The Rake to Ruin Her by Julia Justiss

ruin

Known as “Magnificent Max,” diplomat Max Ransleigh was famed for his lethal charm until a political betrayal left him exiled from government and his reputation in tatters. He seems a very unlikely savior for a well-bred young lady.

Except that Miss Caroline Denby doesn’t want to be saved…she wants to be ruined! To Caroline, getting married is tantamount to a death sentence, and meeting the rakish Max at a house party seems the answer to her prayers…. Surely this rogue won’t hesitate to put his bad reputation to good use?

Rating: B-

On the surface, The Rake to Ruin Her is a fairly run-of-the-mill marriage of convenience story, and as such, it’s well-written. I found the two principals to be engaging and fairly well-rounded given the smallish page-count allowed by the average Harlequin Historical.

Caro Denby is a rather unconventional young lady in that she has no desire to marry or make a name for herself in society. From a very young age, she has worked with her late father on his stud farm and desires nothing more than to be left alone to run it and breed horses. At a house-party held at Barton Abbey, the country home of Mrs Grace Ransleigh, Caro hits upon the idea of getting herself ruined so that she will no longer find herself being pestered by unwanted suitors and will be able to retire to her stud farm in peace.

With this end in mind, she approaches Max Ransleigh, nephew of her hostess, and proposes to him that he compromise her and then refuse to marry her so that her ruin will be complete and unalterable. But despite having a bit of a reputation with the ladies (and I have to say that I’m getting a little tired of seeing the term “rake” used repeatedly in historical romances to describe a man who is most definitely not one), he also has a strong sense of honour and understands the workings of society far more than Caro does. He refuses her request, despite being intrigued by her and the way such an intelligent and straightforward woman has managed to disguise herself so efficiently behind a succession of horrible dresses and unpolished manners.

Unfortunately however, matters do not rest there, and when Max intervenes to help Caro to repel the attentions of a suitor who tries to force himself upon her, she is compromised anyway. When he does the decent thing and offers for her hand, she refuses and goes home to her stud farm, until she is threatened with its loss and has to turn to Max for help.

What I particularly liked about this part of the book is that we’re shown how the consequences of Caro’s refusal to marry him affect Max and his social standing. He’s the younger son of an earl and was enjoying his work as a diplomat when a political scandal saw him removed from his post and his reputation sullied. Since he’s unable to reveal the truth behind his association with Caro, his reputation is further disparaged when it is learned that he has (supposedly) despoiled an innocent and is not to be married to her. Normally, it is the woman’s reputation that sustains the damage in this type of plot, but here, the tables are turned, which I thought was a refreshing change.

Max and Caro are attracted to each other from the outset (although I did get rather tired of reading about her tingling nipples and swollen breasts!) but when she insists on a marriage in name only and tells him she will not interfere with his taking his pleasures elsewhere, he accedes and they are married.

What Caro hasn’t told Max is that it isn’t the marital bed she’s worried about (I don’t think I’ve ever read a Harlequin heroine who was at such risk of spontaneous combustion if she didn’t get laid!) – but rather something she has named “The Curse” because of the fact that the majority of her female relatives, including her mother, have died in childbirth.

For a relatively short novel, I thought the author did a good job in fleshing out the principal characters and charting the progress of their relationship. Caro is refreshingly frank, despite the fact that she does not immediately tell Max about her fear of childbirth, and in fact, their relationship as a whole is very open and honest. I liked the way they were supportive of each other and understood each other, and the way their romantic relationship grew from that.

If I have a complaint, it’s that Caro went from virgin to sexpot with nothing in between. Not that it’s wrong for a woman to know what she wants from her man, but she seemed to me to be surprisingly forward for a woman of her time. I imagine the author’s continual references to the way Max’s touch had an incendiary effect on her (and her nipples!) were intended to show that Caro had the potential to be a siren in the bedroom, but I felt it was a bit too far a bit too fast.

The Rake to Ruin Her was an enjoyable read that had much more depth to it than I was originally expecting. Max and Caro are well-matched; there is a real sense of affection between them, and I can quite easily imagine them living happily in the country breeding horses and children!

