The Lady Travelers Guide to Scoundrels & Other Gentlemen

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Really, it’s too much to expect any normal man to behave like a staid accountant in order to inherit the fortune he deserves to support the lifestyle of an earl. So when Derek Saunders’s favorite elderly aunt and her ill-conceived—and possibly fraudulent—Lady Travelers Society loses one of their members, what’s a man to do but step up to the challenge? Now he’s escorting the world’s most maddening woman to the world’s most romantic city to find her missing relative.

While India Prendergast only suspects his organization defrauds gullible travelers, she’s certain a man with as scandalous a reputation as Derek Saunders cannot be trusted any farther than the distance around his very broad shoulders. As she struggles not to be distracted by his wicked smile and the allure of Paris, instead of finding a lost lady traveler, India just may lose her head, her luggage and her heart.

Rating: B-

The Lady Travelers Guide to Scoundrels & Other Gentlemen might well win an award for being the longest title in historical romance! The first book in Victoria Alexander’s new Lady Travelers Guide series, it’s a light-hearted romantic comedy, set mostly in Paris around the time of the Great Exposition, in which a starchy spinster comes up against a charming scoundrel and discovers perhaps her previously held, deeply entrenched opinions aren’t as set in stone as she’d believed them to be.

Miss India Prendergast has come to a meeting of The Lady Travelers Society in an attempt to ascertain the whereabouts of her cousin, Lady Heloise Snuggs, who recently set off on an extended journey which, India has been given to understand, was organised by the society.  But she hasn’t received a letter or other communication from Heloise for some weeks and has become concerned for her safety.  Further investigation has revealed that the society has done precisely nothing for Heloise; there is no record of their reserving hotel rooms or making any travel arrangements on her cousin’s behalf.  India is convinced the organisation is a fraud, taking money from unwitting women whose dreams of exotic travel and desire to throw off the shackles of everyday existence and live an adventurous life blind them to the fact they are being swindled.

Derek Saunders has lived the life of a rakish young bachelor, kicking up a storm in society and enjoying a reputation as a scoundrel of the first order.  Or he did, until his uncle, the Earl of Danby told him that he’d cut him off without a penny if he didn’t change his carefree, frivolous ways and start acting a bit more like the heir to an earldom should.  Oddly enough, Derek finds he has a talent for numbers and business and he quite enjoys working with the earl’s estate and business managers. But the discovery that his great aunt Guinevere and a couple of her friends seem to be running some sort of scam is something he hadn’t banked on having to deal with.  Deciding that his uncle won’t look kindly upon Derek’s abandoning his duties in order to pursue a missing traveller and work out what his aunt is up to, Derek apprises the earl of the situation, and is surprised when he comes up with a plan to both find Lady Heloise and keep aunt Guinevere and her friends out of prison.

Derek had already decided that it’s his responsibility to find Heloise, and that as her most recent letters came from Paris, that he’s going to start looking for her there.  When India insists on accompanying him, he already knows enough about her to know that she won’t brook a refusal, but his uncle takes that news in his stride.  He undertakes to employ a firm of private investigators to find Heloise while Derek keeps India otherwise occupied and out of the way in Paris… it’s a good idea, and although Derek isn’t completely happy about keeping Miss Prendergast in the dark, he recognises it’s the most likely way to find her cousin.

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

Lord of Chance (Rogues to Riches #1) by Erica Ridley

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Disguised as a country miss, Charlotte Devon flees London, desperate to leave her tattered reputation behind. In Scotland, her estranged father’s noble blood will finally make her a respectable debutante. Except she finds herself accidentally wed to a devil-may-care rogue with a sinful smile. He’s the last thing she needs…and everything her traitorous heart desires.

Charming rake Anthony Fairfax is on holiday to seek his fortune…and escape his creditors. When an irresistible Lady Luck wins him in a game of chance—and a slight mishap has them leg-shackled by dawn—the tables have finally turned in his favor. But when past demons catch up to them, holding on to new love will mean destroying their dreams forever.

The single title 2017 release is an expanded “Author Edition” of the story that first appeared in the Scandal’s Daughters anthology.

