The Jane Austen Project by Kathleen A. Flynn (audiobook) – Narrated by Saskia Maarleveld

This title may be purchased from Audible via Amazon.

London, 1815: Two travelers – Rachel Katzman and Liam Finucane – arrive in a field in rural England, disheveled and weighed down with hidden money. Turned away at a nearby inn, they are forced to travel by coach all night to London. They are not what they seem but rather colleagues who have come back in time from a technologically advanced future, posing as wealthy West Indies planters – a doctor and his spinster sister. While Rachel and Liam aren’t the first team from the future to “go back”, their mission is by far the most audacious: meet, befriend, and steal from Jane Austen herself.

Carefully selected and rigorously trained by The Royal Institute for Special Topics in Physics, disaster-relief doctor Rachel and actor-turned-scholar Liam have little in common besides the extraordinary circumstances they find themselves in. Circumstances that call for Rachel to stifle her independent nature and let Liam take the lead as they infiltrate Austen’s circle via her favorite brother, Henry.

But diagnosing Jane’s fatal illness and obtaining an unpublished novel hinted at in her letters pose enough of a challenge without the continuous convolutions of living a lie. While her friendship with Jane deepens and her relationship with Liam grows complicated, Rachel fights to reconcile the woman she is with the proper lady 19th-century society expects her to be. As their portal to the future prepares to close, Rachel and Liam struggle with their directive to leave history intact and exactly as they found it…however heartbreaking that may prove.

Rating: Narration – A Content – B+

When I read The Jane Austen Project a few months back, I admit that I approached it with some trepidation. Two people travelling back in time to meet Jane Austen and retrieve a previously unpublished manuscript sounded – on the one hand – like a great premise, and on the other like a potential disaster. The author would have to be very careful with tone and characterisation to make it work – and I’m pleased to say that she strikes the right notes in both cases, displaying a thorough attention to period detail and portraying Jane Austen herself as the sort of witty, intelligent and insightful woman we imagine her to have been.

Austen devotee Doctor Rachel Katzman – a medical doctor who has spent most of her career working in the world’s flashpoints – and actor-turned-academic Professor Liam Finucane have been selected and trained by The Royal Institute for Special Topics in Physics to be able to take on the personas of Doctor William Ravenswood and his sister, Mary when they travel back in time to 1815. They arrive, disoriented and bedraggled in a field just outside Leatherhead in Surrey, with thousands of pounds worth of counterfeit money hidden beneath their clothes and a cover story that they have recently sold off their plantation in Jamaica, freed their slaves and come back to England to live. Unable to secure rooms at the nearest inn because of their lack of luggage and generally suspicious appearance, they hire a chaise and head straight to London where they go about the task of setting themselves up at a respectable address, kitting themselves out as befits a couple of independently wealthy siblings and generally orienting themselves to their new lives in 1815.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

A Momentary Marriage by Candace Camp

This title may be purchased at Amazon

James de Vere has always insisted on being perfectly pragmatic and rational in all things. It seemed the only way to deal with his overdramatic, greedy family. When he falls ill and no doctor in London can diagnose him, he returns home to Grace Hill in search of a physician who can–or to set his affairs in order.

Arriving at the doctor’s home, he’s surprised to encounter the doctor’s daughter Laura, a young woman he last saw when he was warning her off an attachment with his cousin Graeme. Alas, the doctor is recently deceased and Laura is closing up the estate, which must be sold off, leaving her penniless. At this, James has an inspiration: why not marry the damsel in distress? If his last hope for a cure is gone, at least he’ll have some companionship in his final days, and she’ll inherit his fortune instead of his grasping relatives, leaving her a wealthy widow with plenty of prospects.

Laura is far from swept off her feet, but she’s as pragmatic as James, so she accepts his unusual proposal. But as the two of them brave the onslaught of shocked and suspicious family members, they find themselves growing closer.

Rating: B+

A Momentary Marriage is the sequel to Candace Camp’s A Perfect Gentleman, which is where we were introduced to Sir James de Vere and Miss Laura Hinsdale as secondary characters with no love lost between them.  The prospect of a marriage of convenience between these two antagonists was an enticing one, and the idea of the coolly collected James being brought low by a strange illness lent an added piquancy to its appeal.  Like its predecessor, the novel has a mystery woven through the principal romantic storyline, and while I can’t deny I’m reaching the stage when I’m starting to get just a bit tired of the tacked-on mystery that seems to have become almost de rigueur in historical romances, this one is integral to the story and doesn’t overshadow the development of the central relationship.

James, his cousin Graeme (hero of A Perfect Gentleman) and Laura have known each other since childhood, and, as teenagers, Laura and Graeme fell in love.  But Graeme was the heir to an impoverished earldom and needed to marry an heiress; Laura was the daughter of a country doctor, and a match between them was impossible.  It was James who, eleven years before, had gone to Laura and told her that she needed to let Graeme go so he could move on and do what needed to be done; and Laura, while heart-broken and not particularly well-disposed towards James, knew what he said was true and broke things off with the man she loved.

James de Vere is handsome, wealthy, charming and enigmatic; he’s witty and insightful, but reveals little of himself and is the sort of man who buries his emotions deep and needs to maintain control.  He has no great love for his immediate family and bears ties of affection to nobody except his cousin and his mastiff, Demosthenes – Dem – who is his constant companion.  But for some months now, he has been suffering from a mystery illness which is gradually getting worse, and none of the doctors he has seen can identify it or decide upon a treatment.  The diagnoses run from a bad heart to brain fever to tumors, but the one thing the medical men do agree on is that James hasn’t long left to live.

He is preparing to leave London to spend the time left to him at his estate in the country when Graeme persuades him to seek advice from Doctor Hinsdale.  James isn’t hopeful, but promises to do as his cousin asks, even though he’s tired and in pain and could do without making the detour to Canterbury.  Unfortunately, however, he arrives to discover that the doctor died two weeks earlier and that Laura has been left in straitened circumstances.  Knowing her to be a sensible, practical sort of woman, he makes a surprising suggestion that he believes will benefit them both.

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

TBR Challenge: Again, My Lord (Twist #2) by Katharine Ashe


This title may be purchased from Amazon

The one that got away . . .

Six years ago, Tacitus Everard, the Marquess of Dare, made the worst mistake of his life: courting vibrant, sparklingly beautiful Lady Calista Chance—until she broke his heart.

Is the only one she wants.

Six years ago, Calista Holland made the biggest misstep of her life: begging handsome, wealthy Lord Dare to help her run away from home—then marrying someone else.

Now, trapped by disaster in a country inn, Calista has one day to convince the marquess she’s worth a second chance, and Dare has one goal, to steer clear of déjà vu. But when the day takes an unimaginable twist, what will it take to end up in each other’s arms?

Rating: A-

I had a bit of a struggle to find a book to suit this month’s prompt to read a book in a series I’m behind on, because I’m pretty much caught up with all the ones I’m currently following. There are some I haven’t started yet, but I wanted to try to stick to the prompt and finally, I came up with Again, My Lord, the second book in Katharine Ashe’s Twist series. In the two books in the series so far, she’s taken a couple of well-known movie plots as her starting points and adapted them into historical romances which, while certainly out of the ordinary in terms of the premise, are nonetheless well done and very entertaining, possessing a depth of understanding and exploration of character motivation that wasn’t possible in the films which inspired them.

Tacitus Caesar Everard, Marquess of Dare has two requirements in a bride. First, she must have good teeth; second, she should be someone with whom he could live a contented, sensible life without becoming emotionally involved. When he meets the vivacious, eighteen-year-old Lady Calista Chance (sister of Ian, hero of My Lady, My Lord), Tacitus is delighted to note that she has excellent teeth and that she is so different from him in terms of personality – she’s lively and outgoing whereas he tends to be shy and somewhat subdued – that there’s little chance of his falling in love with her, and immediately decides she’s the girl for him.

He sets about courting her, putting up at a country inn close to the Chance estate where he remains for a month while he takes Calista on drives and outings, usually accompanied by her younger siblings. Calista chatters on and teases him in a way he’s never experienced before and isn’t sure how to respond to; he doesn’t exactly dislike it, but can’t shake the feeling that perhaps she is simply making fun of him. Still, he continues to spend time with her, coming to realise that she has a keen mind behind the bubbly exterior and pretty face – and after a month has passed, decides that it’s time for him to make a formal offer. He is about to make his way to her home when she arrives at the inn and promptly tells him she is running away and asks him to take her to London. Believing Calista is asking him to take her to meet another man, Tacitus only now realises he’s fallen in love – and curses himself for an idiot. He takes her back home and leaves her without another word, determined to fall out of love as quickly as he’d fallen into it. But it’s not easy – even when, a few weeks later, he sees the notice in the paper of her marriage to another man.

Six years later, Lady Calista Holland is trying not to fall apart as she bids farewell to her five-year-old son, Harry, who is going to stay with her mother and sister for a month. Calista’s husband, however, has not granted her permission to accompany him; he’s very possessive and resents any of her time or attention being given to anything other than him, so all she is allowed to do is deliver Harry to her sister at the inn near the small village of Swinly and then she must return home immediately. Everything is set – when a huge horse thunders into the yard and would have knocked Harry down were it not for the fast reflexes of its rider. Calista is astonished to recognise the autocratic, severe, yet handsome-as-ever features of none other than the Marquess of Dare, the man she fell in love with six years ago and the man who abandoned her when she needed him the most.

The horrible weather only gets worse, aptly reflecting Calista’s gloomy mood, and when she wakes the next morning to discover that the storm is so bad as to have flooded the roads and made it impossible to leave the village her feelings are conflicted. On the one hand, she has a respite from her miserable, abusive husband; on the other, if she cannot get home on time, she has no doubt Richard will take out his anger on her and, later, their son.

I don’t want to spoil the twist in the story, although it will quickly become apparent once things get going, so I’m not going to say more about the plot. Instead, I’ll say that Again, My Lord is a wonderful tale of love and redemption that encompasses a gamut of emotions from dejection to elation, from despair to hope. The majority of the story is told in Calista’s PoV, so we are privy to her transformation from a woman who has been beaten down by life and who has little regard or care for anyone or anything – except her son, whom she loves dearly – to someone who knows how to live life to the fullest and make the most of each day and opportunity that comes along.

Through her eyes, we see that Tacitus has changed in the intervening years, too, and very much for the better. The oh-so-correct, somewhat gauche young man Calista first knew has become a man whose natural authority commands attention without his having to say a word; even better, he seems to have acquired a dry sense of humour and the ability to laugh at himself somewhere along the way. He’s the most gorgeous romantic hero; thoughtful, sweet, passionate and kind and I loved the way the he’s so patient and considerate with Calista, even when he has no idea what she’s doing or talking about or when he’s irritated with her.

The romance that re-kindles between the two is extremely well developed – even moreso given the restrictions the author has imposed upon herself by the twist – as Calista and Tacitus gradually rediscover each other and fall in love all over again. In fact, it’s probably true to say they never really fell out of love with each other, but they have to get to know the people they are now, and it’s quite the journey for them both, albeit in different ways. It’s far from easy, however, and there’s a lot of heartache along the way for Calista especially, as she starts to realise that the time she has been granted to spend with Tacitus is a double-edged sword, because for her, every day brings new discoveries and new facets of him to fall in love with, whereas for him… well, suffice to say it’s not the same for Tacitus which is one of the things that adds such a note of poignancy to the story.

Katharine Ashe pulls off this unusual conceit with immense quantities of style and panache. Her writing is lyrical and completely engaging, the characterisation of the two leads is excellent and she’s one of those authors with a real talent for writing dialogue that feels natural and in which the humour is never forced. Again, My Lord has pretty much everything I could ask for in an historical romance, and is another of Ms. Ashe’s books to find its way onto my keeper shelf.

The Lawrence Browne Affair by Cat Sebastian (audio) – Narrated by Gary Furlong

An earl hiding from his future…
Lawrence Browne, the Earl of Radnor, is mad. At least that’s what he and most of the village believes. A brilliant scientist, he hides himself away in his family’s crumbling estate, unwilling to venture into the outside world. When an annoyingly handsome man arrives at Penkellis, claiming to be Lawrence’s new secretary, his carefully planned world is turned upside down.

