The Highlander (Victorian Rebels #3) by Kerrigan Byrne (audiobook) – Narrated by Derek Perkins

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They call him the Demon Highlander. The fearsome Lieutenant Colonel Liam MacKenzie is known for his superhuman strength, towering presence, and fiery passion in the heat of battle. As laird to the MacKenzie clan, the undefeated marquess has vanquished his foes with all the rage and wrath of his barbaric Highland ancestors. But when an English governess arrives to care for his children, the master of war finds himself up against his greatest opponent…in the game of love.

Defying all expectations, Miss Philomena is no plain-faced spinster but a ravishing beauty with voluptuous curves and haughty full lips that rattle the laird to his core. Unintimidated by her master’s raw masculinity and savage ways, the headstrong lass manages to tame not only his wild children but the beast in his soul. With each passing day, Liam grows fonder of Miss Mena – and more suspicious. What secret is she hiding behind those emerald eyes? What darkness brought her to his keep? And how can he conquer this magnificent woman’s heart…without surrendering his own?

Rating: Narration – A; Content – B-

The Highlander is the third book in Kerrigan Byrne’s popular Victorian Rebels series, a dark, richly woven tale of a man trying to come to terms with his brutal past and a woman who has been so horribly abused that she has become a shadow of her former self.

The eponymous Highlander of the title is, to give him his full name, Lieutenant Colonel William Grant Ruaridh Mackenzie of the Her Majesty’s Highland Watch, Marquess Ravenscroft and Thane of Clan Mackenzie of Wester Ross. He is also a widower of some ten years with two teenaged children, Rhianna, seventeen, and Andrew, thirteen – and has, after years serving his country, finally decided to settle at home and look after his extensive lands and estates. He’s known to be a brutal man and a fearsome warrior – he isn’t called the ‘Demon Highlander’ for nothing – but he struggles every day to keep that side of him in check. He is the son of a violent man, one who thought to mould his sons in his image by forcing them to violence and sin at a young age. The book’s prologue goes to some dark places as we learn exactly what the previous marquess expected of his sons and how Liam took it upon himself to save them.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

The Perks of Loving a Scoundrel (Seduction Diaries #3) by Jennifer McQuiston

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Every girl dreams of a hero . . .

No one loves books more than Miss Mary Channing. Perhaps that’s why she’s reached the ripe old age of six-and-twenty without ever being kissed. Her future may be as bland as milk toast, but Mary is content to simply dream about the heroes and adventures she reads about in her books. That way she won’t end up with a villain instead.

But sometimes only a scoundrel will do.

When she unexpectedly finds herself in the arms of Geoffrey Westmore, London’s most notorious scoundrel, it feels a bit like a plot from one of her favorite novels. Suddenly, Mary understands why even the smartest heroines can fall prey to a handsome face. And Westmore is more handsome than most. But far worse than the damage to her reputation, the moment’s indiscretion uncovers an assassination plot that reaches to the highest levels of society and threatens the course of the entire country.

When a tight-laced miss and a scoundrel of epic proportions put their minds together, nothing can stand in their way. But unless they put their hearts together as well, a happy ending is anything but assured.

Rating: B

The Perks of Loving a Scoundrel is your basic rake-meets-wallflower story, and while that’s a very oft-used trope, Jennifer McQuiston has done an excellent job of creating a readable, light-hearted romp that has just enough depth to keep it from feeling insubstantial.  There’s an element of mystery to the story, too, which is well played-out and which doesn’t get in the way of the progression of the romance or detract from it.

Readers of the first book in this series, Diary of an Accidental Wallflower, will probably remember the heroine’s younger brother, Geoffrey Westmore, as a teenage terror; forever getting into scrapes, playing practical jokes and generally causing mayhem.  Around a decade later, with university and a short stint in the Navy (during which time he saw active service in the Crimea), behind him, not very much has changed.  Geoffrey – or West, as he now prefers to be known – is still a hellraiser although the nature of some of his exploits has changed somewhat, as the eagerness displayed by half the ladies in theton to leap into his bed will testify.  That’s not to say he’s lost the taste for playing practical jokes, though.  Many of those are as legendary as his reputation with women, with the result that there is a two-inch thick file with his name on it in the office of the local constable

From that description, West sounds an absolute fright and the sort of “hero” one might not want to touch with the proverbial ten-foot-pole.  Fortunately however, for all his inappropriate behaviour, he’s a loveable rogue; there is something endearing about him which saves him from coming across as a complete arsehole, and, as soon becomes clear, there is more substance beneath those rakehell ways than it would at first seem.

Miss Mary Channing (sister of Patrick Channing, hero of Moonlight on My Mind) has left her Yorkshire home and travelled to London to be with her very pregnant twin sister in the final months of her confinement.  Mary is quiet and self-effacing, much preferring to immerse herself in the romance and adventure she finds in her favourite books than to get out there and live her own life.  To be fair, she has some reason for her caution, having lost both her eldest brother and father to violent deaths and almost having lost Patrick when he was accused of murder.  But she has become extremely introverted over the years and has, as her sister remarks “lost her spark.”

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

Do You Want to Start a Scandal? by Tessa Dare

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On the night of the Parkhurst ball, someone had a scandalous tryst in the library.

Was it Lord Canby, with the maid, on the divan? Or Miss Fairchild, with a rake, against the wall? Perhaps the butler did it.

All Charlotte Highwood knows is this: it wasn’t her. But rumors to the contrary are buzzing. Unless she can discover the lovers’ true identity, she’ll be forced to marry Piers Brandon, Lord Granville–the coldest, most arrogantly handsome gentleman she’s ever had the misfortune to embrace. When it comes to emotion, the man hasn’t got a clue.

But as they set about finding the mystery lovers, Piers reveals a few secrets of his own. The oh-so-proper marquess can pick locks, land punches, tease with sly wit . . . and melt a woman’s knees with a single kiss. The only thing he guards more fiercely than Charlotte’s safety is the truth about his dark past.

Their passion is intense. The danger is real. Soon Charlotte’s feeling torn. Will she risk all to prove her innocence? Or surrender it to a man who’s sworn to never love?

Rating: B+

It feels like I’m committing the ultimate Romancelandia faux-pas when I say that Tessa Dare’s last couple of books haven’t really worked for me. So much so, in fact, that I couldn’t rate When a Scot Ties the Knot above a C+; the characterisation was inconsistent, the humour felt forced and it seemed to me that Ms Dare had crossed the line into self-parody with her frequent, knowing winks to the audience.

So I’m over the moon to be able to say that with Do You Want to Start a Scandal?, she is back at the top of her game. Yes, the plot is a bit silly, but this book reminded me of what I’ve so enjoyed about her work in the past and is up there with A Week to Be Wicked and Three Nights With a Scoundrel as my favourite Tessa Dare reads.

The hero, Piers Brandon, is the Marquess who wasn’t said “yes” to in book two of the Castles Ever After series (Say Yes to the Marquess). He’s handsome, wealthy, rather reserved and very proper; and, being rich and titled is firmly in the sights of marriage-minded mamas and débutantes throughout the land. Well, of most of them. Charlotte Highwood – sister of Minerva (from the Spindle Cove series’ A Week to Be Wicked) has her sights set on making a European tour with her best friend, Delia Parkhurst, and has no intention of getting married in spite of the fact that her mother is practically throwing her at every eligible bachelor she can find. In fact, her mother’s desperation to get her youngest daughter married off has made Charlotte a laughing stock, but fortunately, she isn’t the type to be crushed by such a thing, no matter how irritating she finds it.

