The Earl (Devil’s Duke #2) by Katharine Ashe (audiobook) – Narrated by Saskia Maarleveld

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This title may be downloaded from Audible

In Katharine Ashe’s newest unforgettable romance, the question on everyone’s lips is answered at last: Who is Lady Justice?

How does a lady of wit and courage bring an arrogant lord to his knees? Entice him to Scotland, strip him of titles and riches, and make him prove what sort of man he truly is.

Opposites…

Handsome, wealthy, and sublimely confident, Colin Gray, the new Earl of Egremoor, has vowed to unmask the rabble-rousing pamphleteer Lady Justice, the thorn in England’s paw. And he’ll stop at nothing.

Attract.

Smart, big-hearted, and passionately dedicated to her work, Lady Justice longs to teach her nemesis a lesson in humility. But her sister is missing, and a perilous journey with her archrival into unknown territory just might turn fierce enemies into lovers.

Rating: Narration – B+; Content – A

The Earl is the second book in Katharine Ashe’s Devil’s Duke series (The Rogue is book 1), and is also the last in her Falcon Club series which is not, sadly, available in audio format. Because it refers to a number of characters and events featured in earlier stories, this might not be the best introduction to Ms. Ashe’s work for anyone unfamiliar with it, although it could be listened to as a standalone if you’re prepared to do a bit of homework in advance and perhaps read a few reviews and the synopses of the earlier books.

Throughout the Falcon Club books, the club’s secretary, Peregrine, carried on a public, witty and usually caustic correspondence with Lady Justice, a popular pamphleteer whose passionate outpourings on the subject of political reform and disdain for the injustices wreaked on the masses by the privileged few are a real thorn in the side of the establishment. But at the end of The Rogue, the unthinkable happened. Knowing of the Falcon Club’s expertise at locating missing persons, Lady Justice asked Peregrine for help to locate a young woman who has disappeared.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

Married for His Convenience by Eleanor Webster

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Purchase Now from Amazon.

A plain countess…

Tainted by illegitimacy, plain Sarah Martin has no illusions of a grand marriage. So when the Earl of Langford makes her a proposal which will take her one step closer to finding her half-sister, she can’t refuse!

Sebastian’s dreams of romance died with his late wife’s affair, so now he needs a convenient wife to act as governess for his silent daughter. Yet Sarah continues to surprise and challenge him, and soon Sebastian can’t deny the joy his new bride could bring to his life – and into his bed!

Rating: B-

There are quite a few plot strands running through Married for His Convenience; in fact I’m not sure there aren’t a few too many. As well as the convenient marriage promised by the title, we have the subplot of the hero’s search for his missing son, the parallel plotline of the heroine searching for her long-lost sister, the hero’s electively mute daughter, a mysterious Scarlet Pimpernel type character called the English Lion, to name just a few … and it’s all crammed in to the usual (for a Harlequin Historical) 288 pages, meaning that some of those elements aren’t developed all that well and there are a lot of questions left unanswered.

Sebastian Hastings, Earl of Langford, gave up on love after the wife he loved to distraction ran off with another man, taking Sebastian’s two children to France along with them. The adulterous couple fled to France at the worst time imaginable (the book opens in 1793, so France wasn’t exactly the best place for an aristocratic lady to be), and although Sebastian’s daughter has been returned to him, his wife is now dead at the hands of Madame la Guillotine, and his son has disappeared.

Sebastian hopes that his friend, Kit Eavensham, may have received some news regarding Edwin from the English Lion. Kit tells him that the Lion’s contacts have established that there is no evidence of the boy’s death, but that is all he has discovered, along with the fact that Sebastian’s wife’s lover is at large somewhere, having escaped the Bastille.