Rating: C+

Erica Ridley’s Lord of Chance is the first in a new series from the author entitled Rogues to Riches. Our rogue this time out is one Mister (not Lord – so what’s with the title?) Anthony Fairfax, a charming but rather rackety young man whose appetite for gaming has seen him run up such large debts in London that he has travelled to Scotland in order to try to win enough money to enable him to repay them and return home.

While enjoying a reasonable streak of luck at a small inn not far from the border, Anthony’s eye is repeatedly caught by a young woman whose face is hidden behind a hood, but whose form is pleasing. He nicknames her ‘Lady Fortune’ in his mind, as her presence seems to have helped turn his fortunes. All that changes, however, when she is invited to the table and decides to play. Anthony’s Lady Fortune makes her own luck, it seems, and she cleans him out, winning everything on the table, and in addition, Anthony’s promise to do her bidding for the night ahead. It will come as no surprise when I say that his idea of doing the lady’s bidding all night is rather more lascivious than hers.

Anthony may be a wastrel, but he’s still a gentleman, so when the lady is accosted on their way out of the public room, he steps in and tells her drunken admirer that she is his wife and he should treat her with more respect. The pair then proceed to her room, where Anthony proceeds to make himself useful by ironing and folding her gowns (er… okay) and, in gentlemanly fashion, spends the night on the lumpy sofa.

Charlotte Devon has travelled to Scotland in search of the father she has never met. Her mother is a famous – or infamous – London courtesan, so when Charlotte ruefully reflects that she was ruined before she was even born, she isn’t wrong. Unfortunately, this is an era where the sins of the father were visited upon the children, and her illegitimacy, her mother’s profession and her strong resemblance to her mother all mean that Charlotte has little chance of achieving the sort of respectability she craves.

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

TBR Challenge: Atrophy (Atrophy #1) by Jess Anastasi

This title may be purchased from Amazon.

No one on Erebus escapes alive…

Twelve years on the prison planet Erebus makes a man long for death. The worst part for Tannin Everette is that he was framed for murder. He’s innocent. When the ship Imojenna lands for emergency repairs, Tannin risks everything to escape…only to find himself face to face with the captain’s undeniably gorgeous sister.

Zahli Sherron isn’t planning on turning Tannin in. In fact, she actually believes him. Sure, he’s sexy as every kind of sin, but he’s no criminal—so she hides him. But no one escapes from Erebus and lives to tell about it. With every day that passes, Zahli further risks the lives of the entire crew…even as she falls in love with a man she can never have for herself.

Rating: B+

When I saw this month’s prompt was to read Something Different, I knew pretty much exactly which genre and which book I was going to choose. Last year sometime, one of my fellow reviewers at AAR reviewed a Sci-Fi romance called Quantum, which was the second book in Jess Anastasi’s Atrophy series. I really liked the sound of it and it struck me that while I’m actually a fan of Sci-Fi in TV and film, I don’t read it – so I picked up the first book in the series, Atrophy for the May prompt.

I admit that I hadn’t realised, going in, that it’s part of a series in which there is an overarching story that runs through all the books (there are three so far). Still, it’s a thumping good read and I’m sufficiently invested in that particular plotline to want to read the other books – when I can find the time! I also liked that the book is very much an ensemble piece, with a handful of principal characters to start and a few new ones introduced along the way. There’s a romance with an HEA to be sure, but that’s not the primary focus of the story and I was perfectly okay with that; there’s plenty of action and the gradual emergence of a really intriguing plot, all of it skilfully woven together into a rip-roaring, enjoyable yarn.

Due to the latest in a string of mechanical failures, the cargo freighter Imojenna is forced to land on the prison planet, Erebus in order to pick up spare parts and make repairs. On duty when the ship applies for permission to land is Tannin Everette, one of the number of inmates who is allowed to work in the prison administration. Twelve years earlier, he was convicted of a murder he did not commit, and when the chance of escape presents itself, he takes it, planning to stow away aboard the Imojenna. He’s not without misgivings; the penalty if he gets caught will be heavy and he’ll be a fugitive for the rest of his life. But on balance, it’s a risk he’s willing to take.

