Tremaine’s True Love (True Gentlemen #1) by Grace Burrowes

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Tremaine St. Michael is firmly in trade and seeks only to negotiate the sale of some fancy sheep with the Earl of Haddonfield. The earl’s sister, Lady Nita, is pragmatic, hard-working, and selfless, though Tremaine senses she’s also tired of her charitable obligations and envious of her siblings’ marital bliss. Tremaine, having been raised among shepherds, can spot another lonely soul, no matter how easily she fools her own family. Neither Tremaine nor Nita is looking for love, but love comes looking for them.

Rating: B

It’s no secret that I’m a big Grace Burrowes fan. I understand the criticisms that are sometimes levelled at her books; they can be repetitive, the heroes are too improbable, there are too many Americanisms etc., but for the most part I can forgive her those things because she writes stories that pull me in by virtue of the strength of her characterisations and the way in which she gets to the emotional heart of those characters and their stories. It’s the rare Grace Burrowes book that doesn’t quite work for me – but unfortunately, Tremaine’s True Love is one of those few.

That’s not to say it’s a bad read – far from it. It possesses the things I’ve come to expect from Ms Burrowes’ books; attractive, engaging protagonists with hidden vulnerabilities, well-written familial relationships, a gorgeous hero with a protective streak the size of the runway at Heathrow and a quirky, distinctive style of writing which I enjoy. But I found it very difficult to sympathise with the heroine in this story, which is principally why I wasn’t able to rate it more highly.

Lady Bernita (Nita) Haddonfield is the eldest sister of Nicholas, the Earl of Bellefonte. Since the death of their mother, Nita has run the household as well as taking on the role of carer and medic to those unable to afford the services of the local doctor previously performed by the late countess.

Following Nicholas’ marriage, Nita has surrendered control of the household to his wife, but even though she does not resent her sister-in-law, she nonetheless feels somewhat purposeless. She fills the gap by continuing to provide medical services to the poor of the estate and surrounding area, often putting herself at risk of illness and infection. Nicholas remonstrates with her time and time again, but Nita is adamant. If she doesn’t help these people, then who will? They can’t afford to pay anyone, and in any case, the local doctor is a quack who still believes that bleeding is the cure for everything, has no truck with hand-washing and thinks that most illnesses are inflicted as God’s punishment upon those who sin – especially if the patient is a woman.

Tremaine St. Michael appeared briefly in another of the author’s Lonely Lords series, Gabriel . He is half-French and half-Scottish, a wealthy and extremely hard-working businessman who is actually a French Comte, although it’s a title he rarely uses. He is visiting the Bellefonte estate in order to negotiate the purchase of a valuable flock of merino sheep from Nicholas, but the discussions aren’t going as well as he had expected as one of the earl’s neighbours is also interested in the valuable livestock.

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

Ross Poldark – A Novel of Cornwall, 1783-1787 by Winston Graham

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In the first novel in Winston Graham’s hit series, a weary Ross Poldark returns to England from war, looking forward to a joyful homecoming with his beloved Elizabeth. But instead he discovers his father has died, his home is overrun by livestock and drunken servants, and Elizabeth—believing Ross to be dead—is now engaged to his cousin. Ross has no choice but to start his life anew.

Thus begins the Poldark series, a heartwarming, gripping saga set in the windswept landscape of Cornwall. With an unforgettable cast of characters that spans loves, lives, and generations, this extraordinary masterwork from Winston Graham is a story you will never forget.

Rating: B+

I re-read this recently so that I could write a review for a blog tour of the reissued novel. My battered old copy looks like this:

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Ross Poldark was originally published in 1945 and is the first in what turned into a series of twelve books featuring the Poldark family and their friends, tenants and neighbours spanning a period of almost forty years, from 1783 To 1820. The final Poldark novel, Bella Poldark, was published in 2002, the year before the author’s death.

I’m old enough to remember the fabulous adaptation made by the BBC in the 1970s, which was based on the first four novels in the series (which were the only ones then written!), and was delighted at the prospect of a new adaptation of these wonderful books. Needless to say, the BBC has done a superb job once again, sticking closely to the storylines of the books so far adapted (Ross Poldark and Demelza). Naturally, such an event is bound to revitalise interest in the novels, which I read for the first time back in the 1970s and while I haven’t re-read the entire series since, I have re-read a few of them over the years, of which this first book is one.

Ross Poldark was a rather wild and reckless young man whose father sent him off to fight in America in an attempt to curb his excesses. Several years later and having risen to the rank of Captain, Ross , older, wiser, weary and battle-scarred, returns to his Cornish home of Nampara, only to find that his father is dead, and his home is in a state of complete disrepair.

