Audio Review: Disciplining the Duchess by Annabel Joseph

Disciplining the DuchessHero: The Duke of Courtland is known for his subversive bedroom behavior and his uncomfortable preferences. He’s also known for his rigid control and decorum… but that just confirms these “uncomfortable habits.” He’s a dom and is into spanking – the news reaches his father-in-law and fiancée and suddenly he’s jilted while the bride runs off with another. Determined to leave it behind, Court goes to a house party and comes across a most intriguing creature.

Heroine: Miss Harmony Barrett is a spinster in the making. She’s been on the marriage mart for five seasons and is still unmarried. She’s very good at repelling gentlemen of consequence away – but who wouldn’t repel a greasy overblown aristocrat, decades older than yourself? She’s not even allowed to waltz since the debacle at Almacks. A genuine bluestocking, Harmony prefers her books on Mongol hordes over idle chitchat with girls her own age. When it comes to the hero and Mongols, she’s a bit of an airhead.

Review: Harmony is a heroine determined to land herself in the suds. She wants to see a Roman wall so badly she runs off without telling anyone. Lucky for her the Duke was interested in her safety to the point of willingly leg-shackling himself to her in order to fulfill her stubborn desire. (Heroine believes for as long as possible there will be no consequences to her misadventure.) The story is definitely erotica and for the most part works really well and comes across sexy. But as with most BDSM set-ups the hero is unaware of when he takes it too far and it causes emotional and physical strife for the heroine. That’s always difficult for me especially when the reasoning behind the “big punishment” is so stupid. Court wants Harmony to be a society duchess, but he’s oblivious to her own desires and the fact that she’s apparently incapable of proper behavior in front of company. He tries to mold her into something she’s not and that there is the “uncomfortable habits” for me. I quite liked the heroine just as she was – earnest, eager, and ditzy. The heroine pulls off a “perfect submission” as an innocent punishment for the hero (she’s really trying to be exactly what he wants.) It becomes very clear to Court that the perfect sub and featureless woman is not what he truly desires… and then comes the groveling. Epilogue was meh for me. Overall, why it works so well is how much it reads like a “normal” Regency romance novel with a little extra added.

Narrator: Emma Kent is great. She makes the heroine sound young and airy (and occasionally earnestly ditzy). She handled the bedroom scenes very well and in a way that pulled you further into the story. In my opinion she was integral in how the novel read to listeners. I can’t think of another narrator that would have fit as perfectly as she did.

Length: 11 hrs and 56 mins

Rating: ★★★★☆

Buy: Disciplining the Duchess, Disciplining the Duchess (Audiobook)

Review: The Duchess Hunt (House of Trent, Book 1) by Jennifer Haymore

duchess huntReviewed by Lynn Reynolds

Sarah Osborne and Simon Hawkins have known each other for a very long time. Some time has passed since they last saw each other. Upon his return, a mystery is afoot. I love a story that starts off with a mystery. I have to follow because I need to know when the mystery gets solved.

Sarah was the child of an employee and as an adult she is now an employee herself. This was probably the norm back in that time period because everyone stayed within his or her “station”. Simon is a good man who looks at a person beyond their station. I’m glad that this practice has long since changed.

There is one scene where Luke, Simon’s brother shows up a little “under the weather”. As I read the scene, I have to wonder if he’s going to have his own book. And in going over to Jennifer’s web site, http://www.jenniferhaymore.com, I find out that book two titled The Rogue’s Proposal will be his story. The book will be coming out in November of this year. They have a sister Esme and she has a novella titled The Devil’s Pearl, which came out in May.

Jennifer will keep you on your toes because just when you think everything is going well for Simon and Sarah, she gives the reader a “What?” moment. At this point you have no choice but to keep reading otherwise you won’t know how things turn out.

This is most certainly a story of true love especially when nothing can stand in the way – including what other people think. If you’re looking for a story that will make you feel good at the end but with a mystery – a mystery that is not solved by the end – you will want to pick up a copy of Jennifer’s book. And if you haven’t read Esme’s novella, I’ve already picked up my copy, you’ll have plenty of time to get it read before November.

Rating: ★★★★½

Buy: The Duchess Hunt (House of Trent)

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Review: A Duke of Her Own by Eloisa James

duke of her ownReviewed by Carla F.

If asked to list my 10 favorite romance authors, I doubt that I would put Eloisa James on the list. That doesn’t mean that I don’t enjoy her books. It is just that I feel some trepidation before I start reading one because Ms. James writes smart, complex stories with interwoven characters. The love story of a certain couple can (and often does) carry through several books. Her writing style is truly a distinctive one.

One reason for this is the time period that this book (and others) is set. It is the Georgian period where the men (sometimes the hero although not in this book) wear wigs and high-heeled boots. The women wear elaborate hair designs and clothes. The detail is intense. (In real life James is Dr. Mary Bly, a Professor of English, so research is extremely important to her.)

Also the people in her books have habits and customs that can be different from what a reader has come to expect from a romance set during the Regency. The characters remind me of those in Dangerous Liaisons. “The course of true love never runs smooth” is way too a tame phrase for the hero/heroine in one of these. The love lives of all the characters are just downright messy. At times a character’s motives is not only hidden from the reader but often from the character himself/herself.

In A Duke of Her Own, Leopold Dautry, The Duke of Villiers is determined to marry a Duchess. Why? Well it seems that Leo has not one but six illegitimate children. Leo has always supported these children financially, but after almost dying in a duel he decides that he wants to raise the children in his home, and he wants the children to be raised as if they were born of a lawful marriage. He then must find a wife, and he decides that only someone who is the daughter of a Duke would have the necessary pull to get the ton to accept his children.

Duke’s daughters are thin on the ground so there are only two currently available. One is Lisette who everyone thinks is mad and the other is Eleanor who has vowed to only marry a Duke. Eleanor isn’t a snob. She just said that because her true love (and former lover) Gideon, Duke of Astley, was forced into a marriage of convenience, and Eleanor wanted him to know that she would wait for him in case the marriage ended.

Leo and Eleanor are drawn to each other soon after meeting, but of course, Leo has to also check out Lisette as a possible wife and mother, so he heads to her father’s residence. Eleanor’s mother gets wind of this, and she, Eleanor’s sister, and Eleanor also go visit Lisette’s home.

It is fun to read the back-and-forth interplay between Eleanor and Leo as they try to decide who is going to marry whom. This book is recommended for those readers who like flawed characters who are uncertain about love but manage to find it anyway and those who like to read stories of people in tangled relationships. It is also recommended for those who love books set in the Georgian period.

Rating: ★★★★☆

Buy: A Duke of Her Own

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Review: The Desires of a Countess (The Jordans, Book 3) by Jenna Petersen

Reviewed by Sandra Scholes

Just when she thinks everything is alright and the bad times are over, Ginny Blanchard finds that someone else wants to interfere in her life and the raising of her son. Her husband, Henry had died, and she for one is glad he did – he was a cruel man who delighted in hurting her and causing her unhappiness. Little did she know that this someone was Simon Webber, a cousin of the family who will act as a substitute father for her young son, Jack. He has been made trustee of her son’s inheritance and until he becomes of age, both her and her son will have to answer to him.

She wants more than anything to get rid of the man who invades her house, and will do all she can to make sure he has a very uncomfortable stay with her, or so she hopes. Harriet tries to make her understand that he might not be the sort of man who would hurt her, or cause her problems with her son – he might turn out to be a nice man who has her and her son’s interests at heart. Ginny doesn’t see it that way, though and wants to be left alone to live her life with her son and friends.

I found this story to have great characterization; Ginny is a woman who has been hurt all her life while being married to a cruel husband, so she expects every man she meets will be the same sort. She tries to come to terms with what has happened to her over the years, but she finds it hard to trust anyone now that she has the chance to go out into polite society and find another beau. The reader can get to understand why Ginny feels the way she does, and also get into Simon’s mind – even though he seems to mellow out once he is in her good company.

Simon is a no nonsense sort who doesn’t like to be kept waiting, so he doesn’t like Ginny when he first meets her, and who can blame him – after all, she doesn’t want him there. He is impatient, brusque and harsh at first, yet he is amazed at why she is so nasty to him when he arrives – he expected a teary widow, but she was something else entirely. He likes the look of her, and wonders why someone as beautiful as her is so bitter, but then he doesn’t know the whole story. He begins to like her company after a time, but he doesn’t dare tell his best friend, Adam that or he will make fun of him terribly.

It is more a case of if the two of them can settle their differences and come to an agreement, they can make a friendship in the house work, but I somehow think that even Ginny wants more than that.

The Desires of a Countess is a riveting read – it has a depth about it that makes readers want more from their heroes and heroines.

Rating: ★★★★★

Buy: The Desires of a Countess

Castello and Cafaggiolo

by Gabrielle Kimm, guest blogger and author of His Last Duchess

Thank you so much for inviting me onto your blog.  You ask about castles – I thought I’d tell you a bit about what I discovered when I went to Italy to research the locations for His Last Duchess.

I travelled to Ferrara with my sister, back in 2005, and we arrived in the city as dusk fell.  Despite the lateness of the hour, we simply couldn’t bear to wait until morning to go and find the Castello Estense, so, as soon as we had unpacked, we set out on foot, map in hand.   The Castello is situated right in the middle of the city, completely hemmed in by buildings, and you can’t see it from even quite a short distance away.  It came as a surprise – no, let’s be honest, a shock! – to walk down a narrow street, cross a busy road, turn a corner and be confronted with the enormous home of Alfonso d’Este, exactly as I had imagined it:  huge, eerily floodlit and sinister, surrounded by the black water of the moat.

We went back first thing next morning.

The Castello is big and red-brick, and square and bulky.  As it says in the novel, ‘the four great red towers … [glower] down at the city like scowling sentries’.   It was built in 1385 as a moated fortress, and at that time it was much more squat and featureless than it is now.  The Renaissance generations opened windows in the walls, added turrets and built balustrades and other prettifications, hoping that it would stop looking like a fortress, and would resemble the palace they so wanted it to be.

But, to my mind at least, it didn’t work.  It still looks like a fortress – but a fortress with a few twiddly decorations on it, like a knight in armour with a lacy bonnet on.   The interior has been beautifully restored, and a large section of it is open to visitors (the rest is municipal offices, though  – how sadly boring!).  You cross a heavy drawbridge, and go through an archway into the central courtyard, then the tour – not guided, but directed, one-way traffic through the restored apartments – takes you through a number of wonderful rooms – above ground are the huge formal rooms, frescoed and gilded and gorgeous, and below are the red-brick kitchens and … the dungeons.

These really freaked me out, I have to admit.  They are dark and louring, oppressive and depressing, each cell with a horrible iron door at least a foot thick.  The low, vaulted ceilings are covered in graffiti:  desperate ramblings written in candle-smoke by the poor unfortunate occupants of the cells.  I felt quite chilled.

The upper floors are no longer accessible to the public, though I’ll let you in on a secret … I sneaked up a wonderful spiral staircase, desperate to get a peek of the rooms where Alfonso and Lucrezia’s bedchamber apartments might have been.  I felt very naughty – although there were no actual ‘No Entry’ signs, it was so obvious that this was out of bounds.  But up I went anyway, and I peeped through the first door I came to.  Oh, how disappointing!  It was full of filing cabinets!  On my way back down, I was met by a very dour, square, angry-looking museum attendant, but I just chattered cheerfully and apologetically to her in English, of which she understood not a word, and scurried off out of sight as soon as I could.

A day or so later, we drove down over the mountains to Cafaggiolo, the summer residence of the Medici, some ten miles north of Florence.  This place is so different to the Castello – it is low and golden and welcoming, set in acres of Tuscan countryside.  We haltingly explained to the attendant that we were going to understand almost nothing of his guided tour, and, much to our delight, he said he was happy for us to make our own way around the house.  The rooms here are large and low, with heavy beamed ceilings.  Huge windows let in the Tuscan sun, and everywhere feels light and bright and airy.  A nearby waterfall can be heard pretty much throughout the house – a lovely sound effect, I found.

I was entranced by the inner courtyard, where in the novel Lucrezia and Giovanni crouch on their balcony, watching Alfonso’s first entrance into the story.  And the Cafaggiolo kitchens had a homely feel to them, after the great red-brick vaults at the Castello.  You can really imagine them bustling with noise, full of steam and smoke, and the smells of roasting meat and stewing fruit.

History was very kind to me, I reckon.  If I could have picked two locations to suit my story, I could never have bettered the two castles where my central characters actually lived.  Lucrezia’s childhood home is sunny and golden and welcoming and utterly delightful – and she leaves this, full of trepidation, to take up residence in a great, heavy, red-brick fortress.   These two places were simply perfect for the purpose!

There are some more pictures on my website – www.gabriellekimm.co.uk/gallery

Thank you again for inviting me onto your blog – I do hope you enjoy the book!   xx

Buy: His Last Duchess

10 Reasons to Marry an Earl

countess This list of reasons is for the young miss of the Georgian, Regency, or Victorian era. Entering into matrimony is not a decision to be made lightly. While it is important that you make a good match, every young lady should choose her future husband with great care. Below I have compiled a list of pros on marrying an earl. The discerning young woman will note the state and accuracy of each of these points against the gentlemen she wishes to wed. Not every earl will have all ten points in his favor, some for instance can be greedy fortune hunters. However, this list is not made with those rapscallions in mind.

1. The rank.

Rank makes all the difference in the world. Do you see yourself as a countess? Would you be thrilled to be deferred to by one and all as the ‘Right Honorable Countess of (insert blank)’ or ‘My Lady?’ If so, then marrying an earl is for you!

2. The high society.

You are part of the le bon ton. Being readily established as part of the Upper Ten Thousand will gain you a lot of influence. You’ll be rubbing shoulders with Britain’s elite!

3. The wealth.

A countess can expect to be able to indulge in a little shopping with the pin money she receives quarterly. She need not worry about money at all unless she is mismanaging her household. That of course, would never do.

4. The clothes.

The clothes, the accessories, the hair styles and shoes… fashion in short, my dears, and being at it’s height is marvelous! A countess would be looked upon to set trends and knowledgeable about everything that is all the rage.

5. The parties

All that divine dancing! Which is your favorite? The country dance, the cotillion, or the scotch reel? How about the quadrille or the more scandalous waltz? You will need plenty of dancing slippers but it would be worth it!

6. The servants.

A countess need not cook or clean or lift a finger she does not want to raise. She can devote her energies to more personal and rewarding tasks such as correspondence, reading, drawing, visiting and more.

7. The London townhouse.

A townhouse in the most fashionable part of London is the perfect place to host an assembly or fancy dinner party. Many a hostess will envy your accomplishments in presentation and decoration of your home.

8. The country estates.

When London gets to be too smoggy and the Season is not in full swing, a countess must have a place to retire. Her country estates are just such a location and their beautiful sprawling gardens are the icing on top of the cake.

9. The travel.

To see all the beautiful sights and sites of the world or England is a joy for any countess. Won’t all your friends be envious of your latest trip to Paris?

10. The earl.

The most wonderful thing about being a countess is the earl. Do you not agree ladies? He should be handsome, kind, well mannered, not marred by scandal, and good to his hired help. It wouldn’t hurt if he liked children, old matrons, and dances at Almack’s, but I wouldn’t get your hopes up. He’s bound to have a failing somewhere. Just remember to keep the pros of marriage to him in the front of your mind and you will be content indeed!

Photo Credits: http://www.weheartit.com/

Review: A Hint of Wicked by Jennifer Haymore

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I’ll be the first to tell you I’m not a fan of the love triangle for many reasons. The first and foremost reason is because I feel it’s just a ploy by an author to fuel the angst and drama of a mediocre story. Haymore proves me wrong. She does not do this. The love triangle is a valid part of the plot and wholly integral with the storyline. She approaches the love triangle in a very unique manner. I don’t want to spoil anyone, because it’s so different than anything I’ve encountered before in my readings.

Another reason I have trouble with the love triangle situation is the waffling. I simply don’t get it. I’m told this is because I haven’t been in one and until I have triangles are hard to appreciate or sympathize with. If you’re like me you probably think it’s very black and white and very little gray. In my head, I know it’s gray. I know that it is possible to love two people at once, but the Grinch side of me feels that if you can’t make a choice between them then you don’t love either one enough and should let both go. Haymore made me feel the conflict that Sophie, who is in the middle, goes through. I appreciate her position and I sympathize with her, something that is way out of the norm with me.

I have a feeling that a second read through will make it a better read, because I know where it’s going. I was looking at all the wrong things in the book the first time and therefore was anxious and worried about how the plot was developing, certain that Haymore was going to bungle it. I just couldn’t see how it was going to work out.

Haymore surprised me, the ending surprised me, and that says something. It made me reevaluate the whole book and all my complaints and worries held no weight.

A fan of the love triangle will be placing this novel on their favorite shelf. Someone who like me, needs a little persuasion about the loving the love triangle can read this and appreciate it. Who knows, it may hook you so completely you can’t wait to grab a hold of another love triangle!

A brief summary:

Sophie loved Garrett since she was 16 years old and was devastated when he didn’t return home from Water-Loo. Tristan is her best friend and together over many years they healed from their mutual loss. One night after their marriage Garrett returns. Everything as they knew it is changed from property to titles, from money to marriages–Haymore explores Regency law and Regency hearts.

Rating: 3.5-4 Stars

Buy: A Hint of Wicked

Review: Love with a Perfect Scoundrel by Sophia Nash

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I selected this novel because of the gorgeous female cover model. She looks like a fairy princess and the pink and black and warm tones are just lovely. The big plus is this is how the heroine is described… well, I think it was an angel, but you get the point: lovely, blonde, kindhearted.

Moving on, the first half of the novel can be said in three sentences:

Grace Sheffey has been jilted twice, widowed once.

Michael Ranier has murdered twice, rescued once.

These two souls get together under a single lodging and share one passionate interlude.

The second half deals with the consequences. I found Love with a Perfect Scoundrel to be a fun, fast-paced romp filled with nutty characters, sensual situations, and many a marvelous moments. Some to me seems a little over the top, like a seventy-five thousand pound promissory note, but I will let you decide for yourselves.

I had a wonderful time reading the novel and I felt great when I finished. I haven’t read anything else by Sophia Nash, but I highly recommend her if her other novels are like this one.

Love with a Perfect Scoundrel is book three of the widow club.

Rating: 4 Stars

Buy: Love with the Perfect Scoundrel