My Fair Lord (Once Upon a Bride #1) by Wilma Counts

My Fair LordThis title may be purchased from Amazon

Lady Henrietta Parker, daughter of the Earl of Blakemoor, has turned down many a suitor for fear that the ton’s bachelors are only interested in her wealth. But despite the warnings of her dearest friends, Harriet and Hero, she can’t resist the challenge rudely posed by her stepsister: transform an ordinary London dockworker into a society gentleman suitable for the “marriage mart.” Only after a handshake seals the deal does Retta fear she may have gone too far . . .

When Jake Bolton is swept from the grime of the seaport into the elegance of Blakemoor House, he appears every inch the rough, cockney working man who is to undergo Retta’s training in etiquette, wardrobe, and elocution. But Jake himself is a master of deception—with much more at stake than a drawing room wager. But will his clandestine mission take second place to his irresistible tutor, her intriguing proposal . . . and true love?

Rating: C-


The first in her new Once Upon a Bride series, Wilma Counts’ My Fair Lord is exactly what one would infer from such a title; a Pygmalion inspired tale with the principal roles reversed. Our Covent Garden flower-seller is morphed into a London dockworker by the name of Jake Bolton and our professor is Lady Henrietta (Retta) Parker, eldest daughter of the Earl of Blakemoor, who is goaded into accepting a wager proposed by one of her sisters, that she – Retta – could transform “any worker off the London docks” into “your typical gentlemen of the ton.” It’s a popular trope (and the best version of it in historical romance, to my mind, is still Judith Ivory’s The Proposition), but unfortunately, in Ms. Counts’ hands it makes for rather a dull, pedestrian read, mostly because there’s a lot of telling and not much showing and there’s a distinct lack of chemistry between the principals.

Lady Henrietta is the only child of the Earl of Blakemoor from his first marriage, and she is several years older than her younger half-siblings, twins Gerald and Richard, and daughters Rachel and Miranda. The countess – her step-mother – resents Henrietta and, of course, favours her own children, something which wouldn’t bother Retta quite so much if it weren’t for the fact that her father knows it and does nothing about it. Disgruntled because the countess prevented her accompanying them to Vienna (where the Earl is to attend the Congress) and needled by the constant catty remarks made by her sisters over the fact that Retta is more or less on the shelf, she allows her irritation to get the better of her and is manoeuvred into making the above mentioned wager with spiteful Rachel. While her eldest brother, Gerald, urges caution, Retta’s stubborn streak won’t allow her to back down in the face of her sisters’ mockery, and the bet is made, even as Retta’s common sense tells her it’s a bad idea.

The search for a suitable subject starts the following day down at the docks and eventually settles upon Jake Bolton, who is, to say the least, surprised at the proposal set before him. But as luck would have it, his being installed in the London home of the Blakemoors could be just the thing Jake needs in order to uncover the identity of the person – or persons – responsible for leaking important government information which could undermine England’s negotiations in Paris and Vienna. For Jake is no dockworker; he’s Major Lord Jacob Bodwyn, a military officer and third son of the Duke of Holbrook who has been temporarily seconded to the Foreign Office on the orders of his commanding officer, the Duke of Wellington. The Blakemoors, along with several other prominent families, all of whom have varying degrees of access to sensitive information, have been under discreet surveillance for a while, and his removal to Blakemoor house will allow Jake to do some more close-up snooping.

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

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A Strange Scottish Shore (Emmeline Truelove #2) by Juliana Gray (audiobook) – narrated by Gemma Massot

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

Scotland, 1906. A mysterious object discovered inside an ancient castle calls Maximilian Haywood, the new Duke of Olympia, and his fellow researcher Emmeline Truelove north to the remote Orkney Islands. No stranger to the study of anachronisms in archeological digs, Haywood is nevertheless puzzled by the artifact: a suit of clothing that, according to family legend, once belonged to a selkie who rose from the sea and married the castle’s first laird.

But Haywood and Truelove soon realize they’re not the only ones interested in the selkie’s strange hide. When their mutual friend Lord Silverton vanishes in the night from an Edinburgh street, their quest takes a dangerous turn through time, which puts Haywood’s extraordinary talents – and Truelove’s courage – to their most breathtaking test yet.

