An Heiress to Remember (Gilded Age Girls Club #3) by Maya Rodale (audiobook) – Narrated by Charlotte North


This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

Can a scandalized heiress…

Beatrice Goodwin left Manhattan a duchess and has returned a divorcée, ready to seize control of her fate and the family business. Goodwin’s Department Store, once the pinnacle of fashion, has fallen from favor thanks to Dalton’s, its glamorous competitor across the street. But this rivalry has a distinctly personal edge….

And a self-made tycoon…

For Wes Dalton, Beatrice has always been the one – the one who broke his young heart by marrying a duke, and now, the one whose cherished store he plans to buy, just so he can destroy it. It’s the perfect revenge against a family who believed he’d never be good enough for their daughter – until Beatrice’s return complicates everything….

Find happily ever after at last?

While Goodwin’s and Dalton’s duel to be the finest store in Gilded Age Manhattan, Beatrice and Wes succumb to a desire that has only deepened with time. Adversaries by day, lovers by night, both will soon have to decide which is sweeter: winning the battle or thoroughly losing their hearts….

Rating: Narration – B; Content – C+

An Heiress to Remember, book three in Maya Rodale’s Gilded Age Girls Club series, is a second-chance, antagonists-to-lovers romance set in vibrant, bustling turn-of-the-century New York City. The story of young lovers torn asunder who reunite later in life is a familiar one, but while it’s fairly well done, the main story here is really that of a woman coming fully into her own, and sometimes the love story feels as though it’s been put into the back seat.

Eighteen-year-old department store heiress Beatrice Goodwin has fallen in love with her father’s protégé, Wes Dalton, son of an Irish immigrant family, but when we first meet them, she’s about to say goodbye. Her family is pressuring her to marry an English duke; Wes urges Beatrice to reject the duke’s offer and run away with him instead – but Beatrice is terribly torn. She loves Wes, but where will she be if she disobeys her parents? How can she refuse to do the thing she’s been brought up to do – make a prestigious marriage and do her duty to her family?

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

Duchess by Design (Gilded Age Girls Club #1) by Maya Rodale (audiobook) – Narrated by Charlotte North

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

In Gilded Age Manhattan, anything can happen…

Seeking a wealthy American bride who can save his family’s estate, Brandon Fiennes, the duke of Kingston, is a rogue determined to do the right thing. But his search for an heiress goes deliciously awry when an enchanting seamstress tumbles into his arms instead.

…and true love is always in fashion.

Miss Adeline Black aspires to be a fashionable dressmaker – not a duchess – and not even an impossibly seductive duke will distract her. But Kingston makes an offer she can’t refuse: join him at society events to display her gowns and advise him on which heiresses are duchess material. It’s the perfect plan – as long as they resist temptation, avoid a scandal, and above all, do not lose their hearts.

Rating: Narration – A- : Content – B

Duchess by Design is the first entry in Maya Rodale’s new Gilded Age Girls Club series of historical romances, set – not surprisingly – in New York’s Gilded Age at the end of the nineteenth century. While the premise – an impoverished duke who needs to marry money falls for a penniless woman instead – is a well-worn one, Ms. Rodale gives it a fresh coat of paint while also encompassing the many changes in society that were happening at the time and providing a solution to the central dilemma that is completely and absolutely right for this story.

Brandon Fiennes, Duke of Kingston, inherited a pile of debts along with his title, and is now faced with the time-honoured method of restoring the family finances, his crumbling estates, his tenant’s livelihoods and providing a dowry for his sisters. He must marry an heiress. On the advice of his cousin, Freddie, Lord Hewitt, Kingston travels to New York where his title will gain him an entrée in to the highest society and thus present him with his choice of current crop of Dollar Princesses – heiresses whose families have made huge sums of money from railways, manufacturing, real-estate and so on. It might not be what he wants for himself, but it’s the only way he can provide for all those who depend on him; even if he can’t marry for love, it will at least mean that his sisters will have the chance to do so.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

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

This title may be purchased from Amazon

Some Mistakes…

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

Are Far Too Good…

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

To Be Forgotten

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

Rating: B+

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

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

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

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

If you’ve read the synopsis, then you’ll already know that James’ ‘Just a girl’ is, in fact, Miss Meredith Green, companion to his aunt, the Dowager Duchess of Durham.  On the way back to London after a visit to her sick mother (who has dementia), she is weary and heartsick, looking ahead to years of a life lived for others and needs, just once, to feel fully alive and as though someone truly sees her, Meredith, not just another trusted servant.

James is, of course, shocked to realise that Meredith is his aunt’s companion, but also delighted to see again the young woman with whom he’d shared such pleasure and to whom he feels such a strong connection.  At first, he actively pursues her – as far as he is able under his aunt’s close scrutiny – but Meredith takes pains to point out to him that she owes everything to the duchess and the last thing she wants or can afford to do is to anger her by indulging in some sort of clandestine relationship with him.

The dowager is intent on getting James and his sisters ready to make their débuts as quickly as possible before the speculation already circulating that they are uncouth savages who are not fit for English society becomes worse.  Realising she has quite the task on hand in preparing Claire, Bridget and (especially) Amelia, the duchess asks Meredith – to whom she has given the education afforded daughters of the nobility – to help James to acquire the necessary polish while she concentrates on the girls.

James finds all the rules and strictures exasperating and makes it clear that he’s only giving this duke business a trial and that if he decides it’s not for him, he’ll be heading back across the Atlantic. As it is, the only thing keeping him in England is Meredith; but as James begins to realise that there is more to being a duke than escorting his sisters to balls and parties and driving in the park, he also starts to see that Meredith is right about the impossibility of there being anything further between them.  He bears a responsibility to all those who depend upon the dukedom for their livelihood, a responsibility that was neglected following the deaths of his uncle and father; and James gradually finds himself assuming the ducal mantle in more ways than one.  He even accepts that his aunt’s insistence on his finding a suitable bride from the ranks of the ton is one of those duties he must discharge – and even though he is deeply in love with Meredith, determines to find someone he can at least be comfortable with for the sake of his title, his duty – and the happiness of his sisters.

The author does a very good job here of showing how James grows into his role as duke without fundamentally changing the essence of the man he is.  He’s not a surly, brooding hero with intimacy issues; he’s a kind, decent and loving man who wants to do the right thing for those who depend on him, especially his sisters, who annoy the hell out of him but whom he adores anyway.  The emotional connection between him and Meredith is very strongly wrought and leaps off the page and their longing for one another is palpable.  Meredith could have been a bit of a doormat given her situation as neither family nor servant, but she isn’t.  She’s aware of her place and very conscious of the debt of gratitude she owes the dowager, but she’s her own woman; warm, intelligent and intuitive, she becomes a friend to Claire, Bridget and Amelia, all of whom are well aware of the way the wind is blowing and see no reason why their brother should not be happy.

The two central characters are immensely likeable without being saccharine, and while Josephine, Dowager Duchess of Durham, initially comes across as a stuck-up, interfering biddy who cares only for the title and not the man holding it, that is soon shown to be a misconception. She’s concerned about the fate of the dukedom, yes, but for reasons that are far from superficial.

The storyline runs concurrently with those in the previous books, but you don’t need to have read them in order to enjoy this one as it works perfectly well as a standalone.  Ms. Rodale’s writing is intelligent and engaging, and I’m pleased to say that I didn’t find myself having to suspend my disbelief too often, probably because, as a man, James isn’t bound by the same constraints as his sisters (sad, but true) so there’s less of a ‘wallpaper’ feel to the novel overall.

There’s a bit of a hiccup towards the end involving a disclosure that isn’t really necessary in terms of the plot, but I appreciated the way that James and Meredith find a way to be together while keeping in sight what is most important to them and remaining true to themselves.  It’s Hard Out Here for a Dukeis a tender romance and a fitting way to wave farewell to the Cavendish siblings.

At the Christmas Wedding (anthology) by Caroline Linden, Maya Rodale and Katharine Ashe


This title may be purchased from Amazon

Snowed in at a castle full of handsome lords, three young ladies are about to have the holiday of their lives…

Map of a Lady’s Heart by Caroline Linden

The road to happily-ever-after… With Kingstag Castle full of guests and the snow falling, Viola Cavendish has her hands full making sure the Christmas house party runs smoothly. The unexpected arrival of the Earl of Winterton and his nephew Lord Newton upends everything. Not only is Lord Newton flirting with the young ladies Viola is supposed to chaperone, Lord Winterton himself makes her pulse race.
Always takes some twists and turns Wesley Morane, Earl of Winterton, has come to Kingstag Castle in search of a valuable atlas, and he refuses to be deterred by the snow, the house party, his nephew, or even the most ridiculous play ever staged. But before long the only map he wants is one that shows him the way to Viola’s heart…

Hot Rogue on a Cold Night by Maya Rodale

Jilted by a duke: Lady Serena Cavendish was born and bred to be a duchess. Too bad, then, that the Duke of Frye mysteriously and suddenly ended their betrothal.
Seduced by a Rogue: Greyson Jones, an agent of the crown, is the only one who thinks being jilted has made Serena more alluring. When he lucks into an invitation to a Christmas house party at Kingstag Castle to cheer her up—and perhaps find her a husband—he seizes the opportunity to win her heart before they might be parted forever.
On the way to the altar: Their journey to happily ever after involves a ridiculous play, a lovesick swan, a mysterious gift and, of course, a kiss.

Snowy Night with a Duke by Katharine Ashe

The last time Lady Charlotte Ascot bumped into the Duke of Frye, she climbed a tree to avoid him. Sometimes it’s simply easier to run away than to face her feelings for him — overwhelmingly passionate feelings that no modest lady should have! Now, on her way to Kingstag Castle to celebrate the holidays with friends, Charlotte is trapped by a snowstorm at a tiny country inn with the duke of her steamiest dreams.
But Frye has a secret of his own, and Christmas is the ideal time to finally tell the woman he’s always wanted the whole unvarnished truth. Better yet, he’ll show her…

Rating: B+ overall. Individual stories: B+ : B- : B+

At the Christmas Wedding is a collection of festive novellas by three of the biggest names in historical romance – Caroline Linden, Maya Rodale and Katharine Ashe. As with their previous anthology, At the Duke’s Wedding, the individual stories take place concurrently, this time at and around Kingstag Castle in Dorset, the site of a festive house party being hosted by the Duke and Duchess of Wessex. The three stories are perfect seasonal fare – warm, light-hearted and perfectly romantic, laced with humour, filled with likeable principals and served up with a soupçon of Yuletide cheer and festive frolic.


Map of a Lady’s Heart by Caroline Linden

Grade: B+                Sensuality: Warm

When the Duke and Duchess of Wessex are called away urgently just as their Christmas house party is about to start, it seems the bulk of the organisation and hostess duties will fall upon the shoulders of Viola Cavendish, the duchess’ personal secretary and a distant relation of the duke’s.  Viola would not normally be expected to undertake such a duty, but the dowager duchess is indisposed, the duke’s eldest sister, Lady Serena, has recently suffered a broken engagement and neither lady is up to the task of supervising the arrangements.  Viola is somewhat daunted by the enormity of the task, but doesn’t want the duchess to worry and assures her that she has everything in hand.

Wesley Morane, Earl of Winterton has inveigled himself an invitation to the Wessex’s house party in order to negotiate with the duke over the purchase of a valuable atlas that had belonged to Wes’ father and been sold in error following his death.  He arrives at Kingstag accompanied by his young nephew, Viscount Newton, just ahead of a snowstorm that is likely to see them stuck there for a few days.

Viola is not a little displeased at the unexpected arrival of two gentlemen whose names aren’t on her guest list.  But with the weather closing in, she has little alternative but to offer them hospitality until it is once again safe to travel.  The blizzard also presents another problem for Viola, that of a house full of young ladies and gentlemen who will no doubt grow bored and restive at being trapped inside for days on end.  Viola knows she is the only person at Kingstag with any hope of preventing mischief and scandal, and resigns herself to being an ever-present chaperone.  But while young Newton is turning the heads of some of the ladies, Viola finds it increasingly difficult to ignore the attractions of his handsome uncle…

Ms. Linden develops the romance between Wes and Viola beautifully so that it doesn’t feel unnaturally hurried.  They talk, exchange opinions and discover common interests and the air between them crackles with longing and attraction. I particularly liked the scene where they talk about the night sky; and Wes’ Christmas gift to Viola is one of those perfect ‘aww’ moments that a romance delivers every so often. Map of a Lady’s Heart is a wonderfully warm and sensual story and Ms. Linden does a terrific job of setting the scene for the other stories.


Hot Rogue on a Cold Night by Maya Rodale

Grade: B-                 Sensuality: Warm

Maya Rodale’s contribution to the anthology is full of her trademark humour, witty dialogue and slightly bonkers characters.  When Lady Serena Cavendish was jilted by the Duke of Frye for no discernible reason, her mother, the dowager duchess, decided to throw a house party to which she has invited a number of young people in the hope of lifting Serena’s spirits.  Being a canny woman, the dowager also invited Frye, in the hope that perhaps he and Serena will reconcile – but the trouble is she has also invited Frye’s insufferable best friend, Mr. Grayson Jones, who was overheard to have said that his friend ‘dodged a bullet’ when he decided not to marry Lady Serena, because she’s far too perfect to be interesting.

Unbeknownst to Serena, Greyson Jones – Grey – has been in love with her for years, but her long-standing engagement meant he never had any hopes of winning her.  Now, however, he is determined to take his chance; he is shortly to accept a diplomatic posting to India, and has just a week in which to persuade Serena of the truth of his feelings and to get her to fall in love with him.

In the previous story, we were given a few glimpses of the ridiculous play being written for the guests to perform by Lady Bridget (who is no relation to the Bridget Cavendish of Ms. Rodale’s current series, Keeping Up with the Cavendishes).  Here, rehearsals are in full swing, and the casting of Grey as the hero, Lord Pirate Captain, and Serena as his heroine, the Lonely Spinster, gives Grey the perfect opportunity to spend time with his lady love and start to woo her.

Hot Rogue on a Cold Night is funny and entertaining, and the chemistry between the central couple sizzles nicely. Grey is a delicious hero and I loved Aunt Sophronia, one of those wonderful grande dames of historical romance who get to say whatever they like and pat handsome gentlemen on the bottom without giving a fig for what anyone thinks of them!  The whole thing did pass in a bit of a blur though – it felt rushed and the sex scene seemed to be there because it was expected rather than needed, but it’s a fun read overall.


Snowy Night with a Duke by Katharine Ashe

Grade: B+               Sensuality: Warm

Katharine Ashe is on fine form in the final story, in which we properly meet His Grace of Frye and discover the reason behind his broken engagement.  He and his friend and colleague, Lord Fortier, do ‘odd jobs’ for the crown now and again, and as this story begins, are just arriving at the Fiddler’s Roost Inn near Kingstag, where they hope to apprehend a confidence trickster.  The duke is travelling as plain Mr. Horace Church, but as he and Fortier set up their cover story by faking a brawl in the yard, he is unnerved to notice Miss Charlotte Ascot standing in the doorway.  Not only has he been in love with her for ages, he thought she was in America, where she’s lived for the past two-and-a-half years.

In an anguish of unrequited love, Charlotte fled to America in an attempt to cure herself of her long-standing infatuation with the Duke of Frye.  She has returned, not in hopes that he will at last return her feelings, but in order to comfort her friend Serena, and because she realises now that she carried her feelings with her when she ran and that instead, she must face them and learn to live with them.

The realisation that his friend, Greyson Jones, was in love with Serena Cavendish was as much at the root of Frye’s decision not to marry her as was the knowledge that he was himself in love with another woman.  Charlotte Ascot has haunted his dreams for years, but Frye knows he can never marry her; can never marry anyone due to a mysterious condition which sometimes incapacitates him and which he fears will send him to an early grave like his father.

Ms. Ashe packs a lot of story into a short page count but it all works, culminating in a beautifully romantic declaration of love.  Charlotte and Frye are superbly drawn characters and I enjoyed watching them bicker their way towards understanding the truth of their long-held feelings for one another.  Snowy Night With a Duke is a charming, tender and passionate romance and a terrific way to round off this set of seasonal love stories.

Lady Claire is All That (Keeping Up With the Cavendishes #3) by Maya Rodale (audiobook) – narrated by Saskia Maarleveld

lady-claire-audio

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon.

In the third installment of Maya Rodale’s captivating, witty series, a marquess finds his fair lady – but must figure out how to keep her.

Her brains…

Claire Cavendish is in search of a duke but not for the usual reasons. The man she seeks is a mathematician; the man she unwittingly finds is Lord Fox: dynamic, athletic, and as bored by the equations Claire adores as she is by the social whirl upon which he thrives. As attractive as Fox is, he’s of no use to Claire…or is he?

Plus his brawn…

Fox’s male pride has been bruised ever since his fiancée jilted him. One way to recover: win a bet that he can transform Lady Claire, society’s roughest diamond, into its most prized jewel. But Claire has other ideas – shockingly steamy ones.

Equals a study in seduction.

By Claire’s calculations Fox is the perfect man to satisfy her sensual curiosity. In Fox’s estimation Claire is the perfect woman to prove his mastery of the ton. But the one thing neither of them counted on is love.

Rating: Narration – A; Content – B

Anyone familiar with Maya Rodale’s current Keeping Up with the Cavendishes series can’t fail to have noticed that the plots of the previous books in the series (Lady Bridget’s Diary and Chasing Lady Amelia) have been loosely based on famous films**. The plot of Lady Claire Is All That, the third instalment, is no exception, deriving a storyline from the 90s movie She’s All That, which in turn borrowed its plot from Pygmalion.

The basic premise is that of high-school jock – in this case an incredibly handsome, ridiculously wealthy, hugely popular marquess – meets and falls for high-school geek – here, a new-to-London American lady who is obsessed with mathematics and widely thought to be rather odd. It’s a fun, fluffy listen for the most part, but amid the froth, Ms. Rodale manages to make some pertinent points about sexism and feminism, and to include some moments of insight and introspection on the parts of both hero and heroine as they come to realise they need to make some major re-evaluations of their sense of self and plans for the future.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals

Lady Claire is All That (Keeping Up With the Cavendishes #3) by Maya Rodale

lady-claire-is-all-mm-c

This title may be purchased from Amazon

Her Brains

Claire Cavendish is in search of a duke, but not for the usual reasons. The man she seeks is a mathematician; the man she unwittingly finds is Lord Fox: dynamic, athletic, and as bored by the equations Claire adores as she is by the social whirl upon which he thrives. As attractive as Fox is, he’s of no use to Claire . . . or is he?

Plus His Brawn

Fox’s male pride has been bruised ever since his fiancée jilted him. One way to recover: win a bet that he can transform Lady Claire, Society’s roughest diamond, into its most prized jewel. But Claire has other ideas—shockingly steamy ones. . .

Equals A Study In Seduction

By Claire’s calculations, Fox is the perfect man to satisfy her sensual curiosity. In Fox’s estimation, Claire is the perfect woman to prove his mastery of the ton. But the one thing neither of them counted on is love . . .

Rating: B-

The books in Maya Rodale’s current series, Keeping Up With the Cavendishes are all loosely based on well-known movie plots. The first book, Lady Bridget’s Diary… well, that’s pretty obvious. The second, Chasing Lady Amelia is a retelling of Roman Holiday and Lady Claire is All That is a reworking of the popular teen-movie from 1999, She’s All That, which is itself described as a revamp of George Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion. This seems to be a bit of a trend in historical romance at the moment – if we’re not bombarded by overly-cutesy (and mostly ridiculous) song title-titles, we’re getting recycled plots from a medium that wasn’t even around at the beginning of the 19th century; and that makes it really hard to maintain any level of historical accuracy, as characters have to be made to think and do things to fit the plot that vary from “unlikely” to “implausible” to “Just – No.”

That doesn’t mean this isn’t an enjoyable book, because it is. I breezed through it in two sittings; it’s well-written, the two progagonists are engaging and Ms. Rodale has some good points to make about how we sometimes need to adjust our perceptions of self and others if we’re going to be true to ourselves and be the people we’re meant to be. I often find myself saying of this author’s books that they’re ones I will pick up when I want to read something light-hearted and fun and am prepared to check my “historical accuracy” hat at the door. And if that’s what you’re in the mood for, then it’ll likely work for you.

The Cavendish family – three sisters, one brother – moved to London when James Cavendish unexpectedly inherited a dukedom. The three books in the series so far comprise the sisters’ stories, and the storylines run more or less concurrently – which means they can be read in pretty much any order. Their chaperone in London is the Dowager Duchess of Durham, and she is doing her best to ensure that the siblings are accepted into London society. That’s not an easy task, given the rigidity of English society of the time, and the propensity to look down noses at those uncouth, brash Americans – but it’s also true that the Cavendishes aren’t making it all that easy on themselves either. Youngest sister Amelia is impatient with all the rules and conventions and does her best to deliberately flout them, and oldest sister Claire has only one purpose in mind – to meet the renowned Duke of Ashbrooke and discuss advanced mathematics with him. To deter any potential suitors, Claire talks about maths to anyone who will listen – which isn’t anybody for very long.

Lord Fox is very much the equivalent of the US college Jock in the film. He’s gorgeous, fit and excels at pretty much every physical activity he puts his mind to; hunting, fencing, boxing… women… you name it, he’s the best at it. He readily admits that he’s not the sharpest tool in the box, and doesn’t see the trap being set for him when Lord Mowbray wagers that Fox can’t take a wallflower and turn her into the darling of the ton. Fox, whose equally lovely fiancée recently dumped him to run off with an actor, is feeling a little bit bruised – he’s a winner, not a loser – and only realises what he’s let himself in for when Mowbray insists on choosing the recipient of Fox’s assistance – Lady Claire Cavendish.

The plotline is straightforward and proceeds as expected, but what makes the book readable is the way Ms. Rodale handles the gradually evolving perceptions of Fox and Claire, both in terms of how they think of themselves and how they see each other. Not to put too fine a point on it, Claire thinks Fox is stupid; and even though, as the story progresses, she starts to see that his is a different kind of intelligence, she continues to believe that because they don’t match each other intellectually, they don’t belong together. And while Fox is initially all about the wager, he’s impressed by Claire’s “brainbox”; even when he has no idea what she is talking about, he likes the sound of her voice and way her passion for her topic animates her. He comes to appreciate her for what and who she is and doesn’t want her to change, even though it means losing the wager.

On the downside, however, Claire is fairly self-obsessed, and she’s the sort of person who keeps having to remind everyone how smart she is in order to validate her own sense of self-worth. And she’s pretty hard on Fox, making it clear that he’s too dumb for her even though she’s happy to snog and grope him at every available opportunity. He is, however, clever enough to recognise that she’s only interested in his body.

Fox isn’t perfect, either, and his constant refrain of “I win at everything” gets irritating fast, but he’s rather endearing for all that. He is what he is and doesn’t try to be something he’s not – and I liked that he is prepared to go out on a limb for what he wants and doesn’t care what anyone else thinks.

Another flaw is that while the couple does get to know each other well enough to begin to reassess their opinions, there’s no real sense of their actually falling in love. One minute, they’re not in love, and the next they are – and it’s something we’re told rather than shown.

In spite of those criticisms, there’s no question Ms. Rodale is an accomplished author and she writes the familial relationships in this story very well. This is very much a wallpaper historical though, so if you like historical romance that has a strong sense of period, in which the characters speak and act as though they could plausibly come from the 19th century instead of the 21st, then it might not work for you. And then there is the usual complement of Americanisms – by far the worst of which is the constant use of the word “math”. Given that Claire is a mathematician, this is only to be expected, but in England we refer to “mathS” with an “s” on the end (it’s a contraction of mathematicS, after all). It got very annoying very quickly.

Ultimately, Lady Claire is All That is a well-written piece of romantic fluff that’s entertaining and easy to read. Anyone in the mood for something in that line could do a lot worse than to pick it up.

Chasing Lady Amelia Keeping Up With the Cavendishes #2) by Maya Rodale

chasing lady amelia cover

This title may be purchased from Amazon.

Terribly Improper

Lady Amelia is fed up with being a proper lady and wishes to explore London, so one night she escapes . . . and finds herself in the company of one Alistair Finlay-Jones. He’s been ordered by his uncle to wed one of the American girls. How lucky, then, that one of them stumbles right into his arms!

Totally Scandalous

Alistair and Amelia have one perfect day to explore London, from Astley’s Amphitheater to Vauxhall Gardens. Inevitably they end up falling in love and making love. If anyone finds out, she will be ruined, but he will win everything he’s ever wanted.

Very Romantic

When Amelia finds out Alistair has been ordered to marry her, he must woo her and win back the angry American girl. But with the threat of scandals, plural, looming . . . will he ever catch up to the woman he loves?

