Posts Tagged ‘ regency romance ’

Review: Mistress by Midnight

Nicola Cornick’s Mistress by Midnight is the brand-new third installment in the rather ponderously-named ‘Scandalous Women of the Ton’ series. I have not read the two earlier books, but after finishing this one I think I might at least pick up the first, which is the story of Merryn’s oldest sister Joanna, who I liked immensely;Mistress by Midnight cover the second book is about Garrick’s half-brother Ethan, who appeared only briefly in Mistress and who I have little interest in reading about.

Lady Merryn Fenner is a rather oddly-named¹ Society bluestocking, the unmarried and eccentric youngest child of the late Earl of Fenner.  When not attending scientific lectures or propping up the wallpaper at tonnish events, Merryn secretly assists working-class investigator Tom Bradshaw, gaining entry through her title and connections to houses and paperwork that Bradshaw would otherwise be unable to access.  Her ongoing pet project has been to investigate the death of her brother, Stephen, who was allegedly killed in a duel some twelve years prior; Merryn doesn’t believe the official story and intends to uncover the truth and seek the ruin (and possible execution) of his killer.

Garrick Northesk, the nineteenth Duke of Farne, and whose surname never appears besides the second paragraph of the book, has spent the last decade haunted by the betrayal and subsequent murder of his best friend, forced to keep the true events of that day a secret.  He returns to London after his father’s funeral to find his home – and bedchamber – occupied by a certain bluestocking, who had taken advantage of the absences of Garrick and his father to rifle through the old duke’s study for incriminating paperwork.

Garrick’s curiosity is piqued when the lady flees, and he becomes downright intrigued when he discovers that she is the youngest sister of the man he killed so long ago.  Will he act on his attraction, or will Merryn find what she seeks and earn Garrick the hangman’s noose…?

When a disaster traps Merryn and Garrick together, white-hot desire stirs between the two sworn enemies. Merryn’s reputation is utterly compromised and she is forced to do the one thing she cannot bear; accept the scandalous marriage proposal of the man she has vowed to ruin.

I was a little annoyed to discover that the ‘disaster’ mentioned as the plot-hook on the back cover didn’t happen until just over half-way through the book.  The disaster in question was the London Beer Flood of 1814, which the author mentions in the foreward.  Normally I try to avoid giving plot spoilers beyond the first few chapters, but in this case I don’t think it counts, as the information is revealed before the actual story even starts.

During the beer flood, our intrepid heroine and her reluctant counterpart are trapped together in a collapsed.  This in itself is not so bothersome as part of the ‘token drama’ in a typical regency romance, but I do object to the appearance and disappearance of the ‘flood waters’, if you will, and several other inconsistencies besides.  When Merryn first wakes she comments on the smell, but later on, still trapped in the enclosed space with a large quantity of beer, both parties comment on how the other smells – Merryn like “the faint scent of flowers mixed with dust and beer”, and Garrick like “lime cologne”.  There is a reference to the ‘soaking material of [Garrick’s] pantaloons” but Merryn seems to be perfectly dry, despite being dunked at least briefly in the beer before they were trapped together.  Even if she’d been dry to begin with,, her skirts should be soaking up liquid like a sponge.  And no one’s boots are uncomfortable or squishing.

While not major issues, these definitely threw me out of the story and made it less ‘realistic’.  My parents used to own a pub, I’ve been around a lot of beer, and there’s just no way they could not be smelly and sticky and unable to notice anything but the strong, rather sour smell of beer in any quantity.

Well, maybe if it were Miller Light or something like that, but I guarantee you’re not going to find that in nineteenth-century London.

From the description, I was expecting the compromising and marriage proposal to take place much earlier in the story, and for the conflict between them to arise during their marriage.  This was not the case.  I won’t say that I feel precisely cheated, since I did enjoy the book, but I do wish that publishers would be less creatively artistic with the blurbs and actually describe the story.

I also have a fondness for ‘mistresses’ in historical romance, and after the promising title I was quite disappointed that Merryn does not become Garrick’s actual mistress at any point during the story.  That’s a spoiler, too, I suppose, though not a terribly important one.

