Snowbound with the Notorious Rake by Sarah Mallory

snowbound with the notorious rake

This title is currently available in Kindle edition as part of a double book set: One Snowy Regency Christmas: A Regency Christmas Carol / Snowbound with the Notorious Rake

One wicked Christmas night…

Trapped by a blizzard, the sight of notorious rogue Sir Lawrence Daunton almost makes schoolteacher Rose Westerhill turn back into the snow! When it becomes apparent she has nowhere else to go Rose accepts his offer of shelter, vowing to remain indifferent to his practiced charm.

But as the temperature outside drops, she finds the wicked rake’s sizzling seduction impossible to resist. For one stolen night Rose abandons her principles—and her body!—to his expert ministrations. Christmas with the rakish Lawrence promises to be a thoroughly improper yuletide celebration….

Rating: B-

I picked up Snowbound With the Notorious Rake because I generally enjoy books by Sarah Mallory and because I was in the mood for something wintry right after Christmas. Although the story begins during a Yuletide snowstorm, it actually spans a year and isn’t especially Christmassy, so I didn’t feel weird reading it in January! It’s a fairly predictable story but a well-written one and the relationship between the central characters is imbued with a real sense of longing and sensuality.

The eponymous rake is Sir Lawrence Daunton, who has holed himself up at his hunting box in the wilds of Exmoor in order to avoid spending Christmas with his family. They love him and he loves them, but since the death of his fiancée fourteen months previously, he has found it difficult to spend time with them because they suffocate him with their sympathy and condolences, and because he feels incredibly guilty at having neglected Annabelle while he lived a life of dissipation and idleness in London.

He’s settling in for an evening by the fire with a bottle, when a knock at the door throws his plans for a quiet, gently drunken mope into disarray. An attractive young woman is on the doorstep, her coach having taken a wrong turn in the snowstorm, and by now, the weather is so bad that it is not possible for her to continue her journey.

Rose Westerhill is a widow who lives in the village of Mersecombe some ten miles away, where she is the local school teacher. She is initially alarmed at the prospect of spending time alone with a man whose name regularly appears in the gossip rags, but is soon surprised to discover that Lawrence is nothing like she would have supposed. He’s kind and funny, and while he does make a few flirtatious remarks, she knows she is safe with him. Over the few days they are stuck together, they talk and laugh and get to know each other a little, and Rose is disturbed to find that she is very attracted to him. The feeling is most definitely mutual, and the couple agrees to one night together, after which they will go their separate ways.

But next morning, Lawrence finds it isn’t easy to let Rose go, and wants to see her again. However, she is adamant. She has a respectable life in Merescombe and her young son to look after; and besides, she doesn’t believe that a man of Lawrence’s reputation can reform. Her late husband was a womaniser and gambler, and she has first-hand experience of the misery that can accompany loving such a man.

Rose returns home to her school, her son Sam, and her fiancé, shipping merchant, Magnus Emsleigh, haunted by dreams of the handsome rake she thinks never to see again. So ten months later, the last thing she expects is to come face to face with Lawrence in her own sitting room.

Lawrence has been busy during those ten months, attending to business and to his estates, his previous lifestyle having lost its attraction for him. When a friend – the brother of Lawrence’s late fiancée – asks him to look into the matter of a ship lost in suspicious circumstances, he is initially dismissive, wondering how he can have anything to contribute to such an investigation. But when he discovers that the ship was owned by Magnus Emsleigh, and that many of the crew lived in and around Merescombe, he changes his mind in the hope of seeing Rose again.

The story proceeds fairly much as one might expect, with Lawrence striking up a friendship with Sam, something Magnus has never managed, believing that children should be seen and not heard, and coming to realise, from talking to the locals and the captain and crew of the Sealark that something is indeed not quite right, and that there is an insurance fraud being perpetrated. Rose avoids him when she can, afraid of her growing feelings for a man whose past is far from a shining example of respectability. Her fears are natural given her past experiences, but she is a little too intractable, seeming to want to believe the worst of Lawrence, even though he is doing his best to show her that he is a changed man. Yet the attraction between them is impossible to deny, and Rose eventually comes to admit that perhaps she was wrong and that it IS possible for a man of dissolute habits to reform.

The book is well-written and the central characters are engaging and well developed, in spite of Rose’s insistence on believing the worst of Lawrence until fairly late on in the story. On the downside, the identity of the villain is fairly obvious and the ending is overly dramatic, but that didn’t take anything away from my overall enjoyment. Most of all, I liked that while Rose was the catalyst for Lawrence’s decision that he wanted to live a different life, she wasn’t the only reason and it was a change he wanted to make for himself as well.

