Unfit to Print by K.J. Charles


This title may be purchased from Amazon

When crusading lawyer Vikram Pandey sets out in search of a missing youth, his investigations take him to Holywell Street, London’s most notorious address. He expects to find a disgraceful array of sordid bookshops. He doesn’t expect one of them to be run by the long-lost friend whose disappearance and presumed death he’s been mourning for thirteen years.

Gil Lawless became a Holywell Street bookseller for his own reasons, and he’s damned if he’s going to apologise or listen to moralising from anyone. Not even Vikram; not even if the once-beloved boy has grown into a man who makes his mouth water.

Now the upright lawyer and the illicit bookseller need to work together to track down the missing youth. And on the way, they may even learn if there’s more than just memory and old affection binding them together…

Rating: A-

K.J. Charles always finds fresh, new angles to pursue in her stories and peoples them with characters in unusual walks of life – and her new novella, Unfit to Print, is no exception.  Set in late Victorian London, one of the protagonists is a purveyor of naughty books and has a shop in Holywell Street, which was, at that time, the centre of London’s porn trade; while the other is a somewhat uptight lawyer who views the whole business with a degree of distaste.  The novella boasts a mystery to be solved, a relationship to be rekindled and a mountain of filth to be shifted, and all of it is deftly and expertly done in well under two hundred pages.

Vikram Pandey and Gilbert Lawless are from minority – albeit fairly well-do-do – backgrounds, and met at boarding school several years before the story opens.  Vik’s father had been a high-ranking government official in India, while Gil is the result of a liaison between a black housemaid and a wealthy gentleman who publicly acknowledged him, paid for his education and treated him as a son.  Gil and Vik bonded at school and became the best of friends in spite of the fundamental differences in their natures, Gil seeming never to have a care in the world while Vik was always a little uptight and reserved. But one day when they were sixteen, both their lives were upended when Gil disappeared without warning or a word to anyone.  Vik was devastated, but his enquiries at school were always met with stony silence and disapproval, and eventually he stopped asking about or looking for Gil, believing him to be dead. He must be, or surely he’d have got word to Vik somehow, to tell him what happened.

In fact, Gil was removed from school and pretty much cast onto the streets on the day his father died and his half-brother inherited the estate.  Gil begged and scraped a living and now runs a small bookshop on Holywell Street near the Strand which, at that time, contained the largest concentration of porn shops in England.  Gilbert Lawless, Bookseller is Gil’s two-fingered-salute to the brother who, he later learned, cheated him out of his father’s last bequest, as well as to the “kind of respectability that means keeping other people in line while you do as you please.”

He is surprised when his cousin Percy asks him to attend Matthew Lawes’ funeral – and not at all surprised when he discovers there was an ulterior motive for inviting him. It seems his uncle was a connoisseur of pornography of all sorts, and faced with a massive library of books and photographs which could cause the family huge embarrassment, (not to mention large fines and possible imprisonment!)  they want Gil to take it all away and dispose of it.  Gil isn’t interested in most of it, but some of the books – one of them particularly rare – catch his eye, so he decides he might as well get what he can out of it, and agrees to have the lot transported to his shop.  It’s when he’s looking through some of the photographs that he recognises the likeness of a young lad – a rent boy – named Errol, who was found dead in a local alley just three weeks earlier.

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

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Quickie Reviews #1

Given that both my TBR and TBL are normally fairly full of review copies, I don’t always get many opportunities to read or listen to books that I’m not reviewing somewhere. But lately, I’ve been getting through a large number of audiobooks due to the fact that I have a thirty-minute commute each day, and that when I get home, looking at words on a page sends me to sleep so it’s easier to listen than to read!

I like to keep track of my reading/listening, so even though I haven’t got time to write full-length reviews for these titles, I’ve posted short reviews on GoodReads and thought I might as well put them here as well, given this blog is supposed to be the Place Where I Review All The Things. (One day, I might even get around to using it that way!)

So here are some quickie reviews for audiobooks I’ve listened to over the past few weeks.


Clockwork Tangerine by Rhys Ford, narrated by Greg Tremblay

The British Empire reigns supreme, and its young Queen Victoria has expanded her realm to St. Francisco, a bustling city of English lords and Chinese ghettos. St. Francisco is a jewel in the Empire’s crown and as deeply embroiled in the conflict between the Arcane and Science as its sister city, London—a very dark and dangerous battle.

Marcus Stenhill, Viscount of Westwood, stumbles upon that darkness when he encounters a pack of young bloods beating a man senseless. Westwood’s duty and honor demand he save the man, but he’s taken aback to discover the man is Robin Harris, a handsome young inventor indirectly responsible for the death of Marcus’s father.

Living in the shadows following a failed coup, Robin devotes his life to easing others’ pain, even though his creations are considered mechanical abominations of magicks and science. Branded a deviant and a murderer, Robin expects the viscount to run as far as he can—and is amazed when Marcus reaches for him instead.

