AustenStudent

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

“'I do not know what your opinion may be, Mrs. Weston,' said Mr. Knightley, 'of this great intimacy between Emma and Harriet Smith, but I think it a bad thing.'”

– Jane Austen, Emma, (1815)

Read: THE TROUBLE WITH HONOR by Julia London

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Desperate times call for daring measures as Honor Cabot, the eldest stepdaughter of the wealthy Earl of Beckington, awaits her family’s ruin. Upon the earl’s death she and her sisters stand to lose the luxury of their grand home - and their place on the pedestal of society - to their stepbrother and his social-climbing fiancée. Forced to act quickly, Honor makes a devil’s bargain with the only rogue in London who can seduce her stepbrother’s fiancée out of the Cabots’ lives for good.

An illegitimate son of a duke, George Easton was born of scandal and grows his fortune through dangerous risks. But now he and Honor are dabbling in a perilous dance of seduction that puts her reputation and his jaded heart on the line. And as unexpected desire threatens to change the rules of their secret game, the stakes may become too high even for a notorious gambler and a determined, free-spirited debutante to handle.

The first book in the Cabot Sisters series by new-to-me author, Julia London.

I am very impressed with this story, with the memorable characters, with its execution, its delightful dialogue, and its ending. It reminds me of Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility with its themes of money and power, and of women’s vulnerability in a society ruled by men. 

Honor Cabot is the eldest of four virtue-named sisters (Grace, Prudence, and Mercy being the others). Her heart was once broken so her motto these last few years has been to have fun and live for herself and not rely on any man for happiness. Her beloved stepfather, an earl, is dying and her mother is suffering from what I thought might be Alzheimer’s—she suffered a possible concussion in a carriage accident and her memory is fading.

Honor’s beloved stepbrother, Augustine, who has always been kind if a bit dim and easily influenced, is engaged to marry Monica Hargrove, once Honor’s good friend but now her nemesis. Monica has always been a bit jealous of Honor’s beauty and fashion sense and now Monica has the power to possibly toss Honor, her sisters, and their ailing mother out to pasture; which is something Honor cannot and will not allow.

This is a frightening scenario unfamiliar in our modern twenty-first century world. Recall Fanny Dashwood’s persistent and cunning persuasion of her husband to not provide for his half sisters and stepmother in Sense and Sensibility

So Honor decides to persuade George Easton, whom she daringly once met and played in a gaming hell, to turn Monica’s head. Of course, he thinks she’s mad and it’s a mad scheme but amazingly, he agrees as he takes many risks and enjoys them. But he hadn’t counted on Monica becoming suspicious. I’ve seen this trope before, as Emma Harlow in Lynn Messina’s lovely The Harlow Hoyden, also asks a man to seduce a woman away from her fiancé.

”’If I could take up a sword and fight for it, I would. If I had a vast fortune at my disposal, I would use it. But I am a woman, and the only options I have are to connive as I promise myself to the highest bidder before all is discovered.’” (p132)

George Easton is the unacknowledged son of a duke, born to a chambermaid who managed to secure for him a gentleman’s education and stipend, as befitting a man of his class, although he can never be truly recognized by Polite Society. He is a self-made man who has invested a considerable sum in shipping, which has thus far proven to be a dubious venture. 

During their schemes, both Honor and George find themselves often alone and are drawn to each other in a way that pleasures as it confuses them both. Honor, because she only wants to feel lust for the man and George because, underneath her bravado and daring, he knows she’s an innocent and he is a honorable man. He feels badly for her when he realizes the reasons behind her scheme, as he felt protective about his own mother. 

”’Do you think that men are the only ones allowed to desire?’” (p128)

Monica Hargrove is a cold woman. But her real cohort is her unassuming mother. The scene when they visit Longmeadow, the Cabots’ country estate, and suggest changes to the landscape, reminds me of Fanny Dashwood’s renovation plans for Norland, describing them with great glee in full view of its present occupants.

