For Deader or Worse (John Pickett Mysteries #6) by Sheri Cobb South

This title may be purchased from Amazon.

After a modest wedding ceremony, Bow Street Runner John Pickett and his bride Julia, the former Lady Fieldhurst, set out for a wedding trip to Somersetshire, where Pickett must face his greatest challenge yet: meeting his in-laws.

Sir Thaddeus and Lady Runyon are shocked at their daughter’s hasty remarriage–and appalled by her choice of a second husband. Pickett, for his part, is surprised to learn that Julia once had an elder sister: Claudia, Lady Buckleigh, disappeared thirteen years earlier, leaving no trace beyond a blood-soaked shawl. When Sir Thaddeus confides that his wife is convinced Claudia’s spirit now haunts her childhood home, Pickett sees a chance to redeem himself in the eyes of Julia’s family. He agrees to investigate and, hopefully, lay the Runyon “ghost,” whoever–or whatever–it is.

Matters take a grisly turn when Sir Thaddeus’s groom is discovered with his throat slit. The timing could hardly be worse, for the whole village is aflutter with the news that Lord Buckleigh has brought home a new bride, just when Major James Pennington, the vicar’s son who was Claudia’s childhood sweetheart, has returned on leave from war in the Peninsula. The major was apparently the last person to see Claudia alive, and Pickett is convinced he knows more about her disappearance than he’s telling. Suddenly it seems the distant past is not so distant, after all. It may not even be past . . .

Rating: C+

For Deader or Worse is the sixth full-length novel in Sheri Cobb South’s series of historical mysteries featuring the young Bow Street Runner, John Pickett who was first introduced in In Milady’s Chamber. In that book, the newly appointed runner encountered Lady Julia Fieldhurst, a beautiful young viscountess who was accused of murdering her older, abusive husband. John was immediately smitten with his prime suspect, which naturally led to a conflict of interests as he raced against time to prove her innocence in the face of the mounting evidence against her.

Through the ensuing books, readers have watched the couple become closer, even though the huge gap in their social stations would seem to make any relationship other than casual acquaintance impossible – until finally, the previous book – Too Hot to Handel – saw them thrust into a situation that meant they could no longer deny their feelings for each other. At the beginning of For Deader or Worse, John and Julia are married and on their way into Somerset, where John faces the prospect of meeting his in-laws, Sir Thaddeus and Lady Runyon.

As well as the development of the relationship between John and his lady, each book is also a self-contained mystery, so they can be read as standalones, although readers will undoubtedly gain more of an understanding of the ongoing romantic relationship if they have read the others. And in fact, this is undoubtedly the most interesting thing in the book, because the mystery is weak and easily solved by the end of the first chapter or so. Oh, there is a bit of a twist before the end, but it’s not exactly surprising or particularly suspenseful, and the ending is so rushed that it’s almost of the ‘blink and you’ll miss it’ variety.

On arrival at Runyon Hall, John is dismayed to realise that while Julia had written ahead to inform her parents of her visit, she had made no mention of her remarriage, believing it best to tell them in person. This only adds to John’s apprehension, and he doesn’t make a particularly good impression on first meeting. Both Julia’s parents are aghast that she has married so far beneath her and her father even offers John money to disappear – but the couple is stronger than that, and Julia makes it clear that she married John for love and that what is done is staying done.

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

Live Wire (Nashville’s Finest #1) by Caisey Quinn

This title may be purchased from Amazon.

HE’S NOT AFRAID OF ANYTHING…

Explosive ordinance disposal specialist Chase Fisk never breaks a sweat defusing even the most complicated of explosives. So when a homicidal maniac threatens to set off military-grade IEDs during Nashville’s largest music festival, Chase is the man to take him down. But with the reappearance of a woman he thought was long dead, everything he thought he knew is blown away.

EXCEPT LOSING HER AGAIN.

FBI operative Vivien Montgomery is an enigma to everyone around her. So when a deadly threat lands her in Nashville and paired up with the only man she’s ever loved, she isn’t looking forward to an emotional reunion. She’s only here to get the job done and get out. But when the madman behind the chaos targets her for death, the one man she left behind might be the only person she can count on to save her life…

Rating: C-

Live Wire is the first book in Caisey Quinn’s aNashville’s Finest series, and with a blurb that promised a homicidal maniac threatening to set off military-grade IEDs during Nashville’s largest music festival,  and a rekindling romance between an explosives expert and his former lover, now an FBI agent, you’d think I was in for an action-packed, emotional rollercoaster of a ride, right?

Wrong.

