Sinful Scottish Laird (Highland Grooms #2) by Julia London (audiobook) – Narrated by Derek Perkins

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon.

Widowed and forced to remarry in three years’ time or forfeit her son’s inheritance, Daisy Bristol, Lady Chatwick, has plenty of suitors vying for her hand – and her fortune. But a letter from a long-lost love sends Daisy and her young son to her Scottish Highland estate to buy time for his return. Along the way she encounters the powerful Cailean Mackenzie, laird of Arrandale and a notorious smuggler, and she is utterly – though unwillingly – bewitched.

Cailean has no use for any Sassenach in his glen. But Daisy’s brazen, flirtatious nature and alluring beauty intrigue him. When her first love appears unexpectedly at her estate, Cailean knows that a passionate woman like Daisy cannot marry this man. And to prevent the union, Cailean must put his own life at risk to win her heart.

Rating: Narration – A; Content – B

This second book in Julia London’s Highland Grooms series, Sinful Scottish Laird, is an enjoyable, character-driven romance that takes place over thirty years after the events of Wild Wicked Scot, and in which the hero is the eldest son of Laird Arran Mackenzie and his English wife, Margot. Cailean Mackenzie spends most of his time at his own estate of Arrandale, working on the house he is building; and when he’s not doing that, he and his younger brother, Aulay, are braving the excise men and crossing the sea to France in order to bring back cargoes of the essential goods that shortages and high rates of taxation have put beyond the reach of the ordinary Scot – as well as the wine and brandy they can sell at a profit.

Out riding with a group of his men one day, Cailean comes across a broken-down carriage carrying an assortment of Englishmen and women, most of whom, it seems, are terrified and would quite happily shoot him. Only one person among them doesn’t appear to share that fear, a lovely woman that Cailean learns is Lady Chatwick, on her way to visit the lodge at Auchanard which is part of her young son’s inheritance. Cailean has long sworn off romantic entanglements – a youthful love affair gone wrong decided him that marriage wasn’t for him and he’s content with his solitary life – but there’s something about the way the woman seems quite oblivious to the fears of those around her and the way she looks at him that Cailean finds intriguing – against his better judgement.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

Hard-Hearted Highlander (Highland Grooms #3) by Julia London

This title may be purchased from Amazon

An indomitable governess…a brooding Highlander…a forbidden affair…

An ill-fated elopement cost English-born governess Bernadette Holly her reputation, her unsuitable lover and any chance of a future match. She has nothing left to fear–not even the bitter, dangerously handsome Scot due to marry her young charge. Naive wallflower Avaline is terrified to wed Rabbie Mackenzie, but if he sends her home, she will be ruined. Bernadette’s solution: convince Rabbie to get Avaline to cry off…while ignoring her own traitorous attraction to him.

A forced engagement to an Englishwoman is a hard pill for any Scot to swallow. It’s even worse when the fiancee in question is a delicate, foolish young miss–unlike her spirited, quick-witted governess. Sparring with Bernadette brings passion and light back to Rabbie’s life after the failed Jacobite uprising. His clan’s future depends upon his match to another, but how can any Highlander forsake a love that stirs his heart and soul?

Rating: C+

I’ve enjoyed the previous two books in Julia London’s Highland Grooms series in spite of my general aversion to Scottish/Highland set romances; both books are strongly character driven with, in the case of the first book, Wild Wicked Scot, a dash of politics and intrigue thrown in to add an extra layer of interest. So I’ve been looking forward to this third book, in which the hero is Rabbie Mackenzie, younger son of Laird Arran and his English wife, Margot. But I’m afraid I can’t say that I enjoyed Hard Hearted Highlander as much as the other books, mostly because the eponymous hero is such a miserable bastard for well over half of the story, and it’s difficult to find any vestige of sympathy or liking for a man who is so ill-mannered and self-centred.

