Never Dare a Wicked Earl (Infamous Lords #1) by Renee Ann Miller

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Known as a brazen philanderer, Hayden Milton, Earl of Westfield, is almost done in by a vengeful mistress who aims a gun at a rather essential part of his anatomy—but ends up wounding his thigh instead. Recuperating in his London town house, Hayden is confronted by his new medical attendant. Sophia Camden intrigues him, for behind her starched uniform is an enticing beauty better suited for bedding than dispensing salves and changing bandages.

Unshaken by his arrogance, not to mention impropriety, Sophia offers Hayden a dare: allow her ten days to prove her competency. If she resigns in exasperation like her two predecessors, she will be beholden to this wicked seducer. As a battle of wills begins, Sophia finds herself distracted by the Earl’s muscular physique . . . and discovers that the man within longs only for a second chance to love.

Rating: D+

As I’ve said in the past, I make it a point to try new authors when I can – after all, I had some pretty good luck a couple of years back when I found not one, but three début authors whose books have since become ‘must reads’, and I live in hope of finding others.  Unfortunately, however, on the strength of her first novel, Never Dare a Wicked Earl, Renee Ann Miller isn’t going to make that list by a long chalk; the cover trumpets a “fresh new romance” – but it’s about as fresh as week-old kippers, and I ended up reading a story I’ve read several times before.   It’s a solidly average book; not badly written, but the story is hackneyed, the characters are stereotypical and the author seems to have thought it a good ideal to throw the kitchen sink into the (very weak) plot.   Plus – what on earth is the heroine wearing on the cover?  The book is set in 1875, and by no stretch of the imagination is that dress from the late Victorian period.  I know that’s not the author’s fault, but it nonetheless telegraphs “Danger, Will Robinson!” to the potential reader.  With good reason, as it turns out.

When Hayden – a very unlikely name for a man (let alone an earl) in Victorian England – Earl of Westfield is shot in the leg by a demented ex-mistress, he is confined to bed and not at all happy about it.  He runs off two male attendants by virtue of his appalling manners and threatening  behaviour, so his sister, thinking he might not be quite so rude and abrasive towards a woman, engages a nurse by the name of Sophia Camden.  Of course, the fact that Sophia is female makes no difference to Hayden’s dreadful behaviour, and he begins to try to get rid of her, too, adding not-so-subtle sexual innuendo to his established repertoire of bad manners and ill temper.

Naturally, Sophia is wise to his tricks, and decided to stay, especially as – and here’s where we get lip-service to the title – Hayden dares Sophia to stick it out for ten days.  If she wins, he will throw his political weight behind a new bill to allow women to qualify as doctors (as this is what Sophia wants to do) and if he wins he’ll get… well, he’ll think about that tomorrow.

You can read the rest of this review at All About Romance.

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Sinless (The Shaws #1.5) by Lynne Connolly

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Lord Darius Shaw has never been in love before. But when he renews his acquaintance with lawyer Andrew Graham in a raid on a molly house, where men meet men for forbidden pleasure, they discover mutual feelings as deep as they are dangerous. For while society will turn a blind eye to an aristocrat’s transgressions, Andrew has far more at stake. The son of city merchants, Andrew has a disastrous marriage in his past, and a young daughter to support. He could lose his livelihood, his reputation and even his life—and drag Darius down with him.

Darius and Andrew’s only choice is to deny the true nature of their relationship. But when an enemy Italian spy threatens their secret—and their futures—the two set out to catch him. And in the process they are forced to face their desires—and make a life-changing decision.

Rating: C-

Sinless is book 1.5 in Lynne Connolly’s new series The Shaws, a continuation or spin-off of her seven book Emperors of London series about the powerful Vernon family.  The Shaws are closely related to the Vernons (cousins I think), and some of them appeared in the earlier series as secondary characters.  Book one of The ShawsFearless, featured Lord Valentinian Shaw (both families had a penchant for naming their offspring after Roman emperors) a rake and hellraiser who found himself in court on a murder charge. Thanks to the efforts of barrister Andrew Graham, Val was exonerated and in Sinless, we meet Andrew again as he works to unmask a traitor and tries not to give in to the strong attraction that sparks between him and Val’s twin brother, Lord Darius.

Andrew has been sent by General Court to join a raid on a molly house (a brothel catering to homosexual men) in order to meet a man who is in possession of a list containing details of a network of spies.  As the raid starts and Andrew begins the search for his contact, he is surprised to see Lord Darius Shaw, poised and coolly collected in the midst of the chaos.  Andrew and Darius engage in a brief, wary conversation when Andrew spots the man he is looking for, only to be prevented from confronting him by Darius, who grabs Andrew and kisses him, allowing the other man to make his escape.

Darius has reasons of his own for interfering.  The list contains the names of diplomats and military agents placed throughout Europe by his family and the government, so when he learned of its existence and that it was being offered for sale, he determined to get hold of it himself in order to prevent its being sold to England’s enemies and his family’s rivals.  He had managed to befriend the man in possession of the list with the intention of using their friendship and … shared interests… to obtain it, but the raid put paid to his plans so now he has to find another way – and his first step is to speak to Andrew Graham again in order to find out what he knows.

You can read the rest of this review at All About Romance.

His Convenient Marchioness (Lords at the Altar #2) by Elizabeth Rolls

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With this ring… I thee claim!

After the loss of his wife and children, the Marquess of Huntercombe closed his heart to love. But now that he must marry to secure an heir, he’s determined that the beautiful, impoverished widow Lady Emma Lacy should be his…

Emma has vowed never to marry for money so must refuse him. But when her children’s grandfather sets to steal them away from her, she has no other option: she must become the marquess’s convenient bride!

Rating: B+

The first thing that attracted me to His Convenient Marchioness was the cover image, which indicates that the central couple is slightly older than the norm for romance novels. I’m always ready to read a romance between more mature people, and sure enough, I quickly discovered that the hero – a widower who lost his wife and three children to smallpox on one devastating day eleven years earlier  – has just turned fifty, and the heroine, a widow with two children aged ten and six,  is thirty-two.  Giles, the Marquess of Huntercombe (known as Hunt) had not planned on marrying again, but the recent death of his remaining heir (his nineteen-year-old half-brother) means that re-marriage is no longer optional – as his two sisters take great pleasure in constantly pointing out.  But Hunt has no intention of marrying one of the schoolroom misses they keep parading before him, telling them instead that a woman – perhaps a widow – in her thirties would be much more to his taste and be more likely to understand that he is offering a marriage of convenience only.

Lady Emma Lacy lost her husband over a year earlier and is living with her two children, Harry (ten) and Georgina (six) in very straitened circumstances.  While both she and her late husband hail from noble families (he was the second son of a duke, she the daughter of an earl), the long-standing enmity between their respective fathers meant their runaway match saw them both cast out and cut off financially. The ensuing scandal meant the couple lived on the fringes of society; they were happy together, but now Lacy is dead and Emma can barely make ends meet.

Hunt and Emma encounter each other in Hatchard’s bookshop where she has taken Harry and Georgie to choose books from the library.  Hunt recognises Emma but cannot place her, and is surprised at the frisson of attraction he feels towards her; and later, when the children discover his dog waiting for him outside he is further surprised to find himself suggesting they walk in the park together so that the children can play with the hound.  Emma is guarded and careful to remain somewhat aloof during their walk – and it’s only afterwards that Hunt realises she must have thought he was assessing her suitability as a potential mistress.  Wanting to correct her error, Hunt decides to make a brief call to set things right – and even though he knows he should not even be considering the idea, finds himself suggesting to Emma that she might be what he’s looking for in a wife.  Somewhat stunned, Emma isn’t quite sure what to think, although she can’t deny that Hunt is a charming, attractive man, whose smile melts her insides – and she agrees to a meet him again.

You can read the rest of this review at All About Romance.

Compromised by the Prince’s Touch (Russian Royals of Kuban #1) by Bronwyn Scott

compromised by the prince's touch

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An irresistible royal seduction…

Daring Prince Nikolay Baklanov feels London is worlds away from his life of battle and revolution in Kuban. But then the Russian ambassador’s daughter, beautiful Klara Grigorieva, approaches him with her father’s dangerous proposition…

Since her mother’s death, Klara has complied with all her father’s wishes. She’s virtuous, polished – a Society lady through and through. But meeting dashing Prince Nikolay awakens a rebellious passion in Klara…a passion that only this man can satisfy!

Rating: B

I’ve had a bit of a hit-and-miss relationship with Bronwyn Scott’s books. I’ve enjoyed some and been less enthused about others, but I’m pleased to say that Compromised by the Prince’s Touch – which is the first book in her new Russian Royals of Kuban series – falls very squarely into the ‘hit’ column. Ms. Scott has crafted a story of romance and intrigue boasting a well-constructed a plot full of political scheming and high-stakes manouevering that skilfully blends fact and fiction to create a highly entertaining story.

Exiled from his home of Kuban (in Southern Russia on the Black Sea and bordering the Crimean Peninsula) Prince Nikolay Baklanov now lives in London with three of his closest friends, all of whom have also been banished from their homeland. He wants to make a new life for himself in England, although he feels as though he is merely treading water; he misses Kuban – the language, the food, the traditions, the people – and the knowledge that he can never go back still rankles, especially as his exile was forced upon him by the actions of others. He currently works as a riding instructor at a prestigious London stable and plans to set up his own riding school as soon as he can find an appropriate property. His clientele seems mostly to consist of young debutantes who can barely sit a horse properly and seem to think they’re there to giggle and cast flirtatious glances his way, so when he sees that the daughter of the Russian ambassador has booked a lesson with him, he anticipates more of the same.

He quickly discovers his error, however, when he returns to the training arena to find his pupil already mounted – and wearing breeches, no less – more than competently putting a splendid black mare through her paces. Nikolay is immediately suspicious; this young woman is already an extremely good rider, so what can she expect him to teach her? As the daughter of a powerful Russian diplomat, could she have an ulterior motive? Are the Kubanians searching for him? Could she have been sent to smoke him out?

You can read the rest of this review at All About Romance.

The Lady Flees Her Lord by Ann Lethbridge


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Driven to despair by her husband’s endless abuse and ridicule, Lucinda, Lady Denbigh, can endure no more. With no one to turn to, she flees London to take quiet refuge in the countryside, determined to build a new life of her own. Posing as a widow, she finds a small cottage to lease on the far reaches of a vast estate, relieved that she might finally find peace and safety—until her new landlord, the strikingly handsome and taciturn Lord Hugo Wanstead, presents an entirely different kind of threat to her composure.

Just back from the wars, Hugo is tormented by the physical and emotional scars that mark him. With his estate near financial ruin and his sleep torn by nightmares, he wishes only to be left in solitude. But when he meets the new widowed tenant on his estate, he finds her hauntingly beautiful in body and soul—and finds himself overcome by powerful sensual longing.

While the gentle Lucinda conjures up ways to draw the handsome and hurting Hugo out of his loneliness, he’s intrigued by her courage and her lively mind. But just as an inevitable passion stirs between these two damaged souls, a damning secret about Lucinda’s troubled past will be laid bare, and they will be forced to confront each other and a cruel foe to save their only chance at love.

Rating: B-

Ann Lethbridge originally published The Lady Flees Her Lord using the pseudonym Michele Ann Young in 2008. Ms. Lethbridge’s name is familiar to me as one of the authors in the Mills and Boon/Harlequin Historical stable, and having enjoyed other books of hers, I was interested in this, the story of a young woman trapped in abusive marriage who manages to escape and make a new life for herself.

Lucinda, the Countess of Denbigh counted herself fortunate to have married one of the handsomest gentlemen of the ton, but it wasn’t long before she realised that her husband had been more interested in her dowry and generous allowance than in her. He blames her when she fails to conceive, taunts her mercilessly about the fact that she’s not slender and willowy as is the fashion, and insists she diets constantly. He humiliates her at every turn, keeps mistresses, has already squandered her dowry and continues to pester her to provide extra money from her allowance – which she’s using in order to keep the household running. When he tells her they are leaving London in order to attend a house-party given by his disreputable friend, the Duke of Vale, Lucinda is horrified. Vale clearly has designs on her and Denbigh makes no bones about the sort of party it’s going to be, informing her that she is to act as hostess to a group of raffish gentlemen and the ‘ladies’ who are going to be provided for their entertainment.

Fearing for her safety should she attend, Lucinda finally takes the bull by the horns and leaves her London house in dead of night. She has very sensibly channelled some of her allowance into small investments (unbeknownst to Denbigh) and having these as a safety net, sets off for a coaching inn in the City. While waiting for the stage, a beggar woman literally thrusts a child into Lucinda’s arms before running off – leaving Lucinda with a straggly, scrawny little girl who can be little more than two or three years of age. Full of compassion for the child – and unwilling to dump her at the nearest workhouse – Lucinda decides to take her with her into her new life.

Captain Lord Hugo Wanstead sustained a serious leg injury at the battle of Badajoz and has, after several weeks of treatment and recuperation abroad, at last returned to England. He is riding home to The Grange, his estate at Beacon Hill in Kent and is within sight of the house when a little girl darts out from the trees and spooks his horse. He manages to maintain control of the animal as a woman rushes to grab the child, and when he is able to divert his attention from the horse, Hugo notices that the woman, though modestly gowned, is possessed of the sort of curvy figure which is enough to make any man’s mouth water. He immediately dismisses the thought in favour of sternly reminding her that she is trespassing, and the woman promptly introduces herself as Mrs. Graham and informs Hugo that she resides at the Briars at the edge of his estate. Hugo, who has no idea where the Briars is, or why it is home to an unknown woman, bids her a frosty good day and departs.

