APOLOGIES…

miss piggy headdesk

… To anyone who is trying to access some of my older reviews that link to All About Romance. Because of the site re-do, many of the old links now no longer work, which means that I’m about to undertake the rather laborious task of either replacing the links or cutting and pasting in the entire reviews.

In the meantime, if you click on a review from before 1st July and it takes you to a “page not found” page at AAR, please just go to the AAR Home Page and do a Power Search for the title you’re looking for.

I will get there eventually, but I’ve written well over 300 reviews for AAR, so obviously, it’s going to take me a while.

Why Do Dukes Fall in Love? (Dukes Behaving Badly #4) by Megan Frampton

Why do dukes fall in loveThis title may be purchased from Amazon.

Michael, the Duke of Hadlow, has the liberty of enjoying an indiscretion . . . or several. But when it comes time for him to take a proper bride, he ultimately realizes he wants only one woman: Edwina Cheltam. He’d hired her as his secretary, only to quickly discover she was sensuous and intelligent.

They embark on a passionate affair, and when she breaks it off, he accepts her decision as the logical one . . . but only at first. Then he decides to pursue her.

Michael is brilliant, single-minded, and utterly indifferent to being the talk of the ton. It’s even said his only true friend is his dog. Edwina had begged him to marry someone appropriate–—someone aristocratic . . . someone high-born . . . someone else. But the only thing more persuasive than a duke intent on seduction is one who has fallen irrevocably in love.

Rating:B

Why Do Dukes Fall in Love? asks the overly cutsey title of this, the fourth book in Megan Frampton’s Dukes Behaving Badly series.  Before I answer that, I’m going to ask a question of my own.  Is there anyone out there who isn’t fed up with the current vogue for horribly contrived romance novel titles based on song/movie appellations?

Fortunately, the first answer to the first question (there are a number given throughout the story) – Because it’s better than falling into a muddy ditch – sets the tone for this particular book, which is deftly written and strongly characterised with a nice line in deadpan humour and a well-matched central couple who are a little out of the ordinary.

Mrs Edwina Cheltam’s late husband has left her practically destitute; and with a young daughter to provide for, she needs to find a way of supporting them, and quickly.  She turns to a close friend for advice; a friend who runs an employment agency which, in her more prosperous past, Edwina had used in order to find suitable domestics.  Now the boot is on the other foot, and it’s Edwina who needs to find a job.  Fortunately, she is clever; up until the year before his death, she had managed all her husband’s business interests and her excellent stewardship had grown his investments considerably.  Unfortunately, she is also female – and there is no place for intelligent, business-minded women in the strict society of the mid-nineteenth century.  Mr Cheltam married his much younger wife simply because she was beautiful and he liked schmoozing with her on his arm.  In the last year of his life, he had transferred the management of his affairs to his younger brother, with the disastrous results that now mean Edwina has nothing.

Michael, the Duke of Hadlow, is precise, controlled, blunt and honest to a fault.  He doesn’t suffer fools at all, let alone gladly, and has no patience with meandering small-talk or the little white lies that keep the wheels of society turning.  He’s undoubtedly the sort of man who would simply reply “yes” when asked “does my bum look big in this?”.  He’s also fiercely intelligent and ruthlessly dedicated to running his many and varied business interests which range from agriculture to railways and he has no time or patience for flattery, sycophancy or anything that embellishes the plain and simple facts of whatever it is that interests him.  At first, I wondered if his excessive orderliness and his seeming inability to understand or offer what most of us would regard as normal responses to personal and social interaction were an indication that he might have sociopathic tendencies, or perhaps be a high-functioning autistic.  Obviously, neither of these were conditions that would have been understood at the time the book is set, so the author doesn’t attempt to classify Hadlow’s reactions in those terms.  He does eventually develop an awareness of others and of the need for empathy through his association with Edwina, so I suppose he could just as easily be a man whose inheritance of a lofty social position at an early age meant he never had to bother with simple manners or to worry about how his no-nonsense attitude would be received by others.

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

The Rogue (Devil’s Duke #1) by Katharine Ashe (audiobook) – narrated by Saskia Maarleveld

the rogue (2)
This title is available to download from Audible.

Lady Constance Read is independent, beautiful, and in need of a husband – now. The last man on earth she wants is the rogue who broke her heart six years ago, never mind that his kisses are scorching hot.

