Tag Archives: aristocracy

Brave New Earl by Jane Ashford (The Way to a Man’s Heart, #1)

Miss Jean Saunders is a woman with a mission. When she hears how her deceased cousin’s child is being neglected, she finds herself at Furness Hall in Somerset, facing the distraught Benjamin Romulus, Earl of Furness, languishing in the library starring at a portrait of his late wife, unable to deal with the cause of her death, his son Geoffrey. Left to fend for himself, watched over by one of the servants and a young “wanderer” Tom, the five year old has the run of the house. His precocious, inquisitive nature gets him into all sorts of scraps and he appears all but naked before the “newly arrived “guest”, brandishing a tomahawk from his grandfather’s collection of native artifacts. Embarrassed, Benjamin realizes perhaps he hasn’t been paying attention to the details of his son’s life, too wrapped up in his grief to deal with much of anything. When his meddling Uncle Arthur shows up, it’s agreed that Jean will stay for awhile to help Benjamin get back on track, with the first order of business finding an acceptable governess to teach the tot some manners.

Jean, used to rotating from home to home, visiting numerous relations with extended stays, is adept at rolling up his sleeves and helping out. That’s why she is always welcome, but not back to the Phillipsons, Geoffrey’s maternal grandparents, who are relieved that the tyke is staying put and won’t be interfering with their settled lifestyle. Miss Saunders is an interesting character, if not an enigma, to the Earl, whose sensibilities are slowly awakened by her outspoken, witty ways. Jean, wealthy enough not to need a husband, has numerous unresolved issues from her childhood, but she, too, is drawn to the Earl as he slowly comes out of his shell. Romance ensues despite the antics of the little pitcher with big ears who seems to be everywhere and wants to explore everything.

Jane Ashford in Brave New Earl presents us with delightful characters, a tender romance, tons of humor, and room for some of the secondary players to shine in Book 2 of The Way to a Lord’s Heart series, as Arthur Shelton, the Earl of Macklin, continues on his quest to assist other aristocrats wallowing in grief.

Four stars and a thank you to Edelweiss and Sourcebooks Casablanca for providing this ARC in exchange for an honest review.

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How to Forget a Duke (Misadventures in Matchmaking, #1) by Vivienne Lorret

Vivienne Loretta’s writing style is perfect for capturing the essence of a Regency Romance and her newest novel, How to Forget a Duke, is the ideal example of how to get the job done, leaving the reader with that content feeling which comes from a happily ever after which seems oh so right.

Not that there’s a lot of action and excitement, just the blossoming connection between two seemingly incongruous people falling in love. Crispin Montague, fifth Duke of Rydstrom has a money problem. His cliffside castle in Sussex is in a constant state of disrepair and the monies from the estate can’t seem to keep up with the needs. His aunt, Lady Hortense, however, has promised some funds if he finds an adequate Bride, one that meets her approval. The 4000 pounds will do some good, but a wealthy heiress is what he needs, one who is willing to live in London, preferably at her own place, keeping her distance. Of course he can’t tell that to the Bourne Matrimonial Agency, all they need to know is that he requires a member of the Ton to be his wife.

Yet Jacinda Bourne, the private eye of the matchmaking company, knows that something is amiss, especially after she coerces his solicitor into revealing the details about His Grace’s financial shortcomings. Then when Crispin finds her trespassing in his study disguised as a maid, the two have a heated argument about the meaning of a contractual agreement versus what constitutes an invasion of privacy. Even worse, once Jacinda makes her escape, Rydstrom realizes she has discovered the name of the secret he is trying to protect. Unfortunately, by the time he reaches her establishment to ascertain the extent of her knowledge, her uncle informs him that the lady in question has left town on some sort of “quest”.

Crispin rushes to Rydstrom Hall to prevent Jacinda from once again intruding into his home, but when he does find the damsel she is battered and bruised with a nasty case of amnesia. Considering the fact that there’s a violent storm close at hand, the doctor and Miss Elmira Beels, a local townswoman from Whitcrest, along with Jacinda and the Duke, have to hightail it back to the castle until the weather changes. Doctor Graham determines Jacinda needs to stay put for at least two weeks but, although her memory is gone, her instinctual spying tendencies stay put leading to some altercations with Crispin who is unsuccessfully trying to keep her in the dark about his personal matters. This head butting leads to romantic interludes when their heated arguments turn to passion.

