The Chaperon’s Seduction by Sarah Mallory

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

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

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

Rating: B+

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

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

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

Miss Ellen Tatham is seventeen and has come to Bath to dip her toes into the social whirl of Bath before making her London début. She is going to stay with her widowed stepmother, Lady Phyllida, who is only seven years her senior, having married Ellen’s father when she herself was just seventeen. Ellen and Phyllida are more like sisters than mother and daughter, and even though Phyllida is well aware that she will have her work cut out for her as Ellen’s chaperon, she is determined to keep the girl safe from the fortune hunters and reprobates who will shortly gather round her.

Visiting the Pump Room on the morning after Ellen’s arrival, Phyllida is surprised to see the notorious rake, Richard Allendale escorting his great aunt Sophia, Lady Hune. Phyllida is immediately on the alert, knowing the danger posed to Ellen by a man of Richard’s reputation. At Ellen’s age, Phyllida was almost cripplingly shy and can still recall her one dance at Almack’s with the handsome and charming Richard Allendale, to whom she is dismayed to discover she is still deeply attracted. In spite of the fact that he is never overt in his attentions towards Ellen, Phyllida continues to be suspicious of Richard’s intentions, and sticks firmly to Ellen’s side on the various excursions and events that are organised among their small circle of friends. To her increasing surprise – and Richard’s – he is at Phyllida’s side far more often than he is at Ellen’s; and before long he has to admit to himself that it’s not the heiress who interests him. Their romance moves slowly at first, both of them circling like fencers assessing their opponent’s technique until their mutual attraction becomes impossible to resist, and it’s very well done.

In spite of its predictable storyline, I enjoyed the book very much. Ms Mallory has taken a well-used trope and given it a bit of a makeover, shaking up some of the elements so often found in historical romances. I particularly enjoyed her characterisation of Ellen, who is no green miss still wet behind the ears. She is not a typical curl-tossing, foot-stamping débutante who does stupid things simply to be contrary and flout authority, but instead has her head very firmly screwed on the right way, and is quite worldly wise without being “fast”. I enjoyed watching her navigate her way through the sea of potential suitors, keeping them all at arm’s length while being perfectly friendly. I was also pleased with the author’s decision to make Phyllida’s marriage to her much older husband a happy one, even though it was a marriage of convenience. The relationship was obviously an affectionate one, and in it, Phyllida was able to shed her shyness, gain confidence and blossom into a poised and attractive woman.

Richard is a delicious hero; handsome, charming and witty as befits such a renowned ladies’ man, but in possession of a streak of goodness and honour a mile wide. As the story progresses and we – and Phyllida – learn more about him it becomes apparent that he is not at all as black as he has been painted. He’s a decent man whose sense of self-worth was all but destroyed by his uncaring father and who is rather tired of the lifestyle he has espoused for the past decade. The relationship between him and his aunt, who is the one person in his entire family who has ever believed in him, is beautifully written, and the affection lying between the pair is palpable.

The Chaperon’s Seduction is a quick but entertaining and emotionally satisfying read. I’m definitely going to be looking out for future titles in the series.

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

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Two noble teenagers are married against their will.

Drugged, Deb has no recollection of events.

Disgraced, Julian is banished to the Continent.

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

Can Deb forgive his cruel deception?

Can their marriage survive beyond seduction?

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

Rating: A+ for narration; B+ for content

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

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

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rating: B+

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

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

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

When Keira tells Gage what happened and announces her intention of finding Lady Drummond’s murderer, he is very supportive – but gently points out that before they can embark upon a hunt for the killer, they have to actually prove she was murdered in the first place.

The mystery is thus twofold; Keira and Gage have to prove their suspicions of murder are correct as well as ferret out the identity of the killer, and all this makes for a very intriguing mystery, which I enjoyed very much. I didn’t guess whodunit until near the end, and the method used to carry out the crime is an unusual but perfectly plausible one.

As well as working to solve the mystery, Keira and Gage have a number of other issues to work through on a personal level, and it’s in this area that the book is less successful.

Readers of the series will have watched Keira gradually emerge from the cocoon she’d woven about herself following her late husband’s death and as a way of avoiding the terrible rumours that circulated about her when it was discovered that she had been – albeit unwillingly – illustrating the text book on anatomy he was writing. She has gradually become more confident as a person and in her abilities as an investigator, and her willingness to put her fate into the hands of another man shows just how far she has come since we first met her. The problem in this book, though, is that her relationship with Gage is just treading water and the story rehashes many of the same issues Keira exhibited in A Grave Matter. She loves Gage very much, but is still wary of marriage; she knows deep down that he will never hurt her, but her past experience scarred her badly and she is incredibly nervous of taking that final step. It seems to me that sometimes, she takes out that nervousness on Gage, almost to see how far she can push him – and it is fortunate for her that he knows her well enough to know what she’s doing and to make allowances for it. It’s true that Gage also has trust issues and a similar reluctance to share when it comes to personal matters, but Keira sometimes expects more than she is prepared to give in that area, which I started to find somewhat annoying.

