The Bridegroom Wore Plaid by Grace Burrowes

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HIS FAMILY OR HIS HEART–ONE OF THEM WILL BE BETRAYED…

Ian MacGregor is wooing a woman who’s wrong for him in every way. As the new Earl of Balfour, though, he must marry an English heiress to repair the family fortunes.

But in his intended’s penniless chaperone, Augusta, Ian is finding everything he’s ever wanted in a wife.

Rating: A

This is the second book by Grace Burrowes that I have read and thoroughly enjoyed. In it, we meet Ian MacGregor, Earl Balfour and his family – his brothers Gil and Connor, his widowed sister Mary Frances and her daughter, Flora. Ian might be an earl, but the family is poor and needs to open their estate to guests every summer in order to make enough money to see them through the year. Ian needs to marry money, and the story begins with him meeting his prospective bride and her family from the train as they are to be summer guests.

It quickly becomes apparent, both to Ian and to the reader, that the lady in question is very reluctant to marry him; not only that, she is resistant to getting to know him, despite his attempts to draw her out and his reassurances that he will be a kind and loyal husband.

While he is attempting to court Eugenia (known as Genie), Ian forms a friendship with Augusta Merrick, Genie’s cousin who has been brought along to act as a second chaperone, along with their aunt. Augusta is the classic “poor relation”, living in a run-down house with her cat, keeping chickens and tending to her garden.

This friendship quickly develops into something more – even though both Ian and Augusta know that there is no hope for anything lasting between them as Ian needs to marry for money and Augusta is poor.
The thing I absolutely loved about this book was the way in which the relationship unfolded gradually and with such tenderness.

Ian is decent and honourable, determined to do his best for his family, and yet he cannot help his growing attraction to Augusta. And Augusta understands what drives him – she recognises that he needs to be loved for himself and not for the title Genie’s father is determined to buy. She is also practical – she knows Ian cannot marry her, but is prepared to take – and to give – the little comfort she can without regrets.

The focus of the story was watching these two people fall so desperately in love while knowing it’s doomed – but yet know that regardless of the impending heartbreak, they are better for having known each other.

The title, I realised about half-way through, doesn’t just refer to Ian, as both Gil and Connor find love, too; I really liked the way that the familial relationships were written.

There is another element to the story, which is the plot by Genie’s father to do away with Augusta because he had cheated her out of her inheritance. I’m not a huge fan of this sort of sensationalist storyline, but it works well here, principally, in my opinion, because it’s subtly woven through the background of the story and doesn’t really come to the fore until the last couple of chapters when we finally learn the truth and all is resolved.

I did have some niggles about the use of Americanisms in the book (we don’t have fall and we wouldn’t fix a plate for someone), and at the risk of sounding pedantic, things like that DO take me out of the story for a second or two and I find it annoying.

Overall though, this was a superb and charming romance, full of warmth and tenderness. I found it emotionally draining at times – but I mean that as a compliment! – and I thought that the characterisation was excellent. I’m certainly looking forward to the next in this series.

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

The Bridegroom Wore Plaid by Grace Burrowes

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Ian MacGregor is wooing a woman who’s wrong for him in every way. As the new Earl of Balfour, though, he must marry an English heiress to repair the family fortunes.

But in his intended’s penniless chaperone, Augusta, Ian is finding everything he’s ever wanted in a wife.

Rating: A

This is the second book by Grace Burrowes that I have read and thoroughly enjoyed. In it, we meet Ian MacGregor, Earl Balfour and his family – his brothers Gil and Connor, his widowed sister Mary Frances and her daughter, Flora. Ian might be an earl, but the family is poor and needs to open their estate to guests every summer in order to make enough money to see them through the year. Ian needs to marry money, and the story begins with him meeting his prospective bride and her family from the train as they are to be summer guests.

It quickly becomes apparent, both to Ian and to the reader, that the lady in question is very reluctant to marry him; not only that, she is resistant to getting to know him, despite his attempts to draw her out and his reassurances that he will be a kind and loyal husband.

While he is attempting to court Eugenia (known as Genie), Ian forms a friendship with Augusta Merrick, Genie’s cousin who has been brought along to act as a second chaperone, along with their aunt. Augusta is the classic “poor relation”, living in a run-down house with her cat, keeping chickens and tending to her garden.

This friendship quickly develops into something more – even though both Ian and Augusta know that there is no hope for anything lasting between them as Ian needs to marry for money and Augusta is poor.
The thing I absolutely loved about this book was the way in which the relationship unfolded gradually and with such tenderness.

