A Too Convenient Marriage (The Business of Marriage #2) by Georgie Lee

a too convenient marriage
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Late one night Susanna Lambert, illegitimate daughter of the Duke of Rockland, bursts uninvited into a stranger’s carriage, turning both their worlds upside down. Suddenly fun-loving Justin Connor finds himself forced to consider marriage!

For Susanna, marrying Justin is a chance to finally escape her cruel stepmother and forget about the rake who ruined her. But as wedding bells begin to chime Susanna discovers she’s carrying a huge secret… One that could turn to dust all promises of happiness as Justin’s wife!

Rating: C+

In her companion novel to last year’s A Debt Paid in Marriage, Georgie Lee picks up the story of Justin Connor, whom we met in the earlier book as an employee and friend of its hero, Philip Rathbone. Like that book, A Too Convenient Marriage is set largely away from the world of the ton and the aristocracy, featuring characters from the merchant class who are working hard to make their own way in the world.

While Justin doesn’t regret or in any way resent working for his friend, he wants to branch out on his own and to that end, put a large sum money into an investment venture which went sour when the ship carrying the goods which were supposed to give him his start in business was lost at sea. Even though he could not afford such a loss, Justin remains undaunted and is still determined to go into business for himself, no matter the opinion of his current paramour who has just turned down Justin’s proposal of marriage because she has no faith in him or his ability to make something of himself.

Bitter and disappointed, Justin has no time to indulge either of those feelings when his carriage door is yanked open, a young woman jumps inside and insists they drive off immediately. Not in the best of moods, Justin refuses although he can’t help noticing the interloper’s agitated state, which is explained very shortly afterwards by the appearance of her father, the Duke of Rockland and her half-brother, the Marquess of Sutton, who berate her and all but drag her away – although not until Justin has given the blustering marquess a black-eye for his mistreatment of the lady. Keen to avoid scandal, the duke asks Justin to call on him the following day and Justin, seeing a business opportunity, agrees, still curious as to why the daughter of a duke was so desperate to get away that she would jump into a stranger’s carriage.

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

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A Very Belated Best Of 2015

read all dayAlmost six weeks into 2016, and I haven’t been able to get around to writing up a post about my favourite reads and listens of 2015. I’ve written one each for All About Romance, Romantic Historical Reviews and AudioGals (running soon), and of course for each one, I could have chosen different titles or more titles… I had a good year last year when it came to books and audiobooks which made choosing the ones I enjoyed the most a difficult task.

I’m only including those books for which reviews appeared in 2015, as in most cases, I don’t put them here until they’ve appeared at the outlet for which they were initially written. This means that some of the books and audiobooks are ones I might have read or listened to at the end of 2014; similarly, there are a few missing from the end of 2015 for which reviews didn’t appear until 2016. Confusing perhaps, but if I had to go and check the date I’d actually finished each title it would have made the job of compiling this post an even longer one and given me another reason to put it off!

From my Goodreads stats:

Of the 231 books I read and/or listened to I gave 57 of them 5 stars; 97 of them 4 stars; 52 of them 3 stars; and 16 of them 1 or 2 stars.

As Goodreads doesn’t allow half-stars and I know that a large number of my 5 star ratings are actually 4.5 stars, here’s how I work them out. At AAR, we use a letter grading system; B+/B/B- and so on, so for me, an A is automatically a 5 star book (I’ve only given one A+ so far). A- and B+ equate to 4.5 stars, but I round an A- up to five and a B+ down to 4. B- and C+ equate to 3.5 stars, but I round a B- up to 4 and a C+ down to 3 and so on.

