The Christmas Bride: A Chance Sisters Novella, by Anne Gracie — #BookReview, #RegencyRomance, #HistoricalRomance, #ChristmasReading, @AnneGracie

The Christmas Bride by Anne Gracie 2020From the desk of Pamela Mingle:

There’s nothing like a romantic Christmas novella. Every year I look forward to a new batch to brighten my holiday reading. The best ones warm the heart, and this year we especially need that. The many readers already familiar with Anne Gracie’s Chance Sisters novels will love The Christmas Bride.

The story begins with Blake Ashton, known as Ash, making his way back to England after ten years abroad. He’s been living in the Far East, where his daily life involves “…balmy breezes, azure skies, spicy foods, and warm, willing golden-skinned, sloe-eyed women.” After a meeting with his business partners over the holidays, he intends to return to his adopted home immediately, without seeing his family. We learn that as a young man, he made some disastrous moves that had placed his mother and sister on the brink of ruin, but it’s not until later in the book that the scope of his misdeeds is revealed.

On the last leg of his journey, Ash is held up by a footpad with a pistol. He draws his own, and when a boy runs out yelling, “No!” Ash discharges his weapon and injures the footpad, who turns out to be a young lady. Horrified, he carries her to the rundown cottage where she and her brother have been living, and he stays on to care for her since there’s nobody else to do so. The fact that she’s quite lovely isn’t lost on him, either.

Charlotte (Charley) Underwood and her little brother, Toby, have fallen on hard times. Ash finds out from Toby that their father shot himself due to gambling debts. Until Charley comes of age in about a year, their cousin Albert is their guardian. He wants Charley to marry his son, whom Toby describes as a “drooling simpleton.”

Ash’s friends and business partners soon show up. Worried that he hadn’t arrived on schedule, they set out to look for him and soon located the cottage. Max, Lord Davenham, insists on taking Charley and Toby to Davenham Hall for the Christmas holidays. Ash will be there, of course. Because Toby is so enthusiastic, Charley reluctantly agrees. Continue reading

The Virgin Who Ruined Lord Gray (The Swooning Virgins Society), by Anna Bradley—A Review

The Virgin Who Ruined Lord Gray by Anna Bradley 2020From the desk of Pam Mingle:

If you like your historical romance full of excitement, mystery, and intrigue, you’ve come to the right place. The Virgin Who Ruined Lord Gray, the first entry in Anna Bradley’s new series, The Swooning Virgins Society, features all three.

Tristan Stratford, Lord Gray, is bored with his new life as an earl. Formerly a Bow Street Runner, he never wished to live the aristocratic life. The death of his elder brother forced him into the role, and now his mother has plans for him. She wants him to take up the mantle of a peer and marry Lady Esther, a near neighbor in Oxfordshire.

One night in London, Tristan is gazing out the window of his study and sees the slight figure of a boy lying on the roof of Lord Everly’s pediment. So still is he, Tristan begins to believe the boy is dead. Finally, someone exits the front door, and the lad shimmies down a column and follows. Overcome with curiosity, Tristan does likewise.

Tristan isn’t following a boy, however, but a young woman named Sophia Monmouth. She’s trailing her quarry, one Peter Sharpe, who she suspects is guilty of a crime. There is a quick confrontation between Tristan and the “lad.” She bites and kicks him, but he doesn’t let go. Eventually Tristan knocks her hat off. He’s shocked to discover the woman beneath it. Quite a lovely one, with olive skin and enchanting green eyes. She’s “resoundingly feminine.” Continue reading

A Rogue of One’s Own: A League of Extraordinary Women (Book 2), by Evie Dunmore—A Review

A Rogue of One's Own by Evie Dunmore 2020From the desk of Pamela Mingle:

From the age of twelve, Lucie Tedbury’s mission has been to improve the lives of women. Twenty years on, a rogue from her past, Tristan Ballentine, interferes with her plan. Opposites attract, after all. Evie Dunmore’s A Rogue of One’s Own, second in The League of Extraordinary Women series, is an exploration of love and the question still being asked today: “Can women have it all?”

In 1880, Lucie has become a leader of the British suffragist movement. Within her circle of Oxford women friends, the fight is against the Married Women’s Property Act, which at that time made women subordinate to their husbands in all matters. Lucie and a cadre of wealthy women investors have purchased a large share of a publishing company in order to advance the suffragist cause and encourage the repeal of the hated MWPA. One day, when Lucie is working in her drab rooms in Oxford (she’s been banished from her family home), she overhears a seduction beneath her window. It’s her neighbor, a widow, flirting with the nemesis of her adolescent years, Tristan Ballentine. The neighbor tells Tristan not to mind Lucie; she’s “just a spinster.” In a fury, Lucie leaves, only to run headlong into Tristan, who’s been waiting to sabotage her.

Tristan had spent many summers at Lucie’s family home as a youth. She’d always spurned him, and it made him prone to do “anything to provoke a reaction.” He admits to himself that Lucie still holds sway over him. Her hair shines like “a polished silver coin.” A line of Byron’s poetry comes to him, which hasn’t happened in years. “‘And all that’s best of dark and bright/Meet in her aspect and her eyes…’” For her part, Lucie sees little to admire in Tristan. Continue reading

Who Wants to Marry a Duke: (Duke Dynasty Book 3), by Sabrina Jeffries—A Review

Who Wants to Marry a Duke by Sabrina Jeffries 2020From the desk of Pamela Mingle:

Romance, mystery, and a most intriguing hero and heroine are what you’ll find in Who Wants to Marry a Duke. This is the third entry by Sabrina Jeffries in the Duke Dynasty series and can also be read as a standalone.

We first meet young Marlowe Drake, the Duke of Thornstock, at a ball, where his older half-brother Grey—Duke of Greycourt—warns him about the marriage-minded mamas lurking about. Ignoring this wise advice, Thorn quickly finds himself caught in a compromising position with a young lady.

The lady in question is Miss Olivia Norley. She offers to clean a wine stain from Thorn’s waistcoat and afterward, Thorn steals a kiss. They are seen by Olivia’s stepmother, who unbeknownst to Olivia, blackmails Thorn into offering Olivia marriage by threatening to reveal a secret about his father.

The following morning, Thorn proposes to Olivia with barely disguised contempt. He looked “…like a thief being dragged to the gallows,” so she declines. He doesn’t want to marry her, but her refusal stings, nonetheless. He believes Olivia was party to the blackmail and can’t understand why she would then reject him.

Fast forward nine years. Using a false identity, Thorn has become a playwright, and Olivia, a chemist. (No wonder she knew how to remove that stain!) At a ball hosted by his family, Thorn spots Olivia. He intends to have her thrown out, but relents when he learns that his half-brother Grey has asked her to investigate the suspicious death of his father by testing his remains for arsenic.

Thorn asks Olivia to dance and challenges her on her motives for performing the tests. All she really wants is to establish a reputation for herself. Olivia prefers chemicals to people because they act in predictable ways. The two adjourn to the garden to speak privately, and Olivia reveals she wants to publish the results of her tests. Thorn is horrified. Dukes don’t wish to have their scandals aired in public.

Olivia has fought hard over the years to put Thorn out of her mind and is irritated that she still feels an attraction to him. The inevitable happens, and this time Olivia thinks his kisses “…were as combustible as sweet oil of vitriol and nearly as dangerous.” Again, they’re almost caught, but Olivia dashes from their hiding place and pretends she was merely enjoying the heady scents of the garden. Continue reading

Say Yes to the Duke: The Wildes of Lindow Castle (Book 5), by Eloisa James—A Review

Say Yes to the Duke by Eloisa James 2020From the desk of Pamela Mingle:  

The Wildes of Lindow Castle is a Georgian romance series penned by the elegant writer, Eloisa James. Say Yes to the Duke, the fifth entry in the series features Viola Astley, whose mother is married to the Duke of Lindow. By her own reckoning, Viola is “…the opposite of a Wilde…timid, tongue-tied, and fairly useless.”

At her first ball, an apprehensive Viola retreats to a corridor used mainly by servants. She accidentally comes upon a couple having a liaison. When the man realizes he and his lover are no longer alone, he accuses the woman of arranging for a witness so he’ll be forced to marry her. He speaks cruelly, and long after the incident Viola continues to feel “…a wave of horror at the memory of the man’s scathing voice and his brutal strength.” From then on, she’s petrified of social situations and avoids them.

The brute in question turns out to be the Duke of Wynter, Devin Lucas Augustus Elstan, the hero of the story. Living mainly in the country, he shuns society and declines to attend parliamentary sessions. Raised in isolation by parents who despised each other, the duke was educated at home. His father was known for challenging nearly every man he came in contact with to a duel. At first, this seems merely quaint, but we later find out that he was abusive to Devin.

When Viola comes of age, her parents insist she have a debut season along with her beautiful and flamboyant stepsister Joan. She’s dreading the ball that will mark her first official appearance in Society. Across town, Devin tells his cousin Otis that he intends to find a bride during the Season. Devin knows of the Wildes, and Otis enlightens him further. Continue reading

Marry in Scarlet: Marriage of Convenience Series (Book 4), by Anne Gracie—A Review

Marry in Scarlet by Anne Gracie 2020From the desk of Pamela Mingle:

Every good Regency romance deserves a manipulative old dowager. In this book, it’s Great Aunt Agatha. She tells the Duke of Everingham, called Hart, that her niece would “…rather live with dogs and horses than marry.” Likewise, she tells her niece that the duke would never consider her for a wife, “…ill-trained, boyish, impertinent hoyden” that she is. Of course, this serves to pique the interest of both. Anne Gracie’s Marry in Scarlet, book four in the “Marriage of Convenience” series, is a delightful romp portraying the gradual coming together of a pompous duke and a reluctant lady.

The heroine, named Georgiana but called George, finds Aunt Agatha’s machinations annoying in the extreme. She’s acquainted with the duke and he has “…irritated her with his cold, hard gaze, so indifferent and superior and I-rule-the-world.”

George and Hart see each other frequently, mainly because he wants it that way. When he catches a glimpse of George riding her horse, he’s impressed. Hart makes an offer—for the horse, not George, who immediately refuses. Her horse is not for sale, to anyone. Hart thinks the selling/breeding of horses should not be a woman’s business.

The two meet at the opera, where she shushes him and his friends. He’s fascinated with how enraptured she is with the singing. Despite the fact that she insults him, calling him an arrogant boor, Hart is enchanted. And aroused.

At a London ball, George hides in the conservatory to get away from Lord Towsett, a man whose numerous proposals of marriage continue despite her staunch refusals. Unexpectedly, Hart sneaks into her hiding place because he too is escaping from marriage-minded pursuers. Later, Hart confronts Towsett and forces him to leave the ball, extracting a promise that he’ll never bother George again. Continue reading

First Comes Scandal: A Bridgerton Prequel, by Julia Quinn—A Review

First Comes Scandal by Julia Quinn 2020From the desk of Pamela Mingle:

Reading a Julia Quinn novel is like spending time with an old friend. The relationship is comfortable, contented, not too demanding. Her latest, First Comes Scandal: A Bridgerton Sequel, is the story of Georgiana Bridgerton (sister of the doomed Edmund) and Nicholas Rokesbury. Their families are neighbors and longtime friends.

The book opens with Nicholas, who has received an urgent message from his father to come home immediately. This is inconvenient, since he’s a medical student in Edinburgh, and his family lives in Kent. His father didn’t give an explanation, and Nicholas is missing lectures and examinations to make the journey. Once there, his parents ask him—although it’s more like an order—to offer for Georgiana Bridgerton. It seems she was kidnapped by a suitor, who attempted to take her to Gretna Green to elope. She kicked him in a most sensitive place, tied him up, and with the help of a young Lady Dansbury (a fixture in the Bridgerton novels), made her escape. But alas, the damage is done. In the eyes of Society, she’s ruined.

Though sorry for Georgie, Nicholas is angry that his parents expect him to make this sacrifice. How can he finish medical school with a wife? And “It would be like marrying my sister,” he argues. He excels at his studies and “is his own man in Edinburgh.” He doesn’t refuse outright, however, and after sitting next to Georgiana at a dinner party, he begins to appreciate her wit and cleverness, not to speak of her enticing womanly qualities. Nicholas makes up his mind to propose. After all, he can’t leave a dear friend in such dire straits. Continue reading