The Ashes of London by Andrew Taylor

This title may be purchased from Amazon

London, September 1666. The Great Fire rages through the city, consuming everything in its path. Even the impregnable cathedral of St. Paul’s is engulfed in flames and reduced to ruins. Among the crowds watching its destruction is James Marwood, son of a disgraced printer and reluctant government informer.

In the aftermath of the fire, a semi-mummified body is discovered in the ashes of St. Paul’s, in a tomb that should have been empty. The man’s body has been mutilated, and his thumbs have been tied behind his back. Under orders from the government, Marwood is tasked with hunting down the killer across the devastated city. But at a time of dangerous internal dissent and the threat of foreign invasion, Marwood finds his investigation leads him into treacherous waters – and across the path of a determined, beautiful and vengeful young woman.

Rating: B+

The Ashes of London is an absorbing, intricately plotted historical mystery set in Restoration London in the aftermath of the Great Fire; indeed the book opens with one of the main characters – lowly clerk, James Marwood  – standing amid the crowds one night in early September 1666 watching in horror as St. Paul’s Cathedral is burned almost to the ground.  He saves the life of a boy by dragging him away from the flames, only to discover that “he” is a “she” when she struggles, bites his hand and then makes off with his cloak.  It’s a seemingly innocuous encounter, but one that will very soon start to assume importance for Marwood as it becomes clear that the young woman may somehow be linked to a series of murders.

The story takes place over the few months following the fire, and is told through two different viewpoints.  We meet James Marwood first of all, a young man eking out a living as a clerk in the employ of Master Williamson, the editor and publisher of The London Gazette – a man of influence whose position gives him access to governmental circles.  Marwood is caring for his ailing father, a staunch supporter of Cromwell and the Commonwealth who refused the new king’s offer of clemency after the Restoration and was imprisoned as a result.  After several attempts, Marwood managed to have his father released – on condition that he lives quietly away from London.  Marwood senior is becoming ever more confused and subject to the wandering of his wits (we would probably today recognise this as dementia), making it sometimes very difficult for his son to make sure he adheres to the terms of his release.

The other narrator in the story is a young woman, Catherine Lovett, the niece of Henry Alderley, one of the wealthiest men in London.  Her name is tainted in the same way as Marwood’s; her father is a Regicide – one of the men who had been directly instrumental in the execution of King Charles I – and a wanted fugitive.  Catherine – Cat – is just seventeen and dreams of becoming a draughtsman or architect and is desperate to avoid the marriage her uncle has arranged for her with a man much older than herself.  It seems, however that there is no way out – until one night, her cousin Edward forces himself upon her, and, after attacking him with a knife, Cat flees the house with the help of her father’s most trusted old servant, Jem.

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

The Duke of Desire (The Untouchables #4) by Darcy Burke

This title may be purchased from Amazon.

Ten years ago Ivy Breckenridge’s life was ruined. She had to reinvent herself, and now, after painstakingly making her own way in the world, she’s nearly forgotten the dreams of home and family she’d once nurtured. Until one man peers into her soul and awakens every one of her hidden desires. But no matter how good he makes her feel, she can’t trust him—alone by choice is better than alone by necessity.

With a notorious reputation for training married women in the art of passion, Sebastian Westgate, Duke of Clare, is reviled by some and celebrated by others. He doesn’t allow anyone close enough to see past his charming exterior. When Ivy uncovers the man beneath, the seducer is suddenly the seduced. Enraptured by her mind and spirit, he wants more but revealing his darkest secrets is a price he won’t pay.

Rating: B+

The Duke of Desire, the fourth book in Darcy Burke’s series, The Untouchables, is quite possibly my favourite of them all so far. I will admit that when I read the blurb, I was doubtful. After all, the idea that the eponymous duke is a kind of Regency Era sex-therapist who helps couples to liven up their love lives by sleeping with the wives and helping them to learn to find and give pleasure – is certainly most unusual, not to mention unlikely. But bear with me; the ability to suspend your disbelief on that point will pay dividends, because said duke turned out to be one of the most charming, well-balanced and thoroughly adorable heroes I’ve read about in a while.

Sebastian Westgate, Duke of Clare – known as West to his friends – has such a notorious reputation as a seducer of married women that he has been nicknamed ‘The Duke of Desire’ by lady’s companion, Ivy Breckenridge and her friends Lucy and Aquilla (heroines of the previous two books). West is one of several eligible gentlemen the ladies also designated as ‘Untouchable’, men so far about them in station that they daren’t even look that high, let alone think about doing anything else. However, given that Lucy and Aquilla have recently married two of those men (The Duke of Daring and The Duke of Deception), it seems that perhaps the Untouchables weren’t so far out of reach after all. Although Ivy has absolutely no intention whatsoever of finding out if the Duke of Clare is touchable or not; in fact, she wanted to nickname him ‘The Duke of Depravity’, because the ease with which he embarks upon his numerous affairs disgusts her.

She is therefore not best pleased when, at a house-party she is attending with her employer, the duke takes notice of her and attempts to start up a flirtation. There’s no doubt he’s very handsome and very charming, but Ivy isn’t interested, and certainly not in a man whose attention to a lowly, paid companion can only lead to one thing. And Ivy isn’t interested in that, either. Yet in their few, brief encounters, West reveals himself to be something quite different to the heartless seducer Ivy believes he is. He doesn’t deny the truth of his many affairs, but unlike the other rakes she has encountered, West is not self-centred or jaded – in fact he’s the exact opposite. She has never before met someone who seems so comfortable in his own skin, someone with such a capacity for joy and the desire for others to find their own happiness… and in spite of her misgivings, she begins to wish she could experience some of that joy for herself.

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

The English Duke by Karen Ranney

This title may be purchased from Amazon

For years, Martha York has been fascinated by a man she’s never met—Jordan Hamilton, the new Duke of Roth and protégé to her inventor father. Could the elusive gentleman possibly live up to his brilliant letters? When Martha travels to his estate to carry out her father’s last bequest, she discovers that the answer is a resounding yes, for the duke’s scientific mind belies a deep sensuality…

Jordan was determined to complete his prototype alone, but it’s impossible to resist the alluring young woman who shows up at his door. Working together, they grow ever closer, until a case of mistaken identity leaves him bound to another. A woman’s heart may be more complex than the most intricate invention, but Jordan must find a way to win Martha’s, or lose the only woman who can truly satisfy him…

Rating: B

I hesitate to describe Karen Ranney’s latest offering, The English Duke as being part of a series, because really, it’s a standalone novel that doesn’t feature any characters or continue any plotlines from the author’s last book, The Scottish DukeThe titles are similar, of course (the forthcoming third book is The American Duke) and there are a number of common plot elements;  the hero is a scientist and there’s an evil “other woman” character, for instance. I’m not sure if the similarities are deliberate – a way of providing a link between the books – or just accidental, but whatever the case, I enjoyed this one enough to feel happy recommending it.

Martha York’s father was a scientist and inventor of some renown. Upon his death, he left his large fortune to his two daughters, and bequeathed his prototypes and notes on his latest project to his protégé and long-time collaborator, Jordan Hamilton, the Duke of Roth. York and the duke had corresponded for years, since before Jordan, a former naval officer, inherited his title, so Martha was both upset and annoyed when the duke failed to respond to her father’s request that Jordan visit before he died. The one communication Martha has received tersely informed her that the duke did not want her father’s bequest, and she can’t understand it.  Over the years, she was privy to the correspondence between Jordan and her father, and feels she came to know and understand him a little through his words. She knows he was as invested in their current project – to develop a working torpedo-ship – as her father was. Why then, is he so emphatic about refusing her father’s dying wish?

She decides that if the duke won’t come to her, then she will go to him and arranges to travel to his estate, Sedgebrook, accompanied by her younger half-sister, Josephine, and their grandmother.  Martha intends to deliver the numerous boxes and files her father left, stay at the village inn overnight and travel back the next day, but when her grandmother is taken ill, there is no alternative but for the ladies to accept the duke’s (somewhat begrudging) offer of hospitality.

Jordan Hamilton was never meant to be a duke.  A second son, he made his career in the Navy and then at the War Office (in the department that was eventually to become the Intelligence Division) and inherited his title following the death of his older brother – discovering only then that both brother and father had dipped deep and left him with a large estate but not the means to pay for its upkeep.  Not long after that, he had a serious riding accident which crushed his leg; the doctors said he’d never walk again, but he has proven them wrong through sheer bloody-mindedness, although he has to use a cane and still suffers a lot of pain.  He’s not gregarious – as his brother was – much preferring his own company and “tinkering” with his various scientific projects which, of which, at the moment, the development of the torpedo-ship is the most important.

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

Tinderbox (Flashpoint #1) by Rachel Grant (audiobook) – Narrated by Greg Tremblay

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

In the volatile tinderbox of the Horn of Africa, Morgan Adler has made the paleoanthropological find of a lifetime. The discovery brings her to the attention of a warlord eager to claim both Morgan and the fossils, forcing her to make a desperate dash to the nearby US military base to beg for protection.

Master Sergeant Pax Blanchard has orders to intercept Dr. Adler before she reaches the base, and in so doing saves her life. After a harrowing afternoon, he safely delivers her to his commanders, only to find his responsibilities toward protecting the obstinate archaeologist have only just begun. Morgan and Pax are forced to work together in the Djiboutian desert heat, but it is the fire that ignites between them that threatens to combust them both. For the Green Beret, involvement with the woman he must protect is a threat to his career, while for the archaeologist, the soldier is everything she never wanted but somehow can’t resist. When Morgan uncovers a mystery surrounding Djibouti’s most scarce and vital resource, the danger to her reaches the flashpoint. For Pax, protecting her is no longer a matter of following orders, and he’ll risk everything to bring her back alive.

Rating: Narration – A; Content – A-

I discovered Rachel Grant’s romantic suspense novels less than a year ago, and have been hooked ever since. I’ve read and listened to several of the titles in her Evidence series, all of them tightly-plotted thrillers interwoven with a nicely steamy romance featuring intelligent, sassy heroines and gorgeous, alpha-male heroes. The author makes excellent use of her own background in history and archaeology in her books, which are extremely well researched both in terms of the locations in which they are set, and the technological and specialist detail which add so much interest and depth to the stories. Tinderbox, the first book in her new Flashpoint series is no different. The story opens with a bang – literally! – and the pace never lets up, as our two protagonists are drawn into a dangerous conspiracy in a part of the world which exists on a knife-edge.

Doctor Morgan Adler has been contracted by the Djibouti government to undertake an archaeological survey of the proposed route of a new railway. That particular area, known as the Horn of Africa (on the East coast – Djibouti is bordered by Eritraea, Ethiopia and Somalia) is a haven for terrorists and pirates –as well as being a veritable treasure trove for archaeologists. Morgan has just made what is likely to be the find of the decade – if not the century – in ‘Linus’ a set of three and a half million-year-old remains that could prove to be as significant an archaeological find as Lucy was in the 1970s. But she has been forced to flee the dig by several armed men working for Etefu Desta, an Ethiopian warlord looking to expand his territory into Djibouti. With the American Embassy closed, the only place she can think of that will be able to provide secure storage for the finds she has so far uncovered is the US military base at Camp Citron, and she’s on her way there with her precious cargo when she’s stopped by two Green Berets – Special Forces Operatives – about two miles from the camp.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

FOR A CHANCE TO WIN A COPY OF THE AUDIOBOOK OF TINDERBOX, READ MY INTERVIEW WITH THE AUTHOR AND ENTER THE GIVEAWAY HERE

Claiming His Desert Princess (Hot Arabian Nights #4) by Marguerite Kaye

This title may be purchased from Amazon.

Stolen nights with the secret princess…

Bound to marry for duty, Princess Tahira finds her only freedom in forbidden escapes to the desert. Then one night she encounters a stranger under the stars—adventurer Christopher Fordyce. He’s wildly attractive and thrillingly dangerous…an illicit fantasy she can’t resist!

Even unaware of Tahira’s royal blood, Christopher knows his shameful past makes any future with her impossible. But in the sultry desert heat, desires are uncovered and secrets unveiled, and soon Christopher will risk everything to claim his desert princess!

Rating: B-

Claiming His Desert Princess is the final book in Marguerite Kaye’s Hot Arabian Nights quartet of historical romances set in Arabia in the early 1800s. Contemporary romances abound with gorgeous sheikh heroes, but they’re not so often found in historicals, and neither are there that many regency romances set outside England, so the series had a dual appeal for me, and I’ve enjoyed all the books to varying degrees (my favourite is still the first, The Widow and the Sheikh). In this story, however, it’s the heroine rather than the hero who is of royal blood. Christopher Fordyce, who has appeared briefly in the earlier books, is clearly on a mission of some kind, the nature of which has not so far been made entirely clear. Having conceived the idea of him as a kind of cross between Indiana Jones and Lawrence of Arabia (as personified by Peter O’Toole), I’ve been looking forward to his story and finally discovering exactly what he was up to. All is indeed revealed in this book, but I can’t deny that some pacing issues, a rushed ending and a sense of “oh – was that it?” ultimately left me feeling a little disappointed.

English antiquarian and surveyor, Christopher Fordyce, has travelled to Arabia in order to return a valuable ancient artefact to its rightful owner – or at least to the owner’s descendants. He has been in the country for over six months, travelling around trying to trace the origin of a turquoise amulet which was left to him upon the death of his father, and finally believes he has located the key to his quest in the form of the newly opened mines in the kingdom of Nessarah. He visits at night in order to see what progress has been made on the excavations, and is discovered there by a young woman named Tahira who explains she is deeply interested in the history of Nessarah and has begun to make a study of it and the various artefacts she finds. There is an undeniable spark of attraction between them from the very first, and they immediately bond over their shared interest in history and in uncovering the mysteries of the past. Tahira is able to supply Christopher with some interesting snippets of information regarding the mine and its workings and at each meeting, they reveal a little more of themselves to each other which, for Tahira, provides an incredible taste of freedom from the life to which she has been born. For she is keeping one, very important detail from Christopher, which is that she is the eldest sister of Prince Ghutrif, who is the de factor ruler of Nessarah.

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

The Duke (Victorian Rebels #4) by Kerrigan Byrne (audiobook) – Narrated by Derek Perkins

This title is available to download from Audible

Strong as a Viking. Handsome as Adonis. Rich as Midas. Collin “Cole” Talmage, Duke of Trewyth, is the stuff that legends are made of. He’s the English Empire’s golden son – until fate has its way with him. Cole’s family is killed and his closest comrade betrays him on the battlefield, leaving him gravely injured. But Cole is not one to dwell on misfortune. He is a man of duty, honor, and desire. And now he’s ready for the fight of his lifetime….

Imogen Pritchard is a beautiful lass who works in a hospital by day and as a serving maid at night. Years ago, when she was young and penniless, she ended up spending a scandalous night with Cole, whose tormented soul was matched only by his earth-shattering passion. Imogen entered a marriage of convenience – one that left her a wealthy widow – but she never forgot Cole. Now that her long-lost lover has turned up in her hospital, injured and with no memory of her, Imogen is torn. Is it a blessing or a curse that their past remains a secret to Cole, even as his new passion for her leaves him wanting to protect and possess her at all costs?

Rating: Narration – A; Content – B-

Note to cover designer: It is repeatedly stated throughout the book that Cole is BLOND. Clearly, you didn’t get that particular memo.

Kerrigan Byrne’s brand of slightly darker, high-stakes romances featuring larger-than-life, dangerously sexy heroes and the women who love them has proved to be a hit with readers and listeners alike. Her Victorian Rebels books comprise one of the strongest historical romance series to have appeared in recent years, and I’ve enjoyed them all to varying degrees. The audiobook versions have the added attraction of excellent narration by Derek Perkins; and I freely admit that in The Duke, the strength of his performance goes a long way towards papering over the cracks in the characterisation and storytelling that make this particular story the weakest of the set so far.

We first meet our eponymous duke, Collin Talmage, the Duke of Trenwyth, on the day he has just buried his mother, father and brother, who were killed in a tragic accident. Not only does he have his grief to deal with, on the following day he has orders to leave England for an undisclosed location in order to undertake a very hush-hush mission. He and some of his fellow officers end up at The Bare Kitten in Soho intent on drinking the night away and availing themselves of some willing, warm female bodies; and Trenwyth – Cole – decides he wants Ginny, the dark-haired serving maid. Ginny is not a whore, but when Cole offers the club’s owner the huge sum of twenty pounds for her, she has no alternative but to do as she is told. But Ginny isn’t actually Ginny at all – she’s Imogen Pritchard, a nurse at St. Margaret’s Hospital by day, who works at the Kitten by night in order to pay off the debt to the place incurred by her father before his death. Cole is well into his cups, but not incapable (romance heroes never seem to suffer from Brewer’s Droop!) and Imogen is surprised at the gentleness shown her by this intimidatingly large, gorgeously handsome but heartbreakingly sad man.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

You can also read my interview with Derek Perkins HERE

The Secret of My Seduction (Scandals #4.5) by Caroline Linden

This title may be purchased from Amazon.

The final chapter in the Scandals series…

Rule #1: Be discreet

No one suspects Bathsheba Crawford of being the anonymous author of a wickedly scandalous series of naughty novels. But she is.

Rule #2: Do not fall in love

When she approaches her publisher, rakish Liam MacGregor, with an indecent proposal, he’s shocked. But he accepts.

Rules were made to be broken…

The requirements for their affair are simple: complete secrecy and no romantic attachment. But the more they see each other… the more pleasure they find in each other’s arms…the harder it becomes to remember the rules…

Rating: B

One of the things linking together the books in Caroline Linden’s recent Scandals series was Fifty Ways to Sin, the series of erotic pamphlets featuring the amorous adventures of the anonymous Lady Constance, a woman whose uninhibited pursuit of sexual pleasure captured the imagination of thousands of readers throughout England. The final book in the series, Six Degrees of Scandal, revealed the identity of the author, and saw the publication of the final instalments in the promised fifty stories, giving Lady Constance her own happy ending in the arms of a mystery lover and closing the book on the series.

But did it?

Bathsheba Crawford who, together with her brother, Daniel, had been responsible for printing the original pamphlets, was reluctant to say goodbye to their illicit enterprise. Not only had the money made from publishing Fifty Ways made them secure financially, she had, on occasion, edited the stories for publication, and had enjoyed being part of something that celebrated a woman’s sexuality and her search for love. So she decided to try her hand at writing something similar, and, when The Secret of My Seduction opens, has been writing a series of successful stories entitled Tales of Lady X for a number of months, now. Her brother knows nothing of this, however; Bathsheba’s publisher is Liam MacGregor – the owner and editor of the London Intelligencer, a popular news and gossip sheet – who appeared briefly in the final stages of Six Degrees when his presses helped meet the demand for the final issues of Fifty Ways to Sin.

But Bathsheba has a problem. While she has plenty of ideas for her stories, her writing is becoming stale, and she is becoming bored with writing the same thing over and over. She’s not a virgin, but her few sexual experiences were not exactly exciting and she has never experienced the sort of passion described by Lady Constance, which makes it difficult to write about in a believable way. So she comes up with the idea of asking Liam to make love to her in order to further her knowledge. After all, she tells him in her typically no-nonsense way, it will be to both their benefits – it will make her writing better and hopefully increase sales – and, she says, if the rumours about him and his prowess with the ladies are true, then she should certainly gain some useful experience in his bed.

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