 

Advertisements

The Dangerous Lord Darrington by Sarah Mallory (audiobook) – narrated by Julia Franklin

dld

The Dangerous Lord Darrington is not a man to be welcomed into a house of unprotected women! He may be an earl, but even in the wilds of Yorkshire Beth Forrester has heard tales of the incorrigible rake that make her toes curl… Unexpectedly hosting such a scandalous celebrity is only the first of Beth’s problems. Now the wicked Lord Darrington has found out about the dark secret she will do anything to protect. How to buy a rake’s silence? There is only one way – with her body!(

Rating: C

This book was better than the somewhat clichéd title might imply. The blurb is also misleading as the plotline of the rake pursuing the widow is very far from the whole story; in fact, it runs parallel to a mystery concerning the heroine’s brother and her quest to clear his name and prevent his execution for a crime he did not commit.

There were several plot twists and turns, sensual sex scenes, an evil fiancé, an evil ex-fiancée, and a secondary romance along the way between the heroine’s sister and Darrington’s friend. It was an entertaining story, if nothing especially original, and I enjoyed the way that the relationship between Beth and Darrington developed into a trusting friendship and then into more.

I’m starting to get a bit tired of the number of men in historical romances who are termed “rakes” or “dangerous”, when they’re nothing of the sort. Young, unmarried men were expected to sow a few wild oats back then, so applying either of those labels to a man simply because he’s slept with a number of different women, when he’s otherwise trustworthy and honourable is completely inappropriate. This is the case here. Darrington has had to retire from public life due to a political scandal and has a reputation as a bit of a ladies’ man. But his concern for his friend when he has a riding accident, his determination to help Beth and her brother (even when she pushes him away towards the end of the book) don’t point to his being either a rake or dangerous.

I thought that Beth’s reaction when Darrington refused to submit to blackmail was rather overblown, although given everything she had on her plate, I can accept that she had come to the end of her tether; she did at least have the sense to see that her outburst and dismissal of Darrington had been unfair to him and realise that she did need his help. And his insistence on total secrecy as to the nature of his plan to sort everything out was unnecessary, and guaranteed to provoke Beth into the sort of reaction she did, in face, display.

But apart from that, the storytelling was decent, and I found the central couple engaging enough to want to know how things worked out.

In terms of the audio, the narration was generally good, although the performer’s male voices were in danger of becoming a little grating at times, and were sometimes on the nasal side. But not enough to make it impossible to listen to and not enough to put me off listening to her in future.

Devil in Winter by Lisa Kleypas (audiobook) – narrated by Rosalyn Landor

diw

A DEVIL’S BARGAIN Easily the shyest Wallflower, Evangeline Jenner stands to become the wealthiest, once her inheritance comes due. Because she must first escape the clutches of her unscrupulous relatives, Evie has approached the rake Viscount St. Vincent with a most outrageous proposition: marriage Sebastian’s reputation is so dangerous that thirty seconds alone with him will ruin any maiden’s good name. Still, this bewitching chit appeared, unchaperoned, on his doorstep to offer her hand. Certainly an aristocrat with a fine eye for beauty could do far worse. But Evie’s proposal comes with a condition: no lovemaking after their wedding night. She will never become just another of the dashing libertine’s callously discarded broken hearts, which means Sebastian will simply have to work harder at his seductions, or perhaps surrender his own heart for the very first time in the name of true love.

Rating: A+

I love a quick-witted, smart-mouthed, gorgeous bad boy – and Sebastian St. Vincent is quite possibly the baddest, most gorgeous, smartest-mouthed and quickest-witted of them all 🙂

Yes, like many a reader (or in this case, listener) before me, I fell victim to his charms at an early stage of the story and am now wondering what to do with myself.

The story of wallflower-tames-rake is nothing new, but it seems as though Kleypas has done her best to have her protagonists at extremes to make their journey towards each other that bit more remarkable. St. Vincent is profligate in the extreme and makes no apologies about it, and Evie, small, unfashionably red-haired and afflicted with a stammer is the shyest of wallflowers.

Yet however small and shy Evie is, she’s also courageous and tenacious; desperate to escape her abusive uncle and an arranged marriage to his paunchy son, she approaches Sebastian with the proposal that they marry. She can escape from her uncle’s house and he will gain control of her fortune, of which he is in fairly desperate need. The fact that he’s so desperate – and, I suspect, deep-down none too enamoured with the course on which he is set – shows when he acquiesces almost immediately and they head off to Gretna Green.

