Wicked Delights of a Bridal Bed (Byrons of Braebourne #4) by Tracy Anne Warren (audiobook) – Narrated by Rebecca de Leeuw

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To her surprise, Lady Mallory Byron finds herself walking down the aisle with the last man she ever expected to ask for her hand….

Everyone knows the Byron brothers are “mad, bad, and dangerous.” Now their sister shockingly discovers she’s the newest talk of the Ton when she marries the scandalous Earl of Gresham. Faced with a tragic loss, she’d sought comfort from him as a family friend. But soon consolation turned to passion, scandal – and a wedding! In the bridal bed, she finds pleasure beyond her wildest dreams. But can nights of wicked delight change friendship into true love?

Charming rakehell Adam, Earl of Gresham, has secretly loved Mallory for years. He lost her once to another man, but now he has a second chance to win her love – and plans to do so by any means necessary. Will Mallory’s heart give him what he so dearly desires? Or is the past too much to overcome?

Rating: Narration: B; Content: C

Tracy Anne Warren’s Byrons of Braebourne series about the five Byron siblings (four male, one female) was originally published between 2009 and 2011, but was only released in audio format recently. Rebecca de Leeuw is the pseudonym of a narrator I’ve enjoyed listening to a couple of times before, so I decided to pick up one of the books for review. I chose book four, Wicked Delights of a Bridal Bed, because I enjoy friends-to-lovers stories and because according to the synopsis, the hero has been secretly in love with the heroine for years; I’ve got a bit of a soft spot for romances in which the hero is a total goner for his lady-love.

Mallory Byron has spent the last year mourning the death of her fiancé, Michael Hargreaves, who was killed in battle during the Napoleonic Wars. Her large, close-knit family is worried about her; it’s been over a year since Hargreaves was killed but Mallory continues to avoid social gatherings and family events and none of them is quite sure what to do or how to help her to start to put her grief aside and move on with her life. But there’s one person who might be able to get through to her and help her to start living again, Adam, Earl of Gresham, a family friend of long-standing who has always been especially close to her.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

Daring to Love the Duke’s Heir (Beauchamp Heirs #2) by Janice Preston

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She’s totally unsuitable…

…to be his Duchess!

Dominic Beauchamp, Lord Avon, is a powerful duke’s heir and it’s his duty to marry well. His bride must have impeccable breeding, manners and grace. But can anyone meet his exacting standards? Certainly not the irrepressible Liberty Lovejoy, who’s been thrust into society after years of being a provincial nobody. She’s too bold, too bubbly…so why is she the only lady he’s thinking about?

Rating: B+

Janice Preston continues her Beauchamp Heirs series (featuring the children of Leo, Duke of Cheriton from the Beauchamp Betrothals series) with Daring to Love the Duke’s Heir, which sees the very proper and reserved Dominic, Marquess of Avon, meeting his match in the form of exactly the sort of young woman he can never consider as a potential bride. It’s a buttoned-up-hero-meets-free-spirited-heroine story, which I have to admit, is a trope I’m often a little wary of; some authors make their free-spirited heroines into annoyingly reckless, frequently TSTL caricatures who make me wonder what on earth the hero could possibly see in them. Fortunately, however, Ms. Preston doesn’t fall into that trap, and her heroine manages to be just the sort of breath of fresh air our hero needs while remaining firmly on the right side of the line between spirited and stupid.

Liberty Lovejoy and her siblings – her twin brother, Gideon and their sisters Hope and Verity – are in London for the Season following Gideon’s unexpected ascension to the title of Earl of Wendover. Liberty has no plans to attract a suitor; she was in love with her fiancé, who died of cholera some five years earlier and she has no wish to replace him, but she has hopes that her sisters will find good matches. Her brother, however, is giving her cause for concern, having got himself in with an undesirable set of young bucks who are clearly leading him astray, and having been unable to make Gideon see the error of his ways, she decides to take another tack. She’s led to believe that the man responsible for her brother’s sudden waywardness is Lord Alexander Beauchamp, younger son of the Duke of Cheriton, so she decides to speak to the duke, make him aware of her concerns and ask him to rein Alex in. When she arrives at the duke’s London residence however, she encounters Lord Alexander himself on the doorstep and tells him immediately what has brought her to Beauchamp House – only to discover that she’s not talking to Lord Alexander at all, but to his older brother Dominic, Marquess of Avon, who is widely known to be the most correct and upstanding gentleman in the entire ton. Oops. Liberty is thrown even further onto the back foot by the fact that this rather disdainful man has the face of a Greek God [and] the body of a warrior – but her irritation swiftly returns when the marquess tells her that her brother is undoubtedly following in the footsteps of many a young gentleman when faced with the delights London has to offer, and suggests that she is being rather too over-protective. This, of course, doesn’t go down very well, but Liberty is somewhat appeased when Avon says he’ll have a word with his brother.

