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

The obvious solution:

A marriage of convenience!

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

Rating: B+

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fire and Granite (Carlisle Deputies #2) by Andrew Grey (audiobook) – Narrated by Greg Tremblay

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

The heat is growing from the inside, but danger is building on the outside.

Judge Andrew Phillips runs a tight ship in his courtroom. He’s tough, and when he hands down a sentence, he expects to be obeyed. So when a fugitive named Harper escapes and threatens his life, Andrew isn’t keen on 24/seven protection…especially not from Deputy Clay Brown. They have a past, one that could cause problems in their careers.

But with Clay assigned to Andrew and the two of them together every minute, there’s nowhere to hide from their attraction – or from the fact that there’s much more than chemistry blooming between them. As the threat intensifies, Clay knows he’ll do anything it takes to protect the people who are taking their places in his heart: Andrew and his young niece and nephew.

Rating: Narration: A+; Content: B-

I listened to Fire and Flint, the first book in Andrew Grey’s series featuring the sheriff’s deputies in Carlisle, PA, last year and enjoyed it sufficiently to want to listen to another book in the series. Fire and Granite is book two, and like its predecessor, it’s a fairly low-angst, low-drama listen with a tender and rather sweet romance at its centre.

Deputy Clay Brown is one of a team escorting a high-risk, dangerous criminal from prison to the courthouse when their vehicles are ambushed, and the prisoner – who by a weird quirk of fate happens to be Clay’s cousin Harper Grange – is sprung in what is clearly a well-planned operation. Clay is frustrated at being on the other end of the investigation rather than being out there looking for the escapee, so he’s not too pleased when he’s handed a different assignment. Judge Andrew Phillips was responsible for putting Grange behind bars, and less than an hour after the ambush, received a phone call threatening his life. Clay is assigned as his protection detail while Grange is at large – but as he doesn’t exactly get along with “Judge Moody and Superior” or like him very much, it’s going to be a difficult few days.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

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

This title may be purchased from Amazon

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

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

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

Rating: B-

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

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

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

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

The Austen Playbook (London Celebrities #4) by Lucy Parker

This title may be purchased from Amazon

Freddy Carlton knows she should be focusing on her lines for The Austen Playbook, a live-action TV event where viewers choose the outcome of each scene, but her concentration’s been blown. The palatial estate housing the endeavor is now run by the rude (brilliant) critic who’s consistently slammed her performances of late. James “Griff” Ford-Griffin has a penchant for sarcasm, a majestic nose and all the sensitivity of a sledgehammer.

She can’t take her eyes off him.

Griff can hardly focus with a contagious joy fairy flitting about near him, especially when Freddy looks at him like that. His only concern right now should be on shutting down his younger brother’s well-intentioned (disastrous) schemes—or at the very least on the production (not this one) that might save his family home from the banks.

Instead all he can think of is soft skin and vibrant curls.

As he’s reluctantly dragged into her quest to rediscover her passion for the stage and Freddy is drawn into his research on a legendary theater star, the adage about appearances being deceiving proves abundantly true. It’s the unlikely start of something enormous…but a single revelation about the past could derail it all.

Rating: A

The Austen Playbook, the fourth in Lucy Parker’s London Celebrities series, is one of the most eagerly anticipated new releases of 2019 – and I’m here to tell you your patience will most definitely be rewarded when it comes out.  It’s got all Ms. Parker’s trademarks; the two principals are wonderfully appealing, the secondary cast is well-drawn, the dialogue is snappy – and most importantly, it’s got the depth, emotional resonance and soul-deep connection between the leads she’s so good at creating (and which I felt was missing in the previous book).

Frederica – Freddy – Carlton is the youngest member of an acting dynasty whose members have been treading the boards in the West End for the last four hundred years.  She’s been acting since she was a child, and although she made her name performing in a string of popular comedies and musicals, she’s now turned her hand to more serious pieces at the urging of her manager – who also happens to be her father Rupert, whose acting career came to an end following an accident years earlier.  But Freddy’s heart isn’t really in the meaty, dramatic roles she’s being urged to undertake. Her real love is for lighter theatre – musicals, rom-coms, physical comedy – and she knows that’s where her real talent lies, in performing pieces that leave the audiences feeling better at the end of the evening than they did at the beginning.  Yet although she recognises that Rupert is living vicariously through her, she can’t bring herself to disappoint him by refusing to go along with his plans for her. He’s pushing her to audition for the leading role in The Velvet Room, the masterpiece that catapulted her grandmother Henrietta into the history books as both actress and playwright – and in Freddy’s opinion, another piece of weepy philosophical introspection that just isn’t her cup of tea.

