Proud Mary (Roxton Family Saga #5) by Lucinda Brant

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Widowed and destitute, Lady Mary Cavendish is left with only her pride. Daughter of an earl and great-granddaughter to a Stuart King, family expectation and obligation demands she remarry. But not just any man will do; her husband must rank among the nobility. Falling in love with her handsome and enigmatic neighbor is out of the question. As always, Mary will do her duty and ignore her heart.

Country squire Christopher Bryce has secretly loved his neighbor Mary for many years. Yet, he is resigned to the cruel reality they are not social equals and thus can never share a future together. Never mind that his scandalous past and a heartbreaking secret make him thoroughly unworthy of such a proud beauty.

Then into their lives steps a ghost from Mary’s past, whose outrageous behavior has Mary questioning her worldview, and Christopher acting upon his feelings, and for all to see. The mismatched couple begin to wonder if in fact love can prevail—that a happily ever after might just be possible if only they dare to follow their hearts.

Rating: B-

I’m a big fan of Lucinda Brant’s and have enjoyed all of the books of hers I’ve listened to or read.  Which is why it saddens me to say that Proud Mary, the fifth book in her Roxton Family Saga, was something of a disappointment.

The proud lady of the title is Lady Mary Cavendish, whose husband, Sir Gerald, died two years previously.  Sir Gerald was a boorish brute of a man who did not treat Mary well and whose death has left his wife and ten-year-old daughter Theodora (Teddy) on the verge of destitution.  Were it not for the actions of the estate’s steward, Mr. Christopher Bryce, Mary and Teddy would have had to leave their home, but Bryce keeps the truth of their situation to himself and due to his astute management and assistance they continue to live as before.

Christopher Bryce has been steward of Abbeywell Farm for something like eight years, and has been quietly in love with Mary for just as long.  His good-looks and natural charm set hearts a-flutter among the local ladies, but he has eyes for none but Mary – even though he has little hope that she will ever return his affection.  She is the daughter of an earl and the great-grand-daughter of a king, and he is a mere country squire – albeit a successful and wealthy one – with a rather mysterious (and unusual)  past.

Having married once for the sake of family and duty and been utterly miserable, Mary is loath to remarry for the same reasons, but accepts that she will have to do so at some point.  Of late, however, she has been unable to prevent her thoughts going in a different – and not at all welcome – direction.  She and Christopher Bryce rarely see eye-to-eye about the estate, yet there’s no denying he’s an extremely attractive man and that when they aren’t at odds, he is kind and agreeable company, attentive to her wishes in a way she has never before experienced.

The first part of the book is lovely, beautifully chronicling the longing Christopher and Mary feel for each other and then showing Christopher becoming more determined in his pursuit as he attempts to show Mary that they are right for each other and that they could be happy together.  Mary, whose spirit has been squashed both by her obnoxious, snobbish mother and her abusive husband, takes a little time to come out of her shell, but with Christopher’s coaxing and support, she decides it’s time she allowed herself to experience pleasure and to have something she wants for herself, and spends an idyllic week with him squirreled away at his cottage by the river. Christopher and Mary are able to explore their physical attraction to each other discreetly, and are well on the way to making some decisions about their future, when the plot veers off in another direction, almost the entire Roxton clan reappears – and the story suddenly becomes more concerned with the progression of Antonia, Duchess of Kinross’ pregnancy, and various family issues, some of which are plot threads picked up from the previous book, Dair Devil.

I’m grateful the author resolved these threads.  But it comes at the expense of the romance between Mary and Christopher, which is pushed to one side in favour of a big Roxton reunion  and means we have to wait for almost half the book for Mary’s response to Christopher’s proposal.  When it finally comes, it is overshadowed by other developments.  I will, however, say that Mary’s long-awaited upbraiding of her horrible mother made me want to cheer.

Proud Mary is every bit as well-researched and well-written as Lucinda Brant’s other books.  Her research and attention to detail is superb and her ability to transport the reader to an earlier time and place – in this case the middle of the Eighteenth Century – really is masterful.  Those aspects of the book, whether it’s the outward trappings (fashions, furniture etc.) or the more important understanding and integration of custom and social convention are excellent and thoroughly enjoyable.  The two protagonists, too, are terrific, well-rounded characters with a lot of depth and complexity to them, who are, in spite of the vast differences in their social stations, obviously meant for one another.  But I wanted more of them together and more of the newly confident Mary who is happy and in love for the first time in her life.