Book one of the Misadventures in Matchmaking shows a promising start to an interesting premise. The three sisters, each owning a different book in Jane Austin’s Emma trilogy gifted to them by their dying mother, believe in the power of Matchmaking, especially since their own mum married “the wrong sort” – her father, Michael Cartwright (Lord Frawley), a man who broke her heart when she discovered he had a second family. The girls, along with their uncle, are trying to make a go of the business, assisting members of the aristocracy in finding an appropriate mate. With the successful marriage of a Duke a feather in their cap, along with the patronage of The Duchess of Holliford, the group is sure to get more clients, leading to book two – Ten Kisses to Scandal.

Four stars and a thank you to Edelweiss for providing an ARC of this title in exchange for an honest review.

Three Weeks to Wed by Ella Quinn (The Worthingtons, Book #1)

The Earl of Worthington is a friend of Marcus and Sebastian from Ella Quinn’s The Marriage Game Series. After seeing how happy both men are in their marriage and the fact that their wives are expecting, Mattheus decides that it’s time that he, too, settle down. After being forced to stop at a nearby inn to escape a severe storm, he meets a lovely lady who seems to fit his intellectual needs, and after exchanging a kiss (obviously her first) he becomes even more mesmerized. When this same woman knocks on his door after hours and they spend an amorous night, he is determined to make this former virgin his bride. Yet the following morning she has disappeared and the innkeeper refuses to admit she ever existed. He unsuccessfully searches and ends up sketching her likeness in the hopes of getting his friends to identify the mystery woman.

Matt is right, Grace Carpenter is a lady of quality. She, too, was forced to stop for the night due to the same storm, even though she didn’t have much further to travel. When Worthington arrives, she was more than happy to share the parlor and spend an evening with a gentleman she has been in love with since her first season in London. Unable to wed due to the burden of a large set of siblings under her charge, she decides to experiment with one night of passion before retreating from society. Unfortunately, once is not enough and she pines for the love she has finally found and now must give up.

Little do the pair realize they have mutual friends and when Grace accompanies her younger sister, Charlotte, to London for her first season, she has a difficult time hiding her identity from her one night stand, who unfortunately resides directly across the street. It doesn’t take long for Matt to track her down and become irretrievably entangled in the lives of the Carpenter Family. He, too, has siblings of similar ages, including Louise who is also being introduced to society. Altogether the children (eleven in all), 2 Great Danes, a stepmother, a couple of cousins, aunts and uncles, and various employees, become entangled as the two lovebirds sort out the obstacles to their happiness. Marcus and Phoebe as well as Rutherford and Anna, are active participant in the antics with other familiar characters from the Marriage Game Series making an appearance, including the meddling dowagers who like to play Cupid.

Three Weeks to Wed is a wonderful introduction to the Worthington series which runs in between debutanrsbooks 2 and 3 of the Marriage Game Series. In fact, by the time Robert romances Sabrina, Matt and Grace have already been wed. While there is a bit of excitement when a no good uncle turns up looking for his inheritance, most of the tale revolves around an introduction to all the characters and the details surrounding the preparations necessary for launching two young ladies into society. I personally enjoyed reading about the shopping excursions, designer gowns, and elaborate repasts, as well as the antics of a group of lively children. The entire courtship takes place over a three week period, prior to the official start to the season which begins in Book 2 of the series. Luckily the couple decide to quickly wed because they go at it like rabbits, every chance they get, more lustful than romantic. However, having a head start on the family situation and the peccadilloes of the numerous characters should make the remainder of the series more enjoyable. Quinn has created a universe where, as a fly on the wall, the reader can vicariously enter The Ton of Regency England. Three and a half stars.

Thank you to Netgalley for providing this ARC in exchange for an honest review.

Il Gattopardo (The Leopard) by Giuseppe Tomasi Di Lampedusa translated by Archibald Colquhoun

What pushes a piece of literature from a mere book into a work of art? Is it the ability to construct a significant moment in time transporting us to another era? Is it the exquisitely expressive language making the surroundings come alive? Or is it the richness of the characters spawning a three dimensional persona which transcends the words on the page?

Il Gattopardo (The Leopard) by Giuseppe Tomasi Di Lampedusa is a novel which demonstrates all of the above and more. Perhaps it’s because the story is based on the life of Lampedusa’s Great Grandfather as well as the Palace outside his home of Palmero which was bombed during World War II. Perhaps it’s because The Leopard explores the ramifications of the reunification of Italy, focusing on Garibaldi who overthrew the monarchy and was then himself overthrown. Perhaps it’s because the author had lived through two world wars and was full of memories of a different time when being an aristocrat represented a noble dignity which was revered by the common folk.

In any case, Lampedusa spent the last few years of his life creating a piece of literature which was eventually considered one of the greatest Italian novels of the twentieth century, winning the Premio Strega in 1959. Unfortunately, these accolades came too late, since he was unsuccessful in finding anyone willing to publish this book during his lifetime.

