To the Duke With Love (Rakes of St. James #2) by Amelia Grey

This book may be purchased from Amazon

Sloane Knox, the Duke of Hawksthorn is guardian for his sweet, younger sister. Due to his misguided past as one of the infamous Rakes of St James, Hawk is hoping to avoid the Season by securing a match for her before it begins. He has the perfect gentleman in mind, but for one infuriating—and unexpectedly intoxicating—obstacle: the intended groom’s own sister, Miss Loretta Quick.

Having narrowly avoided her own arranged marriage to an unacceptable nobleman, Loretta is determined that her dear brother—a gentle, good-natured soul—should marry for love. Matching wits with Hawk may be her greatest challenge yet. . .until she realizes it may also be her greatest pleasure. For the young duke’s irresistible charm has not only begun to crumble her stubborn resolve, it has claimed her heart in true love as well…

Rating: D

To the Duke, With Love is the second book in Amelia Grey’s Rakes of St. James series and is both my first – and probably last – book by this author.  This is wallpaper historical romance by numbers, and I suppose the alarm bells should really have started ringing when I realised that the hero – who is an English duke – is named Sloane.  Which is such a common name for an English gentleman of the nineteenth century. (Not.)

So, here’s what we’ve got.  Sloane Knox, the Duke of Hawksthorn, wants to arrange a suitable match for his younger sister Adele before she makes her début, because a decade ago, he and two of his friends played a prank on that year’s crop of debutantes and now he fears someone will use Adele in order to exact retribution.  Hawk believes he has found the perfect mate for Adele in one Mr. Paxton Quick, a young, handsome and good-natured gentleman who lives … somewhere unspecified but far from London with his older sister, Loretta.  Hawk has reached this conclusion because he has never seen Quick:

“… too deep in his cups, and he never gambles more than a handful of DOLLARS at the table.”

Well, I’m not surprised at that last bit, because how could he?  Last time I checked, in England we use ENGLISH currency, strange as that may seem.

Hawk travels to Mammoth House in… some remote location, in order to discuss the match with Quick, only to discover that he is from home, and finds himself confronting the rather scrumptious, somewhat challenging Miss Quick instead.  And so begins the mental lusting. At the ONE PERCENT mark on my Kindle:

She looked pure, sweet, and completely untouched by masculine hands.  A sudden, deep rush of desire flamed through him, and the rhythm of his heartbeat changed.

By the end of the first chapter Hawk:

… wanted her with an intensity that he hadn’t felt in a very long time.

And in the next, we’re told our heroine is all a quiver because she:

… still wasn’t sure what to make of the new, startling, and unexplained feelings that had swept over her at the sight of him.  She wasn’t out of breath, yet she was breathless. She wasn’t dizzy, yet she felt light-headed. She wasn’t hungry, yet looking at him caused a ravenous appetite to rise up within her.”

For god’s sake, someone get the woman a sandwich!

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

Advertisements

The Negotiator (Games People Play #2.5) by HelenKay Dimon

This title may be purchased from Amazon.

Lauren Gallagher’s life changed almost three years ago. After her husband disappeared at sea, she was left with a failing pleasure boat company and more than a few secrets. Now, after years spent rebuilding the business and paying off the pile of debts, she finally feels in control. But when she finds her husband, actually dead, on the floor, she becomes the leading suspect in his murder investigation.

Garrett McGrath wants Lauren in his bed, not his heart. He doesn’t do emotions, but every time he sees her, holding himself back gets harder and harder. When Lauren comes under suspicion for killing her previously presumed-dead husband, he knows he has to help her, any way he can.

But as the danger becomes more intense and Garret and Lauren grow closer than either planned, they’re in danger of losing everything…including their hearts.

Rating: C+

In HelenKay Dimon’s Games People Play series, the heroes are all men who bonded in their youth when they were taken under the wing of someone named Quint, who saved them from the downward spirals they were in, helped all of them learn to utilise their unique skill-sets and set them on the straight and narrow.

Years later, the ‘Quint Five’ are all well-placed and powerful individuals who are often called upon by government departments and law enforcement to undertake missions and cases that they can’t touch.  In book one, The Fixer, we met Wren – an enigmatic man whose speciality is making problems go away – and his second-in-command, former Black Ops, professional negotiator, Garrett McGrath.

In The Enforcer (book two) Garrett was sent along to ride shotgun on the mission undertaken by Matthias Clarke, another of the five, whose private security firm is often used by Wren in the course of his business.  Garrett immediately captured my attention; his gregarious, wise-cracking ways were such a contrast to the gruff, taciturn Matthias (I do love a smart-mouthed charmer!) and so many tough-guy heroes are dark, brooding and almost miserable that it was a refreshing change to come across one who knew how to lighten up.   I’ve been looking forward to his book, but I confess that I’d hoped for a full-length novel rather than a novella.  I’m not the greatest fan of novellas anyway (few authors really know how to get them right) and Garrett is such a great character that he deserved more page time.

The Negotiator picks up a few months after the events of The Enforcer, which took place in the small, seafront town in Annapolis where Matthias was searching for a woman named Kayla Roy who was suspected of murder.   One of the secondary characters in the book was Kayla’s friend, Lauren Gallagher, who runs a pleasure boat and fishing tour business; and for the past few months, a rather smitten Garrett has travelled regularly to Annapolis to spend time with Lauren, who adamantly refuses to go on a date with him.  She tries to tell him it’s because she’s older than he is (by five years) or because she was a mess and … he could do better.  But Garrett is a shrewd man and knows there’s more to it than that – and he has his theories as to what that ‘more’ is.  Still, the one thing Lauren hasn’t said is that she’s not interested, so he continues to hope that she will eventually open up and let him in.

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

Scandal at the Christmas Ball by Marguerite Kaye and Bronwyn Scott


This title may be purchased from Amazon

One Christmas house party leads to two Regency love affairs! 

A Governess for Christmas by Marguerite Kaye 

At the glittering Brockmore house party, former army major Drummond MacIntosh meets governess in disgrace Joanna Forsythe, who’s desperate to clear her name. Both are eager to put their pasts behind them, but their scandalous affair will make for a very different future…

Dancing with the Duke’s Heir by Bronwyn Scott 

As heir to a dukedom, Vale Penrith does not want a wife, and certainly not one like Lady Viola Hawthorne. So why does London’s Shocking Beauty tempt him beyond reason? Dare he try and tame her, or is a Christmas seduction the best way to bring her to surrender?

Rating: B (B+ for the Kaye, C for the Scott)

Scandal at the Christmas Ball is the second collaboration between historical romance authors Marguerite Kaye and Bronwyn Scott, and, like their previous work, Scandal at the Midsummer Ball, takes place at the country estate of the Duke and Duchess of Brockmore, a widely liked, respected and highly influential couple who are regarded as powerbrokers within the ton and whose invitations are much sought after.

Among their guests this Yuletide are the duke’s nephew and heir, Vale Penrith, Lady Viola Hawthorne, a shockingly fast young woman who goes out of her way to do and say outrageous things, and a former officer of the Scots Guards, Drummond MacIntosh, whose army career ended somewhat ignominiously three years earlier, just after the Battle of Waterloo.


A Governess for Christmas by Marguerite Kaye (Grade: B+)

Ms. Kaye is one of the few authors of historical romance who regularly writes about untitled, non-aristocratic progatonists, and she continues that trend in this poignant, tender and sometimes heart-wrenching story about an ex-army officer and an ill-treated, down-on-her-luck governess who find each other one Christmas but who will face some difficult choices if they are ever to make a life together.

Drummond MacIntosh has lived a somewhat reclusive existence for the past three-and-a-half years owing to the huge scandal that attended his catastrophic fall from grace.  With his reputation in tatters, he has finally accepted that he needs help if he is ever going to claw his way back from ruin and carve out a new and useful existence.  No less a personage than the Duke of Wellington himself arranged Drummond’s invitation to the Brockmores’ Christmas house party, but as Drummond wryly notes, the Duke wouldn’t have done such a thing if it hadn’t been ultimately useful to himself; he needs a man of Drummond’s good sense, practicality and ability to lead men at his back and is presenting Drummond to Brockmore “for inspection” as it were.  The whole thing leaves a bitter taste in Drummond’s mouth; he doesn’t want to be beholden to Wellington (or to anyone) and certainly not on terms which attempt to brush years of exile under the carpet and blame Drummond for acting as his conscience dictated.

