The Secret Casebook of Simon Feximal by K.J. Charles (audiobook) – Narrated by Gary Furlong

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

A story too secret, too terrifying – and too shockingly intimate – for Victorian eyes.

Dear Henry,

I have been Simon Feximal’s companion, assistant, and chronicler for 20 years now, and during that time my Casebooks of Feximal the Ghost-Hunter have spread the reputation of this most accomplished of ghost-hunters far and wide.

You have asked me often for the tale of our first meeting, and how my association with Feximal came about. I have always declined, because it is a story too private to be truthfully recounted, and a memory too precious to be falsified. But none knows better than I that stories must be told.

So here is it, Henry, a full and accurate account of how I met Simon Feximal, which I shall leave with my solicitor to pass to you after my death.

I dare say it may not be quite what you expect.

Robert Caldwell
September 1914

Rating: Narration – A-: Content – A

K.J. Charles’ The Secret Casebook of Simon Feximal is a collection of wonderfully imaginative, well-written and downright spooky tales of ghostly goings on and supernatural shenanigans set in the late Victorian era featuring ghost-hunter extraordinaire, Simon Feximal, and his chronicler and long-term companion Robert Caldwell. The author draws on ancient legends and late Victorian sensation fiction for inspiration and has crafted a set of original and compelling creations while also charting the development of the relationship between her two protagonists, a lasting partnership built on a solid foundation of love and respect that endures through dark days and the direst of adversity.

When we first meet Robert Caldwell, he is a making a name for himself as a journalist for The Chronicle. He has recently inherited old, dilapidated Caldwell Place and decides to sell it rather than live there. The only problem is that it appears to be haunted – and when the walls start bleeding, Robert realises he’s got to do something about it before he can even think of putting the place up for sale. So, he calls in the renowned ghost-hunter Simon Feximal in the hope that he will be able to get rid of his unwanted, ghoulish guest, and is immediately struck by Simon’s imposing form and air of command. Feximal clearly knows what he’s doing – but both he and Robert have reckoned without the strength of a spirit long denied its desires, and a highly-charged, passionate encounter ensues which sends the mischievous spirit packing and sees our principals left to their own – most pleasurable – devices.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

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The Best of 2017 – My Favourite Books of Last Year.

It’s something of a tradition to put together a “favourite books of the year” list around Christmas and New Year – I’m a little late with mine this year, but here’s the Best of 2017 list I put together for All About Romance.  Did any of them make your Best Books of 2017 list?

I had to make some really tough choices – here are some of the books that also deserved a place on the list, but which I just couldn’t fit in!

Think of England by K.J. Charles (audiobook) – Narrated by Tom Carter

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

Lie back and think of England…

England, 1904. Two years ago, Captain Archie Curtis lost his friends, fingers, and future to a terrible military accident. Alone, purposeless, and angry, Curtis is determined to discover if he and his comrades were the victims of fate, or of sabotage.

Curtis’s search takes him to an isolated, ultra-modern country house, where he meets and instantly clashes with fellow guest Daniel da Silva. Effete, decadent, foreign, and all-too-obviously queer, the sophisticated poet is everything the straightforward British officer fears and distrusts.

As events unfold, Curtis realizes that Daniel has his own secret intentions. And there’s something else they share – a mounting sexual tension that leaves Curtis reeling.

As the house party’s elegant facade cracks to reveal treachery, blackmail, and murder, Curtis finds himself needing clever, dark-eyed Daniel as he has never needed a man before…

Rating: Narration – B: Content – A

I’ve been eagerly awaiting the release of Think of England ever since I learned that Audible Studios was going to be releasing a number of K.J. Charles’ backlist titles in audio. It’s one of my favourite books of hers (one of my favourite books, full-stop, actually) and while I admit to a bit of trepidation when I saw that an unknown narrator had been used, I’m pleased to be able to say that on the whole, Tom Carter does a pretty good job.