As if that weren’t bad enough, Ross has more disappointments in store. Not only have his father’s business interests failed – this is a difficult time in the Cornish mining industry – but he discovers his family believed him to have died, and that the girl he loves, Elizabeth Chenoweth, has become engaged to his cousin, Francis.

Ross is bitterly disappointed, but is not the sort of man to be worn down by it. He throws himself into setting his home to rights and, most importantly, trying to find a way to support himself, as his father left him nothing other than a tumbledown home and ownership of and shares in some now defunct mines. While he continues to yearn for Elizabeth, Ross knows that she is lost to him, and finds a new purpose in the rebuilding of his home and the friendship and kindnesses offered him by his tenants. He risks almost everything he has in order to re-open one of the mines, not only to provide an income for himself but to provide work for his tenants and other locals, many of whom have been thrown out of work due to the dwindling loads at the other mines in the area. It is Ross’ concern for those of the lower classes that marks him out as different from others of his station; he is almost penniless, but he is still a Poldark, still landed gentry, and those of his own class do not care for his willingness to associate with the local miners, fishermen, farmers and poverty-stricken tenants.

On a visit to Truro, Ross prevents a young boy from being severely beaten in the street – only to discover that the boy is in fact a thirteen-year-old girl, Demelza Carne, whose brutal father and older brothers are all miners. He buys her food and then offers to return her to her home – she accepts but is clearly not thrilled at the prospect. Recognising this, Ross instead offers her work at Nampara as a kitchen maid, a proposal she accepts with far more alacrity than she had accepted Ross’ other offer.

Over the four years of the story, readers watch Ross as he works hard to rebuild his life and his fortune against what are sometimes almost insurmountable odds; we watch Demelza grow from a ragged street-urchin into a lovely, albeit somewhat gauche young woman, and come to know various members of the Poldark family and their friends and neighbours. The writing is superb, especially when it comes to the descriptions of the Cornish towns and countryside, which are incredibly evocative and place the reader right there, in the middle of it all. The characterisation is strong all round; Jud and Prudie, the slatternly pair of old retainers are frequently hilarious, Ross’s cousin, Francis is a troubled young man, never quite believing that he can trust Elizabeth now Ross is back and Elizabeth, who married for position and security is haunted by what might have been while determined never to seem to regret her choices.

The thing that has always made these books stand out from the crowd is the way in which Winston Graham’s characters just overflow with humanity in all its forms. These feel like real people experiencing real life with all its ups and downs – and Ross has plenty of those both in this book and to come in future stories. He’s a truly compelling character, which isn’t to say he’s the perfect hero, because he isn’t! His good looks and rather brooding nature may cast him somewhat in the mould of a tortured, Byronic hero, but he’s also got one hell of a temper, can be incredibly reckless, arrogant and hurtful – and yet the reader still roots for him, in spite of all his imperfections.

If you watched the recent TV series, or if you didn’t, but are a fan of well-written, gripping historical fiction with strong storylines, well-drawn characters of all sorts, intrigue, politics and romance, then I’m recommending Ross Poldark – and the entire series – very highly.

The Chaperon’s Seduction by Sarah Mallory

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“Ten thousand pounds to whoever can seduce the heiress by Michaelmas!”

Even for dissolute rake Richard Arrandale, this latest bet is outrageously scandalous. But Richard doesn’t care—until he meets the heiress’s charming chaperon and the stakes are raised even higher!

Widowed Lady Phyllida Tatham is no longer the shy, plain creature she once was. She’s determined to protect her beautiful stepdaughter, but there’s one suitor—with the worst kind of reputation—who seems more interested in seducing her. Who will come out on top in this winner-takesall game?

Rating: B+

This is the first book in a quartet of books about The Scandalous Arrandales, a family whose name has become a byword for dissipation, profligacy and excess throughout society. It’s basically a rake-meets-prim-guardian story, but it’s a very good one – well-written and strongly characterised with a central romance that develops at a credible pace. The hero of The Chaperon’s Seduction is Richard Arrandale, a young man who has forged himself a reputation as a rake of the first order. His older brother, Wolfgang, fled England a decade ago accused of the murder of his wife, and their father never cared very much for either of them, intent on pursing his own dissipated existence, and leaving them to more or less bring themselves up.

Richard was a mischievous, adventurous seventeen year-old when his brother decamped, although his father believed him to be just as dissolute as the rest of the Arrandales. Bereft after the disappearance of the older brother he’d looked up to, and angry at his father for his poor opinion of him, Richard felt he might as well live up to his family’s reputation, got himself sent down from Oxford and then embarked upon a spectacular round of debauchery in London. A decade later, his reputation as a gambler and womaniser is practically unparalleled, but what few realise is that ever since his brother’s departure, Richard has been maintaining Wolf’s property at his own expense, supplementing the small income derived from his own modest estate by gambling for high stakes.

