Put Up Your Duke (Dukes Behaving Badly, #2) by Megan Frampton

Put up your duke

To keep his estate afloat, the new Duke of Gage must honor an agreement to marry Lady Isabella Sawford. Stunningly beautiful, utterly tempting, she’s also a bag of wedding night nerves, so Nicholas decides to wait to do his duty—even if it means heading to the boxing saloon every day to punch away his frustration.

Groomed her whole life to become the perfect duchess, Isabella longs for independence, a dream that is gone forever. As her husband, Nicholas can do whatever he likes—but, to Isabella’s surprise, the notorious rake instead begins a gentle seduction that is melting every inch of her reserve, night by night . . .

To his utter shock, Nicholas discovers that no previous exploits were half as pleasurable as wooing his own wife. But has the realm’s most disreputable duke found the one woman who can bring him to his knees— and leave him there?

Rating: B+

Although this is part of Ms Frampton’s current Dukes Behaving Badly series, Put Up Your Duke doesn’t seem to involve characters from previous books and can easily be read as a standalone. I was between books when the offer of a review copy reached me, and as I’m pretty much unable to resist any story in which the protagonists are forced into a marriage of convenience, it solved the problem of my temporary booklessness and did it in a most enjoyable manner.

Nicholas Smithfield knows he’s damn good at two things – pugilism and sex. As the book opens we meet him during an evening spent at a favourite house of ill repute in company with three delectable ladies, but before he can get very far his younger brother, Griff, interrupts him with some amazing news. Due to a series of completely unexpected and freakish circumstances, it turns out that Nicholas is, in fact, the rightful holder of the title and estates of the Duke of Gage. Even the pleasures to be found in the arms of three lusty ladies can’t quite top that, and Nicholas – very regretfully – departs with his brother in order to find out exactly what is going on and if he really has just become a duke.

Nicholas discovers there’s no question about it – he is the lawful duke even if the previous incumbent, usually referred to as “the duke that was” is not at all happy about being suddenly deprived of his position and threatens to make trouble. He aiso discovers that he has not only inherited a dukedom, but he has inherited a fiancée as well, Lady Isabella Sawford, the daughter of the Earl of Grosston.

Even less prepared for matrimony than “dukehood”, Nicholas is at first determined to see if he can break the betrothal – after all, the young lady was betrothed to a man, not a title. But meeting with her father, it quickly becomes apparent that the betrothal is so watertight that to break it would almost certainly ruin Nicholas – and by extention, the dukedom – financially, and he has no alternative but to honour the agreement. Upon meeting the beautiful Isabella, Nicholas decides that being married to her might not be such a bad thing after all.

Isabella has been brought up to be perfect. Beautiful, poised, demure, the model of decorum, she has been bred to be the perfect duchess by parents who see her as nothing more than a highly valuable commodity. She has spent her entire life doing as others have dictated and fulfilling their expectations, the slightest hint of resistance immediately quashed by her mother’s threatening to send away her sister, Margaret, whom she loves dearly – and whom her parents treat almost as though she doesn’t exist.

Isabella is no more enthusiastic at the prospect of being married than Nicholas, although she is relieved, upon meeting him, to discover that he is incredibly attractive and seems kind, completely unlike her previous fiancé on both counts. The wedding takes place, and both Nicholas and Isabella find themselves completely unprepared as to what to do next. Well, Nicholas knows what he would like to do next – but realising he and his bride are all but strangers, manfully decides that they should get to know each other better before consummating the marriage. It’s going to take incredible fortitude on his part to wait and he has no intention of dishonouring his wife by slaking his lust with other women, so instead, he attempts – mostly unsuccessfully – to work off his frustrations in the boxing ring.