But for the first time since meeting Honor Cabot, George saw her innocence. It was there, buried under the mantle of privilege and sophistication, and it made him feel strangely protective of her.” (p126)

The family life of the Cabots is lovely and poignantly-rendered. Their father, the dying earl, is kind to his daughters but recognizes his son’s weaknesses and limitations and so he asks for Honor’s promise to take care of her mother when he dies. 

At many points, my heart broke for Honor, at all that she had to bear. But I admire her forbearance and determination to have a better life, the life she wants with the man she loves. She’s a woman who takes responsibility for her actions.

”’We will never have alternatives if we don’t demand them.’” (p297)

George seems at times almost a beta hero as he feels he is not worthy of someone like Honor, something that infuriates her to no end. She must work very hard for the man she wants, to make him see they are meant to be together.

He wanted things to remain as they were, with opportunities to be in her company, to hear her clever mind spinning out wretched ideas to create a bit of mayhem in her society, to keep him properly diverted from the lack of a name, the loss of his fortune. From who he was.” (p300)

The love story between Honor and George is fiery and very passionate, their conversations are spirited and the sexual tension is palpable. They are two headstrong and loving people.

”’If a woman is to make her way in this man’s world without a husband, she must risk quite a lot to succeed.’” (p73)

How ironic that it would be someone just like her who would show her that what she really wanted was love. She wanted love.” (p221)

There are many memorable characters including Honor’s parents, her sisters (whose stories will be told in future books), and even Finnegan, George’s cunning and supportive valet-cum-butler, who doles out unwanted but ultimately helpful advice to George.

The last chapter is a teaser for the next romance, The Fall of Lady Grace, the second sister’s story.

Lively, spirited, and fun, I will definitely be reading more in this series.

Read: “How Angela Got Her Rogue Back” by Katharine Ashe from AT THE DUKE’S WEDDING

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Note: page references are from an ePUB version.

As society gathers at Kingstag Castle for the wedding of the year, matrimony is in the air. But who will be the bride? With swoonworthy lords, witty ladies, eccentric relatives, a gaggle of free-spirited girls, not to mention the world’s best high perch phaeton, it’s a recipe for mayhem — and romance. Award winning, best-selling authors Katharine Ashe, Caroline Linden, Miranda Neville and Maya Rodale serve up delectable Regency fun and a sexy contemporary twist in this anthology of original novellas. 
Four authors, four couples, four deliciously romantic surprises. When it comes to love, anything can happen…

How Angela Got Her Rogue Back by Katharine Ashe

When gorgeous Lord Trenton Ascot beckons to history grad student Angela Cowdrey from the pages of a comic book, she thinks she’s going crazy. When Trent rescues her from a lake and she claims she’s from the future, he knows he is. But a blackmailer is threatening Trent’s family and Angela is determined to help. While unraveling the mystery of her time-travel trip to the duke’s wedding, this modern girl and Regency lord just might discover a passion that defies centuries.

I do not like time travel stories, however, this is Katharine Ashe, a writer whose voice I absolutely love. She tells amazing and beautiful (and breathlessly romantic) stories that I love to read. So, if you think you don’t like time travel, you will enjoy this.

That said, I also don’t usually read contemporary romances. But again, in the right writer’s hands, I love it. The first contemporary romance I read was Sabrina Darby’s Private Researchthen Sophie Jordan’s Foreplay, both wonderful stories. Not my usual thing, but very enjoyable.

So this is an historical, contemporary, time travel romance.

What caught my attention immediately in this novella is that the story starts out in Ann Arbor, Michigan, at the University of Michigan (where the heroine is a graduate student and also my alma mater). Michigan is my home state and I always get a little smile on my face when I read about it. Katharine Ashe, a history professor, attended the University of Michigan briefly.

Angela is an overworked graduate student, and an old soul, hanging out at the comic book store on State Street with her best friend, Cyndi, and Cyndi’s teenage brother, when she comes across a squashed comic right behind a graphic novel of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. Intrigued yet resigned to reading it to hopefully better understand what her students are reading, she buys it and takes it home. That’s when strange things begin to happen.

