Scandal at the Christmas Ball by Marguerite Kaye and Bronwyn Scott


This title may be purchased from Amazon

One Christmas house party leads to two Regency love affairs! 

A Governess for Christmas by Marguerite Kaye 

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

Dancing with the Duke’s Heir by Bronwyn Scott 

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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Claiming His Desert Princess (Hot Arabian Nights #4) by Marguerite Kaye

This title may be purchased from Amazon.

Stolen nights with the secret princess…

Bound to marry for duty, Princess Tahira finds her only freedom in forbidden escapes to the desert. Then one night she encounters a stranger under the stars—adventurer Christopher Fordyce. He’s wildly attractive and thrillingly dangerous…an illicit fantasy she can’t resist!

Even unaware of Tahira’s royal blood, Christopher knows his shameful past makes any future with her impossible. But in the sultry desert heat, desires are uncovered and secrets unveiled, and soon Christopher will risk everything to claim his desert princess!

Rating: B-

Claiming His Desert Princess is the final book in Marguerite Kaye’s Hot Arabian Nights quartet of historical romances set in Arabia in the early 1800s. Contemporary romances abound with gorgeous sheikh heroes, but they’re not so often found in historicals, and neither are there that many regency romances set outside England, so the series had a dual appeal for me, and I’ve enjoyed all the books to varying degrees (my favourite is still the first, The Widow and the Sheikh). In this story, however, it’s the heroine rather than the hero who is of royal blood. Christopher Fordyce, who has appeared briefly in the earlier books, is clearly on a mission of some kind, the nature of which has not so far been made entirely clear. Having conceived the idea of him as a kind of cross between Indiana Jones and Lawrence of Arabia (as personified by Peter O’Toole), I’ve been looking forward to his story and finally discovering exactly what he was up to. All is indeed revealed in this book, but I can’t deny that some pacing issues, a rushed ending and a sense of “oh – was that it?” ultimately left me feeling a little disappointed.

English antiquarian and surveyor, Christopher Fordyce, has travelled to Arabia in order to return a valuable ancient artefact to its rightful owner – or at least to the owner’s descendants. He has been in the country for over six months, travelling around trying to trace the origin of a turquoise amulet which was left to him upon the death of his father, and finally believes he has located the key to his quest in the form of the newly opened mines in the kingdom of Nessarah. He visits at night in order to see what progress has been made on the excavations, and is discovered there by a young woman named Tahira who explains she is deeply interested in the history of Nessarah and has begun to make a study of it and the various artefacts she finds. There is an undeniable spark of attraction between them from the very first, and they immediately bond over their shared interest in history and in uncovering the mysteries of the past. Tahira is able to supply Christopher with some interesting snippets of information regarding the mine and its workings and at each meeting, they reveal a little more of themselves to each other which, for Tahira, provides an incredible taste of freedom from the life to which she has been born. For she is keeping one, very important detail from Christopher, which is that she is the eldest sister of Prince Ghutrif, who is the de factor ruler of Nessarah.

Ghutrif is determined to marry Tahira off.  She has been betrothed twice before, both times to the Prince of Murimon – but those betrothals ended when her first intended was killed in a fall from his horse, and her second, Prince Kadar (Sheikh’s Mail Order Bride) fell in love with someone else.  Tahira is blamed for both these failures to marry, told she has brought dishonour upon her family, and her position at the palace is becoming increasingly difficult to bear.  The one bright spot in her life is her nightly meetings with the handsome Englishman who understands her sense of connection with the past, and who truly listens to her and values her opinion.  She decides not to disclose her  identity to him because then he is bound to insist they stop meeting – and given she has very little time left before she is married, Tahira is reluctant to end their association before she is forced to do so.

Christopher is keeping secrets as well, ones which clearly relate to a painful past that he refuses to discuss.  All he will tell Tahira is that returning the amulet to its rightful place means that he will finally be able to shake off the yoke of the past and face the future with a clean slate.  This is the weakest part of the story, because I found it difficult to believe that Christopher had imbued an inanimate object with such power over his life.  The major part of the reveal as to his reasons and why he is running from his past does not come until around two-thirds of the way through the book, so it’s difficult to say more without spoilers, so I’ll just say that it revolves around Christopher’s sense of self and identity following a discovery made after the death of his father. He believes the amulet to have been a bribe and that the only way he can live with a clear conscience is to return it. But it feels like a flimsy plot device, and didn’t make much sense to me.

