Night of the Highland Dragon (Highland Dragon #3) by Isabel Cooper (audiobook) – Narrated by Derek Perkins

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

In the Scottish Highlands, legend is as powerful as the sword-and nowhere is that more true than in the remote village of Loch Aranoch. Its mysterious ruler, Judith MacAlasdair, is fiercely protective of her land-and her secrets. If anyone were to find out what she really was, she and her entire clan would be hunted down as monsters.

William Arundell is on the trail of a killer. Special agent for an arcane branch of the English government, his latest assignment has led him to a remote Highland castle and the undeniably magnetic lady who rules there. Yet as lies begin to unravel and a dark threat gathers, William finds himself drawn deeper and deeper into the mystery of the Highlands . . . and the woman he can neither trust nor deny. He prays she isn’t the murderer; he never dreamed she’d be a dragon.

Rating: Narration – A; Content – C

Even though I was very disappointed in the previous book in this series of historical paranormals (The Highland Dragon’s Lady), I remembered reading the print version of Night of the Highland Dragon a couple of years back, and thought I’d give it another go-round in audio. The final member of the MacAlasdair family of shape-shifters is Lady Judith, who resides at the castle of Loch Arach and takes good care of all those who depend on her and the castle for their livelihoods. Into this Highland idyll comes William Arundell, an investigator for a secret branch of the government who starts asking uncomfortable questions about Judith and her family in the course of his investigations into a gruesome murder. The two are suspicious but drawn to each other, although sadly, the romance is fairly lacklustre and the story as a whole is somewhat dull and lacking in direction. There’s also a severe lack of background information about William’s work and of scene-setting in general. The story is set in a late Victorian era in which magic and witchcraft exist, and listeners are just asked to accept that without any further explanation of how, why, where and who – which this listener found somewhat frustrating.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

A Dangerous Deceit (Thief Takers #3) by Alissa Johnson

This title may be purchased from Amazon.

When Miss Jane Ballenger unexpectedly inherits her brother’s worldly goods—the furniture, paintings and bric-a-brac on which he frittered away their entire family fortune—the only thing to do is catalog the lot of it and sell it off piece by piece. How else will she continue to support Twillins Cottage, the one place she feels safe? Born with a peculiar hearing problem, Jane has long kept to her isolated home in the woods, content with the company of a few close friends, and far removed from those who would brand her an idiot and consign her to life in an asylum. So when the devilishly charming private investigator, Sir Gabriel Arkwright, turns up on her doorstep to claim her new belongings in the name of the crown, she’ll do whatever it takes to protect her refuge, her loved-ones, and her well-guarded secret. Even if it means employing a bit of deception.

There are few things in life Sir Gabriel Arkwright enjoys more than a good mystery, especially when it’s a woman. Ever ready to take on an interesting puzzle, he’s determined to learn why the enigmatic Miss Ballenger has hidden herself away from the world. Before he can hope to ferret out the truth, however, Jane unearths national secrets hidden amongst her brother’s possessions. Now Gabriel must decide what’s more important, keeping state secrets out of the hands of a double agent, or protecting the woman who is quickly becoming more to him than just another mystery to solve…

Rating: A-

I am at a loss to understand why Alissa Johnson doesn’t seem to get the same kind of attention afforded to the ‘big-name’ authors of historical romance. Every book of hers I’ve read has been superbly written, featuring well-drawn, three-dimensional characters, a well-constructed plot, subtle humour and a beautifully developed romance – yet for some reason, she’s very underrated. This third book in her Thief Takers series is another intelligently crafted character-driven romance, this time featuring a devilishly charming private investigator and a most unusual heroine who are forced to go on the run in order to protect some sensitive government information.

A Dangerous Deceit begins when Miss Jane Ballenger opens her front door on the extremely attractive face and person of Sir Gabriel Arkwright, one of the famous Thief Takers, a trio of former police officers who became instant celebrities when they solved a high-profile case of theft and rescued a duchess some ten or eleven years earlier. The most senior officer – Owen Renderwell – received a viscountcy and his colleagues, Arkwright and Samuel Brass were knighted; and the three of them went into business together as private investigators. Renderwell’s and Sir Samuel’s stories are told in the two previous books (A Talent for Trickery and A Gift for Guile), but all three work perfectly well as standalones – although I’d definitely recommend reading them, as they’re every bit as well-written and enjoyable as this one.