Conflict from a different source is introduced when Gage’s authoritarian father suddenly arrives in Edinburgh, furious with his son for disobeying his edict that he marry the wealthy heiress he has picked out for him. Lord Gage makes clear his disapproval of Keira in no uncertain terms, and insists on trying to cut her out of the investigation, particularly as Lord Drummond is an old friend and he (Lord Gage) has his own secrets to keep.

A Study in Death is an enjoyable story and an engrossing mystery which boasts a well-drawn cast of secondary characters and a strong sense of time and place. Unlike the last book, however, the romance has definitely been pushed into the back seat, which is perhaps natural, given that the central couple is engaged to be married. Keeping a romance going once the UST has become RST is always difficult, but Ms Huber is a talented writer, and I’m hoping that perhaps the next book – featuring Mr and Mrs Sebastian Gage – may provide the change of pace and direction needed to keep the series fresh.

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

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When only seduction will do…

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

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

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

Rating: D

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

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

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

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

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

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

When Cassie is located and brought into the bosom of the Order, she is assigned one of the team as her *ahem* “helper”. Garrett Stirling is the heir to the Earl of Stansted and is the team’s resident rebel. He’s a bit of a jack-the-lad, has the devil of a reputation with the ladies and his gift is to be able to out-Kenobi Obi-Wan by convincing all and sundry that those really aren’t the droids they’re looking for, with his ability to plant suggestions in people’s minds. His curse, however, is that whenever he has a nightmare, his dreams come true, and until he met Camden, he spent as much of his life as he could in a drunken or drug-induced stupor in an attempt to make sure he didn’t dream. And now, he doesn’t let himself get close to anyone in case he dreams about them and they then die a horrible death.

The thing is, that when a fire mage is “born” (which, in females, is when they lose their virginity), they’re horny as all hell, and need constant sexual gratification if they’re to retain control of their gift and not incinerate everything within a five-mile-radius. Naturally, Garrett is assigned to be Cassie’s personal orgasmatron. And equally naturally, they are drawn to each other for more than just sex and fall in love.

The purpose of the Order is to protect the British crown from attack by any and all arcane psychic weapons. The duke has heard of something called an ASP which has just arrived on English shores, which he has been informed could present a significant threat; the snag is that nobody has so far been able to find out exactly what it is. While he is working on this, Cassie receives training in how to control her gift (and receives plenty of orgasms!) and eventually, she and Garrett are sent on their first mission, to retrieve an item called the Infinitum, something which can be used to extend a lifespan. This turns out to be an incredibly useful device when the nature of the ASP is discovered and Cassie’s very existence is threatened. Incredibly, coincidentally useful. *wink*

Honestly, I ended up making it to the end of The Curse of Lord Stanstead simply because it was so silly and I couldn’t help wondering what daft, improbable coincidence was coming next. It moves along at a lightning pace, which might suit you if you want something completely superficial, but there is no character development, no romance, no chemistry between the leads and the plot is weak and just plain silly. I suppose not everyone can write Historical Paranormals like Kristen Callihan – and for that reason, I’m going to stick to her books in future when I want something a bit different.

The Best of Both Rogues by Samantha Grace

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

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

Rating: D+

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

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

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

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

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

Needless to say, he finds a way to speak to her and it’s obvious that even though Eve was badly hurt by his abandonment, she still loves him, and he makes it clear that he loves her as much as ever and wants her back. But the only way they can be together is if Eve will cry off from her betrothal – and given her past experience with Ben, she is reluctant to do so. She is faced with prospect of marriage to a man for whom she feels a mild affection, and who is often distracted by his academic studies, or of dumping him in favour of Ben, whom she fears may run off again. At no point during his renewed courtship does Ben offer an explanation for his actions two years ago, and oddly, Eve doesn’t ask for one.

Eventually, the decision is more or less taken out of Eve’s hands when Ben and Jonathan team up, the latter having realised that Eve still loves Ben, and ready to step aside in his favour. There is a weak sub-plot concerning Sir Jonathan, who is not the bumbling, absent-minded academic he seems to be, which is dropped in at random and then abandoned, having provided a reason for there to be a (purposeless) threat against Eve’s safety.

The author’s style is light and readable, although littered with the usual Americanisms (in British English, the past tense of “get” is “got”, and “jackass” is American slang), but the story makes little sense and the characterisation never gets beyond the two-dimensional. We’re told that Eve grew up with a father who was mentally unstable and that her childhood wasn’t always very pleasant as a result; but I couldn’t see that it had any relevance or any effect on her as an adult and it seemed to have been thrown in in an attempt to make her more interesting.