The story is set in 1904, and opens with former army captain Archie Curtis arriving at Peakholme, near Newcastle, for a house-party given by Sir Hubert Armstrong, a wealthy industrialist. Curtis was invalided out of the army after losing three fingers and sustaining a serious knee injury at Jacobsdal in South Africa, occasioned when a faulty batch of guns backfired and exploded, also maiming and killing a number of his men.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals

An Unsuitable Heir (Sins of the Cities #3) by K.J. Charles (audiobook) – Narrated by Matthew Lloyd Davies

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

On the trail of an aristocrat’s secret son, enquiry agent Mark Braglewicz finds his quarry in a music hall, performing as a trapeze artist with his twin sister. Graceful, beautiful, elusive, and strong, Pen Starling is like nobody Mark’s ever met – and everything he’s ever wanted. But the long-haired acrobat has an earldom and a fortune to claim.

Pen doesn’t want to live as any sort of man, least of all a nobleman. The thought of being wealthy, titled, and always in the public eye is horrifying. He likes his life now – his days on the trapeze, his nights with Mark. And he won’t be pushed into taking a title that would destroy his soul.

But there’s a killer stalking London’s foggy streets, and more lives than just Pen’s are at risk. Mark decides he must force the reluctant heir from music hall to manor house, to save Pen’s neck. Betrayed by the one man he thought he could trust, Pen never wants to see his lover again. But when the killer comes after him, Pen must find a way to forgive – or he might not live long enough for Mark to make amends.

Rating: Narration – A: Content – B+

K.J. Charles brings her wonderful Victorian-set romantic/gothic/mystery Sins of the Cities trilogy to a most satisfying conclusion with An Unsuitable Heir, in which missing heirs are found, peril is encountered, murder is a distinct possibility and love grows in the unlikeliest of places. I’ve found the trilogy utterly captivating and entirely delightful; the characters, the setting and the plotting are extremely strong throughout and given that I’m a fan of the sort of Victorian sensation novel which Ms. Charles has taken as her inspiration, I’ve relished the way she has incorporated key elements of the genre into the trilogy. While An Unsuitable Heir isn’t my favourite book of the three (that’s An Unnatural Vice), it’s nonetheless an exciting and fitting end to the series; and another excellent, vibrant performance from Matthew Lloyd Davies makes it a terrific listen.

As I’ve covered the individual plots of the other books in my reviews (linked below), I’m not going to attempt a comprehensive rehash here. I’ll just say that if you’re thinking of listening to this audiobook without reference to the others, I wouldn’t recommend it; the series really does need to be listened to in order. The romances are played out in each, but the overarching plotline of the search for the missing heir to the Moreton earldom runs through all three novels – and because of this, there will be spoilers for the earlier books in this review.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

Wanted: A Gentleman by K.J. Charles (audiobook) – Narrated by Greg Patmore


This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

Wanted, a Gentleman, or Virtue Over-Rated.

The grand romance of Mr. Martin St. Vincent – a merchant with a mission. Also a problem, Mr. Theodore Swann – a humble scribbler and advertiser for love.

Act the first: the offices of the Matrimonial Advertiser, London, where lonely hearts may seek one another for the cost of a shilling.

Act the second: a pursuit to Gretna Green (or thereabouts) featuring a speedy carriage, sundry rustic, a private bedchamber.

In the course of which are presented romance, revenge, and redemption, deceptions, discoveries, and desires – the particulars of which are too numerous to impart.

Rating: Narration – A- Content: B+

Wanted: A Gentleman is a standalone novella from the pen of K.J. Charles in which two very different men undertake a journey to foil an elopement and, along the way, discover that perhaps they’re not so very different after all. The audiobook clocks in at around four-and-a-half hours, but a thoroughly entertaining four-and-a-half hours it is, packing in plenty of social comment, witty dialogue, engaging characters, steamy love scenes and fascinating facts about the rigours of coach travel in Regency England.

Jobbing writer and part-time scribbler of romantic novels, Theodore Swann is the proprietor of the Matrimonial Advertiser, a weekly newssheet in which, for the price of a shilling, men and women can place advertisements extolling their virtues and setting out their requirements for a life partner. Into his dingy office one day bursts Martin St. Vincent, a tall, handsome and obviously well-to-do black man who makes it immediately clear that he is in no mood for pleasantries and explains that he wants to know the identity of one of his advertisers, a man calling himself “Troilus”. This individual has been corresponding with “Cressida”, the seventeen-year-old daughter of a wealthy merchant who is his former owner, and her father wants to put a stop to it. St. Vincent is brusque and to the point, cutting through Theo’s sales patter and asking him to name a price for his assistance.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

An Unsuitable Heir (Sins of the Cities #3) by K.J. Charles

This title may be purchased from Amazon

On the trail of an aristocrat’s secret son, enquiry agent Mark Braglewicz finds his quarry in a music hall, performing as a trapeze artist with his twin sister. Graceful, beautiful, elusive, and strong, Pen Starling is like nobody Mark’s ever met—and everything he’s ever wanted. But the long-haired acrobat has an earldom and a fortune to claim.

