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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Sinless (The Shaws #1.5) by Lynne Connolly

This title may be purchased from Amazon

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

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

Rating: C-

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

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

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

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

Enlightened (Enlightenment #3) by Joanna Chambers (audiobook) – Narrated by Hamish McKinlay

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

David Lauriston has been recuperating at Lord Murdo Balfour’s Laverock estate for the last five months. At Laverock, he has regained his health and confidence and has found – with Murdo – more happiness and contentment than he has never known before.

David is all too aware that some day soon he will have to leave Laverock – and Murdo – and return to his legal practice in Edinburgh, just as Murdo will have to return to his life in London. But when David’s mentor, Patrick Chalmers, asks David to return to Edinburgh to visit him on his deathbed, it seems that day has come sooner than either David or Murdo would have wished.

Chalmers begs David to undertake one last piece of business for him: to secure the future of Chalmers’s daughter Elizabeth. But to carry out his old mentor’s wishes, David must travel to London, with Murdo.

No sooner have the two men arrived in the capital than they encounter Murdo’s ruthlessly manipulative father, who reveals a shocking secret that rocks David to his foundations. What’s more, when David discovers Elizabeth is facing far greater danger than even her father feared, he is determined to help her, no matter the cost to his own safety.

As the stakes rise, it is Murdo who must choose what he is prepared to sacrifice to keep David at his side, and ask whether there is any possibility of lasting happiness for men like them.

Rating: Narration – A: Content – A

Enlightened completes Joanna Chambers’ trilogy of historical romances set mostly in Edinburgh in the 1820s. Because there are overarching plotlines, it really is necessary to listen to all three books in order so as to enjoy the complete story; and because of that, there will be spoilers for books one (Provoked) and two (Beguiled) in this review.

At the end of Beguiled, we left young advocate David Lauriston and his lover, Lord Murdo Balfour, travelling north to Murdo’s Perthshire estate following an accident in which David’s leg had been badly broken. Enlightened opens some five months later, with David very much on the mend and enjoying his time at Laverock, where he has been acting as Murdo’s man of business. He is also very much enjoying his life with Murdo, one filled with affection, closeness (and great sex!), something he had never thought to experience. David dreads the end of their idyll, and the thought of parting from Murdo – probably for ever – is devastating, but the time is approaching when he must return to Edinburgh and his growing legal practice. David’s anxiety about the future is compounded by the still-nagging suspicion that Murdo is keeping something from him. He has never been able to forget Murdo’s long-ago declared intention to marry and continue to take male lovers (as so many men of their persuasion do) and he absolutely refuses to share or be relegated to the role of ‘dirty secret’.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

Tramps and Thieves (Murder and Mayhem #2) by Rhys Ford (audiobook) – Narrated by Greg Tremblay

This title is available to download from Audible via Amazon

Whoever said blood was thicker than water never stood in a pool of it.

Retiring from stealing priceless treasures seemed like a surefire way for Rook Stevens to stay on the right side of the law. The only cop in his life should have been his probably-boyfriend, Los Angeles Detective Dante Montoya, but that’s not how life – his life – is turning out. Instead, Rook ends up not only standing in a puddle of his cousin Harold’s blood but also being accused of Harold’s murder…and sleeping with Harold’s wife.

For Dante, loving the former thief means his once-normal life is now a sea of chaos, especially since Rook seems incapable of staying out of trouble – or keeping trouble from following him home. When Rook is tagged as a murder suspect by a narrow-focused West LA detective, Dante steps in to pull his lover out of the quagmire Rook’s landed in.

When the complicated investigation twists around on them, the dead begin to stack up, forcing the lovers to work together. Time isn’t on their side, and if they don’t find the killer before another murder, Dante will be visiting Rook in his prison cell – or at his grave.

Rating: Narration – A+: Content – B+

I so enjoyed Murder and Mayhem, the first book in Rhys Ford’s series about the cop and the (ex) cat burglar, that I was tempted to move straight on to book two, Tramps and Thieves immediately it came out. But then I told myself to be a good little reviewer and listen to some of the other things that were – admittedly – ahead of it on my TBL. So I did. But now here I am to tell you that, in spite of some similarities in the plotline (someone is Out To Get Rook), Tramps and Thieves is every bit as entertaining as Murder and Mayhem; Dante and Rook are every bit as engaging as they were before and Greg Tremblay’s narration is every bit as awesome.

At the end of Murder and Mayhem, L.A. detective Dante Montoya and Rook Stevens, the ex-thief who’d haunted Dante’s thoughts for years, were an established couple – although it was clear that things weren’t going to be plain sailing for the rather mis-matched duo. Falling in love with someone who spent most of his life on the wrong side of the law is something Dante never expected, and loving the acerbic, vulnerable and complicated Rook has turned his life upside down. But in a good way.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

As You Wish (Shatterproof Bond #1) by Isobel Starling (audiobook) – Narrated by Gary Furlong

This title is available to download from Audible via Amazon

One wedding, two best men, one hell of a love story!

Declan Ramsay’s brother Oliver was marrying Annabelle Aiken at a fairytale castle on the banks of Loch Ness in Scotland. The bride and groom decided that Annabelle’s gay younger brother would share the best man duties with Declan. Declan had never met the kid who was to be his joint best man. Sam Aiken was abroad, working as an interpreter and finishing his studies. He wouldn’t meet Declan until a few days before the wedding, so the best men communicated and planned their speech by email for more than a year.