Charlotte and Mrs. Highwood are guests at a house-party hosted Delia’s parents, Sir Vernon and Lady Parkhurst. Being the charitable type, Charlotte decides it’s only fair to warn the Marquess of Granville that she has no wish to marry him, no matter that her mother is going to be throwing her at him over the next couple of weeks. The Marquess’ reaction to this is not at all what Charlotte expects – wryly humorous, gently teasing and completely unconcerned, he assures her that if, in his work as a diplomat, he can survive the vagaries of international politics he can undoubtedly survive the machinations of her mother. Charlotte is sceptical, but before she can issue another warning, their conversation is interrupted when an amorous couple bursts into the library, fortunately too engrossed in each other to notice Piers whisking Charlotte to the window seat behind the curtain.

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

A Reluctant Betrothal (Grantham Girls #3) by Amanda Weaver

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When Grace Godwyn is introduced to her soon-to-be fiancé’s closest friend, she can hardly keep from fainting. The man whose angry gaze confronts her is none other than the handsome stranger who came to her aid in a dark French alleyway. The stranger with whom she’d shared a moment of reckless passion. And now, with a single word, he could destroy her one chance for security.

Julian St. John, Lord Knighton, owes his friend too much to allow him to fall into the clutches of a craven fortune hunter. He knows all he needs to know of Grace Godwyn: that she’s the orphaned and penniless daughter of a disgraced viscount; that her lips taste incomparably sweet. There is no way he is going to allow this marriage to take place.

Yet the more time Julian and Grace are forced to spend in each other’s company, the more irresistible their desire grows—and the more devastating the potential consequences.

Rating: B

Unlike the heroines of the other books in Amanda Weaver’s Grantham Girls series, the heroine of A Reluctant Betrothal is not an heiress.   Grace Godwyn is the daughter of a viscount who gambled away his estate and fortune and who, following the death of her mother then she was four, spent her life living with her father in a succession of ever smaller, dingier homes, doing moonlit flits when he couldn’t find the money to pay the rent.

He died when Grace was fifteen, leaving her alone and with nowhere to go, when a letter arrived informing her of the recent death of a great aunt who had set aside some money for Grace to be “finished” under the tutelage of Lady Grantham.  In this way, Grace made the acquaintance of Victoria and Amelia (heroines of the previous books in the series) who are now her dearest friends, and was able to spend a few years among people of her own class. But Grace’s lack of funds and   desire to postpone matrimony for a while meant that she was never sought out and is now in the awkward position of being unable to seek paid employment – that was not the done thing for a viscount’s daughter – while not having any other way of supporting herself.

Not wishing to live off Lady Grantham’s charity, Grace is managing by acting as an unpaid companion to older ladies of the ton. It is not quite employment – Grace attends the ladies as their “guest” – but it at least provides a roof over her head and regular meals.  Her current hostess is Lady Marlbury, who is currently on holiday in the small town of Menton in the South of France, and whose son, Frederick, shows signs of being interested in Grace.

Desperate to obtain security and stability, Grace decides to encourage his attentions, hoping to elicit a marriage proposal. She has resigned herself to not being able to marry for love and knows that her chances of making a decent match are dwindling away. But her determination is shaken by a chance encounter one evening during a festival, when she is passionately kissed by an unknown but handsome reveller to whom she feels an almost overwhelming attraction. Back in the real world, however, Grace consigns the kiss to fond memory and concentrates on coaxing a proposal from Frederick Musgrave. She is shocked and insulted when the proposal is not an honourable one and immediately flees back to England to seek help from Lady Grantham.

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

The Summer Bride (Chance Sisters #4) by Anne Gracie (audiobook) – Narrated by Alison Larkin

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Fiercely independent Daisy Chance has a dream – and it doesn’t involve marriage or babies (or being under any man’s thumb). Raised in poverty, she has a passion – and a talent – for making beautiful clothes. Daisy aims to become the finest dressmaker in London.

Dashing Irishman Patrick Flynn is wealthy and ambitious and has entered society to find an aristocratic bride. Instead he finds himself growing increasingly attracted to the headstrong, clever, and outspoken Daisy. She’s wrong in every way – except the way she sets his heart racing.

