A Notorious Vow (The Four Hundred #3) by Joanna Shupe

This title may be purchased from Amazon.

With the fate of her disgraced family resting on her shoulders, Lady Christina Barclay has arrived in New York City from London to quickly secure a wealthy husband. But when her parents settle on an intolerable suitor, Christina turns to her reclusive neighbor, a darkly handsome and utterly compelling inventor, for help.

Oliver Hawkes reluctantly agrees to a platonic marriage . . . with his own condition: The marriage must end after one year. Not only does Oliver face challenges that are certain to make life as his wife difficult, but more importantly, he refuses to be distracted from his life’s work–the development of a revolutionary device that could transform thousands of lives, including his own.

Much to his surprise, his bride is more beguiling than he imagined. When temptation burns hot between them, they realize they must overcome their own secrets and doubts, and every effort to undermine their marriage, because one year can never be enough.

Rating: B+

A Notorious Vow is the third book in Joanna Shupe’s The Four Hundred series, and quite possibly my favourite of the three.  In it, the daughter of a debt-ridden peer falls for a reclusive inventor who lost his hearing due to illness at the age of thirteen; it’s a bit trope-y, but the central love story is sensual and romantic as we witness the hero trying to talk himself out of love while the heroine tries to escape the self-doubt and insecurities that plague her as a result of her mother’s continual bullying and criticism.  I don’t think I’ve read a romance that features a deaf hero before; I can’t speak from experience as I’m not hearing impaired and don’t know anyone who is, but the author’s treatment of Oliver’s deafness and his reactions to the things he experienced as a result feel completely plausible and she pulls no punches when it comes to showing how misunderstood the condition was and the prejudice the deaf had to endure at the time the novel is set.

Lady Christina Barclay is viewed as nothing more than a means to an end by her parents, the Earl and Countess of Pennington.  Beautiful, well-mannered and demure, she has been brought up to obey her parents in all things and has been browbeaten by her mother for practically her entire life.  The family has fled to New York amid great scandal, and Christina knows her parents are planning to solve their financial worries by selling her off to the highest bidder. To escape her oppressive thoughts and her mother’s bullying, she spends a few hours every morning walking in the large, empty garden of the house next door, enjoying the peace and quiet for a few hours. She is aware she’s trespassing, but nobody has seen hide nor hair of the house’s owner in years, so it stands to reason she’s unlikely to do so.  Although she’s reckoned without the large dog, who, on this particular morning, bounds up to her and knocks her down, smacking her head against a bench and knocking her out.

Oliver Hawkes lost his hearing at thirteen and although he tried hard to assimilate into the hearing world, he was so often rejected and ridiculed that he eventually stopped trying.

He’d tried to carry on with what gentlemen considered a “normal” life after school. It had resulted in being called “dumb” and “broken” at every turn. Why should he try to fit into a society that so readily dismissed him?

Now aged twenty-nine, he keeps himself to himself, and is working on a device of his own invention that he hopes will eventually help those with hearing difficulties – not the completely deaf, like him – to hear more clearly.  He is very close to applying for a patent, but before he does that, wants to find a way of making certain parts of the device cheaper so its availability will not be limited to the wealthy.  He no longer leaves the house and interacts only with his friend – the doctor, who taught him to sign – and his butler, Gill, who has been with Oliver since childhood. But when he finds an unconscious young woman lying in his garden, he has no alternative but to carry her to the house and send for the doctor.

There’s an immediate frisson of attraction between Christina and Oliver despite the awkwardness of their first meeting.  And although Oliver tells her he doesn’t want her to visit his gardens again, he finds it impossible to be angry with her when, a few days later, he sees that she’s returned. He starts thinking over some of the things she’d said and realises that perhaps she’s unhappy… and discovers, to his surprise, that he wants to make her smile.

