples, Calista and Miles, about to be married, and Josiah and Isabella, ghosts in Calista’s family house. The shared link is a mysterious—I would say evil—Chinese bed that affects lovers and breeds distrust.
Josiah Aston discovers he is dead and seeks Isabella Verey, his long lost bride, throughout the house but, when he finds her, she is horrified to see him as she believes he murdered her in 1749 on their wedding day. He in turn cannot believe that he did such a thing nor that she would believe that of him.
In 1818, Calista Aston, Josiah’s descendant, is a sweet but unremarkable bluestocking who cannot believe that her handsome and kind fiancé, Miles, loves her enough to marry her. It is the eve before their wedding, and he tries to persuade her to anticipate their vows. She fears that his love will eventually fade but is too afraid to let Miles know her feelings; for his part, Miles suspects what she feels but can’t help but feel that she doesn’t love him enough to trust his love for her.
The supernatural elements here are not scary in any way nor are they meant to be. There is always a melancholy overtone to ghost stories that feature romance; lost love and all that. And this story certainly feels melancholy but it was also hopeful and poignant. It is a nice juxtaposition of two couples from different generations both disturbed by a lack of trust on both sides; trust is the key to allowing love in.
As an aside, this cover had the same models used (though a different pose) for Grace Burrowes’ novella, Morgan and Archer.
A short and sweet dual love story with light supernatural elements.
What I imagine for the setting of one of Katharine Ashe’s Rogues of the Sea novels.
Read: THE SCANDALOUS, DISSOLUTE, NO-GOOD MR. WRIGHT by Tessa Dare
Note: page references are from an ePUB version of the book.
Miss Eliza Cade is a lady in waiting. And waiting. Because of a foolish mistake in her youth, she’s not allowed “out” in Society until her three older sisters are wed. But while she’s trying to be good, she keeps bumping elbows—and more distressingly, lips—with notorious rake Harry Wright. Every moment she spends with him, she risks complete ruin. The sensual passions he stirs in her are so wrong…but Eliza just can’t resist Mr. Wright.
This delightful novella, with a sparkling heroine, a dashing hero, and wonderful secondary characters, originally appeared in the e-book anthology, Three Weddings and a Murder.
Eliza Cade and Harry Wright are two of a kind. From their provocative first meeting in her family’s morning room to their consecutive meetings through the years of the story, their attraction grows as each finds they have more in common than they know. They both have wild, untamed spirits, except Harry embraces his while Eliza feels hers must be tamped down as a lady doesn’t act that way. “Her impetuous nature was the cause of all the unhappiness in her life. She’d spent years trying to deny or overcome that part of herself—all in vain. This man saw it anyway. And, devil take him, he liked her for it."(p35)
Each chapter title begins with “An Invitation to —,” such as “An Invitation to a Party” and “An Invitation to Scandal,” following the progression of their courtship. It is more the growth of a friendship, as they fall in love and don’t even realize it. The story also takes place over a four year period, from 1810-1814, as Harry and Eliza meet occasionally at social events.
Harry is over thirty, “ancient” in Eliza’s opinion at the beginning of their story. He first sees her as a sweet, naive young girl with spirit, but soon finds himself enchanted by her attitude toward life, her love for her sisters, her ability to make him laugh, as well as her beauty.
There is a particularly poignant moment in the story, involving Georgie, Eliza’s sister, and Georgie’s fiancé, that recalls a similar event that happened to Cassandra Austen, Jane’s older sister. Tessa Dare is a Jane Austen fan and is influenced by her writing so I can’t help but think she might have had this in mind.
One thing I love about Tessa Dare's stories is her humor, and it shines throughout this novella.
