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.

Baron (Knickerbocker Club #2) by Joanna Shupe

baron_cover

This title may be purchased from Amazon

Born into one of New York’s most respected families, William Sloane is a railroad baron who has all the right friends in all the right places. But no matter how much success he achieves, he always wants more. Having secured his place atop the city’s highest echelons of society, he’s now setting his sights on a political run. Nothing can distract him from his next pursuit—except, perhaps, the enchanting con artist he never saw coming . . .

Ava Jones has eked out a living the only way she knows how. As “Madame Zolikoff,” she hoodwinks gullible audiences into believing she can communicate with the spirit world. But her carefully crafted persona is nearly destroyed when Will Sloane walks into her life—and lays bare her latest scheme. The charlatan is certain she can seduce the handsome millionaire into keeping her secret and using her skills for his campaign—unless he’s the one who’s already put a spell on her . . .

Rating: B+

The heroes in Joanna Shupe’s Knickerbocker Club series are all rich, influential businessmen, some of them self-made, like Emmett Cavanaugh (hero of the first book, Magnate) and some, like Will Sloane in Baron, born into a wealthy family of New York blue-bloods whose standing in society is not all that different to that of the members of the English nobility on the other side of the Pond.

Will has spent most of his life spitting in the eye – metaphorically, of course – of his late father, a man who constantly belittled his son and believed he would never amount to much. Becoming the man of the family in his late teens, those taunts have driven Will, who has not only ably managed Northeast Railroad, the company built by his father, but greatly expanded it, adding considerably to his own and the family’s wealth and standing in doing so.

Now in his early thirties, Will continues to push himself incredibly hard, working all the hours God sends and then some; even though he knows he needs to slack off a bit. But he has started to feel that perhaps it’s time for him to make a change, and that change looks set to come quite soon, as he has been invited to join the ticket for the upcoming gubernatorial elections in New York, as lieutenant governor for former senator John Bennett.

There’s no question that Will’s desire for political office is partly influenced by the fact that his father had always wanted to wield political influence, but had never accomplished it. Will’s success will be yet another nose-thumbing to his sire, but before he can achieve it, a potential scandal in the form of a Russian spiritualist by the name Madame Zolikoff, needs to be dealt with, and quickly, before her association with Bennett – who sees her regularly for readings and advice – becomes known and makes the candidate into a laughing stock.

Attending one of her performances at a run-down theatre in one of New York’s less than salubrious districts, Will is surprised to find he rather likes what he sees. Zolikoff is a seductively attractive woman, and in spite of the fact that she’s a complete fake and he is determined to expose her as one, Will is strongly attracted to her. He confronts her backstage, equally surprised to discover that his physical size, obvious disapproval and, later, outright threats, don’t intimidate her in the least. She is forthright and defiant, telling him in no uncertain terms that she will not be scared away from her best client.

Ava Jones is not a woman to be intimidated easily – or at all – and certainly not by a pompous, snobbish, high-society railroad baron who has never known a day’s hardship in his life. The fact that’s he’s obscenely handsome is an unwanted distraction perhaps, but Ava has to keep her focus. She has to take care of her younger brothers and sister, aged twelve to fifteen, and her performances and private readings as Madame Zolikoff should mean that she will soon have enough money to be able to get them all out of their cramped lodgings in the city and away into the fresh air of the countryside.

The sparks fly between these two from the get go, and in spite of their obvious differences, there are a lot of similarities between them, too. Both have brought up younger siblings (Will’s younger sister, Lizzie, was the heroine of Magnate), and have suffered painful pasts; they work incredibly hard and are determined to succeed at what they do. Theirs is certainly never going to be one of those peacefully settled relationships because they are too much alike in many ways, but their mutual stubbornness is one of the factors that puts them on more of an equal footing than their respective situations might suggest. Will may be incredibly wealthy, but Ava isn’t interested in his money or what it can do for her; she sees a man in need and deserving of love and affection who needs someone to stand up to him occasionally, and for Will, Ava is the perfect combination of intelligence and determination, a woman who will challenge him and love him in equal measure.

Both Will and Ava are attractive, engaging characters and their romance is well-written, with plenty of sexual tension and nicely steamy love scenes. The strength of the attraction between them is intense, and the author balances that with the other plot elements extremely well, so that the whole story fairly races by, but in a good way; the way that has the reader so eager to find out what happens next that they continue reading until well into the early hours!

With all that said, a couple of bumpy patches towards the end of the book caused me to lower my final grade a little. Firstly Ava, who has been painted as a strong, self-reliant woman who is able to manage her family and her problems herself, is suddenly thrust into situations from which she needs rescuing, not just once, but twice. And while part of the appeal of the story has been in watching Will gradually unbend and shed some of his hauteur to become a man rather than a block of ice, the Big Romantic Gesture he makes feels completely out of character for the man we have come to know over the course of the book.

Otherwise, though, Baron is an engrossing, well-written tale. Ms. Shupe evokes the world and atmosphere of New York’s Gilded Age extremely well, there’s a great cast of secondary characters and I especially liked the passages which gave a glimpse into Ava’s tricks of the trade. The writing is confident and laced with humour and snappy dialogue. All in all, I’m definitely recommending Baron to fans of historical romance, especially those who are looking for something a little bit different.

Magnate (Knickerbocker Club #1) by Joanna Shupe

Magnate

This title may be purchased from Amazon.

Born in the slums of Five Points, Emmett Cavanaugh climbed his way to the top of a booming steel empire and now holds court in an opulent Fifth Avenue mansion. His rise in stations, however, has done little to elevate his taste in women. He loathes the city’s “high society” types, but a rebellious and beautiful blue-blood just might change all that.

