An Uncommon Duke (Secret Lives of the Ton #2) by Laurie Benson

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When the Duke of Winterbourne proposed to Olivia, she felt like the luckiest girl alive. Their happy marriage was the envy of the ton. But all that changed when Gabriel wasn’t there the night Olivia needed him the most. Now, five years later she wants another child. But can she trust herself to give Gabriel her body without losing her heart?

Gabriel’s life is dedicated to protecting the crown, and he’s learned the hard way not to trust anyone with his secrets. Now his estranged wife wants to try for another child just as an assassination attempt is made on the Prince Regent. His mind should be on uncovering the would-be killer, except having Olivia in his bed and in his life again is proving to be a big distraction.

Rating: C+

An Uncommon Duke makes use of one of my favourite romance tropes – the married, but estranged couple who have to overcome their differences and past hurts in order find their way back to each other. New-to-me author Laurie Benson does a good job in the first part of this book of setting up the conflict between the couple and of conveying their unhappiness and dissatisfaction with the state of their marriage that neither knows how to mend. But the reasons for their disagreement fall firmly into Big Misunderstanding territory, and the secondary plotline concerning the eponymous duke’s role as head of a kind of protection detail for the Prince Regent starts to overshadow the romance as the story progresses.

Gabriel and Olivia, Duke and Duchess of Winterbourne, have been married for about six years, more than five of them unhappily during which time they have communicated with each other through servants or in writing. The author does not immediately make readers aware of the reasons behind their estrangement, which creates a nice aura of mystery as we wonder what Gabriel could have done that is so terrible as to have caused it. She wisely doesn’t keep that hidden for too long, but when the reason is revealed it does, I will admit, stretch one’s credulity to believe that the couple has allowed this one thing to ruin their happiness for almost five and a half years without any attempt on either side to work things out.

Gabriel has ‘inherited’ his job of protector of the Crown, following in the footsteps of his father, who was determined to protect the English throne from any and all threats. And owing to a mistake in judgement which led to his trusting the wrong person, Gabriel blames himself for the violent death of a colleague and vowed from there on in to live by his father’s mantra of “trust no one.” Hence the fact that six years earlier, he arrived at his wife’s bedside following the birth of their son smelling of another woman’s perfume, and was unable to disclose to an exhausted, highly emotional Olivia the real reason for his being at a brothel while she was in labour.

The conflict in this story thus boils down to a single misunderstanding on her side and a lack of trust on his. In some ways, I can understand Gabriel’s decision; it’s not unreasonable for someone in such a sensitive position not to be able to tell his loved ones about what he does. But to leave things that way for more than five years? I just couldn’t buy it.

Gabriel and Olivia share a house and nothing else, until she realises that she would like another child. It’s difficult to broach the subject of physical intimacy when she hasn’t spoken to her husband in years, but she manages to do so, and is surprised when he agrees that he, too, would like more children.

Their sex life appears to have been a fairly adventurous one, and they have no trouble picking that up where they left off. The author writes the love scenes well, and there is no doubt that the couple has strong chemistry; there are sparks flying between them even when they’re not speaking to each other. I also liked the way in which she has each character realise how little they know about their spouse; about how they spend their time, their friends, their likes and dislikes. Olivia and Gabriel’s marriage was an arranged one, so they didn’t know each other all that well before they married and had only begun the process of discovering each other during the year they were together as a couple. After almost six years, they finally decide to attempt to reconcile, and while they both make some missteps, it seems as though they are on the right track at last.

While all this is going on, there is the sub-plot concerning Gabriel’s investigation into a recent assassination attempt on the Prince Regent. The identity of the villain isn’t hard to guess, and there was one point when I rolled my eyes and thought “oh, no – we’re not going there are we?”, but on the whole, it’s well set up.