A swindler haunted by his past…

Georgie Turner has made his life pretending to be anyone but himself. A swindler and con man, he can slip into an identity faster than he can change clothes. But when his long-dead conscience resurrects and a dangerous associate is out for blood, Georgie escapes to the wilds of Cornwall. Pretending to be a secretary should be easy, but he doesn’t expect that the only madness he finds is the one he has for the gorgeous earl. Can they find forever in the wreckage of their lives? Challenging each other at every turn, the two men soon give in to the desire that threatens to overwhelm them. But with one man convinced he is at the very brink of madness and the other hiding his real identity, only true love can make this an affair to remember.

Rating: Narration – B+ Content – A-

Cat Sebastian’s début historical romance, The Soldier’s Scoundrel, was one of my favourite books of 2016 in both print and audio, so I’ve been eagerly awaiting the release of her second, The Lawrence Browne Affair in audiobook format. Like its predecessor, this book is very well-written, sharply observed, strongly characterised, and contains a beautifully developed and sensual romance between two people who, at first, would seem to have little – or nothing – in common.

We met Georgie Turner – swindler, thief and con-artist extraordinaire – in the first book, and at the beginning of this one, he’s in big trouble with the local crimelord. Georgie has discovered that at the ripe old age of twenty-five, he’s developed a conscience, and it’s a real pain in the arse because it’s rendered him unable to see through his latest scheme to con an elderly lady out of all her money. Without that payoff, he can’t pay his ‘dues’ and if he can’t pay up, then he’s as good as dead. Fortunately for him, his older brother, Jack – a private investigator – has a job for Georgie that will take him all the way to Cornwall where he can lie low while he works out what to do next while also making himself useful by sending back reports to London on the mental state of his new employer, the Earl of Radnor.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

Three Weeks with a Princess (Improper Princesses #2) by Vanessa Kelly

This title may be purchased from Amazon

Lia Kincaid, illegitimate daughter of the Duke of York, comes from a long line of notorious women. Raised by her grandmother, formerly mistress to the late Marquess of Lendale, she has little hope of a respectable marriage. But the new marquess, her childhood friend, Jack Easton, would make a very desirable protector . . . if he weren’t too honorable to take her to bed.

It’s bad enough being saddled with a title he never desired. Now Jack must resist the beautiful woman he desires far too much. Duty calls, and he is duty-bound to choose a wealthy bride. But then Lia makes another outrageous suggestion: asking Jack to devise some tests to find her the perfect paramour. Tests that involve flirting, kissing, and other pleasurable pursuits. Tests that, in a matter of weeks, could transform friendship into the ton’s greatest scandal, igniting a passion even duty can’t deny. . .

Rating: B-

The fact that King George III’s sons were promiscuous and known to have fathered numerous illegitimate children comes in handy when you want to write a series of historical romances featuring a group of protagonists with royal connections. Following on the heels of her Royal Renegades, featuring fictional illegitimate sons of different royal princes, Vanessa Kelly has turned her attention to the Improper Princesses, daughters born on the wrong side of more royal blankets. Three Weeks with a Princess is a friends-to-lovers romance between an impoverished marquess and his childhood friend, the daughter of the Duke of York and a former courtesan-turned-actress. It’s well-written and I enjoyed the relationship between the central couple, but the heroine’s refusal to listen to good sense became frustrating, and the drama injected towards the end of the story was rather too contrived for my taste.

Lia Kincaid’s name is a byword for scandal, even though she has lived a respectable and somewhat sheltered life. Her mother was once a high-flying courtesan, and so was her grandmother, Rebecca, before she became the long-term mistress and companion of the Marquess of Lendale. Lia has been raised by her grandmother and the pair lives quietly in a cottage on Lendale’s estate, much to the disgust of the marquess’ sister-in-law. Fortunately, the ladies of the family – Lady John and her daughter, Lady Anne – rarely come to Stonefell Hall, but her son, Jack, is a much more frequent visitor; he was Lia’s childhood playmate and has continued to visit her and her grandmother throughout the years, in spite of his mother’s disapproval.

When the old marquess dies and Jack inherits the title, he is shocked to discover how badly the estate has been run, and realises he’s got his work cut out for him if he is to turn everything around – if that is even possible. He is also faced with the unpleasant task of having to inform Lia and her grandmother that his uncle made no provision for them whatsoever; Rebecca had hoped for at least a small annuity or bequest, but he left nothing, and Jack’s mother is already insisting that the ladies are turned out of their home.