Evan Saint-André Sterling is rich, scarred, and finished with women forever. He’s not about to lose his head over the bewitching beauty who once turned his life upside down. But Constance needs a warrior, and Saint is the perfect man for the job. Only as a married woman can she penetrate Scotland’s most notorious secret society and bring a diabolical duke to justice.

When Constance and Saint become allies – and passionate lovers – he’ll risk everything to protect the only woman he has ever loved.

Rating: Narration – B; Content – A-

I was so pleased when I saw that The Rogue was coming out in audio format. I read and loved the book earlier this year; it’s a beautifully written, sensual and tender romance combined with a dash of mystery and boasts one of the most wonderful romantic heroes I’ve read in quite some time. While it’s a continuation of the author’s Falcon Club series, the book also marks the beginning of the Devil’s Duke trilogy; so while some of the characters from the earlier books are referenced and make cameo appearances, it’s perfectly possible to enjoy The Rogue as a standalone.

Six years before the start of the story proper, Lady Constance, eighteen-year-old daughter of the Duke of Read, meets and falls in love with a mysterious, stunningly handsome young man. They enjoy a gentle flirtation and exchange some passionate kisses during the two weeks they manage to meet in secret, but it’s not long before they are discovered and Constance’s love is sent away.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

The Virgin and the Viscount (Bachelor Lords of London #2) by Charis Michaels

the virgin and the viscount

This title is available to purchase from Amazon.

The Virgin

Lady Elisabeth Hamilton-Baythes has a painful secret. At fifteen, she was abducted by highwaymen and sold to a brothel. But two days later, she was rescued by a young lord, a man she’s never forgotten. Now, she’s devoted herself to save other innocents from a similar fate.

The Viscount

Bryson Courtland, Viscount Rainsleigh, never breaks the rules. Well, once, but that was a long time ago. He’s finally escaped his unhappy past to become one of the wealthiest noblemen in Britain. The last thing he needs to complete his ideal life? A perfectly proper wife.

The Unraveling

When Bryson and Elisabeth meet, he sees only a flawless candidate for his future wife. But a distant memory calls to him every time he’s with her. Elisabeth knows she’s not the wife Bryson needs, and he is the only person who has the power to reveal her secret. But neither can resist the devastating pull of attraction, and as the truth comes to light, they must discover that an improper love is the truest of all.

Rating:B

The Virgin and the Viscount is the second book in the Bachelor Lords of London Series, and although I haven’t read the first book, this works perfectly well as a standalone.  Ms Michaels is a new-to-me author and while the premise of this story – a man trying to rebuild his family’s shattered reputation falls for a woman who may tip the scales the wrong way – isn’t one I’m normally drawn to, this book turned out to be a lot better than I’d expected and I was fairly confident I’d be rating it highly.  Or so I thought, until around the last twenty percent or so, when the story veered off in a different direction, as though the author suddenly realised she had another story to tell about these characters and had to squash it in before the end.

Fifteen years earlier, the coach carrying Lady Elisabeth Hamilton-Baythes and her parents home from an engagement was set upon by highwaymen.  Her parents were shot and killed and Lady Elisabeth was taken away and sold to a brothel, where her youth (she was just fifteen) and virginity would fetch a high price.  Just a few hours after her arrival she was paraded before a group of men who said they would return for her and who, the following night did just that.  Although earmarked for the bed of the notorious libertine, Viscount Rainsleigh, one of the girls saved Elisabeth by switching places with her and sending her instead to the room of the viscount’s nineteen year-old son.

Having been drugged by his father and cousin, who think the entire thing a great joke, but with absolutely no desire to spend an evening at a brothel, the young man helps Elisabeth to escape and to find her way to her aunt’s Mayfair home.  Lady Elisabeth has lived there ever since, but she has never forgotten her ordeal, or the dashing young man who rescued her.  Determined to help other women who have fallen or been forced into prostitution, she sets up and runs a charitable foundation which finds such girls, takes them in, educates them and eventually finds them respectable employment.  As for the young man… well she has discovered from the newspapers that he has now become Viscount Rainsleigh and that he has worked incredibly hard to make something of himself and to do his utmost to erase society’s memories of the myriad indiscretions and the depravity regularly practiced by both his parents.

