THE KING’S FALCON

Being a massive fan of Stella Riley’s work, I’m delighted to see that, having spent the last couple of years revising her previously published books, she’s now at work on an new novel – the third book in her series set in and around the English Civil War, which will be called The King’s Falcon.

No ETA as yet, but she’s put the first two chapters up at her website 🙂

THE KING'S FALCON.

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Garland of Straw by Stella Riley

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By June of 1647 England is still in a state of near-chaos. From endless conflicting factions, a tidal wave of radical new ideas threatens to drown the order of generations while the King plays both ends against the middle in a dangerous game of his own.

Venetia Clifford’s days are divided between her secret activities on behalf of the Royalist cause and the struggle to keep Ford Edge solvent despite poor harvests and inflated taxes. Ellis Brandon, her fiancé of the last five years, shows no sign of returning from exile – despite the recent death of his father.

Sir Robert’s last will and testament turns Venetia’s world inside out when he disinherits Ellis in favour of an illegitimate son she did not know existed and forces her to choose between losing her family’s home or marriage to a man who is both a stranger and an enemy. For Gabriel Brandon – tall, dark and openly sardonic – is a Colonel in the New Model Army.

Having seen Venetia at her worst during their first meeting, Gabriel can think of few things more unpleasant than being married to her – and neither does he wish to sacrifice his career in favour of becoming a glorified farmer. Unfortunately, the legal knots are tied too tightly to allow loop-holes … and the return of Ellis with his own mixture of mischief and malice, complicates matters still further.

The tempestuous relationship between Venetia and Gabriel is reflected in the stormy events buffeting the nation as Civil War flares up anew. Leaving riots in London and risings in the southern counties behind them, Gabriel’s regiment marches north to stem a Scots invasion. And, inevitably, once the danger is past, responsibility for this renewal of hostilities is laid at the King’s door.

While the Army and Parliament argue over the fate of the King, Gabriel realises that he has a very dangerous anonymous enemy and Venetia finally puts aside the ingrained misconceptions that have prevented her seeing the man rather than the Roundhead Colonel. As events gather pace, bringing the King to trial in Westminster Hall, the tangled web of danger and deceit threatening Gabriel and Venetia slowly tightens its grip.

Of the many axes – political and personal – that gave been ground, more than one is about to fall.

This author-revised and extended version of the original print edition, continues the tumultuous events of mid-seventeenth century England begun in The Black Madonna.

Rating: A

Garland of Straw is a wonderfully written and very skilful blend of history and fiction which has, at its core, a tumultuous romance between opposites. In the highly unsettled period which followed the imprisonment of Charles I by Parliament in 1646, Venetia Clifford, a staunch supporter of King Charles, and Gabriel Brandon, a Colonel in the New Model Army, are forced to marry under the terms of a will which could otherwise deprive both of them of their homes.

When we met the beautiful and vivacious Venetia in The Black Madonna, she was at court in the service of the queen. She was in love with and betrothed to Ellis Brandon, son of a wealthy Yorkshire baron, but the intervening years have changed her. Ellis is fighting for the king, and she has not seen him in years. She will not admit it, but she is stung by the fact that he does not make much of an effort to keep in touch with her. Her brother, Kit, is dead, and she does not get a lot of help in managing the family estate – her mother is unable or unwilling to face the truth of their situation, and her sisters are too young to be of assistance, so Venetia is struggling to keep hearth and home together. The absence of someone to share her burdens has toughened her up rather a lot, and the carefree young woman she had been while at court has disappeared beneath a large pile of bitterness and cynicism.

Gabriel Brandon is a career soldier. While the term “mercenary” is primarily regarded as a derogatory one these days, in years gone by it was used simply to indicate a man who made his living as a soldier, travelling from one conflict to the next to ply his trade. Gabriel is such a man, having fought in many wars across Europe, and while his sympathies do indeed lie with Parliament, he is not fanatical, and certainly is not overly impressed with the way England has been run since the first war ended in 1646. I have no idea how the author does it, but Gabriel is yet another in her line of incredibly sexy, witty, highly intelligent and hugely capable heroes that stick in one’s memory long after the book is finished. He’s slightly older than the heroes of her other Civil War novels, which helps greatly to establish him as a man who knows what he wants and where he’s headed. This knowledge, of course, is about to be turned on its head, so that the man who had his life worked out is suddenly thrown from his course and will have to work hard to decide whether to find a new one, or disregard the road-bump and continue on his way regardless.

