Audio Review: The Unexpected Duchess (Playful Brides, Book 1) by Valerie Bowman

unexpected duchessHero: Newly appointed by the crown, Lord Derek Hunt, the Duke of Claringdon, made a promise to his friend Julian, who is dying. His moniker among the ton is the Duke of Decisive for he makes quick decisions and sticks to them – winning many battles and honors because of it, including his dukedom. He will wed Lady Cassandra because it not in his nature to be indecisive or to change his mind. But a kink quickly appears in his plan when a friend of the lady in question insists Cassandra is not interested.

Heroine: Lady Lucy Upton will not let her dear friend be coerced into a courtship with the dashing duke. Cassandra is in love with another and waits for his return from the war. If the duke and Cassandra’s mother had their way, Cass would be wed before the fortnight was out. When Cass asks for help, Lucy does what she does best – interfere and deliver cutting set-downs. But it doesn’t scare Claringdon off. Instead he comes back for more again and again and Lucy’s traitorous heart hopes it’s because of her and not Cass.

Review: One of my favorite scenes is the verbal wit challenge between Derek and Lucy. He asks her to dance and she says “no.” He must then come up with 20 cleverer ways to turn a gentleman down for a dance. I won’t share my particular favorites, because they’re just too good to give away. I also enjoyed Derek wooing Lucy by writing letters to her appearing to be from another suitor. She sees the differences between the letters and the person and can’t quite make them fit, but doesn’t suspect Derek is writing to her.  The friendship between the ladies is strong, which is nice to see. The story itself is silly and very humorous. I would only change the timing of Derek’s change of heart and the start of his pursuit of Lucy sooner. For somebody decisive, he was too hesitant to break a promise that needed breaking.

Narrator: Alison Larkin could deliver on Lady Lucy Upton. She brought much life to the heroine and brought out her personality and wit. She delivered Lucy’s set-downs with a flourish!

Rating: ★★★½☆

Buy: The Unexpected Duchess, The Unexpected Duchess (Audiobook)

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Review: To Buy a Bride by Roberta Leigh

to buy a bride roberta leighHero: Luke was once the stable boy on Philippa’s family estate, where his mother also worked. Now he’s grown into a powerful and wealthy businessman and he’s got his eye out for a bargain. He also has a secret which has nothing to do with bargains and everything to do with the heart.

Heroine: If Philippa doesn’t marry Luke, her twin brother will be ruined financially and thrown into jail for borrowing funds from the family’s struggling business. Luke can supply them the funds needed to stay afloat and keep the illegalities under wraps… for a price… control of the company and her hand in marriage.

Review: This is one of those stories where the persons involved could have saved themselves a lot of heartache and grief by talking it out. And if the siblings had been willing to sell the family estate, they would have been fine too… so naturally they don’t because the house is a symbol of happiness and family to them both, but especially to Philippa.

With a little time and space to absorb the consequences of the decision to not sell/marry, Philippa would have been better adjusted. She comes off a little bratty (and high-strung) because she wants the house, the money, and not have to give anything in return. Luke could have worked his charm on her a bit more, but then his ex-girlfriends shows up and he gets the brilliant idea to use Rose to make Philippa jealous. It works. She is jealous and is surprised by her emotions.

Overall, not my cup of tea.

Rating: ★★☆☆☆

Buy: To Buy a Bride

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Review: Dark Mirror by M.J. Putney

Dark Mirror can be summed up in four words: magic, romance, time travel.

The Story: When Lady Victoria (Tory) Mansfield performs magic in front of a bunch of witnesses at her mother’s annual lawn party her father banishes her to Lackland Abbey, a reform school for magic tainted aristocrats.

There Tory meets two very different girls. The first is Elspeth, the biggest outcast at Lackland Abbey. She’s can’t wait to leave, but refuses to reject her magic to make that escape. In fact she openly embraces it. Then there is Cynthia, a bossy conceited roommate, who like Tory wants nothing more than to get out of Lackland as soon as possible which means renouncing magic.