Pen doesn’t want to live as any sort of man, least of all a nobleman. The thought of being wealthy, titled, and always in the public eye is horrifying. He likes his life now—his days on the trapeze, his nights with Mark. And he won’t be pushed into taking a title that would destroy his soul.

But there’s a killer stalking London’s foggy streets, and more lives than just Pen’s are at risk. Mark decides he must force the reluctant heir from music hall to manor house, to save Pen’s neck. Betrayed by the one man he thought he could trust, Pen never wants to see his lover again. But when the killer comes after him, Pen must find a way to forgive—or he might not live long enough for Mark to make amends.

Rating: B

I freely admit that I’ve been chomping at the bit to get my hands on this third and final instalment of K.J. Charles’ Sins of the Cities trilogy, eager to discover who has been violently disposing of anyone with knowledge of the missing heir to the Moreton earldom and to find out how all the pieces of the puzzle the author has so cleverly devised fit together.

Note: The books in this series could be read as standalones (although I wouldn’t advise it!), but there is an overarching plot that runs through all three, so there are spoilers in this review.

A trail of arson and murder began – literally – on the doorstep of unassuming lodging house keeper, Clem Tallyfer, when the dead, mutilated body of one of his lodgers, the drunken, foul-mouthed Reverend Lugtrout, was dumped on the front steps.  An investigation by two of Clem’s friends – journalist Nathaniel Roy and private enquiry agent, Mark Braglewicz – revealed that someone was trying to do away with anyone who knew that the Earl of Morton (Clem’s half-brother) had committed bigamy.  He entered into a marriage in his youth with a beautiful young woman of low social standing and soon abandoned her, not knowing she was pregnant. She gave birth to twins – a boy and a girl she named Repentance and Regret – who have since disappeared without trace. These facts have set in train a series of events which have led to blackmail, abduction, arson and murder; someone is killing those with any knowledge of the earl’s first marriage and is trying to find his children – most importantly his legal heir – likely with similarly nefarious intent.

In the previous book, An Unnatural Vicewe discovered that the twins – who go by Pen and Greta – have been hiding in plain sight for the past decade, earning money and acclaim as the Flying Starlings, the music-hall trapeze act Clem takes Rowley Green (the object of his affections) to see near the beginning of book one, An Unseen Attraction (hah! Clever, Ms. Charles – they’re an ‘attraction’ and are also ‘unseen’ for who they really are ;)).  Following Moreton’s death, the killer – whose identity and motivations remain unknown – steps up his attempts to find the twins, which is when Justin Lazarus, medium extraordinaire and self-proclaimed, all-round shifty bastard finds himself in big trouble. Forced to flee his home – and London – in fear for his life, when An Unsuitable Heir opens, Justin and Nathaniel Roy are hiding out at Nathaniel’s house in the country while Mark attempts to contact Pen and Greta and keep them safely hidden until such time as Pen can stake his claim to the title.

Readers of An Unnatural Vice will already know that Pen wants nothing to do with the earldom and will have some idea as to why. Mark quickly discovers this for himself when he manages to meet up with Pen, seemingly by accident at first, and inveigles him into going for a drink. He pretends to be unaware of Pen’s true identity, and is, for want of a better word, gobsmacked by his physicality and presence. Pen is gorgeous, with an athletic build, beautiful long hair and wears gold earrings and face paint – and Mark is captivated. He’s a pretty no-nonsense sort of bloke, and to him, beauty is beauty in whatever shape or form it takes; Pen is beautiful and Pen is… Pen. Mark would dearly love to get to know him better, but has to remind himself that Pen is the subject of an investigation and that Pen, Greta and two of his dearest friends – Clem and Nathaniel (because of Justin) – are in danger until Pen is installed as the Earl of Moreton.