That’s not to say that Rabbie doesn’t have grounds for what is immediately apparent is a case of severe depression. The book is set in 1750, five years after the Battle of Culloden, and takes place in a very different world to the previous novel. Many families and clans were wiped out on the battlefield and after, and of those who weren’t many have fled – to the cities, or overseas – and the landscape has been forever changed. Even the powerful Mackenzie clan is struggling to look after its own; their neutrality in the conflict did not protect them from the widely wrought devastation and times are hard.

Like many of his countrymen, Rabbie is frustrated and bitter about the huge change the battle has wrought in the Highlander way of life, but he is also mired in grief for the woman he loved, Seona MacBee, who was killed, along with her family, either during or after the uprising. It’s been years since her death, but Rabbie mourns her every day, and continues to scowl and growl his way through life, much to the consternation of his family. They love him dearly and hate to see him so melancholy, but don’t know what to do to help – and know that he would probably reject it if they tried.

As the Mackenzies struggle to rebuild their fortunes after the rebellion, it becomes necessary for Laird Mackenzie to broker a match between Rabbie and the young daughter of Lord Kent, an English nobleman who has purchased the nearby estate of Kileaven and looks set to buy up other lands around Balhaire. If that happens, there won’t be enough land to sustain even the small number of Mackenzies who are left, and a this arrangement is the only way to protect Balhaire and its dependents. Rabbie recognises the importance of this marriage to his family and agrees to marry the girl. He doesn’t care – he’s dead inside anyway.

When the Kents arrive, it’s immediately apparent that the two families are not a match made in heaven.  Lord Kent is an abrasive boor who is more often drunk than not and his wife and daughter live in fear of him.  Aveline Kent is only seventeen; she’s pretty and sweet, but her excessive timidity and utter lack of individuality and spirit irritate Rabbie intensely and he finds himself unable to say a civil word to her.  His complete lack of consideration for the young woman, and for the difficult situation she has been pushed into similarly irritate Aveline’s maid and companion, Bernadette Holly, who makes very clear her disdain for Rabbie and dislike of the way he is treating her friend.

Of course, this is a romance novel, so I don’t think I’m spoiling anything by saying that that disdain leads to some harsh words and eventually to verbal sparring that sends the sparks flying between Rabbie and Bernadette.  For the first time in years, he finds himself attracted to a woman, but things are moving quickly, and with the wedding just days away and the fate of his clan at stake, how can they have a future together?

Like Rabbie, Bernadette has a heart-breaking tragedy in her past, but unlike him, she doesn’t allow it to colour her every thought and move.  As a younger woman, she fell in love and eloped with a man her father thought beneath her.  He had her followed and brought home, the marriage was annulled and the young man sent away, never to be seen again.  Bernadette later learned he had died at sea – but even worse, after the separation she discovered she was expecting his child only to lose the baby when she was several months along, and is now unable to have children of her own.  Ruined and with her reputation in shreds, Bernadette is now employed by the Kents as a maid-cum-companion, and it’s to her that Lord Kent looks to prepare Aveline for her upcoming marriage.  It’s an impossible task however; the dour Highlander shows no inclination whatsoever to even try to get to know his bride, and doesn’t care that Aveline has no alternative but to obey her brutish father.

I liked Bernadette; she’s come through her tragedy and emerged as a stronger person who isn’t easily cowed by anyone.  She goes toe-to-toe with Rabbie and calls him on his crap, hinting to him that he’s not the only person to ever have been hurt and telling him outright that he needs to stop acting like a spoiled child, man up and deal with it.  In the absence of treatments for depression, it’s fortunate for Rabbie that his interest is piqued by Bernadette’s spirit and he is not a little inspired by the way she has managed to pull herself out of the despair she experienced upon her own losses.

The biggest problem with Hard-Hearted Highlander is that about two thirds of it is Rabbie being a rude, unfeeling and discourteous dickhead to his poor fiancée – who isn’t to blame for anything other than being an empty-headed seventeen-year-old – and Rabbie and Bernadette pondering their losses during a number of lengthy inner monologues.  I liked the author’s overall message about the need to let go and move on, but the romance is rushed, there’s an odd subplot that made me a little uncomfortable, and the various flashbacks to Rabbie’s life with Seona are out of place; we already know he’s heartbroken, and these reinforcements add nothing to the overall story.