I won’t rehash the plot –in fact, I’m probably the only person on the planet who hadn’t read this book yet – so all I’ll say is that, despite his reputation, Sebastian proves himself over and over to be a considerate and kind man. He’s similarly surprised by Evie, who he discovers to be intelligent, spirited – and obstinate, which he definitely hadn’t expected.

Sebastian is the epitome of the beautiful, tortured hero who goes through life pretending not to care much about anything and hiding his loneliness and self-hatred behind a barrier of quips and devil-may-care attitude. He lost his mother and sisters to illness at a young age and doesn’t seem to have a particularly close relationship with his father (which I suppose was fairly typical for the time). I very much liked the idea of Sebastian finally finding his purpose in life. He’s a man who has spent his life in idleness, probably unknowingly looking for something – and when he finds it, recognises it on an instinctual level and then has the good sense to seize his opportunity with both hands. Not only does he gain a new respect from his peers, but a new self-respect, something which, despite his outward confidence and bravado, I suspect he’d been missing for a long time. And of course, a second purpose in being a husband to Evie – and perhaps a father, things he thought he never wanted or would never have.

For her part, Evie has grown up with the stigma of being a tradesman’s daughter. She has been well brought up, but life with her uncle is miserable and he is not above physical abuse when she does not do as he wants. She feels she has never really been loved; her uncles don’t want her (just her money) and her father sent her away from him as soon as she emerged from childhood. He sent her away for her own good it’s true – but it clearly hurt her nonetheless.

Fortunately for Evie, the madcap plan she hits on turns out not to have been such a mistake after all. Watching these two, mismatched, emotionally damaged people fall in love was a real delight, and I’m sure that Sebastian, while happily limiting himself to Evie’s bed will continue to be just as much of a rogue between the sheets as he ever was 😉

In terms of the narration, I thought it was excellent. I’ve tended in the past to prefer male narrators as the female ones I’ve listened to have lacked something. Clearly, however, I was listening to the wrong narrators or the wrong books, because Rosalyn Landor is amazing; her interpretation of Evie was simply outstanding as she invested her with shyness and steel at the same time. I do think it’s generally more difficult when it comes to women voicing male characters – and in the case of Sebastian, one who is so well-loved within the genre – but again, she did a superb job with his laconic drawl and still managed to give him an edge, the hint of something dangerous lurking underneath. So brava! to Ms Landor, and I will now have to go out and find everything she’s ever narrated.

And the Miss Ran Away With the Rake by Elizabeth Boyle

ran away

Daphne Dale never could have imagined that when she answered an advertisement in the newspaper that she would find true love. Now she has the opportunity to meet her unknown suitor, but it means traveling to Tabitha’s wedding, and into the heart of her family’s sworn enemies. Everyone knows the Seldons are terrible rakes and bounders, but Daphne will risk anything to gain the happiness she is certain is right around the corner.

Lord Henry Seldon is aghast at the latest addition to the house party guest list—one would think after the unforgettable scandal Daphne Dale caused at the duke’s engagement ball, she wouldn’t dare show her face at the duke’s wedding. But here she is, poking her nose where she shouldn’t and driving Henry mad . . . with an unforgettable passion that will turn enemies into lovers.

Rating: B-

This is the second in Elizabeth Boyle’s Rhymes with Love series, in which the titles are ‘riffs’ on well-known nursery-rhymes. As with the previous book in the series (Along Came a Duke) the heroine is a resident in the village of Kempton in which the unmarried ladies labor under a terrible curse – that they are doomed to spinsterhood.

Daphne Dale is the best friend of Tabitha Timmons, heroine of book one and soon-to-be Duchess of Preston. As the best friend of the bride, Daphne has been invited to attend the betrothal ball and a house-party which are taking place prior to the wedding, but there is a snag. The duke is the head of the Sheldon family – and the Sheldons and the Dales have been at each other’s throats for generations.

Preston’s uncle, Lord Henry Sheldon, is rather the black sheep of the family, but not for the usual reasons. The Sheldons have a reputation for licentiousness and scandal, but Henry is sensible and dependable with nary a scandal to his name.

Until, that is, he meets Daphne Dale.

The story starts out in such a way as to remind me of The Shop Around the Corner, which is one of my favorite films, so I was rather pleased when the book started out with two people corresponding incognito.

