The Sins of Lord Lockwood (Rules for the Reckless #6) by Meredith Duran

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BACK FROM THE DEAD, AN EARL SEEKS VENGEANCE…

Liam Devaliant, Lord Lockwood, was born into a charmed life. Charismatic, powerful, and wild, he had the world at his feet—and one woman as his aim. His wedding to Anna was meant to be his greatest triumph. Instead, in a single moment, a wicked conspiracy robbed him of his future and freedom.

…BUT WILL HIS LONG-LOST COUNTESS PAY THE PRICE?

Four years later, Liam has returned from death with plans for revenge. Standing in his way, though, is his long-absent bride. Once, he adored Anna’s courage. Now it seems like a curse, for Anna refuses to fear or forget him. If she can’t win back Liam’s love, then she means at least to save his soul…no matter the cost.

Rating: A

It’s been a decade since Liam Devaliant, the Earl of Lockwood, stepped onto the pages of Meredith Duran’s début novel, The Duke of ShadowsHandsome, charming and enigmatic, Lockwood immediately captured my attention, the mention of his mysterious four year absence from society and his obvious discomfiture at the presence of his estranged wife clearly hiding a story begging to be told – and now here it is.  The Sins of Lord Lockwood is an intense, angsty story that is sometimes hard to read, but is nonetheless a compelling tale of a man’s struggle to find his place after having his life ripped away from him, and a painful portrait of a marriage rent asunder by hatred and greed.

Anna, Countess of Lockwood and Countess of Forth (a Scottish title she holds in her own right) has learned, second-hand, of the return to England of the husband who deserted her on their wedding night four years earlier – and she’s furious.  Furious that she was stupid enough to fall for him all those years ago, furious that he abandoned her, furious she’s heard nothing of him for four years – and furious he hasn’t bothered to tell her he’s back and she’s had to learn of it from the newspapers.

When his wife arrives unexpectedly at his – their – London town house, Liam realises he’s seriously miscalculated.  He had thought he would have at least another month before news of his return could have reached her at her home on the Isle of Rawsey – where she retreated after his disappearance – a month in which he could bring to fruition his plan to have his revenge upon the man responsible for having him kidnapped on his wedding night and bundled aboard a ship taking convicts to New South Wales. That man is Liam’s cousin, Stephen, the man with whom he’d grown up and played as a boy, and who he’d looked out for all their lives – but with no direct evidence against him, Liam has to play a careful, devious game behind the scenes. With the help of his friends Julian, Duke of Auburn, and Crispin Burke MP, Liam is putting an end to Stephen’s fraudulent businesses and strategically and systematically bringing his cousin to the brink of financial ruin.

Anna’s sudden appearance in London doesn’t simply make a ripple in the pond of Liam’s careful existence – it throws a large rock into the middle and almost drowns him in the resulting explosion of spray.  He doesn’t want to be reminded of the feelings he’d had for her or the man he had been, and he certainly doesn’t want her in harm’s way – but she’s having none of it. Anna will remain in London for as long as she wishes; she will live in their house, she will do as she pleases and Liam can go – or, rather return – to the devil … but not until after he has given her the only thing she wants from him – an heir to the earldom of Forth.  Lockwood might not want an heir to his title, but she wants one for hers, and he’s the only means by which she can obtain legitimate progeny.

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

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Wicked Attraction (The Protector #2) by Megan Hart


This title may be purchased from Amazon

Ewan Donahue has made a lot of mistakes, but making Nina Bronson want to leave him has been the worst. With the initial threats on his life out of the way, he doesn’t really need her protection, but hiring her to take care of him again is the only way to get her back in his life. When Nina shows up ready to work —and nothing else — Ewan’s determined to win her back. If he can break through the walls his earlier betrayal built, maybe they can have another shot at love. When it turns out that this time, it’s Nina who’s being targeted for danger and possibly death, Ewan’s the one who has to keep her safe.

Rating: C+

Wicked Attraction is the second book in Megan Hart’s The Protector trilogy in which the three books tell one overarching story – which means there are spoilers for book one in this review.