Crew member – and captain’s sister – Zahli Sherron, is in the marketplace buying supplies for the next leg of the Imojenna’s journey when she is approached by an officer and taken into a deserted building. Knowing the officer for one with an unpleasant reputation where women are concerned, Tannin is immediately suspicious and follows the sounds of a struggle only to come upon the young woman kneeling on the officer’s body with her hands around the knife in his chest. Tannin helps Zahli escape – and she later returns the favour by sticking up for him when he is discovered aboard the ship. There’s an instant attraction thrumming between them, but her immensely scary brother makes it clear that Zahli is firmly off-limits; and ship’s captain Rian Sherron reminds Zahli that while she’s his sister, as a member of the crew the same rules apply to her as to everyone else – which includes the non-fraternization policy.

Tannin is a likeable character, a whizz-kid hacker who somehow managed to keep the authorities on Erebus from finding out about his mad hacking skillz. These make him very valuable to Rian, who has his own reasons for choosing to captain a rickety freighter instead of returning to the military where he could be hero-worshipped until the end of his days. I liked the way the author shows Tannin’s loyalties becoming more conflicted the more time he spends aboard the ship; he’s falling for Zahli and he owes her his freedom and his life, but Rian, once he’s realised that Tannin has useful skills, has allowed him to stay on board and in effect given him a home of sorts. Tannin wants to be with Zahli but owes Rian, too, and doesn’t want to repay the trust he is gradually being given by directly disobeying orders.

I didn’t warm to Zahli all that much, though. She’s supposed to be kick-ass and competent, but even she sometimes questions her position among the crew, seeing herself as someone who just deals with the finances and does the shopping. I suppose she’s the crew’s peacemaker, sometimes standing between them and Rian and frequently calling her brother on his shit the way no-one else can. The sibling relationship is quiet well done, but she’s rather a bland character on her own.

The romance between Zahli and Tannin works well-enough for all it’s based on insta-lust, but the thing which really captured my interest is the plotline that is clearly going to run through all the books concerning Rian, a former military officer with a reputation for bad-assery of the highest order. Three years before the end of the Assimilation war, he disappeared without trace and was presumed dead, and then, just as suddenly, he reappeared and single-handedly ended the war with one daring, completely mad and potentially suicidal act. But he returned a changed man, bitter, reckless and distanced, always careful not to let anyone see the bleak darkness inside him, the intense and barely-leashed rage that he battles daily to contain. Ever since his return, he has been set on achieving one goal – to hunt down the shape-shifting aliens who captured and tortured him and make them pay. His quest for revenge sees him sometimes making questionable decisions, ones which could have disastrous outcomes for him and his crew, but he makes them anyway, putting nothing ahead of his achieving his goal. One such decision is to accept another shipment of cargo from a known shady-dealer, which turns out to be a woman, more specifically, high-priestess Miriella from the planet Aryn. The Arynian priestesses are known to have powerful psychic abilities and it’s immediately clear to Rian she could be a valuable bargaining chip, weapon or both. But he’s wary of her; her telepathic abilities unsettle him and he keeps his distance, although there’s definitely a spark there which I really hope is going to be explored in future books.

Ms. Anastasi weaves a fast-paced, complex (but not unintelligible) and enthralling story with nary a dull moment as the Imojenna wends its way across the skies, evading pursuers, avoiding traps and generally making more enemies than friends along the way. The various crew members are engaging and have important parts to play; these are secondary roles, but they are all clearly defined as characters and all contribute to the overall feeling of camaraderie among this closely-knit bunch.

While there are a few things that didn’t quite work for me – there’s a situation near the end which is resolved in a way that feels like a bit of a cop-out, for instance – on the whole Atrophy is a terrific read and one I’d certainly recommend. The world-building is excellent and while there are quite a few characters and plotlines introduced, I was never confused as to who was whom or who was doing what. Lucky for me, there are two more books in the series (Quantum and Diffraction) available with a fourth book, Entropy, coming in 2018.