The writing flows smoothly, and the author’s descriptions of the sights, sounds and smells of the desert and the bazaars and souks are as evocative as always, but the first two thirds of the book are fairly static, consisting mostly of a series of night-time meetings between Christopher and Tahira in which they continue their search for artefacts, interspersed with glimpses into the monotony of Tahira’s life in the palace harem, or of Christopher’s attempts to track the provenance of the amulet.   His wanting to make Tahira’s wishes come true – sliding down the dunes, riding across the desert at night, swimming in an oasis – is sweet, and their clandestine meetings provide plenty of opportunity for things to become fairly heated between them, although Christopher refuses flat out to ruin Tahira and leave her with the consequences of their actions.  It’s all very well done, in particular the parts that show very clearly just how limited Tahira’s choices are, but it’s somewhat repetitive until the point at which we are made privy to Christopher’s motivations. The pacing picks up from around there, but I can’t help wishing that Ms. Kaye had chosen to ‘drip-feed’ Christopher’s story throughout rather than saving all the explanations until the back end of the book.

Marguerite Kaye is one of my favourite authors and she always writes with intelligence, researches her subjects well and creates a strong sense of time and place in her stories.  However, I suspect that maybe Claiming His Desert Princess is a victim of my own high expectations – I liked it, but I wanted to LOVE it, and I didn’t quite make it that far.  Nonetheless it’s a solid read with a nicely developed romance and at the very least merits a qualified recommendation

The Harlot and the Sheikh (Hot Arabian Nights #3) by Marguerite Kaye

the-harlot-and-the-sheikh

This title may be purchased from Amazon.

A defiant womanin a desert king’s world!

After inheriting a broken kingdom, Prince Rafiq made a vow to restore its pride by winning a prestigious horse race. To ensure success, he hires an English expert. But even notoriously controlled Rafiq is shocked when his new employee is introduced as Miss Stephanie Darvill!

Stephanie is determined to leave her shameful past and broken dreams behind she will prove to Rafiq she deserves his trust! But this hard-hearted desert sheikh calls to Stephanie in the most primal of ways Dare she give in to her wildest desires?

Rating: B

The Harlot and the Sheikh is the third book in Marguerite Kaye’s series of historical romances set in early nineteenth century Arabia, and once again features a heroine with an unusual occupation;  in this case, she’s a veterinarian specialising in the care and treatment of horses.  Ms. Kaye’s research into the scientific background and interests of each of her heroines so far is obviously extensive, and the notes she provides at end of each novel are interesting and informative.  But at the heart of each book is a complex, heartfelt and satisfying romance; and one of the things I so admire about this author is the way she is able to develop that romance while also telling an engaging story that incorporates fascinating historical and technical detail while also producing such superb descriptive prose that the reader is immediately transported to whatever location she is writing about.

Rafiq al-Antarah, Prince of the Arabian Kingdom of Bharym is a troubled young man with a great weight of responsibility upon his shoulders.  Years before, and aged just sixteen, he had watched his father destroy himself, the honour of the royal family and the spirit of his people by losing the Sabr, the renowned endurance race that symbolises Bharym’s pride and honour.  The kingdom is famous for breeding the finest horses in the world, horses whose bloodlines can be traced back to the purest of antecedents;  but following a fire that devastated the stables and stud farm after the loss of the Sabr, the kingdom – and Rafiq’s father – entered a slow and lingering decline.  When he came to the throne at twenty-two, Rafiq inherited a kingdom that seemed to have lost its way, and promised his people that he would make Bharym a better place, keen to make a number of changes and improvements and to employ various technical advancements in order to make Bharym a kingdom fit for the new century.  But his proposals and enthusiasm were met by disinterest and apathy; for Rafiq’s people, the only thing that seems to matter is to reclaim their lost pride by winning the Sabr.