Oliver and Christina start spending a few hours together each day; she watches as he tinkers with his invention, he teaches her some basic sign language, and their mutual attraction deepens.  But then the thing Christina has dreaded happens –  she’s told she must marry a man old enough to be her grandfather who makes no bones about the fact that he wants a nubile, biddable young wife to hear him children.  Miserable, she tells Oliver what her parents have planned for her; he is appalled but tells himself he can’t get involved and merely suggests she should show her prospective bridegroom that she’s not as meek and biddable as he’s been led to suppose.  But when, a day or so later, Christina arrives in tears, clearly in acute distress, Oliver is forced to admit to himself that wants to protect her from anyone who would hurt her – and when her parents burst in on them,  they accuse him of compromising her and insist he marries her, having (of course) learned he’s incredibly wealthy beforehand.

Oliver resents the idea of being forced into anything.  It’s not that he doesn’t care about Christina or want to help her – he does, very much – but to be insulted in his own home and then forced to upend his life in a way that will undoubtedly distract him from his experiments … it’s not what he wants or had planned for himself.  But he can’t stand seeing Christina so upset, and he is eventually persuaded (by Christina’s cousin) to agree to the marriage.

The ceremony takes place that very night on the understanding that Christina’s parents are not to contact her afterwards and that as soon as the settlements are drawn up and paid, they will return to England.  Christina is almost unable to believe her sudden change in fortune – instead of marriage to an unpleasant, lecherous old man, she’s married to Oliver, a man she likes and is attracted to.  But Oliver, adamant he doesn’t want to be distracted from his work or to have his life change in any way decides that they should live separate lives, remain married for a year and then divorce (sigh – the let’s-get-married-and-then-get-it-annulled/divorced plotline has been done to death.).

Christina is disappointed and hurt when Oliver explains this to her, but she tries not to show it and determines to show her gratitude by doing exactly as her new husband wants.  Their romance is well-developed, growing out of a friendship that sprang up quickly but which is no less genuine for that.  They talk and laugh about many things, and discover that they’re both rather inclined to a quiet life and aren’t all that interested in the social whirl.  But after they’re married, Oliver spends a lot of time saying one thing and doing another, confusing Christina by giving off mixed-signals.  He tells her they needn’t interact, but then invites her to dine with him.  He sends her off to have dinner with a friend and then changes his mind and turns up at the restaurant – and soon he can’t help but admit to himself that wants Christina, as more than a friend.  Their romance isn’t all hearts and flowers though, and Oliver and Christina have some adjustments to make as they navigate their fledgling marriage.  Christina’s frustration at having her life dictated to her by others is starting to bubble over, and Oliver has to learn to step back and allow her to know what is best for her.  But most importantly, they are holding themselves back – not necessarily from each other, but from truly living their lives; they’ve become accustomed to playing it safe, and it takes an unexpected (and shocking) development to shake both of them out of their somewhat complacent attitudes.

One criticism I’ve made about other novels by this author is that she tends to throw in an eleventh hour suspense plot that is resolved rather too quickly and can feel a bit contrived.  There’s a similar final act drama enacted here, but because of the way it’s foreshadowed throughout the book, it feels more integral to the story, even though it’s resolved quickly and somewhat improbably.  In the grand scheme of things however, it was a minor issue and didn’t spoil my enjoyment of the novel.  A Notorious Vow is a gorgeously romantic, character driven love story featuring a pair of quietly appealing protagonists whose HEA is more than well-deserved.

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Duchess by Design (Gilded Age Girls Club #1) by Maya Rodale (audiobook) – Narrated by Charlotte North

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

In Gilded Age Manhattan, anything can happen…

Seeking a wealthy American bride who can save his family’s estate, Brandon Fiennes, the duke of Kingston, is a rogue determined to do the right thing. But his search for an heiress goes deliciously awry when an enchanting seamstress tumbles into his arms instead.

…and true love is always in fashion.

Miss Adeline Black aspires to be a fashionable dressmaker – not a duchess – and not even an impossibly seductive duke will distract her. But Kingston makes an offer she can’t refuse: join him at society events to display her gowns and advise him on which heiresses are duchess material. It’s the perfect plan – as long as they resist temptation, avoid a scandal, and above all, do not lose their hearts.

