Don’t Tempt Me (Fallen Women #2) by Loretta Chase (audiobook) – Narrated by Kate Reading

Don't Tempt Me

Scandal! Gossip!

When kidnapped English heiress Zoe Lexham daringly escapes from captivity, her problems have only begun. After 12 years in a harem, she knows far more about erotic practices than how to conduct a proper conversation in civilized parlors.

Her reception from London society’s ladies is arctic; the proposals from their husbands and brothers exceedingly warm; and her loving, but overwhelmed, aristocratic family fear she’ll be an outcast forever – unless someone can launch her to success (and a good marriage)!

Enter Lucien de Grey, the Duke of Marchmont. Lucien is no knight in shining armor; he’s cynical, easily bored, dangerous to women, and utterly indifferent to popular opinion. But good looks, combined with money and title, make him welcome everywhere. The most popular bachelor in the Beau Monde can easily save Zoe’s risqué reputation, if he can prevent the chemistry between them from getting so out of hand…so often…and so deliciously!

Rating: Narration – A+; Content – B

Wonderful as it is to have another new-to-audio story from the terrific team of Loretta Chase and Kate Reading, I’m a little bit sad, too, as Don’t Tempt Me and Your Scandalous Ways complete the set of recordings of Ms Chase’s backlist titles. In case someone with clout is reading this, I’m sure fans won’t object to recordings of the novellas – The Mad Earl’s Bride would be at the top of MY list! But in the meantime, we have a number of terrific recordings to listen to while we wait for something new : )

Don’t Tempt Me tells the story of a young woman, Zoe Octavia Lexham, who, at the age of twelve was abducted while on a trip to Egypt with her parents. Over the past dozen years, there have been many women turning up on Lord Lexham’s doorstep claiming to be his missing daughter, but all have been frauds. Until now. The real Zoe has at last managed to escape from her captivity and has made her way home with the assistance of the British Consulate – and her family is now faced with the prospect of re-integrating her into society and acclimating her to the position that is her due as the daughter of a peer of the realm.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

Magnate (Knickerbocker Club #1) by Joanna Shupe

Magnate

This title may be purchased from Amazon.

Born in the slums of Five Points, Emmett Cavanaugh climbed his way to the top of a booming steel empire and now holds court in an opulent Fifth Avenue mansion. His rise in stations, however, has done little to elevate his taste in women. He loathes the city’s “high society” types, but a rebellious and beautiful blue-blood just might change all that.

Elizabeth Sloane’s mind is filled with more than the latest parlor room gossip. Lizzie can play the Stock Exchange as deftly as New York’s most accomplished brokers—but she needs a man to put her skills to use. Emmett reluctantly agrees when the stunning socialite asks him to back her trades and split the profits. But love and business make strange bedfellows, and as their fragile partnership begins to crack, they’ll discover a passion more frenzied than the trading room floor…

Rating:B+

I read and enjoyed Joanna Shupe’s first historical romance, The Courtesan Duchess, and in my review, said that while it wasn’t without flaws, it was one of the strongest débuts I’d read in a while. I read or listened to the two books that followed it (The Harlot Countess and The Lady Hellion, and while I think the first is the strongest, I nonetheless had marked Ms Shupe as an author I’d be keen to read again.

For her new Knickerbocker Club series, she has shifted her focus from the rarefied atmosphere of the English ton in the Regency period to the equally exclusive high-society of late 1880s New York, where the social rules and customs were just as restrictive as anything to be found across the Pond. Known as the Gilded Age, this is a time of rapid scientific and industrial progress; the economy is booming, the rich are incredibly rich and getting richer – although just like in Britain, there is still a huge amount of social injustice and a massive gap between the rich and the poor.

