Mrs Sommersby’s Second Chance (The Sommersby Brides #4) by Laurie Benson

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She’s played Cupid for others

Now she’s met her own unlikely match!

Widowed society matchmaker Mrs Clara Sommersby thinks handsome self-made businessman Mr William Lane is just the man for her neighbour’s overlooked daughter. He’s successful and confident, if somewhat emotionally distant, until suddenly—shockingly—his attention turns to Clara herself! She thought her days of romance were over, but is this dashing younger man intent on giving her a second chance?

Rating: B

Since we ran our feature on Seasoned Romances over at AAR, I’ve been keeping an eye out for romances featuring more mature heroines, who seem to crop up less frequently in historical romances than in other sub-genres.  I was pleased to learn that Laurie Benson’s Mrs. Sommersby – eponymous heroine of the final book in her Sommersby Brides series – is an independent widow in her forties.  Having spent the previous books in the series seeking out suitable matches for her beloved nieces, in Mrs. Sommersby’s Second Chance, she gets her own happily ever after with a handsome and successful businessman eight years her junior.

William Lane has travelled to Bath in order to pursue an investment opportunity and goes to the famed Pump Room to do a bit of research.  He owns the coffee house next door to the popular Fountain Head Hotel (where he is staying while in the city) and recently having discovered the existence of an underground (and capped off) hot spring in the coffee house’s cellar, intends to make the hotel’s owner an offer to purchase the establishment so he can develop both properties into a spa. Bath may not be the magnet it once was for members of the ton, but the new and upcoming middle classes are visiting in increasing numbers and Lane is keen to attract a wealthy investor or two.

In the decade since she was widowed, Mrs. Clara Sommersby has discovered she possesses sound business sense and the ability to make shrewd decisions.  Married for a number of years to a man who was hopeless with money, they were on the verge of financial ruin when he died, and Clara is determined never to find herself in such a position again.  After her husband’s death, she decided to invest the money she had left rather than dwindle into the life of a paid companion or dependent relative, and purchased the Fountain Head Hotel.  For the sake of her reputation as a gentlewoman, Clara keeps her ownership of the hotel a secret, and the day to day management is undertaken by her cousin, Mr. Edwards.

She and Lane meet in the Pump Room, where she observes him closely scrutinising his glass of mineral water and after they catch each other’s eye, they strike up a conversation about the health benefits of the spring water and the hot baths.  There’s a definite frisson of attraction between them  but they are separated before they can learn each other’s names or how they might find each other again.

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

One Night of Temptation (Wicked Dukes Club #6) by Darcy Burke

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Faced with a marriage she can’t abide, Lady Penelope Wakefield takes drastic measures to preserve her freedom. Her brilliant plan is foolproof until a sexy but imperious rector “rescues” her.

Rector Hugh Tarleton has no patience for the Society philanthropists who seek to bestow their pity—and not much else—on his oppressed flock in one of London’s worst neighborhoods. When the daughter of a marquess is kidnapped and brought to the rookery, he vows to protect her, but the temptation to surrender to their mutual desire will certainly ruin them both.

Rating: C-

I’ve enjoyed a number of Darcy Burke’s historical romances in the past and have reviewed a number of them favourably, but I’m afraid I can’t do that for her latest release, One Night of Temptation.  The book is the sixth in the Wicked Dukes Club series which Ms. Burke has co-authored with Erica Ridley (they have written alternate books with Ms. Ridley penning the odd numbered ones and Ms. Burke the even) – featuring a group of friends, not all of whom are dukes, who meet regularly at their favourite watering hole in St. Giles – The Wicked Duke.  I haven’t read any of the other books in the series, but they’re designed to work as standalones, so potential readers can jump in anywhere and not have to worry about feeling lost.

What they do need to worry about with this book, however, is its utter flimsiness.  One Night of Temptation is short for a novel, coming in at under two hundred pages, but there’s not even enough plot to fill that short a page count.  The romance is basically love at first sight, the principals are bland and there’s little to no chemistry between them, and the whole story is wrapped up in about a week.