Apart from the Big Mis premise, my biggest problem with the book is with the character of Olivia, who often comes across as too quick to judge and too unwilling to listen to good advice. I didn’t really warm to her, although I liked her better in some of the more playful, flirtatious moments with Gabriel. It’s certainly understandable that she’d have become independent given that she had to make herself a life for herself without her husband, and also that she would be angry about it. But as I said at the outset, to have let that anger go on for more than five years without any attempt to work things out smacks of stubbornness to the point of stupidity. Gabriel is not without blame, of course, as he hasn’t made any attempt to reach out to his wife, either, thanks to his trust issues and what seems to have been a blind acceptance of her “don’t come near me again!” edict. But he’s slightly more well-drawn as a character; we get to know him a little better through his interactions with his brother and fellow agents and he’s easier to like as a result.

This is, I believe, Laurie Benson’s second published book, and while I can’t grade it more highly because of the issues I’ve outlined above, her writing is accomplished, she knows how to tell a story, and she certainly has the ability to create some steamy sexual tension between her hero and heroine. Had the story been more about a marriage in trouble – and the reasons for that not so flimsy – I think she’d have had a much stronger book on her hands. While An Uncommon Duke wasn’t an uncommon success, I enjoyed reading it for the most part and I am definitely open to reading more of Ms. Benson’s work in future.

The Highlander (Victorian Rebels #3) by Kerrigan Byrne (audiobook) – Narrated by Derek Perkins

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This title is available to purchase from Amazon

They call him the Demon Highlander. The fearsome Lieutenant Colonel Liam MacKenzie is known for his superhuman strength, towering presence, and fiery passion in the heat of battle. As laird to the MacKenzie clan, the undefeated marquess has vanquished his foes with all the rage and wrath of his barbaric Highland ancestors. But when an English governess arrives to care for his children, the master of war finds himself up against his greatest opponent…in the game of love.

Defying all expectations, Miss Philomena is no plain-faced spinster but a ravishing beauty with voluptuous curves and haughty full lips that rattle the laird to his core. Unintimidated by her master’s raw masculinity and savage ways, the headstrong lass manages to tame not only his wild children but the beast in his soul. With each passing day, Liam grows fonder of Miss Mena – and more suspicious. What secret is she hiding behind those emerald eyes? What darkness brought her to his keep? And how can he conquer this magnificent woman’s heart…without surrendering his own?

Rating: Narration – A; Content – B-

The Highlander is the third book in Kerrigan Byrne’s popular Victorian Rebels series, a dark, richly woven tale of a man trying to come to terms with his brutal past and a woman who has been so horribly abused that she has become a shadow of her former self.

The eponymous Highlander of the title is, to give him his full name, Lieutenant Colonel William Grant Ruaridh Mackenzie of the Her Majesty’s Highland Watch, Marquess Ravenscroft and Thane of Clan Mackenzie of Wester Ross. He is also a widower of some ten years with two teenaged children, Rhianna, seventeen, and Andrew, thirteen – and has, after years serving his country, finally decided to settle at home and look after his extensive lands and estates. He’s known to be a brutal man and a fearsome warrior – he isn’t called the ‘Demon Highlander’ for nothing – but he struggles every day to keep that side of him in check. He is the son of a violent man, one who thought to mould his sons in his image by forcing them to violence and sin at a young age. The book’s prologue goes to some dark places as we learn exactly what the previous marquess expected of his sons and how Liam took it upon himself to save them.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

The Perks of Loving a Scoundrel (Seduction Diaries #3) by Jennifer McQuiston

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Every girl dreams of a hero . . .

No one loves books more than Miss Mary Channing. Perhaps that’s why she’s reached the ripe old age of six-and-twenty without ever being kissed. Her future may be as bland as milk toast, but Mary is content to simply dream about the heroes and adventures she reads about in her books. That way she won’t end up with a villain instead.

But sometimes only a scoundrel will do.

When she unexpectedly finds herself in the arms of Geoffrey Westmore, London’s most notorious scoundrel, it feels a bit like a plot from one of her favorite novels. Suddenly, Mary understands why even the smartest heroines can fall prey to a handsome face. And Westmore is more handsome than most. But far worse than the damage to her reputation, the moment’s indiscretion uncovers an assassination plot that reaches to the highest levels of society and threatens the course of the entire country.

When a tight-laced miss and a scoundrel of epic proportions put their minds together, nothing can stand in their way. But unless they put their hearts together as well, a happy ending is anything but assured.

