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

This title may be purchased from Amazon

She was in the wrong place…

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

He found her at the wrong time…

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

Can two wrongs make the most perfect right?

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

Rating: B-

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

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

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

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

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

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Spectred Isle (Green Men #1) by K.J. Charles (audiobook) – Narrated by Ruairi Carter

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

Archaeologist Saul Lazenby has been all but unemployable since his disgrace during the War. Now he scrapes a living working for a rich eccentric who believes in magic. Saul knows it’s a lot of nonsense…except that he begins to find himself in increasingly strange and frightening situations. And at every turn he runs into the sardonic, mysterious Randolph Glyde.

Randolph is the last of an ancient line of arcanists, commanding deep secrets and extraordinary powers as he struggles to fulfill his family duties in a war-torn world. He knows there’s something odd going on with the haunted-looking man who keeps turning up in all the wrong places. The only question for Randolph is whether Saul is victim or villain.

Saul hasn’t trusted anyone in a long time. But as the supernatural threat grows, along with the desire between them, he’ll need to believe in evasive, enraging, devastatingly attractive Randolph. Because he may be the only man who can save Saul’s life – or his soul.

Rating: Narration – B- : Content – A-

Spectred Isle was one of my favourite books of 2017 and I’ve been eagerly looking forward to experiencing it again in audio format. The story is a captivating romantic adventure yarn set in England in 1923, wherein a small group of arcanists and ghost-hunters are England’s last line of defence against supernatural threat. Ms. Charles’ makes wonderful use of folklore, ancient myth and magical rites as she sets about pulling readers and listeners into the world she has created, one in which a war as terrible as the one being fought between 1914 and 1918 by men and machines was fought concurrently by forces of the occult.

The War Beneath, as that war is known amongst those who took part in it, was every bit as savage as the one going on in the trenches of Northern France, possibly moreso, as the opposing governments recruited as many occultists and arcanists as they could and set them to unleashing their very specialised form of warfare on the enemy. With both sides fairly evenly matched, the veil between the supernatural and the human worlds was irrevocably damaged; and with so many of the combatants dead, it now falls to just a handful of men and women to track down and repel the various creatures and malignant entities that are passing through the veil with increasing frequency.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

A Notorious Vow (The Four Hundred #3) by Joanna Shupe

This title may be purchased from Amazon.

With the fate of her disgraced family resting on her shoulders, Lady Christina Barclay has arrived in New York City from London to quickly secure a wealthy husband. But when her parents settle on an intolerable suitor, Christina turns to her reclusive neighbor, a darkly handsome and utterly compelling inventor, for help.

Oliver Hawkes reluctantly agrees to a platonic marriage . . . with his own condition: The marriage must end after one year. Not only does Oliver face challenges that are certain to make life as his wife difficult, but more importantly, he refuses to be distracted from his life’s work–the development of a revolutionary device that could transform thousands of lives, including his own.

Much to his surprise, his bride is more beguiling than he imagined. When temptation burns hot between them, they realize they must overcome their own secrets and doubts, and every effort to undermine their marriage, because one year can never be enough.

Rating: B+

A Notorious Vow is the third book in Joanna Shupe’s The Four Hundred series, and quite possibly my favourite of the three.  In it, the daughter of a debt-ridden peer falls for a reclusive inventor who lost his hearing due to illness at the age of thirteen; it’s a bit trope-y, but the central love story is sensual and romantic as we witness the hero trying to talk himself out of love while the heroine tries to escape the self-doubt and insecurities that plague her as a result of her mother’s continual bullying and criticism.  I don’t think I’ve read a romance that features a deaf hero before; I can’t speak from experience as I’m not hearing impaired and don’t know anyone who is, but the author’s treatment of Oliver’s deafness and his reactions to the things he experienced as a result feel completely plausible and she pulls no punches when it comes to showing how misunderstood the condition was and the prejudice the deaf had to endure at the time the novel is set.