Bryson Courtland has most certainly made something of himself.  Over the past fifteen years, he has earned himself a fortune from his numerous and varied business interests, and has lived his life as differently from his parents as he possibly could.  He is a model of propriety, a young gentleman who indulges in none of the vices so loved by other men of his station – including his rogue of a younger brother – and who is keen to return to society and to walk through the many doors which his parents’ reputations ensured have been closed to him for many years.  At thirty-four, he knows it is time for him to find a wife and sire an heir, so he initially tasks his secretary with finding him a list of suitable candidates from among the marriageable young ladies of the ton.  Rainsleigh thinks it would probably be for the best were his wife not to inspire passion in him – he doesn’t want to find himself “consumed” by the same strong emotions that were the cause of his parents’ licentious ways.

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

The Fairest of Them All (Marrying the Duke #2) by Cathy Maxwell (audiobook) – Narrated by Mary Jane Wells

fairest of them all audo

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon.

The penniless orphan of a disreputable earl, Lady Charlene Blanchard thrives on the adventure of picking the pockets of unsavory gentlemen to survive. But due to her extraordinary beauty and prized bloodlines, she is hand-chosen as a potential bride for the Duke of Baynton, who is on the hunt for a suitable wife to provide heirs. All Char has to do is act the part she was born to play and charm a duke she’s never laid eyes on into proposing. Except the duke turns out to be the tall, dark and sexy stranger who just caught her red-handed as a thief!

Or is he? Jack Whitridge is the duke’s twin who had “gone missing” over ten years ago. Now back in England, he knows that the supposed Lady who has his brother’s love is hardly duchess material—except he needs her to save his adopted country from war. He is willing to bargain with her heart, until he finds himself falling for Char . . .

Rating: Narration – A; Content – C-

I’m going to confess upfront that the only reason I chose to listen to this second book in Cathy Maxwell’sMarrying the Duke series, The Fairest of Them All, is because Mary Jane Wells is the narrator. I was singularly underwhelmed by the first book, The Match of the Century, which was where we first met Gavin Whitridge, the Duke of Baynton. That book tells the story of Gavin’s younger brother, Benedict, and Elin Morris, the young lady to whom Gavin had been betrothed for a number of years. Ben and Elin had been young lovers who were torn asunder when their fathers discovered them, and the book tells the story of their finding their way back to each other.

Although he genuinely cared for Elin, Gavin clearly saw that she and Ben were meant for one another and graciously stepped aside. But he is still in the market for a wife, and in the manner of handsome princes everywhere, holds a ball to which all the eligible young ladies of the ton are invited. He is instantly captivated by the most beautiful young woman he has ever seen, Lady Charlene Blanchard, the daughter of an earl who gambled away everything he owned and then took his own life, leaving his wife and daughter practically destitute. Even so, Charlene is lovely, demure, poised and everything Gavin is looking for in a duchess. He quickly secures her hand for the first dance, but things don’t get that far because the ball is suddenly interrupted by a group of American gentlemen, one of whom turns out to be Gavin’s long-lost twin brother, Jack, who disappeared from Eton when they were fifteen and from whom nothing has been heard for the last seventeen years.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

His Royal Secret (Royal Secret #1) by Lilah Pace

his royal secret

This title may be purchased from Amazon.

James, the handsome, cosmopolitan Prince of Wales, is used to being in the public eye. But he’s keeping a king-sized secret…James, next in line for the throne, is gay.

He’s been able to hide his sexual orientation with the help of his best friend and beard, Lady Cassandra. Sometimes he feels like a coward for not coming out, but he daren’t risk losing the crown. If he did, the succession would fall on his deeply troubled younger sister, Princess Amelia. To protect her, James is willing to live a lie.

While on holiday, he meets Benjamin Dahan—a rugged international reporter with a globe-trotting, unattached life—who catches far more than James’s eye. And when Ben is transferred to London, it seems fate may finally be smiling on James.

But what began as a torrid fling grows into something far more intimate and powerful. Soon James will have to decide who he is, what he wants from life and love, and what he’s willing to sacrifice for the truth…

Rating:A

This book, and its upcoming sequel, His Royal Favourite, are set in an alternate Great Britain in which – if I read it right – Queen Victoria and the House of Windsor didn’t exist. It’s 2012, the reigning monarch is eighty-three year old King George IX of the House of Hanover, and the next in line to the throne is his grandson, James, who became Prince of Wales following the tragic deaths of his parents in a plane crash a decade earlier when he was nineteen.