I liked Christopher and Mary individually and together, and their histories – his as a man with things in his past he’s not proud of and hers as the wife of a neglectful and abusive husband and the daughter of an overbearing, status-obsessed woman – mean that they have a lot to work through before they can achieve their HEA.  But the intrusion of the larger family in the last third or so of the book wasn’t a welcome one. I’ve liked all the previous stories in the series and am familiar with the characters and relationships, but this book missed the mark, and it’s a shame, because the two protagonists are such great characters that I felt they were rather wasted amid the throng.

I can’t rate the book any lower than a B-/3.5 stars because the writing is excellent and the historical background is superb.  But I can’t rate it any higher because as a romance, it runs out of steam in the second half and in the end, falls rather flat.

The Wicked Cousin (Rockliffe #4) by Stella Riley

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Sebastian Audley has spent years setting every city in Europe by the ears and keeping the scandal-sheets in profit. Word that he is finally returning to London becomes the hottest topic of the Season and casts numerous young ladies – many of whom have never seen him – into a fever of anticipation.

Cassandra Delahaye is not one of them. In her opinion, love affairs and duels, coupled with a reputation for never refusing even the most death-defying wager, suggest that Mr Audley is short of a brain cell or two. And while their first, very unorthodox meeting shows that perhaps he isn’t entirely stupid, it creates other reservations entirely.

Sebastian finds dodging admiring females and living down his reputation for reckless dare-devilry a full-time occupation. He had known that putting the past behind him in a society with an insatiable appetite for scandal and gossip would not be easy. But what he had not expected was to become the target of a former lover’s dangerous obsession … or to find himself falling victim to a pair of storm-cloud eyes.

Rating: A-

The Wicked Cousin is the fourth book in Stella Riley’s Rockliffe series of historical romances set in Georgian England, in which she once again presents readers with a gorgeous hero, an admirable heroine and a well-written, strongly developed romance that simmers with sexual tension and is deliciously, well, romantic. Add to that a delightful cast of familiar secondary characters, witty dialogue, wonderfully written friendships and a gently bubbling secondary romance with great potential for a future book… and Ms. Riley has another winner on her hands.

The eponymous cousin is the Honourable Sebastian Audley, only son and heir of Viscount Wingham. Following the tragic death of his beloved twin brother at the age of eight, Sebastian was wrapped up in several suffocating layers of cotton wool, mollycoddled and over-protected to such an extent that when he was finally able to, he went more than a little wild in his determination to experience life to the full. There was no wager too risky, no lady too unattainable and no bottle too undrinkable for Sebastian, and tales of his exploits as he cut a dash through Europe have spread far and wide, shocking (but secretly titillating) the ladies and entertaining the men, most of whom think Sebastian is a jolly fine fellow and would gladly slap him on the back if ever he stayed long enough in one place to allow them to do so.

The problem with a reputation of such magnitude, however, it that it tends to be both inflexible and impossible to dislodge, as Sebastian quickly discovers when, after an absence of several years (barring his annual and very quiet flying visit) he returns to England for good when he learns that his father has suffered an apoplexy and that his life is in danger.

Truth be told, Sebastian’s hellraisng lifestyle has begun to pall and at the age of twenty-eight he is ready to embark on another phase of his life – to start to learn how to manage the family estates and to ready himself to take on the responsibilities that will be his when he eventually inherits his father’s title. But he knows that he faces quite the task in terms of convincing society that he has thrown off his hellion ways and wants to settle down; the minute he is known to be in London, he’ll be besieged by young bucks vying for his attention and attempting to get him to wager on the most outrageous things, and while he isn’t going to agree to any of them, it’s going to be difficult to keep on turning them down without causing offence.

Fortunately, Sebastian’s good friend, Adrian Devereux, Earl of Sarre (The Player) comes up with a solution to that particular dilemma. If they make a private wager, it will preclude Sebastian from accepting any others, thus giving him a legitimate reason for declining any others offered him.

Sebastian is therefore set for his re-entrance into London society which, given he’s handsome as sin and twice as charming, welcomes him with open arms.