Rating: Narration – B+ : Content – C+

An enjoyable steampunk novella/short story set in a recognisable alternative Victorian London that plants lots of threads and ideas – I’m guessing for a series that has never materialised? And that’s a shame, because the world-building is richly imagined and the two central characters – a viscount (although the author needs a bit of guidance about the use of titles and inheritance, because a third son would not have a courtesy title) and an inventor – are likeable and intriguing. This review pretty much encapsulates my thoughts 🙂

I’ve heard Greg Tremblay’s British accent before, although he didn’t have to sustain it as long as here; he does an extremely good job with both central characters, although one of the secondary cast (a female doctor) does sometimes sound more Antipodean than Cockney (a fairly common problem with American narrators who Bring the Brit) but for the most part, he does a superb job. Just one thing, Greg – I love you to bits, but “duke” is NOT pronounced “dook” on this side of the pond! (More like “juke” – just sayin’).

If this ever expands into a full series, I’ll definitely be picking it up.


Third Solstice by Harper Fox, narrated by Tim Gilbert


Gideon’s managed to swing a few festive days off, and he and Lee are looking forward to celebrating their little girl’s first birthday. But duty calls, and Gideon is too good an officer to ignore the summons. He finds himself on the streets of Penzance, helping police the midwinter Montol celebrations.

It’s his third winter solstice with Lee, and disturbance, danger and magic are in the air. His daughter is beginning to show some remarkable gifts, and not all the family can cope with them. As the Montol festivities reach their fiery heights, will Lee and Gideon find a way to keep those they love best on the right side of the solstice gate?

Rating: Narration – A- : Content – B

Another charming – though short – visit with the Tyack-Frayne household, as baby Tamsyn approaches her first birthday and is showing signs of the magical and supernatural abilities that run in her bloodline. The focus is firmly on the domestic here; Lee and Gideon are more in love than ever and their time as new parents is brilliantly depicted – anyone who has had to cope with the chaos of having a young child/toddler in the house will be nodding their heads sagely at the descriptions of shirts stained with breakfasts or sticky hands!

Zeke and Ma Frayne are back, and we also bump into a number of other characters we’ve met throughout the series, and – as is the case with each of the books in the series – we’re given more glimpses of the supernatural world of Dark and Cornish/Celtic folklore; it’s a bit bonkers sometimes, but I love it.

Narrator Tim Gilbert does a spectacular job once again; he captures Lee, Gid and Zeke so perfectly, and his narration is wonderfully nuanced and hits all the right emotional notes. Recommended.


All Kinds of Tied Down by Mary Calmes, narrated by Tristan James

Deputy US Marshal Miro Jones has a reputation for being calm and collected under fire. These traits serve him well with his hotshot partner, Ian Doyle, the kind of guy who can start a fight in an empty room. In the past three years of their life-and-death job, they’ve gone from strangers to professional coworkers to devoted teammates and best friends. Miro’s cultivated blind faith in the man who has his back…faith and something more.

As a marshal and a soldier, Ian’s expected to lead. But the power and control that brings Ian success and fulfillment in the field isn’t working anywhere else. Ian’s always resisted all kinds of tied down, but having no home – and no one to come home to – is slowly eating him up inside. Over time, Ian has grudgingly accepted that going anywhere without his partner simply doesn’t work. Now Miro just has to convince him that getting tangled up in heartstrings isn’t being tied down at all.

Rating: Narration – B : Content – B

An enjoyable m/m romantic suspense story featuring two US Marshals, All Kinds of Tied Down is my first experience with author Mary Calmes. The first half of the story is somewhat disjointed, although I suppose that’s largely due to the nature of the job these guys do; I’m not too well-versed in who does what when it comes to US law enforcement, but if I’ve understood correctly, these are the guys who are sent to pick up and escort prisoners and oversee witness protection and things like that, which means this is a bit different from your normal police procedural when the characters will follow a case from beginning to end. There’s a meatier plotline that runs from about the halfway point, but what the earlier section does well is set up the two central characters; the fashion conscious, organised Miro(slav) Jones, an all-round nice guy nobody seems to have a bad word to say about, and his partner, Ian Doyle, who is also a Captain with the Green Berets (I have no idea how that works, but I went with it). Ian is prickly, snarky and a slob – so we’ve got a bit of an odd couple thing going on. Oh, and he’s straight, which is hell for Miro who has a serious crush on him.

The author sets up their friendship well – Ian is a regular pain in the arse and everyone says that he’s only bearable when Miro is around – and because the story is told through Miro’s PoV, we recognise all the signs he misses that Ian might not be as out of Miro’s reach as he thinks he is. It’s a decent story with likeable characters – not the best I’ve ever come across, but it’s entertaining and the banter and teasing between Ian and Miro is well done.

Tristan James narrates – I’ve listened to him a few times now and he delivers an entertaining performance, although sometimes there wasn’t sufficient differentiation between the principals, but he does a good job overall, his narration is well paced and he captures the spirit of the central relationship really well.

This is a four book series, so I’ll probably pick up book two at some point and see how it goes.


HIM by Sarina Bowen and Elle Kennedy, narrated by Jacob Morgan and Teddy Hamilton

They don’t play for the same team. Or do they?

Jamie Canning has never been able to figure out how he lost his closest friend. Four years ago, his tattooed, wise-cracking, rule-breaking roommate cut him off without an explanation. So what if things got a little weird on the last night of hockey camp the summer they were eighteen? It was just a little drunken foolishness. Nobody died.

Ryan Wesley’s biggest regret is coaxing his very straight friend into a bet that pushed the boundaries of their relationship. Now, with their college teams set to face off at the national championship, he’ll finally get a chance to apologize. But all it takes is one look at his longtime crush, and the ache is stronger than ever.