I understand that there are to be more books in this series, and I certainly intend to read them, but I can’t wholeheartedly recommend this one.  It’s well-written and Ms. London has once again made good use of her research into the period to create a suitably subdued atmosphere that reflects the political situation of the time.  But ultimately, the romance falls flat; the hero is too unappealing for most of the book, and his turn-about, when it comes, is too fast and too late.  Hard-Hearted Highlander is certainly not the place to start with the Highland Grooms, and even if you’re following the series, you might want to give it a miss.

Sinful Scottish Laird (Highland Grooms #2) by Julia London

sinful-scottish-laird

This title may be purchased from Amazon

Widowed and forced to remarry in three years’ time or forfeit her son’s inheritance, Daisy Bristol, Lady Chatwick, has plenty of suitors vying for her hand and her fortune. But a letter from a long-lost love sends Daisy and her young son to her Scottish Highland estate to buy time for his return. Along the way she encounters the powerful Cailean Mackenzie, laird of Arrandale and a notorious smuggler, and she is utterly and unwillingly bewitched.

Cailean has no use for any Sassenach in his glen. But Daisy’s brazen, flirtatious nature and alluring beauty intrigue him. When her first love appears unexpectedly at her estate, Cailean knows that a passionate woman like Daisy cannot marry this man. And to prevent the union, Cailean must put his own life at risk to win her heart.

Rating: B

Julia London returns to the Scottish Highlands in the region of Balhaire for Sinful Scottish Laird, the second book in her Highland Grooms series. Like the previous book, Wild Wicked Scot, the story takes place during a time of great unrest, with the Jacobites who are loyal to the deposed Stuart kings still actively trying to topple the Hanoverian monarchy installed just over three decades earlier. Unlike that book, however, the political background here is much more low key, even though there is the ever present discontent among the Highland population at their treatment by the English, especially when it concerns the ridiculously high taxes that are being levied on the basic goods that are needed to survive.

Shortages and high taxation rates naturally encourage the growth of “Free Trade” – smuggling – and Cailean Mackenzie, oldest son and heir of Laird Arran Mackenzie (hero of Wild Wicked Scot) and his brother Aulay frequently cross the seas to France in order to bring in cargoes of necessities as well as the finest French wines and brandies that can be sold at a tidy profit.

When he isn’t engaged in piracy, Cailean spends most of his time at his estate, Arrandale, working upon the house he is building for himself there. A youthful romance-gone-wrong has left him shy of emotional involvement and preferring to keep his relations with women informal and short-lived. At thirty-five, he has decided that love and marriage isn’t for him; he has grown to like his own company and solitary pursuits and is content to leave it to his brothers Aulay and Rabbie to secure the Mackenzie succession.

Daisy Bristol, the widow of Viscount Chatwick, has travelled to the Highlands to hide out at the hunting lodge of Auchenard, which is part of her late husband’s estate and now belongs to her nine-year-old son, Ellis. In his will, the late viscount stipulated that Daisy must marry within three years of his death, or her son’s inheritance will be forfeit – meaning Ellis will inherit the estate, but not the money to support it.  Naturally, Daisy is furious; her husband actually told her to her face that he believed she would mismanage their son’s finances, which is why he added that claue to his will AND instructed Bishop Craig to help find Daisy a suitable second husband.  Not wishing to subject herself to the control of another man – at least, not straight away – Daisy has put off marrying again for the past two years, but now realises the error of her ways as her time is running out.  But then, out of the blue, news reaches her that she thinks will solve her problems.  Before her parents made the match with Chatwick, Daisy had fallen in love with a young naval officer, Robert Spivey, but because he was not of her rank, was not allowed to marry him and he went away to sea.  But now he has returned, and Daisy hopes that perhaps they can rekindle their romance with a happier outcome this time.  But the bishop is eager to arrange a betrothal for her, and because her situation is widely known and there is no shortage of men eager to marry her money, Daisy decides it will be safer for her to get away from London and all those fortune-hunting potential suitors in order to await Rob’s return.