In Dangerous Promise, the author made a terrific job of building her vision of the world of the late twenty-first/early twenty-second century in which the books are set, and of introducing her two principal characters. Nina Bronson is ‘enhanced’, a human with superhuman abilities that are the result of experimental technology implanted in her brain which allows her to control her physical and emotional responses and bodily functions, and to be stronger and faster than normal human beings. Because of the advantages given her, she – and the other fourteen former soldiers who underwent the same treatment – are barred from returning to the armed forces and the only work open to them is as bodyguards. When Nina is hired to protect billionaire businessman Ewan Donahue, it’s the ultimate irony because he’s the leading opponent of enhancement technology. The laws which have been passed owing to his persistent lobbying and political influence have banned the creation of any more enhanced, and prohibit the application of upgrades – which means that ultimately, all fifteen of them will break down and die. But these laws are unpopular in some circles, many groups believing the experimentation should be allowed to continue; and it’s this belief which led to the mountain of death threats against Ewan from which Nina was hired to protect him.

Even more ironic, however, is the fact that not only is Ewan now a passionate opponent of enhancement, he’s the one ultimately responsible for it. Nina is unaware of this until quite late in the book – and of course, once she discovers the truth, is devastated. She fell in love with Ewan and his deception inflicts the sort of pain she hasn’t experienced in years and had hoped never to feel again. As soon as his safety is assured, she leaves, wanting nothing more to do with him – but fate takes a hand when she is offered a lucrative contract on behalf on an anonymous client. She isn’t surprised when that client turns out to be Ewan Donahue, intent on getting her back into his life by hook or by crook.

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

TBR Challenge: A Certain Magic by Mary Balogh

This title may be purchased from Amazon

Piers Westhaven and Alice Penhallow have always been close friends, even during their marriages to other partners. Now they are both widowed, and Piers, who needs an heir, has asked his friend to help him choose a new bride.

Alice has always been in love with him herself, but hiding her feelings has become second nature to her. As a boy, he dearly loved her too until his best friend announced his intention of courting and marrying her. Soon their mutual passion begins to break through the careful bonds each has imposed upon it just as Piers is being trapped into offering marriage to someone else.

Will honor permit them to speak the heart’s truth before it is too late? Or is it already too late for them–again?

Rating: B

A Certain Magic is one of thirty Regency Romances that Mary Balogh wrote for Signet between 1985 and 1998. Most of those have been out of print for some time, but fortunately for those of us who missed them when they first came out, a number of them are gradually making their way back into circulation as ebooks. Dating from 1991, A Certain Magic is a charming friends-to-lovers romance exhibiting the thoughtful characterisation and insight that are among the author’s trademarks.

Alice Penhallow has been a widow for two years. She loved her husband dearly, but is moving on with her life and is comfortably settled in Bath, where she has made new friends and enjoys the sights and activities the city has to offer. A summons from her brother sees her travelling to London and to the house she owns in Cavendish Square – much to her brother’s dismay as he had wanted her to move in while his wife and children are ill. But much as she loves her nieces and nephews, Allie sticks to her guns and insists on staying at her own house and going back and forth; she has no intention of dwindling into the role of widowed and put-upon aunt.

She is pleased when her oldest friend, Piers Westhaven pays a call on her as they haven’t seen each other in some time. Alice, Webster (her late husband), and Piers grew up together, and continued to be close friends even after Alice and Web married, paying regular visits to each other in the country where their estates were next door to each other. Not long after Alice married his best friend, Piers, too, got married, to a sweet young woman named Harriet who, sadly died in childbirth a number of years earlier. Now aged thirty-six, Piers has reluctantly decided it’s probably time for him to look about him for another wife, especially as he has recently learned he is heir to a barony for which he will, at some point, need to provide an heir.

Breezily, he informs Alice – Allie – of his intention, and almost jokingly talks about looking over the current crop of debutantes to see if one will suit him – but Allie is not amused. She is afraid Piers will repeat the mistake he made with Harriet, choosing someone young, timid and biddable, who will not suit him at all. There is also the fact that Allie is now able to admit to herself that she has loved Piers since she was fourteen; she loved her husband and their life together, but, given no sign that Piers would ever return her feelings, she married Web and subjugated her feelings for Piers into friendship. She admits to being the tiniest bit jealous at the idea of Piers taking a wife – but more importantly, she wants him to be happy and knows a schoolroom miss will make him miserable.

Allie has no idea that Piers is as much in love with her now as he has been for the last fifteen years. He fell for her when she was just fifteen, but by then, Web had made his determination to marry her known, and being an honourable chap, Piers backed off and never let either of his dearest friends know the truth. He married Harriet in an unsuccessful attempt to forget Allie, and still carries a burden of guilt over her death; if she hadn’t been pregnant, she wouldn’t have died, but worse, he never really loved her and he can’t forgive himself for it.

Unlike so many heroes in his situation, Piers isn’t your typical grumpy, brooding sort, and instead, buries his deeper feelings beneath a blanket of conviviality and general good humour. He’s always ready with a joke or bon mot and is never serious – although Allie knows that about him and she is the one person with whom he ever drops the façade. Unfortunately, his tendency to look for the ridiculous in pretty much everything around him leads to make a huge mistake; one of the current crop of debutantes is the granddaughter of a cit who wants to secure a titled husband for her. Piers is handsome, wealthy and relatively young (albeit twice the girl’s age) and Mr. Borden has him firmly in his sights. Piers, who is amused by the man’s gaucherie and his stories of How I Made My Fortune in Fish, fails to see the trap being set for him until it’s too late.

I’ll admit that Piers’ willful blindness is a bit hard to swallow; he’s far from stupid and he knows he’s playing with fire, but in spite of his own knowledge and Allie’s warnings, he just can’t stop himself from doing things he knows are unwise – although I suspect he is still somehow beating himself up about his first wife and deep down, feels he doesn’t deserve to be happy.

But I enjoyed the book in spite of that niggle. It’s not a flashy story; nothing much happens other than that we follow these two people as they try to work out whether it’s worth risking years of friendship in order to see if there’s a chance there could be something more between them. Both Allie and Piers are likeable, attractive and mature characters (he’s thirty-six, she’s thirty) who have a wealth of shared experience behind them as well as a shared sense of humour. They obviously know each other extremely well and like each other a great deal; they banter back and forth quite beautifully and their friendship is wonderfully written. But the author also imbues their exchanges with a palpable sense of longing which grows as the story progresses, creating a quiet, gentle and touching love story that left this reader with the warm fuzzies.

“There has to be mutual respect and liking, a mutuality of mind, a companionship, a friendship.”

“And that is it? That is all?” he asked, smiling at the top of her head.

“And something else,” she said quietly. “Something in addition to all those things. Something that words cannot express. A certain magic.”

A Duke in the Night (Devils of Dover #1) by Kelly Bowen

This title may be purchased from Amazon

Duke. Scoundrel. Titan of business. August Faulkner is a man of many talents, not the least of which is enticing women into his bedchamber. He’s known—and reviled—for buying and selling companies, accumulating scads of money, and breaking hearts. It’s a reputation he wears like a badge of honor, and one he intends to keep.

Clara Hayward, the headmistress of the Haverhall School for Young Ladies, on the other hand, is above reproach. Yet when she’s reunited with August, all she can think of is the way she felt in his arms as they danced a scandalous waltz ten long years ago. Even though her head knows that he is only back in her life to take over her family’s business, her heart can’t help but open to the very duke who could destroy it for good.

Rating: A-

In the years since the publication of her début novel, Kelly Bowen has become an auto-read author and has a few books on my keeper shelf. Her writing is assured and intelligent, she comes up with intriguing, well thought-out plots, and her characters are engaging and often just that bit different to the norm for the genre. In A Duke in the Night, the first book in her new Devils of Dover series, her gift for characterisation is showcased in her heroine, Clara Hayward, the headmistress of the Haverhill School for Young Ladies. In Clara, Ms. Bowen has succeeded where many authors of historical romance have failed; she has created an independent, forward-thinking, proto-feminist heroine who nonetheless operates within the boundaries of the society to which she belongs and feels like a woman of her time. Clara is comfortable in her own skin and knows who she is; she doesn’t feel the need to prove herself all the time or show every man she comes across that she’s just as good (if not better) than he is – she knows she is and doesn’t feel the need to flounce around reminding everyone around her (and the reader) that she is Spirited and Unconventional.

For that alone, Ms. Bowen merits All The Awards.

Of course, Clara deserves a hero who not only understands her but loves her for who she is, and I’m happy to say that in August Faulkner, Duke of Holloway, she finds just that, a man who is willing to listen, evaluate and learn.

August wasn’t born to be a duke. He and his sister spent their childhoods in extreme poverty, and when, by virtue of a keen mind and sheer hard work, he managed to find a way out, his one guiding light has been that his family – his younger sister, Anne – should never know such squalor and privation again. Even his unexpectedly acquired ducal status hasn’t stopped him from continuing with his business interests, although as his empire expanded, he took care to act through intermediaries, so the full extent of his holdings remains a mystery to all but himself and his trusted man of business.

After trying – and failing – several times to purchase the Haverhill School for Young Ladies and its surrounding lands, August’s most recent offer has been accepted and his plans to develop the property are now underway. But seeing Clara Hayward’s name on the deeds has sparked long-buried memories of the one time they danced together, a decade ago, when a much younger – and, he admits, stupider – August had invited the renowned wallflower to dance having been egged on by a group of similarly stupid and thoughtless young bucks. During the dance, August discovered something he had not expected; an intelligence, poise and confidence which completely captivated him and left him somewhat bemused.

Although ten years have passed since then, he still remembers how Clara felt in his arms, how his world had tilted on its axis in the middle of a ballroom floor… and he finds himself wondering why she has finally agreed to sell Haverhall. A few judicious enquiries by his man of business reveal that the Hayward’s shipping company is on the verge of collapse and that the proceeds of the sale of Haverhill will not be enough to save it. Seeing his chance, August decides to purchase the company as quickly and quietly as possible, before anyone else gets wind of the situation and pre-empts him. Learning that Harland Haywood and his sisters are usually to be found at the British Museum on Wednesday afternoons, August plans to ‘accidentally’ bump into the man and try to gauge his receptiveness to a possible buyout – but before he can find him, he sees Clara – and is instantly smitten all over again.

Clara Hayward hopes that once their ships come in (so to speak) she will be able find somewhere else to continue her life’s work of teaching. She is pondering the loss of the school that has been her life’s work on one of her regular visits to the British Museum when a voice she’d never thought to hear again intrudes on her thoughts and she turns to find August Faulkner, the man who’d all but stolen her heart a decade ago, standing by her. She has to struggle to maintain her composure as he rather clumsily apologises for his behaviour ten years earlier and then engages her in a somewhat awkward conversation about the piece of sculpture in front of them. She is puzzled, however, when he asks if he can call upon her the next day; each year, Clara hosts an out-of-town summer school for a hand-picked group of young ladies – and given that Anne Faulkner is one of the party, surely her brother must know that their departure is scheduled for the following day? Before Clara can say something to this effect, however, they are interrupted and part shortly after, but when August discovers, two days later, that Anne has gone to attend the Haverhill Summer School, he immediately assumes that Clara had deliberately kept the knowledge from him and is furious.

Never one to let the grass grow under his feet, August follows, determined to keep an eye on Anne and then take her back home, but also intending to speak to Clara’s brother about the shipping business and to persuade him to sell it… plus he can’t deny that the prospect of seeing Clara again is an extremely enticing one.

August’s arrival shakes Clara’s equanimity. She feels an intense attraction to him and knows it would be all too easy to succumb to it, but she can’t afford to jepoardise her position as an educator of young women – so an affair is out of the question. In any case, her first loyalty must be to her pupils – all of whom are exceptional young women to whom she affords the chance to engage in the study of professions not normally open to them. Her brother – a practicing physician – tutors those interested in medicine; another longs to be a landscape gardener, and Anne Faulkner wants to be an hotelier, but is constantly frustrated by the well-meaning but unwanted interference of her brother who insists she need never bother her head about anything ever again. Clara and August play a sensual game of cat-and-mouse as they dance around their attraction to each other and try (and fail spectacularly) to fight it. As they become closer, Clara patiently challenges him over some of his most deeply entrenched beliefs and encourages him to really think about the way he, as a man, has so many avenues and options open to him that women – and in particular, Anne – do not. He struggles and he makes mistakes, but he is intelligent enough and honest enough to admit the truth of much of what Clara says, and finally to see that by wanting to ensure his sister has the best of everything, he has been stifling her. A prison with golden bars is a prison nonetheless.

Clara and August are a perfectly matched couple; both fiercely intelligent, quick witted and determined – and the sexual chemistry between them is scorching. As I’ve already said, Clara is an exceptionally realised heroine, and August’s journey from ignorance born of male privilege and his almost single-minded drive to protect those he loves is extremely well done.

A Duke in the Night is a fabulous read and a terrific start to this new series. My one, small, quibble is that it’s just a teeny bit difficult to believe that Clara and August are able to connect so passionately and on such a deep emotional level based on just one dance ten years earlier, especially as they haven’t seen each other at all during that time. That said, however, Ms. Bowen imbues their connection with such fervour and obvious sincerity that there is never any question that these two are meant to be.

If you’ve never read one of Kelly Bowen’s books before, then this is a good starting point; and if you have, then be prepared to kick back and enjoy one of what is sure to turn out to be one of the best historical romances of 2018.

Seven Summer Nights by Harper Fox (audiobook) – Narrated by Chris Clog

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

It’s 1946, and the dust of World War Two has just begun to settle. When famous archaeologist Rufus Denby returns to London, his life and reputation are as devastated as the city around him. He’s used to the most glamorous of excavations, but can’t turn down the offer of a job in rural Sussex. It’s a refuge, and the only means left to him of scraping a living. With nothing but his satchel and a mongrel dog he’s rescued from a bomb site, he sets out to investigate an ancient church in the sleepy village of Droyton Parva.

It’s an ordinary task, but Droyton is in the hands of a most extraordinary vicar. The Reverend Archie Thorne has tasted action too, as a motorcycle-riding army chaplain, and is struggling to readjust to the little world around him. He’s a lonely man, and Rufus’s arrival soon sparks off in him a lifetime of repressed desires.

Rufus is a combat case, amnesiac and shellshocked. As he and Archie begin to unfold the archaeological mystery of Droyton, their growing friendship makes Rufus believe he might one day recapture his lost memories of the war, and find his way back from the edge of insanity to love.

It’s summer on the South Downs, the air full of sunshine and enchantment. And Rufus and Archie’s seven summer nights have just begun…

Rating: Narration – A: Content – A

Harper Fox’s Seven Summer Nights is a book that’s been recommended to me on several occasions, so when I saw it had been released in audio, I picked it up straight away as audio is my preferred method of ‘getting around to’ books I can’t find time to read in print. I admit to being a little wary given that narrator Chris Clog is not someone I’m familiar with, but it was obvious after the first few minutes of the listen that I was in very safe hands; he’s an excellent performer and I enjoyed every moment of this sixteen-plus-hours audiobook in terms of the story and the narration.

The story is a fabulous mix of romance and mystery with a touch of the supernatural thrown in for good measure that takes place around a year after the end of World War Two in a typically bucolic English village in Sussex. Well-known archaeologist Dr. Rufus Denby has been struggling to keep himself together in both body and mind since the end of the war, in which he’d served as a captain in the army and been decorated for his bravery. Haunted by terrible events he can no longer remember, Rufus is subject to sudden and uncontrollable outbursts of violence he can never recall afterwards; and he is at his first dig since the end of the war when something triggers an episode and he attacks one of his colleagues.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

Wanderlust by Lauren Blakely (audiobook) – Narrated by Richard Armitage and Grace Grant


This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

A British accent is my weakness…

Good thing I can avoid that kind of temptation in my new job in Paris. And when my company hooks me up with my own personal translator, I should be on the fast track for success. Except, he’s charming, witty, and, oh yeah, he just so happens to be British, which means everything he says melts me.

Don’t mix business with pleasure. I do my best to resist him as he brings the city to life for me. Soon, I can navigate the streets, discuss perfume with my co-workers, and barter at the outdoor market. But I also learn how to tell the sexy man by my side how much I want him to kiss me under the streetlamps.

Except there’s a catch – I can’t have him.

***

One more assignment before I take off on my big adventure…

And it’s a good farewell gig too since my newest client is a fetching American who loves to explore the cafes and cobbled streets while I teach her the language of love. We fall into a fast and flirty friendship, doing our best to resist each other. But you know what they say about best intentions. Soon we’re spending our nights together too, and I don’t want to let her go. The trouble is, my wanderlust is calling to me, and before we know it, I’ll be traveling the globe to fulfill a promise I made long ago.

What could possibly go wrong with falling in love in Paris? Nothing…unless one of you is leaving.

Rating: Narration – A: Content – C

I’ve enjoyed listening to several of Lauren Blakely’s light-hearted, sexy romances; they’re fun, easy listens, made moreso by the fact that they’re read by some of the best narrators in the business. Her latest story, Wanderlust, is set in Paris and boasts a British hero, so I was hoping a British narrator would be cast – and when the author announced it would be Richard Armitage, I, like many, was gobsmacked.  While he’s narrated a number of audiobooks, he has not, other than a few abridged recordings of some Georgette Heyer titles,  narrated a romance, so the fact that he’d signed on to narrate this Audible Original  (which is available in audio only until the end of March) is A Big Deal.

Wanderlust is fairly typical Blakely fare; steamy, flirty and low-angst, it tells the story of an American in Paris – Joy Danvers Lively – who relocates from her home in Texas to take up a one year secondment to the Paris offices of the cosmetics company for which she works.  She’s excited about the challenge facing her, and delighted at the prospect of living in one of the world’s most beautiful cities; she doesn’t speak the language, but she’s trying her best with the aid of a phrase book and has read extensively about what the city has to offer.

Her first morning, she’s in the bakery close to her hotel and mangles the pronunciation of the item she’s asking for when the man in front of her quietly corrects her so she can obtain what she wants.  He apologises – says it’s habit – and Joy is surprised to discover, when he speaks to her in English, that he’s not French, but British.  Outside, they carry on a flirtatious conversation during which they play at guessing each other’s names, ending up with Archie (for Archibald) and Judy.  They’re about to tell each other their real names when Joy’s phone rings and ‘Archie’, deciding he’s de trop, waves goodbye and leaves.

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

The Marigold Chain by Stella Riley (audiobook) – Narrated by Alex Wyndham

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

England, 1666; the year all the prophecies said the world would end. For Chloe Hervaux, marriage to wild, unpredictable Alex Deveril offers escape from a home she hates. For Alex, waking up with an epic hangover, the discovery that he has acquired a bride is an unwelcome shock. But while the marriage remains in name only, other forces are gathering.

England is at war with the Dutch, and Prince Rupert suspects that sabotage is at work in the fleet. Instructed to find and stop the traitor, Alex enters a dark, secret labyrinth of intrigue – where no life is safe and nothing is what it seems.

Chloe, meanwhile, navigates the shark-infested waters of Charles 11’s licentious Court and plots a course of her own aimed at financial independence. But as the diverse facets of Mr. Deveril’s personality are gradually revealed, her mock-marriage becomes fraught with difficulties – the greatest of which is Mr. Deveril himself.

Absorbed in his search for a traitor, Alex spares little thought for personal matters and less for his bride. But as the flames of the Great Fire sweep over London, he and Chloe face their ultimate test. Their world is at risk…their choices may save it.

The Marigold Chain is a richly-woven tale of intrigue, danger, and love set against a backdrop of Restoration England during the year expected to be Doomsday.

Rating: Narration – A: Content – A

The Marigold Chain is one of Stella Riley’s earliest published works, and, as it’s a long-time favourite of mine, I’ve been waiting not-at-all patiently for it to make an appearance in audiobook format. I first read it in the mid-1980s and loved it; for me, it ticks all the boxes. A brilliant, gorgeous, sharp-tongued hero enters into a marriage of convenience with a practical, quick-witted heroine who doesn’t take any of his crap; set that against the backdrop of the politics and intrigue-laden Restoration court of Charles II, and you’ve got another winner from a writer who really knows how to put the historical into historical romance while at the same time creating a tender, sensual love story. With the exceptionally talented Alex Wyndham once more at the microphone, there’s no question The Marigold Chain is a fabulous audio experience – so just sink into your favourite chair, lock the door, take the phone off the hook and let the world look after itself for a few hours while you get stuck in!

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.