Gentleman Wolf (Capital Wolves #1) by Joanna Chambers

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An elegant werewolf in Edinburgh…

1788. When Lindsay Somerville, the most elegant werewolf in Paris, learns that the man who held him in abject captivity for decades is on his way to France, intent on recapturing him, he knows he must leave the Continent for his own safety. Lindsay cannot take the risk of being recaptured—he may have been free for a century but he can still feel the ghost of his old chains under his fine clothes.

… on a mission…

While he’s in Edinburgh, Lindsay has been tasked with acquiring the “Naismith Papers”, the writings of a long-dead witchfinder. It should be a straightforward mission—all Lindsay has to do is charm an elderly book collector, Hector Cruikshank. But Cruikshank may not be all he seems, and there are others who want the papers.

… meets his match

As if that were not enough, while tracking down the Naismith Papers, Lindsay meets stubborn architect Drew Nicol. Although the attraction between them is intense, Nicol seems frustratingly determined to resist Lindsay’s advances. Somehow though, Lindsay can’t seem to accept Nicol’s rejection. Is he just moonstruck, or is Nicol bonded to him in ways he doesn’t yet understand?

Rating: B+

After a few recent forays into contemporary romance, Joanna Chambers returns to historicals and to the city of Edinburgh for her latest novel, Gentleman Wolf, the first in her Capital Wolves Duet.  As the title suggests, this is a story with a touch of the paranormal, although the paranormal elements are fairly low-key, so if you’re looking for a full-blown shifter story, it might not be the book for you.  I should also point out that there is no HEA – or even HFN – in this book, but the second part of the duet (Master Wolf) is due to be published in early 2020, so there’s not too long to wait for the conclusion to the story.

When readers first meet Lindsay Somerville, he’s an abject slave; imprisoned, debased and badly used by a master he has no power to disobey and unable to end his suffering by seeking his own death. A former soldier in the Covenanter army, Lindsay was captured and brought before Duncan MacCormaic who, in a cruel act of frustration and warped revenge, turned Lindsay into a two-natured creature, a man with a powerful beast inside him that the moon could draw out.  Chained and forced to wear a silver collar that prevents his inner wolf from ever finding its way out, Lindsay knows that nothing awaits him but further pain and degradation – until something he’d never dared hope for happens and he’s rescued by a couple he can immediately identify as wolves from their scent.  They take Lindsay to Europe, and although time and distance lessen the unwanted bond between him and his ‘maker’, MacCormaic continues to make attempts to recapture him.

Over a century later finds Lindsay living contentedly in Paris with his rescuers, Francis Neville and his dear friend Marguerite.  It’s been a decade since Duncan last tried to find him, but Marguerite has news that chills Lindsay to the bone; Duncan is on his way to Paris and is expected to arrive in a matter of weeks.  To make sure Lindsay is well away by then, she asks him to undertake some business for her in Edinburgh, namely to meet with collector Hector Cruickshank and negotiate the purchase of a series of documents known as the Naismith Papers, a set of notes and papers pertaining to a number of witch trials that had taken place throughout Scotland some two hundred years earlier.

So Lindsay returns to Edinburgh, surprised to find the place still feels and smells like home after an absence of more than a hundred years, but also keen to complete his task and return to Paris once it’s safe for him to do so.  He arrives at the appointed time for his meeting with Cruickshank only to find another gentleman also waiting – and is completely unprepared for the coup de foudre that strikes him at sight of that other man, who introduces himself as Drew Nicol, the architect who has designed a house for Cruickshank in the rapidly growing New Town area of Edinburgh.

Lindsay is utterly smitten with the handsome but somewhat dour Mr. Nicol and decides to amuse himself a little by attempting to draw the man out.  At this stage, even he doesn’t quite understand what amounts to a near compulsion to find ways to spend time in Drew’s company, and his initial attempts to do so come off as just a bit selfish, as Drew is clearly uncomfortable with Lindsay’s amorous overtures.  I admit I was reminded a little of the pairing of the hardworking, closeted lawyer David Lauriston with the worldly, pleasure-seeking aristocrat Murdo Balfour employed to such good effect in Ms. Chambers’ earlier Enlightenment trilogy, although here, the PoV character is the hedonistic Lindsay rather than the quieter and obviously unhappy Drew.

Just as Lindsay is strongly drawn to Drew, so the reverse is true, no matter how torn Drew is over his attraction to a man, let alone one so obviously not of his world and who has already made clear his intention to leave the city in a few short weeks.  The author develops their relationship beautifully as Drew hesitantly allows himself to acknowledge his wants and needs and to act on them, imbuing their interactions with a palpable longing and sensuality that considerably heightens the poignancy of the book’s ending.

The secondary cast isn’t large, but Francis, Marguerite and Wynne, Lindsay’s devoted manservant, are all well-defined and have important roles to play within the story; and as always, the author’s descriptions of the Edinburgh of the time bring the place so wonderfully to life in all its ugliness and splendour that it’s like another character in the book.