Rating: Narration – C- Content – A-


Why do audio publishers employ inexperienced narrators to work on major releases by big-name authors? I know everyone has to start somewhere, which is why I make a point of picking up audios using first time – or very early-in-their-careers – narrators; there have to be some who start out fairly well and then get better over time. Sadly, however, most of the newbies I have listened to recently have turned out to be fairly poor and have not done justice to the stories to which they have been assigned. Giving this book to an untried narrator is akin to giving the kid next door the lead role in Hamlet at the RSC. A Strange Scottish Shore is another title that’s being consigned to the “wish they hadn’t done that” pile, because while Gemma Massot has an attractive speaking voice, she lacks the experience and acting chops necessary to perform a tale of such complexity and bring it to life.

A Strange Scottish Shore is the second book in Juliana Gray’s quirky series of Edwardian era historical mysteries (with an unusual twist) featuring the intrepid Miss Emmeline Truelove and the dashing but enigmatic Marquess of Silverton. When I picked up the first book (A Most Extraordinary Pursuit – and it would be wise to read or listen to that before starting this one) I was expecting a straightforward historical mystery, but quickly had to adjust my expectations when our heroine began routinely having conversations with the deceased Queen Victoria and, later on, her late father. Miss Truelove, who had been secretary to the political colossus that was the Duke of Olympia up until his death, was asked to travel to the Greek islands in order to track down the new duke, who had gone missing, in the company of the unspeakably gorgeous but empty-headed Lord Silverton. Silverton, naturally, turned out to be far from stupid (he’s an early 20th century James Bond!) and what followed was an intriguing and thoroughly entertaining story that combined elements of mystery, mythology and time travel with a soupçon of romance and turned out to be unlike anything else I’ve read in the genre and left me eager for more.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

Courting Danger with Mr. Dyer (Scandal and Disgrace #1) by Georgie Lee


This title may be purchased from Amazon

A stolen kiss from a spy!

Working undercover for the government, Bartholomew Dyer must expose a nefarious plot to make Napoleon the ruler of England! He needs access to the highest echelons of Society to find those involved, so he’s forced to enlist the help of the woman who jilted him five years ago—Moira, Lady Rexford.

Moira’s widowed, yet still as captivating as ever, and Bart’s determined not to succumb to her charms a second time. But as they race against time Bart suspects it’s not their lives at greatest risk—it’s their hearts…

Rating: C+

I’ve read a number of books by Georgie Lee over the last few years, and while I’ve enjoyed some more than others, she has yet to write the book that wows me and turns her into an auto-read author. Unfortunately, I’m still waiting, because although Courting Danger with Mr. Dyer, is a more than decent read, it doesn’t have the wow factor, either.

The eponymous Mr. Dyer – Bartholomew – is the fifth son of Lord Denning, who doesn’t care all that much about his children beyond his heir and his spare. Bart’s choice of career has alienated him from his father even further; as a successful and high-profile barrister, his name frequently appears in the newspapers, something his father dislikes intensely. What Denning doesn’t know, however, is that Bart also works for the Alien Office as part of a department dedicated to rooting out traitors working to undermine England’s safety and stability. The irony that the one part of his life that would probably make his father proud is the one part of it he can’t tell him about isn’t lost on Bart.

The book opens when Bart’s close friend and colleague, Frederick, Earl of Fallworth tells him that he will no longer assist him in his quest to foil the plot by a group known as the Rouge Noir to overthrow the government and hand England over to Bonaparte. Bart is frustrated and angry; someone like Freddie has the entrée to circles that are not easily accessible to Bart but Freddie is adamant. Since the loss of his young wife he has been a broken man, drinking heavily and taking little interest in the running of his home and estates. But now, he is determined to do better, and is unwilling to risk his safety – or that of his young son – any longer. Bart is surprised when their heated discussion is interrupted by Freddie’s sister, Moira, the widowed Countess of Rexford, and the woman whom, five years earlier, Bart had hoped to marry but whose family disdained him and encouraged her to marry elsewhere.

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

The Duke (Devil’s Duke #3) by Katharine Ashe

This title may be purchased from Amazon

Six years ago, when Lady Amarantha Vale was an innocent in a foreign land and Gabriel Hume was a young naval officer, they met . . . and played with fire.

Now Gabriel is the dark lord known to society as the Devil’s Duke, a notorious recluse hidden away in a castle in the Highlands. Only Amarantha knows the truth about him, and she won’t be intimidated. He is the one man who can give her the answers she needs.

But Gabriel cannot let her learn his darkest secret. So begins a game of wit and desire that proves seduction is more satisfying—and much more wicked—the second time around…

Rating: C+

I think it’s fair to say that those of us who review books do it because, well, we love books.  We love reading them, talking about them, hearing about them, writing about them and enthusing about them to others.  But when a novel you’ve really been looking forward to, written by an author you admire and whose work you enjoy turns out to be disappointing, it’s hard to sit down and face the prospect of laying out all the reasons the book doesn’t work.

