My Own True Duchess (True Gentlemen #5) by Grace Burrowes

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Jonathan Tresham, heir to the Duke of Quimbey, needs a discreet ally to help him choose a wife from the mob of young ladies eager to become his duchess. When proper widow Theodosia Haviland rescues him from a compromising situation, he knows he’s found an advisor he can trust. Theo’s first marriage taught her the folly of indulging in romantic notions, and she’s determined that Jonathan Tresham’s intended be an ideal match for him, not some smitten ninnyhammer.

When Jonathan suggests Theo should be at the top of his list of possible duchesses, she protests, though she knows that Jonathan is kind and honorable despite his gruff exterior. The last person Theo can allow Jonathan to marry is a widow guarding scandalous secrets, even if she does also harbor an entirely inappropriate attraction to the one man she can never have.

Rating: B

Opening up a Grace Burrowes book these days is like going to visit old friends.  Even though each of her novels focuses on a different couple, the author has done such a thorough job of creating her own Regency world and peopling it with the many different families who move in the same elevated circles, that I know I’m going to meet up with at least one – and usually, several – familiar characters and enjoy their interactions with whichever of the principals they happen to be most closely involved with.  My Own True Duchess is book five in the True Gentlemen series, and in it, I was pleased to become reacquainted with the Duke of Anselm (The Duke’s Disaster) and several of the Dorning brothers (Will Dorning is the hero of Will’s True Wish) as well as the Earl and Countess of Haddonfield and the youngest Haddonfield, Lady Della.  While it probably helps to have at least a rough idea of who all these people are, it’s not essential;  they are all secondary characters and their stories don’t really affect the principal narrative, in which a close friend of Anselm’s is out to find himself a suitable bride.

Mr Jonathan Tresham, a mathematical genius and highly successful businessman, has lived in Europe for the last decade and made himself a tidy fortune.  Having recently become heir to the Duke of Quimbey, he has returned to England, knowing it is incumbent upon him to find himself a wife and set about securing the future of the dukedom.  The trouble is that there’s a strong chance he’s not going to be given the time or opportunity to consider his choice; most of the eligible young ladies in London and their mamas have already scented blood and are circling the waters, some of them going to extraordinary lengths to try to secure a proposal from him.  One of these enterprising young misses has managed to manoeuvre him into a deserted library, and Jonathan can feel the noose tightening – but the débutante’s hopes are dashed when a slightly older, poised and attractive woman enters the room and very politely and delicately runs her off.

Jonathan’s saviour is Mrs. Theodosia Haviland, a widow who lives in shabby-genteel almost-poverty with her sixteen-year-old sister and her seven-year-old daughter.  Her late husband – who had been heir to a viscountcy – died young (from the effects of dissipation) and hugely in debt, and the new viscount used the finds that should have reverted to Theo in order to pay them off, leaving her with nothing.  In addition, he refused to pay Haviland’s ‘debts of honour’ (gambling debts) which were massive and which have taken Theo years of scrimping and scraping to be able to settle.

Jonathan quickly realises that he and Mrs. Haviland can be of use to one another.  His business interests take up a lot of his time and attention, and having been away for so long, he doesn’t really know who is who in society, while Theo, on the other hand, knows everyone and commands respect, in spite of her reduced circumstances. So Jonathan proposes a business transaction; he will ‘employ’ her to find him a suitable wife.  Theo is not wild about the idea, but can’t deny that the money will come in very useful, so she agrees to narrow the field to a list of the ladies most likely to suit.  Jonathan is pleased with the arrangement, but there’s one thing Theo won’t budge on.  Having been unhappy in her own marriage, she is not prepared to consign Jonathan, a man she likes and admires, to a union with a simpering miss he won’t be able to like, no matter his insistence that he’s looking for a sensible society marriage based on practicality and not affection.