The fact that Freddy isn’t suited to the heavier roles hasn’t escaped the extremely perceptive – and extremely annoying – theatre critic, James Ford-Griffin, Grumpiest TV presenter in the UK. And the witty wanker behind the scathing theatre reviews in the Westminster Post.  She’s having a drink with friends after a rather disastrous performance when she overhears him talking to someone in the next booth in the pub, uncomfortably aware that his cutting remarks are right on the nose:

“For some reason, she’s pursuing a determined line in high-brow dramas, when she’d clearly rather be stamping about in puddles in Singin’ in the Rain.”

It’s completely unnerving that this man, whom she doesn’t know, has seen through her façade, and more unnerving still is the way her stomach suddenly feels like it’s full of butterflies when she ends up standing next to him at the bar.  Sure, he’s good-looking, but sadly, behind those compelling dark eyes, that platinum blond hair and majestic nose lurks a frosty demeanour and all the personality of an iceberg.

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

Just Business (Takeover #2) by Anna Zabo (audiobook) – Narrated by Iggy Toma

just business

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

Justin White may not look like an up-and-coming corporate superstar, but his new boss knows that he has the smarts, grit, and determination to succeed. Now he just has to convince his company’s CFO, Eli Ovadia. Unfortunately, Justin can’t seem to keep his cool around the domineering Eli, and soon he finds himself taking their heat from the boardroom into the bedroom.

Still haunted by a tragic accident that left him with a wounded leg and broken heart, Eli has a need to be in control. But his desire for Justin makes him want to lose that control and push them both far beyond their limits. Will his need to dominate Justin drive him away, or will Eli find a way to be the man he needs for both of them?

Rating: Narration – A: Content – B

Anna Zabo is a new-to-me author, and I picked up Just Business (book two in the Takeover series) because I’m on a narrator glom (and it was in the Audible Romance Package). It’s a steamy, BDSM-themed romance, and to be honest, isn’t something I’d likely have chosen to read or listen to had it not been for the fact that I’d happily listen to Iggy Toma announcing arrivals and departures at Waterloo station.

Justin White is a clever, ambitious young man studying for his MBA and working as a barista in order to make ends meet. One of his regular customers is Sam Anderson, the CEO of a small but dynamic consulting firm – and Justin has overheard him talking with his friend and colleague, Eli Ovadia, about the fact that he needs to hire a new assistant. Justin is barely keeping his head above water financially, between helping his family, his tuition and living expenses, and he really wants the job; he has the right education and experience and knows he could do a lot worse than learn how to run a business from Sam Anderson – so he gathers his courage and hands Sam the application he’s prepared. He’s invited for an interview and gets the job.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

Band Sinister by K.J. Charles (audiobook) – Narrated by Cornell Collins

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

Sir Philip Rookwood is the disgrace of the county. He’s a rake and an atheist, and the rumors about his hellfire club, the Murder, can only be spoken in whispers. (Orgies. It’s orgies.)

Guy Frisby and his sister, Amanda, live in rural seclusion after a family scandal. But when Amanda breaks her leg in a riding accident, she’s forced to recuperate at Rookwood Hall, where Sir Philip is hosting the Murder.

Guy rushes to protect her, but the Murder aren’t what he expects. They’re educated, fascinating people, and the notorious Sir Philip turns out to be charming, kind – and dangerously attractive.

In this private space where anything goes, the longings Guy has stifled all his life are impossible to resist…and so is Philip. But all too soon, the rural rumor mill threatens both Guy and Amanda. The innocent country gentleman has lost his heart to the bastard baronet – but does he dare lose his reputation too?