Ian is decent and honourable, determined to do his best for his family, and yet he cannot help his growing attraction to Augusta. And Augusta understands what drives him – she recognises that he needs to be loved for himself and not for the title Genie’s father is determined to buy. She is also practical – she knows Ian cannot marry her, but is prepared to take – and to give – the little comfort she can without regrets.

The focus of the story was watching these two people fall so desperately in love while knowing it’s doomed – but yet know that regardless of the impending heartbreak, they are better for having known each other.

The title, I realised about half-way through, doesn’t just refer to Ian, as both Gil and Connor find love, too; I really liked the way that the familial relationships were written.

There is another element to the story, which is the plot by Genie’s father to do away with Augusta because he had cheated her out of her inheritance. I’m not a huge fan of this sort of sensationalist storyline, but it works well here, principally, in my opinion, because it’s subtly woven through the background of the story and doesn’t really come to the fore until the last couple of chapters when we finally learn the truth and all is resolved.

I did have some niggles about the use of Americanisms in the book (we don’t have fall and we wouldn’t fix a plate for someone), and at the risk of sounding pedantic, things like that DO take me out of the story for a second or two and I find it annoying.

Overall though, this was a superb and charming romance, full of warmth and tenderness. I found it emotionally draining at times – but I mean that as a compliment! – and I thought that the characterisation was excellent. I’m certainly looking forward to the next in this series.

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

There’s Something About Lady Mary by Sophie Barnes

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Mary Croyden lives a simple life . . . and she likes it. But when she inherits a title and a large sum of money, everything changes. Forced to navigate high society, Mary finds herself relying on the help of one man—Ryan Summersby. Determined not to lose her sense of self, she realizes that Ryan is the only person she can trust. But Mary’s hobbies are not exactly proper, and Ryan is starting to discover that this simple miss is not at all what he expected…but just might be exactly what he needs.

Rating: D-

I gave this book two stars on Goodreads because I found the information regarding medical practice in the early 19th century very interesting and the author has clearly done her homework. Without that, though, it wouldn’t have got the second star.

The writing style was very simplistic and there was no real depth to either the hero or heroine. Mary in particular was a mass of contradictions; one minute she lacks confidence and self-esteem and the next she’s giving the hero a dressing down or running off in masculine garb to perform life-saving but illegal surgery.

The hero is bloodless and a bit of an arrogant twat who, despite his lust for Mary, comes over all prim-and-proper when he learns of her surgical exploits and outright forbids them.

The sub-plot concerns Mary’s search for the reason her father was murdered and the resulting danger to her own life, but the plot holes serve to rob it of any tension or realism. Mary, at one point behaves with incredible stupidity when confronted with one of the men her father was investigating; instead of listening to him, she shoots him completely without reason and flies immediately into the trap set by the real bad guy.

And on top of all this, there is little or no chemistry or sexual tension between the H&H. Ryan goes from 0-60 on the lust-o-meter in about ten seconds flat and despite her concerns over attractiveness, by about a quarter of the way in, Mary is confident enough about herself to let him have a good groping session in the carriage! There were absolutely no pricks (!) of conscience on Ryan’s part or any feeling that he shouldn’t be doing what he was doing with a young, well-bred unmarried lady. Okay, she didn’t protest, but the complete lack of compunction on either of their parts felt really odd.

There were some good ideas here – but they weren’t worked through thoroughly; and the characterisation was extremely poor.

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

The Scandalous, Dissolute, No-Good Mr Wright by Tessa Dare

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Miss Eliza Cade is a lady in waiting. And waiting.

Because of a foolish mistake in her youth, she’s not allowed “out” in Society until her three older sisters are wed. But while she’s trying to be good, she keeps bumping elbows—and, more distressingly, lips—with notorious rake Harry Wright. Every moment she spends with him, she risks complete ruin.

The sensual passions he stirs in her are so wrong . . . but Eliza just can’t resist Mr. Wright.

Originally published in the anthology – Three Weddings and a Murder

Rating: A

This was a short, charming and above all, emotionally engaging read. Eliza Cade is the youngest of four sisters, and because of a silly mistake she made when she was just fourteen, her father decrees that she cannot make her come-out until her sisters are all married, lest she do something to disgrace them.

At the wedding of her eldest sister, she meets Mr J. Harrison Wright, who immediately recognises in her a kindred spirit. Their verbal exchanges sparkle and are charged with attraction from the get-go, and Harry is just dreamy. Not only is he handsome, he’s clever and insightful, amusing and tender; and although Eliza is drawn to him, his reputation is such that association with him could further damage her chances of making her début.

The story follows their meetings across the four years of their acquaintance, and shows their relationship progressing through fun and tragedy into a deep and abiding love. It’s warm, sexy and touching – a perfect way to spend a few hours on a cold, grey afternoon.