"Harry felt he’d be sick. The last thing Brentley needed was a summer romance—especially not a romance with a dewy-eyed poet who, for all her reading, couldn’t outsmart the average hedgerow. Romeo and Juliet were just as idiotic, and look how that had turned out." (p21)
“An unreasoned surge of anger swelled in his breast. Not anger at her, precisely. Just anger at a society that would suffer nothing truly wild to last. Beauty must be capped with ugly bonnets. Hedges must be shaped and trimmed. The world must be colonized. Motherless rogues must inherit dukedoms. Tigresses must be tamed.” (p23)
”’It’s like this,’ he repeated in a low voice, just for her. ‘I’m not that sort of man. I don’t wait for the things I want.’” (p28)
“The ribbon ties at the back of her gown swished and floated in her wake. Adding in the brandy’s blurring effect on his brain and the torchlight’s gifts to her delicate features…she could have been a sprite or a nymph. A creature of ether and quicksilver, swimming through the murk of light.” (p38)
“He was taken with her. Smitten. He was a man in his thirties, in the throes of the most adolescent, puppyish attraction possible.” (p61)
A lovely and romantic story by one of my favorite authors.
Read: SAPPHIRES ARE AN EARL’S BEST FRIEND by Shana Galen
Note: page references are from an ARC, courtesy of the author.
Lily Dawson, dubbed the Countess of Charm by the Prince Regent himself, plays the role of the courtesan flawlessly while her real purpose is spying in the service of the Crown. Her mission now is to seduce a duke to test his true loyalties. She’ll do it, even though the man she really wants is Andrew Booth-Payne, Earl of Darlington—the duke’s son.
Andrew is furious when he finds himself rivaling his father for Lily’s attention. When he uncovers Lily’s mission, Andrew is faced with impossible choices. It seems he is destined to betray either his family, his country, or the longings of his own heart…
Time period: Regency London and Nottinghamshire, England
Love scenes: sensuous and descriptive
This is the last book in Shana Galen’s elegant and exciting Jewels of the Ton trilogy—about three courtesans, darlings of the good-time Prince Regent, who are not exactly what they seem—and my favorite of the three.
Shana Galen writes historical Regency romance with action adventure plots and a mystery. And nobody writes fight scenes like she does; they are realistic without being graphically gruesome or gratuitous. I especially enjoy how Lily holds her own and defends herself against men.
In this series, three “courtesans,” Juliette, Fallon, and Lily—known as the Jewels of the Ton—were all rescued from life on the streets by the kindly and elderly Earl of Sinclair and his formidable countess. Society believes they have an unorthodox sexual arrangement with the earl while his wife turns a blind eye, but appearances are deceiving in more ways than one.
As with all of Galen’s stories, there is much humor, emotion, intrigue, as well as a sexy and genuine romance. I like how this series combines the elegance of London society with an insidious espionage plot. There are beautiful balls and gorgeous gowns, fast-paced chase and fight scenes, and a poignant and mature love story. While all three courtesans are not virgins, they each hold secrets from their pasts that they carry heavy in their hearts.
Lily Dawson, known as the Countess of Charm, is a green-eyed redhead who works undercover for the Crown; she really has two disguises. She has managed quite well on her own but, when she sets her sights on the Duke of Ravenscroft, she doesn’t count on his handsome son, Andrew, getting in her way. He also gets into her heart as she has been in love with him forever. Lily’s past secrets as well as her feelings for Andrew interfere in her current mission.
Andrew, the Earl of Darlington—”the Darling of the Ton"—is in mourning for his beloved mother, the only woman who loved him after his father expressed disappointment in his only son. He is trying to assert himself as the heir to a dukedom when he also has a reputation as a free-loving and good-time rogue. But he is appalled that the duke is keeping company with Lily, a renowned courtesan, as well as a fast crowd mere months after his mother’s death. He tries to prevent Lily from getting too close to his father when the duke is the very person she suspects of treason and the man she needs to be close to. With every fiery encounter of witty and sparring conversation, Lily and Andrew are drawn to each other as they get to know one another and their secrets.
Lily’s covert profession as a spy both fascinates and shocks Andrew; he comes to admire her and to feel a sort of shame that he hasn’t done anything so noble except be a dissolute and selfish aristocrat.
The historical aspects in Galen’s books are spot on and fascinating to read, especially the terrible and limited choices of women and the consequences of their actions, intentional or not. “She had no one in Town waiting to save her. Although the unions between the ton and the demimonde were generally perceived as mésalliances, they served only to elevate the courtesans involved. A broken engagement would send her to the bottom of the social ladder.” (p138)
The secondary characters here are entertaining. The Countess of Sinclair is a dear as is Andrew’s bookish (and inquisitive) sister, Emma. The other Jewels make brief appearances as well; Juliette, Andrew’s former crush, is happily married to the austere Duke of Pelham while Fallon is planning her wedding to Warrick Fitzhugh, a war veteran who also works for the Crown with Lily.
