The Chase (Brides of Beadwell #3) by Sara Portman

This title may be purchased from Amazon.

According to his father’s terms, Michael Rosevear’s duty is to be ignored–until such time as he is useful. Now that the earldom is in need of funds, Michael is to be sold off in marriage to the daughter of a crass but wealthy merchant willing to pay for any connection to nobility–even one from the wrong side of the blanket . . .

En route to his fate in London, Michael does not plan to board an extra passenger. Yet there is something in the young miss’s desperate plea that tugs at his conscience–though he is certain her story is a fabrication . . .

Juliana Crawford has fled her father’s cruel home. Using a false name to evade pursuit, she must find a private traveler with whom to complete her escape. Chance matches her with a dark and wounded young lord who guards his own secrets just as carefully. The unlikely pair embark on a journey filled with revelations and unexpected adventure–one that may lead them to question whether to part at their destination–or change course entirely. . .

Rating: D

When one reads a lot of books, one learns to take book blurbs with a pinch of salt.  Those that give a basic outline of the plot are fine, but those that proudly proclaim how ‘exciting’, or ‘unforgettable’ or ‘unique’ a story is always see me raising a sceptical eyebrow and thinking, ‘yeah, right.’  Or wrong.  As is the case here.  The cover copy of new-to-me author Sara Portman’s The Chase promised a ‘thrilling romance’, but I think whoever wrote that must have lost their dictionary, or got hold of one in which the definition of ‘thrilling’ was ‘the feeling one experiences when watching paint dry.’ Because there is nothing remotely thrilling about a story featuring quite possibly the wettest, wimpiest, weepiest heroine I’ve think I’ve ever read, who is completely dependent on the hero to get her out of every single difficulty she faces.

Miss Juliana Crawford has spent all of her adult life acting as her father’s skivvy.  Hers has been a very lonely life, but throughout it all, she has had one thing to look forward to; the small inheritance that will become hers on her twenty-fifth birthday.  She knows her cruel, cold father will never allow her to receive it, so for years, she has hoarded every penny she can in order to buy herself a ticket that will take her away from her home village of Beadwell in Derbyshire.  She can’t afford to purchase a ticket to take her to London, (where she plans to visit the family solicitor to claim her inheritance) but hopes instead to be able to inspire the kindness of a random traveller to take her there.  Juliana has lived a very sheltered life, but I’d have thought her father’s example of bad-tempered selfishness would have been sufficient to tell her that relying on the kindness and good intentions of others is not really the way to go.

Anyway. Watching the various arrivals at the Bear & Boar coaching inn in Peckingham, Juliana surveys the available prospects (a large family, a mother and son) and in the end, approaches a well-to-do gentlemen who is travelling in a smart carriage with a coat of arms on the door, and asks if he will convey her to London.  The man is very surprised at her making such a request of a stranger, and warns her that her reputation will be ruined if she is known to have travelled with a man without a chaperone; Juliana insists she is not worried about it, and the man allows her to enter his carriage.

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

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A Good Day to Marry a Duke (Sin and Sensibility #1) by Betina Krahn

This title may be purchased from Amazon

Daisy Bumgarten isn’t thrilled to be trying to catch a duke’s attention while dressed like a flower pot caught in a swarm of butterflies. But, after all, when in Rome (or in this case London society). . . . Since her decidedly disastrous debut among New York’s privileged set, the sassy Nevada spitfire’s last chance to “marry well” lies across the pond, here in England. If she must restrain her free spirit, not to mention her rib cage, so be it. She knows she owes it to her three younger sisters to succeed . . .

Now, under a countess’s tutelage, Daisy appears the perfect duchess-in-training . . . Until notorious ladies’ man Lord Ashton Graham, a distraction of the most dangerous kind, glimpses her mischievous smile and feisty nature—and attempts to unmask her motives. Daisy has encountered snakes on the range, but one dressed to the nines in an English drawing room is positively unnerving—and maddeningly seductive. When a veiled plot emerges to show up Daisy as unworthy of the aristocracy, will Ashton be her worst detractor? Or the nobleman she needs most of all?