James is handsome, charming and popular. He is well aware of how privileged his life is but also knows what is expected of him as the Prince of Wales now, and, in probably not so many years, as King of England. As the actual royal family must, James has to cope with life in the goldfish bowl that is the public eye and with the constant attention of the tabloid press, the gossip magazines and the paparazzi. This is stressful and difficult at the best of times, but for James it makes his life even harder than it already is, because he is gay. He had come out to his father, who was surprised but fully supportive and the two of them had intended to discuss a strategy for James to come out publicly once Prince Edmund returned from his trip to Austraila. Unfortunately, Edmund was killed before he could do so, and James remains in the closet, understanding the ramifications his homosexuality could have in relation to the monarch’s position as Head of the Church of England and of the Commonwealth, and convinced that the British public will not accept a gay man as the next king. He also knows that, should he step aside – whether voluntarily or because he has been forced to do so – the burden of future sovereignty will fall upon his sister, Amelia, an emotionally fragile and troubled young woman who would not be able to cope with all the demands such a position would place upon her.

So James continues to live a lie, protected by his long-term friend, Lady Cassandra who knows the truth and has acted as James’ beard for the last ten years. She is frequently the target of vicious attacks in the tabloids, which have got much worse lately because she has been seen in the company of another man. She is one of the small number of people who know the truth about James’ sexuality, and even though she thinks he should come out, she continues to stand by him in spite of the huge personal cost.

James is on a royal visit to Kenya when he meets Benjamin Dahan, an Israeli-born German national who is staying at the same complex. Ben sees a guy stuck outside in a downpour and invites him to take shelter on his patio without at first realising who he is. He quickly does realise, of course, but it’s immediately clear that James likes the informality and the opportunity to be a normal guy just having a drink with someone. They drink, chat, play a rather sexually-charged game of chess and end up in bed together. James has to be incredibly careful given his position, and this is the first time in three years he has let himself give in to his sexual urges. He was badly burned by his last relationship, in which the man he thought cared for him betrayed him when things ended between them, so James is naturally wary – but there is something about Ben that makes him feel comfortable. Ben tells James he writes, and doesn’t correct James’ assumption that he is a novelist when in fact, he is a journalist who reports on economic and financial matters for a major news organisation. When James discovers this at the end of their encounter, he is utterly horrified and accuses Ben of having deliberately used him – but he has just received news that his grandfather has had a stroke and that he needs to return to London right away. Sick with trepidation and fear, James waits for the story to break – but it never does, and he realises that, unlike so many other reporters, Ben was not out to get a story.

A month later, James is astonished to see Ben at a charity event in London, and finds the opportunity to speak to him privately. They apologise to each other and agree to get together again, which they do later that night. This marks the beginning of a passionate affair which both men know can be nothing more than sex, but that suits them. James’ life is not his own most of the time which means he can’t really entertain the idea of anything long-term; and Ben has trust and commitment issues as the result of a previous relationship, so a no-strings affair with lots of great sex is absolutely what he wants.

But it’s not long before things start to change between them, and they become more emotionally involved than they had wanted or expected. The sex scenes are quite numerous and hot, but the author also does a great job with showing how their relationship is evolving and how they care for each other, mostly through a series of little things and gestures, which are very telling. Even though Ben is determined to keep himself from becoming emotionally invested, it soon becomes clear that he can’t. James is a kind, generous, loving man, and even though Ben, as a journalist, has some idea of how little privacy James has, he is nonetheless unprepared for the enormity of it and can’t help being weirded out by all the custom and protocol that surrounds the prince’s position.

One of the most impressive things about this book is the picture Lilah Pace has painted of the day-to-day “job” of being a member of the royal family, or The Firm, as it is known. She aptly describes the different attitudes and power conflicts within the family; has a firm grasp of the political implications of James’ sexuality and absolutely nails the difficulties of the constant 24/7 year-round scrutiny faced by someone in James’ situation. James is a man with a strong sense of duty and honour, mindful of what is owed to his position and determined to do his absolute best, yet he can’t speak out or answer back those who will pounce on the slightest misstep – so it’s no wonder he doesn’t want to come out and open his life up to minute scrutiny.