A notable minor character is quite intriguing. Flynn, a mysterious nobleman Andrew knows nothing about except to share the occasional drink in a seedy dive near Seven Dials, is very enigmatic and I wonder if Galen might do a future story about this character, especially when we are told he is “heir to a title and he had done something horrible and did not deserve it.” (p3)
Jane Austen moment: there is a family by the name of Musgrove* in the village near Darlington’s estate.
“She sipped chocolate in bed and skimmed over the Cytherian Intelligence column.” (p34)
“Horrid man. If he would only stop kissing her, she could hate him properly.” (p75)
If you enjoy action and adventure mixed with elegance and tender emotion as well as Regency history and manners, you will love Shana Galen’s stories.
*From Jane Austen’s Persuasion.
Listened to: TO DESIRE A DEVIL by Elizabeth Hoyt and read by Anne Flosnik
Note: I listened to this book in e-audio format, read, once again, by the wonderful Anne Flosnik.
Reynaud St. Aubyn has spent the last seven years in hellish captivity. Now half mad with fever he bursts into his ancestral home and demands his due. Can this wild-looking man truly be the last earl’s heir, thought murdered by Indians years ago?
Beatrice Corning, the niece of the present earl, is a proper English miss. But she has a secret: No real man has ever excited her more than the handsome youth in the portrait in her uncle’s home. Suddenly, that very man is here, in the flesh—and luring her into his bed.
Only Beatrice can see past Reynaud’s savagery to the noble man inside. For his part, Reynaud is drawn to this lovely lady, even as he is suspicious of her loyalty to her uncle. But can Beatrice’s love tame a man who will stop at nothing to regain his title—even if it means sacrificing her innocence?
The final book in Elizabeth Hoyt’s engrossing Legend of the Four Soldiers series.
- Here, we finally get to see what became of Reynaud St. Aubyn, Emmeline’s brother first alluded to in To Taste Temptation. Long thought dead at the Indian massacre at Spinners Falls in the American colonies, he returns to the family townhouse in London, during an afternoon political tea and now occupied by the current and elderly, Lord Blanchard. Living with him is his ward and niece, Beatrice Corning, who briefly appeared at the end of book three, To Beguile a Beast.
- Reynaud’s anger and resentment are vividly apparent in his violent entrance into the townhouse and his flashback reaction when he is ambushed by someone who wishes him dead. He has been irreversibly damaged by long years of brutal captivity.
- Beatrice is a very plain, quiet, yet elegant lady. She takes care of her beloved elderly uncle, Lord Blanchard, acts as his hostess, and is loving and caring to her friends, especially Jeremy and Lottie.
- The relationship between Reynaud and Beatrice is stormy and dramatic; he is often angry and she is usually trying to calm him. For his part, he comes to enjoy her company and resents it when she isn’t around. This is selfish of him but she is the perfect woman for him since she is selfless.
- The romance and love scenes, especially the first one, are disturbing in their intensity; she is in shock over the death of a good friend and I feel that Reynaud takes full advantage of her.
- Reynaud is a truly damaged hero; yes, he endured great hardship and survived, but I didn’t find a lot to like about him; at the same time, he has had no life for years and is lost. He seems to take and she only to give and acquiesce. This is kind of a hard romance to warm up to.
- Alistair, Sam, and Vale reappear here as they unmask the traitor they have been searching for in this entire series. I have to say I didn’t guess, and the manner with which he is revealed is very well done.
- Anne Flosnik has become one of my favorite narrators of audiobook romances. Her diction is clear, precise, and differentiates wonderfully between characters; I have no trouble understanding who is speaking.
My favorite story of the series is To Seduce a Sinner (Vale and Melisande) followed by To Beguile a Beast (Alistair and Helen). Though beautifully written and flawlessly narrated, I just didn’t feel the romance enough between Beatrice and Reynaud; it isn’t as powerful and it feels rather dysfunctional.
