The Sins of Lord Lockwood (Rules for the Reckless #6) by Meredith Duran

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BACK FROM THE DEAD, AN EARL SEEKS VENGEANCE…

Liam Devaliant, Lord Lockwood, was born into a charmed life. Charismatic, powerful, and wild, he had the world at his feet—and one woman as his aim. His wedding to Anna was meant to be his greatest triumph. Instead, in a single moment, a wicked conspiracy robbed him of his future and freedom.

…BUT WILL HIS LONG-LOST COUNTESS PAY THE PRICE?

Four years later, Liam has returned from death with plans for revenge. Standing in his way, though, is his long-absent bride. Once, he adored Anna’s courage. Now it seems like a curse, for Anna refuses to fear or forget him. If she can’t win back Liam’s love, then she means at least to save his soul…no matter the cost.

Rating: A

It’s been a decade since Liam Devaliant, the Earl of Lockwood, stepped onto the pages of Meredith Duran’s début novel, The Duke of ShadowsHandsome, charming and enigmatic, Lockwood immediately captured my attention, the mention of his mysterious four year absence from society and his obvious discomfiture at the presence of his estranged wife clearly hiding a story begging to be told – and now here it is.  The Sins of Lord Lockwood is an intense, angsty story that is sometimes hard to read, but is nonetheless a compelling tale of a man’s struggle to find his place after having his life ripped away from him, and a painful portrait of a marriage rent asunder by hatred and greed.

Anna, Countess of Lockwood and Countess of Forth (a Scottish title she holds in her own right) has learned, second-hand, of the return to England of the husband who deserted her on their wedding night four years earlier – and she’s furious.  Furious that she was stupid enough to fall for him all those years ago, furious that he abandoned her, furious she’s heard nothing of him for four years – and furious he hasn’t bothered to tell her he’s back and she’s had to learn of it from the newspapers.

When his wife arrives unexpectedly at his – their – London town house, Liam realises he’s seriously miscalculated.  He had thought he would have at least another month before news of his return could have reached her at her home on the Isle of Rawsey – where she retreated after his disappearance – a month in which he could bring to fruition his plan to have his revenge upon the man responsible for having him kidnapped on his wedding night and bundled aboard a ship taking convicts to New South Wales. That man is Liam’s cousin, Stephen, the man with whom he’d grown up and played as a boy, and who he’d looked out for all their lives – but with no direct evidence against him, Liam has to play a careful, devious game behind the scenes. With the help of his friends Julian, Duke of Auburn, and Crispin Burke MP, Liam is putting an end to Stephen’s fraudulent businesses and strategically and systematically bringing his cousin to the brink of financial ruin.

Anna’s sudden appearance in London doesn’t simply make a ripple in the pond of Liam’s careful existence – it throws a large rock into the middle and almost drowns him in the resulting explosion of spray.  He doesn’t want to be reminded of the feelings he’d had for her or the man he had been, and he certainly doesn’t want her in harm’s way – but she’s having none of it. Anna will remain in London for as long as she wishes; she will live in their house, she will do as she pleases and Liam can go – or, rather return – to the devil … but not until after he has given her the only thing she wants from him – an heir to the earldom of Forth.  Lockwood might not want an heir to his title, but she wants one for hers, and he’s the only means by which she can obtain legitimate progeny.

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

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Never Dare a Wicked Earl (Infamous Lords #1) by Renee Ann Miller

This title may be purchased from Amazon.

Known as a brazen philanderer, Hayden Milton, Earl of Westfield, is almost done in by a vengeful mistress who aims a gun at a rather essential part of his anatomy—but ends up wounding his thigh instead. Recuperating in his London town house, Hayden is confronted by his new medical attendant. Sophia Camden intrigues him, for behind her starched uniform is an enticing beauty better suited for bedding than dispensing salves and changing bandages.

Unshaken by his arrogance, not to mention impropriety, Sophia offers Hayden a dare: allow her ten days to prove her competency. If she resigns in exasperation like her two predecessors, she will be beholden to this wicked seducer. As a battle of wills begins, Sophia finds herself distracted by the Earl’s muscular physique . . . and discovers that the man within longs only for a second chance to love.

Rating: D+

As I’ve said in the past, I make it a point to try new authors when I can – after all, I had some pretty good luck a couple of years back when I found not one, but three début authors whose books have since become ‘must reads’, and I live in hope of finding others.  Unfortunately, however, on the strength of her first novel, Never Dare a Wicked Earl, Renee Ann Miller isn’t going to make that list by a long chalk; the cover trumpets a “fresh new romance” – but it’s about as fresh as week-old kippers, and I ended up reading a story I’ve read several times before.   It’s a solidly average book; not badly written, but the story is hackneyed, the characters are stereotypical and the author seems to have thought it a good ideal to throw the kitchen sink into the (very weak) plot.   Plus – what on earth is the heroine wearing on the cover?  The book is set in 1875, and by no stretch of the imagination is that dress from the late Victorian period.  I know that’s not the author’s fault, but it nonetheless telegraphs “Danger, Will Robinson!” to the potential reader.  With good reason, as it turns out.

When Hayden – a very unlikely name for a man (let alone an earl) in Victorian England – Earl of Westfield is shot in the leg by a demented ex-mistress, he is confined to bed and not at all happy about it.  He runs off two male attendants by virtue of his appalling manners and threatening  behaviour, so his sister, thinking he might not be quite so rude and abrasive towards a woman, engages a nurse by the name of Sophia Camden.  Of course, the fact that Sophia is female makes no difference to Hayden’s dreadful behaviour, and he begins to try to get rid of her, too, adding not-so-subtle sexual innuendo to his established repertoire of bad manners and ill temper.

Naturally, Sophia is wise to his tricks, and decided to stay, especially as – and here’s where we get lip-service to the title – Hayden dares Sophia to stick it out for ten days.  If she wins, he will throw his political weight behind a new bill to allow women to qualify as doctors (as this is what Sophia wants to do) and if he wins he’ll get… well, he’ll think about that tomorrow.

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

The Lady’s Guide to Larceny with a Dashing Stranger & The Rise and Fall of Reginald Everhart (Lady Travelers Society #2 &#1.5) by Victoria Alexander (audiobook) – Narrated by Marian Hussey

This title is available to download from Audible via Amazon

She must secure her future

A lady should never be obliged to think of matters financial! But when Lady Wilhelmina Bascombe’s carefree, extravagant lifestyle vanishes with the demise of her husband, her only hope lies in retrieving a family treasure – a Renaissance masterpiece currently in the hands of a cunning art collector in Venice. Thankfully, the Lady Travelers Society has orchestrated a clever plan to get Willie to Europe, leading a tour of mothers and daughters…and one curiously attentive man.

He must reclaim his heritage

Dante Augustus Montague’s one passion has long been his family’s art collection. He’s finally tracked a long-lost painting to the enchanting Lady Bascombe. Convinced that the canvas had been stolen, he will use any means to reclaim his birthright – including deception. But how long before pretend infatuation gives way to genuine desire?

Now they’re rivals for a prize that will change everything

Willie and Dante know they’re playing with fire in the magical moonlit city. Their common quest could compromise them both…or lead them to happily-ever-after.

Rating: Narration – A: Content – B

The Lady Travelers Guide to Larceny with a Dashing Stranger (which I’m henceforth going to refer to as LTGLDS) is book two in Victoria Alexander’s current Lady Travelers Society series, and the audiobook edition also includes the preceding novella, which is a nice bonus for listeners – who are getting one-and-a-half books for the price of one! As the events of the novella don’t relate to those of the book, it can be listened to completely independently, and I’ll touch upon it briefly at the end of this review.

In LTGLDS, we meet the widowed Lady Wilhemina Bascombe, whose husband, George, died a couple of years earlier and left her in straitened financial circumstances. Willie and George had married against the wishes of her parents, but they were happy, enjoying a carefree, somewhat extravagant lifestyle and ran with a fast set. When George died, Willie was left with debts and a less-than-pristine reputation for being daring and reckless; and although she has just about scraped together enough money to pay off his creditors, once they’re paid she will have very little left. Her one remaining hope is to liquidate her one remaining asset – a painting by the Renaissance artist, Portinari – which was given to her by her grandmother. The problem is that George used it as collateral for a loan from an art collector – an Italian count – and while Willie has just about enough money left to repay the loan, she doesn’t have enough to be able to buy passage to Venice in order to meet with the Conte di Sarifini.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

The Secret Casebook of Simon Feximal by K.J. Charles (audiobook) – Narrated by Gary Furlong

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

A story too secret, too terrifying – and too shockingly intimate – for Victorian eyes.

Dear Henry,

I have been Simon Feximal’s companion, assistant, and chronicler for 20 years now, and during that time my Casebooks of Feximal the Ghost-Hunter have spread the reputation of this most accomplished of ghost-hunters far and wide.

You have asked me often for the tale of our first meeting, and how my association with Feximal came about. I have always declined, because it is a story too private to be truthfully recounted, and a memory too precious to be falsified. But none knows better than I that stories must be told.

So here is it, Henry, a full and accurate account of how I met Simon Feximal, which I shall leave with my solicitor to pass to you after my death.

I dare say it may not be quite what you expect.

Robert Caldwell
September 1914

Rating: Narration – A-: Content – A

K.J. Charles’ The Secret Casebook of Simon Feximal is a collection of wonderfully imaginative, well-written and downright spooky tales of ghostly goings on and supernatural shenanigans set in the late Victorian era featuring ghost-hunter extraordinaire, Simon Feximal, and his chronicler and long-term companion Robert Caldwell. The author draws on ancient legends and late Victorian sensation fiction for inspiration and has crafted a set of original and compelling creations while also charting the development of the relationship between her two protagonists, a lasting partnership built on a solid foundation of love and respect that endures through dark days and the direst of adversity.

When we first meet Robert Caldwell, he is a making a name for himself as a journalist for The Chronicle. He has recently inherited old, dilapidated Caldwell Place and decides to sell it rather than live there. The only problem is that it appears to be haunted – and when the walls start bleeding, Robert realises he’s got to do something about it before he can even think of putting the place up for sale. So, he calls in the renowned ghost-hunter Simon Feximal in the hope that he will be able to get rid of his unwanted, ghoulish guest, and is immediately struck by Simon’s imposing form and air of command. Feximal clearly knows what he’s doing – but both he and Robert have reckoned without the strength of a spirit long denied its desires, and a highly-charged, passionate encounter ensues which sends the mischievous spirit packing and sees our principals left to their own – most pleasurable – devices.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

The Duke of Shadows by Meredith Duran

This title may be purchased from Amazon

From exotic sandstone palaces… 

Sick of tragedy, done with rebellion, Emmaline Martin vows to settle quietly into British Indian society. But when the pillars of privilege topple, her fiancé’s betrayal leaves Emma no choice. She must turn for help to the one man whom she should not trust, but cannot resist: Julian Sinclair, the dangerous and dazzling heir to the Duke of Auburn.

To the marble halls of London… 

In London, they toast Sinclair with champagne. In India, they call him a traitor. Cynical and impatient with both worlds, Julian has never imagined that the place he might belong is in the embrace of a woman with a reluctant laugh and haunted eyes. But in a time of terrible darkness, he and Emma will discover that love itself can be perilous — and that a single decision can alter one’s life forever.

Destiny follows wherever you run. 

A lifetime of grief later, in a cold London spring, Emma and Julian must finally confront the truth: no matter how hard one tries to deny it, some pasts cannot be disowned…and some passions never die.

Rating: A

I read The Duke of Shadows for the first time some years ago – before I started reviewing – and I remember being blown away by the quality of the writing, the richness of the setting and the passion and intensity of the romance.  I don’t get much time for re-reading these days, but I decided one was in order prior to reading and reviewing The Sins of Lord Lockwood (Lockwood is a major – and very intriguing – secondary character in The Duke of Shadows), and I was once again awed by the author’s talent and this wonderful book which was, incredibly, her début.  As I didn’t write a review the first time around, I’m going to do that now.

It is 1857 and the British have ruled India – by fair means or foul (mostly foul) – for many years.  Trouble is brewing, but for the majority of the British contingent, who are unable to conceive that anything could challenge the might of the Empire, it’s business as usual and continued obliviousness to the rumblings of disquiet around them. Only one man among their number dares to posit that the country teeters on the brink of revolt and that British lives may soon be endangered – but he is derided and his views dismissed, even though he is an English peer.  Julian Sinclair, Marquess of Holdensmoor, is one quarter Indian which makes him someone who lives on the fringes of both English and Indian society.  His Indian blood renders him ‘not quite the thing’ among the insular, rule-bound English, who look on him with disdain and suspicion in spite of his being the heir to a dukedom – while his English blood causes the same reaction among his Indian family.

Emmaline – Emma – Martin was travelling to India accompanied by her parents in order to marry her fiancé, an officer in the East India Company, when tragedy struck. Their ship was wrecked and Emma is one of the few survivors.  The death of her parents – which she witnessed – has, naturally, affected her profoundly, but of more concern to Delhi society is the fact that she was rescued and transported to her destination on a ship full of rough sailors, so her reputation is now irretrievably tarnished.  Emma’s fiancé, Marcus Lindley is handsome and charming, but as Emma has known for some time, does not believe in confining his ‘charms’ solely to his betrothed.  Meeting him again for the first time in years, the scales fall from Emma’s eyes completely, and she sees him for what he is; arrogant, spiteful, dismissive of her intelligence and clearly only interested in her dowry.  Emma, a spirited and determined young woman, means to break things off with him as soon as she can.

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

The Trouble With True Love (Dear Lady Truelove #2) by Laura Lee Guhrke

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Dear Lady Truelove,

I am a girl of noble family, but I am painfully shy, especially in my encounters with those of the opposite sex . . .

For Clara Deverill, standing in for the real Lady Truelove means dispensing advice on problems she herself has never managed to overcome. There’s nothing for it but to retreat to a tearoom and hope inspiration strikes between scones. It doesn’t—until Clara overhears a rake waxing eloquent on the art of “honorable” jilting. The cad may look like an Adonis, but he’s about to find himself on the wrong side of Lady Truelove.

Rex Galbraith is an heir with no plans to produce a spare. He flirts with the minimum number of eligible young ladies to humor his matchmaking aunt, but Clara is the first to ever catch his roving eye. When he realizes that Clara—as Lady Truelove—has used his advice as newspaper fodder, he’s infuriated. But when he’s forced into a secret alliance with her, he realizes he’s got a much bigger problem—because Clara is upending everything Rex thought he knew about women—and about himself. . .

Rating: B+

In book one of Laura Lee Guhrke’s Dear Lady Truelove series, we were introduced to the Deverill sisters, owners of The Weekly Gazette, the single remaining newspaper in what used to be a stable of them until their father pretty much ran the business into the ground after their mother’s death.

The sisters couldn’t be more different. Irene is opinionated, outspoken, progressive and fiercely independent, an advocate of reform and women’s suffrage, while Clara is quiet, reserved and wants the more traditional things from life, like love, romance, a home, husband and family. She has grown up very much in Irene’s shadow and has little faith in her own judgement and abilities; but Irene’s marriage (The Truth About Love and Dukes) and subsequent honeymoon mean that Clara is tasked with running the Gazette, and she worries she is not up to the task.

To make matters worse, at the beginning of The Trouble with True Love, Clara receives a telegram saying that Irene and her new husband are extending their trip by a month and that Irene is confident that Clara can handle everything until their brother Jonathan arrives to take up the reins. But Jonathan isn’t coming; he is in America, where he has struck silver and intends to stay and work his claim – which leaves Clara to deal with the obnoxious editor Irene appointed before she left for her wedding trip, AND to write the weekly column in which the famously anonymous Lady Truelove offers advice to the lovelorn. With her first deadline looming, Clara decides to head to her favourite tea-room, hoping it’ll be quieter than her office and that she’ll somehow find some inspiration.

Clara finds just that in the form of an overheard conversation between the two gentlemen at the next table. One of them – Lionel – is complaining to the other that the woman with whom he is having an affair has made clear her desire to marry him, but he isn’t sure he wants to marry her. The other man – who is easily the handsomest man Clara has ever seen – quickly disdains the idea of marriage and suggests a way in which Lionel can talk his lady love into carrying on as before without the promise of a trip to the altar.

The longer she listens to this outrageous outpouring of male connivance and duplicity, the more incensed Clara becomes. She decides there and then to use Lady Truelove’s next column to warn the woman concerned about the deception about to be practiced upon her.

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

Beyond Scandal and Desire (Sins for All Seasons #1) by Lorraine Heath

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At birth, Mick Trewlove, the illegitimate son of a duke, was handed over to a commoner. Despite his lowly upbringing, Mick has become a successful businessman, but all his wealth hasn’t satisfied his need for revenge against the man who still won’t acknowledge him. What else can Mick do but destroy the duke’s legitimate son—and woo the heir’s betrothed into his own unloving arms . . .

Orphaned and sheltered, Lady Aslyn Hastings longs for a bit of adventure. With her intended often preoccupied, Aslyn finds herself drawn to a darkly handsome entrepreneur who seems to understand her so well. Surely a lady of her station should avoid Mick Trewlove. If only he weren’t so irresistible . . .

As secrets are about to be exposed, Mick must decide if his plan for vengeance is worth risking what his heart truly desires.

Rating: B

Lorraine Heath kicks off her new Sins for All Seasons series with Beyond Scandal and Desire, the story of a man intent on revenge upon the father who abandoned him and the young woman he intends to use as part of the scheme he has concocted in order to achieve that end.  I’m not a great lover of the heroine-as-instrument-of-revenge trope, but I trust Lorraine Heath to deliver an engaging and emotionally rich story and know that she has the writing chops to turn a hackneyed plotline into something a little different.  She certainly manages that here and crafts an intense, sensual character-driven romance with a final twist I didn’t quite see coming.

Mick Trewlove has known for many years that his mum isn’t his biological parent, and discovered the identity of his father, the Duke of Hedley, when he was fifteen.  Knowing he had been consigned at birth to the not-so-tender mercies of a baby farmer (a terrible practice whereby women took in illegitimate children of the nobility and often ensured they did not live), Mick – who has worked hard to make something of himself and is now a successful businessman – is still fuelled by anger at the man who threw him away like so much rubbish.  He is determined that his father should publicly acknowledge him,  admit him to be worthy and regret his decision to cast him aside, but other than one unequivocal refusal,  Mick’s written requests have all gone unanswered.  Furious at the duke’s dismissal, Mick sets in motion his plan to destroy Hedley’s legitimate son and heir, the Earl of Kipwick and ruin his ward, Lady Aslyn Hastings – who happens to be Kipwick’s intended. “She’d be to him (Mick) whatever the woman who had given birth to him had been to his father, and he’d throw the similarities into the duke’s face.”

Lady Aslyn’s parents, the Earl and Countess of Eames, were killed in a train crash when she was just a girl.  She has led a very sheltered life with her guardian and his wife, who rarely goes out into society and is of a delicate constitution.  The two are clearly devoted to one another, and Aslyn can’t help but hope that her own marriage will prove equally felicitous. Although nothing is official, it’s widely known that Aslyn has been destined for Kipwick since the cradle.  But Aslyn has become rather restless of late, and is chafing at the restrictions that are constantly imposed upon her by her gender, her position and the duchess, who dislikes going out and encourages Aslyn to remain home as often as possible.  Thinking that perhaps an evening visit to the Cremorne pleasure gardens will yield a glimpse of something exciting, she hopes to persuade Kipwick to remain there until after dark, when, according to the gossip rags, the naughty undertakings that have titillated her imagination are… undertaken.   Sadly however, it seems as though the place is rather staid, and she has just owned to Kip that Cremorne isn’t quite what she expected when a young woman accidentally bumps into them and promptly introduces herself as Miss Fancy Trewlove.  When a tall, handsome, dark-eyed gentleman emerges from the shadows and is introduced as her brother, Aslyn – whose ‘understanding’ with Kipwick means she has never been courted or even experienced the mildest of flirtations – is struck by the sheer force of his presence and shocked at the strength of her physical reaction to him.

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