Drummond’s situation is mirrored by that of Miss Joanna Forsythe, a governess who has been invited to the party so she can meet a prospective employer.  Joanna had a comfortable position in the household of Lady Christina Robertson, but has been reduced to teaching at a ramshackle school in return for her bed and board, after she was wrongly accused of theft and dismissed without a character. Like Drummond, she has been invited to the Brockmores with a view to improving her situation, but also like him, the hoped for “improvement” falls short.  Joanna had hoped for an apology after her innocence was discovered and the real culprit owned up. But instead, her former employer wants to buy her off by the offer of an excellent new position and a sum of money.

Even before they know of the similarities of their respective situations, Drummond and Joanna are strongly drawn to each other and very soon find themselves exchanging confidences… and increasingly heated kisses.  I admit that the pair progresses to this stage rather quickly but Ms. Kaye creates such a strong emotional connection between them, and imbues their burgeoning relationship with such depth and longing that it’s possible to overlook its somewhat speedy beginning.  This is a pair of ordinary people in very difficult circumstances who demonstrate the importance of a spotless reputation to those who had to earn their living, for without it, there was little to no chance of their ever securing decent employment. But with Drummond on the verge of a prestigious appointment and a return from the cold, how can Joanna – and her tarnished reputation – stand in his way?

This is a beautifully wrought, heartfelt romance between two people in difficult circumstances.  I was completely gripped by Drummond’s story and applaud Ms. Kaye for the introduction of a character motivated by compassion whose actions were so misunderstood and reviled.  He’s not a character-type I’ve read in historical romance before, and I could be singing the author’s praises for that alone.  But added to a very well-crafted romance and a strong, determined heroine in the form of Joanna, A Governess for Christmas  makes my list of favourite seasonal reads.


Dancing with the Duke’s Heir by Bronwyn Scott (Grade: C)

In this story, a rather proper gentleman finds himself reluctantly fascinated by the most unsuitable sort of woman he could ever have imagined would attract him.  Vale Penrith, heir to the Duke of Brockmore, has still not recovered from the deaths of his father and older brother some years ago, and continues to find his role as a ducal heir somewhat ill-fitting.  He really would prefer to be left to his own devices in the library, but knows he will have to do his bit and take part in the various activities planned for the duration of the party.  He is also aware that while the Brockmores’ Christmas parties don’t have the same match-making reputation as their summer affairs, his uncle has a prospective bride lined up for him – something else he doesn’t want anything to do with.

Lady Viola Hawthorne, daughter of the Duke and Duchess of Calton, is a determined, high-spirited woman whose deepest desire is to go to Vienna to study music.  “The Shocking Beauty” as she is known, has quite the scandalous reputation, all of it designed to put off any suitors so she can remain unwed and pursue her dreams of Vienna and a musical career.  She reckons that one final, massive scandal at the Brockmores’ party should do the trick once and for all and cause her parents to give up on their attempts to marry her off.  Hence her decision to climb a ladder to hang mistletoe from a chandelier in the hall while wearing no underwear; perched at the top, affording the crowd of young men below a glimpse of her ankles (and possibly other things besides) she manages to achieve her end just before the ladder wobbles and she falls – literally – into the arms of Vale Penrith, who is appalled and annoyed at such reckless, outrageous behaviour.

Viola likes what she sees, but Penrith, while gorgeous, is a stuffed shirt and not at all the sort of man she’d be interested in.  But when her friend, Lady Anne, tells Viola that her parents are trying to arrange a match with Penrith while she – Anne – is in love with someone else, Viola agrees to help her out by providing a distraction.  The problem is that she finds herself being distracted by Vale – who is not at all the cold fish she had first imagined – as much as he is distracted by her, and the more time they spend together, the more they discover about what lies behind their social masks and the more they are drawn together.