Venetia’s family home of Ford Edge is not far away from Brandon Lacey, whence she has been summoned to hear the will of the late Sir Robert. Because of Venetia’s betrothal to Ellis, and in order to prevent Ford Edge from sequestration (the act of seizure of property by the Parliament) Ford Edge had been in Sir Robert’s possession at the time of his death. His will dictates that the estate be returned to Venetia, but there is a condition. She must end her betrothal to Ellis and instead, marry Sir Robert’s illegitimate son, Gabriel.

Of course, both are appalled at the prospect, and Venetia wastes no time in making Gabriel aware of her feelings on the matter, insisting that the advantages of such a bargain are all on his side. But further investigation of the will proves that the canny Sir Robert has as just as effectively tied Gabriel’s hands, and that both parties stand to lose to a substantial degree if they refuse to tie the knot.

They have been given six months in which to wed or find a way out of it. Venetia can rant and storm all she wants – and she does – but they really do have no alternative and just before the allotted time expires, the reluctant pair are married.

It’s in the early stages of his relationship with Venetia that Gabriel’s maturity and strength of character really stand out. While she goes out of her way to be unpleasant to him, he takes it all in his stride – probably because he is well aware that it’s the best way to take the wind out of her sails and get his own back. While he is certainly more than capable of delivering a set-down that would make even the most seasoned campaigner quake in his boots, towards Venetia he is – for the most part – courteous, unflappable and dependable; so much so that she begins, very grudgingly, to develop a degree of respect, if not liking, for him.

It’s not until several months have passed that their relationship begins to take a real turn for the better. One night, while they are staying in London, Gabriel is set upon by a band of thugs and badly injured in the fight. While Venetia tends to him, they finally find themselves able to talk to each other on an even footing, without making jibes or trying to score points off each other. From then on, the adversarial nature of the early days of their marriage are put firmly behind them as Venetia finally allows herself to look beyond his uniform and see the true worth of the man she has married.

The pair forge a friendship born of their new-found respect and it’s not long before Venetia begins to recognise not only that her husband is a very good-looking man, but that she is deeply attracted to him – and in fact, has been so for some time. One of the things I love about Ms Riley’s romances is the fact that she allows her protagonists to find and realise their feelings for one another slowly and writes that in such a way that the reader, naturally a few steps ahead, is allowed to savour its progression. She is one of those authors who is able to make little things – a touch here, a glance there – generate more heat than some authors can do with a kiss or something more intimate, and the love scenes, when they finally take place, are well worth the wait.

As with The Black Madonna, there are numerous side and sub-plots, all of which are well-thought out and executed, descriptions of which would make this review much longer than it already is! Suffice to say there is a mystery running through the whole which sees several attempts made on Gabriel’s life and which culminates in a truly shocking turn of events for Venetia; there’s a secondary romance involving Sam Radford (Abigail’s brother from A Splendid Defiance) and the continuing stories of Eden Maxwell and Francis Langley – all of it set against the backdrop of the continuing conflict between king and parliament which is heading in a direction that is impossible for many to contemplate.

While it isn’t absolutely necessary to have read The Black Madonna before reading this book, I would certainly advise it. The period covered in Garland of Straw (1647-1649) was a time of massive upheaval and unrest in England, so it would certainly help to have a rough idea of the historical background to the story and who the central characters are, many of whom appeared in the previous book.

As Ms Riley has pointed out in a recent guest blog, this is an incredibly complex period of British history, and that complexity is woven through the book as events are seen and described through the eyes – and thoughts – of her fictional characters as well as the many who actually existed. I will admit that there were a couple of times I wanted to gloss over the history – not because I’m uninterested in the detail, but because by that time, I was so invested in what was going on with Gabriel, Venetia and the other fictional characters I’ve come to know and love, that I was more concerned with how they were getting on than with what was happening to the real historical figures! But that, in the end, comes down to personal preference, and I can only put it down to Ms Riley’s skill in having made her own characters so very captivating!

Garland of Straw is a real treat for anyone who enjoys well-researched and well-written historical fiction who also enjoys a well-developed and emotionally satisfying romance. It is the second book in a projected series of four, and although the final two books were not subsequently completed, the good news is that work on book three is now underway.

I, for one, can’t wait.

Sylvester by Georgette Heyer (audiobook) – Narrated by Nicholas Rowe

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When Sylvester, the Duke of Salford, first meets Phoebe Marlow, he finds her dull and insipid. She thinks he is insufferably arrogant. But when a series of unforeseen events leads them to be stranded together in a lonely country inn, they are both forced to reassess their hastily formed opinions, and they begin to discover a new-found liking and respect for each other. But what Sylvester doesn’t know is that Phoebe is about to publish a novel – a novel in which all London will recognize him as the villainous ‘Count Ugolino’.

Rating: A- for content and B+ for narration

Sylvester is another of my favourite books by Georgette Heyer and one that I don’t think has been available in an unabridged version before. Naxos released an abridged recording in 2009, which was very well performed by Richard Armitage. For this unabridged recording, they have utilised the vocal talent of British actor, Nicholas Rowe, and a superb job he has made of it. His speaking voice is a beautifully resonant baritone, his diction and pronunciation are excellent and although I did have a few minor issues, it’s an accomplished and confident performance overall, from an actor who doesn’t appear to have recorded any other audiobooks.

I hope, on the strength of this performance, that fact is going to change.
Our eponymous hero is Sylvester Rayne, Duke of Salford, a young man of twenty-eight who inherited his title at the age of nineteen. At the beginning of the story, he tells his mother, a wonderful lady to whom he is devoted, that he has decided it’s time to look about him for a wife. The dowager is disappointed when he tells her he hasn’t fallen in love, but rather has drawn up a list of eligible young ladies he believes have the right qualities to be his duchess.

One lady who isn’t on the list, but whom his mother mentions as someone she would have liked to introduce to him, is Miss Phoebe Marlow, the daughter of one of her oldest friends. Not having made her acquaintance, or at least, not thinking he has done so, Sylvester decides to “look her over” and manoeuvres his way into an invitation to stay with her family for a few days. Phoebe’s stepmother is filled with glee at the prospect of having a duke as a son-in-law and makes the mistake of telling Phoebe the reason for Sylvester’s visit to Austerby Park, which makes the poor girl incredibly nervous and awkward.

On top of that, Phoebe is horrified at the thought of receiving an offer of marriage from Sylvester but not entirely for the reasons one would think. They don’t know each other, and she certainly isn’t in love with him, but her distress is more due to the fact that she used him as the model for the villain in her gothic novel.

In her panic, Phoebe decides her only option is to run away to London to live with her grandmother, the redoubtable Lady Ingham, who also happens to be Sylvester’s godmother. She is aided in her escape by her good friend Tom Orde, the local squire’s son, but the plan goes badly awry when, due to the inclement weather, they meet with an accident on the road.

By the time this happens, Sylvester has already decided that Phoebe is not the woman for him. She’s small, dowdy, awkward, and has a way of saying exactly what she thinks which he finds rather disconcerting. On learning of Phoebe’s flight however, he sees a way to truncate his visit at Austerby and leaves as soon as he can.

On the road, he comes upon the scene of an accident, and is not really all that surprised to discover Phoebe and Tom at a local inn. Tom has broken his leg and will not be going anywhere for a while nor will anyone else as the snow has made the roads pretty much impassable.

It’s while they are forced into each other’s company at the inn that the relationship between Phoebe and Sylvester begins to take a turn for the better. Phoebe is surprised at Sylvester’s kindness and ready sense of humour, and he begins to realise that she is possessed of a quick wit and intelligence. Relieved of the pressure of an impending proposal, Phoebe is at last able to be herself, and although she doesn’t scruple to tell Sylvester when he’s being high-handed, they become friends.

Bubbling along in the background of the story has been Phoebe’s authorship of a novel called The Lost Heir, in which she has caricatured a number of the members of the ton, not the least of which is Sylvester, whom she cast as the villain, Count Ugolino. Unfortunately, the plot of her book has much more in common with Sylvester’s family circumstances than Phoebe could possibly have known and its publication causes quite a stir.

Sylvester is quite a complex hero by Heyer’s standards. As Duke of Salford, he is well aware of his consequence and his standing but, because he has become so accustomed to having people “toad-eat” him (as Tom puts it), he is all but completely unaware of the lengths people will go to do his bidding and fawn over him. This, however, has led him into a certain kind of arrogance, something about himself he would not recognise. He is unfailingly polite to his peers, those of lower social ranks, and even takes care to thank servants for their efforts. He always arrives on time to social functions and makes sure that he dances with the odd wallflower; he would not dream of putting his own desires above duty and, indeed, at the beginning of the book we see him not wanting to keep his stewards waiting for a meeting even though he would much rather have gone out for a ride.

