Promise of Darkness (Dark Court Rising #1) by Bec McMaster

promise of darkness

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Princess. Tribute. Sacrifice. Is she the one prophesied to unite two warring Fae courts? Or the one bound to destroy them?

In a realm ruled by magic, the ruthless Queen of Thorns is determined to destroy her nemesis, the cursed Prince of Evernight.

With war brewing between the bitter enemies, the prince forces Queen Adaia to uphold an ancient treaty: she will send one of her daughters to his court as a political hostage for three months.

The queen insists it’s the perfect opportunity for Princess Iskvien to end the war before it begins. But one look into Thiago’s smoldering eyes and Vi knows she’s no assassin.

The more secrets she uncovers about the prince and his court, the more she begins to question her mother’s motives.

Who is the true enemy? The dark prince who threatens her heart? Or the ruthless queen who will stop at nothing to destroy him?

And when the curse threatens to shatter both courts, is her heart strong enough to break it?

Rating: B+

I’m a big fan of Bec McMaster’s London Steampunk and Blue-Blood Conspiracy series, and was excited to read Promise of Darkness, the first book in her new fantasy series, Dark Court Rising.  Dabney Grinnan – publisher of All About Romance – is also a huge fan of Ms. McMaster’s work, so we both eagerly dove into this one, and then had a chat about what we thought of it.

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

His Wayward Bride (Romance of the Turf #3) by Theresa Romain

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Though their horse-racing family is as troubled as it is talented, all of the Chandler siblings have found love…except eldest brother Jonah. Married four years ago and abandoned after his wedding night, single-minded Jonah now spends his days training Thoroughbreds—while his lost bride is a family mystery no one dares discuss.

And that’s just the way Jonah and his wife, Irene, want it.

The biracial daughter of a seamstress and a con artist, Irene has built a secret career as a spy and pickpocket who helps troubled women. By day she works as a teacher at Mrs. Brodie’s Academy for Exceptional Young Ladies; in spare moments she takes on missions that carry her everywhere from London’s elite heart to its most dangerous corners.

Jonah agreed to this arrangement for four years, until Irene’s family fortunes were made. After surviving on passionate secret meetings and stolen days together, now it’s time to begin the marriage so long delayed. But as these two independent souls begin to build a life together, family obligations and old scandals threaten to tear them apart…

Rating: B-

I enjoyed the first three books in Theresa Romain’s Romance of the Turf series, which focuses on a family of successful horse-breeders and trainers based in Newmarket.  One of the attractions of the series has been that there’s nary a duke or earl in sight – historical romance about non-aristocratic characters is relatively rare, so the author is to be applauded for writing about the gentry instead of the nobs.  It’s been a while since the last title in the series (Scandalous Ever After) was released, but  I did remember that the eldest of the Chandler siblings, Jonah, had appeared and/or been mentioned in the earlier books, and that he was married… but that his wife, for some unexplained reason, wasn’t around.

As it turns out, Irene Chandler – née Baird – is a teacher at Mrs. Brodie’s Academy for Exceptional Young Ladies (as featured in the novella duo by Ms. Romain and Shana Galen), an exclusive boarding school in Marylebone that teaches classes in self-defence and pick-pocketing alongside the more traditional subjects.  Irene has been a teacher of geography and history there for six years, and loves it; but like some of her fellow teachers, she also carries out certain extra-curricular activities at the behest of Mrs. Brodie.  Irene is, in fact:

… a sort of spy. A thief.  A secret agent.  The headmistress of her academy had ties to prominent people across England, and she pulled strings to make sure their power was used for good.  Irene was, when needed, the physical hand who did the pulling.

As a biracial woman – her mother is a black Englishwoman, her father a white American – Irene knows only too well the feelings of powerlessness and helplessness in the face of injustice.  She loves the life she has built for herself and is fulfilled by it, even as she recognises that her work is of the sort that will never, ever be done when there are people who need the sort of help Mrs. Brodie can provide.  But she made a bargain four years earlier, one that is going to change the course of her life, and payment is now due.

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

Someone to Remember (Westcott #7) by Mary Balogh

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It’s never too late to fall in love . . .