An air of foreboding permeates the entire novel and only increases when Lindsay finally meets the shifty Cruickshank, who is clearly up to no good. The pacing is fairly leisurely on the whole, but it never drags as we build towards a shocking climax that leaves Drew and Lindsay at odds despite the nature of the bond that’s already developed between them.

Gentleman Wolf is a highly entertaining and engrossing read and one I can recommend wholeheartedly.  The writing is beautifully atmospheric, the characterisation is excellent, the story is most intriguing and the ending is equal parts frustrating and heart-breaking. I’m really looking forward to learning how everything plays out in Master Wolf when it’s released in January.

Taken by the Rake (Scarlet Chronicles #3) by Shana Galen

This title may be purchased from Amazon.

Sometimes beauty…

Honoria Blake knows she must have had a moment of madness when she accepted a summons by the Scarlet Pimpernel to travel to revolutionary Paris and help his League. She’s an expert forger and glad her services can be of use, but the violence of the Reign of Terror has her longing for her quiet, unobtrusive life in London. Then a bloody man staggers to the door of the house where she’s hiding, claiming he was sent by the Pimpernel. Recently escaped from La Force prison, the former Marquis de Montagne is sinfully handsome and charming. He’s also desperate enough to kidnap Honoria. So much for her return to the quiet life.

Can be a beast…

Laurent is a consummate rake, but even he is captivated by the beautiful Honoria. Laurent cares almost nothing for his own life, but he was always close to the royal family and the little princess was like a sister to him. He will risk everything to save her from a life of imprisonment and possible execution. His plan is risky and surely doomed, but if he can convince Honoria and the League of the Scarlet Pimpernel to help him, it just might succeed. The only question is how far he’s willing to go and whether he’s willing to risk the life of the only woman he’s ever loved to save a doomed princess.

Rating: B

Shana Galen continues her Scarlet Chronicles series of novels set in the early days of the French Revolution with Taken by the Rake, in which a young Englishwoman – who happens to be a talented forger – working with the League of the Scarlet Pimpernel in order to provide suitably ‘authentic’ documentation for the aristocrats being smuggled across to England, becomes caught up in one man’s personal crusade to rescue the children of the King and Queen of France.  Ms. Galen’s familiarity with the Parisian locations and the politics and history of the period shine through, and she really knows how to pull the reader in, crafting an exciting opening set-piece in which the League orchestrates the escape of the former Marquis de Montagne from prison as part of their plan to rescue the doomed French Queen.

Laurent Bourgogne has spent the last five months incarcerated in La Force, expecting every day that his name would be on the list of executions scheduled, wearily resigned every day when it was not.  Escape is an impossibility and he knows it’s just a matter of time  – until is literally dragged from the prison courtyard by a large man who thrusts a piece of paper into his hand which bears the symbol of a small, red flower and directs him to an address – 6 Rue du Jour.

Honoria Blake followed in her late father’s footsteps, becoming an expert on Roman antiquities and then taking up a position at the newly founded British Museum, spending most of her time there identifying and cataloguing pieces acquired for the museum’s various collections.  But she began to feel restless with the smallness of her world and wanted adventure, to do something to make a difference – which is how she comes to be residing in Paris, at a safe-house used by the League of the Scarlet Pimpernel, forging papers and passports for the people they rescue from Madame la Guillotine.

Even in a city in as much uproar as Paris, the last thing Honoria expects is to find a man covered in blood standing on the doorstep.  Recognising he must be a nobleman on the run, she pulls him inside, and sets about tending his wounds and offering him a place to rest – even though he seems to be just as arrogant and undeserving as all the aristos who have not been so fortunate as to keep their heads.

When news comes that Marie Antoinette has been removed from the Temple Prison – where she was housed along with her sister and her children – Laurent is dismayed.  He knows that the reason he was freed from La Force was because of his specialist knowledge of the Temple; he grew up alongside the royal family and has a detailed knowledge of the Temple and its grounds and the League had planned to have him draw up some plans of the place that they could use to effect a rescue.  With the Queen’s removal, however, their plans have changed and instead, Laurent is to be shipped off to England straight away – but he adamantly refuses to go.  He’s known the ten-year-old Madame Royale (the queen’s daughter) since she was a baby, and he is most certainly not about to allow her to remain in prison and then to take her place in the tumbril.  It might be too late for her mother, but he is determined to rescue the little girl and her brother, the Dauphin, and transport them to safety.

When the League refuses to accede to his plan, Laurent, in desperation, grabs Honoria and with a knife to her throat, drags her to the secret passage he’d noted the night before and out into the city.  With nothing more than the clothes on their backs, and most importantly, without the red, white and blue cockade that would mark them as loyal republicans, they are alone in a hostile city where danger and betrayal lurk around every corner.  Needless to say, Honoria isn’t best pleased at his having used her as a hostage and at first, does everything she can think of to escape or persuade him to return to the safe house.  But over the couple of days they spend together in hiding while Laurent formulates a plan, Honoria comes to realise that perhaps he’s not the pompous, spoiled and vain man she’d originally supposed him to be, and that he genuinely loves the young Dauphin and his sister and would do anything – even sacrifice his own life –to ensure their safety.