Rating: B

The Perks of Loving a Scoundrel is your basic rake-meets-wallflower story, and while that’s a very oft-used trope, Jennifer McQuiston has done an excellent job of creating a readable, light-hearted romp that has just enough depth to keep it from feeling insubstantial.  There’s an element of mystery to the story, too, which is well played-out and which doesn’t get in the way of the progression of the romance or detract from it.

Readers of the first book in this series, Diary of an Accidental Wallflower, will probably remember the heroine’s younger brother, Geoffrey Westmore, as a teenage terror; forever getting into scrapes, playing practical jokes and generally causing mayhem.  Around a decade later, with university and a short stint in the Navy (during which time he saw active service in the Crimea), behind him, not very much has changed.  Geoffrey – or West, as he now prefers to be known – is still a hellraiser although the nature of some of his exploits has changed somewhat, as the eagerness displayed by half the ladies in theton to leap into his bed will testify.  That’s not to say he’s lost the taste for playing practical jokes, though.  Many of those are as legendary as his reputation with women, with the result that there is a two-inch thick file with his name on it in the office of the local constable

From that description, West sounds an absolute fright and the sort of “hero” one might not want to touch with the proverbial ten-foot-pole.  Fortunately however, for all his inappropriate behaviour, he’s a loveable rogue; there is something endearing about him which saves him from coming across as a complete arsehole, and, as soon becomes clear, there is more substance beneath those rakehell ways than it would at first seem.

Miss Mary Channing (sister of Patrick Channing, hero of Moonlight on My Mind) has left her Yorkshire home and travelled to London to be with her very pregnant twin sister in the final months of her confinement.  Mary is quiet and self-effacing, much preferring to immerse herself in the romance and adventure she finds in her favourite books than to get out there and live her own life.  To be fair, she has some reason for her caution, having lost both her eldest brother and father to violent deaths and almost having lost Patrick when he was accused of murder.  But she has become extremely introverted over the years and has, as her sister remarks “lost her spark.”

At Eleanor’s insistence, Mary attends a literary salon at which Mr. Dickens will be in attendance, but before she can greet the great man, she slips away from the crush, needing to find some peace and quiet. Finding the comfort of the library, she starts to relax, only to discover she is ensconced in a darkened room with a veritable scoundrel. Mary isn’t partial to scoundrels, recognising that the villains in her books are almost always handsome, charming and up to no good – and she is sure that this man, with his golden good-looks and raffish smile is a complete villain. When he whisks her behind a curtain she is even more sure of it – until a group of people enters the room and starts to discuss a plot to assassinate Queen Victoria (which isn’t as far-fetched as it sounds – she actually survived several attempts on her life during her long reign).

Once the schemers have left, Mary wastes no time in making her escape – only to run into several people in the doorway who immediately assume her to have been alone in the room with one of the worst rakes in London – Geoffrey Westmore.

If Mary is not to be ruined, West will have to offer for her – which he duly does, only to be soundly rejected. Mary is far more interested in discovering who is behind the assassination plot and wonders why West hasn’t already gone to the police. In fact, West has done that very thing – only to discover that his reputation for playing outrageous practical jokes has preceded him and that no-one at Scotland Yard will take him seriously. When Mary tried to explain to Eleanor, she accused Mary of having her head too stuffed-full of plots from her books and refused to believe her, which leaves West and Mary with only one alternative.

They will have to find the wrong-doers themselves.

While West is keen to keep Mary out of his investigations because he doesn’t want her to come to any harm, he soon realises that her insight and general knowledge – gleaned from books, of course – is useful and that she is probably safer by his side than left to her own devices. The sexual tension between them bubbles along nicely, their verbal sparring – peppered with West’s naughty double-entendres – is fun and their romance proceeds at a sensible pace, although I admit that West’s transformation from bed-hopping lady-killer to one-woman-man does happen rather quickly. I do, however, applaud the author for including the fact that West’s brother-in-law is a physician who made sure he knew about the importance of using condoms! It’s not something that comes up all that often in historicals so readers often have to ignore the probability of the experienced hero’s having caught something nasty in the course of his – er – exploits. Thankfully, there’s no need to suspend disbelief on that count here.