The Bad Luck Bride (Cavensham Heiresses #1) by Janna MacGregor

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IS MARRIAGE A BLESSING OR A CURSE?

A man of honor, Alexander Hallworth, Marquess of Pembrooke, will not rest until he exacts revenge on the man who destroyed his family. Just one more piece must fall into place for him to succeed he needs to convince his enemy s fiancee, the tragically beautiful Lady Claire Cavensham, to marry him instead.

Lady Claire s curse has always left her one misstep away from social ruin her past three engagements have gone awry, and now her fourth is headed in the same direction. . .until Alex, a man she barely even knows, shocks the ton and Claire by announcing their engagement. What begins as a sham turns into something deeper, and more passionate, than either Claire or Alex could have imagined. But when their secrets are revealed, will the truth behind their union scandalize them both or is their love strong enough to break the curse and lead them toward their happily ever after?

Rating: C+

The first twenty-five percent or so of Janna MacGregor’s début novel, The Bad Luck Bride, had me eagerly turning the pages, so thoroughly drawn was I into the story of a man who was so bent on revenge upon the former friend he held responsible for the death of his sister, that he would go to any lengths to completely ruin him, even going so far as to steal his fiancée. Unfortunately however, at around that point, the first of what turned out to be several rather flimsy misunderstandings made its appearance and although I was still interested to discover where the story was headed, my former enthusiasm had waned. There were also a number of issues – choppy writing, odd word choices – that took me out of the story on several occasions, as well as inconsistencies in the characterisation of both principals that were impossible to ignore and which have affected my final rating.

Alex Hallworth, Marquess of Pembrooke is distraught with grief over the suicide of his beloved sister, and is determined to exact rather more than a pound of flesh from the man he believes fathered the child she carried and was thus responsible for her final desperate act. When a friend prevents Alex issuing a challenge to Lord Paul Barstowe, he turns instead to a far more devious manner of engineering the man’s downfall. Knowing that Barstowe is deeply in debt as a result of his liking for high-stakes gaming, Alex secretly arranges for him to receive all the credit he asks for and then buys up all his debts, putting the other man completely at his mercy. The final humiliation is that Barstowe must break his betrothal to a wealthy heiress, Lady Claire Cavensham, the daughter of the late Duke of Langham, a young woman whose “bad luck” in having suffered three broken betrothals (for good reasons) has made her … if not quite a laughing stock, then someone who is frequently a subject of gossip among the ton.

Alex plans to marry the lady himself, but knows he’s got his work cut out for him given that Barstowe will be ex-fiancé number four. But, well, Alex is tall, dark, handsome and wickedly charming, so I’m not giving away any secrets when I say that he manages things to his satisfaction, although not without a hiccup or two along the way. Up to this point, I was fully engaged with the story, wondering when and how the cat was going to be let out of the bag and what angsty twists and turns would follow. But then, during a discussion just a couple of days before the wedding, when Alex jumps to a not completely unreasonable conclusion about Claire – a misunderstanding which is quickly corrected, I might add – she decides that he doesn’t trust her and that she can’t marry him. Having some inkling that she might try to bolt, Alex unfortunately compounds his mistake by laying a wager under a false name (sort of) which backs Claire into a corner and gives her no alternative but to go through with the wedding.

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

The Secret Marriage Pact (The Business of Marriage #3) by Georgie Lee

This title may be purchased from Amazon.

An improper proposal!

Jane Rathbone is used to being left behind, and no longer believes she deserves happiness. But when childhood friend Jasper Charton returns from the Americas, more dangerously sexy than ever, she has a proposition. She’ll give him the property he needs if he’ll give her a new future–by marrying her!

Jasper never imagined taking a wife, but wonders if loyal Jane could be his redemption. And when their marriage brings tantalizing pleasures, convenient vows blossom into a connection that could heal them both…

Rating: B

Georgie Lee continues her Business of Marriage series with The Secret Marriage Pact, a friends-to-lovers story which reunites two childhood friends after almost a decade apart.  Jane Rathbone and Jasper Charton were almost inseparable as children, but the nine years Jasper has spent in America have changed him and he has returned home a troubled man, weighed down by guilt he is unable to shake off and secrets he is unable to share.

