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


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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.

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

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


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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.

The Trouble With Honor by Julia London (audiobook) – Narrated by Rosalyn Landor

trouble honor

Desperate times call for daring measures as Honor Cabot, the eldest stepdaughter of the wealthy Earl of Beckington, awaits her family’s ruin. Upon the earl’s death she and her sisters stand to lose the luxury of their grand home – and their place on the pedestal of society – to their stepbrother and his social-climbing fiancée. Forced to act quickly, Honor makes a devil’s bargain with the only rogue in London who can seduce her stepbrother’s fiancée out of the Cabots’ lives for good.

An illegitimate son of a duke, George Easton was born of scandal and grows his fortune through dangerous risks. But now he and Honor are dabbling in a perilous dance of seduction that puts her reputation and his jaded heart on the line. And as unexpected desire threatens to change the rules of their secret game, the stakes may become too high even for a notorious gambler and a determined, free-spirited debutante to handle.

Rating: A for narration; B for content

The Trouble with Honor, the first book in a new series from Ms London, tells the story of the eldest of the four Cabot sisters. With their sick father not expected to live much longer and their mother gradually succumbing to what we would today recognise as dementia, Miss Honor Cabot has little alternative but to assume parental responsibility for her younger sisters.

She’s vivacious and beautiful, and has not been without male admirers. Having had her heart broken a couple of years previously by a young man who showed every sign of being equally smitten until he offered for another woman, Honor has been reluctant to look for a suitable husband. But now, with her family situation as it is, she is starting to think she has left it too late to make any match, for what man will want – or be able to afford – the burden of three sisters and a sick mother?

The difficulty of the sisters’ situation is exacerbated by the fact that their stepbrother is engaged to be married to Miss Monica Hargrove, whom Honor has convinced herself will use her influence over him to see them all turned out of the house before the ink is dry on the marriage license.

Honor needs to buy them all some time while she finds herself a suitably rich and biddable husband. The plan she comes up with is, to be honest, pretty daft; she thinks that if she can separate her brother and his fiancée, he will have nobody urging him to turn them out and shut their mother away in a home in the far wilds of Wales and they’ll be safe for a little longer. With that plan in mind, she approaches Mr George Easton, illegitimate – and unacknowledged – son of a royal duke; a man with a reputation as a gambler and risk-taker – and asks for his help. She wants him to “turn Monica’s head” – he’s handsome, charming and an expert in the art of seduction, and Monica is an attractive young woman, so it shouldn’t prove too onerous or difficult a task.

Honor has, however, reckoned without George’s perceptiveness. He may have a reputation for recklessness, but he’s no fool and immediately discerns the reasons behind Honor’s request:

“With [your father] on his deathbed, you fear that a new countess will not look kindly to keeping four stepsisters as they should like to be kept.”

She finds his insight more than a little disturbing – and for his part, even though he’s stunned by her audacity, George can’t help but be intrigued and admire Honor’s cheek… as well as other parts of her anatomy 😛

But admiration wins out, and against his better judgement the deal is struck, with George agreeing to draw Monica into a flirtation at the next available opportunity.

Given the improbable premise and a heroine whose determination to destroy her stepbrother’s happiness seemed certain to make her unlikeable, I had a few misgivings about the story, and if it wasn’t for the fact that I’d listen to Rosalyn Landor read the phone book, I might have set it aside and moved on to something else. But her performance drew me in and kept me listening; and I ended up enjoying the audiobook more than I thought I would. The story has a few flaws, but none of them were so huge as to pull me out of it and fortunately, Honor does grow up during the course of the book and come to admit her plan was unkind and ridiculous. In fact, as her character is gradually revealed to be rather more than the spoiled, selfish young woman she at first seems, I found myself warming to her. She really doesn’t care about being able to afford fashionable clothes or hats – all she wants is to be able to look after her sisters and make sure their mother is cared for. Her options are limited – sadly typical for a young woman of the time – but she’s not one to sit back and take whatever hand fate deals her, and she goes for what she wants – even if her methods might be somewhat questionable. In that, she’s similar to George, who is also someone who is willing to go out on a limb for what he wants.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals