Tag Archives: aristocracy

Lord of Night (Rogues to Riches, Book 3) by Erica Ridley

First of all, suspend all sense of reality, and forget that this book takes place during the Regency era since there’s a lot in this plot which would otherwise not make sense.

Lord of Night by Erica Ridley, Book 3 of the Rogues to Riches series, deals with Dahlia, the middle sister of the Grenville family. In Book 2, Lord of Pleasure, eldest sister Camellia, a prodigy known for her singing talent throughout the Dukes of War series, has wed the Earl of Wainwright and gone off to pursue her passion for opera, a fate which would ordinarily have caused social ruin for the entire family. If that weren’t enough of a scandal, Dahlia runs St Giles School for Girls, a boarding home for indigent girls teaching them skills which will keep them off the streets as beggars, thieves, or, even worse, prostitutes. Unfortunately, running a business costs money for things like rent, uniforms, supplies, food, etc. Dahlia, whose father is a Baron, needs to maintain her connections with The Ton to solicit the necessary funds to keep the doors open, and she isn’t above a little pilfering, playing a sort of Robin Hood, to protect her interests. Her mother and the rest of society don’t understand her fervent dedication and wonder aloud why she doesn’t devote her efforts to running a finishing school for the right type of patron instead of wasting time on those ruffians.

Enter Bow Street Runner Simon Spaulding, passing by while the Night Watchman is playing hooky, who rescues Dahlia’s latest recruit, a girl in danger of being robbed and raped by the dangerous element in the notorious St Giles neighborhood. Spaulding arrests the ruffian and promises to return to make sure they are all safe, a departure from his usual routine which becomes a habit of sorts. All of a sudden he finds himself actively involved in the life of the two dozen “refugees” and their matron, even giving up an hour of his time each week to assist in their dancing lessons. While he becomes fond of the students, it’s their teacher who has beguiled him, teaching him that his life should include something besides work. Yet if he wants that promotion he needs to capture the Thief of Mayfair, then perhaps he might even consider matrimony. Unfortunately, he doesn’t realize that Dahlia isn’t quite what she seems and that certain maiden also knows that she can’t marry an inspector, even if he is the bastard son of a Duke. If she wants her school to continue she needs someone with deep pockets willing to support her “little project”, (not to mention that marriage would transfer all the property she owns over to her husband’s domain). She can’t allow that to happen which is why she’s made special arrangements with her best friend and partner, Faith.

This is her dilemma, that and her growing attraction to the officer who would reject her if he knew the truth about her real identity and her thieving ways, especially since they have supposedly been confiding in one another.

This is one of Ridley’s better stories, full of charm as the young “ladies” find their voice, the detective discovers the joys of friendship, and Dahlia falls in love. There are a couple of twists before the two lovebirds find their happily ever after with appearances by some of the characters from previous books.

Four stars and a thank you to Netgalley for providing this ARC in exchange for an honest review. This review also appears on Goodreads.

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Lord of Pleasure (Rogues to Riches series, Book 2) by Erica Ridley

Michael Rutland, the Earl of Wainwright, commonly referred to as the Lord of Pleasure, is sick of constantly having his life appear as a caricature in the newspapers. It’s not his fault that women are taken not just with his title, but also his good lucks. All he does is try to be polite and complimentary to those he meets – so, why the fuss? And if he does consider a tryst with a woman of his acquaintance, it’s not with a debutante, but a more worldly woman, often a widow. He’s not the sort to take advantage or “ruin” a young lady. Yet, his critics accuse him of all sorts of things, mostly sordid. To make matters worse his best friends, Maxwell Gideon and Lord Hawkridge, have taken to displaying those very illustrations around his favorite hangout, the Cloven Hoof. Determined to change his reputation he vows to live quietly and keep his face out of the “comics” for forty days. Bets are made and the wager begins. No saint, he decides to attend the Duke of Lambley’s infamously bawdy Masquerade Ball for some discreet entertainment. Here he meets and becomes fascinated by Lady X. Of course, the rules of the establishment are “no names” (thus the masks) and neither Lambley or the amiable doorkeeper Phillip Fairfax are talking (see Lord of Chance, Book One of the Rogues to Riches series).