Rating: Narration – A- : Content – B

Duchess by Design is the first entry in Maya Rodale’s new Gilded Age Girls Club series of historical romances, set – not surprisingly – in New York’s Gilded Age at the end of the nineteenth century. While the premise – an impoverished duke who needs to marry money falls for a penniless woman instead – is a well-worn one, Ms. Rodale gives it a fresh coat of paint while also encompassing the many changes in society that were happening at the time and providing a solution to the central dilemma that is completely and absolutely right for this story.

Brandon Fiennes, Duke of Kingston, inherited a pile of debts along with his title, and is now faced with the time-honoured method of restoring the family finances, his crumbling estates, his tenant’s livelihoods and providing a dowry for his sisters. He must marry an heiress. On the advice of his cousin, Freddie, Lord Hewitt, Kingston travels to New York where his title will gain him an entrée in to the highest society and thus present him with his choice of current crop of Dollar Princesses – heiresses whose families have made huge sums of money from railways, manufacturing, real-estate and so on. It might not be what he wants for himself, but it’s the only way he can provide for all those who depend on him; even if he can’t marry for love, it will at least mean that his sisters will have the chance to do so.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

The Purloined Heart (Tyburn Trilogy #2) by Maggie MacKeever

This title may be purchased from Amazon

Poor Maddie Tate. Widowed with two children. An ordinary sort of female, no more memorable than a potted palm. Seven and twenty years of age.

Lucky Angel Jarrow. Temptation incarnate, lazy and spoiled – and why should he not be, when the whole world adores him, save for the notable exception of his wife?

Maddie Tate and Angel Jarrow. In the ordinary course of events, their paths might never cross. But then comes the Burlington House bal masque, when Maddie witnesses something she should not, and flees straight into Angel’s arms.

And he discovers that he does not want to let her go.

Mysterious masqueraders. Misbehaving monarchs. Political perfidy.

While in the background the ton twitters, and a fascinated London follows the Regent’s preparations for his Grand Jubilee.

Rating: B

A few months back I picked up Maggie MacKeever’s The Tyburn Waltz for a prompt in the TBR Challenge, and enjoyed it enough to want to read the other books in the Tyburn Trilogy.  At that point, only the second book – The Purloined Heart – was available, but I was pleased to learn the third was on the way, especially as it would feature two secondary characters from the first book who were clearly destined for one another. Although there are a couple of characters who appear in both books – most notably Kane, Baron Saxe – The Purloined Heart can be read independently of its predecessor, and proved to be an enjoyable mix of mystery and romance.

Maddie Tate is, at twenty-seven, the widowed mother of two young sons, and has gone back to live under her stentorian father’s roof.  Sir Owen Osborne Is dismissive and dictatorial, and Maddie fears he may try to separate her from the boys if she doesn’t dance to his tune.  But that particular dance is palling quickly and she’s chafing under her father’s constant criticisms of her manner, her clothes and, well, everything about her; hence her decision to sneak out to a scandalous masquerade being held at Burlington House one night, where she’s borrowed the costume that was supposed to have been worn by a friend who is unable to attend.  She’s nicely tipsy when a young gentleman dressed as Henry VIII approaches her and starts spouting Shakespeare and fiddling with the arrows in her quiver. (Get your mind out of the gutter!  She’s dressed as Diana the huntress!) Puzzled as to why Henry should have been lurking outside the ladies’ withdrawing room, Maddie follows him as he wends his way along the more private corridors of the house, watching as he enters an out-of-the way room. Hearing raised voices, Maddie peers through the keyhole, and witnesses a man dressed as an Egyptian pharaoh clubbing Henry over the head; he falls to the floor just as the door inconveniently swings open, revealing Maddie behind it.  She runs, only to collide with a gentleman dressed as a Cavalier, and demands he kiss her – to hide from her pursuer of course. One kiss turns into two… three, and into something more than a simple matter of expediency.

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

To Catch a Rogue (London Steampunk: The Blue Blood Conspiracy #4) by Bec McMaster

This title may be purchased from Amazon

An impossible heist. A thief and a rogue. But will she steal his heart, instead?