Don Fabrizio is a Sicilian Prince from Salina watching the aristocratic way of life fading away during a series of political upheavals in 1865. A dreamer, forced to focus on his day to day responsibilities, he finds refuge in watching the stars and studying mathematics, a past time disdained by the common man but excused in someone so distinguished and revered. The Prince has been brought up with refined sensibilities, polite to a fault, and observing all the niceties of nobility, attributes he finds lacking in his own sons. It’s his charismatic nephew, Tancredi Falconari, who has the qualities to carry on the tradition. Fabrizio, at the age of forty five, looks back on his life contemplating the past and reliving the glory days via the romance between Tancredi and the bewitching Angelica Sedara. When Angelica kisses the middle-aged Don on the check and calls him uncle, he gladly gives her a piece of his heart.

The climax of the plot is not the Leopard’s death at the age of seventy +, but the ball he attends where he sees his former lovers, now old like him, and laments his lost youth. Hiding away in the library, Tancredi and Angelica find him and drag him back to the party where he, an excellent dancer, has one waltz with his beautiful niece-to-be, becoming the focus of attention for a roomful of admirers who spontaneously break into applause. Not wanting to be a third wheel, he resists their pleas to join them for supper and instead stands in the corner watching their mutual devotion while eating a decadent dessert. In the movie, starring an all Italian cast (except for lead actor, Burt Lancaster), this scene is the major focus of the film.

In the end all that’s left are his elderly three daughters trying to hang on to what remains of their family dignity via the private religious services in the family chapel. Connecting their bittersweet past to “modern times” is the pelt of their long deceased papa’s favorite dog, Bendico. In order to move forward, leaving unrequited grievances behind, this symbol must be discarded. After all, it’s all about things “changing in order that they may remain the same”.

This book is so rich in imagery and content that my remarks fail to do it justice. Amazingly, Archibald Colquhoun captures the melancholy essence of Lampedusa’s words in his translation. In fact, the reader would never guess that the original was not written in English. While there isn’t a lot of action, the strong presence of the characters, especially The Prince, carries the plot. Five stars.

Suitors and Saboteurs by Cindy Anstey

Three families, linked by the childhood friendship of the mothers, have made it their practice to spend their summers together by hosting various “house parties” at each of their estates in Kent. This summer, one of the three has died over the winter months, but the tradition continues. There is the Chively family including daughter Imogene and son Percy plus a St John’s water dog, Jasper. The kindly Beeswanger’s have a daughter Emily along with younger daughters (Hardly) Harriet and Pauline. The third family, minus “Aunt Clara” consists of Mr. Tabard and his son Jake.

Emily and Imogene have just experienced their first “season” with The Ton. This summer, potential beau Ernest Steeple has been invited to join the party, bringing along his younger brother Benjamin. The steadfast Ernest has been taken with the quiet charm of the shy Imogene who’s headstrong father would like nothing better than to see his daughter wed to this eligible young suitor. However, it’s the charismatic Ben who makes an impression with his attentions to all the women, grabbed onto by a hopeful Emily who fancies herself in love. Imogene, by contrast, needs time to be sure that Ernest is the one for her. While she enjoys his company, she’s not sure if that quite qualifies as a love match.

Ernest’s goal is to ascertain if he can get Imogene to say yes to a marriage proposal. Ben, an apprentice architect, has a different sort of problem, he cannot draw a straight line. Normally this would not be an issue, but when building structures it is necessary to be able to accurately complete sketches. Imogene has the talent he lacks and her art work is full of the outdoors including the numerous ruins which are scattered throughout the countryside. Noting that Imogene is giving art lessons to Harriet, Ben confesses his need for her expertise as an instructor to help him hone his currently nonexistent skills. She happily agrees to be of assistance and the foursome spend the summer days whiling away the hours enjoying country life. Unfortunately, “accidents” keep occurring, each one becoming more dire. Somehow Ben seems to be the target of these continuing mishaps and since nobody could be that clumsy, sabotage is suspected. Yet who and why is someone trying to injure this young man? Answers need to be found and decisions made which will effect the future for everyone concerned.

While the premise for Suitors and Saboteurs by Cindy Anstey sounds promising the delivery left a lot to be desired. The mundane details (full of unnecessary minutia which doesn’t advance the plot) along with the stilted boring dialogue made reading this Regency Romance an interminable act of tedium, despite the occasional delivery of a few clever conversations thrown into the mix. About 100 pages too long, Anstey should have focused on the mystery eliminating irrelevant, nonessential points and needless repetition which bogged down the storyline. Please don’t compare this one to works by Jane Austen – not even close and an insult to a beloved author. We don’t want the intended audience of young adults who read this book to think that this is the best the genre has to offer.