I intend to continue reading Hoyt’s critically acclaimed and highly entertaining Maiden Lane series very soon; I’m up to the third book, Scandalous Desires.
It’s how I imagine Cleveland, the Palmers’ estate in Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility.
Read: LORD OF SCOUNDRELS by Loretta Chase
Note: page references are from an ePUB version.
They call him many names but Angelic isn’t one of them…
Sebastian Ballister, the notorious Marquess of Dain, is big, bad, and dangerous to know. No respectable woman would have anything to do with the “Bane and Blight of the Ballisters”—and he wants nothing to do with respectable women. He’s determined to continue doing what he does best—sin and sin again—and all that’s going swimmingly, thank you…until the day a shop door opens and she walks in.
She’s too intelligent to fall for the worst man in the world…
Jessica Trent is a determined young woman, and she’s going to drag her imbecile brother off the road to ruin, no matter what it takes. If saving him—and with him, her family and future—means taking on the devil himself, she won’t back down. The trouble is, the devil in question is so shockingly irresistible, and the person who needs the most saving is—herself!
I deviated from my reading list to read a book I kept seeing on everyone’s must-read list. And it was completely worth it. I’ve read and enjoyed Loretta Chase before—her most recent Dressmakers series—and she’s an icon in the genre.
Stories that feature a troubled hero are nothing new, but this book takes it to new heights. Here is a man truly scarred by his hurtful childhood. Abandoned by his mother, ignored by his father who took his wife’s desertion against his only son, Lord Dain is a deeply pained soul. He acts out in the worst ways, first in school with his fists, then later in a debauched and immoral life. Nicknames for him include “Lord Beelzebub” and “Blight and Bane of the Ballisters.”
Jessica Trent is a lady with a capital “L,” raised by a femme fatale grandmother who isn’t afraid of sexuality and who teaches her granddaughter not to ignore these natural feelings. So when Jessica meets Dain as she tries to wrestle her hapless brother,”bacon brain” Bertie, from Dain’s clutches and bad influence, she is unprepared for the maelstrom of feelings and emotions that Dain evokes in her. She so unnerves and annoys him that he puts up with her idiot brother, to his annoying distraction, just to spite her.
What a match these two are. I absolutely love how Jessica stands up fearlessly to Dain, matching him move for move, wit for wit. She never ran from him screaming as so many ladies usually did. The scene when they first meet in the antiques’ shop is indicative of this, when she brazenly purchases a timepiece that provocatively displays a man servicing a woman for her grandmother; Dain’s reaction is priceless. “Then she had taken out a magnifying glass, of all things, and evaluated the lewd timepiece as calmly as though it were a rare edition of Fox’s Book of Martyrs.” (p30) Jessica continues to surprise and shock Dain at every turn and their courtship is a delicious war of wits.
Dain sees himself as ugly, mean, unworthy of love, so he figures, why even try? Nobody will love him as nobody has loved him before. “He was a Dartmoor soul, where the wind blew fierce and the rain beat down upon grim, grey rocks, and where the pretty green patches of ground turned out to be mires that suck down an ox.” (p26) The scene when Dain secretly watches Jessica from afar, early in the book, is particularly poignant and reveals so much of his inner pain. He falls for her against his will. The ring scene is wonderfully done and, again, discloses Dain’s lonely self. “Still, his heart didn’t stop pounding, even when he drew it out and clumsily pressed it into her hand.” (p123)
After Dain meets Jessica, he is tormented to no end. He can’t concentrate anymore on his dissolute activities. “If he lusted for a whore, he paid her and had her. If he lusted for a respectable female, he found a whore as a substitute, paid her, and had her.” (p40-41) This torment angers him as he fights it every step of the way. “You made me want you, he told her in his mother’s language. You’ve made me heartsick, lonely. You’ve made me crave what I vowed I would never need, never seek.” (p89) Dain loves Jessica’s fiery personality and, when she tries to be the docile wife, he finds he absolutely hates it. “A week with this amiable, blindly obedient stranger left him acutely uncomfortable. After two weeks, he was wretched.” (p214)
This book is unafraid of facing unpleasant and disturbing events: the abandonment of a child, prostitutes and orgies, mention of urination, and illegitimate children (by-blows). It is both shocking yet very realistic and well conveyed in the story.
