TBR Challenge: Heart of Iron (London Steampunk #2) by Bec McMaster

This title may be purchased from Amazon.

In Victorian London, if you’re not a blue blood of the Echelon then you’re nothing at all. The Great Houses rule the city with an iron fist, imposing their strict ‘blood taxes’ on the nation, and the Queen is merely a puppet on a string…

Lena Todd makes the perfect spy. Nobody suspects the flirtatious debutante could be a sympathizer for the humanist movement haunting London’s vicious blue blood elite. Not even the ruthless Will Carver, the one man she can’t twist around her little finger, and the one man whose kiss she can’t forget…

Stricken with the loupe and considered little more than a slave-without-a-collar to the blue bloods, Will wants nothing to do with the Echelon or the dangerous beauty who drives him to the very edge of control. But when he finds a coded letter on Lena—a code that matches one he saw on a fire-bombing suspect—he realizes she’s in trouble. To protect her, he must seduce the truth from her.

With the humanists looking to start a war with the Echelon, Lena and Will must race against time—and an automaton army—to stop the humanist plot before it’s too late. But as they fight to save a city on the brink of revolution, the greatest danger might just be to their hearts…

Rating: B+

Bec McMaster has created a detailed and original world for her London Steampunk series, a steam-powered but recognisable version of Victorian London that is populated by humans, mechanoids and blue bloods and ruled over by the Echelon.  When I reviewed the first book, Kiss of Steel, I gave a brief outline of the London Steampunk world, so I won’t repeat that here; I’ll assume that if you’re reading this review you know what blue bloods, mechs and verwulfen are and what the Echelon is (and if you don’t, just click on the link above to find out. Or better still, read the books!)  Although each novel features a different central couple, there’s an overarching plot running throughout the series, which means it’s helpful to read them all in order – and there are likely to be spoilers in this review.

Heart of Iron is the second book the series, and it takes place about three years after the events of Kiss of Steel. In that book, we first met the Todd siblings – Honoria, Lena and Charlie – and Honoria, who had worked alongside their scientist father as he attempted to find a cure for the Craving Virus found her HEA with Blade, a rogue blue blood who has made an empire of his own among the rookeries of the East End.  Honoria’s sister Lena never felt at home in the Warren (as Blade’s home is known); not scientifically minded in the way that Honoria was, she was usually overlooked at home, and was brought up on lessons on etiquette and things young ladies should know, prepared for a life in blue blood society.  When the Todds moved to the Warren, seventeen-year-old Lena became fascinated by Will Carver, the big, handsome verwulfen who was Blade’s right hand man, but when, one night, she gathered her courage and kissed him, Will rebuffed her and “he told me he would tolerate my childish little games for Blade’s sake, but that he would prefer it if I didn’t throw myself at him.”  Hurt but determined not to show it, Lena left Whitechapel shortly afterwards with the intention of making her delayed début and returning to society.  Moving into her half-brother Leo’s London mansion as his ward (Leo Barrons is the heir to the Duke of Caine, and can never publicly acknowledge his relationship to the Todds), Lena plunges herself into the social whirl, a whirl which can be an extremely dangerous place for young women like her, who are seen as easy pickings for any blue blood lord until they sign a thrall contract with one, exchanging blood rights for his protection.

But while Lena moves in that dangerous world by night, she is also determined to gain a degree of independence, and to that end, continues to produce incredibly detailed, skilfully-wrought clockwork pieces for Mr. Mandeville, the man to whom she’d once been apprenticed.  Through him, Lena has become involved – albeit peripherally – with the growing humanist movement, who want to oust the Echelon and gain the rights and opportunities they are currently denied.  Lena principally acts as a messenger, carrying encrypted messages from the humanist leader known only as ‘Mercury’ (messages she receives via Mandeville) to the humanists’ contact within the Echelon, whose true identity is also unknown to her.