Miss Cassandra Delahaye, whom we met in The Player is getting tired of hearing of very little other than the wicked Mr. Audley – who happens to be a very, very distant relation of her family – from her younger sister and her friends, all of whom are swooning over the tales of his exploits printed in the scandal sheets. While constantly hearing about the dashing, handsome rake, Cassie is trying to work out how to gently reject yet another suitor who has asked her to marry him simply because she’s exactly the sort of girl one marries – pretty, sweet and well-bred. She’s not silly enough to expect to be swept off her feet and fall madly in love with the man she will eventually wed, but she would at least like to be chosen for herself and not just because she is regarded as “eminently suitable”.

Her first – accidental – meeting with her so-called wicked cousin is not an auspicious one and at first she thinks him arrogant and conceited. But she is forced to concede her error when further encounters prove him to be neither of those things; he’s funny, kind and clever and she finds herself enjoying both his company and his conversation, which is interesting and enlightening. But even more than that, he is probably the first man to take an interest in her opinions and what she has to say; in short, to see and appreciate Cassie rather than the demure Miss Delahaye, and it isn’t long before she is thoroughly smitten with the genuinely decent man she is coming to know.

For the first time ever, Sebastian is in love, and, in a touching and beautiful scene at his brother’s graveside, talks to him about the strength of his feelings for Cassie and the task he faces in convincing the woman he loves that he is a changed man. More difficult than that, however, he is going to have to prove to her father that he can be trusted with his daughter’s heart and happiness. But Sebastian is not one to give up easily and is determined to win Cassie’s hand.

The Wicked Cousin is a character-driven romance which has, at its heart, a tender and romantic courtship that is not without a few heated moments. But there is a lot more to enjoy as well, not least of which is meeting characters from the previous novels. We get to see the Duke of Rockliffe as a besotted new father, to witness Caroline, Lady Sarre, giving Adrian’s mother a well-deserved set-down and Adrian’s first, sartorially-challenged meeting with his wife’s bluff, yet kindly grandfather. We catch up with Amberley and Rosalind, Rock’s sister, Nell … and there is still something brewing between his younger brother Nicholas and the lovely Madeleine Delacroix (sister of Adrian’s business partner, Aristide). It’s also incredibly refreshing to read a story in which the heroine’s family is kind, fond and well-adjusted, and while Sebastian and his father have clearly butted heads over his life-choices in the past, Ms. Riley has very wisely opted not to have them at each other’s throats, and to show instead that there is affection and respect between them and to point the way towards an improvement in their relationship.

That’s not to say that everything in the garden is rosy, however. Sebastian’s relationship with his oldest sister, Blanche, is very strained and has played some part in his estrangement from his family; and his rakish past comes back to haunt him in the form of one of his past lovers, who is obsessed with him and refuses to believe he is no longer interested in her. The “evil other woman” plotline can be a difficult one to pull off and is one which I know some readers dislike, but it works well here, clearly showing how Sebastian has changed and become aware of the inadvisability of many of his past actions, while also injecting a bit of drama into the story.

If I have a criticism of the book overall, it’s that while Cassie is a lovely heroine and perfect for Sebastian, she is somewhat overshadowed by him. She’s not a shrinking violent by any means – she’s charming, intelligent and not afraid to stand up for herself – but Sebastian is so vital and charismatic that he steals pretty much every scene he’s in. But for a hero-centric reader like me, that’s no problem at all, and I was more than happy to be completely charmed by him in all his red-headed, blue-eyed glory.

All in all, The Wicked Cousin is a delightful read and one which is sure to please fans of intelligently written, strongly characterised historical romance. It’s a self-contained story, but as it’s the fourth book in a series, characters from the previous books are mentioned and many make cameo appearances, so if you haven’t read the others you might want to familiarise yourself with who is who. Or just read the first three books, which are every bit as enjoyable as this one.

More, please, Ms. Riley!

Sinful Scottish Laird (Highland Grooms #2) by Julia London (audiobook) – Narrated by Derek Perkins

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon.

Widowed and forced to remarry in three years’ time or forfeit her son’s inheritance, Daisy Bristol, Lady Chatwick, has plenty of suitors vying for her hand – and her fortune. But a letter from a long-lost love sends Daisy and her young son to her Scottish Highland estate to buy time for his return. Along the way she encounters the powerful Cailean Mackenzie, laird of Arrandale and a notorious smuggler, and she is utterly – though unwillingly – bewitched.