This book also takes place in Paris, a different locale from the usual historical romances, before moving on to Dain’s ancestral home in Devon in England.
Despite the darkness of the story, there are many comic moments here. Jessica’s dopey brother, Bertie, the repartee between Jessica and Dain, and Jessica’s refreshing and sassy grandmother, Genevieve, all add humorous moments to this serious story.
“Lord Dain had never before in his life met a female who’d even heard of an equation, let alone was aware that one balanced them.” (p25)
“'You are the wickedest man who ever lived. And you eat small children for breakfast, their nannies tell them, if they are naughty.'” (p31)
“Hers was a tone and manner that assured the listener of only two choices: obedience or death.” (p58)
”’Once you let a lady—virtuous or not—fasten upon you, you become the owner of a piece of troublesome property, where the tenants are forever in revolt and into which you are endlessly pouring money and labor. All for the occasional privilege—at her whim—of getting what you could get from any streetwalker for a few shillings.’” (p71)”
“He had forgotten, though, how bitterly alone they made him feel, and how the loneliness enraged him. He had forgotten how it twisted his insides into knots and made him want to howl and smash things.” (p82)
“A bloodred stone for the brave girl who’d shed his blood. And diamonds flashing fiery sparks, because lightning had flashed the first time she’d kissed him.” (124)
“In her experience, after trying desperately to knock each other’s brains from their skulls, men promptly become the very dearest of friends and celebrated their intimacy by becoming cockeyed drunk.” (p142)
“Yes, he answered silently. He wanted help. He wanted help being born over again and coming out right this time.” (p146)
An intelligent and brilliant work that deserves to be read by anyone who loves historical romance.
English Country House (by msganching)
Read: BETWEEN A RAKE AND A HARD PLACE by Connie Mason and Mia Marlowe
The third and final book in Connie Mason and Mia Marlowe's entertaining and collaborative historical Royal Rakes series, this was my favorite.
Lady Serena’s List of Forbidden Pleasures
Attend an exclusively male club.
Smoke a cigar.
Have a fortune told by gypsies.
Dance the scandalous waltz.
Sir Jonah Sharp thinks Lady Serena Osbourne will be just like any other debutante, and seducing her will be one of the easiest services he’s ever done for the Crown. Then he catches her wearing trousers and a mustache in his gentleman’s club and she demands he teach her to smoke a cigar. But what will truly be Jonah’s undoing is finding out he’s an item on her list too, which makes him determined to bring her all the forbidden pleasures she can handle.
The premise of this series is based on historical fact. It takes place in 1818, when the three ducal sons of King George competed to wed and birth an heir…the next King of England. Unbelievably, the newspapers called it the Hymen Race Terrific.
The three heroes in the Royal Rakes series were all blackmailed in a questionable war incident to ruin the potential bridal candidates so that the royal line couldn’t continue.
The story starts out right away with mischief and excitement. Lady Serena Osbourne, a candidate to become the mother of the next King of England, has a long list of Forbidden Pleasures she wishes to try, the first being to pose as a man and gain access to an exclusive gentlemen’s club. She meets Sir Jonah Sharp when he helps her escape the club after her ruse is discovered. He later ends up helping her to accomplish her list. This plot reminded me of Nine Rules to Break When Romancing a Rake by Sarah MacLean but, in this story, Lady Serena is a very strong young lady, the daughter of a marquis, not an awkward and unconfident woman. She knows her duty yet she is determined to live her life on her own terms before she fulfills her commitments. I admired her strength and determination to follow through on her adventures and it is interesting to watch her strive for more from her life than mere duty.
Jonah Sharp is a gentleman with an air of command and mystery. He has earned a baronetcy under secret circumstances, but he eventually confides in Serena when her father arranges for him to protect her. This is almost too convenient. After all, he is being blackmailed to ruin her so what better way than to be in close proximity to her? I love the scene where Jonah stands up to her father when he tries to strong-arm Jonah into doing his bidding. A former military man, Jonah works for the Crown under dark and covert circumstances.
