Her Heart for a Compass by Sarah Ferguson with Marguerite Kaye

her heart for a compass uk

This title may be purchased from Amazon

London 1865

In an attempt to rebel against a society where women are expected to conform, free-spirited Lady Margaret Montagu Scott flees her confines and an arranged marriage. But Lady Margaret’s parents, the Duke and Duchess of Buccleuch, as close friends with Queen Victoria, must face the public scrutiny of their daughter’s impulsive nature, and Margaret is banished from polite society.

Finding strength amongst equally free-spirited companions, including Queen Victoria’s daughter Princess Louise, Margaret resolves to follow her heart. On a journey of self-discovery that will take her to Ireland, America, and then back to Britain, Lady Margaret must follow her heart and search for her place, and her own identity, in a changing society.

Rating: B

Her Heart for a Compass is the first (adult) novel by Sarah Ferguson, Duchess of York, and in it, she and her co-writer, historical romance author Marguerite Kaye, explore the life of one of the Duchess’ ancestors, Lady Margaret Montagu Scott, a young woman who defied the strict conventions of Victorian England to live life under her own terms.

I reviewed this one with Evelyn North, one of my fellow reviewers at AAR.

You can read our review at All About Romance.

A Proposal to Risk Their Friendship (Liberated Ladies #5) by Louise Allen

a proposal to risk their friendshipuk

This title may be purchased from Amazon

An unconventional friendship

Could ruin their reputations…

Respecting each other’s desire for independence, Lord Henry Cary and writer Melissa Taverner enjoy an uncomplicated friendship. Henry finds her amusing, intelligent company, but she’s also an attractive woman and he’s alarmed to find lust sneaking in… Having always viewed marriage as a cold matter of convenience, Henry dare not risk their friendship with a proposal. Yet when their closeness sparks rumours, he might not have a choice!

Rating: B

A Proposal to Risk Their Friendship is book five in Louise Allen’s Regency-set Liberated Ladies series, but although I haven’t read the previous books and the heroes and heroines of those stories do make brief appearances in this one, they’re very much in supporting roles and this book works perfectly well as a standalone.  I liked the leads, their relationship is well-written, and they have strong chemistry, but their friendship springs up too quickly for it to be completely believable, which caused me to knock my final grade down a bit.

Lord Henry Cary meets Miss Melissa Taverner in rather unusual circumstances.  They’re both taking the air in the gardens of a grand house where they’re attending a ball, and intervene to prevent a young lady being dragged away against her will.  Returned to the ballroom afterwards, Henry spots the tall, dark-haired rescuer and approaches her to congratulate her on her tactics.  She introduces herself, makes Henry known to her circle of friends (which includes a duke, a marquess and two earls and their wives – the heroes and heroines of the previous books in the series) and before he departs, Henry asks if he may call on her to make sure that Harlby – the man she ran off – doesn’t make a nuisance of himself.

Spirited and intelligent, Melissa managed to persuade her father to allow her to live independently in London with only her somewhat absent-minded aunt as chaperone.  Her parents’ marriage has not given her an especially favourable opinion of the institution – her father is a “domestic tyrant” – and at twenty-five, she’s decided it’s not for her.  Instead, she will satisfy herself with her very good friends and her writing; she’s already written articles for a variety of popular journals and is writing a novel (or several) she hopes to publish, too.

When Henry calls the day after the ball, he’s pleasantly surprised at the ease with which he and Melissa fall into conversation and finds himself intrigued.  He’s simultaneously not quite sure what to make of her and amused and invigorated by her conversation – and he invites her to walk in the park with him the next day.

This walk engenders further open conversation, and even though they acknowledge that they hardly know each other, they both realise that they feel comfortable with one another in a way that doesn’t happen very often.  Henry suggests they’re “friends at first sight” – and before long they’re on first-name terms and telling each other more about their lives and backgrounds.  Melissa tells Henry about her family, her decision not to marry and her writing; he tells her about his diplomatic work, his family and his parents’ uninspiring marriage.

At their next outing, Henry swears Melissa to secrecy and tells her that he’s been tasked with keeping an eye on a possible French spy (bear in mind this is official business, and they’ve known each other three days). Melissa tells Henry about her suspicions that the despicable Harlby is planning to contract a fake marriage with an – as yet unknown – heiress.  She has already alerted her friends to this, and between them, they plan to go to as many social events as possible in to track down Harlby’s target and warn her; if she and Henry arrange to attend events together as well, not only will they be able to help foil Harlby’s dastardly plan, but they will also be able to watch Henry’s quarry, too.  It’s the perfect solution to both problems.

Henry and Melissa are insightful, intelligent and witty, and their relationship is refreshingly honest; their discussions are lively and interesting, and they both learn from each other as together, they thwart Harlby’s dastardly plan – only to end up in hot water themselves.  In fact, I liked a lot about this story – but I had a real problem with the speed at which Harry and Melissa’s friendship develops.  They talk and behave like people who have known each other for years rather than people who have spent just a few hours together, and for Henry to involve Melissa in his spy-hunting seemed highly irresponsible.  (Not to say unprofessional.)

But as any Nora Ephron fan knows, men and women can never really be friends, and of course the sex thing gets in the way for this Regency Harry and Sally as well.  Henry and Melissa start to realise that they’re attracted to each other and worry about what might happen to their friendship if the other finds out how they feel.  The author seeds the gradual transition from friendship to attraction to love throughout the story and creates palpable chemistry between the couple so that the progression feels organic.  I liked that they were determined to respect each other’s boundaries, but both are hung up on the fact that they believe the other isn’t interested in anything more than friendship, leading to a bit of late-book conflict which, thankfully, isn’t allowed to drag on for too long.

Had the progression of the friendship in A Proposal to Risk Their Friendship been more credible, I’d have been giving the book a higher grade and a stronger recommendation.  If you can get past that however, you’ll find much to enjoy – likeable characters who (mostly) communicate well and who speak and act like adults, subtle social commentary and a well-written romance.

Mine Till Midnight (Hathaways #1) by Lisa Kleypas (audiobook) – Narrated by Rosalyn Landor

mine till midnight

Their lives defy convention . . .

When an unexpected inheritance elevates her family to the ranks of the aristocracy, Amelia Hathaway discovers that tending to her younger sisters and wayward brother was easy compared to navigating the intricacies of the ton. Even more challenging: the attraction she feels for the tall, dark and dangerously handsome Cam Rohan.

Their desire consumes them both . . .

Wealthy beyond most men’s dreams, Cam has tired of society’s petty restrictions and longs to return to his ‘uncivilized’ Gypsy roots. When the delectable Amelia appeals to him for help, he intends to offer only friendship – but intentions are no match for the desire that blindsides them both. Can a man who spurns tradition be tempted into that most time-honoured arrangement: marriage? Life in London society is about to get a whole lot hotter . . .

Rating: Narration – A; Content – C+

Mine Till Midnight is book one in Lisa Kleypas’s series about the Hathaway family; it was published in 2007 and an audio recording – with Rosalyn Landor at the microphone – was released in 2009. That version was never available worldwide however; only one or two of the series was actually available in the UK before now (the same is true of the earlier and perennially popular (pun intended!) Wallflower series.) Last year, I noticed first two or three titles in the Hathaways series appearing at Audible UK and immediately assumed that they were reissues of the 2009 recordings – but they’re not; they’re brand new recordings.

The five Hathaway siblings were not born to wealth and privilege. Instead, they were thrust into the upper echelons of society when Leo – the only male sibling – inherited a viscountcy from a distant relative, although unfortunately, the title comes with only a modest fortune. Leo has been in a downward spiral for the last year or so, since the death of the young woman he planned to marry, which is how come we first meet our heroine Amelia – the oldest of the four female Hathaways – as she is planning to drag Leo out of Jenner’s (the club owned by Sebastian St. Vincent). She’s accompanied by her adoptive brother Merripen – a Rom (here’s one change from the original – “Gypsy” has been changed to “Rom”) – and they pull up outside the club in time to witness an altercation between some obviously drunk patrons who are vying for the attentions of a prostitute. Before things can get nasty, the fight is broken up by another man – a younger one with dark hair, gleaming hazel eyes and the face of an angel who, for all he is dressed like a gentleman, obviously isn’t one. He’s Cam Rohan (also a Rom), the club’s manager – and just looking at him is enough to take Amelia’s breath away. But she quickly squashes the ripples of nerves and heat that run through her to focus on her reason for being there, irritated when Rohan waves off her concern for her brother as nothing to do with him. It’s only when Merripen speaks to him in their own language that he at last agrees to allow them inside to search for Leo, and on learning that Leo has left the club for a nearby brothel, and of Amelia’s intention to seek him out there, Cam arranges transportation and accompanies them to retrieve the errant viscount.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

To Love and to Loathe (Regency Vows #2) by Martha Waters

to love and to loathe

This title may be purchased from Amazon

The only thing they can agree on is that the winner takes all

The widowed Diana, Lady Templeton, and Jeremy, Marquess of Willingham, are as infamous for their bickering as for their flirtation.

Shortly before a fortnight-long house party at Jeremy’s country estate, Diana is shocked when he appears at her home with an unexpected proposition.

After finding his latest mistress unimpressed with his bedroom skills, Jeremy suggests that they embark on a brief affair. He trusts Diana to critique him honestly, and she’ll use the gossip to signal to other gentlemen that she is interested in taking a lover.

Diana has bet Jeremy that he will marry within the year, and she intends to use his proposal to her advantage.

But in this battle, should the real wager be who will lose their heart to the other first?