Lady Christina Barclay is viewed as nothing more than a means to an end by her parents, the Earl and Countess of Pennington.  Beautiful, well-mannered and demure, she has been brought up to obey her parents in all things and has been browbeaten by her mother for practically her entire life.  The family has fled to New York amid great scandal, and Christina knows her parents are planning to solve their financial worries by selling her off to the highest bidder. To escape her oppressive thoughts and her mother’s bullying, she spends a few hours every morning walking in the large, empty garden of the house next door, enjoying the peace and quiet for a few hours. She is aware she’s trespassing, but nobody has seen hide nor hair of the house’s owner in years, so it stands to reason she’s unlikely to do so.  Although she’s reckoned without the large dog, who, on this particular morning, bounds up to her and knocks her down, smacking her head against a bench and knocking her out.

Oliver Hawkes lost his hearing at thirteen and although he tried hard to assimilate into the hearing world, he was so often rejected and ridiculed that he eventually stopped trying.

He’d tried to carry on with what gentlemen considered a “normal” life after school. It had resulted in being called “dumb” and “broken” at every turn. Why should he try to fit into a society that so readily dismissed him?

Now aged twenty-nine, he keeps himself to himself, and is working on a device of his own invention that he hopes will eventually help those with hearing difficulties – not the completely deaf, like him – to hear more clearly.  He is very close to applying for a patent, but before he does that, wants to find a way of making certain parts of the device cheaper so its availability will not be limited to the wealthy.  He no longer leaves the house and interacts only with his friend – the doctor, who taught him to sign – and his butler, Gill, who has been with Oliver since childhood. But when he finds an unconscious young woman lying in his garden, he has no alternative but to carry her to the house and send for the doctor.

There’s an immediate frisson of attraction between Christina and Oliver despite the awkwardness of their first meeting.  And although Oliver tells her he doesn’t want her to visit his gardens again, he finds it impossible to be angry with her when, a few days later, he sees that she’s returned. He starts thinking over some of the things she’d said and realises that perhaps she’s unhappy… and discovers, to his surprise, that he wants to make her smile.

Oliver and Christina start spending a few hours together each day; she watches as he tinkers with his invention, he teaches her some basic sign language, and their mutual attraction deepens.  But then the thing Christina has dreaded happens –  she’s told she must marry a man old enough to be her grandfather who makes no bones about the fact that he wants a nubile, biddable young wife to hear him children.  Miserable, she tells Oliver what her parents have planned for her; he is appalled but tells himself he can’t get involved and merely suggests she should show her prospective bridegroom that she’s not as meek and biddable as he’s been led to suppose.  But when, a day or so later, Christina arrives in tears, clearly in acute distress, Oliver is forced to admit to himself that wants to protect her from anyone who would hurt her – and when her parents burst in on them,  they accuse him of compromising her and insist he marries her, having (of course) learned he’s incredibly wealthy beforehand.

Oliver resents the idea of being forced into anything.  It’s not that he doesn’t care about Christina or want to help her – he does, very much – but to be insulted in his own home and then forced to upend his life in a way that will undoubtedly distract him from his experiments … it’s not what he wants or had planned for himself.  But he can’t stand seeing Christina so upset, and he is eventually persuaded (by Christina’s cousin) to agree to the marriage.

The ceremony takes place that very night on the understanding that Christina’s parents are not to contact her afterwards and that as soon as the settlements are drawn up and paid, they will return to England.  Christina is almost unable to believe her sudden change in fortune – instead of marriage to an unpleasant, lecherous old man, she’s married to Oliver, a man she likes and is attracted to.  But Oliver, adamant he doesn’t want to be distracted from his work or to have his life change in any way decides that they should live separate lives, remain married for a year and then divorce (sigh – the let’s-get-married-and-then-get-it-annulled/divorced plotline has been done to death.).