Ben runs a successful shipping company with one of his brothers, he’s a decent chap, likes babies and has a good sense of fun. He’s kind and sweet and still desperately in love with Eve; and I suppose one could argue that it makes a nice change to have a hero who is so open about his feelings for the heroine. However, as with Eve, Ms Grace tries to inject an element of darkness into his backstory by giving him a past love-affair that ended in tragedy, and about which he is still plagued by guilt. But it’s a case of too much telling rather than showing, and it’s completely unconvincing.

We are given no reason for Ben’s abrupt departure until far too late into the story. And when it comes… well, to say it’s an anti-climax is an understatement of huge proportions. Usually in stories in which such an event takes place, the hero has been pressured into it for some reason, or he’s suddenly called away on a sooper-sekrit spying mission – but all Ben had was a massive case of cold feet occasioned by the fact that his one youthful love affair had ended badly and he had a sudden panic attack at the thought how painful it would be were he to lose Eve.

Basically, he legged it, ruined his fiancée’s reputation and stayed away for two years because of a bad case of pre-wedding jitters, rendering the premise – and thus the entire book – completely pointless.

The Best of Both Rogues, is the third book in a series, so a number of characters from previous books turn up, and it took me a minute or two to work out who was who. But if you want to subject yourself to it, can be read as a standalone.

The Marriage Act by Alyssa Everett

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London, 1821

When John, Viscount Welford, proposed to Caroline Fleetwood, the only daughter of the Bishop of Essex, he thought he knew exactly what he was getting—a lovely, innocent bride.

Five years later, he knows better. The woman who ran to another man on their wedding night—after they’d consummated the marriage—is hardly innocent. Years spent apart while John served as a diplomatic attaché have allowed them to save face in society, but all good pretenses must come to an end. When Caroline receives word that her father is dying, she begs John to accompany her on one last journey to see him.

But there’s an added problem—Caroline never told her father that her marriage to John was a farce. As they play-act for others, Caroline is delighted to find she never really knew her husband at all. But can she be the kind of wife he needs—and does she want to be?

Rating: B+

Alyssa Everett is one of my favourite authors, one I know I can rely upon to provide me with a well –written and engaging story, well-developed characters and a satisfying romance. She describes her latest book,The Marriage Act as being somewhat “edgier” than her previous ones, and I can see why, because the two protagonists are imperfect characters who sometimes do and say things that are unpalatable. That is not to say that they are unpleasant characters; just that their imperfections make them seem that much more human and the way Ms Everett has written them makes their sometimes less than perfect behaviour easy to understand and even (on occasion) to sympathise with, which is not something many authors can successfully pull off.

The story opens with John, Viscount Welford, in the middle of proposing to the beautiful seventeen year old Caroline Fleetwood, daughter of the Bishop of Essex. A former pupil of the bishop’s, John is an intelligent and rather serious young man who is poised to take up a career in the diplomatic service. He fell for Caroline more or less at first sight, and had hoped to court her at length so that they could get to know each other, but he is shortly to travel to his first posting, and wants things between them were settled sooner rather than later. He is thrilled when his proposal is accepted, and arrangements are made for a speedy wedding so that they can be married before leaving to take up residence in Vienna.

What John does not know is that Caroline has accepted him only because she is desperately in love with someone else, and on the morning of the proposal received a letter from him refusing to elope with her. In her selfish naiveté, she believes that the news of her engagement will make him jealous and bring him around, and she gives no thought to how such actions will affect anyone else. At the time, all she sees is that John is too old for her (he’s twenty-six) and that he’s cold and stiff-necked. She doesn’t intend to actually go through with the wedding – but time flies, she is swept up in all the preparations and before she knows it, it’s her wedding night.

Caroline finds pleasure in her new husband’s lovemaking, but after the consummation – confused, upset and perhaps a little tipsy – she runs away intending to meet the man she loves. Fortunately for her safety and her reputation, John catches up with her and brings her back. Utterly furious and not a little sad and disappointed, he takes Caroline back to his Surrey estate and then leaves for Austria. Alone.

Shortly following his return to England five years later, John is approached by Caroline, whom he has not seen in all that time. She has received news that her father is seriously ill and may not have long to live, and she wants to go to visit him. But she can’t go alone – because she couldn’t bear to tell the father she loves so dearly that she had made a mess of her marriage, she has led him to believe she has been living in Vienna with her husband for the past five years. So she asks John if he will accompany her – and to act as though they are happy and very much in love. The idea of deceiving the bishop, of whom he is very fond, doesn’t sit at all well with John, but he nonetheless agrees to Caroline’s request.

