The Secret Casebook of Simon Feximal by K.J. Charles


This title may be purchased from Amazon

A story too secret, too terrifying—and too shockingly intimate—for Victorian eyes.

A note to the Editor

Dear Henry,

I have been Simon Feximal’s companion, assistant and chronicler for twenty years now, and during that time my Casebooks of Feximal the Ghost-Hunter have spread the reputation of this most accomplished of ghost-hunters far and wide.

You have asked me often for the tale of our first meeting, and how my association with Feximal came about. I have always declined, because it is a story too private to be truthfully recounted, and a memory too precious to be falsified. But none knows better than I that stories must be told.

So here is it, Henry, a full and accurate account of how I met Simon Feximal, which I shall leave with my solicitor to pass to you after my death.

I dare say it may not be quite what you expect.

Robert Caldwell
September 1914

Rating: B+

As often happens, I’m doing things the wrong way around, because I’m finally reading this AFTER I’ve read Spectred Isle, which isn’t really a sequel, but which is set in the same world as the Simon Feximal stories. But better late than never.

The Casebook of Simon Feximal is a set of short stories featuring the eponymous “ghost hunter” and the man who becomes his long-term partner, both professionally and personally, Robert Caldwell. K.J. Charles has penned a set of extremely imaginative and, in many cases (I’ll never look at a butterfly the same way again!), downright scary stories that span a period of over twenty years during which Simon is summoned to deal with any number of hauntings, evil manifestations and things do a fair bit more than go “bump” in the night. When the pair first meet, Robert is making his living as a journalist and has employed Simon to exorcise the spirits that are causing the walls to bleed in the house he has just inherited. Simon sees his role as setting the ghosts free by allowing them to tell their stories rather than simply banishing them back to wherever they came from, and in this particular case, the story involves a promiscuous relative who appears to have expired coitus interruptus and who wants to complete his final sexual encounter 😉 Yes, I’m going to make the joke – K.J. Charles really knows how to start a book with a bang!

*ahem*

While these are all short stories, there are some plotlines that run through more than one story, like the machinations of the horrible Dr. Berry, the Machiavellian Mr. Parker and the mysterious Fat Man. I also loved the nods to the literary creations of other authors of mystery and suspense, especially Karswell, from M.R. James’ Casting the Runes (which, as Night of the Demon, is one of my favourite old horror movies!).

The ending is incredibly poignant and brought tears to my eyes – and by sheer coincidence, I happen to be staying something like twenty miles from Ypres, where the commemoration of the 100th anniversary of the Battle of Passchendaele on 30 and 31 July 1917 is taking place as I write. In one of life’s odd coincidences, I had no idea that Robert’s final letter would be from Passchendaele in 1917 and it added an extra note of sadness as I closed the book.

This is a great collection of stories that can be dipped into (although I’d advise reading in order) – but I defy anyone to be able to stop reading once they’ve started. The relationship between Simon and Robert begins quickly but over the years they develop a beautiful, intense connection which is largely unspoken – but their bond is so strong that it really doesn’t need words.

If you’re a fan of paranormal romances, I don’t see how you can go wrong with this one.

The Rake by Mary Jo Putney (audiobook) – Narrated by Mark Meadows

This title may be downloaded from Audible.

Known as the despair of the Davenports, Reginald is a disinherited, disgraced alcoholic who is headed for a bad end – that is until the new Earl of Wargrave gives him one last chance at redemption by letting him take his place as the heir of Strickland, his lost ancestral estate.

Masquerading as a man in order to obtain a position as estate manager of Strickland, Lady Alys Weston came to Strickland after having fled her home, her wealth, and her title due to betrayal and despair. She vowed never to trust another man, but when the new owner appears, his dangerous masculinity threatens everything Alys holds dear, awakening a passion that she thought she would never feel again – a passion that will doom or save them both.

Rating: Narration – A Content – A-

Dear Dreamscape Media,

THANK YOU!

So often have I seen a favourite and/or long awaited book come out in audio only to have my heart sink when I see the name of the narrator, or for me to start listening with high hopes – only to have them dashed within minutes because the narration is poor. I cannot tell you how happy I am that this didn’t happen when I started listening to your new recording of Mary Jo Putney’s The Rake, one of the most popular, most beloved historical romances ever written. Mark Meadows was a splendid choice of narrator and I will be eternally grateful to you for putting this much loved story into such capable hands.

Much love (and please, get Mr Meadows to record some more historical romances!),

Caz

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

Beauty Like the Night (Spymasters #6) by Joanna Bourne

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Sèverine de Cabrillac, orphan of the French revolution and sometime British intelligence agent, has tried to leave spying behind her. Now she devotes herself to investigating crimes in London and finding justice for the wrongly accused.

Raoul Deverney, an enigmatic half-Spaniard with enough secrets to earn even a spy’s respect, is at her door demanding help. She’s the only one who can find the killer of his long-estranged wife and rescue her missing fourteen-year-old daughter.

Sèverine reluctantly agrees to aid him, even though she knows the growing attraction between them makes it more than unwise. Their desperate search for the girl ​unleashes treason and murder. . . and offers a last chance for two strong, wounded people to find love.

Rating: A-

Beauty Like the Night, the eagerly awaited sixth book in Joanna Bourne’s widely acclaimed Spymasters series, tells the story of Séverine de Cabrillac, whom we first met as a very young child caught up in the revolutionary terror of late eighteenth century Paris in The Forbidden Rose.  Ten years after being brought to England by William Doyle, Sévie ran off to war where she joined Military Intelligence and gained an impressive reputation as a spy, a woman who took many names, who wore many disguises, who was always frighteningly effective.  Returned to London and now in her late twenties, she operates a small investigative agency – and is still frighteningly effective.  But her involvement with politics and espionage is far from over, as is shown when she becomes involved in the hunt for a murderer, a missing child… and a traitor.

Séverine’s reputation for getting results as an investigator is every bit as remarkable as her reputation as a spy.  Clever, uncompromising and tenacious, she is known to never back down or be frightened off, and it’s said that once she is involved with a case, it’s as good as solved.  Her name and reputation are partly responsible for leading Raoul Deverney to her bedroom late one night, when he casually requests the return of a twelve-year-old girl named Pilar, who has been missing since the murder of her mother – his wife – some three months earlier.  The girl is not his daughter, but she has in her possession, an amulet, a family heirloom he is anxious to recover. Séverine knows nothing of the girl or the amulet and is, not surprisingly, rather alarmed by the sudden appearance of a man bearing a knife at her bedside.  Yet nothing of this shows in her demeanour as she coolly denies all knowledge of both girl and amulet, assessing the intruder and deducing he’s either mad or deadly – quickly realising he’s not the former.  Their discussion ended,  he disappears into the night, but not before he has promised they will meet again – and ventured a brief touch to her cheek, which Séverine finds oddly unsettling.

Raoul Deverney is well acquainted with the name of de Cabrillac and has no doubt that the woman he encountered in Spain a decade earlier could have committed or been involved in the murder of his estranged wife.  But would she be party to the kidnap of a young girl?  He can’t be so sure about that.  Yet his search of his late wife’s  apartment revealed the words ‘amulet’ and ‘de Cabrillac’ scratched into Pilar’s bedframe – so there’s no question Séverine is involved in some way.  He just has to work out how.

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

The Hunting Grounds (Hidden Sins #2) by Katee Robert

This title may be purchased from Amazon

Maggie Gaines used to be an FBI agent—top of her class and one of the bright, up-and-coming stars—until she spectacularly fell apart during her first high-profile case. That was eight years ago. Now she’s a ranger at Glacier National Park, and she’s found some measure of peace. But when the body of a murdered woman is discovered, she must finally put the past behind her and work with the one man she thought she’d never see again.

For months, Vic Sutherland has been hunting a killer who’s been targeting unsuspecting hikers in national parks—and now the predator has come to Glacier. Vic knows the case will bring him face-to-face with his former partner, yet nothing can prepare him for seeing Maggie again after all these years, or for the memories of passion it stirs in both of them.

As the investigation brings them closer together—and closer to the killer—Maggie and Vic fear they have only each other to trust. But even that might not be enough to make it out of Glacier alive.

Rating: B-

I enjoyed Katee Robert’s first foray into romantic suspense, The Devil’s Daughter, earlier this year, even though I felt that the balance between the two elements wasn’t quite right and that the suspense plot worked better than the romance. I’m afraid I have similar reservations about The Hunting Grounds, which, while it is well-written and has an intriguing plot about a serial killer who is hunting and murdering his victims in national parks, suffers from somewhat uneven pacing and a lack of strong chemistry between the leads.

Seven years earlier, Maggie Gaines was a rookie with the FBI Behavioural Analysis Unit partnered with Vic Sutherland, one of the unit’s most experienced and successful agents. Her first case proved to be an incredibly tough one – involving a child killer – and after a year of working on it, it broke her and she left the Bureau, burned out and feeling like a failure. At her lowest ebb, she reached out to her partner for comfort – which turned into a passionate kiss, even though she knew Vic was married and off limits.

Maggie now works as a Park Ranger at Glacier National Park in Montana. She’s good at her job and is happy with her quiet life and small circle of friends; she’s not an especially social person and likes it that way. But when she is called to the scene of a gruesome murder within Glacier, she finds herself thrust headlong back into the world she thought she had left behind seven years ago.

Vic Sutherland has been working the case of a killer who has so far murdered two victims in two different national parks. The MO in each case is the same – and is the same as the newly found victim in Montana, making three killings in nine months. The FBI has a serial killer on its hands and the lack of time between the last murder and this latest one indicates that he’s escalating and that there is likely to be another one soon. Vic arrives at Glacier and meets with the medical examiner, who confirms to him that the latest victim was hunted and ‘field dressed’ in the same gruesome way as the others. His next step is to interview the rangers who found the body – one of whom is Maggie Gaines, who, he feels sure, isn’t going to be all that pleased to see him.

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

Matthew (Jaded Gentlemen #2) by Grace Burrowes (audiobook) – Narrated by James Langton

Theresa Jennings strayed from the path of propriety as a younger woman, though now she’ll do anything to secure her child’s eventual acceptance on the fringes of polite society. Theresa will even make peace with the titled brother who turned his back on her when she needed him most. Matthew Belmont is a widower who’s been lonely too long. He sees Theresa as a woman paying far too high a price for mistakes long past, and as a lady given too little credit for turning her life around. Theresa is enthralled by Matthew’s combination of honorable intentions and honest passion, but then trouble comes calling, and it’s clear somebody wants to ruin any chance Theresa and Matthew have for a happily ever.

Rating: Narration – B+ Content – B

I am a fan of Grace Burrowes’ historical romances and always enjoy a visit to “Burrowesworld” the corner of the South of England that she has peopled with her various, numerous and inter-related characters and series. I admit though, that she’s published so many books now, that I sometimes have to stop and take stock of which book and which series I’m listening to or reading and work out where it falls in the canon, as publication order is not always the same as chronological… so for instance in Matthew, one of her more recent publications, and the second book in her Jaded Gentlemen series, we meet Nicholas and Beckman Haddonfield before they appear in the Lonely Lords books and before Nick inherits his earldom; Alice Portmaine is still a governess/companion, and some of the other Lonely Lords – Gareth, Andrew, Douglas and David – are all happily settled with their wives and families. This wealth of previously introduced characters may be a bit daunting for someone new to the author’s work, but actually, it’s perfectly possible to listen to Matthew as a standalone, as characters like Nick, Beckmann and Alice are secondary and their roles here don’t really have anything to do with the parts they play in the books in which they are principal characters.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

A Dance with Seduction (A Spy in the Ton #3) by Alyssa Alexander

This title may be purchased from Amazon.

Vivienne Le Fleur is one of London’s most sought after opera dancer and one of England’s best weapons: the spy known as the Flower. When a French agent pressures her to change allegiance by abducting her sister, Vivienne is forced to seek the help of the only man in London who doesn’t want her.

Maximilian Westwood, retired code breaker, doesn’t like surprises or mysteries and The Flower is both. When she sneaks into his study in the middle of the night with a coded message, he’s ready to push her out whatever window she arrived through. Except Maximilian is unable to turn away a woman in trouble. Determined to rescue Vivienne’s sister, they engage in a game of cat and mouse with French spies that requires all of Vivienne’s training and Maximilian’s abilities. Bound together by secrecy, they discover there is more between them than politics and hidden codes, but love has no place among the secrets of espionage…

Rating: B

It’s been a few years since I’ve seen a new novel from Alyssa Alexander, so I eagerly pounced on A Dance with Seduction, which, while released by a different publisher, is a continuation of her A Spy in the Ton series. I enjoyed her last book, a tightly written, sexy historical thriller and looked forward to more of the same. The plot – which pairs a female British spy with a bookish former code-breaker (I do love a nerdy hero!) – is intriguing and well put-together, and sees our intrepid heroine trying to thwart the attempts of a dangerous French spy to turn her into a double agent and involve her in a treasonous assassination plot. It’s a good read, but didn’t quite meet my expectations which, I admit, were high based on how much I’d enjoyed her previous book, In Bed with a Spy.

Vivienne La Fleur – the Flower – was recruited to a life of espionage when she was little more than a girl, and even though the Napoleonic Wars have ended, she continues to work for the British government at the direction of her ‘commander’ or handler, Lord Wycomb. Her public persona is that of one of London’s finest opera dancers, and as Wycomb’s mistress, but while she does live as a kept woman, he does not share her bed – although she suspects he would like to.

During the war, Vivienne was frequently in contact with Maximillian Westwood, the country’s top code-breaker. When the war ended, he retired from government service and now puts his facility with something like eleven different languages to use by working as a translator. He might be the scion of an aristocratic family, but as a younger son, he has to make his own way and his own living, which he does by translating documents, books and whatever else comes his way. He’s done with secret codes and espionage but it seems that secret codes and espionage aren’t done with him when the Flower pays him a late night visit and asks him to decode a short message for her.

Maximillian – who thinks Max is a ridiculous appellation – has no desire to become entangled with secrets and intrigue once again, and points out that he no longer works for government spymasters. But Vivienne explains that this is something personal, and clearly, the message is of some importance to her, so he agrees and tells her to come back in the morning.

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

The Jane Austen Project by Kathleen A. Flynn (audiobook) – Narrated by Saskia Maarleveld

This title may be purchased from Audible via Amazon.

London, 1815: Two travelers – Rachel Katzman and Liam Finucane – arrive in a field in rural England, disheveled and weighed down with hidden money. Turned away at a nearby inn, they are forced to travel by coach all night to London. They are not what they seem but rather colleagues who have come back in time from a technologically advanced future, posing as wealthy West Indies planters – a doctor and his spinster sister. While Rachel and Liam aren’t the first team from the future to “go back”, their mission is by far the most audacious: meet, befriend, and steal from Jane Austen herself.

Carefully selected and rigorously trained by The Royal Institute for Special Topics in Physics, disaster-relief doctor Rachel and actor-turned-scholar Liam have little in common besides the extraordinary circumstances they find themselves in. Circumstances that call for Rachel to stifle her independent nature and let Liam take the lead as they infiltrate Austen’s circle via her favorite brother, Henry.

But diagnosing Jane’s fatal illness and obtaining an unpublished novel hinted at in her letters pose enough of a challenge without the continuous convolutions of living a lie. While her friendship with Jane deepens and her relationship with Liam grows complicated, Rachel fights to reconcile the woman she is with the proper lady 19th-century society expects her to be. As their portal to the future prepares to close, Rachel and Liam struggle with their directive to leave history intact and exactly as they found it…however heartbreaking that may prove.

Rating: Narration – A Content – B+

When I read The Jane Austen Project a few months back, I admit that I approached it with some trepidation. Two people travelling back in time to meet Jane Austen and retrieve a previously unpublished manuscript sounded – on the one hand – like a great premise, and on the other like a potential disaster. The author would have to be very careful with tone and characterisation to make it work – and I’m pleased to say that she strikes the right notes in both cases, displaying a thorough attention to period detail and portraying Jane Austen herself as the sort of witty, intelligent and insightful woman we imagine her to have been.

Austen devotee Doctor Rachel Katzman – a medical doctor who has spent most of her career working in the world’s flashpoints – and actor-turned-academic Professor Liam Finucane have been selected and trained by The Royal Institute for Special Topics in Physics to be able to take on the personas of Doctor William Ravenswood and his sister, Mary when they travel back in time to 1815. They arrive, disoriented and bedraggled in a field just outside Leatherhead in Surrey, with thousands of pounds worth of counterfeit money hidden beneath their clothes and a cover story that they have recently sold off their plantation in Jamaica, freed their slaves and come back to England to live. Unable to secure rooms at the nearest inn because of their lack of luggage and generally suspicious appearance, they hire a chaise and head straight to London where they go about the task of setting themselves up at a respectable address, kitting themselves out as befits a couple of independently wealthy siblings and generally orienting themselves to their new lives in 1815.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.