I have to say straight off that I really didn’t care for Viola in this story.  I admired her desire to forge her own path in her life, but her methods – which are, basically, to shock as many people as often as possible – are childish, and she behaves more like a mistress or courtesan than a duke’s daughter, drinking spirits, smoking and playing billiards with the men.  I’m sure not all young ladies at this time were as pure and virginal as fiction would have us believe, but Viola goes a little too far in the opposite direction for my taste.  Vale is much more likeable, but because I disliked the heroine, it was difficult to understand what he saw in her beyond the physical and I found it difficult to believe that two people possessed of such opposing personality types could forge a lasting relationship.

If you’re more tolerant of the spoiled and outrageous type of heroine than I am, this story might work better for you than it did for me.


Ultimately, Scandal at the Christmas Ball is something of an uneven read, but is worth it for the Kaye story alone.

The Chase (Brides of Beadwell #3) by Sara Portman

This title may be purchased from Amazon.

According to his father’s terms, Michael Rosevear’s duty is to be ignored–until such time as he is useful. Now that the earldom is in need of funds, Michael is to be sold off in marriage to the daughter of a crass but wealthy merchant willing to pay for any connection to nobility–even one from the wrong side of the blanket . . .

En route to his fate in London, Michael does not plan to board an extra passenger. Yet there is something in the young miss’s desperate plea that tugs at his conscience–though he is certain her story is a fabrication . . .

Juliana Crawford has fled her father’s cruel home. Using a false name to evade pursuit, she must find a private traveler with whom to complete her escape. Chance matches her with a dark and wounded young lord who guards his own secrets just as carefully. The unlikely pair embark on a journey filled with revelations and unexpected adventure–one that may lead them to question whether to part at their destination–or change course entirely. . .

Rating: D

When one reads a lot of books, one learns to take book blurbs with a pinch of salt.  Those that give a basic outline of the plot are fine, but those that proudly proclaim how ‘exciting’, or ‘unforgettable’ or ‘unique’ a story is always see me raising a sceptical eyebrow and thinking, ‘yeah, right.’  Or wrong.  As is the case here.  The cover copy of new-to-me author Sara Portman’s The Chase promised a ‘thrilling romance’, but I think whoever wrote that must have lost their dictionary, or got hold of one in which the definition of ‘thrilling’ was ‘the feeling one experiences when watching paint dry.’ Because there is nothing remotely thrilling about a story featuring quite possibly the wettest, wimpiest, weepiest heroine I’ve think I’ve ever read, who is completely dependent on the hero to get her out of every single difficulty she faces.

Miss Juliana Crawford has spent all of her adult life acting as her father’s skivvy.  Hers has been a very lonely life, but throughout it all, she has had one thing to look forward to; the small inheritance that will become hers on her twenty-fifth birthday.  She knows her cruel, cold father will never allow her to receive it, so for years, she has hoarded every penny she can in order to buy herself a ticket that will take her away from her home village of Beadwell in Derbyshire.  She can’t afford to purchase a ticket to take her to London, (where she plans to visit the family solicitor to claim her inheritance) but hopes instead to be able to inspire the kindness of a random traveller to take her there.  Juliana has lived a very sheltered life, but I’d have thought her father’s example of bad-tempered selfishness would have been sufficient to tell her that relying on the kindness and good intentions of others is not really the way to go.

Anyway. Watching the various arrivals at the Bear & Boar coaching inn in Peckingham, Juliana surveys the available prospects (a large family, a mother and son) and in the end, approaches a well-to-do gentlemen who is travelling in a smart carriage with a coat of arms on the door, and asks if he will convey her to London.  The man is very surprised at her making such a request of a stranger, and warns her that her reputation will be ruined if she is known to have travelled with a man without a chaperone; Juliana insists she is not worried about it, and the man allows her to enter his carriage.

