Veiled in Blue (Emperors of London #6) by Lynne Connolly


This title may be purchased from Amazon.

Governess Eve Merton would have fallen into serious trouble on her walk home if a handsome stranger had not stopped to help her. But when Mr. Vernon gives her a lift on his horse, he makes no secret of his attraction. As a well brought-up young lady, Eve does her best not to notice, but when he sets about courting her, she knows she’s in trouble. For she has a secret: she is the daughter of a deposed king, which means not only is she without a dowry, but also that her life is in danger…

Little does Eve know that Mr. Vernon has secrets of his own. In truth, his name is Julius, Lord Winterton, and he’s well aware that Eve is the offspring of the Old Pretender. In order to save his sister, he must convince Eve to wed—though he wants nothing to do with love. But as the two grow closer and an attempt is made on Eve’s life, Julius may realize that fighting his heart’s true desire is a battle most pleasurably surrendered…

Rating: B-

This sixth book in Lynne Connolly’s Emperors of London series is one I –and I suspect other readers who have followed the fortunes of the titular emperors thus far – have been waiting for since fairly early on. Julius Vernon, the Earl of Winterton has appeared in all the previous books as a powerful but somewhat distant and enigmatic figure; heir to a dukedom, he is, in effect, the head of his large family when it comes to its many and varied business interests and political dealings. I’ve read the first four books in the series and have enjoyed them to varying degrees (somehow, I missed book five, Dilemma in Yellow Silk), and while it probably helps to have some idea of the background to the series, Veiled in Blue works well as a standalone.

I have to say up front that the romance has been the weakest element in some of the earlier books. These aren’t long novels, and looking back at my other reviews, I see I’ve made similar complaints about insta-lust and relationships not being allowed time to properly develop. However, I found the romance in Veiled in Blue to be much more successful, even though things do move rather quickly. But what has kept me coming back to the series in spite of a couple of disappointing books early on, is twofold: one is the fact that the setting of 1750s England is not a common one for historical romance; and the other is that Ms. Connolly’s overarching plot-thread of the search for the illegitimate children of the Old Pretender (the son of the deposed king, James II) and the political intrigue and tensions that were rife in England makes for an interesting backdrop to the personal stories of each emperor.

The series is set almost forty years after the advent of the Hanoverian monarchy, and there are still factions among the nobility who favour the Jacobite cause and are secretly working to restore the Stuarts to the British throne. It was revealed earlier in the series that there were in existence a number of children born to the Old Pretender, Charles James Stuart (son of James II) and a woman he had legally but secretly married. The legitimacy of these children thus poses a threat to the Young Pretender (also known as Bonnie Prince Charlie), who is attempting to track them down to dispose of them, while another Jacobite faction wants to find them and arrange marriages for them within their families so as to strengthen their own position and, possibly, gain the throne.

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

TBR Challenge: Incriminating Evidence (Evidence #4) by Rachel Grant


This title may be purchased from Amazon.

When archaeologist Isabel Dawson stumbles upon an unconscious man deep in the Alaskan wilderness, her survival skills are put to the test. She tends his wounds and drags him to shelter, only to discover she’s saved the life of Raptor CEO Alec Ravissant—the man who may have covered up her brother’s murder to save his senatorial campaign.

With no memory of the assault that landed him five miles deep in the forest, Alec doesn’t know what to believe when he wakes in the clutches of the beautiful redhead who blames him for her brother’s death, but he quickly realizes he needs her help to uncover the truth about his lost hours.

Isabel never imagined she’d find herself allied with Alec, and he’s the last man she ever expected to find attractive. But the former Army Ranger-turned-politician proves seductively charming, and he’s determined to win much more than her vote. When their quest for answers puts Isabel in the crosshairs, Alec must risk everything—his company, his campaign, and his life—to protect her.