Sir Gabriel explains that he has been engaged by the Foreign Office to come to Jane’s remote cottage in order to retrieve some important information that is hidden among the personal effects belonging to her late brother, Edgar. Edgar spent the past fifteen years living the high life in St. Petersburg, frittering away his sister’s fortune as well as his own, leaving Jane with next to nothing. Now she is faced with the prospect of selling off his possessions so that she can keep a roof over her head and continue to support herself and the Harmons, the couple who have lived with her and looked after her since she was ten years old.

Jane is flustered – her tiny cottage is crammed to the rafters with trunks and boxes and God knows what else – but isn’t about to let someone waltz off with what is likely her only source of funds without some sort of security and insists that Sir Gabriel sign a contract promising the return of the goods once he has found what he is looking for.

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

An Unnatural Vice (Sins of the Cities #2) by K.J. Charles

This title may be purchased from Amazon.

In the sordid streets of Victorian London, unwanted desire flares between two bitter enemies brought together by a deadly secret.

Crusading journalist Nathaniel Roy is determined to expose spiritualists who exploit the grief of bereaved and vulnerable people. First on his list is the so-called Seer of London, Justin Lazarus. Nathaniel expects him to be a cheap, heartless fraud. He doesn’t expect to meet a man with a sinful smile and the eyes of a fallen angel—or that a shameless swindler will spark his desires for the first time in years.

Justin feels no remorse for the lies he spins during his séances. His gullible clients simply bore him. Hostile, disbelieving, utterly irresistible Nathaniel is a fascinating challenge. And as their battle of wills and wits heats up, Justin finds he can’t stop thinking about the man who’s determined to ruin him.

But Justin and Nathaniel are linked by more than their fast-growing obsession with one another. They are both caught up in an aristocratic family’s secrets, and Justin holds information that could be lethal. As killers, fanatics, and fog close in, Nathaniel is the only man Justin can trust—and, perhaps, the only man he could love.

Rating: A

The feeling that washed over me when I finished An Unnatural Vice isn’t one I experience all that often, but I suspect we all know what it is; that wonderful sense of awe and sheer elation that settles over you when you’ve just read something incredibly satisfying on every level.  A great story that’s excellently written and researched; characters who are well-drawn and appealing; a book that stimulates intellectually as well as emotionally… An Unnatural Vice has it all and is easily one of the best books I’ve read so far this year.

The Sins of the Cities series has been inspired by author K.J. Charles’ love of Victorian Sensation Fiction, stories full of intrigue, murder, blackmail, missing heirs, evil relatives, stolen inheritances… I’m a big fan of the genre, and I absolutely love the way the author has brought its various elements into play in terms of the plot and overall atmosphere. The events in An Unnatural Vice run concurrently with those of book one, An Unseen Attraction, so while this one could be read as a standalone I’d definitely recommend reading the series in order.

Handsome, well-educated and wealthy, Nathaniel Roy trained in the law, but now works as a crusading journalist, dedicated to exposing social injustice and waging campaigns against industrial exploitation.  His editor has asked him to write an article about the mediums who prey on the wealthy, and as part of his research, he arranges to attend a séance held by the so-called Seer of London, Justin Lazarus.  Highly sceptical and determined to expose him as a fraud, Nathaniel is nonetheless fascinated by the man’s skill at what he does while being frustrated at not being able to work out how the hell he is manipulating the various objects in the room without touching them.  Worse still, however, is the unwanted spark of lust that shoots through him when he sets eyes upon the Seer for the first time, a visceral pull of attraction he hasn’t felt in the almost six years since he lost the love of his life; and the way Lazarus seems able to see into the very depths of Nathaniel’s soul is deeply unnerving and intrusive. He hates it at the same time as he is fascinated by the things Lazarus tells him and finds his convictions shaken and his thoughts consumed by the man over the next few days.