Top Books:

– ones I’ve given 5 stars or 4.5 stars and rounded up (A+/A/A-)

Honourable Mentions:

– a few of the B+ books I enjoyed

Of Rakes and Radishes by Susanna Ives
In Bed With a Spy by Alyssa Alexander
The Soldier’s Dark Secret by Marguerite Kaye
The Duke and the Lady in Red by Lorraine Heath
The Earl’s Dilemma by Emily May
The Marriage Act by Alyssa Everett
The Chaperone’s Seduction by Sarah Mallory
The Highwayman by Kerrigan Byrne
The Lure of the Moonflower by Lauren Willig
The Soldier’s Rebel Lover by Marguerite Kaye
A Talent for Trickery by Alissa Johnson
Cold Hearted Rake by Lisa Kleypas
Daniel’s True Desire by Grace Burrowes
The Spinster’s Guide to Scandalous Behaviour by Jennifer McQuiston
Sweetest Scoundrel by Elizabeth Hoyt

Top Audiobooks:

– ones that have received 4.5/5 stars or an A/A- for narration AND at least 4 stars/B for content.  This will naturally exclude a few titles where an excellent narration hasn’t been matched by a story that was equally good, OR where a really good story hasn’t been paired with a narrator who could do it justice.

I’ve also (finally!) got around to updating my 2015 TBR Challenge post with the list of books I chose to read last year. I completed the Mount TBR Challenge at Goodreads, too, knocking 32 or 33 books off my pre-2015 TBR pile.


(There are some overlaps with the TBR Challenge, and as I’ve been compiling this post, I’ve realised I missed a few out!) But I’m back into both challenges again this year and shall attempt to update my progress more regularly than I managed in 2015.

To sum up, almost half the books I read and/or listened to last year got at least 4 stars, which I think is a pretty good strike rate considering the numbers of books put out (and the amount of dross that’s out there to wade through).  2016 is also off to a good start, so keep watching these pages (or find me at my other haunts!) to find out what’s making me happy :)

A Gentleman’s Game (Romance of the Turf #1) by Theresa Romain

A Gentleman's Game
This title may be purchased from Amazon

Suave Nathaniel Chandler can just as easily talk himself into a willing lady’s embrace as he can broker a business deal. But no amount of charm is sufficient to cloak a chilling, recent discovery: every one of his award-winning racehorses has suddenly and mysteriously fallen ill.

Determined to discover the source of the problem, Nathaniel searches for all possible explanations. His suspicions fall on the alluring Rosalind Agate, his father’s new secretary. But for the sake of both their livelihoods – and his recent attraction – Nathaniel sets aside his suspicions. Instead, he decides to use Rosalind’s wit and her wiles as key components of his investigative team.

As the upcoming race draws near, Nathaniel and Rosalind must use every trick up their sleeves to not only catch the culprit, but also satisfy the desire that burns between them…

Rating: B+

Even though Theresa Romain is one of my favourite historical romance authors, I did raise my eyebrows when I learned that she was writing a series of books which would be based around the Sport of Kings (horse racing). I know nothing about it – or horses – and wasn’t quite sure I’d be interested in reading stories about horse-mad people… but Ms Romain has never steered me wrong yet and I trust her to tell a good story in which the characters are front and centre. And indeed, A Gentleman’s Game, the first novel in her new Romance of the Turf series, once again showcases her ability to tell a good story and to create strong, likeable characters with whom readers can engage and empathise.

Nathaniel Chandler is the younger son of Sir William, formidable patriarch and owner of the family horse training business and stud farm. Owing to a misjudged act of rebellion when Nathaniel was just fifteen, father and son have an uncomfortable relationship; and even though Nathaniel travels the country buying and selling horses and taking care of various aspects of the business, Sir William doesn’t really trust him and believes him to be irresponsible. Knowing his father’s opinion, Nathaniel finds himself almost unconsciously playing up to the view of him as a flippant, devil-may-care sort who doesn’t take anything seriously.

Returning from his latest trip, Nathaniel again encounters his father’s new secretary, Rosalind Agate, whom he quickly realises is intelligent, competent and possessed of a dry wit – and finds her to be much more appealing than he remembers. He has also returned to bad news; three of their horses (two of which are slated to run in the upcoming Derby at Epsom) have gone down with bad cases of colic for no apparent reason. Together, Nathaniel and Rosalind attempt to discover the cause – but Rosalind fears that she already knows.