But what concerns his mother is that his actions in this regard are not taken because of a genuine concern for others, but rather because Sylvester feels that it would demean him to act in any other way. Beautifully understated, but also very clear, is the fact that Sylvester is still grieving for his brother who died four years previously. Without Harry to inject a little levity, Sylvester has withdrawn somewhat, and his natural reserve has become even more pronounced.

Phoebe is not without her faults. The first time she meets Sylvester, she forms an opinion based on his appearance and his aloofness and decides immediately that she dislikes him. She maintains this dislike without any real basis for it and, even with her gift for reading people, she continues to misunderstand Sylvester and misinterpret many of his actions.

Sylvester features one of my favourite tropes – the handsome, arrogant hero and the witty and intelligent Plain Jane. Often, in such a story, the hero is substantially changed, humbled even, as a result of his love for the heroine. But, although Sylvester does make a subtle shift from being a man who treats people well because to do otherwise would be beneath him, to being a man who actually thinks about the feelings and situation of others, he is, in essence, the same man at the end of the book. As his mother says, a wife willimprove him, but will not change his whole character, and it’s certainly true that he becomes warmer and more genuine through the course of his acquaintance with Phoebe. Whenever I read the book, I always feel that what actually happens is that Sylvester, at last, comes to terms with his loss and regains some of the softer qualities he had lost when his brother died. His natural reserve means he will never be gregarious, but I can certainly see Phoebe lightening him up a bit over the years.

As ever with this author’s work, I find myself marvelling at her superb eye for historical detail, social observation, and her spectacular skill at seeking out and exposing the ridiculous. There is a well-drawn set of secondary characters including Sylvester’s charming and intelligent mother and Phoebe’s friend Tom, a lovely young man and childhood friend. It’s refreshing that there are no overtones of unrequited love on Tom’s part; it’s a completely platonic relationship and it’s beautifully written. At the other end of the spectrum, there’s Ms Heyer’s splendid portrait of that tulip of the ton Sir Nugent Fotherby, who brings much humour to the latter part of the book. I also have to single out the characterisation of Edmund, Sylvester’s nephew. It’s rare to find well-written children in romance novels. They’re often rather two dimensional and idealised but Edmund comes across as very real.

Nicholas Rowe may not have many audiobooks to his credit but I recognised his name straight away, having seen him in a number of films. He has a smooth, mellifluous voice, which was very enjoyable and easy to listen to, and his upper-crust accent is perfect for this story and this hero.

There is quite a large supporting cast in the book, and Mr Rowe tackles them all admirably. He raises the pitch of his voice only slightly when performing some of the female roles, but he nonetheless voices them clearly and distinctly, using a variety of tones and accents, and I thought the choices he made worked very well. Phoebe’s governess sounds serious and unflappable, her maid is young and breathless, and he captures Ianthe’s penchant for melodrama perfectly.

The male characters are just as clearly delineated. Phoebe’s father is jovial, bluff, and trying too hard to impress. Tom and his father are performed with slight regional accents, which are used accurately and consistently throughout, and Mr Rowe’s performance of Sir Nugent is an absolute hoot.

My one criticism of the performance is that it felt a little rushed at the beginning. I am thinking particularly of the conversation between Sylvester and his mother that occurs in the first chapter, when Mr Rowe switches very quickly between direct speech and dialogue tags, so much so that they seem to run into each other. It’s not confusing so much as irritating though, as the text clearly identifies each speaker. I just wish he had taken a little more time. The good thing, though, is that this problem does not occur throughout the rest of the book, so perhaps it was just a case of settling in.

All in all, this was a very satisfying performance of a well-loved story, and I have no reservation in heartily recommending it.

The Wicked Wallflower (Bad Boys and Wallflowers #1) by Maya Rodale

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Lady Emma Avery has accidentally announced her engagement—to the most eligible man in England. As soon as it’s discovered that Emma has never actually met the infamously attractive Duke of Ashbrooke, she’ll no longer be a wallflower; she’ll be a laughingstock. And then Ashbrooke does something Emma never expected. He plays along with her charade.

A temporary betrothal to the irreproachable Lady Avery could be just the thing to repair Ashbrooke’s tattered reputation. Seducing her is simply a bonus. And then Emma does what he never expected: she refuses his advances. It’s unprecedented. Inconceivable. Quite damnably alluring.

London’s Least Likely to Misbehave has aroused the curiosity—among other things—of London’s most notorious rogue. Now nothing will suffice but to uncover Emma’s wanton side and prove there’s nothing so satisfying as two perfect strangers…being perfectly scandalous together.

Rating: B-

This first book in a new series by Maya Rodale is fun, fluffy, and unashamedly pokes fun at a number of trends in current popular culture. Now, I love well-done romantic fluff. It’s hard to write convincingly, and Ms Rodale certainly displays a talent for writing sparkling dialogue that flows effortlessly. The story is well written, there’s plenty of wit, the chemistry between the hero and heroine is wonderful, the love scenes are steamy and there’s a subtle undercurrent of deeper emotion that comes to the surface in the later part of the book.

Having said all that – why have I given the book a B-?

I think it comes down to the fact that I enjoyed the book in spite of the problems I found with it, but I was unable to ignore them completely.

Lady Emma Avery and her friends, Olivia and Patience are into their fourth seasons and remain unmarried. They have acquired the nicknames of “London’s Least Likely…”, Emma’s epithet being “London’s Least Likely to Misbehave.” For three years, Emma has had a suitor – of sorts – the impoverished second son of a Viscount, but his courtship has been so subtle as to have been practically non-existent, and Emma is trying to think of a way to bring him up to scratch.

One night when the girls have been at the sherry, Olivia and Prudence hit upon the idea of sending the notice of Emma’s betrothal to the newspapers. Emma is not keen (probably because she’s not quite as drunk as the other two girls!), and then things get out of hand when her friends come to the conclusion that if Emma is going to tell a whopper, she might as well make it a big one and announce her engagement to London’s Most Gorgeous and Unattainable, the rakish Duke of Ashbrooke. As Olivia and Patience are drawing up the announcement to the sounds of Emma’s protests, a house-fire causes them to have to leave in a hurry, leaving the letters behind them.

Of course, the notice appears in the newspapers almost immediately and the stage is set for a good “Rake and the Wallflower” story.

I raced through the first third eagerly, and was particularly pleased to note that the hero, who was described as a rake, pretty much was one – a man whose conquests were many and who made no bones about his frequent visits to the gambling table or to the brandy bottle. With so many recent books bearing the word “rake” in the title, that may sound surprising, but in most cases, the term has been misapplied to indicate a man with a degree of sexual experience and nothing more.

Blake Auden (who appears to have been named after a couple of poets), Duke of Ashbrooke, is a notorious womaniser whose good looks and charm have ensured he’s never short of women throwing themselves at him. But, he is, as the saying goes, much more than a pretty face. He’s a highly intelligent man and something of an inventor, but his reputation as a good-time-guy means he has trouble finding investors to take him seriously. I thought this was rather an interesting gender reversal, as it’s usually the story that the pretty woman with brains finds it difficult to get anyone to see beyond her looks and credit her with intelligence.

Once Blake gets over the shock of seeing his betrothal notice in the paper, he realises that an engagement to a young lady of impeccable virtue and reputation may be just the thing to help him to convince potential investors that he’s a sound prospect. So instead of denouncing Emma, he plays along, and they agree to a fake engagement to their mutual benefit at the end of which Emma will jilt him and they will go their separate ways.

I very much enjoyed the way the relationship between Blake and Emma developed. Their banter was delightful and I liked the way that Emma gained confidence and gradually began to see herself as Blake sees her. She is the one woman he has come across who is immune to the “Ashbrooke Effect” (more on that later), and of course, Blake is a man who loves a challenge. But very soon, Emma becomes more than a challenge and Blake is falling hard for London’s Least Likely to Succumb to his Charms.

The problem is that Emma has become so used to being a wallflower, a woman who is never really seen that she finds it hard to believe that the most handsome and eligible man in London could be genuinely interested in her, so her doubts and indecision as to the authenticity of his motives made perfect sense. There’s a wonderfully insightful moment late in the book where her mother tells her how upsetting it is that Emma had not only given up on doing the best for herself, she’d given up expecting it. What didn’t make sense, however, was Emma’s continuing preoccupation with Benedict, the young man who has been very half-heartedly courting her for the past three years, and who was, in my opinion, a mere contrivance to produce a little more conflict later in the story. He was never more than a cardboard cut-out and I thought that Emma’s insecurities and the way Blake was coming to terms with the fact that he’d finally fallen in love were sufficient to drive the narrative.