But that goes with the territory, and I can’t tell you how much it pains me to say that The Duke, the latest instalment of Katharine Ashe’s Devil’s Duke series was quite the disappointment. I loved the first two booksThe Rogue and The Earl (I awarded both DIK status at AAR) and had hoped for more of what I’d found there  – a tightly-written, well-conceived plot, intriguing and engaging principals and an intense, character-driven romance … perhaps my expectations were too high, but I didn’t find any of those things here.

The story begins some five years before the principal events of the previous books take place. Aramantha Vale, younger sister of Emily (heroine of The Earl), lovely, vivacious and keen to do something with her life, travels to Jamaica to marry her fiancé, a young clergyman.  Just a couple of days after she arrives, there’s a terrible hurricane, during which she makes the acquaintance of a handsome young naval officer, Gabriel Hume, when they are forced to take shelter together in a cellar.  While her fiancé works to repair his church, Aramantha volunteers her services at the hospital, where she is surprised and pleased to meet Captain Hume once more.  As the weeks pass and the two spend a fair amount of time together, attraction sparks between them, something Aramantha recognises guiltily, but cannot help.  By the time Gabriel’s orders come through, they have agreed she is to call off her betrothal, and he asks her to wait for him to return; but when, not long after Gabriel’s  departure, she receives news of his death, she is utterly heartbroken and goes through with the wedding.  Not long after this, she discovers that reports of Gabriel’s death were greatly exaggerated and hears he has shacked up with a woman in Montego Bay.

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

The Rogue’s Conquest (The Townsends #2) by Lily Maxton

This title may be purchased from Amazon

Wallflower Eleanor Townsend is not like most women. She has no interest in marriage, the ton, or fashion. Instead, her heart lies with science. And when the opportunity to present a paper arises, she takes it, even though it means dressing as a man. But her disguise doesn’t quite work. Someone notices—and the brute intends to blackmail her!

Former prizefighter James MacGregor wants to be a gentleman, like the men he trains in his boxing saloon. His first step is gaining a beautiful, wealthy wife. Eleanor Townsend is not that woman, but a chance encounter gives him the leverage he needs. She’ll gain him entry to high society and help him with his atrocious manners, and in return, he won’t reveal her secret. It’s the perfect arrangement. At least until the sparks between them become more than just their personalities clashing. But there’s too much at stake for James to give in to his growing attraction.

Rating: C+

I loved Enchanting the Earl, the first book in Lily Maxton’s series about the Townsend siblings, which I called a “sweetly sensual character-driven romance” between a reclusive war hero and the free-spirited young woman who shows him that he’s a man worthy of love and acceptance.  I was impressed by the way the author balanced the various elements of her story and by the strong characterisation – which extended to the secondary cast as well as the principals – so I eagerly snapped up the next in the series, The Rogue’s Conquest, in the hopes of finding it to be an equally satisfying and enjoyable read.

As is shown by my grade, that wasn’t quite the case.  I didn’t dislike the story, but I didn’t really warm to either of the leads and never felt there was a strong romantic connection between them.  The pacing is off, too, with most of the emotional weight of the story coming well into the second half, and I suspect that wasn’t helped by the fact that the book is quite short – something between a long novella and a short novel. The protagonists and their relationship are not given time to properly develop, plus, when it’s time for the hero to admit his perspective has been completely wrong, he is able to shed the beliefs and ambitions he’s held for pretty much all his life in less time than it takes to blink the proverbial eye.

With their brother, the Earl of Arden, now happily married and residing with his wife at his remote castle in the highlands, his siblings Robert, Eleanor and Georgina, have removed to Edinburgh.  As close relations of an earl, they move in good society but Eleanor isn’t very interested in that; she is more concerned with the societal habits of insects – specifically, beetles – than the societal habits of humans. She has written several papers on entomology which have been published by the Natural History Society and has been invited to give a lecture – but of course, the society does not allow women members and Eleanor had to present her work as that of a man – Cecil Townsend – rather than as herself.

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

Traitor in Her Arms (The Scarlet Chronicles #1) by Shana Galen

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After her late husband leaves her in debt to some dangerous people, Lady Gabrielle McCullough is forced to become a thief. In the intervening years, her skills have not gone unnoticed. After being recruited by the Scarlet Pimpernel, the mysterious do-gooder spiriting aristocrats out of revolutionary France, Gabrielle crosses the Channel for the most daring mission of her life. Accompanying her is the Earl of Sedgwick, a thief in his own right and an enticingly masculine presence. The man is not to be trusted—nor is Gabrielle’s body when he’s near.