Rating: B+

This is the fourth book in Rachel Grant’s Evidence series, but fortunately, this is a series in which all the stories are self-contained, so it’s not absolutely necessary to have read the other books. There are some characters who have obviously appeared before and it’s clear that certain plot details were planted in previous books, but the author has given enough information here for a newbie like me to be able to dive right in and enjoy.
Incriminating Evidence is a fast-moving, well-paced story with plenty of intrigue, nail-biting moments of peril and action running alongside a sexy and nicely developed romance between an unlikely couple – an introverted archaeologist and a wealthy businessman running for political office.

Isabel Dawson is an archaeologist whose current gig is searching for ancient settlements that could be threatened by the upcoming timber harvest in Alaska. She’s a bit of a loner, so her job of hiking through the remote wilderness suits her and she enjoys it – although right now, she isn’t completely focused on her task. Around a year earlier, her brother Vincent, a soldier, was killed, supposedly on a training mission at Raptor, a private security firm that trains military personnel in combat techniques designed specifically to be employed in the war against terror. Isabel is convinced Vin’s death wasn’t an accident, but her attempts to instigate an investigation have met with dead ends, principally due, she believes, to the fact that Raptor CEO Alec Ravissant ordered a cover-up. She has emails from her brother that indicate he believed he had been kidnapped, tortured and experimented upon, and Isabel is determined to find out the truth by finding the location Vin described. But her plans are disrupted when she literally stumbles across a badly injured man in the woods. She has to make a quick decision. She is miles from her car and from the Raptor Compound, but there is an old settler’s cabin a mile away. If she leaves the man to go for help, there’s the chance that whoever worked him over will come back to finish him off, or that he’ll die of exposure, so she patches him up as best she can, fashions a make-do stretcher, lashes him to it and drags him all the way to the cabin. It’s only once there that she realises that the man whose life she has just saved is none other than Alec Ravissant.

When Alec eventually comes round, Isabel begins to regret her decision to save him; not only is he violent towards her, he’s rude and ungrateful, having her arrested on suspicion of kidnapping him once his security team locates them the next morning. Alec has no memory of what happened to him; he remembers driving and then swerving to avoid something in the road – then nothing until he comes to when Isabel is dragging him to the hut. He quickly realises that even though Isabel Dawson has been a thorn in his and Raptor’s side for some time, she may in fact be the only person he can trust, as there is clearly something untoward going on at the Raptor Compound, and everyone is suspect.

I can’t say much more without spoilers, but the plot is ingenious and very well constructed. Alec and Isabel are great characters who strike sparks off each other from the get-go, and I enjoyed the way the author gradually develops the trust between them. Isabel is a bit skittish; the death of her parents when she was a child, and then of the brother who more or less raised her has made her wary of getting attached to people and places, so she moves around a lot and never puts down roots. Alec comes from old money and was groomed to enter politics practically from the cradle, but veered off the path his family had mapped out for him by spending twelve years in the military. Now, however, he’s ready to face the challenge of the political arena, having discovered that his desire to serve his country and its people has not ended with his departure from the Rangers. As well as being a total hottie, he’s a great guy; quick to own up to the fact that he could have done more to investigate Vincent’s death, and to realise that his feelings for Isabel go way beyond the intense sexual attraction that pulses between them. I liked that there is a real sense of equality between them in spite of their different backgrounds. Isabel is smart, sassy and more than capable of looking after herself in tricky situations; Alec knows that and respects her for it, and while he wants to protect her, he recognises her abilities and her need to be involved with the search for evidence regarding her brother’s death. Ultimately, their romance is believable; the chemistry between them sizzles and the sex scenes are nice and steamy.

I enjoyed the book very much, but I do have one or two niggles about the story overall. Isabel is ready on several occasions to believe the worst of Alec and to run from him, either refusing to believe his explanations or refusing to allow him to make one; and it got a bit old after the first time or two. It also seems that Alec rebuilds his political campaign very easily given all the problems that arise as a result of his relationship with Isabel. I’m not an expert by any means, and certainly not on US politics, but this does seem to have been somewhat hand-waved away.

