The Marigold Chain by Stella Riley (audiobook) – Narrated by Alex Wyndham

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

England, 1666; the year all the prophecies said the world would end. For Chloe Hervaux, marriage to wild, unpredictable Alex Deveril offers escape from a home she hates. For Alex, waking up with an epic hangover, the discovery that he has acquired a bride is an unwelcome shock. But while the marriage remains in name only, other forces are gathering.

England is at war with the Dutch, and Prince Rupert suspects that sabotage is at work in the fleet. Instructed to find and stop the traitor, Alex enters a dark, secret labyrinth of intrigue – where no life is safe and nothing is what it seems.

Chloe, meanwhile, navigates the shark-infested waters of Charles 11’s licentious Court and plots a course of her own aimed at financial independence. But as the diverse facets of Mr. Deveril’s personality are gradually revealed, her mock-marriage becomes fraught with difficulties – the greatest of which is Mr. Deveril himself.

Absorbed in his search for a traitor, Alex spares little thought for personal matters and less for his bride. But as the flames of the Great Fire sweep over London, he and Chloe face their ultimate test. Their world is at risk…their choices may save it.

The Marigold Chain is a richly-woven tale of intrigue, danger, and love set against a backdrop of Restoration England during the year expected to be Doomsday.

Rating: Narration – A: Content – A

The Marigold Chain is one of Stella Riley’s earliest published works, and, as it’s a long-time favourite of mine, I’ve been waiting not-at-all patiently for it to make an appearance in audiobook format. I first read it in the mid-1980s and loved it; for me, it ticks all the boxes. A brilliant, gorgeous, sharp-tongued hero enters into a marriage of convenience with a practical, quick-witted heroine who doesn’t take any of his crap; set that against the backdrop of the politics and intrigue-laden Restoration court of Charles II, and you’ve got another winner from a writer who really knows how to put the historical into historical romance while at the same time creating a tender, sensual love story. With the exceptionally talented Alex Wyndham once more at the microphone, there’s no question The Marigold Chain is a fabulous audio experience – so just sink into your favourite chair, lock the door, take the phone off the hook and let the world look after itself for a few hours while you get stuck in!

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

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The Marquess Tames His Bride (Brides for Bachelors #2) by Annie Burrowes

This title may be purchased from Amazon

‘I have just announced our betrothal’

Now there’s no going back…

In this Brides for Bachelors story, the Marquess of Rawcliffe has always found his childhood friend Clare Cottam enthralling, but any relationship has been forbidden by her strict father. Now the couple are embroiled in a heated argument that puts Clare’s reputation in danger, and Rawcliffe is forced to declare her his fiancée. It will be his pleasure to tame his independent, innocent bride…

Rating: C

The Marquess Tames His Bride is the second book in Annie Burrows’ Brides for Bachelors series, which, although the romance is self-contained, picks up the storyline about a number of jewel thefts that began in book one, The Major Meets His Match.  I have read that book, although I confess I couldn’t remember very much about the continuing plotline; but fortunately the author has given enough of a recap for new readers to be able to pick it up and work out what is going on.  That said, it’s not an especially exciting mystery and there’s not much progression here; I’d worked out where things were headed within the first few pages, and at the end, it’s conveniently left hanging for the hero of book three to pick up and bring to a close.

Clare Cottam has spent the best part of her life caring for her drunkard of a father – a vicar – and her obnoxious older brothers.  The recent death of the Reverend Cottam has left Clare homeless and penniless, but one of her brothers, Clement – who is also a clergyman – has arranged for her to take up a position as companion to an elderly lady who lives in Dorset.  It’s not what Clare would have wished for herself, but she tries to see her brother’s interference as a kindness – and anyway she has no alternative.  She has stopped briefly at an inn along the way when she hears the well-remembered, mocking voice of the Marquess of Rawcliffe demanding to know why she’s there.  Clare has known Rawcliffe since she was a girl, and he’s always taken great delight in laughing at her and needling her until she loses the temper that is her greatest trial.  He’s the last person to whom she is going to confess the truth of her situation, but when he persists in teasing her, Clare has had enough and punches him on the nose.

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

Redeeming the Roguish Rake by Liz Tyner

This title may be purchased from Amazon

The scoundrel of Society
…has compromised the Vicar’s daughter!