But Pen does not want to live as an earl; in fact he doesn’t want to live as a man – or rather, he doesn’t want to live ‘just’ as a man. Because he isn’t. Nor is he a woman. He’s Pen. He’s a Flying Starling. He’s who he is and some days he wants to wear face paint and chiffon scarves; others he’s content to grow stubble and look in the mirror to see his large, well-muscled form and recognise himself. I can’t claim any expertise whatsoever in this area, but I know K.J. Charles is someone who takes great pains to get things like this right and I trust her judgement. All I can say is that her portrayal of Pen as gender-fluid is extremely well done and the way she writes him as sometimes being completely uncomfortable in his own skin and his reactions to it ring very true and made it easy for someone like me – a middle-aged, heterosexual woman – to understand his thoughts and emotions.

When Mark acts out of a need to keep Pen safe, it causes a deep rift between them; but it soon emerges that getting Pen out of London and down to the family seat at Crowmarsh might not have been the safest thing after all. A couple of ‘accidents’ point to the killer having followed the twins out of London, and while Pen’s uncle and would-be-earl, Desmond Taillefer, and his son try to downplay the threat, Clem sends Mark to the house in the hope that he will be able to get to the bottom of things and keep Pen alive.

I think it’s fair to say that An Unsuitable Heir is weighted firmly towards the mystery, which wasn’t really a problem, as I desperately wanted to know whodunnit and why. Pen’s inner conflict – over what it would mean to live the rest of his life as someone else – is extremely well done, as is his confrontational relationship with Desmond, who regards Pen as pretty much an abomination. Fortunately, Pen’s sister Greta is very much in his corner; she’s fierce and determined, and while she freely admits that she would like to have the settled, comfortable life of the sister of an earl, she understands perfectly what being forced to become something he is not will do to Pen and is prepared to stand by him. But all this – which is extremely insightful and well-written – means that the love-story takes a bit of a back seat and consequently feels less well-developed than those in the earlier books. That said, the pairing works well. Both Mark and Pen are different to the norm; Mark because of his disability (he was born with one arm) and Pen because of his fluid sexuality, so both of them have had to deal with prejudice and suspicion of one form or another for almost all their lives, which helps them to understand and empathise with each other.

The twists and turns of the plot make for an exciting finale, and I didn’t see the identity of the bad guy coming until shortly before the reveal. As in the all the best sensation novels, all ends well, and we leave our heroes – all of them – safe happy and looking forward to the future.

I love the way K.J. Charles has incorporated the elements of Victorian popular fiction into her plotlines; the writing is sublime and the characters are three-dimensional people with lives of their own whom I imagine laughing over a pint or two and bantering with Phyllis at the Jack and Knave long after I’ve finished reading their stories. Even though my final rating for An Unnatural Heir is a little lower than my grades for the other two books (principally because of the slightly underdeveloped romance) I am nonetheless recommending it and the entire Sins of the Cities trilogy very strongly.

Spectred Isle (Green Men #1) by K.J. Charles

This title may be purchased from Amazon.

Archaeologist Saul Lazenby has been all but unemployable since his disgrace during the War. Now he scrapes a living working for a rich eccentric who believes in magic. Saul knows it’s a lot of nonsense…except that he begins to find himself in increasingly strange and frightening situations. And at every turn he runs into the sardonic, mysterious Randolph Glyde.

Randolph is the last of an ancient line of arcanists, commanding deep secrets and extraordinary powers as he struggles to fulfil his family duties in a war-torn world. He knows there’s something odd going on with the haunted-looking man who keeps turning up in all the wrong places. The only question for Randolph is whether Saul is victim or villain.

Saul hasn’t trusted anyone in a long time. But as the supernatural threat grows, along with the desire between them, he’ll need to believe in evasive, enraging, devastatingly attractive Randolph. Because he may be the only man who can save Saul’s life—or his soul.

Rating: A

K.J. Charles gets her new Green Men series of paranormal historical romances off to a terrific start with Spectred Isle, an utterly captivating mix of adventure, mystery and romance all bound up in old English folklore, myth and magic.