Matilda Westcott has spent her life tending to the needs of her mother, the Dowager Countess of Riverdale, never questioning the web of solitude she has spun herself. To Matilda, who considers herself an aging spinster daughter, marriage is laughable – love is a game for the young, after all. But her quiet, ordered life unravels when a dashing gentleman from her past reappears, threatening to charm his way into her heart yet again.

Charles Sawyer, Viscount Dirkson, does not expect to face Matilda Westcott thirty-six years after their failed romance. Moreover, he does not expect decades-old feelings to emerge at the very sight of her. When encountering Matilda at a dinner hosted by the Earl of Riverdale, he finds himself as fascinated by her as he was the first day they met, and wonders whether, after all these years, they have a chance at happiness together. Charles is determined to crack the hard exterior Matilda has built up for more than three decades, or he will risk losing her once again . . .

Rating: B

Someone to Remember is the seventh (and penultimate?) instalment in Mary Balogh’s Westcott saga, which has followed the fortunes of the various members of the large and close-knit Westcott family after the discovery that the late Humphrey Westcott, Earl of Riverdale, had committed bigamy and that his second marriage was therefore invalid.  This discovery naturally had serious repercussions; his son and two daughters lost titles, fortunes and status; his widow couldn’t even claim to have been a wife, and the earldom diverted to a cousin who didn’t want it. Through six books, readers have followed the fortunes of various family members in the wake of these events, and now we come to Matilda, Humphrey’s older sister, a woman of mature years – fifty-six – who has appeared throughout the series as the dutiful spinster aunt who fusses over her mother because it’s something to do and has gradually faded into the background.

In order to understand the relationship in Someone to Remember, it’s necessary to refer back to the previous book in the series, Someone to Honor, so please be aware that this review contains spoilers for that book. Lieutenant Colonel Gilbert Bennington returned from fighting at Waterloo to discover his late wife had left their four-year-old daughter in the care of her parents, who are now refusing to return her to his care. Although Gil was an officer, his illegitimacy and humble origins made him unacceptable to his in-laws; his father was a nobleman – Viscount Dirkson – but his mother was the daughter of a blacksmith who refused all offers of support from the viscount, and allowed Gil to believe that he had washed his hands of them.  When Gil joined the army, Dirkson purchased a commission for him, but after that Gil made it clear that he wanted nothing more to do with him.

But when Abigail Westcott married Gil, the entire Westcott clan naturally became interested in the situation; and when Matilda learned that Dirkson was Gil’s father, she took the unprecedented – and rather scandalous – step of paying a call upon the gentleman at his home in order to ask him to speak for Gil at the upcoming custody hearing.  It was clear from the moment Dirkson’s name was mentioned that he and Matilda had some shared history, and it’s soon revealed that they had once been in love and hoped to marry, but that Matilda’s parents had opposed the match and persuaded her to give him up.

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

Penny for Your Secrets (Verity Kent #3) by Anna Lee Huber

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The Great War may be over, but for many, there are still obstacles on the home front. Reconciling with her estranged husband makes Verity sympathetic to her friend Ada’s marital difficulties. Bourgeois-bred Ada, recently married to the Marquess of Rockham, is overwhelmed trying to navigate the ways of the aristocracy. And when Lord Rockham is discovered shot through the heart with a bullet from Ada’s revolver, Verity fears her friend has made a fatal blunder.

While striving to prove Ada’s innocence, Verity is called upon for another favor. The sister of a former Secret Service colleague has been killed in what authorities believe was a home invasion gone wrong. The victim’s war work—censoring letters sent by soldiers from the front—exposed her to sensitive, disturbing material. Verity begins to suspect these two unlikely cases may be linked. But as the connections deepen, the consequences—not just for Verity, but for Britain—grow more menacing than she could have imagined.

Rating: B

Note: This title is part of an ongoing series featuring the same characters, so there will be spoilers for the previous books in this review.