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

A Good Day to Marry a Duke (Sin and Sensibility #1) by Betina Krahn

This title may be purchased from Amazon

Daisy Bumgarten isn’t thrilled to be trying to catch a duke’s attention while dressed like a flower pot caught in a swarm of butterflies. But, after all, when in Rome (or in this case London society). . . . Since her decidedly disastrous debut among New York’s privileged set, the sassy Nevada spitfire’s last chance to “marry well” lies across the pond, here in England. If she must restrain her free spirit, not to mention her rib cage, so be it. She knows she owes it to her three younger sisters to succeed . . .

Now, under a countess’s tutelage, Daisy appears the perfect duchess-in-training . . . Until notorious ladies’ man Lord Ashton Graham, a distraction of the most dangerous kind, glimpses her mischievous smile and feisty nature—and attempts to unmask her motives. Daisy has encountered snakes on the range, but one dressed to the nines in an English drawing room is positively unnerving—and maddeningly seductive. When a veiled plot emerges to show up Daisy as unworthy of the aristocracy, will Ashton be her worst detractor? Or the nobleman she needs most of all?

Rating: B-

Betina Krahn is one of those authors I’ve been meaning to read for ages and haven’t got around to.  Most of her books were published before I got into reading romance in a big way, and she’s one of several authors whose backlists I mean to explore … when I get the time.  Happily for me, however, Ms. Krahn has embarked upon a new historical romance series entitled Sin and Sensibility, affording me the chance to sample something new from her. In the first book, A Good Day to Marry a Duke, we find an American heiress crossing the Atlantic – as did many so-called ‘dollar princesses’ in the late nineteenth century – in order to marry a titled gentleman.  She sets her sights upon the young and somewhat gauche Arthur Graham, Duke of Meridian, but she reckons without the havoc wreaked upon her emotions (and her libido) by his younger brother, Ashton, widely known as a rake of the highest order.

Daisy Bumgarten – and honestly, that name?  Are we supposed to think the heroine is a joke before the story even starts? – comes from a family whose money is so new that even the nouveau riche of New York society look down on them.  When Daisy scandalises all the other ladies present at the Bellington Hunt by wearing trousers under her skirts, riding astride, taking all the fences alongside the men and swigging spirits from her uncle’s flask, her mother is horrified and furiously points out that not only has Daisy ruined her own reputation by her reckless behaviour, but she has also scuppered her sisters’ reputations as well.  Daisy – at last – realises the enormity of what she’s done and decides she must make amends, so two years after the disastrous hunt, she travels to England with her uncle Redmond (Red) Strait and, having secured the sponsorship of the Countess of Kew, prepares to enter society and snare herself a duke. What better way to make it up to her mother and restore her sisters’ chances of marrying well?

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

It’s Hard Out Here for a Duke (Keeping Up with the Cavendishes #4) by Maya Rodale

This title may be purchased from Amazon

Some Mistakes…

When American-born James Cavendish arrives in London tomorrow, he’ll become the Duke of Durham. Some might be ecstatic at the opportunity. Not James. He’s a simple man, fond of simple pleasures. And right now, nothing could be more pleasurable than spending his last night of freedom with a beautiful stranger.

Are Far Too Good…

One wild night, Meredith Green, companion to the dowager Duchess of Durham, said yes to a man she thought she’d never see again. Suddenly, they’re living under the same roof, where Meredith is expected to teach James how to be a duke—while trying not to surrender to temptation a second time.

To Be Forgotten

For a duke and a commoner, marriage would be pure scandal. Yet nothing has ever felt as right as having Meredith in his arms… and in his bed. Soon he must choose—between a duty he never desired, and a woman he longs for, body and soul…

Rating: B+

I seem to have spent a bit of time lately saying “don’t let the stupid title put you off reading this book because it’s really good” – and now I’m saying it again.  This fourth book in Maya Rodale’s Keeping Up With the Cavendishes series is the best of the set once you get past yet another vomit-inducing excursion into Craptastic-Titles-R-Us, so try not to let it put you off reading what is actually a very well-written, tender and poignant story that is as much about the two central characters working out what it really means to be true to oneself as it is about their love for each other.