Lady Penelope Wakefield, daughter of the Marquess of Bramber is fleeing an unwanted marriage to an unpleasant lecher old enough to be her grandfather.  She’s hatched a plan together with a young woman she met and befriended on a charitable errand at a church in St. Giles; Penelope is going to be abducted (but not really) and spend a night away from home which, when word gets out, will be enough to ruin her reputation, and the old goat won’t want to marry her after that.  But it turns out that poor naïve Pen was duped, and the woman she thought of as a friend had made plans for a real kidnap and ransom.  Fortunately for Pen, the men trying to hustle her away are prevented from doing so by the timely intervention of Hugh Tarleton, Rector of the parish of St. Giles who, learning of her situation, takes her to a decent inn he knows and arranges for them both to spend the night there (in separate rooms of course).  But while the inn is decent, the area is rough and after a fight breaks out downstairs, Hugh decides it would be safest if they shared a room – Pen taking the bed, he in the chair by her side, naturally.  They work out a plan by which Pen can be returned to home and safety now that she’s been publicly ruined, and even though her father will be furious and will probably send her to the family’s remote estate in Lancashire, that’s better than being married to the obnoxious Earl of Findon. During the course of the evening, however, she becomes aware that an even better alternative would be marriage to Hugh… but of course, that’s impossible.  She’d never be allowed to marry so far beneath her, even if Hugh were interested.

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

Bishop’s Knight (Engame Trilogy #1) by Katie Reus

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She needs his help…

Thanks to years of government training, Evie Bishop knows how to get into places she doesn’t belong—and she’s very good at it. But years of doing black ops work burned her out so she returns home—to unexpected chaos. One of her brothers is in a coma and the other is in hiding, wanted for murder. Then a fellow operative from her past shows up shot and bleeding with news that an assassin is gunning for everyone involved with a past op. She’s forced to turn to the one man she knows she can trust—the man whose heart she broke.

But it will come with a price…

When Dylan Blackwood proposed a year ago, Evie turned him down flat and walked out of his life. He’s stunned when he finds her on his doorstep covered in someone else’s blood, needing his help. He always knew there was more to her than met the eye—that Evie was never simply the pampered society princess she wanted people to believe she was. But he never expected this. If she needs help, he’ll give it. Even if he can’t forget her betrayal. Even if he isn’t sure he can trust her. But his protection will come with a price—her heart. Before they can have a chance at a future, they’ll have to work together to take down a faceless enemy who has Evie firmly in his crosshairs.

Rating: B-

Bishop’s Knight is the first book in the new Endgame Trilogy of romantic suspense novels from Katie Reus which features the Bishop siblings – Ellis, Evan and Evie.  It’s a fast-paced, well-put together story full of secrets, lies and betrayals featuring a sexy second-chance romance and an engaging central couple – and the author sets up the other stories in the trilogy in a manner that feels organic and doesn’t detract from the principal storyline.

The book opens fifteen months before the commencement of the story proper, as Evie and her crack team of CIA operatives is in the final stages of their current assignment to take down a Russian mob-affiliated arms dealer.  Although things don’t quite go according to plan, the mission is successful, and they’re told their next job will take them to Miami – Evie’s home town.  Nothing more is known about it at this stage, other than it’s big, they’re teaming up with the Feds and their target is someone named Jensen.

When we meet Evie again, she’s retired from the CIA and has been back home in Miami for a month, where she’s temporarily living in the apartment belonging to her brother Ellis.  Her wealthy, well-connected family is reeling from the news that Ellis – a DEA agent – has been accused of murdering his partner and has gone on the run and off the grid; and as if that wasn’t bad enough, a recent explosion at Bishop Enterprises has left her oldest brother, Evan, critically injured and necessitated a medically induced coma.  Evie is taking a short break from her vigil at the hospital with her parents and Evan’s fiancée, Isla, when she receives a text from her friend and former CIA colleague Samara Sousa announcing that she’s outside – which is where Evie finds her, bleeding from a gunshot wound to her hip.