Readers of Ms. Preston’s Beauchamp Betrothals series will no doubt recall Dominic, Leo’s eldest son and heir as being somewhat aloof and rather serious, intent on doing his duty and the right thing at all costs. Still intent on doing his duty, he has decided that it’s time he got married and secured the succession and is determined to choose a bride this Season, a young woman of good breeding, perfect behaviour and excellent bloodlines.

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

The Determined Lord Hadleigh (King’s Elite #4) by Virginia Heath

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He’s got iron control…

But she might be his undoing!

Part of The King’s Elite. Haunted by Penny Penhurst’s courage on the witness stand, meticulous barrister Lord Hadleigh offers her a housekeeper position at his estate. Despite trying to stay detached, Hadleigh is charmed by her small child and surprised by how much he yearns for this proud woman! Can this he break through his own – and Penny’s – barriers to prove he’s a man she can trust…and love?

Rating: A-

As there is an overarching plotline running through this series, there are spoilers for the earlier books in this review.

This final book in Virginia Heath’s enjoyable King’s Elite series shifts focus somewhat and concerns itself mostly with the aftermath of the unmasking and apprehension (in the previous book) of The Boss, the head of a widespread and dangerous smuggling ring that was channeling funds to Napoléon and his supporters with a view to restoring him to power. The Determined Lord Hadleigh rounds the series out nicely and follows a thoroughly engaging central couple on their sometimes rocky path to happiness.

The eponymous gentleman describes himself as an honorary member of the team of crack government spies knows as the King’s Elite, which is fair enough, as unlike them, he’s not an agent working for the Crown, but rather is the man whose job it is to prosecute and help convict those they apprehend. He’s a brilliant barrister, a fair and honourable man, and a friend of the other members of the group – and now it’s his turn to step into the limelight. Hadleigh appeared briefly in the other books in the series, and now it’s up to him to make sure the Crown’s case against the Boss is watertight. When the novel opens, he is in the midst of the trial of Viscount Penshurst, one of the Boss’ closest associates, and is questioning his current witness, the young Lady Penshurst, whose honesty and quiet dignity in the face of the nasty gossip and blatant scorn of the public impresses him and whose story strikes a chord deep inside him. Hadleigh sees many similarities between the life the viscountess describes and that endured by his mother, who was abused and then killed by his father a decade earlier – and he still carries the guilt that he didn’t do enough to protect her. That guilt engenders a protectiveness made all the stronger when he learns that the viscount’s title, wealth and estates have been transferred back to the crown, meaning his innocent wife and son will be left with nothing.

After the trial and her husband’s death in prison, Lady Penshurst changes her name and takes lodgings in Cheapside with her not-quite-two-year-old son, Freddie. Her closest friend Clarissa – who is married to Seb Leatham (The Mysterious Lord Millcroft) – has offered to house them both for as long as Penny wants, but Penny is insistent that she wants to stand on her own two feet. After three years trapped in an abusive marriage with a man who wanted to control her every move, she’s determined to slough off the easily cowed, powerless and subservient woman she became during those years and to find herself again, to take back control of her life. So when she discovers that someone has been helping her out behind the scenes, paying bills and rent, she’s furious. Her first thought is that Clarissa has gone behind her back and asked Seb to do it, but when Clarissa assures her that she values their friendship too much to go against her express wishes, Penny believes her. Worried that perhaps one of her late husband’s associates has done it as a way of intimidating her, Penny asks Clarissa to find out what she can about her mysterious benefactor.