Will no longer lives at the Warren either, having left the day after Lena kissed him.  He’s still Blade’s muscle, the ‘Beast of Whitechapel’, and visits regularly – although he always times his visits so that he never meets Lena there.  His rejection of her was never because he didn’t want her; he did and still does, but there’s a reason verwulfen are forbidden from taking human mates and Will has no intention of putting Lena in danger.  He was infected with the loupe virus when he was just five years old and it almost killed him; he was then sold to a travelling showman who caged and beat him and exhibited him as a freak. He refuses to risk infecting Lena or to subject her to the horrors and indignities he suffered simply for being who and what he was.

There’s a really well-conceived sub-plot in the book concerning the political manouevering required to broker a treaty between the Echelon and the Scandinavian verwulfen clans against the growing threat posed by fanatical factions in France and Spain.  Barrons asks Will if he will act as a kind of liaison and help win over the more hard-line factions in the Scandinavian party; in exchange, the Echelon will revoke the law that outlaws verwulfen and create a new one that will give verwulfen the same rights as blue bloods. Will isn’t used to mixing in political circles and isn’t comfortable with the idea, but the promised rewards are too good to pass up. He agrees to the proposal – and then asks for Lena’s help to teach him how the ins and outs of blue blood society, not because he longs to spend time with her (hah – you tell yourself that, Will!) but because it will mean he can keep an eye on her and protect her from unscrupulous predators.   Lena decides to use the opportunity to get a bit of her own back on Will, to torture him a little with her nearness and a little flirtation – only to find it backfiring as she realises she’s as desperately attracted to him as she ever was.

Having read the spin off series – London Steampunk: The Blue Blood Conspiracy – I was pleased to meet some of the characters who will play main roles in those stories, most notably Adele Hamilton, who notoriously entraps the enigmatic Duke of Malloryn (who also makes notable appearances here) into marriage.  There are also appearances by a number of the other secondary characters who move seamlessly in and out of the series; another of the things I so enjoy about this author’s work is the way she never shoe-horns in secondary characters just for the sake of it and they’re all integral to the story.

I liked both Will and Lena, although sometimes I found Lena a little too impetuous and apt to leap before she looked.  Will on the other hand… *sigh*…  is your classic big, brooding and tortured hero who will stop at nothing to keep his lady-love safe, even if it means denying himself the only thing he has ever truly wanted.  On the surface, they’re constantly at odds, but beneath, they’re a seething mass of warring emotions that neither knows how to deal with. I did wish Will had told Lena the real reason behind his rejection earlier than he does, but that’s really my only niggle.  Mostly, their romance is really well done; the sexual tension and chemistry between them burns bright and the eventual love scenes are sexy and romantic.

Bec McMaster again achieves a terrific balance between the various different elements of her story, combining a sensual romance with intriguing plotlines and memorable characters.  Heart of Iron is another terrific read and the London Steampunk series deserves a place on any romance fan’s bookshelf.

Proper English by K.J. Charles

This title may be purchased from Amazon

A shooting party at the Earl of Witton’s remote country house is a high treat for champion shot Patricia Merton—until unexpected guests turn the social atmosphere dangerously sour.

That’s not Pat’s biggest problem. She’s visiting her old friend, the Earl’s heir Jimmy Yoxall—but she wants to spend a lot more time with Jimmy’s fiancée. The irrepressible Miss Fenella Carruth, with her laughing eyes and lush curves, is the most glorious woman Pat’s ever met, and it quickly becomes impossible to remember why she needs to stay at arm’s length.

But while the women’s attraction grows, the tensions at Rodington Court get worse. Affairs, secrets, betrayals, and blackmail come to light. And when a body is discovered with a knife between the shoulderblades, it’s going to take Pat and Fen’s combined talents to prevent the murderer destroying all their lives.