All in all however, Rachel Grant has crafted a compelling story that revolves around a series of strange attacks and incidents, and an unusual and very cleverly thought-out secret weapon that is scarily plausible. The background detail relating to the military/special-ops aspect of the story is interesting and well-done, and the descriptions of the Alaskan wilderness are very evocative, putting the reader right there. Incriminating Evidence was my first experience of Ms. Grant’s writing but it definitely won’t be my last.

Slightly Married (Bedwyns #1) by Mary Balogh (audiobook) – Narrated by Rosalyn Landor


This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon.

Like all the Bedwyn men, Aidan has a reputation for cool arrogance. But this proud nobleman also possesses a loyal, passionate heart – and it is this fierce loyalty that has brought Colonel Lord Aidan to Ringwood Manor to honor a dying soldier’s request. Having promised to comfort and protect the man’s sister, Aidan never expected to find a headstrong, fiercely independent woman who wants no part of his protection, nor did he expect the feelings this beguiling creature would ignite in his guarded heart. And when a relative threatens to turn Eve out of her home, Aidan gallantly makes her an offer she can’t refuse: marry him, if only to save her home. And now, as all of London breathlessly awaits the transformation of the new Lady Aidan Bedwyn, the strangest thing happens: With one touch, one searing embrace, Aidan and Eve’s “business arrangement” is about to be transformed into something slightly surprising.

Rating: Narration – A+; Content – A

Tantor is following its reissue of Mary Balogh’s Simply Quartet with new recordings of the Slightly series, six novels about the Bedwyn siblings which have been on the wish list of many a romance audio fan for some time, starting with Book 1, Slightly Married. Anyone who has read or listened to the Simply books will already have met most of the Bedwyns and be aware of who ends up with whom, but that doesn’t take anything away from the pleasure of being able to hear their stories in audio for the first time.

Colonel Lord Aidan Bedwyn, second of the four Bedwyn brothers has, in the manner of many second sons, made a career in the army. It has been a distinguished career, and he fully expects to continue to serve his country and to eventually rise to the rank of General. When he comes home on leave, his first task is to make his way to the home of Miss Eve Morris, the sister of a fallen comrade. Captain Percy Morris saved Aidan’s life at Ciudad Rodrigo, and his dying request was that Aidan inform Eve of his death in person and that he take care of her, “no matter what”.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

A Raven’s Heart (Secrets and Spies #2) by K.C. Bateman


This title may be purchased from Amazon.

England, 1815.

In the war against France, Heloise Hampden is a high-value asset to the Crown. When she cracks the enemy’s most recent communication, French agents are sent to kill her. But it’s the agent assigned to protect Heloise who poses the greatest threat to her heart: William de l’Isle, Viscount Ravenwood. Heloise has quarreled with the man they call Raven since childhood, yet always maintained a chaste distance. She’s sure nothing will change, thanks to the disfiguring scar on her face.

Nothing has changed. Raven still wonders how Hell-cat Hampden’s lithe body would feel pressed against his, but for the mission he must remind himself that the woman takes more pleasure in ancient languages than she does in seduction.

His imprisonment six years ago broke him in a way that makes the prospect of love impossible — he’s a shadowed Hades pining for sun-kissed Persephone. Still, his heart beats like mad whenever he’s within ten paces of Heloise, and he’ll do whatever it takes to keep her safe — even if that means taking her to Spain as an unwilling hostage. Protecting her from danger will be a challenge; protecting her from desire will be pure agony.

Rating: A-

I fairly raved about K.C. Bateman’s début novel, To Steal a Heart, earlier this year. It’s the rare first book that gets that sort of praise, but Ms. Bateman’s writing, characterisation, plotting and dialogue were so exceptionally good, and the book overall was so enjoyable that I couldn’t do anything other than award it DIK status. Naturally, I hoped that her second book, A Raven’s Heart, would be as good and simultaneously worried that it might not be – but I’m happy to say that it’s every bit as entertaining and well-put together as To Steal a Heart.