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

The Rake’s Enticing Challenge (Sinful Sinclairs #2) by Lara Temple

the rake's enticing proposal uk

This title may be purchased from Amazon.

The rake has a proposition…

Will she accept?

Part of The Sinful Sinclairs. When globe-trotting Charles Sinclair arrives at Huxley Manor to sort out his late cousin’s affairs, he meets practical Eleanor Walsh. He can’t shake the feeling that behind her responsibility to clear her family’s debt, Eleanor longs to escape her staid life. Chase can offer her an exciting adventure in Egypt… But that all depends on her response to his shocking proposal!

Rating: A-

This second instalment of Lara Temple’s three-book Sinful Sinclairs series focuses on Charles – known as Chase – Sinclair, whom readers met briefly in the first book, The Earl’s Irresiststible Challenge. Rather like his older brother Lucas, Chase is handsome, witty and charmingly self-deprecating, but behind the nonchalant, rakish façade he shows to society lies a man with emotional scars that make him restless and unwilling to make real and deep personal connections with anyone other than the siblings he loves so dearly.  Until, that is, a cryptic deathbed message from the man who was more of a father to him than his own father ever was sends Chase to Huxley Manor – and (almost literally) into the arms of a most unusual young woman.

Ellie Walsh comes from a family almost as frequently beset by scandal as the Sinclairs.  Thanks to her wastrel father, who gambled away a fortune and then died, drunk in a ditch, her family is in danger of losing its home. For the last five years, Ellie has managed to keep Whitworth afloat and keep the creditors at bay, but following a poor harvest there are no more funds and the banks are about to foreclose.  As a last-ditch attempt at saving her home and staying out of debtor’s prison, Ellie has agreed to a three-month fake betrothal with her friend Henry – the new Lord Huxley – who believes he can help her to raise the funds necessary to save Whitworth.  In return, she’ll be his ‘shield’ against his formidable Aunt Ermintrude’s plans to marry him to one of her nieces.

When Chase arrives in response to his late cousin’s missive, he makes a short detour to the old Folly tower on the estate, and is surprised to find a young woman within, looking through some papers on the late Lord Huxley’s desk.  Chase can’t help wondering if the man’s message – “There is something I have but recently uncovered that I must discuss with you” – relates to some newly discovered and unpleasant revelation about his family, so finding a complete stranger looking through Huxley’s personal papers is a most unwelcome sight.  He makes his presence known and challenges the woman, who he can now see is a little older than he’d thought, and whose demeanour is that of a very proper governess or schoolmistress; calm, a little impatient and intractable – and is surprised when she introduces herself as Henry’s betrothed and then challenges Chase to explain his own presence there.  Chase is immediately intrigued – and more than that, something about her sets him off-balance and makes him feel at a disadvantage – which he dislikes intensely.

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

When a Duchess Says I Do (Rogues to Riches #2) by Grace Burrowes (audiobook) – Narrated by James Langton

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

Duncan Wentworth tried his hand at rescuing a damsel in distress once long ago, and he’s vowed he’ll never make that mistake again. Nonetheless, when he comes across Matilda Wakefield in the poacher-infested and far-from-enchanted woods of his estate, decency compels him to offer aid to a lady fallen on hard times. Matilda is whip-smart, she can read Duncan’s horrible penmanship, and when she wears his reading glasses, all Duncan can think about is naughty Latin poetry.

Matilda cannot entrust her secrets to Duncan without embroiling him in the problems that sent her fleeing from London, but neither can she ignore a man who’s honourable, a brilliant chess player, and maddeningly kissable. She needs to stay one step ahead of the enemies pursuing her, though she longs to fall into Duncan’s arms. Duncan swears he has traded in his shining armour for a country gentleman’s muddy boots, but to win the fair maid, he’ll have to ride into battle one more time.

Rating: Narration: B+; Content: B-

This second book in Grace Burrowes’ Rogues to Riches series takes place about five years after the events of book one, My One and Only Duke, and focuses on Duncan Wentworth, cousin of Quinn, Duke of Walden. When a Duchess Says I Do is a quiet, tender romance between a mature, well-matched central couple underpinned by an intriguing mystery, in which the author once again exhibits her talent for writing close-knit loving families and gently understated romances.