There’s no question Shana Galen knows how to write an adventure yarn, and she paces her story well, juxtaposing moments of peril with moments of quiet and introspection – but I have to admit that I found some of the latter sections – that usually happen after Laurent and Honoria have been almost captured or have had to wend their way carefully from one location to another – to be a little repetitive.  I appreciated the time the author spent on developing the characters – mostly Laurent – and their relationship, but the pace still flagged somewhat in those portions and I found myself wishing for things to move on.  And speaking of Laurent, he’s more rounded-out than Honoria, and one of the things I liked most about the book was his coming to realise the degree of privilege he’d enjoyed and how little he’d done with it:

He hadn’t ever appreciated that luxury. He hadn’t appreciated anything at all… He hadn’t needed three-fourths of what he’d had, and yet it had never been enough.  If coats and art and jewelled shoe buckles could have made a man happy, he would have never ceased smiling.

But he hadn’t been happy, and he’d spent countless nights in La Force, lying awake, listening to the snores of the men around him and wishing he could have another chance.

By contrast, Honoria is a bit of an historical romance staple; a quick-witted, intelligent and practical heroine who is a good foil for the hero but who never really transcends that role.  Still, she and Laurent both want to be seen for more than they appear on the surface, and Ms. Galen handles this aspect of their relationship admirably, clearly showing their growing appreciation for each other’s strengths and abilities.

A well-written, sensual romantic adventure story featuring two engaging protagonists, Taken by the Rake is an enjoyable addition to the Scarlet Chronicles. It’s the third book in a series, but works perfectly well as a standalone, so if you like the sound of it, you can jump right in!

 

To Ruin a Gentleman (Scarlet Chronicles #1) by Shana Galen

This title may be purchased from Amazon

The true story of the Scarlet Pimpernel…
Angelette, the recently widowed Comtesse d’Avignon, only invited Viscount Daventry to her country house party as a favor to her sister. When the handsome British lord arrives—two days late—he’s full of unnerving tales of unrest and violence in Paris. Angelette assumes it’s all exaggeration…until her chateau is attacked and her life threatened. Daventry rescues her, and the two are forced to run for their lives. But when danger closes in, will the viscount stand at her side or save himself?

Is not the one you’ve been told. 
Hugh Daventry visits France frequently to import wine for the family business. On his way out of the country, he stops at the comtesse’s house party out of obligation. But after meeting the raven-haired beauty, he tries to persuade her to leave France with him. When the peasants attack, he realizes he’s already too late, and now he must protect Angelette, whose sharp tongue is far from angelic. Too soon the couple is caught up in the rising revolution, dodging bloodthirsty mobs, hiding from soldiers, and embroiled in the attack of the Bastille. Hugh wants nothing but to leave tumultuous France for the calm of England. He knows Angelette is intelligent and resourceful—a survivor. But can Hugh survive without her?

Rating: B

In 2017, Shana Galen published Traitor in Her Arms, part of the Scarlet Chronicles, a series of historical romantic adventures set during the turbulent years of the French Revolution.  Now she’s following up with another book in the series – a novella – which precedes Traitor, but which can be read independently and which is linked to the earlier novel by the setting and the cameo appearance of Sir Percival Blakeney, the Scarlet Pimpernel himself.  Or is he?  Because according to the synopsis, To Ruin a Gentleman tells the true story of the Scarlet Pimpernel.

The story opens as nineteen-year-old Thomas Daventry arrives at his family home burning with questions for his father.  Like many young men of his ilk, Thomas finds life in the country rather dull and spends most of his time in London living it up with his friends. He doesn’t really consider that his parents were young once, and thinks they’ve lived a fairly boring life – and still do – until a he meets Sir Andrew Ffoulkes at a dinner party and a comment made by that gentleman sends Thomas racing home in order to do as suggested and ask his father about the real Scarlet Pimpernel.  Ms. Galen then proceeds to tell the story of how Thomas’ father, Hugh, Viscount Daventry, met his wife when they were caught up in the events of that fateful July in 1789. (And no, I’m not saying any more about the ‘real’ Pimpernel!)

Angelette, the widowed Comtesse d’Avignon, has invited Hugh Daventry to attend a house party being held at her estate near Versailles at the behest of her sister, the Marquise de Beauvais, who hopes that Hugh will consider importing the de Beauvais family wines to England.  But the viscount has the bad manners not to arrive when he is supposed to, and Angelette is somewhat put out when he finally makes his appearance – two days late – when she is about to dine.  When he apologises for his tardiness, explaining that he had difficulty getting out of Paris due to the increasing unrest there, Angelette is rather dismissive, blithely suggesting that the King and his ministers will no doubt find a solution to the problem to the riots and get rid of the mobs in the streets.  Hugh is faintly appalled by her reaction, even angry when she refuses to accept that she and entire aristocracy is in danger.