The gorgeous man in the comic book winks at her and the caption says, “Angela, come back.” She shrugs it off to lack of sleep and hallucinations but, the next day, she slips on the ice—it is January in Michigan—and falls in a river. When she comes to, she’s being rescued by a very handsome man—the same man from the comic she just purchased—and it’s summer, in Dorset, England, 1813!

Needless to say, she’s at Kingstag Castle, and there’s a bridal house party going on and, well, she is an uninvited guest. But, somehow, she manages to befriend Trent Ascot, the son of a viscount. Both are, of course, very attracted to each other and she manages to ingratiate herself with the other guests (especially Trent’s sister, Charlotte) and Trent’s heart.

But she’s also researcher, so she figures she’s there for a reason, and decides to pursue it. She soon finds a connection between Trent and Sir Richard Howell, the subject of her research. Along the way, she encounters all sorts of difficulties being a woman in 1813. I laughed out loud when she wished she could take notes while she was talking with the hilarious Lady Sophronia, who quickly becomes her ally.

What if she never went back home? What if she ruined her reputation then got trapped in this era? There weren’t many roles for women in Regency high society: lady, servant, shopkeeper, actress, prostitute.” (p760)

This is a bittersweet and lovely romance that kept me on tenterhooks because I wondered how in the world they would get together and stay together. After all, someone would have to give up their life, either in 2013 or 1813.

I loved Trent. He is handsome and dashing, yes, but he’s also very honorable, a loving brother, and son. He is willing to do his duty and marry to help his family and give up his passion for art and natural history. Angela brings him to life and helps him be his true self.

Trent breathed in the scents of summer, and the peace. This was what he wanted, every day, every night—not what his father wished for him. For once he wanted to be who he really was.” (p799)

An expectedly delightful and tender romance.

Read: “When I Met My Duchess” by Caroline Linden from AT THE DUKE’S WEDDING

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Note: page references are from an ePUB version.

As society gathers at Kingstag Castle for the wedding of the year, matrimony is in the air. But who will be the bride? With swoonworthy lords, witty ladies, eccentric relatives, a gaggle of free-spirited girls, not to mention the world’s best high perch phaeton, it’s a recipe for mayhem — and romance. Award winning, best-selling authors Katharine Ashe, Caroline Linden, Miranda Neville and Maya Rodale serve up delectable Regency fun and a sexy contemporary twist in this anthology of original novellas. 
Four authors, four couples, four deliciously romantic surprises. When it comes to love, anything can happen… 

When I Met My Duchess by Caroline Linden

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Gareth Cavendish, Duke of Wessex, believes he’s chosen the perfect bride… until he meets her sister and lightning strikes—literally! Now he’s the only member of society dreading the wedding of the season. Or is he? Cleo Barrows can’t fathom why her knees weaken every time the handsome duke approaches, or why her sister isn’t in the clouds at the prospect of marrying him. But the more often wedding plans throw Cleo and Gareth intimately together, the faster time is running out to turn the celebration of the summer into the scandal of the year.

What a charming and breathtaking novella.

Gareth, the Duke of Wessex, is awaiting the arrival of his bride, Miss Helen Gray, at a house party celebration. But when he meets his fiancée’s vivacious and lively sister, Cleopatra Barrows, all bets are off.

Cleo, a widow, astounds him with her freshness, her bold and direct manner, and her ability to befriend everyone—even his sharp-tongued Aunt Sophronia.

But both Miss Gray as well as his beloved secretary, James Blair—who arranged the nuptials—hold secrets. Gareth sees that his bride-to-be is unhappy and wary of him and it unnerves him. He believes her to be the perfect candidate for his duchess, all that is proper and elegant. He doesn’t believe in true love. Until Cleo. She throws his calm and ordered world into complete chaos and indecision.

Just thinking through the logical, sane reasons why he wanted this match had a calming effect. He had made the right choice, and his odd fascination with her sister was merely a passing flight of fancy.” (p459)

Cleo is the widow of a tradesman who married for love and is barely tolerated by her parents. But she and Helen are very close and Cleo wishes to support her sister on her big day. 

