You May Kiss the Bride (Penhallow Dynasty #1) by Lisa Berne (audiobook) – Narrated by Carolyn Morris

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

Wealthy and arrogant, Gabriel Penhallow knows it’s time to fulfill his dynastic duty. All he must do is follow “The Penhallow way” – find a biddable bride, produce an heir and a spare, and then live separate lives. It’s worked so well for generations, certainly one kiss with the delectable Livia Stuart isn’t going to change things. Society dictates he marry her, and one chit is as good as another as long as she’s from a decent family.

But Livia’s transformation from an original to a mundane diamond of the first water makes Gabriel realize he desperately wants the woman who somehow provoked him into that kiss. And for all the ladies who’ve thrown themselves at him, it’s the one who wants to flee whom he now wants. But how will he keep this independent miss from flying away?

Rating: Narration – A- Content – D+

I admit that I picked up You May Kiss the Bride for review solely because of Carolyn Morris. Reviews for this début historical romance, the first in Lisa Berne’s Penhallow Dynasty series have been mixed, but I knew I’d at the very least enjoy the narration, so I decided it give it a go. In the end, my opinions about the story are pretty much along the same lines as the less than glowing reviews; it’s nothing I haven’t read before and the author’s inexperience shows clearly in terms of the storytelling and characterisation.

Livia Stuart hasn’t had an easy life. Orphaned in India when she was a child, she was sent back to England and resides with her listless aunt and drunken uncle, who never really wanted her and who wouldn’t miss her if she disappeared. She is constantly patronised by her neighbour and local mean girl, the Honourable Cecily Orr, who pretends friendship but in reality does everything she can to make “dear Livia” aware of her inferior situation, insisting on giving her her cast off gowns and never missing an opportunity to point out Livia’s status as a poor relation.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

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Christmas in Duke Street (anthology) by Miranda Neville, Carolyn Jewel, Shana Galen and Grace Burrowes

Christmas in Duke Street

This title may be purchased from Amazon

Christmas in London is a busy time at the little bookshop in Duke Street, for love, literature, and shopping. Four couples come and go and discover that happy ever after makes the perfect Christmas gift. A new anthology from the bestselling authors of Christmas in the Duke’s Arms and Dancing in the Duke’s Arms.

Rating: B

Christmas in Duke Street is the third anthology from four of the most popular authors of historical romance and, as with last year’s Christmas in the Duke’s Arms is a set of seasonal novellas that are loosely linked together, this time through the part played in each story by the unassuming Duke Street Bookshop. Otherwise known as On The Shelf, a name coined by some wag who noticed the place’s popularity with the spinsters of London, the nickname also serves to distinguish it from the other – more famous – Duke Street, in a more fashionable area of the West End.

The Rake Who Loved Christmas

– by Miranda Neville
Grade : B      Sensuality : Warm


Miranda Neville’s The Rake Who Loved Christmas is first up, and introduces us to Sir Devlyn Stratton, a wealthy man-about-town who, in the face of current fashion, loves Christmas and the process of selecting gifts for the family he adores. This year’s festivities, however, are tinged with sadness, as it will be the first Christmas the family has spent without Dev’s father, and he is finding it difficult to adjust.

The widowed Oriel Sinclair lives with her cantankerous, invalid father above their print shop next-door to the book shop in Duke Street. Business is poor and she is struggling to make ends meet; but a brief meeting with a handsome stranger in the book shop next door allows her to forget her problems, if only for a few moments. She knows it’s ridiculous to dream of such a man, but she can’t stop thinking about him, even though she has no idea who he is.

When his younger brother tells him that he doesn’t want to marry the young lady he is expected to wed because he is in love with someone else, Dev thinks Merrick has fallen prey to a fortune-hunter. Discovering that the object of his brother’s affections is none other than intriguingly lovely woman he had met earlier that day in a bookshop is a double-strength blow to Dev. Not only is he going to have to hurt his brother’s feelings by detaching him from her, but the woman for whom he experienced such a strong attraction is nothing but a heartless mercenary.