This third book in Anna Lee Huber’s series of mysteries featuring the intrepid Verity Kent sees our eponymous heroine and her recently returned husband Sidney investigating not one but two murders.  Penny for Your Secrets takes place just a few months following the events of book two, Treacherous is the Night, and although Verity and Sidney are on more of an even keel now than they were in that book, it’s clear that things between them are still delicately balanced . Neither of them is the same person who got married in 1914 after a whirlwind courtship, and the murder mystery storyline is underscored by the continuing exploration of Verity and Sidney’s marriage as they relearn each other and get to know they people they have become.  But their progress is impeded somewhat by the fact that both of them are still struggling to adapt to the world post-war as individuals;  Sidney with survivor’s guilt and PTSD while he tries to find his place in the world he’s come back to; Verity because she’s without a sense of purpose for the first time in years and because she’s still keeping secrets about the missions she undertook for the Secret Service.

The book opens with Verity and Sidney attending a dinner party hosted by the Marquess and Marchioness of Rockham, at which it is quickly obvious that all is not well between the couple.  Ada (the marchioness) – a friend of Verity’s – is Rockham’s second wife and was previously his mistress; they were in love when they married, but now things have soured. Rockham is rumoured to have another mistress and Ada makes no secret of her affair with Lord Ardmore, whom Verity believes holds some sort of hush-hush position within Naval Intelligence and whom Sidney pronounces “a bounder.”

After an uncomfortable dinner – at which Ada makes a very distasteful joke about shooting her husband – Verity and Sidney excuse themselves as soon as it’s polite to do so and make their way home, only to be woken in the early hours of the morning by a telephone call from an almost hysterical Ada, who tells them that Rockham is dead from a shot to the temple. The police are already on the scene and are clearly looking at Ada as their prime suspect, and while Verity believes her friend to have been guilty of poor judgment in her behaviour of late, she can’t believe her to be capable of murder, so she agrees to Ada’s request for help proving her innocence.

Just a day or so later, Verity is surprised by a visit from Irene Shaw, a former MI5 employee whom she met during the war.  Irene is desperate to find out more about the death of her half-sister Esther, who was killed during what seemed to be a burglary-gone-wrong a couple of weeks earlier.  But despite the fact that Esther’s room had been tossed, nothing was taken, which makes Irene suspect that perhaps the killer had an ulterior motive related to Esther’s wartime job in the censorship department of the Royal Mail.

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

Graveyard Shift (Not Dead Yet #3) by Jenn Burke

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Ghost/god Wes Cooper and his not-life partner, vampire Hudson Rojas, have settled into cohabitation in an upscale part of Toronto. So what if their hoity-toity new neighbors haven’t exactly rolled out the welcome mat for the paranormal pair? Their PI business is booming, and when a suspect they’ve been tailing winds up in the morgue, it’s alongside a rash of other shifters in apparent drug-related fatalities.

Now Wes and Hudson must connect the dots between the shifter deaths and an uptick in brutal vampire attacks across the city. Throw in a surprise visit from Hudson’s niece—who may or may not be on the run from European paranormal police (who may or may not exist)—and guardianship of a teen shifter who might be the key to solving the whole mystery (if only she could recover her memory), and Wes and Hudson have never been busier…or happier.

But when a nightmare from Hudson’s past comes back to haunt him, their weird, little found family is pushed to the brink. Mucking this up would mean Hudson and Wes missing their second chance at happily-forever-afterlife…

Rating: A

Graveyard Shift is book three in Jenn Burke’s original and entertaining Not Yet Dead series of paranormal romances, and is a satisfying and poignant send off for Wes, Hudson and their found-family of witches, vampires and other supernatural beings.  While each book in the set could work as a standalone, I’d advise reading them in order so as to gain the best understanding of the events and character backstories that have led them to the point at which we meet them again in Graveyard Shift.  If you haven’t yet started the series, please be advised that there are spoilers for the other books in this review.

It’s been almost a year since not-ghost Wes Cooper was reunited with his ex-boyfriend, Detective Hudson Rojas, thirty years after they split up.  Almost a year since Wes was turned into a god when he, Hudson and their friends foiled an attempt by a demon to return to the living plane, and almost a year since Hudson retired from the Toronto PD to become a private investigator.  Following the events of the previous book, Wes and Hudson are living together in their new home – a large house with plenty of room for the new family they’ve created – the business is going well, they’re very much in love and they’re living their best not-lives, happier than they’ve ever been.

