The Most Dangerous Duke in London (Decadent Dukes Society) by Madeline Hunter

This title may be purchased from Amazon

NOTORIOUS NOBLEMAN SEEKS REVENGE
Name and title: Adam Penrose, Duke of Stratton.
Affiliation: London’s elite Society of Decadent Dukes.
Family history: Scandalous.
Personality traits: Dark and brooding, with a thirst for revenge.
Ideal romantic partner: A woman of means, with beauty and brains, willing to live with reckless abandon.
Desire: Clara Cheswick, gorgeous daughter of his family’s sworn enemy.

FAINT OF HEART NEED NOT APPLY
Clara may be the woman Adam wants, but there’s one problem: she’s far more interested in publishing her women’s journal than getting married—especially to a man said to be dead-set on vengeance. Though, with her nose for a story, Clara wonders if his desire for justice is sincere—along with his incredibly unnerving intention to be her husband. If her weak-kneed response to his kiss is any indication, falling for Adam clearly comes with a cost. But who knew courting danger could be such exhilarating fun?

Rating: B+

The Most Dangerous Duke in London gets Madeline Hunter’s new Decadent Dukes Society series off to a strong start with an extremely readable and engaging tale of a man seeking revenge, an old family enmity and the woman caught in the middle. The romance is a delightful, sensual slow-burn, and in addition, there’s mystery and intrigue, a whiff of espionage, lots of witty banter and a wonderfully written friendship between the hero and his two closest friends (both of whom will feature in future books).

Adam Penrose, the Duke of Stratton has recently returned to England after living in for the past five years, during which he has acquired a reputation for having a quick temper and for fighting and killing his opponents in duels – thus earning himself him the moniker of “The Dangerous Duke”. Adam left the country following his father’s death, which is widely thought to been at his own hand following rumours that he was engaged in treasonous activities, rumours Adam believes were fuelled by the hints and accusations of the late Earl of Marwood. There has long been bad blood between the two families, and now Adam is determined to find out if his suspicions about Marwood are true and to make someone pay for driving his father to his grave. Given the long-standing enmity between the Penroses and the Cheswicks, Adam is therefore surprised to receive an invitation to visit the dowager Countess of Marwood, who states her belief that it’s time the two families patched up their differences.

Adam is highly sceptical, but plays along until the countess proposes that he should marry her sixteen-year-old granddaughter, thus burying the hatchet in the time-honoured tradition of marital alliance. Lady Emilia is pretty and amiable, but Adam isn’t interested in a schoolroom chit – he prefers spirited women with minds of their own, and when he meets Lady Clara, the current earl’s half-sister, Adam decides straight away that she will suit him very well indeed.

Lady Clara Cheswick is the only child of her father’s first marriage and was his favourite among his children. He left her very comfortably off when he died, so Clara doesn’t need to marry if she doesn’t want to, and, at twenty-four, she is on the shelf and quite happy to keep it that way. She’s intelligent, strong-willed and independent, and is content to focus her considerable energies on her publishing venture, Parnassus, a magazine written and produced by women for women which is starting to achieve success. When Adam proposes marriage, Clara doesn’t take him at all seriously, telling him that she isn’t interested in marrying him or anyone, but Adam won’t take no for an answer and sets about courting her.

Clara can’t deny that Adam is a very attractive man, or that she’s drawn to him; he’s sexy and witty and clever and makes it very clear that the qualities that her family regard as problematic and unladylike – her desire for independence and the fact that she not only has her own opinions but makes no bones about voicing them – are qualities he likes and admires. He is genuinely interested in what she has to say about any number of topics, and doesn’t talk down to her or treat her as though she’s a hothouse flower. Adam insists his proposal of marriage was quite serious – and as Clara spends time with him and gets to know him, she is increasingly tempted to believe him, but can’t quite shake her suspicions that there is something else behind his stated intention. Perhaps, given her close relationship with her late father, Adam is primarily interested in getting close to her in order to find out if she knows anything about the late earl’s possible involvement in his father’s death? Or maybe he wants to use her – somehow – as an instrument of revenge?