'What is headstrong and willful in a woman is often called decisive and bold in a man.'” (p574)

I love Cleo, her strength and determination to enjoy life despite the shabby way her parents treat her at the same time they accept her money. She runs her late husband’s business, but she is reluctant to discuss it when the duke makes conversation as she doesn’t wish to seem déclassé for her sister. She ingratiates herself into the duke’s household, endearing herself to everyone she meets. Everyone finds her charming, except her class conscious parents.

She could support herself, it turned out, so why shouldn’t she? Without the shop, she would have precious little of her own: no children, no husband, no income…nothing to keep her mind occupied. What else was she to do with herself?” (p488)

But she’s falling for her sister’s fiancé. How in the world will it all work out? And when Gareth realizes that he’s also falling for Cleo, he feels powerless to stop it but, fortuitously, there is a way.

The passion between Cleo and Gareth is passionate and poignant to read. I admit I never expected this anthology to include any protagonists that included the wedding party, another treat.

A delightful joy to read from beginning to end.

Read: WALLFLOWER GONE WILD by Maya Rodale

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In the second in Maya Rodale’s delightful Wallflower series, London’s Least Likely to Cause a Scandal is taking Society by storm…

Being good has worked out very badly for Lady Olivia Archer. All she has to show for four seasons on the marriage mart is the nickname Prissy Missy. Her prospects are so bleak that her parents have betrothed her to a stranger with a dire reputation. If Phinneas Cole—aka The Mad Baron—wants a biddable bride, perhaps Olivia can frighten him off by breaking every ladylike rule.

Phinn has admired Olivia’s poise and refinement from afar…qualities that appear to have vanished now that they are officially engaged. This Olivia is flirtatious, provocative, and wickedly irresistible. She’s not at all the woman he bargained for, yet she’s the only one he wants.

He’s determined to woo her. She’s determined to resist. But Olivia is discovering there’s nothing so appealing as a fiancé who’s mad, bad, and dangerously seductive…

An opening quote sets the stage and a humorous tone for the entire novel, though I didn’t find this story quite as funny as the first book in Maya Rodale’s Wallflowers series, The Wicked WallflowerRodale often uses quotes from various broadsheets such as the “Fashionable Intelligence” column by “A Lady of Distinction” from The London Weekly, popular sayings from Lady Penelope’s Finishing School for Young Ladies of Fine Families, and other quotes from conduct books of the period.

Lady Olivia Archer has had no luck in snagging a husband, despite playing by the rules and being the epitome of a good girl and a lady. After four unsuccessful seasons, she tries to be bad and that doesn’t quite work out either. 

“She was a girl who liked to sing and dance, who wished to flirt with rakes and be kissed improperly.” (p5)

Her well-meaning but misguided parents—her mother is positively oppressive—desperately push her into the arms of the notorious “Mad Baron,” Phinneas Cole, around whom rumors swirl that he murdered his first wife.

Phinneas is a scientist, like the Duke of Ashbrooke from The Wicked Wallflower. He’s a machinist temporarily in London to help build Ashbrooke’s Difference Engine.

When they first meet—across a crowded ballroom—Olivia and Phinneas feel a profound connection and attraction, until she discovers he is the Mad Baron. So she tries to turn him off by trying to be unappealing.  She tries wearing excessive face paint, flirting with rogues and rakes, and even asking a gentleman to dance, which all make for some laugh-out-loud moments. But that doesn’t turn Phinneas away. He feels bad that she has a poor image of him and determines to change her mind with the help of his dissolute friend, Rogan. 

Phinneas has become a recluse ever since the scandal surrounding the death of his first wife. He decides he now wants a biddable, docile wife so that he can work in peace, after his fiery first marriage. To him, this is merely another business arrangement, much like Cyrus Ravensmore believes (at first) in Winning the Wallflowerby Eloisa James.