Randolph Glyde is the last member of an old English family whose lineage goes back centuries.  Throughout the ages, the Glydes have been charged by successive monarchs with the protection of England from supernatural entities. Known as the Green Men, theirs is an ancient duty and an ancient magic that borrows powers from the land, but now their numbers are severely depleted and England is vulnerable to attack from mystical forces.  The First World War and the concurrent occult War Beneath devastated many families and the Glydes were no exception, as the government, not content with conventional weapons – tanks, guns and bombs –  recruited as many occultists and arcanists as they could and set them to unleashing their very specialised form of warfare on the enemy.  Of course, the other side had the same idea, and the resulting war irrevocably damaged the veil between the world of the supernatural and the human world; it now lies in shreds and Randolph – whose entire family was wiped out in one devastating engagement – is one of the few left alive who is able to track down and repel the various creatures and malignant entities that are passing through the veil with increasing frequency.

Saul Lazenby is an Oxford educated archaeologist who was stationed in Mesapotamia (modern Iraq) during the war, but who was dishonourably discharged and has struggled in the years since to find employment owing to his deeply tarnished record and reputation.  He is grateful for his position as assistant to Major Peabody, an eccentric who believes London to be a hotbed of magical powers, and whom Saul privately thinks is a harmless crackpot. Still, working for him is better than starving in the streets, and Saul obediently sets out to investigate the Major’s latest theory concerning an ancient burial stone located in Oak Hill Park just north of London.  Before he can locate it, however, an old oak tree bursts into flame for no apparent reason – and Saul finds himself being abruptly interrogated by a rude, disdainful and obviously aristocratic man who – just as abruptly – disappears when a few more people arrive on the scene.

This is only the first of several seemingly accidental meetings between the two men, in which they view each other with hostility and suspicion.  Saul thinks Randolph is following him; Randolph wonders if Saul’s appearances at the sites of exploding trees, ghostly manifestations and other strange happenings means he is somehow connected to or even responsible for them.

But soon, Randolph has to admit that perhaps there is a method in this madness and that Saul has some, as yet unknown, part to play in England’s defence against attack from beyond the veil. Through Saul’s PoV, the reader is initiated into Randolph’s magical world as the pair are drawn into the investigation of supernatural occurrences that appear to be somehow related to the life – and death – of Geoffrey de Mandeville, a villainous, twelfth century nobleman.

K.J. Charles does a wonderful job of building a sense of expectation, menace and urgency throughout the early parts of the novel and beyond, gradually broadening out her focus into an intricately plotted story that weaves a magical spell of its own on the reader.  The world-building is absolutely fantastic and the characterisation – of secondary characters as well as the two principals – is superbly rich and detailed.  The magic in this story is brilliantly conceived and it’s obvious that a considerable amount of research has gone into creating the specifics of this pagan-Earth magic. It’s not simple and it’s not at all benign; it’s dangerous and malevolent and devious, and those who fight it have to experience pain and sacrifice in order to become worthy of that task.

The romance between Saul and Randolph is beautifully developed as these two men, both of them lonely and haunted, draw closer and fall in love.  Moving from suspicion and scepticism to a tentative truce, friendship and more, the relationship develops very naturally and never feels rushed or forced.  I really felt for Saul and what he’d been through; his desire for love and affection cost him very dear, but he carries doggedly on, bearing his scars quietly and refusing to let his past define him.  And while Randolph seems, at first to be an overbearing, arrogant git, it soon becomes clear he’s nothing of the sort.  Well, he’s arrogant, yes, but he’s also rather charming underneath the bluster, possessed of a very dry wit and completely dedicated to the tasks with which he’s been invested.  I loved watching them as they readjusted their opinions of each other and recognised that here, at last, was someone with whom they could let down their guards and be themselves.  The chemistry between them is scorching and the love scenes are extremely sexy, but there’s no doubt that they also possess a strong emotional connection and are deeply attached to one another.

While the storyline featuring Randolph and Saul is wrapped up by the end of the book, I’m hoping we’ll see more of them as the series progresses and they continue the fight to keep England safe from whatever is trying to get through from the other side.  Sceptred Isle is funny, clever, sexy and spooky (seriously – the bit where our heroes are stuck on the road gave me the willies!) and I couldn’t put it down.  It’s an out-and-out corker of a tale and is very highly recommended.