Christina is disappointed and hurt when Oliver explains this to her, but she tries not to show it and determines to show her gratitude by doing exactly as her new husband wants.  Their romance is well-developed, growing out of a friendship that sprang up quickly but which is no less genuine for that.  They talk and laugh about many things, and discover that they’re both rather inclined to a quiet life and aren’t all that interested in the social whirl.  But after they’re married, Oliver spends a lot of time saying one thing and doing another, confusing Christina by giving off mixed-signals.  He tells her they needn’t interact, but then invites her to dine with him.  He sends her off to have dinner with a friend and then changes his mind and turns up at the restaurant – and soon he can’t help but admit to himself that wants Christina, as more than a friend.  Their romance isn’t all hearts and flowers though, and Oliver and Christina have some adjustments to make as they navigate their fledgling marriage.  Christina’s frustration at having her life dictated to her by others is starting to bubble over, and Oliver has to learn to step back and allow her to know what is best for her.  But most importantly, they are holding themselves back – not necessarily from each other, but from truly living their lives; they’ve become accustomed to playing it safe, and it takes an unexpected (and shocking) development to shake both of them out of their somewhat complacent attitudes.

One criticism I’ve made about other novels by this author is that she tends to throw in an eleventh hour suspense plot that is resolved rather too quickly and can feel a bit contrived.  There’s a similar final act drama enacted here, but because of the way it’s foreshadowed throughout the book, it feels more integral to the story, even though it’s resolved quickly and somewhat improbably.  In the grand scheme of things however, it was a minor issue and didn’t spoil my enjoyment of the novel.  A Notorious Vow is a gorgeously romantic, character driven love story featuring a pair of quietly appealing protagonists whose HEA is more than well-deserved.

Fish & Chips (Cut & Run #3) by Madeleine Urban and Abigail Roux (audiobook) – Narrated by Sean Crisden

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

Special Agents Ty Grady and Zane Garrett are back on the job, settled into a personal and professional relationship built on fierce protectiveness and blistering passion. Now they’re assigned to impersonate two members of an international smuggling ring-an out-and-proud married couple-on a Christmas cruise in the Caribbean. As their boss says, surely they’d rather kiss each other than be shot at, and he has no idea how right he is. Portraying the wealthy criminals requires a particular change in attitude from Ty and Zane while dealing with the frustrating waiting game that is their assignment. As it begins to affect how they treat each other in private, they realize there’s more to being partners than watching each other’s backs, and when the case takes an unexpected turn and threatens Ty’s life, he and Zane will have to navigate seas of white lies and stormy secrets, including some of their own.

Rating: Narration – B+ : Content – B

The books in the Cut & Run series I’ve listened to so far have been a lot of fun. They’re fast-paced, and the plotlines are frequently implausible, but then no more so than those found in the myriad of police procedural/FBI/CIA/CSI and other alphabet soup TV shows that abound, so I can generally just roll my eyes when things get a little bit too daft and move on. And what makes that so easy to do is the fact that the two central characters are just so damn addictive. FBI agents Ty Grady and Zane Garrett are a couple of big, tough, alpha males who drive each other nuts, up the wall and to blows almost as frequently as they end up screwing each other’s brains out; they’ve both been around the block more than a few times and are carrying shedloads of emotional baggage (Ty from his time in the marines, Zane as the result of a past filled with tragedy and addiction); they’re intelligent, funny, sexy, perfect for each other – and brilliant at evasion and not saying what they mean, especially when it comes to the nature of their growing feelings for one another.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals

Better Not Pout by Annabeth Albert

This title may be purchased from Amazon

One hard-nosed military police officer.

One overly enthusiastic elf.

One poorly timed snowstorm.

Is it a recipe for disaster? Or a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for holiday romance?

Teddy MacNally loves Christmas and everything that goes along with it. When he plays an elf for his charity’s events, he never expects to be paired with a Scrooge masquerading as Santa Claus. His new mission: make the holiday-hating soldier believe he was born to say ho-ho-ho.