Dev’s ideas about Oriel’s nefarious scheme are, of course, the product of his own jealousy, and he finds himself unable to maintain them the more he gets to know her. The pair dances around each other delightfully, and there is a real poignancy and sense of longing to many of their interactions. Watching Dev struggle with missing his father and then with his feelings for Oriel is very affecting, and even though he is an idiot to begin with, he is easy to sympathise with and I was very quickly rooting for him and Oriel to find their way to each other.

 

A Seduction in Winter

– by Carolyn Jewel
Grade : B      Sensuality : Warm


Carolyn Jewel’s contribution, A Seduction in Winter is the story of a badly scarred young woman and her reunion with the childhood friend who had been her champion when others were cruel to her because of her marred looks. Over the years, Honora Baynard has followed the military career of Lord Leoline Marrable, sure that he has never given her a second thought. She lives a secluded life with her father, a renowned artist, and they visit London once a year, but even then Honora doesn’t go into society. Her father thinks he is protecting her from hurt by insisting that she stays at home or wears a thick veil every time she goes out, so that Honora has begun to think of herself as ugly and to believe that she should not inflict the sight of her scarred visage upon others. When Leo returns to London, she has no hopes of meeting him – until he walks into the Duke Street Bookshop one day just before Christmas.

There is a charming, wistful feel to the writing in the early stages of this story as the reader comes to know Honora as a young woman who has been brought to feel unloveable through the well-meaning but misguided intentions of her father. Leo always felt a strong connection to her, even as a child, and is pleased when he discovers that connection has not faded during the years of their separation. Where Honora and her father see only her scar, he sees a beautiful young woman who has been cheated out of living her life, and he is determined that she should come to see herself as he sees her, and not as something hideous to be hidden away. The relationship between the two is well-drawn, although I thought that perhaps Honora was a little too quick to set aside the years of conditioning which made her dislike showing her face to others. Overall, though, this love story is full of genuine affection and tenderness, and there is plenty of chemistry between the leads.

 

A Prince in Her Stocking

– by Shana Galen
Grade : B      Sensuality : Warm


Shana Galen’s A Prince in Her Stocking is a companion piece to the story which appeared in this summer’s anthology, Dancing in the Duke’s Arms – in which Princess Vivienne of the fictional kingdom of Glynaven is on the run from the revolutionaries who have killed her family. In this story, we meet her brother, Lucien who is also in hiding and believes himself to be the sole survivor of the revolution. Practically destitute, Lucien is living on the streets of London and haunting the Duke Street Bookshop by day, searching for the papers which can prove his identity which he believes to have been included in a shipment of books sent to England by his mother.

Lady Cassandra Ashborne (Cass) has always been rather shy and unassertive, and even though she is now a widow (her late husband was old enough to be her grandfather) lives under the thumb of her domineering sister-in-law.

On one of her frequent visits to On the Shelf, she hears rumours that the handsome young man she sees there every day is actually a prince, and while on the one hand she tells herself that’s ridiculous, on the other, she can’t help being curious about him. Plucking up the courage to speak to him, Cass is surprised by the strong attraction she feels towards him, and, knowing that she is unlikely ever to have the opportunity to feel such emotions again, is determined to pursue a further acquaintance with him. This is a lovely story about a young woman emerging from her shell and finding the courage to take charge of her own life. There’s a bit of action, too, and we once again meet Vivi and her duke as Lucien strives to keep Cass safe at all costs, even if it means sacrificing his own happiness.

 

The Appeal of Christmas

– by Grace Burrowes
Grade : B+      Sensuality : Warm


The final story, The Appeal of Christmas by Grace Burrowes, is probably my favourite of the set, because I’m a sucker for a good friends-to-lovers story. Sensible, dependable Hazel Hooper has been in love with Gervaise Stoneleigh for years, but the highly respected lawyer has been far too busy to see it. He doesn’t enjoy Christmas and seeks refuge in On the Shelf, the sights and smells offered by all those wonderful books a welcome distraction from thoughts of the seasonal visits he will be expected to make to his family.