Hugh suggests she should accompany him to Calais and thence to England and to her family there (Angelette is half English), but she refuses; she has spent much of her life in France and has lands and responsibilities there and views it as her home.  She decides that, for all his good looks and potent masculinity, Hugh Daventry is annoying and she’ll be glad when he departs.

Hugh’s feelings about Angelette run along fairly similar lines.  The lady is undoubtedly alluring, but her stubbornness is not only irritating, it could well get her killed – but if she won’t listen to reason, there’s little he can do to help her.

Sadly, however, Hugh’s warnings of the unrest in the city spreading are quickly shown not to have been unfounded when, in the middle of a ball, Angelette’s home is attacked and invaded by an angry mob intent on destruction and murder.  His quick thinking gets the two of them away in one piece, and while he wants to head for Calais, Angelette insists on making for Versailles to report the events to the king and ask for his help.  As a gentleman, Hugh isn’t about to abandon Angelette and allow her to journey on alone – but Angelette is captured by a group of peasants intent on taking her to Paris for trial and execution, and Hugh must think and act quickly if he’s to have any chance of saving her.

To Ruin a Gentleman is an interesting and engaging romantic adventure featuring a couple of attractive protagonists and Shana Galen has clearly done her homework when it comes to the events of the times.  Her descriptions of key events – the invasion of the ball, the fall of the Bastille, for example – are described succinctly and vividly in such a way as to put the reader right in the middle of the action.  She also skilfully incorporates the attitude prevalent among so much of the French aristocracy of the time into Angelette’s character, yet does it without making her unsympathetic; rather it’s her naïveté in believing that because she treats her dependants well they will remain loyal to her, and her belief that the King will be able to avert the impending disaster that blinds her to the realities of what is going on around her.  Hugh is an attractive, sexy hero, one who is adaptable, clever and protective without being suffocating.  Their romance is, perhaps, a little rushed – which is almost par for the course with novellas – but because of the heightened danger and uncertainty of their situation, it works, as both Hugh and Angelette are forced to admit the strength of their attraction and what it means to them, knowing that each day – each hour –might be their last.

My main quibble with the story is with the ending. It’s hard to say much about it without spoilers, so I’ll just say that it’s a little contrived – brilliant ideas run thick and fast, everyone agrees enthusiastically and is keen to get started and… well, it’s all too pat.  I understand the need to satisfactorily explain why the true story of the Pimpernel differs from Baroness Orczy’s well-known tale, and Ms. Galen’s is certainly a plausible way to go about it.  It was just a little too ‘let’s do the show right here!’ for my taste.

Aside from that, though, To Ruin a Gentleman, is a fast-paced, entertaining and sexy read that should do the trick if you’re in the market for a bit of adventure served up with your romance.

Not the Duke’s Darling (Greycourt series #1) by Elizabeth Hoyt

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Freya de Moray is many things: a member of the secret order of Wise Women, the daughter of disgraced nobility, and a chaperone living under an assumed name. What she is not is forgiving. So when the Duke of Harlowe – the man who destroyed her brother and led to the downfall of her family – appears at the country house party she’s attending, she does what any Wise Woman would do: she starts planning her revenge.

Christopher Renshaw, the Duke of Harlowe, is being blackmailed. Intent on keeping his secrets safe, he agrees to attend a house party where he will put an end to this coercion once and for all. Until he recognises Freya, masquerading amongst the party revellers, and realises his troubles have just begun. Freya knows all about his sins. Sins he’d much rather forget. But she’s also fiery, bold, and sensuous – a temptation he can’t resist. When it becomes clear Freya is in grave danger, he’ll risk everything to keep her safe. But first, Harlowe will have to earn Freya’s trust – by whatever means necessary.

Rating: C

Hard as it is for readers when a favourite, long-running series ends, it must be equally so for the author who has lived with those characters and scenarios for years – and who then has to follow up that success with something new that will continue to please fans of the previous books as well as, hopefully, gain them new ones. Having closed the book on the hugely popular Maiden Lane series last year, much-loved author Elizabeth Hoyt now faces that particular challenge, and presents the first book in a new Georgian era series about the Greycourt family and their immediate circle – Not the Duke’s Darling.

If you’ve looked at the advance reviews on Goodreads, you’ll have seen a plethora of four and five star reviews for the book, so I’m afraid I’m going to be a dissenting voice. Not the Duke’s Darling was Difficult to Get Through. It took me twice as long as it would normally have taken me to read a book of this length, mostly because I was able to put it down easily and wasn’t engaged enough to want to pick it up again. There were a variety of reasons for this, not least of which are that the book is disjointed, episodic and overstuffed with plot, the heroine is hard to like, and the romance is woefully underdeveloped.

The Greycourt series is predicated on a tragedy that occurred some fifteen years earlier which tore apart three families who had previously been very close. The death of sixteen-year-old Aurelia Greycourt, who had been set to elope with eighteen-year-old Ranulf de Moray, eldest son of the Duke of Ayr, had far ranging repercussions which left Ran crippled and near death, and his friend, Christopher Renshaw, hustled away to India and an arranged marriage with a young woman he’d met exactly twice before.

Ran, who inherited the title Duke of Ayr almost immediately after these events, lives as a recluse and his brother Lachlan administers the dukedom. Ran’s sisters – Caitriona, Elspeth and twelve-year-old Freya – were sent to live with their Aunt Hilda in a remote village in the Scottish Highlands, where they learned the ways of the ancient secret society of Wise Women, a group dedicated to helping women throughout Britain utilising their centuries-old knowledge of herbs and healing. Once a thriving group of thousands, the witch hunts of the previous centuries have decimated their number and even though these were made illegal by Witchcraft Act of 1735, old beliefs and superstitions continue to run rife, and Wise Women still run the risk of accusations of witchery being levelled against them.

Fifteen years after the death of Aurelia, Freya de Moray has risen through the ranks of the Wise Women to become their Macha – she calls herself their ‘spy’, as it’s her job to keep her ear to the ground to find out what is being said about them and also to find causes for them to interest themselves in.  At the beginning of the book, Freya is racing through the streets of East London on her latest mission when she ends up jumping into the carriage of Christopher Renshaw, the man she blames for what happened to Ran and the destruction of her family.

Freya may be the sister of a duke, but she no longer lives as one, having taken a position as companion to Lady Holland and her two daughters while she fulfils her duties as Macha.  Freya has learned that support is gaining ground in Parliament for a new Witch Act which would make witch-hunting legal again, and that its main proponent, Lord Randolph, is going to be present at an upcoming house party to which Lady Holland has been invited.  Freya has heard that there is some suspicion concerning the recent death of Randolph’s wife and reckons that if she can dig up enough dirt on him, she’ll be able to blackmail him into withdrawing the bill.

Up to this point in the story, we’ve had two points of view; as is common in most romances, we hear from the hero and the heroine.  But after we arrive at the house party, a third voice is introduced, that of Messalina Greycourt, Freya’s former best friend.  It turns out Messalina is well aware that Freya is now working as a companion, although she has no idea why, and she has decided, so far, not to expose her as the sister of the Duke of Ayr.  Messalina and her sister, Lucretia (references to other siblings indicate they’re all named after Roman emperors and empresses) are also attending the house party, and are also intent on finding out exactly what happened to Lady Randolph, who was a dear friend of Messalina’s

In the meantime, Christopher Renshaw, who has returned from India a widower and has become Duke of Harlowe, is intrigued by the drab but surprisingly feisty companion who seems set on crossing swords (both literally and metaphorically) with him at every turn.  He has come to the house party in order to confront a blackmailer who is extorting an outrageous sum of money in return for the letters written to him by Christopher’s wife while they lived in India.

So… we’re not even half way into the book and we’ve got Wise Women (and I’m sorry, but whenever I read those words, all I could think of was the “she is the Wise Woman” scene in Blackadder), two lots of blackmail, a mysterious death and a parliamentary plot; the story is being told in three different PoVs… dare I say it’s no wonder the romance is squeezed out to the extent it’s practically non-existent?

Christopher has the makings of a decent hero.  Pushed into an arranged marriage when he was just eighteen, he tried to be a good husband and to take care of his young wife, and he blames himself for the circumstances of her death.  Given he last saw Freya when she was twelve, it’s not hard to accept that it takes him a while to recognise her, and I appreciated that once he does realise who she is, he doesn’t waste time in telling her the truth – as far as he knows it – of what happened on the night Aurelia died.  There’s still a mystery surrounding her death, which I presume will be solved in a future book, but Freya realises that she’s misjudged Christopher all these years and begins to unbend towards him, which allows them to acknowledge and explore the attraction between them.  But their relationship is dreadfully underdeveloped, the chemistry between them is notable only by its absence, and the sex scenes, which Ms. Hoyt normally excels at writing, feel forced and hurried.

I had a hard time getting a handle on Freya and began to actively dislike her towards the end of the book, mostly because of the way she treats Christopher.  I understand that it can be very difficult to create strong, independent heroines in the context of historical romance because women had so few options and so little agency at the time many of them are set.  Unfortunately, however, many authors fall into the trap of trying to show their heroine’s strength and independence by having her running roughshod over the hero and treating him like his feelings don’t matter – and that sort of inequality does not a good romantic relationship make.   (For the record – I don’t like it when the situation is reversed, either.  A good romance should be about an equality of minds and outlook, not one character getting one over on the other).  Freya crossed the line between strong and independent, and insensitive and stupidly pig-headed once too often.

I feel like I haven’t really scratched the surface of Not the Duke’s Darling (another completely nonsensical title that has nothing to do with the story) in this review, but there is so much going on I just can’t fit it all in.  I haven’t even mentioned the Dunkelders, for example, men out to capture and wipe out the Wise Women; and the plotline concerning Lady Randolph’s death is resolved in a manner I can only describe as ridiculously melodramatic.  Characterisation and relationship building are the major casualties of this train-wreck of a novel, and much as it pains me – as a fan of Ms. Hoyt’s – to say it, I really can’t recommend it.

The Other Miss Bridgerton (Rokesbys #3) by Julia Quinn

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She was in the wrong place…

Fiercely independent and adventurous, Poppy Bridgertonwill only wed a suitor whose keen intellect and interests match her own. Sadly, none of the fools from her London season qualify. While visiting a friend on the Dorset coast, Poppy is pleasantly surprised to discover a smugglers’ hideaway tucked inside a cave. But her delight turns to dismay when two pirates kidnap her and take her aboard a ship, leaving her bound and gagged on the captain’s bed…

He found her at the wrong time…

Known to society as a rascal and reckless privateer, Captain Andrew James Rokesby actually transports essential goods and documents for the British government. Setting sail on a time-sensitive voyage to Portugal, he’s stunned to find a woman waiting for him in his cabin. Surely, his imagination is getting the better of him. But no, she is very real-and his duty to the Crown means he’s stuck with her.

Can two wrongs make the most perfect right?

When Andrew learns that she is a Bridgerton, he knows he will likely have to wed her to avert a scandal-though Poppy has no idea that he is the son of an earl and neighbor to her aristocratic cousins in Kent. On the high seas, their war of words soon gives way to an intoxicating passion. But when Andrew’s secret is revealed, will his declaration of love be enough to capture her heart…?

Rating: B-

The Other Miss Bridgerton is the third instalment in Julia Quinn’s series of novels featuring members of the previous generation of Bridgertons and their neighbours and long-standing family friends the Rokesbys.  In the first book, Because of Miss Bridgerton, Sybilla (Billie) Bridgerton married George Rokseby; in the second, the story focused on the next Rokesby brother, Edward, an officer serving in North America. Andrew is the third brother and, when we met him in the first book, he was on leave from the Navy while he recovered from a broken arm.  Handsome, good-humoured, and well-liked by all, he’s a convivial chap with a sharp mind, a quick wit, and a reputation as the family jokester.

He’s also – unbeknownst to his family – a spy.

Poppy Bridgerton – cousin to Billie and niece of Viscount and Lady Bridgerton – has had two London seasons and has not, so far, found a man she wants to marry.  She’s starting to think she never will; perhaps it’s too much to hope that she will find a man who is interesting to talk to and who can make her laugh.  With the season winding down, Poppy has gone to stay in Dorset with a friend who is expecting her first child, and is enjoying the small freedoms afforded to her away from the eyes of society.  On a ramble along the beach, Poppy stumbles across a cave she’s never seen before and decides to investigate – only to find herself captured by members of the crew of the Infinityand forcibly taken aboard and into the presence of its captain, the devastatingly handsome, charming, witty and completely infuriating Andrew James. (aka Andrew James Edwin Rokesby. Of course).

When Andrew learns Poppy’s last name he’s surprised, to say the least, and also thankful that her being from a different branch of the Bridgerton family means they’ve never met. Time is of the essence if he is to deliver the packet of important documents which he has been tasked to deliver to the British envoy in Portugal, so he has no alternative but to take her along on the two-week return journey to Lisbon.

Neither Andrew nor Poppy is pleased about the change to their respective plans, and Poppy is certainly dismayed at the fact of having to spend the entire voyage below decks, cooped up in the captain’s quarters.  (“Here you are on what will probably be the biggest adventure of your life, and you are bored.”). Sailors are generally superstitious, and it’s known to be bad luck to have a woman aboard ship, and for Poppy’s personal safety she must remain out of sight.  Fortunately, Poppy is not one of those TSTL feisty types who spits and claws and tries to escape at every opportunity; she’s not stupid and although not happy, realises that the captain’s reasons are sound and that she will just have to wait it out. She can’t – and doesn’t – deny that she’s bored, though, and Andrew, recognising in her something of a kindred spirit in terms of her lively mind and natural curiosity, tries to find ways to help alleviate that boredom, even as he’s berating himself for his concern over her.  As the days pass, Andrew and Poppy start to realise that the hours they spend together over dinner are ones they look forward to more than they should, and that their conversations and quick-fire exchanges are stimulating and entertaining. Pretty much the entire first half of the book consists of such scenes between Poppy and Andrew, and they’re both clever and charming.  The pair are clearly very evenly matched in their battle of wits, even though Andrew has sailed the world and Poppy has never ventured outside England; Andrew is charmed and impressed by Poppy’s intelligence and curiosity, while she comes to realise that he’s a kind, decent and fair man, in spite of his profession as a privateer and the fact that he’s (basically) kidnapped her.

So we’ve got two likeable individuals who are smitten from pretty much the get-go, are forced into proximity by unusual circumstances and thus allowed time to get to know each other through their various interactions.  Their verbal sparring is well-written, sharp and often funny, and there’s no question these two people are made for each other. But some time before I reached the half-way mark, I realised that I was reading more or less the same thing over and over again and I was ready to move on from the flirting and banter and for something to happen.  But it didn’t, until considerably later, and when it did, it was pretty weak.  I can’t go into detail without spoilers, but it’s pretty much crushed into the last quarter of the novel, which also has to include the resolution of that plotline, reunite Andrew and Poppy, include a proposal, a sex scene and an epilogue.  After the leisurely pace of the first three quarters of the book, this final section feels truncated and the ending is sadly rushed.

