The Sins of Lord Lockwood (Rules for the Reckless #6) by Meredith Duran

This title may be purchased from Amazon

BACK FROM THE DEAD, AN EARL SEEKS VENGEANCE…

Liam Devaliant, Lord Lockwood, was born into a charmed life. Charismatic, powerful, and wild, he had the world at his feet—and one woman as his aim. His wedding to Anna was meant to be his greatest triumph. Instead, in a single moment, a wicked conspiracy robbed him of his future and freedom.

…BUT WILL HIS LONG-LOST COUNTESS PAY THE PRICE?

Four years later, Liam has returned from death with plans for revenge. Standing in his way, though, is his long-absent bride. Once, he adored Anna’s courage. Now it seems like a curse, for Anna refuses to fear or forget him. If she can’t win back Liam’s love, then she means at least to save his soul…no matter the cost.

Rating: A

It’s been a decade since Liam Devaliant, the Earl of Lockwood, stepped onto the pages of Meredith Duran’s début novel, The Duke of ShadowsHandsome, charming and enigmatic, Lockwood immediately captured my attention, the mention of his mysterious four year absence from society and his obvious discomfiture at the presence of his estranged wife clearly hiding a story begging to be told – and now here it is.  The Sins of Lord Lockwood is an intense, angsty story that is sometimes hard to read, but is nonetheless a compelling tale of a man’s struggle to find his place after having his life ripped away from him, and a painful portrait of a marriage rent asunder by hatred and greed.

Anna, Countess of Lockwood and Countess of Forth (a Scottish title she holds in her own right) has learned, second-hand, of the return to England of the husband who deserted her on their wedding night four years earlier – and she’s furious.  Furious that she was stupid enough to fall for him all those years ago, furious that he abandoned her, furious she’s heard nothing of him for four years – and furious he hasn’t bothered to tell her he’s back and she’s had to learn of it from the newspapers.

When his wife arrives unexpectedly at his – their – London town house, Liam realises he’s seriously miscalculated.  He had thought he would have at least another month before news of his return could have reached her at her home on the Isle of Rawsey – where she retreated after his disappearance – a month in which he could bring to fruition his plan to have his revenge upon the man responsible for having him kidnapped on his wedding night and bundled aboard a ship taking convicts to New South Wales. That man is Liam’s cousin, Stephen, the man with whom he’d grown up and played as a boy, and who he’d looked out for all their lives – but with no direct evidence against him, Liam has to play a careful, devious game behind the scenes. With the help of his friends Julian, Duke of Auburn, and Crispin Burke MP, Liam is putting an end to Stephen’s fraudulent businesses and strategically and systematically bringing his cousin to the brink of financial ruin.

Anna’s sudden appearance in London doesn’t simply make a ripple in the pond of Liam’s careful existence – it throws a large rock into the middle and almost drowns him in the resulting explosion of spray.  He doesn’t want to be reminded of the feelings he’d had for her or the man he had been, and he certainly doesn’t want her in harm’s way – but she’s having none of it. Anna will remain in London for as long as she wishes; she will live in their house, she will do as she pleases and Liam can go – or, rather return – to the devil … but not until after he has given her the only thing she wants from him – an heir to the earldom of Forth.  Lockwood might not want an heir to his title, but she wants one for hers, and he’s the only means by which she can obtain legitimate progeny.

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

Advertisements

TBR Challenge: A Certain Magic by Mary Balogh

This title may be purchased from Amazon

Piers Westhaven and Alice Penhallow have always been close friends, even during their marriages to other partners. Now they are both widowed, and Piers, who needs an heir, has asked his friend to help him choose a new bride.

Alice has always been in love with him herself, but hiding her feelings has become second nature to her. As a boy, he dearly loved her too until his best friend announced his intention of courting and marrying her. Soon their mutual passion begins to break through the careful bonds each has imposed upon it just as Piers is being trapped into offering marriage to someone else.

Will honor permit them to speak the heart’s truth before it is too late? Or is it already too late for them–again?