Rating: B+

To Love and To Loathe is the follow-up to Martha Waters’ 2020 début historical romance, To Have and To Hoax.  AAR’s reviewer was less than impressed with it, citing problems with the premise and immaturity of the leads, and overall, reviews were mixed. With so many other books to review on my plate, I didn’t get around to reading it, so I can’t offer an opinion.  But I wanted to give the author a try, so I picked up this second book in The Regency Vows series, because I am a sucker for that whole Beatrice and Benedick sparring-couple-who-are-desperately-in-love-but-would-deny-it-to-the-death thing.  And I’m glad I did, because To Love and To Loathe is funny, clever and sexy, featuring complex, well-rounded characters and incorporating pertinent observations about the nature of privilege and the unfairness of the patriarchal norms and laws that deprived women of autonomy.

At the age of eighteen, the Honourable Diana Bourne is well aware that most men are fools, but a man doesn’t need to be clever to be possessed of a hefty fortune, which is exactly what she’s looking for.  Since the death of their parents, she and her brother have lived with relatives who have seen her as nothing but a burden and who resent the expense her presence incurs.  So Diana is determined to snare a wealthy husband so she will never have to worry about something as vulgar as money ever again.

The one tiny glitch in her plan is her brother’s best friend, Jeremy Overington, Marquess of Willingham, who while just as much of a fool as every other man, is nonetheless a massively enticing fool who has only to walk into a room to turn the head of every woman in it – and set Diana’s heart beating just a bit faster than she would like.  But no matter how handsome and charming Jeremy is (or how strongly she’s attracted to him), he’s irresponsible,  overly fond of drink and women, and – most importantly – almost broke, so he won’t suit Diana’s purposes at all.

A few years later, Diana is a wealthy widow and Jeremy is still cutting a swathe through the beds of the bored wives and widows of the ton.  Their inability to agree on anything is widely known throughout society, as is the fact they’re engaged in a game of one-upmanship involving a constant barrage of well-aimed barbs and cleverly chosen put-downs.  On one particular evening when Willingham again scoffs at the idea of matrimony, Diana impulsively wagers him that he’ll be married within the year – or she’ll pay him the sum of one hundred pounds.  Of course, Willingham accepts – and only afterwards does Diana realise it was perhaps not the wisest thing she’s ever done, because honestly, she can’t see him marrying in the next twelve months, either.

Shortly after the wager is made – and just before Diana is to travel to Jeremy’s country estate for his annual house party – he comes to her seeking her help on a very delicate matter.  His most recent mistress implied he couldn’t satisfy her in bed – and Jeremy can’t get her accusations out of his mind.  Looking for reassurance, he turns to the only woman he knows he can rely on to tell him the absolute truth – and suggests to Diana that they embark on a brief affair during the house party.  Diana isn’t inclined to agree to this – until he points out that a discreet affair with him will send the right signals to other gentlemen that she is interested in taking a lover.

“I’m not certain that the signal I’m looking to send is that I’ve joined the legion of women who’ve lifted their skirts for the Marquess of Willingham.  I’m surprised they haven’t formed a society. With matching hats.”

She’s still not convinced – until Jeremy points out:

“If nothing else, it would finally dispel whatever this is between us,” he added, waving his hand at the space between them… “And don’t tell me you don’t know what I mean… Because I know you do.”

Of course as any romance reader knows, the old let’s-do-it-once-to-get-it-out-of-our-systems chestnut never works the way the participants intend it to.  Diana and Jeremy are obviously head-over-heels for each other from the get-go and have been that way for years, but there are obstacles preventing both of them from fully acknowledging the truth of their feelings for one another – obstacles that feel authentic to who these two people are; flawed but immensely likeable characters who learn about themselves as they gradually reveal more of their true selves to each other.

I really liked that Diana and Jeremy were so clear-sighted about each other, even as they had things to learn about one another.  Jeremy viewed the younger Diana’s eagerness to marry as somewhat mercenary, but didn’t know the reasons behind it; Diana suspects Jeremy is hiding his intelligence behind the wastrel he presents to society, but hasn’t fully understood the depth of his grief and anger over the death of the older brother who left him with a title and responsibilities he’d not been brought up to and didn’t want.  They’re both perspicacious and fully up to each other’s weight when it comes to their ‘merry war’, and their chemistry as they snark and flirt their way towards their HEA is terrific.

I liked them individually and together.  Diana is clever and funny and her status as a widow means she’s allowed more freedom to do as she wants than an unmarried woman would be, so her reluctance to consider giving up her independence in another marriage is understandable. And I loved Jeremy, a decent, considerate, generous man who has spent years making certain no-one would ever expect anything of him or take him too seriously because of his deep sense of unworthiness.  Their inner conflicts are very well articulated and I loved watching them come to a greater understanding of one another.

