Three Nights With a Scoundrel (Stud Club #3) by Tessa Dare (audiobook) – Narrated by Rosalyn Landor

three nights with a scoundrel

The bastard son of a nobleman, Julian Bellamy is now polished to perfection, enthralling the town with wit and charm while clandestinely plotting to ruin the lords, ravish the ladies, and have the last laugh on a society that once spurned him. But after meeting Leo Chatwick, a decent man and founder of an elite gentlemen’s club, and Lily, Leo’s enchanting sister, Julian reconsiders his wild ways. And when Leo’s tragic murder demands that Julian hunt for justice, he vows to see the woman he secretly loves married to a man of her own class.

Lily, however, has a very different husband in mind. She’s loved Julian forever, adores the man beneath the rakish façade, and wants to savor the delicious attraction they share – as his wife. His insistence on marrying her off only reinforces her intent to prove that he is the only man for her. Obsessed with catching a killer, Julian sinks back to the gutters of his youth, forcing Lily to reach out with a sweet, reckless passion Julian can’t resist. Can her desire for a scoundrel save them both – or will dangerous secrets threaten more than their tender love?

Rating: A for narration; A- for content

This is the final book in Tessa Dare’s Stud Club trilogy, and while I’ve enjoyed the others, Three Nights with a Scoundrel is the strongest of the three, and my personal favourite. The mystery that has run through all three books surrounding the death of Lord Leo Chatwick is satisfactorily concluded, the central romance is truly touching and the two protagonists make an exceptionally well-drawn and engaging couple.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

Beyond the Sunrise by Mary Balogh (audiobook) – Narrated by Rosalyn Landor

beyond the sunrise audio

“I will love you all my life and even beyond that.”

Even at 15, Jeanne, the privileged daughter of a royalist Emigré, knew what she liked: Englishman Robert Blake, bastard son of a marquess. Yet his questionable birth rendered him forbidden. Forced to part, they were still young enough to believe in tomorrow. But as time passed, that brief ephemeral flirtation at Haddington Hall faded into memory.

Eleven years later in Portugal, during the Peninsular Wars, they meet again, both of them spies, and destined to be working on opposing sides. He is now a captain with the British army. She is the widowed Marquesa das Minas – sometimes going by the name Joana da Fonte. However for only one of them does the flicker of recognition still burn. Amid the fury of war and in the shadow of secrets, passion flares once again. But for Joana and Robert, each entrusted to a dangerous mission that demands deception, falling in love could be the most dangerous risk of all.

Rating: A for narration; B+ for content

Mary Balogh’s 1992 novel Beyond the Sunrise boasts a storyline quite unlike those found in the other books of hers I’ve read in that it’s mostly plot, rather than character driven. That isn’t a criticism, however, because I enjoyed this new audiobook very much. It isn’t without its problems, the principal of which lies with the heroine’s somewhat cavalier treatment of the hero and I suspect that had I been reading the book rather than listening to it, I might have found her difficult to like, but Ms. Landor is able to portray her with such empathy that even when I didn’t particularly like her actions, I was at the very least able to understand her and even feel sorry for her and angry on her behalf at situation in which she has been placed.

The bulk of the story takes place in Portugal and Spain in 1810, but the book opens eleven years earlier at the country seat of the Marquis of Quesnay, when we meet our two protagonists, who are then aged fifteen and seventeen. Jeanne is the daughter of the Comte de Levisse, a French emigré and Robert is the only – although illegitimate son – of the Marquess. During one idyllic summer, the young couple falls deeply in love, only to be cruelly separated by the Comte, who, recognising the strength of daughter’s feelings for a young man far below her in station, tells her that Robert has been boasting of his conquest and laughing behind her back at her gullibility. Jeanne believes her father’s lies and hides her true feelings behind the smiles and light-hearted gaiety that are to become one of many weapons in her arsenal of feminine appeal, and informs Robert that she had just been toying with him. After all, what possible interest could the daughter of a nobleman have in a bastard?