Scholar and former curate Duncan Wentworth has spent the last few years as tutor and companion to his cousin Stephen, younger brother of the Duke of Walden. Duncan is quiet, kind, knowledgeable and well-travelled, but owing to past disappointment and something he regards as a dreadful youthful mistake, he tends to eschew personal connection. In an effort to bring him out of himself somewhat, his cousin Quinn has directed Duncan to undertake the management of one of the dukedom’s less well-run estates – Brightwell in Berkshire – and to make it profitable within a year. If Duncan can achieve that, Quinn will take over the management of the properly, freeing Duncan to return to his studies and his travels, but if not, then Duncan will continue to manage it indefinitely, whether he wants to or not. Not surprisingly, Duncan isn’t all that happy about the situation, but he’ll nonetheless do the best he can for his cousin.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

A Reflection of Shadows (The Elemental Web Tales #3) by Anne Renwick

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Shunned for her odd eyes and an unnerving habit of slipping into shadows, Lady Colleen Stewart refuses to be caged–should she decide to marry, it’ll be for love and to a man of her choice. After all, she’d rather be racing over rooftops than waltzing across ballroom floors. So when the only man to ever tempt her heart invites her on a covert mission, she leaps into danger.

Nicholas Torrington, Queen’s agent, is running out of time. While work has him chasing his tail, his sister grows increasingly ill, and Colleen, the woman he would make his bride, has acquired another, determined suitor. To coax his favorite thief back into his arms, he’ll break every rule and lead her through the underbelly of London on a hunt for a mad scientist and a cure for his sister.

But the discovery of a burned-out laboratory provides more questions than answers, and they find themselves caught in a deadly game where they have become the prey. Surviving the ambitions of their pursuers will bring everything into sharp focus as they risk their very lives.

Rating: B-

A Reflection of Shadows is the third (and latest) book in Anne Renwick’s  Elemental Web Chronicles – part of her steampunk series set in an alternate Victorian London.  Each of the books features a different central couple and self-contained plot, and are thus designed to work as standalones; however, coming late to the party did have an effect on my reading experience,  as I found myself a little lost to start with.  With six books and a number of novellas and short stories set in this world already published, I’m guessing most of the worldbuilding was done in earlier books; had I read some of those, I may have got up to speed more quickly. But it’s often the reviewer’s lot to review series books out of order, so all I can do in this instance is say that if you like the sound of this one, you should probably pick up some of the earlier books in the series first.

Lady Colleen Stewart is just three days away from her twenty-fifth birthday, which will see her come into her inheritance of Craigieburn in Scotland, and into the fortune that goes with it.  After her father’s death, her uncle, Lord Maynard, became her guardian, and she can’t wait to finally be free of him and of London – although she’ll miss her aunt Isabella, who is expecting her first child.  While Colleen and her uncle don’t get along, he has at least never put any pressure on her to marry – until now, when he seems desperate to ensure her marriage to one Mr. Glover (whom Colleen had once – stupidly, she now acknowledges – taken as a lover).  Colleen refuses in no uncertain terms; not only does she not want to marry Glover, she resents the attempt to force her into marriage.  Besides, she is strongly attracted to Queen’s Agent Nicholas Torrington and has just agreed to allow him to court her.

Nicholas is a scientist – a cardiophysiologist – as well as a Queen’s Agent, and is desperate to find a treatment for his sister, whose heart is seriously damaged and could give out any day.  He’s heard whispers of a scientist who has invented some sort of electrical device (akin to a pacemaker from the sound of it) that could save Anna – and learning the man is obsessed with the concept of transmutation gives Nick the opportunity to combine his current investigation into the operation of a shadowy organisation dabbling in sorcery with his search for the device.

It also affords him an unusual way to court his lady. Knowing of Colleen’s nocturnal activities as an operative for Witherspoon and Associates – a company that handles ‘private matters’ with discretion – her love of a challenge, her ability to move swiftly through London’s shadows and her keen night vision, Nick asks for her help in searching Dr. Farquhar’s laboratory – but their plans are thwarted when they arrive to find the house on fire – and Farquhar missing.