Jamie has waited a long time for answers, but walks away with only more questions—can one night of sex ruin a friendship? If not, how about six more weeks of it? When Wesley turns up to coach alongside Jamie for one more hot summer at camp, Jamie has a few things to discover about his old friend…and a big one to learn about himself.

Rating: Narration – A- : Content – B+

NA (I’m calling it that because the two main characters are in their early 20s) isn’t my normal cuppa, but I’ve heard many good things about this story – and the narration – that I thought I’d give it a go and picked it up in an Audible sale recently.

It’s a superbly done friends-to-lovers / sexual awakening story featuring two likeable protagonists; cocky, loudmouthed Wes is out, long-time friend Jamie has no idea he’s not completely straight. Sweet, funny and hot, it’s very well narrated and was definitely worth a listen.


Guardians of the Haunted Moor by Harper Fox, narrated by Tim Gilbert

The wedding is just the beginning…Gideon and Lee have spent a year in chaotic married bliss, with all the trimmings – a dog, tricky in-laws, and a baby girl they both adore. But even the best of lives can be fragile, and a shocking family loss hits their new world like a demolition ball.

Gideon has little energy left to investigate a murder that’s taken place in the fields outside Dark. He still has his duties to his community, though, and with Lee at his side, he begins to unfold the mysterious death of Farmer John Bowe. It’s harvest time, ancient West Country magic in the air, and rumors are flying through the village of an enemy Gideon thought he’d left behind long ago.

Can the beast of Bodmin possibly be real? Everything in Gideon’s stoical police-sergeant’s nature says no. But Lee has taught him to see the world differently, and now they must pool their resources to unmask a killer before more lives are lost – and somehow find a way to mend their shattered family, too.

Rating: Narration – A- : Content – A-

I love this series, and this fifth instalment doesn’t disappoint. Gideon and Lee have been happily married for six months and are preparing to adopt a child – Lee’s niece – but unfortunately things don’t go to plan, leaving them both bereft. But there’s no time for them to process or grieve properly; a horribly mutilated body is discovered at one of the local farms, and with rumours once again circulating about the Beast of Bodmin, it’s up to Gideon to find out the truth.

I love the way the author blends the mundane and the supernatural in these stories; Cornish myths, rituals and ancient folklore all combine to create an atmosphere of eerie uncertainty, and the devastation Gideon and Lee feel over the sudden upset of their cherished plans is palpable. The characters are well-established by now – Lee and Gideon of course, but also Gideon’s brother, Ezekiel, and his “right on” mother, both of whom have important roles to play in the story and in the life of the central couple.

Tim Gilbert’s narration is – again – spot on and thoroughly enjoyable. I know these stories are novella length and thus quite short when compared to many audiobooks, but believe me, they really are worth the credits.


I’ve optimistically titled this as Quickies #1.  Hopefully, I’ll have time for more in future.

The Negotiator (Games People Play #2.5) by HelenKay Dimon

This title may be purchased from Amazon.

Lauren Gallagher’s life changed almost three years ago. After her husband disappeared at sea, she was left with a failing pleasure boat company and more than a few secrets. Now, after years spent rebuilding the business and paying off the pile of debts, she finally feels in control. But when she finds her husband, actually dead, on the floor, she becomes the leading suspect in his murder investigation.

Garrett McGrath wants Lauren in his bed, not his heart. He doesn’t do emotions, but every time he sees her, holding himself back gets harder and harder. When Lauren comes under suspicion for killing her previously presumed-dead husband, he knows he has to help her, any way he can.

But as the danger becomes more intense and Garret and Lauren grow closer than either planned, they’re in danger of losing everything…including their hearts.

Rating: C+

In HelenKay Dimon’s Games People Play series, the heroes are all men who bonded in their youth when they were taken under the wing of someone named Quint, who saved them from the downward spirals they were in, helped all of them learn to utilise their unique skill-sets and set them on the straight and narrow.

Years later, the ‘Quint Five’ are all well-placed and powerful individuals who are often called upon by government departments and law enforcement to undertake missions and cases that they can’t touch.  In book one, The Fixer, we met Wren – an enigmatic man whose speciality is making problems go away – and his second-in-command, former Black Ops, professional negotiator, Garrett McGrath.

In The Enforcer (book two) Garrett was sent along to ride shotgun on the mission undertaken by Matthias Clarke, another of the five, whose private security firm is often used by Wren in the course of his business.  Garrett immediately captured my attention; his gregarious, wise-cracking ways were such a contrast to the gruff, taciturn Matthias (I do love a smart-mouthed charmer!) and so many tough-guy heroes are dark, brooding and almost miserable that it was a refreshing change to come across one who knew how to lighten up.   I’ve been looking forward to his book, but I confess that I’d hoped for a full-length novel rather than a novella.  I’m not the greatest fan of novellas anyway (few authors really know how to get them right) and Garrett is such a great character that he deserved more page time.

The Negotiator picks up a few months after the events of The Enforcer, which took place in the small, seafront town in Annapolis where Matthias was searching for a woman named Kayla Roy who was suspected of murder.   One of the secondary characters in the book was Kayla’s friend, Lauren Gallagher, who runs a pleasure boat and fishing tour business; and for the past few months, a rather smitten Garrett has travelled regularly to Annapolis to spend time with Lauren, who adamantly refuses to go on a date with him.  She tries to tell him it’s because she’s older than he is (by five years) or because she was a mess and … he could do better.  But Garrett is a shrewd man and knows there’s more to it than that – and he has his theories as to what that ‘more’ is.  Still, the one thing Lauren hasn’t said is that she’s not interested, so he continues to hope that she will eventually open up and let him in.