Rating: B+

K.J. Charles’ latest book is a companion piece to Think of England, in which readers were first introduced to Pat Morton and Fenella (Fen) Carruth, a pair of formidable ladies who seem already to be rather adept at solving mysteries. Proper English takes place a couple of years before those events, and is their origin story, if you will.  It’s a witty, sharply observed, sweetly romantic and clever country house murder-mystery; in short, everything you’d expect from K.J. Charles (including the dead body.  Maybe especially the dead body!)

Patricia Merton is at a bit of a crossroads in her life.  The youngest of five children – with four older brothers – her father never subscribed to the idea that girls couldn’t and shouldn’t do the things boys did, and he’s grown up to be a confident, competent young woman who knows who she is and makes no apologies for being different to the average eyelash-fluttering, simpering miss.  She’s spent much of her adult life running her older brother’s household, but he’s recently married, and Pat knows continuing to live under the same roof would be a recipe for disaster.  So she’s taking some time to think about what she wants to do next, and is travelling to attend a small shooting party in the north of England, looking forward to spending time with her brother Bill, her old friend, Jimmy, and a few other gentlemen.  She’s a champion shot –the All England Ladies’ Champion in fact – and is pleased to be spending a few days where she can be as mannish as she likes and nobody will care.

But when Bill meets her at the station, she’s disappointed to discover that her plans for a few days shooting with the chaps have been upended because Jimmy’s new fiancée, Miss Fenella Caruth (daughter of a wealthy industrialist) is present, as are Jimmy’s sister and her loathesome husband, his parents, the Earl and Countess of Witton and a handful of other guests. Pat’s enthusiasm for the houseparty wanes; until later that evening she makes the acquaintance of Jimmy’s fiancée, who is quite the loveliest woman Pat has ever seen.

At first, she appears to be just the sort of fluffy, frivolous young woman Pat usually avoids at all cost, but when, the next day, they get to spend a bit of time together (Pat is teaching her to shoot), Pat begins to realise that Fen is more than she appears, and that beneath the polished exterior is a woman who longs to be taken seriously and seen for more than her pretty face (and enormous fortune).

It’s not long before Pat and Fen realise there’s something more than friendship growing between them, but their delight at having found, in each other, someone who really sees them for who they are, has to be put on hold when one of the party is found dead, an ornamental knife buried in his back, and a dreadful storm both confines them all to the house and prevents the immediate attendance of the local police.

Proper English is a proper English romp of a story that combines a Christie-esque country house murder mystery, a tender, sensual romance and a healthy dose of social comment that’s never dry or overdone.

Pat and Fen are opposites in many ways; Pat is pragmatic, no-nonsense and outdoorsy, shrewd, self-possessed and non-judgmental, while Fen has been brought up to be little more than an ornament to a man.  There’s a wonderful moment in the book when she expresses her frustration at the way young women like her are brought up to act helpless and brainless while being simultaneously mocked and despised for displaying the very qualities thought so important in a young lady who wants to attract a husband.  Fen is a natural care-taker and will go out of her way to make other people feel comfortable, even when that effort isn’t reciprocated, while Pat is less inclined to care what people think of her, but is sufficiently intuitive that she doesn’t stomp all over other people’s feelings while going her own way. She and Fen fit together so beautifully, both of them yearning for someone with whom they can really be themselves, and the way they discover each other and the true women behind their facades is superbly done and wonderful to read.

The mystery plot – while not as high-stakes as the one in Think of England – is nonetheless well thought-out, as we learn, along with Pat, that Bill is investigating some financial irregularities that seem to point the finger at the Earl. Ms. Charles keeps this happily bubbling along in the background until she’s ready to bring it front and centre, and it’s classic stuff; a group of disparate individuals with secrets to hide, agendas to pursue, and oodles of mounting tension, a truly nasty villain (who of course gets his just desserts) and our wily, amateur sleuths.

Pat and Fen are great characters – I liked them in Think of England, and liked them even more here – their romance is lovely, the secondary cast is nicely fleshed-out, and it will come as no surprise to anyone familiar with the author when I say that the sense of time and place she instils into the story is impeccable.  Proper English is a delight from start to finish and highly recommended.

 

The Earl’s Countess of Convenience (Penniless Brides of Convenience #1) by Marguerite Kaye

This title may be purchased from Amazon

A countess in name only…

…tempted by a night with her husband!

Part of Penniless Brides of Convenience: Eloise Brannagh has witnessed first-hand the damage unruly passion can cause. Yet she craves freedom, so a convenient marriage to the Earl of Fearnoch seems the perfect solution! Except Alexander Sinclair is more handsome, more intriguing, more everything, than Eloise anticipated. Having set her own rules for their marriage, her irresistible husband might just tempt Eloise to break them!

Rating: C

It isn’t always easy to write a review of an average or sub-par book, and it’s even less so when it’s an average or sub-par book by a favourite author, so I’m sorry to say that The Earl’s Countess of Convenience, the first in Marguerite Kaye’s new four-part Penniless Brides of Convenienceseries is a – fortunately rare – misfire.

In it, we meet Eloise Brannagh, her twin sisters Estelle and Phoebe and their aunt-by-marriage and guardian Kate, Lady Elmswood (in whom I was immediately more interested than the heroine, which wasn’t a good sign), with whom they have lived since the deaths of their parents some five years earlier.

The book opens as Kate has received a letter from her absent husband (the girls’ uncle) in which he suggests that Eloise may wish to consider a friend of his, the Earl of Fearnoch, as a prospective husband. Fearnoch needs to marry quickly in order to secure his title and estates – and with no dowry and no social position to attract suitors, the sisters are not likely to be inundated with suitable offers of marriage, so the possibility of marriage to an earl – albeit a marriage of convenience – is not something to be sneezed at. Eloise agrees to meet the earl and to see if she thinks they will suit; she’s not prepared to sacrifice her life to misery and even though such a match would enable her to support her sisters and attain a degree of independence, she won’t go consent to it if she and the earl don’t get on.

When Alexander Sinclair arrives at the appointed time, Eloise can’t help but wonder why such a gorgeous man would need or want to marry a nobody like her – surely there must be ladies of quality queueing around the block to marry someone so eligible and handsome! Alexander quickly dispels that thought, and the conversation he and Eloise engage in here is refreshingly frank, which I liked; after all these are two complete strangers contemplating a lifetime arrangement for purely practical purposes, so I was pleased that they were both upfront with each other about their plans and motives. Alex explains that the nature of his work – he’s a Victualling Commissioner at the Admiralty – means that he spends a lot of time out of England, and he is adamant that Eloise should realise their relationship will never be anything other than a convenient arrangement for them both. He doesn’t expect or want them to develop feelings for one another, and children are categorically out of the question. Having seen her own parents’ marriage implode because of her mother’s infidelities, her father’s desperate love and their frequent rows, Eloise has absolutely no wish for love or intimacy, so doesn’t see those stipulations as in any way problematic. And because she has no experience of men and her only female role model is a woman living in a loveless, sexless marriage who hasn’t seen hide nor hair of her husband in the entire six years since they wed, she has no idea what those tummy flutterings at the sight of Alex’s smile might mean.

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

Never Deny a Duke (Decadent Dukes Society #3) by Madeline Hunter

This title may be purchased from Amazon

He is the last duke standing

. . . the sole remaining bachelor of the three self-proclaimed Decadent Dukes. Yet Davina MacCallum’s reasons for searching out the handsome Duke of Brentworth have nothing to do with marriage. Scottish lands were unfairly confiscated from her family by the Crown and given to his. A reasonable man with vast holdings can surely part with one trivial estate, especially when Davina intends to put it to good use. Brentworth, however, is as difficult to persuade as he is to resist.