After a few months however, Mr DISHforth and Miss SPOONer decide they should meet. Both are halfway to being in love and anxiously anticipate their meeting, but of course complications ensure that ensure they are left unaware of the other’s true identity. Despite feeling an intense attraction to each other, once they discover that they are Sheldon and Dale, they commence hostilities immediately.

And the Miss Ran Away with the Rake is an entertaining, if frothy, read. The central couple is attractive and well-matched and the sexual tension between them fizzes from the outset. There is a good supporting cast featuring the fearsome (and somewhat barking!) Aunt Zillah Seldon and the aforementioned Preston and Tabitha; and I have to give special mention to Tabitha’s dog Mr. Muggins for his persistence in pursuit of sausages and… other things.

While the pacing of the story is generally good, I can’t help thinking that it was stretched out rather too much towards the end. Henry has realized who his Miss Spooner is, and, we realize in the next chapter, Daphne has discovered the identity of her Mr Dishforth. She is waiting for him to confess; he is confused by her continual references to Dishforth and how wonderful she thinks he is and there came a point I felt I just wanted to bang their heads together and tell them to “sort it!”

With so much time spent on the repeatedly foiled attempts of Dishforth and Spooner to unmask each other, the ending felt rather rushed and there was what I thought was a rather unnecessary epilogue set fifteen years later, complete with what seems now to be the obligatory brood of children

My biggest peeve with the book, however, was that Daphne is continually referring to and thinking of Henry as a rake – which we have been emphatically told that he is not. True, Daphne has turned his head so that he is less than his usual, sensible self when around her, but that’s still not enough to account him a rake. It does feel rather trite – almost as though the author had decided on a title for the book and then had to make the characters fit.

My second biggest was that we never discovered the oh-so-terrible reason for the feud between the Seldons and the Dales; or rather, there was a reference to it being about dogs, but that was it. On the one hand, I found that rather unsatisfactory, but on the other, I suppose it made an odd sort of sense and was in keeping with the overall light tone of the book that it would be due to such a stupid and insignificant reason.

But with those provisos, I did enjoy the book, and would certainly recommend it if you’re looking for a fun, angst-free and light-hearted read that doesn’t take itself too seriously.

For the Love of a Soldier by Victoria Morgan

soldier

Captain Garrett Sinclair, the Earl of Kendall, has returned to England a changed man. As a survivor of the legendary Charge of the Light Brigade, he has spent months as a remorseless rake and dissolute inebriate in order to forget it. But Garrett has also made powerful enemies who want him dead…

Desperate and down to her last pound, Lady Alexandra Langdon has disguised herself as a man for a place at the gaming tables. But when a hard-eyed, handsome man wins the pot, he surprises her by refusing her money. Indebted, she divulges an overheard plot against his life, and promises to help him find his foes—for a price.

But even as Alexandra fights her growing desire to reveal herself—and her heart—to the determined Garrett, she cannot shed the fear that the cost of her alliance with the earl may be a price too dear: her own secret betrayal.

Rating: A+

For the Love of a Soldier is that rare thing; a début novel that reads as though the author has a stable of books to her name already.

The plot is a fairly simple one. Lady Alexandra Langton, a young woman, on the verge of destitution decides to risk everything she has left (the sum of one hundred pounds) at the gaming tables in a desperate attempt to increase her funds. But of course, ladies were not allowed to indulge in “deep” play, and so she has to disguise herself as a man in order to gain entry to the sorts of events at which she will be able to gamble large sums of money. I have to say that I dislike stories in which the heroine dresses as a man and manages to pass as one without suspicion, but to the author’s credit, she made it work here, by indicating that Alex has done more than simply cut her hair or wear a suit.

Predictably however, her risk doesn’t pay off, and she loses at cards, to Captain Garrett Sinclair, Earl of Kendall, a man with a less than savoury reputation. But Garrett, sensing her desperation and believing her to be little more than a boy returns her money to her, telling her that while he will comfortably take money from a man, he will not ruin a boy.
Simultaneously annoyed and relieved, Alex later inadvertently overhears two men plotting to murder the Earl of Kendall, and seeing a way to repay him for his earlier gesture, Alex warns him of the danger.