Rating: B-

Betina Krahn is one of those authors I’ve been meaning to read for ages and haven’t got around to.  Most of her books were published before I got into reading romance in a big way, and she’s one of several authors whose backlists I mean to explore … when I get the time.  Happily for me, however, Ms. Krahn has embarked upon a new historical romance series entitled Sin and Sensibility, affording me the chance to sample something new from her. In the first book, A Good Day to Marry a Duke, we find an American heiress crossing the Atlantic – as did many so-called ‘dollar princesses’ in the late nineteenth century – in order to marry a titled gentleman.  She sets her sights upon the young and somewhat gauche Arthur Graham, Duke of Meridian, but she reckons without the havoc wreaked upon her emotions (and her libido) by his younger brother, Ashton, widely known as a rake of the highest order.

Daisy Bumgarten – and honestly, that name?  Are we supposed to think the heroine is a joke before the story even starts? – comes from a family whose money is so new that even the nouveau riche of New York society look down on them.  When Daisy scandalises all the other ladies present at the Bellington Hunt by wearing trousers under her skirts, riding astride, taking all the fences alongside the men and swigging spirits from her uncle’s flask, her mother is horrified and furiously points out that not only has Daisy ruined her own reputation by her reckless behaviour, but she has also scuppered her sisters’ reputations as well.  Daisy – at last – realises the enormity of what she’s done and decides she must make amends, so two years after the disastrous hunt, she travels to England with her uncle Redmond (Red) Strait and, having secured the sponsorship of the Countess of Kew, prepares to enter society and snare herself a duke. What better way to make it up to her mother and restore her sisters’ chances of marrying well?

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

It’s Hard Out Here for a Duke (Keeping Up with the Cavendishes #4) by Maya Rodale

This title may be purchased from Amazon

Some Mistakes…

When American-born James Cavendish arrives in London tomorrow, he’ll become the Duke of Durham. Some might be ecstatic at the opportunity. Not James. He’s a simple man, fond of simple pleasures. And right now, nothing could be more pleasurable than spending his last night of freedom with a beautiful stranger.

Are Far Too Good…

One wild night, Meredith Green, companion to the dowager Duchess of Durham, said yes to a man she thought she’d never see again. Suddenly, they’re living under the same roof, where Meredith is expected to teach James how to be a duke—while trying not to surrender to temptation a second time.

To Be Forgotten

For a duke and a commoner, marriage would be pure scandal. Yet nothing has ever felt as right as having Meredith in his arms… and in his bed. Soon he must choose—between a duty he never desired, and a woman he longs for, body and soul…

Rating: B+

I seem to have spent a bit of time lately saying “don’t let the stupid title put you off reading this book because it’s really good” – and now I’m saying it again.  This fourth book in Maya Rodale’s Keeping Up With the Cavendishes series is the best of the set once you get past yet another vomit-inducing excursion into Craptastic-Titles-R-Us, so try not to let it put you off reading what is actually a very well-written, tender and poignant story that is as much about the two central characters working out what it really means to be true to oneself as it is about their love for each other.

Readers who have been following the series will know that the four Cavendish siblings – James and his sisters Claire, Bridget and Amelia – have recently come to London from their home in America owing to the fact that James has unexpectedly inherited a dukedom he doesn’t want.  He would be more than content to remain at the family ranch doing what he does best and what he loves – breeding and raising horses – but is prompted to come to England because of his concern for his sisters.  All of them are no longer young (by early nineteenth century standards!) and perilously close to being on the shelf; and James thinks that perhaps moving to England will improve their prospects of making a good marriage.  He also thinks he should at least keep an open mind about the dukedom and what it entails – but the closer he gets to English shores, the more anxious and uncertain he becomes.

He and his sisters are to stay the night at an inn in Southampton before resuming their journey to London.  When they’ve gone to their rooms, James stays downstairs in the tap-room and is pondering his fate, when he notices a lovely young woman sitting alone at the bar.  He can’t keep his eyes off her, and her shy glances indicate some interest on her part, too.  James approaches her, they strike up a conversation and agree to spend the night together, ‘Just James’ and ‘Just a girl’ he’s met at a bar.

Yes, the idea that a respectable young woman at this period would sit alone at a public bar and then agree to a one night stand with a man she just met is a bit of a stretch of credulity, but it’s worth getting past it in order to enjoy the rest of the story.

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

The Lady and Mr. Jones (A Spy in the Ton #4) by Alyssa Alexander

This title may be purchased from Amazon.

Born in the rookeries, the hard life is something Jones is all too familiar with. Saved as a young boy, he was trained to be a spy, one of the best–elite, in fact. He now spends his days serving His Majesty in espionage, hunting rogue spies.His latest assignment, though, has him tracking a fellow spy…

Cat Ashdown is a baroness. Nothing is more important than protecting five hundred years of heritage. She knows every detail of every estate that commands the largest income in Britain— yet her father placed her inheritance in trust to her uncle who is forcing her to marry a man she has no desire for. The baroness’s battle against law and convention leads her to Jones and results that are surprising … and possibly unwanted.

Rating: B

The Lady and Mr. Jones, the fourth and final (I think?) book in Alyssa Alexander’s A Spy in the Ton series turns the spotlight on the eponymous Jones, a secondary character in previous books and a member of the elite spy ring that includes Shadow, Angel and the Flower.  Picking up some of the threads laid out in the previous book, A Dance with Seduction, Ms. Alexander has crafted a tender cross-class romance which plays out alongside an engaging suspense plot which sets spy against spy in a perilous, high-stakes game of cat-and-mouse.  I enjoyed the book and the characters, although the ending is a little weak and brought my final grade down a notch.

Jones – who doesn’t appear to have any other names – is a lad from the streets; an orphan from the rookeries who was plucked from poverty and trained by the best of the best in the art of spycraft.  Deeply loyal and honourable to a fault, Jones is so discreet, skilful and efficient that he is the man his superiors turn to when they need to keep an eye on one of their own.  In A Dance with Seduction, we met the Flower and her handler, Henry, Lord Wycombe, another member of Britain’s intricate network of spies and informants.  As the story progressed, it became clear that Wycombe was involved with something underhand and that his position had become compromised in some way – and now, Jones is assigned to keep watch on him and discover the truth about his activities and allegiances.

Lady Mary Elizabeth Frances Catherine Ashdown, the Baroness Worthington, is one of the richest women in England – or she would be if her late father hadn’t tied up her money in such a way that she is dependent on her guardian – her uncle, Viscount Wycombe – until she marries or reaches her thirty-fifth birthday.  Cat is one of the few women in England to bear a title in her own right (the barony is over five hundred years old, and as is the case with some of the oldest titles, can be held by a female) and she takes her responsibilities to her title and those who depend on her very seriously.  But her requests for funds to make improvements and repairs to the estate at Ashdown Abbey are continually blocked by her uncle and trustees and she is increasingly suspicious of Wycombe’s motives. She’s also furious, but her uncle is a dangerous and unpleasant man and she knows better than to reveal her feelings; instead she decides to pay for the repairs to her tenants’ cottages using her allowance.  Well aware that not all the servants at Worthington House are loyal to her, Cat slips from the house in order to post her letter of instruction to her steward – but on the way back, is accosted by a ruffian who tries to abduct her.

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

Cold Evidence (Evidence #6) by Rachel Grant (audiobook) – Narrated by Nicol Zanzarella

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

The only thing Navy underwater archaeologist Undine Gray fears more than facing former SEAL Luke Sevick is never scuba diving again. But when a dive on a Cold War-era US Navy submarine ends with an accidental explosion, she’s terrified of going into the deep, forcing her to beg the most experienced diver she knows to take her back to the bottom of the cold Salish Sea.

