‘Lady Catherine, the Earl, and the Real Downton Abbey’ by Fiona, Countess of Carnarvon

fcoc lcteatrdaSTORY: Highclere Castle has a new resident, the daughter-in-law of Lady Almina, an American beauty from New York and a descendant of famous American families.

Catherine Wendell first met Lord Porchester (Porchey), son of Lady Almina, the heir to Highclere and 6th Earl of Carnarvon, in Gibraltar. At just 19 and utterly entrancing, she had already received many proposals of marriage and immediately caught 24-year-old Porchey’s discerning eye.

They married in 1922, and after the unexpected death of Almina’s husband, the 5th Earl of Carnarvon, they moved into Highclere Castle. Beset by death duties and money problems, the Earl and Countess were unsure they could keep Highclere. Thanks to the sale of the decade at Christies Auction House, hundreds of cherished paintings went under the hammer, from a Leonardo da Vinci to works by Reynolds, Gainsborough, and Romney. Porchey even sold the famous family pearls. By 1926 Catherine and Porchey knew they could stay.

Over the next few years, the young couple entertained at Highclere, sharing it with other royalty and friends from London society. Catherine was much loved by the staff and adored by her husband and two young children. Although Almina still occasionally came to stay, Catherine’s own American mother, Mrs. Jacob Wendell, was the most regular visitor.

By 1936, Catherine and Porchey’s marriage had become increasingly troubled. Devastated, Catherine bravely unraveled her marriage. Porchey hastily traveled to New York to marry his new lover, who, however, ran off the night before the wedding with a Hollywood mogul.

Now in London with her children, Catherine fell in love with a handsome and charming man, whom she married in 1938. Porchey continued at Highclere, having to find new staff (the old staff accompanied Catherine to London) and marrying the famous Austrian actress Tilly Losch on the day war broke out in 1939. Catherine’s husband joined the navy while Porchey’s new wife quickly left for America.

Highclere Castle was turned into a home for evacuee children as well as lodging for soldiers. Porchey joined the war effort as an army adjutant (later a liaison officer) and was commended by the Americans stationed near Highclere. Catherine and Porchey’s son Henry also joined the war in 1943. Like other wives and mothers, Catherine endured the unbearable stress of waiting for news of two beloved people in her life.

Using copious materials – including diaries and scrapbooks – from the castle’s archive, the Countess of Carnarvon brings alive a very modern story in a beautiful and famous setting, paying particular attention not just to the goings on upstairs, but also to the butler footmen and other staff whose lives downstairs kept the Castle moving forward into the twentieth century.

REVIEW: This book has been touted as the story of the “real” Downton Abbey, but as someone who has not been a big fan of the series, I found the book to be just a wonderful history of Highclere Castle which is the setting for the PBS series, “Downton Abbey.”

The biography starts off when the lovely American, Catherine Wendell, marries Lady Almina’s son, Lord Porchester, the 6th Earl of Carnarvon.  It follows them through the ups and downs of their marriage, and the births of their children, in addition to the stories of the lives of their family members.  The descriptions of the opulence of Highclere Castle, plus the social life of the upper class are very detailed to show all of its elegance.  

As the story continues, we see how Britain gets into World War II and with the financial and social changes of the outcome of the War that affected everyone.  The War is described in a very engrossing way and I felt that I learned even more about the battles that I’ve known before.  I cannot say that this book was boring in any sense of the word.

The story ends with Fiona, the current Countess of Carnarvon, who is married to Geordie, the 8th Earl of Carnarvon.  She is also the author of this biography and did a magnificent job of researching and writing the book.

I thoroughly enjoyed reading all about this amazing time in Britain and am now very eager to visit Highclere Castle which I’m sure other readers will want to do as well.

 *Connie for b2b

*Book provided by my local library.

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‘Princess Ever After’ by Rachel Hauck

rh peaSTORY: Regina Beswick never dreamed of faraway places. She’s happy with her life as a classic car mechanic and owner of a restoration shop.
But an unexpected visitor and the discovery of a fairytale, drawn by her great-grandma, causes Regina to wonder if she might be destined for something more.

Tanner Burkhardt, Minister of Culture for the Grand Duchy of Hessenberg, must convince the strong-willed Southerner, Miss Beswick, that she is his country’s long-lost princess. Failure could destroy his reputation and change his nation forever.

As Regina and Tanner face the challenges before them, neither are prepared for love to invade their hearts and change every thing they believe about themselves.

However, when a royal opponent nearly destroys Regina’s future, she must lean into God and trust He has sovereignly brought her to her true and final destiny

REVIEW: Regina (Reggie) Beswick is the proud owner of an auto restoration shop specializing in classic cars.  Although she worked as a CPA for a several years, she was happiest when working on old cars.  Therefore, she left the corporate world and embraced her car passion.

One day she is approached by Tanner Burkhardt who works as the Minister of Culture from the Grand Duchy of Hessenberg and is told that she is now the princess and heiress to the throne of Hessenberg.  It appears that her great-grandmother, Princess Alice, had to flee Hessenberg many years ago as war was breaking out and Reggie was found to be her descendent.  No one in the family knew of her background.  As a gal born and raised in the town of Tallahassee, Florida, Reggie is, of course, very skeptical of the business and, at first, doesn’t believe Tanner.  However, when she finally looks through some documents that he gives her plus a box of things that had belonged to her Gram, she begins to believe there might be some truth to it.  However, she is very reluctant to leave her life behind in the U.S. and move to Hessenberg to become its ruler.  She finally agrees to go with Tanner to see what all is involved, yet still unsure of her commitment.

When she arrives, she is awed by the beautiful home that will become hers and sets out to try and meet the people of Hessenberg.  While there are some who support her, most are opposed as they have been inflamed by Seamus Fitzsimmons who in incensed that a – meh –American would become their new ruler.  There are missing bonds that would give proof that Reggie is indeed the new ruler if only they could be found.

In the meantime, Tanner is faced with some family obligations of his own – the sole care of his twin daughters.  With the help of Reggie and their budding romance, life is looking good for them and for Reggie to stay in Hessenberg.

This was a clever story in many ways.  However, I did grit my teeth when Reggie continued to ask like a “hick from the sticks.”  Good grief!  No wonder Americans aren’t liked!  I think that had the author portrayed her as more of a lady, the story would have been a bit more palatable and believable.

*Connie for b2b.

*ARC  provided by LitFuse Publicity Group. 

‘Fool Me Twice’ by Meredith Duran

md fmtSTORY: Sensible and lonely, Olivia Mather survives by her wits—and her strict policy of avoiding trouble. But when she realizes that the Duke of Marwick might hold the secrets of her family’s past, she does the unthinkable, infiltrating his household as a maid. She’ll clean his study and rifle through his papers looking for information.

Alastair de Grey has a single reason to live: vengeance. More beautiful than Lucifer, twice as feared, and thrice as cunning, he’ll use any weapon to punish those who fooled and betrayed him—even an impertinent maid who doesn’t know her place. But the more fascinated he becomes with the uppity redhead, the more dangerous his carefully designed plot becomes. For the one contingency he forgot to plan for was falling in love…and he cannot survive being fooled again.

REVIEW: Olivia is a young woman on a mission to find a job inside the home of the Alistair, the Duke of Marwick. Answering an ad for the position of a maid, she is delighted to find herself hired as the housekeeper. Alistair has become a virtual hermit since the death of his wife from a drug overdose. He has also discovered that government secrets he had been charged with keeping were passed on by her to others. Thus, he has been dismissed from his government position and ostracized by his friends. In addition, he has not left his bedroom for a long time. He has turned into an angry, unkempt and downright mean man.

When Olivia meets him, she is appalled at his appearance and uses every bit of her strong ways to get him to allow her to help him clean up his physical looks, his correspondence and get his home back in order. His servants have not kept the house clean and Olivia is faced with a job to get things clean and running smoothly. The relationship between Alistair and Olivia is tenuous at best but they slowly get to know one another better.

I think that since Alistair had been betrayed by his wife, he has a hard time allowing himself to respect women in general. But Olivia is a strong and stubborn woman so they are equally matched. For me, trying to figure out the reason Olivia chose to go to work there in the first place was confusing. However, there is a mystery of sorts which does not reveal itself until later in the novel. I feel that the lack of more explanation about this is the reason I gave the book a lesser grade. The growing attraction and mutual respect between them does make for a sweet and memorable love story.

*Connie for b2b.

*ARC provided by the publisher through NetGalley.

Spotlight on Mary Balogh and …

The Web Series

mb tgw‘The Gilded Web’

STORY: All she wanted was to escape the hot, crowded London ballroom. But moments after stepping into the bitterly cold night, she is seized by a pair of strong hands and spirited away. Fully expecting to be ravished, sheltered Alexandra Purnell instead finds herself at the mercy of the man who saved her from certain scandal.

Edmund, Earl of Amberley, is bold and sensual, tempting Alexandra to be reckless for the first time in her life. But as passion ignites, Edmund’s offer of marriage takes Alexandra completely by surprise. Now a woman who craves her freedom above all else is about to discover how far one man will go to protect and possess the woman he loves.

REVIEW: I am a huge fan of Mary Balogh and I can safely say that she’s one of my all time favorite authors. She just has this incredible talent of sucking me into the story so deeply that I have a hard time coming up for air.

The Web series had been published awhile back, and it has been on my TBR forever, so it was time I dived in.

After many stories that featured funny, likeable and charming characters that I enjoy reading about, I was ready for some unique, intriguing and complex heroes and heroines to sink my teeth into, and let me tell you, Mary Balogh delivers on all the above in spades.

The first story is Edmunds who is the Earl of Amberley; second one is  one of the twins’ Lord Eden’s, and the third is Lady Madeline’s.

As the eldest and the head of the family, Edmund shoulders a lot, and has been since he inherited the title at nineteen after his father’s unexpected death. He is wise, loving and patient, as well as respectful and caring son and brother. He is brought up in a loving home, by caring parents who were not afraid to foster love in their children, as well as free thinking.

Quite by accident and brought on by his brother, who had best intentions and yet the worst timing, Edmund finds himself in the inconvenient circumstances that require him to offer marriage to our heroine. 

This story is without a doubt character driven and I loved it!

To watch the heroine as she slowly, and I mean very slowly, comes to think for herself and not blindly trust and follow her pious and domineering father was something to behold. I know that many might not have enjoyed her character much just because of that, but I thought it fascinating. The confusion, the  battle within this woman of what her deep, inner self desires and the love for her parents despite their lack of the same for her, was heartbreaking and painful to go through with her.

If you like conflict and struggle of any kind in your love stories, this is a book that will give it to you. It is not a book for the faint of heart, impatient and those that need a quick fix of ‘sugar & spice, and everything nice’.

I have deep respect and appreciation for all authors who take the risk and put their characters through an extreme, just to see how they’ll come out of it. Well played Ms. Balogh, well-played.

mb wol‘Web of Love’

STORY: He’d served with her husband on the battlefield—and secretly desired her for years. Yet for Dominic, Lieutenant Lord Eden, Ellen Simpson has remained tantalizingly out of reach—until she is widowed by the war. Suddenly pursued by the dangerously handsome nobleman, Ellen is stunned by the depth of attraction he arouses in her.

Soon their friendship flames into something deeper…and as scandal ignites, marriage seems the only solution. But Ellen has a secret—one she can share with no one—that prevents her from fully opening her heart to Dominic. Until he devises his own plan for the ultimate consummation of their passion—and the woman he is determined to possess at any cost…

REVIEW: In this second book of her Web series, Ms. Balogh tackles the story of Dominic, Lord Eden, Edmund’s mischievous, charming, and care-free brother.

Let me say this before I go into the reasons behind loving this book most out of the Web Trilogy.

As some series go, you are able to read them out of order and most of the time they can well stand on their own, but I found that this particular series is not one of them and I know for certain that my enjoyment would have been thwarted if I hadn’t read these stories in order.

In the first book we met Dominic as a young man full of mischief, willing to fall in love at a drop of a hat, filled with dreams of joining the fray of an imminent war with Napoleon. In this book we watch him as he finally finds his true heart’s desire and is faced with brutality and reality of the war.

For the first time we meet Ellen, a married, very strong, smart and courageous young woman that Dom met a few years ago in Spain. She loves her older husband who is Dom’s superior and his mentor. The three of them are close friends and it never even occurred to either Ellen or Dom that they would ever end up being lovers. She deeply respects and loves her husband and is wholly devoted to him and their marriage.

As this story opens, we welcome back Alex and Edmund as they arrive with his sister Madeline, Dom’s twin, into Brussels in support of their sibling who they haven’t seen in three years.

And here is where the story gets interesting for me. I loved the setting [think War and Piece movie with Audrey Hepburn!] and Ms. Balogh did an outstanding job in bringing to me this world of uncertainty, bravery and agony that surrounded our maine and secondary characters.

And speaking of those, I can’t even begin to tell you how much I loved those, from Jennifer, Ellen’s teenage step-daughter to Lieutenant Allan Penworth, a man who becomes very dear to Madeline; I loved Charlie Simpson, Ellen’s husband so much that I mourned him almost as much as Ellen and Dom did.

But what came through the most in this story was the way Ms. Balogh clearly showed her readers that great love can strike twice in a lifetime, and how hard it is to understand and accept that fact. That part touched me deeply personally.

I’m so glad I finally got to this series off my TBR!

mb tdw‘The Devil’s Web’

STORY: The last time Madeline Raine had seen James Purnell, she had been but a chit of a girl, and at his mercy. Purnell had held her helpless in his arms – but protectively above the abyss of her own dangerous hunger for him.

He had left her then, not taking her innocence but taking her heart, as he vanished from England. Since then Madeline had reigned as society’s most dazzling and heartless beauty, making all men pay for one man’s rebuff of her.

Now James was back, more handsome and arrogant than ever. And Madeline steeled herself not to fall under his spell again. But she soon discovered that the melting power of passion ignited by love would not easily die…

REVIEW: If you’ve not read the first two books, especially the first one, ‘The Gilded Web’, I guarantee you that you will not understand our couple’s past, present and future behavior. It really is imperative you at least read book one.

In this book we watch Madeline, sister of Edmund and Dominic, mature, yet when it comes to planning and mapping out her future, she hasn’t changed a bit. She is still kept back with her conflicting feelings toward James and is hurling herself from one plan to another, only to find out that she must face the reality of loving a man who will certainly drag her into darkness with him.

Talk about a man, James Purnell, brother of Alexandra and Edmund’s wife from ‘Gilded Web’, who is torn by the past and his feelings of unworthiness when it comes to his future.

This is the third and last story of the Web Series and if it was the hardest to read for me, I wonder if it was as hard to write for Ms. Balogh.

If you’re not into dark and complex characters, then this story will be wasted on you. But if you can appreciate the intricacies of a very complex relationship between James and Madeline, you will be rewarded tenfold with a story of deep, true, abiding and long lasting love that had to go through many trials in order to blossom.

I loved all three stories and Ms. Balogh’s writing is as strong as ever. The depth of the characters that she writes about is one that I will always appreciate. If you’ve never read this author, these may not be the books to start you on her wonderful writing, but once you do, please don’t miss out on these unique, complex and very interesting characters.

It comes as no surprise to me that she succeeded yet again in creating three romance stories that touched my heart. She weaved these with a historical event that helped the plot and shaped the characters that I was deeply touched by, and will stay with me forever. I highly recommend all three of these engrossing and wonderful stories.

*Melanie for b2b.

*Books provided by my local used book store.

‘Sinfully Yours’ by Cara Elliot

ce sySTORY: After an eventful Season, Anna Sloane longs for some peace and quiet to pursue her writing. Though her plots might be full of harrowing adventure and heated passion, she’d much prefer to leave such exploits on the page rather than experience them in real life. Or so she thinks until she encounters the darkly dissolute-and gorgeously charming-Marquess of Davenport.

Davenport has a reputation as a notorious rake whose only forte is wanton seduction. However the real reason he’s a guest at the same remote Scottish castle has nothing to do with Anna . . . until a series of mysterious threats leave him no choice but to turn to her for help in stopping a dangerous conspiracy. As desire erupts between them, Davenport soon learns he’s not the only one using a carefully crafted image to hide his true talents. And he’s more than ready to show Anna that sometimes reality can be even better than her wildest imaginings . . .

REVIEW: “If Olivia’s story is an indication of what is to come in the next two books, I’m chomping at a bit to read them … like…YESTERDAY!”, and that is a direct quote at the end of my review of ‘Scandalously Yours’, which was book one in this series.

Hellions of High Street is about three unconventional sisters that are poorer than a church mouse, but they all have one thing in common, their equally unconventional secret nom de plume identities. Now that the oldest sibling Olivia is married to the wealthy Earl of Wrexham, Ms. Elliott takes us on an adventure to Scotland and Anna’s happily ever after.

We met both Anna and Devlin in the first book, but since both of these characters were on the prowl for ‘rich’ spouses, I was looking forward to finding out how would Ms. Elliott solve that ‘little problem’ and bring them together.

Let me tell you, she doesn’t disappoints as she takes the advantage of growing attraction between them, then dials it up a notch as that turns into the physical attraction and ends up with an emotional bond we were glad to be a part of.

Now that Anna isn’t required to marry into money, she throws herself into her writing, and research of ‘Sir Sharpe Quill’ novel. The trip into Scotland comes as a welcome respite from her growing attraction to Devlin and she’s hoping that the distance will help her regain some prospective where he’s concerned.

Devlin, Marquess of Davenport, on the other hand, is busy replenishing the bare coffers of his estate and he’s dabbling in more than one enterprise to do just that. One of those is offering him a trip to Scotland, which he’s more than glad to undertake as he’s having a hard time keeping his hands off the beautiful Anna.

Well, by now you get the picture. Both Anna and Devlin are surprised to see that destiny has plans of her own for them as they realize that running from their feelings and each other, is not something either really wants to do.

When it comes to writing intriguing plots, Ms. Elliott always delivers. We are on pins and needles as our hero and heroine battle it out with the bad guys and themselves as well.

Everything in this story flows well. The writing is good, plot interesting and entertaining, the characters well-developed and likable with love scenes sensual and hot.

I am really enjoying this series and am in the middle of reading Caro’s story now! Hope you give it a try.

*Melanie for b2b

*Book provided by the publisher through Netgalley

‘The Warrior’s Bride’ by Amanda Scott

as twbSTORY: Man On A Mission
Robert MacAulay, heir to the influential Baron of Ardincaple, will risk everything to help his father and his clan. But when Rob becomes involved in a legal tempest stirred by an irresistibly maddening lady, his mission is threatened before it begins . . .

Reckless Lady

Lady Muriella MacFarlan is impulsive, mercurial, and sometimes illogical. She is a spinner, not just of yarns and threads but also of stories. She can gild the lily or tell a half-truth. When her active imagination lands her in the suds, she’s forced to turn to the ever truthful and blunt-spoken Rob for help. Their destinies now entwined, Rob and Muriella may discover that love is one truth that cannot be denied . . .

REVIEW: ‘The Warrior’s Bride’ is the third book in Ms. Scott’s Lairds of the Loch series and it’s Lady Muriella ‘Murie’ MacFarlan’s story. She is youngest daughter of Andrew MacFarlan, and a woman like her sisters, blessed with a ‘gift’ of her own.

Once more I find myself taken back in time of King James I, and an intricate story expertly weaving facts of history with fiction so close to it, that I’m buried deep within its threads.

Once more Ms. Scotts Scottish Highlands and Highlanders come to life with such vivid detail that I find myself hard pressed to leave them and face my 21st Century…

I adored this young woman who had big dreams for herself in a time in which not many dared to dream. 

As for the hero, Robert MacAulay, our heroine couldn’t find a more perfect match if she tried! Rob was a perfect Yin to her Yang [or is it the other way around? I never know with these yangs!] and the saying that ‘opposites attract’ was never truer than with these two.

As I find myself reluctantly saying goodbye to The Lairds of the Loch trilogy, I’m also making sure to load up my Kindle with the first book, which I missed and am glad that I’ll be staying in the world of these strong men and women for just a bit longer.

*Melanie for b2b

*Book provided by the publisher through NetGalley

‘True to the Highlander’ by Barbara Longley

bl ttthSTORY: Treachery rules the Highlands of 1423. With their king captured by the English, Scottish nobles plot to ransom James behind the back of the brutal regent holding their land in his iron grip. But not every clan wishes to see King James back on his throne…

Sitting atop this powder keg of bloodthirsty rivalries, Malcolm of clan MacKintosh takes the mysterious, lone maiden he finds along his road as a bad omen…though an undeniably beautiful one. When he attempts to save her from a rogue within his own garrison, she deftly brings Malcolm to his knees. Who is this willful lass who has so quickly laid siege to his heart?

Alethia Goodsky has met all kinds working at the New York Renaissance Festival, but no one like the fortune-teller who tasks her with a cryptic life-saving mission and flings her into the fifteenth century. Now Alethia must rely on her wits to unravel the mystery in this violent land. Malcolm has sworn to protect her, but her gifts may soon make her his protector. With enemies closing in, Alethia must choose between finding a way home…and remaining true to her Highlander.

REVIEW: New York- Present Day

Alethia Goodsky has the gift of being able to read people…. knowing if they tell the truth or lie. She’s working at a Renaissance Festival and feels like the fortune-teller is always watching her. She always tries to give her a wide berth but one day finds herself walking past the tent and getting invited in. Madame Giselle gives her a pendant with a crane on it which takes her by surprise because her father’s people, the Anishinaabe, belong to the Crane clan. Another surprise is that the pendant was crafted long ago in Scotland. Her mother had Scottish ancestry. She had been a MacConnell. Giselle tells her she has deeper gifts than she realizes. Alethia had lost both her parents at a young age and her grandmother raised her. As she goes to leave the tent she finds herself flung into the past.

Northern Scotland – 1423

Malcolm MacKintosh is heading to his father with an important missive when he finds Alethia passed out cold on the ground. He and his men are wondering who she is and why she’s there, alone. They clearly think she’s highborn because of her clothing and jewelry. She comes to, he snatches her from the ground and puts her on his horse and refuses to go back for her bag which was a huge mistake. Malcolm cannot know why her belongings mean so much to her, especially her violin. She uses her self-defense tactics and presses on his neck putting him to sleep. She jumps from the horse and runs. He comes to and goes after her, finding one of the men who was with his group, a Hugh Fraser, circling her. He makes Hugh leave which angers Hugh. Malcolm thinks him a spy for the Red Comyn and knows him to be cruel, spiteful, and perverse. They’ve made an enemy.

These two…. they keep me laughing! Alethia is a spitfire. Malcolm is entranced by her and loves her spunk even though at times he surely could find himself pulling his hair out. She wins the love of his people and her sight will save his clan. Their way will be full of deadly threats but the love they share will see them through.

This is the first book I’ve read by Barbara Longley and as soon as I finished reading this I bought HEART OF THE DRUID LAIRD. I find myself anxious for book 2 in the Loch Moigh series, THE HIGHLANDER’S BARGAIN.

*Leah for b2b

*Book provided by the publisher through NetGalley