Because Live Wire is, in fact, a damp squib.  There is very little action, the romance is perfunctory, the characters are barely two-dimensional and the plot is predictable and not particularly suspenseful.

Four years before the book opens, Chase Fisk watched the love of his life get blown to smithereens when a military training exercise went badly wrong.  He still has nightmares about that day, and has never really got over Vivien Brooks, in spite of having spent the first couple of years after her death trying hard to forget her in the beds of numerous other women.  An injury sustained during the blast got him a medical discharge from the army, and Chase now heads up an EOD (Explosive Ordnance Disposal) unit with the Nashville PD.

When a tip off leads Chase and his team to a condemned building on the east side of town they aren’t expecting to find a stash of military grade explosives and maps of the city marked up in a kind of code.  But with the prestigious Country Music Festival just weeks away – which will see a massive influx of tourists into the city – there’s no time to waste in decoding the maps, working out what is planned – and who is planning it.

Given the nature of the discovery, the FBI is called in, and immediately dispatches three highly trained agents to aid the Nashville police.  Among them is Vivien Montgomery, who, four years previously, had been undergoing military training when she’d been informed that she was the target of a Russian mafia boss who had a grudge against her family.  For her own safety, the Bureau faked her death and she was then sent on an undercover assignment to take down said mafia boss, which lasted around two years.  She is naturally wary at the prospect of seeing Chase again, certain he’s going to be furious at her deception rather than pleased to see her – and this is borne out at their first meeting, which is anything but a tender reunion. Fortunately, however, after some initial hostility and sniping, they realise they can’t go on this way and decide they need to address the elephant in the room.

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

To Covet a Lady’s Heart (Landon Sisters #2) by Ingrid Hahn

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This title may be purchased from Amazon.

After a lifetime of rakish behavior, Lord Maxfeld must pretend he’s reformed and find a fake wife. And there is nobody more suitable than Lady Phoebe. Trouble is, Phoebe will not agree to a false engagement and leaves Max no option but to blackmail her into agreeing to his scheme.

Phoebe will go to great lengths to avoid anything remotely dishonourable and blackmails Max right back—directly to the altar. Once married, though, Phoebe wants more than just Max’s ring – she wants his heart, something he can never give….

Rating: C

Ingrid Hahn is a new-to-me author, and because I like to try new writers and the premise of To Covet a Lady’s Heart sounded intriguing – with the hero attempting to blackmail the heroine and her blackmailing him right back – I decided to give it a whirl. The book proved to be a bit of a mixed bag overall; there are parts of the story, especially in the early stages, that are quite entertaining and made me want to keep reading, but as things progressed, I started to find that the heroine I’d initially found rather refreshing was ridiculously perfect, the darkly brooding hero had no real basis for his darkly brooding-ness and the romance, which had started so promisingly, was fizzling out so that by the end of the book, I really didn’t care all that much as to whether or not they’d get their HEA.

George Fitzhugh, the Earl of Maxfeld (Max) has a reputation for debauchery of the worst kind. He prefers to spend his time with the demimondaine instead of the high society to which he rightly belongs, but as he has no intention of ever taking a wife, he sees no point in presenting himself as a prospect to the young ladies of the ton by attending society events. But it seems he’s going to have to make a change because he desperately wants to assume the guardianship of his five-year-old nephew, Thomas; and his mother, with whom the boy is currently living, won’t hear of it. The death of her daughter – Max’s sister – more than a year ago affected his mother badly and Max is worried, not only for her health, but for her ability to properly care for a rambunctious five-year-old. But Lady Maxfeld is adamant; Max is not a fitting role model for a young boy, no matter that Max loves him dearly and would do anything for him.

Things might be different if Max were married or if there were the slightest possibility of his being so – which is when he hatches a plan. If he can present his mother with a fiancée and show her he is going to reform his ways and settle down, then she can have no reason to continue to refuse to allow him to assume custody of Thomas. And fortunately for him, Max has just the woman in mind for his scheme.

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

My Dangerous Duke (Inferno Club #2) by Gaelen Foley (audiobook) – Narrated by Marian Hussey

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This title may be downloaded from Audible.

Rohan Kilburn, the Duke of Warrington, has quite a reputation. He’s “The Beast” – a debauched rake whose many exploits echo in the countryside surrounding his ancient familial castle. In truth, he’s devoted his life to the Inferno Club, swearing off love for duty in an attempt to thwart a tragic family curse.