Then there’s Miss Camellia Grenville whose parents have just revealed she is to marry Mr Irving Bost from out of the way North Umbria. He’s coming in a month to start the marriage process, willing to make her his wife, sight unseen, based on her reputation as a good girl who never causes trouble – unlike her two hoyden sisters, Dahlia and Bryony. Despite having a father who is a Baron, the Grenville family seems to live on the fringes of The Ton, with their claim to fame the popular musicales they perform in their home. Middle daughter Dahlia runs a school for disadvantaged girls and has developed a distaste for Lord Wainwright when he inadvertently criticizes her endeavor causing her to lose some prospective critical funding. All three sisters band together in their hostility towards the earl who seems as frivolous as the scandal sheets imply. When they do meet, he is not given a warm welcome but asked to leave. The eldest daughter intrigues him with her bluntness versus the swooning he usually gets from females, even ones at the advanced age of twenty six. Little does he know that she’s the beautiful and alluring Lady X who is stealing his heart. Nor does she suspects he’s the bewitching Lord X who charms her each Saturday while she takes advantage of her last moments of freedom before the unwanted looming marriage.

Well written and intriguing with witty repartee and some interesting side trips, Lord of Pleasure is one of Erica Ridley’s better Regency Romances – Book 2 in the Rogues to Riches series. While the Musicales at the Grenville home featuring Camellia as the soloist, accompanied by her sister Bryony and brother Heath (Dahlia has no musical talent), have been repeatedly referred to as a must see event in the Dukes of War series, the sisters have never been front and center and the trio presents an interesting dynamic. The cluelessness which over shadows the entire affair provides a few head wags and while the Grenville parents seem heartless in marrying off their eldest daughter who would prefer to spend her days reading or huddling with her siblings, they truly love her and want what’s best. They even support, albeit reluctantly, their headstrong offspring in some outrageous life choices (see future books in the series).

While the author’s tendency to repeat the main character’s angst is evident, it seems under control and only mildly annoying and we won’t mention those parts of the book which don’t reflect the Regency period.

Four stars and a thank you to Netgalley for providing this ARC in exchange for an honest review. This review also appears on Goodreads.

It Started With A Kiss (The Worthingtons, Book 3) by Ella Quinn

Lady Louisa Vivers is excited to participate in her first season, if only she could get rid of the attentions of love sick puppy Boswell, who fancies her for a wife. Everyone knows she is too strong headed and his tendency to dither makes them ill suited. On top of that dilemma, she thinks she is falling in love with Gideon Rothwell, a newly titled duke. Even while wearing gloves there is an undeniable spark of electricity when he touches her hand. He feels it too, but there is no way he can marry. His recently departed father who suffered from dementia has left their finances in ruins, first with gambling debts and then with an expensive mistress who continues to line her coffers with a forged writ of purchase. Yet, Gideon can’t help himself and after exchanging some passionate kisses on a terrace at a ball, Louisa announces their betrothal. Not what Gideon had in mind, but what else would such an innocent infer from his improper advances. Anyway, marriage doesn’t seem like such a bad option. He’s in love and wants his sweetheart in his bed. If he had his way they’d be married right away, but waiting two weeks for Louisa’s mother to arrive from out of town seems doable. Yet the scheming man has several ideas of some lustful activities before the nuptials, if they can ever be left unchaperoned, a difficult feat with such a large family keeping watch. Then there’s his close friend Matt, the Earl of Worthington, whose eagle eye is on the outlook to protect the reputation of his younger sister. Luckily Gideon’s mom heartily approves and even provides them with the opportunity for some “alone time”.