As far as Justin Lazarus is concerned, the gullible and credulous who make up the bulk of his clientele get exactly what they deserve and he refuses to feel guilty over giving them what they want – deceit and lies and sympathy – while they watch the people around them steal, whore or starve in the streets.  But a sceptic like Nathaniel Roy represents the sort of challenge Justin can’t pass up; he isn’t surprised when the man requests a second, private, meeting, and he uses it to push all Roy’s buttons, opening up the not-fully healed wounds of his grief while playing on the lust Justin had recognised at their first meeting.  The air is thick with suppressed desire and not-so-suppressed loathing as the two men trade barbs and insults – and even Justin recognises that this time, he’s probably gone too far and made an implacable enemy.

Mutual enmity notwithstanding however, Nathaniel and Justin are destined to be thrown into each other’s orbits once again when Justin receives a visit from two men who are trying to locate the children of a woman named Emmeline Godfrey who, they tell him, had been part of their “flock” until they ran away aged fourteen.  Justin recalls the desperate woman who visited him a year earlier asking about her twins, and the men want him to find them.  Sensing an opportunity, Justin puts on a show without telling them anything and thinks that’s that – until he remembers seeing an advertisement in the newspaper offering a reward for information about the same twins, giving Nathaniel Roy’s name as the person to contact. Always on the lookout for a way to make money, Justin decides to approach Roy with what he knows – but their discussion quickly descends into an erotically charged slanging match in which the mutual lust and hostility that has hung in the air between them since their first meeting boils over into a frenzied sexual encounter.  Despite having been turned inside out by “one of the better fucks of the nineteenth century”, Justin is still keen to focus on what he can get for his information, while Nathaniel just wants him gone, berating himself for having been so damned stupid as to have let things go so far.

Readers of the previous book will recall that Emmeline Godfrey was the name of the woman the now-deceased Earl of Moreton married in secret some years before contracting a later, bigamous marriage.  This means that the male twin is now the rightful earl, but with money and estates at stake, someone is going to great lengths to silence those who could reveal the truth – and now, Justin Lazarus has unwittingly put himself in the firing line.  A solitary man who has built a life in which he answers to and depends on nobody, Justin has no-one to turn to when he finds himself on the run from the men threatening him – no-one, that is, apart from the man who despises him and has sworn to expose him as a fraud – Nathaniel Roy.

On the most basic level, this is an enemies-to-lovers romance, but in the hands of K.J. Charles it is so much more than that.  Nathaniel is a man who is going through life by the numbers and doesn’t quite realise it; frozen by grief, he doesn’t expect ever to feel love or desire again and certainly not for a shifty bastard like Justin Lazarus.  Nathaniel finds it difficult to understand why a man gifted with such perspicacity and insight would choose to make a living by cheating the weak and vulnerable; but when Justin turns to him for help and Nathaniel glimpses the clever, amusing and desperately lonely man lying beneath the tough, prickly exterior, he is unable to deny the truth of his feelings any longer and admits to himself that he is coming to love Justin in spite of everything.  Justin is unapologetic and suspicious at first; born in a workhouse to a mother he never knew, his has been a hard life and he’s done what he had to in order to survive. He’s made something of himself through hard work, quick wits and sheer strength of will and doesn’t want to be beholden to anyone.  He tries to push Nathaniel away and dismisses his assertions that Justin is a better man than he believes himself to be, but Nathaniel’s obvious belief in him gradually starts to break down his emotional barriers.  The chemistry between the pair is off the charts, but amid all their snarling, vitriolic banter, come moments of real tenderness and understanding and watching these two damaged and very different men fall for each other is gut-wrenchingly beautiful. By the end of the book there is no doubt that they are deeply in love and in it for the long haul.