But Phinneas doesn’t change Olivia’s mind all that much, until the masquerade ball when he comes to her rescue and she doesn’t even know who he is. She finds out later and that, finally, endears him to her.

The trademark Capital Letters—a device which Rodale often uses in her works, to great effect—create humorous emphasis on Dramatic Situations.

Prudence, another wallflower whose happy ending will be in book three, What a Wallflower Wants, thoughtfully expounds on the lies that Lady Penelope’s school preaches.

“‘We were led to believe that ladylike behavior would be rewarded with good husbands and happily-ever-after. We were gravely misled.” (p29)

If you think that typos, misspelled and incorrect words, and missing articles are only to be found in self-published works, think again, because I found a lot in this book published by Harper Collins. In fact, I think there are more here than in Rodale’s self-published Seducing the Single Lady. There’s also an odd floating annotation on page 147—an asterisk that merely says The Wicked Wallflower without any explanation of what it refers to. ‘Though’ instead of ‘through,’ ‘here’ instead ‘her,’ ‘jealously’ instead ‘jealousy,’ etc. 

You do not need to read the first book in the series to appreciate this lovely story, and I eagerly look forward to reading the next installment as well as much more by Maya Rodale.

Read: “P.S. I Love You” by Miranda Neville from AT THE DUKE’S WEDDING

Note: page references are from an ePUB version.

As society gathers at Kingstag Castle for the wedding of the year, matrimony is in the air. But who will be the bride? With swoonworthy lords, witty ladies, eccentric relatives, a gaggle of free-spirited girls, not to mention the world’s best high perch phaeton, it’s a recipe for mayhem — and romance. Award winning, best-selling authors Katharine Ashe, Caroline Linden, Miranda Neville and Maya Rodale serve up delectable Regency fun and a sexy contemporary twist in this anthology of original novellas. 
Four authors, four couples, four deliciously romantic surprises. When it comes to love, anything can happen…

P.S. I Love You by Miranda Neville 
Handsome, inarticulate Frank Newnham asks for his cousin Christian’s help when he woos Rosanne Lacy by letter. Rosanne falls for Frank’s delicious prose, but when they meet in person at the duke’s wedding party, Rosanne can’t understand why Frank seems so … dull. And why is she drawn to the dark brooding Earl of Bruton, with his scarred face and air of melancholy?

This is a beautiful and romantic novella. I have not read much by Neville but this is the best I’ve read by her. It’s a story based on the theme of Cyrano de Bergerac, of mistaken identity, and of seeing a person’s true inner worth and beauty.

Captain Christian Lord Bruton and Frank Newnham are cousins and best friends. Frank has always been the handsome one, the one all the ladies flock to while Christian, with his devastating facial scar and more serious and reserved manner, has been content to remain in the background with his books. But Frank is unable to communicate his feelings so, when he asks for Christian’s help in wooing the beautiful Lady Roseanne Lacy, Christian reluctantly agrees to write letters for him.

[Frank] was a beautiful blank sheet of paper.” (p345)

But Christian falls in love with Roseanne through their letters and in the confidences they share. When they all have an opportunity to meet at the Duke of Wessex’s house party to celebrate his upcoming nuptials, it all comes to a head.

"Look at me, he wanted to say. Give me your attention for a little longer before my handsome cousin usurps me.” (p260)

Christian is more intellectually stimulating to Miss Lacy than Frank can ever be and it’s lovely to see their love story unfold. They come together through walks and conversation about books and life while Frank stammers and hides away with the other male guests. Roseanne barely notices Christian’s scar as she comes to know his true and honorable nature.

"He didn’t think Frank appreciated her letters on the same level that Christian did." (p217)

The friendship between Frank and Christian is a complex one, fraught with love and honor. 

A very sweet and tender romance.

Read: “That Rogue Jack” by Maya Rodale, from AT THE DUKE’S WEDDING

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Note: page references are from an ePUB version.