Upon arriving at The Grange, Hugo is appalled to discover that the estate is a mess; there are hardly any servants in the house, the stables are empty, the number of tenants still living on the estate has dwindled to a mere few … things are in a bad way thanks to his late father’s fondness for the race-track, and Hugo realises he’s got his work cut out if he’s to turn things around. His man of business tentatively suggests that perhaps Hugo might consider marriage as a way to solve his financial problems, but Hugo is vehemently opposed to the idea; one ill-fated marriage was enough and he has no intention of embarking upon another.

After their initially awkward meeting, “Mrs. Graham” (yes, it’s Lucinda) and Hugo find themselves drawn to one another and it’s not long before Hugo has enlisted Lucinda’s help in setting his household to rights. He also hopes that perhaps the voluptuous widow will be amenable to doing more for him than helping with the accounts; it’s been some time since he was attracted to a woman, and Lucinda’s Junoesque proportions set his mind to all sorts of naughty imaginings. But as the reader knows, Lucinda is not a widow, so for her, the decision to go to bed with a man other than her husband is very difficult for her. I know that for some readers, adultery is a no-no, regardless of the circumstances, and in that case, this book will likely not suit. Personally, I can deal with it in certain circumstances, and this is one of them; Lucinda’s confidence has been so broken down by Denbigh’s constant insults – he calls her a fat sow more than once – that I found myself cheering her on, especially as she begins to realise that Hugo really does like the lushness of her figure and the way she looks. They become friends as well as lovers, and as Hugo boosts Lucinda’s confidence, showing her true affection and sexual pleasure, so Lucinda gradually draws him out of his solitary existence. But where Hugo opens up to Lucinda as he has never done with anyone else, telling her about his nightmares, his life in the army and his short, tragic marriage, Lucinda, of necessity, remains guarded, wanting to tell Hugo the truth but afraid he will reject her once he knows it.

Successfully writing a romance based on a deception is a difficult thing to do well, but Ms. Lethbridge does manage to pull it off for the most part. As with the adultery issue, it’s not a plotline that will be enjoyed by everybody, but the author does a very good job of developing the relationship between Hugo and Lucinda, showing their growing emotional connection as well as the passion they inspire in one another. Deception apart, Lucinda is a well-drawn, likeable character; unlike some heroines in her situation, she’s sensible enough to have kept some of her money away from her spendthrift husband and clever enough to invest it wisely. I liked that she wasn’t prepared to just roll over and play dead; when enough was enough, she did something about it and got away.

Hugo is perhaps more of a stereotypical wounded – physically and mentally – hero, who beats himself up with guilt over things completely outside his control and whose reasons for not wanting to re-marry induced eye-rolling in this reader. Ultimately, however, he’s a good, decent man and he and Lucinda are a couple I can envisage together long after the last page has delivered their HEA.

I enjoyed the book, but there were issues with the pacing and some other inconsistencies which have knocked my final grade down somewhat. The first few chapters and the last few are exciting and fairly fast paced, the slower portions that show Hugo and Lucinda getting to know each other are nicely done, but there’s a large chunk in the middle that drags and I found myself skimming some parts, eager for progression. There’s some tension created by Lucinda’s fear that Denbigh will come for her… but he doesn’t, and then at the end, there’s an inexplicable volte face from a character who has been set up as a villain.

The Lady Flees Her Lord is a solid, engaging read that, while flawed, nonetheless earns a recommendation for its unusual premise and sensible, warm and loving heroine.

War Games (Valiant Knox #4) by Jess Anastasi

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When one of her pilots is shot down behind enemy lines, Lieutenant Theresa Brenner will stop at nothing to save her before she’s captured and tortured, even if it means being part of the dirtside team led by Colonel Cameron McAllister. Bren might respect the way the colonel commands his men, but she’ll never trust Cam—no matter how charming he is—because he was responsible for her brother’s death.

Colonel Cameron McAllister has a covert mission behind enemy lines to team with the Ilari rebels and overthrow the bloodthirsty dictator who’s torn their planet apart. The last thing he needs is to get sidetracked searching for a downed pilot, especially since it means having Lieutenant Theresa Brenner tag along. Not only doesn’t the frosty pilot have the ground game to keep up with his seasoned group, she’s a potential distraction with all those gorgeous blond curls of hers—and she might be just like her brother, whose foolhardiness got his men killed.

Rating: C+

Having thoroughly enjoyed Jess Anastasi’s Atrophy (book one in her Atrophy series), I’m keen to read more of her work, so while I wait for the next Atrophy book to appear, I decided to pick up War Games, which is the fourth and final novel centring around the UEF battleship Valiant Knox. I haven’t read the previous books, and the author includes enough information here for newbies to be able to work out who is who and how they relate to each other; although I suspect I’ve probably missed some of the explanations and backstory to the war going on between the UEF and the CSS – and I admit, I wouldn’t have minded a glossary of the acronyms!

CAFF (and this one is in the book! – Captain of the Fighter Force) Theresa Brenner is discovering that her recent promotion is not all it’s cracked up to be, as she is spending more time behind a desk shovelling paperwork or on the deck of the Valiant Knox giving orders than she is actually flying with her fighter squadrons.  But her wish to be out in the field is granted in the worst possible way; one of her pilots, Sub-Officer Shen, is shot down during a skirmish with the enemy, and ejects from her fighter, leaving her stranded on the nearest planet, Ilari.  Knowing that if Shen is captured, she’ll be tortured in a CSS rededication camp, Bren (as she prefers to be called) immediately applies for permission to mount a rescue.

Commander Yang (hero of Escape Velocity, book one in the series) is reluctant to give the order; he’s just received information that the situation on Ilari is being further complicated by the newly emerging rebel forces, and that operating behind enemy lines is more dangerous than ever.  But Bren is adamant – even going so far as to say she’ll go to look for Shen herself – when help comes from a most unexpected (and unwelcome) quarter.

You can read the rest of this review at All About Romance.

To the Duke With Love (Rakes of St. James #2) by Amelia Grey

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Sloane Knox, the Duke of Hawksthorn is guardian for his sweet, younger sister. Due to his misguided past as one of the infamous Rakes of St James, Hawk is hoping to avoid the Season by securing a match for her before it begins. He has the perfect gentleman in mind, but for one infuriating—and unexpectedly intoxicating—obstacle: the intended groom’s own sister, Miss Loretta Quick.

Having narrowly avoided her own arranged marriage to an unacceptable nobleman, Loretta is determined that her dear brother—a gentle, good-natured soul—should marry for love. Matching wits with Hawk may be her greatest challenge yet. . .until she realizes it may also be her greatest pleasure. For the young duke’s irresistible charm has not only begun to crumble her stubborn resolve, it has claimed her heart in true love as well…

Rating: D

To the Duke, With Love is the second book in Amelia Grey’s Rakes of St. James series and is both my first – and probably last – book by this author.  This is wallpaper historical romance by numbers, and I suppose the alarm bells should really have started ringing when I realised that the hero – who is an English duke – is named Sloane.  Which is such a common name for an English gentleman of the nineteenth century. (Not.)

So, here’s what we’ve got.  Sloane Knox, the Duke of Hawksthorn, wants to arrange a suitable match for his younger sister Adele before she makes her début, because a decade ago, he and two of his friends played a prank on that year’s crop of debutantes and now he fears someone will use Adele in order to exact retribution.  Hawk believes he has found the perfect mate for Adele in one Mr. Paxton Quick, a young, handsome and good-natured gentleman who lives … somewhere unspecified but far from London with his older sister, Loretta.  Hawk has reached this conclusion because he has never seen Quick:

“… too deep in his cups, and he never gambles more than a handful of DOLLARS at the table.”

Well, I’m not surprised at that last bit, because how could he?  Last time I checked, in England we use ENGLISH currency, strange as that may seem.

Hawk travels to Mammoth House in… some remote location, in order to discuss the match with Quick, only to discover that he is from home, and finds himself confronting the rather scrumptious, somewhat challenging Miss Quick instead.  And so begins the mental lusting. At the ONE PERCENT mark on my Kindle:

She looked pure, sweet, and completely untouched by masculine hands.  A sudden, deep rush of desire flamed through him, and the rhythm of his heartbeat changed.

By the end of the first chapter Hawk:

… wanted her with an intensity that he hadn’t felt in a very long time.

And in the next, we’re told our heroine is all a quiver because she:

… still wasn’t sure what to make of the new, startling, and unexplained feelings that had swept over her at the sight of him.  She wasn’t out of breath, yet she was breathless. She wasn’t dizzy, yet she felt light-headed. She wasn’t hungry, yet looking at him caused a ravenous appetite to rise up within her.”

For god’s sake, someone get the woman a sandwich!

You can read the rest of this review at All About Romance.