However, not all is smooth sailing in It Started With a Kiss, Book Three of the Worthington Regency Romance Series by Ella Quinn. There are some people out there who don’t like the way Gideon is handing his father’s debt and vow revenge. Gideon, mistakenly tries to keep the sordid details a secret from his bride to be, but the forceful Louisa expects honestly and wants an equal marriage sharing the good with the bad. How she will react to these omissions is an issue that just might put a crimp in their relationship. Despite everyone’s advice, Gideon stubbornly sticks to his plan unwittingly putting everyone he loves in danger.

On the plus side is a continuation of the lives of the characters from both the Worthingtons and the Marriage Game series. Matt Worthington and Gideon are school chums along with Marcus Finley and Sebastian Rutherford who both were married about a year (to Phoebe and Anna) prior to the start of this tale. Even Kit Featherton, nicknamed Mr Perfect, makes an brief appearance, dancing with a neglected debutante at his mother’s ball. Via all the previous novels, the reader is familiar with numerous members of The Ton, including their past and future endeavors.

Unfortunately, this one just made me work too hard. It would have made a great novella, but there was so much repetition that it dragged as a full length book. While the ending picked up, there was a vast middle which seemed endless. After awhile Gideon’s stubbornness and Louisa’s obsessions were annoyingly over the top. Despite a couple of witty back and forth repartees, most of the conversation was mundane, and the sex scenes were kind of placid, not the passionate encounters found in most of the other narratives. There just was not enough plot to carry the day. Three stars is generous.

A thank you to Netgalley and Kensington Books for providing this ARC in exchange for an honest review.

This review also appears on Goodreads.

A Love to Remember (The Disgraced Lords, #7) by Bronwen Evans

I’ve just gotten back from a little trip to England to visit my old friends from The Ton, you know, the Libertine Scholars, and do I have some juicy gossip to share. It seems Philip Flagstaff, the Earl of Cumberland, has been having an affair with Her Grace, Lady Rose Deverill, the Wicked Widow. It’s a perfect arrangement because neither one is interested in matrimony. Rose had a terrible first marriage, forced to marry an older man who was, shall I say, not very considerate of her “needs”. The only good thing that came from the relationship was her son, Drake. Of course, she did inherit the estate (her father wasn’t a total fool when handing her over to a distasteful elderly husband) and her son will be the Duke of Roxborough when he reaches his majority. In the meantime The Marquis of Kirkwood is his guardian, watching out for his interests. Luckily, the kind man has pretty much stayed out of her business, but she expects he soon will be making some demands. After all, it’s no secret that Philip was seen dancing with the current popular debutant and ignoring her at the latest fete. If their affair is truly over, Kirkwood might think it time for her to settle down, especially since she’s only twenty six and still lovely.

It’s not that she and Philip don’t get along, they do very well in the boudoir together, more than okay. It’s just that Philip is still grieving for his brother, Robert, who sacrificed his life at the Battle of Waterloo in order to protect his “little brother”. It’s Philip’s fault that Robert is dead so he doesn’t feel he’s entitled to the title he inherited. Philip has been a screwup all his life and he doesn’t believe he’s deserves any happiness, especially not with the beautiful and charming Rose. No, marriage is out, not to Rose, not to anyone. Let the succession line fall to his younger brother, a clone of Robert and more worthy of the honor.

Unfortunately, Philips sister, Lady Portia (remember how she was kidnapped and sold to a sultan’s harem in Alexandria, rescued in the nick of time by Philip and her future husband, Lord Greyson Devlin) is none too happy about her brother’s behavior. The others think he’s a fool as well. Then when he showed up at Serena’s dinner party with another woman, they practically attacked him. Poor Rose had to deal with this public display of humiliation.

It will take a miracle to shake some sense into that man. Or perhaps a disaster that needs the help of those six friends (and their wives) to resolve. I’m curious to see how it all works out. There are so many rumors, but that would be telling.