Believing her to be his only lead – and still thinking she is a boy – Garrett insists that Alex accompany him home, but they are set upon along the way. During the fray, Alex is knocked unconscious, her disguise is dislodged and Garrett discovers that she’s not what she seems.

The assassination plot drives the story forward, but this is no adventure romp, because the real heart of the novel is the growing friendship and romance between Garrett and Alex.

Victoria Morgan has chosen to set her story in the 1850s, in the aftermath of the Crimean War, which is not often referenced in historical romance, so it’s a refreshing change. Through the eyes of Captain Garrett Sinclair, we get a glimpse of the true horror of war. He’s a war hero, a survivor of the infamous Charge of the Light Brigade, that act of glorious, against-all-odds bravery that was immortalised by Tennyson in his famous poem. But glory and honour is not what we are shown. Garrett has been traumatised by his war-time experiences and is suffering from what we would today recognise as PTSD, and he also carries around a huge chunk of survivor’s guilt.

Like many veterans – then and now – he does not talk about the war; he wants to bury everything deep inside so that he never has to go through it and re-live it. All he wants to do is to forget, and we learn that in a vain attempt to do so, he spent much of his time after leaving the army gaming, wenching and drinking, rattling around Europe in aimless depravity. Fortunately for him, however, he realised that wasn’t helping, he needed to be in control; and so he sobered up and eschewed the wenching, concentrating instead on the gambling.

He’s wealthy, has many estates and a good eye for business; he’s also utterly gorgeous with a quick wit, a gift for innuendo and a strong sense of honour. Alex is the perfect foil for him. She gives as good as she gets in their verbal sparring, she’s loyal and strong (without being stubborn for the sake of it!) and, sensing the darkness buried deep down, wants to help Garrett any way she can.

She’s had some experience of working with soldiers and veterans, having spent time working at the Chelsea Hospital, and although she knows she can do little more than listen, she also knows that ‘just’ listening seemed to have helped many of the men she knew. I’m pleased to say that the author hasn’t chosen to present Alex as Garrett’s “cure”, because as anyone who knows anything about PTSD will know, that just doesn’t happen. Rather, she presents Alex as someone who works out when to push and when to leave him alone; she knows he needs to talk, but that he needs to do it in his own time, and the scene where he finally unburdens himself packs a real emotional punch.

Amid all this talk of war and horror however, the reader will also find some of the funniest dialogue it’s ever been my privilege to read in a romantic novel. The exchanges between Garrett, his sister and brother-in-law are frequently hilarious as they tease each other constantly – and it’s clear that there’s an incredibly deep affection between them. Garrett enjoys getting a rise out of Alexandra, too, and comes to realise that for the first time in years, he’s starting to feel something like happiness and attraction.

If I have one quibble with the story, it’s that Alex’s backstory is rather flimsy, as are her reasons for rejecting Garrett towards the end of the book. On the positive side, I suppose it means that the solution is simple, and Garrett does indeed get things sorted out quite quickly.

I really can’t recommend this book highly enough. The writing is intelligent, the characterisation is excellent and the dialogue just sparkles. Garrett is one of the best flawed heroes I’ve come across in the genre, and the romance between him and Alex is warm and tender as well as being enough to get any reader a bit hot under the collar – the scene where they finally make love is one of the sexiest and most sensual I’ve ever read.

Coming from an established writer, For the Love of a Soldier would have been quite something. As a début, it’s an incredible achievement, and I’m eagerly waiting Victoria Morgan’s next project, which I believe is scheduled for this Autumn.

Review edited 22 March 2013: A longer review of this title is now up at All About Romance.

Checkmate, My Lord by Tracey Devlyn

cml

A desperate mother falls in love with the spymaster she’s forced to betray.

THE STAKES ARE HIGH, THE PLAYERS IN POSITION…

Catherine Ashcroft leads a quiet life caring for her precocious seven-year-old daughter, until a visitor delivers a startling ultimatum. She will match wits with the enigmatic Earl of Somerton, and it’s not just her heart that’s in danger.

LET THE GAMES BEGIN…

Spymaster Sebastian Danvers, Earl of Somerton, is famous for his cunning. Few can outwit him and even few dare challenge him–until now. After returning to his country estate, his no-nonsense neighbor turns her seductive wiles on him–but why would a respectable widow like Catherine risk scandal for a few passionate nights in his bed?