The Company of Rogues finally knows the identity of the mastermind behind a plot against the queen—but their enemy is still one step ahead of them. When he kidnaps one of theirs, the Rogues plan a daring rescue mission that will lead them into the heart of the bloodthirsty Crimson Court.

It’s a job for a master thief, and there’s nothing Charlie Todd likes more than a challenge. To pull off the impossible, Charlie needs a crew, including the only thief who’s ever been able to outfox him.

He broke her heart. But now she must risk it all to save his life…

Lark’s spent years trying to forget her past, but the one thing she can’t ignore is the way a single smile from Charlie still sets her heart on fire. When he proposes they work together again, it feels just like old times, but she has one rule: this is strictly business.

It’s Charlie’s last chance to prove he can be trusted with her heart. But Lark’s keeping a deadly secret. And as passions are stirred and the stakes mount, it might be the kind of secret that could destroy them all…

Rating: A-

To Catch a Rogue, the fourth book in Bec McMaster’s London Steampunk: The Blue-Blood Conspiracy series picks up more or less from where the previous book (You Only Love Twice) left off.  Like its predecessors, it’s a fabulous mixture of action, adventure, suspense and romance that pulled me in from the very first page and kept me utterly enthralled until the very end; I’ve been following the series from the beginning and can honestly say that it’s got better and better with each subsequent book.  One thing though – it’s definitely NOT a standalone, so if you like the sound of it, I’d strongly suggest going back to the beginning and starting with Kiss of Steel – I promise you won’t regret it.

There will be spoilers for the previous books in this review.

It’s been two weeks since the Company of Rogues finally uncovered the identity of their deadliest enemy, the person responsible for the plot to overthrow the queen and for unleashing all manner of chaos upon London.  Lord Balfour, former right-hand man to the cruel and evil prince consort was thought to have been killed by the Duke of Malloryn during the revolution which overthrew the ruling Echelon, but he survived and has been engineering his revenge – on the city and on Malloryn.  At the end of You Only Love Twice, the duke was captured by Balfour’s lackeys and at the beginning of To Catch a Rogue, we discover he’s been taken to Russia, where Balfour is masquerading as the consort of the Grand Duchess Feodorevna at the violent and deadly Crimson Court.

The Company of Rogues, the small band of spies, assassins, thieves and bounty-hunters assembled by Malloryn to fight the threat to London and the queen, knows where he has been taken and has put together a plan to get him out.  It’s going to be incredibly dangerous and incredibly difficult; the Crimson Court is deadly, merciless and ruthless and the only protection they will have is the diplomatic immunity afforded them by virtue of the invitation sent to Lord Leo Barrons to attend the celebrations commemorating the tsarina’s coronation.

Charlie Todd – who has been a recurring character through both series – has been working for Malloryn and the CoR for some months and, along with Gemma Townsend, has come up with a rescue plan.  But to pull it off, they’re going to need outside help, someone who has never met a lock they couldn’t pick or a wall they couldn’t scale, and Charlie knows just the person for the job.

Lark Rathinger and Charlie were practically inseparable until, on the night of the revolution, her adoptive father, Tin Man, was killed saving Charlie’s life and Lark herself was so badly injured that she’d have died if Charlie hadn’t acted quickly and infected her with the craving virus that turned her into a rogue blue-blood and saved her life.  Overwhelmed with guilt over Tin Man’s death Charlie left Whitchapel – and Lark – behind, and although they’ve seen each other occasionally since, nothing between them has been the same.  Lark doesn’t blame Charlie for what happened, but she is still angry at him for abandoning her when she needed him the most, and is determined never to let him know that he broke her heart.

When Charlie turns up out of the blue and asks Lark to join the mission to free Malloryn, she is tempted by the thought of working with him again.  They’ve always shared a strong connection, the ability – almost – to read each other’s thoughts, and she recalls the thrill of pulling off the most difficult, risky jobs like a well-oiled machine… but she also recalls that the last time they’d worked together someone she cared for had died.  So she refuses – until she realises that Charlie and the CoR won’t be mounting their rescue mission in England, but in Russia.