However, when Flynn proposes marriage, Daisy refuses. She won’t give up her hard-won independence. Besides, she doesn’t want to join the fine ladies of society – she wants to dress them. She might, however, consider becoming Flynn’s secret mistress…

But Flynn wants a wife, not a mistress, and when Flynn sets his heart on something, nothing can stand in his way.

Rating: Narration – B+; Content – C+

This is the fourth book in Anne Gracie’s quartet about the Chance sisters, four young women who banded together through adversity and regard themselves as “sisters of the heart” even though only two of them are actually related by blood. In the first book in the series, The Autumn Bride, the ladies were taken in by Lady Beatrice Davenham, an elderly lady who had been neglected by her staff and family and whom the ladies nursed back to health.

The other books in the series have seen each of the ‘sisters’ fall in love and in The Summer Bride, it is now the turn of Daisy, the only one of them not to have been born a lady. By her own admission, she was born in the gutter and was brought up in a brothel; she doesn’t want to learn posh manners or deportment or how to dance because her ambitions lie in another direction.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

Simply Love (Simply Quartet #2) by Mary Balogh (audiobook) – Narrated by Rosalyn Landor

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This title is available to download from Audible via Amazon.

She spies him in the deepening dusk of a Wales evening – a lone figure of breathtaking strength and masculinity, his handsome face branded by a secret pain. For single mother and teacher Anne Jewell, newly arrived with her son at a sprawling estate in Wales, Sydnam Butler is a man whose sorrows – and passions – run deeper than she could have ever imagined.

As steward of a remote seaside manor, Sydnam lives a reclusive existence far from the pity and disdain of others. Yet almost from the moment Anne first appears on the cliffs, he senses in this lovely stranger a kindred soul, and between these two wary hearts, desire stirs. Unable to resist the passion that has rescued them both from loneliness, Anne and Sydnam share an afternoon of exquisite lovemaking. Now the unwed single mother and war-scarred veteran must make a decision that could forever alter their lives.

Rating: Narration – A; Content – A-

Simply Love is the second book of the four that make up the Simply quartet of stories about a group of young women who teach at a girls’ school in Bath. We met Anne Jewell in the previous book (Simply Unforgettable) and learned that she has a young son, David, who lives with her at the school. Anne is an unmarried mother whose family turned their backs on her after her ‘disgrace’, and it is made clear quite early on in the book that David is the result of a rape that took place when Anne was around nineteen. David’s father is long-since dead, but his relation, Joshua Moore has been a good friend to Anne over the years, and it is thanks to him that Anne and David find themselves spending the summer at the Welsh estate of the Duke of Bewcastle.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

TBR Challenge: An Heir of Uncertainty by Alyssa Everett

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Yorkshire, 1820

Lina, Lady Radbourne, thought being a countess would rescue her from poverty. Unfortunately, her young groom failed to plan for the future, and his drunken accident left her widowed and pregnant. Now Colonel Winstead Vaughan—Win—will inherit her late husband’s fortune…unless she gives birth to a boy. Win is her natural enemy, so why can’t she stop thinking about him?

Win is stunned to learn he stands to inherit a vast fortune. He’s even more surprised to find himself falling for the beautiful, spirited Lady Radbourne, who is the one woman who stands in the way of a life he’d only imagined.

When someone tries to poison Lady Radbourne, suspicion falls on Win. There’s a clever killer in their midst, and if Win doesn’t solve the mystery fast, Lina may perish. He needs to win her trust, but how can he prove it’s she he wants, and not the fortune?

Rating: B+

I’ve been a fan of this author’s since I read  Ruined by Rumor a few years back, and have eagerly snapped up everything she has written since.  For some reason, though, An Heir of Uncertainty has languished on my TBR pile, so I decided to make September my “rescue a languishing book” month!