Sergeant Major Nicholas Nowicki doesn’t do Santa, but he’s army to his blood. When his CO asks an unusual favor, Nick of course obliges. The elf to his Kris Kringle? Tempting. Too tempting—Nick’s only in town for another month, and Teddy’s too young, too cheerful and too nice for a one-night stand.

The slow, sexy make-out sessions while Teddy and Nick are alone and snowbound, though, feel like anything but a quick hookup. As a stress-free holiday fling turns into Christmas all year round, Teddy can’t imagine his life without Nick. And Nick’s days on the base may be coming to a close, but he doesn’t plan on leaving anything, or anyone, behind.

Rating: B+

I’m one of those people who doesn’t start feeling Christmassy until a couple of weeks beforehand.  I hate the fact that the cards and decorations start appearing in the shops at the end of August; I won’t listen to a Christmas song until well into December if I can avoid it, and it’s not time for It’s a Wonderful Life, Scrooge or The Muppet Christmas Carol until at least the second week of the month. The same holds true for Christmas-themed books; I don’t tend to pick them up until well into December, but I made an exception for Annabeth Albert’s Better Not Pout because the premise sounded so damn cute – a hard-boiled military police officer playing Santa for charity gets stranded in a snowstorm with a too enthusiastic (and too attractive) elf and realises that perhaps his life needn’t be so regimented after all.

Sergeant Major Nicholas Nowicki has spent twenty-eight years as a military police officer, and now, aged forty-six, is a month short of his retirement.  Truth be told, he doesn’t want to retire – but he isn’t being given the choice.  The military has been his family and his life for the entirety of his adulthood and it suits him.  He likes the structure, he likes the work, the thought that he’s serving his fellow personnel and his country – and the prospect of no longer having all that is a daunting one.  After he leaves the military, he plans to join a friend and former colleague in Florida who now runs a small business chartering boat trips for tourists; it’s pretty clear from the outset that this is unlikely to be a particularly good fit for Nick, but he figures he has to something with the rest of his life – and it might as well be this, right?  He’s made a firm commitment to his friend, and Nick never reneges on his promises; as the clock ticks down to his last weeks and days in the service, he tries to find some enthusiasm for the future…  but his heart just isn’t in it.

He’s in something of a state of limbo as regards his job, too.  It’s his last month on the base at Fort End in upstate New York, but in many ways it seems everyone around him has already moved past his leaving and he feels as though he’s somewhat superfluous to requirements.  So he’s not in the best frame of mind when his commanding officer asks a favour of him.  The local small town of Mineral Springs has a thriving charity centre called the Helping Hand, and her husband usually dons a Santa suit around this time of year to support the drive to generate funds and gifts for families in need.  But he’s unwell and is unable to participate this year – and Nick is asked to take his place.  Nick is far from enthusiastic but doesn’t feel he can say no, so he heads off to the Helping Hand Resource Center – where he is greeted by an extremely chatty and almost sickeningly upbeat young man dressed as an elf, who turns out to be the director of the charity and the centre.

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

Duchess by Design (Gilded Age Girls Club #1) by Maya Rodale (audiobook) – Narrated by Charlotte North

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

In Gilded Age Manhattan, anything can happen…

Seeking a wealthy American bride who can save his family’s estate, Brandon Fiennes, the duke of Kingston, is a rogue determined to do the right thing. But his search for an heiress goes deliciously awry when an enchanting seamstress tumbles into his arms instead.

…and true love is always in fashion.

Miss Adeline Black aspires to be a fashionable dressmaker – not a duchess – and not even an impossibly seductive duke will distract her. But Kingston makes an offer she can’t refuse: join him at society events to display her gowns and advise him on which heiresses are duchess material. It’s the perfect plan – as long as they resist temptation, avoid a scandal, and above all, do not lose their hearts.