I really enjoyed the book, but there are a few things that keep it just out of DIK territory.   Part of Diana’s plan to win the wager involves her trying to find someone else to get Jeremy married off to – and she decides to throw him together with Lady Helen, a young woman known to be desperate to find a husband and who is widely disliked.  Hints are dropped that Lady Helen is not what she seems, but Diana doesn’t know this and her determination to marry the man she loves (even if she isn’t ready to admit to it) to a young woman who is so patently wrong for him and would make him utterly miserable just didn’t sit right with me.  I get that it was a mark of Diana’s desperation not to admit to how she felt about Jeremy, but it felt childish and petty.

The Big Mis that occurs near the end is a misfire, and I wasn’t wild about the amount of time given to setting up a future book in the series, which interrupted the flow of the main narrative. It’s well done and skilfully integrated into conversation and multi-character scenes, but I could still have done with a bit less of it.

All in all however, To Love and To Loathe is great fun. The writing is crisp and clever, the characters are engaging and the dialogue sparkles.  For those of you who – like me –  have been struggling to find really good historical romance lately, I’m happy to say that it’s well worth a look.

A Lady’s Formula for Love (Secret Scientists of London #1) by Elizabeth Everett (audiobook) – Narrated by Elizabeth Jasicki

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

What is a Victorian lady’s formula for love? Mix one brilliant noblewoman and her enigmatic protection officer. Add in a measure of danger and attraction. Heat over the warmth of humor and friendship, and the result is more than simple chemistry – it’s elemental.

Lady Violet is keeping secrets. First, she founded a clandestine sanctuary for England’s most brilliant female scientists. Second, she is using her genius on a confidential mission for the Crown. But the biggest secret of all? Her feelings for protection officer Arthur Kneland.

Solitary and reserved, Arthur learned the hard way to put duty first. But the more time he spends in the company of Violet and the eccentric club members, the more his best intentions go up in flames. Literally.

When a shadowy threat infiltrates Violet’s laboratories, endangering her life and her work, scientist and bodyguard will find all their theories put to the test – and learn that the most important discoveries are those of the heart.

Rating: Narration – C+; Content – C

I’ve always loved historical romance, and although I’m finding it increasingly difficult to find historicals to enjoy (so much HR right now features twenty-first century people in costume) I still look out for new authors to try. Elizabeth Everett’s début romance, A Lady’s Formula for Love, was getting quite a bit of advance buzz, narrator Elizabeth Jasicki is experienced in the genre – although I don’t think I’ve listened to her before – so I decided to give this one a go, and… I really wish I could tell you it was great. But I can’t.

The widowed Violet Hughes, Lady Greycliff, is a brilliant chemist and the founder of Athena’s Retreat, ostensibly a social club for ladies, but really a place for them to indulge their passion for science and to undertake research, somewhere they can use their brains and display their intelligence freely without having their ideas belittled by men. But word has leaked out about the true purpose of the club, and Violet has received threats against her and the club that her stepson William, Viscount Greycliff (who is a government agent) suspects originate from a radical, anti-government group. Grey has to be away from London for a few weeks, so he engages Arthur Kneland, a former colleague and experienced protection officer, to act as bodyguard for Violet while he’s away.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

Gathering Storm (Storm Over Scotland #1) by Maggie Craig (audiobook) – Narrated by Steve Worsley

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon.

Edinburgh, Yuletide 1743, and Redcoat Captain Robert Catto would rather be anywhere else on earth than Scotland. Seconded back from the wars in Europe to command the city’s town guard, he fears his covert mission to assess the strength of the Jacobite threat will force him to confront the past he tries so hard to forget.

Christian Rankeillor, her surgeon-apothecary father, and his apprentice, Jamie Buchan of Balnamoon, are committed supporters of the Stuart Cause. They’re hiding a Jacobite agent with a price on his head in Edinburgh Royal Infirmary: a hanging offense.

Meeting as enemies, Robert and Kirsty are thrown together as allies by their desire to help Geordie and Alice Smart, young runaways from Cosmo Liddell, bored and brutal aristocrat and coal owner.

Rating: Narration – B+; Content – A

I first reviewed Maggie Craig’s Gathering Storm when it was released in audiobook format back in 2015, in the version narrated by James Bryce (which is no longer available). I enjoyed the story a great deal, but had a number of reservations about the narration; one that the pacing was very slow, but most importantly, that the narrator was not able to effectively portray the hero of the story, Robert Catto, who, rather than a virile young man just shy of twenty-five, sounded like a grizzled old campaigner in his forties.