She, her son and their entourage are not far from their destination, when their carriage wheel breaks and they are stuck in the middle of nowhere.  A group of riders approaches and offers help, but the English party is suspicious and believes they are about to be set upon – all except Daisy, who keeps a clear head and engages the leader of the men in conversation.  Inside, however, she’s anything but calm.  The big, handsome Scotsman with the piercing blue eyes stirs her blood and steals her breath, and it’s all she can do to politely send him on his way.  But she can’t stop thinking about him, and the strength of her reaction; she’s been a widow for two years, and even when her husband was in good health, she’s never experienced such intense desire.

Over the next days and weeks, Daisy and Cailean encounter each other frequently, and while he is initially grumpy and downright hostile towards her, he gradually begins to admire her spirit and to enjoy spending time with Ellis, a quiet, but friendly boy who, Cailean realises, has had no proper male role model in his life.  I liked that it’s Daisy who makes no secret of her admiration of Caliean and her attraction to him, while he’s adamant that he isn’t interested in her flirtation and doesn’t want to be “trifled with” – although as he comes to know her, he certainly does flirt back a little, and shows that beneath his guarded exterior is a man possessed of considerable warmth, charm and humour.

Of course, Cailean eventually discovers that Daisy has laid waste to all the barriers he’d erected around his heart, but there is more separating them than the fact that he’s a Scot and she’s English.  It’s true that the English are not looked upon kindly by the Scots – and vice-versa – but there’s also the fact that with Ellis holding an English title, he needs to be educated and brought up in England so that he can make the connections he will need later in life.  And complicating things still further,  there’s the unexpected appearance in Scotland of Robert Spivey, formerly Captain Spivey of the Royal Navy – and the man who has been trying to apprehend Cailean and Aulay for more than a year.

I confess that I’m not the greatest fan of books with the words Highland or Scot in the title, as many of those I’ve read seem to have recycled the same plots and characters, but I’ve been pleasantly surprised by this series so far. Sinful Scottish Laird is an extremely readable, character-driven romance in which the relationship between Cailean and Daisy remains front and centre throughout. The obstacles they have to face are very real, and although they are perhaps overcome a little too conveniently by the end, the journey on which the author takes us in order to get there is well put-together and contains moments of poignancy and heartbreak.  There is a well-drawn secondary cast, and the background of hardship and political instability against which the tale is set permeates the story without being intrusive or detracting from the main storyline.  The romance is lovely, the central characters are likeable, and the writing is infused with warmth and humour, making this a book I’d certainly recommend to others.

Wild Wicked Scot (Highland Grooms #1) by Julia London (audiobook) – Narrated by Derek Perkins

wild-wicked-scot-audio

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

Born into riches and groomed in English luxury, Margot Armstrong didn’t belong in a Scottish chieftain’s devil-may-care world. Three years ago she fled their marriage of convenience and hasn’t looked back – except to relive the moments spent in wild, rugged Arran McKenzie’s passionate embrace. But as their respective countries’ fragile unity threatens to unravel, Margot must return to her husband to uncover his role in the treachery before her family can be accused of it.

Red-haired, green-eyed Margot was Arran’s beautiful bride. Her loss has haunted him, but her return threatens everything he has gained. As the Highland mists carry whispers of an English plot to seize McKenzie territory, he must outmaneuver her in games of espionage – and seduction. But even as their secrets tangle together, there’s nothing to prevent love from capturing them both and leading them straight into danger.

Rating: Narration – A-; Content – B

I confess straight out that I’m not the world’s biggest fan of books with the word “Scot” or “Highlander” in the title as the majority of those I’ve read have seemed to have identical plots and characters. So reviewing Wild Wicked Scot, the first in Julia London’s new Highland Grooms series wasn’t an automatic choice for me – until I saw Derek Perkins listed as the narrator. I’ve listened to him several times before and he always delivers a solid, entertaining performance, so with him at the helm, I settled in to enjoy at least the narration – and discovered that, taken as a whole, the listen exceeded my expectations.