While browsing, he finds a love letter tucked among the pages of a book of poetry and is so taken with the words that he tucks it away to read properly later, intrigued by the sentiments expressed and wondering about the identity of the author. His re-readings, however, prompt him to wonder more about the nature of the man who could have inspired such feelings in a woman, and then to feel that he would like to be such a man. At the same time, he gradually comes to realise how much he has taken Hazel for granted over the years; how she has always put his needs above hers and how she shows him through so many small considerations how much she cares for him.

Ms Burrowes creates a lovely, festive atmosphere with her descriptions of the sights, sounds and smells associated with going Christmas shopping in the London streets. The protagonists are likeable characters whose verbal interactions are witty and often very funny, as are Hazel’s one-sided conversations with her cat. There’s real depth to their friendship, and a delicious sensuality simmering between them after what should have been a simple buss on the cheek turns into a lingering kiss that is going to change their friendship for ever.


All four stories in this anthology are well-written, entertaining and can be read in any order, in one sitting or in several, which is, I suppose, the beauty of anthologies. Christmas on Duke Street is another set of enjoyable, feel-good stories from this group of talented authors and one I’d certainly recommend to anyone seeking their seasonal historical romance fix in short bursts when there isn’t time to sit down with a full-length novel.

Dancing in the Duke’s Arms – A Regency Romance Anthology by Grace Burrowes, Shana Galen, Miranda Neville and Carolyn Jewel

dancing in the dukes arms

Why Do Dukes Fall in Love?

Every summer the cream of society gathers at the Dukeries, named for the ducal estates concentrated in one small corner of Nottinghamshire. While the entertainments include parties, balls, and a famous boat race, the ducal hosts and their guests find heartbreak, love and happy endings.

Four heartwarming stories from four bestselling historical romance authors.

Rating: B

As is common with anthologies, some stories in Dancing in the Duke’s Arms work better than others. My favourite of this set is Miranda Neville’s, The Duchess of Scandal in which an estranged couple find themselves back under the same roof due to a scheduling error. The very proper Duke of Linton proposed marriage to a young lady twelve years his junior, secure in the knowledge that no woman in her situation could possibly turn down such an offer. For the three weeks of their honeymoon, they were blissfully happy, but following their return to London, the rot sets in. Linton takes his responsibilities to his estates and in parliament very seriously, and his days are so full that he unintentionally neglects his eighteen year-old bride, and Althea’s only real company is her twin brother Nicholas. She ends up spending more time with her brother and his rather fast set and getting herself a name as a bit of a flirt. Annoyed at the gossip, and the fact that his wife always seems to be surrounded by crowds of young men, Linton seethes with annoyance and frustration, his admonitions and criticisms of her behaviour becoming more frequent. Things go from bad to worse and after six months, the Lintons agree to live separate lives.

I always like a good second-chance romance, and this, although only novella length, is a good one. The gentle reminders of what their life could have been like are poignant and well-written, as is the gradual reawakening of the couple’s feelings for each other. The greatest danger with the shorter format is that the romance will feel rushed, but it didn’t feel that way here and I thought it was a really lovely read. B+

Grace Burrowes’ contribution, May I Have This Duke? does feel somewhat rushed, but I loved it because it was so damn funny and had me laughing on several occasions. The Duke of Hardcastle is put out when the governess to his six-year old nephew suddenly announces her intention of leaving his employ. Miss Ellen MacHugh needs to return to her family in the north of England, and is adamant that nothing will change her mind. He has no idea, of course, that she’s in love with him and doesn’t want to be around when he takes a wife, which is something he can’t put off for much longer.

Hardcastle is engaged to attend the Duke of Sedgemere’s house-party in the Dukeries (and yes, it’s a real place! The county of Nottinghamshire actually contains a large number of ducal estates, and was given the nickname in the nineteenth century), and as his nephew will be accompanying him, so will Ellen, and at the end of the party she will depart for her home.

Even though Hardcastle needs a wife, he doesn’t relish the prospect of being tricked into a compromising situation by a Machiavellian debutante and forced into marriage; and he also doesn’t like the idea of Ellen being pursued by the young bucks at the party. He suggests they provide cover for each other; by acting smitten with one another, she will preserve him from the scheming young ladies and he can protect her from the unwanted attentions of the men.

I admit that things do progress quite quickly and the ending is a bit too perfect, but I didn’t mind that, because the verbal exchanges between Ellen and Hardcastle are so often hilarious. Grace Burrowes has a very distinctive writing style which can seem quite formal – the characters often address each other by their full names, for example, or express themselves in a roundabout way – but here, that formality just adds to the humour and tenderness of Ellen and Hardcastle’s delightfully flirtatious banter. B

Carolyn Jewel’s An Unsuitable Duchess is the story of the very reserved and stern Duke of Stoke Teversault and the young woman whose sunny, outgoing nature and delight in the world around her shows her to be his complete opposite. The duke has been in love with Georgina for years, but missed his chance with her when she accepted a proposal from another man. Married quickly, she was happy with her husband, but he died a year after their marriage, and she has only just come out of mourning. Stoke is as attracted to her as he ever was, and she can’t forget his kindness to her after her husband died, yet she feels he disapproves of her and doesn’t really like her. It’s obvious that his dislike is nothing of the sort, and that he’s worried about both feeling and showing too much around her, yet he’s drawn to her vivacity and her amazing zest for life.

Georgina – or George, as her friends have nicknamed her – has no inkling of the true nature of Stoke’s feelings for her, but has no problem in identifying hers for him – she is astonished to discover that she desires him, this seemingly calculating, forbidding man who is not at all handsome by conventional standards and who disapproves of her for no reason she can discern.

Georgina is a lot of fun who knows she will never be a model of ladylike behaviour. She loved her husband and obviously had an enjoyable sex-life – she knows what’s what and can own up to what she wants. Stoke is the strong, silent type who doesn’t really know how to act towards the woman he loves and desires to distraction. They’re a mismatched pair, but the attraction between them is impossible to ignore, even though George realises that Stoke will probably break her heart. C+

The least successful story of the four is Shana Galen’s Waiting for a Duke Like You, in which the gorgeous piece of male perfection that is Nathan, the Duke of Wyndover literally stumbles across a damsel in distress and has to save her from those who wish to do her harm. Shana Galen has written a number of action-packed romances but translating that to novella format hasn’t worked here, because both elements – the romance and the princess-in-peril plot – are too rushed and require too great a suspension of disbelief.

Princess Vivienne of Glynaven saw her family massacred and barely escaped her home with her life. She has travelled to England to seek the assistance of the king, but a group of assassins are on her tail and it won’t be long before they find her. Knowing that the Prince Regent is due to attend the ball at the Duke of Sedgemere’s house-party, she makes her way to his estate, only to collapse due to cold and hunger. She is found by Nathan, who met her briefly in Glenaven eight years previously and fell in love with her. He has never stopped loving her, but Vivienne never took much notice of him, having a dislike for men who are prettier than she is.

Um… yeah. That was such a daft reason for not liking someone that I just couldn’t buy it. On top of that, the romance never really gets off the ground and the entire thing is just too rushed for my taste. C

I enjoyed reading Dancing in the Duke’s Arms, even though the quality of the stories varies. But the great thing about an anthology like this is that if you don’t like one story, you can always jump to the next.

Ultimately, it’s worth buying for the Miranda Neville story alone, and the Grace Burrowes one is a nice bonus. The other two didn’t work quite so well for me, but this is still a fun collection and one that’s worth considering as a holiday read as each story can be read in an hour or so while you’re soaking up some sun!

A Notorious Ruin by Carolyn Jewel

notorious ruin#

All the widowed Lucy Sinclair Wilcott wants is to save enough money to move to a cottage of her own and keep her younger sister safe from the consequences of their father’s poor judgment. No one is more aware than she how thoroughly her first marriage ruined her. She could not remarry if she wanted to. Then the Marquess of Thrale comes to visit and long-absent feelings of desire surge back.