Rating: A-

Checkmate, My Lord is a truly enthralling romantic thriller set in the year before Trafalgar, and while it’s the second book to feature the secret organisation of the Nexus it’s not necessary to have read the first (A Lady’s Revenge) in order to be able to follow the story.

At the beginning of the book, the recently widowed Catherine Ashcroft has made her way to the London residence of Sebastian Danvers, Earl of Somerton, to see if he is able to shed any light on the recent death of her husband, from whom she had been estranged for several years.

Danvers was a friend of Jeffrey Ashcroft and they are also neighbors, as their country estates adjoin each other. But what Catherine does not know is that Sebastian is head of the Nexus, a network of informants, couriers and spies who are dedicated to keeping England safe from the threat of invasion; or that her husband was one of his agents. She does, however, suspect that there is more to Ashcroft’s death than a random attack or robbery gone wrong; and her desire to know more leads her into a web of deceit and treachery which ultimately endangers her life and that of her young daughter.

Sebastian has worked for the British government for a number of years, and has a reputation for intelligence, ruthlessness, and calculating cold-heartedness. He inherited his earldom at the age of twelve and has no family, so has had to be self-sufficient for most of his life. He knows that the enemy will exploit any weakness and knows, too, that becoming emotionally involved with anyone could prove dangerous for both them and him; he maintains his distance behind a steely façade of hard-nosed efficiency.

He does, however, agree to make Catherine aware of what he learns about her husband, all the while meaning – for her own protection – to present her with a story he feels is sufficient to appease her curiosity.

Right off the bat, the two are strongly attracted to each other. They have met before of course, but although there is a hint that Catherine has perhaps been carrying a torch for him for a while, Sebastian’s personal code would never have allowed him embark on an affair with his friend’s wife. In any case, because of the nature of his work, he does not allow himself to form permanent relationships; yet now, he finds himself unable to stop Catherine from haunting his thoughts and dreams.

Even worse, not only does Sebastian have to struggle with his growing attraction to the widow, but with the fact that he has been temporarily relieved of his command while he is subject to an investigation. He therefore leaves London for the country where he has promised Catherine that he will reveal what he has so far discovered about her husband’s death.

Sebastian and Catherine are soon unable to deny the explosive nature of the attraction between them, and agree to embark on a no-strings-attached affair until he returns to London. But an enemy of Sebastian’s has begun to foster doubts in Catherine’s mind about the earl’s true loyalties, and enlists her help to expose him as a traitor.

I thoroughly enjoyed the book. I’ll be the first to say that the story itself is far from original, but Devlyn’s skill in telling her story pulled me into it right from the start, and the pace never slackened. The characters of Sebastian and Catherine are well-drawn and the sexual tension between them really sizzles. I especially liked the fact that they came to their “arrangement” in a mature (if unromantic) way and that Catherine wasn’t at all missish about the fact that she was as keen to embark on a sexual relationship with Sebastian as he was with her.

The romance develops well and the writing shows us the vulnerability beneath the surface of these two strong people. Both are guarding their hearts carefully; Sebastian because he doesn’t want to endanger Catherine, and she because she wants a man who will put his family before the affairs of the country, unlike her late husband and – we learn – her father. I especially enjoyed the way that Sebastian gradually comes to the realization that, after years spent learning how to be an earl and to run his estates, and then years spent in the service of his country, it’s time for him to live his own life and pay attention to his own wants and needs. Devlyn sews the seeds of his enlightenment throughout the story, which makes his eventual decision about his future all the more believable.

I did have a problem with the fact that Catherine was so ready to suspect Sebastian – someone she knew vaguely – on the word of a man she knew not at all; and that, even though she was allowed sufficient freedom to go to his bed each night, she took so long to confide in him and ask for help. Also, with the fact that Sebastian was so reluctant to tell Catherine anything about her husband’s death. He frequently left her with the impression that he didn’t want to tell her what he had discovered and never explained that he was trying to keep her out of danger by telling her as little as possible. I’m also puzzled as to what the title has to do with the actual story! But they are minor irritants, and in no way spoiled my enjoyment.

