One Wild Winter’s Eve (Honeycote #4) by Anne Barton

one wild winter's eve

ONCE YOU’VE HAD A TASTE OF SCANDAL…

As the Duke of Huntford’s sister, Lady Rose Sherbourne follows the rules of well-bred society. Always chaperoned. Never engaging in unseemly behavior. Well, except for that one summer, years ago. And yet she’s never been able to forget that handsome stable master or the stolen moments they shared. She’s always wondered what might have happened if he hadn’t disappeared without a word… Now she’s about to find out.

YOU CAN NEVER GO BACK

Charles Holland never expected to see Lady Rose again. And yet the years haven’t lessened his devotion—or his desire—in any way. Despite their differences in class, Charles cannot stop himself from wanting to possess her. But as they uncover one intimate secret after another about her family, they realize that, this time, their love may come at a very dear price…

This book may be purchased from Amazon

Rating: C

One Wild Winter’s Eve, the fourth in Anne Barton’s Honeycote series, is a pleasant enough way to pass a few hours, but is ultimately nothing special. The two protagonists are nice enough, but rather bland, and because they are in love from pretty much the start of the book, the story is about how they overcome the obstacles that lie in their path because of their difference in station; the hero is a land steward and was formerly the stable-master in the household of the Duke of Huntford, and the heroine is the duke’s sister.

I haven’t read the earlier books, but there is enough information given here to enable the new reader to figure out what has gone before. Lady Rose Sherbourne is the youngest of three siblings and has been most strongly affected by the abandonment of their mother some six years earlier. In fact, it was the sight of her mother in bed with her two lovers that traumatised her so much that she refused to speak for years. During that time, only Charles Holland, the gentle stable-master, took the time to truly understand her, and only when she was with him was Rose able to forget her sorrow and feel normal.

Three years later, Charles has moved on, dismissed when the duke discovered the innocent friendship between him and his sister, and Rose – who has now recovered her speech – is acting as a companion to Lady Bonneville, who is one of those intimidating-but-hiding-a-heart-of-gold types of dowagers so often found in historical romances. Lady Bonneville is travelling to Bath to visit Lady Yardley, who happens to be an old friend of Rose’s mother’s, and Rose hopes that perhaps she will be able to obtain some clue as to her mother’s current whereabouts. Even though she behaved atrociously and then abandoned her family, Rose is determined to find her so that she can put the past behind her and move forward with her life.

It emerges that Lady Yardley is still in touch with the dowager duchess of Huntford and has only recently received a letter from her. Rose is desperate to know what it says, but her hostess is not at all forthcoming so later that night, Rose sneaks into the study to see if she can find the letter and read it. Her search is interrupted, however, by Lady Yardley’s steward – who is none other than Charles Holland.

This unexpected meeting shakes both of them, and neither is sure exactly how to treat the other, especially as the forbidden attraction that had always been present between them roars back to life even stronger than before. When Rose is eventually able to explain her purpose to Charles, he agrees to help her to find the letter from her mother –which has since disappeared – and to see if he can find out anything else which might help her. Unfortunately, however, in helping Rose, Charles suddenly finds himself in a very tricky situation – one from which he is unlikely to emerge unscathed and which threatens to destroy the future he and Rose had been hoping to build for themselves.

The romance between the two principals is tender and sweet, although their being in love at the beginning of the book means that it doesn’t really develop – it just is. The conflict in the novel really comes from the fact that for years, Charles has dreamed of owning land of his own and knowing this was unlikely to happen in England has been planning to travel to America as soon as he could afford to buy his passage – but now Rose is back in his life, how can he bear to leave her? Yet how can he ask her, a gently bred young woman with a close-knit, loving family, to leave them to undertake a hazardous journey and settle in a rough, dangerous land?

One Wild Winter’s Eve is a well-written book, the storyline moves swiftly and all reaches a satisfying conclusion. Ultimately, though, it’s one of those middling books that is neither good nor bad – it’s enjoyable enough but not particularly memorable and isn’t a book I’m likely to re-read.

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Falling Into Bed With a Duke (Hellions of Havisham #1) by Lorraine Heath

falling into bed with a duke

After six unsuccessful Seasons, Miss Minerva Dodger chooses spinsterhood over fortune-hungry suitors. But thanks to the Nightingale Club, she can at least enjoy one night of pleasure. At that notorious establishment, ladies don masks before choosing a lover. The sinfully handsome Duke of Ashebury is more than willing to satisfy the secretive lady’s desires—and draws Minerva into an exquisite, increasingly intimate affair.

A man of remarkable talents, Ashe soon deduces that his bedmate is the unconventional Miss Dodger. Intrigued by her wit and daring, he sets out to woo her in earnest. Yet Minerva refuses to trust him. How to court a woman he has already thoroughly seduced? And how to prove that the passion unleashed in darkness is only the beginning of a lifetime’s pleasure ..?

This book may be purchased from Amazon

Rating: A-

I don’t know how she does it, but there is something about Lorraine Heath’s books – those that I’ve read, anyway, which is by no means all of them – that gets me “right there”. The emotions and thought-processes of many of her heroines have such resonance that they are timeless; whether it’s the cancer survivor who worries she is no longer attractive (When the Duke was Wicked), or the loving sister desperate to do the best for her brother (The Duke and the Lady in Red), or the wife who realises that her idyllic marriage wasn’t so idyllic (Waking up With the Duke)… and the list continues with Falling Into Bed With a Duke which, in spite of its rather clunky title, features another of those wonderful heroines whose fears and insecurities are familiar to so many of us.

Miss Minerva Dodger is twenty-eight and fed up to the back teeth with being courted by avaricious suitors who look at her and see piles of money instead of a woman. She knows she isn’t beautiful, but she isn’t an antidote either; yet her forthright nature, the fact that she has a brain and isn’t afraid to use it and that she actually has the temerity to voice her own, decided opinions, means she has little prospect of marrying anyone other than a man who is desperate for money. Men like demure, biddable women who look decorative and don’t bother their pretty little heads with anything remotely intellectual – and if there are any words to accurately describe Minerva, “demure” and “biddable” are certainly not among them.

Minerva may have resigned herself to remaining unwed, but she doesn’t intend to remain a virgin. I admit that I looked sideways at the use of the “I don’t want to die without knowing passion!” trope, but in Ms Heath’s hands, it is not at all trite or implausible. Minerva has good reason for feeling as she does; she would like to be married but she can afford to stay single if she must, because she isn’t prepared to marry without love.

The highly select Nightingale club (which the author informs us in her note at the end, is based on the Parrot Club, formed in the 1850s) is somewhere ladies can go to seek sexual satisfaction while retaining their anonymity behind masks. The male patrons are all society gentlemen, but the rule is that the ladies choose their partners – and Minerva thinks it is the ideal place for her to find what she is looking for; a man who will make love to her solely because he desires her and not her dowry.

Nicholson Lambert, Duke of Ashebury lost his parents in a locomotive accident when he was just eight years old and, along with the Earl of Grayling and his twin brother, was brought up by their unstable guardian, the Marquess of Marsden. He, the twins and the marquess’ son were allowed to run wild as boys, and on entering society were dubbed the Hellions of Havisham. Ashebury doesn’t spend a great deal of time in England, preferring to travel the world indulging his passion for photography. On the rare occasions he visits London, however, he seeks a different sort of subject than exotic creatures or landscapes. Ever since his parents’ deaths, he has been haunted by nightmares of mangled bodies, and believes that if he can supplant them with images of beautiful perfection, his nightmares will lessen, and perhaps stop entirely.

Ashe is present at the Nightingale Club on the night Minerva attends and is immediately captivated by her legs, shown to be long and shapely beneath the flimsy garb worn by the female guests. He longs to photograph her, but Minerva is not comfortable with the idea – even though she had been comfortable enough to go to the club for sex. Realising that the mysterious “Lady V” is a virgin, Ashe gently tells Minerva he doesn’t think he’s the man to whom she should be surrendering her virtue, and, after exchanging a passionate kiss, they part.

But Ashe is smitten. He is intrigued by Lady V’s strange mixture of confidence, insecurity and suppressed sensuality, and knows he can’t let things rest at one kiss. Much of the book is a rather delicious cat-and-mouse chase in which Ashe is determined to uncover Lady V’s identity, while Minerva tries to throw him off the scent, believing that he would be as uninterested in her as every other man once he knows who she really is. Matters are complicated further by the fact that Ashe suddenly discovers that his finances are not in as good a state as he had thought; and knowing that Minerva has actually written a book, called A Lady’s Guide to Ferreting Out Fortune Hunters – knows he dare not let her know the true state of his affairs lest she think he’s just after her money, like all the other men who have pursued her. But while he does need her money, Minerva is the only woman Ashe has ever considered marrying; the problem is going to be convincing her that he wants her for more than just her fortune.

While I have a couple of quibbles with the story, I loved the book overall. The romance is beautifully developed and the air between Ashe and Minerva fairly crackles with sensual awareness whenever they appear in scenes together. Minerva is a spirited, independent heroine in the best possible way; she is well-read, well-informed, not afraid to speak her mind, and not prepared to settle for someone who doesn’t love her. And Ashe is perfect for her; handsome as sin and twice as sexy he doesn’t find her intelligence intimidating and to him, Minerva Dodger is every bit as intriguing and attractive as the mysterious Lady V. The relationship between Ashe and Edward, the younger of the twins, is well-drawn and Edward himself is an intriguing character; a young man whose devil-may-care attitude is clearly masking a great deal of anger, insecurity and self-loathing.

My quibbles principally relate to Ashebury because there are some aspects of his characterisation that don’t quite make sense to me. He lost his parents when he was a child, and I can understand his guilt over the fact that his last words to them were spoken in anger and that he suffers from nightmares about the crash even though he wasn’t present. For the most part, however, he comes across as well-adjusted – which actually makes a refreshing change given the number of tortured heroes found in romance novels! – so I’m not quite sure why he was given such a tragic background (other than to set up the series). This isn’t so much a complaint as it is my trying to work out exactly what it is about his character that felt “off”, because I can’t put my finger on it.

But apart from that, I really can’t fault the story which is superbly written and lushly romantic. Falling Into Bed With a Duke is a great start to Lorraine Heath’s new series, and book two can’t appear fast enough.

The Highwayman by Kerrigan Byrne (audiobook) – Narrated by Derek Perkins

the Highwayman audio

Dorian Blackwell, the Blackheart of Ben More, is a ruthless villain. Scarred and hard-hearted, Dorian is one of Victorian London’s wealthiest, most influential men who will stop at nothing to wreak vengeance on those who’ve wronged him… and will fight to the death to seize what he wants. The lovely, still innocent widow Farah Leigh Mackenzie is no exception-and soon Dorian whisks the beautiful lass away to his sanctuary in the wild Highlands…. But Farah is no one’s puppet. She possesses a powerful secret-one that threatens her very life. When being held captive by Dorian proves to be the only way to keep Farah safe from those who would see her dead, Dorian makes Farah a scandalous proposition: marry him for protection in exchange for using her secret to help him exact revenge on his enemies. But what the Blackheart of Ben More never could have imagined is that Farah has terms of her own, igniting a tempestuous desire that consumes them both. Could it be that the woman he captured is the only one who can touch the black heart he’d long thought dead?

This title may be purchased from Audible via Amazon

Rating: B+ for narration; B+ for content

The first in a new series of historical romances set in the Victorian era, The Highwayman is a darkly intense story that has a real “old-skool” feel about it. It’s angsty and perhaps a bit melodramatic at times, but I don’t mind that when the story is as gripping and the romance as deeply-felt as is the case here.

The story opens in the Scottish Highlands in 1855, when eleven-year-old Dougan Mackenzie is nursing wounds from yet another beating received at the hands of one of the sisters at the orphanage where he’s lived most of his life. He is found by a girl he has not seen before, a girl with silvery ringlets and grey eyes who refuses to leave him alone and then binds his damaged palm, introducing herself as Farah Leigh – and showing him the only affection he has ever known.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

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The Determined Heart (The Tale of Mary Shelley and her Frankenstein) by Antoinette May

the determined heart

The Determined Heart reveals the life of Mary Shelley in a story of love and obsession, betrayal and redemption.

The daughter of political philosopher William Godwin and feminist Mary Wollstonecraft, Mary Shelley had an unconventional childhood populated with the most talented and eccentric personalities of the time. After losing her mother at an early age, she finds herself in constant conflict with a resentful stepmother and a jealous stepsister. When she meets the Romantic poet Percy Bysshe Shelley, she falls deeply in love, and they elope with disastrous consequences. Soon she finds herself destitute and embroiled in a torturous love triangle as Percy takes Mary’s stepsister as a lover. Over the next several years, Mary struggles to write while she and Percy face ostracism, constant debt, and the heartbreaking deaths of three children. Ultimately, she achieves great acclaim for Frankenstein, but at what cost?

This book may be purchased from Amazon

Rating: C+

The Determined Heart is a fictionalised biography of Mary Shelley, concentrating primarily on her relationship with her mercurial poet husband, and exploring some of the influences which eventually led her to create her most famous literary work, Frankenstein.

The author’s research has clearly been extensive, and she has made good use of letters and poems by Shelley, Mary, Lord Byron and others throughout the book. Her writing style is communicative and easy to read, although there are times it feels rather too simplistic and lacking in depth; and while the story is quite compelling, it is not a comfortable read.

And therein lies my biggest problem in writing this review, because most of the characters – notably Shelley, Byron, Mary’s father, William Godwin, and her step-sister, Claire – are such horrible people that there were times I felt that I didn’t want to read about them anymore. But much of what happens in the story is a matter of historical fact, and there is no denying that Mary’s life was a fascinating one, one in which she experienced consuming passion, debilitating tragedy and the gamut of emotions in between, all before she reached her thirtieth year.

The book opens with a Prologue set in 1816, during the time that Mary and her husband were living in Italy with Byron, and when she first started to put together the “ghost” story that was ultimately to become her most famous work. We then skip back to 1801 when Mary is just four years old and living comfortably with her older sister and her father, the author and philosopher, William Godwin. As the child of his beloved Mary Wollstonecraft, his pretty, bright daughter is the apple of his eye. But her young life is about to change when Godwin announces his intention to marry a neighbouring widow, who also has two young children. Both are spoiled and brattish, and it soon becomes clear that “Mum” – Jane Godwin – is resentful of the attention Mary receives on account of her parentage and because of her cleverness and good nature.

Mary clearly adores her father, but as the story progresses it becomes clear that he is not the indulgent, loving Papa that he has seemed to be. He takes little interest in his daughters’ upbringing, leaving them entirely to their stepmother’s care, and is far more concerned with his work and with arguing about literature, politics and philosophy with the authors and poets who revere him and orbit around him. Unfortunately, however, the income Godwin receives from his writing is not enough to support the family and they are forced to move from their comfortable home into one of the worst areas of London.

Mary meets Percy Bysshe Shelley for the first time when she is just fourteen and then again, when she is sixteen and returns from school. Bysshe is young, handsome and the heir to a viscountcy – and Godwin wastes no time in tapping him for money, which Bysshe is happy to proffer, seeing as he counts Godwin as the major inspiration in his life and work. Shelley is married with one child and another on the way when he and Mary fall in love; but having espoused the idea of free love which was also embraced by Godwin and his late wife, neither he nor Mary can see anything wrong with the idea of their going away together. But in a classic case of “do as I say, not do as I do”, Godwin furiously disowns Mary and refuses to have any more to do with her.

This is just the beginning of Mary’s troubles. Because of the scandal caused by their running off together, Bysshe’s family cuts him off and with no means of paying his debts, he is forced to go into hiding, leaving Mary, by now several months pregnant, alone in their dingy lodgings. Or rather, Mary is not exactly alone; her step-sister, Claire decides that running away to live with them is better than stagnating at home, so Mary now has to put up with the young woman who made her life miserable from the moment she came into her life. Worse, Bysshe is a man who doesn’t believe in fidelity, and his on-off affair with Claire lasts almost as long as his relationship with Mary.

This is what I meant when I said these were often deeply unpleasant characters. Claire is selfish and resentful of Mary for almost all of her life; Godwin is a hypocrite; Shelley is selfish and egotistical, and comes to resent Mary for the success she achieves with Frankenstein and her other books while his work struggles to find an audience. Mary endures a great deal during these years – almost constantly on the move, putting up with Claire and her constant attention-seeking, and turning a blind eye to Shelley’s other affairs. Mary bore Shelley four children, only one of whom survived to adulthood, and much of the time, she had to bear her grief and devastation alone.

I can’t deny that Mary comes across as too good to be true. She is rather like the long-suffering heroines of the gothic novels which were popular at the time – perhaps this was intentional on Ms May’s part – but this made it difficult to believe in her as a woman of ideas and great intellect.

Before I read the book, I knew only the basic facts about Mary Shelley, and reading this has certainly added to my knowledge. Her life was not an easy one, and she must certainly have been an extraordinary woman to have coped with all the tragedy the fates saw fit to throw at her.

Ultimately, The Determined Heart is an engrossing read, even though it is by no means an easy one.

Watch the Lady by Elizabeth Freemantle (audiobook) – Narrated by Georgina Sutton and Roy McMillan

watch the lady audio

The daughter of the Queen’s nemesis, Penelope Devereux, arrives at court blithely unaware of its pitfalls and finds herself in love with one man, yet married off to another. Bestowed with beauty and charm she and her brother, The Earl of Essex, are drawn quickly into the aging Queen’s favour. But Penelope is saddled with a husband who loathes her and chooses to strike out, risking her reputation to seek satisfaction elsewhere. But life at the heart of the court is not only characterised by the highs and lows of romance, there are formidable factions at work who would like to see the Devereux family brought down. It seems The Earl of Essex can do no wrong in the eyes of the Queen but as his influence grows so his enemies gather and it is Penelope who must draw on all her political savvy to prevent the unthinkable from happening.

Told from the perspective of Penelope and her brother’s greatest enemy the politician Cecil, this story, wrought with love, hatred and envy, unfolds over two decades in which we see the last gasps of Elizabeth’s reign, and the deadly scramble for power in a dying dynasty.

This audiobook can be purchased from Audible via Amazon

Rating: A-/B for narration; B+ for content

Watch the Lady is a fascinating piece of historical fiction based on the life of Lady Penelope Rich, the sister of Robert Devereux, Earl of Essex. Penelope is widely believed to have been the inspiration for Sir Philip Sydney’s famous sonnet sequence, Astrophel and Stella; and her life was an unconventional one, to say the very least. She was beautiful, possessed of a fine mind, took a keen interest in politics and, for a woman of the time, was able to live life on her own terms, sustaining a long-term relationship with a man to whom she was not married while at the same time retaining the favour of the queen, who was not a woman tolerant of any sort of impropriety among her ladies.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

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Say You’ll Love Me by Ally Broadfield

say you'll love me

She may be his favorite mystery…

All of Lady Abigail Hurst’s dreams seem to be coming true when at long last her childhood sweetheart asks for her hand. But when a maid is found dead, and her betrothed is the chief suspect, Abigail begins to wonder just what manner of man she’s marrying…

The Marquess of Longcroft, Edmund Townsend, has always preferred complex mathematical equations to the trappings of society. And love? Love is a non-quantifiable concept. Still, Lady Abigail is his sister’s friend, and he finds himself drawn into the mystery of her affianced… even as he begins to anticipate Lady Abigail’s company with unfathomable pleasure.

Investigating the murder may reveal more than the sordid truth. It may just reveal the love Abigail always wanted… a little too late.

This book may be purchased from Amazon

Rating: D

The most positive thing I can say about Ally Broadfield’s Say You’ll Love Me is that it’s a quick read. And I mean QUICK. Everything happens at breakneck speed so there is no time to develop the romance, get to know the characters or craft a sufficiently interesting plot. What there is of a plot is actually little more than a series of convenient happenstances that just, well, happen, one after the other.

At the ball held to celebrate her betrothal to her childhood sweetheart, Robert, Viscount Hinsdale, Lady Abigail Hurst is shocked when she goes looking for her intended and discovers him in a dark corridor with his hands up under the skirts of his sister’s maid. Things go from bad to worse when, later the same evening, the maid is pulled out of the river with marks on her neck that clearly indicate foul play.

It appears that Abigail wasn’t the only person to have seen her intended with the maid, as he quickly becomes the prime suspect in her murder, and the news is all over the scandal sheets the next day.

Even though Abigail can’t believe Robert is guilty of the crime, she is determined that she can no longer marry him. He’s not the boy she grew up with or the man she thought he was – but her father insists that she maintain their betrothal until his name is cleared, and she agrees.

Not trusting the authorities to do their jobs properly (I rolled my eyes SO hard at that – what does a twenty-something debutante know about investigating a murder?!) and find the evidence that will either condemn or exonerate Robert, Abigail decides that she will have to do some sleuthing of her own, and enlists the help of her friends Georgina and Henrietta. They suggest involving their brother, Edmund, the Marquess of Longcroft, as he’s super clever and incredibly methodical; plus as a man he will have the entrée to places that young ladies will not.

Edmund – who is more than a little bit taken with Abigail – agrees to help, and the Scooby Gang (and yes, there’s a dog, even though it doesn’t talk!) begin their investigation. Such as it is. Because really, information just falls conveniently into their laps. By three-quarters of the way through, Robert is cleared – although he remains a total dickhead – but is unwilling to accept that Abigail no longer wants to marry him. Given he hasn’t called on her, has already shacked up with a new mistress and does nothing but moan and scowl at her on the occasions they have appeared in public, you’d think he wouldn’t be all that bothered about marrying her, but no – he isn’t prepared to let her go.

What’s the best way to force a woman into marriage? Compromise her of course, so that’s what Robert sets out to do. Fortunately, Edmund is wise to him and manages to foil his evil plot – but not without having to become engaged to Abigail himself. Yet, she thinks, how can he possibly want to marry a woman now so mired in scandal when he has six sisters to get settled?

If Abigail had been a keen reader of romantic novels instead of fairy tales, she’d have known the answer to that one and we’d have been spared the last few chapters. And don’t get me started on the sex scene which is just thrown in for the sake of it at the end. It’s toe-curling… ly bad.

I’m afraid Say You’ll Love Me isn’t even one of those books that’s so bad, it’s almost good; it’s far too bland and unmemorable for that. There is no depth to the characterisation, the writing is terribly simplistic, the mystery isn’t very mysterious and there is no subtlety to the storytelling. The best thing about the book is Edmund, who is sweet and geeky, but he’s as much of a barely two-dimensional character as the rest of them.

Do yourself a favour and give this one a miss.

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TBR Challenge: The Dark Tower by Josephine Edgar

The Dark Tower

The ancient manor above the lake was beautiful to look upon, wreathed in the splendor of the Italian Alps. A place of dreams it seemed — where an innocent and romantic girl could find her dream of bliss.

Slowly, Florence Parmetto was forced to wake from that dream — to a reality worse than nightmare. Only gradually did she begin to have suspicions about the handsome, strong, yet strangely secretive man who had won her heart. Inexorably within her the seeds of terror began to send forth icy tendrils, chilling her blood, numbing her mind, bringing a cry of fear to her throat. But there is no one to hear her, no one to help her — and nowhere she could flee…

Rating: C+

For October’s prompt of Romantic Suspense or Paranormal, I went back to the Paperback Pile of Doom and pulled out a gothic romance originally published in 1965. I enjoyed The Dark Tower, although, as is the case with most gothic romances, the emphasis is on the gothic rather than the romance, which, in this case, is pushed so far into the back seat, it’s practically in the boot of the car!

Twenty-two year-old Kate Hayden has been teaching at a Yorkshire school for girls since the death of her father almost a year previously. She is informed one day that a new pupil will shortly be joining them for a short time, the daughter of the Contessa di Parmetto, who has formed an unsuitable attachment while travelling the Continent with her mother. Kate is told that the young woman will be in her care until at least the end of term, and while she isn’t comfortable with the idea of spying on her charge, she has no alternative but to agree to share a room and keep an eye on her.

The young woman is Fioretta – Florence – a small, rather plain girl of a few months short of twenty-one and therefore not much younger than Kate. She is accompanied to the school by her mother, a beautiful, but vain, selfish woman and her half-brother, a handsome, fair-haired Yorkshireman named Giles Redmayne, to whom Kate is immediately drawn.

Over the next few months, Kate and Florence become friends, and Kate learns that Florence is very much in love with a man named Ralph Briarwood, who had accompanied Florence and the Contessa on their travels. But when Giles learned of the relationship, he had insisted on parting them, solely, Florence believes, because of his dislike of Briarwood. Kate takes this with a pinch of salt; she has already learned that Florence has a penchant for the melodramatic, and is sure that there is another side to the story. When Giles invites Kate to accompany Florence to Thorpe Grange for the Easter Holiday Florence is despondent at the prospect of spending several weeks in that “gloomy house”, while Kate is thrilled at the thought of going home to the Dales… and not a little excited at the idea of seeing Giles again.

During Kate’s time at the Grange, she and Giles become closer and their friendship is poised to become something more when Florence elopes with Briarwood on the eve of her twenty-first birthday. Giles is furious, and in his anger and frustration, blames Kate – in part – because of something she had neglected to tell him and Kate, miserable, leaves the next day, wondering if she will ever see Giles again.

She returns to the school, and not long afterwards receives a letter from Florence asking her to come to visit her in Italy and telling Kate that she – Florence – has been in poor health since her marriage. She also says that she has inherited a great deal of money from her two miserly aunts following their recent, unexpected deaths. Kate is immediately suspicious, having by now learned the truth of Giles’ past acquaintance with Briarwood and the details of the latter’s relationship with the Contessa. Florence practically begs Kate to visit, and asks her to bring a trinket box that she mistakenly left behind, one which contains all the letters her husband sent her before they were married. Puzzled by this, Kate nonetheless retrieves the box – and, because she is still plagued by the feeling that something is not right, she reads the letters, only to have her suspicions about Briarwood’s motives and actions confirmed.

Yet she can’t leave Florence in such terrible danger from the husband she adores, and decides to accept the invitation. Before she leaves, she attempts to see Giles to tell him of his sister’s illness and of her suspicions, but he is away on business and not due back for some days. Kate leaves him a letter and bravely makes her way across Europe, learning a few things about life and herself on the way.

The Dark Tower is a subtle, character driven story rather than a roller-coaster ride from one tense situation to another. The author takes the time to set up the plotline and her characters in the first few chapters; level-headed, clever Kate, romantic, naïve Florence and her self-centred mother, who is an interesting character in her own right; an intriguing mix of black and white. Because we know the identity of the bad guy from the outset, the story isn’t so much about “who” as it is about “how” and “why”, and Ms Edgar creates an understated atmosphere of menace in the final section of the book which sees Kate staying with Florence and Ralph at the remote Castello Vecchio.

Kate is a sensible, likeable heroine who can admit to herself that she’s scared, but who knows she is the only person who can protect Florence and so doesn’t allow herself to show her fear. Florence, who has always wondered what a handsome, worldly man like Ralph sees in a plain little thing like her, is completely in thrall to her husband, although it gradually emerges that she is perhaps not as blind as she appears to be, although she continually refuses to see what is really going on.

The romance between Kate and Giles is a done-deal from very early on in the book, in spite of the way in which they part following Florence’s elopement. While they don’t spend a great deal of time together “on screen”, the reader is told enough about the weeks they spend together at Thorpe Grange that their falling in love is at least credible. They do, however, spend over half the novel apart, but I’ve found this is often the case with older gothic romances; the hero tends to be a very secondary character while the heroine gets on with dealing with whatever peril faces her. And as I knew what I was in for before I started reading, I wasn’t too worried with the lack of H/h interaction. As I was reading, I was involved enough in the story, in Kate’s travels and in the threat she was facing at the Castello that I really didn’t feel the lack of romantic development.

I enjoyed the author’s descriptions of the scenery and landscapes of both Yorkshire and Italy, which are evocative and enable the reader to get a clear sense of place in the mind’s eye. The storyline is well-executed, and even though it’s somewhat light on the romance, The Dark Tower proved to be an entertaining read. It’s not on a par with Victoria Holt’s gothic romances – especially the later ones – but if you’ve enjoyed Holt’s work, then this might be worth checking out.

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