The Duke of Danger (The Untouchables #6) by Darcy Burke

This title may be purchased from Amazon

After killing his opponent in a duel, Lionel Maitland, Marquess of Axbridge, is known as the Duke of Danger. Tortured by guilt, he shields himself with a devil-may-care attitude. However, when he kills another man in another duel, he’s beyond redemption, even though it wasn’t his fault. He refuses to smear a dead man’s name, especially when he’s left behind a blameless widow who doesn’t deserve an even bigger scandal.

Widowed and destitute, Lady Emmaline Townsend must marry the man of her parents’ choosing or beg unsympathetic relatives for support. The only way out is to ask for help from the one man she’s sworn to hate, the man who owes her anything she asks, the man who killed her husband. They strike a devil’s bargain in which passion simmers just beneath the surface. But her dead husband’s transgressions come back to haunt them and threaten their chance at love.

Rating: B

I’ve been enjoying Darcy Burke’s The Untouchables series, although I’ll admit I was rather disappointed in the last instalment, The Duke of Defiance and wasn’t sure I was going to read further. But I decided to put that one down as an aberration and I’m glad I picked up The Duke of Danger, which is a much more strongly-written and well-conceived story than the previous one. The eponymous duke isn’t actually a duke, but the ducal nicknames were invented – tougue-in-cheek – to show that the gentlemen in question were of the highest echelons of society and far above the touch of the young ladies who coined them – as well as to be alliterative ;). The Duke of Danger shows a different side to the dashing hero who has fought many duels and escaped with nary a scratch; Lionel Maitland, Marquess of Axbridge, is a man of great integrity and honour who has acquired his moniker because of his involvement in a couple of duels in which he either killed or badly wounded his opponent, but who in in no way sees these events as badges of honour. Instead, he is haunted by the fact he has taken life in cold blood and hates himself for it.

It’s with a heavy heart, and as a last resort, that Lionel calls out Viscount Townsend for threatening to besmirch the honour of a lady who is one of Lionel’s oldest and dearest friends. He gave Townsend every chance to recant, but the man refused, leaving Lionel with one alternative – he will shoot wide in order to merely graze his opponent and take whatever comes his way. But when Townsend turns and fires before the end of the count, Lionel reacts instinctively and out of self-preservation – and shoots the man in the leg instead. It’s believed the wound is not a fatal one – but days later Townsend dies and impulsively, Lionel pays a visit to his widow, telling her she can call on him if there is ever anything she needs. After that, as he has done before, Lionel leaves England to escape the gossip and in an attempt to dull the agony of regret.

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

Advertisements

My Fair Lord (Once Upon a Bride #1) by Wilma Counts

My Fair LordThis title may be purchased from Amazon

Lady Henrietta Parker, daughter of the Earl of Blakemoor, has turned down many a suitor for fear that the ton’s bachelors are only interested in her wealth. But despite the warnings of her dearest friends, Harriet and Hero, she can’t resist the challenge rudely posed by her stepsister: transform an ordinary London dockworker into a society gentleman suitable for the “marriage mart.” Only after a handshake seals the deal does Retta fear she may have gone too far . . .

When Jake Bolton is swept from the grime of the seaport into the elegance of Blakemoor House, he appears every inch the rough, cockney working man who is to undergo Retta’s training in etiquette, wardrobe, and elocution. But Jake himself is a master of deception—with much more at stake than a drawing room wager. But will his clandestine mission take second place to his irresistible tutor, her intriguing proposal . . . and true love?

Rating: C-


The first in her new Once Upon a Bride series, Wilma Counts’ My Fair Lord is exactly what one would infer from such a title; a Pygmalion inspired tale with the principal roles reversed. Our Covent Garden flower-seller is morphed into a London dockworker by the name of Jake Bolton and our professor is Lady Henrietta (Retta) Parker, eldest daughter of the Earl of Blakemoor, who is goaded into accepting a wager proposed by one of her sisters, that she – Retta – could transform “any worker off the London docks” into “your typical gentlemen of the ton.” It’s a popular trope (and the best version of it in historical romance, to my mind, is still Judith Ivory’s The Proposition), but unfortunately, in Ms. Counts’ hands it makes for rather a dull, pedestrian read, mostly because there’s a lot of telling and not much showing and there’s a distinct lack of chemistry between the principals.

Lady Henrietta is the only child of the Earl of Blakemoor from his first marriage, and she is several years older than her younger half-siblings, twins Gerald and Richard, and daughters Rachel and Miranda. The countess – her step-mother – resents Henrietta and, of course, favours her own children, something which wouldn’t bother Retta quite so much if it weren’t for the fact that her father knows it and does nothing about it. Disgruntled because the countess prevented her accompanying them to Vienna (where the Earl is to attend the Congress) and needled by the constant catty remarks made by her sisters over the fact that Retta is more or less on the shelf, she allows her irritation to get the better of her and is manoeuvred into making the above mentioned wager with spiteful Rachel. While her eldest brother, Gerald, urges caution, Retta’s stubborn streak won’t allow her to back down in the face of her sisters’ mockery, and the bet is made, even as Retta’s common sense tells her it’s a bad idea.

The search for a suitable subject starts the following day down at the docks and eventually settles upon Jake Bolton, who is, to say the least, surprised at the proposal set before him. But as luck would have it, his being installed in the London home of the Blakemoors could be just the thing Jake needs in order to uncover the identity of the person – or persons – responsible for leaking important government information which could undermine England’s negotiations in Paris and Vienna. For Jake is no dockworker; he’s Major Lord Jacob Bodwyn, a military officer and third son of the Duke of Holbrook who has been temporarily seconded to the Foreign Office on the orders of his commanding officer, the Duke of Wellington. The Blakemoors, along with several other prominent families, all of whom have varying degrees of access to sensitive information, have been under discreet surveillance for a while, and his removal to Blakemoor house will allow Jake to do some more close-up snooping.

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

Too Scot to Handle (Windham Brides #2) by Grace Burrowes (audiobook) – Narrated by James Langton

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

As a captain in the army, Colin MacHugh led men, fixed what was broken, and fought hard. Now that he’s a titled gentleman, he’s still fighting – this time to keep his bachelorhood safe from all the marriage-minded debutantes. Then he meets the intriguing Miss Anwen Windham, whose demure nature masks a bonfire waiting to roar to life. When she asks for his help to raise money for the local orphanage, he’s happy to oblige.

Anwen is amazed at how quickly Lord Colin takes in hand a pack of rambunctious orphan boys. Amazed at how he actually listens to her ideas. Amazed at the thrill she gets from the rumble of his Scottish burr and the heat of his touch. But not everyone enjoys the success of an upstart. And Colin has enemies who will stop at nothing to ruin him and anybody he holds dear.

Rating: Narration – B+ Content – B

Grace Burrowes has returned to her popular Windham family for her latest series, the Windham Brideswhich follows the romantic fortunes of four sisters, the nieces of the Duke and Duchess of Moreland. The ladies are in London for the Season and are residing with their uncle and aunt while their parents – the duke’s brother and sister-in-law – have taken an extended holiday-cum-second honeymoon in Wales. As is the case with all Ms. Burrowes’ books, regular readers and listeners will welcome cameo appearances from other characters from both this series and some of her other books, but newcomers need not be too worried, as these are usually secondary characters whose presence is easily explained and knowledge of their stories is not usually essential to the understanding of what is happening in this one.

In the previous book, The Trouble with Dukes, Megan Windham, the third youngest sister, met her match in the big, braw, brooding Hamish MacHugh, a former army officer and the newly minted Duke of Murdoch. In Too Scot to Handle, the author turns her attention to his younger brother, Lord Colin, also formerly of His Majesty’s army and who has remained in London so that his sisters can continue to enjoy the Season while Hamish and his new bride have decamped to Scotland. Like Hamish, Colin, though resourceful and more charming than his brother, is somewhat uncomfortable in the world of the ton and finds the process of learning its ins and outs and dos and don’ts rather trying. Even though he is the brother of a duke, a Scottish dukedom doesn’t rank quite as highly with the snobby sticklers of London society, so Colin is having to tread carefully to make sure of his acceptance. He is being helped in this endeavour by the advice of Winthrop Montague, a man who is invited everywhere, knows everyone and, in spite of not being wealthy, is regarded by all as an arbiter of excellent taste.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

Wanted: A Gentleman by K.J. Charles (audiobook) – Narrated by Greg Patmore


This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

Wanted, a Gentleman, or Virtue Over-Rated.

The grand romance of Mr. Martin St. Vincent – a merchant with a mission. Also a problem, Mr. Theodore Swann – a humble scribbler and advertiser for love.

Act the first: the offices of the Matrimonial Advertiser, London, where lonely hearts may seek one another for the cost of a shilling.

Act the second: a pursuit to Gretna Green (or thereabouts) featuring a speedy carriage, sundry rustic, a private bedchamber.