It will, of course, come as no surprise when I say that Jonathan soon finds himself comparing the ladies on Theo’s list to Theo herself, and finding them wanting.  She’s kind, charming and intelligent, she knows her way around in society, she’s respectable and, as an added bonus, he’s very attracted to her.  At first, Theo is reluctant to agree to his suggestion that they wed; a man who will one day be a duke shouldn’t marry an impoverished widow, but she can’t deny the pull of attraction she feels towards this this handsome, considerate man who so obviously cares for her and has earned her trust.

My Own True Duchess is typical Grace Burrowes fare in many ways.  Jonathan and Theo are caring, decent people who have overcome some degree of adversity –Theo in her bad marriage, Jonathan as the product of neglectful parents – who find each other and, through conversation, discover commonalities and mutual understanding and respect.  Where this book diverges from some of the author’s other recent releases is in the sub-plot; in many of her books, there’s a villain out to do physical harm (or worse) to one of the protagonists, but that isn’t the case here.  There’s someone out to ruin Jonathan’s principal business interest – a prestigious London club – but that’s due to simple greed rather than any long-standing familial rivalry or grudge, which works better than some of the would-be murder plots in other books.  Jonathan’s ownership of a lucrative gambling establishment does, of course, cause friction between him and his lady-love – and there were times I found Theo’s attitude to be overly judgmental – although fortunately, Ms. Burrowes redeems her in spectacular fashion, and manages to have Jonathan find a realistic solution to resolving the issues between them.

She also makes a number of very pertinent points about the situation of widows in the society of the day: The only female in all of English society who lived with a modicum of independence was the financially secure widow; while “A widow who is perceived to have fallen upon hard times soon finds herself besieged with offers, many of which are dishonourable.” At the same time, she shows some sympathy for the army of debutantes that regularly appears in historical romance as a giggling gaggle of ruthless ladies out to catch themselves the richest husband possible, pointing out that “They are taught that they are lucky – lucky to be relegated to the status of broodmares and ornaments.”  So often, the marriageable misses are presented as grasping nit-wits and widows are employed merely to allow a heroine a larger degree of sexual freedom, and I appreciated the inclusion of both these less frequently expressed points of view.

My Own True Duchess is an enjoyable, character-driven romance featuring a well-matched central couple who behave like adults and communicate well,  and which displays the author’s characteristic warmth and humour.  If you’re a fan of her work, then I’m sure this will appeal, even if you haven’t read all the previous books in this particular series.

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No Other Duke Will Do (Windham Brides #3) by Grace Burrowes (audiobook) – Narrated by James Langton


This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

Julian St. David, Duke of Haverford, is barely keeping his head above water in a sea of inherited debts. Though he has a long-term plan to restore the family finances, his sister has a much faster solution: host a house party for London’s single young ladies and find Julian a wealthy bride.

Elizabeth Windham has no interest in marriage, but a recent scandal has forced her hand. As much as she’d rather be reading Shakespeare than husband hunting, she has to admit she’s impressed by Julian’s protective instincts, his broad shoulders, and, of course, his vast library.

As the two spend more time together, their attraction is overwhelming, unexpected…and absolutely impossible. With meddling siblings, the threat of financial ruin, and gossips lurking behind every potted palm, will they find true love or true disaster?

Rating: Narration – C+: Content – B

For this third book in her Windham Brides series, Grace Burrowes moves to Wales and the home of Julian St. David, Duke of Haverford, whose estate is so encumbered by the debts accrued by his father and grandfather – their passion for collecting books creating a massive library at equally massive expense – means he is one step away from bankruptcy.

As No Other Duke Will Do opens, Julian’s sister, Glenys, has organised a large – and expensive – house-party to which she has invited a number of eligible young ladies in the hopes of finding her brother an heiress to marry. Julian is a loving man with a lot to offer, but she knows he is unlikely to marry while the state of their finances remains so dire – ergo, she will find him a wife who has money. Julian, who has not been involved in the planning or even consulted about the party, is naturally horrified at the cost, but as he is presented with a fait accompli sees no alternative but to allow things to proceed as planned… and perhaps there will be a gentleman among the invited bachelors who will catch his sister’s eye. Just because – according to his calculations – he can’t afford to marry for another eight years or more doesn’t mean Glenys should be mouldering away at Haverford Castle with him, after all.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