The Duke of Brentworth’s discretion and steely control make him an enigma even to his best friends. Women especially find him inscrutable and unapproachable—but also compellingly magnetic. So when Davina MacCallum shows no signs of being even mildly impressed by him, he is intrigued. Until he learns that her mission in London involves claims against his estate. Soon the two of them are engaged in a contest that allows no compromise. When duty and desire collide, the best laid plans are about to take a scandalous turn—into the very heart of passion . . .

Rating: B+

I was really relieved to discover that Never Deny a Duke was a big improvement on the previous book in the series, A Devil of a Duke, which just scraped a C grade from me last year. And I liked the premise of this one – and the way Ms. Hunter handles it – quite a lot. Davina MacCallum has come to London in order to petition for the return of the Scottish lands and title she believes were unfairly … ‘diverted’ to an English nobleman following the Jacobite uprising in the mid-1700s, but although the King (George IV) had given her reason to believe he would support her when they met during his recent visit to Edinburgh, when he returns to London nothing happens, so Davina comes south to further her cause. It turns out that the lands in question were given to the Dukes of Brentworth, and the current holder of the title – reserved, discreet and formidable Eric Marshall – has no intention of just handing over part of his estate. This story could so easily have been one of those “feisty-heroine-stomps-her-foot-a-lot-while-driving-reserved-hero-round-the bend” stories, but Ms. Hunter instead presents two grown-up, sensible characters who, while striking sparks off each other, approach the situation with a degree of common sense. They are opponents and neither wants to give way, but they’re not stubborn for the sake of it and while each wants to be proven right, there’s no sense that they’d resort to underhandedness to do it.

Dabney Grinnan and I discussed this latest book by Madeline Hunter over at All About Romance.

An Earl Like You (Wagers of Sin #2) by Caroline Linden (audiobook) – Narrated by Beverley A. Crick

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

When you gamble at love…

When Hugh Deveraux discovers his newly inherited earldom is bankrupt, he sets about rebuilding the family fortune – in the gaming hells of London. But the most daring wager he takes isn’t at cards. A wealthy tradesman makes a tantalizing offer: marry the man’s spinster daughter and Hugh’s debts will be paid and his fortune made. The only catch is that she must never know about their agreement….

You risk losing your heart…

Heiress Eliza Cross has given up hope of marriage until she meets the impossibly handsome Earl of Hastings, her father’s new business partner. The earl is everything a gentleman should be, and is boldly attentive to her. It doesn’t take long for Eliza to lose her heart and marry him.

But when Eliza discovers that there is more to the man she loves – and to her marriage – her trust is shattered. And it will take all of Hugh’s power to prove that now his words of love are real….

Rating: Narration: A-; Content: A-

Caroline Linden’s An Earl Like You was one of my favourite books of 2018, and was actually one of the very few historical romances that really hit the spot for me last year.  If you’re a regular visitor to AudioGals and read my reviews (thank you for that!) you’ll probably know that historical romance has always been my favourite sub-genre – and you may have noticed I’ve been reviewing fewer and fewer of them over the past year or two.  Why? Well, good historicals have been very thin on the ground lately, and not all of the good ones have made it into audio; and many of those that  have  made it have been assigned narrators I don’t care for (and/or who I knew wouldn’t do the book justice).  That’s one of the reasons I delayed listening to An Earl Like You for so long (it came out in August 2018) – I loved the story and knew that Beverley A. Crick would do a good job with the narration, and I wanted to wait and savour it.

When Hugh Devereux became the Earl of Hastings he hadn’t expected to inherit an enormous pile of debt along with the title.  The previous earl had been a wonderful man – a loving husband and father, a good friend to many and well-thought of by everyone who knew him – yet he’d died leaving his son in total ignorance of the true state of the family finances and having spent both Hugh’s sisters’ dowries AND the money that was supposed to have provided a widow’s jointure for their mother.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

The Earl’s Inconvenient Wife (Sisters of Scandal #2) by Julia Justiss

The obvious solution:

A marriage of convenience!