The writing is exquisite and the book is full of incredibly evocative scenes, whether it’s the descriptions of the thick, poisonous pea-souper that envelops London or the excitement of the opening séance, which is a real tour-de-force.  The mystery of the missing Taillefer heir is smoothly and skilfully woven through Justin and Nathaniel’s love story and the ending brilliantly sets up the next book, An Unsuitable Heir, due for release later this year.  But while the mystery is certainly intriguing, the real heart of the book is the complicated, messy but glorious romance between two bitter enemies.  An Unnatural Vice is a must-read and I can’t recommend it highly enough.

The Convenient Felstone Marriage by Jenni Fletcher

the convenient felstone marriageThis title may be purchased from Amazon

“I have a proposal for you…”

The last place respectable governess Ianthe Holt ever expected to be proposed to was in a train carriage…by a stranger…who had just accused her of trying to trap another man into marriage!

Shipping magnate Robert Felstone may be dashing, but he’s also insufferable, impertinent–and Ianthe’s only possible savior from her uncertain fate. She’s hesitant to play the perfect Felstone wife, but Robert soon shows Ianthe there’s more to him than meets the eye, and more to marriage than vows…

Rating: C+

The Convenient Felstone Marriage is Jenni Fletcher’s second historical romance for Harlequin, and is set in and around the port of Whitby in Yorkshire in the mid-Victorian era. It’s a nice change to read an historical romance set outside London, and the fact that the plot centres on a marriage of convenience drew me like catnip – but while I liked the premise, the story falls short in the execution. The pacing flags in the middle, the ending is over-dramatic and the heroine, whom I’d liked to start with, began to get on my nerves in the latter part of the book, her motivations and thought-processes becoming an overly convenient – and rather flimsy – way of dragging things out and attempting to inject some tension into the story.

Miss Ianthe Holt is furious with her younger brother, Percy, for attempting to engineer a match between her and Sir Charles Lester, a man some thirty years her senior. When the train carrying them to Yorkshire on a visit to their aunt makes a short stop, Percy takes the opportunity to jump down to walk along the platform, leaving his sister fuming – and embarrassed when she realises that the man who had been asleep in the corner of their compartment must have heard every word of their argument. Ianthe’s wrath spills over and she accuses the man of deliberately eavesdropping; he retorts sharply and accuses her of being a scheming harpy, willing to marry an older man for his money and then hoping for a fast widowhood.

Robert Felstone is travelling home to Whitby following a stinging rejection by the young woman to whom he has just proposed. Robert is the bastard son of a lord with a penchant for seducing his housemaids, but due to his own hard work and aptitude for business, has made something of himself and is now a wealthy and successful shipping magnate. He owns one large shipbuilding firm and is looking to buy out one of his oldest competitors – but all he has achieved wasn’t enough for the society beauty to whom he’d proposed and she laughed in his face, making it clear that he had aspirations above his station. He is still smarting from her rejection when he overhears the argument in his train carriage, and deciding discretion is the better part of valour, pretends to remain asleep rather than acknowledge he’s overheard everything. But the young woman’s challenge and attitude strike a raw nerve, and he can’t help blurting out exactly what he thinks of her. Fortunately, however, he soon realises how disgraceful it is of him to make such an assumption and apologises, at the same time realising that perhaps he has just been presented with an answer to one of his problems. In order to expand his business by purchasing the shipyard belonging to the old-fashioned Mr. Harper, Robert needs to be respectably married as the old man won’t consider selling to anyone other than a family man. The young woman in front of him is faced with the prospect of being forced into marriage, but if she were to agree to marry Robert instead… it’s a solution to both their present difficulties.

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

The Truth About Love and Dukes (Dear Lady Trulove #1) by Laura Lee Guhrke (audiobook) – Narrated by Carolyn Morris


This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

Dear Lady Truelove… I have fallen in love, truly and completely in love, for the first time. The man whom I hold in such passionate regard, however, is not of my station. He is a painter, a brilliant artist. Needless to say, my family would not approve…

Henry, Duke of Torquil, wouldn’t be caught reading the wildly popular “Dear Lady Truelove” column, but when its advice causes his mother to embark on a scandalous elopement, an outraged Henry decides the author of this tripe must be stopped before she can ruin any more lives. Though Lady Truelove’s identity is a closely guarded secret, Henry has reason to suspect the publisher of the notorious column, beautiful and provoking Irene Deverill, is also its author.