A Love to Remember by Bronwen Evans is a continuation of the Libertine Scholars saga. Now that Arend has his happy ending and the mystery woman that was trying to destroy their lives has been captured, the six men and their wives are living in wedded bliss raising the numerous children who seem to come in waves. However, Philip’s life has not been resolved. When his brother, the seventh Libertine Scholar was killed in battle, the others vowed to look out for his wellbeing. After all, his sister is married to Greyson and family is family. Rose, Lady Portia’s best friend, is also an honorary member of the group. Plus Rose’s son is best friends with Henry, a young boy under Sebastian and Beatrice’s care, so Evans is obligated to “tie up the loose ends”.

I was excited to touch base with all the characters from the first six book in the The Disgraced Lords series. Since each of the storylines overlapped in some way, there’s only been about two years between the beginning tale and this book. While A Love to Remember can serve as a stand alone, reading the other novels will give a better perspective on the wide cast of characters.

As enjoyable as I found this novel, which had a twist or two in the plot, I was disappointed that the author felt the need to be so repetitive. Yes, Rose was in love and wanted to marry Philip. Yes, Philip felt honor bound to never marry as a penance for his brothers death, but how many times did we need to hear this? Too many times if you ask me or enough to detract from the whole. Once again, Evans needs to tighten up the plot and leave out the miscellaneous – more libertine scholars, less introspection. She did, however, include some juicy dialogue, as the two lovers exchanged some sexy reparte.

As a reminder, lovers of Regency Romances who like accuracy in the details from this era should avoid this series. However, those who like a good romp with a happily ever after ending should dig right in. Three and a half stars.

Thank you to Netgalley for providing this ARC in exchange for an honest review. This review also appears on Goodreads.

Potent Charms by Peggy Waide

If Phoebe Rafferty wants to gain her inheritance and not be at the mercy of her bitter Aunt Hildegard, she has six weeks to find a husband. With the promise of a title and an estate, the lovely American born “heiress” should have her pick of suitors, but she wants love, not convenience. Luckily, while trying to avoid the dictates of British society, she slips away from yet another country dance finding herself in the same room as fellow slacker Stephen Lambert, Duke of Badrick, with their amusing repartee leading to a relationship which teases the reader with possibilities. Phoebe finds herself attracted to the rogue, but no matter how attractive he finds the damsel, he can only offer the role of mistress, not wife, due to a family curse. Five women have died over the past three generations of Badricks and two were his former wives. Determined to be the one to stop the curse, Stephen vows to be the heir who never weds and put an end to this nightmare in the book Potent Charms by Peggy Waide

All Phoebe knows is that as their passion grows her resistance weakens. His desires are also strong and he stubbornly sticks to a plan to seduce her into acquiescence while she’s convinced that her allures will lead to a more favorable sort of proposal. Their back and forth banter through numerous events brings them closer to fulfilling their need for one another so when Phoebe proclaims her love Stephen assumes that she has agreed to be his in all but name. Wrong. Despite her loss of innocence and the various scandals associated with her dalliances, there is a decent gentleman in London society who is more than willing to make her his wife. Now the question is: Can Phoebe settle for comfort over love? And will Stephen allow another man to bed her?

The dialogue is clever, the characters dynamic, the plot moves along with detours to a hidden room in a secret passage, a gypsy camp, a fox hunt, a house party, a museum tour, and numerous other social events, all with opportunities for the two lovebirds to hook up, each time moving their romance a little closer to consummation. Yet the plot is a little too busy, with too many unfulfilling sex scenes, and too much whining over a seemingly stagnant situation. In other words, those six weeks seem an eternity. The supporting characters have some bite, but their matchmaking motivations are also repetitive. My advice is to tighten up the plot, and save some of the extra drama for another novel. Stephen’s selfishness along with a quick temper and a tendency to use his fists to resolve his anger issues, does not help us root for a successful outcome. Phoebe could have done better. Luckily the story moves along quickly. Readers who want their Regency Romances to be accurate in details containing somewhat plausible actions and behaviors should definitely skip this one. Three and a half stars.