We first met Jane as a teenager in A Debt Paid in Marriage and now, almost a decade later, she’s a shrewd, intelligent young woman of twenty-three with an eye for a bargain and almost as good a head for business as her brother, Phillip.  Unfortunately, however, she has recently become the subject of ridicule because her fiancé – Jasper’s brother, Milton – eloped with another woman just two weeks before he and Jane were due to be married.  While Jane isn’t exactly heartbroken – she wasn’t in love with Milton, but she’d liked the idea of having a husband who was a friend – she’s furious about being made a laughing-stock. This leads her to bid against him at a property auction and to buy the Fleet Street building he had been bidding for – but her satisfaction at beating him is short lived when she learns he had actually been acting for Jasper, recently returned from America and who wanted the property in order to start a business.

Jane is thrilled but also wary of meeting Jasper again after all these years.  As children, she and the Charton brothers were extremely close, forever running around together causing mayhem and creating mischief, but things changed when, at fifteen, Jasper was told he would be going to Savannah to learn the cotton business from his maternal uncle.  Jane had already realised she felt more than friendship for Jasper and told him before he left that she would wait for him, but he didn’t think he’d ever return and rebuffed her.

Now, however, Jane is determined not to accept rebuffs or excuses and instead conceives a plan which could help both of them.  Jasper wants the building she purchased and she wants freedom from the restrictions she has to endure as a single woman.  Getting married would mean they could both get what they want while working together to establish Jasper’s business venture.

Their old connection is as strong as ever – although now, it comes with the added piquancy of mutual sexual attraction – but Jasper is astonished at Jane’s proposal and equally surprised to find himself tempted by it.  Even though he told her not to wait for him when he left, he has never forgotten her and continues to harbour feelings for her that go beyond friendship.  But the things he has seen and done in the last nine years have profoundly affected him, and the last thing he wants to do is to weigh her down with his secrets and corrupt her the same way the life he’s led has corrupted him.

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

Relaunch Mission (The Galactic Cold War #1) by Robyn Bachar

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Living mission to mission on the fringes of civilized space, Captain Lindana Nyota has managed to keep her crew paid and her ship in one piece. Barely. The privateer’s life of stealing Soviet supplies for the Alliance is taking its toll on everyone. Down a crew member, she now has to take on a new intel officer and hope it’s someone she can trust.

Lieutenant Gabriel Steele knew Lindy wasn’t expecting him to walk out of the air lock and back into her life, but he didn’t think he’d get his nose broken. As an intelligence agent for the Alliance, Gabriel has spent his career in deep cover, his sense of self crushed under layers of deceit—starting with the lies he had to tell Lindy years ago when he left her. A fresh start is all he wants, but the Alliance and his secret orders have already jeopardized that.

When an infamous pirate and friend of Lindy and her crew is reported alive and in possession of knowledge of a powerful Soviet weapon, finding her before the enemy does is paramount. But Gabriel can’t do it without regaining Lindy’s trust—and hopefully rekindling what he once sacrificed in the name of duty.

Rating: B-

This is the first in Robyn Bachar’s new Galactic Cold War series of science-fiction romances, and when I saw it touted as  ‘Firefly meets James Bond’  I couldn’t resist!

Set in a future in which the Cold War never ended, the story features the crew of the privateer ship Mombasa as it operates on the fringes of known space carrying out missions for the United Alliance of Democratic Nations – which mostly consist of raiding Soviet ships for supplies.  Captain Lindana Nyota and her tightly knit band of officers live a difficult existence; times are hard, their ship is in dire need of parts and repairs, and their last few jobs have gone badly wrong, resulting in the deaths of two crew members to whom Lindana was particularly close.

One of those people was the ship’s intelligence officer, and it’s imperative to their continued operation that they obtain a new one as soon as possible.  Arriving at the neutral  Tortue Station, Lindana is shocked and more than a little pissed off to discover that her new crew member is Lieutenant Gabriel Steele, the man who broke her heart fifteen years ago.