For Irene, it’s easy to advise others to surrender to passion, but when she meets the Duke of Torquil, she soon learns that passion comes at a price. When one impulsive, spur-of-the-moment kiss pulls her into a scorching affair with Henry, it could destroy her beloved newspaper, her career, and her independence. But in the duke’s arms, surrender is so, so sweet…

Rating: Narration – A-; Content – B

The first book in Laura Lee Guhrke’s new Dear Lady Truelove series, The Truth About Love and Dukes is an enjoyable opposites-attract story that sees a very proper and oh, so correct duke finding love with a most unlikely young woman. The “uptight lord gets the stuffing knocked out of him by unconventional young lady” is a familiar trope, but it works quite well here; the central couple has great chemistry and the author takes a good look at the difficulties inherent in having a relationship outside your class. On the downside, however, you do need to get past the rather improbable catalyst (a duchess writing a letter to a ‘lonely hearts’ column and agreeing to its being published) and a heroine who, in her quest to maintain her independence and snap her fingers at social convention, is sometimes insensitive to the possible effect of her actions on others.

When Henry Cavanaugh, Duke of Torquil reads the letter written by his mother to the popular advice columnist, Lady Truelove, he is outraged. The duchess publicly writes about having found love for the first time in her life and her intention to marry the man she loves in spite of her family’s disapproval. When it appears that the advice dispensed by Lady Truelove has inspired the duchess to an elopement, Henry is appalled at the thought that his own mother could be so careless of her reputation and of the way her actions will reflect on her family – especially her unmarried daughters. He is absolutely furious and immediately heads to the publisher’s office, suspecting that the columnist may know his mother’s whereabouts and is surprised when he is greeted by a stunning young woman who calmly informs him that she is the publisher of Society Snippets. Henry also suspects that she is Lady Truelove, but she will not admit to that, and takes offence at his high-handed expectation that she will reveal his mother’s secrets simply because he is a duke and must therefore be obeyed.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

The Lady Travelers Guide to Scoundrels & Other Gentlemen

This title may be purchased from Amazon

Really, it’s too much to expect any normal man to behave like a staid accountant in order to inherit the fortune he deserves to support the lifestyle of an earl. So when Derek Saunders’s favorite elderly aunt and her ill-conceived—and possibly fraudulent—Lady Travelers Society loses one of their members, what’s a man to do but step up to the challenge? Now he’s escorting the world’s most maddening woman to the world’s most romantic city to find her missing relative.

While India Prendergast only suspects his organization defrauds gullible travelers, she’s certain a man with as scandalous a reputation as Derek Saunders cannot be trusted any farther than the distance around his very broad shoulders. As she struggles not to be distracted by his wicked smile and the allure of Paris, instead of finding a lost lady traveler, India just may lose her head, her luggage and her heart.

Rating: B-

The Lady Travelers Guide to Scoundrels & Other Gentlemen might well win an award for being the longest title in historical romance! The first book in Victoria Alexander’s new Lady Travelers Guide series, it’s a light-hearted romantic comedy, set mostly in Paris around the time of the Great Exposition, in which a starchy spinster comes up against a charming scoundrel and discovers perhaps her previously held, deeply entrenched opinions aren’t as set in stone as she’d believed them to be.

Miss India Prendergast has come to a meeting of The Lady Travelers Society in an attempt to ascertain the whereabouts of her cousin, Lady Heloise Snuggs, who recently set off on an extended journey which, India has been given to understand, was organised by the society.  But she hasn’t received a letter or other communication from Heloise for some weeks and has become concerned for her safety.  Further investigation has revealed that the society has done precisely nothing for Heloise; there is no record of their reserving hotel rooms or making any travel arrangements on her cousin’s behalf.  India is convinced the organisation is a fraud, taking money from unwitting women whose dreams of exotic travel and desire to throw off the shackles of everyday existence and live an adventurous life blind them to the fact they are being swindled.