Rating:B-

Maya Rodale is one of the authors I turn to when I want brain candy; a well-written, frothy, light-hearted read that doesn’t get too bogged down in angst, has a fair bit of humour and attractive characters. And she certainly delivers all that in Chasing Lady Amelia the second book in her Keeping Up With the Cavendishes series, featuring four American siblings who are thrust into the midst of English society when James Cavendish unexpectedly inherits a dukedom.

James has three sisters; bespectacled Claire, who is something of a bluestocking, Bridget, whose story is told in the previous book, Lady Bridget’s Diary, and who is very, very keen to become a proper English Lady – and Amelia. Who isn’t. In fact, Amelia has no patience whatsoever with the restrictive mores of English society or with the equally restrictive clothing she is forced to wear. I admit here to heaving a big sigh at the prospect of reading about yet another stereotypically “fresh” American heroine who is so much more lively and independent of mind and spirit than her stodgy, stuck-up English counterparts.

Fortunately, Ms. Rodale is a good enough writer to be able to make Amelia a more engaging character than she probably sounds from that description, but she still displays a degree of immaturity that is annoying rather than endearing. Such as when, in the middle of a ball, she decides her shoes are pinching her feet so much that she must, she absolutely MUST take them off right this minute. So she does. And sticks them in a plant pot. But that is just the start of her troubles, because the moment she’s divested herself of her shoes, she is invited to dance. Of course a young lady with no shoes on is nothing short of scandalous, so to avoid revealing it, she fakes a faint, which ends up having a domino effect involving her prospective dance partner, a buxom countess, a footman and a tray of champagne.

Shortly after this, enter our hero, one Alastair Finlay-Jones, despised nephew of and heir to Baron Wrotham. Alastair is Anglo-Indian, something which is mentioned but is never explored and seems to have no real purpose other than to show that, like Amelia, he can only ever exist on the fringes of good society – and has recently returned to England following an absence of almost six-and-a-half-years. Summoned by his uncle, he is told in no uncertain terms to marry one of the newly arrived American heiresses. Alastair, who has no other family and longs for his uncle’s approval, finds it difficult to say no because of the guilt he still feels over the death of his cousin – so he doesn’t, well, say no.

As luck would have it, one of those very heiresses has – almost literally – fallen into Alastair’s lap. While wending his way home from an evening at his club the night before, he was accosted by a young lady who seemed to be somewhat the worse for wear. As she was unable to tell him where she lived, Alastair took her to his flat after she passed out, and it’s only after he sees the scandal sheets the next morning that he realises who the lady is. Things could be worse; she’s pretty, she’s young and she’s got a hefty dowry, but Alastair knows a man of little fortune or reputation such as he isn’t going to stand a chance with her once he is just one of a crowd of men seeking her hand. But if he doesn’t let on that he knows who she is, maybe he will have the chance to gain the advantage; if they can spend some time together then when she meets him again in a ballroom, she will recognise him and, hopefully, they will have some happy, shared memories that will single him out from everyone else.

The first half of the story takes place over roughly a twelve-hour period as Amelia and Alastair embark on a once-in-a-lifetime day out, which reminded me somewhat of the plot of Roman Holiday (even down to the scandalous hair cut!), in which Audrey Hepburn’s princess spends a day out-of-time with handsome reporter, Gregory Peck. Ms. Rodale writes the evolving relationship between her protagonists very convincingly so that, in spite of the short time-frame, the romance doesn’t feel rushed, although I did have to give a sideways glance to the fact that things turn physical shortly before they part. I know Amelia is supposed to be free-spirited and reckless, but one would have thought, given her brother is a horse-breeder and she’s grown up around animals, she’s have given a thought to possible consequences.

Anyway, following that magical day, things start to fall apart. Realising that Alastair had known who she was all along, Amelia feels hurt and betrayed and wants nothing to do with him. Thus, it’s down to our hero to do a bit of grovelling and to prove to Amelia that in spite of the lie, he’s true of heart and that he has no intention of compromising her into marriage. And then his brain thinks dumb things in a last minute attempt to inject some unnecessary angst and I could have smacked him.

Apart from that, Alastair is the best thing about the book. He’s funny, charming and self-deprecating; his guilt at having caused his cousin’s death (which he didn’t, really) is perhaps rather overdone though, and his last minute volte-face really is a switch too far. He’s said to be a reprobate, although I saw nothing in him that one doesn’t find in all of the young gentleman heroes in historical romances; he’s not averse to the odd wager or card game, likes women and enjoys a drink with his mates – all things which usually earn back-slaps, not censure!

Amelia becomes more likeable as the book progresses, but although I did understand her desire to get out from under the weight of expectation, she never really rises above your stock-in-trade rebellious heroine. Perhaps “it’s not you, it’s me”; she’s not an unattractive character, but she never really took on a life of her own in my imagination and wasn’t someone I found myself wanting to know more about or spend time with.

Chasing Lady Amelia is, as I said at the outset, exactly the sort of book I expect from this author, and it’s the type of thing she does very, very well. I’m sure it will prove too insubstantial for some tastes and there’s no doubt that she once again plays fast and loose with historical accuracy and social convention; but fans of hers are sure to enjoy it and it’s certainly worth consideration by anyone who is in the mood for an angst-free (mostly) piece of well-written fluff.