Cailean has no use for any Sassenach in his glen. But Daisy’s brazen, flirtatious nature and alluring beauty intrigue him. When her first love appears unexpectedly at her estate, Cailean knows that a passionate woman like Daisy cannot marry this man. And to prevent the union, Cailean must put his own life at risk to win her heart.

Rating: Narration – A; Content – B

This second book in Julia London’s Highland Grooms series, Sinful Scottish Laird, is an enjoyable, character-driven romance that takes place over thirty years after the events of Wild Wicked Scot, and in which the hero is the eldest son of Laird Arran Mackenzie and his English wife, Margot. Cailean Mackenzie spends most of his time at his own estate of Arrandale, working on the house he is building; and when he’s not doing that, he and his younger brother, Aulay, are braving the excise men and crossing the sea to France in order to bring back cargoes of the essential goods that shortages and high rates of taxation have put beyond the reach of the ordinary Scot – as well as the wine and brandy they can sell at a profit.

Out riding with a group of his men one day, Cailean comes across a broken-down carriage carrying an assortment of Englishmen and women, most of whom, it seems, are terrified and would quite happily shoot him. Only one person among them doesn’t appear to share that fear, a lovely woman that Cailean learns is Lady Chatwick, on her way to visit the lodge at Auchanard which is part of her young son’s inheritance. Cailean has long sworn off romantic entanglements – a youthful love affair gone wrong decided him that marriage wasn’t for him and he’s content with his solitary life – but there’s something about the way the woman seems quite oblivious to the fears of those around her and the way she looks at him that Cailean finds intriguing – against his better judgement.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

Hard-Hearted Highlander (Highland Grooms #3) by Julia London

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An indomitable governess…a brooding Highlander…a forbidden affair…

An ill-fated elopement cost English-born governess Bernadette Holly her reputation, her unsuitable lover and any chance of a future match. She has nothing left to fear–not even the bitter, dangerously handsome Scot due to marry her young charge. Naive wallflower Avaline is terrified to wed Rabbie Mackenzie, but if he sends her home, she will be ruined. Bernadette’s solution: convince Rabbie to get Avaline to cry off…while ignoring her own traitorous attraction to him.

A forced engagement to an Englishwoman is a hard pill for any Scot to swallow. It’s even worse when the fiancee in question is a delicate, foolish young miss–unlike her spirited, quick-witted governess. Sparring with Bernadette brings passion and light back to Rabbie’s life after the failed Jacobite uprising. His clan’s future depends upon his match to another, but how can any Highlander forsake a love that stirs his heart and soul?

Rating: C+

I’ve enjoyed the previous two books in Julia London’s Highland Grooms series in spite of my general aversion to Scottish/Highland set romances; both books are strongly character driven with, in the case of the first book, Wild Wicked Scot, a dash of politics and intrigue thrown in to add an extra layer of interest. So I’ve been looking forward to this third book, in which the hero is Rabbie Mackenzie, younger son of Laird Arran and his English wife, Margot. But I’m afraid I can’t say that I enjoyed Hard Hearted Highlander as much as the other books, mostly because the eponymous hero is such a miserable bastard for well over half of the story, and it’s difficult to find any vestige of sympathy or liking for a man who is so ill-mannered and self-centred.

That’s not to say that Rabbie doesn’t have grounds for what is immediately apparent is a case of severe depression. The book is set in 1750, five years after the Battle of Culloden, and takes place in a very different world to the previous novel. Many families and clans were wiped out on the battlefield and after, and of those who weren’t many have fled – to the cities, or overseas – and the landscape has been forever changed. Even the powerful Mackenzie clan is struggling to look after its own; their neutrality in the conflict did not protect them from the widely wrought devastation and times are hard.

Like many of his countrymen, Rabbie is frustrated and bitter about the huge change the battle has wrought in the Highlander way of life, but he is also mired in grief for the woman he loved, Seona MacBee, who was killed, along with her family, either during or after the uprising. It’s been years since her death, but Rabbie mourns her every day, and continues to scowl and growl his way through life, much to the consternation of his family. They love him dearly and hate to see him so melancholy, but don’t know what to do to help – and know that he would probably reject it if they tried.

