Unmasked by the Marquess (Regency Imposters #1) by Cat Sebastian

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The one you love…

Robert Selby is determined to see his sister make an advantageous match. But he has two problems: the Selbys have no connections or money and Robert is really a housemaid named Charity Church. She’s enjoyed every minute of her masquerade over the past six years, but she knows her pretense is nearing an end. Charity needs to see her beloved friend married well and then Robert Selby will disappear…forever.

May not be who you think…

Alistair, Marquess of Pembroke, has spent years repairing the estate ruined by his wastrel father, and nothing is more important than protecting his fortune and name. He shouldn’t be so beguiled by the charming young man who shows up on his doorstep asking for favors. And he certainly shouldn’t be thinking of all the disreputable things he’d like to do to the impertinent scamp.

But is who you need…

When Charity’s true nature is revealed, Alistair knows he can’t marry a scandalous woman in breeches, and Charity isn’t about to lace herself into a corset and play a respectable miss. Can these stubborn souls learn to sacrifice what they’ve always wanted for a love that is more than they could have imagined?

Rating: B-

Unmasked by the Marquess, the first in Cat Sebastian’s new Regency Imposters series, marks something of a departure for her in that, unlike her previous books, it isn’t a male/male romance. The two protagonists are a man and a woman – but the fact that this isn’t a standard m/f romance quickly becomes apparent when we learn that our heroine – a former housemaid named Charity Church – has actually been living as a man for the past six years and feels far more ‘right’ in herself dressing, acting and living as a man than she ever did as a woman.

(I’m using ‘she’ and ‘her’ in this review, even though Charity is non-binary; the author uses those pronouns throughout the book for reasons she explains in her author’s note, so I’m going to follow her lead).

Robert Selby and his sister Louisa have come to London with the object of securing an advantageous match for Louisa. Unfortunately however, coming from rural Northumberland makes an entrée into the right circles in London rather difficult as they know no one who can introduce them. Remembering his father’s old friend, the late Marquess of Pembroke, Robert hits upon the idea of asking the current marquess for help; if a man of his standing is seen to take notice of Louisa, then surely other men will follow and a proposal will ensue.

Alistair de Lacey has spent the years since the death of his profligate father working hard to rebuild the family finances and to claw back the respectability the late marquess threw away in favour of a life filled with excess and dissolution. When a charming and rather attractive young man named Robert Selby is ushered into his library, Alastair expects to be tapped for money, so is surprised when Selby tells him that the late marquess stood godfather to his (Robert’s) sister, and asks for Alistair’s assistance in launching her into society. But Alistair – who has just received (and turned down) a similar request from his late father’s mistress on behalf of her eldest daughter (Alistair’s half-sister) – isn’t inclined to help and sends the young man on his way.

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


Flight of Magpies (A Charm of Magpies #3) by K.J. Charles (audiobook) – Narrated by Cornell Collins

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Danger in the air. Lovers on the brink.

A Charm of Magpies, Book 3: With the justiciary understaffed, a series of horrifying occult murders to be investigated, and a young student who is flying – literally – off the rails, magical law enforcer Stephen Day is under increasing stress. And his relationship with his aristocratic lover, Lord Crane, is beginning to feel the strain. Crane chafes at the restrictions of England’s laws, and there’s a worrying development in the blood-and-sex bond he shares with Stephen. A development that makes a sensible man question if they should be together at all.

When a thief strikes at the heart of Crane’s home, a devastating loss brings his closest relationships into bitter conflict – especially his relationship with Stephen. And as old enemies, new enemies, and unexpected enemies paint the lovers into a corner, the pressure threatens to tear them apart.

Warning: Contains hot-blooded sex, cold-blooded murder, sinister magical goings-on, and a lot of swearing.

Rating: Narration – A+ : Content – A

So compelling was K.J. Charles’Flight of Magpies that I listened to all six-and-a-half-hours of it in one sitting. In the third book of the A Charm of Magpies series, the author has crafted an engrossing story full of intrigue, magic and danger which pits our heroes, Lucien, Lord Crane and practitioner (magician) Stephen Day, against some truly evil old enemies bent on revenge while at the same time exploring the effects of, for want of a better expression, ‘real life’ on a couple in an established – although illegal – relationship.

Please note that there are spoilers for books one and two in this review.

By the end of book two of the trilogy, A Case of Possession, Lucien and Stephen are a couple; ILYs have been exchanged, Lucien has decided to remain in England with Stephen – at least, until such time as he can persuade his lover to go to Shanghai with him – and they’re in it for the long haul. Stephen has always been a bit elusive, but he’s now spending several nights a week at Lucien’s flat and their lives are becoming more and more intertwined, and not just because they are inextricably linked together by an ancient and potent magic. Lucien’s ancestor, The Magpie Lord, was the most powerful sorcerer England has ever seen, and although Lucien has no magical abilities himself, the supernatural power that runs through his blood can somehow amplify Stephen’s already considerable abilities and together, they are a force to be reckoned with.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

TBR Challenge: The Vicar’s Daughter (Regency Quartet #1) by Deborah Simmons

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The Earl meets his match…

The Earl of Wycliffe is in store for a surprise when he buys a new estate. The vicar’s daughter who lives on his land is a curvaceous, green-eyed beauty about to make her debut in the Ton…and he’s assigned to chaperon her!

Max must ensure tempting Charlotte Trowbridge finds a suitable husband in her first Season. But when several men begin to compete for the debutante’s hand, the usually level-headed Max realises he might not want to let her go!

Rating: B-

For my ‘old-skool’ read, I chose a Harlequin Historical from 1995, the first in Deborah Simmons’ Regency QuartetThe Vicar’s Daughter is one of those ‘stuffed-shirt meets wild-child’ romances (although the heroine isn’t really a wild-child as such), and while it’s fairly predictable, it’s a light-hearted, fun read and the two central characters are well-drawn and endearing.  Maximillian Fortescue, Earl of Wycliffe has just inherited Casterleigh, near the village of Upper Bidwell in Sussex,  and is about to pay a half-hour (a suitable length of time for this sort of thing) courtesy  call on the local vicar.  Arrived at the vicarage, Wycliffe – a tightly controlled and rather staid young man – is confronted by a passel of noisy, boisterous children, and, when ushered into the parlour, is arrested by the sight of the lush backside of a young woman who is peering under the sofa.  Wycliffe’s impressions of her lusciousness are bolstered when she finally gets up clutching a pair of kittens; the vicar’s daughter is stunningly beautiful and Wycliffe – who isn’t normally one to languish over a woman’s charms – is pretty much smitten from the get go.  In fact, he’s so smitten that he fails to adhere to his self-imposed schedule and ends up staying for the family dinner, which is full of chatter and laughter and like nothing he’s ever experienced.  He can hardly take his eyes off the lovely Charlotte, yes, but he’s also amazed at the ease with which father and siblings interact with each other and with the way he’s been so quickly and easily accepted by them.

During the visit, Wycliffe learns that Charlotte is soon to depart for London where she is to take part in the Season under the auspices of an elderly cousin, with the intention of finding a husband.  Wycliffe is surprised to find he doesn’t like this idea at all – but tells himself not to be ridiculous and offers to look in on her in London so that he can reassure her father that all is going well.

Naturally, Wycliffe’s role as self-appointed guardian and defender of Charlotte’s honour sees him running off all her potential suitors, even as he is stubbornly denying his own attraction to her and reminding himself that a man of his station cannot possibly marry the daughter of a mere country vicar.

Charlotte might be fresh out of the schoolroom, but she’s no simpering miss; she’s unaffected, intelligent and good-natured, with a good sense of humour and is well aware that making an advantageous marriage is important for her entire family (she has seven brothers and sisters) and not just herself.  The trouble is that she’s also aware that most men are attracted only to her looks and aren’t likely to offer the sort of affection and companionship she longs for in her marriage.  Even though she knows that a man of Wycliffe’s station can’t possibly marry her, she can’t help wishing, and she can’t help loving him and wanting to show him the sort of love and affection she’s come to realise he’s never had in his life.