I’m not going to say more about the plot, which is multi-layered and brilliantly conceived.  The author creates a pervasive atmosphere of menace from the moment the CoR arrives at the Crimson Court, and there’s the real sense that one false move could lead to disaster (and probably a most unpleasant death).  Two other important storylines are skilfully interwoven with the scheme to rescue Malloryn; one concerning Lark’s hitherto unknown past, which is connected to the Russian court in ways nobody expected, and the other devoted to the romance between Lark and Charlie, something fans of the series have been long awaiting.  This is friends-to-lovers romance at its very best; it’s tender, sensual and gorgeously romantic and there’s never any question that these two people know each other inside out and care deeply for one another in spite of the past hurt and misunderstandings that lies between them.  Lark and Charlie have been in love with one another ever since they were old enough to recognise the feeling for what it was, and their years apart have done nothing to lessen the intensity of the pull between them.   Worried for Charlie’s safety, Lark tries to shut him out and remain aloof, but it’s impossible.  From the moment they’re reunited, the pair resumes the verbal sparring that has characterised their relationship, although now, they’re both aware of the undercurrents of sexual tension and desire that run beneath their banter; and soon, they’re addressing the issues that lie between them and confessing the truth of their feelings for one another.  Even so, Charlie knows Lark is holding something back from him (and it’s a doozy!) but he’s a patient man and hasn’t waited this long to be with her to give up now.

I never come away from a Bec McMaster book feeling as though I liked one of the principals more than the other, or that the hero didn’t deserve the heroine in the end, or vice versa.  Each one of her couples are well-matched in terms of intelligence, understanding and ability, and the relationships she creates are ones of mutual respect and equality.  Charlie and Lark are a case in point; they’re both extremely good at what they do, and they never underestimate each other’s ability to do what has to be done.  They want to keep each other safe, yes, but there’s no overprotective BS and their trust and confidence in each other is wonderful to see.  Lark is a great heroine; she’s gutsy and intelligent but with a hidden vulnerability that makes her more rounded and Charlie… *sigh*… Charlie is simply gorgeous.  Not just to look at (although a six-feet-plus, broad shouldered, blond Adonis is nothing to be sneezed at!), but he’s kind, intuitive and loyal – it’s his belief that Malloryn would come for him were he in trouble that is the driving force behind the rescue mission – and his willingness to wear his heart on his sleeve for Lark is swoonworthy:

“I missed you so much I could barely breathe, but I needed the time to work out who I was, and you needed the space to grieve. I missed you. Every day. Every night. Every breath I took.”

To Catch a Rogue is a fast-paced, action-packed, intensely romantic adventure that features a couple of terrific principals, an engaging secondary cast of familiar characters (some of the digs at Byrnes had me laughing out loud), truly menacing bad-guys, and a wonderfully complex and superbly executed plot.  I’m eagerly looking forward to the final book (Dukes are Forever) next year, although I’ll also be sad to bid goodbye to this world and these characters.  The London Steampunk books are dangerously addictive, but when they’re this good, who cares?

The Duke of Lies (The Untouchables #9) by Darcy Burke (audiobook) – Narrated by Marian Hussey

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

Verity Beaumont has suffered domineering men most of her life; first with her father and then with her husband. Free from both men, she has finally found peace even meeting a kind and hard-working gentleman who just might be the perfect father her young son so desperately needs. But as she dares look to the future, her carefully ordered world is shattered when her dead husband returns.

After six years away, Rufus Beaumont, Duke of Blackburn, returns to claim his place and protect his family. Only, the life he finds is not the life he left, and he must convince his wife that their marriage is worth fighting for; that he’s not the man he was.

When the truth about what happened to him leaks out, he must prove that not everything about him, especially his love for her, is a lie.