Ben is just as likeable, a bit of a grouchy bear, and somewhat bewildered by the world into which he has suddenly been drawn courtesy of his association with James. I particularly liked the way we are shown him coming to a gradual realisation as to the truth of what James’ life is actually like, and how he comes to understand his decision to keep his sexuality a secret. The chemistry between the two men is seriously hot, but one can also feel the love and affection running alongside it. There are some wonderfully poignant moments between James and his sister Amelia (or Indigo, as she prefers to be known), and I don’t mind admitting that I had a lump in my throat near the end, when Ben decides to stand by James at a difficult time.

His Royal Secret is book one of a duology, so the story here ends with an HFN and the knowledge that there is much more to come in the next book, His Royal Favourite. I raced through both of them one after the other in the same afternoon, and had to wonder why the two weren’t just published as one long (but not overlong) book rather than in two halves. Whatever the reason, His Royal Secret is a thoroughly enjoyable read that makes a wonderfully romantic, sexy and gripping story out of an unusual premise and, as I said in my original note at Goodreads, “I can’t think of a single thing I disliked… Not one.”

Lord of Deceit (Heiress Games #2) by Sara Ramsey

Lord of Deceit

This title may be purchased from Amazon.

Rule #1: Never give your heart to a rake…

Octavia Briarley took society by storm during her debut season — until one disastrous night changed everything, and she was forced to become London’s most notorious courtesan. She’s already paid the price for trusting too easily, and she won’t make the same mistake again. But when she finally gets a chance to take revenge against the cousin who betrayed her, Octavia needs a willing partner for her schemes — someone charming, aristocratic, and devilish. The kind of man she might have married, in a different life. And the kind of man she absolutely can’t risk giving her heart to….

Rule #2: Never fall in love with the target…

Lord Rafael Emmerson-Fairhurst survived as a spy in Spain through charm and subterfuge. In London, he uses those same skills to pursue justice against those who are above the law. His next mission is Lord Somerville — Octavia’s former patron. When Octavia asks Rafe to help sabotage her cousin’s house party, he can’t refuse. If he can destroy Somerville by using her…well, Rafe never claimed to be a saint, and he never promised to protect her. But he never expected Octavia to be quite so delightful — or quite so inexperienced, given her bold demands and reckless smile. And falling in love is a mistake he’s never made before….

Rule #3: Never ignore your destiny…

As Rafe and Octavia set out to ruin the most illustrious house party of the summer, they discover that revenge can’t possibly compete with the pleasure they find in each other’s arms. Can an innocent courtesan and a broken charmer risk losing everything they ever wanted to seize the love they never expected to find?

Rating:B-

Lord of Deceit is the second book in Sara Ramsey’s Heiress Games series about the three “Briarley heiresses” who, because of a strange clause in their eccentric grandfather’s will, are forced to compete against each other in order to inherit their family estate of Maidenstone. I have to admit that the gap of eighteen months between this and the first book (Duke of Thorns) meant I had to go back and re-read my review to refresh my memory about some of the plot details and characters, but I think that had I not felt the need to do that for the sake of completeness, I could have read this as a standalone without too many problems.

Ladies Octavia, Lucasta and Callista Briarley are cousins whose stand to inherit a large estate and fortune, but their late grandfather’s will stipulates that the inheritance can only go to one of them, and that one will be the lady who makes the most prestigious marriage. At the beginning of the party, however, it seems as though only Lucy is in contention as Callista now lives in America and Octavia left Maidenstone in disgrace some years earlier. At one point in their lives, Lucy and Octavia were very close, but the rift between them caused when Octavia’s brother was killed in a duel defending her honour – a duel for which she blames Lucy – is wide, deep, and unlikely ever to heal.

And that’s the way Octavia likes it. Being the subject of a duel set the seal on her ruin, so when the opportunity came to get away from Maidenstone, from Lucy’s recriminations and from her fears about being trapped there forever, she took it, accepting an offer of carte blanche from Lord Sommerville. What the handsome young gentleman wanted however, was a hostess for his political salons rather than someone to warm his bed, something which became apparent to Lucy quite quickly. But still, he treats her well, and in the years she lives as his mistress, Octavia makes quite a name for herself as a hostess – among the demimondaine, of course, given her status as a fallen woman. When Lord Rafael Emmerson-Fairhurst, younger brother of the Duke of Thorrington, walks into one of these salons, Octavia is shaken by the strength of her attraction to a man for the first time in years.

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