One of the best things about this type of story is watching the starchy, strictly disciplined hero gradually abandon all his routines as he falls for the heroine, usually without realising it. Wycliffe is widely known for being cold, unemotional and the sort of man you could set your watch by; even his visits to his (former) mistress were on a regular, pre-arranged schedule.  Yet from the moment he sets eyes on Charlotte, he starts to deviate from his routine, to the horror of his secretary and the amusement of Raleigh, Wycliffe’s best friend and hero of The Last Rogue, the fourth (and best) book in this series.

For all the story’s predictability, the romance is well-done, the chemistry between Wycliffe and Charlotte crackles nicely, and there are a few steamy love scenes along the way.  But a real bum note is struck near the end when a seemingly harmless suitor of Charlotte’s turns out to be a drug-crazed madman and attempts to carry her off – twice – in the last chapter or two.  I could have forgiven a bit of tacked-on drama once, but twice was taking it too far and it was incredibly jarring.

Overall though, The Vicar’s Daughter proved to be an enjoyable, low-angst read, and while it’s not going onto my keeper shelf, it was nonetheless entertaining. If you’re looking for an undemanding, upbeat historical that radiates warmth and gentle humour, you might consider checking it out.

Family Plot (John Pickett Mysteries #3) by Sheri Cobb South (audiobook) – Narrated by Joel Froomkin

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon.

The third installment of the John Pickett series of humorous Regency mysteries finds Bow Street Runner Pickett in Scotland investigating a woman found unconscious on the beach – a woman who bears a striking resemblance to the local laird’s daughter, a girl missing and presumed dead for the last 15 years.

Pickett is surprised to discover that the woman was found by none other than Lady Fieldhurst and her three young nephews – and gratified to learn that her ladyship has registered at the seaside inn as Mrs. Julia Pickett. When old Angus Kirkbride dies only hours after announcing his intention of changing his will in his daughter’s favor, “Mr. and Mrs. Pickett” must join forces to discover the truth about a family reunion suddenly turned deadly.

Rating: Narration – A : Content – B

Family Plot is book three of Sheri Cobb South’s series of historical mysteries featuring Bow Street Runner John Pickett, a sharply intelligent and quietly charming young man who was rescued from a life of crime by magistrate Patrick Colquhoun, and eventually became the youngest member of the Bow Street force.

In book one, In Milady’s Chamber, John was, by the happy accident of being in the right place at the right time, instrumental in proving the innocence of Lady Julia Fieldhurst, who was accused of the murder of her husband. John has been in love with the beautiful young viscountess ever since he first set eyes on her but is well aware that the vast difference in their stations makes any relationship impossible.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

Devil in Tartan (Highland Grooms #4) by Julia London (audiobook) – Narrated by Derek Perkins

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Lottie Livingstone bears the weight of an island on her shoulders. Under threat of losing their home, she and her clan take to the seas to sell a shipload of illegal whiskey. When an attack leaves them vulnerable, she transforms from a maiden daughter to a clever warrior. For survival, she orchestrates the siege of a rival’s ship and now holds the devilish Scottish captain Aulay Mackenzie under her command.

Tied, captive, and forced to watch a stunning siren commandeer the Mackenzie ship, Aulay burns with the desire to seize control – of the ship and Lottie. He has resigned himself to a life of solitude on the open seas, but her beauty tantalizes him like nothing has before. As authorities and enemies close in, he is torn between surrendering her to justice and defending her from assailants. He’ll lose her forever, unless he’s willing to sacrifice the unimaginable…

Rating: Narration – A : Content – C

The estimable Derek Perkins returns to Julia London’s Highland Grooms series to narrate book four, Devil in Tartan, which features Aulay, the middle son of the Mackenzie brood, and the one least often to be found at the family estate of Balhaire. With his elder brother Cailean living mostly in England with his wife and stepson, and his younger brother, Robbie, aiding their father in the management of the Balhaire estate and lands, Aulay has increasingly come to feel something of an outsider, and has more or less resigned himself to a life alone. He has made his life at sea, captaining the Mackenzie ship and contributing to the family coffers by his various profitable trading enterprises, but his latest voyage, designed to bring in some much needed funds, is destined to end in disaster.