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

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Noble Satyr (Roxton Saga #1) & Eternally Yours (Roxton Saga #3.5) by Lucinda Brant (audiobooks) – Narrated by Alex Wyhdham

noble satyr

This title is available to download from Audible via Amazon

1740s France and England.

Abandoned to fend for herself at the court of Versailles, Antonia turns to her distant cousin, the all-powerful Duke of Roxton, to help her escape the attentions of a lecherous nobleman. Roxton is an unlikely savior-arrogant, promiscuous, and sinister. Antonia’s unquestioning belief in him may just be his salvation, and her undoing.

Rating: Narration – A+; Content: B+

I confess that I did find it a little odd that Noble Satyr, the first book in Lucinda Brant’s Roxton Family Saga was the last one to be released in audio, but whatever the reason, it was well worth the wait to finally get to listen to Roxton and Antonia’s love-story. At first glance, the premise of “world-weary-rake-tamed-by-love” may seem somewhat formulaic, but Ms Brant puts her own, distinctive spin on the tale, making it a thoroughly entertaining listen filled with strongly drawn characters, a poignant and well-written central romance and an utterly compelling hero in the titular Satyr himself, Renard, Fifth Duke of Roxton.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

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eternally yours

This title is available to download from Audible via Amazon

These are letters from the private correspondence of the Roxton family, spanning 1743-1777, with extracts from the diaries of Antonia, fifth duchess of Roxton and seventh duchess of Kinross. They include Roxton’s last letter to Antonia. This volume complements the first three books of the award-winning Roxton Family Saga: Noble Satyr, Midnight Marriage, and Autumn Duchess, with a foreword by a late-Victorian descendant, Alice-Victoria, 10th duchess of Roxton.

Rating: Narration – A+; Content: B+

First off, I have to say that if you haven’t read or listened to the first three books in Lucinda Brant’s Roxton Family Saga (Noble Satyr, Midnight Marriage and Autumn Duchess), then this companion volume won’t make much sense to you. If, however, you are up to speed with the series, then Eternally Yours is an enjoyable and informative series of vignettes in the form of letters and diary entries from various characters in those books that supply some of the background information to the events that take place or are referred to “off stage” in each book.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

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Duke of My Heart (Season for Scandal #1) by Kelly Bowen

duke of my heart
This title is available to purchase from Amazon

Scandal can be handled…

Captain Maximus Harcourt, the unconventional tenth Duke of Alderidge, can deal with tropical storms, raging seas, and the fiercest of pirates. But he’s returned home from his latest voyage to find a naked earl—quite inconveniently deceased—tied to his missing sister’s bed. And he has only one place to turn. Now he’s at the mercy of the captivating Miss Ivory Moore of Chegarre & Associates, known throughout London for smoothing over the most dire of scandals.

Miss Moore treats the crisis as though it were no more serious than a cup of spilt tea on an expensive rug. As though this sort of thing happened on the job every day. Max has never in all his life met a woman with such nerve. Her dark eyes are too wide, her mouth is too full, her cheekbones too sharp. Yet together, she’s somehow…flawless. It’s just like his love for her, imperfect, unexpected—yet absolutely true.

Is anyone else confused by the choice of the dress for the cover model? The book is set in 1819 and that is most definitely NOT a late Regency era dress.

Rating: B

I thoroughly enjoyed the books I read in Kelly Bowen’s début Dukes of Worth series last year, and had marked her out as a new author to watch as a result. In Duke of My Heart she has once again crafted an entertaining story that is well-written and strongly characterised, with deft touches of humour and a nicely developed romance.

Maximus Harcourt, Duke of Alderidge, returns home after two years at sea to discover a dead, naked earl tied to his sister’s bed and his sister missing, while downstairs, there is a ballroom full of people gathered to mark Lady Beatrice’s come-out. Used to being in control and having every order obeyed, he isn’t predisposed to listen to the advice of the lovely, but unfamiliar woman who seems to have taken charge of the situation and starts telling him what to do.

Miss Ivory Moore represents Chagarre & Associates, an incredibly discreet organisation that specialises in fixing the seemingly unfixable, salvaging reputations and making scandals disappear. She has been summoned by Max’s aunt, Lady Helen, to prevent the ruin of her niece’s reputation as well as to see if she can discover what has happened to her. But Ivory’s clients are usually pleased to allow her to handle everything and then pay the bill, and Max makes it quite clear that he isn’t having any of that. His sister is missing, and it’s his responsibility to find her.

Max and Ivory’s relationship doesn’t get off to a great start, but once his initial panic wears off, Max realises that Ivory does know what she’s doing and starts to trust her. And for her part, Ivory has to accept that Max isn’t going to be a typical client who just sits back and waits for results. Even so, the pair continues to clash over methods, with Max generally wanting to rush in all guns blazing, while Ivory wants to take a more considered approach.

Being a third son, there was never any expectation that Max would inherit the dukedom, and so he was never prepared for it. In fact, his parents never bothered all that much about him and packed him off to sea as soon as he was old enough. But even though the death of his father and twin brothers has brought him a title, he doesn’t feel like a duke; he has never felt comfortable in the ballrooms and drawing rooms of the ton, loves his life at sea and sees no reason to change it. He believed he was doing the best for his sister and all his dependents by leaving them in the capable hands of his aunt while he pursued his interests elsewhere… but Beatrice’s disappearance is the catalyst for his realisation that perhaps what he thought was right for her was no such thing, and for him to face up to the fact that he has been running from his responsibilities.

And Ivory has spent so long bearing her own burdens and taking care of herself and everyone around her that she has almost forgotten what it is like to be able to let someone else shoulder some of them and what it is like to trust another person. Yet part of her longs to be able to share some of those burdens with Max, even if only for a short while, before he leaves England and returns to his former life at sea.

I enjoyed the book and raced through it in a couple of sittings. The premise is different, and both protagonists are complex, well-rounded characters with good reasons for acting as they do. I liked how Ivory was able to bring Max to draw his own conclusions about his deficiencies as a brother, and how Max was able to show Ivory that allowing a man into her life didn’t mean she was weak or had to give up her independence (although, of course, it would depend on her choosing the right man!)

But with all that said, there were a couple of things in the story that didn’t quite work for me. In the first place, the idea that an unmarried, childless peer of the realm – and a duke, no less – could spend his life captaining his fleet of ships rather than attending to his responsibilities to his estate and dependents required considerable suspension of disbelief; and in the second, while I appreciated Ivory’s sterling qualities, her intelligence, her desire for independence and her ability to stay one step ahead of the game, it was another big stretch to believe in her background as a former-opera-singer-turned-duchess-turned-society-‘spin-doctor’. Ms Bowen certainly gives plausible explanations for the situations of both protagonists, but I couldn’t quite buy either of them.

The ending is also a little weak. Ivory makes a distasteful deal to ensure Lady Bridget’s safety, leading Max to ride to her rescue – which he does most impressively. But then his efforts are shown to have been largely unnecessary, which made the whole thing rather anticlimactic. We’re repeatedly told that Ivory can handle herself and doesn’t need someone to rescue her, but this is a romance, and there are times when it’s allowable for one character to save the other. And it’s not as if Ivory hadn’t already pulled Max out of numerous tricky situations and saved his sister, so I think he could have been allowed his moment of glory, just that once.

I went back and forth over the final grade for this book. The weaknesses I’ve pointed out, plus the general modernity in tone pull the rating down, but those issues are balanced out by the strength of the writing, characterisation and sheer entertainment value. I enjoyed Duke of My Heart in spite of its flaws and it gets brownie points for being such a thoroughly engaging read. I would certainly recommend it to anyone looking for something a bit different and definitely intend to look out for the next in the series.