Rating: B

A Certain Magic is one of thirty Regency Romances that Mary Balogh wrote for Signet between 1985 and 1998. Most of those have been out of print for some time, but fortunately for those of us who missed them when they first came out, a number of them are gradually making their way back into circulation as ebooks. Dating from 1991, A Certain Magic is a charming friends-to-lovers romance exhibiting the thoughtful characterisation and insight that are among the author’s trademarks.

Alice Penhallow has been a widow for two years. She loved her husband dearly, but is moving on with her life and is comfortably settled in Bath, where she has made new friends and enjoys the sights and activities the city has to offer. A summons from her brother sees her travelling to London and to the house she owns in Cavendish Square – much to her brother’s dismay as he had wanted her to move in while his wife and children are ill. But much as she loves her nieces and nephews, Allie sticks to her guns and insists on staying at her own house and going back and forth; she has no intention of dwindling into the role of widowed and put-upon aunt.

She is pleased when her oldest friend, Piers Westhaven pays a call on her as they haven’t seen each other in some time. Alice, Webster (her late husband), and Piers grew up together, and continued to be close friends even after Alice and Web married, paying regular visits to each other in the country where their estates were next door to each other. Not long after Alice married his best friend, Piers, too, got married, to a sweet young woman named Harriet who, sadly died in childbirth a number of years earlier. Now aged thirty-six, Piers has reluctantly decided it’s probably time for him to look about him for another wife, especially as he has recently learned he is heir to a barony for which he will, at some point, need to provide an heir.

Breezily, he informs Alice – Allie – of his intention, and almost jokingly talks about looking over the current crop of debutantes to see if one will suit him – but Allie is not amused. She is afraid Piers will repeat the mistake he made with Harriet, choosing someone young, timid and biddable, who will not suit him at all. There is also the fact that Allie is now able to admit to herself that she has loved Piers since she was fourteen; she loved her husband and their life together, but, given no sign that Piers would ever return her feelings, she married Web and subjugated her feelings for Piers into friendship. She admits to being the tiniest bit jealous at the idea of Piers taking a wife – but more importantly, she wants him to be happy and knows a schoolroom miss will make him miserable.

Allie has no idea that Piers is as much in love with her now as he has been for the last fifteen years. He fell for her when she was just fifteen, but by then, Web had made his determination to marry her known, and being an honourable chap, Piers backed off and never let either of his dearest friends know the truth. He married Harriet in an unsuccessful attempt to forget Allie, and still carries a burden of guilt over her death; if she hadn’t been pregnant, she wouldn’t have died, but worse, he never really loved her and he can’t forgive himself for it.

Unlike so many heroes in his situation, Piers isn’t your typical grumpy, brooding sort, and instead, buries his deeper feelings beneath a blanket of conviviality and general good humour. He’s always ready with a joke or bon mot and is never serious – although Allie knows that about him and she is the one person with whom he ever drops the façade. Unfortunately, his tendency to look for the ridiculous in pretty much everything around him leads to make a huge mistake; one of the current crop of debutantes is the granddaughter of a cit who wants to secure a titled husband for her. Piers is handsome, wealthy and relatively young (albeit twice the girl’s age) and Mr. Borden has him firmly in his sights. Piers, who is amused by the man’s gaucherie and his stories of How I Made My Fortune in Fish, fails to see the trap being set for him until it’s too late.

I’ll admit that Piers’ willful blindness is a bit hard to swallow; he’s far from stupid and he knows he’s playing with fire, but in spite of his own knowledge and Allie’s warnings, he just can’t stop himself from doing things he knows are unwise – although I suspect he is still somehow beating himself up about his first wife and deep down, feels he doesn’t deserve to be happy.

But I enjoyed the book in spite of that niggle. It’s not a flashy story; nothing much happens other than that we follow these two people as they try to work out whether it’s worth risking years of friendship in order to see if there’s a chance there could be something more between them. Both Allie and Piers are likeable, attractive and mature characters (he’s thirty-six, she’s thirty) who have a wealth of shared experience behind them as well as a shared sense of humour. They obviously know each other extremely well and like each other a great deal; they banter back and forth quite beautifully and their friendship is wonderfully written. But the author also imbues their exchanges with a palpable sense of longing which grows as the story progresses, creating a quiet, gentle and touching love story that left this reader with the warm fuzzies.