But Jonah’s conscience gets in the way of his assignment to ruin Serena. He comes to admire her very much and to care for her. And, after he confides in her, she comes to feel more for him than friendship as well. The dialogue and conversations throughout the story are wonderfully realistic as Jonah and Serena come to know and care for one another.
Secondary characters are well rounded and colorfully portrayed. Amelia, Serena’s former governess-turned-companion—think Miss Taylor to Emma Woodhouse in Jane Austen’s Emma—is a baron’s daughter without a dowry. When Serena insults her dear friend with some hurtful words, it is painful to read.
Rhys Warrington and Nate Colton (the heroes from Waking Up with a Rake and One Night with a Rake) reappear as they band together to find the person who framed them in the war incident that hung over their heads. I enjoyed their banter and assistance to Jonah in his current assignment.
The romance is so beautiful to read I was worried how Serena would react when Jonah’s nefarious scheme was revealed. Both are very likable and I found myself rooting for them all the way. When Jonah helps her achieve a Forbidden Pleasure (ahem) not on her list, her hilarious first reaction is outrage that women don’t know about this and then proposes to write a pamphlet on how women can pleasure themselves until marriage.
Jonah admires Serena’s mind, something that both amazes and impresses her. “His odd compliment made heat bloom up her neck and spread across her cheeks. Some women were praised for their eyes, their swan-like necks, and white hands. Sonnets had been composed to the dimples on a lady’s knees in some of the more salacious love poetry she’d read. She’d never heard of a man praising the way a woman’s mind worked. It was the nicest thing anyone had ever said to her.” (p81)
The excitement of two parallel but connected mysteries as well as an entertaining romance is so engrossing I didn’t realize that the first love scene didn’t happen until page 102 and the full love scene until page 289. It didn’t seem like forever; it seemed just right.
One of the things I love about historical romance is the history. I learned that a “claque” was a paid group of clappers that was introduced to the theater during this time (1818). Mia Marlowe is a former opera singer so her theater descriptions are a delight to read…and this librarian loved researching her historical mentions.
I also love discovering the little attentions to detail in historical romance. For example, the image of sipping hot chocolate and hot buttery scones at breakfast (pp258-259).
"She dreamed of a few things for herself before she left this world. She wanted to experience romance. She wanted to feel passion. She wanted to know what it was to give herself to someone she cared for and be given to in return." (p19)
"And another part of him, a confused part, wondered if he was just another item to be checked off her confounded list. He wasn’t sure why it should be so, but it irritated the fool out of him to think he might be lumped with smoking a cigar. Neither more nor less important, but merely something Serena wished to try." (p208)
A lovely story filled with excitement and emotion, realistic and interesting situations, a poignant and beautiful romance, well-drawn and colorful characters, and two concurrent mysteries running throughout the novel.
The dovecote at Nymans in West Sussex. Via The National Trust Collections Treasure Hunt
Historical romance novel settings…
Read: A WICKED PURSUIT by Isabella Bradford
Review is based on an ARC obtained via Netgalley.
In Isabella Bradford’s enthralling new trilogy, three noble brothers—London’s most scandalous rakes—are about to do the unthinkable: settle down. Harry Fitzroy, Earl of Hargreave, is the first to meet his match and lose his heart … to a lady he least expected.
As the eldest son of the Duke of Breconridge, Harry Fitzroy is duty-bound to marry—and marry well. Giving up his rakish ways for the pleasures of a bride’s bed becomes a delightful prospect when Harry chooses beautiful Lady Julia Barclay, the catch of the season. But a fall from his horse puts a serious crimp in his plans. Abandoned by Julia before he can propose, the unlucky bachelor finds himself trapped in the country in the care of Julia’s younger sister.
Harry has never met a woman like Lady Augusta. Utterly without artifice, Gus is clever and capable, and seems to care not a fig for society. After a taboo kiss awakens passion that takes them both by surprise, Harry realizes he’d almost given his heart to the wrong sister. While London tongues wag, he’ll use his most seductive powers of persuasion to convince the reluctant Gus that she belongs with him—as his equal, his love, his wife.