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

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

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

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

Rating: Narration – B+ Content – B

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

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

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

Daniel’s True Desire (True Gentlemen #2) by Grace Burrowes (audiobook) – Narrated by James Langton

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

An honorable life

Daniel Banks is a man of the cloth whose vocation is the last comfort he has left – and even his churchman’s collar is beginning to feel like a noose. At the urging of family, Daniel attempts to start his life over as vicar in the sleepy Kentish town of Haddondale, family seat to the earls of Bellefonte.

Challenged by passion

Resigned to spinsterhood, Lady Kirsten Haddonfield welcomes the new vicar to stay at her family’s home while his is under renovation. Suddenly, the handsome visitor has Kirsten rethinking her ideas about love and marriage, but a dreadful secret from Daniel’s past may cast a shadow too long for either of them to overcome.

Rating: Narration – B+ Content – B+

Daniel’s True Desire is the second book in Grace Burrowes’ True Gentlemen series, although the series title is perhaps a bit of a misnomer as the books are in fact linked by virtue of the fact that the heroines are the sisters of Nicholas Haddonfield, Earl of Bellefonte. Regardless of that, however, I found it to be the strongest of the series when I read it a couple of years back, and I was keen to experience it again in audio format. As is the case with most of Grace Burrowes’ oeuvre, this story features several characters who have appeared in other books, most notably David, Lord Fairly and his wife Letty (Daniel’s sister), Nicholas and his wife Leah, and Daniel himself, who appeared in David’s book, wherein we discovered he was unhappily married to a woman (Olivia) who stole from him and his parish, and who was blackmailing his sister by threatening to expose the fact that the five-year old boy she and Daniel have brought up as their son is, in fact, Letty’s son, the result of a youthful indiscretion.

As this story opens, the Reverend Daniel Banks is travelling to his new living in the village of Haddondale. He is a very troubled man, still reeling from the recent revelations about the deceptions practiced by his wife – who has now disappeared – struggling with his feelings of discontent and guilt over his inability to protect his sister from Olivia’s machinations, and worst of all, heartsick at his parting from his ‘son’, Danny, who, now that her circumstances allow her to properly care for him, has now gone to live with his mother and her new husband. Daniel is at a very low point, dedicated to his calling but feeling somewhat restricted by it, and unable to see a way out of his present difficulties. Olivia may have taken herself off temporarily, but it can surely only be a matter of time before she is back and making more trouble.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

Matthew (Jaded Gentlemen #2) by Grace Burrowes (audiobook) – Narrated by James Langton

Theresa Jennings strayed from the path of propriety as a younger woman, though now she’ll do anything to secure her child’s eventual acceptance on the fringes of polite society. Theresa will even make peace with the titled brother who turned his back on her when she needed him most. Matthew Belmont is a widower who’s been lonely too long. He sees Theresa as a woman paying far too high a price for mistakes long past, and as a lady given too little credit for turning her life around. Theresa is enthralled by Matthew’s combination of honorable intentions and honest passion, but then trouble comes calling, and it’s clear somebody wants to ruin any chance Theresa and Matthew have for a happily ever.

Rating: Narration – B+ Content – B

I am a fan of Grace Burrowes’ historical romances and always enjoy a visit to “Burrowesworld” the corner of the South of England that she has peopled with her various, numerous and inter-related characters and series. I admit though, that she’s published so many books now, that I sometimes have to stop and take stock of which book and which series I’m listening to or reading and work out where it falls in the canon, as publication order is not always the same as chronological… so for instance in Matthew, one of her more recent publications, and the second book in her Jaded Gentlemen series, we meet Nicholas and Beckman Haddonfield before they appear in the Lonely Lords books and before Nick inherits his earldom; Alice Portmaine is still a governess/companion, and some of the other Lonely Lords – Gareth, Andrew, Douglas and David – are all happily settled with their wives and families. This wealth of previously introduced characters may be a bit daunting for someone new to the author’s work, but actually, it’s perfectly possible to listen to Matthew as a standalone, as characters like Nick, Beckmann and Alice are secondary and their roles here don’t really have anything to do with the parts they play in the books in which they are principal characters.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

Lady Maggie’s Secret Scandal (Windham #5) by Grace Burrowes (audiobook) – Narrated by James Langton

lady-maggie-audio

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon.