She does what she can, but her friend needs more medical attention than is to be found in Evie’s first-aid kit.  As Evie works to staunch the bleeding, Samara tells her what brought her to Miami – the news that two of the people they’d worked with on the Jensen operation have been murdered and the desire to warn Evie that she might also be a target. Samara doesn’t want to go to a hospital and leave a trail for whoever shot her, so Evie has to think fast – and reluctantly comes to the conclusion that there’s only one person she knows in Miami who is likely to be able to help.

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

TBR Challenge: The Summer of Us by Lily Morton

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It’s going to be a long hot summer…

John is an exceptionally good lawyer. He’s driven, arrogant and hides a warm heart underneath a façade of cool politeness. He’s used to people disliking him but for some reason when meeting Matt in London the other man’s open dislike of him bothers him. He’s therefore surprised to find himself offering Matt a place to stay in his villa in the South of France while he’s working nearby. He’s surprised because he’d actually planned to spend the summer working on his book and plotting to get his ex-wife back.

However, his perfect plans take a blow as the long hot summer progresses and the two men get closer, and John starts to nurse an unexpected attraction to his houseguest from hell.

Matt is John’s polar opposite. He’s warm, funny, sociable and scruffy. He loves people and they love him back. However, to his consternation he hates John more than he hates Marmite, and Marmite makes him vomit. He hates his arrogance, his public school voice and the air of superiority that he carries around. The idea of staying in his home with just him for company sounds torturous and not in a good way.
However, as the hot, lazy days slip by he’s forced to realise that maybe he’s not such a good judge of character after all, because underneath that arrogance is a warm, funny, vulnerable man who’s incredibly sexy. The only problem is that while Matt is gay John is completely straight and Matt now wants him more than he’s ever wanted anything in his life.

See what happens when two men who think that they have nothing in common apart from a past mutual hatred find out that they might actually be each other’s future.

Rating: B+

Unlike the historicals prompt, where I always have lots of books to choose from, the contemporaries one usually sees me scrabbling around to find something to read because I like to choose my TBR Challenge reads from books I already own – and contemps aren’t really my thing so I don’t buy many.  I did, however, find a handful on my Kindle and, having recently enjoyed Lily Morton’s Rule Breaker in audio, (seriously, it’s fantastic) I decided to read one of the author’s earlier books, The Summer of Us, which is a spin-off title from her Beggar’s Choice series about a world-famous rock band.

Matt Dalton has been friends with the members of Beggar’s Choice for years; the bassist, Bram, is like a brother to him, and even though Matt runs a highly successful and elite staffing agency he also works as Bram’s PA. He’s charming, funny, outgoing and the sort of guy who gets on with everybody.  Everybody that is, except John Harrington, the band’s lawyer.  Matt disliked John from their first meeting, and that opinion has never changed in spite of the fact that everyone else in the band likes him and regards him as ‘one of them’.  But as far as Matt’s concerned, John is bossy, abrasive, arrogant… and it doesn’t help that he’s been very inconveniently attracted to him from the moment he first laid eyes on him.

John is rich and successful, but doesn’t have much of a life outside of his work.  The face he presents to the world is cool and self-contained, but it’s a façade behind which lies a gentle dreamer with a soft heart and a longing – one even he hardly recognises – to make a real connection with someone he can share his life with.  John knows Matt doesn’t like him but isn’t sure why… or why it bothers him so much.  So it’s as much a surprise to him as to anyone when he finds himself offering to put Matt up at his villa in the South of France when Charlie, the band’s lead singer, tells John that Matt has agreed to oversee the renovations on a property he’s just purchased near the one John owns.

What starts out seeming as though it’s going to be an enemies-to-lovers story quickly morphs into something else when Matt arrives at the villa and immediately jumps head-first into an apology for making snap judgements and then suggests they start afresh:

“I didn’t really give you a chance, which was a shitty thing to do, so I’d like to give us a second chance to become friends.  After all, we’re going to be spending a lot of time together and it would be a lot easier if it’s not in conditions that would have made Stalin uncomfortable.”