With Nick on the trail of an underground organisation believed to be experimenting on humans in the attempt to prove the existence of shifters, his search for a cure for his sister, and Colleen becoming unwittingly entangled in her uncle’s nefarious dealings, there’s quite a lot going on in this novel, but Ms. Renwick cleverly weaves her plot-threads together, arriving at the climax of the story to expose a truly despicable scheme.  The villain is a really nasty piece of work, and the author creates a strong sense of peril as Colleen and Nick have to use all their ingenuity and determination in order to keep themselves alive and try to find a way out of a seemlngly hopeless situation.  (And there are a few moments that are not for the squeamish!)  I found myself racing through the second half of the book, as the plot twists and pacing kicked up – although the way things were resolved was something of an anticlimax.

A Reflection of Shadows was an entertaining read with a well-constructed plot, a pair of engaging protagonists and a handful of nicely-drawn secondary characters.  I liked Nick and Colleen, who clearly knew and understood one another well and has the good sense to admit they’d met their match in each other.  But on the downside, I felt as though the romantic and character development must have happened in the previous books in the series, because  their relationship here is pretty much a done deal, so what we get is an established couple working together to bring down the bad guys – which is fine; they’re well-matched and work together well.  But it’s not what I was expecting.

The writing is strong and Ms. Renwick can clearly create likeable characters and craft an intriguing plot, but my disappointment in the romance means I can only award the novel a qualified recommendation.  That said, I liked enough about it to be interested in reading more of the author’s work, so I may go back and pick up some of the earlier books in the series at some point.

The Rogue of Fifth Avenue (Uptown Girls #1) by Joanna Shupe

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Silver-tongued lawyer.
Keeper of secrets.
Breaker of hearts.

He can solve any problem . . .

In serving the wealthy power brokers of New York society, Frank Tripp has finally gained the respectability and security his own upbringing lacked. There’s no issue he cannot fix . . . except for one: the beautiful and reckless daughter of an important client who doesn’t seem to understand the word danger.

She’s not looking for a hero . . .

Excitement lies just below Forty-Second Street and Mamie Greene is determined to explore all of it—while playing a modern-day Robin Hood along the way. What she doesn’t need is her father’s lawyer dogging her every step and threatening her efforts to help struggling families in the tenements.

However, she doesn’t count on Frank’s persistence . . . or the sparks that fly between them. When fate upends all her plans, Mamie must decide if she’s willing to risk it all on a rogue . . .

Rating: B

I was really pleased when I learned that Frank Tripp, high-flying lawyer to the rich and famous of Gilded Age New York, would be getting his own story in The Rogue of Fifth Avenue the first book in Joanna Shupe’s new Uptown Girls series. Handsome, charming and urbane, Frank made for an attractive, somewhat enigmatic supporting character in the recent Four Hundred series, and I was more than eager to read his story.  Frank is a great character who undergoes significant growth throughout the course of this novel, and once the main plotline gets going – a legal thriller which will pit Frank against the society he’s worked so hard to fit into – I was fairly gripped by it.  But I wasn’t as drawn to the romance, mostly because I didn’t care for the heroine all that much.  Up until now, I’ve enjoyed Ms. Shupe’s female leads; they’ve been spirited and intelligent women who are determined to do more than be simply ornamental. Marion – Mamie – Greene is very much in that mould, but while she displays an admirable social conscience, she’s also naïve and reckless.  It’s hard to root for a couple when you believe one of them – in this case the hero – deserves better.

For the third or fourth time in as many months, Frank Tripp finds himself ‘escorting’ the daughter of one of his biggest clients away from a gambling hall. He tries (unsuccessfully) to extract a promise from her never to go there again, but Mamie, not content with the role life has allotted her as a woman destined merely to marry well and spend her life going to parties, isn’t going to give in, especially given the altruistic motives for which she gambles and picks pockets:

She gave the money either to a charity or directly to a tenement family herself. There were too many needy families in the city, and the charities were oftentimes more concerned with temperance and religious conversion than distributing aid. Mamie would rather not see any restrictions placed on relief, which was why she traveled downtown herself a few times a month.