William de l’Isle, Viscount Ravenwood – known simply as Raven – played a small supporting role in the previous book when he aided the escape of the hero and heroine from France. He’s a close friend of the Hampden family – of Nic (hero of To Steal a Heart), and his brother Richard – who also work as government agents – and their younger sister, Heloise, a talented codebreaker and the bane of Raven’s existence. But when one of Heloise’s colleagues is murdered by a French agent and it becomes clear that she is now the next likely target, Raven is tasked with keeping her safe while the killer is tracked down and neutralised.

The trouble is that Raven and Heloise can’t be in the same room without annoying the hell out of each other. Raven frequently tells himself that there must be some sort of unwritten rule to the effect that thou shalt not lust after thy best friend’s little sister – but the trouble is that, unwritten rule or not, he is desperately attracted to Heloise, and no matter how much he tries to curb it, the attraction just won’t go away. All he can do is make sure she doesn’t discover how he feels, so, in the manner of overgrown schoolboys everywhere, he has to content himself with pulling her metaphorical pigtails by means of outrageous flirting and lots of delicious, snark-filled banter.

Heloise Hampden thinks that Raven is the most arrogant, infuriating man she has ever met. The trouble is, he’s also the most gorgeous, charming and witty man she’s ever met. He doesn’t want her though – she still cringes to think of the occasion, six years ago, when she plucked up the courage to kiss him and he rejected her – so what else can a girl do but give back as good as she gets in their verbal bouts and never let him know how she feels?

Okay, so it’s a well-trod path. Both characters are desperate for each other but for various reasons are determined not to let the other know how they feel. But the chemistry between Heloise and Raven is completely off the charts and their dialogue is just to die for. The highest compliment I can probably pay Ms. Bateman here is to say that many of these exchanges reminded me of Loretta Chase; they’re quick, snappy, witty, flirtatious, often quite revealing and, most importantly, feel completely natural and unforced.

(The pair are pretending not to know each other at a masked ball -)

“[Ravenwood’s] previous mistress was French. And the one before that an Italian opera singer. I suppose taking up with foreigners saves him from having to exert himself to actually talk to them.”

He slanted her a wicked sideways glance. “I’m fairly sure he doesn’t engage them for conversation.”

… “Well, I expect she’ll be released soon enough. Ravenwood seems to be able to snap his fingers and have any woman he wants.”

… “It’s true Ravenwood’s never had a problem attracting most women, “ he continued, as if they were discussing nothing more innocuous than the weather. “Nothing elicits desire in a female more than the promise of a ducal title and an outrageously large” – he paused teasingly – “house.”

She glanced up at the ceiling and pretended to admire the soaring architecture. “It’s certainly impressive,” she said, straight-faced. “Very… imposing.”

“Ravenwood would be delighted to hear it. A man never tires of women praising the size of his endowments.”

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

Beauty and the Clockwork Beast (audio) by Nancy Campbell Allen


This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

The Lord of Blackwell Manor, Miles, is plagued by a family curse that changes him into a shape-shifting wolf every month during the full moon.

Lucy, a smart, attractive, and well-respected botanist, travels to Blackwell Manor to take care of her sick cousin, Kate, who is married to Miles’ younger brother. For Lucy, the trip is a welcome respite from her work and recent discovery of a breakthrough serum that could eliminate the scourge of vampires from London. But Lucy finds more than she bargained for when she arrives at the Manor.

Miles, who is brash and inhospitable, does not take kindly to visitors. He is still unsettled by the mysterious death of his newlywed wife. And then there’s Marie, Miles’ sister, who was attacked and murdered just weeks earlier. Miles is horrified to think that he might be to blame for the deaths. And who is the ghost that haunt the halls?