John is only too pleased to agree, and it doesn’t take long for both men to realise that they like each other a great deal, and to discover that, while on the surface they’re chalk and cheese, they actually have a lot more in common than they could ever have imagined.  From this new start, comes a deep friendship, a sense of true kinship and, for John, the confusion that comes with the realisation that he’s strongly attracted to Matt despite never having been attracted to men before.  Matt, who has been struggling with the fact that he’s only grown more attracted to John the more he’s got to know him, believes John is straight – hell, Bram told him that John was trying to get back with his ex-wife – and he isn’t prepared to be anyone’s experiment.  He’s realised that in past relationships, he was always the one to make sacrifices and to give while the other person took and now he’s decided he’s never going to settle again. He wants someone who is going to put him – Matt – first, and John surely can’t be that guy.  Can he?

I really enjoyed the way the central relationship developed, with the two men moving from antagonism to friendship and eventually to lovers.  They’re three-dimensional characters with baggage that continues to inform their attitudes and relationships; John’s aristocratic parents never really gave a shit about him, so he’s grown up reluctant to form connections for fear he’s not good enough, while Matt’s religious parents threw him out at fifteen when he came out, and he’s still carrying a shedload of guilt about a past relationship that went very badly wrong.  Ms. Morton’s wonderfully snarky (and wonderfully British) humour is very much in evidence, and although the appearances of the dreadful ex-boyfriend and equally dreadful ex-wife are somewhat clichéd, they nonetheless help to move things along a little by highlighting the contrasts between the men’s  past and present relationships.  John’s lack of angsting over and acceptance of his sexuality and his feelings for Matt feel right for his character; he says early on in the story that he’s never been one for strong emotions, and it’s obvious that his desire to get back with his ex-wife was motivated more by hurt pride than anything else, so the idea that it was finding the right person that made the difference made sense.  I liked that he wasn’t freaked out or in denial about his attraction to Matt, or interested in labels –

“I don’t know whether I’ve just discovered that I’m gay so much or just that I’ve discovered you… You’re my person and I think that I was just waiting for you. Man or woman, it doesn’t matter to me. The only thing that matters is that you are mine and I am yours.”

Also important in the story is the setting, which is described so vividly that I was able to picture it – the villa in the hills above Cannes with the amazing view of the sea – and imagine the heady scents of the flowers and herbs; the perfect backdrop to allow this intense, sexy romance to develop in that space out of time away from the constraints of everyday life. But there were a few things that kept this book from DIK status.  The aforementioned evil exes were a bit OTT, and sometimes, the dialogue between Matt and John is a bit too-good-to-be-true and overly sappy.  I also wasn’t wild about the continual use of “Matty” and “Johnny”, which felt a bit juvenile.  I know they were meant to be pet names, but I still found it a bit irritating.

Otherwise, though, The Summer of Us is a funny, charming, sexy and wonderfully romantic read and I enjoyed it a lot in spite of its flaws.

A Grave End (Bodies of Evidence #4) by Wendy Roberts

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A woman died years ago, and the body’s still missing.

Julie Hall’s conscience tells her she needs to use her skills to help a grieving family find their daughter’s long-missing remains. The problem is, Alice was last seen in Julie’s hometown—a place so full of traumatic memories, the very idea of returning there nearly paralyzes Julie.

Clear boundaries help Julie overcome her fears and take the job. She’ll go all out with her search, but only for one week. An end date in sight will ease the anxiety she and her FBI boyfriend have about the price she’ll have to pay to do the right thing.

Despite a growing sense of foreboding as she hits one dead end after another, Julie is driven to keep looking for Alice. But after receiving vile threats and with her self-imposed deadline looming, Julie realizes she was right to be afraid—and she worries she may not survive this case.

Rating: B-

A Grave End is the fourth – and possibly final? – book in Wendy Roberts’  series of suspense novels featuring Julie Hall, a young woman who has the ability to locate dead bodies using a pair of dowsing rods.  Julie is a complex, prickly character; an alcoholic in recovery, she’s the survivor of a particularly brutal childhood during which she suffered horrific abuse at the hands of her grandmother.  She got away from her small home town of Blaine, Washington, as soon as she possibly could and simply the thought of going back there is enough to send her into a tailspin – but she now finds herself unable to refuse a request from a dying man desperate to find the remains of his daughter-in-law, a former schoolmate.