If ever there was a story that proved the adage “what a tangled web we weave/ when first we practice to deceive”, this is it, as the consequences of Caroline’s – admittedly massive – initial falsehood come home to roost. The first interactions between her and John are difficult; recrimination hangs in the air like the Sword of Damocles, they are both resentful and angry and can’t stop themselves saying the hurtful things they are thinking. In Caroline’s eyes, John is just as cold and inflexible as she had believed him to be five years earlier, although she is rather surprised to realise that he is not as old as she had thought and that he’s also a very attractive man. And even though he thinks Caroline is even more beautiful now than she was before, John still sees her as dishonest, flighty and irresponsible, with no concern for whom she might hurt with her lies and incapable of admitting her faults.

As the couple begins to spend more time with each other, they gradually come to see that they were wrong in their initial assessments of one another, and that perhaps it’s time to attempt to repair their relationship. The thing that impressed me most about the story is the fact that Ms Everett doesn’t take the easy way out and have them bury the hatchet straight away or hit the big red reset button. Too much has happened between them for them to be able to go back and start again; they need to pick up where they are now, and make things work from there – and it’s hard. In the early days, John and Caroline take one step towards each other and two steps back; they are still nursing hurts and grievances and still find it difficult to stop needling each other and assigning blame. I will admit that, as a hero-centric reader, I was more inclined to John’s point of view, and actually, couldn’t quite see how it was that Caroline gained her impression of him as being so uncompromising and tyrannical. A man whose bride runs away on their wedding night is entitled to be mad as hell, and it seemed to me that Caroline had formed almost all her opinions of him based on that one event.

In fact, I wanted to smack some sense into her more than once because she so often jumps to the wrong conclusion and does it deliberately, even as she realises she is cutting off her nose to spite her face. However, speaking as someone who has, regrettably, been guilty of such a thing, I completely understood where she was coming from even as I wanted to scream at her to stop doing it! And that’s another impressive thing about the book – even when I hated what one or other of the characters did or said, the author was showing me exactly why they were doing or saying it, so that even as I was thinking “ouch!” I understood their motivations. Their reactions and responses feel so real precisely because they’re messy and not always the right thing to say or do – and it’s a brave author who is prepared to have her characters come across as less than perfect.

So – having heaped all that praise upon the book, why isn’t it a DIK? It came very close, but ultimately, Caroline’s initial selfishness and her unpleasantness towards John – who had done nothing to deserve it – went a little too far for my taste.

That said, don’t let it put you off reading it, because it’s very well written and there is plenty of heat between the protagonists. In fact, the sex scenes are a bit steamier than in Ms Everett’s other books; they’re not overly explicit, but these two could set fire to the sheets, and I do like a slightly uptight hero with a naughty streak where it counts 😉

I really enjoyed The Marriage Act even though it’s not always an easy read. There is a strongly drawn cast of secondary characters and a very well-done secondary storyline featuring John’s younger half-brother; and I liked the way John’s backstory is drip-fed through the book so that the reader gets to know him at the same time Caroline does. I’m a sucker for a good second-chance romance, and this is one of the best I’ve read.

Diary of an Accidental Wallflower by Jennifer McQuiston (audiobook) – narrated by Lana J. Weston

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Pretty and popular, Miss Clare Westmore knows exactly what (or rather, who) she wants: the next Duke of Harrington. But when she twists her ankle on the eve of the Season’s most touted event, Clare is left standing in the wallflower line watching her best friend dance away with her duke.

Dr. Daniel Merial is tempted to deliver more than a diagnosis to London’s most unlikely wallflower, but he doesn’t have time for distractions, even one so delectable. Besides, she’s clearly got her sights on more promising prey. So why can’t he stop thinking about her?

All Clare wants to do is return to the dance floor. But as her former friends try to knock her permanently out of place, she realizes with horror she is falling for her doctor instead her duke. When her ankle finally heals and she faces her old life again, will she throw herself back into the game?

Or will her time in the wallflower line have given her a glimpse of who she was really meant to be?

Rating: B- for narration; B+ for content

Even though I wasn’t overly impressed with the last book I read by this author, quite a few of my Goodreads friends, people whose opinions I respect and often share, enjoyed Diary of an Accidental Wallflower very much, so I decided to give it a try in audio.

Harper has opted to retain the services of Lana J. Weston for this new series, so I looked back at my review of Summer Is For Lovers to see what I’d had to say about her, because I haven’t listened to her since. I discovered that I have pretty much the same issues with her performance in this audiobook as in the previous one; namely that the narrative is a bit on the slow side and that there are quite a few glaring mispronunciations. One other issue – that her male voices weren’t quite masculine enough – wasn’t a problem here, because she did a much better job voicing the hero, and all the other male characters were more appropriately portrayed.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.