The Husband Hunter’s Guide to London by Kate Moore

This title may be purchased from Amazon

The daughter of a British intelligence agent, Jane Fawkener has spent most of her life in exotic lands abroad, not flirting her way to matrimony among the ton. So when her father disappears and is presumed dead, she’s perplexed as to why he’s arranged for her to receive a copy of The Husband Hunter’s Guide to London. Convinced he has hidden a covert message for her within its pages, Jane embarks on a “husband hunt” with an altogether different aim. But can she fool the government escort who’s following her every move—a dangerously seductive man for whom rules are clearly meant to be broken.

Rating: B-

I remember reading some of Kate Moore’s recently republished Signet Regencies and enjoying them, so I was pleased when I saw that she had a new book coming out and eagerly picked it up for review.  The Husband Hunter’s Guide to London is an entertaining and well-written novel featuring two likeable principals a gently moving sweet romance and an engaging, espionage-based plotline.

Jane Fawkener has spent much of her life living in the Middle East with her father, who works as a merchant and trader but whom she has for some time suspected is really a spy for the British government.  When George Fawkener goes missing and is presumed dead, Jane is immediately sent to England courtesy of the Foreign Office.  In London, she is given the only two things Fawkener left her; a small blue book entitled The Husband Hunter’s Guide to London and the sum of two hundred pounds, to tide her over until she finds herself a spouse.  Jane is sure her father is alive and tries to insist that the government mounts a search for him; but comes up against a brick-wall – the Foreign Office insists her father is dead and Jane must prepare to attend a ceremony at which the King will award him a posthumous knighthood for services rendered.  To help her to prepare for the occasion – an occasion about which Jane couldn’t care less – she is assigned a Protocol Officer, Lord Hazelwood, who will make sure she is properly garbed and briefed as to the correct behaviour for the investiture.

Edmund Dalby, Viscount Hazelwood, lived the life of a hell-raiser until he went too far and his father disowned him after he ran up massive debts.  Having pretty much reached rock-bottom, he was recruited as a spy and told his debts would be paid and his life his own once again if he served his country for a year and a day – and this is his final assignment.  Given his reputation as a wastrel, Hazelwood – who soon realised he rather liked being sober – often plays the part of a drunken sot, knowing such a persona to cause people to think him unintelligent and harmless, or to ignore him altogether.  He has been assigned to protect Jane from Russian agents, most particularly from Count Malikov, a Russian émigré with connections at the highest level, who believes Jane has access to the information her father was gathering.  Hazelwood’s role as Protocol Officer is ideal as it will afford him plenty of opportunities to stay close to his charge, but the problem is that she very quickly makes it clear that she wants nothing to do with either him or the ceremony and tries every way she can think of to get rid of him.

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

Advertisements

Think of England by K.J. Charles (audiobook) – Narrated by Tom Carter

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

Lie back and think of England…

England, 1904. Two years ago, Captain Archie Curtis lost his friends, fingers, and future to a terrible military accident. Alone, purposeless, and angry, Curtis is determined to discover if he and his comrades were the victims of fate, or of sabotage.

Curtis’s search takes him to an isolated, ultra-modern country house, where he meets and instantly clashes with fellow guest Daniel da Silva. Effete, decadent, foreign, and all-too-obviously queer, the sophisticated poet is everything the straightforward British officer fears and distrusts.

As events unfold, Curtis realizes that Daniel has his own secret intentions. And there’s something else they share – a mounting sexual tension that leaves Curtis reeling.

As the house party’s elegant facade cracks to reveal treachery, blackmail, and murder, Curtis finds himself needing clever, dark-eyed Daniel as he has never needed a man before…

Rating: Narration – B: Content – A

I’ve been eagerly awaiting the release of Think of England ever since I learned that Audible Studios was going to be releasing a number of K.J. Charles’ backlist titles in audio. It’s one of my favourite books of hers (one of my favourite books, full-stop, actually) and while I admit to a bit of trepidation when I saw that an unknown narrator had been used, I’m pleased to be able to say that on the whole, Tom Carter does a pretty good job.