When scandalous Fenton Foxworthy is beaten and left for dead, he’s rescued by demure vicar’s daughter Rebecca Whitelow. Fox is a cynical rake whose outrageous propositions are the talk of the ton—but his injuries are so great that Rebecca mistakes him for the new village Vicar! Too late, Rebecca realises her error…she’s been compromised into a hasty marriage!

Rating: D+

Liz Tyner’s Redeeming the Roguish Rake treads the well-worn path of rakish hero redeemed by love – in this case, the love of a vicar’s daughter.  It’s a trope I generally enjoy, as it’s always fun to watch the world-weary hero falling head-over-heels for the last woman he’d ever have expected to fall for, and the proper young lady entertaining improper thoughts about a man she should, by rights, despise.  The book gets off to a strong start when our hero, Fenton Foxworthy, a devil-may-care young man who has a smirk and a glib remark for everyone and a penchant for proposing to other men’s wives, is beaten up and left for dead while on a journey into the country to visit his father.  Luckily for him, he is found by the daughter of the local vicar who arranges for him to be taken to the vicarage where she can tend him.

Fox’s injuries are serious.  The author never goes into specific detail, other than to tell us that his face has been particularly badly beaten, to such an extent that when he initially recovers consciousness, it’s difficult for him to speak because his jaw is so painful.  His inability to tell the vicar and his daughter who he is leads to a misapprehension when they assume Fox must be the new vicar who is coming to take over the parish at the behest of the earl (Fox’s father).  The Reverend Whitelow is advancing in years and is being encouraged to take a pension, and knowing that a younger man is coming to replace him, has hopes that the new vicar will marry Rebecca and ensure her future comfort and safety.

It’s some time before Fox can speak, and the author instead treats us to his inner monologue, which is often quite funny, as he listens to the vicar and Rebecca completely misconstruing his attempts at communication.  In the end, he decides to give up and go along with their supposition that he’s a vicar – they’ll find out the truth soon enough and he’ll cross that bridge when he comes to it.

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

Anything but a Gentleman (Rescued from Ruin #8) by Elisa Braden

This title may be purchased from Amazon

A spinster hatches a plan (with a smattering of blackmail)
Miss Augusta Widmore has no time for proprieties. She must force her sister’s ne’er-do-well betrothed to the altar with all haste—or watch her sister bear the scandalous consequences. But with the blackguard resisting his duty, she needs leverage. And only one man can provide it.

A giant holds all the cards (or so he thinks)
Sebastian Reaver has no time for presumptuous women. He has a club to run. So, when a perfect nuisance invades his office, demands a fortune in markers, and refuses to leave until he relinquishes them to her, he knows just the thing to send her scurrying back to Hampshire: Exact a price this prim country spinster would never agree to pay.

A fiery battle begins (with both sides playing for keeps)
Ordinarily, Augusta would never agree to become the mistress of a notorious club owner—whether he’s a lowborn ruffian or the wealthiest man in London or the most intriguing, ill-tempered giant she’s ever encountered … or all three. Calling his bluff raises the stakes (and the heat), but retreat will mean ruin for Augusta. Now, Sebastian wants her total surrender, and he has a few tricks up his sleeve—soul-stealing kisses, unexpected honor, and electrifying persuasion for the woman he never saw coming.

Rating: B-

In Elisa Braden’s Anything but a Gentleman, readers are treated (finally) to Sebastian Reaver’s story, which sees the gruff, brooding giant of a man meet his match in the form of a woman who refuses to be cowed by either his size or his manner.  Sebastian – the owner of one of London’s most popular and exclusive gaming clubs – is a self-made man who doesn’t suffer fools gladly, and prefers to turn a deaf ear to the matchmaking attempts of his friends and the advice from the redoubtable dowager Lady Wallingham (his aunt) whose letters he mostly ignores.  In a previous book, Sebastian, who had believed himself to be a lowborn ruffian or some nobleman’s by-blow, discovered he was in fact Elijah Kilbrenner and heir presumptive to his (distant) cousin James Kilbrenner, Earl of Tannenbrook.  Sebastian has no interest in being an heir, an earl or in getting married so he can start producing babies; Tannenbrook and his wife are young and sure to fill their nursery with strapping boys, and besides, Sebastian likes his life just the way it is.  Even if he has been feeling a little restless recently.