Isabella Bradford is a pseudonym for Susan Holloway Scott, and her writing style is very plot-driven, engaging, and well-paced. I thoroughly enjoyed her Wylder Sisters series and this first book is a wonderful start to her newest series, The Breconride Brothers.
This series takes place, as the Wylder Sisters series did, in late 18th century Georgian England, 1768. The Breconridges are cousins to the heroes from the Wylder Sisters series, and the Duke of Sheffield (from When the Duke Found Love), Harry’s cousin, makes an appearance here.
Harry is first attracted to Julia, Augusta’s spirited, classically beautiful, but very shallow half sister. When he visits Julia’s country estate, he fully intends to propose, but is thwarted at every turn mostly by the lady herself. What he doesn’t count on is her abandoning him once he falls off a horse, a fall she precipitates with her flirtatious and hard to get behavior.
Instead, it is Augusta who directs people to assist him after his fall and who cares for him as he hovers near death. He doesn’t even know that Julia has a sister until he meets Augusta, lovingly known as Gus to her family. She is pretty but not as beautiful as her sister, but she is kind, sweet, and virtuous, a genuine lady of thought and feeling, something Harry comes to treasure and adore. Indeed, he comes to rely on her and expect her company in his pain, as he learns to walk again. It is the one good thing to come of his tragic accident.
Augusta’s father’s nickname for her is “duck.” As in Ugly Duckling? She runs the estate’s household and takes care of everything and everyone, including Harry. She is like the older sister, more mature and responsible. “She was kind, and generous, and reliable, exactly as Tewkes had said, and all good reasons for why Gus was the sister he remembered through the pain and fever.” (p62) For all that, however, she is a country girl as well as a lady, with no experience with men and, being alone with Harry, no one to talk to of her fears and concerns. Later, when they marry, Harry helps ease her fears just as she had given him strength in his recovery. He encourages her to be herself, which is why he fell in love with her in the first place.
When her father chases after Julia, upon her quick flight to London, Gus is left to care for Harry in their absence with only servants in attendance. She becomes worried for her reputation, as she is a lady and hopes to marry someday. “Julia wasn’t the only daughter who needed him. His presence would make everything honorable and respectable, and he’d make sure no one would ever question why Gus had spent so much time alone with Harry.”
Harry, an heir to a dukedom, is a man very much of his time. He is young, healthy, and virile, had toured the Continent after graduation and enjoyed the highlife of London along with several mistresses. He is laid low by his injury in a time when being crippled was a huge detriment to his manhood and his pride. He doesn’t want Gus to have to take care of him. “He wanted to be worthy for Gus. For her, he wanted to be whole, without flaw, for that was what she deserved.” (p144) Yet he must learn to accept her love whether he is lame or not. The way his so-called friends cruelly tease his affliction is horrifying and it is touching how Gus makes him feel better. Harry in turn protects Gus and helps ease her way into unfamiliar London society.
Harry and Gus’ growing romance is lovely and sweet. I love their dinner together and the time and effort he takes to make it special for her. Although he first falls in love with her kindness, he also loves her fair hair, her freckles, and her tiny feet. Their love scenes are explicit but also very tender and sweet.
A thoroughly entertaining and charming Georgian-era romance; I look forward to the rest of the series.
“He tried to reason himself out of fears which the different judgment of the apothecary seemed to render absurd; but the many hours of each day in which he was left entirely alone were but too favorable for the admission of every melancholy idea, and he could not expel from his mind the persuasion that he should see Marianne no more.”