In the course of which are presented romance, revenge, and redemption, deceptions, discoveries, and desires – the particulars of which are too numerous to impart.

Rating: Narration – A- Content: B+

Wanted: A Gentleman is a standalone novella from the pen of K.J. Charles in which two very different men undertake a journey to foil an elopement and, along the way, discover that perhaps they’re not so very different after all. The audiobook clocks in at around four-and-a-half hours, but a thoroughly entertaining four-and-a-half hours it is, packing in plenty of social comment, witty dialogue, engaging characters, steamy love scenes and fascinating facts about the rigours of coach travel in Regency England.

Jobbing writer and part-time scribbler of romantic novels, Theodore Swann is the proprietor of the Matrimonial Advertiser, a weekly newssheet in which, for the price of a shilling, men and women can place advertisements extolling their virtues and setting out their requirements for a life partner. Into his dingy office one day bursts Martin St. Vincent, a tall, handsome and obviously well-to-do black man who makes it immediately clear that he is in no mood for pleasantries and explains that he wants to know the identity of one of his advertisers, a man calling himself “Troilus”. This individual has been corresponding with “Cressida”, the seventeen-year-old daughter of a wealthy merchant who is his former owner, and her father wants to put a stop to it. St. Vincent is brusque and to the point, cutting through Theo’s sales patter and asking him to name a price for his assistance.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

The Duke (Devil’s Duke #3) by Katharine Ashe

This title may be purchased from Amazon

Six years ago, when Lady Amarantha Vale was an innocent in a foreign land and Gabriel Hume was a young naval officer, they met . . . and played with fire.

Now Gabriel is the dark lord known to society as the Devil’s Duke, a notorious recluse hidden away in a castle in the Highlands. Only Amarantha knows the truth about him, and she won’t be intimidated. He is the one man who can give her the answers she needs.

But Gabriel cannot let her learn his darkest secret. So begins a game of wit and desire that proves seduction is more satisfying—and much more wicked—the second time around…

Rating: C+

I think it’s fair to say that those of us who review books do it because, well, we love books.  We love reading them, talking about them, hearing about them, writing about them and enthusing about them to others.  But when a novel you’ve really been looking forward to, written by an author you admire and whose work you enjoy turns out to be disappointing, it’s hard to sit down and face the prospect of laying out all the reasons the book doesn’t work.

But that goes with the territory, and I can’t tell you how much it pains me to say that The Duke, the latest instalment of Katharine Ashe’s Devil’s Duke series was quite the disappointment. I loved the first two booksThe Rogue and The Earl (I awarded both DIK status at AAR) and had hoped for more of what I’d found there  – a tightly-written, well-conceived plot, intriguing and engaging principals and an intense, character-driven romance … perhaps my expectations were too high, but I didn’t find any of those things here.

The story begins some five years before the principal events of the previous books take place. Aramantha Vale, younger sister of Emily (heroine of The Earl), lovely, vivacious and keen to do something with her life, travels to Jamaica to marry her fiancé, a young clergyman.  Just a couple of days after she arrives, there’s a terrible hurricane, during which she makes the acquaintance of a handsome young naval officer, Gabriel Hume, when they are forced to take shelter together in a cellar.  While her fiancé works to repair his church, Aramantha volunteers her services at the hospital, where she is surprised and pleased to meet Captain Hume once more.  As the weeks pass and the two spend a fair amount of time together, attraction sparks between them, something Aramantha recognises guiltily, but cannot help.  By the time Gabriel’s orders come through, they have agreed she is to call off her betrothal, and he asks her to wait for him to return; but when, not long after Gabriel’s  departure, she receives news of his death, she is utterly heartbroken and goes through with the wedding.  Not long after this, she discovers that reports of Gabriel’s death were greatly exaggerated and hears he has shacked up with a woman in Montego Bay.

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

Caught by the Scot (Made to Marry #1) by Karen Hawkins

This title may be purchased from Amazon

When the dark Duke of Hamilton loses his beloved wife, he heeds her dying wish that he make certain her three brothers marry well for she fears they are all headed to ruin. Heartsick, the Duke approaches the task with a heavy hand, ordering the three brothers to marry within three months or forego their inheritance.

The middle brother, the dashing Conner Douglas, is not about to give up his independence, but he knows marriage doesn’t always mean one much change, does it? If anything, being married to a pliable sort of female would give him even more opportunity to seduce the married women of the ton. So he heads straight for the most pliable female he knows – a childhood acquaintance and now mousy spinster, the English born and bred Miss Theodora Cumberbatch-Snowe.

