Someone to Remember (Westcott #7) by Mary Balogh

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It’s never too late to fall in love . . .

Matilda Westcott has spent her life tending to the needs of her mother, the Dowager Countess of Riverdale, never questioning the web of solitude she has spun herself. To Matilda, who considers herself an aging spinster daughter, marriage is laughable – love is a game for the young, after all. But her quiet, ordered life unravels when a dashing gentleman from her past reappears, threatening to charm his way into her heart yet again.

Charles Sawyer, Viscount Dirkson, does not expect to face Matilda Westcott thirty-six years after their failed romance. Moreover, he does not expect decades-old feelings to emerge at the very sight of her. When encountering Matilda at a dinner hosted by the Earl of Riverdale, he finds himself as fascinated by her as he was the first day they met, and wonders whether, after all these years, they have a chance at happiness together. Charles is determined to crack the hard exterior Matilda has built up for more than three decades, or he will risk losing her once again . . .

Rating: B

Someone to Remember is the seventh (and penultimate?) instalment in Mary Balogh’s Westcott saga, which has followed the fortunes of the various members of the large and close-knit Westcott family after the discovery that the late Humphrey Westcott, Earl of Riverdale, had committed bigamy and that his second marriage was therefore invalid.  This discovery naturally had serious repercussions; his son and two daughters lost titles, fortunes and status; his widow couldn’t even claim to have been a wife, and the earldom diverted to a cousin who didn’t want it. Through six books, readers have followed the fortunes of various family members in the wake of these events, and now we come to Matilda, Humphrey’s older sister, a woman of mature years – fifty-six – who has appeared throughout the series as the dutiful spinster aunt who fusses over her mother because it’s something to do and has gradually faded into the background.

In order to understand the relationship in Someone to Remember, it’s necessary to refer back to the previous book in the series, Someone to Honor, so please be aware that this review contains spoilers for that book. Lieutenant Colonel Gilbert Bennington returned from fighting at Waterloo to discover his late wife had left their four-year-old daughter in the care of her parents, who are now refusing to return her to his care. Although Gil was an officer, his illegitimacy and humble origins made him unacceptable to his in-laws; his father was a nobleman – Viscount Dirkson – but his mother was the daughter of a blacksmith who refused all offers of support from the viscount, and allowed Gil to believe that he had washed his hands of them.  When Gil joined the army, Dirkson purchased a commission for him, but after that Gil made it clear that he wanted nothing more to do with him.

But when Abigail Westcott married Gil, the entire Westcott clan naturally became interested in the situation; and when Matilda learned that Dirkson was Gil’s father, she took the unprecedented – and rather scandalous – step of paying a call upon the gentleman at his home in order to ask him to speak for Gil at the upcoming custody hearing.  It was clear from the moment Dirkson’s name was mentioned that he and Matilda had some shared history, and it’s soon revealed that they had once been in love and hoped to marry, but that Matilda’s parents had opposed the match and persuaded her to give him up.

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

Penny for Your Secrets (Verity Kent #3) by Anna Lee Huber

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The Great War may be over, but for many, there are still obstacles on the home front. Reconciling with her estranged husband makes Verity sympathetic to her friend Ada’s marital difficulties. Bourgeois-bred Ada, recently married to the Marquess of Rockham, is overwhelmed trying to navigate the ways of the aristocracy. And when Lord Rockham is discovered shot through the heart with a bullet from Ada’s revolver, Verity fears her friend has made a fatal blunder.

While striving to prove Ada’s innocence, Verity is called upon for another favor. The sister of a former Secret Service colleague has been killed in what authorities believe was a home invasion gone wrong. The victim’s war work—censoring letters sent by soldiers from the front—exposed her to sensitive, disturbing material. Verity begins to suspect these two unlikely cases may be linked. But as the connections deepen, the consequences—not just for Verity, but for Britain—grow more menacing than she could have imagined.

Rating: B

Note: This title is part of an ongoing series featuring the same characters, so there will be spoilers for the previous books in this review.