Rating: Narration – A- : Content – B

I’ve read and/or listened to a number of the books in Darcy Burke’s The Untouchables series and generally enjoyed them, but what attracted me specifically to The Duke of Lies was the fact that the premise is reminiscent of one of my favourite films, The Return of Martin Guerre. Set in medieval France, a man returns to his village – and his wife – after a long absence and is welcomed and accepted by all… until doubts begin to creep in as to whether he really is who he says he is. (The film was remade in the 1990s as Sommersby, and the setting shifted to the American Civil War).

In The Duke of Lies, the returning character is Rufus Beaumont, Duke of Blackburn, who has been absent for six-and-a-half years after disappearing without explanation during a visit to London. His wife, Verity, is not exactly heart-broken at her husband’s continued absence; he was a thoroughly unpleasant, boorish man who routinely ill-treated her and humiliated her, and she was actually relieved at the news of his sudden disappearance. At the beginning of the book, she is visiting an old retainer, the former steward of Beaumont Tower (Blackburn’s seat in the north of England), with her young son, Beau, whom she hadn’t known she was expecting until after she learned her husband had vanished without a trace. She has become concerned of late with the behaviour of the current steward – a man who was appointed by her interfering father – and has decided it’s time to do something about it and plans to dismiss him. Feeling lighter now that she’s made the decision, she returns home only to have her peace and happiness shattered by a completely unexpected – and unwelcome – arrival. Rufus.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

Beauty and the Brooding Lord by Sarah Mallory

This title may be purchased from Amazon

Ruined by a rake…

Rescued by the reclusive Baron!

Following the death of his fiancée, Lord Quinn has sworn off all matters of the heart. But when he happens upon an innocent lady being assaulted his sense of honour insists he step in and rescue her…even if that means marriage to protect Serena’s reputation! However, his new wife remains distant—a stranger to his bed. Can Quinn help Serena fight her demons and finally defeat his own?

Rating: B+

I’ve been bemoaning the fact for months that 2018 has been a pretty poor year for historical romance.   Thankfully, however, some authors are bucking that trend and many of those write for Mills & Boon (Harlequin) Historical.  Authors such as Louise Allen, Marguerite Kaye, Virginia Heath and Janice Preston have provided some excellent reads lately, and to that list, I’m adding Sarah Mallory, whose latest release, Beauty and the Brooding Lord is a rather lovely compromised-into-marriage tale in which a society beauty and a brusque, somewhat anti-social lord have to work at a relationship formed under difficult circumstances.

Serena Russington (whose half-brother, Charles, was the hero of The Ton’s Most Notorious Rake) is in her second Season and has yet to choose a husband.  She’s beautiful and has a considerable dowry so has no shortage of suitors… the trouble is that they’re all rather dull and she can’t face the prospect of spending a lifetime with a man who bores her and has no interest in her beyond her money and value as a potential brood-mare.  Having seen Charles fall in love and settle down, she has the (rather ill-conceived) idea that perhaps a rake – who will reform, of course – will make her a good husband, and to that end, arranges to attend an event at Vauxhall Gardens with the handsome Sir Timothy Forsbrook.  Unfortunately, however, she fails to take into account that his intentions may not be honourable, and instead of a trip to Vauxhall, finds herself being borne off to Gretna and to a hasty marriage.  It’s a long journey though, and when they stop for the night at an inn, Forsbrook is intent on sealing the deal by rape if necessary – but Serena’s screams are heard by another traveller who bursts into the room, sees immediately what’s going on, knocks Forsbrook out and takes Serena away.

This traveller is Lord Rufus Quinn, whom Serena had met briefly at a ball earlier that week and with whom she’d had a brief exchange during which she’d thought him rude and boorish.  But Serena is too shaken up and scared to think of anything but the terrible events that have overtaken her;  and as there is no suitable female to remain with Serena until such time as her family can collect her, Quinn takes her to his home – which is close by – where he entrusts her to the care of his housekeeper.  But while he has ensured Serena’s physical safety, keeping her reputation intact could prove problematic.  Quinn sends for her brother and sister-in-law – who doesn’t stop haranguing Serena about her thoughtlessness and ruined reputation – and they take her back to London, hoping that other scandals will prove juicier than any she has created, but word soon gets out that Serena was away overnight and it’s not long before the gossip starts.  Forsbrook is putting it about that Serena persuaded him to an elopement, and it doesn’t help that her mother – her father’s second wife – infamously ran away with her Italian lover, and society is quick to paint Serena with the same brush.  There’s only one thing to be done – Serena must be married off and removed from London until things die down and she can be made respectable again.