Lauren’s husband, Carl, died in a boating accident three years earlier, after he ran off with a younger woman and left their business on the verge of bankruptcy, but Lauren has never really believed he’s dead.  She had to keep her suspicions to herself so that she could fight her way through all the legal red-tape that would enable her to take control of her tour company and home, and she has worked tirelessly to rebuild her business and put it back into the black.  So when Carl shows up at her door one day, she’s not completely surprised – but she IS furious at the fact that he expects to just waltz back into her life as if nothing has happened.  Lauren’s usual self-contained detachment deserts her, and for the first time in her life, she finds herself asking someone for help.

When Garrett receives Lauren’s message, he’s about to board a plane to San Francisco where he’s due to make a pre-Christmas visit to see his aunt and cousin.  Garrett’s parents died on Christmas Eve when he was nineteen, so he doesn’t celebrate, preferring to spend Christmas holed up alone somewhere, but Lauren needs him and he doesn’t hesitate; with apologies to his family, he makes his way to Annapolis, where he finds a clearly shaken Lauren even more reserved and evasive than he is used to.

But her problems have only just begun.  Returning from a trip to collect take-out, Lauren and Garrett return to her cottage to find a once-and-for-all, very dead Carl lying on her kitchen floor… and Lauren at the top of the list of suspects.

What we’ve got here is basically a whodunnit with a fairly short list of suspects; the girlfriend, the brother (who is carrying a torch for Lauren) and the shady business partner.  It’s not difficult to guess where to point the finger, and although the author does try to throw readers off the scent, it doesn’t really work.  I enjoyed meeting Garrett again and the snarky back-and-forth between him and Matthias that was so great in the previous book was just as good here, but I can’t help feeling that Garrett was wasted in this story; for a book in a romantic suspense series, there is little suspense and not much action of the sort I’ve come to expect from the genre.  The romance fares a little better, however, the fact that Lauren and Garrett have known each other for a while and have been seeing each other in a friendly, non-dating way for months helping to make their progression to a sexual relationship more believable.  There is a clear mutual respect and understanding that indicates they have a strong basis for a relationship, but still, I’d have liked to see those non-dates and watch their relationship unfold over time.  I’ve seen a few reviews suggesting that Garrett and Lauren’s romance must have begun in the previous book, but I checked and it doesn’t; there are suggestions that maybe Garrett is attracted to Lauren, but that’s about it.

Can I recommend The Negotiator?  I think readers who are following the series will probably enjoy it, but I can’t honestly say it’s a good place for a newcomer to start or is a particularly strong example of a romantic suspense story.  The pacing is fairly pedestrian and the mystery isn’t very mysterious or suspenseful.  I read it for Garrett – sarcastic, charming, sinfully handsome Garrett – who is every bit as attractive here as he was in the last book. I just wish he’d been showcased in a more interesting story.

Scandal at the Christmas Ball by Marguerite Kaye and Bronwyn Scott


This title may be purchased from Amazon

One Christmas house party leads to two Regency love affairs! 

A Governess for Christmas by Marguerite Kaye 

At the glittering Brockmore house party, former army major Drummond MacIntosh meets governess in disgrace Joanna Forsythe, who’s desperate to clear her name. Both are eager to put their pasts behind them, but their scandalous affair will make for a very different future…

Dancing with the Duke’s Heir by Bronwyn Scott 

As heir to a dukedom, Vale Penrith does not want a wife, and certainly not one like Lady Viola Hawthorne. So why does London’s Shocking Beauty tempt him beyond reason? Dare he try and tame her, or is a Christmas seduction the best way to bring her to surrender?

Rating: B (B+ for the Kaye, C for the Scott)

Scandal at the Christmas Ball is the second collaboration between historical romance authors Marguerite Kaye and Bronwyn Scott, and, like their previous work, Scandal at the Midsummer Ball, takes place at the country estate of the Duke and Duchess of Brockmore, a widely liked, respected and highly influential couple who are regarded as powerbrokers within the ton and whose invitations are much sought after.

Among their guests this Yuletide are the duke’s nephew and heir, Vale Penrith, Lady Viola Hawthorne, a shockingly fast young woman who goes out of her way to do and say outrageous things, and a former officer of the Scots Guards, Drummond MacIntosh, whose army career ended somewhat ignominiously three years earlier, just after the Battle of Waterloo.


A Governess for Christmas by Marguerite Kaye (Grade: B+)

Ms. Kaye is one of the few authors of historical romance who regularly writes about untitled, non-aristocratic progatonists, and she continues that trend in this poignant, tender and sometimes heart-wrenching story about an ex-army officer and an ill-treated, down-on-her-luck governess who find each other one Christmas but who will face some difficult choices if they are ever to make a life together.