Compromising the Marquis by Wendy Soliman

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Leah Elliot sells secrets to survive. Donning boy’s clothes, she uncovers society scandals for a London gossip rag to support herself and her sister, who were left destitute after their father’s death. When she meets the dashing—and perhaps dangerous—Hal Forster, the Marquess of Denby, she learns he may be involved in treason. The rumor is too valuable not to sell, despite her attraction to him…

Hal does have a secret, but he’s no traitor: he’s a spy embroiled in a mystery, seeking the man who killed his contact in France. He sees the alluring woman behind Leah’s disguise at once but is intrigued enough to play along…until he realizes that she’s the source of the rumors interfering with his investigation and forcing him into an unwanted betrothal.

Now, Hal and Leah must work together to draw out the culprit and undo the damage caused by Leah’s gossip. Or will their passion only cause more scandal?

Rating: D

I felt that this was rather an insubstantial read. I got through the 240-odd pages quickly and easily, but came away feeling as though I’d spent the time with the literary equivalent of candy-floss. (Not that it was sickly-sweet, but rather because it was a load of fluff without anything in the centre!)
The plot – such as it is – only really gets going in the second half of the book, but even then, it’s not meaty enough on its own to carry the story, and there’s a second plot strand that runs parallel for a time and then takes us to the end.

The first half introduces us to the heroine, her sister and her obnoxious aunt and to the hero and his family.

It’s 1814, and sisters Leah and Bethany Elliott move from London to the country, ostensibly for the sake of Beth’s health, but just as much due to the fact that they are perilously short of money and need to live somewhere less expensive.
Their uncle allows them the use of the gatehouse on his property, although their aunt is strongly disapproving, especially of Leah, the elder sister, who is rather too independent of spirit for a “proper” lady of the time.

If her aunt knew just how unconventional Leah is, she would probably have an apoplexy, because, in order to be able to keep body and soul together, Leah has been working as an undercover reporter for a London scandal-sheet and in order to hide her identity, frequently ventures forth disguised as a boy.

(How is it all these voluptuous heroines manage to do this frequently un-noticed? Even squashing their boobs surely can’t hide hips and bums?)

The Marquess of the title is Hal Forster, Lord Denby, who is also heir to the Duke of Dawlish. He lives with his two younger brothers and vivacious sister, and Leah is both immediately drawn to him and immediately suspicious of him.

For almost the first half of the book, Leah is almost convinced that Hal is up to no good. His ship is anchored just off shore, not far from an area famed for smuggling and she becomes convinced that he is involved in something nefarious. The trouble is that for all Leah’s suspicions, we are presented with little or no evidence of Hal’s supposed duplicity, and thus no real tension is created. All we have are Leah’s suspicions, and some very thoughtless behaviour on her part that could serve to make life unnecessarily awkward for him.

Leah has already decided she’ll never marry, but as “her reading” (she talks a lot about what she has learned from “her reading”) has given her a modicum of curiosity on the subject of male/female relations (and no, I don’t mean uncles and aunties!) she asks Hal to teach her the things she doesn’t know. He’s head-over-heels in lust by this point, but refuses point-blank to deflower her. He does, however (and very quickly) agree to do “everything but”, and brings Leah to her first ever orgasm while they both quote from Fanny Hill.

Not only that, he agrees to set up an opportunity to ‘further her experience’ by indulging in a bit of voyeurism. Now, I’m no prude and certainly don’t object to sex scenes in historical romance novels. But for me, it’s got to serve the story in some way, perhaps progressing the character development, or giving the reader some insight that perhaps couldn’t be gained in any other way. They also have to be in keeping with the characters, and I really can’t see a titled gentleman of that time, no matter how experienced, agreeing to take a well-brought up and virginal young woman to watch other people having sex. I know it’s fiction. I know it’s there to titillate. But I still like there to be some element of plausibility, and for me, that just – isn’t.

Naturally, Hal and Leah fall in love – although she takes it into her head that although he’s agreed to undertake her sexual ‘education’, he doesn’t really feel anything for her even though he’s given her no real reason for that supposition. It’s just a means for the author to attempt to bring a bit of romantic tension to the story, but it’s such an obvious means to that end that it doesn’t work at all.

It’s not until around the middle of the book that we learn the reason for Hal’s secrecy and the increased security on his estate. The pace picks up a bit after this, but there was almost too much packed into the second half of the book for it to make any real sense, and, to be honest, I’m not sure I really cared all that much by then. In the case of the storyline which concerned Hal, the reveal came without any real preparation; it was just suddenly there pretty much out of the blue.

And then there is the fact that Hal, supposedly an experienced spymaster, is completely duped by the villain of the piece and later, is almost killed by the secondary baddie because he didn’t think his strategy through properly.