Lady Margot Armstrong, the daughter of the Earl of Norwood , is nearly eighteen, beautiful, flighty – and rather spoiled. She enjoys the attentions of the well-mannered, courtly young gentlemen around her and fully expects she will eventually marry one of them and continue living in the style to which she is accustomed. Until one night when, completely out of the blue, her father introduces her to Laird Arran Mackenzie and announces that they are to be married.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

The Scoundrel and the Debutante by Julia London (audiobook) – Narrated by Rosalyn Landor

soundrel debutante

The dust of the Cabot sisters’ shocking plans to rescue their family from certain ruin may have settled, but Prudence Cabot is left standing in the rubble of scandal. Now regarded as an unsuitable bride, she’s tainted among the ton. Yet this unwilling wallflower is ripe for her own adventure. And when an irresistibly sexy American stranger on a desperate mission enlists her help, she simply can’t deny the temptation. The fate of Roan Matheson’s family depends on how quickly he can find his runaway sister and persuade her to return to her betrothed. Scouring the rustic English countryside with the sensually wicked Prudence at his side – and in his bed – he’s out of his element. But once Roan has a taste of the sizzling passion that can lead to forever, he must choose between his heart’s obligations and its forbidden desires.

Rating: A for narration; B- for content

The Scoundrel and the Debutante is the third in the series of books about the four Cabot sisters that began in The Trouble With Honor. The first two books saw the eldest two sisters, Honor and Grace, find love and happiness, albeit in rather unconventional ways – Honor proposed to her lover in front of a crowd at a gaming den, and Grace set out to trap a man into marriage and trapped the wrong one! But society being what it is, even four years later, the scandal surrounding her sisters continues to taint the reputation of Prudence, a conventional young woman who has always done what has been expected of her but who faces the prospect of spinsterhood at twenty-two, simply because of the damage done by her sisters.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

The Scoundrel and the Debutante (Cabot Sisters #3) by Julia London

scoundrel and the debutante

When a man on a mission takes on a beautiful but unlikely ally, seduction and adventure are inevitable…

The dust of the Cabot sisters’ shocking plans to rescue their family from certain ruin may have settled, but Prudence Cabot is left standing in the rubble of scandal. Now regarded as an unsuitable bride, she’s tainted among the ton. Yet this unwilling wallflower is ripe for her own adventure. And when an irresistibly sexy American stranger on a desperate mission enlists her help, she simply can’t deny the temptation.

The fate of Roan Matheson’s family depends on how quickly he can find his runaway sister and persuade her to return to her betrothed. Scouring the rustic English countryside with the sensually wicked Prudence at his side—and in his bed—he’s out of his element. But once Roan has a taste of the sizzling passion that can lead to forever, he must choose between his heart’s obligations and its forbidden desires.

Rating: C

This third book in Julia London’s Cabot Sisters series is set around four years after the first two. In those, the eldest two of the four sisters – Honor and Grace – found love (and husbands) in rather unconventional ways which led to much scandal and gossip, leaving their younger sisters, Prudence and Mercy, rather tarred with the same brush.

For her part, Mercy is not particularly bothered, being focused on making a career as an artist and caught up with all the excitement of getting ready for her first term at a prestigious art school. But for Prudence, the third sister, her sisters’ escapades have proved almost ruinous. Now twenty-two she has no suitors, nor the prospect of any. Thanks to Grace’s husband, the Earl of Merryton, she has a suitable dowry, but even after four years, the name “Cabot” is besmirched and Prudence is resentful and thoroughly fed up.

In fact, at the beginning of the book, she is not an especially likeable character. She is petulant and whiny, blaming her poor prospects entirely on her older sisters – both of whom, incidentally, bear very little resemblance to the women who proposed to a known rake in a seedy gambling den (Honor) and who trapped the wrong man into marriage (Grace). Prudence has more than lived up to her name over the years; she has done exactly as she should all her life, protected her reputation, been circumspect in her actions and acted as the perfect young lady. But because of the actions of others, her prospects of having a husband and family of her own have been dashed, so her unhappiness is, at least, well-founded.