The sparks fly between Adam and Clara right from their first meeting, and their relationship unfolds gradually and deliciously as Adam finds ways to spend time with Clara – to her initial exasperation – and they slowly come to appreciate each other’s wit, intelligence and sense of humour. These are two mature adults who never underestimate each other as they match one another quip for quip, their verbal sparring a deliciously sensual courtship and prelude to a later, more intimate relationship. The romance is very well-developed; there’s none of the immediate and anachronistic bed-hopping or insta-lust that characterises so many historical romances these days, which is always a refreshing discovery. Adam never wavers in his determination to marry Clara, and his persistence is charming and often funny; he’s generous and forthright, answering Clara’s questions about his motivations honestly and is never less than charming and gentlemanly towards her. I was also impressed with the way that Ms. Hunter has managed to create a credibly independent heroine who is not too modern; Clara wants to make her own way in the world, but is also mindful of her reputation and knows she has to at least appear to operate within the confines of society.

The plotline that revolves around Adam’s search for the truth about his father is well set up and executed, weaving in and out of the romance but never overwhelming it; and when the resolution comes it’s unexpected and quite clever.

With two multi-faceted and strongly characterised principals, an entertaining and well-drawn secondary cast, a sensual romance and a dash of intrigue, The Most Dangerous Duke in London is a thoroughly engaging read and one I’d recommend to fans of the author and of historical romance in general.

The Danger of Desire (Sinful Suitors #3) by Sabrina Jeffries (audiobook) – Narrated by Beverley A. Crick

danger-of-desire-audio

This title is available to download from Audible.

To root out the card cheat responsible for her brother’s death, Miss Delia Trevor spends her evenings dancing her way through high society balls, and her late nights disguised as a young man gambling her way through London’s gaming hells. Then one night, handsome Warren Corry, the Marquess of Knightford, a notorious member of St. George’s Club, recognizes her. When he threatens to reveal her secret, she’s determined to keep him from ruining her plans, even if it means playing a cat-and-mouse game with the enigmatic rakehell.

Warren knows the danger of her game, and he refuses to watch her lose everything while gaining justice for her late brother. But when she starts to delve beneath his carefully crafted facade, can he keep her at arm’s length while still protecting her? Or will their hot desires explode into a love that transcends the secrets of their pasts?

Rating: Narration – A-; Content – B

The Danger of Desire is the third in Sabrina Jeffries’ current Sinful Suitors series, and while not as strong as the previous book (The Study of Seduction), it’s nonetheless an enjoyable and sensual tale of an unlikely couple struggling to keep their secrets in the face of an unexpected and almost overwhelming attraction.

Warren Corry, the Marquess of Knightford is widely known to be a rogue of the first order. His reputation as a womaniser is well-deserved, and he is usually to be found traipsing around the stews of London every night, patronising the brothels and drinking establishments until the early hours. He’s also cousin to Clarissa, Countess of Blakeborough and, like her husband, Edwin, is a member of the St. George’s Club, a gentlemen’s club much like all the others, except that its members have banded together with the aim of protecting their female relatives from fortune hunters and other unscrupulous men. When Clarissa asks Warren to ask around about her friend, Miss Delia Trevor, he initially suspects her of matchmaking. But when she explains that Delia has been behaving oddly of late, Warren realises Clarissa’s request originates from concern for her friend and agrees to see what he can find out.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

Do You Want to Start a Scandal by Tessa Dare (audiobook) – Narrated by Carmen Rose

scandal-audio

You’d think they would have got around to giving a major release a decent cover image!