Colonel Winstead Vaughan is surprised to learn that he has inherited an earldom following the very unexpected death of the young  Earl of Radbourne, a distant cousin.  Win’s own estate of Hamble Grange is in financial difficulties, and things are looking bleak; he had to remove his younger brother from Cambridge because he could not afford the fees and, looking years ahead, doesn’t know how he will provide a suitable dowry for his five-year-old daughter when the time comes.   So while he is naturally sorry to hear of a young life tragically ended, he can’t help feeling just a bit relieved that his financial problems appear to have been solved.

Summoned to Yorkshire by the estate’s solicitors, Win undertakes the arduous journey from Hampshire accompanied by Julia and his brother, Freddie, only to find upon arrival that the situation is not as he had been informed.  It appears that the young earl’s wife of three months is pregnant, and that the earldom is now in abeyance until she has the baby.  Win is naturally a bit disgruntled at having travelled all that way with a fractious five-year-old and incessantly chattering nineteen-year-old when he might not stand to inherit after all, and immediately decides to return home to wait out the months until the birth.

Lina, Lady Radbourne had not realised she was expecting at the time she was notified of the death of her husband, but by the time she did realise, it was too late, and the estate’s trustees had already summoned the ‘new earl’.  Not wanting to create any more awkwardness, she moves to the dower house with her sister, so that Win – who is still the heir presumptive – can stay at Belryth Abbey.  Lina and Win are naturally a little apprehensive around each other, but when, the day after his arrival, Win encounters Lina on a walk and escorts her home to discover that the dower house has been broken into, he decides that perhaps he should stick around for a while for a rest before undertaking the 250 mile journey home –  and to make sure the necessary repairs are taken care of.  Over the next few days, a series of other seeming “accidents” – poisoned tea, a dead dog, and then a ‘trip’ into the path of a moving carriage – directed at Lina and her unborn baby suggest that someone is deliberately trying to harm her, and Win is the obvious suspect.  After all, he has most to gain should her child not be born.  But even in the few short days they have known each other, Lina has learned that Win is a man to be trusted.  And more than that, she can’t stop thinking about him, the strength of the attraction she feels startling and quite new.  Lina had been very fond of her husband, but had married him out of friendship and a desire for security for herself and her younger sister rather than because of any romantic attachment.

Win is similarly smitten with Lina, and is puzzled by the fact that nobody in the area has a good word to say about her.  Before he meets her, the estate’s trustees talk about her as if she is a jezebel, a woman of extremely lax morals whose baby is likely not even her late husband’s.  On meeting her, he wonders if they were talking about the same woman, because Lina is decorous and ladylike as well as being lovely.

I’m not going to reveal whodunit – or who tried to do it – but the author keeps the plot twisting and turning right up until the end, throwing in a few extra and very plausible suspects along the way – and the reveal, when it comes, is suitably shocking.  The romance between Win and Lina, while it takes place over just a few days, is nonetheless fully developed, and the sexual tension between them crackles whenever they’re in scenes together.

But the thing that elevates this book into more than ‘just’ an historical mystery is the richness of the characterisation and the sense of community Ms. Everett has created around this small Yorkshire village.  All the secondary characters are superbly drawn, from the lovelorn doctor to the grumpy local magistrate, and her depiction of Win’s brother, Freddie, is superb.  Today, we’d recognise him as being on the autistic spectrum, but back then, of course, he would have just been regarded as rather odd, what with his obsession with pigeons, his forthright and literal honesty and his utter lack of guile.  Freddie is wonderfully endearing and it’s obvious that the brothers would do anything for each other.  Win and Lina are fully-rounded characters with more than a bit of emotional baggage which trips them both up at key moments; the circumstances of Win’s unhappy marriage make it difficult for him to fully consider a future with Lina, and Lina is wary of making her mother’s mistakes.  Both of them need to come to terms with their pasts so they can move forward into the future together, and their eventual realisations about what is really important is handled well.

An Heir of Uncertainty  is a book I can heartily recommend.  Alyssa Everett gets the balance between romance and whodunit just right; and while perhaps the ending is a little too neatly tied up, it doesn’t spoil what is a thoroughly engrossing and entertaining read.