As society gathers at Kingstag Castle for the wedding of the year, matrimony is in the air. But who will be the bride? With swoonworthy lords, witty ladies, eccentric relatives, a gaggle of free-spirited girls, not to mention the world’s best high perch phaeton, it’s a recipe for mayhem — and romance. Award winning, best-selling authors Katharine Ashe, Caroline Linden, Miranda Neville and Maya Rodale serve up delectable Regency fun and a sexy contemporary twist in this anthology of original novellas. 
Four authors, four couples, four deliciously romantic surprises. When it comes to love, anything can happen…

"That Rogue Jack" by Maya Rodale 

Jack, Lord Willoughby is charming, handsome, and utterly irresponsible. In other words, he’s the worst person to entrust with the ducal wedding ring. Miss Henrietta Black is prim, proper and the ideal person to help find the priceless family heirloom that’s gone missing… as long as she isn’t distracted by Jack’s gorgeous smile and tantalizing attempts at seduction. They MUST find the ring before the wedding… if they aren’t too busy falling in love.

Henrietta Black is a companion to a lady and, as such, dependent on her goodness for security and a roof over her head. But she has a charming relationship with her employer, Lady Sophronia, great aunt to the Duke of Wessex, the groom. Sophronia has a sharp wit and tongue to match and Henrietta has her hands full keeping her from saying all sorts of rude and offensive things to the guests. For her part, Sophronia thinks Henrietta is much too uptight.

When one was a poor orphan utterly dependent upon the goodwill of affluent elder relations, one wished for nothing so much as security.” (p9)

So she encourages Henrietta’s flirtation with Henrietta’s childhood nemesis, that incorrigible flirt, Jack Willoughby. Willoughby is the name of the rogue who broke Marianne Dashwood’s heart in Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility, and I love that Rodale uses his name. (She also uses the name of the bride-to-be, Miss Grey, whom Austen’s Willoughby eventually married).

"Jack was the most utterly reckless and reliably unreliable person ever to wake in the morning and sleep at night." (p12)

Jack is the best man and has been charged with the responsibility of bringing the family’s heirloom ring to the wedding…which he promptly loses (not to Henrietta’s surprise). So he and Henrietta spend the majority of their time together searching all over the grounds of the estate, the numerous rooms, and even Jack’s gorgeous new phaeton, for the ring. In between, they steal kisses that feel more and more like true love.

One ought not to deal with rogues in the morning.” (p44)

There are some lovely poignant moments in this mostly humorous novella especially Sophronia’s sincere kindness to Henrietta. In Rodale’s trademark witty style, the lighthearted atmosphere of a wedding is beautifully captured.

'I need you to keep me focused and you need me to help you be a bit more adventurous. But most of all, Hen, I have fallen in love with you.'” (p166)

A funny and charming love story.

Read: TAMING MISS TISDALE by Jessica Jefferson

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Note: page references are from an ARC PDF copy.

Miss Tamsin Tisdale believes herself to be completely unsuitable for London life. After a myriad of social mishaps, and the potential ruination of her family name, she’s shipped away to her cousin’s northern estate. Only after she accepts the type of existence Society dictates she must follow will she be welcomed home.

Marcus Winston, the Duke of Grayson, has a lackluster reputation. The last in a dying line, he’s endured a protected life—rank with privilege, but encumbered by isolation. After a brief encounter with rebellion, he learns the devastating consequences of his carelessness and willingly accepts living life from inside his gilded cage.

However, a chance meeting with the brazen Miss Tisdale gives Marc the opportunity to reinvent himself into the man he’s always dreamed of being. But when his deception comes to light, and ghosts from both their pasts threaten to unravel the intimacy they’ve come to cherish, will either of them set their fears aside long enough to embrace love? Or will Miss Tisdale’s stubbornness divide them?

Last year, I read and enjoyed Compromising Miss Tisdale, the first in the Regency Blooms series, by newcomer Jessica Jefferson. That lovely novel of manners was a charming, funny, and elegant historical romance. And there was one very memorable character who stood out in that debut: Miss Tamsin Tisdale, the heroine’s sister. Feisty, strong, and tomboyish, this is her happy ending.