A generous three stars and a thank you to Netgalley for providing this ARC in exchange for an honest review.

The Mad Countess (Gothic Brides, #1) by Erica Monroe

It’s lucky that The Mad Countess (Gothic Brides, #1) by Erica Monroe was a novella because there wasn’t too much of a plot to keep our interest. It’s my understanding that Hestia, a local witch, claimed to be the daughter of Lord DeLisle and placed a curse on his two daughters when he refused to accept a patently false paternity. First Aunt Evelyn Brauning and then Lady Claire Deering’s own mother went mad. Madalane was placed in the Ticehurst Asylum whose treatment ended with her unintended fatality. The loss affected both father and daughter with dad removing himself from society as much as possible and Claire being dubbed the Mad Daughter. She accepts this label convinced that she can never marry or have children because she is destined to meet the same fate as her mom. Theodore Lockwood, Earl of Ashbrooke, her childhood playmate, has secretly been in love with Claire, and follows her to Keyvnor Castle in Cornwall for the reading of Lord Brauning’s will. She reveals her inner most thoughts and he tries to logically explain that her fears are nonsense, but some supernatural phenomena convinces him that perhaps there’s more to the story. Together that find a way to reverse the curse so they can be together.

Teddy has remained a virgin saving himself for his beloved Claire. After getting caught together in a storm in the middle of a maze, Claire decides to allow herself one moment of passion as long as Teddy takes precautions. He kind of knows what to do and gets some sort of satisfaction, but it certainly didn’t seem to set off any major fireworks for her, and honestly, it wasn’t too exciting for the reader either. His method of birth control also left much to be desired.

The best part of this Regency Romance was the ceremony of the Bocka Morrow Coven of witches who want to undo the harmful spell which the now deceased Hestia inflicted on the innocent sisters.

The plot moved forward mainly through the reflections of the two main characters, often repetitive. Better to have used the space to develop the secondary characters (or give some more depth to Clare and Teddy), many who I assume will be players in future novels in the series. There were a few apparitions who make a brief appearance that also might be of importance later. Referring to the movements of a few unexplained ghosts and revealing a raving woman with dementia locked in the attic does not make this a gothic novel, especially when these random acts are disconnected from the central story.

Luckily the book was short enough for a quick read without getting too annoyed by Monroe’s style of employing numerous means of expressing the same sentiment. This title was previously included in the Mystified Anthology.

Three stars and a thank you to Netgalley for providing this ARC in exchange for an honest review.

The Secret Keeper by Kate Morton

Since The Secret Keeper by Kate Morton is a murder mystery of sorts, it’s difficult to summarize without resorting to spoilers. Suffice it to say that daughter Laurel Nicolson witnessed her mother Dorothy murder a man when she was sixteen and now that her elderly mom is on her death bed, the sixty plus year old daughter decides this is her last chance to discover the truth. Her brother Geoffrey, a babe in his mother’s arms, was celebrating his second birthday, so he only has a vague feeling that something untoward happened on that date. Now, fifty years later, Laurel decides it’s finally time to clue him in so they can work together to figure out the details of their mom’s past.

Moving back and forth through time, from the present (2011) to the strife of wartime London (1941) to life as part of a loving family with five children (1961) and various years in between, the plot unfolds giving us bits and pieces of the tale – like a giant jig saw puzzle which has just enough blank spaces so that the big picture remains unrecognizable. Unfortunately, it takes way too many pages to discover the truth, and not until the disconcerting ending does the story finally come together.

While there are some obscure clues at the beginning of the book, by the time their relevance is revealed we’ve forgotten the details. With a slow start which doesn’t pick up until much later in the narration, I feel the main problem is the characterizations. The self absorbed Dolly is just plain unlikeable and at times her actions are despicable. She’s not the only one portrayed in a bad light. Laurel, a famous actress, is not a warm and fuzzy figure, even if the reader is sympathetic to her quest. Her numerous siblings are one dimensional, although the quirky Geoffrey has been fleshed out a bit. While the main focus was developing the convoluted plot (there’s a lot of tragedy along the way providing some sort of logical explanation for the evolving action), I felt more time should have been spent providing some depth to the secondary personalities. In my mind, any book over four hundred pages needs to justify the extra length and despite the surprise ending, this one fell short.

Four stars (just barely and only because of the “twist”) but it could have been so much better with a little tweaking.