How to Tame a Willful Wife by Christy English

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How To Tame A Willful Wife:

1. Forbid her from riding astride
2. Hide her dueling sword
3. Burn all her breeches and buy her silk drawers
4. Frisk her for hidden daggers
5. Don’t get distracted while frisking her for hidden daggers…

Anthony Carrington, Earl of Ravensbrook, expects a biddable bride. A man of fiery passion tempered by the rigors of war into steely self-control, he demands obedience from his troops and his future wife. Regardless of how fetching she looks in breeches.

Promised to the Earl of Plump Pockets by her impoverished father, Caroline Montague is no simpering miss. She rides a war stallion named Hercules, fights with a blade, and can best most men with both bow and rifle. She finds Anthony autocratic, domineering, and…ridiculously gorgeous.

It’s a duel of wit and wills in this charming retelling of The Taming of the Shrew. But the question is…who’s taming whom?

Grade: D

When I saw this was a “re-working” of Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew, I was intrigued but knew I would have to Approach With Caution. The play has fallen out of favour in recent years because of the mysogynistic views it displays which, regardless of how they were seen by contemporary audiences, are not to modern tastes. A “reworking” as a piece of romantic fiction therefore has one huge.problem to solve, namely how to make the hero attractive to the reader while retaining those controlling and unpleasant aspects of Petruccio’s character so as to remain reasonably faithful to the spirit of the original.

Unfortunately, that problem is not resolved in this book.

Anthony Carrington is, we are frequently reminded, the most beautiful man in existence. He is also arrogant, possessive, domineering and controlling – very apt considering upon whom he is modelled. But in order for him to function as a romantic hero, he has to have a few redeeming qualities, or the reader has to be able to see some developments in his character throughout the course of the story to indicate that he is capable of self-reflection and change; that there is at least the possibilty that he and his lady-love will continue to be happy after the story has ended. Sadly, I didn’t feel there was much – if any – character development in Anthony. Indeed, he has a massive (and highly irrational) fit of jealousy towards the end of the novel and there is no real indication that he is never going to display such distrust of Caroline again: and so I found it really difficult to believe there really is a HEA for them. His redeeming feature seems to be that he’s a red-hot sex-god between the sheets (or up against the door, wall, on the table, the rug or in the carriage) but while he’s sexy as sin, he’s not the sharpest tool (!) in the box when it comes to matters outside the bedroom.

I’m sure that, at the time the novel is set, it was quite the done thing for a woman to obey her husband without question – and that’s what Anthony expects. It’s unpalatable for the modern reader although certainly it’s in keeping with Anthony’s role as the Petriccio of this story. But the thing is, the only reason for the witholding of any explantion for his instructions is because Caroline NEEDS to be ignorant of his reasons in order for the plot to work. And to make it even worse, Anthony tells Caroline his orders are to secure her own safety – but he won’t tell her what he’s so desperate to keep her safe from!

As to Caroline, she’s not really all that “wilful”. She’s headstrong and used to doing as she likes – but then so are thousands of other romantic heroines. She’s not happy at being married so quickly or at her husband’s high-handedness but at the first sign of a disagreement or indication they should actually talk he’s only got to touch her or look at her and she melts into a puddle of goo and they end up shagging each other senseless instead!

There were a couple of times where she acted stupidly and with complete disregard for her own safety, simply to assert her independence which made ME want to smack her, so at least there were times I could sympathise with Anthony!

I can forgive much in a romance novel in terms of the storyline if the characterisation is good and can care about the people I’m reading about. But in this book, there was no depth to the principals and although backstories were hinted at, these were not explored sufficiently enough to explain their motivations.

On a more positive note, the writing was generally good (although there were certain repetitions which began to get irritating after time) and the sex scenes were pretty hot. But overall, I don’t think this “re-working” worked.

With thanks to the publisher and NetGalley for the review copy.

Heart of the Tiger by Lynn Kerstan

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Miranda “Mira” Holcombe has only one goal in life: To destroy the Duke of Tallant, Jermyn Keynes. Simply for the pleasure of it, he ruined her life, robbed her family of their land and valuables, and now threatens to destroy them entirely. How can a young woman caring for her disabled father bring down a powerful aristocrat? Only her father knows her deepest secrets, and he hopes that in London she will find a kind and gentle man to wed. But Mira is focused only on vengeance, whatever the cost. As she devises a plan to kill the duke, she discovers that Tallant’s dark-souled younger brother, Michael, is bent on the same course. Can she believe he’ll help her? Dare she trust him?