Ramsey Barnes would not say he is an honorable man. His whole life has been based on a lie; why change now? Although it pains him to deceive the tantalizing Gabrielle, he’s working toward an altogether different objective: unmasking the Scarlet Pimpernel. If Ramsey fails, his blackmailer will ruin him. But when Ramsey’s confronted with the carnage of the Reign of Terror, he seeks refuge in Gabrielle’s heated embrace. Now he faces a terrible choice: betray the woman who’s stolen his heart—or risk losing everything.

Rating: C+

Traitor in Her Arms, the first book in Shana Galen’s new Scarlet Chronicles series, takes place in Revolutionary France and features two individuals who are sent to Paris to undertake two very different and dangerous missions in order to fulfil debts owed to a pair of less than scrupulous characters back in England. A novel set in France at a momentous time in history featuring spies, feats of derring-do, a central couple who are keeping secrets and the Scarlet Pimpernel himself sounded right up my street; but while I enjoyed it for the most part, there were a few things about it that didn’t quite gel and prevented me from rating it any more highly.

The widowed Lady Gabrielle McCullough was left destitute when her husband died, and worse, is being hounded by a ruthless man who will not hesitate to hurt her if she fails to pay her late husband’s gambling debts. Having no way of raising such a large sum, Gabrielle has resorted to thievery; with the help of her housekeeper, who taught her to pick locks, and her staunch friend, Lady Diana, the daughter of the Duke of Exeter, Gabrielle has been stealing jewellery from various ladies of the ton in order to pay off the debt. She doesn’t steal from anyone who can’t afford it, but still, stealing is stealing; she doesn’t like it, but it’s that or end up working off the debt on her back in a brothel.

But at last, the end is in sight. If she can filch the lapis-lazuli necklace believed to have been owned by Cleopatra, the money she will make from it will be enough to set her free. She attends the ball given by the necklace’s owner and makes short work of breaking into the room in which the necklace is kept, only to discover that she has been beaten to it by Ramsey Barnes, the Earl of Sedgwick. Gabrielle has no idea what he could possibly want with the jewellery and tries to relieve him of it, but the charged atmosphere between them is impossible to ignore and she succumbs to a kiss – which she later realises he used to distract her and to regain possession of the necklace.

Gabrielle has no idea that Ramsey is in a not too dissimilar position to herself, although unlike her, his situation is largely of his own making. He is being blackmailed by someone who has discovered his deepest, darkest secret, something which could lead to his being condemned to death if it is ever exposed, and intends to use the necklace to buy her off once and for all. But she refuses to trade and ups the stakes, telllng Ramsey that she will only hand over the incriminating documents if he agrees to discover the identity of the Scarlet Pimpernel.

London is rife with stories of the man who is rescuing aristocrats from under the nose of Madame la Guillotine, but many believe him to be merely a myth. Gabrielle is among their number – until the evening she is approached by him in secret, and asked to perform a service which will mean great personal danger, but which, if successful, will mean freedom for a young woman and her daughter and a new life in England. The prison commander at La Force prison in Paris has agreed to smuggle out the Comtesse de Tonnerre and her infant daughter in exchange for Le Saphir Blanc, a bracelet containing an incredibly rare white sapphire that was commissioned by Louis XIV but which went missing in one of the raids on Versailles. For this job, the Pimpernel needs a skilled thief, and from what he has heard, Gabrielle fits the bill.

Gabrielle is a mess of different emotions. Flattered to have been asked, scared at the thought of the danger she might face in a Paris gone mad… but mostly relieved that here is an opportunity to get out of England and out from under the threat of her late husband’s creditors. She takes the mission and makes arrangements to leave for Paris as soon as possible.