Now, eight years later, it seems that victory might, at last, be within Rafiq’s grasp.  He has worked hard to rebuild his stables and the stud farm and sacrificed much of his personal happiness and peace of mind in order to do so.  But it seems that isn’t enough, because over the last few months, Rafiq has been dealt another crushing blow as he has had to watch eight of his priceless breeding stock die of an unknown disease.

He needs specialist help and he needs it quickly, so he sends for Richard Darvill, the renowned veterinary surgeon attached to the Seventh Hussars who is reputed to be the foremost equine expert in the world.  So he is not best pleased when his summons is answered not by Darvill, but by his daughter, Stephanie, who explains that her father is unable to leave his regiment given Napoleon’s progress through Europe, and that she has been expertly tutored and works alongside him as his assistant.

What Stephanie doesn’t disclose is that she jumped at the chance to travel to Arabia because of her need to get away from a scandal.  A couple of years earlier, she thought herself in love and allowed herself to be seduced by one of the Hussar officers, only to be devastated when she discovered he had no intention of marrying her.  While a man is patted on the back and praised for his sexual exploits, the woman is branded loose and wanton; Stephanie’s reputation was ruined and, not wanting to risk her father’s position with the regiment, she left, first heading back to England where she continued her work and studies at a Newmarket stud farm, and thence to Bharym, with her father’s blessing.

The fact that Stephanie is a woman is not a great issue for Rafiq, although he knows that it will be one for his Master of the Horse, who believes that a woman in the stables will bring very bad luck.  But Rafiq, impressed with Stephanie’s good sense and honesty – she does not promise a miracle, only that she will do everything in her power to help – decides to appoint her as Royal Horse Surgeon.

Although they both try to resist the pull between them, the attraction between Stephanie and Rafiq is intense and really leaps off the page.  He is impressed by her knowledge and her methods – and even by the fact that she is prepared to stand up to him when necessary – and very gradually, gets her to open up to him about her past disgrace.  She expects him to be disgusted; he shows her clearly that he is not and through his kindness and respect, helps her to start to regain her self-respect and rebuild her self-esteem.  And in turn, Stephanie helps Rafiq to lay aside the burden of guilt he still carries over the death of his wife and shows him that sometimes it’s necessary to bend in order not to break, that while tradition is important, there are times when a fresh approach is needed.

The plotline concerning the mysterious illness that plagues the horses and Stephanie’s unstinting efforts on their behalf is absorbing, and the romance between the prince and his Royal Horse Surgeon is equally so. The couple is allowed time to get to know and understand each other, and I liked that they admit the strength of their mutual attraction and agree to explore it further in a mature way.  The air sizzles between them and their physical encounters are sensual and nicely steamy.  Rafiq is a gorgeous hero – jaw-droppingly handsome, of course, but also honourable, caring and fully sensible of the responsibilities he bears; and Stephanie is perfect for him in every way – intelligent, determined and spirited while being aware of the importance of tradition and convention in the society in which she finds herself.  My one quibble is that they manage to surmount the difficulties posed by the huge gulf in their social stations very easily (he’s a prince, she’s the daughter of a former farrier), but sometimes you just have to embrace the fairy tale and go with the flow.

The Harlot and the Sheikh is a thoroughly enjoyable read from start to finish and makes another fine addition to this series of Arabian-set historicals – so if you’re looking for an historical romance with an unusual setting and background, then you need look no further.

Sheik’s Mail Order Bride (Hot Arabian Nights #2) by Marguerite Kaye

sheikh's mail order bride

This title may be purchased from Amazon.

Sailing to India to marry a stranger, Constance Montgomery is shipwrecked off the Arabian coast of Murimon. The world believes her lost at sea, and only the kingdom’s ruler, Kadar, knows the truth. She’s honour-bound to leave, but the brooding Prince tempts Constance to stay…

Kadar knows that no matter how beautiful Constance is she is forbidden. But every moment with her seduces him, until temptation becomes torment! Kadar thinks he has no heart left to offer any woman…can Constance prove him wrong?

Rating:B-

Having loved the previous book in this series – The Widow and the Sheikh – I was eagerly looking forward to this second book in Ms. Kaye’s Hot Arabian Nights series, but while it contained many of the ingredients that I so enjoyed in the first book, this one doesn’t work quite so well.