Elizabeth Sloane and her brother William are real blue-bloods whose ancestry can be traced back to the earliest settlers. Yet, as was often the case in England, too, while their lineage is impeccable, their finances are not. The siblings are orphans and William runs their family business, the Northeast Railroad Company. Elizabeth has of late begun to suspect that William is keeping something from her and that all is not well, but being rather a typical male of the period, he dismisses her concerns and, not in so many words, tells her not to worry her pretty little head about it. Given that attitude, it’s not surprising that William refuses point-blank even to consider Elizabeth’s going into business herself. It’s not at all the done thing for a well-bred lady, and he is adamant that she is not going to risk her reputation in such a manner. But Lizzie is just as strong-willed as her brother, and decides that, if he will not back the investment firm she wants to start, then she will ask someone else. Knowing of William’s friendship with a number of powerful businessmen, she decides to seek out one of them – wealthy industrialist and steel magnate Emmett Cavanaugh – with the intention of obtaining his financial backing for her scheme.

Cavanaugh most definitely comes from the wrong side of the tracks. Born in the New York slums, he has clawed his way up by fair means and foul to become one of the most feared and respected businessmen in the city. But the unexpected visit by one of New York’s most pampered princesses throws him somewhat, especially when she makes her pitch and asks him to help her to set up her brokerage business. In spite of himself, Emmett is intrigued and, seeing the chance to get one over on her brother – whom he dislikes intensely – offers her a deal.

You can read the rest of this review at All About Romance.

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‘Til Death Do Us Part by Amanda Quick

til death do us part red

This title is available to purchase from Amazon.

Calista Langley operates an exclusive ‘introduction; agency in Victorian London, catering to respectable ladies and gentlemen who find themselves alone in the world. But now, a dangerously obsessed individual has begun sending her trinkets and gifts suitable only for those in deepest mourning – a black mirror, a funeral wreath, a ring set with black jet stone. Each is engraved with her initials.

Desperate for help and fearing that the police will be of no assistance, Calista turns to Trent Hastings, a reclusive author of popular crime novels. Believing that Calista may be taking advantage of his lonely sister, who has become one of her clients, Trent doesn’t trust her. Scarred by his past, he’s learned to keep his emotions at bay, even as an instant attraction threatens his resolve.

But as Trent and Calista comb through files of rejected clients in hopes of identifying her tormentor, it becomes clear that the danger may be coming from Calista’s own secret past – and that only her death will satisfy the stalker…

Rating:B-

Amanda Quick’s latest historical mystery is sure to please her many fans, but I’m rather glad she doesn’t publish more than one novel a year as there’s no denying that her books are formulaic. If you enjoy the formula, then they will no doubt work for you and if you don’t… well, you’ll probably have worked that out by now and be reading something else!

I’ve not read a vast number of her books, but I’ve read the last few, and while I’ve enjoyed them, I can’t say that they were especially memorable. In each case, we have a heroine who lives, for some reason, on the fringes of society, but who is clever, determined and independent of spirit – and, in the case of the virgins, sexually curious. The heroes are fiercely intelligent, sometimes reclusive, and almost always haunted by some event in their pasts. Our heroine in ’Til Death Us Do Part is Calista Langley, who lives with her younger brother in the house left them by their grandmother. Unfortunately, however, the grand house didn’t come with the income necessary for its upkeep, so Calista had to devise a discreet way of making money, because of course, a young lady couldn’t possibly go into trade. With the house their only asset, she hit upon the idea of holding regular salons as a way of introducing single men and women who are looking for friendship or a like-minded companion – and perhaps, romance.

The introductions business is successful, providing Calista and her brother – who helps her by investigating her potential clients to make sure there are no fortune hunters or bad eggs trying to sign up – with a decent living. A year earlier, Calista herself had almost become engaged to a handsome young man by the name of Nestor Kettering, who mistakenly believed her to be a wealthy heiress. On discovering she wasn’t, he promptly left her and married a real heiress – but now, a year later, wants to rekindle his relationship with Calista, who wants nothing to do with him.

To make matters worse, Calista has begun to receive some most unwelcome and rather macabre gifts. She has no idea who is sending them, but the fact that they are items related to mourning is very unnerving, and worse, the most recent item was placed in her bedroom, which naturally makes her feel nervous and somewhat insecure.

She is somewhat unnerved by Kettering’s vehemence, but is saved from further pestering by the arrival of her next potential client, the author of a popular series of detective novels. Trent Hastings is intense, self-possessed and attractive in spite of the scars that mar one side of his jaw and hands – and Calista is strongly drawn to him in a way she never was to her former suitor or has been to any other man. As their acquaintance progresses, she finds herself confiding in him about the funerary items she has been receiving, and soon, the pair join forces in order to discover who is threatening her.

While the novel is certainly formulaic, it’s also peopled with an engaging set of secondary characters; and the author’s incorporation of the various macabre funerary traditions which sprang up in the late Victorian period works very well within the context of the story. Death masks, bells for the insides of coffins, even photographs which posed the dead with the living; the Victorians did death in grisly style and Ms Quick makes the most of her chosen backdrop.

While the story certainly has plenty of twists and turns – which I’m not going to reveal – there is a strange juxtaposition of complexity and simplicity within it. The complexities come as the different angles to the investigation into the identity of Calista’s “stalker” are revealed, and that makes for a satisfying plot; but the various discoveries made by Calista and Trent are just too easily come by, they hardly ever come to a wrong conclusion and then, the identity of the villain comes almost out of the blue in the very last chapters. The romance between Trent and Calista is a bit of a disappointment as it’s very secondary to the mystery plot, although there’s just about enough there for it to be convincing and they are a well-matched couple.

I appreciated the “in-jokes” regarding authorship that Ms Quick inserts through Trent; his male readers aren’t wild about the insertion of a female character in to his latest novel, whereas his female readers are excited at the prospect of a woman helping the hero in his investigations and at a possible romantic involvement. As Trent so clearly recognises, you can’t please all the people all the time, and his wry remarks to the effect that “everyone’s a critic” are nice wink on the part of the author.

I did enjoy the book, and I’m sure Ms Quick’s many fans will do the same. If you’re looking for an historical mystery that isn’t going to make your brain hurt and the formulaic elements I’ve mentioned don’t bother you, then you might want to add this to your TBR. Although, given the retail price, (£7.99 for the ebook in the UK) you might want to wait for a sale or to get it from the library.

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Temptations of a Wallflower (Wicked Quills of London #3) by Eva Leigh

temptations wallflower mm c

This title may be purchased from Amazon.

In society circles she’s known as the Watching Wallflower—shy, quiet, and certainly never scandalous. Yet beneath Lady Sarah Frampton’s demure façade hides the mind of The Lady of Dubious Quality, author of the most titillating erotic fiction the ton has ever seen. Sarah knows discovery would lead to her ruin, but marriage—to a vicar, no less—could help protect her from slander. An especially tempting option when the clergyman in question is the handsome, intriguing Jeremy Cleland.

Tasked with unmasking London’s most scandalous author by his powerful family, Jeremy has no idea that his beautiful, innocent bride is the very woman he seeks to destroy. His mission must remain a secret, even from the new wife who stirs his deepest longings. Yet when the truth comes to light, Sarah and Jeremy’s newfound love will be tested. Will Sarah’s secret identity tear them apart or will the temptations of his wallflower wife prove too wicked to resist?

Rating:B+

Having featured a female newspaper editor (Forever Your Earl) and a female playwright (Scandal Takes the Stage), this final book in Eva Leigh’s Wicked Quills of London, takes as its heroine the author of a number of highly successful erotic novels. Each of the books in this series has explored what it might have been like for women making their way in a man’s world and has taken an insightful look at the everyday prejudices they had to contend with simply because of their sex and their class. And Ms Leigh has wrapped all that up in some deliciously witty and sensual romances, matching each of the heroines with a hero who understands, appreciates and supports her unique talents.

Lady Sarah Frampton may be the daughter of a duke, but she’s firmly on the shelf, having refused numerous offers of marriage from men she knew only wanted her money. Known as “The Watching Wallflower”, she is frequently disparaged by the male members of the ton and has resigned herself to never knowing the sort of passion to be found in the pages of the erotic novels she pens under the pseudonym “A Lady of Dubious Quality.” It’s incredibly risky; should she be exposed, the scandal would ruin her and her entire family – but for Sarah, writing is as essential to her as breathing and something which gives her life meaning. Only when she writes does she feel as though she’s truly the person she’s meant to be, even though it means she has to invent reasons for the amount of writing she does each day and face her mother’s constant disapproval.

We met Jeremy Cleland (and surely, his last name is an homage to John Cleland, author of the infamous Fanny Hill) briefly in the previous book in the series, when he paid a visit to his cousin Cam, Viscount Marwood. Jeremy is the third son of the Earl of Hutton and has therefore been expected to make his own way in life, but only in the profession chosen for him by his autocratic father. As ordered, Jeremy entered the church and now possesses a small living in Devonshire, but of late he has become more and more frustrated with his situation. He doesn’t doubt his calling and enjoys helping people, but he finds village life somewhat limiting. But he is financially dependent on his father and, as he reluctantly admits, still asking “how high?” when the earl tells him to jump.

You can read the rest of this review at All About Romance.

PLUS – You can also find my interview with Ms Leigh at AAR’s blog.

The Professor by Charlotte Brontë (audiobook) – Narrated by James Langton

The Professor audio

This title is available to purchase from Audible via Amazon.

The Professor is Charlotte Brontës first novel, in which she audaciously inhabits the voice and consciousness of a man, William Crimsworth. Like Jane Eyre he is parentless; like Lucy Snowe in Villette he leaves the certainties of England to forge a life in Brussels. But as a man, William has freedom of action, and as a writer Brontë is correspondingly liberated, exploring the relationship between power and sexual desire.

William’s first person narration reveals his attraction to the dominating directress of the girls’ school where he teaches, played out in the school’s ‘secret garden’. Balanced against this is his more temperate relationship with one of his pupils, Frances Henri, in which mastery and submission interplay. The Professor was published only after Charlotte Brontës death; today it gives us a fascinating insight into the first stirrings of her supreme creative imagination.

Rating: Narration – B+; Content – B-

Before I got into romance reading and listening in a big way, my usual literary diet consisted principally of historical fiction and classics, mostly from the 19th century. I don’t listen to so many of the latter these days, but when I realised that 21st April 2016 was the 200th anniversary of the birth of Charlotte Brontë, I thought I’d revisit one of her books in audio and had intended to pick up a copy of Villette. But then I came across a new(ish) version of The Professor, which happens to be the one book of hers I haven’t read, and decided to give that a spin instead. Although it was the author’s first novel, she was unable to find a publisher for it in her lifetime and it wasn’t published until 1857, two years after her death. It’s the only one of her books to take a male character as its central protagonist and narrator, and as such presents an interesting viewpoint; a female writer attempting to write how a man might think and act, which I believe to be quite unusual for the time. The novel has often been dismissed as a “dry run” for the much more successful Villette, and the two books do indeed take their inspiration from Brontë’s experiences as a schoolteacher in Brussels.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

The Player (Rockliffe #3) by Stella Riley (audiobook) – Narrated by Alex Wyndham

The Player audio

This title is available to purchase from Audible via Amazon.

Tragedy drove him into unwilling exile. Death demands his reluctant return. In the decade between, he has answered to many names and amassed a variety of secrets. Now the actor known to Paris as L’Inconnu must resume his real identity and become Francis Adrian Sinclair Devereux, Earl of Sarre…a man he no longer knows how to be and whose name, thanks to the malice of a friend turned enemy, remains tarnished by an old scandal. Revenge, so long avoided, slithers temptingly from the shadows.

Granddaughter of a wealthy wool-merchant, Caroline Maitland is not finding her society debut either easy of enjoyable…but, to Marcus Sheringham, she is the perfect solution to his crushing mountain of debt. Knowing she will be married for her money, Caroline never believed she would find love; but neither did she bargain for a certain charming French highwayman…and a surprising turn of events. The stage is set, the cast assembled, and the Duke of Rockliffe waits for the curtain to rise. In the wings, Lord Sarre prepares to make his entrance. He doesn’t expect to be greeted with applause.

Rating: Narration – A+; Content – A-

Keen-eared listeners may have already worked out the identity of the hero of this, the third book in Stella Riley’s series of Georgian romances. In The Mésalliance, the Duke of Rockliffe mentioned seeing an actor at the Comedie Française in Paris who bore a striking resemblance to one Francis Adrian Sinclair Devereux, Earl of Sarre, who was the subject of a terrible scandal some ten years earlier.

That scandal concerned the death of his fiancée, who fell to her death from a rooftop and whom Adrian was subsequently accused of murdering. A day or two short of his twenty-second birthday and their wedding, distraught at the death of the girl he loved to distraction, Adrian protests his innocence, but all his autocratic father cares about is that there is no way of proving it and he immediately hurries Adrian out of the country to try to mitigate the scandal.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

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TBR CHALLENGE: Her Best Worst Mistake by Sarah Mayberry

Her best worst mistake

This title may be purchased from Amazon.

She thinks he’s stuffy. He thinks she’s spoilt. Then the gloves come off and so do their clothes!

For six years Violet Sutcliffe has known that Martin St Clair is the wrong man for her best friend. He’s stuffy, old before his time, conservative. He drives Violet nuts – and the feeling is entirely mutual. Then, out of nowhere, her friend walks out just weeks before her wedding to Martin, flying to Australia on a mission of self-discovery. Back in London, Violet finds herself feeling sorry for suddenly-single Martin. At least, she tells herself it’s pity she feels. Then he comes calling one dark, stormy night and they discover that beneath their mutual dislike there lies a fiery sexual chemistry.

It’s crazy and all-consuming – and utterly wrong. Because not only are they chalk and cheese, oil and water, but Martin once belonged to her best friend. A friend Violet is terrified of losing. What future can there be for a relationship with so many strikes against it?

Rating:A-

It’s always a bit of a scramble for me to find a contemporary romance for this prompt, because I don’t read them very often and don’t own many. And I like to choose my challenge books from books I already have, as buying something new rather defeats the object of the exercise! Fortunately, I found Sarah Mayberry’s Her Best Worst Mistake among my Kindle books; I know she’s a popular and highly-rated author, so that was it, job done and choice made.

The story is pretty much a classic enemies-to-lovers one, which is a trope I enjoy when it’s done well – and that’s certainly the case here. But even in a relatively small page count (170 pages), the author has done more than simply write a couple that gripes, snipes and then falls into bed with each other; she’s fleshed out both protagonists in such a way that it’s easy to see why these two people who, at first glance, are completely and utterly wrong for each other are actually so perfect together.

Violet Sutcliffe really can’t understand what her best friend Elizabeth sees in Martin St. Clair, the man to whom she’s been engaged for a number of years and is on the verge of marrying. In Violet’s opinion, Martin is old before his time; a stuffy stick-in-the-mud, he’s leeched the life out of Elizabeth, who seems intent on becoming the perfect corporate wife. Violet supposes Martin must make her friend happy on some level, but even after six years, isn’t able to tamp down the strong reactions he evokes in her or curtail her persistent need to provoke him. She tries, for Elizabeth’s sake… but rarely succeeds. Violet is a free spirit, a “wild-child” type who often says and does outrageous things as well as dressing, in Martin’s opinion, like a cheap tart. He’s as antipathetic towards her as she is to him, but plays nice for Elizabeth’s sake, knowing that Violet is like a sister to her.

But with six weeks to go before the wedding, Elizabeth makes a discovery that changes the course of her life. She calls everything off, breaks up with Martin and flies out to Australia in order to find the father she never knew – leaving Violet inwardly cheering at her decision to take charge of her life. But even though Violet has never liked Martin, she can’t help feeling sorry that he was dumped so summarily and maybe feels just a bit guilty for the fact that she’s happy about it; so for reasons she doesn’t really understand, she turns up at his office some weeks later with a peace offering – a bottle of the peach schnapps she’s remembered he particularly likes – wanting to make sure he’s okay.

True to form, they snap and snarl at each other, and Violet storms off (although she leaves the bottle anyway), but it’s only later when he’s back at home that Martin starts to wonder why exactly she brought him that particular drink:

He didn’t usually have a sweet tooth, but when he’d tried schnapps for the first time at a West End bar last year he’d discovered that there was something about the sweetness of the peach and the heat of the alcohol that appealed to his palate.

He lifted the glass to his mouth again, then stilled as it occurred to him that Violet had been there that night, too, lolling against the bar in a purple sparkly dress that had been too short and too tight and too bright.

And when she’d gone looking for a pity gift for him, she’d bought him peach schnapps, out of all the options open to her at the off-license.

Which meant it was either a coincidence… or she’d remembered that night and how much he’d enjoyed the schnapps.

At which point he is suddenly assailed by all sorts of memories of Violet – and realises he’s in trouble. Half drunk on the schnapps, he heads over to her flat and – in a scene little short of a masterclass in how to write sexual tension – demands to know why she bought it for him:

“So? I remembered you liked the peach schnapps. It’s not a big deal.”

“Isn’t it? I remember that you hate escargot. And that you refuse to watch any movie with Kate Beckinsale in it. And that you have every George Michael album ever made.”

She blinked. “Why would you remember all of that?”

“I don’t know. I used to think it was because you annoyed me.” He took a step towards her. “I used to think it was because you were always wearing short skirts and low cut tops and laughing too loud. I used to think it was because your perfume would get in my clothes and stay with me for days afterward, even though I’d barely brushed up against you.”

He took another step toward her and something powerful and undeniable thudded in the pit of her stomach.

“You hate me,” she said staring at him, knowing she should put some distance between them before this became something it shouldn’t.

“Do I?”

One thing leads to another and they end up having hot, explosive sex on the couch. Afterwards, while Martin curses himself for making such a colossal mistake, Violet hides in the bathroom until he leaves, absolutely drowning in guilt for having had sex with her best friend’s ex-fiancé.

The story continues predictably but enjoyably as Violet and Martin try to keep away from each other but fail miserably as the bewildering attraction between them only gets stronger and stronger. The chemistry between them is off the charts and the sex is hot, but there’s more to the book than that. Both Martin and Violet gradually begin to realise what they had believed was dislike was really anything but, and as they spend time together and start getting to know each other properly, what started out as an intense, physical impulse evolves into a real relationship.

Martin turns out not to be Mr. Stuffed-Shirt at all, of course. He’s funny and sexy and decent through and through, and I loved the care and consideration he shows Violet. When he realises that there’s more going on between them than just sex, he isn’t slow to admit it and to want to take things further; and even though he isn’t quite sure how the flamboyant, outgoing Violet is going to fit into his life, he knows he doesn’t want to give her up. He sees past the barriers she erects to protect herself to the hurt, tender person she is underneath, and one of the things I loved about the story is the fact that they’re both willing to compromise to make their relationship work.

In fact, there’s a lot to love about the book, but there is one thing that really bugged me, which is Violet’s inability to tell Elizabeth that she’s in a relationship with Martin. Even when “E” tells her that she’s met someone else (that story is told in the companion book, Hot Island Nights), Violet is still consumed with guilt, and of course, the longer she leaves it, the harder it gets. It’s frustrating to read, but it’s also very much in character; having been kicked out of her family home when she was nineteen, Violet is naturally scared of losing Elizabeth – who is the closest thing she has to a family – as well. And just as importantly, Violet is so caught up in her own deep-seated insecurities – thinking she’s unworthy of friendship, or of love; her fear of fessing up to Elizabeth is a manifestation of her misconceptions about herself as much as it is about guilt.

But in spite of that reservation, Her Best Worst Mistake is a terrific, sexy read that is much more than a simple “opposites-attract-and-have-lots-of-hot-sex” story. Okay, yes, there is plenty of hot sex, but what starts out as a “crazy sex thing” turns into so much more and there’s a strong emotional connection between the central characters. I devoured it in one sitting; it’s short, cute and steamy but doesn’t lack depth or insight, and even if, like me, you don’t read many contemporaries, I’d encourage you to give this one a try.