When Tory discovers an underground secret society of Lackland students working to learn and embrace their magic instead of get rid of it, she’s intrigued. In a world where upward mobility and good matches hinged on how normal you were, what could possibly entice nobles to give up the luxuries of being wealthy privileged sons and daughters? In a word: nationalism. The threat of Napoleon invading Britain is enough to spark pride and determination to see Britain through impending war no matter the cost.

One night they get raided and during the escape Tory distracts the mages and mortals hunting them. A chase forces her into a dead end with a large mirror. Thinking she could hide behind it, Tory touches it and finds herself transported to the future, during WWII.

The Romance: While the story focuses primarily on themes like girl power, coming of age, accepting yourself and making the right choices, there is also a romance. As the only son of a Duke, Marquis Justin Allarde, is the most eligible boy at Lackland Abbey. Sparks of magic sizzle between Tory and Allarde the first time their gazes lock together. It’s something Allarde fights tooth and nail because of his own secret, one that’s haunted him, hanging over his head for a long time. A secret that threatens their romance before it even has a chance to blossom.

I’m ready for the sequel. Are you?

Rating: ★★★★☆

Buy: Dark Mirror

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The Peerage of England

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When reading romance novels about English gentry and nobility I always wonder about the rankings. I know diddlysquat about this subject, mostly because I am American. I decided to do some digging to see if I could sort the matter out. Luckily there are a lot of resources on the matter.

The first thing I was determined to find out was the order of the rankings. I always thought an Earl was as noble as a Duke or fairly similar. An Earl is far less substantial than you might think. In fact they seem to be quite plentiful; perhaps that is why so many romance novels include an Earl. A Marquis, on the other hand was more substantial than I gave credit. For some reason, I always assumed it was on similar footing as a Viscount. Whoops– social faux pas, anyone?

The order of rank is as follows:

  1. Duke/Duchess
  2. Marquis (alternative spelling: Marquess)/Marchioness
  3. Earl/Countess
  4. Viscount/Viscountess
  5. Baron/Baroness

Baronets and Knights are not peers. A baronet is a hereditary knight. The title of Sir goes down through the generations. His wife is referred to as Lady.

The rarest rank of nobility is the Duke with his dukedom, making Barons by their rank far more abundant.

About the only thing I got right was the order of the Viscounts and Barons.

Did you know there were several peerages?

The isles of Britain and Ireland had in total five different peerages. Those of England, Scotland, Ireland, Great Britain, and the United Kingdom! No wonder the country has so many names in history! Also, a noble man could belong to more than one peerage!

Labels of Address (loosely):

This doesn’t include salutations of correspondence. The first bit is how to do the introduction on the different levels of nobility followed by how to address them in formal speech.

  • Duke/Duchess: His Grace/Her Grace (insert title); His Grace/Her Grace
  • Marquis/Marchioness: Most Honorable (insert title); Lord/Lady
  • Earl/Countess: Right Honorable (insert title); Lord/Lady
  • Viscount/Viscountess: Right Honorable (insert title); Lord/Lady
  • Baron/Baroness: Right Honorable (insert title); Lord/Lady

Review: The Pirate Lord by Sabrina Jeffries and Deborah Martin

by Carla F., guest reviewer

It started out with an interesting premise and it ended OK, but there was so much in the middle that bugged me.

In The Pirate Lord, Sara Willis, a reformer, decides that she is going to try to expose the conditions of convict women who are being transported to New South Wales by getting on a ship and going with a group of them. After convincing her step-brother Jordon, the Earl of Blackmore, that she is of age and that he can’t stop her, she heads off on a ship as a teacher for these women. This ship is soon captured by pirates. What the pirates want is not treasure but the convict women. In attempt to save these women, Sara threatens the pirate Captain with retaliation from her powerful “brother”. Unfortunately for her, Gideon Horn, the Captain hates the nobility and in fact targets ships owned by and/or carrying nobles. This has earned him the name, The Pirate Lord. Once Gideon finds out that Sara’s brother is an earl, he decides to take Sara along with the other women.

Things I didn’t like (possible spoilers):

1. The crew on Gideon’s ship are “cleaner” than the crew of the ship headed for New South Wales. OK I don’t really want to read about dirty, nasty pirates either. Still it made me think of Errol Flynn and his Technicolor crew.

2. These pirates don’t want the women just to have their wicked way with them. They want wives because they are “retiring” and moving to an island paradise. Sara thinks that this is an awful thing to do to these women, and it cannot be allowed to happen. This leads me to #3.

3. Sara was an extremely annoying character who will not open her eyes and actually see what was going on. She has a captain and crew who have promised not to harm any of the women.  Gideon even decides to give the women a week to be courted and will let them choose their husbands. Time and time again Gideon agrees to Sara’s requests/demands and yet Sara continues to believe that what is happening is so horrific and that no compromise is acceptable. At one point Gideon gets “forceful” with Sara to try to teach her the difference between him and a bad man, but that doesn’t last long. Sara doesn’t think that Gideon can be good man because, after all, he is a pirate (said multiple times).

4. There is the snake incident. On the island, while Gideon and Sara are talking, a black mambo appears from the tree over her shoulder. Gideon manages to cut off the snake’s head without any harm to Sara. Naturally, this freaks her out, and she winds up in Gideon’s arms for comfort. This leads to intense kissing and eventually Gideon pushes her up against a tree to continue further. Hello! There is a decapitated snake laying on the ground! A snake that came from a tree! Isn’t she concerned? If this had happened to me, I would have been halfway back to England before the snake hit the ground.

As I said at the beginning, I thought the idea of a reformer heading off in a ship to help convicts was an promising idea, but there were just too many problems with the book. If you really love pirate stories, like other Sabrina Jeffries  or Deborah Martin books, or are not bothered by the same things that I am, you might like this book.

Rating: ★★½☆☆

Buy: The Pirate Lord

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Review: Enchanting the Beast by Kathryne Kennedy

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This was an impulse buy. The cover was pretty (I only saw the front b/c this was an online purchase) and I was fairly certain the inside would give me a wounded/scarred/brooding hero because of the title. To my surprise it was a historical paranormal!

Nicodemus Wulfson is as you guessed it, a werewolf. His brother is being tormented by ghosts, something he emphatically does not believe. He decides the best way to help his brother is to go to London and obtain a person who claims to hold an affinity with ghosts and winds up with Philomena, a ghost-hunter/communicator with spirits.

The mystery behind the haunting was fairly predictable but contains several unique elements. I easily narrowed it down to the two major suspicious persons but was undecided as to which one it was until much later in the novel.

Philomena is a much older heroine than we are used to seeing in romance. She’s forty years old and a spinster, though she’s not unaware of what takes place behind closed doors due to the ghost of a prostitute named Fanny.

Nicodemus is twenty-seven and is determined to claim Philomena. Around her his wolf practically demands he get on with making her his in every way. At first he thinks it is just lust but quickly concludes that he wants more than an affair; he wants a wife and mate.

This book is quite possibly part of a series involving Merlin’s Relics but is well written enough to be a stand alone. Kennedy has marvelous world building skills. We are introduced to this alternate reality of the world where the aristocrat are descendants of Merlin and hold magical powers. The most powerful are royalty followed by the other noble ranks in order. It is the baronets that are lycanthropes or weres and they can be many animals from the more traditional werewolf to snakes, ducks, horses, etc.

Another element that I liked but wasn’t a major factor in the story was the idea of hedge witches (and wizards) who were the bastard children of the nobility. Even if they were claimed, most of them lack the power to be associated with rank.

Rating: 3 Stars

Buy: Enchanting the Beast

Reader Highlight with Meghan of Medieval Bookworm

Keira: You own over 1000 books. Do you have special bookcases to display them all and a picture you can share with us? Now, looking at your bookshelf what color pops out the most to you or what color is the most dominant among the shelves? What do you think this color says about you? Are there any more similarities between the covers in relation to cover art besides color?

Meghan: Sadly my books are mostly not with me, and so I don’t have a picture of everything!  I have three bookcases in total (this picture is one).  Of the books that I have with me right now, black and blue seem to dominate, so apparently I like the colours of bruises.  I actually think that probably reflects my avoidance of women’s fiction outside of romance more than anything else.

Keira: As a lover of historical romances, if you had a time machine, what year and location would you go back in time to and what would you see while you were there?

Meghan: Oh, you’d find me in fifteenth century England having a chat with Richard III or Anthony Woodville, if I was lucky enough to be able to speak to them as an ordinary woman and not nobility of any kind.

Keira: What are your top five favourite medieval romances and what would you retitle them if you could?

Meghan: Believe it or not, I avoid medieval romances like the plague these days (and often medieval historical fiction as well).  I’m too prone to spot inaccuracies.  I can, however, recommend Carrie Lofty, as I recently really enjoyed Scoundrel’s Kiss.  I’d name that something else for sure, but I sadly lack creativity (and thus am doing absolutely nothing to solve the bad romance novel names.)

Keira: You read over 200 books in 2009 and have over 500 reviews on your website. What tips would you give readers who want to read more themselves?

Meghan: Reading is my favourite hobby, so I tend to devote the very large majority of my leisure time to it.  I also read very quickly so that helps a lot.  And I don’t watch all that much TV.  My recommendation would mostly be to devote an hour a day to reading whenever humanly possible, and stick to it – even if it means turning off the computer for a while.

Keira: Can you share with readers a little bit about your 2010 challenge, A Tournament of Reading? How can they participate and what are 3 books you’d recommend them to try first?

Meghan: Sure!  It’s my goal to get people reading more about the Middle Ages.  There are so many misconceptions about it and Americans aren’t taught much in school about it, either, so I’m hoping to expose new people to my favorite period in history.  Anyone who wants to join is welcome to sign up here.  For beginners, I would definitely recommend The Time Traveller’s Guide to Medieval England by Ian Mortimer, a fantastic little book full of facts about the most exciting and typical part of the Middle Ages.  You can find wonderful readable fiction by Sharon Kay Penman and Elizabeth Chadwick, two of my favourite authors.

Keira: You’ve been writing and running Medieval Bookworm since 2007. Why did you start and what are some of your favorite blog posts that you’ve written?

Meghan: I started blogging mostly to keep track of the reviews I was formerly posting on LibraryThing.  I didn’t realize there was a whole book blogging world out there and I only slowly got introduced to it through the meme Tuesday Thingers, which I believe is now defunct.

My favourite recent review has to be The Decisive Moment by Jonah Lehrer.  That was a great book and I tried to do it justice.

Keira: What is your favorite and/or least favorite plot, character type, or literary device?

Meghan: Favorite literary device is the unreliable narrator.  This is why I love Kazuo Ishiguro so much!  I love, love, love it when a truth is slowly revealed over the course of a book leading up to a huge moment of revelation.

Keira: How do you define love?

Meghan: Tough question.  In books, I always want to see chemistry between the characters that goes beyond lust.  Great interactions, sparkling conversation, genuine happy time spent together.  Passion is a big part of any love affair but there has to be that emotional and personal connection, too.  I think Julia Quinn is fantastic at this.

Keira: When it comes to romance who makes or breaks the novel: the hero or the heroine?

Meghan: The heroine.  I love a strong heroine and a weak one will annoy me to no end.  On the other hand I actually prefer beta heroes, but I can’t recall a single book where the hero really made the whole book for me.

Keira: Is there anything else you’d like to share or discuss?

Meghan: I don’t think so!