As the Mackenzies struggle to rebuild their fortunes after the rebellion, it becomes necessary for Laird Mackenzie to broker a match between Rabbie and the young daughter of Lord Kent, an English nobleman who has purchased the nearby estate of Kileaven and looks set to buy up other lands around Balhaire. If that happens, there won’t be enough land to sustain even the small number of Mackenzies who are left, and a this arrangement is the only way to protect Balhaire and its dependents. Rabbie recognises the importance of this marriage to his family and agrees to marry the girl. He doesn’t care – he’s dead inside anyway.

When the Kents arrive, it’s immediately apparent that the two families are not a match made in heaven.  Lord Kent is an abrasive boor who is more often drunk than not and his wife and daughter live in fear of him.  Aveline Kent is only seventeen; she’s pretty and sweet, but her excessive timidity and utter lack of individuality and spirit irritate Rabbie intensely and he finds himself unable to say a civil word to her.  His complete lack of consideration for the young woman, and for the difficult situation she has been pushed into similarly irritate Aveline’s maid and companion, Bernadette Holly, who makes very clear her disdain for Rabbie and dislike of the way he is treating her friend.

Of course, this is a romance novel, so I don’t think I’m spoiling anything by saying that that disdain leads to some harsh words and eventually to verbal sparring that sends the sparks flying between Rabbie and Bernadette.  For the first time in years, he finds himself attracted to a woman, but things are moving quickly, and with the wedding just days away and the fate of his clan at stake, how can they have a future together?

Like Rabbie, Bernadette has a heart-breaking tragedy in her past, but unlike him, she doesn’t allow it to colour her every thought and move.  As a younger woman, she fell in love and eloped with a man her father thought beneath her.  He had her followed and brought home, the marriage was annulled and the young man sent away, never to be seen again.  Bernadette later learned he had died at sea – but even worse, after the separation she discovered she was expecting his child only to lose the baby when she was several months along, and is now unable to have children of her own.  Ruined and with her reputation in shreds, Bernadette is now employed by the Kents as a maid-cum-companion, and it’s to her that Lord Kent looks to prepare Aveline for her upcoming marriage.  It’s an impossible task however; the dour Highlander shows no inclination whatsoever to even try to get to know his bride, and doesn’t care that Aveline has no alternative but to obey her brutish father.

I liked Bernadette; she’s come through her tragedy and emerged as a stronger person who isn’t easily cowed by anyone.  She goes toe-to-toe with Rabbie and calls him on his crap, hinting to him that he’s not the only person to ever have been hurt and telling him outright that he needs to stop acting like a spoiled child, man up and deal with it.  In the absence of treatments for depression, it’s fortunate for Rabbie that his interest is piqued by Bernadette’s spirit and he is not a little inspired by the way she has managed to pull herself out of the despair she experienced upon her own losses.

The biggest problem with Hard-Hearted Highlander is that about two thirds of it is Rabbie being a rude, unfeeling and discourteous dickhead to his poor fiancée – who isn’t to blame for anything other than being an empty-headed seventeen-year-old – and Rabbie and Bernadette pondering their losses during a number of lengthy inner monologues.  I liked the author’s overall message about the need to let go and move on, but the romance is rushed, there’s an odd subplot that made me a little uncomfortable, and the various flashbacks to Rabbie’s life with Seona are out of place; we already know he’s heartbroken, and these reinforcements add nothing to the overall story.

I understand that there are to be more books in this series, and I certainly intend to read them, but I can’t wholeheartedly recommend this one.  It’s well-written and Ms. London has once again made good use of her research into the period to create a suitably subdued atmosphere that reflects the political situation of the time.  But ultimately, the romance falls flat; the hero is too unappealing for most of the book, and his turn-about, when it comes, is too fast and too late.  Hard-Hearted Highlander is certainly not the place to start with the Highland Grooms, and even if you’re following the series, you might want to give it a miss.

Sinful Scottish Laird (Highland Grooms #2) by Julia London

sinful-scottish-laird

This title may be purchased from Amazon

Widowed and forced to remarry in three years’ time or forfeit her son’s inheritance, Daisy Bristol, Lady Chatwick, has plenty of suitors vying for her hand and her fortune. But a letter from a long-lost love sends Daisy and her young son to her Scottish Highland estate to buy time for his return. Along the way she encounters the powerful Cailean Mackenzie, laird of Arrandale and a notorious smuggler, and she is utterly and unwillingly bewitched.

Cailean has no use for any Sassenach in his glen. But Daisy’s brazen, flirtatious nature and alluring beauty intrigue him. When her first love appears unexpectedly at her estate, Cailean knows that a passionate woman like Daisy cannot marry this man. And to prevent the union, Cailean must put his own life at risk to win her heart.

Rating: B

Julia London returns to the Scottish Highlands in the region of Balhaire for Sinful Scottish Laird, the second book in her Highland Grooms series. Like the previous book, Wild Wicked Scot, the story takes place during a time of great unrest, with the Jacobites who are loyal to the deposed Stuart kings still actively trying to topple the Hanoverian monarchy installed just over three decades earlier. Unlike that book, however, the political background here is much more low key, even though there is the ever present discontent among the Highland population at their treatment by the English, especially when it concerns the ridiculously high taxes that are being levied on the basic goods that are needed to survive.

Shortages and high taxation rates naturally encourage the growth of “Free Trade” – smuggling – and Cailean Mackenzie, oldest son and heir of Laird Arran Mackenzie (hero of Wild Wicked Scot) and his brother Aulay frequently cross the seas to France in order to bring in cargoes of necessities as well as the finest French wines and brandies that can be sold at a tidy profit.

When he isn’t engaged in piracy, Cailean spends most of his time at his estate, Arrandale, working upon the house he is building for himself there. A youthful romance-gone-wrong has left him shy of emotional involvement and preferring to keep his relations with women informal and short-lived. At thirty-five, he has decided that love and marriage isn’t for him; he has grown to like his own company and solitary pursuits and is content to leave it to his brothers Aulay and Rabbie to secure the Mackenzie succession.

Daisy Bristol, the widow of Viscount Chatwick, has travelled to the Highlands to hide out at the hunting lodge of Auchenard, which is part of her late husband’s estate and now belongs to her nine-year-old son, Ellis. In his will, the late viscount stipulated that Daisy must marry within three years of his death, or her son’s inheritance will be forfeit – meaning Ellis will inherit the estate, but not the money to support it.  Naturally, Daisy is furious; her husband actually told her to her face that he believed she would mismanage their son’s finances, which is why he added that claue to his will AND instructed Bishop Craig to help find Daisy a suitable second husband.  Not wishing to subject herself to the control of another man – at least, not straight away – Daisy has put off marrying again for the past two years, but now realises the error of her ways as her time is running out.  But then, out of the blue, news reaches her that she thinks will solve her problems.  Before her parents made the match with Chatwick, Daisy had fallen in love with a young naval officer, Robert Spivey, but because he was not of her rank, was not allowed to marry him and he went away to sea.  But now he has returned, and Daisy hopes that perhaps they can rekindle their romance with a happier outcome this time.  But the bishop is eager to arrange a betrothal for her, and because her situation is widely known and there is no shortage of men eager to marry her money, Daisy decides it will be safer for her to get away from London and all those fortune-hunting potential suitors in order to await Rob’s return.

She, her son and their entourage are not far from their destination, when their carriage wheel breaks and they are stuck in the middle of nowhere.  A group of riders approaches and offers help, but the English party is suspicious and believes they are about to be set upon – all except Daisy, who keeps a clear head and engages the leader of the men in conversation.  Inside, however, she’s anything but calm.  The big, handsome Scotsman with the piercing blue eyes stirs her blood and steals her breath, and it’s all she can do to politely send him on his way.  But she can’t stop thinking about him, and the strength of her reaction; she’s been a widow for two years, and even when her husband was in good health, she’s never experienced such intense desire.

Over the next days and weeks, Daisy and Cailean encounter each other frequently, and while he is initially grumpy and downright hostile towards her, he gradually begins to admire her spirit and to enjoy spending time with Ellis, a quiet, but friendly boy who, Cailean realises, has had no proper male role model in his life.  I liked that it’s Daisy who makes no secret of her admiration of Caliean and her attraction to him, while he’s adamant that he isn’t interested in her flirtation and doesn’t want to be “trifled with” – although as he comes to know her, he certainly does flirt back a little, and shows that beneath his guarded exterior is a man possessed of considerable warmth, charm and humour.

Of course, Cailean eventually discovers that Daisy has laid waste to all the barriers he’d erected around his heart, but there is more separating them than the fact that he’s a Scot and she’s English.  It’s true that the English are not looked upon kindly by the Scots – and vice-versa – but there’s also the fact that with Ellis holding an English title, he needs to be educated and brought up in England so that he can make the connections he will need later in life.  And complicating things still further,  there’s the unexpected appearance in Scotland of Robert Spivey, formerly Captain Spivey of the Royal Navy – and the man who has been trying to apprehend Cailean and Aulay for more than a year.

I confess that I’m not the greatest fan of books with the words Highland or Scot in the title, as many of those I’ve read seem to have recycled the same plots and characters, but I’ve been pleasantly surprised by this series so far. Sinful Scottish Laird is an extremely readable, character-driven romance in which the relationship between Cailean and Daisy remains front and centre throughout. The obstacles they have to face are very real, and although they are perhaps overcome a little too conveniently by the end, the journey on which the author takes us in order to get there is well put-together and contains moments of poignancy and heartbreak.  There is a well-drawn secondary cast, and the background of hardship and political instability against which the tale is set permeates the story without being intrusive or detracting from the main storyline.  The romance is lovely, the central characters are likeable, and the writing is infused with warmth and humour, making this a book I’d certainly recommend to others.

Wild Wicked Scot (Highland Grooms #1) by Julia London (audiobook) – Narrated by Derek Perkins

wild-wicked-scot-audio

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

Born into riches and groomed in English luxury, Margot Armstrong didn’t belong in a Scottish chieftain’s devil-may-care world. Three years ago she fled their marriage of convenience and hasn’t looked back – except to relive the moments spent in wild, rugged Arran McKenzie’s passionate embrace. But as their respective countries’ fragile unity threatens to unravel, Margot must return to her husband to uncover his role in the treachery before her family can be accused of it.

Red-haired, green-eyed Margot was Arran’s beautiful bride. Her loss has haunted him, but her return threatens everything he has gained. As the Highland mists carry whispers of an English plot to seize McKenzie territory, he must outmaneuver her in games of espionage – and seduction. But even as their secrets tangle together, there’s nothing to prevent love from capturing them both and leading them straight into danger.

Rating: Narration – A-; Content – B

I confess straight out that I’m not the world’s biggest fan of books with the word “Scot” or “Highlander” in the title as the majority of those I’ve read have seemed to have identical plots and characters. So reviewing Wild Wicked Scot, the first in Julia London’s new Highland Grooms series wasn’t an automatic choice for me – until I saw Derek Perkins listed as the narrator. I’ve listened to him several times before and he always delivers a solid, entertaining performance, so with him at the helm, I settled in to enjoy at least the narration – and discovered that, taken as a whole, the listen exceeded my expectations.

Lady Margot Armstrong, the daughter of the Earl of Norwood , is nearly eighteen, beautiful, flighty – and rather spoiled. She enjoys the attentions of the well-mannered, courtly young gentlemen around her and fully expects she will eventually marry one of them and continue living in the style to which she is accustomed. Until one night when, completely out of the blue, her father introduces her to Laird Arran Mackenzie and announces that they are to be married.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

TBR Challenge: The Wagered Widow by Patricia Veryan

the-wagered-widowThis title may be purchased from Amazon.

HE INSISTED ON TREATING HER LIKE A TROLLOP!

… and Rebecca Parrish, a most respectable young widow, found him utterly odious. What right had this supercilious rake, Trevelyan de Villars, to incessantly force his attentions on her? Rebecca far preferred Trevelyan’s charming friend, the noble Sir Peter Ward. Indeed, her dreams of handsome Sir Peter aimed straight for the altar!
What Rebecca soon discovered duly horrified her. For her dear Sir Peter and the contemptible Trevelyan had formailzed a bet – that Trevelyan could seduce the very proper widow within a month’s time.

Still, Trevelyan’s attentions grew ever more passionate. And Rebecca found (to her horror!) that she thrilled to his touch. As her heart strove to resist this irresistible cad, she suddenly saw what he really was: A libertine no more – now at last and forever in love!

Rating: B

Although I’ve been aware of Patricia Veryan for a number of years, up until recently, her books were out of print and the only way to obtain them was to find rather tatty second-hand paperbacks. Fortunately, many of her books have now been made available digitally, meaning that I was able to make her my “new to me author” for February’s TBR Challenge prompt.

I’ve often seen her work likened to Georgette Heyer’s, and although I think that Heyer fans are likely to enjoy Ms. Veryan’s books, they are quite different in certain essentials.  For one thing, almost all Ms. Heyer’s books are set during the Regency, while only around a third of Ms. Veryan’s are; most of her books are set more than fifty years earlier in the Georgian era.  In fact, the cover of the paperback edition (1984) of The Wagered Widow proudly proclaims it to be A Regency Romance, whereas it’s actually set almost seventy years before the Regency, in 1746, just a year after the Battle of Culloden.  And for another, her books usually have a political element; Ms. Veryan’s series of romantic adventures – The Tales of the Jewelled Men, The Golden Chronicles and the Sanguinet Saga (which is set during the Regency) all use the Jacobite rebellion and Battle of Culloden as important plot points and feature characters who are in some way connected with both events.

The Wagered Widow is a standalone book that also works as a prequel to The Golden Chronicles, which I definitely intend to read now they’re all available as ebooks.  It tells the story of a lively young woman who has just finished her year of mourning for her late husband – who has left her in impecunious circumstances and with a six year old son to look after.  Rebecca Parrish is petite, lovely, vivacious and well aware of her tendency towards hoydenish behaviour.  She is also aware that, if she is to secure a well-to-do second husband who will be able to keep her and Anthony more than comfortably, she is going to have to tone down her liveliness a little and be a little more demure; after all, no man wants a wife who could be labelled ‘fast’.

When she makes the acquaintance of Sir Peter Ward, a wealthy gentleman who also happens to be extremely handsome and not too much older than she is, Rebecca thinks she has found the solution to her problems.  She knows it’s mercenary of her, but she has her son and his future to think of, and she decides to fix Sir Peter’s interest and secure an offer of marriage from him.  It’s true that he’s rather reserved and a bit of a stick-in-the-mud, but he’s kind and attentive and Rebecca knows she could do a lot worse than wed a man who will care for and look after her, even if there is no great passion or love between them.  The problem is that his friend, the darkly attractive Trevelyan de Villars knows exactly what Rebecca is about, and takes every opportunity he can to tease her about it.  De Villars has the blackest reputation and is widely known to be a rake of the first order, something Rebecca won’t let him forget.  His wickedly humorous, flirtatious teasing is often very funny; she devises various epithets for him in her head – The Brute, The Lascivious Libertine, The Wicked Lecher…  he infuriates her,  she amuses him and the sparks fly.

The plotline might not be very original, but it’s well-executed, with lots of humour and fun dialogue, an entertaining secondary cast (especially the foppish Sir Graham Fortescue who is definitely more than he seems) and a touch of drama in the later stages.  The way that Rebecca very gradually comes to see just which of the two gentlemen is the right one for her is nicely done;  we watch her slowly shedding her prejudices about de Villars at the same time as he finds it increasingly difficult to maintain his coolly cynical persona around her, and the few scenes in which he interacts with Rebecca’s son, who very shrewdly notes that “… his eyes say different to his words”  – are utterly charming.  The couple doesn’t progress past a few kisses on the page, but there’s a nice frisson of sexual tension between them, and it’s clear that these are two people who are passionately in love.

The writing is witty and spry and makes use of expressions and idioms that feel authentic, and there is plenty of detail about the fashions, décor and customs of the day, so those of us who like a bit of history in our historical romance certainly won’t be disappointed.  But one of the things I was most pleasantly surprised about in this book was the characterisation.  In some of the older romance novels I’ve read, it’s sometimes fairly thin, but that is most definitely not the case here.  Rebecca is a fully-rounded character who own up to her flaws and while Trevelyan is perhaps not quite so well-developed, his feelings and motivations are easy for the reader to discern and through them, we get a clearer picture of the real man beneath the outer layer of world-weary ennui.

The Wagered Widow is a light-hearted, frothy read overall and is firmly rooted in the time in which it is set by the addition of the secondary plotline that revolves around the continuing search for Jacobite fugitives.  I really enjoyed it and am looking forward to reading more of Ms. Veryan’s work.