Lucy is convinced that the death of Miles’s wife and sister – as well as her cousin’s mysterious illness – are tied together, but how? Lady Charlesworth has her eye on inheriting Blackwell Manor for her family. Could her daughter, Candice, or her son, Arthur, have had a hand in the mysterious deaths? The clues make a vampire suspect highly likely. During her investigation, Lucy finds herself caring deeply for Miles, but he fights to keep his distance in order to protect Lucy from his family’s secret. And, yet, he feels attracted to the woman who is able to look past the fearsome-looking scar that has marred his handsome face. With no other option, Miles and Lucy must work together if they are to find the answer to the mysteries at the manor.

But that’s not all Lucy wants to solve. There’s a deeper mystery behind Miles. Can she solve that too? Ultimately, she must decide if she can love the man – beast and all.

Rating: Narration – B+; Content – B-

A Victorian era steampunk/paranormal story, Beauty and the Clockwork Beast is the first in a projected series from this new-to-me-author, and while it was an enjoyable listen, I can’t say that it breaks any new ground. The story is a fairly predictable one, and while the author has peppered the text with things like “telescribers” (which I imagine are mobile phones or tablets), “tons” (short for automatons which are programmed by means of metal punched-cards), steam-powered airships and ray guns; and thrown in a few vampires and shape-shifters for good measure, I never felt as though I was in a fully-defined and alternative world. There’s a nicely gothic feel to the story overall, but really, this is just Victorian England with a few extras bolted on.

Lucy Pickett has gone to stay with her cousin Kate at Blackwell Manor. Kate is newly and happily married to Jonathan Blake, younger brother of the Earl of Blackwell, but she has been unwell for some time, and Lucy is concerned about her. Lucy works for the Botanical Aid Society and is an expert on plants and herbs and their medicinal – and other – qualities. She is a botanist of some renown and one of a small number of people working on a top-secret project to develop something to combat Vampyric Assimilation Aid, a drug which enables vampires to move around in daylight and blend in with the normal population, making them even more dangerous than they already are. Lucy hopes that she will be able to find out what is wrong with Kate and help her to regain her health.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

A Study in Scarlet Women (Lady Sherlock #1) by Sherry Thomas


This title may be purchased from Amazon.

With her inquisitive mind, Charlotte Holmes has never felt comfortable with the demureness expected of the fairer sex in upper class society. But even she never thought that she would become a social pariah, an outcast fending for herself on the mean streets of London.

When the city is struck by a trio of unexpected deaths and suspicion falls on her sister and her father, Charlotte is desperate to find the true culprits and clear the family name. She’ll have help from friends new and old—a kind-hearted widow, a police inspector, and a man who has long loved her. But in the end, it will be up to Charlotte, under the assumed name Sherlock Holmes, to challenge society’s expectations and match wits against an unseen mastermind.

Rating: A-

I admit that when I heard that Sherry Thomas, one of my favourite and without doubt one of the finest authors of Historical Romance currently writing was going to be shifting genres and embarking on a series of Historical Mysteries, my first thought was to go and curl up in the corner with a box of Kleenex. That was a fairly fleeting thought, however, as I know I’d probably read Ms. Thomas’ shopping lists; and given that I adored her YAElementals Trilogy, I knew, deep down, that she would ace whatever she turned her hand to.  And she has.  A Study in Scarlet Women, the first book in her new Lady Sherlock series is a terrific read; well-plotted, brilliantly characterised and retaining enough of the characteristics of Conan Doyle’s original to be recognisable while adding more layers and facets to her protagonist to make her a completely plausible woman of her time.