Augusta Widmore has repeatedly requested an appointment with Sebastian and repeatedly been refused.  But she is undeterred and instead, resorts to sneaking into the club (with the aid of a street urchin who distracts the doorman) and making her way to his office.  She can’t take no for an answer if she’s to save her sister Phoebe from ruination; she needs to obtain the markers (for gambling debts) signed by Lord Glassington in order to force him to do the right thing by Phoebe, who is pregnant with his child.  Sebastian holds those markers, and Augusta is willing to do anything in order to obtain them – but she can’t tell him why she needs them and risk her sister’s already shaky reputation.  When Sebastian catches Augusta sneaking into the club a second time, he’s annoyed and angry and hits upon an idea to get rid of her once and for all.  Assuming Augusta wants to force Glassington into marriage herself, Sebastian makes an outrageous demand; he’ll allow her to make use of the markers if she’ll be his mistress for six weeks.  Of course, he’s bluffing.  Augusta is clearly a respectable female who will naturally be horrified at such a disgraceful suggestion and will run away screaming – but Sebastian has reckoned without Augusta’s determination or deep love for her sister and is stunned when she agrees to his proposition.

Now his bluff has been called, Sebastian can’t back down, so he installs Augusta in the almost empty town house he owns but never spends time in, intending to leave her to her own devices.  The few times they’ve met, Augusta’s luscious, Junoesque figure and her willingness to stand up to him have him thoroughly fascinated, but he believes she is angling to marry Glassington; and besides, Sebastian is married to his business and has no desire for a wife. Or so he tells himself.  Until he doesn’t.

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

If Ever I Should Love You (Spinster Heiresses #1) by Cathy Maxwell (audiobook) – Narrated by Mary Jane Wells

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

Once upon a time there were three young ladies who, despite their fortunes, had been on the marriage mart a bit too long. They were known as “the Spinster Heiresses”….

He’s inherited a title, but not a penny to speak of, so the Earl of Rochdale knows he must find a wife – preferably one tolerably pretty and good-tempered but definitely wealthy, and who will exchange her fortune for his family name.

His choice: Leonie Charnock, one of the season’s “Spinster Heiresses”. Years before, the earl had saved the dark-eyed beauty’s reputation, and she is still breathtakingly lovely, leading Rochdale to hope that their marriage will be more than in name only.

However, Leonie doesn’t want to be anyone’s wife. Nearly destroyed by the secrets in her past, Leonie agrees to their union with one condition: There will be a wedding but no bedding. But it’s a condition the new Countess Rochdale isn’t sure even she can keep…

Rating: Narration – A-: Content – B

Given my disappointment with Cathy Maxwell’s last series (Marrying the Duke), I wasn’t sure I was going to read or listen to any of her new Spinster Heiresses novels, but Mary Jane Wells’ name on the cover meant that I couldn’t resist picking up book one for review. If Ever I Should Love You proved to be a stronger book than any in Ms. Maxwell’s previous series, telling the story of a couple with a shared secret in their past which has affected them both profoundly in very different ways. The author tackles some difficult issues with insight and sensitivity as our hero and heroine discover that secrets thought long buried have a way of bleeding through into the present.

Former army officer Roman Gilchrist inherited the earldom of Rochdale on the death of his uncle, and is dismayed to discover that the title is an empty one (i.e., there is no money to go with it) and that he is expected to honour his uncle’s massive gaming debts. Without the funds to do that, or to run his Somerset estate of Bonhomie, Roman has no alternative but to consider marring a wealthy heiress – after all, it’s a common enough practice for men in his situation. The idea sticks in Roman’s craw, but he listens grudgingly to his solicitor – who is also his godfather – extolling the virtues of the three so-called ‘Spinster Heiresses’, three attractive, extremely wealthy young women who are still unmarried because their fathers are holding out for a duke or marquess – but who might accept the holder of one of the oldest titles in England even though he is a mere earl. Roman’s ears prick up when he hears the name of the last of the three – Miss Leonie Charnock. Miss Charnock is beautiful, charming and rich as Croesus, but she is also the woman responsible for ruining Roman’s army career; he was serving in India when they first met, and he killed a fellow officer in a duel over her. Recalling her loveliness, Roman admits it will be no hardship to marry a woman he finds attractive – and deciding that Leonie owes him, Roman determines to marry her. Or rather, to marry her money.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

Sinless (The Shaws #1.5) by Lynne Connolly

This title may be purchased from Amazon

Lord Darius Shaw has never been in love before. But when he renews his acquaintance with lawyer Andrew Graham in a raid on a molly house, where men meet men for forbidden pleasure, they discover mutual feelings as deep as they are dangerous. For while society will turn a blind eye to an aristocrat’s transgressions, Andrew has far more at stake. The son of city merchants, Andrew has a disastrous marriage in his past, and a young daughter to support. He could lose his livelihood, his reputation and even his life—and drag Darius down with him.