Marcus Winston, the Duke of Grayson is a true beta hero, very reminiscent of Edward Ailsbury in The Secret Mistress by Mary Balogh. Plagued as a child with “the falling disease” (epilepsy), he grew up pampered and overprotected by both his parents, but especially his mother. Consequently, he was educated at home instead of attending boarding school, developed a love of books and learning, and learned to dislike the manly pursuits, such as hunting. He’s a quiet man who prefers to blend in rather than stand out, despite his illustrious title. He is a dutiful son and, even though he knows it will not make him happy, he agrees to entertain the idea of courting the waspish Lady Katherine, whom his mother has her heart set on for his future duchess. In fact, his mother’s overprotectiveness has begun to feel stifling and, after a youthful rebellion ended in tragedy, he finds it easier to accommodate her. As a result, he has not really enjoyed life at all, never traveled, or even had a pet.

Until Tamsin Tisdale bursts into his sedate (read: boring) life. After meeting her, for the first time in his sheltered life, Marcus wants to throw caution to the wind. After listening to her (rumored) impressions of the reclusive and mysterious Duke that show him in an unattractive light, he introduces himself merely as Mr. Winston, cousin to the duke, to get to know her better. This little ruse allows him to be someone else besides a proper and stuffy duke.

Tamsin Tisdale is the spirited daughter of a viscount and is anything but proper. She accidentally stumbles onto the duke’s estate, Beardsley, during an invigorating morning ride and captivates Marcus (who is out for a walk) with her freshness, vivacity, and directness. He is completely entranced and besotted. She speaks her mind—as she did most boldly in Compromising Miss Tisdale—and is in the country visiting her cousin Elizabeth’s family after being banished to the north for a petty ton scandal. In his animated descriptions to Jason St. Regis, his best friend, Marcus likens her appearance to a fairy or a sprite with her glorious red hair, freckles, and impish manner. It’s completely unaffected, unlike most of the posturing ladies he meets. He has never met anyone like her.

“Miss Tisdale clearly had no idea her power over men. Her unique blend of naivety and lack of inhibition made her an irresistible combination. There was no way she’d make it through another Season unbetrothed—no man was foolish enough to let someone like her slip through their fingers, or their bed.” (p119)

Tamsin has no patience for propriety, fashionable dress, or the insincerity of Polite Society. She doesn’t think, she reacts, and this gets her into all kinds of humorous scrapes and incidences. But each proves to only make her even more tempting and attractive to Marcus and make the quiet life he has led thus far seem very mundane indeed. I love her unaffectedness; in fact, in one scene, we find her languorously lounging on a chaise, daydreaming, her fingers skimming the floor. In another, Jason mistakes her for a servant!

“She found the opposite sex to be friendly enough, but couldn’t really envision any man meaning more to her than that…She chose to live her life solely for herself, depending on no one. Marriage meant the complete opposite of the ideals she held so strongly.” (p37)

When Tamsin discovers she has fallen hard for Marcus, it upsets and unnerves her. Her revelation recalls Emma Woodhouse’s own startling realization of her singular love for Mr. Knightley in Emma by Jane Austen.

“She’d always prided herself on her self-reliance, yet whenever he was around it was as if she was always in need of his assistance in one way or another. While in his presence, even the basic task of walking had become a challenge necessitating his heroic intervention. And she didn’t care for that one bit.” (p105)

“It was unfathomable how something like this could have happened—and to her of all people. After all the safeguards she’d put into place, she’d believed herself invincible. Her ugly gowns comparable to that of chainmail, her cunning words her shield. And yet he’d penetrated through all of that. It was disheartening, but she’d be a fool to argue with the truth. Shea was in love with Mr. Winston.” (p135)

Marcus and Tamsin’s love story has a joyous quality to it, of young love, of two unlikely hearts finding each other, and of the humor and fun to be had spending time together. Whenever Marcus encounters Tamsin, it is spiced with almost slapstick adventure as well as vivid sexual tension. The best part of their love story is how it takes both of them by complete surprise.