The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway

I’m trying to decide which story Ernest Hemingway was trying to tell in the book The Sun Also Rises. Is it a tale of bullfighting in Spain during the summer of 1926? Perhaps it’s the saga of a woman who is searching for some answers through sex and booze? Or is it a page out of the life of Jacob Barnes as he works and plays, pursuing solace in the activities he fancies most, while observing the love of his life turn to others for “comfort”? Conceivably it is all or none of the above.

Lady Brett Ashley is a tragic figure, yet so beautiful she collects men’s hearts the way many women collect shoes. After spending two weeks lazing in San Sebastián with the clingy Jewish American author Robert Cohn, she accompanies her indolent fiancé Michael and a crowd of doting male friends to Pamplona to catch the bullfights, departing at the end of the Fiesta for a lusty episode with the handsome young matador, and winding up seeking refuge with the always loyal Jake who has organized the entire excursion. Where her PTSD husband, Lord Ashley, resides is never revealed.

Most of the time Brett remains “tight” in order to maintain her gaiety and devil may care attitude. It is only with Jake that she is able to reveal her true thoughts, especially since he is a safe choice due to the wartime injury which has left him incapable of a normal sexual relationship. As Jake observes “Brett seems to want what she cannot have”.

Jacob is a good sort who enjoys a savory meal and a palatable drink, hanging out with his friends at the various bars and restaurants in Paris and Spain, alternating his time between a drunken stupor and sleeping one off to get rid of the subsequent headaches. Doubtless we should avoid being judgmental since for the majority of this book he is on vacation, first on a fishing trip and then for a week of celebration in Pamplona. A true aficionado, he returns to the same hotel each year where the like minded proprietor welcomes him along with his friends. Hemingway introduces the reader to the finer points of bullfighting as Jake describes the event through his personal observations as well as his explanations to Brett.

Jake is guilty of a sardonic humor, witnessed when he refers to the prostitute he has picked up for some easy company as his “fiancée” and verified when he calls an inebriated friend with an obsession for purchasing stuffed animals a “taxidermist” (not a good profession since the creatures are all dead).

While the narration is simple, full of conversation and descriptions of the various locales Jake visits as well as the numerous individuals with whom he interacts, there is an unwritten story beneath the words alluding to a meaning beyond the tale of their pathetic, wretched lives.

While at first glance one wonders why this novel was considered a groundbreaker with its repetitive dialogue and lack of likable characters, I found it to be one of those rare books that continues to haunt after the last page is read, leaving one wondering whether there is any hope for an eventual favorable resolution. Perhaps the answer is found in the most famous line from this book, the last discussion where Brett indicates the two would have been a great pair with Jake, who is always available to pick up the pieces when her relationships ultimately fail, replies “It would be happy to think so.”

Somehow I think not.

Four stars.

Florence Nightingale: The Courageous Life of the Legendary Nurse by Catherine Reef

Florence Nightingale was named after the Italian city of her birth on May 12, 1820. Despite society’s restrictions she forged her way to the front lines to follow her desire to help the sick and wounded taking advantage of a British experiment to provide female nurses on the war front during the Crimean War. Her talents to organize and clean up the mess she found provided hope to the soldiers as she ministered to their needs. Gaining worldwide renown, Florence Nightingale soon became known as “The Lady with the Lamp” named for her nocturnal wanderings taking care of the wounded throughout the wards. Catherine Reef goes into detail examining the life and times of this famous healer in her biography, Florence Nightingale: The Courageous Life of the Legendary Nurse.