The characterisation was flat and overall, I think the book tried to do too much and be too many things. There were elements of an adventure story, a mystery and an erotic romance; but it was a clear case of the book trying to be a Jack of All Trades and failing on all fronts.

With thanks to Carina Press and NetGalley for the review copy

When the Duke Found Love (Wylder Sisters #3) by Isabella Bradford

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The spirited Wylder sisters continue to scandalize the ton in Isabella Bradford’s witty and winsome trilogy. This time, the most impulsive of the siblings meets her match: a charming rake determined to save her from an arranged marriage.

The youngest of the Wylder girls—and the last left unwed—Lady Diana is also the most willful, a trait that’s leading her ever closer to dishonorable disaster. While her family’s solution is a fast and excruciatingly respectable marriage, Diana can’t imagine being wed to the very staid and dull Lord Crump. But while wedding plans are being made, a chance meeting at a gala turns Diana’s world upside down.

A kiss from a dazzling stranger gives Diana a most intimate introduction to one of the ton’s most resolute and scandalous bachelors, the Duke of Sheffield. Torn between family duty and her heart’s desire, Diana recklessly surrenders to the headiest of passions, recognizing that she has found a kindred soul in the handsome young duke. Soon it’s clear that seduction is no longer the game: Something deep and lasting has come to bind their hearts, and the stakes are nothing less than true love.

Rating: C-

This is the third and final book in Isabella Bradford’s trilogy about the Wylder sisters. Having married off both Charlotte and Lizzie to suitable dukes, the focus now shifts to Diana, the youngest sister; but whereas both her sisters had been betrothed from childhood, no such arrangement was made for Diana.

Like her sisters, she is beautiful, vivacious and headstrong, and at the beginning of the story we are told that she has already got herself into several ‘scrapes’ with young gentlemen, the latest of which almost resulted in an elopement to Gretna Green. Because of this and the ensuing gossip, Lady Hervey (the girls’ mother) decides that Diana must be married off quickly so as to prevent either her ruin, or at the very least, more damaging gossip.

The gentleman fixed upon for her latest son-in-law is one Lord Crump, a very serious and proper widower, and of course, Diana is less than keen on the idea.

The hero, the Duke of Sheffield is another of the cousins descended – albeit on the wrong side of the blanket – from royalty and is thus related to both Marchbourne and Hawkesworth, the heroes of the previous two books in the series, and to Breckonridge, who has been his only family since the death of his parents. Sheffield has rather a reputation with the ladies, so of course Brecon tells him that under no circumstances is he to have anything to do with Diana.

Red Rag – meet the Bull.

Sheffield is also to be the beneficiary of an arranged marriage, but by a stroke of luck, hits upon a way of getting out of it while at the same time helping the lady chosen for him to marry her true love instead.

There are, naturally, obstacles and misunderstandings along the way for Diana and Sheffield, and it’s done with a very light touch. But it all feels very insubstantial, and most of these obstacles and misunderstandings are of Diana’s own making. And while of course, the “unwanted suitor” is a staple of romance novels, in this one, it’s so obviously just a flimsy plot device with no real reason behind it. Even before we meet him, it’s clear from just his name that Crump is never meant to be seen as a serious contender for Diana’s hand, and that there is never any real risk that Diana might end up marrying him.

The real stumbling block with this book for me though was the fact that it was impossible to believe that Diana’s mother and her sister Charlotte would think, for even one second, that Diana could have any chance of happiness with Crump. From what we’ve seen of them as a family, they’re closeknit and care very much for each other; Lady Hervey is not some sort of stately matriarch with no real interest in her daughter’s welfare, and Charlotte, while happy in her arranged marriage, can surely not wish her sister to be miserable. In promoting the match with Crump, it seems to me that they are behaving completely out of character – regardless of the fact that Diana’s antics have already got her a reputation in society for being somewhat flighy. They both spend all of the novel telling Diana how she will come to love her husband, and are unable to see how absolutely miserable she is at the prospect of marrying this dry stick of a man. It’s like they’re completely different characters to in the other books, and if there’s one thing that is guaranteed to spoil a story for me, it’s inconsistent or poor characterisation.

I’ve been thinking since book 1, that I’d like to read Breckonridge’s story. After all, he’s often described as being handsome and intelligent – but he’s at least forty (shock, horror!) which perhaps disqualifies his being cast as a romantic lead. He also appears to have a decent amount of common sense and maturity, so perhaps that has something to do with it. In any case, he gets his HEA with Lady Hervey – and I suspect they’ll be just as happy, if not more so, than their less mature and more wayward relatives.

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