The heroine is travelling to India in order to marry a man she has never met who is paying her father a large sum of money in exchange. Supposedly, her father will use the money to get out of debt, but Constance doubts he will – he’ll just make more dodgy investments and before long he and her mother will be back where they started. But Constance is a dutiful daughter and knows what is expected from her. But a violent storm during the journey wrecks the ship on which she is travelling and she ends seeking shelter in the Arabian kingdom of Murimon. She is taken to the capital and to the palace of Prince Kadar, who affords her a warm welcome and explains that she will have to remain in Murmion for at least a couple of months as there are no ships expected before then that will be able to carry her either back to England or on to India.

Kadar has been away from the kingdom for seven years, forced to return owing to the recent death of his brother. Along with his brother’s kingdom, Kadar has also inherited his brother’s bride, who, it seems is as reluctant to marry him as he to marry her. But tradition demands he fulfil his brother’s promise to wed her.

Of course, Kadar and Constance are attracted to each other, and as is always the case with this author, she really knows how to make the sparks fly and makes the most of the slightest looks and touches to turn up the heat between her central couple. Kadar is haunted by more than his brother’s marriage contracts, however, as Constance gradually uncovers the truth about the reasons he left Murimon. Like Azhar in the previous book, Kadar is torn between love and duty; unlike Azhar, Kadar has to solve his kingdom’s financial difficulties by marrying money, which makes his feelings for Constance even more impossible.

Maggie Boyd and I discussed the book in a joint, Pandora’s Box review for All About Romance. We both ended at more or less the same conclusion and rating.

Scandal at the Midsummer Ball by Marguerite Kaye & Bronwyn Scott

scandal at the midsummer ball

This title may be purchased from Amazon.

Two forbidden relationships…one house party to remember!

THE OFFICER’S TEMPTATION by Marguerite Kaye

Colonel Fergus Kennedy must make a suitable match at the Midsummer Ball. But when this officer encounters sultry acrobat Katerina Vengarov, he finds himself torn between duty…and heart-stopping, irresistible passion!

THE DEBUTANTE’S AWAKENING by Bronwyn Scott

Kael Gage is the last person at the Midsummer Ball Miss Zara Titus should speak to—and anything more is definitely off-limits! But the notorious rake seems determined to awaken this innocent debutante’s every desire…

Rating:B-

These stories from two of my favourite Harlequin/Mills and Boon Historical authors take place at a house-party renowned as much for the matchmaking and political deals struck under its roof as it is for the excellence of its food and the high quality of the entertainment provided. The stories run concurrently so that we get to take a look at the events of the party at different times, although the stories are not so closely woven together as to give the reader a sense of dejà-vu. It’s an interesting device and one I actually wish had been made a little bit more of, as I’ve enjoyed other stories where the author chooses to present the same events from different viewpoints.

The Officer’s Temptation by Marguerite Kaye. Grade: B-

The annual midsummer ball held by the Duke and Duchess of Brockmore Is one of the most exclusive events of the year, and invitations are highly sought after. The Duke is a powerful man, and the guest list is chosen carefully and with an eye to creating advantageous alliances, both political and matrimonial.

Life for a soldier during peacetime is not an easy one, and Colonel Fergus Kennedy is restless and frustrated at being confined to a desk job. When he is offered the chance of a diplomatic posting to Egypt he is more than eager to accept it, but it comes with a price tag. A diplomat needs a suitable wife, so Fergus is ordered to attend the houseparty by the Duke of Wellington with a view to making an offer for the Duke of Brockmore’s niece. Lady Verity Fairholme, is beautiful and poised, so Fergus is not completely opposed to the prospect of marrying her, in spite of the blackmail – but when she practically refuses to speak to him and is little more than barely civil when she does so, he realises that perhaps she is as unhappy about the situation as he is, and that he might as well say goodbye to his prospects.

