A Most Unsuitable Match (Sisters of Scandal #1) by Julia Justiss

This title may be purchased from Amazon.

Shunned by the ton

How will she find a husband?

Part of Sisters of Scandal: After her mother’s latest outrageous affair, innocent Prudence Lattimar has fled to Bath. With her dubious background, she must marry a man of impeccable reputation. A clergyman with a title would be perfect. And she must steer clear of Lieutenant Johnnie Trethwell—his family is as notorious as hers, no matter how funny, charming and unfailingly honourable he is!

Rating: B+

Julia Justiss opens her new Sisters of Scandal series with A Most Unsuitable Match, in which a young lady tainted by a scandal not of her own making strives to obey every strict rule of society and to make herself into a pattern-card of propriety in an attempt to free herself from the unkind gossip that dogs her.  Prudence Lattimar and her twin sister Temperance (sisters of Christopher Lattimar, hero of the author’s last Hadley’s Hellions book, Secret Lessons with the Rake) are now in their early twenties but have yet to have a London Season.  There are various reasons for this – illness, mourning, a birth – but the most recent one is the worst of all; Pru and Temper’s reputations are already on very shaky ground thanks to their mother’s reputation for loose morals, and the fact that a pair of young bucks have just fought a duel over her promises to be the death knell of yet another Season. Lady Vraux is renowned for having had a string of lovers over the years and it’s common knowledge that all of her children have different fathers, only of them her husband – and gossip paints her daughters as chips off the old block.  Prudence wants nothing more from life than a husband she can at least esteem, a home and family, and to live far from the bustle of London society and its attendant gossip – but her mother’s notoriety condemns her before she so much as shows her face in society, and she despairs of ever being able have the sort of life she wants.

Unlike Temperance, who would much rather go adventuring abroad hunting antiquities than stay in England hunting a husband, Prudence decides to try her luck in Bath.  With the London Season starting, society in Bath will be a little thinner on the ground, but there will still be plenty to do and, no doubt, some eligible gentlemen who might prove to be to her liking.

Lieutenant Lord John Treadwell, youngest son of Marquess of Barkley, has recently returned from service in India and is visiting his aunt in Bath while he recuperates from a leg wound.  After seven years in the army, he’s planning on resigning his commission and going into business; as the fourth son of a spendthrift father, he has to support himself by his own efforts, in spite of society’s horror at the idea of a gentleman working for his living.  His aunt would be happier if he’d take the time-honoured approach of marrying an heiress, but Johnnie won’t hear of that.

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

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Band Sinister by K.J. Charles

This title may be purchased from Amazon

Sir Philip Rookwood is the disgrace of the county. He’s a rake and an atheist, and the rumours about his hellfire club, the Murder, can only be spoken in whispers. (Orgies. It’s orgies.)

Guy Frisby and his sister Amanda live in rural seclusion after a family scandal. But when Amanda breaks her leg in a riding accident, she’s forced to recuperate at Rookwood Hall, where Sir Philip is hosting the Murder.

Guy rushes to protect her, but the Murder aren’t what he expects. They’re educated, fascinating people, and the notorious Sir Philip turns out to be charming, kind—and dangerously attractive.

In this private space where anything goes, the longings Guy has stifled all his life are impossible to resist…and so is Philip. But all too soon the rural rumour mill threatens both Guy and Amanda. The innocent country gentleman has lost his heart to the bastard baronet — but does he dare lose his reputation too?

Rating: A-

K.J. Charles has made no secret of the fact that her latest book, Band Sinister, is an homage to the works of Georgette Heyer, and in it she has great fun playing in the trope-pit of regency romance and turning quite a few of them on their heads.  We’ve got the stranded-injured-sibling trope; the man-of-the-world-falls-for-country-innocent trope; the oops-I-(not so)-accidentally-wrote-you-as-the-villain-in-my-racy-book trope – and those are just the ones I can remember of the top of my head.  I’m sure I’ve missed some.

But trope-tastic as it is, Band Sinister still manages to delight, breathing life into the tried-and-tested by virtue of Ms. Charles’ sharp wit, deft hand and obvious love for the genre.