The identity of the plotters is fairly easy to work out, but there’s a nice twist at the end which reveals that there was rather more going on than West and Mary had at first thought. And while the book is a fairly light in tone overall, the emotional depth I mentioned earlier comes from the way in which Ms. McQuiston takes a look at the trauma faced by combatants returning from war. Once an easy-going young man with a bright future and ambitions to study architecture, West’s year in the Navy affected him profoundly; and once that becomes apparent, it makes it easier to understand his unwillingness to grow up and act like a responsible adult. Mary, too, has her demons to conquer and the way she and West support each other to help overcome their fears is very well done.

The Perks of Loving a Scoundrel is an entertaining, well-paced story told with intelligence and humour and I’m sure anyone looking to read a scoundrel/bluestocking romance with an added dash of mystery will enjoy it.

Do You Want to Start a Scandal? by Tessa Dare

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This title may be purhcased from Amazon.

On the night of the Parkhurst ball, someone had a scandalous tryst in the library.

Was it Lord Canby, with the maid, on the divan? Or Miss Fairchild, with a rake, against the wall? Perhaps the butler did it.

All Charlotte Highwood knows is this: it wasn’t her. But rumors to the contrary are buzzing. Unless she can discover the lovers’ true identity, she’ll be forced to marry Piers Brandon, Lord Granville–the coldest, most arrogantly handsome gentleman she’s ever had the misfortune to embrace. When it comes to emotion, the man hasn’t got a clue.

But as they set about finding the mystery lovers, Piers reveals a few secrets of his own. The oh-so-proper marquess can pick locks, land punches, tease with sly wit . . . and melt a woman’s knees with a single kiss. The only thing he guards more fiercely than Charlotte’s safety is the truth about his dark past.

Their passion is intense. The danger is real. Soon Charlotte’s feeling torn. Will she risk all to prove her innocence? Or surrender it to a man who’s sworn to never love?

Rating: B+

It feels like I’m committing the ultimate Romancelandia faux-pas when I say that Tessa Dare’s last couple of books haven’t really worked for me. So much so, in fact, that I couldn’t rate When a Scot Ties the Knot above a C+; the characterisation was inconsistent, the humour felt forced and it seemed to me that Ms Dare had crossed the line into self-parody with her frequent, knowing winks to the audience.

So I’m over the moon to be able to say that with Do You Want to Start a Scandal?, she is back at the top of her game. Yes, the plot is a bit silly, but this book reminded me of what I’ve so enjoyed about her work in the past and is up there with A Week to Be Wicked and Three Nights With a Scoundrel as my favourite Tessa Dare reads.

The hero, Piers Brandon, is the Marquess who wasn’t said “yes” to in book two of the Castles Ever After series (Say Yes to the Marquess). He’s handsome, wealthy, rather reserved and very proper; and, being rich and titled is firmly in the sights of marriage-minded mamas and débutantes throughout the land. Well, of most of them. Charlotte Highwood – sister of Minerva (from the Spindle Cove series’ A Week to Be Wicked) has her sights set on making a European tour with her best friend, Delia Parkhurst, and has no intention of getting married in spite of the fact that her mother is practically throwing her at every eligible bachelor she can find. In fact, her mother’s desperation to get her youngest daughter married off has made Charlotte a laughing stock, but fortunately, she isn’t the type to be crushed by such a thing, no matter how irritating she finds it.

Charlotte and Mrs. Highwood are guests at a house-party hosted Delia’s parents, Sir Vernon and Lady Parkhurst. Being the charitable type, Charlotte decides it’s only fair to warn the Marquess of Granville that she has no wish to marry him, no matter that her mother is going to be throwing her at him over the next couple of weeks. The Marquess’ reaction to this is not at all what Charlotte expects – wryly humorous, gently teasing and completely unconcerned, he assures her that if, in his work as a diplomat, he can survive the vagaries of international politics he can undoubtedly survive the machinations of her mother. Charlotte is sceptical, but before she can issue another warning, their conversation is interrupted when an amorous couple bursts into the library, fortunately too engrossed in each other to notice Piers whisking Charlotte to the window seat behind the curtain.