Snowbound with the Notorious Rake isn’t a taxing read, but it’s an enjoyable one, and I certainly didn’t regret the couple of hours I spent on it.

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This book seems now only to be available to buy as part of a duo, One Snowy Regency Christmas with A Regency Christmas Carol by Christine Merrill.

Last Night’s Scandal (Carsington Family #5) by Loretta Chase (audiobook) – Narrated by Loretta Chase

last night's scandal audio

This title is available to download from Audible via Amazon

Peregrine Dalmay, Earl of Lisle, may have survived the deadly perils of Egypt, but back in Regency London, he faces the most dire threat yet: his irrational, emotional family…and the completely uncontrollable Miss Olivia Wingate-Carsington! Descended from a line of notorious – but very aristocratic – adventurers, Olivia has a long history of driving Peregrine to distraction, and her debut into polite society hasn’t lessened her flair for drama, or her ability to drag him into her scandalous schemes. All Peregrine wants to do is escape back to his research and the lesser evils of poisonous snakes and tomb robbers, but his family has guilted him into an impossible mission in the Scottish wilds; and Olivia – who is keenly aware that a respectable future of marriage and rules and propriety looms – decides that accompanying him will be the perfect chance for one last adventure. Besides, she really only wants to help, which is why Lisle and Olivia find themselves in a gloomy Scottish castle inhabited by grumpy servants, spiteful ghosts, and craven murderers…and possibly the greatest peril of all: the wayward commands of their very unruly hearts!

Rating: Narration – A; Content: B

When offered the choice of reviewing this or Not Quite a Lady, I immediately made grabby hands in the direction of Last Night’s Scandal because I’m a fan of the childhood-friends-who-meet-again-after-a-long-separation-and-think – “wow, you’re really hot now you’re all grown up!” – trope. That is, in essence, the plot of the book, but this IS Loretta Chase, so it’s expertly done, with plenty of her trademark deadpan humour and quick-fire banter, as well as a subtle exploration of the inner lives and motivations of her protagonists.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals

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Glitterland by Alexis Hall (audiobook) – Narrated by Nicholas Boulton

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This title is available to download from Audible via Amazon

Ash Winters is barely holding on, near drowning in his own darkness and fear. He lives a gray shadow of a life, sullen and cynical, unable to remember hope or happiness – much less the distant, fading glitterball of love. It has to be a sick joke of the universe that he finds himself hooked up with good-humored Essex boy Darian Taylor, a wannabe model in a sparkly jacket and a fake tan. Darian may not be an intellectual giant, but he’s hysterically funny, and he’s got the courage to challenge Ash to live again.

Just being able to laugh is extraordinary enough to Ash. Loving may be a gift he can’t bear to accept, even if his denial breaks the biggest heart he’s ever known.

Rating: Narration – A+; Content: A

Glitterland is a book that’s been on my radar for a while as a result of the many great reviews I’ve seen which have praised its emotional depth, humour and the intelligence and beauty of the writing, but I haven’t yet found the time to read it. I often end up listening to audio versions of books I can’t get round to reading, so when this came up for review – as another of the titles Laura Kinsale has chosen to produce with Nicholas Boulton narrating – I immediately said “yes, please!”

And once I’d clicked “start”, I couldn’t stop. I listened to the whole thing almost non-stop, because I was so very quickly caught up in the story of “posh” Ash and “Essex boy” Darian, which made me laugh very loudly, wince in pain and tear up on several occasions, sometimes all at once.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

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Deadly Peril (Alec Halsey Mystery #3) by Lucinda Brant (audiobook) – Narrated by Alex Wyndham

Deadly Peril audio
This title is available to download from Audible via Amazon

Winter 1763. Alec, Lord Halsey, is sent on a diplomatic mission to Midanich, imperial outpost of the Holy Roman Empire, to bargain for the freedom of imprisoned friends. Midanich is a place of great danger and dark secrets – a country at civil war, ruled by a family with madness in its veins. For Alec it is a place of unspeakable memories from which he barely escaped and vowed never to return. But return he must if he is to save the lives of Emily St. Neots and Sir Cosmo Mahon.

In a race against time, Alec and the English delegation journey across the icy wasteland for the castle fortress where Emily and Cosmo are imprisoned. The severe weather is as much an enemy as the soldiers of the opposing armies encamped along the way. Awaiting him at his destination is the Margrave and his sister, demanding nothing less than Alec’s head on a pike.

Rating: A+ for narration; A- for content

Another stonking performance from Alex Wyndham in what I think is the best of this series yet – and that’s saying something considering how good the two previous books are.

As I’m not writing this review for publication elsewhere and I’m a bit pushed for time, I’m not going into great detail about the audiobook version of this title – you can find my five star review of the book is HERE.

But I can’t not mention one particular scene in the novel which I was most keen to hear. Those who have read and/or already listened to it will know that there is a lengthy, very important scene around the middle of the book in which Alec tells the truth about his past experiences in the Margravate of Midanich. Alex Wyndham nails it completely and absolutely, his performance true to Ms Brant’s words and to the character he has made so much his own, while also adding an extra dimension to Alec Halsey, the man.

Mr Wyndham’s technical ability continues to impress. He sustains a variety of different German accents throughout, differentiating between the sexes and between the numerous male characters seamlessly, and the characters we have met in the earlier books, such as gruff Uncle Plantagenet, Duchess Olivia, Alec’s valet, Jeffries and his love-interest, Selina, are all portrayed in a manner that is consistent in their portrayals in the earlier books.

Deadly Peril is another superb addition to the growing canon of audiobooks by this talented author/narrator team, and one I’m sure I’ll revisit in the not too distant future.

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Viscountess of Vice (Regency Reformers #3) by Jenny Holiday

viscountess of vice

This title may be purchased from Amazon

Secrets and lies, scandals and spies.

All Lady Catharine, Viscountess Cranbrook, wants is a little excitement. Bored of playing the role of the ton’s favorite slightly scandalous widow, she jumps at the chance to go undercover as a courtesan to help with an espionage mission. After all, beneath her outrageously low bodice beats the heart of a patriot.

Social reformer James Burnham is conducting a study of vice in England’s capital. Driven by his own secrets, he is methodical, intelligent—and wickedly handsome. Catharine is the last sort of woman the upstanding James should want. But want her he does, though she stands for everything he opposes.

When Catharine and James are forced to band together to advance their causes, they’ll be drawn into a web of secrets and lies that endangers their lives—and their hearts.

Rating: B-

This third novel in Jenny Holiday’s Regency Reformers series is chronologically the first, as it takes place around a year before the events of the first published book, The Miss Mirren Mission. As in the other books, Ms Holiday has taken a slightly different approach to the Regency Romance and the Historical Spy Novel by interweaving those elements into a story in which one or more of the central characters are dedicated to the cause of social reform.

Here, the hero is a doctor who has decided he’d had enough of ministering to fainting ladies and gouty gentlemen and who is now working with the Society for the Comfort and Elevation of the Poor and the Betterment of Their Children, and the heroine is a woman looking for a way to do some good with her life.

Doctor James Burnham is just twenty-four (which seems young for him to have completed his training, practiced for a while and then worked with the Society for a couple of years) and while he is committed to the cause, he feels a little stifled in his work there because he has ended up being their writer, the person who authors and publishes the Society’s findings, rather than being able to run any experiments or investigations of his own. Deciding that perhaps a current study would benefit from the inclusion of some information and statistics on prostitution, he enters a rather select house of ill repute, and is immediately enthralled by the mysterious, masked Lady V, who, it is rumoured, is actually a Lady of Quality who attends the establishment to alleviate boredom and provide her with a little excitement. Unlike the other courtesans, however, Lady V’s services do not go beyond conversation (and no, that’s not a euphemism!) – and surprisingly, her air of sophistication and mystery mean that she is never without gentlemen wishful of being entertained by her… and of perhaps being the gentleman who will tempt her to break her “conversation only” rule.

Catharine, Viscountess Cranbrook, is a widow who followed the drum with her army officer husband. Her life hasn’t been easy – betrayed by a man she believed loved her, she was disowned and bundled off abroad which is when she met and married the viscount, for whom she felt a strong affection and respect. After his death, she determined to reinvent herself; to shake off the pain of her past and live a life of hedonistic pleasure. In the two years of her widowhood, she has earned herself a rather scandalous reputation, taking a string of lovers – but that lifestyle has begun to pall, and, when offered the chance to take part in an undercover investigation into the activities of possible French sympathisers by the enigmatic Earl of Blackstone, she jumps at the chance – and Lady V is born.

