A Sinner Without a Saint (The Penningtons #4) by Bliss Bennet

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An honorable artist

Benedict Pennington’s greatest ambition is not to paint a masterpiece, but to make the world’s greatest art accessible to all by establishing England’s first national art museum. Success in persuading a reluctant philanthropist to donate his collection of Old Master paintings brings his dream tantalizingly close to reality. Until Viscount Dulcie, the object of Benedict’s illicit adolescent desire, begins to court the donor’s granddaughter, set on winning the paintings for himself . . .

A hedonistic viscount

Sinclair Milne, Lord Dulcie, far prefers collecting innovative art and dallying with handsome men than burdening himself with a wife. But when rivals imply Dulcie’s refusal to pursue wealthy Miss Adler and her paintings is due to lingering tender feelings for Benedict Pennington, Dulcie vows to prove them wrong. Not only will he woo her away from the holier-than-thou painter, he’ll also placate his matchmaking father in the process.

Sinner and saint – can both win at love?

But when Benedict is dragooned into painting his portrait, Dulcie finds himself once again drawn to the intense artist. Can the sinful viscount entice the wary painter into a casual liaison, one that will put neither their reputations, nor their feelings, at risk? Or will the not-so-saintly artist demand something far more vulnerable–his heart?

Rating: B

I’ve been looking forward to reading A Sinner Without a Saint, the fourth book in Bliss Bennet’s series about the Pennington family.  It features the remaining unwed sibling, Benedict, and Viscount Dulcie, a long-standing family friend and former schoolmate of Benedict’s, with whom he appears to have a bit of a love/hate relationship.  The snippets of them together we’ve seen in previous books have mostly consisted of Dulcie exercising his sharp wit and knowing manner in order to needle Benedict into reacting to him; it’s clear there’s a mutual attraction there and equally clear that Benedict isn’t particularly happy about it. This is a frenemies-to-lovers story with depth and originality; in each of the books in the series, Ms. Bennet has chosen interesting backdrops that are more than just window-dressing, and she ties her characters and storylines very closely to them.

The timeline of this book runs concurrently with those of The Penningtons books two and three and some events from those stories are referenced here, but I don’t think it’s completely necessary to have read those, as sufficient explanation is given to enable A Sinner Without a Saint to work as a standalone.

When he was just twelve years old, Benedict Pennington developed a severe case of calf love for the gorgeous Sinclair Milne, Viscount Dulcie, only son and heir to the Earl Milne.  Dulcie is five years Benedict’s senior and for a time at school, Benedict was his fag (fagging was a traditional practice at British boys’ boarding schools wherein younger pupils acted as servants to the most senior boys). When Dulcie failed to return to school after the Easter holidays one year without explanation, Benedict was devastated and felt Dulcie had abandoned him.  Years later, Benedict – a hugely talented artist – went to live on the continent, where he honed his craft and acquired a reputation not only as a fine portraitist, but as a connoisseur, and as such, his opinions are sought regularly by collectors.  He continues to accept commissions, but his passion is the creation of a national collection of art which may be seen by all, and not just those who can afford the entrance fee to exclusive exhibitions.  The prevailing belief among the artistic establishment is that the masses could have no appreciation for the fine arts but Benedict believes that art should be accessible to all and he has managed to persuade Julius Adler, a wealthy businessman and owner of the finest collection of Old Masters in England to donate some of his paintings to the project.

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

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Undue Influence : A Persuasion Retelling by Jenny Holiday

This title may be purchased from Amazon

Second chances only come around once.

Eight years ago, Adam Elliot made the biggest mistake of his life. Now that mistake is coming back to haunt him. His family’s beloved vineyard has gone into foreclosure, and the new owner is the sister of the only man he’s ever loved—the man he dumped under pressure from family and friends who thought the match was beneath him.

When Freddy Wentworth, aka the bad boy of Bishop’s Glen, left town with a broken heart, he vowed never to return. But a recently widowed friend needs his help, so here he is. He’s a rich and famous celebrity chef now, though, so everyone can just eff right off.

But some things are easier said than done. Despite their attempts to resist each other, old love rekindles—and old wounds reopen. If they want to make things work the second time around, they’ll have to learn to set aside their pride—and prejudice.