During the course of his visit to the Eavenshams, Sebastian encounters Miss Sarah Martin, the ward of their neighbour, Mrs. Crawford, when Sarah is trying to rescue a wounded rabbit. Even her dowdy, unprepossessing appearance can’t disguise a certain irrepressible quality, and what Sebastian soon discovers to be a generally good-humoured, practical approach to life in spite of her improverished circumstances. Deciding that her compassion for animals and everyone around her makes Sarah the ideal candidate, Sebastian asks her to marry him, plainly setting out his reasons for asking. His daughter has been so traumatised by her experiences in captivity that she has withdrawn from everyone and does not speak; her governesses have been overly harsh and he needs to find someone to properly care for her. It also seems he will beneit financially from remarrying – although it’s not made clear how or why. Sarah makes it clear that she is not interested in marrying just to improve her own comfort, but when Sebastian mentions that they will reside for some of the time in London, she very quickly accepts his offer and the wedding takes place quietly, a few days later.

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

May the Best Man Win by Mira Lyn Kelly

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This title may be purchased from Amazon.

Jase Foster can’t believe his bad luck. He’s been paired with the she-devil herself for his best friend’s wedding: Emily Klein of the miles-long legs and killer smile. She may be sin in a bridesmaid dress, but there’s no way he’s falling for her again.

They can barely stand each other, but given how many of their friends are getting married, they’ll just have to play nice-at least when they’re in company. Once they’re alone, more than just gloves come off as Jase and Emily discover their chemistry is combustible, and there may be something to this enemies to lovers thing after all…

Rating: B+

I’m not a great reader of Contemporary Romance, but every so often, a book will catch my eye, usually because friends have enjoyed it. In this case one of my fellow AAR reviewers whetted my appetite for this charming, funny and sexy enemies-to-lovers story.

Emily Klein and Jase Foster have known each other since High School, but even though they ‘like’ liked each other back then, Jase lost the girl to his best friend, Eddie, who plucked up the courage to ask her out first – and like the good guy he still is, Jase backed off. Over a decade later, Jase and Emily still see each other occasionally, but there’s a lot of baggage between them, with each blaming the other over a significant incident in their pasts. When they meet, the gloves just about stay on as they put on a show of amity for their friends while continually sniping at each other and barely masking their dislike.

Recently, they’ve been thrown together more frequently than usual, most often at the weddings of friends at which Jase serves as groomsman while Emily is a bridesmaid. As all these friends have big, expensive weddings (and obviously more money than sense!), there are venues to be scouted, arrangements to be made and rehearsals to be attended; and as if that weren’t bad enough, Jase, at six-feet-five is one of the few men not to be dwarfed by Emily’s five-feet-eleven plus in heels, so their heights mean they’re usually paired up in processions, photos and seating plans.

At their second or third wedding on the trot, Jase and Emily can’t ignore the crackling sexual tension between them and decide that maybe hooking-up “just once – to see what it’s like” will enable them to get past this weird attraction and get back to normal; normal being when they didn’t look at each other and wonder what the other looks like with their clothes off. Only in Romancelandia does that ever seem like a good idea, but in any case, Jase and Emily pretty much scorch every flat surface they can find on more than one occasion, each time telling themselves it’s the last time.

Before long, Jase is realising that “just sex” – even the amazing, mind-numbingly incredible sex they’re having – isn’t enough for him. He doesn’t know exactly what he does want, but he knows it isn’t Emily leaping out of bed and being unable to get away fast enough, or her practically shoving him out of her apartment on the morning after. Then something happens to make him realise that perhaps he might have been wrong in some of the assumptions he made about Emily in the past and to want to get to the bottom of it and clear the air. Even though Emily is skittish, they talk it through and both of them come to understand what actually happened and to accept that things weren’t as they seemed. And Jase comes to another important realisation, too. He wasn’t there for Emily back when she needed a friend, and what he wants more than anything now is to be a friend to her as well as whatever else is going on between them. Emily isn’t quite sure she actually wants Jase as a friend, especially as it seems to mean no more toe-curling sex – but after a false start, decides to try the friendship thing… and discovers she likes it.