Low in spirits, he is wandering the grounds when he strays into the secluded area set aside for practice by the acrobatic team of Alexandr and Katerina Vengarov, who have been engaged by the duke and duchess to provide entertainment at the party. Fascinated, he watches Katerina practicing her tightrope act, and the two fall into conversation, with Fergus gradually realising that Katerina attracts him far more than Lady Verity or any of the other young debutantes at the party.

Ms Kaye pens a sweet, nicely steamy romance between two people from completely different worlds who would never have met but for a simple accident. Katerina and her brother are outsiders; the equivalent of royalty in their own sphere, but mere servants in the rarefied atmosphere of the English haut-ton, and Fergus is not wealthy or titled, but a man who has worked hard and earned his position through his own merits. The thing I liked most about the story was the way in which Katerina helps Fergus to remember this and to bolster his sense of self-esteem at a time when he most needs it. Yet even then, their path is not clear; neither Fergus nor Katerina is wealthy and will have to work in order to support themselves and it seems impossible that they will be able to do that and be together. The author’s solution to their problems is perhaps a little audacious, but is actually perfect for this unusual, hard-working couple.

The Debutante’s Awakening by Bronwyn Scott. Grade: C+

Lady Zara Titus was recently jilted when her fiancé realised he loved someone else, and while Zara was not in love with him, she is frustrated at the situation she now finds herself in. She has to find herself a husband quickly in order to counter the gossip that is bound to ensue – after all, it was not the done thing for a gentleman to jilt a lady, so the assumption will be that she must somehow have been at fault. Her mother insists that Zara must behave with the utmost propriety, but Zara has had enough of conforming to the accepted view of what a young lady of good birth and breeding should be, and decides that if she must accept the rather staid gentleman who has been chosen for her, she’s going to have some fun first.

Kael Gage may be the grandson of an earl, but his father had more sons than he could provide for, and Kael is possessed of a small property but is otherwise improverished. He’s an all round scoundrel, a known womanizer and had to leave London quickly in order to avoid a scandal – which is perhaps why Zara is initially attracted to him. Or perhaps it’s his dark good looks and the fact that he exudes sex-appeal – and is exactly the sort of man to whom a young lady intending to break the rules would turn for assistance.

Kael has little time for well-bred virgins, preferring to take his pleasures with experienced woman, but he can’t deny that Zara’s mix of innocence and untapped sensuality attracts him. He quickly recognizes a kindred spirit in her, someone who doesn’t quite fit the pattern and who carefully masks her vulnerability beneath a veneer of confidence; and decides that he’ll abet her in her desire to take a few risks. But the more time he spends with her, the more he comes to appreciate her for her strength of character and her intelligence; and incredibly he finds himself regretting that he can offer her nothing more than the thrill of the forbidden for the duration of the house party. And for all her determination to live a little, Zara can’t quite shake off the shackles of convention and turn her back on the life she is expected to live.

Both stories are very readable, with sets of engaging protagonists and a group of well-drawn secondary characters. I would certainly have liked to know more about the flamboyant and enigmatic Timothy Nightingale, for example, or to have spent more time with the duke and duchess, an older couple who are clearly very much in love – but neither of those things was within the remit of this particular book. The central relationships have to evolve quickly given the time-span during which they take place, but both authors create a convincing emotional connection between their leads, so that the speed at which the romances develop is not too much of a problem.

Scandal at the Midsummer Ball isn’t something I’ll be putting on my keeper shelf, but it’s still an enjoyable piece of well-written froth. It lacks the depth normally to be found in novels by these authors, but is certainly something to consider when you’re looking for a quick but emotionally satisfying and sensual read.

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The Widow and the Sheikh (Hot Arabian Nights #1) by Marguerite Kaye

the widow and the sheikh
This title may be purchased from Amazon.

Abandoned in the desert, Julia Trevelyan finds herself at the mercy of Azhar, an imposing yet impossibly handsome Arabian merchant. Determined not to be intimidated by her rescuer—or their sizzling attraction!—she asks for his help…

But Prince Azhar is in fact the rightful heir to the Qaryma throne, returned from exile to take back his inheritance! He knows a dalliance with the enticing English adventuress is out of the question, yet he can’t deny the temptation to claim both his throne… and Julia!

