The Wedding Night Affair (Ash & Juliana #1) by L.C. Sharp

the wedding night affair

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The year is 1748, and Lady Juliana Uppingham awakens in a pool of blood, with no memory of how her new husband ended up dead beside her. Her distaste for her betrothed was no secret, but even so, Juliana couldn’t possibly have killed him…could she?

Juliana’s only hope is Sir Edmund Ashendon, a dashing baronet with a knack for solving seemingly unsolvable crimes—and a reputation for trouble. A man as comfortable in the rookeries of St. Giles as he is in the royal court, Ash believes Juliana is innocent, though all signs point to her as the killer. He doesn’t expect to develop a soft spot for the spirited widow, one that only grows when escalating threats against Juliana force Ash to shelter her in his home.

When another body is found, it becomes clear that Juliana has been dragged into something much, much bigger than simply her husband’s murder. With a collection of deadly black-tipped feathers as their sole clue and a date at the end of a hangman’s noose looming, they’ll have to find the real killer—before it’s too late.

Rating: B

The Wedding Night Affair is the first book in a new series of historical mysteries set in Georgian England entitled Ash & Juliana for its two protagonists – Sir Edmund Ashendon, a well-to-do young lawyer and Lady Juliana, daughter and sole heir to the Earl of Hawksworth.  This opening instalment has a similar premise to the first books in at least three other historical mystery series I can think of – Lady Julia (Deanna Raybourn), John Pickett (Sheri Cobb South) and Lady Darby (Anna Lee Huber) – in that the heroine is accused of murdering her (thoroughly unpleasant) husband, but that’s really the only similarity, and The Wedding Night Affair very quickly establishes its own distinctive world and authorial voice.

The story opens in a memorably shocking way as new bride Lady Juliana awakens the morning after her wedding to Lord Godfrey Uppingham.  Every part of her body aches and she’s covered in bruises; her wedding night was one of pain and terror as her husband used her roughly and repeatedly in a way she had not been at all prepared for.  (The assaults are not detailed on the page but are referred to in sufficient detail as to leave no doubt about what took place the night before.)  When Juliana moves the covers so she can get out of bed, she at first thinks the smear of blood on her thighs is only to be expected – until she realises it’s more than a smear. She’s lying in a pool of blood, her husband lying flat on his back next to her with his own knife sticking out of his chest.  The same knife he’d used to slice through her clothes the night before.

Juliana’s screams naturally bring servants running, followed by her in-laws, who immediately berate her for alerting the servants by making so much noise and then accuse her of murdering their son.  Still in shock, the only thing Juliana can do is cling to the knowledge that she didn’t kill her husband while his parents send her back to her family home in disgrace.

Henry Fielding (yes THE Henry Fielding) is the magistrate in charge of Bow Street at this time, and having learned of the murder, asks lawyer Sir Edmund Ashendon to go to question the lady and bring her back to Bow Street where she can be safely housed until a date is set for her trial.  Already intrigued by the case, Ash agrees and makes his way to the Hawksworth town house, where he is able to speak with Lady Juliana and get her side of the story.  As he listens to her and realises how terribly she has been treated by everyone around her, he can’t help feeling sympathy – and listening to her account of her wedding night, suggests she may have been acting in self-defence.  But Juliana insists she didn’t commit the murder – and Ash is starting to believe her.

The Wedding Night Affair gets this series off to a good start; and I should say now that while the murder mystery is solved and we find out who killed Uppingham, the author has also set a larger, overarching plot into motion featuring the mysterious London crime-lord known only as Raven, which is to be continued in the next book.  In this one however, we watch as Ash and Juliana work together to find the evidence necessary to exonerate her, and in doing so, develop a strong friendship with the potential to turn romantic at some point in the future.  There’s a definite attraction between the pair, but the author very wisely keeps it fairly low-key and allows them to get to know each other, and for Juliana – in the company of Ash and his family – to be able to enjoy the sort of family life she’s never had.

Ash is an engaging hero; kind, intelligent and principled, he doesn’t open up often or easily, but he finds himself letting his guard down with Juliana (just a little bit) and maybe liking her a bit more than he feels he should.  He’s the head of his family and obviously cares deeply for his siblings, but there are some secrets in the family’s past he’s keen to keep hidden.

One of the best things about the book is its very strong sense of time and place – which isn’t surprising considering that L.C. Sharp is a pseudonym for Lynne Connolly, who has written a number of historical romances set in the period.  Her research is always impeccable and she makes really good use of it, inserting fascinating period detail (such as the very real ‘fad’ for kidnapping heiresses and forcing them into marriage or holding them for ransom) into the background or even into the main plotlines, and evoking the sights, sounds (and smells!) of the smoke-filled pubs and taverns, or the narrow, muddy streets or the grand, Palladian mansions of the newer West End.

She also hammers home just how precarious life could be for a young woman in Juliana’s position. Outwardly living a life of luxury, she seems to have it all, but behind closed doors her parents treat her despicably, marrying her off to a man of whose depravities they are well aware in order to further her father’s plan to have her son inherit his lands and title.  Sadly, it takes a horrific assault to set her on the path towards becoming her own person, but I was rooting for her to make the most of her second chance (and I may have been cheering inwardly when she at last talks back to her horrible parents!).  The one issue I had with that though, was that Juliana so often thinks “I’ll never go back to being that person” (or words to that effect) that it felt repetitive and got old very quickly.  I could see her gradually taking control of her life; I didn’t need to be reminded she was doing it so often.  There are a few other minor irritants along the way, such as Juliana’s very nearly TSTL moment (when she decides to go against Ash’s express wishes) and an early clue which was then forgotten about until near the end.

One last thing.  I know authors often have no input into the titles for their books, but whoever came up with this one has devised something misleading.  “The Wedding Night Affair” gives the impression this is much a more light-hearted read than it is, so if you’re thinking about picking it up, please take note of what I’ve said about the way in which the story begins.

Poorly chosen title aside, The Wedding Night Affair nonetheless earns a recommendation.  The characters are engaging, the plotline is intriguing and I’m invested enough to want to read book two, The Sign of the Raven, when it comes out later this year.

Midwinter Magic (Rockliffe #7) by Stella Riley

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Celebrate among old friends … and perhaps a gate-crasher or two. There will be wassailers and kissing-boughs; music, dancing and romance; laughter and some tears. Above all, expect the unexpected because at Christmas anything can happen.

So accept your invitation for what promises to be the most talked-of house-party of 1778 … and is also a last Huzzah to the Rockliffe series.

Rating: B+

In Midwinter Magic, the final book in her Georgian-era Rockliffe series, author Stella Riley bids a heartwarming and utterly charming farewell to her cast of much-loved characters by bringing them all together for a memorable and magical Christmas celebration.  (A warning – if you’re not familiar with the six novels that precede this series finale, you’ll likely have trouble keeping track of all the characters; if that’s the case, go back to book one, The Parfit Knight and make your way through the other books; I promise you won’t regret it!)

It’s Christmas 1778, and the Earl and Countess of Sarre – Adrian and Caroline Devereux  – (The Player) have invited their closest friends to Sarre Park in Kent for the festive season.   The Rockliffes, Amberleys, Chalfonts – and their respective children – the Audleys and Wynstantons, and Caroline’s grandpa Maitland and her good friend, Lily Brassington will all be in attendance, and Adrian and Caroline are looking forward to a convivial time spent in good company.  Preparations for the house party are well under way, despite their housekeeper’s  doom-laden pronouncements that decorating the house before Christmas Eve will bring bad luck – and Adrian has tasked his closest friend Bertrand Didier with overseeing the activities and entertainment for the duration.

With the company all assembled, things get off to a wonderful start with a visit to the beach – but on their return, it seems Betsy’s dire predictions have come true;  Caroline’s pushy, social-climbing mother has arrived uninvited, and has brought Caroline’s two sisters with her.  Caroline had been planning to invite them to stay at a later date, wanting to spare her guests Mrs. Maitland’s continual toadying and thinly veiled insults.  But there’s nothing to be done; Caroline can’t send them back home and room is found for them at nearby Devereux House.

Otherwise, however, the house party continues as planned, with plenty of activities – for the adults as well as the children – overseen by the wily Bertrand, who really does seem to have thought of everything!

One of the many things I’ve always enjoyed about Stella Riley’s books is the way she creates such genuine friendships between her characters, something which is much in evidence here as we get to see so many of them interacting with each other, teasing and joking and supporting each other as all good friends should.  There are two delightful romances to be found here (the one between the more mature couple was especially nice to see), and the various Christmas traditions are skilfully and vividly integrated into the story so that you can almost smell the greenery and see the coloured ribbons on the kissing boughs.  Best of all, these are the characters we’ve come to know and love; Rock is his ducal, perceptive self, Sebastian is witty and a teeny bit naughty, Julian is charmingly distracted; and the children in the story are well-written and feel age appropriate.  There are some wonderfully entertaining set-pieces, too – a boisterous game of football on the beach, a visit to Deal Castle, an impromptu concert for the tenants and villagers – and one of the most memorable moments in the book comes when Tom – the eldest of Julian and Arabella’s wards – reads a letter he’s written about his life, and his love for his adopted father, which is incredibly poignant and quite beautifully done.

The inclusion of the Maitlands and later, of Adrian’s obnoxious mother, serve to highlight that old adage that while you can choose your friends, you can’t choose your family; and their presence provides a stark contrast to the genuine warmth and affection the other characters so obviously find in their friendships and the happiness that permeates the rest of the book.

A Christmas story wouldn’t be a Christmas story without a bit of magic, and that’s here, too – albeit not in a way you might expect, and which I can’t say too much about without giving spoilers.  Suffice it to say that it’s woven carefully through the story and is sure to delight fans of the series.

Midwinter Magic is just that, a magical combination of warmth and wit, love and laughter, and a perfect conclusion to one of the best historical romance series around.

Deadly Kin (Alec Halsey #4) by Lucinda Brandt (audiobook) – Narrated by Matthew Lloyd Davies

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

Alec is back! Summer 1764. Alec and Selina anxiously await the birth of their first child at their estate in Kent. It should be a time of family celebration, but the death of a young poacher has Alec investigating murder. And when renovations to his sprawling manor unearth a secret burial chamber, a shocking family secret comes to light. Everything Alec thought he knew about his birth is again called into question, and with it the special bond with his irascible uncle Plantagenet.

Rating: Narration – A-; Content – B-

It’s been a while since Lucinda Brant released the last book in her series of Georgian-era historical mysteries featuring former diplomat, reluctant marquess and amateur sleuth Alec Halsey. (When I checked, I saw that book three, Deadly Peril, came out in November 2015.) I enjoyed the previous instalments in the series very much; Ms. Brant’s eye for period detail is remarkable, her plots are tightly written and full of devious twists and turns and she’s created a truly memorable leading man in the handsome, urbane and fiercely intelligent Halsey.

Eagle-eyed (eared?) listeners will notice that the narrator’s chair for Deadly Kin is occupied by the reliably good Matthew Lloyd Davies (who has taken over from Alex Wyndham) and I’m pleased to be able to say that his performance is top-notch.

Deadly Kin opens some months after the conclusion of Deadly Peril and sees Alec and his wife Selina residing at Alec’s family estate of Deer Park in Kent while they await the birth – any day now – of their first child. Alec’s elevation to the marquessate of Halsey is recent and not completely welcome; he had made himself a name in diplomatic circles, and is still adjusting to the change of pace that has come along with his change in status. Along with his new title, he has inherited his late brother’s crumbling Kentish estate at Delvin Park – which he has renamed Deer Park – and if were up to him, he’d pull it down and build something more modern, but Selina loves the old pile and Alec loves Selina so… renovation it is.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

Dance to the Storm (Storm Over Scotland #2) by Maggie Craig (audiobook) – Narrated by Steve Worsley

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Edinburgh, December 1743: Redcoat Captain Robert Catto is between the Devil and the deep blue sea. His investigations have turned up compelling evidence of a real threat posed to the House of Hanover by a plan to restore the House of Stuart to the British throne. His duty is to draw out as many Jacobites as he can find in Scotland’s capital and gather evidence against them, their names to be handed over to Duncan Forbes of Culloden, Lord President of the Court of Session, and Catto’s mentor. Two of those dedicated Jacobite plotters are Patrick Rankeillor, surgeon-apothecary, and his daughter Christian Rankeillor. Yet with every day that passes and despite their very different and deeply held views, Robert and Christian are falling ever more deeply in love. How is he to reconcile doing his duty with his feelings for Christian Rankeillor?

Rating: Narration – B; Content – B+

Dance to the Storm is the second book in the Storm Over Scotland trilogy by author and historian Maggie Craig, and if you enjoy meaty, well-researched historical fiction with a compelling, star-crossed romance at its heart, then I suggest these books might be right up your alley!  I’ll say straight off though that this is absolutely not a standalone and that you really do need to have read or listened to book one, Gathering Storm, before tackling this one.  I listened to it some years ago and even I needed a refresher course as to who was who and what happened because there’s been a gap of six years between books.  Here’s hoping we won’t have to wait so long for book three!

A quick recap.  It’s 1743 and Captain Robert Catto is recalled from fighting in Europe by the Lord President of Scotland to become captain of the town guard in Edinburgh.  But that’s just a cover for his real mission, which is to track down a Jacobite agent and member of the Pretender’s inner circle believed to have travelled to the city.  Robert has information leading him to suspect that respected surgeon and apothecary Patrick Rankeillor may be harbouring the traitor; Rankeillor, his daughter and all those in his immediate circle are known to be dedicated to the Jacobite cause, and Robert is sure that they planning on spiriting the agent safely away from Edinburgh.  During his encounters with Rankeillor’s spirited daughter Kirsty, Robert is often overbearing, sarcastic and downright rude, initially as a shock tactic but later as a way of trying to put a stop to his growing interest in her.  Kirsty is similarly smitten and desperately trying to ignore the attraction that insists on sparking between her and the handsome captain, but given that they’re on opposite sides, with Kirsty committed to a cause Robert has good reason to despise, they both know that nothing can come of it.

Events at the end of Gathering Storm mean that Robert is going to be faced with some very difficult choices.  The Jacobite agent has escaped the city along with Patrick Rankeillor, and Robert knows Kirsty was involved – more out of loyalty to her father than anything else, he suspects.  But his overwhelming instinct is to keep her part in the escape hidden, to keep her safe until he can at least work out what his next move should be.  He’s never been so torn; he’s an honourable man and a fine soldier, but for the first time, he has something – someone – in his life as important to him as his career and he’s going to have to work hard to walk the tightrope between love and duty.  It has to be said that Kirsty isn’t always a great help when it comes to that; her stubborn devotion to her father and a seeming lack of a sense of self-preservation threaten to undermine Robert’s attempts to keep her safe, and it’s easy to understand why he gets so angry with her on occasion.  He has a wider understanding of the dangers they’re facing;  the situation in Scotland is teetering on a knife edge, with supporters of the ‘King Over the Water’ committed to ousting the Hanoverian monarch and returning the Stuarts to the throne, and Robert knows only too well the likely outcome for the ordinary citizens should the divisions throughout Scotland erupt into bloody civil war.  He has other good reasons, more personal ones, for being strongly opposed to the Jacobite cause – reasons which, should they become known, could cause his loyalties to be questioned, ruin him professionally and possibly pose a threat to his life.

Rife with intrigue and with the historical background and Scottish locations brought vividly to life, Dance to the Storm is a compelling tale, full of tension and shifting priorities as we watch events unfold through Robert and Kirsty’s eyes.  The events of the story take place over little more than a week (as was the case in Gathering Storm) but as Robert and Kirsty fall deeper into love – and recognise what an untenable situation they’re in – the stakes for both of them are much higher than before.

The writing is excellent, and Ms. Craig is incredibly skilful at weaving the historical detail into her fictional tale without ever resorting to dry info-dumps.  The protagonists are complex, three-dimensional characters, and the secondary cast is also well-drawn, from those we love to hate (Charlotte) to those we want to snuggle and pamper (Geordie).  The standout – as one might expect – is Robert Catto. A career soldier of just twenty-five who has spent his entire adult life soldiering, he’s seen a lot in his young life and hasn’t known much in the way of closeness or affection.  He’s handsome, charismatic and quick-witted, but he’s also short-tempered and ruthless; he’s loyal and compassionate and sarcastic as hell, yet his flaws just make him that much more human and easy to relate to.  Brave and clever, Kirsty is a skilled apothecary and healer and she doesn’t suffer fools gladly, so in that respect she and Robert are made for each other!  I did, however, get just a teeny bit irritated with her unswerving devotion to her father, because it causes her to make some extremely unwise decisions that risk her safety.  But their romance is really well done; the longing and desire running between them is palpable and I’m eager to find out where they go from here.

Narrator Steve Worsley is new-to-me and I understand that Ms. Craig listened to a lot of performers  before settling on him to narrate her story. (A different narrator was used for the previous book and he didn’t really do it justice).  A native Scot, Mr Worsley has a smooth, well-modulated voice that is easy on the ear and on the whole, he differentiates effectively between a fairly large cast of principals and secondary characters.  There were a few times I felt that his female voices were a little too close in range to the male ones (Kirsty’s speech, in particular, is sometimes difficult to identify without the aid of dialogue tags) but mostly I was sufficiently engaged in the story for that not to have been too much of an issue.  Mr. Worsley’s portrayal of Robert Catto is excellent, however;  the previous narrator sounded as though Robert was in his forties, so it was a shock when the text indicated he was a few days shy of his twenty-fifth birthday!  There’s no problem at all believing he’s in his twenties here.  Robert speaks with a cultured English accent (the result of his having moved around so much) with the occasional Scottish inflection, and the narrator does a really good job of bringing out the softer side of his character – a side he really only shows to Kirsty and Geordie – and in his more humorous moments. The pacing is perhaps a little on the slow side, and – and this is a production issue – on numerous occasions there were no breaks between paragraphs, so not only did I not have time to absorb what just happened, I suddenly found myself ‘somewhere else’ with no warning.  The same is true of chapter breaks, where a chapter would finish and was then immediately followed by the chapter header for the next.

As I’m reviewing the audio production as a whole, I have to take these things into account when assigning a grade for the narration, which I’ve knocked down by half a grade point.

Dance to the Storm was an entertaining and sometimes gripping listen featuring engaging characters it’s easy to root for, a vividly described setting and a lovely romance full of yearning and UST.  Fair warning – the book ends with “To Be Continued…” although it’s not so much a cliffhanger as an indication that the story isn’t over yet, and I’m certainly going to be here for whatever comes  next.  Strongly recommended for fans of well-written, well-researched  romantic historical fiction.

About a Rogue (Desperately Seeking Duke #1) by Caroline Linden (audiobook) – Narrated by Beverley A. Crick


This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

It’s no love match….

Bianca Tate is horrified when her sister, Cathy, is obliged to accept an offer of marriage from Maximilian St. James, notorious rake. Defiantly, she helps Cathy elope with her true love and takes her sister’s place at the altar.

It’s not even the match that was made….

Perched on the lowest branch of his family tree, Max has relied on charm and cunning to survive. But an unexpected stroke of luck gives him an outside chance at a dukedom – and which Tate sister he weds hardly seems to matter.

But could it be the perfect match?

Married or not, Bianca is determined to protect her family’s prosperous ceramics business, even when Max shows an affinity for it – not to mention a dangerous ability to intrigue and tempt Bianca herself. And when Max realizes how beautiful and intelligent and desirable Bianca is, he’ll have to prove he’s no rogue, but the passionately devoted husband she craves….

Rating: Narration – B+; Content – B

Caroline Linden is one of my favourite historical romance authors, and I’ve been eagerly awaiting About a Rogue, the first book in her new Desperately Seeking Duke series, in which the ‘candidates’ for a ducal title are encouraged to show themselves worthy of such lofty status while the legalities as to which of them is the rightful heir are all sorted out. With the always reliable Beverly A. Crick back at the microphone, I settled in for an entertaining and enjoyable listen.

As the story begins, the elderly Duchess of Carlyle – whose son, the current duke, is in uncertain health – has summoned their closest male relations to Carlyle Castle to inform them that one of them – most likely Captain St. James – is the heir apparent to title and the other – Mr. Maximilian St. James – the heir presumptive. Wasting no time, she informs them that she expects them both to start living in a way that befits their new status and suggests they get married as a step towards respectability. She is particularly concerned with Max, who has a reputation for loose-living and frequenting London’s many gaming hells, but makes the same offer to both men. She will give them five hundred pounds each:

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

I Love the Earl (The Truth About the Duke #0.5) by Caroline Linden (audiobook) – Narrated by Gildart Jackson

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

A single lady in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a suitor

Margaret de Lacey has accepted her unmarried state with dignity, if not delight. She had no suitors when she was young and starry-eyed, though regrettably poor, and it’s unlikely any man will court her now that she’s older, wiser, and still just as penniless. Until, that is, her brother unexpectedly inherits the dukedom of Durham and settles an enormous dowry on her, making her the most eligible heiress in town.

No gentleman in London is more in need of a wealthy bride than Rhys Corwen, Earl of Dowling. He contrives an introduction to Margaret because of her dowry, but she swiftly sets him right: no fortune hunter will win her heart or her hand. Far from put off, Rhys is intrigued. Interested. Entranced. And soon the only thing he needs more than Margaret’s fortune…is her love.

Rating: Narration – B; Content – B

Although the full-length novels in Caroline Linden’s The Truth About the Duke series came out in audio book format a few years ago, the prequel novella, I Love the Earl, has only just been released. Novellas are a bit hit and miss for me in general, but I’m a big fan of Caroline Linden’s and was pleased to see that Gildart Jackson had returned to complete the series, so I snapped this up for review.

The Truth About the Duke series features the three sons of the powerful Duke of Durham and their search for the blackmailer who threatens to expose a bigamous marriage that will render them all illegitimate. In I Love the Earl, we meet Durham when he’s merely Francis de Lacey, a businessman living with his spinster sister, Margaret. In her youth, Margaret dreamed of love, marriage and children, but now aged thirty, she’s made peace with the fact that she’s destined to remain a spinster and keep house for her brother.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

Taken by the Rake (Scarlet Chronicles #3) by Shana Galen

This title may be purchased from Amazon.

Sometimes beauty…

Honoria Blake knows she must have had a moment of madness when she accepted a summons by the Scarlet Pimpernel to travel to revolutionary Paris and help his League. She’s an expert forger and glad her services can be of use, but the violence of the Reign of Terror has her longing for her quiet, unobtrusive life in London. Then a bloody man staggers to the door of the house where she’s hiding, claiming he was sent by the Pimpernel. Recently escaped from La Force prison, the former Marquis de Montagne is sinfully handsome and charming. He’s also desperate enough to kidnap Honoria. So much for her return to the quiet life.

Can be a beast…

Laurent is a consummate rake, but even he is captivated by the beautiful Honoria. Laurent cares almost nothing for his own life, but he was always close to the royal family and the little princess was like a sister to him. He will risk everything to save her from a life of imprisonment and possible execution. His plan is risky and surely doomed, but if he can convince Honoria and the League of the Scarlet Pimpernel to help him, it just might succeed. The only question is how far he’s willing to go and whether he’s willing to risk the life of the only woman he’s ever loved to save a doomed princess.

Rating: B

Shana Galen continues her Scarlet Chronicles series of novels set in the early days of the French Revolution with Taken by the Rake, in which a young Englishwoman – who happens to be a talented forger – working with the League of the Scarlet Pimpernel in order to provide suitably ‘authentic’ documentation for the aristocrats being smuggled across to England, becomes caught up in one man’s personal crusade to rescue the children of the King and Queen of France.  Ms. Galen’s familiarity with the Parisian locations and the politics and history of the period shine through, and she really knows how to pull the reader in, crafting an exciting opening set-piece in which the League orchestrates the escape of the former Marquis de Montagne from prison as part of their plan to rescue the doomed French Queen.

Laurent Bourgogne has spent the last five months incarcerated in La Force, expecting every day that his name would be on the list of executions scheduled, wearily resigned every day when it was not.  Escape is an impossibility and he knows it’s just a matter of time  – until is literally dragged from the prison courtyard by a large man who thrusts a piece of paper into his hand which bears the symbol of a small, red flower and directs him to an address – 6 Rue du Jour.

Honoria Blake followed in her late father’s footsteps, becoming an expert on Roman antiquities and then taking up a position at the newly founded British Museum, spending most of her time there identifying and cataloguing pieces acquired for the museum’s various collections.  But she began to feel restless with the smallness of her world and wanted adventure, to do something to make a difference – which is how she comes to be residing in Paris, at a safe-house used by the League of the Scarlet Pimpernel, forging papers and passports for the people they rescue from Madame la Guillotine.

Even in a city in as much uproar as Paris, the last thing Honoria expects is to find a man covered in blood standing on the doorstep.  Recognising he must be a nobleman on the run, she pulls him inside, and sets about tending his wounds and offering him a place to rest – even though he seems to be just as arrogant and undeserving as all the aristos who have not been so fortunate as to keep their heads.

When news comes that Marie Antoinette has been removed from the Temple Prison – where she was housed along with her sister and her children – Laurent is dismayed.  He knows that the reason he was freed from La Force was because of his specialist knowledge of the Temple; he grew up alongside the royal family and has a detailed knowledge of the Temple and its grounds and the League had planned to have him draw up some plans of the place that they could use to effect a rescue.  With the Queen’s removal, however, their plans have changed and instead, Laurent is to be shipped off to England straight away – but he adamantly refuses to go.  He’s known the ten-year-old Madame Royale (the queen’s daughter) since she was a baby, and he is most certainly not about to allow her to remain in prison and then to take her place in the tumbril.  It might be too late for her mother, but he is determined to rescue the little girl and her brother, the Dauphin, and transport them to safety.

When the League refuses to accede to his plan, Laurent, in desperation, grabs Honoria and with a knife to her throat, drags her to the secret passage he’d noted the night before and out into the city.  With nothing more than the clothes on their backs, and most importantly, without the red, white and blue cockade that would mark them as loyal republicans, they are alone in a hostile city where danger and betrayal lurk around every corner.  Needless to say, Honoria isn’t best pleased at his having used her as a hostage and at first, does everything she can think of to escape or persuade him to return to the safe house.  But over the couple of days they spend together in hiding while Laurent formulates a plan, Honoria comes to realise that perhaps he’s not the pompous, spoiled and vain man she’d originally supposed him to be, and that he genuinely loves the young Dauphin and his sister and would do anything – even sacrifice his own life –to ensure their safety.

There’s no question Shana Galen knows how to write an adventure yarn, and she paces her story well, juxtaposing moments of peril with moments of quiet and introspection – but I have to admit that I found some of the latter sections – that usually happen after Laurent and Honoria have been almost captured or have had to wend their way carefully from one location to another – to be a little repetitive.  I appreciated the time the author spent on developing the characters – mostly Laurent – and their relationship, but the pace still flagged somewhat in those portions and I found myself wishing for things to move on.  And speaking of Laurent, he’s more rounded-out than Honoria, and one of the things I liked most about the book was his coming to realise the degree of privilege he’d enjoyed and how little he’d done with it:

He hadn’t ever appreciated that luxury. He hadn’t appreciated anything at all… He hadn’t needed three-fourths of what he’d had, and yet it had never been enough.  If coats and art and jewelled shoe buckles could have made a man happy, he would have never ceased smiling.

But he hadn’t been happy, and he’d spent countless nights in La Force, lying awake, listening to the snores of the men around him and wishing he could have another chance.

By contrast, Honoria is a bit of an historical romance staple; a quick-witted, intelligent and practical heroine who is a good foil for the hero but who never really transcends that role.  Still, she and Laurent both want to be seen for more than they appear on the surface, and Ms. Galen handles this aspect of their relationship admirably, clearly showing their growing appreciation for each other’s strengths and abilities.

A well-written, sensual romantic adventure story featuring two engaging protagonists, Taken by the Rake is an enjoyable addition to the Scarlet Chronicles. It’s the third book in a series, but works perfectly well as a standalone, so if you like the sound of it, you can jump right in!

 

To Ruin a Gentleman (Scarlet Chronicles #1) by Shana Galen

This title may be purchased from Amazon

The true story of the Scarlet Pimpernel…
Angelette, the recently widowed Comtesse d’Avignon, only invited Viscount Daventry to her country house party as a favor to her sister. When the handsome British lord arrives—two days late—he’s full of unnerving tales of unrest and violence in Paris. Angelette assumes it’s all exaggeration…until her chateau is attacked and her life threatened. Daventry rescues her, and the two are forced to run for their lives. But when danger closes in, will the viscount stand at her side or save himself?

Is not the one you’ve been told. 
Hugh Daventry visits France frequently to import wine for the family business. On his way out of the country, he stops at the comtesse’s house party out of obligation. But after meeting the raven-haired beauty, he tries to persuade her to leave France with him. When the peasants attack, he realizes he’s already too late, and now he must protect Angelette, whose sharp tongue is far from angelic. Too soon the couple is caught up in the rising revolution, dodging bloodthirsty mobs, hiding from soldiers, and embroiled in the attack of the Bastille. Hugh wants nothing but to leave tumultuous France for the calm of England. He knows Angelette is intelligent and resourceful—a survivor. But can Hugh survive without her?

Rating: B

In 2017, Shana Galen published Traitor in Her Arms, part of the Scarlet Chronicles, a series of historical romantic adventures set during the turbulent years of the French Revolution.  Now she’s following up with another book in the series – a novella – which precedes Traitor, but which can be read independently and which is linked to the earlier novel by the setting and the cameo appearance of Sir Percival Blakeney, the Scarlet Pimpernel himself.  Or is he?  Because according to the synopsis, To Ruin a Gentleman tells the true story of the Scarlet Pimpernel.

The story opens as nineteen-year-old Thomas Daventry arrives at his family home burning with questions for his father.  Like many young men of his ilk, Thomas finds life in the country rather dull and spends most of his time in London living it up with his friends. He doesn’t really consider that his parents were young once, and thinks they’ve lived a fairly boring life – and still do – until a he meets Sir Andrew Ffoulkes at a dinner party and a comment made by that gentleman sends Thomas racing home in order to do as suggested and ask his father about the real Scarlet Pimpernel.  Ms. Galen then proceeds to tell the story of how Thomas’ father, Hugh, Viscount Daventry, met his wife when they were caught up in the events of that fateful July in 1789. (And no, I’m not saying any more about the ‘real’ Pimpernel!)

Angelette, the widowed Comtesse d’Avignon, has invited Hugh Daventry to attend a house party being held at her estate near Versailles at the behest of her sister, the Marquise de Beauvais, who hopes that Hugh will consider importing the de Beauvais family wines to England.  But the viscount has the bad manners not to arrive when he is supposed to, and Angelette is somewhat put out when he finally makes his appearance – two days late – when she is about to dine.  When he apologises for his tardiness, explaining that he had difficulty getting out of Paris due to the increasing unrest there, Angelette is rather dismissive, blithely suggesting that the King and his ministers will no doubt find a solution to the problem to the riots and get rid of the mobs in the streets.  Hugh is faintly appalled by her reaction, even angry when she refuses to accept that she and entire aristocracy is in danger.

Hugh suggests she should accompany him to Calais and thence to England and to her family there (Angelette is half English), but she refuses; she has spent much of her life in France and has lands and responsibilities there and views it as her home.  She decides that, for all his good looks and potent masculinity, Hugh Daventry is annoying and she’ll be glad when he departs.

Hugh’s feelings about Angelette run along fairly similar lines.  The lady is undoubtedly alluring, but her stubbornness is not only irritating, it could well get her killed – but if she won’t listen to reason, there’s little he can do to help her.

Sadly, however, Hugh’s warnings of the unrest in the city spreading are quickly shown not to have been unfounded when, in the middle of a ball, Angelette’s home is attacked and invaded by an angry mob intent on destruction and murder.  His quick thinking gets the two of them away in one piece, and while he wants to head for Calais, Angelette insists on making for Versailles to report the events to the king and ask for his help.  As a gentleman, Hugh isn’t about to abandon Angelette and allow her to journey on alone – but Angelette is captured by a group of peasants intent on taking her to Paris for trial and execution, and Hugh must think and act quickly if he’s to have any chance of saving her.

To Ruin a Gentleman is an interesting and engaging romantic adventure featuring a couple of attractive protagonists and Shana Galen has clearly done her homework when it comes to the events of the times.  Her descriptions of key events – the invasion of the ball, the fall of the Bastille, for example – are described succinctly and vividly in such a way as to put the reader right in the middle of the action.  She also skilfully incorporates the attitude prevalent among so much of the French aristocracy of the time into Angelette’s character, yet does it without making her unsympathetic; rather it’s her naïveté in believing that because she treats her dependants well they will remain loyal to her, and her belief that the King will be able to avert the impending disaster that blinds her to the realities of what is going on around her.  Hugh is an attractive, sexy hero, one who is adaptable, clever and protective without being suffocating.  Their romance is, perhaps, a little rushed – which is almost par for the course with novellas – but because of the heightened danger and uncertainty of their situation, it works, as both Hugh and Angelette are forced to admit the strength of their attraction and what it means to them, knowing that each day – each hour –might be their last.

My main quibble with the story is with the ending. It’s hard to say much about it without spoilers, so I’ll just say that it’s a little contrived – brilliant ideas run thick and fast, everyone agrees enthusiastically and is keen to get started and… well, it’s all too pat.  I understand the need to satisfactorily explain why the true story of the Pimpernel differs from Baroness Orczy’s well-known tale, and Ms. Galen’s is certainly a plausible way to go about it.  It was just a little too ‘let’s do the show right here!’ for my taste.

Aside from that, though, To Ruin a Gentleman, is a fast-paced, entertaining and sexy read that should do the trick if you’re in the market for a bit of adventure served up with your romance.

Not the Duke’s Darling (Greycourt series #1) by Elizabeth Hoyt

This title may be purchased from Amazon

Freya de Moray is many things: a member of the secret order of Wise Women, the daughter of disgraced nobility, and a chaperone living under an assumed name. What she is not is forgiving. So when the Duke of Harlowe – the man who destroyed her brother and led to the downfall of her family – appears at the country house party she’s attending, she does what any Wise Woman would do: she starts planning her revenge.

Christopher Renshaw, the Duke of Harlowe, is being blackmailed. Intent on keeping his secrets safe, he agrees to attend a house party where he will put an end to this coercion once and for all. Until he recognises Freya, masquerading amongst the party revellers, and realises his troubles have just begun. Freya knows all about his sins. Sins he’d much rather forget. But she’s also fiery, bold, and sensuous – a temptation he can’t resist. When it becomes clear Freya is in grave danger, he’ll risk everything to keep her safe. But first, Harlowe will have to earn Freya’s trust – by whatever means necessary.

Rating: C

Hard as it is for readers when a favourite, long-running series ends, it must be equally so for the author who has lived with those characters and scenarios for years – and who then has to follow up that success with something new that will continue to please fans of the previous books as well as, hopefully, gain them new ones. Having closed the book on the hugely popular Maiden Lane series last year, much-loved author Elizabeth Hoyt now faces that particular challenge, and presents the first book in a new Georgian era series about the Greycourt family and their immediate circle – Not the Duke’s Darling.

If you’ve looked at the advance reviews on Goodreads, you’ll have seen a plethora of four and five star reviews for the book, so I’m afraid I’m going to be a dissenting voice. Not the Duke’s Darling was Difficult to Get Through. It took me twice as long as it would normally have taken me to read a book of this length, mostly because I was able to put it down easily and wasn’t engaged enough to want to pick it up again. There were a variety of reasons for this, not least of which are that the book is disjointed, episodic and overstuffed with plot, the heroine is hard to like, and the romance is woefully underdeveloped.

The Greycourt series is predicated on a tragedy that occurred some fifteen years earlier which tore apart three families who had previously been very close. The death of sixteen-year-old Aurelia Greycourt, who had been set to elope with eighteen-year-old Ranulf de Moray, eldest son of the Duke of Ayr, had far ranging repercussions which left Ran crippled and near death, and his friend, Christopher Renshaw, hustled away to India and an arranged marriage with a young woman he’d met exactly twice before.

Ran, who inherited the title Duke of Ayr almost immediately after these events, lives as a recluse and his brother Lachlan administers the dukedom. Ran’s sisters – Caitriona, Elspeth and twelve-year-old Freya – were sent to live with their Aunt Hilda in a remote village in the Scottish Highlands, where they learned the ways of the ancient secret society of Wise Women, a group dedicated to helping women throughout Britain utilising their centuries-old knowledge of herbs and healing. Once a thriving group of thousands, the witch hunts of the previous centuries have decimated their number and even though these were made illegal by Witchcraft Act of 1735, old beliefs and superstitions continue to run rife, and Wise Women still run the risk of accusations of witchery being levelled against them.

Fifteen years after the death of Aurelia, Freya de Moray has risen through the ranks of the Wise Women to become their Macha – she calls herself their ‘spy’, as it’s her job to keep her ear to the ground to find out what is being said about them and also to find causes for them to interest themselves in.  At the beginning of the book, Freya is racing through the streets of East London on her latest mission when she ends up jumping into the carriage of Christopher Renshaw, the man she blames for what happened to Ran and the destruction of her family.

Freya may be the sister of a duke, but she no longer lives as one, having taken a position as companion to Lady Holland and her two daughters while she fulfils her duties as Macha.  Freya has learned that support is gaining ground in Parliament for a new Witch Act which would make witch-hunting legal again, and that its main proponent, Lord Randolph, is going to be present at an upcoming house party to which Lady Holland has been invited.  Freya has heard that there is some suspicion concerning the recent death of Randolph’s wife and reckons that if she can dig up enough dirt on him, she’ll be able to blackmail him into withdrawing the bill.

Up to this point in the story, we’ve had two points of view; as is common in most romances, we hear from the hero and the heroine.  But after we arrive at the house party, a third voice is introduced, that of Messalina Greycourt, Freya’s former best friend.  It turns out Messalina is well aware that Freya is now working as a companion, although she has no idea why, and she has decided, so far, not to expose her as the sister of the Duke of Ayr.  Messalina and her sister, Lucretia (references to other siblings indicate they’re all named after Roman emperors and empresses) are also attending the house party, and are also intent on finding out exactly what happened to Lady Randolph, who was a dear friend of Messalina’s

In the meantime, Christopher Renshaw, who has returned from India a widower and has become Duke of Harlowe, is intrigued by the drab but surprisingly feisty companion who seems set on crossing swords (both literally and metaphorically) with him at every turn.  He has come to the house party in order to confront a blackmailer who is extorting an outrageous sum of money in return for the letters written to him by Christopher’s wife while they lived in India.

So… we’re not even half way into the book and we’ve got Wise Women (and I’m sorry, but whenever I read those words, all I could think of was the “she is the Wise Woman” scene in Blackadder), two lots of blackmail, a mysterious death and a parliamentary plot; the story is being told in three different PoVs… dare I say it’s no wonder the romance is squeezed out to the extent it’s practically non-existent?

Christopher has the makings of a decent hero.  Pushed into an arranged marriage when he was just eighteen, he tried to be a good husband and to take care of his young wife, and he blames himself for the circumstances of her death.  Given he last saw Freya when she was twelve, it’s not hard to accept that it takes him a while to recognise her, and I appreciated that once he does realise who she is, he doesn’t waste time in telling her the truth – as far as he knows it – of what happened on the night Aurelia died.  There’s still a mystery surrounding her death, which I presume will be solved in a future book, but Freya realises that she’s misjudged Christopher all these years and begins to unbend towards him, which allows them to acknowledge and explore the attraction between them.  But their relationship is dreadfully underdeveloped, the chemistry between them is notable only by its absence, and the sex scenes, which Ms. Hoyt normally excels at writing, feel forced and hurried.

I had a hard time getting a handle on Freya and began to actively dislike her towards the end of the book, mostly because of the way she treats Christopher.  I understand that it can be very difficult to create strong, independent heroines in the context of historical romance because women had so few options and so little agency at the time many of them are set.  Unfortunately, however, many authors fall into the trap of trying to show their heroine’s strength and independence by having her running roughshod over the hero and treating him like his feelings don’t matter – and that sort of inequality does not a good romantic relationship make.   (For the record – I don’t like it when the situation is reversed, either.  A good romance should be about an equality of minds and outlook, not one character getting one over on the other).  Freya crossed the line between strong and independent, and insensitive and stupidly pig-headed once too often.

I feel like I haven’t really scratched the surface of Not the Duke’s Darling (another completely nonsensical title that has nothing to do with the story) in this review, but there is so much going on I just can’t fit it all in.  I haven’t even mentioned the Dunkelders, for example, men out to capture and wipe out the Wise Women; and the plotline concerning Lady Randolph’s death is resolved in a manner I can only describe as ridiculously melodramatic.  Characterisation and relationship building are the major casualties of this train-wreck of a novel, and much as it pains me – as a fan of Ms. Hoyt’s – to say it, I really can’t recommend it.

Cadenza (Rockliffe #6) by Stella Riley

The performance finished in a flourish of technical brilliance and the young man rose from the harpsichord to a storm of applause…

Julian Langham was poised on the brink of a dazzling career when the lawyers lured him into making a catastrophic mistake. Now, instead of the concert platform, he has a title he doesn’t want, an estate verging on bankruptcy … and bewildering responsibilities for which he is totally unfitted.

And yet the wreckage of Julian’s life is not a completely ill wind. For Tom, Rob and Ellie it brings something that is almost a miracle … if they dare believe in it.

Meanwhile, first-cousins Arabella Brandon and Elizabeth Marsden embark on a daring escapade which will provide each of them with a once-in-a-lifetime experience. The adventure will last only a few weeks, after which everything will be the way it was before. Or so they think. What neither of them expects is for it to change a number of lives … most notably, their own.

And there is an additional complication of which they are wholly unaware.

The famed omniscience of the Duke of Rockliffe.

Rating: B+

This sixth book in Stella Riley’s Georgian Era Rockliffe series introduces a handful of new characters and, as in Hazard (book five), weaves together a pair of romances. While the seemingly omniscient Duke of Rockliffe has a pivotal role to play in them both and there are cameo appearances by characters from the other books in the series, Cadenza works very well as a standalone;  anyone new to the series and unfamiliar with all the relationships and strong ties of friendship among Rockliffe’s set of friends and relations will be able to enjoy the novel without needing to have read the rest of the series. (Although you really should, because they’re all excellent reads!)

A harpsichordist of virtuosic skill, Julian Langham has devoted his life to music, focusing on achieving his ambition of being a concert performer while pursuing his studies before finally getting his big break.  Julian makes his concert début in Vienna and receives a rapturous reception, leaving him poised on the brink of the career he’s dreamed of.  Still giddy with joy, Julian is brought quickly down to earth by news he neither expects nor wants.  He is informed that he is the fifth Earl of Chalfont and that he must return to England at once.  Julian refuses.  He doesn’t want to be an earl and doesn’t care what happens to the title; he’s Julian Langham, musician, and that’s all he wants to be.  But he’s persuaded that all he needs to do is to sign some papers and put the earldom’s affairs in order – after that he can return to Europe and to his musical career.

But of course, it doesn’t work out that way.

Completely unequipped to be an earl, let alone to administer a large, debt-ridden estate, Julian has no idea what to do after his lawyers leave him in the lurch.  The estate is entailed, and there is nothing of value left to sell to raise funds in the short-term; Chalfont Hall is in a dreadful state of disrepair, the lands have been neglected, the tenant’s homes are dilapidated, and the old earl’s reputation as a debauchee and defiler of women means that Julian is viewed with intense suspicion by the locals.  When Julian discovers that his predecessor left three young, illegitimate children without provision, he does the only thing that makes sense to him and takes them in, although they continue to run wild about the village and generally make nuisances of themselves.  But the worst thing, by far, is that the only musical instrument in the house – an old harpsichord – is completely unplayable, and without the ability to make music, Julian is slowly dying inside.

At Brandon Lacey in Yorkshire, (anyone familiar with the author’s Roundheads and Cavaliers series of historical romances set during the English Civil War will no doubt find themselves smiling at the references to Gabriel and Venetia from Garland of Straw as we catch up with the family a few generations on), Arabella Brandon is hoping to avoid a London Season.  Still smarting after her fiancé of three years – an army officer currently stationed in America – married another woman completely out of the blue, Bella has become rather withdrawn and content to hide herself away, believing herself unmarriageable because she and her betrothed anticipated their vows before he left with his regiment. When her mother tells her she has written to the Duchess of Rockliffe – a distant relation – to ask if she will sponsor Bella’s début, and that of her cousin, Bella becomes a little more enthused, reasoning that even if she can’t marry, at least Elizabeth deserves the chance to find herself a good husband.

But Elizabeth Marsden is facing a very different prospect.  The eldest of the three daughters of the local vicar, she doesn’t expect to marry and has instead decided to ease her family’s financial burdens by seeking a position.  She responds to an advertisement for a mature lady required to oversee the running of a gentleman’s establishment and also regulate the care of young children and is surprised to receive a response offering her the position for a trial period.

When the Duchess of Rockliffe offers to sponsor both girls in London, Bella is delighted – but that is short-lived when Elizabeth tells her that her father will not accept the duchess’ offer.  Disappointed, Elizabeth tells Bella she has accepted the post she has been offered at Chalfont Hall in Nottinghamshire; after all, if she is going to have to work for her living, she might as well get started and get used to it.

But Bella isn’t going to just drop the idea of Elizabeth’s getting a chance to experience what London has to offer and comes up with an audacious plan.  She and her cousin are about the same age and size, and nobody outside their immediate locale has met them – certainly not the Rockliffes or any of the people they are likely to meet in London, and definitely not Elizabeth’s new employer.  She suggests they swap places for a few weeks – until the end of Elizabeth’s trial period – so that Elizabeth can experience some of what London has to offer and Bella can avoid the marriage mart.  At first, Elizabeth is horrified at the idea – it’s far too risky and it will never work – but eventually she allows herself to be persuaded, and all too soon, it’s time to depart.

Bella’s journey goes smoothly, but not so Elizabeth’s.  When the carriage she is travelling in veers off the road into a ditch, she and her maid are rescued by a passing gentleman and his servant and conveyed to the nearest inn.  Elizabeth’s rescuer introduces himself as Ralph, Lord Sherbourne, and he clearly isn’t the sort of man to inspire warmth or friendly feelings.  He’s darkly handsome but rather cold and aloof, and clearly isn’t pleased at the interruption to his journey, but as a gentleman, could do no less.  Unfortunately, however, the terrible weather that caused the accident continues and means that Elizabeth and Sherbourne are forced to spend a couple of days in one another’s company, which could put Elizabeth’s reputation at risk.

Meanwhile, Bella arrives at Chalfont to discover that her employer is not the older gentleman she had expected, but is a heartbreakingly beautiful and somewhat unworldly young man who doesn’t seem to know how to dissemble and says exactly what he thinks.  But then, she’s not at all what Julian had expected either – she’s too young, too beautiful and too terrifying; women tie his stomach and his tongue in knots and he is inclined to ask her to leave, but his friend –the local doctor – points out that he needs help in the house and with the children and that he should at least allow her to complete her trial period.  Julian – somewhat reluctantly – agrees, and although he finds interacting with her difficult at first, he quickly finds himself looking forward to seeing her and to spending time in her company.  ‘Lizzie’, as she has asked to be called, is surprisingly easy to talk to and seems to understand so much about him and his need for music in his life; she listens to him, gently draws him out, and before long he’s tumbled head-over-heels in love for the first time in his life.

Although both romances get pretty much equal page time, I admit that I found myself more invested in Elizabeth’s with Sherbourne, mostly because tall, dark and sarcastic is my catnip and I was eager to see how Ms. Riley was going to redeem him and turn him into a romantic hero, considering he was such a git to Genevieve (his half-sister) in Hazard. Needless to say, she does it with aplomb, giving readers more background about his relationship with the two good-for-nothing brothers he keeps having to haul out of the messes they make, and about the woman he’d loved and intended to marry who turned out to have been manipulating him in order to conceal a particularly unpleasant secret.  It’s not your typical ‘she-done-him-wrong-so-he-has-sworn-off-women’ trope; Sherbourne is certainly emotionally walled-off, but there are pretty good reasons for that, and it quickly becomes clear that while his reputation is somewhat tarnished, he is a decent man who is nowhere near as black as he is painted.

Pulling the strings and putting all the puzzle pieces together is Rockcliffe, one of the few among the plethora of dukes in today’s historical romance who is actually and properly ducal.  He can be arrogant and is fully aware of what is owed him courtesy of his position, but he’s also fair, compassionate and fiercely loyal to those he cares for.  He’s prepared to allow himself to be the butt of society’s jokes and goes to great length to protect Elizabeth’s reputation, drawing Sherbourne into his inner circle for her sake (and allowing him to remain there for his.)  One thing worth noting is that there is no villain in this novel – well, not in the sense of someone who is out to do harm to our heroes and heroines.  Instead, Arabella and Elizabeth are faced with the censure of society, its rumourmongers and its insatiable desire for gossip, Julian is the victim of his own generous nature and Ralph loved unwisely and bears the weight of a reputation that he doesn’t deserve.

Ms. Riley skilfully interweaves her different storylines together while displaying her customary eye for period detail and for creating engaging characters it’s easy to care about and root for.  She’s clearly done her research when it comes to Julian’s musical abilities and repertoire, definitely captured Julian’s dedication and that sometimes otherworldliness that can be associated with those who are intensely gifted and creative.  I very much liked the contrast we were given between the Julian who was trying to find his feet as an earl, and the ultra-confident, assertive man he became when performing; off stage, he’s endearing, on it, he’s compelling, and with time and experience that’s the man Julian is capable of becoming in everyday life as well.

The one problem I had with the book was with the character of Arabella. I can’t think of another heroine by this author that I haven’t liked, but I just couldn’t warm to her.  And that being the case, I wasn’t as invested in the romance between her and Julian as I’d like to have been – and much as it pains me to say it – I found their chemistry somewhat lacking.

Fortunately, the romance between Elizabeth and Sherbourne has plenty of chemistry, and ultimately, Cadenza’s many good points far outweigh that one drawback.  Extremely readable with a pair of very different but likeable heroes and a fabulous supporting cast, the writing bristles with intelligence, warmth and humour and I’m more than happy to recommend the novel to fans of the author’s and of historical romance in general.