Michael Keynes once burned with dreams and goals, but all have been consumed by his determination to rid the earth of his tyrannical brother. After meeting the irresistible Mira, his mission changes. He resolves to protect her at any cost, and when the duke is found murdered, Michael deflects suspicion onto himself. But can he save Mira from her worst enemy . . . herself?

Neither can deny the electricity between them. Mira bewitches him with her sharp tongue and quick wit. Michael captivates her with his rakish brand of honor and his brilliant scheming on her behalf. Will she be able to escape the past and dare to reach for a better future? Will Michael see beyond the family’s despicable heritage and make a new start in his own life? Can they redeem each other?

Rating: b

This is the sequel to The Golden Leopard and the second in Lynn Kerstan’s Big Cat Trilogy. In it, we are re-introduced to Mira Holcombe and her invalid father, who had played a part in helping Hugo and Jessica locate the Golden Leopard in the previous book. Like it, Heart of the Tiger has strong elements of Indian folklore and some Indian characters who are central.to the story. Our hero this time is Michael Keynes, younger brother of the execrable Duke of Tallant and whose sole aim in life is to kill his brother. To that end, Michael has spent a great deal of time in India, making his own considerable fortune while at the same time ruining his brother’s business interests there.

The Duke of Tallant is unscrupulous, ruthless and utterly evil – not for nothing is he known as “The Beast”.
On his return to England, Michael meets Mira, whose intentions towards the duke are the same as his – and is immediately fascinated by her. She also feels powerfully drawn to Michael, but sees him as a dangerous distraction and tries to avoid him at all costs. She also feels ‘damaged’ because of an incident that took place years before. It’s easy to guess what happened, but what keeps one’s interest is gauging how much Michael knows and what Mira will tell him.

There is a murder-mystery element to the story, but this isn’t a whodunnit and it’s difficult to say much more than that without completely spoiling the plot, other than that the murder is a catalyst for a chain off events that serve to show just how far Michael and Mira will go to protect each other.

I found Heart of the Tiger to be a real page-turner and had to read late into the night to finish it! Michael is gorgeous, dangerous and utterly compelling and Mira is more than up to his weight and doesn’t let him get away with anything. The sparks fly when they are together yet there is a lot of tenderness between them, too.

I thoroughly enjoyed it and am really looking forward to reading the final book in the trilogy, The Silver Lion.

With thanks to Bell Bridge Books and NetGalley for the review copy.

An Infamous Marriage by Susanna Fraser

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Northumberland, 1815

At long last, Britain is at peace, and General Jack Armstrong is coming home to the wife he barely knows. Wed for mutual convenience, their union unconsummated, the couple has exchanged only cold, dutiful letters. With no more wars to fight, Jack is ready to attempt a peace treaty of his own.

Elizabeth Armstrong is on the warpath. She never expected fidelity from the husband she knew for only a week, but his scandalous exploits have made her the object of pity for years. Now that he’s back, she has no intention of sharing her bed with him—or providing him with an heir—unless he can earn her forgiveness. No matter what feelings he ignites within her…

Jack is not expecting a spirited, confident woman in place of the meek girl he left behind. As his desire intensifies, he wants much more than a marriage in name only. But winning his wife’s love may be the greatest battle he’s faced yet.

Rating: A

This is easily one of the best historical romances I’ve read. The story of a marriage of convenience is not an unusual one in the genre, but what I really liked about this one was the fact that at least a third of the book is taken up with showing us what life is like for the protagonists after they have made a go of their marriage and admitted their love for one another. In many books, that’s more or less the end of the story, but not here.

The characterisation in the novel is excellent. Jack and Elizabeth come across as real people with real flaws, and their marriage, while eventually very happy, has its ups and downs, and they regularly tease each other about their annoying habits. Jack is a soldier through-and-through, having joined the army at sixteen and spent most of his life away from England in the US and mostly, Canada. The historical detail is well-researched in the sections which describe some of the actions in which he was involved, and I especially liked the way that the author showed us exactly what it meant – to Jack – to be a military man. There’s a moment in the last section of the book where he is recalled to active service where he says that at last, he feels like a whole man again; which is no reflection on his wife or his marriage, but it tells us so clearly how he defines himself. That is not to say that he is dissatisfied with the life he has with Elizabeth, and to her credit, she understands that; it’s just who he is.

