Friday, 25 November 2016

Review: A Mistletoe Masquerade by Louise Allen

At this time of year I like to read books with a Christmas theme and so I picked this one by Louise Allen, one my favourite authors. It is a novella, of less than 100 pages, and at the time of writing it is only 99p on Kindle.

The story is about Lady Rowan Chilcourt, concerned about a marriage arranged between her timid best friend, Penny Maylin, and the Earl of Danescroft - who is suspected of murdering his first wife! So Rowan arranges to travel with Penny to a Christmas house party, disguised as her dresser (a kind of lady's maid), to find out everything she can about the notorious Earl.

Meanwhile, the Earl's friend Viscount Stoneley is equally concerned that he might have fallen prey to a fortune hunter and agrees to travel to the same house party disguised as the Earl's valet ... 

I enjoyed this story because it is different to the usual Regency romances in that it is set in below stairs and shows the lives of the servants, and how hard their work could be, with lots of well-researched historical details. I loved the characters and the final denouement at the Christmas ball, and the little festive touches, such as kissing beneath the mistletoe ...

Fans of Mills & Boon historical romances will love it!

Friday, 18 November 2016

Review: The White Queen by Philippa Gregory

The White Queen is the first book in Philippa Gregory's Cousins' War series about the War of the Roses. The heroine is Elizabeth Woodville, a widow with two young boys, who has been left destitute after her husband's death while fighting for the Lancastrian cause. Her sons' inheritance has been seized back by her mother-in-law, so she waits upon the road hoping to meet the new king, Edward IV, and plead for her cause. Edward, however, takes one look at her and falls madly in love (or rather, lust) and is determined to have her for his own, even if that means going against the man who made him king, the Earl of Warwick. When Edward tries to force himself on Elizabeth she turns a knife on him, so he agrees to marry her. But as the marriage takes place in secret, with very few witnesses, is it even legal?

The beginning of the story took me a little by surprise, as it is similar to those historical romances I love to read, with not quite so much of the battles and beheadings I'm used to reading about in Philippa Gregory's books. But the characters were very likeable and realistically portrayed, and it was fascinating getting a glimpse of the real people behind the stories in the history books. The first half of the book shows the endless battles Edward went through to keep his throne (we experience them second-hand through Elizabeth, waiting patiently at home). The second half is about how Elizabeth is forced into various alliances to protect her children.

I did enjoy reading The White Queen, and would happily give it five stars, but out of the series I think I preferred the later stories. The Red Queen, about Elizabeth's frenemy Margaret Beaufort, was a far more interesting character, as was Elizabeth's mother, Jacquetta of Luxembourg (The Lady of the Rivers) and sometime 'witch'. 

As The Lady of the Rivers is effectively a prequel to The White Queen and ends at the exact point The White Queen starts, you may wish to start the series with that one. I wish I had read it first, as it would have helped me understand the characters motivation a bit more, and who they all were.

Related Reviews:

The Red Queen (#2 The Cousins' War)
The Lady  of the Rivers (#3 The Cousins' War)

Friday, 11 November 2016

Review: Do You Want to Start a Scandal (Castles Ever After) by Tessa Dare

When I originally downloaded this book I had assumed it was part of Tessa Dare's Spindle Cove series because the heroine is Charlotte Highwood, whose sisters have their own stories in A Week to be Wicked and Beauty and the Blacksmith. Instead it turned out to be part of Castles Ever After - the hero, Piers, is the brother of the hero in Say Yes to the Marquess. However, you don't have to have read any of those other books to enjoy this story.

When Charlotte finds herself a guest at the same country house party as Piers Brandon, aka the Marquess of Granville, she feels duty-bound to warn him that her mother is likely to have designs on him as a prospective son-in-law. In fact, her mother is so keen to bag an aristocrat for her youngest daughter (particularly as the elder one has just married a blacksmith), it hasn't escaped Society's notice - and Charlotte has been nicknamed the Desperate Debutante. Of course just after Charlotte has tracked Piers down to the library, and informed him of all this (much to his bemusement), they hear voices outside the door and realise they are about to be discovered alone together. And in Regency times that would mean a very speedy trip to the altar - exactly what Charlotte was trying to avoid. So they hide behind the curtains and inadvertently end up witnessing a romantic tryst between two other guests. And then, after the embarrassment of all that, Charlotte and Piers still end up being caught together - although strangely, Piers doesn't seem all that bothered ...

*mild spoilers coming up*

I enjoy reading Tessa Dare because she creates such great characters and her stories are as funny as they are romantic. I love humour in the books I read, and I also like a bit of a mystery. Part of the plot of this story was Charlotte's attempt to track down the other couple in the library, hoping to get out of her engagement to Piers, but that kind of fizzled out. There were also what appeared to be a couple of attempts on her life but again, they weren't quite what they seemed either. As I'd spent a chunk of the book trying to work out likely suspects, I found this a little disappointing.

So, recommended if you love your historical romances to be modern, funny and sexy. Not recommended if you're hoping for something more traditional, like Jane Austen. And if you've never read Tessa Dare before, I recommend you also try When a Scot Ties the Knot, which has to be one of my all-time favourite books.

Friday, 4 November 2016

Review: Once Upon a Regency Christmas by Louise Allen, Sophia James and Annie Burrows

Once Upon a Regency Christmas is a lovely Christmassy book containing three novella-length, Christmas-themed, Regency romances by Louise Allen, Sophia James and Annie Burrows. I am a huge fan of both Louise Allen and Annie Burrows, and have read all their books, but Sophia James is new to me. The theme running through all three stories is that the heroes might not be quite who they seem to be.

On a Winter's Eve by Louise Allen

Lady Julia Charlcott is newly arrived in England from India. Her much older husband has died but her plans to re-enter English society is thwarted when she overhears her sister-in-law bargaining with a gentleman over what he would pay if Julia were to wed him. Furious, Julia walks out, intending to have a traditional Christmas at her late husband's home in the country. Unfortunately she heads straight into a snowstorm, where she meets Captain Giles Markham trudging through the snow with a live turkey...

Marriage Made at Christmas by Sophia James

Christine Howard's heart has been frozen since the death of her fiance but when her life is saved by a mysterious American, she can feel herself begin to thaw. Hired as her bodyguard, it is soon clear William Miller would risk everything to protect her - but what if Christine is not the target?

Cinderella's Perfect Christmas by Annie Burrows

When Alice Waverley catches a cold, she realises it is the perfect excuse to spend Christmas home alone, doing exactly as she pleases, while her horrible relatives head off to a country house party. Unfortunately they've only been gone a few hours when Captain Jack Grayling and his two young children arrive at the house seeking shelter from the snow. 

I loved On a Winter's Eve and Cinderella's Perfect Christmas because they were both very traditional, Christmassy stories - just the thing to read to get into the Christmas spirit. The characters decorated the house, created presents from very little, were snowed in and built snowmen. I loved the tale of the escaped turkey from On a Winter's Eve and the wry, wicked humour of Cinderella's Christmas. Marriage Made at Christmas was not quite so festive as the other two stories, but I did enjoy the very different story of the scarred bodyguard searching for his own happy ever after.

Definitely recommended!

(I received my copy of Once Upon a Regency Christmas directly from one of the authors)