Drummond MacIntosh has lived a somewhat reclusive existence for the past three-and-a-half years owing to the huge scandal that attended his catastrophic fall from grace.  With his reputation in tatters, he has finally accepted that he needs help if he is ever going to claw his way back from ruin and carve out a new and useful existence.  No less a personage than the Duke of Wellington himself arranged Drummond’s invitation to the Brockmores’ Christmas house party, but as Drummond wryly notes, the Duke wouldn’t have done such a thing if it hadn’t been ultimately useful to himself; he needs a man of Drummond’s good sense, practicality and ability to lead men at his back and is presenting Drummond to Brockmore “for inspection” as it were.  The whole thing leaves a bitter taste in Drummond’s mouth; he doesn’t want to be beholden to Wellington (or to anyone) and certainly not on terms which attempt to brush years of exile under the carpet and blame Drummond for acting as his conscience dictated.

Drummond’s situation is mirrored by that of Miss Joanna Forsythe, a governess who has been invited to the party so she can meet a prospective employer.  Joanna had a comfortable position in the household of Lady Christina Robertson, but has been reduced to teaching at a ramshackle school in return for her bed and board, after she was wrongly accused of theft and dismissed without a character. Like Drummond, she has been invited to the Brockmores with a view to improving her situation, but also like him, the hoped for “improvement” falls short.  Joanna had hoped for an apology after her innocence was discovered and the real culprit owned up. But instead, her former employer wants to buy her off by the offer of an excellent new position and a sum of money.

Even before they know of the similarities of their respective situations, Drummond and Joanna are strongly drawn to each other and very soon find themselves exchanging confidences… and increasingly heated kisses.  I admit that the pair progresses to this stage rather quickly but Ms. Kaye creates such a strong emotional connection between them, and imbues their burgeoning relationship with such depth and longing that it’s possible to overlook its somewhat speedy beginning.  This is a pair of ordinary people in very difficult circumstances who demonstrate the importance of a spotless reputation to those who had to earn their living, for without it, there was little to no chance of their ever securing decent employment. But with Drummond on the verge of a prestigious appointment and a return from the cold, how can Joanna – and her tarnished reputation – stand in his way?

This is a beautifully wrought, heartfelt romance between two people in difficult circumstances.  I was completely gripped by Drummond’s story and applaud Ms. Kaye for the introduction of a character motivated by compassion whose actions were so misunderstood and reviled.  He’s not a character-type I’ve read in historical romance before, and I could be singing the author’s praises for that alone.  But added to a very well-crafted romance and a strong, determined heroine in the form of Joanna, A Governess for Christmas  makes my list of favourite seasonal reads.


Dancing with the Duke’s Heir by Bronwyn Scott (Grade: C)

In this story, a rather proper gentleman finds himself reluctantly fascinated by the most unsuitable sort of woman he could ever have imagined would attract him.  Vale Penrith, heir to the Duke of Brockmore, has still not recovered from the deaths of his father and older brother some years ago, and continues to find his role as a ducal heir somewhat ill-fitting.  He really would prefer to be left to his own devices in the library, but knows he will have to do his bit and take part in the various activities planned for the duration of the party.  He is also aware that while the Brockmores’ Christmas parties don’t have the same match-making reputation as their summer affairs, his uncle has a prospective bride lined up for him – something else he doesn’t want anything to do with.

Lady Viola Hawthorne, daughter of the Duke and Duchess of Calton, is a determined, high-spirited woman whose deepest desire is to go to Vienna to study music.  “The Shocking Beauty” as she is known, has quite the scandalous reputation, all of it designed to put off any suitors so she can remain unwed and pursue her dreams of Vienna and a musical career.  She reckons that one final, massive scandal at the Brockmores’ party should do the trick once and for all and cause her parents to give up on their attempts to marry her off.  Hence her decision to climb a ladder to hang mistletoe from a chandelier in the hall while wearing no underwear; perched at the top, affording the crowd of young men below a glimpse of her ankles (and possibly other things besides) she manages to achieve her end just before the ladder wobbles and she falls – literally – into the arms of Vale Penrith, who is appalled and annoyed at such reckless, outrageous behaviour.

Viola likes what she sees, but Penrith, while gorgeous, is a stuffed shirt and not at all the sort of man she’d be interested in.  But when her friend, Lady Anne, tells Viola that her parents are trying to arrange a match with Penrith while she – Anne – is in love with someone else, Viola agrees to help her out by providing a distraction.  The problem is that she finds herself being distracted by Vale – who is not at all the cold fish she had first imagined – as much as he is distracted by her, and the more time they spend together, the more they discover about what lies behind their social masks and the more they are drawn together.

I have to say straight off that I really didn’t care for Viola in this story.  I admired her desire to forge her own path in her life, but her methods – which are, basically, to shock as many people as often as possible – are childish, and she behaves more like a mistress or courtesan than a duke’s daughter, drinking spirits, smoking and playing billiards with the men.  I’m sure not all young ladies at this time were as pure and virginal as fiction would have us believe, but Viola goes a little too far in the opposite direction for my taste.  Vale is much more likeable, but because I disliked the heroine, it was difficult to understand what he saw in her beyond the physical and I found it difficult to believe that two people possessed of such opposing personality types could forge a lasting relationship.

If you’re more tolerant of the spoiled and outrageous type of heroine than I am, this story might work better for you than it did for me.


Ultimately, Scandal at the Christmas Ball is something of an uneven read, but is worth it for the Kaye story alone.

Once Upon a Maiden Lane (Maiden Lane #12.5) by Elizabeth Hoyt

This title may be purchased from Amazon.

Miss Mary Whitsun is far too intelligent to fall for the rakish charms of a handsome aristocrat. But when the gentleman in question approaches her in a bookshop, mistaking her for his fiancée, Lady Johanna Albright, the flirtatious encounter only raises more questions. Could Mary, a servant raised in a St Giles orphanage, actually be Lady Joanna’s long-lost twin sister? If so, Mary has been betrothed since birth—to the rakishly handsome artistocrat himself.

Henry Collins, Viscount Blackwell, is far too intrigued by Mary to let her go so easily. He’s drawn to her sharp mind, indomitable spirit, and the fiery way in which she dismisses him—ladies simply don’t dismiss Lord Blackwell. But as Mary makes her first hesitant steps into society, she can’t help but wonder if she truly has a place in Henry’s world—or in his heart.

Rating: C+

While Duke of Desire is the final full-length book in Elizabeth Hoyt’s long-running and incredibly popular Maiden Lane series, that wasn’t quite The End, as the author is treating us to a novella or two to round the series off and, in Once Upon a Maiden Lane, brings us back to where it all began – the streets and slums of the St. Giles area of London.

Some of the reviews I’ve read of Duke of Desire made mention of the fact that the book didn’t really feel like the end of a series; most of the time, such books feature cameos from characters from the previous books, filling pages with happy families as everyone catches up with each other. That doesn’t happen in Duke of Desire, and I, for one, was glad of it, because it would have been much too implausible and would have detracted from the main story. Instead, Ms. Hoyt kept her powder dry and has presented us with Once Upon a Maiden Lane – a novella featuring Mary Whitsun, who appeared regularly in the earlier books as one of the older orphan girls raised at the Home for Unfortunate Infants and Foundling Children run by the Makepeace family. (This will be followed in December by Once Upon a Christmas Eve, which will feature a very long-awaited story for Viscount D’Arque).

As is implied by the title, this story has a bit of the fairy-tale about it. Mary is a young woman now, and resides in the household of Lord and Lady Caire (Wicked Intentions) where she is employed as a nursemaid to the Caires’ two young children.  On her afternoon off, she is browsing in a bookshop when she is approached by an extremely handsome young man – clearly an aristocrat – and addressed as Lady Joanna.  Mary, who is distrustful of handsomeness and even more distrustful of it when it comes in an aristocratic package, makes clear to the gentleman, who introduces himself as Henry Collins, Viscount Blackwell, that she does not find his joke at all funny; but when his friend, John Seymour, also points out Mary’s strong resemblance to Lady Joanna Albright, she becomes very suspicious.  It seems that the very same year she was left at the orphanage, the twin daughters of the Earl of Angrove were abducted, and while one of them, Lady Joanna, was subsequently returned to her family, the elder twin, Lady Cecilia, was not.  Blackwell, who was betrothed to Cecilia as a boy, is expected to marry Joanna instead but isn’t keen.  She’s like a sister to him, and besides, she’s in love with someone else.  Enchanted by Mary’s loveliness and her spirited response to him, Blackwell is determined to prove that she is Lady Cecilia – and then to make her his wife as originally intended.

Once Upon a Maiden Lane is more or less your basic Cinderella story, although this being Elizabeth Hoyt, it’s not quite that simple.  It seems that someone isn’t wild about Lady Cecilia’s return and doesn’t waste any time in trying to harm Mary; and while the ladies of the Albright family – her mother, sister and grandmother – welcome Mary with open arms, the Earl is less than friendly towards his long-lost daughter…

The romance between Mary and Blackwell is nicely done, if a little rushed, and, as one would expect of such an accomplished storyteller, the writing is deft, humorous, poignant and laced with the sort of earthy sensuality that is Ms. Hoyt’s trademark.  I did, however scratch my head at the inclusion of the excerpts from The Curious Mermaid, the ‘legend’ which graces the opening of each chapter, which is basically The Little Mermaid subverted; and honestly, I didn’t quite see why it was there other than to preserve continuity with the rest of the books in the series.

Those hoping for the big Maiden Lane reunion that didn’t happen in Duke of Desire will find it here, although Ms. Hoyt very wisely doesn’t include speaking parts for everyone!  I had to smile at the name bestowed upon Val’s (the Duke of Montgomery) three-year-old daughter, which is every bit as flamboyant as one would expect given who her father is; and it was nice to check in with some of the characters we haven’t seen or heard of for a while.

Once Upon a Maiden Lane is a charming little story that makes a nice coda to the series, but ultimately, it suffers from novella-itis – an underdeveloped story and characters.  I was grateful for the chance to go back to where it all began, but ultimately, this is one for the fans.

Snowdrift and Other Stories by Georgette Heyer

This title may be purchased from Amazon

Previously titled Pistols for Two, this collection includes three of Heyer’s earliest short stories, published together in book form for the very first time. A treat for all fans of Georgette Heyer, and for those who love stories full of romance and intrigue.

Affairs of honour between bucks and blades, rakes and rascals; affairs of the heart between heirs and orphans, beauties and bachelors; romance, intrigue, escapades and duels at dawn. All the gallantry, villainy and elegance of the age that Georgette Heyer has so triumphantly made her own are exquisitely revived in these wonderfully romantic stories of the Regency period.

Rating: B

If you’re already a fan of the great Georgette Heyer – the author who pretty much invented the Regency Romance single-handedly – then it won’t take much persuasion from me to send you in the direction of this newly re-issued collection of the author’s short stories, most of them written for and published in prestigious women’s magazines of the 1930s. There are fourteen in this collection, of which eleven were previously published in the anthology Pistols for Two; Snowdrift features those plus three that have been newly discovered by the author’s biographer, Jennifer Kloester. Is it worth obtaining this new collection to read those new stories? On balance, I’d say that yes, it is, especially as one of the new stories (Pursuit) turned out to be one of my favourites of the set.

I don’t plan on reviewing each individual story here, as that would take more space than I have, so instead I’ll cherry pick as, like most anthologies, there are some excellent stories and some not quite so good ones. Each one features character types and plot elements that will be familiar to regular readers of historical romance; cross-dressing heroines, elopements, mistaken identity, dashing military men, second-chance romance, duels, high-stakes card games, regency-slang and, best of all, those handsome, authoritative heroes and their intelligent, witty heroines. Fans of the author’s will no doubt recognise the seeds of some of the plots and characters who later appear in some of her full-length novels here, too. I’ll also add a couple of words of caution. While very enjoyable, this is an anthology best dipped in and out of rather than read all at once; and these are short stories, so some of the romances are fairly perfunctory and in many cases, rely on insta-love. I’m not a fan, but in this case, it’s mostly forgivable due to the short length and the fact that the stories are beautifully written and enjoyable for so many other things besides the romances, so full are they of Heyer’s trademark laser-sharp social observation, sparkling dialogue and clever characterisations.

And so to the cherry picking. Pistols for Two is a rather unusual story in that it turns a frequently used trope on its head. Two lifelong friends discover that they are in love with the same young woman – another childhood friend who has grown into a beauty – and through misunderstanding and mischance, end up facing each other on the field of honour. Told through both their points of view, the young lady in question is a peripheral character and the author does a terrific job of describing the prickly, adolescent pride of the two young gents.

In A Clandestine Affair, we have an older hero and heroine who clearly share some sort of romantic history. Elinor Tresilian’s niece, Lucy, wants badly to marry the man she loves, Mr. Arthur Roseby, who happens to be the cousin of Lord Iver – who is vehemently opposed to the match. As it happens, Miss Tresilian is not overly in favour either, but headstrong Lucy is determined to have her way. When the couple elopes, Elinor and Lord Iver set off in pursuit, bickering and sniping along the Great North Road until… they aren’t.

A Husband for Fanny sees the young widow, Honoria Wingham, shepherding her lovely daughter, Fanny through the Season and hoping to secure the best and wealthiest husband for her. The Marquis of Harleston is certainly most attentive and would be an excellent match… so why does Honoria feel just the tiniest pang of jealousy when she sees how well the marquis and her daughter get along? You can see the twist in this one coming a mile off, but it’s an engaging story nonetheless.

To Have the Honour. Newly returned from war, young Lord Allerton discovers he has inherited a mountain of debt along with his title. His mother, however, is still spending money at the old rate, because Allerton has all but been betrothed to his cousin Hetty since the cradle; as she is a great heiress, once they are married their money woes will be over. But Allerton dislikes the idea of marrying for money and tells Hetty that he will not hold her to the arrangement between their families and she is free to choose for herself. Some timely scheming behind the scenes means that all ends well.

Hazard is one of my favourites; in it a young woman is staked in a game of chance by her weaselly half-brother, and is ‘won’ by the very drunk Marquis of Carlington. Foxed though he is, Carlington admires Helen’s spirit and insists they leave for Gretna Green right away. Helen is remarkably matter-of-fact about the whole thing, and I loved the way she issued a little payback to her not-swain the next day. Their dash to Scotland is fortuitously interrupted – by Carlington’s fiancée, no less…

Of the three new stories, Pursuit, Runaway Match and Incident on the Bath Road, the first is my favourite, being another elopement story in which an older couple once again takes centre stage. Mary Fairfax and the Earl of Shane are pursuing his ward (and her charge) Lucilla, who has eloped with the man she loves, Mr. Monksley, who will shortly be shipping out to the Peninsula with his regiment. In Runaway Match, the lovely Miss Paradise convinces her friend, Rupert, to elope with her so she can foil her father’s plans to marry her to the old, odious Sir Roland. She has never met her intended, but is horrified to realise he has followed them all the way to Stamford. Or has he? And in Incident on the Bath Road, the handsome, wealthy but ennui-laden Lord Reveley (always courted, never caught) is on his way to Bath when he encounters a chaise accident and takes up the young Mr. Brown who explains that he has urgent business in the city. This urgent business turns out to be going to the aid of the lovely Miss X, who is going to be forced into a distasteful marriage… and Reveley’s life turns out not to be quite so boring after all.

While Georgette Heyer’s full-length novel allow her strengths – tightly-written plots, characterisation and witty banter – to shine fully, there are enough glimpses of all those things in these short stories to make them well worth reading, whether you’re a long-time fan (as I am) or a newcomer to her work. Snowdrift and Other Stories is just the book to have on hand when you don’t have time to settle into a full-length novel and want a quick romance fix.