Rating: A-

Anyone who regularly peruses the romance sections of bookshops or the romance listings at Amazon will know that sheikhs are popular romantic heroes in many contemporary love stories. But there aren’t all that many to be found in historical romances, so I was intrigued when I saw that one of my favourite authors was writing a series set in the early nineteenth century in which the heroes were to be sheikhs. Marguerite Kaye has already written a couple of books which feature such characters (Innocent in the Sheikh’s Harem and The Governess and the Sheikh ) – but now comes her Hot Arabian Nights series, the first of which, The Widow and the Sheikh tells the story of a young Englishwoman and a desert prince, who find themselves trapped by circumstances and faced with difficult choices.

Julia Trevelyan awakens alone in her tent in the desert, drugged, robbed and abandoned by the guides she had hired for her journey. The widow of an eminent botanist, she is bound by her deathbed promise to her late husband to complete his final book and then see it published. But all her samples have been stolen along with her money and possessions and she is going to have to find a way to regroup so that she can begin her work again in order to complete the task. Fortunately, a fellow traveller who introduces himself as Azhar finds her and offers his help, explaining that he is a businessman and trader on his way to the kingdom of Qaryma. He offers to escort her to the capital where, he says, she will find everything she needs.

Julia gratefully accepts his proposal, but gets more than she had bargained for when, upon arrival at the Al Qaryma, Azhar reveals that he is in fact the Crown Prince, returning there for the first time in ten years. What he doesn’t immediately disclose is that his real purpose in returning is to assess the state of the kingdom and after a month, abdicate in favour of his brother, who has been ruling as regent since the death of their father.

Azhar is a deeply honourable man, but does not wish to be trapped by the demands of his position. He and his father never really saw eye-to-eye which, a decade earlier, led to Azhar’s leaving Qaryma determined never to return. He has made his own way in the world, growing a successful business empire that he enjoys running and is eager to get back to. To start with, all his focus is so strongly bent upon handing the kingdom over to his brother that he fails – or refuses – to acknowledge that all is not as it should be. But he cannot remain blind for long, and, realising that an outsider can offer a unique perspective, asks Julia to remain for one month, during which he will help her to catalogue the various and rare plants of his kingdom in return for her promising to tell him the truth about the things she sees around her in his kingdom and at the court. And, of course, this extended period of time together will also allow them to further explore their strong mutual attraction.

Both Julia and Azhar are well-drawn and engaging characters, but their determination to do the right thing means that making a life together looks to be an impossibility. Having experienced marriage to a man who, though not physically cruel, did not value her or see her as a person in her own right, Julia is now intent on retaining her independence. To this end, she decides to allow herself a month out of time; a month in which to explore her sexuality and desires with her attractive, fascinating rescuer – but after that, she will return to England and make a new life for herself there.

The romance between these two people from different worlds is beautifully written and extremely well developed. Their relationship is mutually beneficial on many levels, and I liked that Azhar trusted Julia enough to be able to share his concerns with her. She is able to provide valuable insight, while he shows her that her husband’s lack of response to her was far more of a reflection of the man’s own insecurities and fears than any fault of Julia’s. The attraction between the couple is so strong it leaps off the page, and they are not shy of acting upon it when the time is right. Ms Kaye is one of those authors who can write an intensely sensual love scene in just a few paragraphs, a talent she employs to great effect here; the scene in which the couple finally make love is one of the most deliciously romantic and sexy I’ve read in quite some time.

It’s evident that Ms Kaye knows her stuff and that her research is extensive. The idea of a western woman and a sheikh as a couple might seem outlandish, but truth really is stranger than fiction as the author reminds readers in her note at the end of the book, recalling the life of Lady Jane Digby – who was married to a sheikh. And this is one of the many things I always enjoy about her books; not only do I get to read a superbly developed romance with strong, well-drawn characters who pull me into the story, but she knows her history, too. Added to that, her descriptions of the desert landscapes, the exotic flora and opulence palace and grounds are so evocative as to put the reader right there among the shifting sands or the scented gardens.