Luke wants nothing to do with the woman who destroyed his career a dozen years ago but finds it impossible to turn his back on her plea. Caught off guard by an attraction he doesn’t want to feel, he’s eager to be done with this mission of mercy. But when they dive on the wreck, he only gets sucked in deeper. Someone has been digging on the Navy sub…and it appears the explosion that almost killed Undine was no accident.

To find the truth, Undine must navigate murky waters and the unexpectedly hot undercurrents swirling between her and Luke. Worse, divers are searching for something lost in US waters during the Cold War, and they’ll do anything to keep Luke and Undine from finding it first.

Rating: Narration – A-; Content – A-

Cold Evidence is number six in Rachel Grant’s seven-book (so far) Evidence series of romantic suspense novels. I’ve yet to read or listen to every instalment, but those I’ve got to so far have proved to be immensely enjoyable, complex and action-packed stories featuring hot-as-hell heroes and feisty (in a good way) heroines who don’t take any crap. The romances are nicely steamy and well integrated into the main storylines, and for me, the balance between romance and suspense is just about perfect. Cold Evidence does feature some recurring characters but like all the books in the series, it can be enjoyed as a standalone – although there is a bit of a cliff-hanger at the end which leads into the next book, Poison Evidence. Don’t worry though, it’s more by way of a teaser; the suspense storyline and HEA are happily resolved, so you can safely listen to this without fear of frustration!

Underwater archaeologist Undine Gray is working on a project to salvage the USS Wrasse, an old US submarine that sank off the coast of Seattle during the time of the Cuban Missile Crisis, taking a number of its former crewmembers with it; men who had served aboard her in World War Two and who had volunteered to take her to her final resting place, not knowing it would become theirs, too.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

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.

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

Last Christmas in Paris: A Novel of World War 1 by Hazel Gaynor and Heather Webb (Audiobook) – Narrated by Alex Wyndham, Billie Fulford-Brown, Morag Sims, Gary Furlong, Derek Perkins, Greg Wagland, Antony Ferguson, Jane Copland and Mary Jane Wells

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

August 1914. England is at war. As Evie Elliott watches her brother, Will, and his best friend, Thomas Harding, depart for the front, she believes – as everyone does – that it will be over by Christmas, when the trio plan to celebrate the holiday among the romantic cafés of Paris.

But as history tells us, it all happened so differently….

Evie and Thomas experience a very different war. Frustrated by life as a privileged young lady, Evie longs to play a greater part in the conflict – but how? – and as Thomas struggles with the unimaginable realities of war, he also faces personal battles back home, where War Office regulations on press reporting cause trouble at his father’s newspaper business. Through their letters Evie and Thomas share their greatest hopes and fears – and grow ever fonder from afar. Can love flourish amid the horror of the First World War, or will fate intervene?

Christmas 1968. With failing health, Thomas returns to Paris – a cherished packet of letters in hand – determined to lay to rest the ghosts of his past. But one final letter is waiting for him…

Rating: Narration – A+ : Content – B+

Last Christmas in Paris is a beautifully written, superbly narrated epistolary novel which centres around the correspondence exchanged between three friends during the years of the First World War. I suspect the degree to which any listener will enjoy the story will depend on whether one enjoys novels that consist entirely of letters; personally, I’m a big fan of that literary device, so that, added to the fact that I have a particular interest in the history of the period, plus the list of excellent narrators attached to the project pretty much ensured my enjoyment of this audiobook. And enjoy it I did, although ‘enjoy’ seems rather a feeble word to describe how I feel about it now that I’ve finished listening to it. I was so caught up in this story of friendship, emancipation, love, loss, tragedy, hope, despair… a real gamut of emotions, that I couldn’t bear to set it aside; I listened to it in only two or three sittings and, when I finished it, felt that strange sense of emptiness that always seems to descend when I’ve finished reading or listening to something really good – that feeling of “what do I do now?”

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.