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The Hunter (Victorian Rebels #2) by Kerrigan Byrne

the hunter

This title may be purchased from Amazon

A scandalous proposal…
Christopher Argent lives in the shadows as the empire’s most elite assassin. Emotion is something he tossed away years ago, making him one of the most clear-eyed, cold-hearted, wealthiest, and therefore untouchable men in London. But when his latest target turns out to be London’s own darling, Millicent LeCour, Christopher’s whole world is turned upside down. Overwhelmed by her stunning combination of seduction and innocence, Christopher cannot complete the mission. She has made him feel again. Now, he will do anything to save her life, so that he can claim her as his own…

A perilous passion…
When Millie learns what Christopher was hired to do, she is torn between the fear in her heart and the fire in her soul. Putting herself in this notorious hunter’s arms may be her only path to safety-even if doing so could be the deadliest mistake she’s ever made. But how can she resist him? As the heat between her and Christopher burns out of control, danger lurks in the shadows. Is their desire worth the risk? Only the enemy knows what fate has in store…

Rating: B

Kerrigan Byrne certainly knows how to open a book with a bang! The prologue to The Hunter (second book in her Victorian Rebels series) is one of the most gripping and emotionally draining things I’ve read in some time. In it, we are introduced to the hero of the novel, Christopher Argent, as a young boy living in Newgate Prison with his mother, a prostitute and thief. Born behind bars, Argent has never been outside the prison walls; but as we are later to learn, his is the sort of imprisonment that never ends – an imprisonment of the mind.

Readers of the previous book in the series, The Highwayman will recall that Argent is a close associate of Dorian Blackwell, and that the two had become part of a close knit gang in Newgate, looking out for each other and eventually – through intimidation and violence – becoming the rulers of their kingdom behind bars. Since their release, Argent has been at Blackwell’s side, instrumental in the establishment of the Black Heart of Ben More’s criminal empire, his ruthlessly efficient methods of dispatching their enemies quickly earning him a reputation as one of England’s most deadly assassins.

Over the years, Argent has killed so many people that he has amassed a fortune he doesn’t know what to do with – but killing is all he knows. Like Blackwell in the previous book, he has suffered incarceration, privation, hardship and abuse; he watched his mother die in horrific circumstances and learned to use his rage to hone his skill, studying ancient martial arts with a master who taught him how to focus his considerable energies and to dispense with the unwanted complication of emotion. Now, he’s an empty shell of a man, a frighteningly proficient killer for whom his latest contract – to kill an actress named Millie LeCour – is just another day at the office.

Millie is the most celebrated actress in London, performing to sell-out houses and receiving wild acclaim for her performance as Desdemona at London’s Covent Garden Theatre. Beautiful, clever and talented, she holds audiences spellbound night after night, unaware that there is a man lurking in the shadows who is there to do more than simply enjoy the play.

Calling himself Bentley Drummle (an alias I was surprised a member of the acting fraternity didn’t immediately spot as coming from Great Expectations), Argent gains access to an after-show-party and proceeds to flirt with Millie, charming her and very quickly managing to separate her from the crowd. But for the first time ever, he can’t bring himself to do the job he has been paid to do. He is confused and disturbed by Millie’s effect on him; she makes him feel many things he doesn’t recognise – and one he does. Desire. He wants her badly, but that cannot be allowed to interfere with his purpose, and he makes another two unsuccessful attempts to kill her, frustrated, and angry at himself because he doesn’t understand why he is unable to carry out his instructions.

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

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Snowbound with the Notorious Rake by Sarah Mallory

snowbound with the notorious rake

This title is currently available in Kindle edition as part of a double book set: One Snowy Regency Christmas: A Regency Christmas Carol / Snowbound with the Notorious Rake

One wicked Christmas night…

Trapped by a blizzard, the sight of notorious rogue Sir Lawrence Daunton almost makes schoolteacher Rose Westerhill turn back into the snow! When it becomes apparent she has nowhere else to go Rose accepts his offer of shelter, vowing to remain indifferent to his practiced charm.

But as the temperature outside drops, she finds the wicked rake’s sizzling seduction impossible to resist. For one stolen night Rose abandons her principles—and her body!—to his expert ministrations. Christmas with the rakish Lawrence promises to be a thoroughly improper yuletide celebration….