Elizabeth Sloane’s mind is filled with more than the latest parlor room gossip. Lizzie can play the Stock Exchange as deftly as New York’s most accomplished brokers—but she needs a man to put her skills to use. Emmett reluctantly agrees when the stunning socialite asks him to back her trades and split the profits. But love and business make strange bedfellows, and as their fragile partnership begins to crack, they’ll discover a passion more frenzied than the trading room floor…

Rating:B+

I read and enjoyed Joanna Shupe’s first historical romance, The Courtesan Duchess, and in my review, said that while it wasn’t without flaws, it was one of the strongest débuts I’d read in a while. I read or listened to the two books that followed it (The Harlot Countess and The Lady Hellion, and while I think the first is the strongest, I nonetheless had marked Ms Shupe as an author I’d be keen to read again.

For her new Knickerbocker Club series, she has shifted her focus from the rarefied atmosphere of the English ton in the Regency period to the equally exclusive high-society of late 1880s New York, where the social rules and customs were just as restrictive as anything to be found across the Pond. Known as the Gilded Age, this is a time of rapid scientific and industrial progress; the economy is booming, the rich are incredibly rich and getting richer – although just like in Britain, there is still a huge amount of social injustice and a massive gap between the rich and the poor.

Elizabeth Sloane and her brother William are real blue-bloods whose ancestry can be traced back to the earliest settlers. Yet, as was often the case in England, too, while their lineage is impeccable, their finances are not. The siblings are orphans and William runs their family business, the Northeast Railroad Company. Elizabeth has of late begun to suspect that William is keeping something from her and that all is not well, but being rather a typical male of the period, he dismisses her concerns and, not in so many words, tells her not to worry her pretty little head about it. Given that attitude, it’s not surprising that William refuses point-blank even to consider Elizabeth’s going into business herself. It’s not at all the done thing for a well-bred lady, and he is adamant that she is not going to risk her reputation in such a manner. But Lizzie is just as strong-willed as her brother, and decides that, if he will not back the investment firm she wants to start, then she will ask someone else. Knowing of William’s friendship with a number of powerful businessmen, she decides to seek out one of them – wealthy industrialist and steel magnate Emmett Cavanaugh – with the intention of obtaining his financial backing for her scheme.

Cavanaugh most definitely comes from the wrong side of the tracks. Born in the New York slums, he has clawed his way up by fair means and foul to become one of the most feared and respected businessmen in the city. But the unexpected visit by one of New York’s most pampered princesses throws him somewhat, especially when she makes her pitch and asks him to help her to set up her brokerage business. In spite of himself, Emmett is intrigued and, seeing the chance to get one over on her brother – whom he dislikes intensely – offers her a deal.

That deal, in which Lizzie must prove her head for business, also includes dinner at Delmonico’s, the city’s most exclusive restaurant. Knowing of the gossip that is likely to ensue at the two of them appearing together, Lizzie is a little wary at first – but agrees, surprised at how much she wants to spend some time with this intriguing, attractive man. In fact, the surprise is mutual, because Emmett finds himself just as fascinated by Lizzie, who is unlike any of the women with whom he normally associates while at the same time completely different from the ladies of the ‘Knickerbocker’ set. In many ways, Magnate is your typical, “bad-boy-meets-posh-girl” sort of romance in which the roguish, self-made man is seen as a threat to the closed ranks of so-called “good” society. Even though he has more money than he knows what to do with and the prospect of making much more, Emmett is nouveau riche, an upstart nobody in the eyes of the social elite, and is so far beneath the heroine in status as to be looked upon in much same way as a dog turd in the gutter.

But what makes the book stand out from so many of its ilk has a lot to do with both its setting – which is an unusual one for an historical – and the way Ms Shupe so perfectly describes the world inhabited by her characters. Anyone who has read Edith Wharton’s House of Mirth or Custom of the Country will recognise it immediately; its opulence, its snobbery, its zest for life and thirst for the new – and its innate conservatism when it comes to what women could and couldn’t do. Lizzie is a great character; a spirited young woman who wants more from life than just a socially advantageous marriage and who wants to use her talents in a fulfilling manner, she is nonetheless a woman of her time and not one of those “feisty”, contrary-on-purpose heroines who make me want to tear my hair out. Emmett is probably the more strongly drawn character of the two principals; intelligent, ambitious, and ruthless, he’s built himself up from nothing and doesn’t want to look back on his old life and recall what it’s cost him to get where he is. The fact that he sees nothing wrong in Lizzie’s ambitions only adds to his appeal and his determination to protect her, while perhaps a bit caveman-like at times, is undeniably attractive.

The initial spark of attraction between Lizzie and Emmett smoulders nicely and the romance is well developed, giving the reader the sense of a real and strong emotional connection between them. One of my criticisms of Ms Shupe’s previous books was that there were too many side-plots going on to the detriment of the main story; so I was pleased to see that her focus here is very firmly on her central couple and their relationship. Her research into the period has clearly been extensive and there is enough information included about stocks, shares and the financial markets for it to be convincing, but not so much that it overshadows other aspects of the story. Overall, Magnate is a great read and in fact, for the first three-quarters of the book, I was sure I was reading a DIK. Unfortunately, however, the overly contrived misunderstandings and miscommunications that appear in the final few chapters knocked the final grade down a little. Even so, Ms Shupe is doing a great job of cementing her place among the new crop of historical romance authors and I’ll definitely be looking out for future books in this series.

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