Temperance Lattimar is too scandalous for a Season, until finally she’s sponsored by Lady Sayleford. The whole charade feels wrong when she doesn’t want a husband, but Temper feels awful when MP and aristocrat Gifford Newell is appointed to “protect” her at society events. With her past, she knows she’s not an ideal wife…but then a marriage of convenience to Giff becomes the only option!

Rating: B+

The Earl’s Inconvenient Wife is the second in Julia Justiss’ duology about the Lattimar sisters, twins Prudence and Temperance, who have been dubbed the Sisters of Scandal not because they’ve ever done anything scandalous, but because of their mother’s notoriety.  It’s the companion novel to A Most Unsuitable Match, which saw Prudence finding her happy ever after; now it’s the turn of Temperance (and I have to say here that I really didn’t care for her shortened name of Temper), whose ambitions run towards travel and adventure – and most definitely not towards marriage.

Temper’s determination not to marry is one she’s long held, so in some ways, her mother’s tarnished reputation may work in her favour, as it means Temper will not be received in the best society or attract any respectable suitors, which is fine by her.  What she truly wants to do is to persuade her father to release the funds set aside for her dowry so that she can travel the world – and perhaps collect precious artefacts on his behalf.  Lord Vraux is a distant, unemotional man who barely acknowledges his daughters’ existence; and secretly Temper is not especially surprised that his disinterest drove their mother into the arms of other men. His passion is his collections and it’s that that Temper hopes to use in order to obtain her funds.   Sadly, however, he will hear nothing of it, and instead insists that Temper makes her début and has a season.  He wants her to find a husband and doesn’t seem to take into account the difficulty presented by her lack of reputation; so Temper decides she’ll do what he asks and have her season, fully intending to make sure she ends the season unwed.

The most recent scandal involving her mother – which was actually none of her making – is fresh in the minds of society, but Temper is determined to go her own way and make her début in London rather than in Bath, as Prudence is going to do.  When her brothers express their concern, their friend, Gifford Newell – whom Temper has known forever – says he will speak to his godmother Lady Sayleford, one of the doyennes of society – to see if she will sponsor Temper.  Lady Sayleford is a force to be reckoned with, and although her countenance will not whitewash Temper’s name in society, it will at least ease her way a little.  Temper agrees… but hadn’t accounted for the fact that Lady Sayleford would pull Giff into the mix by insisting that he be present at events Temper attends in order to scare off the disreputable men who will do doubt flock to her a beautiful, well-dowered young woman whose mother’s reputation for being ‘fast’ means she’s viewed as loose-moraled and easy prey.

Giff is an upcoming, hard-working MP who is part of the group known as Hadley’s Hellions (who featured in the author’s recent series of books of the same name).  He’s the second son of an earl whose parents have never had time for him, instead lavishing all their affection and attention on the heir, his brother Robert, so he’s made his own way in life and is content with his lot.  For the most part.  He’s known Temper for years, but recently has begun to see her as different eyes; no longer is she the annoying younger sister of his closest friends, but a lovely, desirable young woman he has no business thinking about in that way.  The trouble is that he senses that his attraction to her isn’t one-sided, and that she is fighting her feelings for him every bit as hard as he is fighting his for her. But to think of anything other than friendship is impossible. Not only does Temper never intend to marry, when Giff takes a wife, he needs to marry someone who will make a good political wife and hostess, someone who can help and support him in his work – not someone like Temper, who has always been headstrong and impulsive.

The friends-to-lovers trope is a particular favourite, so I had expectations going in that this would be a story I’d enjoy – and it was.  Temperance and Giff are likeable, intelligent and sincere characters and I appreciated that they both took each other’s aims and ambitions seriously – especially Giff, who never dismissed Temper’s desire to travel and went out of his way to provide opportunities for her to further her interest and discuss far-flung places and cultures with those who had experienced them.