Readers who have been following the series will know that the four Cavendish siblings – James and his sisters Claire, Bridget and Amelia – have recently come to London from their home in America owing to the fact that James has unexpectedly inherited a dukedom he doesn’t want.  He would be more than content to remain at the family ranch doing what he does best and what he loves – breeding and raising horses – but is prompted to come to England because of his concern for his sisters.  All of them are no longer young (by early nineteenth century standards!) and perilously close to being on the shelf; and James thinks that perhaps moving to England will improve their prospects of making a good marriage.  He also thinks he should at least keep an open mind about the dukedom and what it entails – but the closer he gets to English shores, the more anxious and uncertain he becomes.

He and his sisters are to stay the night at an inn in Southampton before resuming their journey to London.  When they’ve gone to their rooms, James stays downstairs in the tap-room and is pondering his fate, when he notices a lovely young woman sitting alone at the bar.  He can’t keep his eyes off her, and her shy glances indicate some interest on her part, too.  James approaches her, they strike up a conversation and agree to spend the night together, ‘Just James’ and ‘Just a girl’ he’s met at a bar.

Yes, the idea that a respectable young woman at this period would sit alone at a public bar and then agree to a one night stand with a man she just met is a bit of a stretch of credulity, but it’s worth getting past it in order to enjoy the rest of the story.

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

The Lady and Mr. Jones (A Spy in the Ton #4) by Alyssa Alexander

This title may be purchased from Amazon.

Born in the rookeries, the hard life is something Jones is all too familiar with. Saved as a young boy, he was trained to be a spy, one of the best–elite, in fact. He now spends his days serving His Majesty in espionage, hunting rogue spies.His latest assignment, though, has him tracking a fellow spy…

Cat Ashdown is a baroness. Nothing is more important than protecting five hundred years of heritage. She knows every detail of every estate that commands the largest income in Britain— yet her father placed her inheritance in trust to her uncle who is forcing her to marry a man she has no desire for. The baroness’s battle against law and convention leads her to Jones and results that are surprising … and possibly unwanted.

Rating: B

The Lady and Mr. Jones, the fourth and final (I think?) book in Alyssa Alexander’s A Spy in the Ton series turns the spotlight on the eponymous Jones, a secondary character in previous books and a member of the elite spy ring that includes Shadow, Angel and the Flower.  Picking up some of the threads laid out in the previous book, A Dance with Seduction, Ms. Alexander has crafted a tender cross-class romance which plays out alongside an engaging suspense plot which sets spy against spy in a perilous, high-stakes game of cat-and-mouse.  I enjoyed the book and the characters, although the ending is a little weak and brought my final grade down a notch.

Jones – who doesn’t appear to have any other names – is a lad from the streets; an orphan from the rookeries who was plucked from poverty and trained by the best of the best in the art of spycraft.  Deeply loyal and honourable to a fault, Jones is so discreet, skilful and efficient that he is the man his superiors turn to when they need to keep an eye on one of their own.  In A Dance with Seduction, we met the Flower and her handler, Henry, Lord Wycombe, another member of Britain’s intricate network of spies and informants.  As the story progressed, it became clear that Wycombe was involved with something underhand and that his position had become compromised in some way – and now, Jones is assigned to keep watch on him and discover the truth about his activities and allegiances.

Lady Mary Elizabeth Frances Catherine Ashdown, the Baroness Worthington, is one of the richest women in England – or she would be if her late father hadn’t tied up her money in such a way that she is dependent on her guardian – her uncle, Viscount Wycombe – until she marries or reaches her thirty-fifth birthday.  Cat is one of the few women in England to bear a title in her own right (the barony is over five hundred years old, and as is the case with some of the oldest titles, can be held by a female) and she takes her responsibilities to her title and those who depend on her very seriously.  But her requests for funds to make improvements and repairs to the estate at Ashdown Abbey are continually blocked by her uncle and trustees and she is increasingly suspicious of Wycombe’s motives. She’s also furious, but her uncle is a dangerous and unpleasant man and she knows better than to reveal her feelings; instead she decides to pay for the repairs to her tenants’ cottages using her allowance.  Well aware that not all the servants at Worthington House are loyal to her, Cat slips from the house in order to post her letter of instruction to her steward – but on the way back, is accosted by a ruffian who tries to abduct her.

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