Which makes stealing perfectly okay, apparently.  Yes, I understand why she’s doing it, and yes the idea that charities would make religious conversion a condition of giving aid to someone in need is utterly disgusting.  But instead of doing something that would benefit even more people than she can help alone, like establishing an aid society or charity of her own, Mamie gambles and steals.

Okay.  So, moving on.  Mamie and Frank argue about her illicit activities, but there’s also a strong attraction there that pops and fizzes, even though they both know nothing can come of it. Mamie has been promised to the eldest son of her father’s closest friend since birth and the betrothal is about to be finalised, and Frank has no intention of settling down, ever.

Not long after this, we find Mamie visiting one of the poorest and most dangerous areas of the city in order to dispense her ill-gotten largesse.  She’s carrying a large sum of money, and is completely alone, but has done this several times and has somehow never been accosted.  In fact, it doesn’t seem to have occurred to her that she might be.  Making her way into the dingy room occupied by the Porter family, Mamie is dismayed to find the dead body of Mr. Porter lying on the floor surrounded by policemen, who immediately arrest Mrs. Porter for the murder.  The police won’t listen to Mamie when she tells them that Mr. Porter beat his wife and that she must have been defending herself – after all, what does a Fifth Avenue princess know of such things? – and tell her she should go home and not bother her pretty little head about it.  But Mamie isn’t about to stand by and allow such a terrible injustice to be done, so she summons Frank and asks him to defend Mrs. Porter.  Naturally, he’s not keen on the idea and tries to explain that he’s not a criminal lawyer, and how damaging taking on the case could prove for both of them.  But Mamie isn’t interested in any of that; an innocent woman’s life is at stake, and that’s far more important that her reputation.  Frank does eventually agree to do what he can, partly because Mamie has asked, but also because he’s not unsympathetic to Mrs. Porter’s plight, having himself been raised in a household where violence was common.  Because Frank Tripp, scion of a wealthy Chigaco family and Yale graduate is no such thing; he was born Frank Murphy in the New York tenements and he, his mother and siblings were regularly beaten by his drunken father.  Frank escaped when offered the chance to go to school and has never looked back; his law degree is genuine although not from Yale, and he’s worked hard to make a name for himself, rising to be the most respected – and, by some, feared – lawyer in New York.  He knows all too well the importance of fitting in, how the highest in society stick together and would turn their backs on him were the truth of his origins to become known.  He knows that by agreeing to help Mamie – and Mrs. Porter – he’ll be walking a tightrope.  But he also knows it’s the right thing to do.

This is the part of the book I enjoyed the most, watching Frank build his case with the help of Pinkerton Detective Otto Rosen (who is Jewish and therefore not allowed to join the police force) while his colleagues express their displeasure and whiffs of police corruption swirl around the case he’s building.  I liked the way Frank takes a long look at himself and realises that he doesn’t much like the man he’s become, one as heartless and money-focused as the men he associates with, and how he decides it’s time to change that and put something other than money first.

At the same time, he and Mamie are becoming closer, and finally act on the mutual attraction neither of them can ignore or deny any longer.  By this point, I was starting to come around to Mamie a bit; if Frank had finally woken up to the need to make personal changes, so was she benefitting by her association with him – until near the end, she draws a conclusion (about Frank) that made no sense and then proceeds to act in a way that made me want to tell her not to be so stupid.  Fortunately for my sanity, a number of other characters pointed out that she was being unfair; it’s just a shame Mamie wasn’t mature enough to work that out for herself.

While I liked the way things ended up for Frank and Mamie, I wasn’t completely convinced by her father’s sudden volte-face towards the end of the book.  I can’t deny that it was nice, for once, for a heroine to have a supportive father than a ruthless, dictatorial one, but given his intractability early on, I found it a little hard to swallow.

Ultimately, The Rogue of Fifth Avenue was a bit of a mixed bag.  I liked the plot and I loved Frank – I just wish he’d been paired with a heroine with intelligence, wit and an actual personality. The book would have been a DIK had that been the case; as it stands, the B grade was earned by Frank and the legal plot alone.