I enjoyed the story very much. Ms Frampton displays a lovely deftness of touch and a sense of humour that reminded me of writers such as Tessa Dare and Maya Rodale, and she has created a couple of very engaging characters in her two principals. Nicholas is such a loveable rogue that he’s impossible to dislike; he is desperate to get Isabella into bed, but does the gentlemanly thing and waits until she’s comfortable with the idea, even though he is unaware that his bride is perhaps not taking his gentlemanliness in the manner in which it is intended. Isabella has grown up in a cage, albeit a gilded one, and finds it difficult to express her own wishes and desires, which makes perfect sense, given the way she has been treated by her odious parents. It’s almost as though she has been institutionalised, her own decision making tools have been taken away from her and she has learned to do and to want what is expected of her regardless of her own opinions. I liked the way Ms Frampton has addressed the idea that even the most beautiful among us can have insecurities and neuroses, and that Isabella has to learn slowly to express herself truthfully and own her own desires. Nicholas is an absolute sweetie, but he, too, has a lot to learn about marriage, never having been one for sharing his thoughts and emotions, yet he is blessed with an instinctive emotional intelligence which enables him to discern that there is more to Isabella than the icy, always proper façade she presents to the world – and I will admit to raising a small, inward cheer each time he stood up to Isabella’s parents.

Put Up Your Duke hit the spot for me; it doesn’t depend on anything other than the central romance to drive the story forward, and that romance is well put-together as Nicholas and Isabella are allowed to get to know each other before getting frisky between the sheets. That’s not to say that there is a dearth of steaminess – not at all, but the romance is paramount and, well, you know what they say about delayed gratification! If I have a complaint it’s with the fact that Nicholas is so very, VERY sex-obsessed. I know he’s determined to wait for Isabella to want him and has thus condemned himself to an indeterminate period of celibacy, but almost every internal monologue and thought he expresses has a sexual overtone which, while often quite funny, does get a bit wearing after a while.

All in all, however, Put Up Your Duke is an enjoyable, light-hearted and often humorous read which features a well-drawn secondary cast and an engaging central couple. It’s definitely a good bet for whiling away a few hours on the beach this summer.


The Spring Bride (Chance Sisters #3) by Anne Gracie

the spring bride

On the eve of the London Season, Jane Chance is about to make her entrance into high society. And after a childhood riddled with poverty and hardship, Jane intends to make a good, safe, sensible marriage. All goes according to plan until a dark, dangerous vagabond helps her rescue a dog.

Zachary Black is all kinds of unsuitable—a former spy, now in disguise, he’s wanted for murder. His instructions: to lie low until his name is cleared. But Zach has never followed the rules, and he wants Jane Chance for his own.

If that means blazing his way into London society, in whatever guise suits him, that’s what he’ll do. Jane knows she shouldn’t fall in love with this unreliable, if devastatingly attractive, rogue. But Zach is determined—and he‘s a man accustomed to getting what he wants.

Rating: B

This is the third in the quartet of books about the Chance sisters, two of whom are actually sisters (Abby and Jane), the other two being young women to whom they are not related but with whom they share a strong bond forged by hardship and tragedy.

The heroine of The Spring Bride is Jane Chance, the younger of the two sisters. She is eighteen, beautiful and on the verge of her come out into society, something to which she has been very much looking forward. But even though she is likely to have her pick of suitors once the season begins, Jane accepts an offer from Lord Cambury, a rather dull and unprepossessing young man who is enthralled by her extraordinary beauty and talks of “adding her to his collection” of beautiful things. Her sisters are surprised by her decision, and try to dissuade her, but Jane won’t be deterred. She never again wants to endure the fear and deprivation she experienced as a child after she and Abby lost their parents, and to her, marriage is all about safety and security. She is quite happy to make a marriage of convenience and trust that, with luck, love will follow. Her sisters Abby and Damaris, who have both recently married and are blissfully happy, are sceptical, but Jane’s mind is made up.

Until, that is, she is assisted in her rescue of a mangy dog by a tall, dark, handsome gypsy, whose remarkable grey-green eyes she is unable to forget.

Zachary Black is not, in fact a gypsy, but he’s rather a shady character nonetheless. Having left his home and his abusive father over a decade ago, he has worked as an agent for the British government for the last eight years, travelling all around Europe and living a nomadic existence. The death of his father – the Earl of Wainfleet – has prompted his return to England, because Zach’s cousin has instigated legal proceedings to have him declared dead. Confident that his re-appearance will quickly dispense with his cousin’s lawsuit, Zach fully expects to be on his way back to Europe in a matter of weeks, but he isn’t prepared for the news that his resurrection could lead to his actual demise – because he is wanted for the murder of his young stepmother.

Even so, he decides to remain in England until both situations are resolved… and so that he can pursue his acquaintance with the lovely Jane Chance.

I enjoyed the story very much, although my favourite book of the series so far is the previous one, The Winter Bride. But this one has much to recommend it, not least of which is the way Ms Gracie develops the central romance. So many historical romances these days rely of a surfeit of completely unlikely and anachronistic sex scenes, using those in lieu of the evolution of an actual relationship between the protagonists. But in The Spring Bride, the author writes a real romance which is tender, but by no means lacking in heat, yet which takes place in a realistic manner given the period at which the book is set. It was very difficult for young, unmarried men and women to meet in private, and here, the majority of the meetings between Jane and Zach take place in public situations, when all they are really able to do is TALK to each other. And talking to each other is, of course, the best way for them to get to know one another, and for the reader to get to know them and follow the progress of their romance.

Both characters have to make serious re-adjustments to their outlooks on life; Jane has to realise that perhaps a life devoid of love or, at the very least, genuine affection, is not for her, and Zach must admit that perhaps it’s time to leave behind his life full of disguise and subterfuge and grow up and into his responsibilities.

The Spring Bride is an enjoyable, easy read that’s very well-written and suffused with humour and affection. I did find it a little “lightweight” when compared to the other two books, but that didn’t spoil my enjoyment, and I’m eagerly looking forward to tough-as-nails Daisy’s book, which will be the final one in the set.

Never Resist a Rake by Mia Marlowe

never resist a rake

John Fitzhugh Barrett is surprised to discover that instead of being a bastard, he’s the legitimate heir to the Somerset marquessate. Once word gets out that he must continue the Somerset line, eligible bachelorettes from across the country descend upon Somerfield Park, hoping to snatch John up before it’s too late. But John has no interest in a woman who’s only after his title.

Rebecca Kearsey, the daughter of a threadbare viscount, is the only one who understands. However, as her desire for John begins to build, she becomes painfully aware that she isn’t considered grand enough by Polite Society to be a future marchioness. Intrigued by the idea of challenging society’s rigid values, John’s interest in Rebecca grows. But can she show him that love is more than just childish rebellion?

Rating: C

Never Resist a Rake is one of those books which frustrated me no end, because it had a lot of potential which was never realised. It’s not a terrible book – I’ve read far worse, believe me! – the writing is accomplished and the main characters are attractive and well-suited, but overall, it lacks substance and the romance is sorely under-developed.

John Fitzhugh Barrett was shunted aside by his wealthy, powerful family when he was a child because he was a bastard – or believed to be so. Now, more than twenty years later, it turns out his parents were actually married, and he is the Earl of Hartley, firstborn son and heir to the Marquess of Somerset. I’m guessing this revelation was made in the previous book in this series (this is book two), which I haven’t read – but this discovery turns John’s life turned upside down and inside out; and, feeling he doesn’t know who he is anymore, he hot foots it off to London and promptly plunges into an orgy of dissipation aided by some old school chums whose exploits have earned them less than savoury reputations.

When his family seeks him out to bring him back to the fold as it were, John wants none of it. They turned their backs on him when he was a child and now he doesn’t scruple to return the favour. The worst of his ire is reserved for his grandmother, the dowager marchioness, whom he believes is the person who bears most of the responsibility for his being cast out.

The story opens with John, who is still in London pursuing his devil-may-care existence, about to take to the boxing ring in an illegal club in Whitechapel. With the fight due to start any minute, the organisers suddenly add a “sweetener” to the purse in the form of a young woman who has had the misfortune to venture off the beaten track and into one of the less respectable areas of London. Recognising her as someone he had once briefly encountered at a museum, John knows he must win the fight in order to save her.

Rebecca Kearsey is the daughter of a debt-ridden baron and not at all a suitable match for the heir to a marquisate. But there’s an undeniable pull of attraction between her and her handsome rescuer that she can’t ignore, no matter her relatively lowly status. Having no real hope that she can be more to John than a friend, she eventually persuades him to return home to Somerfield Park to make peace with his family and assume his proper place in society. John insists that she and her family join the house-party that is about to gather for the annual hunt, not realising that this year, the hunt serves a double purpose. It’s a shooting party as usual, but the dowager has also invited the cream of the year’s debutantes, with a view to finding a bride among them for her newly elevated grandson.

