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A Dream of Redemption by Bronwen Evans (Book Eight, Disgraced Lords series)

Clarence Homestead was too good looking for his own comfort and he avoided the admiring glances from the females he encountered. Little did he expect to catch the eye of Lady Helen Hawkestone, the sister of his patroness, Marissa Maitland, the Duchess of Lyttleton. Although Clary has considered the beautiful Helen an angel ever since their first meeting five years prior (when he was awaiting news of the fate of the wounded Marisa), he knew that his low born life and past indiscretions nixed any thought of a relationship. His focus was on serving Maitland and his wife who together had rescued him from a sleazy existence in a brothel. In return, he acted as Her Grace’s personal secretary and overseer of the numerous orphanages the couple acquired and “renovated”.

Yet when Lady Helen decides to get involved in this charitable endeavor, Clary balked, not only because of his inner feelings of attraction, but to protect the innocent twenty three year old from the sordidness of life on the other side of aristocracy. His instincts were correct when the newest acquisition revealed a manager who more than dabbled in the human trafficking of children. At Helen’s urging, they not only rescued the most recent abduction but put a stop, at least temporarily, to these nefarious activities.

Helen, as stubborn as her unconventional sister Marissa, refuses to accept Clary’s objections to a future together, despite the revelation of his disreputable upbringing. After placing herself in numerous compromising situations, the two finally succumb to their mutual passion. Despite Helen’s feelings, convincing her over-protective, hot-headed brother Sebastian, the Marquess of Coldhurst, to sanction their relationship is an insurmountable task. A twist of fate necessitating a life or death rescue changes the dynamics leading to a relatively happily ever after for a couple who prefer a quiet life in the country to the scandal mongering attitudes of London and The Ton.

A Dream of Redemption by Bronwen Evans is the eighth book in the Disgraced Lords series. While you don’t need to have read the other seven books dealing with the Libertine Scholars and their romances to enjoy this one, I would recommend reading book four, A Whisper of Desire, to familiarize yourself with Marisa and Maitland’s unlikely marriage as well as the gritty details of the circumstances surrounding their involvement with a den of inquiry and the unfortunate experience which followed. The dark tone begun in this book is continued in book eight, which deals with the seedier side of life instead of focusing on the frivolities of a season in London. Of necessity is the constant reference to marrying the “wrong sort of person” which would lead to ostracism not only by polite society but even ones own family (in fear of their reputations being tarnished by association). Although 1820 is just past the era of the Prince Regent, I would still call this a Regency Romance.

While this action packed plot had such potential, the constant repetitious back and forth between Cary and Helen detracted from the whole. A bit of consolidating/editing would have definitely improved the tale, despite several hot and steamy scenes between the two lovebirds which are sure to entertain. Catching up with some of the Libertine Scholars and their wives was a definite plus for those of us who have been along for the ride from the beginning. Three and a half stars and a thank you to Netgalley for providing this ARC in exchange for an honest review.

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The Bad Luck Bride by Jane Goodger (The Brides of St Ives, Book 1)

In the Bad Luck Bride, Lady Alice Hubbard, Granddaughter of a Duke and an Earl, is once again left at the altar. Her first husband-to-be died just prior to the nuptials, her second fiancĂ© had to beg off when her father discovered this future son-in-law was a scam artist, and the third? He simply did not show up. Instead of feeling humiliated (well, maybe a little), Alice is almost relieved, despite her new moniker “The Bad Luck Bride”. Truth be told, while she was fond of each of these potential mates, it wasn’t love that led to any of the betrothals. Then, on the carriage ride home, who should hitch a ride but Henderson Southwell, her late brother’s best friend and the true object of her affections. Henderson (Henny) has been gone the past four years, disappearing to India after Joseph’s tragic death. Now he claims to have returned in order to stop the wedding. Everyone laughs, but he is not really joking. Alice has always been in his heart, not realizing the feelings were reciprocal. Ditto for Alice. Via a series of complications, including the return of suitor number three, hat in hand, Alice and Henny somehow find their way to romance. Subplots include a possible murder(s), an attempt to raise funds for famine relief in India, a knitting club of girlfriends, and a budding friendship with an eccentric, neighboring Earl.