Rating: B-

I’ve read and enjoyed a number of books by Jenny Holiday (her m/m romance, Infamous is a firm favourite of mine) and as Persuasion is one of my top two Jane Austen novels (regularly trading places with Emma at the top of the list), the combination of the author and a favourite plotline was one bound to catch my eye.  In something of an embarrassment of riches, this is the second m/m re-telling of Persuasion to appear in the last few weeks (the other is Sally Malcolm’s Perfect Day).

In Ms. Holiday’s take on the story, we’re introduced to Adam Elliot, whose mother and sister have pretty much run the family business (the Kellynch vineyard) and finances into the ground and are about to decamp to stay with a friend in the Hamptons.  All the business of the foreclosure and removal has fallen to Adam, who is happy to remain in Bishop’s Glen, where he’s lived all his life, in spite of the continual urging of his oldest – and pretty much only – friend Rusty, that he should leave town and make something of his life.

Rusty stands in for the Lady Russell character as the bringer to bear of the Undue Influence of the title. Garage owner by day, Drag Queen by night, Rusty has been the only person in Adam’s life who seemed to give a damn about him – and is also the person who talked Adam into making what he now regards as the biggest mistake of his life eight years earlier.

That mistake was, of course, parting from the love of his life, Freddy Wentworth.  Widely termed the bad-boy of Bishop’s Glen (especially after the infamous town-square dick-sucking incident), Adam and Freddy met when they were both working as parking valets at a local hotel.

Adam came limping up to the valet stand and kept on going right into Freddy’s heart.

Ms. Holiday makes good use of flashbacks to tell the story of Adam and Freddy’s romance (through Freddy’s PoV), a device I enjoy when it’s done well, which is the case here.  We don’t get the story of Anne and Wentworth’s romance in the original novel, so I appreciated the fleshing out of the backstory in this way.

Back in the present, Freddy is stunned to learn that the property his sister and brother-in-law have recently purchased in what his best friend calls “the armpit of the Finger Lakes” is the one that formerly belonged to the Elliot family – and in spite of himself, he can’t help wondering what became of Adam.  In the intervening years, Freddy has made good and them some; he and his friend, Ben Captain, have opened a popular and successful restaurant in New York, and have also become a pair of TV chefs, with Freddy being the grouchy Gordon Ramsay type while Ben is the sweetly encouraging one.

Undue Influence follows the storyline of Persuasion fairly faithfully, so we’ve got the McGuires (Lulu and Henry) for the Musgroves, Ben Captain for James Benwick, who, in the original was engaged to Wentworth’s sister (who died), but who, here, has recently lost his wife, and William Ellison for William Elliot, in the original, the distant cousin who takes an interest in Anne but is later revealed to be a rather unsavoury chap.  Some events are, of necessity, omitted or truncated, but even allowing for a degree of dramatic license, I felt that many of the events occurring in the present timeline were rushed or included for the sake of it – just because they were in the original – and the secondary characters are not very well fleshed out.

The youthful romance between Adam and Freddy is sweetly adorable and they have great chemistry; Freddy is clearly deeply smitten and takes every opportunity he can to spend time with Adam, even going so far as to walk home with him, even though he lives miles in the opposite direction, and he shows a side of himself to Adam that he never shows anyone else.  Present-day Freddy tries hard to keep telling himself he hates Adam for throwing him over eight years earlier, but it doesn’t take very long for him to admit to himself that’s BS and that he wants a second chance.

The book’s biggest problem, however, is with the reason for Adam and Freddy’s split, which just isn’t strong enough to explain away the eight year separation of two people who so clearly loved each other and, equally clearly, have never really stopped.  This is always going to be the biggest stumbling block in any modern retelling of this story, because the reasons Anne Elliot gave up her Frederick Wentworth aren’t ones that would work dramatically nowadays.  She was young and from a well-to-do, snobbish family and Wentworth was, at the time, a mere midshipman with neither wealth nor prospects. A young woman in the early nineteenth century was subject to the wishes of her family and Anne was persuaded, by familial and monetary considerations, to reject the man she loved.  In the twenty-first century, those reasons are not believable ones, and unfortunately, Ms. Holiday hasn’t been able to come up with something else which satisfactorily accounts for Adam and Freddy’s separation.

I enjoyed Undue Influence and I liked Adam and Freddy, but the weakness of the pivotal plot point was impossible to ignore.  I’m not sure if my knowledge (and love for) Persuasion is a positive or negative thing; if I’d come to this as an m/m contemporary romance without familiarity with the source material, might I have enjoyed it more?  I’m not sure, because that plot point is still weak – perhaps even weaker if one doesn’t know the reasons given in the original story – and in any case, I can’t “unread” the other novel, so it’s a moot point.

I’m giving this one a cautious recommendation overall; it has a lot going for it in terms of the writing, the romance and the central characters, but there’s no escaping the fact that it’s let down by the big flaw in the premise.

Salt Magic, Skin Magic by Lee Welch

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Lord Thornby has been trapped on his father’s isolated Yorkshire estate for a year. There are no bars or chains; he simply can’t leave. His sanity is starting to fray. When industrial magician John Blake arrives to investigate a case of witchcraft, he finds the peculiar, arrogant Thornby as alarming as he is attractive. John soon finds himself caught up in a dark fairytale, where all the rules of magic—and love—are changed.

To set Thornby free, both men must face life-changing truths—and John must accept that the brave, witty man who’s winning his heart may also be about to break it. Can they escape a web of magic that’s as perilous as love?

Rating: A-

First of all – don’t let that horrible cover put you off!

Salt Magic, Skin Magic is a very impressive almost-début novel from Lee Welch – I say ‘almost’, because the author has previously published a novella – and I devoured it in two sittings.  I’m not widely-read in the fantasy genre, but the premise seemed quite unique, the world-building – in terms of the rules governing the use of magic – is well-thought out and explained, and the two central characters are engaging and strongly defined.

Soren Dezombrey, Lord Thornby, lives a life devoted to pleasure in London, as is usual for many heirs-in-waiting.  He is estranged from his father, the Marquess of Dalton, whom he hasn’t seen for twenty years, so is naturally surprised when the marquess visits him in town and insists that Soren returns to the family’s Yorkshire estate of Raskelf Hall so that he can marry one of two heiresses selected for him.  In fact, the marquess does more than insist; his servants overpower Soren and force him into the carriage, and Soren is now a prisoner in his own home.  For the past eighteen months, he’s been at Raskelf – and he can’t leave.  Literally.  He isn’t bound or locked in; he can go wherever he pleases within the estate boundary, but whenever he gets close to it, he starts to panic, think the nineteenth century equivalent of “damn, I’ve left the oven on!” and immediately turns back and returns to the hall.

John Blake is a down-to-earth industrial magician, an exponent of inanimate magic, which is regarded in magical circles as lesser, more common magic than that practiced by Theurgists, who summon demons to do their magic for them and so don’t get their hands dirty.  His normal line of work is in factories and other industrial buildings, where he is employed to ward against things like fires, injuries or accidents, so the request to visit the home of a nobleman is a very unusual one.  But a friend – who happens to be Lady Dalton’s cousin – tells him that the lady is terrified that her stepson is using magic with intent to harm her, and he asks John to visit Raskelf as a favour.  John reluctantly agrees to go, and immediately senses that there’s something not right.  The house is literally drenched In ancient magic, curses and things John doesn’t understand, and even odder is the fact that Thornby seems to be completely immune to his magic.  John’s curiosity is aroused – as are other things, because Thornby, while the epitome of the arrogant, disdainful nobleman, is quite the most beautiful man John has ever seen.

At first, what he sees would seem to support the idea that Thornby is indeed a malevolent force within the household, and he takes little heed of the latter’s insistence that he holds no ill-will towards Lady Dalton and that he is unable to leave the estate.  It’s only when he witnesses first-hand – by marching Thornby forcibly across the estate boundary – the other man’s struggles to return and then watches as horrible wounds appear on his face that he at last comes to realise that there’s something truly sinister at work at Raskelf and to believe that Thornby is an unwitting pawn in a dangerous game… but what exactly is going on and who is pulling the strings?

Lee Welch has created an original, riveting magical fantasy in Salt Magic, Skin Magic, which combines an intriguing, tightly-constructed and high-stakes plot laden with mysticism, magic and suspense with a warm, tender romance between two men at opposite ends of the social spectrum who should, by rights, never have met.  The chemistry between Soren and John is intense right from the start, although neither is happy about the degree to which they’re drawn to the other man; and I loved the evolution of their relationship as it progressed from antagonism and suspicion to trust, affection and soul-deep belief in each other. Their interactions are flirty, funny and tender, and the romance develops in a wholly believable, organic way.

Salt Magic, Skin Magic is unquestionably one of the most original, compelling books I’ve read this year, and I’m eager to see what Ms. Welch comes up with next.

The Protector (Games People Play #4) by HelenKay Dimon (audiobook) – Narrated by Jeremy York

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

Salvation, Pennsylvania. The commune located in the small town was advertised as a modern Utopia: a place to live, share, and learn with other like-minded young people. Cate Pendleton’s sister was one of them. Now she’s dead – and Cate won’t rest until she finds out who killed her. Stonewalled at every turn, she approaches a DC Fixer for help and ends up with Damon Knox, a mysterious man with a secretive past. But Cate soon discovers that she not only needs Damon, she wants him, which isn’t good – for the attraction brewing between them will only lead to complications that can turn into danger….

Damon has tried to erase the hellish memories and the evil that happened in Salvation ever since he left a long time ago. Still, he can’t turn his back on Cate. As Damon works with Cate to uncover her sister’s killer, he finds himself drawn to her more and more. But how will she feel about him when she learns about his connection to the place?

Joining forces to uncover the truth, they must stay one step ahead of a cunning killer who’s bent on not being exposed.

Rating: Narration – B : Content – B-

The Protector is the fourth full-length novel in HelenKay Dimon’s series of romantic suspense tales, Games People Play. The other three aren’t available in audio (yet?) but fortunately, while there are some characters who recur in each book, each story is self-contained, so there’s no need to be familiar with the earlier instalments in order to be able to follow this one. It might help to have a rough idea of the premise – the hero of each story is a member of a mysterious group that operates under the radar (and sometimes outside the law) in order to fix the seemingly unfixable – but the author includes enough basic information about the enigmatic Wren and his organisation for the newbie to be able to work it out easily enough. Jeremy York is another of those narrators I’ve been aware of for some time but haven’t yet listened to, so as I’ve read some of the earlier books, this seemed like a good opportunity to give him a try.

Cate Pendleton has been trying for years to find the truth about the circumstances surrounding her sister’s death at a place known as Salvation, a commune in South Pennsylvania that advertises itself as the ideal place to live, work, share and learn among other like-minded people. But Cate suspects it to be something more sinister, and past events involving the place would seem to bear that out. Around fourteen years earlier, an FBI investigation into Salvation ended in violence, and Cate is convinced the place is more akin to a cult than a harmless Utopian community. Having come to dead end after dead end, Cate has only one place left to turn for help in her search for the truth about her sister, and reaches out to Wren in the hope that he’ll be able to help her to get the answers she’s looking for.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

A Marriage Made in Scandal (Rescued from Ruin #9) by Elisa Braden

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Wanted: A countess for the most feared lord in London
With a family legacy tainted by murder and madness, Phineas Brand, the Earl of Holstoke, is having a devil of a time securing a proper wife—or even an improper one. Society misses faint at the sight of him. Matchmaking mamas scurry to avoid him. Only one woman is bold enough to keep drawing near, and she’s more scandalous than he is.

Caution: A lady’s brazen ways may lead to ruin
Lady Eugenia Huxley knows all about running aground in the marriage mart, thanks to a scandal involving a footman and too much drink. No matter. She’ll gladly pursue millinery over matrimony. But when her sister’s spurned suitor returns to London in search of a wife, she can’t resist offering him a bit of courtship advice, even if the chilly, brilliant, honorable Lord Holstoke does give her shivers—heated, head-to-toe shivers that are anything but fearful.

Danger: This match may be combustible
After a series of vicious murders brings suspicion to Holstoke’s door, Eugenia risks everything to be his alibi. The only rational remedy is to marry the minx before she generates another scandal. Yet, the dangers don’t end at the altar. A poisonous enemy coils ever closer, threatening the woman who awakens his soul. How far will he go to protect her? That may be the greatest danger of all.

Rating: C+

This ninth book in Elisa Braden’s Rescued from Ruin takes place around six years after book seven, (Confessions of a Dangerous Lord), and revisits the members of the Huxley family.  A number of events that took place in that book are referenced here – principally the crimes committed by the hero’s mother and the resultant fallout – so this probably isn’t the ideal book to pick up if you haven’t read any of the other books in the series. A Marriage Made in Scandal is a very readable novel that combines a friends-to-lovers romance with an intriguing mystery, but even though I liked quite a few things about it, there are things I didn’t that prevent me from recommending it.

One of those things is the way the story opens.  Lady Eugenia Huxley is the daughter of an earl, but when we first encounter her she is working in a far from exclusive hat shop in one of the less salubrious areas of London.  Anyone who reads historicals regularly will immediately recognise the incongruity of the idea of an earl’s daughter working for a living.  As I read on I learned that a couple of years previously Eugenia – Genie – had caused a massive scandal by being caught in flagrante delicto with a footman and so I thought, “okay, so she disgraced herself and her family threw her out.  That makes more sense.”  Except – no.  Not only did her family not disown her, she still lives at the family home in Mayfair!  It’s said early on that Genie’s disgrace has naturally affected her younger sister’s marital prospects, that Genie no longer goes out in society and that she is still whispered about – but she lives at home?  And goes to work every day?  I didn’t buy it.  There are occasions when I can roll my eyes at a set up and move on, but not this time.  Ms. Braden is a good writer and I’m sure she could have come up with another way to have Genie be the family scandal without resorting to something so implausible.

Anyway.  While working in said downmarket hat shop, Genie runs in to Phineas Brand, Lord Holstoke, who, years earlier, had been courting her sister Maureen.  Phineas is a rigidly controlled young man whose mother (this isn’t a spoiler, as it happened in a previous book) was revealed to have been a murderess, having killed Phineas’ father and numerous others.  That was six years ago, and society still views Phineas with caution, which is making his search for a suitable bride difficult, to say the least.  And it’s made even more difficult when a young woman is murdered – poisoned using methods and poisons known to have been favoured by Phineas’ mother – and several more killings ensue in quick succession.  It seems someone is out to implicate Phineas in the murders, and when Genie impulsively steps in to provide him with an alibi, it’s the last straw for her father, who makes it clear he expects Phineas to marry her.  And in the meantime, the murder sub-plot picks up steam. The deaths seem random and there’s no way of knowing how, where or whom the poisoner will strike next, and Phineas greatly fears that by marrying Genie, he has placed her firmly in the killer’s sights.

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

Kill Game (Seven of Spades #1) by Cordelia Kingsbridge

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Homicide detective Levi Abrams is barely holding his life together. He’s reeling from the fallout of a fatal shooting, and his relationship with his boyfriend is crumbling. The last thing he’s prepared for is a serial killer stalking the streets of Las Vegas. Or how he keeps getting thrown into the path of annoyingly charming bounty hunter Dominic Russo.

Dominic likes his life free of complications. That means no tangling with cops — especially prickly, uptight detectives. But when he stumbles across one of the Seven of Spades’s horrifying crime scenes, he can’t let go, despite Levi’s warnings to stay away.

The Seven of Spades is ruthless and always two moves ahead. Worst of all, they’ve taken a dangerously personal interest in Levi and Dominic. Forced to trust each other, the two men race to discover the killer’s identity, revealing hidden truths along the way and sparking a bond neither man expected. But that may not be enough to protect them.

This killer likes to play games, and the deck is not stacked in Levi and Dominic’s favor.

Rating: A-

Well. It’s not often I finish a book and find I’ve been holding my breath as I neared the end, but Kill Game was one of those books.

First in Cordelia Kingsbridge’s Seven of Spades series, Kill Game jumps right into the action as we meet Detective Levi Abrams of the Las Vegas PD and his partner, Martine Valcourt, at a murder scene.  Philip Dreyer, a wealthy investment/wealth management advisor has been killed at his desk; there’s no sign of a struggle, his throat has been slit and a playing card – the seven of spades – is tucked into his jacket pocket.  This is the second victim to have been killed in this manner, with a  seven of spades card found on the body; Levi and Martine are pretty sure they have a serial killer on their hands.

Bounty Hunter – Bail Enforcement Agent – Dominic Russo becomes inadvertently involved in the case when one of the people he’s been hired to bring in turns out to be the killer’s next victim.  Levi and Dominic have run into each other a few times; Levi is usually pretty off-hand with Dominic, seeing him as a nuisance and someone who just gets in the way of the police doing their job.  He brushes Dominic off, but Dominic can’t let it go, especially after he finds a seven of spades card stuck under one of the wipers on the windscreen of his car.