A few days after they have set sail on their latest commission, Aulay and his crew sight a smaller vessel which is clearly in distress and go to its aid. Unfortunately, however, Aulay’s generous intentions prove to be his – and his crew’s – undoing, because despite his caution, the ethereally lovely young woman aboard proves so distracting that a momentary lapse of attention on Aulay’s part enables her crew to incapacitate him and the rest of his crew and to take over his ship.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

The Secret of Flirting (Sinful Suitors #5) by Sabrina Jeffries

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When spymaster Baron Fulkham meets the stunning Princess Aurore of Chanay, he’s sure he’s met her before . . . in Dieppe . . . where she was an actress. As he pursues his suspicions, he uncovers a plot of attempted assassination and betrayals that could very well destroy his career, expose his own dark secrets . . . and ruin the woman he’s rapidly falling for.

Forced by her great-uncle to cover for a cousin she’s never met, stage actress Monique Servais is playing the role of a lifetime as Princess Aurore. If the handsome but arrogant Lord Fulkham recognizes her, he could ruin everything. Will the curtain be drawn on this charade before she can convince Fulkham to keep her secret? Or will they both find a love to transcend the truth about their carefully guarded pasts?

Rating: B

Although The Secret of Flirting is the fifth instalment in Sabrina Jeffries’ Sinful Suitors series, it can easily be read as a standalone, as none of its storylines is related to the other books. Previous heroes and heroines make appearances within its pages, but they are brief cameos and no prior knowledge of their stories is required in order to make sense of this one.  Gregory Vyse, Lord Fulkham, undersecretary of state for war and the colonies – and unofficially one of England’s most successful spymasters – appeared as an important secondary character in the previous book (The Pleasures of Passion), and now takes centre stage in a story of international politics and intrigue.

Gregory is driven, astute and ambitious, and hopes for a prestigious appointment in the new government that will shortly be formed under Lord Grey. He is currently heavily involved in the conference that has been convened in London in order to select a ruler for the new country of Belgium, formed when it was granted independence from the Netherlands. In fact, with the Foreign Secretary indisposed, the organisation of the conference and the endorsement of the chosen candidate falls wholly on Gregory’s shoulders, and he is a man who takes his responsibilities very seriously indeed.

Princess Aurore of Chanay is one of the front runners for the monarchy, but has been suddenly taken ill at Calais and is unable to travel to London – which is potentially disastrous.  But all is not lost – in a stroke worthy of Alexandre Dumas or Anthony Hope, the princess’ great uncle, the Count de Beaumonde, comes up with a plan to have Aurore’s second cousin, actress Monique Servais, impersonate the princess in London until she recovers and can resume her royal position and duties.

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

From Courtesan to Convenient Wife (Matches Made in Scandal #2) by Marguerite Kaye

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Every woman wants to marry him…

But what if he’s already taken?

In this Matches Made in Scandal story Jean-Luc Bauduin, Parisian society’s most eligible bachelor, is determined only to take a wife of his choosing. And until that day comes he’ll ward off his admirers by hiring Lady Sophia Acton to wear his ring! The passion Jean-Luc shares with his convenient bride is enormously satisfying—until he discovers Sophia’s utterly scandalous past!

Rating: B+

The four books in Marguerite Kaye’s new series, Matches Made in Scandal, are set in some of the world’s most exciting cities – St. Petersburg, Paris, Venice and London – and are all linked by a mysterious woman known only as The Procurer who specialises in helping young women whom life has dealt a poor hand and offering them a chance to rebuild their lives and make themselves a better future. In From Courtesan to Convenient Wife, The Procurer extends that offer to Lady Sophia Acton, a well-bred young lady whose fall from grace has been spectacular and who is now on the verge of penury.

The Procurer’s client is a successful and extremely wealthy Parisian wine merchant named Jean-Luc Bauduin, who needs to find himself a wife very quickly.  Or rather, he needs to find himself a woman to pretend to be his wife for as long as it takes for him to prove to the young lady who insists he is contracted to marry her that he is not the man she thinks he is and therefore, not subject to the contract she says was drawn up by their fathers when they were both children.  It’s an unusual situation, but in taking the job, Sophia will earn enough money to be able to leave London, where her reputation is in shreds, and make a new life for herself elsewhere.

When Mademoiselle Juliette de Cressy presented herself as his contracted bride, Jean-Luc was convinced she was some sort of con-artist.  Insisting he is the rightful Duc de Montendre, who was hidden away as an infant  to preserve him from the ravages of the Revolution, she even showed him a copy of the contract, signed by her recently deceased father, the Comte de Cressy, and the late Duc de Montendre. But  Jean-Luc isn’t the son of a duke – he was born in Cognac and is the only child of Monsieur and Madame Bauduin, although unfortunately, he has no documentation or living relatives who can attest to his identity.  He soon comes to accept that Juliette isn’t trying to con him – she genuinely believes him to be the Duc de Montendre – and he decides that the only way to get her to realise she is mistaken is to show her that he’s already married, which will also buy him  some time to gather the evidence to refute her claim.  Which is where Sophia comes in.

Sophia settles into her role as Madame Bauduin quickly, and is even more convincing than Jean-Luc could have hoped for.  Part of the deal is that Sophia is under no obligation to tell him anything about herself, and he scrupulously refrains from asking questions he longs to ask; she is clearly not an actress, and equally clearly has been brought up as a lady – which makes her acceptance of his commission even more puzzling.  But as the days pass and she fits herself almost seamlessly into his life, Jean-Luc finds it harder and harder to remember that their marriage is a sham and begins to dream of a life spent with Sophia at his side, his wife in truth.

Their romance develops quickly, but the couple has such fabulous chemistry that it’s easy to buy into their growing feelings for one another.  They are simply adorable together; their interactions are funny, sweet, tender and sensual by turns, and I loved the way they are so easily able to joke together about the ridiculousness of their situation, even as they are playing the besotted newly-weds for the benefit of those around them.

Sophia is surprised at the strength of her attraction to Jean-Luc, given that her experience with men has given her a deep distrust of them and their motives.  Although born into the nobility, her life has not been easy; her father thought girls were worthless and did not provide well for Sophia and her sister, who was chronically ill, even refusing to pay for Felicity to travel to a climate more suitable for her health.  Love of her sister set Sophia on a path no well-bred young lady should have been forced to follow and she became the mistress of an unpleasant, manipulative man who, when Sophia ended their arrangement after her sister’s death, made his liaison with Sophia known and dragged her name through the mud.

It doesn’t take long for Sophia to realise that Jean-Luc is decent and honourable, and the more time she spends with him, the stronger her feelings for him become.  She knows he cares for her, too, but her intention was always to use the money she would earn from this commission to live alone and independently… but that isn’t such an attractive prospect now that she has fallen deeply in love.  Yet she can see no alternative.  The truth of her scandalous past is sure to repulse Jean-Luc and she can’t bear the thought of living with the disapprobation and disgust she is sure will develop over time.  Jean-Luc sees clearly that Sophia has put others before herself and her own happiness at every opportunity, while she believes herself to be tainted by her actions.  Her perception of her unworthiness is the principal source of conflict in the romance;  Sophia is effectively imprisoned by her past, and has to learn to, as Jean-Luc says, lay the ghosts to rest and look to the future.

From Courtesan to Convenient Wife is a gorgeously romantic and truly delightful read in which the sexual tension between Jean-Luc and Sophia crackles right from the start.  Jean-Luc is a wonderful hero – he’s a refreshing change in a genre full of arrogant dukes and marriage-shy bachelors; he’s handsome and charming (of course!) but he’s also highly intuitive, very sure of himself and his place in the world, and has worked very hard to become the successful and wealthy businessman he now is.  He oozes confidence – not arrogance – which makes it all the more affecting when he begins to doubt everything he thought he knew about himself in the face of Juliette’s insistence that he’s not plain Monsieur Bauduin, but the rightful Duc de Montendre.  Sophia is the sort of heroine it’s easy to root for; life has dealt her a crappy hand, but it’s not broken her and she refuses to be cowed.  She’s quick-witted, intelligent and beautiful and it’s easy to understand why Jean-Luc is so completely bowled over by her.

I thoroughly enjoyed the story and the Parisian setting, and am eagerly looking forward to the next book in the Matches Made in Scandal series.