Of course, Gabrielle and Ramsey end up taking the same ship for France, both of them being cagey about their reasons for going at such a time. Each begins by viewing their mission as either an impersonal but necessary task (Ramsey) or a noble quest to save innocent lives (Gabrielle), but their outlooks change quickly once they have entered a Paris in which the streets really do run with rivers of blood. Ms. Galen’s depiction of the horrors of the revolution and of the mood of fear and disquiet that pervades the city and its inhabitants is very evocative, and she doesn’t sugar-coat the fanatical devotion of the new republicans or the violence and destruction that continue to plague the city. The relationship between the couple plays out against this backdrop; they have known each other for a number of years and although Gabrielle was married to Ramsey’s best friend, there has always been a strong undercurrent of attraction between them. This pre-existing situation makes it easier for the reader to believe in that attraction and in their subsequent romance, although to tell the truth, there isn’t a great deal of romantic development in the story – which is not surprising given that Ramsey and Gabrielle are forever looking over their shoulders in fear of discovery. (Mind you, that doesn’t stop them from having sex on the floor of the catacombs!) It’s also rather a big stretch of credulity to believe that the Pimpernel would send someone like Gabrielle on such a mission. She’s supposed to be a super-expert thief, but we never really see that, and it’s quickly obvious that she’s completely out of her depth and just isn’t capable of the kinds of machinations and level of deception that she needs in order to pull off her task successfully. On the one hand, her fears and doubts about what she is setting out to do feel realistic and I applaud the author for showing those to the reader; characters need a little vulnerability otherwise there’s a danger they could become unlikeable. The problem is that Gabrielle almost always needs Ramsey or one of the other characters to help her out of a tight spot, and is following rather than leading. Plus, we know that Ramsey is using Gabrielle to get to the Pimpernel, which doesn’t exactly make for the ideal romantic hero; although it’s very obvious that his principal concern is to keep Gabrielle safe for her own sake and in spite of his ulterior motive.

Ultimately, Gabrielle is fairly bland but Ramsey made more of an impression on me. Stories in which the hero lies to the heroine are difficult to pull off, but Ms. Galen just about manages it here, especially when the reader is made privy to the secret that has come back to bite him in the arse and the reasons behind it. He made… let’s call it an unwise decision for altruistic reasons when he was a much younger man and exposure will risk more than his own neck.

The weaknesses in Gabrielle’s characterisation and Ramsey’s not-always-palatable motivations are the main reasons for my not rating the book more highly, although a couple of smaller things bugged me, too, such as the overly-chummy housekeeper and the fact that I couldn’t help wondering why, when so many historicals feature men landed in debt thanks to their profligate predecessors, Gabrielle’s late husband’s debts hadn’t been ‘inherited’ by his heir? When push comes to shove however, I did enjoy the story and will look out for the next one as the adventure portion of Traitor in Her Arms is very well done. I’d like a bit more actual romance next time, though.

The Rogue and I (Must Love Rogues #1) by Eva Devon (audiobook) – Narrated by Tim Campbell

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

A Lady Ready for Battle

Miss Harriet Manning once made the mistake of falling completely, totally, and irreversibly in love with a duke’s son. It’s a mistake she won’t repeat twice. Truly. Especially since he abandoned her just when they were about to elope to Gretna Green. Five years later, Harriet hasn’t forgotten the way Lord Garret’s smoldering gaze and wicked sense of humor touched her soul. Still, there’s no way she’ll forgive the traitorous libertine, no matter how he stirs her passions. Now, Harriet is determined to show him she doesn’t care, and never did, by making merry right under his nose but a tragic turn of events at her cousin’s wedding has her wondering if just maybe, love deserves one last chance.

A Lord Who Lost His Heart

Lord Garret Hart, second son of a duke and now brother to the present Duke of Huntsdown, is never ever EVER getting married. Bachelorhood is for him. After all, women are the very devil. Especially one woman. Miss Harriet Manning is Garret’s own personal Medusa and she has turned his heart to stone. Indeed she has, but not before she absolutely ripped it to shreds, leaving him a complete wreck. Nothing will ever induce him to matrimony or nauseating protestations of boyish love again. But when he is forced into close proximity at his brother’s wedding with the woman who first taught him to dream and see the world as a wondrous place, sparks flash and passions explode. Still, Harriet is not to be trusted. She callously betrayed him once. So how can he ever allow himself another chance at love when love always seems to hurt so much?

Rating: Narration – A- Content – C+

Eva Devon (who has also written as Maire Claremont) opens her Must Love Rogues series with The Rogue and I, a story she says in her author’s note is an homage to her favourite Shakespeare play, Much Ado About Nothing (which is one of my favourites, too). Many, many romances feature couples who bicker à la Beatrice and Benedick, but Ms. Devon has taken that one step further and the first part of her story follows the plotline of the play fairly closely, mirroring some scenes and adapting dialogue to fit characters of the nineteenth rather than the sixteenth century. I enjoyed spotting those similarities (such as, when faced with confronting the heroine, the hero says “Send me anywhere… anywhere but here”, while Benedick begs: “Will your grace command me any service to the world’s end?”), although I felt that sometimes the implied bawdiness didn’t quite fit the regency setting.

As the play is a well-known one, I think it’s probably pointless for me to try to avoid spoilers in this review. The plot of the book and the plot of the play do diverge after the half-way point, however, so I’ll keep those events under wraps as far as possible for the potential listener.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.