Blackstone arranges for Catharine to join the ranks of the high-class courtesans at Madame Cherie’s, where she spends a couple of evenings a week charming likely suspects and ferreting out information. But when the stunningly handsome James Burnham purchases her company, she is disturbed by the feelings he stirs in her; feelings she has worked hard to distance herself from in her quest to turn off her emotions and just live for pleasure.

The earl is investigating one Herr Beidermeier, who owns a gun manufactory in Birmingham which supplies the British Army. When Catharine discovers that he not only uses children in his factory, but that they are unpaid and badly mistreated, she reports this discovery to James, sure that he will want to help her to do something to stop such exploitation. James starts his own investigation into Biedermeier’s business, pretending that he is conducting a prestigious scientific study which will bring fame to Beidermeier by association, while in London, Blackstone and Catharine continue to seek the evidence that will unmask him as a traitor.

Ms Holliday once again tells an intriguing story which is obviously well researched, although there were a couple of times when the ins-and-outs of gun manufacture got a little too detailed for my taste. James and Catharine are engaging characters, each of them having understandable reasons for acting as they do, and I really felt for Catharine when her the life she thought she’d wanted began to unravel and she was forced to choose between the man she loved and her duty to her country. It’s an interesting role-reversal, because so often in spy-stories, it’s the male character who is put in the position of having to lie to or betray a loved one and make those difficult choices.

On the downside, the pacing in the middle flags a little when James and Catharine are apart and pursuing their separate investigations, seemingly separated for good by Catharine’s reluctance to let James get close to her emotionally. The character of James is somewhat underdeveloped, especially in comparison to Catharine, and his actions towards the end of the book seem rather out of character, even though they are prompted by jealousy. In spite of that, however, the author has created a strong sense of affection and longing between them, and the romance is generally well-developed.

Ultimately, Viscountess of Vice is a solid, enjoyable read, and the author does a good job in depicting the heroine’s struggles with her conscience and in her explorations of the difficulties of her situation. It’s a well-told tale, but I can’t say it was one of those books that held me captivated from start to finish. This leaves me saying that it’s worth reading, especially if you’re looking for something different in a Regency Romance, but that it’s probably not one for the bucket list.

The Parfit Knight by Stella Riley (audiobook) – Narrated by Alex Wyndham

The Parfit Knight - cover

This title is available to download from Audible via Amazon

When the Marquis of Amberley’s coach is waylaid by highwaymen and his coachman shot, he is forced to take shelter at the first house he finds and is subsequently trapped there for a week by a severe snowstorm.

Oakleigh Manor is the home of Rosalind Vernon who lives alone but for her devoted servants and an ill-natured parrot, cut off from the outside world by the tragic result of a childhood accident. But Rosalind is brave and bright and totally devoid of self-pity – and it is these qualities which, as the days pass and the snow continues to fall, touch Amberley’s heart.

On his return to London, the Marquis persuades Rosalind’s brother, Philip, to bring her to town for a taste of society, despite her handicap. But the course of Amberley’s courtship is far from smooth. Philip Vernon actively dislikes him; Rosalind appears to be falling under the spell of the suavely elegant Duke of Rockliffe; and worse still, Amberley is haunted by a dark and terrible secret that, if revealed, may cause him to lose Rosalind forever.

Rating: A+ for narration; A- for content

I’ve been a huge fan of Stella Riley’s books for longer than I should probably admit! As I’ve said in our interview at AudioGals, I discovered her writing back in the 1980s and loved it so much that it stuck with me for more than twenty-five years, even though she took a long break from writing. In addition to a series of novels set in 17th Century England, she has also written three historical romances set in the Georgian Era, of which The Parfit Knight is the first. Audio versions of the next two books – The Mésalliance and The Player – will follow, and I can say without doubt that the combination of Alex Wyndham’s gorgeous voice and interpretative skill and Ms Riley’s intelligent writing and excellent characterisation makes The Parfit Knight a truly delightful audio experience.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals

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TBR Challenge: Rumours that Ruined a Lady by Marguerite Kaye

rumours that runied a lady

This title is available to purchase from Amazon

Amongst the gossip-hungry ton, no name has become more synonymous with sin than that of Lady Caroline Rider, cast out by her husband and disowned by her family. Rumor has it that the infamous “Caro” is now seeking oblivion in the opium dens of London!

There’s only one man who can save her–notorious rake Sebastian Conway, Marquis of Ardhallow. Soon Caro is installed in his country home, warming his bed, but their passion may not be enough to protect them once news of their scandalous arrangement breaks out….