Merryn and Garrick were both quite single-minded – Merryn was determined to ruin Garrick despite her attraction to him, and Garrick was determined to act on his attraction to Merryn.  There was definite chemistry between the two of them, and the sex scenes were well-written.

I particularly enjoyed Merryn’s sisters, Joanna and Tess, and seeing her relationship with them and how it evolved over time.  Garrick didn’t really have anyone except for Merryn to interact with, though he mentioned his brother in passing and briefly spent time with someone who I think is a friend of the brother.  It would have been nice to see more of Garrick’s interaction with Society in general, and with people besides Merryn and his butler.

While I had my issues with the scene itself, the incorporation of the London Beer Flood into the story was novel, and I do like the idea.  The rest of the drama in the book was rather more of the typical romance novel fare, with some unnecessary additions from Mr. Bradshaw to round things out.

Overall, this was an enjoyable read, and if you are willing and able to overlook the continuity issues I have mentioned I would recommend it.

¹While Merryn is a name, it was historically a male name.  Much like Leslie, Beverley, Robin, Ashley…

Review: What a Rogue Desires

What a Rogue Desires is the second book in Caroline Linden’s series about the Reece family.  This is the story of David and Vivian; it follows What a Gentleman Wants, and is followed in turn by A Rake’s Guide to Seduction.What a Rogue Desires cover

Following their reconciliation in Gentleman, Marcus Reece has entrusted his twin with the Exeter holdings while he and his new bride Hannah tour the continent for several months.  Aware that he has been a scapegrace in the past and come very near to ruining the lives of those he holds dear, David is determined not to muck things up this time.

Of course, things never quite go as planned.  No sooner does he leave the Exeter estate in Kent to return to London than David’s life seems to spin out of control.  One of his horses gets a stone in its shoe, forcing a rest stop at a country inn, which in turn leads to David taking a place on a mail coach to London when there are no horses available for neither love nor money.  Then, to add insult to injury, the coach is robbed, and the highwaymen take David’s copy of the Exeter signet ring.  The pocket watch he might have forgiven them, but the ring has far more sentimental value than financial, and David is determined to get it back.

Eminently practical Vivian Beecham doesn’t particularly enjoy the life of a thief, and certainly wants better for her younger brother, Simon.  But with both parents long dead and no other family to ask for aid, there were few options but to join one of the gangs of thieves in London’s disreputable St. Giles district.  Now they have graduated on to highway robbery, with the very attractive Vivian playing  the part of signal man and get-away distraction whilst the others do the actual robbing.

Unfortunately, this time they picked the wrong coach; Lord David Reece is willing to do anything in his power to get back his signet ring, and knowing all of the fences and pawnbrokers in London’s less reputable areas certainly helps with that.  He lays a trap for the thieves; it doesn’t take long at all before Vivan quickly falls right into it, and finds herself a prisoner in David’s house until she tells him where to find the missing ring.

Well, at least her ‘prison’ provides a comfortable bed and hot meals.  It’s not enough on its own to give up her secrets and betray her brother, but David Reece can be very persuasive when he wants to…

I have to admit, I didn’t like this book as much as I did Gentleman and Rake.  I love the idea of the heroine being a thief, and was looking forward to see David fall in love, but there were a few points that stretched my suspension of disbelief, and I wasn’t at all comfortable with the major plot point of Vivian being kidnapped and held against her will by the hero, who she’s supposed to (and does, else this wouldn’t be a romance) fall in love with.  YMMV.

I did like the relationship between Vivian and Simon, what little we saw of it, and was disappointed that there was no interaction with the rest of the Reece family.  With Rosalind and Celia (David’s stepmother and sister, respectively) at the Exeter estate in Kent and Marcus and Hannah on the continent somewhere, the whole development of the relationship between David and Vivian seems to happen in its own little Twilight Zone bubble.