The storyline is a simple one.  Siblings Guy and Amanda Frisby live a secluded life in the village of Yarlcote, just a few miles from Rookwood Hall, the country estate of Sir Philip Rookwood.  The Frisbys and the Rookwoods are all but mortal enemies, owing to the fact that Sir James Rookwood (elder and now deceased brother of the present holder of the title) ran off with Guy and Amanda’s mother some years earlier, driving their father to drink and an early grave.  He left them completely dependent on their aunt, a dictatorial and unsympathetic woman who supports them for the sake of appearances rather than because she has any love or affection for them.

When the story opens, Guy is reading the manuscript of the gothic novel Amanda has just had published – and is rather appalled to discover that she has modelled her villain – in physical appearance anyway – on Sir Philip Rookwood, and some of the other characters in the book on his friends.  Sir Philip and his set have the most dreadful reputations as degenerates and rumour has it that the ‘Murder’ – as the group is known – is a kind of hellfire club that engages in orgies, satanic rituals and other reprehensible activities.  When Amanda expresses the wish that they might actually visit to find out for themselves, Guy is appalled.  He wants nothing to do with Rookwood, but circumstances conspire against him when Amanda is thrown from her horse while riding on Sir Philip’s land, and badly injured – which means Amanda gets her wish to visit the hall, although under less pleasing circumstances than she would have liked.

When Guy receives the news of Amanda’s situation, he’s doubly panicked – terrified because she’s been hurt and worried for her reputation, which has already got a few dents in it courtesy of their mother’s exploits and a youthful indiscretion.  Guy goes to the hall with the intention of taking her home immediately, but is dissuaded by the doctor attending on her – a friend of Sir Philip’s – who explains that her injury is such that moving her could prove fatal.  Guy accepts the wisdom of that, but he’s not happy, especially as it’s impossible to persuade any woman of suitable consequence to come to the hall to act as chaperone.

Given the bad blood between their families, Guy is torn between gratitude to his host for allowing Amanda to remain at his home, and determination to remain aloof and retain his animosity.  That, however, soon becomes difficult when Guy comes to realise that Philip and his friends are nowhere near as black as they are painted and have in fact encouraged the gossip about them that has given them all such tarnished reputations.  (Especially Lord Corvin who lives to be talked about!)  The Murder (and once we learn the names of Philip’s friends, it’s easy to work out the reason behind that appellation) is actually a group of free-thinking, like-minded friends who gather to engage in spirited (and to Guy’s tender ears, alarming) debate, enjoy each other’s company and love who they wish without having to continually look over their shoulders.  It’s a real eye-opener for Guy, who at first isn’t sure how to take anything he sees or hears; dinner table discussions are about anything and everything from art and literature to science and the newly emerging theories which seem to disprove the Bible’s account of creation (shocking!) and are stimulating and fascinating – and he can’t help but be drawn in by the liveliness of the discussion and by the conviviality of his surroundings.

He also can’t help being drawn to Philip, whose kindness and generosity are completely unexpected, and whose attractiveness and desire for Guy are equally so.

Philip holds these gatherings for his friends in order to give them all a safe haven from the strict conventions of society.  He met his two closest friends, Lord Corvin and John Raven, when they were all unwanted or forgotten ten-year-olds and the three of them forged lifelong bonds.  Friends – and friends-with-benefits when they want to be – they love each other deeply, and the openness and honesty of their relationship is superbly conveyed, teasingly affectionate and full of the perfect amount of snark.

I really enjoyed all the characters, a disparate group that encompasses a diversity of racial and sexual orientation – a former slave, a bisexual viscount, a Jewish doctor, a married couple in which ‘Mrs.’ is trans FtM, a black composer and his violinist lover – even those we meet only briefly add richness and colour to the story and are beautifully crafted.  Amanda Frisby is wonderfully bright and spirited and I was so glad that she got her own happy ending, too.  Philip is intelligent, charming, kind, and forward-thinking, with a well-developed conscience that owes nothing to society and everything to his own inner compass.  He is turning over much of his land to the production of sugar beet with a view to creating a home-grown sugar industry which will remove the necessity for importing so much sugar produced by slave labour – a laudable ambition but an uphill struggle given that his tenant farmers are resistant to change.  Guy is perhaps a little passive at times, but he’s far from being the “plank” Philip originally believes him to be; he’s quiet and unassuming, but ferocious and passionate in defence of the things that are important to him. My heart broke for him a bit when it became clear how lonely he was and had always been, and I loved watching him gradually break out of his shell and begin to truly live.