Richard is staying in Bath with his great aunt (of whom he is very fond), and is spending an evening at one of his favourite gambling hells when he hears of the imminent arrival of a new, young heiress. The news spreads like wildfire, and even though he finds it rather distasteful, Richard is persuaded to join in with a wager; whoever seduces her first will win ten thousand pounds. His thousand-pound stake is not something he can easily afford, but even more, Richard can’t afford to turn his nose up at the prospect of the prize money. And while he knows he’s no model of propriety, he’s aware that some of the men involved would treat a young woman less than kindly, so he determines to pursue the heiress while also protecting her from the attentions of the less decent types among the group.

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

Midnight Marriage (Roxton Saga #2) by Lucinda Brant (audiobook) – narrated by Alex Wyndham

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Two noble teenagers are married against their will.

Drugged, Deb has no recollection of events.

Disgraced, Julian is banished to the Continent.

Nine years later, Deb falls in love with a wounded duelist, only to later discover it is her husband returned incognito!

Can Deb forgive his cruel deception?

Can their marriage survive beyond seduction?

Meanwhile, Julian’s nemesis plots to destroy them both…

Rating: A+ for narration; B+ for content

Midnight Marriage is the second book in Lucinda Brant’s Roxton Family saga, but is the first of them to be made available in audio. It works perfectly well as a standalone, and the good news is that the other books, all of them narrated by the hugely talented Alex Wyndham (squee!), will be released in the coming months.

The book opens with the Midnight Marriage of the title. Twelve-year-old Deborah Cavendish is roused from sleep, drugged and taken to her brother’s study, where she is faced by her brother Gerald and two older men she does not know, one of whom is obviously a man of some consequence. She is sleep-fogged and the effects of the drug are addling her wits, but she is sensible enough to understand that she is about to be married to someone she has never met. A very drunk, very angry boy a few years her senior is dragged into the room and the ceremony begins.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

There’s a great interview at AudioGals with Lucinda Brant and Alex Wyndham HERE. You can listen to the whole first chapter of Midnight Marriage and if you’re quick, there’s a giveaway of this and the next book in the series.

A Study in Death (Lady Darby #4) by Anna Lee Huber

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Scotland, 1831. After a tumultuous courtship complicated by three deadly inquiries, Lady Kiera Darby is thrilled to have found both an investigative partner and a fiancé in Sebastian Gage. But with her well-meaning—and very pregnant—sister planning on making their wedding the event of the season, Kiera could use a respite from the impending madness.

Commissioned to paint the portrait of Lady Drummond, Kiera is saddened when she recognizes the pain in the baroness’s eyes. Lord Drummond is a brute, and his brusque treatment of his wife forces Kiera to think of the torment caused by her own late husband.

Kiera isn’t sure how to help, but when she finds Lady Drummond prostrate on the floor, things take a fatal turn. The physician called to the house and Lord Drummond appear satisfied to rule her death natural, but Kiera is convinced that poison is the real culprit.

Now, armed only with her knowledge of the macabre and her convictions, Kiera intends to discover the truth behind the baroness’s death—no matter what, or who, stands in her way…

Rating: B+

This is the fourth book in Anna Lee Huber’s series of historical mysteries featuring Lady Keira Derby and her gorgeous but enigmatic partner-in-investigation, Sebastian Gage. At the end of A Grave Matter (the previous book in this series) readers were at last treated to the thing that many of us have been waiting for since The Anatomist’s Wife – namely the resolution of the slow-burn romance between the protagonists which has built gradually during the three murder investigations they have solved together. I admit that I’m here as much for the romantic angle as for the mysteries, which have been well-written and constructed, but even though I enjoyed A Study in Death, I have to admit to feeling the teeniest bit disappointed overall.

By the time the book opens, Keira and Gage have been engaged for a few weeks, and Keira’s heavily pregnant sister, Alana, Lady Cromarty, is keen to make their wedding the social event of the season – which isn’t really what the engaged couple wants. But Alana, who was previously warned of the danger of another pregnancy following the difficult delivery of her third child, is desperately trying not to worry about her upcoming confinement; and if choosing flowers, menus and wedding invitations helps provide a distraction, then Keira is prepared to go along with whatever her sister suggests.

In the meantime, Keira has been engaged to paint the portrait of Lady Drummond, a lovely, kind and well-liked lady a few years her senior. Lord Drummond is much older than his wife, and treats her abominably, something Keira relates to strongly given her own past experience of an abusive husband, and she thus feels a kinship to the lady. When Keira arrives at the Drummond’s residence for a session one morning, it’s to find the house in uproar and its mistress writing in agony upon the floor. There is nothing Keira – or anybody – can do, but when the doctor declares the cause of death to be apoplexy, Keira is incredulous. Nothing she witnessed in the woman’s final moments was suggestive of such a thing, and the little information she is able to glean at the time points elsewhere – but both Lord Drummond and the doctor refuse to listen.