Everything Lord Thrale believes about the beautiful Mrs. Wilcott is wrong. The very last woman he thought he was interested in proves to be a brilliant, amusing, arousing woman of deep honor who is everything he wants in a lover, for the rest of his life. If only he can convince her of that.

Rating: B

A Notorious Ruin is the second book in Ms Jewel’s series about the four Sinclair sisters, which began with Lord Ruin back in 2002, so there’s been a bit of a long gap between books one and two!

The eldest sister is Anne, who is now married to the Duke of Cynssyr, the youngest is Emily, and in the middle are Mary (Lady Aldreth) and Mrs Lucy Wilcott, who is widowed and back living at the Cooperage with her father and Emily.

It’s widely known that Lucy married beneath her; her late husband was a prizefighter, and the gossip is that they eloped. Thus, Lucy’s reputation is in tatters and the local tabbies have no compunction in regularly delivering barely veiled insults and generally treating her as if she’s no better than a whore – which is how most of the men view her. Following her husband’s unexpected death, Lucy moved back to her father’s house where a condition was imposed on her that she would never speak of her husband or the circumstances of her marriage, so that even her sisters don’t know the truth – that she married Mr. Wilcott at her father’s urging because he needed money to pay off his massive debts.

I had forgotten how much I’d disliked Mr Sinclair in Lord Ruin. He’s almost permanently drunk, incredibly selfish and, having sold Lucy for money once, isn’t above doing it again. All Lucy wants at this point is to be left alone; she is quietly saving money and will soon have enough to be able to move out of the Cooperage and rent a cottage of her own. But before she goes, she needs to make arrangements for Emily; Lucy knows it’s only a matter of time before their father turns his attention to his youngest daughter as a way of generating income, and is determined to protect her.

The village of Bartley Green is a popular destination among the men of the ton it is the location of Johnson’s Academy of Pugilistic Arts, where both professionals and amateurs come to practice and to watch the “mills” (Regency slang for prize-fights). The book opens with the Marquess of Thrale and his friend, Captain Niall, arriving to stay at the Cooperage in order to attend the prize fights which will be taking place over the next few weeks. Lucy isn’t pleased at the prospect of having guests; not only is it an expense they can’t really afford, it means she will have to remain hidden behind the carefully constructed façade she presents to the world, an outer shell of amiability and vacuity she uses as a way of dealing with rudeness with which she is so often confronted.

Thrale has met Lucy before, of course, through his association with the Duke and Duchess of Cynssyr, but while he certainly appreciates her beauty, dismisses her as being insipid and not possessed of any of the spirit he normally finds attractive. But living under the same roof for a short time means he sees her unintentionally drop her guard on occasion, and then she begins to intrigue him. Bit by bit, he starts to draw her out – but it’s not until they converse on the subject of pugilism that he realises just how much of herself Lucy keeps hidden. Amazingly, she turns out to be somewhat of a connoisseur of the art – and even helped her husband to write a famous book on the subject. And now, she is discreetly betting on local boxing matches in order to fund her plans to leave her father’s house.

Her interest in the sport would be yet another nail in the coffin of Lucy’s respectability were it known abroad, but she is tired of playing a part and senses that Thrale is to be trusted with her secret. She also can’t ignore the strong physical attraction she feels for him; she enjoyed the physical side of marriage and the presence of this big, well-built man who exudes a kind of dangerous sexuality awakens desires in her that she had thought behind her.

Lucy is a strongly-drawn heroine with many different facets to her character. She sees her beauty as a disadvantage, but also uses it to create the insipid façade she presents to the world. Thrale watches her disappear time and again behind her shield:

She smiled at everyone and at nothing, and as Thrale watched, he saw a woman who’d turned her beauty into a fortress…She was among the enemy here, and she had come in the only armor she possessed.