Even as a child, Florence was fascinated by illness, keeping a journal with the various ailments of family members and their treatments. Contrary to the views of the times, Florence and her sister Parthenope were taught by their father who believed girls were just as capable as boys, providing them with a comparable education to what he would have given a son. The family completed their daughters education with a continental tour. Being born into an affluent family, Florence followed the example of her mother’s charity work by visiting and nursing the poor. Although she had many suitors, Florence felt that she had been called by God to minister to the sick and infirmed. While traveling with friends in Germany, she had the opportunity to spend two weeks at Kaiserswerth, a Lutheran facility containing a hospital staffed by deaconesses. However, her family disapproved of her desire to be a nurse and only begrudgingly conceding to her wish to further her education, honing her nursing skills at Kaiserswerth, partly due to her melancholy (as well as her veiled threats of suicide). Although Florence admired and developed a friendship with Elizabeth Blackwell, she felt that nursing was a better path to caring for those in need than being a doctor. She furthered her career by becoming the administrator of a small hospital for impoverished gentlewomen (a position which remained unpaid due to her social standing). All these experiences helped her when she was assigned to be the supervisor at a wartime hospital in Istanbul. While the French soldiers had the Sisters of Charity to provide for their needs, the British wounded had Florence Nightingale. Against the odds she used her connections to help improve the living conditions of the wounded and increase their chances of survival. This was an almost impossible task due to all the red tape as well as the reluctance (actually disdain) of the head doctor to support her requests. Unfortunately, she caught what was known as Crimean Fever, a bacterial infection, which continued to plague her throughout her life.

After the war 45,000 pounds was collected for Florence to open a nursing school, but first she wanted improve the health care system, especially for the military. Using her fame or “Nightingale Power”, along with the help of numerous influential friends (including Queen Victoria), she convinced the military to make changes by using statistics to show that more soldiers died from the conditions in the hospitals than from actual combat. Even at home the death rate of soldiers was double that of civilians. Florence then opened a school to train nurses, accomplished while she suffered from the lingering effects of her Crimean illness. She relied on the help of family and friends to do the footwork while she dictated action from her sickbed. Florence even published three widely read books toting her theories of health care advocating “sleep, fresh air, and regular food: these are the three great medicines”. At first Nightingale followed the theory of miasma – that disease was affected by the lack of cleanliness, fresh air, good food, and well lit comfortable accommodations. Eventually she adopted the teachings of Lister realizing that contagion played a part in the spread of illness, necessitating not just cleanliness, but disinfecting solutions.

Throughout this biography is an undercurrent of Florence Nightingale’s true character. She was not only driven in her personal behaviors but also demanded complete loyalty from her friends and family, expecting them to totally devote themselves to the cause. Such dedication was detrimental not only to her own health but also to those closest to her, and she found herself outliving all those she truly loved. She also liked to be the one in charge resenting any direct competition. Stubbornness was in her nature.

However, Nightingale was a true advocate of women’s rights, disdaining the nineteenth century mores which kept women homebound caring for children and doing household tasks, while being considered inferior to men as if they were lacking the ability to fulfill their true advocations. She lived until 1910, and thus saw others take up the mantle of women’s rights.

While this book contained detailed and fascinating information about Florence Nightingale, the question remains on who the true audience is for this particular biography. Its focus and vocabulary are a little above a typical children’s book. While the name dropping of the famous friends surrounding Florence were fascinating to me, most teens would not appreciate their relevance. I was impressed by the lengthy bibliography and the numerous photographs and illustrations scattered throughout the book, as well as the detailed index. Yet this well researched biography, containing a number of primary sources, falls between the cracks being too simplistic for adults, not compelling enough for the YA crowd, and too difficult for the average middle school student (unless they are assigned a research project on this topic). If this was written for school aged children it should have contained a timeline of events as a reference, and perhaps an annotated list of the people who were part of Nightingale’s life.

Three and a half stars and a thank you to Netgalley and Clarion books who provided this ARC in exchange for an honest review.

This review also appears on Goodreads.