– Jane Austen, Sense and Sensibility (1811)
Read: A MAN ABOVE REPROACH by Evelyn Pryce
In 1830s London, scandalized whispers surround the pub known as The Sleeping Dove. A hidden bordello, the rumors say, catering to straying nobles eager to shed the trappings of their stations. Josephine Grant knows the rumors are true—she plays piano at the Dove, known only as “The Bawdy Bluestocking” to the pub’s faithful. Tales swirl as to her real origin: some patrons claim that she was an orphan prodigy, others go so far as to name her concubine to the King.The society ladies call the reluctant Duke of Lennox “The Uncatchable,” not that he cares for them or their nicknames. Elias Addison’s estate was thrust upon him when his father died and it has been little else but a burden. He spends his days mired in responsibilities and his nights pursued at endless balls by fortune-hunting debutantes. He is morose, serious, and tense. When a friend brings him to the Sleeping Dove in an attempt to lighten his mood, the consequences of those good intentions are far greater. When the Duke of Lennox finds himself at the Bawdy Bluestocking’s piano, they begin to play a dangerous melody. Though Elias cannot resist courting Josie, she has a past to protect, a shaky future, and no time for frivolous nobility with soft hands. When the Duke uncovers the truth, will he wish he had never begun the tune?
A new-to-me author’s assured debut, Evelyn Pryce won the 2013 Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award for romance for this novel.
Elias Addison reminded me of Oliver Townsende, the hero from Valerie Bowman’s novella, It Happened Under the Mistletoe. A duke who was wary of any woman’s interest in him for fear they were only interested in the title and wealth, not the man underneath. Elias wasn’t a ladies’ man but he wasn’t a virgin either; he just valued a woman more than her body. He also craved an equal who matched his mind.
Elias also brought to mind Oakley from Sabrina Darby’s erotic novella, "The Education of Lord Oakley," another inexperienced peer dragged to a pleasure house by a well-meaning friend when he would rather be home reading.
Josephine Grant—not her real name—was a bookstore owner* trying to make ends meet by also playing piano at the Sleeping Dove brothel. I loved that she was also a sort of rabble rouser, albeit in a secret and dignified way, writing books, watching the goings on at the brothel, and helping the unfortunate prostitutes she met find a better life. Her mysteriousness in wanting to remain unknown to Elias—in part because he believed she was a commoner and also because she was engaging in illicit activity—intrigued him even though he knew, in the back of his mind, that any relationship between them was ill advised. Elias wanted to get to know her, not merely seduce her. ”Elias found that he liked being insulted. It happened so little that it was fretting to be addressed by someone who wasn’t shrinking away or flirting with his family name and money.” (p51)
Josephine despised the laziness of the aristocracy and the ways they ruined lives for their own pleasure, which made her instantly wary and distrustful of Elias. But when Elias realized she was the author of On Society’s Ills and the Real Price of Prostitution, “he couldn’t take anything about this woman at face value…he wanted to unravel her in numerous ways.” (p30) But against her better judgement, she inadvertently fell in love with him before she knew it.
I very much enjoyed the chapter epigraphs, with quotes from both Elias’ essays as well as Josephine’s provocative treatise.
Logophile’s delight: frowzy, rotter, nettlesome, vainglorious, epical.
There was a nice Jane Austen moment when Elias’ mother bought some Austen novels because her friends were all talking about her works and she felt out of touch. In 1832, Austen had been dead for fifteen years, but her works were being republished during this time.
I very much enjoyed how love opened Elias’ heart and reserved nature to friends and family, the secondary characters in this story, especially Elias’ mother and precocious sister and his friends Nick and Frost. “He found that after all this time, he wanted his family around him. He wanted to be among them, not trapped in a tower alone with the weight of the world on his back, like some tortured fairy tale prince.” (p172) He was also so straitlaced and serious that, once he fell in love, he surpassed his friends in their schemes and whims to win his lady’s reluctant heart.
Elias’ new introduction to Josephine’s book, which he republished, was truly beautiful and moving. It was the moment she realized she needed to allow him to love her.
“Josephine sighed the fat sigh, the one she reserved for dire situations, the one that expanded to fill entire rooms. This room, for certain, and perhaps the whole block.” (p33)
“This was the exact reason she railed against the nobility in her book. The men had nothing to do but indulge their basest desires, whether or not they ruined lives in the process.” (p40)
“She couldn’t be serious, because he knew it would be a lie. She didn’t think him above reproach. In fact, he thought she wanted to reproach him over and over. Repeatedly and personally.” (p58)
Elegantly written with nice touches of humor, likable characters, and lovely period detail, A Man Above Reproach was a very enjoyable read. I look forward to reading more.
*For another bookstore owner heroine, try Amara Royce’s lovely debut Never Too Late.