Even though Lucy and Thrale are very aware of each other on a physical level from early on in the story, Ms Jewel takes her time in building a genuine friendship between them before allowing the sexual tension that’s been bubbling between them to boil over – and when it does, phew! The sex scenes are hot; Thrale likes it “dirty and loud”, and doesn’t mince his words – but fortunately, Lucy is no simpering miss and not easily shocked.

I really enjoyed the story, but there are one or two things which prevented me from rating it more highly. For one thing, there is a little too much time spent on the discussion and description of boxing for my personal taste. Ms. Jewel has clearly researched her subject very well, but I found myself glazing over a little at the extended descriptions of the fights and techniques.

And more importantly, it falls a little short in the characterisation of Thrale. He’s quiet and reserved in company, and while he certainly lives a life of privilege, there’s the pervading sense that he’s not a particularly happy man. We learn more about the reasons for this late in the book when we travel to his family estate at Blackfern, but I never felt that I got to know him in very well in his own right, other than as he related to Lucy.

But he’s an attractive hero nonetheless, and he and Lucy are certainly very well-matched.

A Notorious Ruin is beautifully written, and the central relationship is infused with tenderness and insight, as well a deep sensuality. I hope that Ms. Jewel isn’t going to keep us waiting another twelve years for book three!

Lord Ruin by Carolyn Jewel (audiobook) – narrated by Kate McDermott

Lord Ruin audio

Ruan Bettancourt, the Duke of Cynssyr, intends to marry London’s most beautiful debutante. A case of mistaken identity forces him to marry her sister, spinster Anne Sinclair. Before long, he’s head-over-heels in love with his wife while Anne is determined to make the best of her unwanted marriage. Can Lord Ruin convince Anne he’s fallen in love?

Rating: Narration C-; Content: B-

I was really pleased to learn, a couple of weeks back, that Carolyn Jewel was venturing into the world of audiobooks with one of her best known titles, Lord Ruin. I confess to having a bit of a soft spot for Ruan and Anne, even though I recognise that the story is unevenly paced at times, as this was one of the first historical romances I read.

Ruan Bettancourt, the Duke of Cynssyr (and yes, there are several ‘sincere’ puns) is a playboy and serial heart-breaker. But, as all such men must come to realise at some point, he needs to sow his oats less wildly and beget himself an heir, which of course means taking a wife. As Ruan is the most gorgeous man in the ranks of the ton, it’s natural that his eye would fall upon society’s most beautiful women, and he has the lovely Miss Emily Sinclair firmly in his sights.

Anne Sinclair, the eldest of Emily’s sisters, is not at all pleased by the idea of Emily’s being married off to a dissolute fellow like “Lord Ruin” and is determined to prevent the match.

It’s no secret to say that she succeeds in doing so in a rather unorthodox manner, and is more than ably assisted in her efforts by the man himself! Caught in flagrante delicto while Anne is under the influence of too much laudanum, she and Ruan have no alternative but a hasty marriage – something about which Ruan finds himself strangely content. He quickly discovers that Anne suits him both in bed (and boy, does he discover it! I think the couple does the deed on just about every available flat surface) and out; she is level-headed, intelligent and perceptive, just the sort of wife to suit a man such as he, who is actively involved in government and takes his duties as a peer of the realm very seriously.

Anne finds her opinion of her new husband undergoing a rapid reassessment. Having believed him to be nothing but a dissolute womaniser, she is surprised to discover that he is in fact a man of honour who does not shirk his responsibilities, and, as the book progresses, one who is still haunted by his military past.

The ‘compromised into marriage’ trope is one I particularly enjoy, and this aspect of the book works well. At the beginning of the story, Anne feels that she is destined to remain a spinster and has more or less made her peace with that, being content to watch her sisters make excellent matches and resigned to the fact that she is going to be the one to look after her father in his old age. Because she is ‘merely’ pretty where all of her sisters are acknowledged beauties, she hides a mass of insecurities, and it’s these which prove the greatest barrier for Ruan to overcome in their marriage. Anne is unable to believe that a man such as he, rich, handsome and powerful, who could – and did – have his pick of the most beautiful women in society, could possibly want her, a woman with no beauty, youth, or much else to recommend her.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.