When the story begins, Wes and Hudson are on a stakeout at the behest of Ren Oshiro, vampire and a former… associate of Hudson’s who’s become something of a friend in recent months.   Walter Gordon is a junior accountant in a firm Ren owns who has recently begun buying things he shouldn’t be able to afford and Ren wants to know if he’s stealing from the company. Wes and Hudson follow Gordon to a restaurant and Wes – in his ghostly form – observes him receiving a package that looks like it contains drugs.  Dealing would certainly explain Gordon’s new-found wealth, and Wes and Hudson continue to follow him until he loses control of his car, crashes  into a tree and dies on impact.

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

Twice Shy (New Milton #3) by Sally Malcolm

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The last thing Joel Morgan wants is to fall in love again. Scarred by his failed marriage, Joel’s determined to keep his life emotionally stable—which means taking a job teaching fourth grade, fixing up his house on weekends, and avoiding absolutely all romantic entanglements. And he’s doing great.

Until he meets sweet but struggling single dad, Ollie Snow.

Following the tragic death of his sister and her husband two years earlier, Ollie became the legal guardian of their two young sons—much to the horror of the boys’ conservative grandparents. They think Ollie’s too young and too unreliable to raise their grandsons. So to prove them wrong, Ollie’s determined to parent the boys without anyone’s help.

Until he meets reserved but caring teacher, Joel Morgan.

As the only two men in the school’s Parent-Teacher Association, Joel and Ollie are thrown together over a series of fundraising events, and somewhere between the Beach Fun Run and the Fall Festival they fall in love. But Ollie has another reason for moving to New Milton—a reason he’s keeping close to his chest—and Joel’s wounded heart won’t trust a man with secrets.

Dare they hope for a future together, or will their past pain keep them apart forever?

Rating: A-

When I reviewed Perfect Day, the first in Sally Malcolm’s series of m/m contemporary romances set in the fictional Long Island resort of New Milton, I called it “the sort of book you finish with a heartfelt sigh of satisfaction and a dreamy smile”.  Something about the author’s writing just clicks with me; her protagonists and secondary characters are always three-dimensional and attractively flawed, the dialogue flows naturally and her stories are imbued with genuine warmth and humour.  Best of all, she writes the most gorgeously romantic romances; not sappy or tooth-rottingly sweet, but romances that evolve organically and contain what is – for me, anyway – the perfect amount of angst and conflict.  She manages this all over again in her third full-length New Milton novel, Twice Shy, in which she introduces us to school teacher Joel Morgan, who retreated to New Milton after his marriage – and his life – imploded, and Ollie Snow, a young, single, gay man whose life was changed irrevocably a couple of years earlier when his sister and brother-in-law were killed in a car accident and he was given custody of their two young sons.

Ollie was just twenty-two and enjoying life at grad school – where he was studying to be an architect – when he received that life-changing news.  He was surprised, to say the least, to be named guardian of baby Luis and four-year-old Rory, and immediately put his life on hold in order to fulfil his sister’s last wishes, despite the fact that her husband’s parents disapproved and did everything they could to try to gain custody of the boys themselves.  It was tough on Ollie, whom they tried to paint as too young and flighty for such responsibility, but the will was iron-clad and after the case was settled, he moved to New Milton in hopes of making a fresh start.  He dropped out of school and now works at a dead-end job in a call centre in order to support his small family.  It’s not easy and money is tight, but he loves the boys dearly and even though he’s pretty much always exhausted, and often just downright lonely, he’s determined to do the best he can for them.