Elizabeth is strong and capable; in her husband’s long absence, she learns to manage his home and farm and is making a place for herself in the rather limited local society until a malicious neighbour informs her rather gleefully of Jack’s activities over in Canada, and from that point, Elizabeth becomes reclusive, unwilling to subject herself to the scorn and pity of others.

I have to point out here that Jack is unfaithful to Elizabeth in the early days of their hasty marriage. I know that for some people adultery in a romance is a big no-no, and no matter how good the book is, they won’t want to read it. If that’s the case, then this might not be the book for you. But what happens happens “off-screen”, as it were, and while it’s not something one might wish to condone or excuse, I think the reader has to bear in mind that at the period at which the novel is set (and even today) even the best of husbands were not always faithful. Jack does have reasons for his behaviour – even though they can’t excuse it.

So the first part of the book details how Jack and Elizabeth eventually reconcile and fall in love, and it’s quite beautifully done, especially in the early stages, when Elizabeth is beginning to fall for the man writing her such charming letters. But when he returns, she doesn’t hold back her anger when telling him how much he has hurt her; this is another thing I liked very much in the book – this couple communicates verbally as well as sexually and their marriage is very much an equal partnership.

Naturally, things cannot remain as settled as they are, and as soon as Jack hears news of Napoleon’s escape from Elba, he is anxious for a new army posting. Elizabeth doesn’t understand his thirst for action, but she accompanies him to Brussels, where they wait and join the social whirl that is the calm before the storm of Waterloo.

But there is one more crisis to be faced when on the eve of the battle Elizabeth receives some information that could separate her and Jack forever.

I can’t recommend this book highly enough. The writing and characterisation are both excellent, and the relationship between Jack and Elizabeth is beautifully drawn. They are warm, fallible and somehow ordinary in a way that characters in novels often are not, so I mean that as a huge compliment!

I loved it, and am definitely looking forward to reading more work by this author.

With thanks to Carina Press and NetGalley for the review copy.

Seven Nights in a Rogue’s Bed by Anna Campbell

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Will a week of seduction…

Desperate to save her sister’s life, Sidonie Forsythe has agreed to submit herself to a terrible fate: Beyond the foreboding walls of Castle Craven, a notorious, hideously scarred scoundrel will take her virtue over the course of seven sinful nights. Yet instead of a monster, she encounters a man like no other. And during this week, she comes to care for Jonas Merrick in ways that defy all logic—even as a dark secret she carries threatens them both.

…Spark a lifetime of passionate surrender?

Ruthless loner Jonas knows exactly who he is. Should he forget, even for a moment, the curse he bears, a mere glance in the mirror serves as an agonizing reminder. So when the lovely Sidonie turns up on his doorstep, her seduction is an even more delicious prospect than he originally planned. But the hardened outcast is soon moved by her innocent beauty, sharp wit, and surprising courage. Now as dangerous enemies gather at the gate to destroy them, can their new, fragile love survive?

Rating: B

There were a few things that didn’t quite work for me in this book, but on the whole it was an engaging and often sexy read.

I think the problem with “Beauty and the Beast” stories like this one is that the Beast has to be sufficiently beastly whilst being attractive to both the heroine and the reader – and that is a difficult balance to find. Unfortunately, I don’t think the author got it quite right in this case. If Merrick had been as cruel and unfeeling as she would have us believe, he would, surely have taken his ‘payment‘ without compunction. Instead, he is immediately compassionate and ultimately intrigued enough by Sidonie to allow her to remain untouched and to strike a bargain with her.

That said however, it seems to me that what we have in our Beast is someone who is so convinced of his lack of goodness and finer feeling that he is determined to live up to his public image for profligacy and ruthlessness. His scars are not just physical, which is not at all surprising given what we later learn of his childhood and he’s a good man beneath all the self-loathing and the cynicism.

I enjoyed the way the relationship between Merrick and Sidonie developed. There was plenty of verbal sparring and lots of sexual tension; and I felt that it was very important that when the pair finally ‘did the deed’ , Merrick had released Sidonie from her obligation so she could make her own choice.

I have to say that I wasn’t really over keen on all the blindfold sex, and confess to being somewhat incredulous at Sidonie’s fast transformation from blushing virgin to a woman who felt reasonably confident tying her lover to the bed posts!
But then I suppose this is a romance novel…

The final third of the book felt a little rushed and occasionally a little muddled; Sidonie suddenly made a miraculous recovery after spending three months hiding away, a shadow of her former self and follows Merrick all the way to Devon whereas before she’d barely had the energy to walk to the end of the street!

But of course, it all works out and our Beauty and her Beast get their hard-won HEA.

Despite my quibbles, I enjoyed the book. It’s well written and the romance was well developed. Merrick was an extremely virile, attractive hero, despite his facial disfigurement and while I’m less enthusiastic about the character of Sidonie, on the whole I thought they were well matched.

This is the first in the Sons of Sin series, and I’ll definitely be looking for the other titles on the strength of this one.

With thanks to the publisher and NetGalley for the review copy.

The Second Seduction of a Lady by Miranda Neville

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Eleanor Hardwick and Max Quinton shared one night of incredible passion…that was shattered the next day, when Eleanor learned of a bet placed by Max’s friends. Now, five years later, Max still can’t get Eleanor out of his head or his heart. He has a single chance to make a second impression—one that will last forever.

Rating: A-

This was a truly charming novella, which is also the introduction to the heroine of Miranda Neville’s next full-length book, [book:The Importance of Being Wicked|15715078]. Unlike some of the “tasters” I’ve read recently, this is a complete story and I although I could happily have read more about Max and Eleanor, I was quite satisfied with what I got.

Max is a wonderful hero – he’s not a wastrel or a rake, or especially rich, but he’s warm and funny and level-headed; just the sort of fella you’d want around in a crisis.

Eleanor is generous and giving, but is determined to remain unmarried, largely because her parents’ marriage was not happy and she doesn’t wish to tread the same path. Fortunately for her however, Max is gently persistent and steadfast in his love for her and she eventually realises that she can’t allow her fear of an unhappy outcome to stop her having the things she wants from life.

A really enjoyable, quick read.

Season for Seduction by Theresa Romain

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Honor Among Rogues

Alexander Edgeware, Lord Xavier, has quite a reputation—for daring, wagering, and wickedness in all its delightful forms. But the wager before him is hardly his preferred sport: Xavier must persuade a proper young lady to attend his famously naughty Christmas house party—and stay the full, ruinous two weeks. Worse, the lady is Louisa Oliver, a doe-eyed bookworm Xavier finds quite charming. Yet to refuse the challenge is impossible—he will simply have to appoint himself Miss Oliver’s protector…

Mischief Among Misses

Louisa knows her chance for a husband has passed. But she has no desire to retire into spinsterhood without enjoying a few grand adventures first. When Lord Xavier’s invitation arrives, Louisa is more intrigued than insulted. And once inside the rogues’ gallery, she just may have a thing or two to teach her gentlemen friends about daring…

Rating: B

This is the first book by Theresa Romain that I have read, and will definitely look for more on the strength of it.

Alex Xavier has spent most of his life being and doing what everyone expects of him. Like many titled young men of the ton, he has done his share of drinking, gambling and womanising –although not as much as his reputation would seem to suggest. Orphaned at a very young age, he has had to find his place in the world without the help of parents or relatives (actually, it’s never made clear exactly who brought him up) and has, as a result, a desire to be noticed and needed – even if it is as a source of gossip and scandal.

When he meets Louisa Oliver however, he begins to acknowledge to himself that this is not who he really is, as she is immediately able to see through the façade to the less cynical and world-weary soul underneath. I liked the way that Romain drew the distinction between the two sides of him, calling the side shown to the world by his title and the more genuine side he shows to Louisa by his first name.
Louisa also suffers under the weight of a reputation that precedes her, although in her case, she has been an object of pity, having been jilted by her fiancé in favour of her sister, and is thought of as a wallflower – she describes herself as “invisible” on several occasions – and a bluestocking.

I thought that the way Louisa and Alex gradually get under each other’s skin was very well handled indeed. Alex tries to maintain his cool exterior in her presence, it soon becomes almost impossible for him to hide from her. Louisa is more successful in guarding her response to him – to the point of making him believe she is using him in order to add to her meagre life-experience. Yet there is a real warmth and affection between them that really leaps from the page. In my opinion, it’s essential to any good romance story for the reader to be able to see the development of the relationship between the hero and heroine, and for it not to be rushed – and here, everything progressed at a gentle pace; not too fast and not too slow. Louisa possesses a very keen sense of humour, and the exchanges between her and Alex really sparkle.