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 🙂

What a Wallflower Wants by Maya Rodale (audiobook) – Narrated by Carolyn Morris

what a wallflower wants audio

Miss Prudence Merryweather Payton has a secret.

Everyone knows that she’s the only graduate from her finishing school to remain unwed on her fourth season – but no one knows why. With her romantic illusions shattered after being compromised against her will, Prudence accepts a proposal even though her betrothed is not exactly a knight in shining armor. When he cowardly pushes her out of their stagecoach to divert a highwayman, she vows never to trust another man again.

John Roark, Viscount Castleton, is nobody’s hero.

He’s a blue-eyed charmer with a mysterious past and ambitious plans for his future – that do not include a wife. When he finds himself stranded at a country inn with a captivating young woman, a delicate dance of seduction ensues. He knows he should keep his distance. And he definitely shouldn’t start falling in love with her.

When Prudence’s dark past comes back to haunt her, John must protect her – even though he risks revealing his own secrets that could destroy his future.

Rating: Narration A-; Content B+

This is the final book in Maya Rodale’s Wallflower trilogy, and is the best of the lot. I enjoyed the first one (The Wicked Wallflower), which was full of humour and light-hearted banter, even though it did require rather a large suspension of disbelief at times; the second (Wallflower Gone Wild) was a bit of a disappointment, but Ms Rodale clearly saved the best till last, because What a Wallflower Wants is a much more deeply felt story, telling of a young woman’s path towards reclaiming her life following a horrific event.

Prudence Merryweather Peyton, known throughout the ton as “London’s Least Likely to be Caught in a Compromising Position” has seen both her dearest friends find love with two handsome, charming men who are devoted to them. While she is delighted for them, Prudence can’t help but be just a little sad for herself, as she has no such happy prospect before her. Four years previously when in her very first season, she was violently assaulted, something she has revealed to no-one, not even her closest friends. Ashamed, scared and no longer desirous of attracting the attention of any man, Prudence retreated to the wallflower corner at balls and parties. Having learned never to expect help from any quarter, Prudence now has to save herself from the ridicule that will ensue if she is still unmarried by the time of the annual ball held by the graduates of the famous Lady Penelope’s Finishing School. In desperation, she accepts a proposal of marriage from a young man she knows will be satisfied with a marriage in name only, and elopes with him – only to discover that her intended has feet of clay when their coach is held up and robbed.

Having managed to escape, Prudence encounters a young man driving a smart equipage who offers his assistance. Unable to conquer her fear of being alone with a man, she refuses his help and continues on foot, only to discover that the same man – who had introduced himself as John Roark, Viscount Castleton – has thoughtfully arranged a room, food and a hot bath for her at the nearest inn.

A storm of almost Biblical proportions means that Roark and Prudence are stuck at the Coach and Horses for a few days, during which time they come to know and understand each other. Their relationship does develop a little quickly perhaps, but it’s very well written, and John is such a wonderful hero – kind, gentle and with a real sense of fun – that it’s easy to believe in the depth of his feelings for Prudence and his desire to protect and help her to overcome the horrible thing that happened to her. And the thing that really stands out is the way in which Ms Rodale doesn’t turn him into a miracle “cure”. Prudence is a great heroine – strong, clever and witty – but she just needs a little push to re-discover her true self, the one she buried after the rape, and that’s what John provides. He’s perceptive enough to realise that she is the only person who can change her life and he offers her the quiet, non-judgemental support that she needs in order to do it.

But swoonworthy though John is, it’s clear fairly early on that he’s keeping secrets, too, although it isn’t until around the halfway point that the listener gets a real inkling of what those might be. I’ll admit that I found this part of the plot to be somewhat frustrating; the romance develops quite quickly in the first two-thirds of the book, and the last is taken up with dealing with John’s situation and Prudence’s sense of betrayal when she discovers his deception. I realise that there has to be some sort of conflict in a romantic novel, but I thought Prudence had enough to overcome without discovering that the man she’d fallen for had withheld important information from her.

That said, John isn’t a terrible person and the deception he perpetrates is done because of his intense need to look after his mother and sister; and is one that could almost be said to be victimless, although it does open Prudence up to hurt and derision. But she holds her head up high and is no longer willing to be cowed by circumstance, taking back control of her life in one fabulous masterstroke.

In spite of that and my reservations about the pacing, I have to say as well that Ms Rodale gets a lot right in this book. Prudence is often angry at herself for allowing her fear to dictate so many of her actions, and the way she recoils from the slightest touch is perfectly believable. The rape itself is described in flashback in the story, and is very difficult to hear – as it should be. But the author focuses on Prudence’s reactions and feelings, and her desperation when she realises that no-one is coming to her rescue is gut wrenching as are her thoughts later: “The Beast hadn’t just taken her innocence -he’d stolen her future.”

And that brings me to Carolyn Morris’ performance, which in that particular scene is simply excellent and brought me close to tears. She hits exactly the right note with Prudence’s inner monologue, going from disbelief that something like this could happen to a young lady who has always done the right thing – to a desperation thinly laced with hope at the thought that surely someone will happen along to prevent what’s about to happen – to despair at the realisation that nobody is coming to save her.