Derek Saunders has lived the life of a rakish young bachelor, kicking up a storm in society and enjoying a reputation as a scoundrel of the first order.  Or he did, until his uncle, the Earl of Danby told him that he’d cut him off without a penny if he didn’t change his carefree, frivolous ways and start acting a bit more like the heir to an earldom should.  Oddly enough, Derek finds he has a talent for numbers and business and he quite enjoys working with the earl’s estate and business managers. But the discovery that his great aunt Guinevere and a couple of her friends seem to be running some sort of scam is something he hadn’t banked on having to deal with.  Deciding that his uncle won’t look kindly upon Derek’s abandoning his duties in order to pursue a missing traveller and work out what his aunt is up to, Derek apprises the earl of the situation, and is surprised when he comes up with a plan to both find Lady Heloise and keep aunt Guinevere and her friends out of prison.

Derek had already decided that it’s his responsibility to find Heloise, and that as her most recent letters came from Paris, that he’s going to start looking for her there.  When India insists on accompanying him, he already knows enough about her to know that she won’t brook a refusal, but his uncle takes that news in his stride.  He undertakes to employ a firm of private investigators to find Heloise while Derek keeps India otherwise occupied and out of the way in Paris… it’s a good idea, and although Derek isn’t completely happy about keeping Miss Prendergast in the dark, he recognises it’s the most likely way to find her cousin.

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

A Drop of Ink by Megan Chance (audiobook) – Narrated by Taylor Ann Krahn and Tim Campbell

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon.

Penniless and disgraced, Adelaide Wentworth is feeling rather desperate. With nothing left to lose, she and her sister, Louisa, flee to Lake Geneva with Adelaide’s lover, the infamous poet Julian Estes. There, Louisa hopes to persuade Bayard Sonnier—celebrated writer and her former lover—to advance Julian’s career. He is their last hope for salvation.

At the Villa Diodati—the place that inspired the writing of Frankenstein sixty years earlier—Louisa plots to rekindle her affair with Bayard, while Adelaide hopes to restore her fading love for Julian by being the muse he needs.

But soon, secrets are revealed, passions ignited, and hidden talents discovered. Adelaide begins to imagine a different life. Confused, she turns to Giovanni Calina—Bayard’s assistant and a man with his own secrets and deep resentments—and the two form a dangerous alliance. No one leaves unscathed in this richly imagined, emotionally nuanced tale of passion, ambition, inspiration, and redemption.

Rating: Narration – C/B; Content – B+

In 1816, a group of five writers lived for a few months at the Villa Diodati on the shores of Lake Geneva. One night, during a particularly virulent storm, they sat around telling each other ghost stories, and then one of their number issued a challenge that they should all write one … and the rest is history because one of those stories was eventually published as Frankenstein. The writers were, of course, Lord Byron, Percy Shelley and his wife, Mary, her step-sister Claire (and Shelley’s some-time lover) and Byron’s friend and physician, Dr. John Polidori, whose own effort, The Vampyre, was written several decades before Bram Stoker’s Dracula.

In A Drop of Ink, Megan Chance re-imagines this story some sixty years later, in 1876. Author Bayard Sonnier is as famous for his romantic liaisons as for his writing, and, as was the case with Byron, he’s the equivalent of a rock star in terms of his fame and the interest that is generated by anything and everything he does. Following the ending of his most recent, scandalous, love affair, Bayard has left England in the attempt to find some anonymity and time to work on his next book, which is already overdue. He is accompanied by his secretary, Giovanni Calina who, in spite of his Italianate name, hails from Bethnal Green in the East End of London. The son of a cobbler, Giovanni – usually referred to in the book as ‘Vanni’ – has been well educated and managed to land the job as Bayard’s secretary, in part because of his skill with languages – a definite plus, given Bayard’s intention to travel. Vanni is also an aspiring writer, and hopes that perhaps he will be able to learn something about the craft by working closely with the renowned author.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals