Duke of Sin (Maiden Lane #10) by Elizabeth Hoyt

Duke of Sin

This title may be purchased from Amazon


Devastatingly handsome. Vain. Unscrupulous. Valentine Napier, the Duke of Montgomery, is the man London whispers about in boudoirs and back alleys. A notorious rake and blackmailer, Montgomery has returned from exile, intent on seeking revenge on those who have wronged him. But what he finds in his own bedroom may lay waste to all his plans.


Born a bastard, housekeeper Bridget Crumb is clever, bold, and fiercely loyal. When her aristocratic mother becomes the target of extortion, Bridget joins the Duke of Montgomery’s household to search for the incriminating evidence-and uncovers something far more dangerous.


Astonished by the deceptively prim-and surprisingly witty-domestic spy in his chambers, Montgomery is intrigued. And try as she might, Bridget can’t resist the slyly charming duke. Now as the two begin their treacherous game of cat and mouse, they soon realize that they both have secrets-and neither may be as nefarious-or as innocent-as they appear . . .


In Duke of Midnight, the sixth book in her Maiden Lane series, Elizabeth Hoyt introduced a fascinating secondary character by the name of Valentine Napier. He’s a duke. He’s unutterably gorgeous. He’s extremely wealthy. He’s also clever, devious, amoral and vain, and through the last few books in the series, we’ve watched him manipulate, blackmail, orchestrate kidnaps and engineer goodness knows what other nefarious schemes.

He seemed at first to be an almost archetypal villain; the sort who is so sure he’s the smartest person in the room – as well as the handsomest, richest and most powerful – that there’s almost no way to bring him down, and given some of the things he did, especially in Dearest Rogue, we wanted him brought down.

But then came Sweetest Scoundrel when it became clear that although Val was a ruthless bastard, there was one person in his life who loved him and whom he loved (even though he would probably never admit that out loud!) – his illegitimate half-sister, Eve Dinwoody. And then we learned that he had saved her from unspeakable horror, and has been looking out for her ever since; and it began to seem that perhaps there might just be something worth saving beneath that beautiful exterior.

As a result of his actions in Dearest Rogue, in which he attempted to abduct Lady Phoebe, the sister of the Duke of Wakefield, Val was exiled from England. He is supposed to have been travelling on the Continent, but hints were dropped throughout Sweetest Scoundrel that he was in fact doing no such thing and remained much closer to home. In his absence, his household has been admirably run by his rather prim housekeeper, Bridget Crumb, who, we have learned, took a post at Hermes House for motives of her own. She is the illegitimate daughter of an aristocratic lady who is being blackmailed by Val, and who approached Bridget to ask for her help. Aided by the references provided by her mother, Bridget secured the post at the duke’s London house, and takes every opportunity afforded her to search his apartments for the letters which give him his hold over her mother.

Bridget has so far been able to keep her search secret, in spite of an odd feeling of being watched. But unfortunately, her luck runs out just as she makes an interesting discovery. Poised indelicately across the duke’s bed, she is surprised by the man himself, who, not unnaturally, wants to know exactly what his housekeeper is about. Her calm, poised response and refusal to be intimidated by him intrigue Val immediately, so much so that he decides to make it his business to see if he can unsettle the very proper Mrs. Crumb.

The big draw of the story is, of course, the sexy game of cat-and-mouse that plays out between the completely outrageous duke who thinks nothing of wandering around naked (well, he’s gorgeous, so why should he deprive people of the sight of him?!) and having the most inappropriate conversations with his housekeeper; and said housekeeper who is by no means insensible to Val’s charms, but who is sensible enough to know that he’s trying deliberately to rile her and not to take the bait. The romance is as well-written and as steamy as any Ms Hoyt has written, and the sexual chemistry between the two leads is scorching, but even though the sparks fly between them right from the start, their relationship is remarkably free from the insta-lust that is so prevalent in romances currently. Val doesn’t think Bridget is particularly attractive to start with, and it’s true that she isn’t beautiful in the conventional sense. The initial spark is provided by Val’s curiosity about his very proper housekeeper and her refusal to be cowed by him; he is attracted to her spirit and intrigued by her pride and the untapped passion – not just sexual passion – he senses in her. And although Bridget can’t miss the fact that her employer is an incredibly good-looking man, she’s more concerned with trying to keep up with his quick mind and mood changes and to second guess him than she is with mooning over how searingly hot he is. Val is an intensely sensual being, so it’s perfectly natural – to him – to be wondering about what Bridget looks like without her clothes, but It’s a while before he realises that he actually wants to bed her quite badly and for him to start debating the best way to seduce her in earnest. In the meantime, he has set in motion a blackmail scheme so audacious that it will clear the way for him to return to society with no questions asked.

Ms. Hoyt set herself one helluva challenge by setting out to redeem the unscrupulous Duke of Montgomery and turn him into a hero. To be honest, I’m not completely sure I bought his turnaround, but I can’t deny that I absolutely loved him in this book. He’s all those things I said before – but he is somehow ridiculously endearing as well, with his dry wit and his penchant for hyperbole:

“I sought you out amongst your labors to bend my knee and plead that you leave the dust and spiders and mouse droppings to come and lounge awhile and perhaps partake of luncheon.”

– and then there’s his complete and utter self-confidence:

He thought and thought – many considered him quite a genius, including himself – and at last he thought of something he could say. “I’m sorry.”

Making this beautiful but conscienceless man who takes every privilege as his due into an appealing character is quite an achievement. But the author takes it even further once the reader is allowed more insight into what has made Val the way he is. The more we learn of his upbringing, the easier it is to begin to sympathise with and understand him. Considering what we discovered about Eve’s past in the previous book, the fact that much of Val’s backstory is utterly heart-breaking is unsurprising; but rather than dwelling on that too much, Ms. Hoyt concentrates on showing us the effects of that upbringing. The son of a sadistic father and a mother who hated him, Val has never seen any normal human reactions, so he has never learned them. This aspect of his character is rendered brilliantly by the way information about him is given; it often comes in the form of offhand comments, such as when he says “I started at twelve” and describes his initiation to sexual pleasure at the hands (or rather, mouth!) of a nineteen-year-old-housemaid – statements to which Bridget and the reader stop to think “what?!” while Val natters blithely on. The contrast between Val’s response and ours is a very effective way of showing how broken he is, while also showing that he is completely unaware of being so. He’s like an undisciplined child; so immensely rich and powerful that he can do exactly as he likes with little to no threat of retribution. He has had no role models, nobody to curb his excesses, and most importantly of all no-one (other than Eve, whom he had to send away for her own safety) has ever loved him or wanted him to love them.

Bridget is an extremely likeable heroine, and she exerts a subtle, but calming influence on Val which strengthens as the story progresses. Strong and stubborn, she’s exactly the sort of heroine he needs – one who won’t let him off the hook and who forces himself to take a look at himself in a way he’s never been challenged to do before. But she’s also an extremely compassionate woman; the reader feels her heart-breaking for the “beautiful, bright boy” broken by depraved cruelty, because ours is doing the same thing. She’s the only one to see through Val’s mercurial exterior to the potentially extraordinary man inside, and she becomes his moral compass, determined to get him to see what she sees, that he is capable of both being both more and better. Under her influence, he starts to think differently and to admit that there are points of view other than his own.

And I loved that their relationship is one of give and take, albeit on different scales. While Bridget is encouraging Val to locate his conscience, he is showing her that she’s a highly sensual woman and encouraging her to experience life’s pleasures, whether it’s making love in the middle of the day or drinking a rare vintage.

Duke of Sin is a thoroughly enjoyable novel in spite of a few holes (another kidnapping?), and the eponymous hero – or anti-hero – is one of the most charismatic characters ever to grace the pages of an historical romance. He is not completely reformed by the end of the story; rather Ms Hoyt wisely chooses to show him taking that first, big step in the right direction by having him learn to put someone else first, and leaving readers with the sense that with Bridget beside him, he will get there. Most importantly, she shows that he is going to do that without having a complete personality transplant. He might have given up on the blackmail and extortion, but he’s still a canny bastard with a wicked sense of humour and – lucky Bridget! – a devil between the sheets. And I suspect we wouldn’t want him any other way.



The Many Sins of Cris de Feaux (Lords of Disgrace #4) by Louise Allen

The Many Sins of Cris de Feaux

This title may be purchased from Amazon

But before that, let’s take a moment to ogle that cover!

Crispin de Feaux, Marquess of Avenmore, has always done his duty and knows the time has come to find a suitable wife. But when the intrepid Tamsyn Perowne saves his life off the Devonshire coast, Cris is unable to tear himself away…

The widow of a notorious smuggler, Tamsyn would never make an appropriate bride. And Cris has secrets which could tear them apart before they’ve even begun! Yet, for the first time, Cris is tempted to ignore his duty, and claim Tamsyn as his own!


Crispin de Feaux, Marquess of Avenmore is one of the four Lords of Disgrace, who were introduced to readers in His Housekeeper’s Christmas Wish; although by the sound of it, he’s probably the least deserving of being called a ‘disgrace’ of all of them. I’m also not sure what his “many sins” are, as he’s a thoroughly upstanding chap who takes his responsibilities seriously, recognises the importance of duty and who is starting to think it’s time he fulfilled that duty to family and title by settling down.

That said, it’s not the first time the title of a book has described a hero as a rogue, devil or just plain wicked when he is really nothing of the sort, so I let that go and settled in to enjoy a book by an author I know can be relied upon to create interesting characters and tell a strong story. Crispin – or Cris – has recently returned from a diplomatic mission to Denmark nursing a broken heart. The object of his affections is married and Cris is not the sort of man to dishonour a married lady or risk a major diplomatic incident, so he has returned to England frustrated and restless – and so preoccupied that a moment’s lack of forethought seems as though it is about to cost him his life.

Barely making it to land following a punishing swim off the Devonshire coast, Cris is taken in by Tamsyn Perowne, the widow of a notorious smuggler, and her maiden aunts. A mistake has Tamsyn believing him to be a mere mister, and it’s a mistake Cris is reluctant to correct once he sees the attraction of being a man unencumbered by title and responsibilities, even for just a short while.

A day or so into his recovery, Cris learns that the ladies have lately been the victims of a number of unfortunate accidents; a hayrick fire, escaping livestock, empty lobster pots – none of which are taken seriously by the local magistrate who puts each incident down to local boys making mischief. Tamsyn, however, is convinced that her cousin Franklin, Viscount Chelford, is trying to force them off the land and from their home, even though she can’t quite fathom why, when he has a large estate of his own, he should be bothered with a small estate bequeathed by his father to his aunt and her companion.

Being the sort of honourable gentleman he is, Cris cannot ignore what he learns, even though Tamsyn is initially reluctant to allow him to become involved. But he won’t take no for an answer; she and her aunts saved his life and the least he can do is get to the bottom of these so-called accidents and ensure their safety, so he starts making enquiries about Chalford in London while also setting about making sure the ladies are protected.

Cris initially wonders if the strong pull he feels towards Tamsyn is merely the result of thwarted desire and not having been with a woman in months, but very soon dismisses that theory. He likes her courage, her spirit and her independent nature, he finds her attractive and he most definitely wants to take her to bed. But that’s all there could ever be between them, as Cris is very well aware that a smuggler’s widow is not a suitable match for a man in his position.

Tamsyn is equally smitten. Not only is Cris stunningly gorgeous (and I have to applaud the cover designers here, because that model is perfect. Day-um!) – but he’s solicitous for her aunts’ comfort, he’s charming, and makes her feel safe. That he’s infuriatingly close-lipped about himself is something not so completely in his favour, but Tamsyn wants him desperately, and thinks that a short-lived affair won’t do any harm, provided they’re discreet.

I rather liked Tamsyn’s determination to go after what she wants, which she does in a way that is direct without being out-of-character or completely implausible for a woman of the time. She’s gutsy without being TSTL or purposefully contrary, capable and clever, and knows when to accept help, which is always important in stories when the heroine is in a fix. So often authors seem to think that having a female character accept help from a man makes her appear weak whereas the opposite is true; knowing when help is needed and when to ask for it is a sign of strength and intelligence.

The romance between Tamsyn and Cris is lovely. They share a strong emotional connection, and there’s tenderness, humour and an underlying sensuality to their interactions which makes their developing relationship a joy to read. In fact, it’s so well done that I’d have given the book a higher grade had the final section not felt rushed and boasted a couple of obvious contrivances. In addition, Ms Allen makes use of a rather stock-in-trade ‘I can’t marry you because…’ on Tamsyn’s part which is one that almost always makes me want to roll my eyes and shout “but how can you KNOW?!”

Apart from the last one, those issues didn’t really bother me or spoil The Many Sins of Cris de Feaux, which is a terrific romance, and one I very much enjoyed. As I was reading, I was reminded of Michelle Mills’ comments in her recent blog about Harlequin titles to the effect that sometimes readers want a romance that’s all about the romance – and this book fulfils that criteria admirably. The subplot concerning the supposed accidents and the further nefarious schemes of the evil cousin is entertaining and well-written, but the romance is front and centre, and a very good one it is too.


Listening to the Classics: Sense & Sensibility by Jane Austen – Narrated by Rosalyn Landor

Sense and SensibilityFor my last Classics Corner post, I chose to listen to and review a very new recording by one of my favourite narrators.  I confess that when it comes to Jane Austen’s novels, I have an A team and a B team. The A team consists of Emma, Pride and Prejudice and Persuasion, and the B team of Sense and Sensibility and Northanger Abbey. Mansfield Park kind of hovers between the two – it’s a wonderful book but the heroine is difficult to like and understand for much of it, which can make it a bit problematic.

While I own at least one version of my Austen A team books in audio, I don’t have any of the B team ones, so when I saw that Rosalyn Landor had recently recorded Sense and Sensibility (and also Pride and Prejudice and Persuasion), it was the perfect opportunity for me to try an audiobook of S&S.

You can read the rest of this article at AudioGals.

A Pressing Engagement (Lady Darby #4.5) by Anna Lee Huber

02_A Pressing Engagement
This title may be purchased from Amazon.

With her wedding to fellow investigator Sebastian Gage only a day away, Kiera is counting down the hours. But just when matrimonial jitters threaten to consume her, Kiera receives a welcome distraction in the form of a mysterious gold necklace.

The Celtic torc, thought missing for decades, was directly involved in a recent investigation. Now, Kiera feels compelled to uncover the truth behind its sudden reappearance.

But with an overwhelming flock of wedding guests, a muddled cat, an unpaid favor, and a ferocious storm throwing things into disarray, it’s anyone’s guess whether Kiera and Gage will actually make it to the altar…


Fans of Anna Lee Huber’s Lady Darby mysteries have followed the adventures of the unusual and talented Keira Darby and her fellow investigator, the gorgeous Sebastian Gage through four books, now, in which the couple has gone from an initial mistrust and animosity to grudging respect, liking, the stirrings of attraction and, finally, love. At the end of the third book, A Grave Matter Gage proposed and in the fourth, A Study in Death, they were an engaged couple, working alongside each other to solve a mystery involving a case of poisoning and the misplacement of some valuable artefacts.

In the next book, As Death Draws Near, we will finally see them as a married couple continuing their already established strong and complementary working relationship as they adjust to marriage, but before that release in July, comes A Pressing Engagement an eighty-three page novella which takes place on the day before (and day of) the wedding, as a nice little teaser to whet our appetites for the release of the next book in July.

From the previous book, we already know that Keira was being driven round the bend by her sister Alana’s enthusiasm about the wedding preparations and her wishing to ensure it is a spectacular occasion. Deep down, Keira doesn’t want all the fuss – she’d happily marry Gage over the anvil – but at that time, Alana, heavily pregnant, needed something to stop her brooding about the impending birth, so Keira allowed her to fuss and fret while she and Gage pursued their latest enquiry.

Even though she gave birth just weeks ago, Alana is up and running around making sure things are organised and double-organised, and Keira finds it hard to summon up an interest in how many flounces are on her dress or how many flower arrangements there should be… so when her cousin Jock arrives bearing a gift which she and Gage suspect may be linked to their previous investigation, there is only one thing to be done. They must find out the truth, but have only the day in which to do it.

I should say first off that anyone who hasn’t read at least a couple of the books in the series, especially the last one, is likely to be completely adrift reading this story, as it doesn’t work as a standalone. Apart from the central couple, there are several recurring characters making an appearance, and the continuance of the various familial relationships that have already been established.

Truth to tell, the mystery aspect of the plot is a little flimsy and isn’t really what interested me; I was in it for the wedding and to watch Keira and Gage working together again. The relationship between Keira and her sister is very well-done, and there is a nicely poignant conversation between them towards the end, in which Keira is brought to admit that perhaps she has been a little selfish in her disinterest in the wedding preparations. I loved how she confronted Gage’s father and put her foot down, and most of all, how well she and Gage work together and complement each other.

A Pressing Engagement is a welcome bit of filler for those of us eagerly awaiting the next book, but anyone who likes the sound of it but hasn’t read the other books should go back to the beginning and start with The Anatomist’s Wife. If you’ve enjoyed Deanna Raybourn’s Lady Julia mysteries or Tasha Alexander’s Lady Emily books, you won’t be disappointed.


The Trouble with Being Wicked (Naughty Girls #1) by Emma Locke (audiobook) – Narrated by Marian Hussey

the trouble with being wicked audio
This title is available to download from Audible via Amazon.

When Celeste Gray arrives in the sleepy village of Brixcombe-on-the-Bay, she thinks she’s one step closer to leaving her notorious past behind. She even suspects the deliciously handsome–if somewhat stuffy–viscount next door is developing a tendre for her. That is, until the day Ashlin Lancester learns she’s not the unassuming spinster she’s pretending to be.

After a decade of proving he is nothing like his profligate father, Ash is horrified to have given his heart to a Cyprian. He launches a campaign to prove his attraction is nothing more than a sordid reaction he can’t control. But he soon learns that unlike his father, he can’t find comfort in the arms of just any woman. He needs Celeste. When he takes her as his mistress, he’s still not satisfied, and the many late nights in her arms only make him want more…

Rating: Narration – B+; Content – D

I decided to review The Trouble with Being Wicked solely on the strength of narrator Marian Hussey whose work has impressed me in the past. I was also quite intrigued by the book synopsis, which tells of a romance between an ex-courtesan and an uptight, very proper young viscount who is so desperate to put his tragic family history behind him that he has become a complete killjoy and is gradually suffocating his sisters with his over-protectiveness.

Celeste Gray is the most sought after courtesan in London but, at thirty-three, is tired of that life and wants to leave it behind. Having amassed herself a considerable fortune over the past eighteen years, she purchases a cottage in a small village called Brixcombe-on-the-Bay in Devon and travels there with her very pregnant friend, Elizabeth, with a view to making her home there. The cottage’s former owner, Ashlin Lancester, Viscount Trestin, comes over to see how the ladies are settling in and immediately senses that not all is as it seems. I have no idea how, but he determines that Elizabeth is not a respectable married lady and is extremely disgruntled because of the lustful thoughts Celeste inspires. Because of course it’s her fault for being so shaggable, and nothing to do with Ash at all.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.


The Duke of Olympia Meets His Match by Juliana Gray

the duke of olympia meets his matc
This title may be purchased from Amazon.

Aboard the luxuriously appointed SS Majestic, the duke is on a mission to retrieve a most important portfolio of papers and thwart a known anarchist. As the ship steams across the Atlantic, the duke’s search for the notorious master of disguise forces him into close quarters with an American heiress and her widowed governess, Mrs. Penelope Schuyler.

While Olympia has known his fair share of intriguing women, Mrs. Schuyler seems to have a way of challenging his expectations at every turn. But as their clandestine meetings lead them down an unexpected path, the duke must determine if Penelope is a woman to be trusted…


Juliana Gray neatly bridges the gap between her recent Princesses in Hiding series and her forthcoming one in this novella featuring the Machiavellian Duke of Olympia. In the earlier books, readers were introduced to this distinguished, powerful, older man as he pulled strings behind the scenes in order to save the lives of his three nieces, princesses of a minor principality whose lives were in danger because of the revolution that killed the rest of their family.

Olympia has the ear of the Queen, is a major player in political circles – both national and international – and is a spymaster of considerable note. In short, he’s one of the most influential men in England, and has been serving his country in countless ways for the best part of five decades. Now in his early seventies, he is starting to think that perhaps he deserves a different life, one not filled with dangerous secrets which requires him to be forever looking over his shoulder. Yet he is once again pressed into service for his country when he undertakes a voyage from New York to England, as there is a dangerous French agent on the loose and Olympia is the only person suitably placed to be able to apprehend her and uncover whatever nefarious schemes she is concocting.

This is a terrific novella in many ways, not least of which is the fact that Ms Gray has taken a seventy-four year-old man and made him convincingly into both a dashing hero and a romantic lead. Come on – we all wanted to see the seventy-seven year-old Harrison Ford as Han Solo again, didn’t we? So there’s no problem whatsoever envisioning Olympia as an attractive, vital man. It helps that readers familiar with the author’s previous books will already know him as an imposing figure – well over six-feet tall, good-looking, well-built, silver-haired and fiercely intelligent – and from the events of those books, we know him to be a master of the game of espionage, a man who carefully considers the board before making his moves and who leaves little to chance.

While trying to discover the identity of the French agent, Olympia makes the acquaintance of Mrs Penelope Schuyler, an American widow of fifty years who is currently the companion to a young heiress, Miss Ruby Morrison. Of course, Miss Morrison’s mother thinks it would be quite the thing for her girl to nab an English duke, no matter that he’s old enough to be her grandfather. Olympia, however, has other ideas, finding the intriguing and somewhat enigmatic Mrs. Schuyler much more to his taste.

I’m not going to say anything more about the mystery plot other than it takes a couple of unexpected turns and is nicely woven into the fabric of the story as a whole. And while it’s an important part of the story, Ms Gray maintains a good balance between it and the developing relationship between Olympia and Penelope, which is quite sweetly romantic but nonetheless conveys that age is no bar to romance or passion.

I also very much enjoyed the glimpses we are given into Olympia’s past. There are some truly poignant moments as we discover the reason why he has devoted so much of his life to Queen and Country and has remained single for so many years, content that his title will eventually pass to a nephew rather than to a son of his own.

All in all, The Duke of Olympia Meets His March is that rare thing – a novella that feels absolutely right. So often, the events in novellas feel rushed and romances feel as though they happen at lightspeed; but even though the events of this one take place over a short period of time, I never felt either of those things. In fact, it’s such a good read that I could happily have read a full-length novel about the Duke and his adventures, but in this case, I think Ms Gray took the wise course, because what we’re given is just the right amount – the right amount of plot and the right amount of romance. Oh – and the right amount of humour; I found myself giggling on several occasions at Olympia’s dry, deadpan and very English wit. If you’ve read the Princess in Hiding series, this makes a nice bookend; if you haven’t, it’s a good introduction to the next, and is certainly worth a couple of hours of anyone’s time.

Fortune Favors the Wicked (Royal Rewards #1) by Theresa Romain (audiobook) – Narrated by Beverley A. Crick

fortune favors the wicked audio

As a lieutenant in the Royal Navy, Benedict Frost had the respect of every man onboard and the adoration of the women in every port. When injury ends his naval career, the silver-tongued libertine can hardly stomach the boredom. Not after everything – and everyone – he’s experienced. Good thing a new adventure has just fallen into his lap…

When courtesan Charlotte Perry learns that the Royal Mint is offering a reward for finding a cache of stolen gold coins, she seizes the chance to build a new life for herself. As the treasure hunt begins, she realizes that her tenacity is matched only by Benedict’s and that sometimes adversaries can make the best allies. But when the search for treasure becomes a discovery of pleasure, they’ll be forced to decide if they can sacrifice the lives they’ve always dreamed of for a love they’ve never known.

Rating: Narration – B+; Content – B+

I’m a big fan of Theresa Romain’s historical romances and am a bit disappointed that so few of them are available in audio format. So naturally, when I saw that her latest book – Fortune Favors the Wicked – was going to be available as an audiobook, I jumped at the chance to listen to and review it. The story is just a little bit quirky, but at its heart is a well-written, tender and funny character-driven romance between a pair of slightly unusual but very likeable protagonists who team up to hunt for six trunks of gold sovereigns that have been recently stolen from the Royal Mint.

Charlotte Perry is the daughter of a country vicar who has, for the last ten years, made her living as a high-flying courtesan in London. Ruined at just seventeen and not wanting her family to suffer because of her, she opted to leave in order to make life easier for everyone. But now, she has returned to her small Derbyshire village, partly to escape the attentions of her most recent but abusive protector, and partly because she wants to secure the reward that has been posted for information leading to the recovery of the stolen gold. She plans to use the money to help her family, provide for her young daughter and, she hopes, to make a new life for herself away from London.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.