After several uncomfortable minutes listening to the mystery couple getting it on, most of which Charlotte spends with her head pressed against Piers’ manly chest in order to control a fit of the giggles, the couple departs, leaving the coast clear. Only it isn’t – the moment Piers and Charlotte emerge from the window seat, they are confronted by their hosts’ eight year-old-son who promptly yells “murder!” at the top of his voice, having, of course, misconstrued the noises he’d heard emanating from the room. Not only does he misconstrue them, he does a good job of imitating them to the growing audience of guests, leaving Piers no alternative but to rescue Charlotte from ruin by immediately asking for her hand, much to the delight of her mother.

But marrying a marquess, no matter how handsome and ironically charming he is, does not fit in with Charlotte’s plans, and, she is sure, with his, either. She decides that the only way to avoid matrimony is to discover the identities of the mystery lovemakers (or mystery tuppers, as Piers would have it) and then explain the situation so that everyone will realise it wasn’t the two of them rogering each other stupid on the desk. This is what I meant about the plot being silly – it’s such an obvious device to bring the two protagonists together that normally, I’d be rolling my eyes. And I suppose I did, but Ms. Dare quickly makes the reader forgive her for the contrivance because the protagonists are so engaging, their banter is genuinely funny and they are quite obviously perfect for each other.

Charlotte is a thoroughly likeable heroine. She’s quite young –just twenty – but she’s witty, good-natured and able to laugh at herself, which is probably just as well, given the embarrassment to which her mother subjects her. She tells Piers straight away that while she is well aware of all the advantages marrying him would bring, she hopes to make a love match and politely refuses his offer. Piers believes his life is too complicated to admit of any emotional entanglements, so he is not particularly surprised by her reaction; but he is surprised by his own, which is that she genuinely interests and attracts him and he soon finds himself pursuing her in earnest. Their interactions are warm and funny, and, on Charlotte’s part very honest. Piers is a different matter, however; he’s haunted by a long-kept secret from his past and his work as an agent for the British government means that he has had to make questionable decisions and perform some dark deeds over the years. This is one of the few parts of the story that doesn’t really work; Piers isn’t tortured or damaged, he just thinks he is, and not very convincingly at that. He is, however, manipulative, and doesn’t even blink when it comes to engineering a situation to force Charlotte’s hand and convince her that he really isn’t a Nice Man who is looking for love but just doesn’t realise it.

Apart from that misstep though, Piers is a sexy hero. His aura of confidence and competence is extremely attractive, his dead-pan wit and sense of humour are a nice contrast to his aloof exterior, and most importantly, he appreciates and is attracted to Charlotte’s keen intelligence and sense of humour. The romantic and sexual tension between them leaps off the page and they share a strong connection; there’s a real sense that here are two people who are as attuned to each other mentally as they are compatible physically.

For all the fun and froth, though, there are some very well-realised moments of deeper emotion in the story. I particularly enjoyed the scene when Charlotte comes to a fuller appreciation of what her mother’s life has been, which is poignant and nicely understated.

Although the book fits into two different series (Castles Ever After and Spindle Cove), it’s not absolutely necessary to have read either of those in order to enjoy it as it works perfectly well as a standalone. Charming, sexy, and often laugh-out-loud funny – seriously, I’ll never think of perfume or look at an aubergine in quite the same way again! – Do You Want to Start a Scandal? is just the ticket if you’re looking for a well-written, feel-good read.

A Reluctant Betrothal (Grantham Girls #3) by Amanda Weaver

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When Grace Godwyn is introduced to her soon-to-be fiancé’s closest friend, she can hardly keep from fainting. The man whose angry gaze confronts her is none other than the handsome stranger who came to her aid in a dark French alleyway. The stranger with whom she’d shared a moment of reckless passion. And now, with a single word, he could destroy her one chance for security.

Julian St. John, Lord Knighton, owes his friend too much to allow him to fall into the clutches of a craven fortune hunter. He knows all he needs to know of Grace Godwyn: that she’s the orphaned and penniless daughter of a disgraced viscount; that her lips taste incomparably sweet. There is no way he is going to allow this marriage to take place.

Yet the more time Julian and Grace are forced to spend in each other’s company, the more irresistible their desire grows—and the more devastating the potential consequences.