The story then moves ahead eleven years, to a ballroom in Lisbon where Captain Robert Blake of the 95th Rifles, recuperating from injuries received in the line of duty, is feeling ill-at-ease, and chafing to return to his regular duties. He is utterly stunned to see Jeanne – now the widowed Marquesa Joana das Minas – enter on the arm of a fellow officer, and all his feelings of adolescent rage and hurt come tumbling back. She, however, doesn’t recognise him at all.

You can read the rest of this review at All About Romance.

A Mistress for Major Bartlett (Brides of Waterloo #2) by Annie Burrows

A mistress for major bartlett

Major Tom Bartlett is shocked to discover the angel who nursed his battle wounds is darling of the ton Lady Sarah Latymor. One taste of her threatens both her impeccable reputation and his career!

An honorable man would ask for her hand, but Bartlett is considered an unrepentant rake by polite society; sweet Sarah would be spurned as his mistress and even as his wife. He demands she leave, but Sarah is just as determined to stay by his side—and in his bed!

Rating: B-

This is the second book in a trilogy of stories by different authors that are collectively entitled Brides of Waterloo, written to mark the two hundredth anniversary of that momentous battle.

I read the first book, Sarah Mallory’s A Lady for Lord Randall recently, and enjoyed it, so was eagerly anticipating this instalment, in which the heroine is Lady Sarah Latymor, sister to Justin Latymor, the titular Lord Randall of book one.

Towards the end of that book, Randall and his crack team of riflemen, known throughout the army as “Randall’s Rogues” because its members are the “raff and scaff of the military gathered into one troop”, are plunged into the thick of the fighting. During the onslaught, Sarah’s twin brother, Gideon, is killed and after the battle, she discovers Justin is Missing in Action. Devastated by the loss of her twin and possibly of her eldest brother, too, Sarah insists on joining the search for Justin, accompanied by Mary Endacott, the young schoolmistress with whom Justin is in love.

When Sarah is separated from the search-party, she stumbles across a badly wounded officer whose uniform indicates he must be part of her brother’s regiment. She defends him from a couple of French peasants who are intent upon murder, and with the help of two of his men, manages to convey him back to Brussels. She recalls the last time she’d seen Major Thomas Bartlett, tall and wickedly handsome, a man whose reputation with the ladies made it inconceivable that a respectable young woman like Sarah could ever have anything to do with him. But war makes for strange bedfellows, so to speak, and Sarah does the previously unthinkable. Instead of consigning the major to the local military hospital, where it is likely he will be viewed as too close to death to bother with, she is persuaded by his men to take him back to her rooms and nurse him herself.

In fact, she was going to have to breach practically every rule by which she’d lived. She’d always taken such pains to keep her reputation spotless that she’d never been without a chaperon, not even when visiting the ladies’ retiring room at a ball. She could scarcely believe she’d just encouraged two hardened criminals to install the regiment’s most notorious rake in her bedroom.

Sarah is simultaneously amazed at herself and terrified. Not only is she going to jepoardise her reputation, but looking after a seriously injured man is a huge responsibility, and not one she feels adequately prepared to cope with.

All her life, she’s struggled with feelings of inadequacy; she’s not beautiful enough, not clever enough, not resourceful enough, not brave enough. She knows what everyone thinks of her, that she’s a “spoiled, empty-headed society miss”, whose thoughtlessness causes problems for others to solve. Yet Ms Burrows shows us over and again that despite what she thinks, Sarah is not those things, and gives us enough backstory to explain how she came to those conclusions. And like Sarah, Tom Bartlett is a man with little self-esteem; his father was a bankrupt who committed suicide and left his son to the care of relatives who mistreated him; and he has grown up feeling as though he is worthless.