When the author released the sequel – Dance to the Storm – last year, she opted to self-publish and selected a narrator much more suited to the material. Ms. Craig has now had Gathering Storm re-recorded by Steve Worsley and was kind enough to send me a copy. Given I’d so enjoyed the story, but felt let down by the narration, I decided to revise my original review to reflect the change. Gathering Storm is a terrific book, and it deserves to reach a wide audience; the historical backdrop is meticulously researched and skilfully incorporated, there’s a star-crossed romance, political intrigue, secrets, lies and betrayal, and an intensely charismatic leading man, things which combine to make this a must for fans of well-written romantic historical fiction.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

TBR Challenge: The Rake’s Retreat by Nancy Butler

This title may be purchased from Amazon

While sketching in a wooded grove, Lady Jemima Vale encounters a young actress who witnessed a murder in the grove . . . and her rescuer, the notorious libertine Beecham Bryce. When he insists young Lovelace Wellesley take shelter at his nearby home, Lady Jemima offers to act as chaperon, not realizing her maidenly reserve will soon be shattered by her devilish host.

Rating: A-

I generally think of a comfort read as something I’ve already read, but because I try to choose my TBR Challenge reads from books I haven’t read, I decided to go for one by an author whose work I’ve enjoyed and want to read more of.  Nancy Butler’s The Rake’s Retreat got my 2021 TBR Challenge off to a great start; it makes excellent use of the trope of the-rake-who-falls-hard-for-a -spinster-ish-heroine, and it contains some of the best verbal sparring I’ve ever come across.  The romance is wonderful; the chemistry between the leads is off the charts and their relationship is superbly written, with lots of insight, tenderness and mutual understanding on display amid the banter and the delicious sexual tension.

The Rake’s Retreat opens when seventeen-year-old travelling player Lovelace Wellesley, leading lady of Wellesley’s Wandering Minstrels, witnesses a murder in the Kentish countryside.  Unfortunately for her, the murderer sees her, and she flees in fear of her life – but in the way of all heroines-in-peril  – she falls and turns her ankle.  Fortunately for her, she is rescued by the local landowner, Beecham Bryce, who is obviously sceptical of her story of murder, but who decides to accompany her to the (supposed) scene of the crime so that, if nothing else, he can convince her that she is in no danger.

Lady Jemima Vale is visiting Kent with her brother Lord Troy, London’s premier playwright, and is spending the afternoon sketching while she waits for him to return to the inn at which they are staying.  Her solitude is interrupted when she is approached by a starkly attractive gentleman who asks if she’s seen anyone in the woods.  Oddly unsettled by the stranger, whose easy grace, aura of danger and sudden, surprisingly engaging smile do odd things to her knees, Jemima replies that she has not seen anyone – and he explains that his young companion claims to have witnessed a murder in the woods just half an hour before.  He looks around for a while and finds nothing – but when Jemima gets to her feet shortly afterwards, he notices the blood-stains on her dress and realises she must have been sitting in the very spot the murder took place.  Lovelace may well be in danger after all, and Jemima is all for going back to the inn and returning her to her family – but the Minstrels have departed, mistakenly believing Lovelace to have been asleep in one of their carts.  Bryce suggests she should stay at his home while he arranges for someone to find her parents, but Jemima is horrified at the suggestion; leave a lovely young woman alone with a notorious rake?  Unthinkable!  Bryce – who has taken quite a shine to the tall, long-limbed brunette who challenges him at every turn and responds to his flirtatious teasing with a haughtily raised brow and a sharp retort – sees his chance, and suggests that Jemima should avail herself of his hospitality as well… to act as chaperone to Lovelace of course.

Over the next few days, Bryce and Jemima find themselves spending a lot of time together, sometimes in easy companionship, sometimes shooting verbal arrows at each other, both of them clearly having the other’s measure, both of them at something of a crossroads in life.  Jemima is firmly on the shelf and approaching her thirtieth birthday; she is starting to take stock of her life – most of which she has spent at her brother’s beck and call – and realising that she’s missed out on having a life of her own.  The artistic and literary salons she hosts in London may have provided intellectual stimulation, but she has neglected her emotional life and longs for something different.  Bryce is a swoonworthy hero; witty, sexy and insightful, he’s a man of intelligence and compassion hiding behind a mask of ennui and innuendo, and has returned to the family home in Kent in order to take care of it while his father – with whom he doesn’t get on –  is on a six-month long visit to warmer climes for his health.  Bryce is a womaniser and a libertine and makes no apologies for it, but he’s also quick to see and understand Jemima’s frustrations and to encourage her to step out from her brother’s shadow.  He sees Jemima for who she truly is, and he falls hard, although he does end up torn between wanting her and wanting what (he thinks) is best for her, which means his behaviour is sometimes a little hurtful as he tries to push her away ‘for her own good.’

But there is never any doubt in the reader’s mind that they’re perfect for one another.  The author shows over and over again, through their words and actions, through the sparkling dialogue and verbal sparring, that they’re a match in wit and intellect, and that they belong together.

The mystery is interesting, although it’s fairly easy to guess where it’s going, but it’s nicely done all the same; and Lovelace makes for an engaging secondary character who, while she starts off being rather self-obsessed and a bit whiny, exhibits substantial character growth throughout the story.  There’s another character who provides considerable insight into Bryce’s character, showing him to be a deeply caring, loving person (and who has an important part to play in the story) but I can’t reveal more without spoilers.