The romance between Philip and Guy is sweetly sensual, and witnessing the development of their mutual attraction as they navigate the waters of their new relationship was a complete delight.  And it’s not just about the physical; Guy is seduced as much by the new ideas to which he is exposed and to the new experience of acceptance and being part of a friendship  as he is by Philip’s more sensual approaches, which are heartfelt and honest,  with an explicit focus on consent.  Their romance is also conducted within the parameters of their other important relationships; in Philip’s case, with Corvin and Raven, in Guy’s with Amanda – and the fact that they both understood and accepted those relationships made their HEA that much stronger.

Band Sinister is a wonderfully entertaining read that, for all its light-heartedness, nonetheless manages to convey a number of important ideas about love, friendship, social responsibility and the importance of living according to one’s lights.  It’s a sexy, warm, witty trope-fest and works brilliantly as an homage to the traditional regency and a tribute to those who dared to think enlightened ideas in a time of entrenched views.  It’s not often you get impassioned debate about geology, women’s rights and religion, dirty talk derived from Latin, and information about the ins-and-outs of sugar beet farming in the same book, but Ms. Charles incorporates everything quite naturally and with great aplomb – and I loved it from start to finish.  Brava!

The Corset by Laura Purcell

This title may be purchased from Amazon

NOTE: NOT AVAILABLE DIGITALLY IN THE US. The book is being published in the US in June 2019 under the title The Poison Thread

Is prisoner Ruth Butterham mad or a murderer? Victim or villain?

Dorothea and Ruth.

Prison visitor and prisoner. Powerful and powerless.

Dorothea Truelove is young, wealthy and beautiful. Ruth Butterham is young, poor and awaiting trial for murder.

When Dorothea’s charitable work leads her to Oakgate Prison, she is delighted to have the chance to explore her fascination with phrenology and test her hypothesis that the shape of a person’s skull can cast a light on their darkest crimes. But when she meets teenage seamstress Ruth, she is faced with another theory: that it is possible to kill with a needle and thread. For Ruth attributes her crimes to a supernatural power inherent in her stitches.

The story Ruth has to tell of her deadly creations – of bitterness and betrayal, of death and dresses – will shake Dorothea’s belief in rationality, and the power of redemption.

Can Ruth be trusted? Is she mad, or a murderer?

Rating: B

Laura Purcell first came to my attention as the author of a couple of very fine pieces of historical fiction, and earlier this year, I awarded her fabulous, spooky supernatural/gothic mystery The Silent Companions DIK status at AAR  and gushed about it to everyone who crossed my path!  I’ve been waiting eagerly to read her next novel The Corset, another mystery set in Victorian England, this time, featuring two very different women who are brought together in the gloomy surroundings of a London prison.

Dorothea Truelove is pragmatic, intelligent and privileged.  She is heiress to a considerable sum, but continually resists her father’s attempts to find her an eligible husband, preferring instead to concentrate on her scientific interests and the young, most definitely ineligible policeman with whom she is in love.  Dorothea has become fascinated by phrenology  – a pseudoscience that posited that a person’s character could be determined by the measurements of their skull and that personality, thoughts and emotions were located in certain specific regions of the brain – and is furthering her knowledge by visiting female inmates at Oakwood Gate Prison.  She is keen to meet the latest new arrival, a sixteen-year-old girl called Ruth Butterham who has confessed to the murder of her employer and several other people, and to study the size and shape of her skill, believing her research could help “devise a system to detect, scientifically, without a doubt, all evil propensities in the young” and thereby a way of preventing them from becoming criminals.

Ruth Butterham couldn’t be more different to Dorothea.  A talented seamstress, Ruth’s life has been blighted by tragedy, poverty and horror; when her father commits suicide, she and her sick mother are forced to seek help from Mrs. Metyard, a popular modiste for whom Ruth’s mother often does piece-work.  In desperation, Ruth’s mother more or less sells Ruth to Mrs. Metyard, believing that a roof over her head and regular meals will be better for Ruth than anything she can provide, which is why, aged just twelve, Ruth finds herself subjected to abuse and exploitation alongside four other girls, all of them terribly mistreated, half-starved and regularly beaten.

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

Quickie Reviews #2

Here are another couple of Quickie Reviews; books I’ve read or listened to recently but haven’t written full-length reviews for.