As always with this author, her story and characters remain very much in and of their period.  Temper may have ambitions different from those of many well-bred young women, and may be more forthright than most, but she’s never TSTL or prancing around asking us to look at how unconventional she is.  Given Giff’s position as an MP, there are interesting snippets about the politicial situation of the time, and I particularly liked the subtle way Ms. Justiss incorporates some pertinent observations about marriage at the time, mostly through her depiction of the sad union between Lord and Lady Vraux (and her portrayal of Temper’s mother, a woman who has suffered for behaviour that wouldn’t have rated the merest batt of an eyelash had she been a man) – and of the way society has received the news that upcoming marriage of a widowed viscount – father of Ben Tawny from Convenient Proposal to the Lady – to the woman he has always loved but could not marry before (Ben’s mother).

It’s not a spoiler to say that Temper and Giff end up married – thanks to the machinations of a spoiled society miss who manoeuvres them into a compromising situation – or that Giff’s personal situation undergoes a material change (it’s obvious from the book’s title).  Both these events mean that the plans he and Temper had held to so hard are going to have to undergo drastic changes, but fortunately, the strong friendship that has always existed between them enables them to face them together and grow closer as they do so.  I really liked the way they worked as a couple; they communicate well and even though Temper is quite young (she’s only twenty, I think) she and Giff handle their altered prospects with maturity, with Temper displaying a strength of character and competence that Giff had perhaps not previously suspected she possessed.  Ms. Justiss writes their relationship and romance really well, establishing a deep friendship between them but also adding those touches of longing and attraction which grow as the story progresses.

The Earl’s Inconvenient Wife is a well-developed, well-written romance with likeable characters and a strong sense of time and place that I’m sure all fans of historical romance will enjoy.

The Claiming of the Shrew (The Survivors #5) by Shana Galen

This title may be purchased from Amazon

What happens when a marriage of convenience isn’t so convenient?

Lieutenant Colonel Benedict Draven has retired from the army and spends most of his days either consulting for the Foreign Office or whiling away the hours at his club with his former comrades-in-arms. He rarely thinks about the fiery Portuguese woman he saved from an abusive marriage by wedding her himself. It was supposed to be a marriage in name only, but even five years later and a world away, he can’t seem to forget her.

Catarina Neves never forgot what it felt like to be scared, desperate, and subject to the whims of her cruel father. Thanks to a marriage of convenience and her incredible skill as a lacemaker, she’s become an independent and wealthy woman. But when she’s once again thrust into a dangerous situation, she finds herself in London and knocking on the door of the husband she hasn’t seen since those war-torn years in Portugal. Catarina tells Benedict she wants an annulment, but when he argues against it, can she trust him enough to ask for what she really needs?

Rating: B-

Shana Galen’s series featuring The Survivors, a group of men who survived being part of a specially selected suicide squad during the Napoleonic Wars, continues with The Claiming of the Shrew, which tells the story of the squad’s commander, Lieutenant Colonel Benedict Draven, and his Portuguese wife, Catarina.  I’ve read the first couple of books in the series – although I missed the last two – so I knew who Draven was and was eager to read his story, especially as he’d been present but rather enigmatic  in the other novels and was clearly highly respected and well-regarded by his men. Plus, he’s in his mid-forties and I’m always up for a romance featuring a more mature hero.

In her introduction to the novel, Shana Galen explains that it began life on her website/newsletter as a short story showing how Draven met and married Catarina.  That is included in The Claiming of the Shrew as a kind of prologue, with the story then continuing five years after the couple parted following their hasty marriage in Portugal.

Amid the battlefields of Portugal in 1814, Benedict Draven has orders to create a company of thirty men who will be used to go on the most dangerous of missions.  He knows it’s akin to forming a suicide squad, but orders are orders, and he sets about making a list, putting Major Neil Wraxall (Earls Not Allowed) in command.  Draven already feels weighed down by guilt at the prospect of sending many of these men to certain death, and a bad day is made worse when a young woman manages to sneak into his tent, points a gun at him and demands that he marry her.

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