Darius and Andrew’s only choice is to deny the true nature of their relationship. But when an enemy Italian spy threatens their secret—and their futures—the two set out to catch him. And in the process they are forced to face their desires—and make a life-changing decision.

Rating: C-

Sinless is book 1.5 in Lynne Connolly’s new series The Shaws, a continuation or spin-off of her seven book Emperors of London series about the powerful Vernon family.  The Shaws are closely related to the Vernons (cousins I think), and some of them appeared in the earlier series as secondary characters.  Book one of The ShawsFearless, featured Lord Valentinian Shaw (both families had a penchant for naming their offspring after Roman emperors) a rake and hellraiser who found himself in court on a murder charge. Thanks to the efforts of barrister Andrew Graham, Val was exonerated and in Sinless, we meet Andrew again as he works to unmask a traitor and tries not to give in to the strong attraction that sparks between him and Val’s twin brother, Lord Darius.

Andrew has been sent by General Court to join a raid on a molly house (a brothel catering to homosexual men) in order to meet a man who is in possession of a list containing details of a network of spies.  As the raid starts and Andrew begins the search for his contact, he is surprised to see Lord Darius Shaw, poised and coolly collected in the midst of the chaos.  Andrew and Darius engage in a brief, wary conversation when Andrew spots the man he is looking for, only to be prevented from confronting him by Darius, who grabs Andrew and kisses him, allowing the other man to make his escape.

Darius has reasons of his own for interfering.  The list contains the names of diplomats and military agents placed throughout Europe by his family and the government, so when he learned of its existence and that it was being offered for sale, he determined to get hold of it himself in order to prevent its being sold to England’s enemies and his family’s rivals.  He had managed to befriend the man in possession of the list with the intention of using their friendship and … shared interests… to obtain it, but the raid put paid to his plans so now he has to find another way – and his first step is to speak to Andrew Graham again in order to find out what he knows.

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

The Bad Luck Bride (Cavensham Brides #1) by Janna MacGregor (audiobook) – Narrated by Rosalyn Landor

This title may be downloaded from Audible.

Alexander Hallworth, Marquess of Pembrooke, will not rest until he gets vengeance on the man who destroyed his family. Just one more piece needs to fall into place for Alex to succeed: he needs to convince the man’s fiancée, the tragically beautiful Lady Claire Cavensham, to marry him instead.

Lady Claire’s “curse” has left her one step away from social ruin: her past three engagements have gone awry, and now her fourth one is headed the same way. Before anyone can learn of her latest scandal, she’s caught in an awkward situation with Alex who then shocks everyone by announcing their engagement.

Forced into marriage, Alex and Claire find themselves unexpectedly drawn to each other. But as the two of them grow closer, will the truth of their union shatter their fragile feelings or is love strong enough to survive?

Rating: Narration – A: Content – C-

Ever eager to find new authors to enjoy – and because Rosalyn Landor’s name on an audiobook cover is guaranteed to make me take a second look – I decided to listen to Janna MacGregor’s début historical romance The Bad Luck Bride, the first in her Cavensham Brides series. The book starts well, as our hero, Alexander Hallworth, Marquess of Pembrooke, vows revenge on the former friend whom he holds responsible for his sister’s death. The first few chapters grabbed my attention as Alex sets his plan into motion, ruthlessly and deviously engineering the downfall of Lord Paul Barstowe by using the man’s predilection for high-stakes gaming to bring him to the brink of financial ruin, and then forcing him to jilt the fiancée whose dowry could have saved him. The “heroine-as-revenge” plot isn’t a favourite of mine, but I was keen to see how Ms. MacGregor would redeem a man capable of stooping so low and turn him into a romantic hero I could root for. Unfortunately however, at around a quarter of the way in, things begin to fall apart. Too many plot points, contrived misunderstandings, choppy writing and inconsistencies in the characterisation of the principals combined to fragment the story’s focus – and not even the extremely talented Ms. Landor could recapture my interest, which waned to such a degree that I kept checking my MP3 player to see how much of the playing time was left.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.