Among the Living (PsyCop #1) by Jordan Castillo Price

Rating: B-

An entertaining novella, first in a series featuring the rather endearingly shambolic PsyCop, Victor Bayne. The author sets up her world – in which “stiff” (non-psychic) cops are paired up with a psi – very well, and clearly shows there’s a downside to having psychic gifts. Victor and his new partner, Lisa Gutierrez, are assigned to investigate a murder in which the victim is artfully arranged on a bed, surrounded by glass/mirror fragments. Victor, a level five medium is concerned when he can’t sense the dead person – usually their ghosts hang around to bitch about being dead – so this is odd. We’re also introduced to Victor’s love interest, Jacob Marks (another “NP” – non-psychic) and his partner, Caroline who is the human equivalent of a lie detector, and the four of them set about solving the mystery and finding the killer.

Because this is a novella, certain aspects are rushed – like the relationship between Victor and Jacob, who, in the books first pages, hook up at a party, but hopefully there’ll be more development in future books.

Victor is an engaging narrator and I’ll be checking out more of the books in the series.

ETA: I recently picked up the audio version of this in a Whispersync deal, and Gomez Pugh does a terrific job with the narration.  Great character differentiation and a terrific portrayal of Victor – I’m definitely going to pick up more of this series in audio.


The Duke I Tempted by Scarlett Peckham

No Rating

This was actually a very rare DNF for me, so I will not be rating the book; I didn’t finish reading it because I didn’t care for the BDSM element of the story. I’m no prude, I read books with explicit sex scenes on a regular basis, but I just can’t equate pain with sexual pleasure and I was unable to sympathise with the hero as a result. (And as a hero-centric reader, that’s pretty much the death knell for any book for me.) What I read was well-written and I would be interested in reading more from this author, but the BDSM scenes – though very few – turned my stomach. I also didn’t care for the cheating fairly late on in the story (I skimmed through to the end after I stopped reading); there’s a scene in which the heroine discovers the hero on his knees, stripped to the waist, and obviously aroused while being whipped by another woman.  YMMV of course, but in my mind, that’s infidelity and although I can deal with it in a romance under certain circumstances, this wasn’t one of them.  I don’t have many dealbreakers when it comes to what I read, but two in one story torpedoed this one.


My Once and Future Duke (Wagers of Sin #1) by Caroline Linden (audiobook) – Narrated by Beverley A. Crick

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

What happens at the infamous Vega Club…

Sophie Campbell is determined to be mistress of her own fate. Surviving on her skill at cards, she never risks what she can’t afford to lose. Yet when the Duke of Ware proposes a scandalous wager that’s too extravagant to refuse, she can’t resist. If she wins, she’ll get 5,000 pounds, enough to secure her independence forever.

Stays at the Vega Club…

Jack Lindeville, Duke of Ware, tells himself he’s at the Vega Club merely to save his reckless brother from losing everything, but he knows it’s a lie. He can’t keep his eyes off Sophie, and to get her he breaks his ironclad rule against gambling. If he wins, he wants her – for a week.

Until now.

A week with Jack could ruin what’s left of Sophie’s reputation. It might even cost her her heart. But when it comes to love, all bets are off….

Rating: Narration – A- : Content – A-

Better late than never, so they say, and I’m pleased to agree with that when it comes to the release of this first book in Caroline Linden’s Wagers of Sin series. My Once and Future Duke was released in print at the end of February and I’m happy to report that the audio version – narrated by the ever-reliable Beverley A. Crick – was worth the wait.

In the prologue, we’re introduced to the three heroines of the series – Sophie, Eliza and Georgiana – when Sophie is sent to school by her grandfather, Viscount Makepeace, who wants nothing to do with her. He disowned Sophie’s father when he married an opera singer, and Sophie has lived all her life abroad as the family travelled frequently to her mother’s engagements. When her voice began to fail, Sophie’s father did what he could to support his family by gambling; having some knowledge of mathematics, probabilities and odds, he didn’t do too badly and Sophie learned many card games from him – and from the lads in the stables, she learned dicing, how to calculate odds, when to be cautious and when to take a risk. Sophie’s parents died when she was twelve and she was left to the care of the viscount, who made it clear that his financial support would stop when she was eighteen, so she has devised a plan which will secure her future – but it’s risky and means she will have to live on the edge of respectability.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

His Rags to Riches Contessa (Matches Made in Scandal #3) by Marguerite Kaye


This title may be purchased from Amazon

From the streets of London…

…to Venetian high society!