When the chance comes for her to make a short stay with a friend, she grabs it, willing to do anything – even visit someone who is happily married and in expectation of a child – to get away from home. While she is waiting for the coach, she encounters a handsome, somewhat irascible stranger, and Prudence is immediately smitten. Being the pattern card of propriety hasn’t done her any good, so she decides to live dangerously for once, and on impulse, decides to abandon her plans and accompany him to his destination – just to make sure he gets there safely, of course.

Roan Matheson has recently arrived in England from America in search of his wayward, scatterbrained sister, Aurora. That young lady had been visiting relatives in England but has not yet returned home, having informed her brother that she had been invited to stay for longer by some other, newly-acquired friends. Roan is furious with her – not just because she has failed to stick to her original plans without a thought for how that might affect anyone else, but also because she has a fiancé waiting at home, a young man who is key to cementing the alliance between his father’s company and the Matheson’s successful building and lumber business. Faulty directions have delayed Roan in his pursuit, and his frustration is only adding to his impatience to be off to find Aurora so he can go back home to his business and, possibly, to make an advantageous match of his own.

The Scoundrel and the Debutante (although to be completely honest, Roan is no scoundrel, and as Prudence is a couple of years past her come-out, she is no longer a debutante!) is a road-trip romance, the bulk of the story taken up with Roan and Prudence’s journey and the various mishaps that befall them on the way. As they travel, they come to know and understand each other better, but heartbreak looms when they realise that they really are an ocean apart. Prudence can’t envisage leaving the world she knows in order to be with him, and Roan has commitments which he can’t, in all honour, ignore or abandon.

Roan is a handsome, honourable and devoted hero and I liked Prudence’s determination to break the mould and do something unexpected. Even though she is not very engaging to start with, she does grow up a bit during the course of the story and come to realise that not everything is about her.

The Scoundrel and the Debutante is as well-written as the two previous entries in this series, but I can’t say that it’s particularly gripping or memorable. The romance isn’t completely convincing, the conflict later in the story is contrived and the story lacks a certain deftness of touch and humour which makes it feel a little on the stodgy side. If you’re following the series, then you might want to pick this up for completeness, but if not, then I’d suggest the earlier books would be a better introduction to the Cabot sisters.

The Devil Takes a Bride by Julia London

devil takes a bride

A plan born of desperation…

Once the toast of society, Grace Cabot and her sisters now await the shame of losing high status and fine luxuries upon the death of the Earl of Beckington. The dire circumstances are inevitable unless, of course, Grace’s wicked plot to seduce a wealthy viscount into marriage goes off without a single hitch. But once a stolen embrace with the wrong man leads her to be discovered in the arms of Geoffrey, the Earl of Merryton, her plan takes a most unexpected—and scorching—twist.

…and altered by passion.

Governed by routine and ruled by duty, Geoffrey had no desire for a wife before he succumbed to Grace’s temptation. Though his golden-haired, in-name-only bride is the definition of disorder, he can’t resist wanting her in every way. But once her secrets meet his, society might consider their lives to be ruined beyond repair…while Geoffrey might just see it as a new beginning.

Rating: B-

Readers were introduced to the Cabot sisters in the first in this four-book series, The Trouble with Honor. The two eldest sisters – Honor and Grace – are only a year or so apart in age, and have both had a couple of seasons. Although beautiful, witty, and much sought-after, neither has accepted a proposal of marriage, having found the chase to be much more fun than settling on one particular suitor.

But now their stepfather is terminally ill, and their mother is showing the first signs of madness (we would recognise this today as Alzheimer’s Disease) – and Honor and Grace are brought down to earth with a bump. When Lord Beckington dies, they will have nowhere to live and very little money – and once word gets out about their mother’s illness, their chances of marrying well will be practically nil. After all – what man is going to want to saddle himself with the expense of his wife’s sisters and insane mother?