I liked the way the book is constructed, with Jase and Emily unable to keep their hands off each other in the first part, and then that side of things taking more of a back seat as the emotional side of the relationship comes to the fore and starts to build; and I really appreciated the way the author has Jase and Emily talking through their issues and looking back with more mature eyes to see that they both made mistakes. That’s not to say that everything in the garden is rosy after that, because even though they seem to be setting into a relationship that is good for both of them, they still have trust and commitment issues to deal with, and I admit that some of the back-and-forth got just a teeny bit irritating. Then when, near the end, Jase throws a major guy-tantrum, it felt like a complication-too-far and caused me to lower my final grade a bit.

Another issue I had was with the sheer number of mutual friends these two have, and the number of those mutual friends who were pairing up to get married. I think if Richard Curtis had been on hand, we’d have had Eight Weddings and – Another Wedding or something! But apart from those niggles, I enjoyed May the Best Man Win, which is a great mix of funny, tender, sexy and sweet. The two central characters have real depth and are likeable and attractive – plus the chemistry between them is off the charts. There’s a strong supporting cast, and I enjoyed the way the relationships between Jase and Emily and their circle of friends were presented. I suspect most of these characters will be getting their own books, and on the strength of this one, I might just pick them up.

While the Duke Was Sleeping (Rogue Files #1) by Sophie Jordan (audiobook) – Narrated by Carmen Rose

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This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon.

Sometimes the man of your dreams . . .

Shop girl Poppy Fairchurch knows it’s pointless fantasizing about the Duke of Autenberry. Still, dreams can’t hurt anyone . . . unlike the carriage Poppy spies bearing down upon the unsuspecting duke. After she pulls him to safety, the duke lapses into a coma and Poppy is mistaken for his fiancée. But one person isn’t fooled: his arrogant and much too handsome half-brother, Struan Mackenzie. Soon Poppy isn’t sure what she wants more . . . the fantasy of her duke or the reality of one smoldering Scot who challenges her at every turn.

. . . is not who you think.

An illegitimate second son, Struan may have built an empire and established himself as one of the wealthiest men in Britain, but he knows he will always be an outsider among the ton. Just like he knows the infuriating Poppy is a liar. There’s no way the haughty Duke of Autenberry would deign to wed a working class girl. It doesn’t matter how charming she is. Or tempting. Or how much Struan wants her for himself.

Rating: Narration – C+; Content – C+

How much you enjoy the storyline of While the Duke Was Sleeping (the first in Sophie Jordan’s new series, The Rogue Files) may well depend on how familiar you are with the plot of the 1995 Rom Com, While You Were Sleeping and whether or not you enjoyed it. Adapting a plot from a well-known source can be a double-edged sword, as fans of the original are bound to make comparisons, although some such retellings have worked extremely well. Clueless, for example, is a brilliant re-working of Jane Austen’s Emma,successfully translating the action of the novel to Beverly Hills while keeping very much to the spirit of the original. And Sophie Jordan’s isn’t the only Historical-Romance-Rom-Com-Makeover currently doing the rounds; Maya Rodale’s current series, Keeping Up with the Cavendishes also uses famous films as the inspiration for its plotlines, having so far mined Bridget Jones’ Diary and Roman Holiday.

Coming back to While the Duke… now I’ve listened to it, I think anyone considering it would be best off NOT thinking about the original movie while listening. In fact, the only real similarity between the two is the premise; in the film, lonely Lucy falls for the gorgeous guy she sees every day from her booth at the train station and after she saves his life, a mix up leads his warm, loving and wonderfully scatty family to believe she is his fiancée. In the book, shop-girl Poppy Fairchurch worships the handsome Duke of Autenberry from afar, eagerly awaiting his weekly visit to the flower shop where she works. When he becomes involved in an altercation with another man in the street and is knocked into the path of an oncoming carriage, Poppy pulls him to safety, and is afterwards mistaken for the duke’s fiancée.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

The Governess’s Secret Baby (Governess Tales #4) by Janice Preston

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The Beauty who tamed the Beast…

New governess Grace Bertram will do anything to get to know her young daughter Clara. Even if it means working for Clara’s guardian, the reclusive and scarred Nathaniel, Marquess of Ravenwell!