I liked Poppy; she’s clever, has a mind of her own and is bright as a button. But she doesn’t really doanything other than get kidnapped; and the same can be said of Andrew.  Sure, he captains a ship and, as we learn early on, undertakes covert missions for the government which are, presumably, quite dangerous, but for most of the book he’s fairly passive, too.

I admit that I had a hard time grading this one.  On the one hand, it’s tightly written and the dialogue is excellent.  On the other, Andrew and Poppy are not particularly memorable, not much happens in the story and it’s unbalanced due to the large amount of time dedicated to the outward voyage.  I could say this is one for die-hard Bridgerton fans only – but I’m a die-hard Bridgerton fan, and it didn’t work all that well for me. So I’ll say this.  If you’re in the mood for something light-hearted with hardly an ounce of plot or depth but plenty of snappy banter, then The Other Miss Bridgerton should while away the hours pleasantly enough.  If, however, you’re looking for a romance with complex characters who exhibit growth, and an engaging plot, then I’m afraid you’ll have to look elsewhere.

Born to be Wilde (The Wildes of Lindow Castle #3) by Eloisa James


This title may be purchased from Amazon

The richest bachelor in England plays matchmaker…for an heiress he wants for himself!

For beautiful, witty Lavinia Gray, there’s only one thing worse than having to ask the appalling Parth Sterling to marry her: being turned down by him.

Now the richest bachelor in England, Parth is not about to marry a woman as reckless and fashion-obsessed as Lavinia; he’s chosen a far more suitable bride.

But when he learns of Lavinia’s desperate circumstances, he offers to find her a husband. Even better, he’ll find her a prince.

As usual, there’s no problem Parth can’t fix. But the more time he spends with the beguiling Lavinia, the more he finds himself wondering…

Why does the woman who’s completely wrong feel so right in his arms?

Rating: D+

I’ve never made a secret of the fact that Eloisa James’ books have generally been rather hit or miss (mostly miss) for me.  I’ve read some and enjoyed them – I gave Three Weeks with Lady X a DIK at All About Romance, and have rated other books highly, but after Seven Minutes in Heaven, I decided it was probably time for us to part ways. There are plenty of other books out there to read, so no big loss.  But… this is Eloisa James, right? One of the biggest names in historical romance.  Maybe I’ve missed something?  It’s that feeling that has made me go back to her books occasionally, so I decided I’d pick up Born to be Wilde, the third book in her Wildes of Lindow Castle series, just to see if maybe I’d got it wrong and she would wow me again.

I should have had the courage of my convictions and stayed away.

Born to be Wilde is nonsensical superficiality from start to finish.  The story is pretty much non-existent, the characters are bland and unmemorable, the romance is flat and seriously underdeveloped and the eleventh-hour conflict is utterly ridiculous.

Beautiful, vivacious and wealthy, Lavinia Gray is used to having men at her feet.  She’s turned down numerous proposals of marriage, secure in the knowledge that she could afford to wait for the right one – until she discovered that her mother’s spendthrift ways and gambling habits mean they’re broke and worse, that her mother resorted to stealing valuable jewellery and selling it for cash.  And as if that weren’t bad enough, she’s become addicted to laudanum to such a degree that she’s sent to a sanatorium at the beginning of the book to be weaned off the drug.  So – Lavinia is desperate.  She needs money and she needs it quickly if she’s to prevent her mother’s being carted off to Newgate; and what’s the easiest way to obtain it?  Yep – marry it.  The book opens with Lavinia turning up at the hero’s room and asking him to marry her.

Parth Sterling was born in India to an English father and Indian mother, but was sent to live in England at the age of five where, as a ward of the Duke of Lindow, he grew up with the Wildes and is regarded by them as a member of the family.  He’s a self-made man, one of the wealthiest in England, and even owns a bank.  He and Lavinia have known each other for years; she thinks he thinks she’s an empty-headed hat-fetishist, he thinks she thinks he’s a prig. Based on the fact that the worst insult she can come up with for him is “Appalling Parth”, I’d tend to agree with his assessment.  There’s no doubt she’s beautiful and desirable… but Parth doesn’t want to marry her.  Instead, though, he’ll help her to find a husband and sets about presenting her to highly eligible men, none of whom – of course – is good enough for her.

That’s pretty much the sum of their relationship.  She thinks he doesn’t like her; he’s confused about his feelings because she’s frivolous and he wants the woman in his life to have a bit more substance.  (Hence his intention to court a lovely Italian contessa). But of course, Lavinia DOES have substance; when she offers to put together a trousseau for her dear friend Diana – who is marrying the heir to the Duke of Lindow – the mercer (fabric merchant) suggests that with her exquisite taste (of which he has little discernible evidence), Lavinia should set up as a kind of personal stylist to society ladies, and that he would pay her a commission for using his fabrics.  Um.  Essentially –  a tradesman suggests that a Lady works for money.  In 1780.  Nope.  Not buying it.