This third book in Anna Lee Huber’s series of mysteries featuring the intrepid Verity Kent sees our eponymous heroine and her recently returned husband Sidney investigating not one but two murders.  Penny for Your Secrets takes place just a few months following the events of book two, Treacherous is the Night, and although Verity and Sidney are on more of an even keel now than they were in that book, it’s clear that things between them are still delicately balanced . Neither of them is the same person who got married in 1914 after a whirlwind courtship, and the murder mystery storyline is underscored by the continuing exploration of Verity and Sidney’s marriage as they relearn each other and get to know they people they have become.  But their progress is impeded somewhat by the fact that both of them are still struggling to adapt to the world post-war as individuals;  Sidney with survivor’s guilt and PTSD while he tries to find his place in the world he’s come back to; Verity because she’s without a sense of purpose for the first time in years and because she’s still keeping secrets about the missions she undertook for the Secret Service.

The book opens with Verity and Sidney attending a dinner party hosted by the Marquess and Marchioness of Rockham, at which it is quickly obvious that all is not well between the couple.  Ada (the marchioness) – a friend of Verity’s – is Rockham’s second wife and was previously his mistress; they were in love when they married, but now things have soured. Rockham is rumoured to have another mistress and Ada makes no secret of her affair with Lord Ardmore, whom Verity believes holds some sort of hush-hush position within Naval Intelligence and whom Sidney pronounces “a bounder.”

After an uncomfortable dinner – at which Ada makes a very distasteful joke about shooting her husband – Verity and Sidney excuse themselves as soon as it’s polite to do so and make their way home, only to be woken in the early hours of the morning by a telephone call from an almost hysterical Ada, who tells them that Rockham is dead from a shot to the temple. The police are already on the scene and are clearly looking at Ada as their prime suspect, and while Verity believes her friend to have been guilty of poor judgment in her behaviour of late, she can’t believe her to be capable of murder, so she agrees to Ada’s request for help proving her innocence.

Just a day or so later, Verity is surprised by a visit from Irene Shaw, a former MI5 employee whom she met during the war.  Irene is desperate to find out more about the death of her half-sister Esther, who was killed during what seemed to be a burglary-gone-wrong a couple of weeks earlier.  But despite the fact that Esther’s room had been tossed, nothing was taken, which makes Irene suspect that perhaps the killer had an ulterior motive related to Esther’s wartime job in the censorship department of the Royal Mail.

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

One Dark Wish (Deep Desires #2) by Sharon Wray (audiobook) – Narrated by Kevin T. Collins and Savannah Peachwood

one dark wish

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon.

Her life must be forfeit for his to be redeemed

Historian Sarah Munro is not used to being shot at, but that’s just what happens while she’s poking around cemeteries on Georgia’s Isle of Grace, searching for the key to a centuries-old cipher. Her quest has unwittingly drawn the attention of two deadly enemies intent on destroying each other – and anyone who gets in their way.

Ex-Green Beret Major Nate Walker is on a mission of his own: to restore the honor of his men. To do that, he is required to stop Sarah – or one of his own men will die. Caught in the middle of a deadly rivalry, Nate can’t afford to trust the woman standing in his way. But his heart says he can’t afford not to…

Rating: Narration; B – Content: DNF

In the eight or nine years I’ve been reviewing books and audiobooks, I can count the number of times I’ve DNF’d a review copy on the fingers of one hand. I’ve slogged through some atrocious stories and horrific narrations to the bitter end, so I can at least feel that by being able to warn others away from such duds, the time I spent reading or listening to them wasn’t completely wasted.

So DNF-ing is a rare occurrence for me, but I had to admit defeat and give up just after the halfway mark of Sharon Wray’s One Dark Wish, the second book in her Deadly Force series. I’m not familiar with the author and haven’t read or listened to anything of hers before, but the synopsis sounded appealing.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

Cold Conspiracy (Eagle Mountain Murder Mystery: Winter Storm Wedding #3) by Cindi Myers

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The body count is mounting.

And a deputy is the killer’s next target.

Capturing the Ice Cold Killer is the greatest challenge Eagle Mountain has ever seen. Thankfully, Deputy Jamie Douglas is determined to see justice done. Nate Hall is visiting for a wedding, and the vacationing lawman is more than willing to help. As a blizzard ravages the town, keeping everyone trapped with a killer, evidence begins to accumulate about a mysterious conspiracy. Can Jamie and Nate get to the truth before more innocent people wind up dead?

Rating: D+

When I first started reviewing for All About Romance, I reviewed mostly historical romance – which has always been my favourite genre – and added in the odd romantic suspense title here and there for a bit of variety.  These days I read a lot more RS, although most of it is m/m, as I have found only a small number of authors (Loreth Anne White and Rachel Grant, to name but two) who can successfully (and consistently) combine both romance and suspense into a satisfying m/f story without compromising on either element. I suspect the prevalence – in m/m – of series with long running story arcs which allow for more plot and romantic development may have something to do with that, but whatever the reason, that’s my precursor to saying that much of the m/f romantic suspense I read these days isn’t particularly romantic or suspenseful, and  Cold Conspiracy by Cindi Myers is yet another example of RS-fail.

It’s the third book in the Eagle Mountain Murder Mystery: Winter Storm Wedding series, and the suspense plot centres around the search for a serial killer who is targeting young women and who leaves a calling card on each victim with the words “Ice Cold” printed on it.  I haven’t read the previous two books in the series, but in this one, the community of Eagle Mountain is cut off due to heavy snow, and while it’s believed that the main suspects in the murders had left before the roads had to be closed, the discovery of a new victim shows that not to be the case.

Sheriff’s deputy Jamie Douglas and her younger sister Donna are driving home when they come across a car stopped at the side of the road.  Jamie – who is off duty – is reluctant to stop, given there’s a murderer at large, but Donna is adamant that they must, so they backtrack and discover the Ice Cold Killer’s latest victim – the sixth – laid back in her car seat, her throat cut.

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

Murder at Kensington Palace (Wrexford & Sloane #3) by Andrea Penrose

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Though Charlotte Sloane’s secret identity as the controversial satirical cartoonist A.J. Quill is safe with the Earl of Wrexford, she’s ill prepared for the rippling effects sharing the truth about her background has cast over their relationship. She thought a bit of space might improve the situation. But when her cousin is murdered and his twin brother is accused of the gruesome crime, Charlotte immediately turns to Wrexford for help in proving the young man’s innocence. Though she finds the brooding scientist just as enigmatic and intense as ever, their partnership is now marked by an unfamiliar tension that seems to complicate every encounter.

Despite this newfound complexity, Wrexford and Charlotte are determined to track down the real killer. Their investigation leads them on a dangerous chase through Mayfair’s glittering ballrooms and opulent drawing rooms, where gossip and rumors swirl to confuse the facts. Was her cousin murdered over a romantic rivalry . . . or staggering gambling debts? Or could the motive be far darker and involve the clandestine scientific society that claimed both brothers as members? The more Charlotte and Wrexford try to unknot the truth, the more tangled it becomes. But they must solve the case soon, before the killer’s madness seizes another victim…

Rating: B+

In Murder at Kensington Palace, the third book in Andrea Penrose’s Wrexford and Sloane series, the author once again sets an intriguing, well-conceived mystery against the backdrop of the scientific discovery and innovation taking place during the Regency era while also continuing to explore the shifting relationship between Mrs. Charlotte Sloane (aka satirist A.J. Quill) and the darkly sardonic Earl of Wrexford.  As the pair work together to clear the name of a young man accused of murdering his twin brother, Charlotte is forced to face the prospect of discarding her carefully guarded anonymity, while the Earl, a man who has always prided himself on his logical mind, finds himself in an unusual position of frustration and uncertainty.

Charlotte is working on her latest project when she hears that the murderer nicknamed the ‘Bloody Butcher’ has struck again, this time killing a young aristocrat whose body was found that morning in the gardens of Kensington Palace.  When one of her young wards explains that the victim had been in attendance at a scientific gathering hosted by the Duke of Sussex the previous evening, Charlotte immediately wonders if Wrexford had been there and if he might know something about it.  But she feels strangely awkward about asking the Earl for information; in fact, she hasn’t seen him for a couple of weeks, since their investigation into another murder (Murder at Half Moon Gate) almost cost Wrexford his life and led to their expressing certain … sentiments that perhaps neither of them were ready to bring out into the open.

“What a pair we are,” she muttered.  “Prickly, guarded, afraid of making ourselves vulnerable.”

When Wrexford arrives some time later, it’s with news that will quickly distract Charlotte from any ponderings over the nature of her feelings for him.  The murder victim was Cedric, Lord Chittenden, a young man from the North of England who had only recently come into his title; and his twin brother, Nicholas, has been arrested for the crime on account of their having been overheard having a disagreement at some point during the course of the previous evening.  Charlotte is adamant in her belief that the wrong man has been accused and that Nicholas could never have harmed his brother – but she won’t explain further or tell Wrexford what makes her so sure.

Like Charlotte, Wrexford is reluctant to look too closely at the things they said to each other in the heat of the moment, but her apparent lack of trust in him causes him to wonder if Charlotte may be having regrets and is now trying to put distance between them.  Not wanting her to retreat further, Wrexford decides not to push for information, instead deciding to wait until she’s ready to tell him what she needs to.  She has already revealed something of her past to him – she’s the daughter of an earl who, chafing at the restrictions and expectations constantly placed upon her, ran away with her drawing master and whose family subsequently disowned her.  Charlotte knows Wrexford can be trusted, but even so, is struggling to reconcile her need to remain independent and her need for help to prove Nicholas innocent.  Realising she can’t afford to hold back any longer, she tells Wrexford the truth – that Cedric and Nicholas are her cousins and that the three of them were childhood playmates.

Feeling as though they’re back on more of an even keel, Charlotte and Wrexford start to ask questions, Charlotte seeking information from the network of informants from whom she collects the gossip making the rounds on the London streets, and Wrexford in the scientific circles in which Chittenden and his brother moved since coming to London.  His own standing in the scientific community naturally opens doors, and his enquiries reveal a worrisome picture of Chittenden as a young man possessed of an almost fanatical desire to push scientific boundaries and prepared to go to extreme lengths in order to do so.  He also discovers that Chittenden had a rival for the affections of a certain young lady, and that he was owed a large sum of money by a man who seemed to be having trouble paying his gambling debts… could his murder have been motivated by love? Or money? Or are there darker, more clandestine forces at work?

Andrea Penrose has found a rather unique hook for this series in the way she incorporates an aspect of the Regency era that readers of novels set during that time don’t often come across; namely the fervour for scientific knowledge and advancement that was prevalent at the time.  Many of the characters featured in Murder at Kensington Palace are specifically interested in the experiments of Luigi Galvani and Giovanni Aldini, who had explored the possibility that electricity could be used to reanimate the dead – a concept made famous by Mary Shelley in Frankenstein (1817).

Through all of this is woven the continuing development of the relationship between Charlotte and Wrexford, both of whom are gradually acknowledging (to themselves) that they feel something more than friendship for each other, but are reluctant to take that first step towards becoming more.  Their feelings for one another are made clear through their thoughts and actions, although I have to say that I’d have liked things to have become a little more concrete by this stage. Still, there are positive developments in this book that make me think that’s not far off now.

The novel boasts a colourful secondary cast, including Charlotte’s two wards, Hawk and Raven (aka the Weasels) her housekeeper, McLellan, who is as much bodyguard as she is servant,  Wrexford’s friend  Kit Sheffield and his valet/assistant, Tyler; and they’re joined by the formidable Dowager Marquess of Peake, Charlotte’s aunt, a wonderfully forthright and shrewd lady I hope we’ll meet again in future books.

While the mystery in Murder at Kensington Palace is wrapped up by the end and the book could be read as a standalone, I’d recommend that anyone interested in trying this series should start at the beginning with Murder on Black Swan Lane in order to get the full picture of the relationship between the two principals.  Wrexford and Sloane make a great team, personally as well as investigatively, and I’m looking forward to the next instalment in the series.

Someone to Honour (Westcott #6) by Mary Balogh (audiobook) – Narrated by Rosalyn Landor

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Abigail Westcott’s dreams for her future were lost when her father died and she discovered her parents were not legally married. But now, six years later, she enjoys the independence a life without expectation provides a wealthy single woman. Indeed, she’s grown confident enough to scold the careless servant chopping wood outside without his shirt on in the proximity of ladies. But the man is not a servant. He is Gilbert Bennington, the lieutenant colonel and superior officer who has escorted her wounded brother, Harry, home from the wars with Napoleon.

Gil has come to help his friend and junior officer recover, and he doesn’t take lightly to being condescended to – secretly because of his own humble beginnings. If at first Gil and Abigail seem to embody what the other most despises, each will soon discover how wrong first impressions can be. For behind the appearances of the once-grand lady and the once-humble man are two people who share an understanding of what true honor means, and how only with it can one find love.