Set in a seaside town, this is Book One in the Brides of St Ives series. Jane Goodger throws a lot of story at us, never quite developing the possibilities before picking up another subplot. The profession of love doesn’t occur until the second half the book, necessitating continued repetition of thoughts, as the two main characters wrest with their feelings. Feelings which they then discuss in detail with their friends. Of course, the fact that Henderson has an unknown father and is not part of the nobility is a complication not easy to overcome. With his grandparents funding he was able to attend Eton and thus made friends with Joseph and his buddies. The Hubbards welcomed Henny into their home, with their house being preferable to living with an indifferent, distant mother. Yet, being accepted as a friend is very different than marrying into the family, as Henderson suddenly discovers.

While I’m willing to give some leeway when an author is introducing the characters in a new series, it is still their first obligation to create an intriguing story for the readers. There was so much potential in the various subplots, but their “resolutions” were disappointing. Set in the late 1870’s, this Victorian Romance unsuccessfully explores the distinction between classes and the entitlement of the nobility. The inconsistent attitudes of Alice’s parents towards Henderson is an example of just one of the many question marks I had when completing this novel. Hopefully some of these blanks will be filled in by other books in the series.

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

A Perilous Passion by Elizabeth Keysian

After a mishap in the army fighting in the Napoleonic Wars, Rafe Pemeroy, the Earl of Beckport, needs to clear his name. What better way than exposing the head of a smuggling ring who is selling secrets to the French and assisting their attempts to invade England? Posing as a country squire, Mr. “Seaborne” attempts to gain the confidence of the locals. Unfortunately, he suspects they are all somehow involved with the smuggling aspect of the scheme, a practice he frowns upon. Thus he mistrusts everyone in the seaside town of Dorset, including Miss Charlotte Allston, a headstrong miss who seems to be everywhere he looks. Little does he know that the woman who has captured his heart is actually the daughter of Abraham Cutler, the notorious smuggler from the North Sea who was murdered before he could finish giving evidence and receive a Royal Pardon. Despite Rafe’s misgivings about becoming romantically involved, he can’t stop feeling the connection between them, especially since Charlotte is constantly showing up at inconvenient times and places.

To keep them both safe, Charlotte and her mother have changed their names and moved in with Aunt Flora. Mrs. Cutler requires her daughter to be chaperoned, usually by her somewhat lax sister, due to a previous indiscretion where Charlotte attempted to elope with her childhood sweetheart, Justin Jessop. Justin, now serving in the army in Scotland, sends her letters full of complaints about his mistreatment at the hands of his military superiors, so it isn’t a complete surprise when he turns up in Dorset in search of his former love. By this time Charlotte has become infatuated with Lord Beckport (instantly recognized by her Ton savvy mom) and realizes that this previous relationship was just puppy love and not the real thing. Jessop, considered an army deserter, needs her assistance to survive, so she turns to Rafe to provide backup support. Numerous complications could easily mess up Rafe’s plans to stop the enemy from landing on British soil, but by working together the three “patriots” might find a way to rescue each other and their country.

Elizabeth Keysian has presented the reader with some interesting characters in the Pre- Regency Romance, A Perilous Passion, book one in the Wanton in Wessex series. Unfortunately, the majority of the plot centers around the meandering Charlotte and the judgmental Rafe, ignoring the potential of the flighty Aunt and her apothecary “friend”. Told from alternative points of view, we learn the secrets about the two lovers who have a tendency to dwell on their pasts a tad too much. Despite a strong beginning, the middle of the novel sagged a bit while waiting for the next spate of action. The dastardly villain did not disappoint and the resolution of everybody’s troubles made for an acceptable happily ever after, even for the jilted Justin Jessop. The various attempts at humor revolving around sneezing and an allergy to horses did not quite hit the mark, but the romance was more than satisfying.
Romance

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

The Rogue is Back in Town by Anna Bennett (The Wayward Wallflowers, #3)

Disclaimer: Much of the plot line of The Rogue is Back in Town, book three in the Wayward Wallflower series by Anna Bennett, ignores the societal rules and mores of the Regency Era. If you can suspend your sense of logic and accept the characters’ actions, no matter how ridiculous, then you’ll enjoy the author’s breezy style. If you’re a stickler for accuracy, skip this series.

