Review: The Master of Strathburn

MasterOfStrathburnFINALFor her newest release, Amy Rose Bennett has returned to Scotland, this time in the years after the failure of the Jacobite rebellion that resoundingly defeated in 1746. I loved Lady Beauchamp’s Proposal, and this novel is even better.

The eldest son of the Earl of Strathburn has returned home. But it won’t be fatted calf on the spit if his stepmother and younger half-brother gets his way. Robert Grant was spirited away ten years ago, just ahead of arresting soldiers, after he led men in the disaster that was Culloden. And if Simon and the redcoats catch him, the charge of treachery still stands.

Jessie Munroe is in hiding from Simon, too. He is determined to make the lovely girl his mistress, and if she is unwilling, so much the better. In Simon’s view, that adds a bit of spice.

When Robert and Jessie both choose to hide in the same place, the sparks we’ve come to expect from Ms Bennett set fire to the page. Without giving away too much of the plot, I can tell you to expect misunderstandings, a noble warrior protector with a hot body, a determined intelligent heroine, and a couple of truly nasty villains. Simon is the kind of horrid person who pulled the wings of flies when he was a boy.

But his mother is well and truly worthy of the tradition of Lady Macbeth and the wicked stepmother trope. She is not at all concerned about her son’s fondness for raping the help, gambling and spending away the estate’s income, and drinking himself blind. He is her boy, and should be allowed to have what he wants.

Ms Bennett has given us a thrilling romance with an historical background that feels authentic, a couple of chase scenes with cliff-hanger consequences, some clever plot twists, and plenty of passion. I’m delighted to have had the opportunity to review an advance reader copy.

See Amy Rose Bennett’s New Sexy Novel for more about the book, and some buy links.

 

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Rejected lovers gossip: Part two

Lady Bosville has been rescued from boredom. The Stanton musicale is a dismal affair, but when she slips out to sample some more of the rather lovely afternoon tea, she encounters her dear friend Lady Montagu. And Cordelia has been able to relate the inside story on the gossip of the moment; the scandalously sudden betrothal of one of society’s most notable rakes.

To read that gossip, see the first half of this post on Amy Rose Bennett’s blog.

Or read on for some more Regency gossip.

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frederic-soulacroix-french-b-1825_tete-tete_698x1024Enid was following her own thoughts, and was decidedly disgruntled. “It is a nuisance having to treat them as family. Mary is so common. (Her father, you know. Not at all the thing. Her mother married down.) And now Rick’s decidedly gorgeous brothers are all married too. So unfair. And last time I hinted, just hinted, Cordelia, I swear, that I could provide some comfort to poor Rick when Mary was off on something to do with one of her ridiculous charities—why, he was quite rude!”

“The devil!” exclaims Cordelia. “How anyone could remain contented with the same partner year in, year out, I will never fathom.”

“Indeed! So boring. The years before George and Frederick were born were the longest of my life. One has to do one’s duty, of course,” Enid added. Her friend was as aware as the rest of the ton that George, Enid’s older son, not only bore no resemblance to Bosville, but had the signature blue eyes so common in the Redepenning family. And even Enid was not certain which younger son of a duke was her daughter Charlotte’s progenitor.

“Of course,” Cordelia agrees. Cordelia is blessedly unencumbered by offspring, having married an elderly Baron, and having been careful in her later amours. “Enid,” she says in a quiet voice, “It suddenly occurs to me that perhaps it wasn’t only Rick Redepenning that you formed a tendre for. Did you and George…”

Enid can feel her face grow red. Had Cordelia just realised? The late Lord Chirbury had been charming and insistent. And an earl! Given Bosville’s neglect of his new bride, she was totally justified, but she would certainly not make that argument, even to Cordelia.

“Why Cordelia, as if I would, when I had not even given Bosville a son!” She studies her fingernails with rapt attention. “Not that it would matter if I had. Bosville has never even noticed George’s eyes. I named Bosville’s eldest son and heir for the King, of course.” She peeps up through her lashes at her friend to see whether Cordelia will accept this lie.

Cordelia quirks an eyebrow in skepticism but refrains from further comment. Enid changes the subject, hastily. “I saw you dance with Captain Morledge, Cordelia. How you dared!”

Cordelia shrugs. “The rumours about him taking his wife’s life are just that, rumours. Besides, it ’twas only a dance, Enid. I’m certainly not in the market for a husband.” She smiles. “I just can’t resist the invitation of a military man.”

Enid sighs. “He does look very fine in his uniform. Tell me, Cordelia, does he look fine out of it?”

Cordelia smirks. “Not as fine as Lord Arlington. Now there’s a rare specimen of a man who would be worth pursuing, wife or no.” She sighs. “I would perhaps consider marriage again if there were attractive enough options available. But it seems even dukes make poor husbands these days.” When Enid gives her a quizzical look, she adds in a low voice, “You must have heard about the late Duke of Murnane’s exploits, surely. What his poor wife has had to endure.” She shudders for effect.

Enid nods, her eyes avid. “Why, I heard that he…” she lowers her voice, though they were the only people in the room, “failed to pay his gambling vowels! Can you imagine! I heard it from Jeremy Smithson himself. The poor, dear man is owed hundreds of pounds.”

“I did my best to comfort him, of course.” Without leaving the slimy toad alone with her jewel box. He was an inventive and interesting lover, but a card sharp, a thief and—or so she understood, not that she would try such a thing—an opium pusher, like all the Smithson men.

“I’m sure you did,” replied Cordelia. “You know, Enid, I sometimes I wonder if men like Sir Jeremy and the duke aren’t at least a trifle responsible for the plight of some of our own. Take the Duchess of Murnane for example. One would think she’d be happier now that her brute of a husband has left this world, but no. It’s terribly sad to see her brought so low.” When Enid’s eyes light up, she whispers, “She’s much too fond of laudanum…”

It has never occurred to Enid to worry about the plight of other women, and she does not see any point in doing so now. “I do not see the appeal of laudanum,” she muses. “One feels so out of control, and remembers little of what has happened. Of course, while Murnane was alive, his wife had a reason to absent herself. But now! She is a widow, Cordelia, and doesn’t have to answer to any man. And she is wasting her time stuck out there in the countryside where Murnane put her. I do not understand it.”

“Neither do I,” says Cordelia with a grimace. “Perhaps we should try to take her under our wing so to speak when next she ventures into Town. There’s nothing quite like the thrill of a dalliance to dispel one’s ennui.”

“Indeed,” Enid agrees. “And thank goodness there is little chance of these ridiculous ‘love matches’ ever becoming fashionable!”

afternoonteaCordelia smiles widely. “Yes, bored husbands and rakes will always be my cup of tea.” She casts a glance at her own discarded cup, now cold and pulls a face before turning her attention back to Enid. “I have an invitation to Lord and Lady Beacham’s soiree tomorrow evening. I think I might go in search of more appealing fare there. Something a bit stronger and more full-bodied.” Her smile turns sly. “I’m sure you know what I mean. Perhaps I shall see you there…”

Enid smiles into her own empty cup. “I have an engagement at Lady Uriana’s. I am fairly certain that Wyndale will be there. He and Lady Uriana…” she flaps one hand, knowing that Cordelia will know have heard the same gossip. “The Duke is said to be very… athletic in certain ways.”

Cordelia sighs. “Yes, I believe that to be true. But furthering an acquaintance with His Grace this Yultide season is not to be I am afraid. Rumour has it that he has decamped to the country and has married also. In haste and to one of the Berekely chits. I almost fell off my chair when I heard the news.”

“No, it is not true,” Enid said with authority. “I have it from Lady Uriana herself that the Berkeley girl was marrying an imposter. Uriana says that Stephen will have caught the criminal by now, and will be returning to town immediately. She expects him back in her bed by tomorrow night, though we shall see about that.”

“Heavens. How scandalous,” exclaims Cordelia. “And how impressive is Stephen? If he is at Lord and Lady Beacham’s soiree tomorrow, Lady Uriana might not be the only lady seeking him out.”

Enid’s smile stretches. “Let me just say that Arlington is not the only available rare specimen. What need we care for the Rick Redepennings of the world and their ugly wives when the ton has such banquets of delight as Stephen Huntingdon, Duke of Wyndale, and Jasper Hargreaves, Earl of Arlington? Let us arrange to meet at the soiree and see who can persuade one of them to, er, ‘examine the paintings’, so to speak.”

Cordelia’s amusement seems out of proportion to the joke. There is a story there, Enid is sure. “An excellent plan, my dear friend,” Cordelia says. “It might be the season for marriages, but where there is mistletoe, there is also going to be all sorts of mischief. I’m sure you and I will be able to make plenty.”

**************************

Box setBuy your copy of Mistletoe, Marriage, and Mayhem to find out:

  • the full story of what really happened at the Penrose Ball—and how Tessa Penrose and Lord Arlington fared afterwards in All She Wants for Christmas
  • the real story of the courtship of Rick Redepenning and Mary Pritchard, and how Bosville and Enid attempted to derail it, in Gingerbread Bride.

Most of the other characters Enid and Cordelia gossip about in this piece are also in the box set. Read about:

  • the Stantons in The Ultimate Escape
  • Captain Morledge and the Beachams in Under the Mistletoe
  • Jeremy Smithson in ‘Tis Her Season
  • the Duchess of Murnane in A Dangerous Nativity
  • the Duke of Wyndale (with mention of Lady Uriana) in Joy to the World.

And don’t miss our Facebook launch party on 1 November!

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Secrets, passion, and a nasty villain or two

Cover_LadyBeauchampsProposalLady Beauchamp’s Proposal, by Amy Rose Bennett, had me from the first page. The author beautifully captures Beth’s desperate courage, and when her sleazy husband enters (on the next page) the atmosphere ratchets up another notch.

Elizabeth is the neglected and ignored wife of the dissolute Lord Beauchamp. When she escaped from him before he can infect her with syphilis, she runs as far as she can, applying for a job as governess in a remote castle in Scotland. There, she meets James, the Marquess of Rothsburgh, and the attraction between them is immediate.

Both James and Beth are decent people, tormented by the events of their pasts, guilty about their growing attraction, and troubled by self-doubt. It isn’t hard to care about what happens to them. As the author turns up the heat on their sensual awareness of one another, we want them to be together despite the fact that Beth is still married.

In those days marriage really was till death. That Beth’s husband is a selfish, hedonistic rat oozing a particularly nasty infection doesn’t change his legal rights to insist on keeping his wife. Beth and James can’t see any path to a happy ending except to wait, perhaps for years, and the last chapters turn the gothic screws tighter still, with Beth facing something worse than she can imagine (no spoilers – you’ll have to read it for yourself).

I loved this book, and I found the ending very satisfying.

I have two tiny niggles.

One is the speed of the ending – ten months passes between the end of one chapter and the end of the book. It worked, but it seemed rushed to me. I’d have at least liked to see a scene played out between Beth and the two sleazes, where they make their threats to her, rather than just hear about them later when she is thinking over what they said.

The other is a continuity problem; early in the book, we’re told that Beth heard about the governess job a month before the day she arrives at the castle. The person she hears talking about the job mentions that the Marquis is a recent widower. More than a fortnight after she arrives – so close to seven weeks after someone in London mentioned the death, the Marquis tells Beth his wife has been dead for eight weeks. So how did the news arrive in London so fast?

As I say; tiny.

I still loved the book. I recommend it, and I’ll be looking forward to seeing more from Amy Rose Bennett.

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