The Other Miss Bridgerton (Rokesbys #3) by Julia Quinn

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She was in the wrong place…

Fiercely independent and adventurous, Poppy Bridgertonwill only wed a suitor whose keen intellect and interests match her own. Sadly, none of the fools from her London season qualify. While visiting a friend on the Dorset coast, Poppy is pleasantly surprised to discover a smugglers’ hideaway tucked inside a cave. But her delight turns to dismay when two pirates kidnap her and take her aboard a ship, leaving her bound and gagged on the captain’s bed…

He found her at the wrong time…

Known to society as a rascal and reckless privateer, Captain Andrew James Rokesby actually transports essential goods and documents for the British government. Setting sail on a time-sensitive voyage to Portugal, he’s stunned to find a woman waiting for him in his cabin. Surely, his imagination is getting the better of him. But no, she is very real-and his duty to the Crown means he’s stuck with her.

Can two wrongs make the most perfect right?

When Andrew learns that she is a Bridgerton, he knows he will likely have to wed her to avert a scandal-though Poppy has no idea that he is the son of an earl and neighbor to her aristocratic cousins in Kent. On the high seas, their war of words soon gives way to an intoxicating passion. But when Andrew’s secret is revealed, will his declaration of love be enough to capture her heart…?

Rating: B-

The Other Miss Bridgerton is the third instalment in Julia Quinn’s series of novels featuring members of the previous generation of Bridgertons and their neighbours and long-standing family friends the Rokesbys.  In the first book, Because of Miss Bridgerton, Sybilla (Billie) Bridgerton married George Rokseby; in the second, the story focused on the next Rokesby brother, Edward, an officer serving in North America. Andrew is the third brother and, when we met him in the first book, he was on leave from the Navy while he recovered from a broken arm.  Handsome, good-humoured, and well-liked by all, he’s a convivial chap with a sharp mind, a quick wit, and a reputation as the family jokester.

He’s also – unbeknownst to his family – a spy.

Poppy Bridgerton – cousin to Billie and niece of Viscount and Lady Bridgerton – has had two London seasons and has not, so far, found a man she wants to marry.  She’s starting to think she never will; perhaps it’s too much to hope that she will find a man who is interesting to talk to and who can make her laugh.  With the season winding down, Poppy has gone to stay in Dorset with a friend who is expecting her first child, and is enjoying the small freedoms afforded to her away from the eyes of society.  On a ramble along the beach, Poppy stumbles across a cave she’s never seen before and decides to investigate – only to find herself captured by members of the crew of the Infinityand forcibly taken aboard and into the presence of its captain, the devastatingly handsome, charming, witty and completely infuriating Andrew James. (aka Andrew James Edwin Rokesby. Of course).

When Andrew learns Poppy’s last name he’s surprised, to say the least, and also thankful that her being from a different branch of the Bridgerton family means they’ve never met. Time is of the essence if he is to deliver the packet of important documents which he has been tasked to deliver to the British envoy in Portugal, so he has no alternative but to take her along on the two-week return journey to Lisbon.

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

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Duchess by Design (Gilded Age Girls Club #1) by Maya Rodale (audiobook) – Narrated by Charlotte North

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

In Gilded Age Manhattan, anything can happen…

Seeking a wealthy American bride who can save his family’s estate, Brandon Fiennes, the duke of Kingston, is a rogue determined to do the right thing. But his search for an heiress goes deliciously awry when an enchanting seamstress tumbles into his arms instead.

…and true love is always in fashion.

Miss Adeline Black aspires to be a fashionable dressmaker – not a duchess – and not even an impossibly seductive duke will distract her. But Kingston makes an offer she can’t refuse: join him at society events to display her gowns and advise him on which heiresses are duchess material. It’s the perfect plan – as long as they resist temptation, avoid a scandal, and above all, do not lose their hearts.

Rating: Narration – A- : Content – B

Duchess by Design is the first entry in Maya Rodale’s new Gilded Age Girls Club series of historical romances, set – not surprisingly – in New York’s Gilded Age at the end of the nineteenth century. While the premise – an impoverished duke who needs to marry money falls for a penniless woman instead – is a well-worn one, Ms. Rodale gives it a fresh coat of paint while also encompassing the many changes in society that were happening at the time and providing a solution to the central dilemma that is completely and absolutely right for this story.

Brandon Fiennes, Duke of Kingston, inherited a pile of debts along with his title, and is now faced with the time-honoured method of restoring the family finances, his crumbling estates, his tenant’s livelihoods and providing a dowry for his sisters. He must marry an heiress. On the advice of his cousin, Freddie, Lord Hewitt, Kingston travels to New York where his title will gain him an entrée in to the highest society and thus present him with his choice of current crop of Dollar Princesses – heiresses whose families have made huge sums of money from railways, manufacturing, real-estate and so on. It might not be what he wants for himself, but it’s the only way he can provide for all those who depend on him; even if he can’t marry for love, it will at least mean that his sisters will have the chance to do so.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

The Purloined Heart (Tyburn Trilogy #2) by Maggie MacKeever

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Poor Maddie Tate. Widowed with two children. An ordinary sort of female, no more memorable than a potted palm. Seven and twenty years of age.

Lucky Angel Jarrow. Temptation incarnate, lazy and spoiled – and why should he not be, when the whole world adores him, save for the notable exception of his wife?

Maddie Tate and Angel Jarrow. In the ordinary course of events, their paths might never cross. But then comes the Burlington House bal masque, when Maddie witnesses something she should not, and flees straight into Angel’s arms.

And he discovers that he does not want to let her go.

Mysterious masqueraders. Misbehaving monarchs. Political perfidy.

While in the background the ton twitters, and a fascinated London follows the Regent’s preparations for his Grand Jubilee.

Rating: B

A few months back I picked up Maggie MacKeever’s The Tyburn Waltz for a prompt in the TBR Challenge, and enjoyed it enough to want to read the other books in the Tyburn Trilogy.  At that point, only the second book – The Purloined Heart – was available, but I was pleased to learn the third was on the way, especially as it would feature two secondary characters from the first book who were clearly destined for one another. Although there are a couple of characters who appear in both books – most notably Kane, Baron Saxe – The Purloined Heart can be read independently of its predecessor, and proved to be an enjoyable mix of mystery and romance.

Maddie Tate is, at twenty-seven, the widowed mother of two young sons, and has gone back to live under her stentorian father’s roof.  Sir Owen Osborne Is dismissive and dictatorial, and Maddie fears he may try to separate her from the boys if she doesn’t dance to his tune.  But that particular dance is palling quickly and she’s chafing under her father’s constant criticisms of her manner, her clothes and, well, everything about her; hence her decision to sneak out to a scandalous masquerade being held at Burlington House one night, where she’s borrowed the costume that was supposed to have been worn by a friend who is unable to attend.  She’s nicely tipsy when a young gentleman dressed as Henry VIII approaches her and starts spouting Shakespeare and fiddling with the arrows in her quiver. (Get your mind out of the gutter!  She’s dressed as Diana the huntress!) Puzzled as to why Henry should have been lurking outside the ladies’ withdrawing room, Maddie follows him as he wends his way along the more private corridors of the house, watching as he enters an out-of-the way room. Hearing raised voices, Maddie peers through the keyhole, and witnesses a man dressed as an Egyptian pharaoh clubbing Henry over the head; he falls to the floor just as the door inconveniently swings open, revealing Maddie behind it.  She runs, only to collide with a gentleman dressed as a Cavalier, and demands he kiss her – to hide from her pursuer of course. One kiss turns into two… three, and into something more than a simple matter of expediency.

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

Suddenly You by Lisa Kleypas (audiobook) – Narrated by Beverley A. Crick

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

She was unmarried, untouched, and almost 30, but novelist Amanda Briars wasn’t about to greet her next birthday without making love to a man. When he appeared at her door, she believed he was her gift to herself, hired for one night of passion. Unforgettably handsome, irresistibly virile, he tempted her in ways she never thought possible . . . but something stopped him from completely fulfilling her dream.

Jack Delvin’s determination to possess Amanda became greater when she discovered his true identity. But gently-bred Amanda craved respectability more than she admitted, while Jack, the cast-off son of a nobleman and London’s most notorious businessman, refused to live by society’s rules. Yet when fate conspired for them to marry, their worlds collided with a passionate force neither had expected . . . but both soon craved.

Rating: Narration – A- : Content – A-

I was really pleased to see that some of Lisa Kleypas’ older, previously un-recorded/out of print titles are making their way into audio format, and even moreso when Suddenly You popped up at Audible with Beverley A. Crick as the narrator. (I’m not so pleased that Tantor’s next foray into Ms. Kleypas’ backlist, Someone to Watch Over Me, uses one of the worst narrators I’ve ever heard, but that’s another story!)

Suddenly You was originally published in 2001, and it’s easy to understand why it’s such a firm favourite with many. It’s got a higher steam-quotient than some of the author’s other books dating from this period, but the thing I most enjoyed about it was the way in which the hero is so completely smitten with the heroine from the outset and is wonderfully supportive and encouraging of her throughout.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

To Catch a Rogue (London Steampunk: The Blue Blood Conspiracy #4) by Bec McMaster

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An impossible heist. A thief and a rogue. But will she steal his heart, instead?

The Company of Rogues finally knows the identity of the mastermind behind a plot against the queen—but their enemy is still one step ahead of them. When he kidnaps one of theirs, the Rogues plan a daring rescue mission that will lead them into the heart of the bloodthirsty Crimson Court.

It’s a job for a master thief, and there’s nothing Charlie Todd likes more than a challenge. To pull off the impossible, Charlie needs a crew, including the only thief who’s ever been able to outfox him.

He broke her heart. But now she must risk it all to save his life…

Lark’s spent years trying to forget her past, but the one thing she can’t ignore is the way a single smile from Charlie still sets her heart on fire. When he proposes they work together again, it feels just like old times, but she has one rule: this is strictly business.

It’s Charlie’s last chance to prove he can be trusted with her heart. But Lark’s keeping a deadly secret. And as passions are stirred and the stakes mount, it might be the kind of secret that could destroy them all…

Rating: A-

To Catch a Rogue, the fourth book in Bec McMaster’s London Steampunk: The Blue-Blood Conspiracy series picks up more or less from where the previous book (You Only Love Twice) left off.  Like its predecessors, it’s a fabulous mixture of action, adventure, suspense and romance that pulled me in from the very first page and kept me utterly enthralled until the very end; I’ve been following the series from the beginning and can honestly say that it’s got better and better with each subsequent book.  One thing though – it’s definitely NOT a standalone, so if you like the sound of it, I’d strongly suggest going back to the beginning and starting with Kiss of Steel – I promise you won’t regret it.

There will be spoilers for the previous books in this review.

It’s been two weeks since the Company of Rogues finally uncovered the identity of their deadliest enemy, the person responsible for the plot to overthrow the queen and for unleashing all manner of chaos upon London.  Lord Balfour, former right-hand man to the cruel and evil prince consort was thought to have been killed by the Duke of Malloryn during the revolution which overthrew the ruling Echelon, but he survived and has been engineering his revenge – on the city and on Malloryn.  At the end of You Only Love Twice, the duke was captured by Balfour’s lackeys and at the beginning of To Catch a Rogue, we discover he’s been taken to Russia, where Balfour is masquerading as the consort of the Grand Duchess Feodorevna at the violent and deadly Crimson Court.

The Company of Rogues, the small band of spies, assassins, thieves and bounty-hunters assembled by Malloryn to fight the threat to London and the queen, knows where he has been taken and has put together a plan to get him out.  It’s going to be incredibly dangerous and incredibly difficult; the Crimson Court is deadly, merciless and ruthless and the only protection they will have is the diplomatic immunity afforded them by virtue of the invitation sent to Lord Leo Barrons to attend the celebrations commemorating the tsarina’s coronation.

Charlie Todd – who has been a recurring character through both series – has been working for Malloryn and the CoR for some months and, along with Gemma Townsend, has come up with a rescue plan.  But to pull it off, they’re going to need outside help, someone who has never met a lock they couldn’t pick or a wall they couldn’t scale, and Charlie knows just the person for the job.

Lark Rathinger and Charlie were practically inseparable until, on the night of the revolution, her adoptive father, Tin Man, was killed saving Charlie’s life and Lark herself was so badly injured that she’d have died if Charlie hadn’t acted quickly and infected her with the craving virus that turned her into a rogue blue-blood and saved her life.  Overwhelmed with guilt over Tin Man’s death Charlie left Whitchapel – and Lark – behind, and although they’ve seen each other occasionally since, nothing between them has been the same.  Lark doesn’t blame Charlie for what happened, but she is still angry at him for abandoning her when she needed him the most, and is determined never to let him know that he broke her heart.

When Charlie turns up out of the blue and asks Lark to join the mission to free Malloryn, she is tempted by the thought of working with him again.  They’ve always shared a strong connection, the ability – almost – to read each other’s thoughts, and she recalls the thrill of pulling off the most difficult, risky jobs like a well-oiled machine… but she also recalls that the last time they’d worked together someone she cared for had died.  So she refuses – until she realises that Charlie and the CoR won’t be mounting their rescue mission in England, but in Russia.

I’m not going to say more about the plot, which is multi-layered and brilliantly conceived.  The author creates a pervasive atmosphere of menace from the moment the CoR arrives at the Crimson Court, and there’s the real sense that one false move could lead to disaster (and probably a most unpleasant death).  Two other important storylines are skilfully interwoven with the scheme to rescue Malloryn; one concerning Lark’s hitherto unknown past, which is connected to the Russian court in ways nobody expected, and the other devoted to the romance between Lark and Charlie, something fans of the series have been long awaiting.  This is friends-to-lovers romance at its very best; it’s tender, sensual and gorgeously romantic and there’s never any question that these two people know each other inside out and care deeply for one another in spite of the past hurt and misunderstandings that lies between them.  Lark and Charlie have been in love with one another ever since they were old enough to recognise the feeling for what it was, and their years apart have done nothing to lessen the intensity of the pull between them.   Worried for Charlie’s safety, Lark tries to shut him out and remain aloof, but it’s impossible.  From the moment they’re reunited, the pair resumes the verbal sparring that has characterised their relationship, although now, they’re both aware of the undercurrents of sexual tension and desire that run beneath their banter; and soon, they’re addressing the issues that lie between them and confessing the truth of their feelings for one another.  Even so, Charlie knows Lark is holding something back from him (and it’s a doozy!) but he’s a patient man and hasn’t waited this long to be with her to give up now.

I never come away from a Bec McMaster book feeling as though I liked one of the principals more than the other, or that the hero didn’t deserve the heroine in the end, or vice versa.  Each one of her couples are well-matched in terms of intelligence, understanding and ability, and the relationships she creates are ones of mutual respect and equality.  Charlie and Lark are a case in point; they’re both extremely good at what they do, and they never underestimate each other’s ability to do what has to be done.  They want to keep each other safe, yes, but there’s no overprotective BS and their trust and confidence in each other is wonderful to see.  Lark is a great heroine; she’s gutsy and intelligent but with a hidden vulnerability that makes her more rounded and Charlie… *sigh*… Charlie is simply gorgeous.  Not just to look at (although a six-feet-plus, broad shouldered, blond Adonis is nothing to be sneezed at!), but he’s kind, intuitive and loyal – it’s his belief that Malloryn would come for him were he in trouble that is the driving force behind the rescue mission – and his willingness to wear his heart on his sleeve for Lark is swoonworthy:

“I missed you so much I could barely breathe, but I needed the time to work out who I was, and you needed the space to grieve. I missed you. Every day. Every night. Every breath I took.”

To Catch a Rogue is a fast-paced, action-packed, intensely romantic adventure that features a couple of terrific principals, an engaging secondary cast of familiar characters (some of the digs at Byrnes had me laughing out loud), truly menacing bad-guys, and a wonderfully complex and superbly executed plot.  I’m eagerly looking forward to the final book (Dukes are Forever) next year, although I’ll also be sad to bid goodbye to this world and these characters.  The London Steampunk books are dangerously addictive, but when they’re this good, who cares?

Barbarous (The Outcasts #2) by Minerva Spencer

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He could be her ruin

Hugh Redvers is supposed to be dead. So the appearance of the sun-bronzed giant with the piratical black eye patch is deeply disturbing to Lady Daphne Davenport. And her instant attraction to the notorious privateer is not only wildly inappropriate for a proper widow but potentially disastrous.Because he is also the man Daphne has secretly cheated of title, lands, and fortune.

She could be his salvation

Daphne Redvers’ distant, untouchable beauty and eminently touchable body are hard enough to resist. But the prim, almost severe, way she looks at him suggests this might be the one woman who can make him forget all the others. His only challenge? Unearthing the enemy who threatens her life . . . and uncovering the secrets in her cool blue eyes.

Rating: B

I thoroughly enjoyed Minvera Spencer’s début novel, Dangerous, and have been looking forward to its follow-up Barbarous, which features the dashing privateer Hugh Redvers, who played an important secondary role in the earlier novel.  I was engaged by the author’s sophisticated, witty writing, and her ability to create rounded and engaging characters who acted and spoke like adults rather than brattish teenagers; her prose and dialogue were definitely above average, and in some cases, well above it, and I was keen to read more of her work.

This second book in her The Outcasts series is somewhat different in tone to the first, and feels more like a traditional historical romance than the first one.  Hugh Redvers, Baron Ramsay and nephew of the Earl of Davenport, has been believed dead for almost twenty years, so his sudden reappearance at his (now deceased) uncle’s Sussex home comes as something of a shock to its mistress.  Banished by the earl because of his disgraceful behaviour, twenty-year-old Hugh left England and was captured by Barbary corsairs off the Gibraltar coast. Sold to the Sultan of Oran, he endured years of suffering and violence before, years later, he engineered his escape and became One-Eyed Standish, captain of the Batavia’s Ghost, King’s Privateer and scourge of the high-seas.  He’s finally returned to England in response to a summons from his oldest friend, who has received letters threatening the lives of the late earl’s widow Daphne and her twin sons, Lucien – the young earl – and Richard.  Hugh arrives at an opportune time; Daphne has just bloodied the nose of her smarmy cousin Malcolm Hastings who is attempting to force her into marriage (and force himself on her).  Seeing her dishevelled state, Hugh quickly draws the boys away and plays with them while she tidies herself and then resumes the picnic they’d originally intended to have.  She’s cool, composed and doesn’t freak out, which I really liked about her.

After Daphne gets over the shock of Hugh’s return she realises she’s got bigger problems than the fact that she’s as hopelessly infatuated with him as she was when she was a ten-year-old girl mooning over her handsome neighbour.  We learn early on that she was raped when she was just seventeen (by the aforementioned smarmy cousin), and that she was left pregnant as a result.  The Earl of Davenport – her mother’s oldest friend – although some fifty years Daphne’s senior, came to her rescue, married her (although they never lived as man and wife) and acknowledged the boys as his when they were born.  But now Hugh has returned, Daphne believes she has deprived him of what is rightfully his (the earldom), and feels dreadfully guilty about it.  Her intense attraction to him only makes things worse; she longs to spend time with him and, being honest with herself, to experience passion and the pleasure she’s sure he is capable of giving her; but knows she has to make plans to leave Lessing Hall as soon as she’s confessed the truth, as Lucien will no longer have any claim to it.

I have to take a quick tangential detour here, because this plot point bugged the hell outta me.

I don’t claim to be an expert on the laws of inheritance in the 19th century, but my understanding is that at this period, a child born to parents who were married at the time of his or her birth was legitimate, regardless of whether the woman’s husband actually provided the sperm.  This means that Lucien is – perfectly legally – the Earl of Davenport.  Would it cause gossip and scandal if there were rumours about Lucien’s true parentage?  Undoubtedly.  But would it make any actual difference to who held the title?  Unlikely.

The problem, then, is that this makes a large part of the plot redundant.  Daphne spends over half the book genuinely intending to tell Hugh the truth and finding reasons to put it off – but other than the fact that she feels terribly guilty, her fessing up wouldn’t actually change anything.

Anyway.

Hugh is a terrific hero.  He’s handsome, funny, sexy and larger-than-life (as well as larger than pretty much everyone else around him!), but he’s also kind, honourable and thoughtful, qualities which show in his every interaction with Daphne’s sons as well as those with Daphne herself, and I loved that he was so self-aware and prepared to let himself show his softer side when it came to Daphne and the boys.  He’s coming up on forty, and is finding his swashbuckling life on the high seas has palled somewhat; having a girl in every port was great for many years, but now, he wants more than just a warm body, he wants a companion, a woman he can enjoy out of bed as well as in it.  The attraction between him and Daphne sparks and crackles, and while the ‘inexperienced widow’ figure is perhaps a little cliché, the author develops their relationship very well.  Daphne gives as good as she gets when it comes to their verbal sparring, and Hugh has a major weakness for women who appear immune to his charm; he’s used to women throwing themselves at him, so having Daphne view him as a mere inconvenience only adds fuel to the fire on his part.

While I liked both principals and found their romance well-done, I had a couple of other issues with the story as a whole which prevent me from giving it a higher grade.  Firstly, there’s the blackmail/kidnap plotline towards the end, in which Daphne has a bit of a personality transplant and the villains are barely two-dimensional.  And then there’s the way the author deals with Daphne’s assault and her memories of it.  I don’t want to give too much away, but it struck me that Ms. Spencer wanted to have her cake and eat it; to provide a reason for Daphne to have to marry the earl and eventually lead to all that guilt at stealing Hugh’s birthright, but make it so that it wouldn’t affect her desire for Hugh or her ability to have sex with him, and I found it rather jarring.

Having said all this, I did enjoy Barbarous, although I wasn’t quite as pulled in to it as I was by Dangerous.  I found myself wondering if this book had been written before Dangerous, as there’s a pivotal scene in which Mia appears which obviously takes place before the events of that book.  I also felt Barbarous was a little less … polished is the only word I can come up with, not so much in terms of the writing and characterisation, but definitely in the case of the plot.  I may well be completely off the mark – it’s just a hunch.

Even with my reservations, I’m going to give Barbarous a cautious recommendation, because the romance is well done and Hugh is a hero to die for.  The plotline is definitely wobbly, but I know I’m extra-picky about accuracy and that there are many for whom something like that will not be an issue.  The writing is a cut above average, the characters are engaging – and the scarcity of decent historical romances this year means that even a flawed one by a talented author is worth checking out.


[One last thing – Ms. Spencer does address the fact that a marriage between an aunt and nephew – even though Hugh and Daphne are not related by blood – was forbidden by church law, even though it wasn’t illegal under the laws of the land. ]

The Duke of Lies (The Untouchables #9) by Darcy Burke (audiobook) – Narrated by Marian Hussey

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

Verity Beaumont has suffered domineering men most of her life; first with her father and then with her husband. Free from both men, she has finally found peace even meeting a kind and hard-working gentleman who just might be the perfect father her young son so desperately needs. But as she dares look to the future, her carefully ordered world is shattered when her dead husband returns.

After six years away, Rufus Beaumont, Duke of Blackburn, returns to claim his place and protect his family. Only, the life he finds is not the life he left, and he must convince his wife that their marriage is worth fighting for; that he’s not the man he was.

When the truth about what happened to him leaks out, he must prove that not everything about him, especially his love for her, is a lie.

Rating: Narration – A- : Content – B

I’ve read and/or listened to a number of the books in Darcy Burke’s The Untouchables series and generally enjoyed them, but what attracted me specifically to The Duke of Lies was the fact that the premise is reminiscent of one of my favourite films, The Return of Martin Guerre. Set in medieval France, a man returns to his village – and his wife – after a long absence and is welcomed and accepted by all… until doubts begin to creep in as to whether he really is who he says he is. (The film was remade in the 1990s as Sommersby, and the setting shifted to the American Civil War).

In The Duke of Lies, the returning character is Rufus Beaumont, Duke of Blackburn, who has been absent for six-and-a-half years after disappearing without explanation during a visit to London. His wife, Verity, is not exactly heart-broken at her husband’s continued absence; he was a thoroughly unpleasant, boorish man who routinely ill-treated her and humiliated her, and she was actually relieved at the news of his sudden disappearance. At the beginning of the book, she is visiting an old retainer, the former steward of Beaumont Tower (Blackburn’s seat in the north of England), with her young son, Beau, whom she hadn’t known she was expecting until after she learned her husband had vanished without a trace. She has become concerned of late with the behaviour of the current steward – a man who was appointed by her interfering father – and has decided it’s time to do something about it and plans to dismiss him. Feeling lighter now that she’s made the decision, she returns home only to have her peace and happiness shattered by a completely unexpected – and unwelcome – arrival. Rufus.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.