The little bit we’ve seen of Juliette Lacey in the first two books of the series has shown us a spoiled little sister allowed to blurt out inappropriate comments including references to sexual activities. Due to her unrestrained behavior, it shouldn’t be surprising that the youngest of the Lacey sisters would be the most passionate.

At the masquerade ball held by Alexander Savage, the Duke of Blackshire, in
I Dared the Duke, Julie had a tryst with Nigel Travis, the Marquess of Currington, whose kisses turned her mind towards romance. Yet afterwards the gentleman remained scarce, neither calling or sending a message to the besotted girl.

Disturbed that her inappropriate behavior might reflect badly on her family, imagine Julie’s surprise when a disheveled Samuel Travis, with similar looks and build to his handsome brother Nigel, turns up at her door. Her reaction turns to horror when Sam nonchalantly requests her eviction from the place her Uncle Alister, Lord Wltmore, has called home for the past forty years. Seems Nigel has discovered the tumbledown townhouse is a part of his recently inherited estate and he’d like it back. Of course the headstrong girl refuses to leave until she is provided with proof, but the desperate Sam must stay put until he completes the assigned task. After some negotiation, Julie agrees to let Sam remain (hidden from outside eyes) posing as a research assistant to her Uncle.

Sam’s resemblance to her crush Nigel evokes Julie’s sensuality and the electric attraction between the two housemates soon results in an inappropriate liaison. While the scandalous Sam is prone to over indulge in drinking, gambling, and wenching, the true scoundrel is Lord Travis who has a hidden agenda which defies the outward gentlemanly manner presented to society.

Foolishly, the headstrong, independent Juliette tries to resolve this crisis without disturbing either sister (or their well connected husbands). To complicate matters, her attraction to Sam turns steamy with the two lovers having difficulty keeping their hands off each other. Perhaps Julie is responding to Sam’s vulnerability or his innate desire to be respected. Uncle Alister has a positive influence on his new assistant and the two develop a heartwarming bond. Determined to find a purpose in life, Sam strikes out on his own. He truly loves Julie and is resigned to accept her choices, hoping that if he can prove himself worthy she’ll choose him. Of course, events spin out of control and someone needs to play the hero.

One wonders whether the randiness of the three Lacey sisters is due to the untimely death of their parents, or perhaps for the ridicule they previously experienced as the Wilting Wallflowers. Either way, each was easy to seduce, succumbing to their lusty nature almost instantly after meeting their perspective paramours. Samuel, known for his prowess in the bedroom, is a worthy partner for the amorous Juliette. Definitely steamy!

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

I Dared the Duke by Anna Bennett (The Wayward Wallflowers, #2)

Perhaps what I liked best about the Regency Romance, I Dared the Duke by Anna Bennett, is the emphasis on the importance of family. Elizabeth Lacey has a strong bond with her two sisters, Margaret and Juliette, as well as her Uncle Alister, Lord Wltmore, who “adopted” them when their parents were killed in a carriage accident. Alexander Savage, the Duke of Blackshire, adores his grandmother, the Dowager Duchess, the only family he has left. Both main characters suffered trauma in their lives involving the tragic death of loved ones with Alex still bearing scars around his neck from the devastating fire which killed his parents. It’s not a wonder that these two find sympathy for one another, but not without first developing a contentious relationship, arguing over the treatment of the chief object of their attention – Lady Blackshire.

At the request of her uncle, Beth has agreed to serve as companion to the elderly Duchess and she resents the Duke’s request to convince her charge to hasten to their country estate instead of remaining in her beloved London. Beth finally agrees to help Alex with his request but only after he grants his grandmother three “wishes”.