The thing I most enjoyed about the book is something for which others have criticised it; namely that it is principally a “two-hander” that takes place in one room. Personally, I think that is the ideal setting for two people who don’t know each other to spend time together getting to know each other and falling in love – and that’s exactly what happens. Sarah gains confidence as she begins to see that Tom is improving in her care, and he finds that having someone around who thinks the best of him rather than the worst, enables him to see himself more clearly and perhaps realise that he isn’t as black as he’s been painted. The part that doesn’t quite ring true, and why I haven’t graded the book more highly, is in Tom’s persistence in the belief that he isn’t worthy of Sarah, and her insistence that she doesn’t want to get married, even after they’ve slept together. The latter is always something I find problematic in historicals, given the importance placed on virginity and the stigma attached to unwed mothers and their children.

Apart from those things though, A Mistress for Major Bartlett is an enjoyable, well-told story, in which the author has made excellent use of her historical backdrop. So many books set at this period reference Waterloo, but few of them take the reader there or use it as more than a convenient reference point. Here, the descriptions of the aftermath of battle at the beginning of the book are vividly powerful, putting the reader firmly on those blood-soaked fields of Belgium. Both protagonists are well-rounded characters and the slow-burn romance between them is very nicely done. It’s an enjoyable, quick read, and one I’d certainly recommend to anyone who likes their historical romance to be sprinkled liberally with actual history!

Put Up Your Duke (Dukes Behaving Badly, #2) by Megan Frampton

Put up your duke

To keep his estate afloat, the new Duke of Gage must honor an agreement to marry Lady Isabella Sawford. Stunningly beautiful, utterly tempting, she’s also a bag of wedding night nerves, so Nicholas decides to wait to do his duty—even if it means heading to the boxing saloon every day to punch away his frustration.

Groomed her whole life to become the perfect duchess, Isabella longs for independence, a dream that is gone forever. As her husband, Nicholas can do whatever he likes—but, to Isabella’s surprise, the notorious rake instead begins a gentle seduction that is melting every inch of her reserve, night by night . . .

To his utter shock, Nicholas discovers that no previous exploits were half as pleasurable as wooing his own wife. But has the realm’s most disreputable duke found the one woman who can bring him to his knees— and leave him there?

Rating: B+

Although this is part of Ms Frampton’s current Dukes Behaving Badly series, Put Up Your Duke doesn’t seem to involve characters from previous books and can easily be read as a standalone. I was between books when the offer of a review copy reached me, and as I’m pretty much unable to resist any story in which the protagonists are forced into a marriage of convenience, it solved the problem of my temporary booklessness and did it in a most enjoyable manner.

Nicholas Smithfield knows he’s damn good at two things – pugilism and sex. As the book opens we meet him during an evening spent at a favourite house of ill repute in company with three delectable ladies, but before he can get very far his younger brother, Griff, interrupts him with some amazing news. Due to a series of completely unexpected and freakish circumstances, it turns out that Nicholas is, in fact, the rightful holder of the title and estates of the Duke of Gage. Even the pleasures to be found in the arms of three lusty ladies can’t quite top that, and Nicholas – very regretfully – departs with his brother in order to find out exactly what is going on and if he really has just become a duke.

Nicholas discovers there’s no question about it – he is the lawful duke even if the previous incumbent, usually referred to as “the duke that was” is not at all happy about being suddenly deprived of his position and threatens to make trouble. He aiso discovers that he has not only inherited a dukedom, but he has inherited a fiancée as well, Lady Isabella Sawford, the daughter of the Earl of Grosston.

Even less prepared for matrimony than “dukehood”, Nicholas is at first determined to see if he can break the betrothal – after all, the young lady was betrothed to a man, not a title. But meeting with her father, it quickly becomes apparent that the betrothal is so watertight that to break it would almost certainly ruin Nicholas – and by extention, the dukedom – financially, and he has no alternative but to honour the agreement. Upon meeting the beautiful Isabella, Nicholas decides that being married to her might not be such a bad thing after all.

You can read the rest of this review at All About Romance.

The Spring Bride (Chance Sisters #3) by Anne Gracie

the spring bride

On the eve of the London Season, Jane Chance is about to make her entrance into high society. And after a childhood riddled with poverty and hardship, Jane intends to make a good, safe, sensible marriage. All goes according to plan until a dark, dangerous vagabond helps her rescue a dog.

Zachary Black is all kinds of unsuitable—a former spy, now in disguise, he’s wanted for murder. His instructions: to lie low until his name is cleared. But Zach has never followed the rules, and he wants Jane Chance for his own.

If that means blazing his way into London society, in whatever guise suits him, that’s what he’ll do. Jane knows she shouldn’t fall in love with this unreliable, if devastatingly attractive, rogue. But Zach is determined—and he‘s a man accustomed to getting what he wants.

Rating: B

This is the third in the quartet of books about the Chance sisters, two of whom are actually sisters (Abby and Jane), the other two being young women to whom they are not related but with whom they share a strong bond forged by hardship and tragedy.

The heroine of The Spring Bride is Jane Chance, the younger of the two sisters. She is eighteen, beautiful and on the verge of her come out into society, something to which she has been very much looking forward. But even though she is likely to have her pick of suitors once the season begins, Jane accepts an offer from Lord Cambury, a rather dull and unprepossessing young man who is enthralled by her extraordinary beauty and talks of “adding her to his collection” of beautiful things. Her sisters are surprised by her decision, and try to dissuade her, but Jane won’t be deterred. She never again wants to endure the fear and deprivation she experienced as a child after she and Abby lost their parents, and to her, marriage is all about safety and security. She is quite happy to make a marriage of convenience and trust that, with luck, love will follow. Her sisters Abby and Damaris, who have both recently married and are blissfully happy, are sceptical, but Jane’s mind is made up.

Until, that is, she is assisted in her rescue of a mangy dog by a tall, dark, handsome gypsy, whose remarkable grey-green eyes she is unable to forget.

Zachary Black is not, in fact a gypsy, but he’s rather a shady character nonetheless. Having left his home and his abusive father over a decade ago, he has worked as an agent for the British government for the last eight years, travelling all around Europe and living a nomadic existence. The death of his father – the Earl of Wainfleet – has prompted his return to England, because Zach’s cousin has instigated legal proceedings to have him declared dead. Confident that his re-appearance will quickly dispense with his cousin’s lawsuit, Zach fully expects to be on his way back to Europe in a matter of weeks, but he isn’t prepared for the news that his resurrection could lead to his actual demise – because he is wanted for the murder of his young stepmother.

Even so, he decides to remain in England until both situations are resolved… and so that he can pursue his acquaintance with the lovely Jane Chance.

I enjoyed the story very much, although my favourite book of the series so far is the previous one, The Winter Bride. But this one has much to recommend it, not least of which is the way Ms Gracie develops the central romance. So many historical romances these days rely of a surfeit of completely unlikely and anachronistic sex scenes, using those in lieu of the evolution of an actual relationship between the protagonists. But in The Spring Bride, the author writes a real romance which is tender, but by no means lacking in heat, yet which takes place in a realistic manner given the period at which the book is set. It was very difficult for young, unmarried men and women to meet in private, and here, the majority of the meetings between Jane and Zach take place in public situations, when all they are really able to do is TALK to each other. And talking to each other is, of course, the best way for them to get to know one another, and for the reader to get to know them and follow the progress of their romance.

Both characters have to make serious re-adjustments to their outlooks on life; Jane has to realise that perhaps a life devoid of love or, at the very least, genuine affection, is not for her, and Zach must admit that perhaps it’s time to leave behind his life full of disguise and subterfuge and grow up and into his responsibilities.

The Spring Bride is an enjoyable, easy read that’s very well-written and suffused with humour and affection. I did find it a little “lightweight” when compared to the other two books, but that didn’t spoil my enjoyment, and I’m eagerly looking forward to tough-as-nails Daisy’s book, which will be the final one in the set.

Never Resist a Rake by Mia Marlowe

never resist a rake

John Fitzhugh Barrett is surprised to discover that instead of being a bastard, he’s the legitimate heir to the Somerset marquessate. Once word gets out that he must continue the Somerset line, eligible bachelorettes from across the country descend upon Somerfield Park, hoping to snatch John up before it’s too late. But John has no interest in a woman who’s only after his title.

Rebecca Kearsey, the daughter of a threadbare viscount, is the only one who understands. However, as her desire for John begins to build, she becomes painfully aware that she isn’t considered grand enough by Polite Society to be a future marchioness. Intrigued by the idea of challenging society’s rigid values, John’s interest in Rebecca grows. But can she show him that love is more than just childish rebellion?

Rating: C

Never Resist a Rake is one of those books which frustrated me no end, because it had a lot of potential which was never realised. It’s not a terrible book – I’ve read far worse, believe me! – the writing is accomplished and the main characters are attractive and well-suited, but overall, it lacks substance and the romance is sorely under-developed.

John Fitzhugh Barrett was shunted aside by his wealthy, powerful family when he was a child because he was a bastard – or believed to be so. Now, more than twenty years later, it turns out his parents were actually married, and he is the Earl of Hartley, firstborn son and heir to the Marquess of Somerset. I’m guessing this revelation was made in the previous book in this series (this is book two), which I haven’t read – but this discovery turns John’s life turned upside down and inside out; and, feeling he doesn’t know who he is anymore, he hot foots it off to London and promptly plunges into an orgy of dissipation aided by some old school chums whose exploits have earned them less than savoury reputations.

When his family seeks him out to bring him back to the fold as it were, John wants none of it. They turned their backs on him when he was a child and now he doesn’t scruple to return the favour. The worst of his ire is reserved for his grandmother, the dowager marchioness, whom he believes is the person who bears most of the responsibility for his being cast out.

The story opens with John, who is still in London pursuing his devil-may-care existence, about to take to the boxing ring in an illegal club in Whitechapel. With the fight due to start any minute, the organisers suddenly add a “sweetener” to the purse in the form of a young woman who has had the misfortune to venture off the beaten track and into one of the less respectable areas of London. Recognising her as someone he had once briefly encountered at a museum, John knows he must win the fight in order to save her.

You can read the rest of this review at All About Romance

The Accidental Bride by Jane Feather (audiobook) – Narrated by Jenny Sterlin

the accidental bride

For four years, Cato, the Marquis of Granville, had been just another man — the uninteresting, somewhat intimidating husband of Phoebe’s older sister. But then her sister died, and Phoebe seemed a reasonable substitute. Her forced engagement to him should have been quite a cold-blooded arrangement… except that one day Phoebe looked at Granville — really looked at him — and saw what she’d never seen before: he was darkly, breathtakingly attractive.

Once she’d noticed, she couldn’t seem to stop noticing, and suddenly Phoebe was disastrously in love. It would be nothing short of torture to be married to Granville, knowing he didn’t love her and never would. After all, Phoebe was not the kind of woman men fell in love with — Phoebe with her untidy hair, her rumpled clothes, and her fingers forever ink-stained from the poetry she wrote.

When running away does not solve her problems, Phoebe decides to try something a little different — something that involves a little change in wardrobe, a daring new attitude, and a bit of brazen seduction.

Granville is about to discover that his awkward Phoebe is woman enough even for him….

Rating: B for narration; B- for content

Originally published in 1999, The Accidental Bride is the middle book in a trilogy set during the English Civil War, which features three rather unconventional young women all finding their way to true love. Before I start this review, however, I have to say that there are a number of things about this particular book which might prove problematic for some listeners, so I’m going to get them out of the way.

1. The hero is almost twice the heroine’s age – she’s eighteen, he’s thirty-five.

2. The hero is a widower three times over, so the heroine is wife number four.

3. His most recent wife was the heroine’s older sister. (I looked this one up, because at one time a marriage between a man and his dead wife’s sister was illegal in England, but it doesn’t seem to have been so in 1645).

4. The hero’s fifteen year old daughter (by wife number two) is the heroine’s best friend.

None of those things bother me particularly, and I can say that in spite of a few reservations about plot and characterisation, I enjoyed the audiobook overall.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.