Nathaniel believes no woman could ever love a monster like him, until Grace seems to look past his scars to the man beneath… But when he discovers Grace is Clara’s mother, Nathaniel questions his place in this torn-apart family. Could there be a Christmas happy ever after for this beauty and the beast?

Rating: B

One thing you can say about Harlequin Historicals – What You See is generally What You Get when it comes to titles, and The Governess’s Secret Baby is pretty much exactly what it says on the cover. This is the final book of The Governess Tales, a set of four books written by four different authors. Each of the stories features one of a group of friends who trained to become governesses at Madame DuBois’ School for Young Ladies in Salisbury. I was fairly underwhelmed by the first book, The Cinderella Governess, but enjoyed this final instalment much more, as the story is more solidly developed and the central characters more engaging and rounded. This book works perfectly well as a standalone, so anyone new to the series won’t be disadvantaged by reading out of order.

We learned in the first book that one of the ladies, Grace Bertram, was expecting. Grace managed to keep her pregnancy a secret for most of its duration, and after she’d given birth, gave up her baby for adoption, knowing there was no way she would be able to earn a living if it were known she had borne an illegitimate child. On the day she left the school, one of her teachers disclosed to Grace the name of the people who had adopted Clara, and Grace determined to track them down to make sure that her daughter was well and happy.

Unfortunately, by the time Grace was able to find out more, her daughter’s adoptive parents had died in a tragic accident, and Clara had been taken to Shiverstone Hall in Yorkshire to live with her ‘uncle’, Nathaniel Pembroke, the Marquess of Ravenwell, whose sister had been Clara’s mother for almost two years.

Grace makes her way to the village of Shivercombe, where the stories she hears of the reclusive young marquess are, frankly, disturbing, making her all the more determined to ensure that her daughter is being well-treated. She arrives at Shiverstone Hall dishevelled, muddy and windblown, and is mistaken by the sharp-toned master of the house for the governess he has advertised for. Sensing an opportunity to actually see Clara and interact with her rather than just hear about her, Grace says that she has indeed been sent there in response to the marquess’ request, and is reunited with her daughter.

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

The Viscount and the Vixen (Hellions of Havisham Hall #3) by Lorraine Heath

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This title may be purchased from Amazon.

Love begets madness. Viscount Locksley watched it happen to his father after his cherished wife’s death. But when his sire arranges to marry flame-haired fortune hunter Portia Gadstone, Locke is compelled to take drastic measures to stop the stunning beauty from taking advantage of the marquess. A marriage of mutual pleasure could be convenient, indeed… as long as inconvenient feelings don’t interfere.

Desperation forced Portia to agree to marry a madman. The arrangement will offer the protection she needs. Or so she believes until the marquess’s distractingly handsome son peruses the fine print… and takes his father’s place!

Now the sedate — and, more importantly, secure — union Portia planned has been tossed in favor of one simmering with wicked temptation and potential heartbreak. Because as she begins to fall for her devilishly seductive husband, her dark secrets surface and threaten to ruin them both—unless Locke is willing to risk all and open his heart to love.

Rating: B+

Lorraine Heath is one of those writers whose work really resonates with me. I don’t know what it is exactly, but the emotional content of her books draws me to her time and time again, and I will often finish one of her novels feeling completely wrung out and unable to pick up another book for at least twenty-four hours. Such was the case with The Viscount and the Vixen, the final full-length novel in her Hellions of Havisham Hall series.

The Marquess of Marsden is a recluse, labelled mad by most because he is believed to have gone insane following the death of his beloved wife in childbed. Havisham Hall has been allowed to fall into disrepair over the years, and even though his son, Viscount Locksley has lived there exclusively for the past couple of years, he has made no improvements because his father dislikes change and he – Locke – doesn’t want to agitate him.