“There has to be mutual respect and liking, a mutuality of mind, a companionship, a friendship.”

“And that is it? That is all?” he asked, smiling at the top of her head.

“And something else,” she said quietly. “Something in addition to all those things. Something that words cannot express. A certain magic.”

A Duke in the Night (Devils of Dover #1) by Kelly Bowen

This title may be purchased from Amazon

Duke. Scoundrel. Titan of business. August Faulkner is a man of many talents, not the least of which is enticing women into his bedchamber. He’s known—and reviled—for buying and selling companies, accumulating scads of money, and breaking hearts. It’s a reputation he wears like a badge of honor, and one he intends to keep.

Clara Hayward, the headmistress of the Haverhall School for Young Ladies, on the other hand, is above reproach. Yet when she’s reunited with August, all she can think of is the way she felt in his arms as they danced a scandalous waltz ten long years ago. Even though her head knows that he is only back in her life to take over her family’s business, her heart can’t help but open to the very duke who could destroy it for good.

Rating: A-

In the years since the publication of her début novel, Kelly Bowen has become an auto-read author and has a few books on my keeper shelf. Her writing is assured and intelligent, she comes up with intriguing, well thought-out plots, and her characters are engaging and often just that bit different to the norm for the genre. In A Duke in the Night, the first book in her new Devils of Dover series, her gift for characterisation is showcased in her heroine, Clara Hayward, the headmistress of the Haverhill School for Young Ladies. In Clara, Ms. Bowen has succeeded where many authors of historical romance have failed; she has created an independent, forward-thinking, proto-feminist heroine who nonetheless operates within the boundaries of the society to which she belongs and feels like a woman of her time. Clara is comfortable in her own skin and knows who she is; she doesn’t feel the need to prove herself all the time or show every man she comes across that she’s just as good (if not better) than he is – she knows she is and doesn’t feel the need to flounce around reminding everyone around her (and the reader) that she is Spirited and Unconventional.

For that alone, Ms. Bowen merits All The Awards.

Of course, Clara deserves a hero who not only understands her but loves her for who she is, and I’m happy to say that in August Faulkner, Duke of Holloway, she finds just that, a man who is willing to listen, evaluate and learn.

August wasn’t born to be a duke. He and his sister spent their childhoods in extreme poverty, and when, by virtue of a keen mind and sheer hard work, he managed to find a way out, his one guiding light has been that his family – his younger sister, Anne – should never know such squalor and privation again. Even his unexpectedly acquired ducal status hasn’t stopped him from continuing with his business interests, although as his empire expanded, he took care to act through intermediaries, so the full extent of his holdings remains a mystery to all but himself and his trusted man of business.

After trying – and failing – several times to purchase the Haverhill School for Young Ladies and its surrounding lands, August’s most recent offer has been accepted and his plans to develop the property are now underway. But seeing Clara Hayward’s name on the deeds has sparked long-buried memories of the one time they danced together, a decade ago, when a much younger – and, he admits, stupider – August had invited the renowned wallflower to dance having been egged on by a group of similarly stupid and thoughtless young bucks. During the dance, August discovered something he had not expected; an intelligence, poise and confidence which completely captivated him and left him somewhat bemused.

Although ten years have passed since then, he still remembers how Clara felt in his arms, how his world had tilted on its axis in the middle of a ballroom floor… and he finds himself wondering why she has finally agreed to sell Haverhall. A few judicious enquiries by his man of business reveal that the Hayward’s shipping company is on the verge of collapse and that the proceeds of the sale of Haverhill will not be enough to save it. Seeing his chance, August decides to purchase the company as quickly and quietly as possible, before anyone else gets wind of the situation and pre-empts him. Learning that Harland Haywood and his sisters are usually to be found at the British Museum on Wednesday afternoons, August plans to ‘accidentally’ bump into the man and try to gauge his receptiveness to a possible buyout – but before he can find him, he sees Clara – and is instantly smitten all over again.

