The Secret Casebook of Simon Feximal by K.J. Charles (audiobook) – Narrated by Gary Furlong

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

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

Dear Henry,

I have been Simon Feximal’s companion, assistant, and chronicler for 20 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: Narration – A-: Content – A

K.J. Charles’ The Secret Casebook of Simon Feximal is a collection of wonderfully imaginative, well-written and downright spooky tales of ghostly goings on and supernatural shenanigans set in the late Victorian era featuring ghost-hunter extraordinaire, Simon Feximal, and his chronicler and long-term companion Robert Caldwell. The author draws on ancient legends and late Victorian sensation fiction for inspiration and has crafted a set of original and compelling creations while also charting the development of the relationship between her two protagonists, a lasting partnership built on a solid foundation of love and respect that endures through dark days and the direst of adversity.

When we first meet Robert Caldwell, he is a making a name for himself as a journalist for The Chronicle. He has recently inherited old, dilapidated Caldwell Place and decides to sell it rather than live there. The only problem is that it appears to be haunted – and when the walls start bleeding, Robert realises he’s got to do something about it before he can even think of putting the place up for sale. So, he calls in the renowned ghost-hunter Simon Feximal in the hope that he will be able to get rid of his unwanted, ghoulish guest, and is immediately struck by Simon’s imposing form and air of command. Feximal clearly knows what he’s doing – but both he and Robert have reckoned without the strength of a spirit long denied its desires, and a highly-charged, passionate encounter ensues which sends the mischievous spirit packing and sees our principals left to their own – most pleasurable – devices.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

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Anything but a Gentleman (Rescued from Ruin #8) by Elisa Braden

This title may be purchased from Amazon

A spinster hatches a plan (with a smattering of blackmail)
Miss Augusta Widmore has no time for proprieties. She must force her sister’s ne’er-do-well betrothed to the altar with all haste—or watch her sister bear the scandalous consequences. But with the blackguard resisting his duty, she needs leverage. And only one man can provide it.

A giant holds all the cards (or so he thinks)
Sebastian Reaver has no time for presumptuous women. He has a club to run. So, when a perfect nuisance invades his office, demands a fortune in markers, and refuses to leave until he relinquishes them to her, he knows just the thing to send her scurrying back to Hampshire: Exact a price this prim country spinster would never agree to pay.

A fiery battle begins (with both sides playing for keeps)
Ordinarily, Augusta would never agree to become the mistress of a notorious club owner—whether he’s a lowborn ruffian or the wealthiest man in London or the most intriguing, ill-tempered giant she’s ever encountered … or all three. Calling his bluff raises the stakes (and the heat), but retreat will mean ruin for Augusta. Now, Sebastian wants her total surrender, and he has a few tricks up his sleeve—soul-stealing kisses, unexpected honor, and electrifying persuasion for the woman he never saw coming.

Rating: B-

In Elisa Braden’s Anything but a Gentleman, readers are treated (finally) to Sebastian Reaver’s story, which sees the gruff, brooding giant of a man meet his match in the form of a woman who refuses to be cowed by either his size or his manner.  Sebastian – the owner of one of London’s most popular and exclusive gaming clubs – is a self-made man who doesn’t suffer fools gladly, and prefers to turn a deaf ear to the matchmaking attempts of his friends and the advice from the redoubtable dowager Lady Wallingham (his aunt) whose letters he mostly ignores.  In a previous book, Sebastian, who had believed himself to be a lowborn ruffian or some nobleman’s by-blow, discovered he was in fact Elijah Kilbrenner and heir presumptive to his (distant) cousin James Kilbrenner, Earl of Tannenbrook.  Sebastian has no interest in being an heir, an earl or in getting married so he can start producing babies; Tannenbrook and his wife are young and sure to fill their nursery with strapping boys, and besides, Sebastian likes his life just the way it is.  Even if he has been feeling a little restless recently.

Augusta Widmore has repeatedly requested an appointment with Sebastian and repeatedly been refused.  But she is undeterred and instead, resorts to sneaking into the club (with the aid of a street urchin who distracts the doorman) and making her way to his office.  She can’t take no for an answer if she’s to save her sister Phoebe from ruination; she needs to obtain the markers (for gambling debts) signed by Lord Glassington in order to force him to do the right thing by Phoebe, who is pregnant with his child.  Sebastian holds those markers, and Augusta is willing to do anything in order to obtain them – but she can’t tell him why she needs them and risk her sister’s already shaky reputation.  When Sebastian catches Augusta sneaking into the club a second time, he’s annoyed and angry and hits upon an idea to get rid of her once and for all.  Assuming Augusta wants to force Glassington into marriage herself, Sebastian makes an outrageous demand; he’ll allow her to make use of the markers if she’ll be his mistress for six weeks.  Of course, he’s bluffing.  Augusta is clearly a respectable female who will naturally be horrified at such a disgraceful suggestion and will run away screaming – but Sebastian has reckoned without Augusta’s determination or deep love for her sister and is stunned when she agrees to his proposition.

Now his bluff has been called, Sebastian can’t back down, so he installs Augusta in the almost empty town house he owns but never spends time in, intending to leave her to her own devices.  The few times they’ve met, Augusta’s luscious, Junoesque figure and her willingness to stand up to him have him thoroughly fascinated, but he believes she is angling to marry Glassington; and besides, Sebastian is married to his business and has no desire for a wife. Or so he tells himself.  Until he doesn’t.

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

If Ever I Should Love You (Spinster Heiresses #1) by Cathy Maxwell (audiobook) – Narrated by Mary Jane Wells

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

Once upon a time there were three young ladies who, despite their fortunes, had been on the marriage mart a bit too long. They were known as “the Spinster Heiresses”….

He’s inherited a title, but not a penny to speak of, so the Earl of Rochdale knows he must find a wife – preferably one tolerably pretty and good-tempered but definitely wealthy, and who will exchange her fortune for his family name.

His choice: Leonie Charnock, one of the season’s “Spinster Heiresses”. Years before, the earl had saved the dark-eyed beauty’s reputation, and she is still breathtakingly lovely, leading Rochdale to hope that their marriage will be more than in name only.

However, Leonie doesn’t want to be anyone’s wife. Nearly destroyed by the secrets in her past, Leonie agrees to their union with one condition: There will be a wedding but no bedding. But it’s a condition the new Countess Rochdale isn’t sure even she can keep…

Rating: Narration – A-: Content – B

Given my disappointment with Cathy Maxwell’s last series (Marrying the Duke), I wasn’t sure I was going to read or listen to any of her new Spinster Heiresses novels, but Mary Jane Wells’ name on the cover meant that I couldn’t resist picking up book one for review. If Ever I Should Love You proved to be a stronger book than any in Ms. Maxwell’s previous series, telling the story of a couple with a shared secret in their past which has affected them both profoundly in very different ways. The author tackles some difficult issues with insight and sensitivity as our hero and heroine discover that secrets thought long buried have a way of bleeding through into the present.

Former army officer Roman Gilchrist inherited the earldom of Rochdale on the death of his uncle, and is dismayed to discover that the title is an empty one (i.e., there is no money to go with it) and that he is expected to honour his uncle’s massive gaming debts. Without the funds to do that, or to run his Somerset estate of Bonhomie, Roman has no alternative but to consider marring a wealthy heiress – after all, it’s a common enough practice for men in his situation. The idea sticks in Roman’s craw, but he listens grudgingly to his solicitor – who is also his godfather – extolling the virtues of the three so-called ‘Spinster Heiresses’, three attractive, extremely wealthy young women who are still unmarried because their fathers are holding out for a duke or marquess – but who might accept the holder of one of the oldest titles in England even though he is a mere earl. Roman’s ears prick up when he hears the name of the last of the three – Miss Leonie Charnock. Miss Charnock is beautiful, charming and rich as Croesus, but she is also the woman responsible for ruining Roman’s army career; he was serving in India when they first met, and he killed a fellow officer in a duel over her. Recalling her loveliness, Roman admits it will be no hardship to marry a woman he finds attractive – and deciding that Leonie owes him, Roman determines to marry her. Or rather, to marry her money.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

Sinless (The Shaws #1.5) by Lynne Connolly

This title may be purchased from Amazon

Lord Darius Shaw has never been in love before. But when he renews his acquaintance with lawyer Andrew Graham in a raid on a molly house, where men meet men for forbidden pleasure, they discover mutual feelings as deep as they are dangerous. For while society will turn a blind eye to an aristocrat’s transgressions, Andrew has far more at stake. The son of city merchants, Andrew has a disastrous marriage in his past, and a young daughter to support. He could lose his livelihood, his reputation and even his life—and drag Darius down with him.

Darius and Andrew’s only choice is to deny the true nature of their relationship. But when an enemy Italian spy threatens their secret—and their futures—the two set out to catch him. And in the process they are forced to face their desires—and make a life-changing decision.

Rating: C-

Sinless is book 1.5 in Lynne Connolly’s new series The Shaws, a continuation or spin-off of her seven book Emperors of London series about the powerful Vernon family.  The Shaws are closely related to the Vernons (cousins I think), and some of them appeared in the earlier series as secondary characters.  Book one of The ShawsFearless, featured Lord Valentinian Shaw (both families had a penchant for naming their offspring after Roman emperors) a rake and hellraiser who found himself in court on a murder charge. Thanks to the efforts of barrister Andrew Graham, Val was exonerated and in Sinless, we meet Andrew again as he works to unmask a traitor and tries not to give in to the strong attraction that sparks between him and Val’s twin brother, Lord Darius.

Andrew has been sent by General Court to join a raid on a molly house (a brothel catering to homosexual men) in order to meet a man who is in possession of a list containing details of a network of spies.  As the raid starts and Andrew begins the search for his contact, he is surprised to see Lord Darius Shaw, poised and coolly collected in the midst of the chaos.  Andrew and Darius engage in a brief, wary conversation when Andrew spots the man he is looking for, only to be prevented from confronting him by Darius, who grabs Andrew and kisses him, allowing the other man to make his escape.

Darius has reasons of his own for interfering.  The list contains the names of diplomats and military agents placed throughout Europe by his family and the government, so when he learned of its existence and that it was being offered for sale, he determined to get hold of it himself in order to prevent its being sold to England’s enemies and his family’s rivals.  He had managed to befriend the man in possession of the list with the intention of using their friendship and … shared interests… to obtain it, but the raid put paid to his plans so now he has to find another way – and his first step is to speak to Andrew Graham again in order to find out what he knows.

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

The Bad Luck Bride (Cavensham Brides #1) by Janna MacGregor (audiobook) – Narrated by Rosalyn Landor

This title may be downloaded from Audible.

Alexander Hallworth, Marquess of Pembrooke, will not rest until he gets vengeance on the man who destroyed his family. Just one more piece needs to fall into place for Alex to succeed: he needs to convince the man’s fiancée, the tragically beautiful Lady Claire Cavensham, to marry him instead.

Lady Claire’s “curse” has left her one step away from social ruin: her past three engagements have gone awry, and now her fourth one is headed the same way. Before anyone can learn of her latest scandal, she’s caught in an awkward situation with Alex who then shocks everyone by announcing their engagement.

Forced into marriage, Alex and Claire find themselves unexpectedly drawn to each other. But as the two of them grow closer, will the truth of their union shatter their fragile feelings or is love strong enough to survive?

Rating: Narration – A: Content – C-

Ever eager to find new authors to enjoy – and because Rosalyn Landor’s name on an audiobook cover is guaranteed to make me take a second look – I decided to listen to Janna MacGregor’s début historical romance The Bad Luck Bride, the first in her Cavensham Brides series. The book starts well, as our hero, Alexander Hallworth, Marquess of Pembrooke, vows revenge on the former friend whom he holds responsible for his sister’s death. The first few chapters grabbed my attention as Alex sets his plan into motion, ruthlessly and deviously engineering the downfall of Lord Paul Barstowe by using the man’s predilection for high-stakes gaming to bring him to the brink of financial ruin, and then forcing him to jilt the fiancée whose dowry could have saved him. The “heroine-as-revenge” plot isn’t a favourite of mine, but I was keen to see how Ms. MacGregor would redeem a man capable of stooping so low and turn him into a romantic hero I could root for. Unfortunately however, at around a quarter of the way in, things begin to fall apart. Too many plot points, contrived misunderstandings, choppy writing and inconsistencies in the characterisation of the principals combined to fragment the story’s focus – and not even the extremely talented Ms. Landor could recapture my interest, which waned to such a degree that I kept checking my MP3 player to see how much of the playing time was left.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

The Duke of Shadows by Meredith Duran

This title may be purchased from Amazon

From exotic sandstone palaces… 

Sick of tragedy, done with rebellion, Emmaline Martin vows to settle quietly into British Indian society. But when the pillars of privilege topple, her fiancé’s betrayal leaves Emma no choice. She must turn for help to the one man whom she should not trust, but cannot resist: Julian Sinclair, the dangerous and dazzling heir to the Duke of Auburn.

To the marble halls of London… 

In London, they toast Sinclair with champagne. In India, they call him a traitor. Cynical and impatient with both worlds, Julian has never imagined that the place he might belong is in the embrace of a woman with a reluctant laugh and haunted eyes. But in a time of terrible darkness, he and Emma will discover that love itself can be perilous — and that a single decision can alter one’s life forever.

Destiny follows wherever you run. 

A lifetime of grief later, in a cold London spring, Emma and Julian must finally confront the truth: no matter how hard one tries to deny it, some pasts cannot be disowned…and some passions never die.

Rating: A

I read The Duke of Shadows for the first time some years ago – before I started reviewing – and I remember being blown away by the quality of the writing, the richness of the setting and the passion and intensity of the romance.  I don’t get much time for re-reading these days, but I decided one was in order prior to reading and reviewing The Sins of Lord Lockwood (Lockwood is a major – and very intriguing – secondary character in The Duke of Shadows), and I was once again awed by the author’s talent and this wonderful book which was, incredibly, her début.  As I didn’t write a review the first time around, I’m going to do that now.

It is 1857 and the British have ruled India – by fair means or foul (mostly foul) – for many years.  Trouble is brewing, but for the majority of the British contingent, who are unable to conceive that anything could challenge the might of the Empire, it’s business as usual and continued obliviousness to the rumblings of disquiet around them. Only one man among their number dares to posit that the country teeters on the brink of revolt and that British lives may soon be endangered – but he is derided and his views dismissed, even though he is an English peer.  Julian Sinclair, Marquess of Holdensmoor, is one quarter Indian which makes him someone who lives on the fringes of both English and Indian society.  His Indian blood renders him ‘not quite the thing’ among the insular, rule-bound English, who look on him with disdain and suspicion in spite of his being the heir to a dukedom – while his English blood causes the same reaction among his Indian family.

Emmaline – Emma – Martin was travelling to India accompanied by her parents in order to marry her fiancé, an officer in the East India Company, when tragedy struck. Their ship was wrecked and Emma is one of the few survivors.  The death of her parents – which she witnessed – has, naturally, affected her profoundly, but of more concern to Delhi society is the fact that she was rescued and transported to her destination on a ship full of rough sailors, so her reputation is now irretrievably tarnished.  Emma’s fiancé, Marcus Lindley is handsome and charming, but as Emma has known for some time, does not believe in confining his ‘charms’ solely to his betrothed.  Meeting him again for the first time in years, the scales fall from Emma’s eyes completely, and she sees him for what he is; arrogant, spiteful, dismissive of her intelligence and clearly only interested in her dowry.  Emma, a spirited and determined young woman, means to break things off with him as soon as she can.

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

The Best of 2017 – My Favourite Books of Last Year.

It’s something of a tradition to put together a “favourite books of the year” list around Christmas and New Year – I’m a little late with mine this year, but here’s the Best of 2017 list I put together for All About Romance.  Did any of them make your Best Books of 2017 list?

I had to make some really tough choices – here are some of the books that also deserved a place on the list, but which I just couldn’t fit in!