Through all this, nobody but Quinn notices how entirely subdued Serena has become.  Their one previous encounter showed her to be a lively, spirited young woman, but since the night he rescued her from Forsbrook, she’s been a pale shadow, self-effacing and drab – and he’s surprised to discover how much he wants to see the vivacious side of Serena again.  After a couple of weeks in the country, hearing from friends how much worse things are getting for her, Quinn heads to London to see for himself – and ends up offering for her.

Sarah Mallory does an excellent job in this novel of developing the relationship between Quinn and Serena and of getting across just how badly her near-rape has affected her.  The plotline of the heiress being abducted and compromised into marriage is a common one, but often, the villain is foiled before he can force himself upon the heroine; here, however, even though Ms. Mallory doesn’t show the violence brought to bear on her, the danger to Serena feels real, as do its after effects.   She loses herself for a while, attempting to fade into the background and to turn herself into the sort of quiet, biddable wife her sister-in-law insists men want.  She knows she behaved irresponsibly and now doubts her every instinct as a result, allowing her sister-in-law’s harsh criticisms to inform her decisions and mistrusting her new husband’s words and gestures of affection.

Quinn might have a reputation for being the rudest man in London, but when it comes to Serena he’s nothing but kind and thoughtful.  The majority of the book is dedicated to building the relationship and the trust between Quinn and Serena and it’s beautifully done.  Quinn’s kindness and attentiveness gradually coax Serena out of the protective shell she’s drawn around herself, and their affinity for one another and the emotional connection between them is palpable.  Sadly, however, the final few chapters of the book suddenly shift the focus away from the romance to a somewhat convoluted revenge plot which gives rise to a Big Mis on Serena’s part.  It’s a big tonal shift and if felt rather out of place, coming as it did at the end of what had been a gently moving, character-driven romance; I knocked off half a star/grade point as a result.

Even so, I’d definitely recommend Beauty and the Brooding Lord to historical romance lovers for its engaging and well-rounded principal characters and superbly developed romance.

The Governess Game (Girl Meets Duke #2) by Tessa Dare (audiobook) – Narrated by Mary Jane Wells

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

The accidental governess…

After her livelihood slips through her fingers, Alexandra Mountbatten takes on an impossible post: transforming a pair of wild orphans into proper young ladies. However, the girls don’t need discipline. They need a loving home. Try telling that to their guardian, Chase Reynaud. The ladies of London have tried – and failed – to make him settle down. Somehow, Alexandra must reach his heart…without risking her own.

The infamous rake…

Like any self-respecting libertine, Chase lives by one rule: no attachments. When a stubborn little governess tries to reform him, he decides to prove he can’t be tamed. But Alexandra is more than he bargained for: clever, perceptive, passionate. She refuses to see him as a lost cause. Soon the walls around Chase’s heart are crumbling…and he’s in danger of falling, hard.

Rating: Narration – A : Content – B-

If you’re a fan of historical romances, then you’ll know pretty much what you’re going to get from a novel by Tessa Dare. Something mostly frothy and fluffy (with maybe just a little bit of darkness), plenty of humour and flirty banter, and well-written naughtiness. What you won’t get is a great deal of originality when it comes to the plot, or historical accuracy when it comes to the situations or dialogue; there’s no real sense of being in the early nineteenth century other than, as happens here, a few references to people who lived at the time (in this case, a group of female astronomers and mathematicians – brava!). Anyone who knows me or reads my reviews regularly will know that I generally prefer historicals with a strong sense of period in which the characters operate (mostly) within the constraints of the time in which the novels are set; but I recognise that there are readers and listeners for whom that isn’t important and who just want to enjoy an engaging, well-written story.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.