Clara Hayward hopes that once their ships come in (so to speak) she will be able find somewhere else to continue her life’s work of teaching. She is pondering the loss of the school that has been her life’s work on one of her regular visits to the British Museum when a voice she’d never thought to hear again intrudes on her thoughts and she turns to find August Faulkner, the man who’d all but stolen her heart a decade ago, standing by her. She has to struggle to maintain her composure as he rather clumsily apologises for his behaviour ten years earlier and then engages her in a somewhat awkward conversation about the piece of sculpture in front of them. She is puzzled, however, when he asks if he can call upon her the next day; each year, Clara hosts an out-of-town summer school for a hand-picked group of young ladies – and given that Anne Faulkner is one of the party, surely her brother must know that their departure is scheduled for the following day? Before Clara can say something to this effect, however, they are interrupted and part shortly after, but when August discovers, two days later, that Anne has gone to attend the Haverhill Summer School, he immediately assumes that Clara had deliberately kept the knowledge from him and is furious.

Never one to let the grass grow under his feet, August follows, determined to keep an eye on Anne and then take her back home, but also intending to speak to Clara’s brother about the shipping business and to persuade him to sell it… plus he can’t deny that the prospect of seeing Clara again is an extremely enticing one.

August’s arrival shakes Clara’s equanimity. She feels an intense attraction to him and knows it would be all too easy to succumb to it, but she can’t afford to jepoardise her position as an educator of young women – so an affair is out of the question. In any case, her first loyalty must be to her pupils – all of whom are exceptional young women to whom she affords the chance to engage in the study of professions not normally open to them. Her brother – a practicing physician – tutors those interested in medicine; another longs to be a landscape gardener, and Anne Faulkner wants to be an hotelier, but is constantly frustrated by the well-meaning but unwanted interference of her brother who insists she need never bother her head about anything ever again. Clara and August play a sensual game of cat-and-mouse as they dance around their attraction to each other and try (and fail spectacularly) to fight it. As they become closer, Clara patiently challenges him over some of his most deeply entrenched beliefs and encourages him to really think about the way he, as a man, has so many avenues and options open to him that women – and in particular, Anne – do not. He struggles and he makes mistakes, but he is intelligent enough and honest enough to admit the truth of much of what Clara says, and finally to see that by wanting to ensure his sister has the best of everything, he has been stifling her. A prison with golden bars is a prison nonetheless.

Clara and August are a perfectly matched couple; both fiercely intelligent, quick witted and determined – and the sexual chemistry between them is scorching. As I’ve already said, Clara is an exceptionally realised heroine, and August’s journey from ignorance born of male privilege and his almost single-minded drive to protect those he loves is extremely well done.

A Duke in the Night is a fabulous read and a terrific start to this new series. My one, small, quibble is that it’s just a teeny bit difficult to believe that Clara and August are able to connect so passionately and on such a deep emotional level based on just one dance ten years earlier, especially as they haven’t seen each other at all during that time. That said, however, Ms. Bowen imbues their connection with such fervour and obvious sincerity that there is never any question that these two are meant to be.

If you’ve never read one of Kelly Bowen’s books before, then this is a good starting point; and if you have, then be prepared to kick back and enjoy one of what is sure to turn out to be one of the best historical romances of 2018.

Never Dare a Wicked Earl (Infamous Lords #1) by Renee Ann Miller

This title may be purchased from Amazon.

Known as a brazen philanderer, Hayden Milton, Earl of Westfield, is almost done in by a vengeful mistress who aims a gun at a rather essential part of his anatomy—but ends up wounding his thigh instead. Recuperating in his London town house, Hayden is confronted by his new medical attendant. Sophia Camden intrigues him, for behind her starched uniform is an enticing beauty better suited for bedding than dispensing salves and changing bandages.

Unshaken by his arrogance, not to mention impropriety, Sophia offers Hayden a dare: allow her ten days to prove her competency. If she resigns in exasperation like her two predecessors, she will be beholden to this wicked seducer. As a battle of wills begins, Sophia finds herself distracted by the Earl’s muscular physique . . . and discovers that the man within longs only for a second chance to love.

Rating: D+

As I’ve said in the past, I make it a point to try new authors when I can – after all, I had some pretty good luck a couple of years back when I found not one, but three début authors whose books have since become ‘must reads’, and I live in hope of finding others.  Unfortunately, however, on the strength of her first novel, Never Dare a Wicked Earl, Renee Ann Miller isn’t going to make that list by a long chalk; the cover trumpets a “fresh new romance” – but it’s about as fresh as week-old kippers, and I ended up reading a story I’ve read several times before.   It’s a solidly average book; not badly written, but the story is hackneyed, the characters are stereotypical and the author seems to have thought it a good ideal to throw the kitchen sink into the (very weak) plot.   Plus – what on earth is the heroine wearing on the cover?  The book is set in 1875, and by no stretch of the imagination is that dress from the late Victorian period.  I know that’s not the author’s fault, but it nonetheless telegraphs “Danger, Will Robinson!” to the potential reader.  With good reason, as it turns out.

When Hayden – a very unlikely name for a man (let alone an earl) in Victorian England – Earl of Westfield is shot in the leg by a demented ex-mistress, he is confined to bed and not at all happy about it.  He runs off two male attendants by virtue of his appalling manners and threatening  behaviour, so his sister, thinking he might not be quite so rude and abrasive towards a woman, engages a nurse by the name of Sophia Camden.  Of course, the fact that Sophia is female makes no difference to Hayden’s dreadful behaviour, and he begins to try to get rid of her, too, adding not-so-subtle sexual innuendo to his established repertoire of bad manners and ill temper.

Naturally, Sophia is wise to his tricks, and decided to stay, especially as – and here’s where we get lip-service to the title – Hayden dares Sophia to stick it out for ten days.  If she wins, he will throw his political weight behind a new bill to allow women to qualify as doctors (as this is what Sophia wants to do) and if he wins he’ll get… well, he’ll think about that tomorrow.

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

The Lady’s Guide to Larceny with a Dashing Stranger & The Rise and Fall of Reginald Everhart (Lady Travelers Society #2 &#1.5) by Victoria Alexander (audiobook) – Narrated by Marian Hussey

This title is available to download from Audible via Amazon

She must secure her future

A lady should never be obliged to think of matters financial! But when Lady Wilhelmina Bascombe’s carefree, extravagant lifestyle vanishes with the demise of her husband, her only hope lies in retrieving a family treasure – a Renaissance masterpiece currently in the hands of a cunning art collector in Venice. Thankfully, the Lady Travelers Society has orchestrated a clever plan to get Willie to Europe, leading a tour of mothers and daughters…and one curiously attentive man.

He must reclaim his heritage

Dante Augustus Montague’s one passion has long been his family’s art collection. He’s finally tracked a long-lost painting to the enchanting Lady Bascombe. Convinced that the canvas had been stolen, he will use any means to reclaim his birthright – including deception. But how long before pretend infatuation gives way to genuine desire?

Now they’re rivals for a prize that will change everything

Willie and Dante know they’re playing with fire in the magical moonlit city. Their common quest could compromise them both…or lead them to happily-ever-after.

Rating: Narration – A: Content – B

The Lady Travelers Guide to Larceny with a Dashing Stranger (which I’m henceforth going to refer to as LTGLDS) is book two in Victoria Alexander’s current Lady Travelers Society series, and the audiobook edition also includes the preceding novella, which is a nice bonus for listeners – who are getting one-and-a-half books for the price of one! As the events of the novella don’t relate to those of the book, it can be listened to completely independently, and I’ll touch upon it briefly at the end of this review.

In LTGLDS, we meet the widowed Lady Wilhemina Bascombe, whose husband, George, died a couple of years earlier and left her in straitened financial circumstances. Willie and George had married against the wishes of her parents, but they were happy, enjoying a carefree, somewhat extravagant lifestyle and ran with a fast set. When George died, Willie was left with debts and a less-than-pristine reputation for being daring and reckless; and although she has just about scraped together enough money to pay off his creditors, once they’re paid she will have very little left. Her one remaining hope is to liquidate her one remaining asset – a painting by the Renaissance artist, Portinari – which was given to her by her grandmother. The problem is that George used it as collateral for a loan from an art collector – an Italian count – and while Willie has just about enough money left to repay the loan, she doesn’t have enough to be able to buy passage to Venice in order to meet with the Conte di Sarifini.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

The Marquess Tames His Bride (Brides for Bachelors #2) by Annie Burrowes

This title may be purchased from Amazon

‘I have just announced our betrothal’

Now there’s no going back…

In this Brides for Bachelors story, the Marquess of Rawcliffe has always found his childhood friend Clare Cottam enthralling, but any relationship has been forbidden by her strict father. Now the couple are embroiled in a heated argument that puts Clare’s reputation in danger, and Rawcliffe is forced to declare her his fiancée. It will be his pleasure to tame his independent, innocent bride…

Rating: C

The Marquess Tames His Bride is the second book in Annie Burrows’ Brides for Bachelors series, which, although the romance is self-contained, picks up the storyline about a number of jewel thefts that began in book one, The Major Meets His Match.  I have read that book, although I confess I couldn’t remember very much about the continuing plotline; but fortunately the author has given enough of a recap for new readers to be able to pick it up and work out what is going on.  That said, it’s not an especially exciting mystery and there’s not much progression here; I’d worked out where things were headed within the first few pages, and at the end, it’s conveniently left hanging for the hero of book three to pick up and bring to a close.

Clare Cottam has spent the best part of her life caring for her drunkard of a father – a vicar – and her obnoxious older brothers.  The recent death of the Reverend Cottam has left Clare homeless and penniless, but one of her brothers, Clement – who is also a clergyman – has arranged for her to take up a position as companion to an elderly lady who lives in Dorset.  It’s not what Clare would have wished for herself, but she tries to see her brother’s interference as a kindness – and anyway she has no alternative.  She has stopped briefly at an inn along the way when she hears the well-remembered, mocking voice of the Marquess of Rawcliffe demanding to know why she’s there.  Clare has known Rawcliffe since she was a girl, and he’s always taken great delight in laughing at her and needling her until she loses the temper that is her greatest trial.  He’s the last person to whom she is going to confess the truth of her situation, but when he persists in teasing her, Clare has had enough and punches him on the nose.

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

Redeeming the Roguish Rake by Liz Tyner

This title may be purchased from Amazon

The scoundrel of Society
…has compromised the Vicar’s daughter!

When scandalous Fenton Foxworthy is beaten and left for dead, he’s rescued by demure vicar’s daughter Rebecca Whitelow. Fox is a cynical rake whose outrageous propositions are the talk of the ton—but his injuries are so great that Rebecca mistakes him for the new village Vicar! Too late, Rebecca realises her error…she’s been compromised into a hasty marriage!

Rating: D+

Liz Tyner’s Redeeming the Roguish Rake treads the well-worn path of rakish hero redeemed by love – in this case, the love of a vicar’s daughter.  It’s a trope I generally enjoy, as it’s always fun to watch the world-weary hero falling head-over-heels for the last woman he’d ever have expected to fall for, and the proper young lady entertaining improper thoughts about a man she should, by rights, despise.  The book gets off to a strong start when our hero, Fenton Foxworthy, a devil-may-care young man who has a smirk and a glib remark for everyone and a penchant for proposing to other men’s wives, is beaten up and left for dead while on a journey into the country to visit his father.  Luckily for him, he is found by the daughter of the local vicar who arranges for him to be taken to the vicarage where she can tend him.

Fox’s injuries are serious.  The author never goes into specific detail, other than to tell us that his face has been particularly badly beaten, to such an extent that when he initially recovers consciousness, it’s difficult for him to speak because his jaw is so painful.  His inability to tell the vicar and his daughter who he is leads to a misapprehension when they assume Fox must be the new vicar who is coming to take over the parish at the behest of the earl (Fox’s father).  The Reverend Whitelow is advancing in years and is being encouraged to take a pension, and knowing that a younger man is coming to replace him, has hopes that the new vicar will marry Rebecca and ensure her future comfort and safety.

It’s some time before Fox can speak, and the author instead treats us to his inner monologue, which is often quite funny, as he listens to the vicar and Rebecca completely misconstruing his attempts at communication.  In the end, he decides to give up and go along with their supposition that he’s a vicar – they’ll find out the truth soon enough and he’ll cross that bridge when he comes to it.

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