Rating: Narration – A- : Content – B

Duchess by Design is the first entry in Maya Rodale’s new Gilded Age Girls Club series of historical romances, set – not surprisingly – in New York’s Gilded Age at the end of the nineteenth century. While the premise – an impoverished duke who needs to marry money falls for a penniless woman instead – is a well-worn one, Ms. Rodale gives it a fresh coat of paint while also encompassing the many changes in society that were happening at the time and providing a solution to the central dilemma that is completely and absolutely right for this story.

Brandon Fiennes, Duke of Kingston, inherited a pile of debts along with his title, and is now faced with the time-honoured method of restoring the family finances, his crumbling estates, his tenant’s livelihoods and providing a dowry for his sisters. He must marry an heiress. On the advice of his cousin, Freddie, Lord Hewitt, Kingston travels to New York where his title will gain him an entrée in to the highest society and thus present him with his choice of current crop of Dollar Princesses – heiresses whose families have made huge sums of money from railways, manufacturing, real-estate and so on. It might not be what he wants for himself, but it’s the only way he can provide for all those who depend on him; even if he can’t marry for love, it will at least mean that his sisters will have the chance to do so.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

The Purloined Heart (Tyburn Trilogy #2) by Maggie MacKeever

This title may be purchased from Amazon

Poor Maddie Tate. Widowed with two children. An ordinary sort of female, no more memorable than a potted palm. Seven and twenty years of age.

Lucky Angel Jarrow. Temptation incarnate, lazy and spoiled – and why should he not be, when the whole world adores him, save for the notable exception of his wife?

Maddie Tate and Angel Jarrow. In the ordinary course of events, their paths might never cross. But then comes the Burlington House bal masque, when Maddie witnesses something she should not, and flees straight into Angel’s arms.

And he discovers that he does not want to let her go.

Mysterious masqueraders. Misbehaving monarchs. Political perfidy.

While in the background the ton twitters, and a fascinated London follows the Regent’s preparations for his Grand Jubilee.

Rating: B

A few months back I picked up Maggie MacKeever’s The Tyburn Waltz for a prompt in the TBR Challenge, and enjoyed it enough to want to read the other books in the Tyburn Trilogy.  At that point, only the second book – The Purloined Heart – was available, but I was pleased to learn the third was on the way, especially as it would feature two secondary characters from the first book who were clearly destined for one another. Although there are a couple of characters who appear in both books – most notably Kane, Baron Saxe – The Purloined Heart can be read independently of its predecessor, and proved to be an enjoyable mix of mystery and romance.

Maddie Tate is, at twenty-seven, the widowed mother of two young sons, and has gone back to live under her stentorian father’s roof.  Sir Owen Osborne Is dismissive and dictatorial, and Maddie fears he may try to separate her from the boys if she doesn’t dance to his tune.  But that particular dance is palling quickly and she’s chafing under her father’s constant criticisms of her manner, her clothes and, well, everything about her; hence her decision to sneak out to a scandalous masquerade being held at Burlington House one night, where she’s borrowed the costume that was supposed to have been worn by a friend who is unable to attend.  She’s nicely tipsy when a young gentleman dressed as Henry VIII approaches her and starts spouting Shakespeare and fiddling with the arrows in her quiver. (Get your mind out of the gutter!  She’s dressed as Diana the huntress!) Puzzled as to why Henry should have been lurking outside the ladies’ withdrawing room, Maddie follows him as he wends his way along the more private corridors of the house, watching as he enters an out-of-the way room. Hearing raised voices, Maddie peers through the keyhole, and witnesses a man dressed as an Egyptian pharaoh clubbing Henry over the head; he falls to the floor just as the door inconveniently swings open, revealing Maddie behind it.  She runs, only to collide with a gentleman dressed as a Cavalier, and demands he kiss her – to hide from her pursuer of course. One kiss turns into two… three, and into something more than a simple matter of expediency.

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