Beth quickly discovers that the Duke is a hoax. Although he is ornery, underneath all the bluff is a decent, caring heart. His undeserved reputation as a reprobate who has seduced numerous wives throughout The Ton, is a myth. In fact, his sexual experience is somewhat limited and he is tentative with his romantic liaison with Beth. She, however, only feels the power of their attraction, despite her questions about his intentions. Little does she know that it was his offhand comment which cemented the title – the “Wilting Wallflowers” on the three sisters when they entered society.

Eventually Alex has to reveal the real reason for his concern – he has been the target of numerous murder attempts. Not wanting his grandmother or Miss Lacey accidentally hurt in the crossfire, he pleads with her to move to the safety of the country. By this time the two have become quite “close” and Beth, who likes to be in the center of the action, wants to help discover the culprit’s identity. Of course, chaos ensues.

As in Book 1 (My Brown-Eyed Earl) of the Wayward Wallflower series, in Book 2 the details and vernacular ignore the accepted mores of the Regency Era. Yet the witty banter and easy reading style overcome some of the unlikely plot details. Alex’s behavior doesn’t always mesh with his role as Duke, yet his gruff exterior hiding a compassionate soul is endearing to the reader. While the pig-headed Beth isn’t as likable as her sister Meg, the reader can’t help but root for her happily ever after. A major annoyance is the repetitive reflections by the two protagonists as the author flits back and forth detailing their individual points of view. Some selective editing could easily take care of this exasperating tendency.

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

My Brown-Eyed Earl by Anna Bennett (The Wayward Wallflowers, #1)

William Ryder, the Earl of Castleton, has had a thing for Miss Margaret Lacey since they were young, so he was astonished when she staunchly rejected their fathers attempt to arrange a marriage between them (not that he was pleased that his disreputable dad was choosing his bride-to-be). Now, seven years later, he finds Meg in his home applying for a job as governess for the set of six year old twins recently dropped off at his door. The precocious Valerie and Diana are the illegitimate offspring of his cousin who died in a freak accident. Their mother, his cousin’s mistress, threatened to place them in an orphanage if he wasn’t willing to provide for them. The honorable Will would never abandon his best friend’s children to such a fate, but the rambunctious girls obviously needed a steady hand. The Earl, whose own father has been indifferent, fears he doesn’t have the ability to be a good parent, so he turns to what he hopes is “professional” help. Unfortunately, Meg has zero experience, just a need to earn some money to keep her sisters and uncle out of the poorhouse. Of course, once she realizes the potential boss is her former jilted fiancĂ©, she is ready to decline the position. Yet, Will is intrigued and makes her an offer she can’t refuse, so Miss Lacey finds herself wrapped up in the lives of her two charges as well as garnering the attention of the distinctly handsome Castleton.

My Brown-Eyed Earl by Anna Bennett is book one in The Wayward Wallflowers series. Meg and her younger sisters Elizabeth and Juliette have been living with their Uncle Alister, Lord Wiltmore, the only family member willing to offer a home to all three girls after the tragic death of their parents (killed in a storm on that fateful night Meg rejected the marriage proposal). Full of guilt, Meg stoically believes it is her obligation to care for the family. While the somewhat oblivious Uncle Alister has provided them a loving home, his limited funds do not allow for luxuries like fancy gowns. That’s why the sisters have been dubbed The Wilted Wallflowers by The Ton and despite their beauty, their drab attire brings them nothing but scorn and ridicule.

Set to remain a spinster, Meg is determined to earn enough to provide some luxuries for her siblings. With kindly attentions, while visiting the dressmaker to add to the twins wardrobe, Will offers to purchase her a new gown as well, but the proud Meg refuses to even consider the idea. Luckily, the Earl looks beyond her attire and his former feelings are rekindled. Meg is not immune to his charms and they quickly find themselves romantically involved. Encouraged by his mother to take a wife, Will wonders if Meg has the capacity to fill the role of Countess. A series of misadventures seem to indicate otherwise, but first impressions can be deceiving. Whether the Earl can convince his lovely governess to put aside her guilt and find her own happiness is the ultimate goal.

