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

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

In Gilded Age Manhattan, anything can happen…

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

…and true love is always in fashion.

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

Rating: Narration – A- : Content – B

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

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

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

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

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

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

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

Rating: Narration – A- : Content – A-

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

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

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

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

This title may be purchased from Amazon

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rating: A-

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Henchmen of Zenda by K.J. Charles (audiobook) – Narrated by Antony Ferguson

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

Jasper Detchard is a disgraced British officer, now selling his blade to the highest bidder. Currently that’s Michael Elphberg, half-brother to the King of Ruritania. Michael wants the throne for himself, and Jasper is one of the scoundrels he hires to help him take it. But when Michael makes his move, things don’t go entirely to plan – and the penalty for treason is death.

Rupert of Hentzau is Michael’s newest addition to his sinister band of henchmen. Charming, lethal, and intolerably handsome, Rupert is out for his own ends – which seem to include getting Jasper into bed. But Jasper needs to work out what Rupert’s really up to amid a maelstrom of plots, swordfights, scheming, impersonation, desire, betrayal, and murder.

Nobody can be trusted. Everyone has a secret. And love is the worst mistake you can make.

Rating: Narration – C+ : Content – A-

A retelling of Anthony Hope’s 1894 classic adventure story The Prisoner of Zenda from a different point of view, K.J. Charles’ The Henchmen of Zenda introduces us to Jasper Detchard, a disgraced and debauched former army officer who unrepentantly fights and fucks his way around Europe, making his living as soldier of fortune. He’s approached by Michael Elphberg, Duke of Strelsau (from the small European kingdom of Ruritania) to join his trusted bodyguard – known as “the six” – and take part in the overthrow of Michael’s half-brother, the country’s new king, Rudolf V.

The original novel is narrated by one Rudolf Rassendyll, an English gentleman who bears an uncanny resemblance to King Rudolf, and who is holidaying in Ruritania when he is approached by the king’s closest advisers and asked to impersonate the monarch during his upcoming coronation because he’s falling down drunk and unlikely to be sober in time to attend. When Michael’s men kidnap the king, things get even more complicated; Rassendyll falls in love with the king’s betrothed, the Princess Flavia, and all ends well after Rassendyll rescues the king and then honourably bows out, leaving Flavia to do her duty to king and country. It’s a “Boy’s Own” swashbuckling adventure, a piece of Victorian pulp fiction complete with all the clichés and conventions demanded by the genre; an altruistic, honourable hero, a damsel in distress and a black-hearted villain… or two. K.J. Charles does a superb job of turning these conventions on their heads, inside out and backwards to create a story that immediately takes on a life of its own separate from the source material, and of turning the characters into fully-rounded individuals rather than the rather two-dimensional cyphers they are in Hope’s tale.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

The Corset by Laura Purcell

This title may be purchased from Amazon

NOTE: NOT AVAILABLE DIGITALLY IN THE US. The book is being published in the US in June 2019 under the title The Poison Thread

Is prisoner Ruth Butterham mad or a murderer? Victim or villain?

Dorothea and Ruth.

Prison visitor and prisoner. Powerful and powerless.

Dorothea Truelove is young, wealthy and beautiful. Ruth Butterham is young, poor and awaiting trial for murder.

When Dorothea’s charitable work leads her to Oakgate Prison, she is delighted to have the chance to explore her fascination with phrenology and test her hypothesis that the shape of a person’s skull can cast a light on their darkest crimes. But when she meets teenage seamstress Ruth, she is faced with another theory: that it is possible to kill with a needle and thread. For Ruth attributes her crimes to a supernatural power inherent in her stitches.

The story Ruth has to tell of her deadly creations – of bitterness and betrayal, of death and dresses – will shake Dorothea’s belief in rationality, and the power of redemption.

Can Ruth be trusted? Is she mad, or a murderer?

Rating: B

Laura Purcell first came to my attention as the author of a couple of very fine pieces of historical fiction, and earlier this year, I awarded her fabulous, spooky supernatural/gothic mystery The Silent Companions DIK status at AAR  and gushed about it to everyone who crossed my path!  I’ve been waiting eagerly to read her next novel The Corset, another mystery set in Victorian England, this time, featuring two very different women who are brought together in the gloomy surroundings of a London prison.

Dorothea Truelove is pragmatic, intelligent and privileged.  She is heiress to a considerable sum, but continually resists her father’s attempts to find her an eligible husband, preferring instead to concentrate on her scientific interests and the young, most definitely ineligible policeman with whom she is in love.  Dorothea has become fascinated by phrenology  – a pseudoscience that posited that a person’s character could be determined by the measurements of their skull and that personality, thoughts and emotions were located in certain specific regions of the brain – and is furthering her knowledge by visiting female inmates at Oakwood Gate Prison.  She is keen to meet the latest new arrival, a sixteen-year-old girl called Ruth Butterham who has confessed to the murder of her employer and several other people, and to study the size and shape of her skill, believing her research could help “devise a system to detect, scientifically, without a doubt, all evil propensities in the young” and thereby a way of preventing them from becoming criminals.

Ruth Butterham couldn’t be more different to Dorothea.  A talented seamstress, Ruth’s life has been blighted by tragedy, poverty and horror; when her father commits suicide, she and her sick mother are forced to seek help from Mrs. Metyard, a popular modiste for whom Ruth’s mother often does piece-work.  In desperation, Ruth’s mother more or less sells Ruth to Mrs. Metyard, believing that a roof over her head and regular meals will be better for Ruth than anything she can provide, which is why, aged just twelve, Ruth finds herself subjected to abuse and exploitation alongside four other girls, all of them terribly mistreated, half-starved and regularly beaten.

The story is told from both Dorothea’s and Ruth’s points of view, the latter in the form of the tale she is telling Dorothea and her thoughts and feelings upon it.  Ruth tells how she came to believe that she had the ability to impart her feelings through her needle and into her work, and how she has been able to cause harm to those who harmed her by weaving her hatred and anger into her sewing.  Dorothea is at first fascinated and excited at the prospect of being able to examine the head shape and size of a murderess, but soon becomes annoyed and frustrated; what she is hearing from Ruth’s lips and learning from her skull shape and measurements don’t match up at all, because her centres of morality and memory are too well developed for someone who is clearly telling so many lies.

It’s perhaps not surprising that Dorothea’s narrative is somewhat less engrossing than Ruth’s.  She doesn’t have to worry about where her next meal is coming from, or whether dropping this plate or that candle will result in a vicious beating (which happens in Ruth’s story); her problems are trivial by comparison, as she fumes about the fact that her father is planning to marry a woman she dislikes intensely, and over his attempts to force her into marriage. That said, the parallels the author draws between the women in relation to how little control either has over their lives is relevant and nicely done, showing clearly that gender was a great leveller, still the biggest obstacle to a woman having choices, no matter her social or financial status.  The corset is certainly an interesting metaphor, applied just as well to the garments that restricted women’s movement as to the rigid conventions that restricted their behaviour and opportunities.

As is the case with the other books I’ve read by Laura Purcell, The Corset is beautifully written, and her research has clearly been impeccable.  The descriptions of what Ruth goes through – the poverty, the despair, the cruelty – have a visceral impact and make Ruth an easy figure to sympathise with, but they were also a little too gory at times for my taste, and there were elements of unnecessary repetition that didn’t enhance or further the story.  And here I have a confession to make; the reveal that came around the half-way point was so daft that it actually made me want to snort with laughter rather than hide behind the sofa.

I find I can’t write about The Corset without reference to Ms. Purcell’s previous novel, The Silent Companions, which is one of the best modern gothic novels I’ve read.  Deeply atmospheric and seriously creepy, it worked so well because there was genuine doubt as to what was really going on; was the heroine subject to supernatural forces or mere human evil?  Whatever the answer arrived at by the reader, both options were equally terrifying.  In this novel, however, there is no real horror (unless you count the account of the birth of Ruth’s sister, or the gloopy slime of the decaying fish one of the other girls put into Ruth’s work-basket), or sense of the unexpected. I was never really convinced by Ruth’s belief that she could somehow sew malevolence into the garments she made and embroidered, which always seemed to me to be something latched on to by a girl so traumatised by loss and despair that she would believe anything if it meant she was able to exercise even the smallest amount of control over her circumstances.

The characterisation of both leads is extremely strong, Ruth’s naïve, trusting nature tempered by an incredible resilience and endurance while Dorothea, ostensibly a good young woman with a penchant for doing good works, turns out to be something of  a self-righteous prig.  Ms. Purcell interweaves their narratives skilfully and in such a way as to give the reader time to reflect upon their reliability, and the final chapters and slowly evolving revenge plot are incredibly well done; for my money, the final twenty percent of the novel is easily worth the price of admission alone.  But for all the great things the book has going for it, I wasn’t as drawn into it as I’d hoped to be, which I freely admit may be because I had such high expectations and had hoped for more of what I found in the author’s previous novel.

The Corset nonetheless earns a solid recommendation courtesy of its superb writing, strong characterisation and intriguing storylines.  The novel’s flaws don’t outweigh its strengths by any means, and anyone looking for a gritty, well-written and well-researched gothic mystery could do worse than give it a try.

The Hollow of Fear (Lady Sherlock #3) by Sherry Thomas


This title may be purchased from Amazon

Under the cover of “Sherlock Holmes, consulting detective,” Charlotte Holmes puts her extraordinary powers of deduction to good use. Aided by the capable Mrs. Watson, Charlotte draws those in need to her and makes it her business to know what other people don’t.

Moriarty’s shadow looms large. First, Charlotte’s half brother disappears. Then, Lady Ingram, the estranged wife of Charlotte’s close friend Lord Ingram, turns up dead on his estate. And all signs point to Lord Ingram as the murderer.

With Scotland Yard closing in, Charlotte goes under disguise to seek out the truth. But uncovering the truth could mean getting too close to Lord Ingram—and a number of malevolent forces…

Rating: A

It seems that my reaction, whenever I finish one of Sherry Thomas’ Lady Sherlock books, is forever destined to be one of complete awe as I sit stunned, with my brain trying to catch up while I’m also trying to scrape my jaw up off the floor. I’m not sure I’m capable of forming whole sentences just yet, because DAY-UM, but the woman has a devious mind!

The Hollow of Fear is the third in the series, and it opens exactly where book two – A Conspiracy in Belgravia – left off. So be aware that what I’m going to say next is a spoiler for that book, and that there are most likely to be spoilers for the other books in this review. Readers should also know that while there is information dotted throughout that supplies some of the backstory, I’d strongly recommend reading all the books in order so as to gain a greater understanding of all the relevant events.

The plotline of Conspiracy concerned the search for one Myron Finch, who is Charlotte Holmes’ illegitimate half-brother. In a surprise twist tight at the end of the book, we learned that Finch has actually been hiding in plain sight all this time, working as the Holmes family’s coachman, and this conversation continues at the beginning of Hollow. Finch explains that he’s in hiding from Moriarty because he – Finch – has something belonging to his former master and knows that death will be his punishment should Moriarty ever find him. After a daring escape – made with the aid of Stephen Marbleton (whose mother was married to Moriarty at one time) – Charlotte is making her way back to the house she shares with Mrs. Watson when a carriage draws up beside her, the door opens – and the gentleman inside gives his name as Moriarty.

Skipping ahead a few months, we find Charlotte and Mrs. Watson comfortably settled in a cottage situated not very far from Stern Hollow, the country estate of Charlotte’s closest friend, Lord Ingram Ashburton.  The two have known each other since they were in their teens and it’s been very clear from the moment readers were introduced to Lord Ingram – Ash – that there’s more lying between him and Charlotte than friendship.  But he is married (albeit very unhappily) and Charlotte is… an unusual woman, to say the least, one who does not “understand the full spectrum of human emotions”, or rather, whose own reactions to those emotions are not always those that are desired or easily understood by others.  Lord Ingram and Charlotte know and understand each other on a deep, instinctual level, and their relationship is both beautiful and frustrating; the complementary way their minds work is wonderful to see – when it comes to logic and investigation, their thoughts mesh seamlessly – but their emotional connection is far more complex and Lord Ingram, fully aware of the nature of his feelings for Charlotte, is just as fully aware that they may never be returned as he would wish.

However, the reason Charlotte and Mrs. Watson are sojourning near Stern Hollow is not Lord Ingram, but Charlotte’s sister, Olivia, who is staying close by, at a house party being hosted by their father’s cousin, Mrs. Newell.  Given that Charlotte was disowned after her disgrace (A Study in Scarlet Women), she cannot openly contact Livia and hopes she will be able to see her while she is in the vicinity.  It looks as though fate is against them when Mrs. Newell’s home is flooded and it seems the party must be broken up, but Lord Ingram steps in to offer the hospitality of Stern Hollow to the displaced guests.  Livia’s enjoyment of her new surroundings is slightly marred by the presence of  two of society’s pre-eminent gossips, who have alleged that Charlotte and Lord Ingram are lovers and are trying to prove it.  Lady Ingram’s continued absence – the story is that she has gone abroad for the sake of her health; the truth is that she was divulging state secrets to Moriarty, and was allowed to leave the country before she could be arrested – produces even more juicy speculation on the part of the two ladies, who are now putting forth the rumours that Lord Ingram may have done away with the wife from whom he was known to be estranged in order to marry Charlotte.  When, a day or so later, Lady Ingram’s dead body is discovered in the ice house, Livia knows it will look as though those rumours are true – and that there’s only one person who will be able to prove Lord Ingram’s innocence.

Gah!  There’s so much more I could say about this book, but I don’t want to give too much away.  The bulk of the story is devoted to the investigation into Lady Ingram’s death – but it’s far more complicated than that, and we’re gripped by the various twists, turns and discoveries as Sherlock’s ‘brother’ – Sherrinford Holmes – helps Lord Ingram to ferret out and piece together the evidence needed to exonerate him. There’s no question the stakes are high; this is the first time we’ve seen Charlotte even the slightest bit rattled, and the pervasive sense of fear running throughout the story is palpable.  For three-quarters of the novel, Ms. Thomas lulls readers into the belief that this is the story – only to rip out the carpet from under our feet and show it’s been about something else all along, revealing that while Ash’s life really IS on the line, he and Charlotte are facing a very dangerous, devious foe and they’re out to do much more than bring a murderer to justice.  That’s not the only twist in the tale however – a couple of chapters later I was reeling from yet another unexpected reveal that had my husband wondering what on earth I was swearing aloud about!

One of the (many) things that marks the Lady Sherlock series out as superior to so many other historical mysteries is the incredible amount of character development going on.  More layers of Charlotte’s complex personality are peeled back here, and we learn a lot more about Lord Ingram and his unpopular wife; but most importantly, with Ash and Charlotte together for almost the entire book we get to see the reality of their messy, complicated relationship and to gain a deeper understanding of why things between them are the way they are.  Their scenes together are electric, the sexual tension so thick it could be cut with a knife; the author wasn’t kidding when she said – “this is the one in which the romance between Charlotte Holmes and her good friend Lord Ingram really picks up steam”, so it’s not a spoiler to say that there are some interesting developments between them, but there is still much to hope for in future instalments.

Even with the high-stakes plot and the character and relationship development, there’s still time to shine a light on Charlotte’s family situation; on her plans for Bernadine, the older sister whose mind has never progressed beyond early childhood and on Livia, prone to melancholy and fearful for the future, but fiercely devoted to Charlotte – and, it seems, in love for the first time.  Inspector Treadles, who has been struggling ever since discovering Sherlock Holmes’ true identity, his judgement strongly coloured by his – probably typical for the time – misogynistic views as to what a woman should and shouldn’t be, proves a trustworthy ally, and by the end of the book – thanks to Charlotte – he’s realised the need to let go of this preconceived ideas.

The story is very cleverly constructed, making excellent use of flashbacks in the latter part to complete the bigger picture and fill in some of the information the reader almost doesn’t realise has been withheld. That’s not to say that I felt cheated at any point – I didn’t.  But I was able to figure out some things and not others, meaning that there were still plenty of surprises in store, and I loved that.

The Hollow of Fear is yet another tour de force from Sherry Thomas – and long may she continue to deliver them. A mystery filled with as many twists and turns as any Conan Doyle fan could wish for, a fascinating character study, and an unusual romance, it’s easily the best book of the series (so far) and my only complaint is that I have to wait until next year for another helping.

The Duke With the Dragon Tattoo (Victorian Rebels #6) by Kerrigan Byrne (audiobook) – Narrated by Derek Perkins

This title may be purchased from Amazon

The bravest of heroes. The brashest of rebels. The boldest of lovers. These are the men who risk their hearts and their souls-for the passionate women who dare to love them . . .

He is known only as The Rook. A man with no name, no past, no memories. He awakens in a mass grave, a magnificent dragon tattoo on his muscled forearm the sole clue to his mysterious origins. His only hope for survival-and salvation-lies in the deep, fiery eyes of the beautiful stranger who finds him. Who nurses him back to health. And who calms the restless demons in his soul . . .

A LEGENDARY LOVE

Lorelei will never forget the night she rescued the broken dark angel in the woods, a devilishly handsome man who haunts her dreams to this day. Crippled as a child, she devoted herself to healing the poor tortured man. And when he left, he took a piece of her heart with him. Now, after all these years, The Rook has returned. Like a phantom, he sweeps back into her life and avenges those who wronged her. But can she trust a man who’s been branded a rebel, a thief, and a killer? And can she trust herself to resist him when he takes her in his arms?

Rating: Narration – A : Content – C+

I’ve read and/or listened to all the books in Kerrigan Byrne’s Victorian Rebels series, and I hate to say it, but I think it’s running – has run – out of steam. The first two or three were very good – The Highwayman (book one) continues to be my favourite of the series, with The Hunter a close second – but books four to six have been distinctly lacklustre, and I think that had it not been for the fact that Derek Perkins is one of my favourite narrators and I’ll always jump at the chance to listen to him performing an historical romance novel, I might well have given up on it by now.

When I started The Duke with the Dragon Tattoo (and don’t get me started on the penchant for derivative titles in HR these days!), I thought – at first – that at last, here was a return to the gripping storytelling of The Highwayman, but after a very strong opening and first few chapters, things start to fizzle out; the rest of the plot is tissue-paper thin, the central relationship is almost completely recycled from book one, the principals are bland and underdeveloped and there are large chunks in the middle of the book where nothing much happens.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.