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

Cask Strength (Agents Irish and Whiskey #2) by Layla Reyne

This title may be purchased from Amazon

Professionally, the FBI team of Aidan “Irish” Talley and Jameson “Whiskey” Walker is as good as it gets, closing cases faster than any team at the Bureau. Personally, it’s a different story. Aidan’s feelings for Jamie scare the hell out of him: he won’t risk losing another love no matter how heart-tripping the intimacy between them. And loss is a grim reality with the terrorist Renaud still on their trail, leaving a pile of bodies in his wake.

Going undercover on a new case gets them out of town and off the killer’s radar. They’re assigned to investigate an identity theft ring involving a college basketball team in Jamie’s home state, where Jamie’s past makes him perfect for the role of coach. But returning to the court brings more than old memories.

As secrets and shocking betrayals abound, none may be more dangerous than the one Jamie’s been keeping: a secret about the death of Aidan’s husband that could blow his partner’s world apart and destroy forever the fragile bonds of trust and love building between them.

Rating: B+

Note:  Because this is the second book in a series with an overarching storyline, there will be spoilers for the previous book, Single Malt in this review.

Cask Strength, the second book in Layla Reyne’s Agents Irish and Whiskey series picks up a few months after the events of Single Malt.  At the end of that book, Aidan Talley and Jameson Walker were instrumental in foiling a terrorist plot – and Jamie’s investigations into the car crash that killed both Aidan’s husband and his FBI partner have revealed that both the deceased were somehow connected to the very same terrorist, Pierre Renaud.  He is sworn to secrecy by their boss – who is also Aidan’s sister-in-law – and even though he hates deceiving the man he loves, Jamie agrees to keep what he knows under wraps until he can find out more.

As Cask Strength opens, Aidan and Jamie are in a good place professionally and are celebrating their position at top of the FBI’s clearance board.  Personally, however, things are far from perfect.  They’re lovers;  they enjoy each other’s company and the sex is great, but Jamie wonders how much longer he can keep what he knows from Aidan, and Aidan continues to be reluctant to commit to Jamie for fear of once again losing someone he cares for.  At the end of the previous book they agreed to keep things casual between them – or rather, Aidan decided he didn’t want to embark on a serious relationship and Jamie went along with it, willing to do whatever it took to keep Aidan in his life and in his bed.

But it’s getting harder and harder for Jamie to pretend he doesn’t want more, especially as part of “keeping it casual” for Aidan means he dates other men.  Aidan’s desperation to keep himself emotionally closed off is – perhaps – understandable, but it’s still frustrating to watch as he continually pushes Jamie away, even though deep down, it’s clear that he’s in denial about his true feelings for Jamie – and yet he persists in hurting him anyway.

Jamie’s investigations into Renaud lead him and Aidan to question the two detectives who worked the case of the crash that killed Gabe (Aidan’s late husband) and his FBI partner Tom Crane – and not long after that, those detectives are gunned down in the street.  Judging it best to get Aidan and Jamie out of the spotlight for a while, their boss sends them to North Carolina – Jamie’s home state –  to look into accusations of match fixing, illegal betting and identity theft involving a college basketball team.  Jamie goes undercover as himself – Jameson “Whiskey” Walker, former star college and NBA player who is joining the team as assistant coach, while Aidan poses as his agent, Ian Daley.  Jamie is thus best placed to work out who – if anyone – among the players could be suspect, and Aidan can do the same among the department and administrative staff.

Once again, Ms. Reyne has crafted an intriguing and exciting suspense plot which kept me eagerly turning the pages, and which at the same time throws more light on the personalities of our two protagonists and further develops their relationship.  Jamie is practically floored by lust the first time he sees Aidan in all his red-headed Irish glory as Ian – and green-eyed with jealousy at the flirtatious – albeit fake – relationship Aidan embarks upon with the college’s athletic director in order to get closer to the criminal operation.  But the jealousy isn’t all one-sided; Jamie’s former lover, Derrick Pope, is back on the scene, and makes clear – in no uncertain terms – his interest in picking up where they left off.

