My Lady Faye (Sir Arthur’s Legacy #2) by Sarah Hegger

MyLadyFaye - SarahHegger

The Lady
The fair Lady Faye has always played the role allotted her. Yet the marriage her family wanted only brought her years of abuse and heartache. Now, finally free of her tyrannical husband, she is able to live her own life for the first time. But someone from the past has returned. Someone she has never been able to forget.

The Warrior
After years of servitude as a warrior for King and Country, Gregory is now free to pursue his own path: to serve God by becoming a monk. The only thing stopping him is Faye. Gregory has loved Faye since the moment he saw her. But their love was not meant to be. How can he serve God when his heart longs for her? He can neither forsake God nor the woman he loves.

The Promise
When Faye’s son is kidnapped, Gregory answers her family’s call for help, only to find that even in the most dangerous of circumstances, neither can fight their forbidden attraction. An attraction that now burns brighter than ever before. And it is only a matter of time until it consumes them both.

Rating: C+

My Lady Faye is the second book in Sarah Hegger’s Sir Arthur’s Legacy series, and it picks up the story of Faye, Countess of Calder and sister to the heroine of the first book, Sweet Bea. In that book, Faye finally finds the courage to flee her abusive husband with her two young sons, accompanied by her faithful protector, Sir Gregory. Throughout the seven years of her horrible marriage, the knight was Faye’s only true friend, the one man who knew the truth of what Faye had to endure at her husband’s hands, who offered her what comfort and solace he could and the man who was more of a father figure to her boys than their biological father ever was. It was clear, in Sweet Bea that there was something deeper than mere friendship lying between Faye and her handsome escort, but his long avowed intention to join a religious order stood between them; and having seen Faye and her boys safely returned to her father, he has left Anglesea to pursue his lifelong dream of taking holy orders.

Months later, Faye continues to feel Gregory’s absence keenly and is still angry with him for the ease with which he was able to walk away from her seemingly without regret.

Faye’s worst nightmare comes true one day when her eldest son goes missing, snatched by Calder’s men and returned to his father. She is distraught, knowing Calder to be a cruel, vengeful who will not hesitate to use the boy in order to exact his revenge upon her. Because a married woman and her children are legally her husband’s property – and because he is still looked upon warily following his participation in the barons’ rebellion against the now deceased King John – Sir Arthur’s hands are tied. He has no legal rights in the matter and cannot afford to attract the notice of the new king, and Faye is driven almost out of her mind with frustration and worry, until the arrival of the one man upon whom she has always been able to depend.

Brought from the abbey by Faye’s brother-in-law, Sir Gregory knows that his conflicting loyalties will be sorely tested by proximity to the woman he has loved for so long, but he cannot refuse to help her to get back her son. When she insists on accompanying Gregory to Calder, her father and brothers are adamant that she stay at Anglesea, but she will not be dissuaded. She and Gregory set off with Faye disguised as a boy, to make the journey back to the place she hates most in the world in order to effect the rescue.

One of the things Ms Hegger does very well in this story is to explore the nature of the conflict between Faye and Gregory, which one could almost describe as a Love Triangle. Gregory has wanted to enter the church since he was a boy, an ideal he clung to even when he was fostered out to Calder’s household in the way that boys of the nobility were at that time. He had not, however, bargained on falling in love, and given that Faye was married and there was no hope for them, he kept to his resolve to devote his life to God. Yet he is still torn between his love for his calling and his love for Faye which is, he knows, the reason he has not yet been allowed to take his final vows. He wants to help Faye in any way he can, but when thrown back into an even closer proximity to her than before, he is unable to deny the pull of the attraction between them.

Faye spends quite a lot of the story being angry because Gregory chose the church over her, which sometimes makes her seem rather selfish – but on the other hand, it’s easy to understand her feelings. The man she married turned into a monster and the only person she could rely on was the strong, taciturn knight set to guard her. When her only source of tenderness and comfort left, it’s natural that she should feel abandoned and aggrieved, but she has a habit of constantly needling Gregory that isn’t always easy to read. Fortunately, Faye is redeemed somewhat by the fact that she knows she’s being selfish and petulant, even though she can’t always help herself.

She also grows throughout the story, turning from the timid, helpless woman she had been during her marriage into one who is prepared to put up a fight for what she wants and not to be cowed by her brutal husband, even if it proves bad for her.

On the downside, the writing is a little choppy in places and there is a very modern feel to much of the dialogue, which often took me out of the story. I can’t believe, in this day and age of the internet, that non-British authors are not aware that the English slang word for posterior is “arse” and NOT “ass”. Honestly, every time I see an English heroine grabbing her lover’s ass during a love scene I wonder if there’s a donkey in bed with them! And similarly, a sentence like this:

Verily, the Abbey had not improved his conversational skills any.

– sticks out like a sore thumb and provoked simultaneous cringeing and laughter, because if you’re going to include faux-Medieval dialogue (most authors who set books in this period do, and I’m fine with it), don’t then juxtapose it with a modern-day Americanism. (In Britain, we don’t use the word “any” in that way.) We also don’t travel anywhere “a ways” and describing someone as “going spare” (i.e, freaking out) is certainly idiomatic English, but it’s a very modern expression and once again, feels very out of place. One can argue that the author should have written the book in Medieval French for authenticity, but that’s not my point and is, besides, an argument that is out of place here.

In spite of my criticisms, I did enjoy the story and am certainly not averse to reading future books in the series. Ms Hegger has a good grasp of the historical background and politics and she has penned a sweetly sensual romance between the Lady and her knight which takes serious note of the issues that lie between them. I’d certainly give the book a qualified recommendation to fans of Medieval romances, and to anyone looking for a new author to try.

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Viscount’s Wager (Gambling on Love #3) by Ava March

viscounts wager

London, 1822

You never forget your first love, but is a second chance worth the gamble?

Anthony, Viscount Rawling, knows exactly what he wants in life and he isn’t above having a look about London for it. When he spots recently widowed Gabriel Tilden at a ton function, he thinks he might have found love…again.

Gabriel is as gorgeous and reserved as he was when he broke Anthony’s heart seven years ago. But they were only adolescents then…surely Anthony won’t hold the incident against him. And especially not when the attraction between them is stronger than ever.

Gabriel came to London in search of distraction, and a teasing Anthony is impossible to resist. As Anthony introduces Gabriel to the pleasures that can be found in the city—and in his bedchamber—their bond deepens into something more. Yet both men are hiding secrets that could pull them apart forever…

Rating: B-

Viscount’s Wager is the third book in Ava March’s Gambling on Love series, but even though characters from earlier books appear in it, I don’t think it’s essential to have read them to understand this one. It’s a well-told and engaging story and I enjoyed reading it, but the pacing around the middle of the book drags somewhat and the big secret being kept by one of the protagonists is allowed to go on for a bit too long, which caused me to lower my final grade a little.

Seven years after they shared a memorable moonlight kiss, Gabriel Tilden and Anthony, Viscount Rawling run into each other at a musicale. Six months a widower, Gabriel has come to London for the first time since his marriage, desperate to distract himself from the guilt he feels over his wife’s death.

Anthony has been in love with Gabriel ever since he was sixteen, and was heartbroken when, just the day after their kiss, he witnessed Gabriel in a passionate embrace with the young woman he was eventually to marry. But he put that behind him and has since made himself a life he enjoys, even though his attitude towards the management of his estates is rather lax – for reasons that eagle-eyed readers will probably work out before they are revealed. Comfortable with his sexual preferences, Anthony knows he will never find happiness within marriage and, having grown up with parents who loved each other deeply, knows that is the sort of relationship he wants for himself – but with a man. He is good-natured and open-hearted, and even though he has never forgotten Gabriel, he has resigned himself to the fact that he probably wasn’t “the one”.

Their unexpected encounter brings back all those old feelings and memories. Anthony finds himself just as deeply attracted to Gabriel as he ever was, and just as keen to find out if Gabriel is interested in more than friendship. But he quickly recognises that Gabriel is just as emotionally reticent as he ever was, and that he is going to have to tread very carefully if they are ever to have the life together that Anthony firmly believes could be theirs.

Gabriel is a walking bundle of guilt. He feels guilty for hurting Anthony all those years ago and because he is not entirely at ease with the fact that he was so attracted to him in the first place. He was more or less forced into marriage, although he and his wife did become friends during their years together; but he never loved her and hates himself for the relief he felt after her death. He has come to London seeking distraction, which he finds at the gambling tables – but he is not a wealthy man and before long, he finds himself in desperate straits.

Anthony very carefully starts to coax Gabriel out of his shell, seeking him out when he can but not too obviously, teasing him, introducing him to the delights of late night walks in Hyde Park and makes it clear that he would like to pick up where they left off all those years ago. Eventually, Gabriel takes Anthony up on his offer, and the two become lovers – but even then, Gabriel can’t let go of his intense guilt over the past and the feeling that he doesn’t deserve to be loved or happy.

At this stage, the relationship between Gabriel and Anthony is fraught with things unsaid, and before long, Anthony realises that his lover is using sex as a diversion – both from his own problems and from talking them out with Anthony. It’s well written, but Gabriel’s insistence on running away from the relationship and then denying himself Anthony’s company – and bed – for days on end as a penance goes on for too long, and thus the middle part of the book is somewhat bogged down in the pattern of hot sex followed by guilt and denial, during which Gabriel continues to dig a deeper and deeper hole for himself at the gaming tables.

I didn’t much care for the fact that Gabriel used Anthony for sex and then ran out on him, only to be unable to keep away and then repeat the same pattern over and over. Anthony is such a forgiving, loving man, and by the half-way point, I felt he deserved better than someone who used him and felt guilty for being with him. Fortunately, however, Anthony eventually faces up to the fact that Gabriel is not going to change his behaviour unless he is challenged and this, together with Gabriel’s realisation that he is in way over his head as regards his debts, eventually leads to a confrontation and a new honesty between them.

The ending is a little predictable and, surprisingly, a little heavy on the mush for my taste, but in spite of my reservations, Viscount’s Wager is still a book I’d recommend to anyone looking for a male/male historical that retains a strong sense of period. Ava March has the knack of writing hot sex scenes that are sensual and erotic without being crude, and in which the characters are clearly emotionally invested – even if they don’t themselves quite know what those emotions are! The central relationship has a sense of realism about it because it’s messy and has to be worked at; and both characters are well-drawn, with Anthony being the star-turn. Even though there were times I didn’t like Gabriel all that much, I was so taken with Anthony that I wanted him to have what would make him happy. Once Gabriel has received his wake-up call and the pair starts to work as a partnership, the complementary elements of their disparate natures start to work for them, which enables the reader to see Gabriel in an entirely new light and to believe that perhaps he is the man to make Anthony happy after all.

Heartless by Mary Balogh (audiobook) – Narrated by Rosalyn Landor

heartless

Life has taught Lucas Kendrick, Duke of Harndon, that a heart is a decided liability. Betrayed by his elder brother, rejected by his fiancée, banished by his father, and shunned by his mother, Luke fled to Paris, where he became the most sought-after bachelor in fashionable society. Ten years later fate has brought him back home to England as head of the family who rejected him. Unwilling as he is to be involved with them, he must assume responsibility for his younger siblings, the family estate he once loved – and the succession. He faces the prospect of marrying with the greatest reluctance – until he sees beguiling Lady Anna Marlowe across a ballroom one night.

Anna, far from being the bright-eyed innocent Luke takes her for, is no more a stranger to the shadows of a painful past than he is. But for her, marriage cannot so easily solve what is wrong in her life – not when a tormentor stalks her to the very doors of Bowden Abbey, where Luke and Anna must learn to trust in each other or risk any chance they may have for a happy future.

Rating: A for narration; B+ for content

It’s been a treat, over the last few months, to see some of Mary Balogh’s older titles finally making it into audio format. I have noticed a number of them (including this one, and its sequel, Silent Melody) coming back into print and being made available digitally, so I’m hoping that the audiobooks will follow – and will add my voice to those longing for re-issues of Ms Balogh’s Simply series (also narrated by Rosalyn Landor) and for recordings of her Bedwyn books.

Heartless was originally published in 1995 and is set in the late Georgian era. Its hero, Lucas Kendrick, left England a decade earlier following a heart-breaking betrayal and its terrible aftermath, and has since made a life for himself in Paris. Ten years later, Luke is a trendsetter, a man of fashion and influence, deadly with both blade and pistol and much sought after by the ladies, but with a reputation for being cold and unemotional. He’s totally heartless according to Parisian society, and that’s exactly how he likes it. That way, no woman will expect more from him than he is able to give, because his emotions died a decade ago, along with the bookish, mild-tempered and optimistic boy he had been.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

Gathering Storm by Maggie Craig (audiobook) – Narrated by James Bryce

gathering storm

Edinburgh, Yuletide 1743.

Seconded back from the wars in Europe to captain the city’s town guard, Robert Catto fears his covert mission to assess the strength of the Jacobite threat will force him to confront the past he tries so hard to forget.

Christian Rankeillor, known as Kirsty; her surgeon-apothecary father; and his apprentice, Jamie, are committed supporters of the Stuart cause. Meeting as enemies, Robert and Kirsty are thrown together as allies by the mysterious death of a young prostitute and their desire to help fugitive brother and sister Geordie and Alice Smart.

Robert and Kirsty are increasingly drawn to each other. She knows their mutual attraction can go nowhere. He knows his duty demands that he must betray her.

Rating: C+ for narration; A for content

I’ve had this title on my TBR pile for some time, but haven’t found time to read it yet, so when I saw it had been released in audio format, I grabbed it immediately. The book came very highly recommended and the author has a reputation for meticulous research and the ability to expertly immerse her readers into the historical periods about which she writes, so I was looking forward to listening to Gathering Storm with high hopes.

I’m not going to say those hopes were dashed – the story itself is very good indeed – but the audiobook as a whole turned out to be disappointing because the narrator, while very good on some levels, is not a good fit on others.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

You’re the Earl That I Want (Lords of Worth #3) by Kelly Bowen

You're the Earl That I Want

THE EARL DOTH PROTEST . . .

For businessman Heath Hextall, inheriting an earldom has been a damnable nuisance. The answer: find a well-bred, biddable woman to keep his life in order and observe the required social niceties. But it’s always been clear that Lady Josephine Somerhall is not that woman. Once a shy slip of a girl, Joss is now brilliant, beautiful chaos in a ball gown.

. . . BUT THE LADY KNOWS BEST

In her heart, Joss has always loved Heath, the one person she’s always been able to count on. That doesn’t mean she wants to marry him though. Without a husband, Joss can do as she pleases—and now, it pleases her to solve the mystery of an encoded file given to Heath by a dying man. It’s put Heath in peril once, and Joss won’t let that happen again. She’ll do what she must to ensure the earl’s safety. And to remind him that what she lacks in convention, she makes up for in passion.

Rating: B

Having enjoyed Kelly Bowen’s last book – A Good Rogue is Hard to Find – I’d marked her down as a new author to watch and was keen to read more from her. In You’re the Earl That I Want (and would somebody PLEASE STOP with the stupid, cutesy titles that aren’t cute so much as they are irritating!), she concludes her Lords of Worth trilogy with another deftly-written, fast-paced, fun story featuring a couple of attractive protagonists, lively dialogue and slightly improbable plot.

Heath Hextall is a wealthy, self-made businessman with a finger in many different pies; shipping, textiles, manufacturing – but having recently and unexpectedly inherited an impoverished earldom, he now finds himself in the uncomfortable position of being neither fish nor fowl (pun unintentional!). As the Earl of Boden, he is firmly a member of the ton, but as a man who has made his wealth in trade, he is also someone the high sticklers of society look down upon. In the years since he inherited, Heath has worked hard to set the earldom to rights financially, and has now decided that it’s time he found himself a wife to look after his domestic concerns while he continues to oversee his business interests and run his estates. Given his background in trade and the scandals that have dogged his family, Heath knows exactly the sort of woman he wants to marry; “a pleasant, even-tempered soul who will accept my protection and the comforts I can provide her, and in exchange will expertly manage my household.”

His friend, the Duke of Worth – to whom Heath makes this momentous pronouncement – can’t help but be amused by this statement, even though a few days later, he comes up with the perfect candidate in Lady Rebecca Dalton. In her third season, Lady Rebecca is intelligent, capable and courteous, and is, in Worth’s opinion, exactly what Heath is looking for.

Worth’s sister, Lady Josephine (Joss) Somerhall has recently returned from her travels abroad and Heath is immediately struck by her beauty, her vivacity and her lively mind. He remembers the little girl who dogged his footsteps and whom he used to tease during the summers he spent with the Sommerhalls, and who was sent away from home to relatives in Europe when she was just six years old. Joss is infuriating and entrancing – but, as Heath keeps having to remind himself – not for him. She’s a force of nature, a whirlwind in human form and not at all the restful, useful woman he has envisaged taking to wife.

Joss loved Heath when she was a girl, and fully expects that youthful infatuation to have died a death in the years of her absence, but her first sight of him – tall, blond and handsome – brings all those old feelings back in force and she has to admit to herself that she loves him still. She does, however, wonder where the fun-loving, teasing Heath Hextall has disappeared to, and where this slightly care-worn, serious man who has taken his place has come from.

I rather like the childhood-friends-to-lovers trope, and Ms Bowen does a good job with the way she has both Joss and Heath reassessing each other as grown-ups and realising that their childhood attachment has never really gone away. She gets away with having Joss being independent and unconventional because of the fact that she has lived most of her life away from the strictures of English society, and thankfully steers well clear of TSTL territory; Joss is intelligent and determined, but not stupid and her cleverness is demonstrated throughout the book rather than being something that is talked about but not borne out by her actions.

The rest of the story is given over to a rather implausible plot about some long-lost treasure and the revolutionary fanatics who would do anything to get their hands on it – but it’s fun and moves along at a good pace. The action sequences are well-written and the whole thing is adroitly handled and never allowed to get in the way of the love-story, which is tender and funny. Heath and Joss are well-matched and complement each other; his dependability counters her impulsiveness and her liveliness gives him back some of his youthful spirit of adventure.

The only false note struck in the book is that the obstacles stuck into the path of the romance are so contrived. Heath wants a boring wife; Joss likes her freedom so therefore they can’t be together. And that’s it. I understand that the path of true love needs a few bumps along the way, but that’s not even a bump worthy of the name!

I enjoyed meeting the redoubtable Lady Eleanor again, and the reminder about the audacious plans she carries out in order to help abused women add a more serious note to the book and serve to illustrate the severe inequalities that existed in the society of the time.

Overall, though, You’re the Earl That I Want is a light-hearted romp that strikes the right balance between the romance and adventure plot, and I enjoyed it very much. If you’re in the mood for an upbeat, lively read this summer, then I reckon this will fit the bill.

His Wicked Reputation by Madeline Hunter (audiobook) – Narrated by Mary Jane Wells

his wicked reputation audio

Gareth Fitzallen is celebrated for four things: his handsome face, his notable charm, his aristocratic connections, and an ability to give the kind of pleasure that has women begging for more. Normally he bestows his talents on experienced, worldly women. But when he heads to Langdon’s End to restore a property he inherited—and to investigate a massive art theft—he lays plans to seduce a most unlikely lady.

Eva Russell lives a spinster’s life of precarious finances and limited dreams while clinging to her family’s old gentry status. She supports herself by copying paintings while she plots to marry her lovely sister to a well-established man. Everyone warns her of Gareth’s reputation, and advises her to lock her sister away. Only it is not her sister Gareth desires. One look, and she knows he is trouble. One kiss, however, proves she is no match for this master of seduction.

Rating: A- for narration; B+ for content

When I read His Wicked Reputation a few months back, I enjoyed it, but came away from it feeling as though there was something missing I couldn’t quite put my finger on. As any regular listener to audiobooks will know, there are times when listening to a book rather than reading it can enhance the experience and enjoyment of the story, and I’m pleased to report that his was one of those times. Thanks in no small part to another excellent performance by Mary Jane Wells, I enjoyed the story even more this time around.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

Romancing the Earl (Regency Treasure Hunters #2) by Darcy Burke

romancing the earl

Major Elijah Hollister never wanted to be an earl, particularly not when it meant losing his brother. When a bold adventuress shows up at his door seeking a treasure map, Elijah suspects his brother’s death may not have been accidental and that the lady knows more than she’s willing to share. Whether she’s a friend or foe, Elijah plans to keep her close—and hope the temptation of her kisses doesn’t ruin them both.

Miss Catriona Bowen can almost taste the fruits of her years-long quest to find one of Britain’s greatest treasures. The discovery will deliver the recognition and respect she deserves as an antiquary, despite the fact that she’s a woman. However, to find the map that will lead her to success, she must ally herself with a stoic, yet provocative gentleman with a different goal. And when a villain threatens their lives, she realizes too late that love is the greatest treasure of all.

Rating: B-

Romancing the Earl is the second book in Ms Burke’s Regency Treasure Hunters series, which began with The De Valery Code. That story is set some twenty-two years earlier and tells the story of Rhys and Margery Bowen, whose daughter, Cate, is the heroine of this book. While there are a couple of references to some of the elements of the storyline in book one which are carried over, Romancing the Earl works well as a standalone, with a nicely built romance and an intriguing adventure plot.

Major Elijah Hollister has recently returned to England from Australia, where he was stationed for a number of years. His return was occasioned by the recent and unexpected death of his brother Matthew, the Earl of Norris, which has left Elijah both bereft and in possession of an earldom he doesn’t want.

Completely out of the blue, he receives a visit from a lovely young woman who introduces herself as Catriona Bowen. She loses no time in informing him that she wishes to purchase a medieval tapestry she believes is part of the collection of antiquities Elijah has inherited from the distant cousin who was the holder of the title before Matthew. When she goes on to explain that the tapestry may well contain a clue as to the location of a priceless Arthurian artefact known as the Sword of Dyrnwyn, Elijah is suspicious of her true intent – and when, during the course of their conversation, Catriona explains that she is not the only person interested in the tapestry and the information it may contain, Elijah comes to the realisation that perhaps his brother’s death was no accident.

While he has no real interest in the tapestry other than as it relates to his brother’s death, Elijah is determined to investigate and find out the truth. He and Catriona form an uneasy alliance; if Matthew was murdered by whoever was after the tapestry, then helping to recover it may provide clues as to the identity of his brother’s killers.

What follows is a road-trip story during which the Earl and Catriona – accompanied by their respective servants, Wade and Grey – travel from his Wiltshire home to Harlech in Wales, finding clues and confronting the dangerous gang who are also in pursuit of the treasure.

While the story is perhaps a little slow to start, spending time as it does introducing the reader to the various players in the story and explaining the legends behind the Arthurian treasures of which the Sword of Dyrnwyn is one – once the journey really gets underway, the pacing picks up, and I found myself much more drawn in.

The two principals are attractive, engaging characters whose past experiences (him) and unconventional lifestyle (her) have decided both of them against long-term entanglements, but who are nonetheless unable to ignore the growing attraction between them. The romantic and sexual tension between them is built up very well, and even though Cate’s attitude towards sex is rather too modern for the time, I nonetheless enjoyed how her forwardness was contrasted with Elijah’s insistence on propriety and the way she could throw him completely off balance with a veiled suggestion or look.

In fact, Cate is a very forward-thinking young woman who wants nothing more than to be taken seriously as an academic in a time when women weren’t supposed to have brains or to be able to think for themselves. I did find it a little hard to believe that her parents would have allowed her to gallivant about the country with only her companion in tow; regardless of their confidence in Cate’s common sense and her resourcefulness, the middle of nowhere in the English countryside could be a very dangerous place to be.

Elijah is slightly less well defined, although Ms Burke adds some lovely little touches to his backstory which help to flesh him out. He’s charming, dependable and possesses the kind of quiet competence that is very attractive, as well as being the sort of hero who may be a bit uptight on the surface but is a bit of a devil between the sheets ;-). I was, however, rather surprised by his actions towards the end of the story, when the conclusions he reaches about his brother’s death cause him to act in a way that’s completely out of character.

There are a few inconsistencies in the story (like the fact that Bradford is nowhere near Bath; the author obviously means Bradford-upon-Avon, but this British reader had to think about it, because to us, Bradford is “up north”) and the reasons behind Elijah’s poor relationship with his mother are never fully explored or given closure. Cate’s stated determination never to disgrace her family name is somewhat at odds with the way she travels around independently all the time. And personally, I have a problem with the concept that King Arthur actually existed. The treasures which are being sought during this series are all reputed to be artefacts that were owned by Arthur and his knights, thus proving the legendary king’s existence. I know this is fiction, but that requires me to stretch my credulity just a bit too far.

Apart from those things, though Romancing the Earl is a well-written, enjoyable romp, featuring a couple of likeable protagonists, a sensual romance and a nicely-crafted adventure plot. Ms Burke has set things up well for the next couple of books in the series, and I’m sure I’ll be checking them out.