Julie is very much in love with her boyfriend, FBI Agent Garrett Pierce, whom she met in the first book in the series.  They live together and are committed to each other – and at the end of the previous book, A Grave Peril, they exchanged rings, although Julie is adamant she doesn’t want to get married, and Garrett – who is a widower – respects that decision.  Julie is, however, still struggling with the demons of her past, and six months before A Grave Endbegins, went on a bender one night when she’d gone to a bar to meet with an informant.  If the guilt over falling off the wagon wasn’t bad enough, somehow she managed to lose her ring, which is one of a matching pair and irreplaceable – and to make things even worse, she has no real memory of that night, other than of meeting a man with striking green eyes and going outside with him… and she can’t be sure she didn’t betray Garrett in the worst way possible.

So Julie isn’t in the best of places when she receives the request to find Alice Ebert’s remains.  But back when they were in school, Julie realised that, even though she and Alice didn’t have a lot to do with one another, one thing they did share was the fact that the adults in their lives were physically abusive, and Julie felt that made a kind of bond between them.  So she feels she owes it to the other woman to try to find out what happened to her and to at the very least, ensure that her body is at last laid to rest.  Her first step is to travel to the Ozette Correctional Center to visit Alice’s husband, Roscoe, who was convicted of her murder.  Roscoe has always protested his innocence, in spite of the fact that Alice’s blood was found in his truck, and after hearing again the story of the night Alice was killed, Julie agrees to think about taking on the task.

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

Her Deadly Secrets (Wolfe Security #2) by Laura Griffin

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She alone may hold the key to finding a vicious murderer…

Private investigator Kira Vance spends her days navigating the intricate labyrinth of Houston’s legal world. But, however shadowy its players and dark its secrets, the last thing she expects is for a meeting with her top client to end in a bloodbath. The police have no suspects but one thing is clear: a killer has Kira in his sights.

Fiercely independent, Kira doesn’t expect – or want – help from anyone, least of all an unscrupulous lawyer and his elite security team. Instead, she launches her own investigation, hoping to uncover the answers that have eluded the police.

But as Kira’s hunt for clues becomes more and more perilous, she realizes that she must take help wherever she can find it if she wants to stay alive…

Rating: B-

Her Deadly Secrets is the second in Laura Griffin’s Wolfe Securityseries which débuted last year with Desperate Girls.  Unlike the author’s long-running Tracers series, in which the stories revolve around the workings of a high-tech crime lab, and thus have a strong focus on forensics, the Wolfe Security novels feature the operatives of an elite private security company and their protectees, and have more of a straightforward murder/mystery vibe.  I’ve enjoyed a number of books by this author, but while the suspense storyline in this one is well-done, the romance is really disappointing and quite honestly, the story would have worked perfectly well without it.

Kira Vance is a hard-working private investigator with a number of cases and clients on her books,  the most important of which is the one she’s working on for her mentor, Ollie Kovak, whose services are used regularly by the high-end Huston law firm of Logan & Locke.  Brock Logan, well known for defending wealthy people accused of serious crimes, is defending Gavin Quinn, a doctor accused of murdering his wife, and Ollie has asked Kira to meet him at Logan’s house in order to review an important break in the case.  Kira hasn’t been there long when all hell breaks loose;  someone comes in the front door, shoots and kills Ollie, shoots at Logan and Kira and then gathers up as many of their phones, files and laptops as possible before getting out.

Though shaken, Kira is determined not to fall apart, and equally determined to find out who killed Ollie and why.  The stolen laptops and files must mean that the killer was after information relating to the Quinn case – but Kira has no idea what exactly Ollie had been working on before his death or what information he’d wanted to pass on to her that evening.  The one thing she’s does know is that finding answers to both those questions is imperative if she’s to get to the truth.

Logan asks Kira to take over from Ollie on the Quinn case, and after she agrees, informs her that now she’s part of his team, she’ll be accorded the same sort of round-the-clock protection as the rest of them.  Kira isn’t at all happy about this; she has to be able to act independently and spontaneously in order to do her job so the last thing she needs is to be followed around by guys who “look like the Avengers.”  But she agrees reluctantly, intending to bend the rules if necessary.

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

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.