Conner is so certain Theodora will joyously agree to marry him, that he takes his time traveling to her house and has only one month to secure her hand and marry. Yet when he arrives at her parents’ house he discovers that Theodora has just run away with a local landowner – a farmer, no less! Unknown to Conner, Theodora has been wildly, passionately in love with him for years. But she’s accepted he only sees her as a friend. Unable to sit forever in her parents’ front parlor and wait for what will never happen, Theodora decided to marry someone comfortable in the hopes they might at least become good partners.

Unaware of Theodora’s feelings, Conner isn’t about to let ‘the perfect wife’ get away so easily. But as Conner seduces Theodora, his own feelings stir. And after surviving a trip of mishaps and traps, he discovers that he can’t image her marrying anyone but him.

Rating: B-

Caught by the Scot is the first in a new series from Karen Hawkins which features a trio of brothers who are given four months in which to get married if they are to receive their respective inheritances under the terms of their sister’s will.  It’s an undemanding and very readable friends-to-lovers story in which the principal conflict comes from the fact that the hero and heroine want different things from life, and it’s touch-and-go as to whether they are prepared to compromise in order to be together.

In a sombre, almost heart-breaking opening chapter, we learn of the death in childbed of Anna, the Duchess of Hamilton, who has left behind a baby son, a grieving widower and the three younger brothers to whom she was more of a mother than a sister.  One of Anna’s dearest wishes was to see her brothers happily settled with families of their own, and in order to honour that wish, her husband presents Connor, Jack and Declan Douglas with an ultimatum; get married within four months or forfeit the fortune left them by their sister.  The brothers aren’t best pleased and, as each of them is quite secure financially, they aren’t too worried at the prospect of forfeiting the money – until the Duke tells them that he will give it to their family’s greatest enemies, the Campbells, if they do not do as Anna wished.

The brothers agree to the terms and are discussing the sort of wives they want when Conner hits upon the perfect solution to his situation.  Theodora Cumberbatch-Snowe, the sister of one of his best friends is well-born, practical and pretty enough, although rather quiet – and, as the daughter of a diplomat, will have no trouble managing his household in his frequent and lengthy absences overseas.  She’s on the shelf and is sure to be grateful for his offer, so Connor confidently expects to be able to do as his sister wanted within the time limit and decides to enjoy the last of his bachelorhood, nonchalantly waving off his brothers’ surprise that he isn’t going to propose to Thea straight away.  But Conner isn’t worried.  Thea’s safely stowed at her father’s house and will be waiting for him when he eventually shows up, right?

Wrong.

When Conner finally emerges from his month long carouse and arrives at Cumberbatch House, it’s to find the place in uproar following Thea’s elopement with a local squire.  Needless to say, Connor is shocked – and furious – that Thea hasn’t been calmly sitting there waiting for him, and sets off in pursuit, determined to bring her to her senses and make her his bride.

Thea has been in love with Conner for years, but knows he has never seen her as anything but his best friend’s little sister.  She also knows that Conner loves nothing so much as his career as a highly successful privateer; he loves the freedom to come and go as he pleases and doesn’t like staying in one place too long, things which are diametrically opposed to those Thea wants from life.  Having spent most of her life travelling with her parents as her father moved from one ambassadorial post to another, she is tired of not having anywhere she can really call home.  So when the handsome and very agreeable Squire Lance Fox starts courting her, she encourages his interest and accepts his proposal of marriage.

For once, Thea is going to do something exciting and unexpected… except she bargains without Lance’s inept driving which lands them in a ditch and their vehicle in need of repair.  This delay enables Conner to catch up with them at the first inn he comes to – and he almost immediately makes Thea the most arrogant, condescending marriage offer ever, to which she, not surprisingly, says an emphatic “no”.

Once Conner has recovered from the shock of being turned down in favour of another man he decides to try to convince Thea to break her engagement by proving to her that there is true passion between them.  But no matter how knee-weakening Conner’s kisses, Thea knows he’s wedded to the sea and is not the man to make her a home and spend his life at her side.  She continues to resist his sensual blandishments, at which point Conner realises he needs to change tack.  Rather than trying to sweep her off her feet, she needs to spend enough time with Lance to see what Conner has already seen – that she and her devoted fiancé are completely ill-suited.  Lance believes Thea to be something she’s not and Conner knows that he’ll drive her barmy within weeks.  Lance has the idea that Thea is a perfect specimen of demure womanhood and will meekly accept his every instruction and suggestion without complaint, whereas Conner knows all too well that Thea has a brain and knows how to use it; she’s not afraid to voice her own opinions and most definitely won’t appreciate being treated like some sort of delicate flower.