There is a likeable cast of secondary characters, including Cora and Ethan from the first book, Catherine’s supportive and eminently sensible mother, and her lively and charming six-year-old daughter, Sophie. There’s intrigue, murder, and a truly despicable villain; but nothing is superfluous and everything is tightly pulled together as the story fairly rattles along towards an eminently satisfactory conclusion. I’d recommend this book to anyone who likes a dollop adventure and intrigue in with their historical romance, and I’ll definitely be on the lookout for more from this author.

Vicar’s Daughter to Viscount’s Lady by Louise Allen (audiobook) – narrated by Jilly Bond

vic

Dutiful daughter Arabella Shelley is bitterly unhappy at home with her tyrannical father. Both her sisters have run away and the future looks bleak until handsome Rafe Calne, Viscount Hadleigh, sweeps her off her feet. A few weeks, later pregnant and abandoned, Bella sets out to force Viscount Hadleigh to do the right thing. And he does – the problem is, it isn’t the viscount she had been expecting…

Rating: B

In my opinion, Louise Allen is one of the consistently good authors in the Harlequin Historical stable, so I will usually consider buying her books as they come out. Last year, I think it was, I got a Kindle version of this title, but haven’t got around to reading it; so when I saw it was on my library’s digital audio service, I thought I’d give it a listen.

With audiobooks, of course the choice of narrator is crucial as they can make or break the book. Here it’s Jilly Bond, and I thought she was pretty good. Her voices for the male characters didn’t make me cringe and she was especially good as the dutiful and insecure heroine, Arabella Shelley.

I believe this is the second in the series of books about the Shelley sisters, and although I haven’t read or listened to the others, I don’t think you have to do that in order to enjoy this one.

Arabella and her two sisters live with their tyrannical father, a vicar, who expects them to remain unmarried and to look after him in his old age. Her other sisters have run away from home, leaving Arabella to bear the brunt of her father’s displeasure and despotism. Desperate to escape herself, she is blinded by the good looks and charm of Rafe, Viscount Hadleigh – and naïvely believes his protestations of love and promise of marriage. He seduces her and leaves her pregnant.

A few weeks later, Arabella sneaks away from the vicarage and makes her way to Hadleigh’s estate. Arriving tired, cold and hungry, she confronts her seducer – only to discover that the man she thinks is Rafe is actually his brother, Elliott, Rafe having died a few days earlier.

Unlike his brother, Elliott has a strong sense of honour, and feels he must do right by Arabella in order to atone for his brother’s irresponsibility and to bring up her child – if it is a son – as his heir.

The story is unoriginal, but well-told and I thought the author handled the conflicting emotions of the hero and heroine very well indeed. Both Elliott and Arabella are so intent on doing what they perceive their duty by each other to the extent that each fails to realise that the notion of doing one’s duty – whether in the bedroom or the breakfast-room isn’t going to be enough to make their marriage work.

Arabella’s lack of self-confidence in her ability to satisfy her husband in bed is quite natural given her experience with Rafe, who was not only manipulative, but cruel; and I liked that this part of the story wasn’t allowed to drag on for too long. Arabella and Elliott begin to feel comfortable with each other and to work as a team over improvements to the estate; and Elliott begins to realise that he has married a woman who is more than capable of maintaining her position as his viscountess. But the rot begins to set in when Elliott starts to resent the fact that, should Arabella’s baby be a boy, Rafe’s son will inherit his title and estate rather than a son of his own. He knows his feelings do him no credit and actually I thought this was very realistic; Elliot is not perfect, but a man struggling to do the right thing. He is open with Arabella about his feelings – for the most part, lack of communication is not an issue between them – but even so, he cannot forgive himself for feeling as he does. But despite his misgivings, he is there for Arabella when she needs him, and surprises himself when he discovers the love he has for the child once it’s born.

Of course, all is eventually worked through and Arabella and Elliott get their HEA, including, right at the end, the reappearance of one of Arabella’s long-lost sisters.

I thought this was a decently-written story, which, while predictable in outcome, had depth to it in terms of the way it dealt with some of the more difficult emotional aspects of the narrative. The fact of Arabella’s previous relationship with the hero’s brother was not put easily aside, but wasn’t made so much of it that it was difficult to reconcile with the eventual HEA. And I liked that Allen didn’t shy away from showing Elliott in a less than heroic light over his feelings about the baby.

All in all, I liked the story and I thought that the chosen narrator did a very good job. I would certainly not be averse to listening to more audiobooks read by Jilly Bond.