Ms Morris is someone to whom I always enjoy listening, and I’ve made much in past reviews of her affinity for light comedy and her ability to bring to life the sort of witty banter characteristic of authors like Ms Rodale and Tessa Dare. This being a slightly darker story than the others in the series, there is perhaps less of the banter, but she nonetheless brings a great deal of warmth and humour to the interchanges between John and Prudence as they become close and fall in love. She’s a narrator who differentiates between the sexes through the use of tone and timbre rather than by using pitch to a great degree, and while she is for the most part successful, there are times when it’s a little tricky to tell the difference between Prudence’s friends Emma and Olivia, or their husbands, Ashbrooke and Radcliffe. That’s not to say the differences aren’t there – they’re just quite subtle and aren’t always immediately apparent, which meant that I sometimes had to rely on the dialogue tags to remind me who was speaking. She is, however, very good when it comes to voicing Roark and his (possible) half-brother, because they sound similar enough to believably be related, but not so similar that they are difficult to distinguish from one another.

There’s one thing that’s a little confusing in the audio which is nothing to do with Ms Morris’ performance; and that’s the fact that there are a number of flashbacks/flashforwards from John’s perspective that show how he comes to be where and when he is. In the print edition, these are placed at the ends of certain chapters and are printed in italics, but in the audio, there is nothing to distinguish them from the rest of the story, so they are somewhat jarring. The first one made me wonder if there was a production fault that had catapulted me a long way forward into the story – although once I realised what was going on, it wasn’t a problem.

Ultimately, What a Wallflower Wants is an audiobook I’d certainly recommend to fans of historical romance. I did have some issues with the storytelling, although the story itself is satisfying, and Ms Rodale deals with a difficult subject in a very sensitive manner. Carolyn Morris’ performance is thoroughly enjoyable, and she proves once again that she’s a skilled performer with the ability to get to the heart of the stories she narrates and to pack a real emotional punch when required.

Seducing Mr Knightly by Maya Rodale (audiobook) – Narrated by Carolyn Morris

SeducingKnightly_L

For ages, it seems, advice columnist Annabelle Swift has loved Derek Knightly, editor-owner of the London Weekly, from a distance. Determined to finally attract her boss’s attention, she seeks advice from her loyal readers, who offer Annabelle myriad suggestions, from lower-cut bodices (success!) and sultry gazes (disaster!) to a surprise midnight rendezvous (wicked!).

Derek never really took note of his shy, wallflower lady writer. But suddenly she’s exquisite, and he can’t get Annabelle out of his mind! She must be pursuing someone, but who? For some inexplicable reason, the thought of her with another man makes Knightly insanely jealous.

Rating: B for narration, B- for content

Seducing Mr. Knightly is the fourth and final book in Ms Rodale’s Writing Girls series, in which each of the four heroines are columnists for one of London’s foremost newspapers, The London Weekly.

Heroines 1-3 are now happily settled, so it’s the turn of number four, Miss Annabelle Swift, who pens the weekly advice column for the paper. She’s quiet and unassuming, wears ill-fitting, drab clothes, and resides with her brother and sour-mannered sister-in-law, who treats her as an unpaid servant.

While all the other Writing Girls certainly faced difficulties on their paths to true love, Annabelle’s is seemingly unnavigable. For the past three years, six months, three weeks, and two days, she has been hopelessly in love with Derek Knightly, the dashing, wickedly handsome owner and editor of the Weekly, a man who barely knows she exists.

After a bout of illness which laid her very low, she decides that perhaps it’s time to take control of her life and find a way to make Knightly notice her – but what should she do? So, instead of writing her usual column in which she answers questions and offers advice to readers, she asks a question of her own. How can she attract the attention of the man she’s loved from afar for years?

“Dear Annabelle’s search for love” suddenly becomes the talk of the town, much to Knightly’s astonishment. Even his regular coffee-house cronies, seasoned political hacks and critics are talking about little else – but he’s certainly not going to complain about something that’s increasing his readership, even if he finds the whole thing faintly ridiculous.

He carries on as usual, oblivious both to Annabelle and the identity of her beloved – until she starts taking some of the advice she receives, when he can no longer remain oblivious to the fact that there’s something worth looking at under those horribly shapeless, dull gowns.

While the story of “wallflower suffers unrequited love for gorgeous man she’s known for years” isn’t new, it’s rather refreshing to encounter an initially dowdy and unprepossessing character who determines to get out there and change her life rather than just submitting to fate and sitting in the shadows. And while it’s true that for the hero to suddenly notice the better dresses and nicer hairstyles when he’s never really noticed the person underneath doesn’t speak particularly well of him, Annabelle is savvy enough to know she’s got to start somewhere. And as Knightly – and others, including a handsome, young aristocrat – begin to take notice of her, Annabelle’s confidence grows, and she emerges from her shell. It’s that which ultimately captures Knightly’s attention – which is why I can live with the initial shallowness of his suddenly noticing she’s nice to look at.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.