While I loved the witty repartee between Will and Meg, along with the lovable characters Bennett has created (especially the twins), there were some definite flaws in this Regency Romance. In fact, if you like your historical novels to accurately reflect the era, then this is not the book for you. The author plays fast and loose with the mores of the time, ignoring the high standards for maintaining a spotless reputation – such as a current debutante living unchaperoned with a bachelor. Even if all was innocent (which it wasn’t) the scandal would be far reaching. Then Meg’s friend Charlotte, also a governess, openly appears in society with her employer, seemingly as a couple. Neither a likely scenario! In addition, the conversations, although witty, were full of vernacular unbecoming for polite conversation. Despite these and other discrepancies, this book was not without its charm. Yes, there were the muddled accounts of the lovers past as well as a clumsy attempt to provide a little excitement via an inquisitive mystery man, but there were also some interesting interactions, often comical, which compensated for all the flaws.

With a little better attention to the appropriate details, a more complete backstory, and some fine tuning to the plot/climax, this could have been a four+ star book. Still, I’ll give it three and a half stars for its easily readable writing style and humor.

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

Winning Violet by Becky Lower

In the news lately we’ve heard a lot about men using their power/status to take advantage of women, often convincing them to participate in questionable activities (or worse). If this could happen in a modern society where women strive for equality, imagine what it must have been like during the Regency era where woman had little say in their role in life. This theme provides an underlying source of embarrassment to the main character in Winning Violet by Becky Lower, the first book in the Flower Girl series.

Violet Wilson is one of four sisters who assist their father Edgar at the Mulberry Hills Nursey/Landscaping Business in Salisbury, England. The harassment Violet receives by one of the male employees keeps her holed up in the greenhouse away from others, especially men. Humiliated by her own actions she feels the entire situation is her fault so she never reveals her trepidation to the family.

Such is her attitude when Parker Sinclair arrives from the McMahon Nursery of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania looking for roses to create a flowerbed at the entrance to the gardens at Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello. Sinclair arrives the worse for wear since he was attacked upon his arrival at Portsmouth. After the sisters minister to his health and provide him with some clothes (a difficult task since the man is so tall) the landscaper is able to set about his work with Violet to select the best variety of roses and learn something about cross pollination, Violet’s specialty whose research might land her a spot on the lecture tour of the Royal Horticulture Society. While at first she is annoyed at the interruption to her work, she can’t help but feel attracted to the American. Parker, in spite of his negative attitude towards the British (due to the devastation brought about by the War of 1812), finds himself inexplicably attracted to Violet, even though he has avoided women since the death of his wife and child eleven years earlier. Yet how can the two resolve their issues when their homes are thousands of miles apart separated by the Atlantic Ocean? This push pull dominates the storyline as the lovebirds try to figure out not only their feelings, but also whether there can be any sort of future between them.

While the opening sequence showed promise, the total package was rather dull. There was too much tell and not enough show, plus the plot was full of repetitions especially since the narration alternated between the two protagonists who agonized over their insecurities throughout the novel. I would have liked to see more character development, especially the relationship between the sisters. Instead, the lack of depth lead to a superficiality, even though some motivations were explained via the introspections of Violet and Parker. Ultimately, there just wasn’t not enough story to carry an entire novel. Then on top of it all, much of the lovemaking was clumsy and awkward, not romantic and tender.

One aspect of the book I found interesting was the details about the propagation of roses. However, I did notice some inaccuracies which were not a part of this time period. The Royal Horticulture Society didn’t get that title until 1861 and was known in 1823 as the Horticulture Society of London. Botany was a man’s world, both in England and America, and women were not allowed to be a part of this group, even if they had something to offer, unless they submitted articles for publication under a male pseudonym. If there was a lecture tour, there was no way Violet would be allowed to be a part of this tightly controlled, select group of men.

Basically, due to the numerous inaccuracies and a lack of appropriate details, the entire novel was simply a nod to the Regency era. Two and a half stars.

A thank you to both Edelweiss and Netgalley for providing this ARC in exchange for an honest review. This review also appears on Goodreads.