Beautiful spitfire Kate Madsen wants nothing to do with “The Beast” after she is mistakenly abducted by smugglers and delivered into his fearsome clutches. Rohan similarly refuses to fall for her, mindful of the many dangers in his life. But when she starts to thaw his icy heart, Rohan knows he will do anything to make Kate his own.

Rating: Narration – B; Content – C

I really struggled with the first few hours of My Dangerous Duke, and had I not been listening for review, there’s a good chance I might have abandoned it. The narration by Marian Hussey is fine – in fact, it’s the best thing about the audiobook – and she’s a massive improvement on Annette Chown, who narrated the previous instalment in the Inferno Club series. But the early part of the story progresses at the speed of a snail moving through molasses and is weighed down by lots of irrelevant and overly descriptive prose, so much so that I wished (and here I’m dating myself) I could cut and splice large chunks of it so as to keep things moving.

Fortunately, however, things do start to pick up a bit after that, as the hero and heroine finally meet and begin interacting. The story is one of murky secrets, dark deeds and feats of derring-do; in fact, the last section of the book turns into a cross between Indiana Jones and a computer game, as our intrepid heroes head off on the trail of a hidden treasure. There are plenty of sparks flying between them, although I’m somewhat weary of the hero who believes he is unworthy of love because He is A Bad Man Who Does Bad Things – and that’s the source of most of the conflict in the romance. I also had to check the publication date of the book – 2010 – because there’s an old-skool feel to My Dangerous Duke (especially when it comes to some of the wince-inducing purple prose – I hope Ms. Hussey was well compensated for having to utter lines like this: He knew how to safely wield the oversized weapon with which Nature had endowed him) that made me think it must have been written in the 90s or earlier.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

The Secret of Love (Rakes and Rebels #2) by Cynthia Wright (audiobook) – Narrated by Tim Campbell

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This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon.

When Lady Isabella Trevarre first laid eyes on Gabriel St. Briac, she announced to her best friend: “That is the man I will marry!” Now a woman grown, Izzie has traded her girlish dreams for the independent life of an artist, but she never quite forgot the dazzling Frenchman who captivated her young heart. When he appears again in Cornwall, the seeds of desire grow between them.

As Napoleon’s army loots art treasures throughout Europe, Gabriel St. Briac’s priceless Leonardo da Vinci painting vanishes from its hiding place. Bent on recovering his family’s prized possession, Gabriel sets sail for the chaos of wartime France – only to find Izzie stowed away on his ship. Though fearful for her safety, he allows her to join in his quest. But Izzie harbors a dark secret…a secret that could shatter the tender blossom of their trust. When danger puts them both to the test, will these two guarded souls dare to risk all for love?

Rating: Narration – B-; Content – C+

This latest instalment in Cynthia Wright’s long-running Rakes and Rebels series is the sequel to Smuggler’s Moon, which I reviewed a couple of years back. Even though it’s part of a series, The Secret of Love can be listened to as a stand-alone novel, because while some characters from other books in the series appear in this one, they have secondary roles to play and the storyline is self-contained, so there is no real need to have read or listened to any of the other instalments.

At the end of Smuggler’s Moon, fourteen year-old Lady Isabella – Izzie – Trevarre told her best friend that she had met the man she was going to marry. That man was Gabriel St. Briac, a handsome young Frenchman and associate of her brother Sebastian’s from the brief time he made his living as a smuggler. Moving on six years, we find Isabella in London at the salon of the famous artist, <a href=https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/%C3%89lisabeth_Vig%C3%A9e_Le_Brun, who recognised Izzie’s considerable artistic talent and agreed to be her mentor. Izzie is determined not to end up trapped in a loveless marriage like her mother and has set her sights instead on making her way in the world as an artist.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

From London with Love (Reckless Brides #3) by Diana Quincy

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This title may be purchased from Amazon.

Emilia St. George is moments away from marrying the admired grandson of a duke when the man who once jilted her decides to kidnap her at the altar. It’s the second time in five years Hamilton Sparrow has ruined her wedding day, and Emilia isn’t about to forgive him. The mere sight of her ex-fiancé revives painful memories—and, most regrettably, aching desires that refuse to be ignored.

Scanning the guests at Emilia’s wedding, Sparrow spots a familiar face: an assassin he recognizes from his days as a spy in France. Whisking Emilia away, he’s pleasantly surprised by her newly formed curves. Could this be the same flame-haired slip of a girl once promised to Sparrow? And does the fop she still insists on marrying realize what a prize she is? True, Sparrow left Emilia at the altar. But he’s afraid that the only way to right that particular wrong is to risk the one thing he’s always guarded: his heart.