The extraordinary lengths David goes to in order to get a piece of jewelry back seems quite excessive.  Yes, it’s the Exeter signet ring (though not the actual piece, Marcus still has that) and yes, it’s a symbol of Marcus’ trust in David to leave him in charge of the Exeter holdings, but… something about it just rung hollow, I suppose.  It doesn’t really justify kidnapping and imprisoning someone, threatening them with the Bow Street runners and jail, just to get a  ring back.  From what we saw of Marcus in Gentleman, IMHO he’d probably prefer that David actually take care of the Exeter holdings, rather than chase around looking for a ring.

I don’t know.  Overall I enjoyed this book, it was well-written and I liked Vivian (and the sex scenes were v nice) but I’m not at all happy with the kidnapping and imprisonment aspect, and the ending seemed a little too easily wrapped up when David has been shown so far to struggle with being respected and not a good-for-nothing.  It also struck me as odd how Vivian can apparently pass as a lady of (impoverished) quality when she was raised in what is essentially the slums by a working-class mother and then a kidsman.  One of these things is not like the other.

If you’re intending to read the series, I would suggest you pick this up as well as the other two, and if you can get back the whole ‘kidnapping/imprisonment’ aspect, the book is rather enjoyable.  With the caveats above, I do recommend it.

Review: What a Gentleman Wants

What a Gentleman Wants is the first of Caroline Linden‘s books about the Reece family.  After falling in love with A Rake’s Guide to Seduction, when I got my Amazon gift certificate last week I just had to go buy the two earlier books for my kindle.What a Gentleman Wants cover

I was not disappointed.

Lord David Reece, wastrel younger twin of the duke of Exeter, has spent most of his life so far getting into trouble and spending above his budget.  An accident during a carriage race through a country village finds him with a broken leg, forced to rely on the hospitality of the no-nonsense Mrs. Hannah Preston whilst he reassesses his goals in life.  Newly-widowed Hannah is raising her daughter alone, and will soon be forced to give up her independence and move back to her father’s farm once the village’s new vicar arrives.  David soon finds himself growing fond of both Hannah and her daughter, Molly, and decides that they could be the answer to each other’s problems.  A wife will give David the respectability he currently lacks, and marriage will give Hannah a future that doesn’t include drudgery on the  family farm.

Unfortunately, David’s change of heart doesn’t last very long.  Once the new family arrives in London David leaves ‘on business’, and Hannah is left alone to find out the truth: rather than cry off before the wedding, David has played a cruel trick on both Hannah and his brother.  Instead of signing his own name on the register, David wrote another…

Marcus Reece never wanted a wife, let alone a presumed adventuress after the family fortune.  He’s spent most of his life bailing David out of one scandal or another, usually with a liberal application of money, and at first it seems like this latest scrape will be as easily solved as the first.  Until he finds out that David has involved their stepmother, Rosalind, in the deception, who arrives in London believing that Marcus has married and determined to match-make the ‘estranged newlyweds’ back together.

For Rosalind’s sake Marcus convinces Hannah to continue the deception, until the now-disappeared David can be found and they can arrange a suitable ‘separation’ from their unwanted marriage.  Which means that Hannah will have to play duchess for the ton, and they will both have to act the part of besotted newlyweds…

Having started the series out of order and read Rake, Marcus and David’s younger sister Celia’s story first, I was more than a little confused when the beginning of the story had David courting Hannah, and not Marcus.  I don’t imagine many other people will have that problem.  It was interesting to see the relationship between David and Marcus and between Marcus and Celia, neither of which were dwelt on much in Rake, as well as the obviously mutual affection Rosalind has for both her stepsons.

On the subject of relationships, I would have liked to see more of a connection/friendship develop between Marcus and Molly, Hannah’s daughter.  I have the feeling it was “told, not shown”, though I can’t with any accuracy pinpoint exactly what gave me that impression.  Molly almost seemed to be forgotten about in some parts of the story, or just referred to in passing, though when she was included I liked her a lot.  It would have been nice to see more of her, though I do appreciate that she wasn’t just a precocious Plot Moppet™.

Since it’s one of my pet peeves, I appreciated that again, there was no Virgin Widow.  There were definitely sex scenes in this book, though towards the end, and they were quite enjoyable.  Of course, the sex was far better with the One True Love than with the late husband, but in every romance novel the sex scenes between the two main characters are always far better than anything before.  Even their earlier sex scenes.  I suppose it could be worse; there could have been Christine Feehan-style marathon sex sessions.  (Don’t get me wrong, I quite enjoyed the earlier Carpathian novels, but sometimes I like some character development to go with my sex scenes.  They don’t have to happen at the same time, though.)

Hannah and Marcus didn’t do as much growing as characters as Celia and Anthony did in Rake; since they’re both adults and the book takes place over a much shorter period of time, this doesn’t matter so much in their case.  I would have liked to have seen more of the fondness develop between the two of them before jumping to the L word, but I suppose there isn’t room in one book for everything I want.  If I thought I might be indulged, the list would never end.

I did find Hannah’s sentiment for her late husband oddly lacking – did she love him, or was she just very fond of him?  I didn’t really get a strong impression either way, which is perhaps why I’m a little confused.  Molly didn’t seem to miss him at all, despite the confusion over two ‘new Papas’, so I suppose I’m leaning towards the latter option.

Overall, I enjoyed this a lot, and am looking forward to finishing Rogue to complete the set.  I wonder what the odds are of more Reece books – perhaps even Rosalind and the father’s tale?  Highly recommended.

Review: The Devil’s Delilah

The Devil’s Delilah by Loretta Chase is the second of two books featuring the same general cast of characters.  It is the direct sequel to Viscount Vagabond, which I reviewed here.  I get the impression that Devil and Angelica’s story from this book, and Louisa and Edgar’s story from Viscount Vagabond may have their own novels, and I suspect there’s a sequel with Lord Berne’s comeuppance, but I haven’t read any of them and don’t have the inclination to go searching right now.
The Devil'a Delilah Cover
Following his rejection by Catherine in Viscount Vagabond, Mr. Jack Langdon is on his way to visit his reclusive uncle when a chance encounter in a wayside inn is the first step towards becoming embroiled in the drama surrounding the notorious ‘Devil’ Desmond and his lovely daughter, Delilah.

Delilah is of marriageable age and, following Devil’s brush with illness a few years before, has decided that she wants to get married.  Preferably before the memoirs that her scandalous father has written are sent to the printing press, and the family becomes even more unwelcome in Society.  Accordingly, Devil and Delilah (and Devil’s unpublished manuscript) are on their way to visit Delilah’s mother’s great-aunt, Lady Potterby, who has agreed to give Delilah a London Season.  And who just happens to be a neighbour of Jack’s uncle.  It’s a small, small world.

Matters are complicated when Jack’s good friend, Lord Berne, decides that he is in love with Delilah – at least enough to make her his mistress – and the publishing business interested in printing Devil’s memoirs declines to take his refusal as an answer.

Loretta Chase is an author I usually very much enjoy, and I picked up this book and its predecessor specifically because of that, so I suppose my expectations were set rather high.  Overall I enjoyed this book, certainly more than I did Vagabond, though I did have a few problems with it.

My main issue was Jack’s ‘character switch’ mid-way through the book.  He began the story as the gently befuddled, absentminded bookworm he was in Viscount Vagabond, not terribly interested in Grand Romance or Overwhelming Passions after his brush with heartbreak in Vagabond.  About half way through the book, Jack undergoes what seemed to be a rather unexpected character-change, and once in London he has turned almost completely into the typical urbane, debonair, ‘alpha male’ romance novel hero.  Added to this, the strong, passionate heroine quickly became pushed to the sidelines and a spectator in the adventure.

Since I had been looking forward to a romance with a strong female lead and an untypical hero, I was quite disappointed when a story that had seemed so promising quickly turned into the usual affair.  Since I was already half-way through and fond of Delilah, I kept reading.

Another aspect of the book that left me feeling less than pleased was Jack’s friendship with Tony, Lord Berne; for all the times I was told, by Jack and by the author, that Jack and Tony were good friends (or ‘bosom-bows’, as Delilah later terms it), I didn’t feel this friendship was ever really shown.  In what little we view from Tony’s perspective, his feelings towards Jack were more sneering and dismissive than anything else, while Jack seems to view himself in the role of perpetual doormat who must cede to his friends’ passions rather than compete, even when the ‘prize’ is Delilah.  Quite frankly, I couldn’t see that Tony and Jack liked each other enough to be friends.

I might have been willing to put aside Jack’s change in character as ‘scratching under the surface’ to show something more in line with the occasional hint from Vagabond that Jack wasn’t constantly as befuddled as he seemed, but even Jack’s allegedly closest friend didn’t seem to know that aspect of his character or to think of Jack as anything other than an eccentric bookworm.

The ending of the book was vaguely satisfying in that all of the plot lines were tied off and I wasn’t left with any real questions (other than whether Angelica and Louisa had their own books, and if there was one following about Tony), but the resolution felt somewhat lacking, perhaps because it was told to Delilah after the fact rather than being shown.  At least in Vagabond, Catherine played a role in the ending of the drama.

I don’t feel that this book has lived up to Chase’s previous works.  It’s not a bad read, by any means, but I don’t think it will be going into my ‘keep’ pile and I can’t recommend it with the same fervour that I would some of her other works.

Review: Viscount Vagabond

Viscount Vagabond is a Regency romance by Loretta Chase, who is usually a must-read author for me.  I’m honestly not sure if Vagabond and its sequel, The Devil’s Delilah, are simply so old that Chase hasn’t developed the style that makes me love (the majority of) her books, or if I’m just cynical enough lately that they fall flat for me.  They’re not bad books, by any means, but I just can’t find many nice things to say about them.  Perhaps they’re simply too formulaic, typical bland Regency fodder.  Perhaps I need a break from historicals and should go find a nice paranormal or cyberpunk romance to read instead.Viscount Vagabond cover


Anyway, back to the book review.

Our Vagabond Viscount in question is Clarence Something Maximilian Demowery (there might be two Somethings in there instead of just the one), Viscount Rand.  Insert lame joke here about Lord Rand being v randy.  Raised as the younger son of the Earl of St. Denys, Max was v upset when he was dragged back from America like a recalcitrant schoolboy because his older brother died and he was now his father’s heir.  There was also something vague about his father ‘buying off’ the American lady Max wanted to marry so he had no excuse not to come home.  Given six months of ‘freedom’ before he is expected to settle down and be all respectable, Max seems to have spent most of that time living in the Regency equivalent of a slum and being all debauched and disreputable.

Our heroine, Catherine Pelliston/Pennyman/Pettigrew (no relation to Wormtail, I assume) ran away from home to avoid an unwanted marriage while her abusive alcoholic father and brand-new stepmother were away on their honeymoon.  Catherine’s brilliant plan was to throw herself unannounced at the feet of her former governess and beg for shelter, or something, but instead she finds herself falling for the time-honoured ‘tricking an unwilling girl into being a prostitute, because heavens know there aren’t enough women who would whore willingly to put food on the table’ scheme.

Fortunately for Catherine, her very first customer is none other than our randy Viscount, who she somehow manages to persuade that she’s really not there willingly.  He eventually agrees to help her escape, and pays Granny Grendle, the brothel’s madame (Beowulf, anyone?  Though Angelina Jolie was much hotter than this lady sounds) the shocking sum of fifty pounds for Catherine and all of her belongings.  He still thinks she’s a whore, though, and takes her home, where he proceeds to not-ravish her.  Possibly because he passed out drunk, the book was a little hazy about that since the scene was from Catherine’s view and she was hiding in the bedsheets at the time.

Now that Max finally believes she’s not a whore – or that if she is a whore, she’s not putting out for him – the next day he takes Catherine to the school where her former governess is teaching.  Or was teaching, rather, since she appears to have eloped with another teacher (I think?  They didn’t really say who he was) and is currently in Ireland or Scotland or somewhere else inconsiderately too far away to be of use to Catherine.

Since she wasn’t putting out earlier but he for some reason feels guilty about abandoning her, this time Max takes Miss Pettigrew, as she’s told him her name is, to visit his sister, Lady Andover, who for some reason we must know is childless but would be an excellent mother (ten bucks says Lady Andover is pregnant by the end of the book).  Catherine eventually runs away from there, too, with a ridiculous plan to sell her hair to a wig-maker to get money to go back home and resign herself to marry the man she ran away to London to escape marrying in the first place.

Luckily for both Catherine and the obvious romantic pairing, she gets lost on the way to the wig-maker’s, not knowing London at all, and is manipulated by a small streetwise boy by the name of Jemmy into taking a position as a seamstress for Madame Germaine.  While she is AWOL, Lady Andover’s husband admits that he thinks she’s some kind of second or third cousin of his, and not Miss Pettigrew at all.  So Max enlists the aid of his valet (I think) to track down the elusive Miss not-Pettigrew, who they find working in Madame Germaine’s shop as Miss Pennyman.

Then make room for another ridiculous plan, as Max attempts to convince Madame Germaine that Catherine has lost her memory and needs to get home because her family is worried about her.  Or something.  I’m not quite sure whether Madame actually believes that nonsense, or just wants Max to go away, but eventually she acts convinced enough to make Catherine leave with Max, who promptly dumps her back at Lord and Lady Andover’s.  Lady Andover has apparently decided that they should give Catherine the London Season she’s never had, and somebody – I think Lord Andover – wrote to Catherine’s father and managed to gain his blessing and the end of the unwanted engagement.

Cue developing feelings between Our Naive Heroine and Our Debauched Hero, ODH’s insistence of courting another lady, Diana Glencove, despite his developing feelings, some blackmail when the jilted fiance finds out about the whole brothel thing, and Diana running off with her childhood sweetheart after getting engaged to ODH.  And some kidnapping, since that was about the only trope that hadn’t been used yet.

For all that we’re told Catherine is a bluestocking and an intellectual, she has next to no common sense and to me, doesn’t seem that smart or knowledgeable.  Frankly, she’s a bit of an idiot, which I coud happily excuse if she were not constantly called an intellectual bluestocking by practically every character.  It’s definitely lacking the ‘show’ and with too much ‘tell’.

Despite her not-a-ravishing-beauty appearance in the beginning, Catherine quickly ‘blossoms’ into the typical bland attractive romance heroine once she has some decent clothes.  Oh, and she has a ‘tinkling laugh’ taken to ridiculous excess:

He heard a faint tinkling sound: Miss Pestilence was giggling!

Isn’t that charming, he’s given her her very own insulting, unflattering nickname!

Max, Lord Rand, is pretty much a generic Regency hero.  He has a Bad Boy Past, resents his position in Society and the accompanying edicts to Not Be Scandalous, and all the ladies have the hots for him.  I loved him in the beginning of the book, when he was being all disreputable and depraved, but by the middle he was just blandly stereotypical and seems to have lost that unique edge.  His insistence on courting Diana despite his growing feelings for Catherine make him seem to me like a bit of a jerk, and the hot/cold/rude ways his feelings and thoughts so only solidify that opinion.

I liked Lousia, Lady Andover – and would have won that bet about her getting pregnant – and Jack Langdon, one of Catherine’s Inevitably Disappointed beau, but they were really the only good parts in the book.  The sub-plot about Diana Glencove’s romance with that other guy whose name wasn’t important enough to remember seemed tacked-on and unnecessary – we’ve already established the hero is a debauched rakehell jerk, breaking off an engagement wouldn’t shock too many people.

The scenes with Jemmy were superfluous and he seemed to simply exist as a miniature deus ex machina or to demonstrate how Socially Aware and Kind To Those Less Fortunate Catherine and Max are (I say put your money where your mouth is and adopt the kid, but of course he’s still a servant by the end of the book).

Honestly, while overall it’s not a bad book, it’s not a terribly good book, either.  It’s a light read, and others might enjoy it, but I can’t say I did.  Not recommended.