Tequila Sunrise (Agents Irish and Whiskey #3.5) by Layla Reyne

This title may be purchased from Amazon

Former FBI agent Melissa “Mel” Cruz spent years skirting the line between life and death, knowing the next assignment might be her last. Back from overseas and eager to enjoy life outside the Bureau, she’s ready to give Danny Talley a Christmas Eve he’ll never forget.

A proven asset in high-stakes missions, Danny’s known for having the skill and brains to get the job done. When the Talley flagship is hijacked during the company holiday party, he’ll do anything to save his family, his love and everything they’ve all worked so hard to build. But their enemies have a secondary protocol—leave no survivors—and that plan is already in play.

Navigating through a tangled web of lies and betrayal, Mel and Danny race against the clock to retake the ship before their future goes up in flames. As the seconds tick down, they’re forced to face their greatest fear—losing each other.

Rating: B-

Tequila Sunrise is the final book in Layla Reyne’s fabulous Agents Irish and Whiskey series, and takes place a few months after the events of Barrel Proof. It’s also a neat bridge between this series and her next romantic suspense project which is going to feature Nic Price and Cam Byrne, who both appeared as important secondary characters in the earlier novels, and who both have key roles to play in this story. Tequila Sunrise is a quick, action-packed read in which Melissa Cruz, our favourite, kick-ass, ball-busting (ex)FBI agent, gets to shine in all her Ramboesque glory. Or maybe I should call her Jane McClane… *wink*

Not long after recovering from near fatal injuries inflicted by an explosion at the end of Barrel Proof, Special Agent in Charge Melissa Cruz of the San Francisco FBI decided to make a career change, and is now dividing her time between private investigative work (as a bounty-hunter of sorts) and head of security for Talley Enterprises, the shipping company run by her lover, Daniel Talley. Danny is the younger brother of Aidan (Irish) and has a reputation as a bit of a lothario; he and Mel began a relationship which ran in the background of the trilogy and by the end of the final book, they are well-and-truly an item.

The story opens on Christmas Eve as Mel is coming home from a job, wanting nothing more than to get back to Danny and for them to spend some time together. When she is held up the airport, and then finds out that Aidan, who is also on his way back to San Francisco, has been delayed, her instincts tell her something isn’t right.

The Talley family is hosting a massive holiday party that evening, to celebrate Christmas, John Talley’s upcoming retirement and the commissioning of Talley Enterprises’ newest ship, the Ellen, named after the Talley matriarch, Aidan and Danny’s mother. All the Talley ships are named for the Talley women and this, the final ship built by John Talley before he hands the company over to Danny, is the finest ship in their fleet and the envy of their competitors. With a large gathering of employees, family, investors and media on board, it’s an extremely high-profile event – and when Danny learns of the simultaneous delays that have affected both Mel and Aidan, he can’t help but be concerned.

Danny can’t wait to see Mel again; they’ve spent almost as much time apart as they have spent it together during the course of their relationship and both of them are eager to do something about that.  At Danny’s side and just as eager to be reunited with the love of his life is Aidan’s fiancé, former FBI agent Jameson Walker, who has been eagerly embraced by the large Talley clan and whom Danny already thinks of as a brother.

Mel and Aidan are finally able to make their separate ways to the party, but before they can get on board, the Ellen is hi-jacked by a team of mercenaries.  With the ship locked down and the family and guests held hostage, it’s up to Jamie and Danny to save the day, or at least buy everyone some time while a rescue can be effected.  Danny may be a civilian, but he knows how to think on his feet and he’s proved his mettle by helping Aidan and Jamie in the past. Mel is on the outside, but she sure as hell isn’t going to sit and wait while the man she loves is in danger; with an arsenal worthy of Rambo and a sense of irony to rival Bruce Willis in a dirty vest, Mel sneaks aboard to lend much more than a hand in taking down the bad guys.

It’s true that the plot owes more than a little to Die Hard, but I love that movie, so I didn’t care.  The action does, perhaps move a little too quickly at times, but Ms. Reyne also allows for slower moments of introspection, especially in the short flashbacks to Danny’s childhood with his brothers, Mel’s with Gabe and to various stages in Danny’s  relationship with Mel.  The little insights to his early family life are really poignant, and when it comes to Mel and Danny, I liked reading about these two people with demanding, high-powered jobs realising that they want more from life and deciding to do whatever it takes to make it work between them.  I also appreciated that Mel, at forty-five, is an older heroine with a great sense of self, and no qualms about the fact that the love of her life is thirteen years her junior. Go, Mel!

On the downside, however, there is a slightly frenetic feel to the whole thing, and while I did enjoy the flashbacks, I can’t deny that they give the novella a slightly disjointed feel overall.  And as happened in the novels, Jamie’s Mad Hacking Skillz are something of a deus ex machina at times; it’s likely I wouldn’t have understood what he was doing had Ms. Reyne elaborated, but even so, there’s a sense that they’re something of a get out of jail free card when there’s no other way out of a given situation.

I enjoyed meeting all the characters again, and seeing how things are working out for them a few months on.  There’s a schmaltzy family Christmas scene at the end that somehow made me want to go ‘aww’ rather than lapse into a sugar-induced coma, and the glimpses we’re given of Cam and Nic’s seemingly combative relationship has well and truly whetted my appetite for the stories to come.  Tequila Sunrise is a high-stakes, fast-paced and nicely steamy read that provides a great coda to the Agents Irish and Whiskey series.