As he comes to know Louisa, Alex realises that he wants to shed his rakish persona and become the man she thinks he has the potential to be… but he doesn’t know how. In order to do this, he has to face the truth about himself and learn to care less about what society will say of his volte face.

There are, of course, a few bumps along the road to happiness, in this novel caused by a relation of Alex’s who he discovers to have been harbouring a grudge for years; when Louisa’s reputation is threatened, Alex does that pig-headed alpha-male thing and sends her away having done his best to convince her that he doesn’t care for her. Fortunately for him, however, Louisa is cleverer than that and with the support of her splendidly eccentric aunt returns to him.

This was a really satisfying romance – the principal characters were well-rounded and it was nice to read about a heroine who is a bluestocking without being a shrinking violet or socially inept.

Before Versailles: Before the History You Know: A Novel of Louis XIV by Karleen Koen

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Before Versailles transports you to a world of secret passions and plots, a world of duplicity and malice…a world that created one of the best-known monarchs to grace the French throne.

At the most decisive time in the young king’s life, Louis XIV can taste the danger. His court teems with greed and corruption, the wrong woman draws him into a wrenching love affair, and a mysterious boy in an iron mask haunts the woods. The untried ruler is coming into his own in 1661, and Louis XIV must face what he is willing to sacrifice for honor and for love.

Meticulously researched and gorgeously brought to life by New York Times bestselling author Karleen Koen, Before Versailles offers up a sumptuous, authentic exploration of a time that forged a man into a king.

Rating: A

The story takes place during four months of 1661, the year in which Louis XIV fully assumed the reins of kingship following the death of his trusted adviser Cardinal Mazarin (also widely held to have been Louis’ mother’s lover). There is a large list of dramatis personae at the front of the book giving details of who is related to whom, which it may be helpful to refer to at first (if you’re reading the print version – with the ebook, it’s not so easy!) because Koen sometimes refers to characters by their first names and sometimes by their title. This isn’t a huge problem – just something to be aware of if, like me, you were not familiar with all the different personages in the story.

The author’s style is very easy to read; I found it very clear and quite refreshing in a way. All the characters – the majority of whom are historical figures – are clearly delineated, even the vast numbers of different ladies-in-waiting and other courtiers, and even though the PoV sometimes switches abruptly, I didn’t find it off-putting because I was so engrossed in the events being described.

I absolutely loved all the plotting and intrigue surrounding the court. Spies are everywhere, corruption abounds and everyone (almost) is out for what he or she can get. It’s salacious and frequently immoral (or at the very least amoral) and utterly fascinating to read. There are two threads running throughout the novel – one relating to Louis’ distrust of the wealthy and powerful Viscount Nicolas Fouquet, who seeks to replace Mazarin as Chief Minister of France; and the other concerning the identity of a mysterious boy who wears an iron mask. Having read Dumas’ The Man in the Iron Mask a number of years ago, I enjoyed reading another version of this famous story.

At twenty-two years of age, Louis is at his most heroic and charming. Something else I thought was very well handled was the way in which Louis undergoes a rite-of-passage, even in the short space of time in which the events of the book take place. At first, he is still somewhat impulsive and seems not quite ready for the huge responsibilities he has to shoulder; but by the end he is very much his own man and has emerged completely from the Cardinal’s shadow. He is very handsome, and all the women of the court are a little in love with him; but even though kind and attentive to his wife, the Spanish Infanta Maria Teresa (who is expecting their first child), he is not in love with her. He becomes infatuated with his brother’s wife, Henriette (sister of Charles II), but soon after falls desperately in love with Louise de la Vallière. Louise is one of Henriette’s ladies – her family is not grand or rich and she is refreshingly innocent and unsullied by the excesses of the court. She does not want fame or fortune from the King and in fact, it is her simplicity and innate goodness that attract Louis. They become lovers, Louise insisting that their relationship must be kept a secret because she is at heart a well-bred, God-fearing young woman.

We don’t see their relationship play out in this book as although Louise is one of the major viewpoints, this is essentially Louis’ story. I found it thoroughly engrossing and will certainly be seeking out more fiction based in and around this, one of the most glorious periods in French history.