Rating: A-

Marguerite Kaye is someone I know can always be relied upon to deliver a well-written, character driven romance that plays out against an interesting and well-researched historical background.  The fact that she can do all that so very well in under three hundred pages never ceases to amaze me; and to that, Rumours that Ruined a Lady adds a storyline with a difference – one that features an element not often found in historical romances, principally, I imagine, due to the fact that its presence renders the possibility of an HEA for the protagonists practically impossible.

The book’s heroine, Lady Caroline Rider, is separated from the cold, abusive husband her father chose for her and refuses to return to him.  Her sisters – whose stories are told in the other books in this series about the Armstrong Sisters – are all happily settled and out of the country, her father has disowned her and Caro has nowhere to turn.  It’s hard to imagine now, but a woman in her position really would have been viewed as the lowest of the low by the society in which she had previously lived, and her family would have been expected to cut all ties with her if they didn’t want to suffer the same treatment.

All her life, Caroline had been the dutiful daughter, the only one who married the man chosen for her, in spite of the fact that she loved someone else.  That someone else was Sebastian Conway, the Earl of Mosteyn and heir to the tyrannical Marquess of Ardhallow who lived on the neighbouring estate.  The couple meet when Caro is just sixteen, and the affinity between them is instantaneous.  Over the next few years, they become close friends and even though Caro eventually realises she has fallen in love, she also knows that Sebastian’s family history has rendered him uninterested in marriage, and so has no expectations.  But Sebastian’s rakish reputation and Lord Armstrong’s desire for Caroline to make a good marriage eventually come between them, and when Sebastian leaves to travel abroad, she is married off to the eligible Sir Graeme Rider.

The book opens some eleven years after the protagonists’ first meeting when Sebastian, now the Marquess of Ardhallow, unexpectedly discovers Caro passed out from opium at a society party. Even though part of him is still angry about what happened between them the last time they met two years previously and wants to walk away, he can’t just leave her, especially when he realises she has ingested the drug and that her life is in danger.

He removes her to his country estate to recuperate, and as she recovers, they begin to rediscover the love they’d once shared.  At the same time, Sebastian finds out what has brought the bright, vivacious Caroline he knew to this, a broken woman, abandoned by those who should have stood by her with her name being dragged through the mud in the scandal sheets and her reputation in shreds.  Their backstory unfolds in flashback, which is a favourite device of mine when done well, which is certainly the case here.

This is a darker story than many of the other historical romances out there, but it’s incredibly well written and the principals are strongly drawn, engaging and fully rounded.  Sebastian may have a reputation as a rake, but he is a caring man and devoted to Caro, whom he has obviously loved for years.  And she is a strong person, even though she has been beaten down by life, and finally finds the courage she needs in Sebastian’s love for her to finally stand up to her autocratic father and to determine to live her life on her own terms.  They have great chemistry, and the intensity of their feelings for one another is palpable and leaps off the page.

Right from the start, it seems that an HEA for this troubled but deserving couple is going to be an impossibility.  Caro’s husband refuses to divorce her, and Sebastian must marry and produce an heir in order to do his duty to his title, and the idea that they cannot be together because of the weight of society’s expectations after everything they have been through is truly heart-breaking.  Rest-assured that there IS happiness in store for Caro and Sebastian, but it comes rather unconventionally – which perfectly fits this unconventional tale.

Ms Kaye has clearly researched this aspect of her story very well indeed, and explains more in her detailed author’s note, which should definitely be read after finishing it.  I was impressed with the fact that she has not waved a magic wand and taken the easy way out of Caro and Sebastian’s dilemma, which adds another note of realism to a book in which she has painted an incredibly vivid, warts-and-all picture of the manners and mores of the society in which its hero and heroine have to live.

Rumours That Ruined a Lady is a wonderful although not always easy read in which the author has pushed at the boundaries of what readers normally expect in an historical romance.  In doing so, she has created a compelling, wonderfully romantic story that pulls at the heartstrings and, at times, makes the modern woman want to scream in frustration at what a woman in Caro’s situation had to endure.  Even had a divorce been an option, it would have been incredibly difficult and long-winded, and,  in addition to disgrace and social ostracism, she would have barred from marrying again, and faced a life in which she was cut off from friends and family and denied legally sanctioned love and companionship.

Sebastian and Caro have a difficult road to travel, but that only serves to make their eventual happiness even more richly deserved.  Rumours That Ruined a Lady is a terrific, angsty read and one I’m recommending strongly.

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