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

The Curse of Lord Stanstead (Order of the M.U.S.E #1) by Mia Marlowe

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When only seduction will do…

Wherever Cassandra Darkin goes, fire is sure to follow. It’s not until she’s swept into the arms of a handsome, infuriating stranger that she learns she’s responsible for the fires. As it turns out, Cassandra is a fire mage…and with her gift comes a blazing desire for sins of the flesh.

With his pretenatural ability to influence the thoughts of others, Garrett Sterling is sent to gather Cassandra for the Order of the M.U.SE. He’s entirely unprepared for his immediate attraction to the comely little firestarter. But it’s an attraction that he must quell, even as his body craves her touch and her fiery, sensual hunger.

For Garrett’s gift has a dark side…and the moment he begins to care too much for Cassandra, he knows he will doom her to an inescapable fate.

Rating: D

I know I tend to be a bit of a stick-in-the-mud when it comes to the sub-genres I read, so I occasionally try to branch out a bit. I’ve enjoyed a few Historical Paranormals lately, so when I came across The Curse of Lord Stanstead, I thought I’d give it a go, even though I wasn’t all that impressed with the last book I read by this author. I thought that perhaps the change of direction might work better for me.

The first thing that struck me about the book, (the first in Ms Marlowe’s new Order of the M.U.S.E series), is that it opens with a cast list. We’re given the names of the principal characters and told what their particular gifts are – and I felt cheated because I wasn’t going to be able to get to know these people and make those discoveries for myself. And as I continued to read, I felt as though I was reading a TV episode; there’s a lot of plot for a category length novel and the action jumps swiftly from one thing to the next without much by way of explanation. Not enough time is spent on any of the key elements of the story so that the plot is little more than a series of convenient coincidences, the characterisation is extremely shallow and the romance is practically non-existent.

The “order” feels like a nineteenth century version of a superhero team, or – for those of us old enough to remember it! – The Champions, a British TV show from the 1960s which features a group of people with advanced psychic and telepathic abilities; and the cast list at the beginning felt like a set of opening credits.

The story starts with the introduction into the Order of a new member, a fire mage by the name of Cassandra Darkin, who has absolutely no idea what she is or why, over the last couple of days, she’s been in close proximity to a number of incendiary accidents. The head of the Order is the Duke of Camden, whose gift is… er… I’m not sure exactly, but he seems to be able to feel all the other supernaturals in the world by doing things like this:

”The duke closed his eyes and reached out with his mind, trying to discern the identity of the new mage.” And he can sense when ”More psychic energy had radiated into the universe.”

Now, I’m not a regular reader of paranormals, so perhaps such incredibly vague, simplistic language is normal.

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

The Best of Both Rogues by Samantha Grace

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Lady Eve Thorne was devastated when Mr. Benjamin Hillary left her at the altar. She’s no longer that starry-eyed young woman, and now that he’s back, he can go hang… At least that’s what she keeps telling herself. Eve has a new man in her life, and Ben is nothing but trouble.

The worst thing Benjamin Hillary ever did was abandon his bride-to-be on their wedding day. The hardest thing he will ever have to do is watch her marry another man. But once Ben realizes he might have a chance, he’ll do just about anything to win back Eve’s heart—anything.

Rating: D+

The Best of Both Rogues is one of those books that took a while to get started, and which I found myself compelled to finish simply in the hopes that at some point, something would actually happen. I reached the end of the book still waiting.

The story is highly insubstantial, and while I am certainly not averse to light-hearted fluff, there has to be something engaging about other aspects of such a book to balance out a thin plotline. The best of those types of romances are witty and peopled with engaging characters while still having something to say about the nature of love and romance.

Unfortunately, this book has no such redeeming features; the plot is paper thin and has so many dropped threads that if it were a piece of knitting it would be full of holes, there is little wit or humour and the two principals are … nice, but bland to the point of dullness.

The book opens as Eve Thorne has just been ignominiously left at the altar by her fiancé, Benjamin Hillary. No explanation is given – all we discover is that Ben has boarded ship for India, leaving Eve nothing but a beautiful necklace meant to symbolise fidelity.

Two years later, Eve is about to become engaged to a very worthy, scholarly gentleman, Sir Jonathan Hackberry, although her feelings have become confused upon learning that Ben has returned to England. He has apparently restored her previously ruined reputation (it wasn’t the done thing for a gentleman to jilt a lady as society would automatically assume the worst of her) by engaging in a ridiculous duel with her brother, and keeps trying to see her, despite her repeated refusals.

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