Rating: B

Unlike the heroines of the other books in Amanda Weaver’s Grantham Girls series, the heroine of A Reluctant Betrothal is not an heiress.   Grace Godwyn is the daughter of a viscount who gambled away his estate and fortune and who, following the death of her mother then she was four, spent her life living with her father in a succession of ever smaller, dingier homes, doing moonlit flits when he couldn’t find the money to pay the rent.

He died when Grace was fifteen, leaving her alone and with nowhere to go, when a letter arrived informing her of the recent death of a great aunt who had set aside some money for Grace to be “finished” under the tutelage of Lady Grantham.  In this way, Grace made the acquaintance of Victoria and Amelia (heroines of the previous books in the series) who are now her dearest friends, and was able to spend a few years among people of her own class. But Grace’s lack of funds and   desire to postpone matrimony for a while meant that she was never sought out and is now in the awkward position of being unable to seek paid employment – that was not the done thing for a viscount’s daughter – while not having any other way of supporting herself.

Not wishing to live off Lady Grantham’s charity, Grace is managing by acting as an unpaid companion to older ladies of the ton. It is not quite employment – Grace attends the ladies as their “guest” – but it at least provides a roof over her head and regular meals.  Her current hostess is Lady Marlbury, who is currently on holiday in the small town of Menton in the South of France, and whose son, Frederick, shows signs of being interested in Grace.

Desperate to obtain security and stability, Grace decides to encourage his attentions, hoping to elicit a marriage proposal. She has resigned herself to not being able to marry for love and knows that her chances of making a decent match are dwindling away. But her determination is shaken by a chance encounter one evening during a festival, when she is passionately kissed by an unknown but handsome reveller to whom she feels an almost overwhelming attraction. Back in the real world, however, Grace consigns the kiss to fond memory and concentrates on coaxing a proposal from Frederick Musgrave. She is shocked and insulted when the proposal is not an honourable one and immediately flees back to England to seek help from Lady Grantham.

Julian St. John, the newly minted Earl of Knighton, is in the South of France to settle the affairs of his late, reprobate father.  As the son of a man who ran off with his mistress and ignored his responsibilities to family and title, Julian has spent most of his life trying not to be tarred with the same brush and takes his duties very seriously.  He is active in parliament and is currently the primary supporter of a project in London which is designed to provide housing for many of the city’s less well-off inhabitants.  In this, he is aided by an old friend, Lady Honor Chatham, whose father is well-respected in the House and whose support is bound to go a long way towards smoothing Julian’s path in politics and will help him to further erase the memories of his father’s self-indulgent, dissolute behaviour.

When Julian returns to England, he is surprised to discover that one of his closest friends, Rupert Humphrey, is on the verge of becoming engaged to the lovely, but penniless Miss Godwyn.  Julian doesn’t know her, but is immediately worried that his friend – a sweet, generous, open-hearted young man – has been targeted by a fortune hunter.  His fears are confirmed when he is introduced to  Miss Godwyn and recognises her as the young woman whom Frederick Musgrave had claimed was his mistress – and the woman with whom Julian had shared a passionate kiss on a balmy evening in Menton.

Julian immediately determines to separate Grace from Rupert, and at the same time tries to convince himself that the intense attraction to her he had felt in France has not come roaring back to life.  It’s clear that the fascination is mutual, but neither Grace nor Julian is prepared to explore the possibility of a relationship.  Grace is committed to Rupert and while Julian is not officially spoken for, there is a general understanding in society that he will offer for Lady Honor.  This is rather similar to the storyline in the previous book (A Common Scandal) in which the hero was convinced he needed to marry someone other than the woman who was so obviously perfect for him.  But thankfully, the similarities end there.  Julian and Grace have to fight different battles to be together and the author does not rely on the initial misunderstandings between them to create dramatic tension.  In fact, they are refreshingly honest with each other, even when they are trading veiled insults; the tension instead comes from their expectations  – of themselves, each other and of society.  Grace really wants to stand on her own two feet, but her only option if she is not to starve is marriage; Julian wants to expunge society’s memories of his father by being the most proper, upstanding gentlemen in existence.  Both of them have a hard time adjusting those expectations, but eventually realise that their love for each other is the most important thing.