Rating: Narration – A- : Content – A

Another 2018 favourite lately come to audio, K.J. Charles’ Band Sinister is, quite simply, a total delight. The author made no secret of the fact that it’s an homage to the works of Georgette Heyer, who practically invented the ‘modern’ Regency Romance single-handed, or that she employed a number of favourite tropes in terms of the characterisation and plot – and yet in spite of all that, there is no doubt whatsoever that this is a K.J. Charles book, through and through. On the surface, it’s the story of the country innocent seduced by the wicked lord, but in reality, it’s so much more than that, conveying important ideas about the nature of love and friendship, social responsibility and the importance of being true to oneself and of living as one’s conscience dictates.

Guy and Amanda Frisby were born into the landed gentry but have come down in the world. When their mother ran off with her much younger lover, their father took to heavy gambling and heavy drinking and died leaving them with nothing but scandal to their name. When the story opens, Guy is reading – somewhat apprehensively – the gothic novel Amanda has written and sent to a publisher, and in which she has modelled her villains on their near-neighbour, Sir Philip Rookwood (whose older brother was the man with whom their mother ran away), and his close friend, the devilish Lord Corvin, a man with quite possibly the blackest reputation in England.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

A Duke in Disguise (Regency Imposters #2) by Cat Sebastian

This title may be purchased from Amazon.

One reluctant heir

If anyone else had asked for his help publishing a naughty novel, Ash would have had the sense to say no. But he’s never been able to deny Verity Plum. Now he has his hands full illustrating a book and trying his damnedest not to fall in love with his best friend. The last thing he needs is to discover he’s a duke’s lost heir. Without a family or a proper education, he’s had to fight for his place in the world, and the idea of it—and Verity—being taken away from him chills him to the bone.

One radical bookseller

All Verity wants is to keep her brother out of prison, her business afloat, and her hands off Ash. Lately it seems she’s not getting anything she wants. She knows from bitter experience that she isn’t cut out for romance, but the more time she spends with Ash, the more she wonders if maybe she’s been wrong about herself.

One disaster waiting to happen

Ash has a month before his identity is exposed, and he plans to spend it with Verity. As they explore their long-buried passion, it becomes harder for Ash to face the music. Can Verity accept who Ash must become or will he turn away the only woman he’s ever loved?

Rating: B

Cat Sebastian returns to Regency London for the second instalment of her Regency Imposters series, A Duke in Disguise, in which an illustrator and a prickly publisher who have been close friends for a decade have to decide if friendship is really enough, or whether it’s worth risking what they have for the possibility of something more.  It’s a well-written story with a very strong sense of time and place featuring two engaging and complex principals; there’s a nod or two to the gothic novels popular at the time as well as some shrewd observations about the political situation, the lack of options open to women and the way the lives of well-born ladies were completely controlled by their menfolk.

Verity Plum and her younger brother Nate are joint proprietors of Plum & Company, Printers and Booksellers, which was left to them by their father.  Verity is the brains of the outfit in the sense that she takes care of all the practicalities (and then some), while Nathan, who is just twenty, indulges his radical sentiments by writing increasingly seditious polemics which she fears will land him in prison in the not too distant future.  Verity and Nate’s good friend, John Ashby – a moderately successful illustrator and engraver – has lodged with them on and off over the past decade, and although he and Verity are completely smitten with each other and have been for years, neither of them is willing to risk crossing the line into a romantic and physical relationship.  Verity doesn’t believe she’s cut out for romance in any case; her most recent love affair (with Portia Allenby, who appeared in the previous book, Unmasked by the Marquess) didn’t end particularly well, and she’s not one for dealing with complex emotions.  Verity guards her independence and sense of self very jealously, and she’s stretched thin as it is, what with the pieces of herself she gives over to worrying about Nate, and the business, and her friendship with Ash; and if she’s scared of anything, she’s scared of losing herself completely to all the other demands life makes of her.

Verity is desperately trying to prevent Nate landing himself in serious trouble, and with Ash’s help she manages to persuade him to leave England and travel to America to set up in business there.  She hates doing it, but recognises it’s the only way to keep his neck out of the noose.  Both Verity and Ash feel his loss, but aren’t sure how to comfort each other without crossing their very carefully preserved line, something which is become more and more difficult with each passing day.

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