Rating: Narration: A; Content: B-

The heroine of Someone to Honor, the sixth book in Mary Balogh’s series about the Westcott family is Abigail Westcott, the younger daughter of the late Earl of Riverdale. She was approaching her come out and her eighteenth birthday when her father was discovered to have married her mother bigamously, meaning that she and her siblings – sister Camille and brother Harry – were illegitimate and that Harry could not inherit the Riverdale title (which passed to their cousin, Alex). Abby is now twenty-four, and has spent most of the six intervening years resisting her family’s urging to resume her life in society and find a husband. Although at the time, the news of her family’s change of status was hugely upsetting, she now realises that what happened has set her free in a way she could never have imagined being before. Without the pressure of having to conform to society’s expectations of the daughter of an earl, Abby has been able to take the time to discover who she truly is as a person and to work out what she really wants in life – and has found that the idea of remaining unmarried is no longer as scary as it was six years earlier when she was expected to make a match befitting her status. As her mother and siblings had to forge their own paths to happiness, so Abby has begun to forge hers – the trouble is convincing her loving, well-meaning but sometimes misguided family that she knows what she’s doing.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

Save Your Breath (Morgan Dane #6) by Melinda Leigh

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When true-crime writer Olivia Cruz disappears with no signs of foul play, her new boyfriend, Lincoln Sharp, suspects the worst. He knows she didn’t leave willingly and turns to attorney Morgan Dane and PI Lance Kruger to find her before it’s too late.

As they dig through Olivia’s life, they are shocked to discover a connection between her current book research on two cold murder cases and the suicide of one of Morgan’s prospective clients.

As Morgan and Lance investigate, the number of suspects grows, but time is running out to find Olivia alive. When danger comes knocking at their door, Morgan and Lance realize that they may be the killer’s next targets.

Rating: B

Save Your Breath is the sixth and final book in Melinda Leigh’s series of suspense novels featuring defence attorney Morgan Dane, who – together with her three young daughters – moved back to her home town of Scarlet Falls following the death of her husband on active service.  Over the course of the series, Morgan has found love again with Lance Kruger, her former high-school sweetheart, and the couple are planning their wedding, which is due to take place in just a few weeks’ time.

Lance was a police officer and now works as a PI for the firm run by his former colleague and mentor, Lincoln Sharp; Morgan works from an office in the same building and the three are very close and have successfully worked a number of cases together.  Their latest case, however, is one that hits very close to home for Sharp when the woman he’s been dating for the past six months or so, investigative reporter Olivia Cruz, goes missing after having arranged to meet with the three of them the next day to discuss something she’s been working on.

With no other clues or information to go on, Sharp, Lance and Morgan start digging to see if they can tie Olivia’s disappearance to any of her current research projects.  They learn that she’s late with a book proposal to her editor, and find a couple of avenues of investigations to pursue, both of which appear to be related to cases of possibly wrongful conviction and imprisonment – and one of them is coincidentally connected to a meeting Morgan took just that morning.  But of course nothing is ever simple, and the plot takes several unexpected and cleverly executed twists and turns before all is revealed.

Save Your Breath is a suspenseful and enjoyable read in which the author steadily builds the tension as Sharp, Lance and Morgan race against time to find Olivia, while never losing sight of the fact that these are people with complicated lives and complex emotions.  Sharp has always been something of a steading presence in the other novels in the series – even a bit of a control freak; calm and unflappable, he’s a solid, dependable presence, but here, it’s almost painful to witness him as he starts to unravel.  At fifty-three, he’s been single for some time, and as both he and Olivia have been  burned by past romantic relationships, they’ve been content to take things slowly.  But as Sharpe struggles to keep it together and remain positive about finding her, he realises he can’t imagine life without her.

As always, one of the most enjoyable elements of these books is provided by the characters and the relationships between them.  Morgan and Lance are a solid couple who love and support each other unconditionally, and I applaud the author for showing that parenting three children aged seven and under is no picnic and how both of them put their family first.  (The scene where Lance takes the girls shopping for Halloween costumes is cuteness overload!)

I did have a few small problems with the novel overall. I was pleased when I learned it would focus on a story for Sharp and Olivia, who have been striking sparks off each other since Olivia first appeared in an earlier book in the series – so I was a bit disappointed to discover that they’ve been dating for several months by the time this story takes place.  I’d hoped for a little more romantic development, maybe them working alongside each other for a while before the kidnap occurred – and I have to say that the final reveal as to who was behind it and why had me scratching my head a little.  Not because it didn’t make sense, but because it was a bit of an anti-climax after everything Olivia had gone through.

Those niggles apart, Save Your Breath is a fast-paced page-turner featuring a clever mystery and a group of engaging, multi-faceted characters I’ve grown fond of.  It’s a fitting finale to what’s been a solidly entertaining series and fans are bound to enjoy it.