Rating: C+

This third book in Diana Quincy’s Rebellious Brides series is an enjoyable read featuring a central couple who have known each other for years and were actually supposed to marry five years earlier – until the groom cried off on the morning of the wedding for reasons he never discussed with his betrothed.  I enjoy a good second-chance romance, and this one is carried off fairly well, but I am getting just a bit tired of the hero who won’t risk his heart because “a nasty woman betrayed me/used me/broke my heart so I can never love again”.  I realise that there are a plethora of such heroes in historical romances, but some of their reasons are more compelling than others, and I wasn’t completely convinced by those attributed to our hero, Hamilton Sparrow (yep – you read that right) and there were times I really wanted to tell him to just man up and get over it already.

Five years since the first time she was supposed to walk down the aisle, Emilia St. George is about to attempt the trip again, this time in order to marry Mr Edmund Worsley, the grandson of the Duke of Arthingon.  But before she can get as far as taking the first step, her erstwhile bridegroom suddenly reappears, informs her that her life may be in danger and insists that she leaves with him immediately.  Once Emilia has stopped laughing, she refuses in no uncertain terms, and Sparrow, a man who is by no means as puny as his namesake, is left with no alternative than to bodily haul her out of the church and into his waiting carriage.

When they are attacked by a man Sparrow knows to be a highly-paid assassin, Emilia starts to take the possibility of a threat to her life seriously – and to wonder who could be trying to kill her.  She’s her father’s only child and heir to his immense fortune, but her fiancé does not want for money, and besides, if she were to die before their wedding he’d get nothing, so he doesn’t have a motive.  But if something should happen to her, her father’s heir would be her cousin, Dominick Ware, a man with a shady past, a tendency to disappear, and who, for reasons we don’t learn in this book, is suspected of killing his own parents. It doesn’t help that when Sparrow was attacked by the assassin, Emilia bashed the man’s head in with a rock, so they’re unable to interrogate him due to the fact that he’s unconscious and probably near death.  Sparrow and Emilia agree that Ware needs to be found and questioned – but first, they must return to Emilia’s home to lay the whole matter before her father and arrange for Emilia’s protection, so leaving a man with important information and a potentially fatal head wound in the care of trusted servants, the couple heads back to town.

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

Four Weddings and a Sixpence (anthology) by Julia Quinn, Laura Lee Guhrke, Elizabeth Boyle and Stefanie Sloane (audiobook) – Narrated by Mary Jane Wells

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This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

Beloved authors Julia Quinn, Elizabeth Boyle, Laura Lee Guhrke, and Stefanie Sloane deliver the stories of four friends from Madame Rochambeaux’s Gentle School for Girls who find an old sixpence in their bedchamber and decide that it will be the lucky coin for each of their weddings…

“Something Old”
Julia Quinn’s prologue introduces her heroine Beatrice Heywood and the premise for Four Weddings and a Sixpence.

“Something New”
In Stefanie Sloane’s unforgettable story, an ever-vigilant guardian decrees that Anne Brabourne must marry by her twenty-first birthday. But love finds her in the most unexpected of ways.

“Something Borrowed”
Elizabeth Boyle tells the tale of Cordelia Padley, who has invented a betrothed to keep her family from pestering her to wed. Now she’ll need to borrow one to convince them she’s found her true love.

“Something Blue”
In Laura Lee Guhrke’s story, unlucky Lady Elinor Daventry has her sixpence stolen from her and must convince the rake who pilfered the coin to return it in time for her own wedding.

“… and a Sixpence in Her Shoe”
Julia Quinn finishes with the story of Beatrice Heywood, who never believed that the sixpence was anything but a tarnished old coin-until it led all of her friends to true love. But her faith in the coin is tested when it keeps sending her to the wrong man!

Rating: Narration – A- ; Content – C-/C/B+/B

I’m not a big fan of anthologies or novellas in general, because I find there are few authors who really understand how to use the shorter form to greatest effect, and I most often come away from them feeling a bit disappointed. And anthologies tend to be uneven; there will usually be one really good story and the others will be of lesser, variable quality. So why did I listen to this one? A look at the narrator’s name will answer that question. Mary Jane Wells can make even average material enjoyable to listen to, and while two of the stories here do fall into the average category, the other two – from Julia Quinn and Laura Lee Guhrke – definitely transcend that qualification. Each story in Four Weddings and a Sixpence features one of a group of four friends who, while at school, find an old sixpence in a mattress and, based on the words of the old rhyme:

Something old, something new

Something borrowed, something blue… and a silver sixpence for your shoe

– decide to keep the sixpence on the chance that it may lead them to true love.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.