Review: A Rake’s Guide to Seduction

A Rake’s Guide to Seduction is the third book in Caroline Linden‘s series about the Reece family.  I haven’t read the earlier books yet, but after finishing Rake I fully intend to do so, funds permitting.  I was fortunate to receive an old ARC of this book from the lovely Ms. Linden, so any differences between the review and the published version are probably due to that.  I’m not senile quite yet.
A Rake's Guide to Seduction cover
Lady Celia Reece, is the daughter of the late Duke of Exeter and the younger sister of Marcus and David Reece from What a Gentleman Wants and What a Rogue Desires respectively.  Mr. Anthony Hamilton is a notorious rake and the infamously outcast son of the Earl of Lyndley.  As an old school friend of David Reece, Anthony has known Celia for most of her life, though they’ve never been noticeably close due to the age gap and the patent dislike Rosalind, Celia’s mother, holds for Anthony.

A chance encounter on a balcony and a rescue from the Worst Proposal Ever™ awaken Anthony to the fact that Celia is all grown up and no longer the eight-year-old who wanted to tag along fishing.  So much so, in fact, that he can’t stop thinking about her, even with the lovely Lady Drummond to keep him company.

Sadly, it seems that Anthony is the only one who has been so affected; by the time he drums up the courage to ask Marcus for permission to pay court to Celia, the lady in question has already given her heart and hand to Lord Andrew Bertram.  The marriage does not go well for Celia or Bertram, and four years later a widowed Celia is dragged back by her mother returns from Bertram’s family estate in Cumberland a shadow of her former self.

After a brief visit to the Exeter house in London and the promise of tonnish delights fail to raise Celia’s spirits, her mother organises a house party at the Exeter estate in Kent.  Though David and Anthony have drifted apart over the years of Celia’s marriage, Anthony is included in the guest list at David’s behest, much to Rosalind’s displeasure.  An anonymous attempt to lighten Celia’s melancholy quickly leads to candid revelations, and perhaps something more…

I have to say, freebie aside, I enjoyed this story immensely.  It is a fun, lighthearted romance without any extended Dramatic Plot Lines and with some nicely hot sex scenes and a feel-good ending.

Celia begins the story as a rather selfish, immature debutante afraid of admitting her mistakes, and over the course of the story grows into a mature woman who is not afraid to face her family’s disapproval to keep the happiness that she’s finally found.  I very much liked that Celia did not immediately rush into the oft-seen trap that marriage is The Answer To All Life’s Problems, at least the second time around, and that she learnt enough from her earlier mistakes to be wary of repeating them.

Anthony was an overall sympathetic character, with just enough rakish charm that the appeal is obvious without having to read chapter and verse about all the young ladies fluttering over him.  I enjoyed the gossiping about his notorious past and torrid love-life, though it might have been nice to see a little more of that first-hand while Celia was out of the picture.  The Misunderstood Hero probably has its own page on TvTropes by now, but I felt that overall it was handled well in this case, and Anthony certainly didn’t lament his wicked reputation.

It was also refreshing to see a character who is not the infamous Virgin Widow that seems to exist in every Silhouette, Harlequin or Mills and Boon historical romance featuring a widowed heroine.

The time-jump between Celia’s first marriage and her return to her family was handled quite nicely with smattering of entries from Celia’s diary during her marriage to Bertram.  If it’s a mechanism I’ve come across before then it didn’t have sufficient impact for me to remember it.  I suspect if the ‘diary entries’ had been any less succinct, it would have gotten annoying, but as it stands I prefer this to trying to fit all of the missing back-story into the first few pages after the jump forward.

Did I mention the sex scenes were hot?

The Dramatic Plot at the end of the story felt a little tacked-on, as it didn’t really tie into anything that had happened earlier – in fact, I didn’t even connect Ms. F’s name to her first appearance at first despite reading the book in one sitting over a few hours – but it was neatly wrapped up without too much overdone drama or Tragic Misunderstandings and did serve to add a little spice to what might have been an overlong Happily Ever After otherwise.

Overall, I very much enjoyed this book, and would happily – perhaps even heartily – recommend it.

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