To catch his father’s murderer, broodingly arrogant Conte Luca del Pietro requires help from a most unlikely source—Becky Wickes, London’s finest card-sharp. Against the decadence of Carnival, Becky’s innocence and warmth captivates Luca, but as their chemistry burns hotter the stakes in their perilous game are getting higher. For Luca is no longer playing only for justice—but also to win Becky’s heart…

Rating: B

His Rags to Riches Contessa is the third book in Marguerite Kaye’s Matches Made in Scandal series, and tells the story of an actress and card sharp who is hired to help a Venetian nobleman obtain revenge against the man who killed his father.  The four novels in the set are linked by a mysterious woman known only as The Procurer; a woman whose clients come to her “with complex and unusual problems requiring unique solutions”, solutions she provides while at the same time helping young women to whom life has dealt a poor hand make themselves a better future.  Becky Wickes is one such; abandoned by the man she loved – and whom she believed loved her – to face a future as a fugitive from the law and a possible death sentence should she be apprehended – Becky has gone to ground and holed up in a dingy room in the rookery of St. Giles.  It’s here that the Procurer finds her and offers her the chance to change her life.

Becky travels to Venice, to the luxurious Palazzo Pietro, where she will meet the Procurer’s client – the Conte del Pietro – and receive all the details of her assignment.  She is surprised to discover that the Conte – Luca – is half-English on his mother’s side and that he spent many years in the Royal Navy before his father’s death necessitated his return home, and even more so when she finally learns the reason for her journey.  Luca explains that his father and his father’s best friend, Don Massimo Sarti, had together been respected government officials who had acted to preserve as many of the city’s treasures as they could before Venice surrendered to Napoléon some twenty years earlier.  The plan was to hide as many items of value as possible – especially those pertaining to the city’s heritage – and to return them once the Republic of Venice was restored, but things didn’t quite work out that way.  Venice was used as a pawn over the years and only now, after Napoléon’s defeat, is the situation stable enough to consider restoring all the artefacts that the men had spirited away.  In his final communication to his son, Luca’s father explained that he had visited the hiding place in order to make an inventory only to discover the place was empty.  It seems Don Massimo has stolen everything he and Luca’s father had vowed to preserve in order to fund his gambling habit – and when threatened with exposure had his former friend killed.

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

The Hollow of Fear (Lady Sherlock #3) by Sherry Thomas


This title may be purchased from Amazon

Under the cover of “Sherlock Holmes, consulting detective,” Charlotte Holmes puts her extraordinary powers of deduction to good use. Aided by the capable Mrs. Watson, Charlotte draws those in need to her and makes it her business to know what other people don’t.

Moriarty’s shadow looms large. First, Charlotte’s half brother disappears. Then, Lady Ingram, the estranged wife of Charlotte’s close friend Lord Ingram, turns up dead on his estate. And all signs point to Lord Ingram as the murderer.

With Scotland Yard closing in, Charlotte goes under disguise to seek out the truth. But uncovering the truth could mean getting too close to Lord Ingram—and a number of malevolent forces…

Rating: A

It seems that my reaction, whenever I finish one of Sherry Thomas’ Lady Sherlock books, is forever destined to be one of complete awe as I sit stunned, with my brain trying to catch up while I’m also trying to scrape my jaw up off the floor. I’m not sure I’m capable of forming whole sentences just yet, because DAY-UM, but the woman has a devious mind!

The Hollow of Fear is the third in the series, and it opens exactly where book two – A Conspiracy in Belgravia – left off. So be aware that what I’m going to say next is a spoiler for that book, and that there are most likely to be spoilers for the other books in this review. Readers should also know that while there is information dotted throughout that supplies some of the backstory, I’d strongly recommend reading all the books in order so as to gain a greater understanding of all the relevant events.

The plotline of Conspiracy concerned the search for one Myron Finch, who is Charlotte Holmes’ illegitimate half-brother. In a surprise twist tight at the end of the book, we learned that Finch has actually been hiding in plain sight all this time, working as the Holmes family’s coachman, and this conversation continues at the beginning of Hollow. Finch explains that he’s in hiding from Moriarty because he – Finch – has something belonging to his former master and knows that death will be his punishment should Moriarty ever find him. After a daring escape – made with the aid of Stephen Marbleton (whose mother was married to Moriarty at one time) – Charlotte is making her way back to the house she shares with Mrs. Watson when a carriage draws up beside her, the door opens – and the gentleman inside gives his name as Moriarty.

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