Given Aidan’s insistence that there’s no long-term future for them, Jamie starts to question his past decisions and wonder if he did the right thing eight years ago, getting out of professional sports.  His brief stint as assistant coach at CU shows him that he’s got a real aptitude for working with players off the court, and I enjoyed seeing that side of him, briefly unencumbered by terrorist threats or FBI cases, and just wanting to do the best by his team members; it’s a glimpse of what “Whiskey” Walker might have been had he not left the game.

There’s a lot going on in this story, what with the identity theft case, the search for Renaud and the development of the romance, but I never felt as though things were moving too fast for me to take everything in.  The balance between the different plot elements is just about right; there’s plenty of nail-biting action mixed in with moments of tenderness, humour and scorching sex scenes (*cough* pool table *cough*) and Ms. Reyne skilfully drives everything along to a highly suspenseful conclusion that ultimately forces both protagonists – Aidan especially – to confront the truth of their feelings for each other.

The sexual chemistry between the two men is intense, but the author does a great job of creating emotional closeness and intensity between them, too, so there’s never any doubt in the reader’s mind that these two need and care very deeply for each other.  There’s a well-drawn secondary cast (I hope we’ll see more of Nic and Cam, Jamie’s best friend) and I once again enjoyed the glimpses of the strong familial ties between Aidan and his younger brother Danny, who, it seems, is now dating Mel Cruz, Aidan’s boss and sister-in-law.   The book ends on one hell of a cliffhanger, as Jamie and Aidan wrap things up at CU and are set to head home when Aidan’s brother Danny appears with potentially devastating news, setting the stage for what I imagine are going to be some pretty explosive developments in the final book, Barrel Proof.

Cask Strength is a riveting read, and one I’d strongly recommend to fans of romantic suspense. One word of caution; it doesn’t really work as a standalone, so I’d advise reading Single Malt first.

Her Favourite Duke (1797 Club #2) by Jess Michaels

This title may be purchased from Amazon.

Simon Greene, Duke of Crestwood has been obsessed with Margaret Rylon for years. There is only one thing standing between them: her fiancé, who also happens to be his best friend. He is desperate not to destroy everything in his life by giving in to his desires, but when Meg and Simon are trapped alone together overnight during a storm, the resulting scandal not only breaks Meg’s existing engagement, but forces Simon to offer for her instead.

Margaret is sorry to have hurt her family and her fiancé, but all she’s ever wanted was Simon. Her determination to make a happy life with him is only heightened

when they submit to passions that have long dwelled beneath the surface. But while Simon may give her his body, he withholds his heart out of guilt and fear of what a connection to her may expose.

And if he doesn’t learn to fight for her soon, they both may lose a chance at happiness.

Rating: D+

I freely admit that I am not averse to a good dose of angst in the romances I read.  Because I know that everything will turn out in the end, it’s a safe way to indulge in a bit of heightened emotion and maybe even to reach for the Kleenex while knowing there’s that safety net of the eventual HEA.  So angst is fine.  Continual misery,  mental self-flagellation and navel-gazing? Not so much.  And that is almost all that this latest book from Jess Michaels offers.  Her Favorite Duke is based on the classic trope of young woman in love with her betrothed’s best friend; young man in love with his best friend’s betrothed, and oh, woe is we, for we can never be together.

Lady Margaret Rylon has been in love with her brother’s friend, Simon Green, Duke of Crestwood, for years.  They are great friends, sharing many interests and a sense of humour, and even though she is only sixteen, and he three years older, she dares to hope that perhaps one day they will be able to make a life together.  Her hopes are dashed, however, when her brother James arranges for her to marry another of his best friends, Graham, Duke of Northfield.

Seven years later – yes, you read that right, SEVEN years later – Meg and Graham are still not married.  I’ve heard of long engagements, but that seems pretty excessive, even though Meg was only sixteen when the betrothal took place.  There are no reasons given that make sense for this, and it’s hard to believe in all that time that neither Meg nor Graham ever wondered why they hadn’t set a date or that Meg’s brother – who obviously cares a great deal for her –  never questioned them or asked them to set one.

But if they had married, then there would be no book – and quite honestly, I think that might have been the better option. Anyway, now we’re in chapter one, James can encourage the pair to set a date, which finally makes things real for Meg.  Her friendship with Simon has become very strained and she is miserable; when she storms off during an outing, Simon can’t let her go alone and goes after her, without taking account of the vagaries of the English weather.

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