But on meeting Sam Aiken, Declan is surprised to realize the kid isn’t a kid at all, but a tall, blond, and athletic young man. Declan is sure he’s straight, so he’s alarmed by the ferocious attraction he feels for Sam. And as the attraction is reciprocated, the events at Dunloch Castle change everything Declan has ever believed about himself.

But, is Samuel Aiken all that he appears to be?

Rating: Narration – A-: Content – C+

As You Wish is the first book in Isobel Starling’s Shatterproof Bond series which – so far – comprises four books (and a prequel) in which the storylines are all inter-related and the romance progresses throughout. I knew before I started listening that this story wasn’t self-contained and that it is to be continued into the next book (Illuminate the Shadows) and beyond, so please be aware of that before you decide to listen to As You Wish.

It’s a novella-length listen, coming in at just over four hours, and opens with two very different young men bumping – literally – into each other at Heathrow Airport as they each rush to catch a plane. Uptight control freak Declan Ramsey isn’t pleased when a scruffy back-packer almost canons into him, and is even less impressed when he finds the same man in the seat next to his on the flight to Edinburgh. He’s flying home to attend his younger brother’s wedding; Oliver Ramsey is marrying Annabelle Aiken, daughter of Declan’s boss, an incredibly wealthy property developer, at a fairytale castle on the banks of Loch Lomond, and Declan and Annabelle’s brother, Sam, are sharing best man duties. Because Sam has been living abroad for the past couple of years – he works as an interpreter and translator for his father’s company – Declan and Sam have been corresponding by email during that time, working out various details and planning their joint speech, and very quickly fell into an easy online friendship. Truth be told, Declan is a bit of a grouch; at thirty-two he’s never had a serious relationship and all the dates he’s gone on lately have been disasters – but the emails from Annabelle’s young, geeky brother have never failed to cheer him up, and he’s looking forward to finally meeting the kid.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

It Takes Two to Tumble (Seducing the Sedgwicks #1) by Cat Sebastian

This title may be purchased from Amazon

Some of Ben Sedgwick’s favorite things:

Helping his poor parishioners
Baby animals
Shamelessly flirting with the handsome Captain Phillip Dacre

After an unconventional upbringing, Ben is perfectly content with the quiet, predictable life of a country vicar, free of strife or turmoil. When he’s asked to look after an absent naval captain’s three wild children, he reluctantly agrees, but instantly falls for the hellions. And when their stern but gloriously handsome father arrives, Ben is tempted in ways that make him doubt everything.

Some of Phillip Dacre’s favorite things:

His ship
People doing precisely as they’re told
Touching the irresistible vicar at every opportunity

Phillip can’t wait to leave England’s shores and be back on his ship, away from the grief that haunts him. But his children have driven off a succession of governesses and tutors and he must set things right. The unexpected presence of the cheerful, adorable vicar sets his world on its head and now he can’t seem to live without Ben’s winning smiles or devastating kisses.

In the midst of runaway children, a plot to blackmail Ben’s family, and torturous nights of pleasure, Ben and Phillip must decide if a safe life is worth losing the one thing that makes them come alive.

Rating: B+

It Takes Two to Tumble is the first book in a new series from Cat Sebastian entitled Seducing the Sedgwicks, which features a group of siblings who had a most unconventional, bohemian upbringing in a household comprising their father, his wife, his mistress and various itinerant hangers-on.  This first instalment features the eldest son, Benedict, the vicar of the parish of St. Aelred’s in Cumberland, a deeply compassionate, kind, sensitive man who yearns for the ‘normal’ life he never had while growing up.  The arrival at nearby Barton Hall of gruff, authoritarian naval captain Philip Dacre sees Benedict  gradually coming to the realisation that perhaps he needs to re-define exactly what ‘normal’ means to him, in this touching, beautifully written, character-driven romance from the pen of Cat Sebastian.

Benedict Sedgwick is content with his lot.  He is very well-liked by his parishioners, he has a secure living, and he is looking forward to marrying Alice Crawford, a young woman he has known since his youth and whom he regards as his best friend.  For many years, the Crawfords:

… were his second family, had been from the time Ben realized that his own family was decidedly inadequate, and what was worse, not normal.  The Crawfords had been fantastically normal: there was a sensible number of parents (two), a reasonable number of children (one) and, best of all, the desired number of those artistic hangers-on who seemed to colonize his father’s home (zero).

Alice and her parents were thus Ben’s refuge from the chaos and unpredictability of his own home when he was growing up. He cares greatly for them all, although while he loves Alice, he isn’t IN love with her… yet many couples marry without love, and his and Alice’s friendship is, surely, a strong basis for a lasting marriage.  He firmly suppresses that little niggle at the back of his brain that tells him he is drawn to men rather than women; not that he’s ashamed of his preferences, it’s just he’s never really allowed his desires to take shape beyond that nebulous admission of a truth he has learned to supress in order to pursue his goal of living an unexceptional, ordinary life.

Philip Dacre, a captain in the Royal Navy, has spent the majority of his life at sea and has carved himself a successful career.  But his childhood memories are tainted by his struggles with a learning difficulty and the feelings of inadequacy that rarely bother him aboard ship resurface at the prospect of returning home – something he has managed to avoid as often as possible.

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

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.