Sinful Scottish Laird (Highland Grooms #2) by Julia London (audiobook) – Narrated by Derek Perkins

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon.

Widowed and forced to remarry in three years’ time or forfeit her son’s inheritance, Daisy Bristol, Lady Chatwick, has plenty of suitors vying for her hand – and her fortune. But a letter from a long-lost love sends Daisy and her young son to her Scottish Highland estate to buy time for his return. Along the way she encounters the powerful Cailean Mackenzie, laird of Arrandale and a notorious smuggler, and she is utterly – though unwillingly – bewitched.

Cailean has no use for any Sassenach in his glen. But Daisy’s brazen, flirtatious nature and alluring beauty intrigue him. When her first love appears unexpectedly at her estate, Cailean knows that a passionate woman like Daisy cannot marry this man. And to prevent the union, Cailean must put his own life at risk to win her heart.

Rating: Narration – A; Content – B

This second book in Julia London’s Highland Grooms series, Sinful Scottish Laird, is an enjoyable, character-driven romance that takes place over thirty years after the events of Wild Wicked Scot, and in which the hero is the eldest son of Laird Arran Mackenzie and his English wife, Margot. Cailean Mackenzie spends most of his time at his own estate of Arrandale, working on the house he is building; and when he’s not doing that, he and his younger brother, Aulay, are braving the excise men and crossing the sea to France in order to bring back cargoes of the essential goods that shortages and high rates of taxation have put beyond the reach of the ordinary Scot – as well as the wine and brandy they can sell at a profit.

Out riding with a group of his men one day, Cailean comes across a broken-down carriage carrying an assortment of Englishmen and women, most of whom, it seems, are terrified and would quite happily shoot him. Only one person among them doesn’t appear to share that fear, a lovely woman that Cailean learns is Lady Chatwick, on her way to visit the lodge at Auchanard which is part of her young son’s inheritance. Cailean has long sworn off romantic entanglements – a youthful love affair gone wrong decided him that marriage wasn’t for him and he’s content with his solitary life – but there’s something about the way the woman seems quite oblivious to the fears of those around her and the way she looks at him that Cailean finds intriguing – against his better judgement.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

Hard-Hearted Highlander (Highland Grooms #3) by Julia London

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An indomitable governess…a brooding Highlander…a forbidden affair…

An ill-fated elopement cost English-born governess Bernadette Holly her reputation, her unsuitable lover and any chance of a future match. She has nothing left to fear–not even the bitter, dangerously handsome Scot due to marry her young charge. Naive wallflower Avaline is terrified to wed Rabbie Mackenzie, but if he sends her home, she will be ruined. Bernadette’s solution: convince Rabbie to get Avaline to cry off…while ignoring her own traitorous attraction to him.

A forced engagement to an Englishwoman is a hard pill for any Scot to swallow. It’s even worse when the fiancee in question is a delicate, foolish young miss–unlike her spirited, quick-witted governess. Sparring with Bernadette brings passion and light back to Rabbie’s life after the failed Jacobite uprising. His clan’s future depends upon his match to another, but how can any Highlander forsake a love that stirs his heart and soul?

Rating: C+

I’ve enjoyed the previous two books in Julia London’s Highland Grooms series in spite of my general aversion to Scottish/Highland set romances; both books are strongly character driven with, in the case of the first book, Wild Wicked Scot, a dash of politics and intrigue thrown in to add an extra layer of interest. So I’ve been looking forward to this third book, in which the hero is Rabbie Mackenzie, younger son of Laird Arran and his English wife, Margot. But I’m afraid I can’t say that I enjoyed Hard Hearted Highlander as much as the other books, mostly because the eponymous hero is such a miserable bastard for well over half of the story, and it’s difficult to find any vestige of sympathy or liking for a man who is so ill-mannered and self-centred.

That’s not to say that Rabbie doesn’t have grounds for what is immediately apparent is a case of severe depression. The book is set in 1750, five years after the Battle of Culloden, and takes place in a very different world to the previous novel. Many families and clans were wiped out on the battlefield and after, and of those who weren’t many have fled – to the cities, or overseas – and the landscape has been forever changed. Even the powerful Mackenzie clan is struggling to look after its own; their neutrality in the conflict did not protect them from the widely wrought devastation and times are hard.

Like many of his countrymen, Rabbie is frustrated and bitter about the huge change the battle has wrought in the Highlander way of life, but he is also mired in grief for the woman he loved, Seona MacBee, who was killed, along with her family, either during or after the uprising. It’s been years since her death, but Rabbie mourns her every day, and continues to scowl and growl his way through life, much to the consternation of his family. They love him dearly and hate to see him so melancholy, but don’t know what to do to help – and know that he would probably reject it if they tried.

As the Mackenzies struggle to rebuild their fortunes after the rebellion, it becomes necessary for Laird Mackenzie to broker a match between Rabbie and the young daughter of Lord Kent, an English nobleman who has purchased the nearby estate of Kileaven and looks set to buy up other lands around Balhaire. If that happens, there won’t be enough land to sustain even the small number of Mackenzies who are left, and a this arrangement is the only way to protect Balhaire and its dependents. Rabbie recognises the importance of this marriage to his family and agrees to marry the girl. He doesn’t care – he’s dead inside anyway.

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

Sinful Scottish Laird (Highland Grooms #2) by Julia London

sinful-scottish-laird

This title may be purchased from Amazon

Widowed and forced to remarry in three years’ time or forfeit her son’s inheritance, Daisy Bristol, Lady Chatwick, has plenty of suitors vying for her hand and her fortune. But a letter from a long-lost love sends Daisy and her young son to her Scottish Highland estate to buy time for his return. Along the way she encounters the powerful Cailean Mackenzie, laird of Arrandale and a notorious smuggler, and she is utterly and unwillingly bewitched.

Cailean has no use for any Sassenach in his glen. But Daisy’s brazen, flirtatious nature and alluring beauty intrigue him. When her first love appears unexpectedly at her estate, Cailean knows that a passionate woman like Daisy cannot marry this man. And to prevent the union, Cailean must put his own life at risk to win her heart.

Rating: B

Julia London returns to the Scottish Highlands in the region of Balhaire for Sinful Scottish Laird, the second book in her Highland Grooms series. Like the previous book, Wild Wicked Scot, the story takes place during a time of great unrest, with the Jacobites who are loyal to the deposed Stuart kings still actively trying to topple the Hanoverian monarchy installed just over three decades earlier. Unlike that book, however, the political background here is much more low key, even though there is the ever present discontent among the Highland population at their treatment by the English, especially when it concerns the ridiculously high taxes that are being levied on the basic goods that are needed to survive.

Shortages and high taxation rates naturally encourage the growth of “Free Trade” – smuggling – and Cailean Mackenzie, oldest son and heir of Laird Arran Mackenzie (hero of Wild Wicked Scot) and his brother Aulay frequently cross the seas to France in order to bring in cargoes of necessities as well as the finest French wines and brandies that can be sold at a tidy profit.

When he isn’t engaged in piracy, Cailean spends most of his time at his estate, Arrandale, working upon the house he is building for himself there. A youthful romance-gone-wrong has left him shy of emotional involvement and preferring to keep his relations with women informal and short-lived. At thirty-five, he has decided that love and marriage isn’t for him; he has grown to like his own company and solitary pursuits and is content to leave it to his brothers Aulay and Rabbie to secure the Mackenzie succession.

Daisy Bristol, the widow of Viscount Chatwick, has travelled to the Highlands to hide out at the hunting lodge of Auchenard, which is part of her late husband’s estate and now belongs to her nine-year-old son, Ellis. In his will, the late viscount stipulated that Daisy must marry within three years of his death, or her son’s inheritance will be forfeit – meaning Ellis will inherit the estate, but not the money to support it.  Naturally, Daisy is furious; her husband actually told her to her face that he believed she would mismanage their son’s finances, which is why he added that claue to his will AND instructed Bishop Craig to help find Daisy a suitable second husband.  Not wishing to subject herself to the control of another man – at least, not straight away – Daisy has put off marrying again for the past two years, but now realises the error of her ways as her time is running out.  But then, out of the blue, news reaches her that she thinks will solve her problems.  Before her parents made the match with Chatwick, Daisy had fallen in love with a young naval officer, Robert Spivey, but because he was not of her rank, was not allowed to marry him and he went away to sea.  But now he has returned, and Daisy hopes that perhaps they can rekindle their romance with a happier outcome this time.  But the bishop is eager to arrange a betrothal for her, and because her situation is widely known and there is no shortage of men eager to marry her money, Daisy decides it will be safer for her to get away from London and all those fortune-hunting potential suitors in order to await Rob’s return.

She, her son and their entourage are not far from their destination, when their carriage wheel breaks and they are stuck in the middle of nowhere.  A group of riders approaches and offers help, but the English party is suspicious and believes they are about to be set upon – all except Daisy, who keeps a clear head and engages the leader of the men in conversation.  Inside, however, she’s anything but calm.  The big, handsome Scotsman with the piercing blue eyes stirs her blood and steals her breath, and it’s all she can do to politely send him on his way.  But she can’t stop thinking about him, and the strength of her reaction; she’s been a widow for two years, and even when her husband was in good health, she’s never experienced such intense desire.

Over the next days and weeks, Daisy and Cailean encounter each other frequently, and while he is initially grumpy and downright hostile towards her, he gradually begins to admire her spirit and to enjoy spending time with Ellis, a quiet, but friendly boy who, Cailean realises, has had no proper male role model in his life.  I liked that it’s Daisy who makes no secret of her admiration of Caliean and her attraction to him, while he’s adamant that he isn’t interested in her flirtation and doesn’t want to be “trifled with” – although as he comes to know her, he certainly does flirt back a little, and shows that beneath his guarded exterior is a man possessed of considerable warmth, charm and humour.

Of course, Cailean eventually discovers that Daisy has laid waste to all the barriers he’d erected around his heart, but there is more separating them than the fact that he’s a Scot and she’s English.  It’s true that the English are not looked upon kindly by the Scots – and vice-versa – but there’s also the fact that with Ellis holding an English title, he needs to be educated and brought up in England so that he can make the connections he will need later in life.  And complicating things still further,  there’s the unexpected appearance in Scotland of Robert Spivey, formerly Captain Spivey of the Royal Navy – and the man who has been trying to apprehend Cailean and Aulay for more than a year.

I confess that I’m not the greatest fan of books with the words Highland or Scot in the title, as many of those I’ve read seem to have recycled the same plots and characters, but I’ve been pleasantly surprised by this series so far. Sinful Scottish Laird is an extremely readable, character-driven romance in which the relationship between Cailean and Daisy remains front and centre throughout. The obstacles they have to face are very real, and although they are perhaps overcome a little too conveniently by the end, the journey on which the author takes us in order to get there is well put-together and contains moments of poignancy and heartbreak.  There is a well-drawn secondary cast, and the background of hardship and political instability against which the tale is set permeates the story without being intrusive or detracting from the main storyline.  The romance is lovely, the central characters are likeable, and the writing is infused with warmth and humour, making this a book I’d certainly recommend to others.

Wild Wicked Scot (Highland Grooms #1) by Julia London (audiobook) – Narrated by Derek Perkins

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This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

Born into riches and groomed in English luxury, Margot Armstrong didn’t belong in a Scottish chieftain’s devil-may-care world. Three years ago she fled their marriage of convenience and hasn’t looked back – except to relive the moments spent in wild, rugged Arran McKenzie’s passionate embrace. But as their respective countries’ fragile unity threatens to unravel, Margot must return to her husband to uncover his role in the treachery before her family can be accused of it.

Red-haired, green-eyed Margot was Arran’s beautiful bride. Her loss has haunted him, but her return threatens everything he has gained. As the Highland mists carry whispers of an English plot to seize McKenzie territory, he must outmaneuver her in games of espionage – and seduction. But even as their secrets tangle together, there’s nothing to prevent love from capturing them both and leading them straight into danger.

Rating: Narration – A-; Content – B

I confess straight out that I’m not the world’s biggest fan of books with the word “Scot” or “Highlander” in the title as the majority of those I’ve read have seemed to have identical plots and characters. So reviewing Wild Wicked Scot, the first in Julia London’s new Highland Grooms series wasn’t an automatic choice for me – until I saw Derek Perkins listed as the narrator. I’ve listened to him several times before and he always delivers a solid, entertaining performance, so with him at the helm, I settled in to enjoy at least the narration – and discovered that, taken as a whole, the listen exceeded my expectations.

Lady Margot Armstrong, the daughter of the Earl of Norwood , is nearly eighteen, beautiful, flighty – and rather spoiled. She enjoys the attentions of the well-mannered, courtly young gentlemen around her and fully expects she will eventually marry one of them and continue living in the style to which she is accustomed. Until one night when, completely out of the blue, her father introduces her to Laird Arran Mackenzie and announces that they are to be married.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

TBR Challenge: The Wagered Widow by Patricia Veryan

the-wagered-widowThis title may be purchased from Amazon.

HE INSISTED ON TREATING HER LIKE A TROLLOP!

… and Rebecca Parrish, a most respectable young widow, found him utterly odious. What right had this supercilious rake, Trevelyan de Villars, to incessantly force his attentions on her? Rebecca far preferred Trevelyan’s charming friend, the noble Sir Peter Ward. Indeed, her dreams of handsome Sir Peter aimed straight for the altar!
What Rebecca soon discovered duly horrified her. For her dear Sir Peter and the contemptible Trevelyan had formailzed a bet – that Trevelyan could seduce the very proper widow within a month’s time.

Still, Trevelyan’s attentions grew ever more passionate. And Rebecca found (to her horror!) that she thrilled to his touch. As her heart strove to resist this irresistible cad, she suddenly saw what he really was: A libertine no more – now at last and forever in love!

Rating: B

Although I’ve been aware of Patricia Veryan for a number of years, up until recently, her books were out of print and the only way to obtain them was to find rather tatty second-hand paperbacks. Fortunately, many of her books have now been made available digitally, meaning that I was able to make her my “new to me author” for February’s TBR Challenge prompt.

I’ve often seen her work likened to Georgette Heyer’s, and although I think that Heyer fans are likely to enjoy Ms. Veryan’s books, they are quite different in certain essentials.  For one thing, almost all Ms. Heyer’s books are set during the Regency, while only around a third of Ms. Veryan’s are; most of her books are set more than fifty years earlier in the Georgian era.  In fact, the cover of the paperback edition (1984) of The Wagered Widow proudly proclaims it to be A Regency Romance, whereas it’s actually set almost seventy years before the Regency, in 1746, just a year after the Battle of Culloden.  And for another, her books usually have a political element; Ms. Veryan’s series of romantic adventures – The Tales of the Jewelled Men, The Golden Chronicles and the Sanguinet Saga (which is set during the Regency) all use the Jacobite rebellion and Battle of Culloden as important plot points and feature characters who are in some way connected with both events.

The Wagered Widow is a standalone book that also works as a prequel to The Golden Chronicles, which I definitely intend to read now they’re all available as ebooks.  It tells the story of a lively young woman who has just finished her year of mourning for her late husband – who has left her in impecunious circumstances and with a six year old son to look after.  Rebecca Parrish is petite, lovely, vivacious and well aware of her tendency towards hoydenish behaviour.  She is also aware that, if she is to secure a well-to-do second husband who will be able to keep her and Anthony more than comfortably, she is going to have to tone down her liveliness a little and be a little more demure; after all, no man wants a wife who could be labelled ‘fast’.

When she makes the acquaintance of Sir Peter Ward, a wealthy gentleman who also happens to be extremely handsome and not too much older than she is, Rebecca thinks she has found the solution to her problems.  She knows it’s mercenary of her, but she has her son and his future to think of, and she decides to fix Sir Peter’s interest and secure an offer of marriage from him.  It’s true that he’s rather reserved and a bit of a stick-in-the-mud, but he’s kind and attentive and Rebecca knows she could do a lot worse than wed a man who will care for and look after her, even if there is no great passion or love between them.  The problem is that his friend, the darkly attractive Trevelyan de Villars knows exactly what Rebecca is about, and takes every opportunity he can to tease her about it.  De Villars has the blackest reputation and is widely known to be a rake of the first order, something Rebecca won’t let him forget.  His wickedly humorous, flirtatious teasing is often very funny; she devises various epithets for him in her head – The Brute, The Lascivious Libertine, The Wicked Lecher…  he infuriates her,  she amuses him and the sparks fly.

The plotline might not be very original, but it’s well-executed, with lots of humour and fun dialogue, an entertaining secondary cast (especially the foppish Sir Graham Fortescue who is definitely more than he seems) and a touch of drama in the later stages.  The way that Rebecca very gradually comes to see just which of the two gentlemen is the right one for her is nicely done;  we watch her slowly shedding her prejudices about de Villars at the same time as he finds it increasingly difficult to maintain his coolly cynical persona around her, and the few scenes in which he interacts with Rebecca’s son, who very shrewdly notes that “… his eyes say different to his words”  – are utterly charming.  The couple doesn’t progress past a few kisses on the page, but there’s a nice frisson of sexual tension between them, and it’s clear that these are two people who are passionately in love.

The writing is witty and spry and makes use of expressions and idioms that feel authentic, and there is plenty of detail about the fashions, décor and customs of the day, so those of us who like a bit of history in our historical romance certainly won’t be disappointed.  But one of the things I was most pleasantly surprised about in this book was the characterisation.  In some of the older romance novels I’ve read, it’s sometimes fairly thin, but that is most definitely not the case here.  Rebecca is a fully-rounded character who own up to her flaws and while Trevelyan is perhaps not quite so well-developed, his feelings and motivations are easy for the reader to discern and through them, we get a clearer picture of the real man beneath the outer layer of world-weary ennui.

The Wagered Widow is a light-hearted, frothy read overall and is firmly rooted in the time in which it is set by the addition of the secondary plotline that revolves around the continuing search for Jacobite fugitives.  I really enjoyed it and am looking forward to reading more of Ms. Veryan’s work.

Duke of Pleasure (Maiden Lane #11) by Elizabeth Hoyt

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This title may be purchased from Amazon

IN THE ARMS OF DANGER

Bold. Brave. Brutally handsome. Hugh Fitzroy, the Duke of Kyle, is the king’s secret weapon. Sent to defeat the notorious Lords of Chaos, he is ambushed in a London alley—and rescued by an unlikely ally: a masked stranger with the unmistakable curves of a woman.

IN THE HEAT OF DESIRE

Cocky. Clever. Courageously independent. Alf has survived on the perilous streets of St. Giles by disguising her sex. By day she is a boy, dealing in information and secrets. By night she’s the notorious Ghost of St. Giles, a masked vigilante. But as she saves Hugh from assassins, she finds herself succumbing to temptation.

ONE KISS WILL CHANGE THEIR LIVES FOREVER

When Hugh hires Alf to investigate the Lords of Chaos, her worlds collide. Once Hugh realizes that the boy and the Ghost are the same, will Alf find the courage to become the woman she needs to be—before the Lords of Chaos destroy them both?

Rating: A-

Amazingly, we’ve reached the eleventh of Elizabeth Hoyt’s <i books, and the author shows no sign of running out of steam! Duke of Pleasure is another strong addition to the series, a beautifully-written, well-paced story that achieves just the right balance between romance and action; and which is, in part, a charming Cinderella-type story that sees everyone’s favourite street-urchin – Alf – get her man in the shape of the formidable Hugh Fitzroy, Duke of Kyle.

Alf has made brief appearances in a number of books in the series, most prominently in the previous one (Duke of Sin) in which she was employed by the Duke of Montgomery as a spy/informant. She lives in the stews of St. Giles and is ideally placed to ferret out information about the many nefarious deeds that are cooked up in its numerous rookeries and gin palaces and has been instrumental in helping our heroes to uncover and foil a number of evil schemes. Not many of those heroes, however, know that Alf is anything other than the boy on the edge of manhood she pretends to be. Left on the streets of St. Giles when she was just five years old, Alf was fortunate to be taken under the wing of a lad called Ned, who looked after her and told her that it would be safest for her to live as a boy; as a girl she would be almost certain to end up working on her back, and sooner rather than later given the proclivities of some of the visitors to the district’s brothels. Now aged twenty-one, Alf continues to pass as a boy and has spent so many years living as one that it’s practically impossible for her to imagine doing otherwise – or even wanting to.

Recently, however, in addition to her daytime disguise, Alf has taken on another identity – that of the Ghost of St. Giles, the masked crusader who leaps from rooftop to rooftop, dropping to the streets to lend assistance – usually armed assistance – to those in danger. Quick-witted, agile and skilled with her blades, one night she leaps into the fray to aid a single man being attacked by a large group, a man she has met once before when she was Montgomery’s employ and who, at that time, wanted her to work against him. That doesn’t stop Alf though, and she helps the man to fend off his attackers, pausing only to pull him to her for a kiss before running off into the night.

Hugh Fitzroy, the Duke of Kyle (a bastard son of the King, George II) is pretty sure who is out for his blood – a dangerous group of men who term themselves the Lords of Chaos, a select club that indulges its members’ unnatural tastes for satanic rites, blood sacrifice and many other degenerate practices.  In the previous book, Kyle was tasked with discovering the identities of the Lords and bringing them down – but even though the man believed to be its leader – the Duke of Dymore – is now dead, it seems the Lords are thriving and are as determined to stop Kyle as he is to hunt them down.   Fighting for his life, he is amazed at the sight of the slight figure coming to his aid – and even more surprised to discover that the Ghost of St. Giles is a woman.

The story of the duke and the street-urchin may be highly implausible, but it’s thoroughly enjoyable nonetheless.  Kyle is an upstanding, honourable man who has cultivated the art of self-control to a high degree.  His marriage to a society beauty with whom he was head-over-heels in love was a tempestuous one, founded on an explosive passion which ultimately led to disappointment and disaster.  He adores his two young sons and deeply regrets that he missed so much of their early childhoods because he couldn’t face living with his difficult (now deceased) wife.  As a result, he is mistrustful of strong feelings and convinced that giving into them again will only lead to pain and sorrow.  Yet there’s something about Alf – her resilience, her courage and her free-spirited nature – that calls to him and begins to turn attraction into something more.

Alf has become so used to her life as a boy that the idea of living as a woman is thoroughly alien to her.  She can’t imagine feeling comfortable or safe as anything else, so when Hugh asks her to accompany him to a society event – as a woman –  in order to help him to look for evidence against the Lords, her initial reaction is to refuse.  But when she realises that there really is no-one else able to do what she can, she musters her courage and agrees, willing to set aside her own fears to help the man she has come to love.

It’s the working relationship between the couple that does much to bridge the immense social gap between them.  Hugh may be a duke, but he respects people for who they are and what they can do; and nowhere in the book is this more apparent than the couple of times where he gives Alf (knowing her to be a woman) a dangerous task perform, fully confident that she is up to it.  Of course, he struggles against his instinct to protect her, but he also knows she’s capable and trusts her to get the job done – and I loved that about him.

Ms. Hoyt does a wonderful job in showing the depth of Hugh’s love for his two sons, who are both written in such a way as to come across as actual children and not just cutesy moppet plot devices.  Hugh’s confusion at the way that his elder boy – Kit – seems so angry at him all the time is palpable, and to see this big, powerful, confident man at a loss as to how to build a relationship with these little boys makes for some moments of true poignancy in the story.

The author also delivers a perfectly lovely romance full of passion, tenderness, and understanding, all ingredients that bring readers flocking to her books time after time.  The chemistry between Alf and Kyle leaps off the page, the love scenes are a delicious mix of sweet, sexy and earthy and there’s a real sense of equality to their relationship that allows it to work, in spite of their difference in station. We all love a good rags-to-riches story once in a while, don’t we?

Ms. Hoyt’s writing is lush and wonderfully intelligent, her characterisation is extremely strong throughout, and as ever, the descriptions of the less salubrious areas of London are so evocative as to put the reader in the middle of those dank, smelly and dangerous streets! A passionate romance  wrapped around a thrilling suspense story, Duke of Pleasure really is a pleasure and I devoured it in a couple of sittings.  Fans of historical romance shouldn’t miss it.

The Salt Hendon Collection by Lucinda Brant (audiobook) – Narrated by Alex Wyndham

salt-hendon-collection-audio

This title may be purchased from Audible via Amazon.

This special boxed set edition is for all the fans who requested actor Alex Wyndham’s narration of two of Lucinda Brant’s best-loved books, Salt Bride and its sequel Salt Redux. Also included is a 20,000-word bonus novella, Salt Angel, featuring well-loved characters from the Salt books.

The Salt Hendon Collection is a great introduction to Lucinda Brant’s richly romantic 18th century world, and Alex Wyndham’s superlative voice talent.


Salt Bride When the Earl of Salt Hendon marries squire’s daughter Jane Despard, Society is aghast. But Jane and Salt share a secret past of heartache and mistrust. They are forced into a marriage neither wants; the Earl to honor a dying man’s wish; Jane to save her stepbrother from financial ruin. Beautiful inside and out, the patient and ever optimistic Jane believes love conquers all; the Earl will take some convincing. Enter Diana St. John, who has been living in a fool’s paradise believing she would be the next Countess of Salt Hendon. She will go to extreme lengths, even murder, to hold Salt’s attention. Can the newlyweds overcome past prejudices and sinister opposition to fall in love all over again?


Salt Redux Jane and Salt: Four years of Happily Ever After
Sir Antony Templestowe: Four years of Exile
Lady Caroline: Four years of Heartache
Diana St. John: Four years plotting Revenge
The time has come…

How does a brother cope with life knowing his sister is a murderess?
How can a nobleman have the life he has always wanted when a lurking evil consumes his thoughts and haunts his dreams?

What will it take for good to triumph over evil?

Rating: Narration – A+; Content – Salt Bride: B+ / Salt Redux: B

I first listened to Lucinda Brant’s Salt Bride and Salt Redux a few years back, when they were most ably narrated by Marian Hussey. This new edition of both books (plus the novella, Salt Angel, originally published in A Timeless Romance Anthology: Silver Bells Collection) includes the original version of Salt Bride, with the prologue reinstated (it was removed from subsequent editions of the book as it provoked some controversy) and the audios are narrated by the supremely talented Alex Wyndham, whose performances of Ms. Brant’s other novels have made quite the impression on fans of romance audiobooks.

A marriage made because of the conditions of a will and a deathbed promise is probably not the most auspicious beginning to a relationship. But those are the conditions under which Miss Jane Despard is forced to accept the hand of Magnus Sinclair, the Earl of Salt Hendon (known as Salt). In order for her beloved step-brother to receive the bulk of his inheritance, Jane must marry before a certain date, and in order to fulfil a promise made to a dying man, Salt is obliged to offer for the woman who heartlessly jilted him four years earlier. He and Jane met during her début season and fell deeply in love, eagerly anticipating their vows on the night he proposed to her. Salt was called away before they could make the engagement official but failed to return – even when Jane sent him a note telling him she was pregnant – and later broke their engagement by letter. So Jane is bewildered when, on the first occasion they have seen each other in four years, Salt seems to feel that he is the injured party and makes it clear in no uncertain terms that his offer is made only because he is honour bound to make it and that once they are married, he intends to send her to live in the country while he continues with his life in London. But Jane is no simpering miss and makes Salt aware that she is just as unhappy about the situation as he is.

As the couple settle into their married life and each realises that they never really fell out of love, there is sufficient mistrust and uncertainty between them for neither to want to make the first move and admit it.   Jane becomes more and more convinced that Salt never knew of her pregnancy – but doesn’t know why her letter never reached him, and is still confused as to why he ended their betrothal so abruptly.  And Salt comes to realise that Jane’s life during their separation was not at all what he had supposed, and that his assumptions about her have been based on falsehoods.

The arranged marriage is a favourite trope of mine, and this one is bound up in all sorts of deliberately engineered misunderstandings and behind-the-scenes machinations by the villain of the piece, Lady Diana St. John, Salt’s cousin and the widow of his best friend.  She is obsessed by Salt to the point of insanity – but knowing that he will never marry her, she nonetheless aims to keep him for herself by acting as his hostess and remaining constantly at his side through the glittering political career for which she believes he is destined.

Diana is a well-realised character, even though she’s dangerously close to being over-the-top. She’s so devious and clever that there are times it seems as though she might actually get away with her nefarious schemes; and the depths to which she will go in order to obtain what she wants are truly horrifying when they are finally revealed.

One word of warning – Salt Bride opens with the rather traumatic scene of a young woman (Jane) in the midst of a deliberately induced miscarriage, which, while not graphic, may nonetheless prove upsetting.  This prologue was removed from the second edition of the book (and the Marian Hussey version of the audio) – and the information is drip-fed through the rest of the story (the miscarriage scene is still present in a slightly different form).  Personally, I prefer that version of the story, but the placement of that scene makes no difference to the way the story plays out.


Salt Redux picks up the story of the Salt Hendons some four years after the ending of Salt Bride.  Salt, Jane and their young family are happily living in the country away from the goldfish bowl of London, but decide that it is time for them to return and for Salt to resume his political career.  We learn that in the intervening years,  Sir Anthony Templestowe, Salt’s closest friend and relative (and a prominent secondary character in the previous book) was sent to St. Petersburg on a diplomatic posting following a public melt-down and descent into alcoholism; Salt’s sister, Caroline – with whom Anthony has been in love for years – married another man, and the evil Diana was exiled to a remote corner of Wales where she lives on one of Salt’s estates, surrounded by servants who are actually her jailers.

But four years in isolation has not quashed Diana’s ambitions one jot, and her obsession with Salt and hatred for Jane are stronger than ever.  After lots of careful planning and waiting, she poisons her guard, makes her escape and heads straight for London where she begins to re-insert herself into a society that was never made aware of the extent of her misdeeds, believing instead that she had gone abroad in the wake of her heartbreak over Salt’s marriage.  This decision, made in order to spare the families the massive scandal that would have ensued on revelation of the truth, naturally comes back to bite everyone in the backside, as it enables Diana to hide in plain sight and to begin her campaign to insert herself back into Salt’s life.

News of her escape brings a much healthier, dried-out Anthony back to London where he is shocked and annoyed to find Diana in residence at his town house.  Knowing that her presence is almost certain to mean danger for the Salt Hendons, Anthony decides the best policy is to play along with his sister in order to discover her intentions and then make sure they are thwarted.  Running parallel with the continuation of this storyline is that of Anthony’s romance with Caroline, who is now a widow.  There is a little hiccup along the way, with Caroline believing herself unworthy of so good a man, but fortunately, this isn’t dragged out and Caroline very sensibly determines to make a clean breast of it to the man she loves before accepting his proposal.  Their romance is fairly low key, however, as the driving force of the novel is the Diana plotline, which contains some truly nail-biting moments. With that said, however, there are times in the first part of the book when the imparting of information is deliberately delayed; and while I normally enjoy Ms. Brant’s detailed descriptions of the clothes, food, locations and customs of the period, I can’t deny that they sometimes hinder the progression of the plot.  But that isn’t always the case, and her descriptions of the customs of the Russian court are vivid and interesting.  She also handles the key moment of Anthony’s confession to Caroline very well indeed.


The set is finished off by the novella Salt Angel, which sees Kitty Aldershot, a secondary character from Salt Redux, get her happy ending with Jane’s brother, Tom, with a little help along the way from a delightfully charming, elderly Russian prince.


Given the highly accomplished performances Alex Wyndham has already delivered in a number of Ms. Brandt’s other books, it’s no wonder that she took the rather unusual step of having him re-record these stories.  His delivery and pacing are spot on, and he continues to display exceptional vocal acting skills when it comes to bringing out the emotional nuances behind the author’s words.  His character differentiation is absolutely superb; I didn’t count the number of characters who appear in both Salt Bride and Salt Redux, but the cast is quite large and every single member, regardless of gender, age or station, is easily distinguishable from the others.  His female voices are among the best I’ve ever heard from any male narrator, so the high-born ladies – Jane, Diana and Caroline – all sound as ladies of quality should. It’s easy to tell them apart, however, and Diana’s sneering hauteur is perfectly judged.  The two heroes – Salt and Anthony – are flawlessly portrayed.  Salt’s deep, resonant tones expertly conjure up the portrait of a man of power and influence who exudes confidence and latent sensuality, while Anthony’s velvety baritone works wonderfully to convey the character’s deep sense of honour and compassion.  Anyone who has listened to Mr. Wyndham before will know that he is an outstanding narrator, and anyone who hasn’t – well, you’re missing out and really should give him a try.

Coming in at just under twenty-four hours, listening to the set all in one go is a big commitment, but it’s obviously possible to divide it up into its constituent parts and tackle one story at a time. Salt Bride is probably the stronger of the two books, and while Salt Redux could just about be listened to on its own, I wouldn’t advise it, as so many of the characters and plotlines are introduced in the first book, and this is very much a continuation of that story.

But with Alex Wyndham at the helm, listening for long stretches is no hardship!


Breakdown of Grade:  Narration: A+  Content:  Salt Bride: B+/Salt Redux: B

Running Time: 23 hours and 50 minutes

Note:  The Salt Hendon Collection, narrated by Alex Wyndham is available ONLY as a boxed set of the two novels and the novella.  Salt Bride and Salt Redux continue to be available individually, narrated by Marian Hussey.