Ms. Kingsbridge has created a deliciously taught thriller and two very appealing, charismatic protagonists in Kill Game, and I’m going to be jumping straight into the next book, Trick Roller as soon as I’ve finished typing! Levi is elegant and smoothly controlled on the surface, but a seething mass of anger on the inside; he has recently been involved in an OIS (Officer Involved Shooting) wherein he killed a man who was using a child as a hostage and keeps putting off his counselling sessions, and he’s also having issues with his long-term boyfriend, who wants to get married and settle down, and who is keen to persuade Levi into a change of career.  Dominic is an imposing, six-four, muscle-bound ex-army ranger with a serious gambling addiction (so yes, perhaps Las Vegas isn’t the best place for him, but he’s got good reasons for remaining there) who fights that addiction every day.  He works at a local LGBT club as a barman in the evenings as well as having a day job, and his ‘romantic’ life consists mostly of one-night hook-ups, and he’s content with that.  Until he realises that, at thirty-one, hooking up with guys in their early twenties is …well, a bit sad, and that maybe it’s time to start thinking about his future.

This is a series in which there’s an overarching plot running through all five books, so they have to be read in order – which will be no hardship if they’re all as good as this one.  The mysterious killer is cool, disciplined and clever, with reasoning that is almost sympathetic – in a twisted kind of way – and really knows what buttons to push.  And to make the stakes even higher and more personal, for some reason, they’ve latched on to Levi – he’s the one they call, he’s the one they seem to be prepared to go to any lengths to protect and even help; this is no opportunist and it’s clear that whoever it is is going to lead our heroes a very merry dance before all’s said and done.

Kill Game is an extremely well-done and compelling procedural with just a whiff of romance and a truckload of sexual chemistry between two attractive but deeply flawed principals.  Neither Levi nor Dominic is in the right place to embark on a new relationship, and I appreciated that they both recognised that and were in agreement about the need to take things slowly. (Well, mostly 😉 )

If you enjoy tightly-plotted procedurals/romantic suspense novels then I’d definitely recommend Kill Game with one proviso – be prepared to need to gobble up all the books in quick succession.  At time of writing, book four is imminent, with book five due in December.

The Matrimonial Advertisement (Parish Orphans of Devon #1) by Mimi Matthews

This title may be purchased from Amazon

She Wanted Sanctuary…

Helena Reynolds will do anything to escape her life in London, even if that means traveling to a remote cliffside estate on the North Devon coast and marrying a complete stranger. But Greyfriar’s Abbey isn’t the sort of refuge she imagined. And ex-army captain Justin Thornhill–though he may be tall, dark, and devastatingly handsome–is anything but a romantic hero.

He Needed Redemption…

Justin has spent the last two decades making his fortune, settling scores, and suffering a prolonged period of torture in an Indian prison. Now, he needs someone to smooth the way for him with the villagers. Someone to manage his household–and warm his bed on occasion. What he needs, in short, is a wife and a matrimonial advertisement seems the perfect way to acquire one.

Their marriage was meant to be a business arrangement and nothing more. A dispassionate union free from the entanglements of love and affection. But when Helena’s past threatens, will Justin’s burgeoning feelings for his new bride compel him to come to her rescue? Or will dark secrets of his own force him to let her go?

Rating: B-

Author Mimi Matthews has been on my radar ever since the release of her début novel, The Lost Letter in 2017, but this is the first time I’ve read one of her books.  The Matrimonial Advertisement is the first in her Parish Orphans of Devon series, and as the title suggests, the story is a variation on the mail-order-bride theme.  I enjoyed the author’s prose style; Ms. Matthews writes with elegance and precision, and she has created two sympathetic, engaging central characters, but the second half of the novel lacks any real sense of drama or romantic conflict – and what there is, is manufactured.  Ultimately, the great first half isn’t enough to compensate for the weakness of the second, and the story feels unbalanced as a result.

Former army captain Justin Thornhill has recently acquired the imposing and remote Greyfriars Abbey in the area of North Devon where he grew up.  He fought in India where he was caught up in the Siege of Cawnpore, captured and tortured; and now he wants to live the quiet life of a country squire. But he’s having trouble staffing the abbey owing to the rumours that continue to dog him about the part he may have played in the death of the estate’s previous owner, an uncaring reprobate who drank hard, played hard and thought any female within his orbit was fair game.  After the departure of the latest housekeeper, Justin’s steward suggests he needs a wife and that perhaps he should place a matrimonial advertisement – and so he finds himself faced with the prospect of ‘interviewing’ possible brides.

Justin is clear about the sort of wife he wants:

“I have no interest in courtship… nor in weeping young ladies who take to their bed with megrims. What I need is a woman. A woman who is bound by law and duty to see to the running of this godforsaken mausoleum.  A woman I can bed on occasion.”

– and Helena Reynolds most definitely doesn’t fit his idea of a capable, sensible wife.

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