Conner’s machinations – which include engaging the most unsuitable chaperone in the history of chaperones – are devious and sometimes amusing, especially when they backfire and only make the likelihood of Thea’s changing her mind even more remote.  I liked that Thea is wise to his game, and also that as the ill-fated elopement continues, she sheds her rose-tinted view of Conner and sees him as the man he really is.  And Conner, well… he starts out seeming like a conceited git; he’s so sure that Thea will fall into his arms and weep with gratitude at the prospect of marrying him, yet it’s telling that she’s the first – and only – woman he thinks of when he learns he has to find a wife.  Of course, it takes the prospect of losing Thea to open Conner’s eyes to the truth of his feelings for her and for him to realise that he wants her enough to consider making some substantial changes to his way of life so that they can be together.

Ms. Hawkins writes with a very sure hand; the relationship between Conner and Thea is well drawn and the dialogue is sharp and often funny, but while I enjoyed Caught by the Scot, it didn’t have that certain something that elevated it from the merely “good”, and didn’t really offer anything I haven’t read hundreds of times before.  I also got very tired very quickly of the written out dialect; all the “dinnae”s and “cannae”s and “mon”s and “verra”s that are so often found in stories featuring Scottish characters, and which are completely unnecessary.  It’s not that I found the text difficult to read or understand, it’s just an affectation that annoys me; the author tells us this character is a Scot, so unless I’m told otherwise, they have a Scottish accent which I’m quite capable of imagining for myself.

With that said, fans of sexy Scottish heroes should find much to enjoy in Caught by the Scot, which is by turns poignant, sensual and funny.  I may well stick around for the next book to see how the next Douglas brother is Made to Marry.

The Rogue’s Conquest (The Townsends #2) by Lily Maxton

This title may be purchased from Amazon

Wallflower Eleanor Townsend is not like most women. She has no interest in marriage, the ton, or fashion. Instead, her heart lies with science. And when the opportunity to present a paper arises, she takes it, even though it means dressing as a man. But her disguise doesn’t quite work. Someone notices—and the brute intends to blackmail her!

Former prizefighter James MacGregor wants to be a gentleman, like the men he trains in his boxing saloon. His first step is gaining a beautiful, wealthy wife. Eleanor Townsend is not that woman, but a chance encounter gives him the leverage he needs. She’ll gain him entry to high society and help him with his atrocious manners, and in return, he won’t reveal her secret. It’s the perfect arrangement. At least until the sparks between them become more than just their personalities clashing. But there’s too much at stake for James to give in to his growing attraction.

Rating: C+

I loved Enchanting the Earl, the first book in Lily Maxton’s series about the Townsend siblings, which I called a “sweetly sensual character-driven romance” between a reclusive war hero and the free-spirited young woman who shows him that he’s a man worthy of love and acceptance.  I was impressed by the way the author balanced the various elements of her story and by the strong characterisation – which extended to the secondary cast as well as the principals – so I eagerly snapped up the next in the series, The Rogue’s Conquest, in the hopes of finding it to be an equally satisfying and enjoyable read.

As is shown by my grade, that wasn’t quite the case.  I didn’t dislike the story, but I didn’t really warm to either of the leads and never felt there was a strong romantic connection between them.  The pacing is off, too, with most of the emotional weight of the story coming well into the second half, and I suspect that wasn’t helped by the fact that the book is quite short – something between a long novella and a short novel. The protagonists and their relationship are not given time to properly develop, plus, when it’s time for the hero to admit his perspective has been completely wrong, he is able to shed the beliefs and ambitions he’s held for pretty much all his life in less time than it takes to blink the proverbial eye.

With their brother, the Earl of Arden, now happily married and residing with his wife at his remote castle in the highlands, his siblings Robert, Eleanor and Georgina, have removed to Edinburgh.  As close relations of an earl, they move in good society but Eleanor isn’t very interested in that; she is more concerned with the societal habits of insects – specifically, beetles – than the societal habits of humans. She has written several papers on entomology which have been published by the Natural History Society and has been invited to give a lecture – but of course, the society does not allow women members and Eleanor had to present her work as that of a man – Cecil Townsend – rather than as herself.

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