It seems to me what when The Wicked Wallflower is good, it’s very good. I adored the scene where Blake and Emma stay up all night writing fake love letters and the use to which they are put later, and I thought Blake’s relationship with his prickly and unconventional Great-Aunt was so much the better for being understated.

But, as the rhyme goes, when it’s bad, it’s… well, not horrid, but not great. I really didn’t like the “rapid edits” between scenes which felt as though the author was trying to ape a film or TV show. The repeated use of “slogans”, such as the “Ashbrooke Effect”, to describe the swoon-worthy effect of Blake’s devastating good looks and charm upon any female within a twenty-mile radius; and “London’s Least Likely” to describe Emma and her friends were gimmicky and eventually became irritating.

My main problem with the book overall is that it’s very modern in tone. Blake and Emma travel together for several days unchaperoned – in fact, she never seems to have a chaperone. There was frequent use of anachronistic language – would a duke in 1824 really have referred to his elderly great-aunt as an “old broad”, or use the term “lover boy”? And the “Fortune Games” (which to me felt like a cross between The Hunger Games and Big Brother), in which members of the Arden family compete annually at the whim of Great-Aunt Augusta for the largest bequest in her will, felt completely contrived and out of place.

Having said all that, however, the book redeemed itself somewhat towards the end when things take a more serious tone and when I really felt deeper emotions coming to the fore.

On the whole, I did enjoy The Wicked Wallflower and, knowing what I now know about the tone and setting wouldn’t mind reading more in this series. I would, however, warn anyone who likes a reasonable degree of historical accuracy in their historical romances to leave that requirement at the door, because that is most definitely not the book’s strong point. But if you’re looking for an undemanding, fluffy read with engaging characters who wear nice frocks and tight breeches, this might be just the ticket!

Once Upon a Tartan by Grace Burrowes (audiobook) – Narrated by Roger Hampton

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Tiberius Flynn travels to Scotland with orders to snatch his young niece away from her Highland relations. He thinks it’s going to be an easy task, until he meets the feisty little girl and her fiercely protective step-aunt. A smart, headstrong beauty, Hester Daniels has no use for an English lord with high-handed ways, no matter how handsome or beguiling he may be.

Tye sets out to seduce Hester and win over Fiona, only to discover that he’s losing his heart to a woman who’s as untamable as Scotland itself.

Rating: A

In Once Upon a Tartan, the second book of Ms. Burrowes’ MacGregor trilogy, we renew our acquaintance with Hester Daniels, one of the secondary characters in The Bridegroom Wore Plaid.

Hester has been packed off to Scotland in disgrace, following her breaking of a betrothal she didn’t want, to a man who tried to force her into marriage for her money. She has been badly emotionally bruised by these events, not just because the man in question seduced her and proceeded to bandy her name about society, but because he made her doubt her own judgement, making her feel less than she was. Even Hester’s own mother made her feel degraded by sending her away from London.

Hester is staying near the estate of her brother-in-law and his wife, Ian and Augusta MacGregor, Earl and Countess of Balfour. Her brother, Matthew, has recently married Ian’s sister, and Hester is looking after their daughter, Fiona, while the pair are travelling abroad. Also in residence is Ian’s great-aunt Ariadne (Ree), who is one of those splendidly forthright and flirtatious dowagers so beloved of historical romance. While Hester is outwardly content, shrewd Ian knows that all is not well with her, but is at a loss as to what to do to help her.

The unexpected arrival of Tiberius Lamartaine Flynn, Earl of Spathfoy, does nothing to improve Hester’s peace of mind. Spathfoy is another of Fiona’s big, strapping uncles (the others being Ian and his brothers), and the elder brother of Fiona’s late father. Hester is immediately suspicious of his motives for arriving unannounced, but she can’t help but be charmed by the way he deals with Fiona, who is a very precocious (though not brattish) child. At the same time, she can’t help but be attracted by his good looks, his innate kindness, and his beautiful voice.

The fact that Tye is possessed of an exquisite voice is mentioned several times in the book; so knowing, even before I read the print version, who would be narrating the audiobook meant that I knew I wouldn’t find myself listening to it and thinking there was no correlation between that aspect of the character as he was written and as I heard him. I may have had issues with some aspects of Roger Hampton’s performance in the previous book in this series, but there’s no denying that he has a gorgeous voice – soft, and slightly husky which, in this story, was not far short of perfect for the hero.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

Lost in a Royal Kiss by Vanessa Kelly

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In this thrilling introduction to her Renegade Royals series, Vanessa Kelly transports readers to the court of King George III—where a London street urchin unwittingly plays Cupid, ushering in a new era—and ultimately a new kind of royal…

With her widowed mother working long hours as governess to the royal children, Linnet St. Clare must look after her siblings and run the household. Now she must add to her worries the fate of Dominic, a poor orphan who has inspired the wrath of the king himself. Clearly Linnet has no time to consider her own desires—much less notice the attentions of a certain handsome, powerful magistrate…

Sir Anthony Tait is at a loss for how to capture Linnet’s interest. If only she would be still long enough for courting. Outright seduction seems the only answer. But will his kisses be enough to persuade her—or might Anthony have something to learn from young Dominic about matters of the heart? And in saving the boy’s future, might Anthony and Linnet at last create their own?

Rating: C

This was a reasonably entertaining novella which tells part of the backstory of one of the central characters in Ms Kelly’s upcoming Renegade Royals series.

When he is just fourteen, Dominic Hunter – the son of a butcher who, in a rather misguided act of charity on the part of Queen Charlotte, was brought up alongside some of the royal princes – falls in love with Chloe Steele, the daughter of the boys’ tutor.

Chloe, however, has been seduced by Prince Ernest, which has outraged Dominic to the extent that he knocks seven bells out of the prince, something which, needless to say, could land him in very hot water indeed.

Fortunately for the hotheaded young man, he has a worthy protectress in the form of Linnet St. Clair, whose mother is one of the governesses in the royal household. Linnet seeks the help of the powerful Sir Anthony Dain, court liaison to the Home Office, knowing that he will be able to protect Dominic and also put the fear of God into the prince so that he will not go near Chloe again.

As well as setting up the rest of the series, the novella also spins a charming little romance between Linnet and Sir Anthony, who are actually in love with each other, but don’t know exactly how the other feels about them.

It’s a pleasant, straightforward read and it sets up the series nicely. In that respect, it’s better thought-out and written than many similar novellas I’ve read, as it’s pretty much self-contained (although there is a bit of a cliffhanger at the end, it doesn’t spoil the whole). But unlike some other novellas I’ve read, it’s not especially enthralling and the characterisation, while completely acceptable is not particularly deep.

If you’ve got an hour to spare and are thinking of reading the upcoming series then sure, give this a spin because it’s certainly not horrible; but it’s not absolutely necessary to have read it before Secrets for Seducing a Royal Bodyguard, which is the first full-length novel in the set.

What Happens at Christmas by Victoria Alexander

whc

Camille, Lady Lydingham, knows precisely what she wants for Christmas—an official engagement to a handsome, dashing prince. Her very proper suitor expects a proper English family and the perfect Dickensian Christmas, which leaves the lovely widow with a slight problem. The last thing Camille wants is for the prince to meet her unconventional relatives. But with the aid of a troupe of actors, Camille intends to pull off a Christmas deception of massive proportions.

At least until Grayson Elliott shows up. A dozen years ago, he declared his love on the day before her marriage to another man, then vanished from her life. Now he’s back, gate-crashing Camille’s already chaotic house party, playing havoc with her scheme—and with her heart. Because for Grayson, losing Camille once was bad enough. Losing her twice? Unthinkable. And he’ll find a way to show her they belong together—for this season and every Christmas yet to come…

Rating: B

This was a thoroughly enjoyable read; filled with warmth, humour and quite accurately painted family relationships. I liked that the heroine was in her thirties rather than a debutante or ingenue, and also that she had been content in her first marriage to a man who was kind and decent.

The theme running throughout the novel is one of second chances – not just for Grayson and Camille, but also for Beryl and her husband, for their parents and the sisters’ relationship with each other and their errant father.

Camille and Grayson are very likeable characters, and the farcical element of the story is handled deftly and with a sure hand.

A smile-inducing holiday read for any time of the year.