Lady Maggie Windham has secrets, and she’s been perfectly capable of keeping them…until now. When she’s threatened with exposure, she turns to investigator Benjamin Hazlit to keep catastrophe at bay. But Maggie herself intrigues Benjamin more than the riddle she’s set him to solve. As he uncovers more and more of her past, Maggie struggles to keep him at a distance, until they both begin to discover the truth in their hearts.

Rating: Narration – B; Content – B

Lady Maggie’s Secret Scandal is the fifth full-length novel in Grace Burrowes’ series about the eight Windham siblings; the three sons and five daughters of the Duke and Duchess of Moreland. Like Devlin St. Just (The Soldier), Magdalen – Maggie – Windham is illegitimate, fathered by the duke before his marriage, but welcomed into the family as a child, brought up alongside the ducal couple’s legitimate children and later legally adopted.

Now aged thirty, Maggie maintains her own small establishment and is a wealthy woman in her own right, having discovered a talent for investing and speculation when she was in her teens. She regularly advises her brother, the Earl of Westhaven (The Heir) on financial matters, but in general keeps very much to herself, not one for socialising or regular outings. She is unmarried and likely to remain so given her reclusive tendencies, and it’s no secret that the Duchess worries about Maggie and her happiness as much as she does her own daughters.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

The Trouble With Dukes (Windham Brides #1) by Grace Burrowes

the-trouble-with-dukes

This title may be purchased from Amazon.

THEY CALL HIM THE DUKE OF MURDER…

The gossips whisper that the new Duke of Murdoch is a brute, a murderer, and even worse—a Scot. They say he should never be trusted alone with a woman. But Megan Windham sees in Hamish something different, someone different.

No one was fiercer at war than Hamish MacHugh, though now the soldier faces a whole new battlefield: a London Season. To make his sisters happy, he’ll take on any challenge—even letting their friend Miss Windham teach him to waltz. Megan isn’t the least bit intimidated by his dark reputation, but Hamish senses that she’s fighting battles of her own. For her, he’ll become the warrior once more, and for her, he might just lose his heart.

Rating: B

Grace Burrowes’ The Trouble with Dukes sees her returning to the extended Windham family, who were the subject of her first published works. The Windham Brides series introduces the four nieces of the Duke and Duchess of Moreland while also reacquainting readers with the various other family members whose stories were told previously.

I suspect a reader’s level of enjoyment of this book may largely depend on their degree of familiarity with the various characters who inhabit “Burrowesworld” (a useful term coined by a friend of mine), as the author tends to put her existing characters to good use by moving them from book to book and series to series. If she needs a dashing former cavalry officer for some reason, why invent a new one when she’s already invented Devlin St. Just? Or if she needs a lordly musician, why not just call Valentine Windham into service? For someone like me, who has read – and enjoyed – a good proportion of Ms. Burrowes’ books, this doesn’t present a problem. I like meeting familiar faces and watching how they all relate and interact with each other and with the newly introduced characters in any given book. But for someone completely new to the author’s work, it could all prove somewhat overwhelming and a bit of homework might be in order.

On the other hand, the story is self-contained, so there are no threads picked up from other books or plotlines left hanging to be resolved in future ones. And if you’re prepared to just accept that all these secondary characters – many of whom, like Westhaven, St. Just, Keswick and Moreland have more than just a cameo role to play – are family members and then go along for the ride, then I’m sure it’s possible to enjoy the book without having read any of the others. But to be completely honest, the plot of the novel is actually very slight, and the principal enjoyment of reading it comes from the well-written, affectionate familial relationships and friendships, something at which Ms. Burrowes always excels and to which I look forward each time I pick up one of her books.

Megan Windham is the third of the four sisters, all of whom are independent, intelligent young ladies with varying shades of red hair. Megan is fairly quiet and bookish; and when we first meet her, she is being importuned by Sir Fletcher Pilkington, a handsome young gentleman with aspirations to her hand. It’s quickly apparent that Megan wants nothing to do with him and that all he really wants is her dowry so he can pay off his debts and continue to life the high life. She is rescued from his unwanted attentions by a large, imposing man with dark auburn hair and piercing blue eyes – whom Sir Fletcher introduces as a former fellow officer, Colonel Hamish MacHugh.

MacHugh has recently become Duke of Murdoch and has come to London to see to all the legalities pertaining to his inheritance. He has also escorted his sisters to town so that they can take part in the Season, but he has no patience with the intricacies of society and feels completely adrift in the ballrooms and drawing rooms of the ton, so his plan is to decamp back to Scotland at the earliest opportunity. Yet if anything could tempt him to stay, it would be the lovely and intriguing Miss Windham, whom he senses is burdened by troubles that relate to Sir Fletcher, a man Hamish knows to be vicious, vain and unscrupulous.

Hamish’s suspicions about the true nature of Megan’s feelings for her suitor are correct.  She loathes him and lives in dread of his gaining consent to their engagement.  The problem is that telling her parents – or her strapping, protective Windham cousins – of the reason behind her dislike will risk her reputation and that of her sisters, and she is not prepared to ruin their standing in society because a youthful infatuation led her to believe herself in love with the scoundrel, and to write him a number of passionately improper letters – letters he is now using in order to blackmail her into marriage.

Megan is immediately attracted to her rescuer, who is kind and honourable and who listens to her without criticism or judgement.  She feels valued and comfortable for the first time in ages and quickly finds herself trusting him enough to confide in him and ask for his help, which he gives readily.  But Hamish has troubles of his own. He is haunted by decisions and actions made while serving on the Peninsula, and gossip about his propensity for violence and insubordination has led to his being dubbed the ‘Duke of Murder’.  To make things worse, when Sir Fletcher sees which way the wind is blowing, he does his best to blacken Hamish’s name even further in his quest to become Megan’s accepted suitor while at the same time resorting to seriously underhand methods to sustain his expensive lifestyle.

That’s basically the plot – Hamish helps to remove the threat to Megan’s reputation and happiness and in return, she helps him to learn to polish his manners and learn some societal niceties so that he won’t feel quite so awkward amongst the ton.  Along the way, of course, the pair develops a strong emotional attachment, and Hamish discovers the benefit of having true friends in the form of Megan’s formidable cousins and cousins-in-law. Their witty banter and the subsequent friendships that develop between the men are a sure sign that Hamish is going to fit right in, and give Grace Burrowes the opportunity to showcase her talent for writing strong male relationships.

My one quibble in this area, though, is that those relationships come very close to eclipsing the romance, which proceeds gently and without any over-played drama.  Megan and Hamish are likeable, sensible characters, and I enjoyed watching both of them gradually returning to being their true selves and drawing strength from each other as they fell in love. But Megan confides her troubles to Hamish a little too quickly, and while he’s a trustworthy chap and I could understand her reasons for not wanting to tell her cousins of her dilemma, it nonetheless seems to happen a little too fast.  And then there’s the issue of Megan’s parents taking an extended trip (to Wales) right in the middle of the Season even though they believe Megan is about to receive an offer of marriage – to which her father will have to give his consent. Their absence at a crucial time doesn’t make sense  and feels like an obvious plot device so as to allow time for Megan and Hamish to spend time together while making sure that Sir Fletcher cannot make his proposal.

Those criticisms aside however, The Trouble with Dukes is a sweetly romantic tale featuring two engaging, well-matched protagonists.  Readers familiar with the author’s work will appreciate her  quirky writing style and sense of humour and those who aren’t will, I hope, find much to enjoy.