Ms. Weaver writes very well – although the occasional Americanism and modern turn of phrase do creep in – and the sense of longing that she creates between her protagonists is palpable.  But Grace’s continual assertions that Julian doesn’t really want her and will eventually tire of her are presumptuous and frustrating to read, even given her instinct for self-protection.  And while It’s true that she does come across as somewhat mercenary, her reasons are completely understandable given the lack of options open to women at this period.   Julian is an attractive hero, in spite of his determination to believe the worst of Grace at the outset, and I do rather enjoy watching a stoic man coming unravelled when he falls in love.   As characters, they are both flawed and have a lot to learn about themselves, but they grow throughout the course of the book and their HEA feels well-deserved.

A Reluctant Betrothal is an entertaining and engaging story from one of the strongest new voices in historical romance.  I look forward to reading more from Amanda Weaver.

The Summer Bride (Chance Sisters #4) by Anne Gracie (audiobook) – Narrated by Alison Larkin

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This title may be purchased from Amazon

Fiercely independent Daisy Chance has a dream – and it doesn’t involve marriage or babies (or being under any man’s thumb). Raised in poverty, she has a passion – and a talent – for making beautiful clothes. Daisy aims to become the finest dressmaker in London.

Dashing Irishman Patrick Flynn is wealthy and ambitious and has entered society to find an aristocratic bride. Instead he finds himself growing increasingly attracted to the headstrong, clever, and outspoken Daisy. She’s wrong in every way – except the way she sets his heart racing.

However, when Flynn proposes marriage, Daisy refuses. She won’t give up her hard-won independence. Besides, she doesn’t want to join the fine ladies of society – she wants to dress them. She might, however, consider becoming Flynn’s secret mistress…

But Flynn wants a wife, not a mistress, and when Flynn sets his heart on something, nothing can stand in his way.

Rating: Narration – B+; Content – C+

This is the fourth book in Anne Gracie’s quartet about the Chance sisters, four young women who banded together through adversity and regard themselves as “sisters of the heart” even though only two of them are actually related by blood. In the first book in the series, The Autumn Bride, the ladies were taken in by Lady Beatrice Davenham, an elderly lady who had been neglected by her staff and family and whom the ladies nursed back to health.

The other books in the series have seen each of the ‘sisters’ fall in love and in The Summer Bride, it is now the turn of Daisy, the only one of them not to have been born a lady. By her own admission, she was born in the gutter and was brought up in a brothel; she doesn’t want to learn posh manners or deportment or how to dance because her ambitions lie in another direction.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

Simply Love (Simply Quartet #2) by Mary Balogh (audiobook) – Narrated by Rosalyn Landor

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This title is available to download from Audible via Amazon.

She spies him in the deepening dusk of a Wales evening – a lone figure of breathtaking strength and masculinity, his handsome face branded by a secret pain. For single mother and teacher Anne Jewell, newly arrived with her son at a sprawling estate in Wales, Sydnam Butler is a man whose sorrows – and passions – run deeper than she could have ever imagined.

As steward of a remote seaside manor, Sydnam lives a reclusive existence far from the pity and disdain of others. Yet almost from the moment Anne first appears on the cliffs, he senses in this lovely stranger a kindred soul, and between these two wary hearts, desire stirs. Unable to resist the passion that has rescued them both from loneliness, Anne and Sydnam share an afternoon of exquisite lovemaking. Now the unwed single mother and war-scarred veteran must make a decision that could forever alter their lives.

Rating: Narration – A; Content – A-

Simply Love is the second book of the four that make up the Simply quartet of stories about a group of young women who teach at a girls’ school in Bath. We met Anne Jewell in the previous book (Simply Unforgettable) and learned that she has a young son, David, who lives with her at the school. Anne is an unmarried mother whose family turned their backs on her after her ‘disgrace’, and it is made clear quite early on in the book that David is the result of a rape that took place when Anne was around nineteen. David’s father is long-since dead, but his relation, Joshua Moore has been a good friend to Anne over the years, and it is thanks to him that Anne and David find themselves spending the summer at the Welsh estate of the Duke of Bewcastle.

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