The story is set in 1904, and opens with former army captain Archie Curtis arriving at Peakholme, near Newcastle, for a house-party given by Sir Hubert Armstrong, a wealthy industrialist. Curtis was invalided out of the army after losing three fingers and sustaining a serious knee injury at Jacobsdal in South Africa, occasioned when a faulty batch of guns backfired and exploded, also maiming and killing a number of his men.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals

Lady Be Bad (The Duke’s Daughters #1) by Megan Frampton (audiobook) – Narrated by Jilly Bond

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

In the first book of The Duke’s Daughters series, the Duke of Marymount’s eldest daughter, Lady Eleanor, knows the burden of restoring her family’s good name is hers to bear. So a good but loveless match is made, and her fate is set. But then Eleanor meets her intended’s rakish younger brother. With his tawny hair, green eyes, and scandalous behavior, Lord Alexander Raybourn makes her want to be very bad indeed. And since his very honorable sibling is too busy saving the world to woo Eleanor, Alexander is tasked with finding out her likes and dislikes on his behalf. But the more time Alexander spends with the secretly naughty Eleanor, the more he knows that what they both want and need is each other.

Rating: Narration – B-: Content – C-

I’ve enjoyed some of Megan Frampton’s historical romances in print, so when I saw her latest book, Lady Be Bad, pop up in audio format, I decided to give it a listen. Ms. Frampton’s work is in similar vein to that of authors such as Tessa Dare and Maya Rodale; generally light-hearted and peppered with witty dialogue and with a slightly more serious undercurrent that lends a bit of depth and colour to the story overall. In the case of Lady Be Bad, that undercurrent is to do with the lack of options available to well-born young women in the early nineteenth century and how stifling it was to know that one was being brought up to have no individuality, no opinions and no choice in the direction of one’s own life. That’s a theme often explored in historical romance, but it’s been done much better than it is here, and this first instalment in Ms. Frampton’s The Duke’s Daughters series falls very flat. The storyline is clichéd and predictable, the characters are two-dimensional stereotypes, the writing is stodgy and repetitive; and while Jilly Bond is a very experienced narrator, her somewhat quirky delivery generally proved to be more hindrance than help.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

A Treacherous Curse (Veronica Speedwell #3) by Deanna Raybourn

This title may be purchased from Amazon

London, 1888. As colorful and unfettered as the butterflies she collects, Victorian adventuress Veronica Speedwell can’t resist the allure of an exotic mystery—particularly one involving her enigmatic colleague, Stoker. His former expedition partner has vanished from an archaeological dig with a priceless diadem unearthed from the newly discovered tomb of an Egyptian princess. This disappearance is just the latest in a string of unfortunate events that have plagued the controversial expedition, and rumors abound that the curse of the vengeful princess has been unleashed as the shadowy figure of Anubis himself stalks the streets of London.

But the perils of an ancient curse are not the only challenges Veronica must face as sordid details and malevolent enemies emerge from Stoker’s past. Caught in a tangle of conspiracies and threats—and thrust into the public eye by an enterprising new foe—Veronica must separate facts from fantasy to unravel a web of duplicity that threatens to cost Stoker everything…

Rating: B+

Deanna Raybourn continues her series of late-Victorian historical mysteries featuring the intrepid lepidopterist Veronica Speedwell and her piratically handsome, enigmatic associate, Revelstoke Templeton-Vane (Stoker) in A Treacherous Curse.  The big draw of this third instalment was the prospect of at last getting to know more about Stoker’s chequered – and sometimes heartbreaking – past and what exactly happened to turn him into a social pariah with the blackest of reputations.  We’re also treated to a mystery concerning  a missing Egyptian artefact and an ancient curse – and the two storylines are inextricably linked by virtue of the fact that one of the parties involved is none other than Stoker’s ex-wife, Caroline.

A Treacherous Curse can easily be read as a standalone, but readers will gain a far greater understanding of the still-evolving, complex relationship between Veronica and Stoker by reading the novels in order.  I’ll also say now that there are likely to be spoilers in this review for the earlier books, so proceed with caution if you have yet to read them.