Charlotte Holmes, youngest of four sisters, has always been a little… odd.  As a child, she rarely spoke unless she had something to say, she liked her own company and her ability to observe and reach startlingly accurate conclusions was somewhat unnerving.  Her father found her entertaining –

Charlotte was his pet – he was vastly amused by her combination of great intelligence, great oddity and great silence

– while her domineering mother despaired of her ever becoming all that a proper young lady should be.  As Charlotte grew older, she began to realise that she was different and understand what it was that set her apart from others, so she began to employ learned behaviours when they didn’t come naturally to her, such as comforting her sister Olivia (Livia) – to whom she is closest – when she was upset or depressed, and making the effort to turn herself into the fashion plate her mother wanted her to be.  On the outside, Charlotte is the ideal of Victorian womanhood – pretty, petite and curvaceous with blonde ringlets, big blue eyes and charming dimples.  The inside, however, is another matter entirely:

– the Good Lord went to ridiculous lengths to make sure that one of the finest minds in existence was housed in a body least likely to be suspected of it.

Charlotte made her intention never to marry quite clear to her father when she told him that she wanted to pursue a career as headmistress of a girls’ school.  Naturally, he said she was too young to make such a decision and that she should wait a few years, but Charlotte has never wavered from that choice.  As the story begins, however, Sir Henry Holmes’ not unexpected reneging on his promise to fund Charlotte’s training forces her to take drastic measures, and she purposely gets herself ruined by a married man (because he could not be forced to marry her to restore her reputation), as a way of rebelling and of making sure she can’t be married off to an eligible parti.  Unfortunately, however, her choice of swain was not her best decision;  in a drunken stupor the previous evening, he disclosed his plans to his wife, ensuring that she and her mother interrupt his tryst with Charlotte at a sensitive moment.  Now, Charlotte is not only ruined for marriage, she is publicly disgraced, at the centre of a huge scandal and facing the prospect of spending the rest of her life shut away in obscurity in the country.

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

A Dangerous Beauty (Widows Club #1) by Sophia Nash (audiobook) – Narrated by Bianca Amato


This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

Love : n. A temporary insanity curable by marriage or by the removal of the patient from the influences under which he incurred the disorder. —The Devil’s Dictionary, Ambrose Bierce

A Courageous Outcast…

Rosamunde Baird has lost everything and has no choice but to accept an invitation to spend a season with a dowager duchess and her clandestine ladies club. Determined to stay in the shadows and live quietly, she has sworn never again to come face to face with adventure and temptation, two things that brought her ruin years ago. But then the Duke of Helston dangles before her the very things she craves most.

Lord Fire & Ice…

Mysterious Luc St. Aubyn has a much-deserved reputation for exuding blistering passion at night and frost the morning after. What demons drive this audacious war hero to hide secrets about the dowager’s club and his devilish dictionary? When he’s blindsided by his reactions to a virtuous siren, he has no choice but to reveal all during a scandal that will doom them…or save them, if only they dare to believe in love.

Rating: Narration – A; Content – B

A Dangerous Beauty is the first in Sophia Nash’s Widows Club series, that was originally published between 2007 and 2010. This audiobook is a reissue of a recording originally made in 2008.

Lady Rosamunde is the apple of her father’s eye. A long awaited daughter following the birth of four sons, she is bright, courageous and rather precocious, but is, when we meet her at fifteen, self-aware enough to realise those things. But, as is always the way with such romance heroines, her boisterous nature gets her into trouble when, a couple of years later, she is accused of seducing Lord Sumner, eldest son of the Duke of Helston and told in no uncertain terms that she’s got to marry him. Considering all she did was kiss him on the cheek, this is a bit much, but the stentorian duke all but calls her a whore and her own – supposedly doting – father says nothing in her defence. Knowing that Sumner is, by his own admission, in love with someone else, Rosamund, instead jumps into the arms of one Mr Alfred Baird – a man she’s never met before, mind you – and runs off with him to Gretna Green.

I confess that at this point, I hit ‘pause’ on my mp3 player, wondering whether I wanted to continue to listen to a story in which the heroine was capable of doing something that dumb.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.