“A small element of danger, a dash of daring, and certainly a feeling of freedom he’d seldom felt before. This was what life with Tamsin Tisdale would be about.” (p208)

His best friend Jason is the complete opposite of Marcus; he’s a suave playboy and a hopeless seducer. In fact, he sports a mild flirtation with Tamsin, but she thinks of him only as a friend, much to Marcus’ angry and frustrated relief.

There are some wonderfully humorous moments in this romance, such as Marcus’ midnight visit, the bantering between Marcus and Jason, and the way Elizabeth (Tamsin’s ladylike cousin) despairs of her cousin’s behavior. The writing style is elegant and sparkling and the minor characters Jason St. Regis—whose own happy ending is hinted at—Marcus’ overbearing mother, and Elizabeth are all well-drawn and characterized. We also discover Tamsin’s unique and different floral name, hence the name of the series.

If I have one quibble, it’s a minor one. I do not like the cover. The hero looks too old for the heroine and it’s nothing at all like I picture Marcus.

A most pleasing and amusing love story in a series that I look forward to reading more of.

Note: a modified version of this review first appeared on Romantic Historical Reviews.

Read: BOUND TO BE A BRIDE by Megan Mulry

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Note: page references are from an ePUB version.

In 1808 tempestuous Isabella, daughter of the Duke of Feria, unites with rebellious Javi, a highborn aristocrat practiced in the art of hojōjutsu, Japanese rope binding. They meet in the forest of western Spain, where both are on the run from an arranged marriage…to each other.

This saucy novella, by new-to-me author Megan Mulry, takes place in Napoleonic era Spain and features two kindred and independent spirits.

Isabella has been raised in a convent, as many privileged women of her class, where she has been educated and groomed to be a bride to a wealthy and titled family’s son. But that’s not the life she wants for herself. So she intricately plans a journey, hiding her belongings along the way. She plans to escape and live independently, free of the constraints of any man. 

"…they would live in a new world of freedom, where abusive, calculating men and complicit authoritative women would no longer control their destinies." 

A husband wanted a beautiful, charming, delightful wife, the nuns had explained to Isabella on the day she departed the convent. All Isabella could think during the entire two-hour recitation of their womanly wisdom was, How would you know?! None of them had ever been a wife.”

Unbeknownst to her, Isabella’s betrothed, Javier (Javi), also has no intention of being tied to a meek woman in marriage. He is on the road (to Mexico) with two of his best friends when they encounter Isabella. Javier and his friends are working in a covert group to help overthrow Napoleon. They fear she is going to try to rob them—a tiny wisp of a thing, right!—so Javier ties her, using the ancient martial arts technique of Japanese rope binding called Hojojutsu, an intricate series of knots that allows for simultaneous movement and constriction.

One of the reasons I love historical romance is that I learn more about history and the history is rich in this little story. For example, I had no idea that the Japanese came to Spain in the seventeenth century and settled in a town called Coria del Rio. Also, Javier is based on a real historical figure, Francisco Javier de la Mina, a guerrilla fighter in Napoleonic Spain. Mulry says she was inspired to write a story about him after seeing “his dashing portrait.”

I’ve read one other historical romance set in Spain around this time, Anne Gracie’s Bride by Mistake. In that story, as in many historical romances set during this time, women are at the mercy of men’s wishes and whims.

The descriptions of landscape on their journey are vivid, as this one of the town of Aveiro:

Here, stretched out in front of her, was a teeming array of pale terra-cotta rooftops, glistening turquoise canals, and beyond, the beckoning infinite sapphire Atlantic with the city’s famous piles of blindingly white salt drying in the bright sun along the shoreline.” 

The writing and characters are likable and spirited. I like Isabella’s feistiness and independent nature and, even more important, that Javier  appreciates her this way. The fact that they are intended for each other makes it all the more humorous.

There is a sequel novella recently released, Bound to Be a Groomwhich tells the story Isabella’s friend, Anna, born on the wrong side of the blanket.

I look forward to reading more from Mulry in future.