If you have read the previous books, then you’ll know that Veronica and Stoker have been employed by the Earl of Rosemorran to catalogue his family’s vast collection of art, artefacts, natural history specimens and mementoes with a view to eventually curating a museum, and that they both work and live on site at the Belvedere, a ‘singularly extraordinary structure’  in the grounds of Rosemorran’s Marylebone estate.  Although they have separate apartments, their living arrangements are regarded as being somewhat unorthodox, but then they’re unorthodox individuals, both fiercely independent free-thinkers, estranged from their families and not really caring about the strictures of society.  These commonalities are just two of the things that bind this unusual pair; from almost the beginning of their association, each recognised in the other a kindred spirit, and Ms. Raybourn has done a splendid job of developing their friendship and strengthening their unique bond, a bond that relies on an almost soul-deep connection and a love for each other that goes far beyond the romantic and sexual attraction that continues to crackle between them.

“Whatever this thing is that makes us different, this thing that makes quicksilver of us when the rest of the world is mud, it binds us.  To break that would be to fly in the face of nature.”

(Stoker in A Perilous Undertaking)

Veronica and Stoker are surprised when they are approached by Sir Hugo Montgomerie of Special Branch and asked to look into the disappearance of John de Morgan, the man who had once been Stoker’s closest friend.  De Morgan was engaged as photographer for Sir Leicester Tiverton ‘s most recent expedition to Egypt, but departed unexpectedly and was accompanied back to England by his wife – whose very public divorce from Stoker some years earlier saw Stoker disgraced and vilified.

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

His Convenient Marchioness (Lords at the Altar #2) by Elizabeth Rolls

This title may be purchased from Amazon

With this ring… I thee claim!

After the loss of his wife and children, the Marquess of Huntercombe closed his heart to love. But now that he must marry to secure an heir, he’s determined that the beautiful, impoverished widow Lady Emma Lacy should be his…

Emma has vowed never to marry for money so must refuse him. But when her children’s grandfather sets to steal them away from her, she has no other option: she must become the marquess’s convenient bride!

Rating: B+

The first thing that attracted me to His Convenient Marchioness was the cover image, which indicates that the central couple is slightly older than the norm for romance novels. I’m always ready to read a romance between more mature people, and sure enough, I quickly discovered that the hero – a widower who lost his wife and three children to smallpox on one devastating day eleven years earlier  – has just turned fifty, and the heroine, a widow with two children aged ten and six,  is thirty-two.  Giles, the Marquess of Huntercombe (known as Hunt) had not planned on marrying again, but the recent death of his remaining heir (his nineteen-year-old half-brother) means that re-marriage is no longer optional – as his two sisters take great pleasure in constantly pointing out.  But Hunt has no intention of marrying one of the schoolroom misses they keep parading before him, telling them instead that a woman – perhaps a widow – in her thirties would be much more to his taste and be more likely to understand that he is offering a marriage of convenience only.

Lady Emma Lacy lost her husband over a year earlier and is living with her two children, Harry (ten) and Georgina (six) in very straitened circumstances.  While both she and her late husband hail from noble families (he was the second son of a duke, she the daughter of an earl), the long-standing enmity between their respective fathers meant their runaway match saw them both cast out and cut off financially. The ensuing scandal meant the couple lived on the fringes of society; they were happy together, but now Lacy is dead and Emma can barely make ends meet.

Hunt and Emma encounter each other in Hatchard’s bookshop where she has taken Harry and Georgie to choose books from the library.  Hunt recognises Emma but cannot place her, and is surprised at the frisson of attraction he feels towards her; and later, when the children discover his dog waiting for him outside he is further surprised to find himself suggesting they walk in the park together so that the children can play with the hound.  Emma is guarded and careful to remain somewhat aloof during their walk – and it’s only afterwards that Hunt realises she must have thought he was assessing her suitability as a potential mistress.  Wanting to correct her error, Hunt decides to make a brief call to set things right – and even though he knows he should not even be considering the idea, finds himself suggesting to Emma that she might be what he’s looking for in a wife.  Somewhat stunned, Emma isn’t quite sure what to think, although she can’t deny that Hunt is a charming, attractive man, whose smile melts her insides – and she agrees to a meet him again.

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

The Captain’s Disgraced Lady (Chadcombe Marriages #2) by Catherine Tinley

This title may be purchased from Amazon

When Juliana Milford first encounters Captain Harry Fanton, she finds him arrogant and rude. There’s no way she’ll fall for his dazzling smile! Her visit to Chadcombe House was always going to prompt questions over her scandalous family, so she’s touched when Harry defends her reputation. She’s discovering there’s more to Harry than she’d first thought…

A man so plagued by the demons of war, he’s sworn he’ll never marry, no matter how tempted…

Rating: C

The Captain’s Disgraced Lady is Catherine Tinley’s second novel, and tells the story of a young woman whose family history has always been shrouded in mystery and an army officer who is so haunted by the things he has seen and done that he believes himself defiled.  It’s not an especially original plotline, but it’s generally handled well – until Ms. Tinley decides to introduce a number of extraneous plot points that clutter up her canvas to the extent that everything starts to feel overly contrived and which, ultimately, led to an overall feeling of dissatisfaction on the part of this reader.

The book opens as Miss Juliana Milford and her mother, who normally reside in Brussels, have returned to England for a short time in order to visit Juliana’s dear friend, Charlotte Wyncroft, who has recently married the Earl of Shalford (Waltzing with the Earl).   Mrs. Milford has been greatly unsettled by the channel crossing and seems to Juliana to be unnerved by simply being back in England, but Juliana is used to her mother’s somewhat uncertain health and mental state, having run their household since she was twelve.  The ladies are settling into a private parlour at the nearest inn when they are interrupted by two military gentlemen, one of whom – who introduces himself as Captain Harry Fanton – assumes they will happy to share the parlour with them.  Infuriated by the captain’s arrogance – and concerned for her mother’s health – Juliana tells him what she thinks of him in no uncertain terms and sends him away with a flea in his ear.

Subsequent encounters with the terribly handsome but extremely annoying Captain Fanton only serve to reinforce Juliana’s opinion of him as conceited and rude – although she has to begrudgingly admit that she is grateful for his solicitousness towards her mother and eventually to acknowledge that perhaps she allowed her temper to get the better of her.  But as she is unlikely ever to see the captain again, Juliana doesn’t dwell on it – even though she finds it difficult to banish his handsome features from her mind.

A few days later sees the Milford ladies settled at Chadcombe House, the Earl of Salford’s estate, and Juliana happily catching up with all her friend’s news and reminiscing about their time at school in Brussels.  I’m not sure how Juliana fails to connect the name Fanton with Charlotte’s new husband, but in any case, Harry is the last person Juliana expects to see at Chadcombe, and she is astonished when Charlotte greets him and introduces him as her brother-in-law.

Juliana and Charlotte also make the acquaintance of their nearest neighbours, the social climbing Mr. and Mrs. Wakely who have recently taken up residence at Glenbrook Hall.  It seems there is a dispute as to the Hall’s ownership and the Wakelys  have been allowed to live there while the executors of the estate of the late Baron Cowlam (a relative of Mrs. Wakelys) establish her claim.

During their stay at Chadcombe, Juliana and Harry are thrown into each other’s company on several occasions and find themselves gradually warming to each other, enjoying their spirited discussions and verbal sparring matches.  Harry, who has determined never to fall in love, finds it increasingly difficult to ignore the truth of his feelings for Juliana, but he can’t bear the thought of tying her to a man as broken as he is. When the spiteful Wakelys make public some information they have learned concerning Juliana’s parentage – which, Juliana realises, must account for her mother’s nervousness at being back in England – Harry is forced to face the truth; he’s fallen irrevocably in love with a woman he can never marry.

With Juliana’s reputation now severely blemished, she and her mother arrange to return to Brussels, no matter that it seems as though England and France will very soon be at war once more.  Harry rejoins his regiment and finds himself in the thick of the battles of Quatre Bras and Waterloo…

As soon as I’d finished reading, I realised that the main thing I’d taken away from The Captain’s Disgraced Lady was that there was rather too much going on, which gave the impression that the author wasn’t quite sure what story she wanted to tell.  Is it an opposites-attract romance?  Is it the story of a young woman searching for the truth of her birthright?  Is it the story of a couple separated by war?  It’s all of those things, but the narrative feels episodic  – shifting from one plot point to the next – rather than cohesive with the various threads woven together throughout.  The final section – which sees Juliana returned to Brussels and Harry to the army – is the most gripping; before that I was only mildly interested in the romance because Juliana’s instant dislike of Harry has such a ridiculously flimsy basis and is so obviously a contrivance to kick-start an antagonistic relationship.  And the clues as to the identity of the missing heir and Juliana’s identity are so clearly telegraphed early on that there is no surprise when the reveal is finally made. On top of all that, we are informed – around a third of the way though – that Harry believes himself to be some sort of monster; and later that he’s too flawed and broken to deserve someone so innocent and pure as Juliana and the only thing to be done is to protect her by breaking with her without explanation.  The whole “I am not worthy, so must cut you from my life completely” plotline is one I dislike intensely, so that aspect of the story didn’t work for me at all; plus, Harry’s self-loathing and inner torment never really feel integral to the story (and vanish quickly), and instead come across as yet another contrived road-block on the path to happy ever after.

With all that said, there are things to enjoy in The Captain’s Disgraced Lady. Harry is an attractive, if somewhat stereotypical hero, and while I didn’t like Juliana that much to start with, she grew on me,  proved to be possessed of good sense and courage, and by the last part of the book I was rooting for her to succeed and to find her HEA with Harry.  The writing is solid, and the middle section of the story – in which Harry and Juliana begin to lower their defences and allow each other to see their true selves – is nicely done, with, as I said earlier, the final part being the most compelling.  Unfortunately, however, those things are overshadowed by the overabundance of plotlines which make the book feel overstuffed; and I can’t help thinking that perhaps a firmer editorial hand could have helped thin them out and develop the rest into a more cohesive story.

Tramps and Thieves (Murder and Mayhem #2) by Rhys Ford (audiobook) – Narrated by Greg Tremblay

This title is available to download from Audible via Amazon

Whoever said blood was thicker than water never stood in a pool of it.

Retiring from stealing priceless treasures seemed like a surefire way for Rook Stevens to stay on the right side of the law. The only cop in his life should have been his probably-boyfriend, Los Angeles Detective Dante Montoya, but that’s not how life – his life – is turning out. Instead, Rook ends up not only standing in a puddle of his cousin Harold’s blood but also being accused of Harold’s murder…and sleeping with Harold’s wife.

For Dante, loving the former thief means his once-normal life is now a sea of chaos, especially since Rook seems incapable of staying out of trouble – or keeping trouble from following him home. When Rook is tagged as a murder suspect by a narrow-focused West LA detective, Dante steps in to pull his lover out of the quagmire Rook’s landed in.

When the complicated investigation twists around on them, the dead begin to stack up, forcing the lovers to work together. Time isn’t on their side, and if they don’t find the killer before another murder, Dante will be visiting Rook in his prison cell – or at his grave.

Rating: Narration – A+: Content – B+

I so enjoyed Murder and Mayhem, the first book in Rhys Ford’s series about the cop and the (ex) cat burglar, that I was tempted to move straight on to book two, Tramps and Thieves immediately it came out. But then I told myself to be a good little reviewer and listen to some of the other things that were – admittedly – ahead of it on my TBL. So I did. But now here I am to tell you that, in spite of some similarities in the plotline (someone is Out To Get Rook), Tramps and Thieves is every bit as entertaining as Murder and Mayhem; Dante and Rook are every bit as engaging as they were before and Greg Tremblay’s narration is every bit as awesome.

At the end of Murder and Mayhem, L.A. detective Dante Montoya and Rook Stevens, the ex-thief who’d haunted Dante’s thoughts for years, were an established couple – although it was clear that things weren’t going to be plain sailing for the rather mis-matched duo. Falling in love with someone who spent most of his life on the wrong side of the law is something Dante never expected, and loving the acerbic, vulnerable and complicated Rook has turned his life upside down. But in a good way.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.