Rating: B-

I picked up Snowbound With the Notorious Rake because I generally enjoy books by Sarah Mallory and because I was in the mood for something wintry right after Christmas. Although the story begins during a Yuletide snowstorm, it actually spans a year and isn’t especially Christmassy, so I didn’t feel weird reading it in January! It’s a fairly predictable story but a well-written one and the relationship between the central characters is imbued with a real sense of longing and sensuality.

The eponymous rake is Sir Lawrence Daunton, who has holed himself up at his hunting box in the wilds of Exmoor in order to avoid spending Christmas with his family. They love him and he loves them, but since the death of his fiancée fourteen months previously, he has found it difficult to spend time with them because they suffocate him with their sympathy and condolences, and because he feels incredibly guilty at having neglected Annabelle while he lived a life of dissipation and idleness in London.

He’s settling in for an evening by the fire with a bottle, when a knock at the door throws his plans for a quiet, gently drunken mope into disarray. An attractive young woman is on the doorstep, her coach having taken a wrong turn in the snowstorm, and by now, the weather is so bad that it is not possible for her to continue her journey.

Rose Westerhill is a widow who lives in the village of Mersecombe some ten miles away, where she is the local school teacher. She is initially alarmed at the prospect of spending time alone with a man whose name regularly appears in the gossip rags, but is soon surprised to discover that Lawrence is nothing like she would have supposed. He’s kind and funny, and while he does make a few flirtatious remarks, she knows she is safe with him. Over the few days they are stuck together, they talk and laugh and get to know each other a little, and Rose is disturbed to find that she is very attracted to him. The feeling is most definitely mutual, and the couple agrees to one night together, after which they will go their separate ways.

But next morning, Lawrence finds it isn’t easy to let Rose go, and wants to see her again. However, she is adamant. She has a respectable life in Merescombe and her young son to look after; and besides, she doesn’t believe that a man of Lawrence’s reputation can reform. Her late husband was a womaniser and gambler, and she has first-hand experience of the misery that can accompany loving such a man.

Rose returns home to her school, her son Sam, and her fiancé, shipping merchant, Magnus Emsleigh, haunted by dreams of the handsome rake she thinks never to see again. So ten months later, the last thing she expects is to come face to face with Lawrence in her own sitting room.

Lawrence has been busy during those ten months, attending to business and to his estates, his previous lifestyle having lost its attraction for him. When a friend – the brother of Lawrence’s late fiancée – asks him to look into the matter of a ship lost in suspicious circumstances, he is initially dismissive, wondering how he can have anything to contribute to such an investigation. But when he discovers that the ship was owned by Magnus Emsleigh, and that many of the crew lived in and around Merescombe, he changes his mind in the hope of seeing Rose again.

The story proceeds fairly much as one might expect, with Lawrence striking up a friendship with Sam, something Magnus has never managed, believing that children should be seen and not heard, and coming to realise, from talking to the locals and the captain and crew of the Sealark that something is indeed not quite right, and that there is an insurance fraud being perpetrated. Rose avoids him when she can, afraid of her growing feelings for a man whose past is far from a shining example of respectability. Her fears are natural given her past experiences, but she is a little too intractable, seeming to want to believe the worst of Lawrence, even though he is doing his best to show her that he is a changed man. Yet the attraction between them is impossible to deny, and Rose eventually comes to admit that perhaps she was wrong and that it IS possible for a man of dissolute habits to reform.

The book is well-written and the central characters are engaging and well developed, in spite of Rose’s insistence on believing the worst of Lawrence until fairly late on in the story. On the downside, the identity of the villain is fairly obvious and the ending is overly dramatic, but that didn’t take anything away from my overall enjoyment. Most of all, I liked that while Rose was the catalyst for Lawrence’s decision that he wanted to live a different life, she wasn’t the only reason and it was a change he wanted to make for himself as well.

Snowbound with the Notorious Rake isn’t a taxing read, but it’s an enjoyable one, and I certainly didn’t regret the couple of hours I spent on it.

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This book seems now only to be available to buy as part of a duo, One Snowy Regency Christmas with A Regency Christmas Carol by Christine Merrill.