Believing Honor’s marital prospects to be poor, Grace decides it’s down to her to make a match with a man wealthy enough to be able to support them all, and she has just such a one in her sights.

Lord Amherst is young, handsome, the brother of an earl and a man who has often singled Grace out as the recipient of his flirtations. He has recently removed to Bath, so Grace follows him there, her desperation to secure a home for her family leading her to plan a truly despicable act; she is going to trap him into marriage.

Grace’s plan works to a T – except that she entraps the wrong man and ends up having to marry Amherst’s older brother, the austere Earl of Merryton instead.

The story then follows these two very different people as they attempt to find a way to live together, an attempt that is hampered not only by Merryton’s knowledge of what Grace had intended and her guilt, but also by the fact that he is a very troubled man.

The wedding is hastily arranged, and afterwards, the earl takes Grace to his country estate near Bath. Deciding there is nothing to be gained by moping or cowering away from the rather saturnine stranger with whom she is to share her life, Grace sets out to try to make something of their marriage, regardless of its inauspicious beginning.  In spite of that contemptible act, Grace turns out to be a strong and engaging heroine who genuinely wants to understand her husband and to be a good wife to him.

Jeffrey Donovan has lived rather a solitary life. Brought up by a cruel and authoritarian father to believe he had to be perfect, he suffers from a compulsive disorder and finds it very difficult to cope with the inconsistencies and the unpredictability of everyday life. He is also plagued by images of what he believes to be sexual deprativies; and he has found that the only way he can banish both them and his fear of losing control is by counting and doing mathematical calculations. To be honest, he’s not all that depraved (this is an historical romance, after all, not an erotic novel) – but I suppose it’s plausible that a young man who was brought up as Jeffrey was, and who has no close male friends with whom to get drunk and talk about girls could have come to see the idea of getting turned on by thoughts of girl-on-girl action or a bit of light bondage as abnormal and perverted (!)

While Jeffrey is at first rather starchy and stand-offish, he tries, in his own way, to understand what Grace wants, and his gradual unbending is rather sweet. Like Grace, his one driving principle has been to protect his family – and when he realises, towards the end of the book, that he is in danger of repeating his father’s mistakes, it’s very much to his credit that he decides to do something about it even though it is incredibly difficult for him.

The chemistry between Jeffrey and Grace is strong and their relationship is well-written. Jeffrey’s fear of losing control and Grace’s inexperience make their first sexual encounters awkward and a little uncomfortable to read, which, given their situation, makes perfect sense. Thankfully, this isn’t a story that relies on misunderstandings to create tension – it’s there because of the situation in which the protagonists find themselves and because of the fact that they both have much to learn about each other and big adjustments to make.

The book contains some elements that are perhaps a little darker than are commonly found in historical romance, and it tackles a difficult subject in what seems to me to be a fairly realistic manner. Lady Beckington’s dementia is presented sensitively, and the scene in which the entire family gathers for a meal is very touching, showing the normal chaos of family life as well as providing a bit of an epiphany for Jeffrey, who sees his wife’s family accepting their mother for who she is and treating her as part of the family, even as her illness progresses.

Jeffrey’s mental issues are also handled sympathetically, and I did appreciate that Grace didn’t turn out to be some sort of miracle cure for him. It’s clear that he is always going to have problems, although we see him begin to take steps to learn to live with them more positively towards the end of the book. I did think that perhaps there were a couple of things which fell into place a little too easily for him, but I’m not an expert on these things, so I’m not going to dismiss the possibility that he could learn to adapt.

I enjoyed reading The Devil Takes a Bride (although Jeffrey is not a devil – bedevilled perhaps, but certainly not a bad person), and while it may help to have read the first book, it’s not absolutely necessary as this works perfectly well as a standalone. While I can’t say I noticed any serious flaws, I did, however come away from it feeling as though it was a little insubstantial, even given the somewhat difficult subject matter. This is one of those times when I’m grading based on a gut instinct as to where this book sits in comparison to others I’ve read recently, hence the B-. Above average, but perhaps not a book I’ll be re-reading in the very near future, although I will probably continue to follow the series.