When he realises what is going on, John is furious and, adamant that he will not be manipulated by his fearsome grandmother, decides to pay her back in kind with a little manipulation of his own.

I had a number of problems with this book, which relate to the set-up, the frequently anachronistic behaviour of the principals and the lack of development in the romance. During the journey home following the rescue, Rebecca recalls everything she knows about John and his situation from what she has read in the gossip rags, which is basically a big info-dump of the “as you know, Bob”, variety. The set–up stretched my credulity to the limit; it was just too much of a coincidence that the damsel in distress was someone John had met and spoken to just once (and actually, I didn’t see the point of their having met before). As if that wasn’t bad enough, within pages of their first meeting, Rebecca is talking to John as though they’ve known each other for years, and is practically psycho-analysing him, telling him he’s got it all wrong about his family and that he needs to give them a chance to set things right.

I’m not saying she doesn’t have a point. It’s just that it’s incredibly inappropriate – not to mention rude – to be speaking that way to someone you’ve only just met, no matter the time period.

Both John and Rebecca are decent people, but there’s nothing about either of them that makes them stand out in any way. Their behaviour owes little to convention (she’s allowed to be alone with him in his bedroom and no-one bats an eyelid, for example) and although by the end, he’s manned up and redeems himself somewhat, I found John rather a wishy-washy hero. Most of the time, he behaves like a petulant child, especially when he adopts that whole “they did it to me so I’ll do it to them” stance – and I just wanted to tell him to stop sulking and grow up! In his favour, I will say that he often realises he’s not behaving like a responsible adult, but then, he refuses to do anything about it. His deeper hurts – his feelings of abandonment and lack of self-esteem – seemed to offer opportunities for character growth and development, but that never happened.

Never Resist a Rake – which, by the way is another of those titles that bears no relation whatsoever to the story – is one of those middling books that is neither all bad nor good. The writing flows well and is easy to read, but the characterisation is weak, the romance is poorly developed and the central couple lacks chemistry. I’m afraid I can’t recommend it.

The Accidental Bride by Jane Feather (audiobook) – Narrated by Jenny Sterlin

the accidental bride

For four years, Cato, the Marquis of Granville, had been just another man — the uninteresting, somewhat intimidating husband of Phoebe’s older sister. But then her sister died, and Phoebe seemed a reasonable substitute. Her forced engagement to him should have been quite a cold-blooded arrangement… except that one day Phoebe looked at Granville — really looked at him — and saw what she’d never seen before: he was darkly, breathtakingly attractive.

Once she’d noticed, she couldn’t seem to stop noticing, and suddenly Phoebe was disastrously in love. It would be nothing short of torture to be married to Granville, knowing he didn’t love her and never would. After all, Phoebe was not the kind of woman men fell in love with — Phoebe with her untidy hair, her rumpled clothes, and her fingers forever ink-stained from the poetry she wrote.

When running away does not solve her problems, Phoebe decides to try something a little different — something that involves a little change in wardrobe, a daring new attitude, and a bit of brazen seduction.

Granville is about to discover that his awkward Phoebe is woman enough even for him….

Rating: B for narration; B- for content

Originally published in 1999, The Accidental Bride is the middle book in a trilogy set during the English Civil War, which features three rather unconventional young women all finding their way to true love. Before I start this review, however, I have to say that there are a number of things about this particular book which might prove problematic for some listeners, so I’m going to get them out of the way.

1. The hero is almost twice the heroine’s age – she’s eighteen, he’s thirty-five.

2. The hero is a widower three times over, so the heroine is wife number four.

3. His most recent wife was the heroine’s older sister. (I looked this one up, because at one time a marriage between a man and his dead wife’s sister was illegal in England, but it doesn’t seem to have been so in 1645).

4. The hero’s fifteen year old daughter (by wife number two) is the heroine’s best friend.

None of those things bother me particularly, and I can say that in spite of a few reservations about plot and characterisation, I enjoyed the audiobook overall.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

When a Rake Falls by Sally Orr

when a rake falls

To win a race to Paris, dashing Lord Boyce Parker hires a balloon. He expects to be crowned the victor and become famous for his courage and intelligence. Only then can he regain his father’s respect from the scandal of publishing the naughty book The Rake’s Handbook: Including Field Guide.

Bluestocking Miss Eve Mountfloy makes a bargain with the handsome Pink of the Ton. She’ll fly the balloon during the dangerous crossing to France, if he lets her finish her scientific experiments to predict violent storms and thereby save lives.

Eve proceeds with her studies, but the results are not what she expected. Chafing to keep warm creates unusual sensations everywhere. Then when Lord Parker asks if she is curious about the heat generated by a kiss, well, she is curious. It seems Lord Parker is performing experiments of his own that will forever change Eve’s perception of the word “results.”

Rating: D

When I write a negative review, I try to find something positive to say, even though I didn’t enjoy the book as a whole. I have to admit, I struggled to do that with When a Rake Falls, and the best I can come up with is to say that it made a change to read about a hero who isn’t traumatised by a tragic past, and the best way I can think of to sum up the book is to say that it’s… Mostly Harmless.

Our hero, Lord Boyce Parker is the youngest of the eight sons of the Marquess of Sutcliffe. When Boyce edited and published a rather racy book written by a friend, his father disapproved to such an extent that he cut him in public – leaving his son almost pathetically desperate to regain his approbation. Boyce decides that the way to do this is to enter a contest which requires him to travel to Paris and along the way perform at least one outstanding feat that proves him among the flower of British manhood along the way.

Lord Boyce’s brilliant idea whereby he will impress Dad is that he will travel by balloon, which will enable him to prove himself not only courageous, but intelligent and desirous of paving the way for new technology. He has arranged to travel with Mr Mountfloy, a scientist who is conducting experiments into weather conditions, and his daughter, Eve, but when he is hustled aboard with only Eve for company he is suspicious and soon learns that Moutnfloy had no intention of flying to Paris, and had instead instructed Eve to make take off so unpleasant as to make Boyce want to land as soon as possible. Undeterred, he persuades Eve to continue the journey and persuades her to allow him to help with her experiments.

Eve Mountfloy has worked alongside her father since the deaths of her mother and elder brother, a naval hero. She knows her father only turned to her for help in his work because she there was no alternative, and he believes that as a woman, she cannot possibly have the strength of mind and intelligence necessary for scientific study. In fact, towards the end of the book, he belittles her so badly and so often that I could happily have done him serious harm.

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

Mary Anne by Daphne du Maurier (audiobook) – Narrated by Carole Boyd

mary anne

In Regency London, the only way for a woman to succeed is to beat men at their own game. So when Mary Anne Clarke seeks an escape from her squalid surroundings in Bowling Inn Alley, she ventures first into the scurrilous world of the pamphleteers. Her personal charms are such, however, that before long she comes to the notice of the Duke of York. With her taste for luxury and power, Mary Anne, now a royal mistress, must aim higher. Her lofty connections allow her to establish a thriving trade in military commissions, provoking a scandal that rocks the government – and brings personal disgrace. A vivid portrait of overweening ambition, Mary Anne is set during the Napoleonic Wars and based on du Maurier’s own great-great- grandmother.

Rating: A for narration; B for content

Written in 1951, Mary Anne is the fictionalised account of the life of Mrs Mary Anne Clarke, who was the author’s great-grandmother, and who is famous principally for being the mistress of Frederick, Duke of York (second son of King George III).

Mary Anne Thompson was born in 1776 in the East End of London, and by her twenties, had become one of the most famous courtesans in London. Before I wrote this review, I looked her up on the internet, and quickly discovered that there are discrepancies between what is actually known of her early life, and how Ms du Maurier describes it – but as I’m reviewing the book rather than regurgitating a history lesson, it’s the author’s version I’m going to concentrate on.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

Duty and Desire (Hearts of Honour #2) by Elise de Sallier

duty and desire

Grace Daniels, the village of Hartley’s resident midwife and herbalist, would like nothing more than to ease the suffering of Jonathan Loring’s young son, Peter. But the widowed Blackthorn estate manager is as prejudiced against her illegitimacy as he is her “witchy” profession. When Peter’s physicians say they can do no more for the boy, Jonathan finds himself in the unenviable position of having to turn to the woman whose skills he has scorned.

Drawn together out of duty, Jonathan and Grace’s relationship soon becomes characterised by a not-so-hidden desire. Having found a degree of independence unheard of for a lady, Grace has no intention of submitting to the bonds of matrimony. Not that Jonathan, who has lost his inheritance and has to work for a living, is in any position to propose.

With marriage out of the question, their only option is both shocking and dangerous . . . to become lovers.

Rating: B

Duty and Desire is the second book in the author’s Hearts of Honour series, but I don’t think it’s necessary to have read book one, Passion and Propriety, to be able to understand and enjoy it. The story is refreshingly different for an historical romance and I really enjoyed the slow-burn romance between the two protagonists, which is very-well written and developed.

Grace Daniels is the midwife in the village of Hartley, near the estate of Viscount Blackthorn and his wife Hannah, her childhood friend. The illegitimate child of a baron, she was tolerated by his family until his death, but she was then cast out and left to her own devices. She was taken in by her great-aunt, a herbalist and midwife, learned from her and has built up a considerable reputation as a healer.

Widower Jonathan Loring is the viscount’s estate manager, his former commanding officer and his closest friend. Born into an aristocratic family, he was forced to seek employment after resigning his commission in order to care for his seriously ill son. His older brother has gambled away his own fortune, stolen Jonathan’s inheritance, and his financial situation is such that Jonathan is now the sole support for his mother and sickly sister, Penelope. Sending what money he can spare to them and the expensive medical treatments he has sought for his son have brought him to the brink of penury, yet he stubbornly refuses to ask for Grace’s help, believing her traditional, natural remedies and treatments to be only one step removed from “witchery”.

But when an expensive and experienced London physician tells Jonathan there is nothing to be done for Peter and to resign himself to the inevitable, he finally swallows his pride and asks Grace for help.

Jonathan and Grace have an acrimonious relationship, begun in the previous book. He dismisses her as nothing more than a quack, and she gives as good as she gets, rather enjoying the opportunity to bait him. But as she cares for his son, the pair begins to see each other in a different light, and to acknowledge the reluctant attraction that lies buried behind their animosity. Their relationship is beautifully developed and progresses at a sensible pace – fast enough to make it satisfying to read, but not so fast as to make it unbelievable. The first frissons of physical attraction between them are delicious, and their longing for each other just leaps off the page.

Unfortunately, however, the truth of both their situations makes it impossible for Grace and Jonathan to marry. He cannot afford to support a wife, and her dedication to her profession caused her long ago to decide against matrimony. After all, what husband would be willing to put up with a wife who is often called away all hours of the day and night? And how can a woman with such a busy practice possibly undertake the duties of a wife? These facts leave them with few options. They either resign themselves to a life apart, or enter into a clandestine affair – which, if discovered, could ruin Grace entirely.

It’s always a refreshing change to read about characters in historical romances who aren’t rich or titled, and that is definitely one of the things that attracted me to this book. It’s an interesting move on Ms de Sallier’s part to introduce a storyline involving food-allergies into the story, and she lays the groundwork for it very well, so that Grace’s treatment for Peter’s illness never feels as though it is some convenient miracle cure that is present merely to fulfil the needs of the plot.

My criticisms of the book are few, and those are mostly concerned with the last few chapters or so, which feel a little rushed and in which things are resolved a little too conveniently. The reasons Jonathan and Grace are unable to marry are not spurious on his part – having to support his mother and sister as well as pay for expensive medical treatments had almost ruined Jonathan financially; but I was less convinced by Grace’s “I can’t marry you because of my career” stance.

Otherwise, however, Duty and Desire is a very enjoyable story in which the two principals are engaging, dedicated and compassionate characters. The writing is solid, in spite of the odd turn of phrase here and there which feels a little forced, but the romance between Jonathan and Grace is lovely. Their physical encounters are infused with both sensuality and tenderness, and there is no doubt of the depth of the emotional connection between them.