When AAR reviewed this title back in 1999, it was awarded DIK status, and I’d say it’s worn pretty well and still deserves that grade (A-).  It’s not a straight A because I wasn’t wild about the way Jemima so easily distrusted Bryce towards the end, and some behaviour that veered a bit too close to TSTL territory – but those are minor irritants when set against all the things this book does so incredibly well, which is pretty much everything else.

The Rake’s Retreat is a fabulous, witty and charming romance that has definitely stood the test of time. I highly recommend it.

Ten Things I Hate About the Duke (Difficult Dukes #2) by Loretta Chase

This title may be purchased from Amazon

Cassandra Pomfret holds strong opinions she isn’t shy about voicing. But her extremely plain speaking has caused an uproar, and her exasperated father, hoping a husband will rein her in, has ruled that her beloved sister can’t marry until Cassandra does.

Now, thanks to a certain wild-living nobleman, the last shreds of Cassandra’s reputation are about to disintegrate, taking her sister’s future and her family’s good name along with them.

The Duke of Ashmont’s looks make women swoon. His character flaws are beyond counting. He’s lost a perfectly good bride through his own carelessness. He nearly killed one of his two best friends. Still, troublemaker that he is, he knows that damaging a lady’s good name isn’t sporting.

The only way to right the wrong is to marry her…and hope she doesn’t smother him in his sleep on their wedding night.

Rating: A

It’s been three years since we last had a new book from Loretta Chase, and I’m sure the burning question for historical romance fans is – was the long wait worth it?  I’m happy to say that yes, it was; Ten Things I Hate About the Duke may be one of those silly movie-reference titles that abound in historical romance these days, but the book itself is – thankfully – far from silly.  It’s classic Chase, featuring a pair of well-rounded, likeable protagonists, oodles of sexual tension and prose filled with insight, a generous helping of snark and the author’s customary razor-sharp wit.  It’s the best historical romance of the year, hands down.

Note: There are minor spoilers for the previous book, A Duke in Shining Armor, in this review.

Miss Cassandra Pomfret, eldest daughter of Lord deGriffith, is young woman who not only dares to hold opinions of her own but (even worse) dares to actually express them.  Cruelly nicknamed by the ton – Medusa and de Griffith’s Gorgon are just two of the charming epithets she’s attracted – she is continually frustrated by the restrictions imposed on her by society, the expectation that she should care more about her frocks than about working to make the world a better place.  But after she speaks out at a political meeting – and almost causes a riot – her father, a respected and influential politician, has had enough of her unconventional and ill-advised behaviour.  He has no doubt of her good intentions or her belief in the causes she espouses, but she needs to recognise that her actions reflect badly on her family, and particularly on her younger sister Hyacinth, who is having her very first London Season.  Lord deGriffith sees no point in his younger daughter moving in society if Cassandra’s actions continually undermine her position and reputation, and declares it is at an end, and that he will not give permission for Hyacinth to marry until Cassandra has done so.  For her part, Hyacinth – who has become the toast of the Season and attracted a host of beaux – isn’t particularly bothered at having her Season curtailed, but even so, Cassandra feels dreadfully guilty about it.  A couple of days later, Hyacinth urges her sister to go to visit their ailing former governess in Roehampton, and Cassandra sets out, with her maid and her groom accompanying her.

His Grace with the Angel Face the Duke of Ashmont has repaired to The Green Man on Putney Heath following the duel earlier in the morning with the Duke of Ripley.  Ashmont issued the challenge after his fiancée absconded on the morning of their wedding with Ripley in tow (perfectly innocently at first), and then, a few days later, jilted Ashmont in order to marry Ripley. Honour (and given this is Ashmont, a good deal of booze) demanded the challenge, and fortunately for all concerned, Ashmont didn’t put a bullet through Ripley.  A few hours later, Ashmont has drunk away the morning, despondent, and still shaken by the thought that he could conceivably have killed his best friend, He’s set to drink the rest of the day away when a commotion outside draws his attention.  Very much the worse for wear, he staggers outside, his one intention to stop the row that’s adding to the hammering in his head; he raises his pistol and fires into the air – causing the horses drawing an approaching carriage to bolt and the carriage to topple over.

Horrified – and still very drunk – Ashmont staggers over to the scene to find two young women lying near the carriage and a third body – a man – a short distance away.  He’s made his way over to the women and is relieved when one of them – a redhead – sits up… and not so relieved when she yells at him and smacks him with her bonnet.  As he finally faceplants, she gets up and calmly steps over him saying “Yes, you, of course… It only wanted this.”

Somehow, Cassandra thinks, she should have known Ashmont to have been the cause of all this mayhem – it’s what he does best after all.  She’s known him, on and off, all her life, and was even – as a girl – in love with him… until she realised he was never going to become the man she hoped he would.  But there’s no time to dwell on that;  her groom has been badly injured and needs help; Ashmont’s clout and money are needed which means, unfortunately, that so is he.

Still lying on the ground, Ashmont is contemplating the clouds and flashing grey eyes and dark red curls… when a bucket of cold water is dumped unceremoniously on his head and he’s exhorted to get up and make himself – and his money – useful.

Ashmont does indeed make himself (and his money) useful and he tries hard to fix the humungous mess he’s made – especially after Cassandra’s maid decides to return home, leaving her mistress completely unchaperoned.  Once word gets out about his involvement, Cassandra will be ruined – but luckily for all concerned, Ashmont’s uncle Frederick (Lord Frederick Beckingham, whom we met in the previous book) has a cooler, wiser head and advises Ashmont to leave as soon as possible after buying the silence of the staff at the inn, and thus protect Cassandra’s reputation.

Ashmont is sensible enough to take good advice, and disaster is averted. But… clever, challenging, imperturbable, waspish Cassandra Pomfret has completely captivated him, and he decides to pursue her.  The trouble is, she clearly isn’t impressed by his looks, his money or his rank – which are the things that usually get him what he wants – and he’s going to have to work harder than he’s ever worked at anything (which, let’s face it, he’s never done) if he wants to win her.

What follows is a sprightly and absolutely delightful dance as Ashmont, who is far from the idiot he allows the world believe him to be, slowly but surely works out how to prove to Cassandra that he’s serious about her.  He listens to her, he values her opinion, he finds out about things that are important to her and in the process, he starts to take stock of his own life, and to realise how little he’s made of it – which makes Ten Things as much a story of a man discovering the person he’s truly meant to be as it is a romance.  Ashmont isn’t a man redeemed by love, or a rake reformed due to the love of a good woman; he’s a man redeeming himself, a man coming to realise that he’s wasting the many gifts he’s been given and that he wants to be a better man than he’s been hitherto.  Yes, Cassandra provides the impetus by making him want to change, and by opening his eyes to the reality and frequent unpleasantness of the world around him – but no change of this sort is effective if the person concerned isn’t determined to do it, and Ashmont is prepared to work at turning his life around.

Ashmont and Cassandra are superbly drawn characters who simply light up the pages when they’re together, and the author has done a splendid job of making Ashmont – who could have been hard to like – an endearing character, even when he’s making bad decisions.  Cassandra is intelligent, independent, outspoken, and deeply compassionate, and I was impressed with the way she’s shown to be a woman pushing at the boundaries of the conventions that constrain her and trying to make a difference in the world, while still being very much a woman of her time.  The author’s subtle but pertinent commentary on the position of women in society is beautifully observed and quite low-key but no less scathing for that.

There’s an excellently-drawn secondary cast; I really liked the dynamic between Cassandra’s parents, and appreciated that Lord deGriffith isn’t an ogre, but a loving father driven to the extremes of exasperation.   I can’t wait to find out what’s going on between Blackwood and Alice, and there’s definitely a story to be told about Lord Frederick and Lady Charles.  But for now, Ten Things I Hate About the Duke is a terrific read and a fabulous example of historical romance done right.  Here’s hoping we don’t have to wait three years for the next instalment!

My American Duchess by Eloisa James (audiobook) – Narrated by Kate Reading

My American Duchess audio

This title is available to purchase from Amazon.

The arrogant Duke of Trent intends to marry a well-bred Englishwoman. The last woman he would ever consider marrying is the adventuresome Merry Pelford – an American heiress who has infamously jilted two fiancés.

But after one provocative encounter with the captivating Merry, Trent desires her more than any woman he has ever met. He is determined to have her as his wife, no matter what it takes. And Trent is a man who always gets what he wants.

The problem is, Merry is already betrothed, and the former runaway bride has vowed to make it all the way to the altar. As honour clashes with irresistible passion, Trent realizes the stakes are higher than anyone could have imagined. In his battle to save Merry and win her heart, one thing becomes clear:

All is fair in love and war.

Rating: Narration – A+; Content – B

I don’t mind admitting that Eloisa James is one of those authors who is a bit hit and miss for me. I know she’s got a huge following who absolutely adore her books, so this is probably one of those times when “it’s not you, it’s me”, but of the books of hers I’ve read (which is by no means all), there have been more misses than hits. As a result, I wasn’t intending to pick up My American Duchess, thinking that I’d just move on to something else rather than risk another disappointment – until I saw that Kate Reading had been engaged to narrate it.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.


Tremaine’s True Love (True Gentlemen #1) by Grace Burrowes

tremaines true love

Tremaine St. Michael is firmly in trade and seeks only to negotiate the sale of some fancy sheep with the Earl of Haddonfield. The earl’s sister, Lady Nita, is pragmatic, hard-working, and selfless, though Tremaine senses she’s also tired of her charitable obligations and envious of her siblings’ marital bliss. Tremaine, having been raised among shepherds, can spot another lonely soul, no matter how easily she fools her own family. Neither Tremaine nor Nita is looking for love, but love comes looking for them.