(As an aside, I had to chuckle a little at the description of Gabriel – he’s gorgeous, British, upper class, well-dressed and from a posh family… basically, he’s a space-duke 😉  It seems there’s no getting away from ‘em in romance – even in outer space!)

Not only is Lindana furious at the idea of having to work with the bastard who betrayed her so cruelly, she’s furious at herself for the fact that even after so many years, Gabriel still makes her feel things nobody else ever has.  Unfortunately, she has little choice but to agree to his appointment – but she doesn’t have to like it.

For the past fifteen years Gabriel  has worked as an intelligence officer (spy) for the Alliance, but that life has begun to pall and he’s tired of living a lie.  He requested the posting to the Mombasa because he wanted to see Lindana again and try to make things right, but he then receives orders to track down the Soviet spy responsible for the ship’s recent run of bad luck.  And of course, he’s not authorised to share that information with anyone – even Lindana – which pretty much puts paid to his idea of regaining her trust and asking if they can make a fresh start.

The story is action-packed and fast-paced, and Ms. Bachar packs a lot into a fairly small page count.  If anything suffers, it’s the romance – which is fairly perfunctory – but all the other elements of the story – the setting, the background, the action – are well done and kept me engrossed and entertained.   The political shenanigans between the Alliance, the Soviets and the breakaway Core Colonies Collective (C3) are clearly explained, and in a way that adds information at relevant times so there’s no feeling that you’re being subjected to an info-dump; the plotline is complex without being unintelligible and the author ramps the tension up nicely in the later chapters, when the crew of the Mombasa is on the trail of a ‘super weapon’ developed by the Soviets and beset by betrayal from their own side.

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

Enchanting the Earl (The Townsends #1) by Lily Maxton

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Llynmore Castle is the only place Annabel Lockhart has ever considered home. For years, she’s been able to live as she wished, freely roaming the wild moors. Now there’s a new earl, as arrogant as he is handsome, and he wants her out. But if he thinks she’ll go quietly, he’s in for a surprise.

Theo Townsend returned from war a changed man. After unexpectedly inheriting an earldom and a secluded castle in the Scottish Highlands to go with it, he thinks he’s found the perfect place to hide from the world—until he arrives to find a spirited, beautiful woman already in residence. He can’t just throw her out, but surely there’s a way to get her to leave on her own. The sooner she’s gone, the better, especially when he realizes there’s more than just mutual dislike between them.

Rating: B+

Lily Maxton gets her new series The Townsends off to a great start with the first book, Enchanting the Earl, a sweetly sensual character-driven romance set in a remote castle in the Scottish Highlands in 1812. It’s a short but charming enemies-to-lovers story in which the author skilfully balances the angst of the damaged hero with gentle humour and loving, familial relationships and brings a real depth to the characterisation of the principals and secondary cast.

A former soldier, Theo Townsend never expected to inherit an earldom or an ancestral pile in Scotland. Returned from fighting on the Peninsula damaged both mentally and physically, the newly minted Earl of Arden decides that the remoteness of Llynmore Castle will suit him admirably, affording him the opportunity to live in quiet solitude for the foreseeable future.  To his annoyance however, his brother and sisters have other ideas, and insist on accompanying him to see their new home which, Theo reflects, is at least big enough for him to be able to keep to himself and out of their way.

On arrival, Theo is further annoyed to discover that the castle is not, as he’d been led to believe, uninhabited.  In the courtyard, a striking but dishevelled young woman who is attempting to rescue a cat from a tree, introduces herself as Annabel Lockhart, and informs them that she resides there with her aunt, the widow of the previous earl’s brother.

Theo makes it immediately clear that he expects the ladies to leave, and says that he will have his solicitor find them somewhere else to live at the earliest opportunity. Annabel is furious at his arrogant high-handedness and dismayed at the prospect of having to leave the only real home and family she has ever known.  Orphaned as a child, she had been passed from relative to relative, most of whom took little notice of her and put her to work until one day she decided to seek out the scandalous aunt she had heard of over the years.  Travelling to Llynmore Castle, Annabel expected another rejection – but it never came.  Her aunt accepted her just as she was and the two of them have lived there contentedly ever since.

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