If I have a complaint, it’s one that is engendered by the fact that the author has done such a great job in setting up her story. Azhar’s dilemma – being torn between his desire to live his own life and his innate sense of duty – is so vividly written and so incredibly well explored, that the resolution, when it comes, seems somewhat anti-climactic. That’s not to say that it’s implausible – because it most definitely isn’t – and of course, it’s wonderfully romantic. It just feels a little too easy given what has gone before. But it works and I liked that Ms Kaye has left readers with the sense that while love has triumphed, both characters are well aware that the path they have chosen will not be an easy one.

Even allowing for that minor reservation, The Widow and the Sheikh is such a strongly written, beautifully romantic story that I’m rating it highly. It’s one of the most moving books I’ve read recently, and one I have no hesitation in recommending.

A Very Belated Best Of 2015

read all dayAlmost six weeks into 2016, and I haven’t been able to get around to writing up a post about my favourite reads and listens of 2015. I’ve written one each for All About Romance, Romantic Historical Reviews and AudioGals (running soon), and of course for each one, I could have chosen different titles or more titles… I had a good year last year when it came to books and audiobooks which made choosing the ones I enjoyed the most a difficult task.

I’m only including those books for which reviews appeared in 2015, as in most cases, I don’t put them here until they’ve appeared at the outlet for which they were initially written. This means that some of the books and audiobooks are ones I might have read or listened to at the end of 2014; similarly, there are a few missing from the end of 2015 for which reviews didn’t appear until 2016. Confusing perhaps, but if I had to go and check the date I’d actually finished each title it would have made the job of compiling this post an even longer one and given me another reason to put it off!

From my Goodreads stats:

Of the 231 books I read and/or listened to I gave 57 of them 5 stars; 97 of them 4 stars; 52 of them 3 stars; and 16 of them 1 or 2 stars.

As Goodreads doesn’t allow half-stars and I know that a large number of my 5 star ratings are actually 4.5 stars, here’s how I work them out. At AAR, we use a letter grading system; B+/B/B- and so on, so for me, an A is automatically a 5 star book (I’ve only given one A+ so far). A- and B+ equate to 4.5 stars, but I round an A- up to five and a B+ down to 4. B- and C+ equate to 3.5 stars, but I round a B- up to 4 and a C+ down to 3 and so on.

Top Books:

– ones I’ve given 5 stars or 4.5 stars and rounded up (A+/A/A-)

Honourable Mentions:

– a few of the B+ books I enjoyed

Of Rakes and Radishes by Susanna Ives
In Bed With a Spy by Alyssa Alexander
The Soldier’s Dark Secret by Marguerite Kaye
The Duke and the Lady in Red by Lorraine Heath
The Earl’s Dilemma by Emily May
The Marriage Act by Alyssa Everett
The Chaperone’s Seduction by Sarah Mallory
The Highwayman by Kerrigan Byrne
The Lure of the Moonflower by Lauren Willig
The Soldier’s Rebel Lover by Marguerite Kaye
A Talent for Trickery by Alissa Johnson
Cold Hearted Rake by Lisa Kleypas
Daniel’s True Desire by Grace Burrowes
The Spinster’s Guide to Scandalous Behaviour by Jennifer McQuiston
Sweetest Scoundrel by Elizabeth Hoyt

Top Audiobooks:

– ones that have received 4.5/5 stars or an A/A- for narration AND at least 4 stars/B for content.  This will naturally exclude a few titles where an excellent narration hasn’t been matched by a story that was equally good, OR where a really good story hasn’t been paired with a narrator who could do it justice.

I’ve also (finally!) got around to updating my 2015 TBR Challenge post with the list of books I chose to read last year. I completed the Mount TBR Challenge at Goodreads, too, knocking 32 or 33 books off my pre-2015 TBR pile.


(There are some overlaps with the TBR Challenge, and as I’ve been compiling this post, I’ve realised I missed a few out!) But I’m back into both challenges again this year and shall attempt to update my progress more regularly than I managed in 2015.

To sum up, almost half the books I read and/or listened to last year got at least 4 stars, which I think is a pretty good strike rate considering the numbers of books put out (and the amount of dross that’s out there to wade through).  2016 is also off to a good start, so keep watching these pages (or find me at my other haunts!) to find out what’s making me happy 🙂