So when he arrives at the breakfast table one morning to find his father freshly shaved, smartly dressed and reading the paper, it’s a bit of a shock. Marsden usually takes his meals in his room and doesn’t bother much about his appearance, but when he tells Locke that his (Marsden’s) bride will be arriving later, Locke thinks his father is delusional and must be referring to his mother. But Marsden is perfectly lucid and explains that as Locke has so far neglected to find a wife and set up his nursery, it behoves him to marry a woman young enough to provide the necessary “spare” in order to secure the succession. And in order to do that, Marsden placed an advertisement in a newspaper which was answered by a Mrs. Portia Gadstone, with whom he has been corresponding ever since. Locke is flabbergasted, but also concerned for his father and worried that he has been taken in by a fortune hunter. When Mrs. Gadstone appears, he is knocked sideways even further; she’s luscious and he’s suddenly drowning in lust the like of which he can’t remember ever experiencing before. But even so – he’s sure she’s a gold digger and is determined to protect his father at all costs. And it quickly appears there is only one way to do that, which is to marry Portia himself.

Portia has been driven to the drastic step of marrying a man widely reputed to be insane because she’s in a desperate situation. She can’t deny that the prospect of marrying a wealthy man is an attractive one, but just as important as the marquess’ wealth is the fact that his title offers her the protection she seeks, and she is determined to be a good wife to him.

But her first sight of Marsden’s gorgeous, green-eyed son throws her for a loop, even though he makes it perfectly clear that he distrusts her and wants to stop her marrying his father. When Locke proposes she marry him instead, Portia is almost turned from her purpose, realising that her life with him will in no way fulfil her desire for quiet, rather dull existence she had envisaged having with his father. But that doesn’t alter the fact that she has imperative reasons for marrying and living in a remote location – and the deal is made.

The sexual tension between Locke and Portia is off the charts right from the start, and theirs is – to begin with – a relationship based purely on mutual lust, which suits both of them. Locke saw what his mother’s death did to his father and as a result, has no wish to experience love; and Portia doesn’t want to fall in love with a man upon whom she is practicing a serious deception. But as the story progresses, the lines between lust and affection become blurred and Portia starts to worm her way under the skin of father and son, both of whom are taken with her intelligence, wit and kindness. And for Locke, the fact that his wife is a woman whose capacity for passion matches is own is an unlooked for bonus.

Lorraine Heath has penned a lovely, tender romance that progresses at the same time as Locke and Portia are setting fire to the sheets (often!), and I particularly enjoyed the way that Portia’s gradual progress in restoring Havisham Hall, opening up long-closed rooms and making them habitable and welcoming again, mirrors her gradual unlocking of her new husband’s heart and her discovery that he is a man capable – and deserving – of a great deal of love and affection. There is never any doubt that Locke and Portia are falling in love; their actions often speak louder than their words as these two people who didn’t want love come to realise that it’s found them, regardless.

Portia’s backstory and her reasons for answering Marsden’s advertisement are drip fed throughout the book, and it’s a testament to the author’s skill that even though Portia has deliberately set out to deceive, the reader feels sympathy for her. At a time when women had no rights to anything, even their own bodies, she has had to make difficult choices and ended up living a life very different from the one she had envisaged. She owns her own mistakes, but when faced with an impossible choice, made the only decision she could live with, one which now looks set to ruin her life and happiness with the man she never intended to love.

Locke seems to be rather a stereotypical romance hero at first glance – tall, dark, handsome, cynical and a demi-god in bed – but there’s more to him than that. Underneath the veneer of charm and wicked sensuality, he’s a compassionate man with a strong sense of duty who is quite obviously fooling himself into believing he doesn’t want love when he is so clearly ready to embrace it. His relationship with Marsden is easily one of the best things about the book; the affection in which father and son hold each other leaps off the page and possesses just the right degree of exasperated tenderness. And Marsden is far more subtly drawn here than he has been in the other books; he’s unbalanced, but clearly not insane and appears to be subject to fits of melancholy rather than mentally unhinged.

When Locke discovers his wife’s dishonesty, there are, of course, some unpleasant things said, and later, Portia does perhaps forgive Locke a tad too quickly. But on balance, Locke’s willingness to listen to Portia’s story – something many men of the time would probably not have done – says much for him and about the strength of their relationship. It works in context, although I can understand that some may feel he wasn’t sufficiently remorseful and should have grovelled more.

The Viscount and the Vixen contains just about everything I want from an historical romance – complex, intriguing characters, scorching sexual tension, and a strong storyline that is firmly rooted in the era in which the story is set. Ms. Heath once again delivers those things along with finely observed familial relationships and a sexy, well-developed love story. I’ve enjoyed each of the books in this series and am looking forward to whatever the author comes up with next.

My Rogue, My Ruin (Lords of Essex #1) by Amalie Howard and Angie Morgan

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This title may be purchased from Amazon.

The Marquess of Hawksfield’s lineage is impeccable and his title coveted, but Archer Croft is as far from his indulgent peers as he can get. His loathing for the beau monde has driven him to don a secret identity and risk everything in order to steal their riches and distribute them to the less fortunate.

Lady Briannon Findlay embraces her encounter with the Masked Marauder, a gentleman thief waylaying carriages from London to Essex. The marauder has stirred Brynn’s craving for adventure, and she discovers an attraction deeper than the charming thief’s mask.

Brynn is a revelation, matching Archer in intelligence, wit, and passion. Stubborn and sensuous in equal measure, she astonishes him at every turn, but when someone sinister impersonates Archer’s secret personality, and a murder is committed, Archer begins to think he doesn’t stand a fighting chance without her.

Rating: C

When I read the storyline of My Rogue, My Ruin – in which the hero is a kind of latter-day Robin Hood – it was obvious I was going to have to be prepared to suspend my disbelief to a larger degree than normal. But that’s okay. I was in the mood for an adventure story, and if an author (in this case authors) can spin a good yarn without too many contrivances and create interesting characters I can root for, then I can accept a degree of implausibility. And as Ms. Howard and Ms. Morgan quite quickly managed to do both, things went swimmingly for the first part of the book. There’s the usual (unfortunate) smattering of Americanisms and a few small anachronisms, but the characters and motivations were established well and I was enjoying the story. But as the book progressed and the pacing started to flag, those errors and inconsistencies began to happen more frequently, culminating in an inaccuracy so large, that I had to ask myself not only if the authors had done any research at all, but also if they’d ever read an historical romance before.

But I’m getting ahead of myself, because in spite of what I’ve just said, there ARE things to enjoy in this book, which saved it from receiving a much lower rating.

Archer Croft, Marquess of Hawkesfield has a reputation for being aloof, ruthless and bad-tempered, all things that make him the complete opposite of his life-and-soul-of-the-party father, the Duke of Bradburne, whose sobriquet of ‘The Dancing Duke’ pretty much sums him up. He lives for wine, women and song – probably not so much the song – indulging his dissolute lifestyle to the extent that he has nearly bankrupted his estate and forced his son to assume the reins of the dukedom far earlier than he would otherwise have done. His constant infidelities were naturally a matter of great unhappiness for Archer’s late mother, who actually took in one of the duke’s by-blows and brought her up as her ward. But Bradburne refused to acknowledge Eloise as his daughter, and pretty much ignored her, behaviour that has continued since his wife’s death some years earlier, in a fire which also left Eloise badly scarred.

Unlike many of his peers, Archer is strongly motivated to improve the lot of the less fortunate in society, and he spares as much money as he can for charitable causes. But that isn’t – and can never be – enough, and it’s this that has led him to turn highwayman; but he takes only from those who can afford it and uses all the proceeds to help those in need.

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