Rating: B

It’s no secret that I’m a big Grace Burrowes fan. I understand the criticisms that are sometimes levelled at her books; they can be repetitive, the heroes are too improbable, there are too many Americanisms etc., but for the most part I can forgive her those things because she writes stories that pull me in by virtue of the strength of her characterisations and the way in which she gets to the emotional heart of those characters and their stories. It’s the rare Grace Burrowes book that doesn’t quite work for me – but unfortunately, Tremaine’s True Love is one of those few.

That’s not to say it’s a bad read – far from it. It possesses the things I’ve come to expect from Ms Burrowes’ books; attractive, engaging protagonists with hidden vulnerabilities, well-written familial relationships, a gorgeous hero with a protective streak the size of the runway at Heathrow and a quirky, distinctive style of writing which I enjoy. But I found it very difficult to sympathise with the heroine in this story, which is principally why I wasn’t able to rate it more highly.

Lady Bernita (Nita) Haddonfield is the eldest sister of Nicholas, the Earl of Bellefonte. Since the death of their mother, Nita has run the household as well as taking on the role of carer and medic to those unable to afford the services of the local doctor previously performed by the late countess.

Following Nicholas’ marriage, Nita has surrendered control of the household to his wife, but even though she does not resent her sister-in-law, she nonetheless feels somewhat purposeless. She fills the gap by continuing to provide medical services to the poor of the estate and surrounding area, often putting herself at risk of illness and infection. Nicholas remonstrates with her time and time again, but Nita is adamant. If she doesn’t help these people, then who will? They can’t afford to pay anyone, and in any case, the local doctor is a quack who still believes that bleeding is the cure for everything, has no truck with hand-washing and thinks that most illnesses are inflicted as God’s punishment upon those who sin – especially if the patient is a woman.

Tremaine St. Michael appeared briefly in another of the author’s Lonely Lords series, Gabriel . He is half-French and half-Scottish, a wealthy and extremely hard-working businessman who is actually a French Comte, although it’s a title he rarely uses. He is visiting the Bellefonte estate in order to negotiate the purchase of a valuable flock of merino sheep from Nicholas, but the discussions aren’t going as well as he had expected as one of the earl’s neighbours is also interested in the valuable livestock.

Tremaine is immediately drawn to Nita’s strength of character and sense of purpose, but soon comes to see beyond that, to the insecure and lonely woman that lurks behind the lady’s formidable exterior. He lives a somewhat nomadic existence as he travels between his various estates and business concerns, and can only allow a few days for his negotiations over the sheep – but days stretch into weeks, and over that time, Tremaine and Nita become closer, bonding over their instincts to care for others – human and ovine! – and sharing thoughts and desires with each other they’ve never shared before. Their romance is tender and sweet, and I very much enjoyed watching two people who had thought that marriage and family was off the table falling in love and finding their way through the differences that threaten them so that they can be together in the end. In fact, the idea of both characters having to find a way to balance work and family is one that is still a very relevant one; and it’s not easy, as Ms Burrowes shows very clearly in her story.

Anyone familiar with the Lonely Lords series will recall that Nicholas has a number of sisters, and we meet them all again here. There is a secondary plotline around Susannah, who is hoping for a proposal of marriage from their neighbour, Mr Edward Nash. It quickly becomes apparent that Mr Nash is not a suitable candidate for Susannah’s hand, but because Nita has gained that information through practicing her healing skills, she feels unable to tell anyone – even to save her sister from being mistreated at his hands. I found this a little difficult to swallow, as Nita is not a physician, has taken no oaths of confidentiality – and yet she is prepared to put her sister at risk.

And this goes back to what I said earlier, about finding it difficult to warm to Nita. She’s a well-rounded and well-written character and Ms Burrowes has done an excellent job of relaying her weaknesses as well as her strengths, but overall, I found her to be too inflexible and unwilling to consider other points of view. She sees Nicholas’ chastisements as his trying to assert authority over her and criticism of the fact that she is heedless of her reputation, whereas it’s obvious to anyone with half a brain that he is desperately concerned for her. And she makes the decision to reject Tremaine’s proposal when she thinks he will insist she stops her medical treatments in order to sit at home darning his socks and having babies, without really talking to him about it. She expects others to make allowances for her while not being prepared to make allowances for them until right at the very end.

With all that said, I did enjoy reading Tremaine’s True Love, even though it doesn’t rank among my favourite of Grace Burrowes’ books. The protagonists are well drawn, their romance is well developed and the friendship that gradually builds between Tremaine and Nicholas is fun to read. I shall certainly be reading the next book in this series, and will continue to snap up whatever Ms Burrowes comes up with after that.