Joel Morgan had a seemingly perfect life as an investment banker in New York until his wife divorced him after he told her he was bisexual. It’s not that he deliberately hid it; he was in love with Helen and that was all that mattered to him, but after eight years of marriage, Joel realized he needed to tell her the truth.  Not because he wanted anyone else, but because it felt wrong to keep it a secret and because he felt the need for her to see him as the person he truly was.  But Helen’s reaction – one of utter disgust – floored him and sent him into a downward spiral of depression which took him a long time and a lot of therapy to crawl out of, and ever since, he’s taken great care to put himself and his mental health first, having cocooned himself in his safe, unentangled life.  Once he got himself back together, Joel retrained as a teacher and now works at the Elementary School in New Milton.  Being one of the few male members of staff, he frequently gets roped into helping with the various fundraising events run by the PTA (Parent Teacher Association), which is where he first meets handsome, charming and obviously out and proud single dad Ollie Snow, and feels, for the first time in years, a visceral pull of awareness… one he ruthlessly suppresses. He’s only too aware of his tendency to fall hard – and has therefore made up his mind it’s best not to fall at all.

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

This Earl of Mine (Bow Street Bachelors #1) by Kate Bateman

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WILL A FALSE MARRIAGE

Shipping heiress Georgiana Caversteed is done with men who covet her purse more than her person. Even worse than the ton’s lecherous fortune hunters, however, is the cruel cousin determined to force Georgie into marriage. If only she could find a way to be . . . widowed? Georgie hatches a madcap scheme to wed a condemned criminal before he’s set to be executed. All she has to do is find an eligible bachelor in prison to marry her, and she’ll be free. What could possibly go wrong?

LEAD TO TRUE AND LASTING LOVE?

Benedict William Henry Wylde, scapegrace second son of the late Earl of Morcott and well-known rake, is in Newgate prison undercover, working for Bow Street. Georgie doesn’t realize who he is when she marries him—and she most certainly never expects to bump into her very-much-alive, and very handsome, husband of convenience at a society gathering weeks later. Soon Wylde finds himself courting his own wife, hoping to win her heart since he already has her hand. But how can this seductive rogue convince brazen, beautiful Georgie that he wants to be together… until actual death do they part?

Rating: C+

Kate Bateman – or K.C. Bateman as she was known then – made her début as an author of historical romance in 2016 and To Steal a Heart impressed me to such a degree that I counted her as one of the “finds” of the year.  To date, she’s published four historical romances and I’ve rated them all fairly highly, so I was really pleased to learn she was writing a new series – Bow Street Bachelors – and snapped up a review copy of the first book as soon as I could get my hands on one.  This Earl of Mine is very well-written, Ms. Bateman keeps the sexual tension bubbling nicely and I’m always up for a marriage-of-convenience plotline, but ultimately, this book lacks the spark and energy of her earlier ones. The leads are likeable but unmemorable, the same is true of the plot – and if I never again read a historical heroine in her early twenties who  learned the family business at her father’s knee and who has inherited it from him but never seems to do much by way of actually running it, it’ll be too soon.

The set-up, though, is cute, if rather implausible.  Twenty-four-year-old Georgina Caversteed, who now runs the shipping empire built by her late father, is desperate to avoid being trapped into marriage by her odious cousin Josiah, and decides upon an equally desperate course of action.  He can’t trap her if she’s already married; but having a husband will automatically mean losing control of the business, so she instead decides to find herself a convict who is due for execution and marry him.  After all, as a widow she’ll have more freedom than she would as a wife.  Her faithful servant, Pieter, has found the perfect candidate in Newgate – except that the man dies before the ceremony can be performed, and with no other felons sentenced to death available (!), Georgie is forced to make the best of a bad lot and instead ends up marrying a sailor sentenced to transportation.  She won’t be a widow, but her husband will be on the other side of the world, which is the next best thing.

Benedict Wylde, brother of the Earl of Morcott, served with Wellington’s army and following Napoléon’s defeat at Waterloo, is now working for the government trying to root out a group of smugglers who are plotting to rescue the deposed emperor from his prison on St. Helena.  He infiltrated the gang and was arrested and imprisoned with them in hopes of discovering more about their plans, but has so far found out little. He thinks the young woman who arrives at the prison offering him five hundred pounds to marry her must have taken leave of her senses, but has no way of evading the marriage without blowing his cover or getting a serious beating from the well-bribed gaoler. Ben doesn’t want to get married, but goes along with it, sure he’ll be able to find a way out of it later on.

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