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Lady Wesley's Salon

Historical romance.

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The Wicked Deeds of Daniel Mackenzie (Highland Pleasures, #6)
Jennifer Ashley
The Governess Club: Bonnie - Ellie Macdonald This novella was short and sweet but not terribly engaging. Bonnie's mother had been a governess who became a rich man's mistress; she raised her daughter to be a governess. Thus, I found it incredible that Bonnie would so easily fall into bed with Sir Stephen. There was a mystery, but it wasn't much of one. Sir Stephen is no Sherlock; he doesn't even ask who would inherit the title if the new young viscount dies. Ellie Macdonald is a competent writer, but the plot had inconsistencies. For example, after witnessing their parents' deaths in a carriage accident, the little boys refuse to ride in a carriage. Later, they are complaining about having to walk to the village, noting that the carriage would have been warmer. They refuse to leave Bonnie's side, so she sleeps on a trundle bed in their room, but later they have their own separate rooms. Sir Stephen is said to have inherited a barony, in which case he would be Lord Something and not Sir Stephen. I would not recommend this book.
The Wicked Wallflower  - Maya Rodale I like more H in my HR. Full review closer to publication date.
When the Duke Was Wicked  - Lorraine Heath First peak from Lorraine Heath's Facebook page:
A little more info about WHEN THE DUKE WAS WICKED. Yes, it is a new series - The Scandalous Gentlemen of St. James. Although you may remember Henry (Duke of Lovingdon) as the little boy in [b:Between the Devil and Desire|4838188|Between the Devil and Desire (Scoundrels of St. James, #2)|Lorraine Heath|http://d202m5krfqbpi5.cloudfront.net/books/1322214817s/4838188.jpg|4903440], the one who wanted a puppy. Lady Grace Mabry is Frannie and Sterling's daughter from [b:Surrender to the Devil|5841519|Surrender to the Devil (Scoundrels of St. James, #3)|Lorraine Heath|http://d202m5krfqbpi5.cloudfront.net/books/1322214177s/5841519.jpg|6013659]. Here is the blurb:

They are England’s most eligible bachelors, with the most scandalous reputations. But for the right woman, even an unrepentant rogue may mend his ways…

Lady Grace Mabry’s ample inheritance has made it impossible for her to tell whether a suitor is in love with her—or enamored of her riches. Who better to distinguish beau from blackguard than her notorious childhood friend, the Duke of Lovingdon?

With no interest in marriage, Lovingdon has long lived only for pleasure. He sees little harm in helping Grace find a proper match. After all, he’s familiar with all the ploys a scoundrel uses to gain a woman’s favor. He simply has to teach the lovely innocent how to distinguish honest emotions from false ones. How better than by demonstrating his wicked ways. But as lessons lead to torrid passion and Grace becomes ensnared in another man’s marriage plot, Lovingdon must wage a desperate gamble: Open his heart fully—or risk losing the woman he adores…

I really love that she's taking the Scoundrels of St. James series into the next generation with this story.
Seven Nights in a Rogue's Bed - Anna Campbell,  Narrated by Antony Ferguson I did not enjoy listening to this book. First of all, I didn't care for the narrator, Antony Ferguson, whose reading style was so slow, and so full of long pauses, that I listened to most of the book with the speed at 1.25. Second, the first 50%+ of the book seemed to be nothing but long, detailed sex scenes between Jonas and Sidonie. I like steamy, but Sidonie's journey from innocent virgin to hot mamma went by in a flash, and I can easily do without so much description of their every move. I actually liked the last third or so of the book, when things begin to happen, but by then those things felt a little rushed.

Jonas was a fascinating character, scarred both inside and out, and the story of his redemption was very interesting. Unfortunately, that story didn't save the book for me, especially since Sidonie did some pretty dumb stuff along the way. All in all, I understood the lust but never quite bought into the love.
The Untamed Mackenzie (Highland Pleasures, #5.5) - Jennifer Ashley 4.5 stars, rounded up to five because -- it's the Mackenzies!

I adore the Mackenzies, so there was little doubt that I would enjoy this novella featuring Chief Inspector Lloyd Fellows, illegitimate half-brother to Hart, Cam, Mac, and Ian. We've had glimpses of him before; in [b:The Madness of Lord Ian Mackenzie|5981872|The Madness of Lord Ian Mackenzie (Highland Pleasures, #1)|Jennifer Ashley|http://d202m5krfqbpi5.cloudfront.net/books/1322336718s/5981872.jpg|6155268], he was something of a villain, determined to pin a couple of murders of prostitutes on Hart and Ian. But when Ian's new wife, Beth, figured out that Fellows was a Mackenzie by birth, the family immediately embraced the man, and his mother, whom their late, unlamented father had cruelly ignored. Ian, who noticed everything but didn't always understand what he had seen, figured out immediately how Fellows fit into the family.
“All of us are mad in some way,” Ian said. “I have a memory that won’t let go of details. Hart is obsessed with politics and money. Cameron is a genius with horses, and Mac paints like a god. You find out details on your cases that others miss. You are obsessed with justice and getting everything you think is coming to you. We all have our madness. Mine is just the most obvious.”
In [b:Lady Isabella's Scandalous Marriage|7070067|Lady Isabella's Scandalous Marriage (Highland Pleasures, #2)|Jennifer Ashley|http://d202m5krfqbpi5.cloudfront.net/books/1322336962s/7070067.jpg|7323377], Fellows helped find the man who was trying to kill Mac, and he once again practiced his crime-solving skills in [b:The Duke's Perfect Wife|8563829|The Duke's Perfect Wife (Highland Pleasures, #4)|Jennifer Ashley|http://d202m5krfqbpi5.cloudfront.net/books/1317220977s/8563829.jpg|13432302]. Moreover, he had his first personal encounter with Lady Louisa Scranton, younger sister of Mac's wife Isabella, when she brazenly dared to kiss him. Their encounter was brief but portentous:
He was not quite sure what had just changed in his life, but the world felt different, and he would make certain that he and Louisa continued to explore what had begun in this room.
Fellows and Louisa shared another, more passionate, kiss under the mistletoe in [b:A Mackenzie Family Christmas: The Perfect Gift|16181686|A Mackenzie Family Christmas The Perfect Gift (Highland Pleasures, #4.5)|Jennifer Ashley|http://d202m5krfqbpi5.cloudfront.net/books/1354287117s/16181686.jpg|22084554]. Afterward, however, he returned to his solid middle class life in London, while Lady Louisa resumed socializing with all of her aristocratic friends. Both of them recognized their unsuitability, and yet . . . :
Mr. Fellows, a working-class man with scandalous connections and illegitimate birth, was a most ineligible bachelor. But he kissed like fire, and he’d stirred a longing in Louisa’s heart she’d never forgotten.
That is the set-up for the events in this wonderful novella, where Louisa is an unlikely murder suspect in a crime that Fellows is assigned to investigate.

Before that, however, the story opens with a heart-rending flashback scene where a very young Fellows contrives to reveal himself to his father. Not surprisingly, it doesn't work out well. His hatred and resentment toward the Mackenzies has disappeared, but Fellows still does not feel comfortable moving about in their world. Now, he must interrogate a bunch of toffs to figure out which of them murdered the Bishop of Hargate at a fancy garden party in Richmond. Louisa is the obvious culprit, but he knows she could not be guilty, and he doesn't think twice about lying and covering up evidence in his quest to find the real murderer. I doubt that they ever would have gotten together though if Louisa had not taken the initiative.

It is great fun to see all of the Mackenzie brothers, their wives, and their children, but as in the Christmas novella, Daniel Mackenzie (Cam's nineteen-year-old son) steals every scene that he is in. If you're eagerly awaiting his book, due out on October 1, 2013, you'll be tantalized by the excerpt at the end of this novella.

I thoroughly enjoyed this story, but deducted half a star for two reasons. First, Fellows solved the mystery, but there was virtually no evidence against the murderer. As a lawyer, and mystery fan, I just needed to see more than Fellows' clever deductions. And second, please don't ask me to believe that Louisa and Fellows would have succumbed to their passion in a horse barn at the Newmarket race course with thousands of people around. I know they're supposed to be carried away by lust, but really.

The Sum of All Kisses - Julia Quinn Delightful, classic Julia Quinn romance plus humor. Review closer to October 29 release date.

Gabriel: Lord of Regrets (Lonely Lords, #5)

Gabriel: Lord of Regrets (Lonely Lords, #5) - Grace Burrowes I've read every book that Grace Burrowes has published, and I thought her most recent (before this one) was her best yet. (That would be [b:Once Upon a Tartan|15713729|Once Upon a Tartan (MacGregor Trilogy, #2)|Grace Burrowes|http://d202m5krfqbpi5.cloudfront.net/books/1378013111s/15713729.jpg|21382136].) So I'm truly disappointed to say that [b:Gabriel: Lord of Regrets|17456364|Gabriel Lord of Regrets (Lonely Lords, #5)|Grace Burrowes|http://d202m5krfqbpi5.cloudfront.net/books/1372465209s/17456364.jpg|24347960] is just an unmitigated mess. There is a convoluted backstory, a supposed murder plot, lots of sex, secrets. Oh, my God, secrets! Everybody is keeping secrets from everybody else. I note that several other reviewers have loved the book and given it a five-star rating, but I cannot.

Much of the backstory is found in [b:Beckman: Lord of Sins|16099911|Beckman Lord of Sins (Lonely Lords, #4)|Grace Burrowes|http://d202m5krfqbpi5.cloudfront.net/books/1369964679s/16099911.jpg|24992387]. Gabriel North is the brooding, mysterious steward for the absent owner of Three Springs estate, where Sara Hunt is the housekeeper and Polly Hunt is the cook. Sara's young daughter Allie also lives there. Although Sara is the heroine of that book, there is a budding secondary romance between Polly and North. At the end of the book, North leaves his post, and Polly goes off to London to begin what promises to be a rewarding career as a portrait artist.

It turns out that Gabriel North is actually Gabriel Felicitos Baptiste Wendover, the presumed-dead Marquess of Hesketh. Two years earlier he had traveled to Spain to retrieve his brother Aaron, who had been wounded in the Peninsular War. While there, Gabriel was attacked by brigands and seriously wounded. Then, the convent hospital where he was recuperating was torched, and Gabriel allowed his family to believe that he had died in the fire. After their father died, Aaron took over the title, married Gabriel’s fiancée, Lady Marjorie, and set about running the estate, clashing frequently with his steward, distant cousin George Wendover.

Three Springs is just twenty or so miles from Hesketh, so Gabriel was able to keep tabs on his brother, whom he suspected of trying to have him murdered. It suited Gabriel’s purposes to live incognito, but eventually he became alarmed when he heard of Aaron’s frequent duels, Lady Marjorie’s extravagant spending, and mismanagement of the estate. At the opening of this book, Gabriel appears at Hesketh, but Aaron does not seem as shocked as the others. Is that perhaps because Aaron knew that the attempts on Gabriel’s life had failed? Will those attempts continue now that Gabriel has surfaced?

In a coincidence that happens only in fiction, Polly Hunt also is at Hesketh, having been hired to do portraits of Aaron and Lady Marjorie. Thus, Gabriel has the perfect opportunity to continue wooing Polly right under his own roof, but he worries that she could be harmed by whomever is trying to kill him. Polly loves Gabriel, but she resists his wooing, knowing she could never marry him because she has a Deep, Dark Secret from her past. Actually, Polly doesn’t wholly resist, as she and Gabriel take to spending their nights in the same bed. I actually found the sex scenes here kind of squicky. As with most of Burrowes’ books, the couple does not actually engage in intercourse at first; rather they go in for what used to be called “heavy petting.” During these sessions, we learn that Polly is blessed with the ability to have orgasms at the slightest touch. Lots of them. Well, lucky Polly, but I would have been happy with much less detail about their couplings and near-couplings.

While Polly goes about her painting, she learns that Aaron and Lady Marjorie, who have been married for two years, have never consummated their marriage. In fact, they barely even speak. That’s because theirs was a forced marriage. After Gabriel was declared dead, Lady Marjorie’s mother, Lady Hartle, was determined that her daughter would be the marchioness and demanded that Aaron fulfill the marriage contract that existed between the parents. So Aaron grudgingly married Lady Marjorie. Now that Gabriel is alive and ready to claim the title back, Lady Hartle threatens to bring legal action to force an annulment so that Lady Marjorie can marry Gabriel. Neither Gabriel nor Lady Marjorie wants to do this, but as far as Lady Hartle is concerned her daughter will be the marchioness or she’ll know the reason why. At this point, I was ready to throw the book out the window (figuratively, as I’m reading on a Kindle), for all this nonsense is addressed as A Serious Problem. Solicitors are consulted, which gives the author a chance to bring in the estimable Worth Ketterington, who has appeared in earlier books and who will apparently get his own story some day.

There is more – oh so much more – to come as this ridiculous tale winds on. Aaron and Lady Marjorie secretly desire one another, so Gabriel and Polly encourage them to act upon their passions. Polly is seriously considering a proposal from her sister’s late husband’s brother, Tremaine St. Michael. She’s also suffering from missing her young niece Allie, who is really her daughter, fathered by sister Sara’s no-good late husband Reynard. (That’s the Deep Dark Secret, although we knew that from the previous book.) She also misses her sister, now happily married to Beckman Haddonfield and expecting an interesting event.

Ultimately, every single character in the book winds up drinking tea at Hesketh in the middle of a snowstorm and all is revealed. Oh, and the murder plot? Fuggitaboutit. Burrowes should avoid even attempting to write a mystery. With any other author, I would have quit half way through. But because the Lonely Lords series has been so good thus far, I kept reading.

My advice: skip this Lonely Lord and read [b:Darius: Lord of Pleasures|15838403|Darius Lord of Pleasures (Lonely Lords, #1)|Grace Burrowes|http://d202m5krfqbpi5.cloudfront.net/books/1372464242s/15838403.jpg|21577845], the best of the series so far.
Frederica - Clifford Norgate, Georgette Heyer This is one of my top three Heyer titles, and the audio narration by Clifford Norgate is just spot on. His vocalization of the marquess is a bit stuffier than I would like, and occasionally he veers off into Winston Churchill territory, but he does a very nice job with all of the female voices and especially with the two cute young boys who, for my money, make this a standout book. As all too often happens with Heyer, the ending is cut too short, and I would have enjoyed seeing more of Frederica and Alverstoke as a couple. That, however, is just a risk the reader runs with a Heyer book.

All in all, I adored listening to this book and I highly recommend this audio version.
Persuasion: The Wild and Wanton Edition - Micah Persell, Jane Austen 3.5 stars. Surprisingly well done. Review to come on Romantic Historical Lovers, http://romantichistoricallovers.wordpress.com/
The Governess Club: Claire - Ellie Macdonald Sweet novella. It's short, so love and forgiveness come pretty quickly. Full review to come.

The Arrangement (The Survivors' Club #2)

The Arrangement (The Survivors' Club #2) - Mary Balogh 3.5 stars rounded up because, well it's Mary Balogh!

This is a lovely romance, and Mary Balogh does a masterful job conveying the reality of everyday life for a blind man in the early 19th century. It's also a great marriage-of-convenience story between two people who really don't want to get married to anyone. I enjoyed once again seeing the members of the Survivor's Club.

My only criticism is that I never really bought into the idea that these two people would part according to the terms of their 'arrangement.' Thus, there was no great drama in the story for me.
London: A History in Maps - Peter Barber As a lifelong lover of maps, I could not resist when I found this coffee table size book at a bargain price. It is not a book that you sit down and read, but I'm putting it on my "Read" shelf, because otherwise it would remain on my "Currently Reading" shelf for a year to two. I enjoy the history for itself but also like having a reference book to get my bearings when reading historical fiction and biography set in London during various periods.
The Tutor - Meg Brooke This book started out well, with a unique plot. Cynthia Endersby was groomed by her Oxford-don father to be as educated as any young man of the day. Perhaps better educated. She has tutored several young ladies married to political husbands, which leads to her being hired by the new Duke of Danforth to help him prepare to take his seat in the House of Lords. It turns out, however, that Cynthia's father has become insanely controlling, and all she wants is to earn enough money to escape his house forever.

Cynthia's father belongs on the shelf next to the worst HR fathers ever, and the backstory is clever and unique. After she begins working with the duke, however, the story largely becomes predictable and rather boring. I was disappointed to see Cynthia become too much like other young ladies of the ton and frustrated that the odious father never really gets what he deserves.
In Bed With the Devil (Scoundrels of St. James, #1) - Lorraine Heath,  Susan Ericksen,  Antony Ferguson Imagine Feagan's tribe from Oliver Twist growing up and becoming respectable adults. This is Lorraine Heath's clever premise, and it works quite well in this book, featuring "Oliver" (here known as Lucien Langdon, the Earl of Claybourne). He's an anguished hero who falls in love with a most proper daughter of a duke. There's love, sex, a little adventure, and a bit of a mystery.

The narration of the audiobook by Susan Ericksen was very good. She handled all of the characters quite well. Antony Ferguson read several entries from the earl's journal, and I would love to hear him do an entire book.
The Prince of Midnight - Laura Kinsale,  Nicholas Boulton I haven't actually read this book, but listening to the recently released audio version narrated -- I should say perhaps "enacted" -- by Nicholas Boulton was a wonderful experience. At first, the plot reminded me of a Georgian 'Cat Ballou' (an old movie, for you young 'uns, where Jane Fonda wants washed-up gunslinger Lee Marvin to emerge from retirement to avenge her family). There's that same feeling of disappointment and chagrin when she finds that her legendary hero is a drunken mess who's utterly incapable of helping her even if he wanted to. Except Cat Ballou is a comedy and this book most definitely is not.

At times, it was grim and hard to listen to. Terrible things have happened to S.T. and Leigh, and they continue to happen. But then, I fell in love with S.T. and started to hate Leigh for being so mean to him. From what I read of the reviews, that's a pretty typical reaction. There is a deeply felt romance and lots of adventure, leading up to what I wasn't positive would be a happy ending. At times, I was so anxious about what would happen next that I actually increased the listening speed.

Laura Kinsale is an exquisite writer, and I've loved every book of hers that I've read. In choosing Nick Boulton to narrate her books, she really hit the ball out of the park. He is utterly amazing! I have no doubt that I'll listen to every book that he does, blowing my book budget for months.

If you are at all into audiobooks, listen to this one and to [b:Flowers from the Storm|18042822|Flowers from the Storm|Laura Kinsale|http://d202m5krfqbpi5.cloudfront.net/books/1370508972s/18042822.jpg|788122].
The Suitor - Mary Balogh This is a sweet, but slight, short story, published as an ebook for US$1.99. There is a scene in the sneak peak of [b:The Arrangement|15797358|The Arrangement (The Survivors' Club #2)|Mary Balogh|http://d202m5krfqbpi5.cloudfront.net/books/1364250976s/15797358.jpg|19754340], the upcoming book two of Mary Balogh's new Survivor's Club series, where Vincent Hunt, Viscount Darleigh, is introduced to the young woman who his mother and sisters have chosen to be his bride. He is not interested in getting married, but because he has been blinded in the Peninsular Wars, his family decides that they know best. Darleigh has nothing against the girl, who along with her family has come to visit his country home, so he tries to make her dislike him before fleeing ignominiously with his valet. The Arrangement tells the story of what happens next.

This story, however, focuses on the blameless young lady, Phillipa Dean, who is no more desirous of marrying Darleigh than he is. She has someone else in mind. Someone who does not meet with her parents' approval. As I said, her story is sweet, but there's not much there there.