Lavinia loves the idea, and thinks she can earn enough to pay off her mother’s debts AND enough to provide herself with a decent dowry. She adores fashion, so selecting fabrics, trimmings and designs isn’t really ‘work’, but doing something she loves.  She spends the next few weeks working her fingers to the bone – we’re told she often works late into the night and forgets to eat – preparing this trousseau, which seems excessive.  I know making clothes by hand is very labour-intensive, but still, it’s presented as though she’s working on achieving world peace or how to feed the world, rather than on sewing gowns.

By around two-thirds of the way through, Lavinia and Parth have both realised they were wrong about each other, that they’re wildly (!) attracted to each other and have jumped into bed.  Parth somehow has a condom to hand for their first time – it’s not the use of it I query, because of course they were around, it’s more than he has one so conveniently to hand in a room not his own bedroom.  They didn’t come in little foil packets back in the eighteenth century.

Of course, Parth wouldn’t have taken Lavinia to bed had he not intended to marry her, something which appears to go without saying for both of them.  All is going to plan until that eleventh-hour conflict I mentioned, which is shoe-horned in for the sake of it, and only provides yet another opportunity for Lavinia to bemoan her own unworthiness and conviction that Parth doesn’t respect her.

The story is basically one big trope-fest, and there is absolutely NO sense whatsoever of time or place in the novel; had it not been for the timestamps at the beginning of each chapter telling me events were taking place in 1780, I’d have had no idea when the story was set, in spite of the extremely tedious descriptions of patterns and fabrics.  And the fact that the hero is Anglo-Indian is mentioned a few times in passing and has so little bearing on his character or the story that I have no idea why the author chose to give him that background.  I am well aware that mixed-race relationships/marriages were not uncommon at this time and have absolutely no issues whatsoever with the hero being of mixed parentage.  But in the same way as the novel having no sense of time or place, there’s no sense of what his heritage means to him or how it has shaped him.

It’s all so much froth and banal superficiality.  I like a well-written piece of fluff as well as the next person, but Born to be Wilde is just DULL.  The antics of the Wildes basically scream “LOOK AT US – WE’RE UNCONVENTIONAL!” the humour is forced and unfunny, Parth and Lavinia share no chemistry whatsoever and Ms. James plays fast-and-loose with the conventions of the time.  There are a lot of authors out there – I won’t name names, but it’s a long list – who write stuff like this all the time; characters in pretty frocks and tight breeches who pay no attention to social convention and speak and act with twenty-first sensibilities.  If that’s what you want to read – and some authors do it very well – then fine, but part of the challenge of historical romance is, surely, in creating and developing a romantic relationship between characters who would, in the real world of the period, not have been allowed to spend time together alone – and making their interactions believable.

Mission SO not accomplished.  As I said on Goodreads.  “That’s three and a bit hours of my life I’ll never get back.”

I’m sorry Ms. James – you have a large number of fans who love your work and good luck to you and them.  But I’m done.

 

Devil in Tartan (Highland Grooms #4) by Julia London (audiobook) – Narrated by Derek Perkins


This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

Lottie Livingstone bears the weight of an island on her shoulders. Under threat of losing their home, she and her clan take to the seas to sell a shipload of illegal whiskey. When an attack leaves them vulnerable, she transforms from a maiden daughter to a clever warrior. For survival, she orchestrates the siege of a rival’s ship and now holds the devilish Scottish captain Aulay Mackenzie under her command.

Tied, captive, and forced to watch a stunning siren commandeer the Mackenzie ship, Aulay burns with the desire to seize control – of the ship and Lottie. He has resigned himself to a life of solitude on the open seas, but her beauty tantalizes him like nothing has before. As authorities and enemies close in, he is torn between surrendering her to justice and defending her from assailants. He’ll lose her forever, unless he’s willing to sacrifice the unimaginable…

Rating: Narration – A : Content – C

The estimable Derek Perkins returns to Julia London’s Highland Grooms series to narrate book four, Devil in Tartan, which features Aulay, the middle son of the Mackenzie brood, and the one least often to be found at the family estate of Balhaire. With his elder brother Cailean living mostly in England with his wife and stepson, and his younger brother, Robbie, aiding their father in the management of the Balhaire estate and lands, Aulay has increasingly come to feel something of an outsider, and has more or less resigned himself to a life alone. He has made his life at sea, captaining the Mackenzie ship and contributing to the family coffers by his various profitable trading enterprises, but his latest voyage, designed to bring in some much needed funds, is destined to end in disaster.

A few days after they have set sail on their latest commission, Aulay and his crew sight a smaller vessel which is clearly in distress and go to its aid. Unfortunately, however, Aulay’s generous intentions prove to be his – and his crew’s – undoing, because despite his caution, the ethereally lovely young woman aboard proves so distracting that a momentary lapse of attention on Aulay’s part enables her crew to incapacitate him and the rest of his crew and to take over his ship.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.