This title is available to download from Audible via 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: Narration – B-; Content – B+

Do You Want to Start a Scandal is both the fifth book in Tessa Dare’s Spindle Cove series and the fourth in her Castles Ever After series as the protagonists are Miss Charlotte Highwood (sister of Minerva from A Week to Be Wicked) and Piers Brandon, Marquess of Brandon – the marquess who didn’t get the girl in Say Yes to the Marquess. Fortunately, however, the book works perfectly well as a standalone, so anyone new to Ms. Dare’s work or to either series could start listening here quite easily. Some characters from the other books make brief appearances (notably Charlotte’s sisters and Piers’ brother), but they are incorporated in such a way that the newbie won’t feel adrift.

Charlotte Highwood is twenty years old, pretty, vivacious, intelligent – and being driven slowly mad by her mother’s constant attempts to throw her into the paths of eligible men. The ladies are at a house-party at the Nottinghamshire home of Charlotte’s best friend, Delia Parkhurst, and when Charlotte discovers that the wealthy and eminently eligible Marquess of Granville is also in attendance, she takes it upon herself to assure him that she has no desire to marry him. He’s rather surprised by her statement, but it doesn’t faze him one bit and he quickly shows himself to be possessed of a dry wit and sardonic sense of humour. He’s also gorgeous, but even if he weren’t completely beyond her touch, Charlotte isn’t interested in finding a husband right now, as she is planning to go on a tour of the continent with Delia as soon as the pair of them can secure their parents’ permission.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

Do You Want to Start a Scandal? by Tessa Dare

do-you-want-to-start-a-scandal
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.

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

the-summer-bride-audio

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.

A Scot in the Dark (Scandal & Scoundrel #2) by Sarah MacLean

a scot in the dark

This title may be purchased from Amazon

Lonesome Lily Turned Scandalous Siren

Miss Lillian Hargrove has lived much of her life alone in a gilded cage, longing for love and companionship. When an artist offers her pretty promises and begs her to pose for a scandalous portrait, Lily doesn’t hesitate…until the lying libertine leaves her in disgrace. With the painting now public, Lily has no choice but to turn to the one man who might save her from ruin.

Highland Devil turned Halfhearted Duke

The Duke of Warnick loathes all things English, none more so than the aristocracy. It does not matter that the imposing Scotsman has inherited one of the most venerable dukedoms in Britain—he wants nothing to do with it, especially when he discovers that the unwanted title comes with a troublesome ward, one who is far too old and far too beautiful to be his problem.

Tartan Comes to Town

Warnick arrives in London with a single goal: get the chit married and see her become someone else’s problem, then return to a normal, quiet life in Scotland. It’s the perfect plan, until Lily declares she’ll only marry for love…and the Scot finds that there is one thing in England he likes far too much…

Rating: C

I’ve read and enjoyed Sarah MacLean’s previous two series and I enjoyed the previous book in this one (The Rogue Not Taken), so I suppose she’s allowed a dud, and that is, I’m sorry to say, my overall impression of her latest book, A Scot in the Dark. The romance seems to come out of nowhere, the heroine’s actions often don’t make sense, and while it was a refreshing change to read of the hero having body-image issues, I really dislike that whole “I am not worthy” trope in romance, and it’s done to death here. Worst of all, I didn’t really like either of the protagonists. I didn’t hate them, but neither of them grabbed me and as a result, I couldn’t root for them as a couple.

Lillian Hargrove has made the mistake of falling in love with a complete and utter bastard with an ego the size of the planet and was persuaded by him to pose for a portrait in the nude, believing he wouldn’t show it to anyone else. She realises her mistake some months later at the opening of the Royal Academy’s Exhibition of Contemporary Art, when it is announced that his painting of her is the highlight of the exhibition and will be unveiled in a month’s time amid all due pomp and circumstance. Lily is naturally and immediately the subject of all sorts of horrid gossip and her reputation is in tatters.

Enter her hitherto absentee guardian, Alec Stuart, the twenty-first Duke of Warnick, who has, during the five years since he acceded to the title (owing to the utterly improbable fact that the seventeen people who stood between him and the dukedom all managed to die without issue), managed to avoid London and remain on his lands in Scotland. Having had no idea until now that he even had a ward, Alec realises that he needs to rescue Lily from certain ruin and heads off to London in order to do so.

Lily doesn’t want to be rescued –she just wants to run away, but Alec isn’t having it. He decides she should get married straight away, as having a husband will protect her reputation. Lily doesn’t want to get married either, and most of the book is spent with them not agreeing to disagree on the way to deal with the scandal that is going to get even bigger once the painting is unveiled.

Ms. MacLean has tried to do something interesting with her protagonists, which is why the book gets 3 stars and not less. We’re told that Lily is the most beautiful woman on the planet, but it’s clear that her beauty has not brought her a happy life. Lily was orphaned young, passed from pillar to post and never really cared for with the result that she has spent most of her life being ignored, in spite of her exceptionally good looks. I found it a little difficult to accept that she has never, ever had a friend, but given the fact that young women had such limited choices and that Lily was so overlooked, it’s just about within the realms of possibility that she really had spent her life alone.

Alec is six-and-a-half-feet of big, brawny Scotsman whose mother pretty much rejected him for being too big and too coarse before she died when he was a child. Large hints are dropped throughout the story that the women who find him attractive want him only for one thing – he’s good for a night of raw, lusty sex, but not good enough for anything long-term – which means he’s not good enough for Lovely Lily.

I didn’t connect with either of the principals or feel a connection between them, either. For the first forty percent of the story, Lily is standing up to Alec, defying and running away from him – until suddenly she’s all over him and they’re sucking face and fondling each other in a carriage. There’s no build up or sexual tension beforehand and their verbal exchanges are flat and devoid of any spark or chemistry.

And then there’s the fact that Lily was utterly in love with the bastard who deceived her, but ten days later is in love with Alec. Naturally, she didn’t really know what love was before. And Derek Hawkins – the cad – is such an over the top, one dimensional character that I found myself questioning Lily’s intelligence for falling for him. What we see of him is so ridiculous it’s difficult to understand how she was so taken in by him.

And – I can’t put this off any longer, but the amount of English-bashing in this book got on my nerves very quickly. Alec hates the English – his mother was English and didn’t like Scotland. She abandoned him. All the women who humiliated him were English. England is horrible, it has no redeeming features whatsoever and he hates it. I got the message early on; I didn’t need to be continually beaten over the head with it.

Ms. MacLean writes with her customary skill, and I am still intrigued by the parallels she is drawing in this series between the scandal sheets of old, and today’s celebrity culture; I liked meeting West and Georgiana again, and there’s a very much appreciated cameo from Cross. But otherwise, A Scot in the Dark was a big disappointment and I was so disconnected from it and the characters that I struggled to finish it.

The Soldier (Windhams #2) by Grace Burrowes (audiobook) – Narrated by James Langton

the soldier audio

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

His idyllic estate is falling down from neglect, and nightmares of war give him no rest. Then Devlin St. Just meets his new neighbor…

With her confident manner hiding a devastating secret, his lovely neighbor commands all of his attention, and protecting Emmaline becomes Devlin’s most urgent mission.

Rating: Narration – B; Content – B-

The Soldier is the second book in Grace Burrowes’ eight-book series about the sons and daughters of the Duke and Duchess of Windham and, as with the first book (The Heir), it features a number of recurring characters and family members. That said, the story works well as a standalone; anyone starting with the series here shouldn’t have any particular problems working out the various friendships and familial relationships.

Devlin St. Just is the Duke of Windham’s eldest son, although he was born on the wrong side of the blanket some time before the duke met and married his duchess. In fact, the duke was unaware of Devlin’s existence until he was around five years old, when his mother decided it would be better for her boy to be brought up in the comfort and security a ducal family would provide. Devlin was accepted into the family with open arms, growing up with his legitimate half-brothers and sisters and loved by them and by the duchess who looked upon him as she did her own sons.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals