Heartless (House of Rohan #5) by Anne Stuart

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A strong, resilient woman who learned to survive in a world of betrayal. Emma Cadbury had been an innocent, a whore, a charity worker and a surgeon. She chose a life without love until she saved a dying soldier in a charity ward.

A scarred soldier who fought to redeem himself from the horrors he’d committed. Brandon Rohan had lost himself to drugs and degradation, wanting to die, and only one person could save him. But she’d disappeared.

A love neither of them wants, and a passion so strong it could burn down the world. Now they’ve come together again, but he doesn’t remember, and she doesn’t want to. But someone is trying to kill her, and Brandon is the one man who can save her.

England in 1840, where no one is what they seem.

Rating: B-

Seven years after our last encounter with the members of the scandalous House of Rohan, author Anne Stuart returns to nineteenth century England to bring us a fifth book in the series, Heartless, which picks up the story of the youngest Rohan, Lord Brandon, and Emma Cadbury, the woman who cared for him and saved his life following his return from war and his subsequent descent into depravity and addiction.  Their relationship began in book four, Shameless, but although it’s been several years since I read that book, the author has included enough information about the couple’s backstory here for a new reader not to feel as though they have missed anything, and for the reader newly returned to the series to feel the same.

Note: This review contains spoilers for Shameless.

Captain Lord Brandon Rohan of His Majesty’s army returned from the Afghan Wars so seriously injured that he wasn’t expected to live.  Emma Cadbury, formerly the youngest, most successful Madam in London, worked as a volunteer at St. Martin’s Military Hospital, and was assigned to take care of Brandon on what was believed would be his last night on earth.  But Emma managed to pull Brandon back from the brink, stubbornly refusing to let him sink into death.  Over the next few weeks, a subtle bond formed between the pair, as Brandon revealed things about himself he’d never told anyone, talking to Emma night after night about the war and the horrors he’d seen, endured and committed.  As he regained his strength, their teasing gradually turned into gentle flirtation, until each night ended with a goodnight kiss, which Brandon insisted would give him something to live for throughout the next day.

Emma may have been a courtesan, but her experience with men was limited to the sexual act – which she normally undertook while numbed by drink or laudanum; emotions – other than distaste or disgust – were never involved.  But when one of Brandon’s goodnight kisses turned into something more than a chaste peck, she panicked – terrified by the strength of her reaction to him – and didn’t return to his bedside again.  After that, he was reunited with his family and, apart from one further fateful occasion, he and Emma haven’t seen each other since.

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


The Henchmen of Zenda by K.J. Charles

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Jasper Detchard is a disgraced British officer, now selling his blade to the highest bidder. Currently that’s Michael Elphberg, half-brother to the King of Ruritania. Michael wants the throne for himself, and Jasper is one of the scoundrels he hires to help him take it. But when Michael makes his move, things don’t go entirely to plan—and the penalty for treason is death.

Rupert of Hentzau is Michael’s newest addition to his sinister band of henchmen. Charming, lethal, and intolerably handsome, Rupert is out for his own ends—which seem to include getting Jasper into bed. But Jasper needs to work out what Rupert’s really up to amid a maelstrom of plots, swordfights, scheming, impersonation, desire, betrayal, and murder.

Nobody can be trusted. Everyone has a secret. And love is the worst mistake you can make.

A retelling of the swashbuckling classic The Prisoner of Zenda from a very different point of view.

Rating: A-

I’ve been looking forward to The Henchmen of Zenda, K.J. Charles’ ‘queered’ retelling of the classic The Prisoner of Zenda, ever since she announced it months ago, and in fact the book made my ‘most eagerly awaited of 2018 list‘ at AAR.  I love a ripping adventure yarn, and that’s exactly what the author has delivered – a tale of swashbuckling derring-do featuring a pair of amoral, cynical and devil-may-care anti-heroes, palace intrigue, political shenanigans, double crosses, triple crosses… and hot sex.  The latter being missing from Anthony Hope’s original novel, which isn’t surprising considering it was written in 1894. 😛  The Henchmen of Zenda can be enjoyed without reference to the original, although I’ll admit that for me, part of the fun was spotting the places where the stories meshed and picking up on the in-jokes.

For anyone not familiar with The Prisoner of Zenda, the story is basically this. Rudolf V, the new King of (the fictional) small European country of Ruritania, is drugged on the eve of his coronation by those working for his half-brother, Michael, Duke of Strelsau, who wants the throne for himself.  In a desperate attempt to stop Michael, those loyal to the king persuade an English gentleman (Rudolf Rassendyll) who bears an uncanny resemblance to the monarch and happens to be holidaying in their country to impersonate the king during the coronation.  Things are complicated when Michael’s men kidnap the king and Rassendyll falls in love with the Princess Flavia, who is Rudolf’s betrothed; complications, plots and counter-plots ensue, Rassendyll leads an assault on the castle of Zenda and rescues the king, and then honourably bows out, leaving Flavia to do her duty to her king and country.

When our narrator, Jasper Detchard, immediately dismisses Rassendyll’s account as a pile of shit, and Rassendyll as an uptight prick who lied to make himself look good, the reader immediately knows they’re in for a rollicking good time.  Detchard’s deadpan, sarcastic narrative style grabbed me right away:

“My name is Jasper Detchard, and according to Rassendyll’s narrative, I am dead.  This should give you some idea of his accuracy, since I do not dictate these words to some cabbage-scented medium from beyond the veil.”

A disgraced former army officer who now makes his living as a mercenary, Detchard is approached by Michael Elphberg, Duke of Strelsau, to become one of his trusted bodyguard (known as The Six).   Michael demands absolute, unquestioning loyalty, and Detchard, not one to be overly picky as to where he lays his hat or sells his sword – signs up. As it turns out, for more than he bargained for.

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

A Momentary Marriage by Candace Camp (audiobook) – Narrated by Gildart Jackson

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

James de Vere has always insisted on being perfectly pragmatic and rational in all things. It seemed the only way to deal with his overdramatic, greedy family. When he falls ill and no doctor in London can diagnose him, he returns home to Grace Hill in search of a physician who can – or to set his affairs in order.

Arriving at the doctor’s home, he’s surprised to encounter the doctor’s daughter Laura, a young woman he last saw when he was warning her off an attachment with his cousin Graeme. Alas, the doctor is recently deceased and Laura is closing up the estate, which must be sold off, leaving her penniless. At this, James has an inspiration: why not marry the damsel in distress? If his last hope for a cure is gone, at least he’ll have some companionship in his final days, and she’ll inherit his fortune instead of his grasping relatives, leaving her a wealthy widow with plenty of prospects.

Laura is far from swept off her feet, but she’s as pragmatic as James, so she accepts his unusual proposal. But as the two of them brave the onslaught of shocked and suspicious family members, they find themselves growing closer. They vowed, “until death do us part”…but now both are longing for their marriage to be more than momentary in this evocative romance.

Rating: Narration – B+ : Content – B+

A Momentary Marriage is the sequel to A Perfect Gentleman, and focuses on the unlikely romance between Sir James de Vere and Laura Hinsdale, two prominent secondary characters in the earlier story. In that book, we learned that Graeme Parr, Earl of Montclair – James’ cousin – and Laura (daughter of the local doctor) had fallen in love in their youth but were not able to marry because Graeme needed to marry an heiress in order to pull his family out of debt. It had been James who had gone to Laura and told her she needed to break things off with Graeme so that Graeme could salvage his family fortune and honour. Needless to say, while Laura knew that what James said was true, it stung, and they have avoided each other ever since.

In A Perfect Gentleman, James emerged as a witty – though cynical – man with a fondness for his cousin, his huge mastiff Demosthenes (Dem for short) and very little else. Enigmatic, good-looking and charming when he wants to be, he reveals little of himself and is the sort of man who buries his emotions deep and needs to maintain control. A Momentary Marriage opens several months later and finds James suffering from a serious illness that none of the medical men he’s seen can identify. The diagnoses run from a bad heart to brain fever to tumors, but the one thing the physicians do agree on is that he hasn’t long left to live.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

After the Wedding (Worth Saga #2) by Courtney Milan

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Adrian Hunter, the son of a duke’s daughter and a black abolitionist, is determined to do whatever his family needs-even posing as a valet to gather information. But his mission spirals out of control when he’s accused of dastardly intentions and is forced to marry a woman he’s barely had time to flirt with.

Camilla Worth has always dreamed of getting married, but a marriage where a pistol substitutes for “I do” is not the relationship she hoped for. Her unwilling groom insists they need to seek an annulment, and she’s not cruel enough to ruin a man’s life just because she yearns for one person to care about her.

As Camilla and Adrian work to prove their marriage wasn’t consensual, they become first allies, then friends. But the closer they grow, the more Camilla’s heart aches. If they consummate the marriage, he’ll be stuck with her forever. The only way to show that she cares is to make sure he can walk away for good…

Rating: B-

I’m a big fan of Courtney Milan’s – her Brothers Sinister series is comprised of six of the finest historical romances written in the last decade or so, and hers are books I always recommend to people who want to read entertaining, character-driven historical romances that are well-grounded in actual history and which don’t blithely ignore the inherent inequalities and prejudices of the eras in which they are set.
We’ve waited a couple of years for a new full-length novel from Ms. Milan. After the Wedding is the second book in her Worth Saga which is currently projected to be eight books and which will largely take place outside British shores. This is great news for those of us who have frequently wished for more historicals that take place away from the rarefied atmosphere of Georgian or Victorian London, and with that, comes the promise of more diverse characters and stories, both of which are welcome prospects.

I will admit, however, that I wasn’t wild about the first two books in the series, Once Upon a Marquess and the novella, Her Every Wish. I felt the romances were rather underdeveloped in both; and in the novel in particular, as though the author had rather lost sight of the fact that it was supposed to be a romance amid the sheer ‘busy-ness’ of the book as a whole. I didn’t connect with the protagonists and, more importantly didn’t feel they had much of a connection to each other, which isn’t a good place for any romance to find itself in. Still, the premise of After the Wedding – a (literal) shotgun wedding – reeled me in (arranged/forced marriage stories are my catnip) so I pounced on it, hoping that perhaps those earlier novels had been anomalies and that this one would once again provide the richly developed, engaging characters and stories I have found in the author’s previous work.

Sadly, that didn’t happen.

Our hero, Adrian Hunter, is the son of a widowed duke’s daughter and a black abolitionist; he is one of five brothers, three of whom perished fighting in the American Civil War.  He’s good-looking, clever, compassionate and well-to-do; his one source of discontent is that his mother’s brother, Bishop Denmore, has never publicly acknowledged their familial relationship.  The bishop took Adrian into his household when he was a boy, where he acted as his uncle’s page, and then, once grown, as his secretary, but nobody knew he was anything other than a servant.  Still, the man’s frequent expressions of affection for his ‘favourite sister’  give Adrian hope that one day, the bishop will own him as his nephew, and it seems that day is imminent when Denmore asks Adrian for a favour.  He wants Adrian to pose as a valet in order to enter the household of his rival, Bishop Lassiter, whom Denmore suspects of something underhand.  Adrian will gather evidence which the bishop will use to expose Lassiter and then Denmore will acknowledge Adrian.  It’s clear from the outset that’s never going to happen – and it’s hard to credit that Adrian, whom we’re supposed to believe is intelligent and a good businessman, could be so credulous.

Anyway.  Adrian takes the job as valet and accompanies Lassiter on a visit to one of his cronies, Rector Miles, which is where he encounters Camilla Winters, one of the housemaids.  She’s pretty and inclined to flirtation, which Adrian thinks might work to his advantage if she knows anything useful – but before he can find out, they are set up to be discovered alone together and forced to marry.  Clearly the intention has been to discredit one or both of them – but why?

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

A Perfect Gentleman by Candace Camp (audiobook) – Narrated by Gildart Jackson

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

Forced to marry an American heiress to save his family, Graeme Parr, Earl of Montclair, vowed their marriage would be in name only. Abigail Price thought handsome, aristocratic Graeme was her knight in shining armor, rescuing her from her overbearing father. But when she was spurned by her husband on their wedding night, Abigail fled home to New York.

Now, years later, Abigail has returned. But this sophisticated, alluring woman is not the drab girl Graeme remembers. Appalled by her bold American ways but drawn to her beauty, Graeme follows her on a merry chase through London’s elegant ballrooms to its dockside taverns – why is his wife back? What could she want of him now?

Torn between desire and suspicion, Graeme fears that Abby, like her unprincipled father, has a devious plan to ruin him. But is Abigail’s true desire Graeme’s destruction… or winning his love at last?

Rating: Narration – B : Content – B

I enjoyed A Perfect Gentleman in print when it came out last year, so I was pleased to learn it was to be issued in audio format. I was also pleased to see Gildart Jackson – who I last listened to in Caroline Linden’s The Truth About the Duke trilogy back in 2014 (where did that time go?!) – returning to the genre, and given that the novel combines two of my favourite tropes – an arranged marriage and a second-chance romance – I was looking forward to experiencing it again in audio.

The book opens with a short prologue set just after the marriage of Graeme Parr, eldest son and heir to the Earl of Montclair, and Abigail, daughter of the wealthy American industrialist Thurston Price. Abigail knows her new husband doesn’t love her and that he has married her principally for the dowry he plans to use to restore his family fortune and estate, but Graeme’s manner towards her has always been kind and gentlemanly, and she hopes that affection – perhaps even love – will eventually grow between them. So when, on their wedding night he accuses her of deception and of trapping him into marriage, all the while knowing he loves someone else, Abigail is devastated. She has no idea what Graeme is talking about and can only watch in shock as he storms out of their hotel room.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

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

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

If you stop running, you fall.

Jonah Pastern is a magician, a liar, a windwalker, a professional thief…and for six months, he was the love of police constable Ben Spenser’s life. His betrayal left Ben jailed, ruined, alone, and looking for revenge.

Ben is determined to make Jonah pay. But he can’t seem to forget what they once shared, and Jonah refuses to let him. Soon Ben is entangled in Jonah’s chaotic existence all over again, and they’re running together – from the police, the justiciary, and some dangerous people with a lethal grudge against them.

Threatened on all sides by betrayals, secrets, and the laws of the land, the policeman and the thief must find a way to live and love before the past catches up with them…

Rating: Narration – A- : Content – A

In an effort to prevent withdrawal symptoms after finishing K.J. Charles’ A Charm of Magpies trilogy, I jumped eagerly into listening to Jackdaw, which is set in the same universe and which tells the story of Jonah Pastern, who appeared as an important secondary character in book three, Flight of Magpies. Jonah – a type of practitioner (magician) known as a Windwalker because of his ability to manipulate air currents and to literally walk on air – was instrumental in the revenge planned by an evil warlock against Lucien, Lord Crane, and Stephen Day. Jonah came across as amoral, charming and irresponsible; he may have been coerced into co-operating with the warlock, but he had his own agenda and didn’t care who got hurt in the crossfire as long as it wasn’t him.

Jackdaw opens with disgraced former policeman, Ben Spenser (using an assumed name), trying to find his erstwhile lover, the man who upended and destroyed his life. Meeting the handsome force of nature that was Jonah Pastern some six months or so earlier, and falling in love, secure in the knowledge that the feeling was returned, had been the happiest time of Ben’s life – until it all fell apart when he witnessed Jonah in the midst of a burglary at a local museum. Jonah escaped, leaving a confused, furious and brokenhearted Ben to face the consequences, not only of having shared a home with a thief, but of having had an illegal relationship (i.e. a homosexual one) with him.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

Flight of Magpies (A Charm of Magpies #3) by K.J. Charles (audiobook) – Narrated by Cornell Collins

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

Danger in the air. Lovers on the brink.

A Charm of Magpies, Book 3: With the justiciary understaffed, a series of horrifying occult murders to be investigated, and a young student who is flying – literally – off the rails, magical law enforcer Stephen Day is under increasing stress. And his relationship with his aristocratic lover, Lord Crane, is beginning to feel the strain. Crane chafes at the restrictions of England’s laws, and there’s a worrying development in the blood-and-sex bond he shares with Stephen. A development that makes a sensible man question if they should be together at all.

When a thief strikes at the heart of Crane’s home, a devastating loss brings his closest relationships into bitter conflict – especially his relationship with Stephen. And as old enemies, new enemies, and unexpected enemies paint the lovers into a corner, the pressure threatens to tear them apart.

Warning: Contains hot-blooded sex, cold-blooded murder, sinister magical goings-on, and a lot of swearing.

Rating: Narration – A+ : Content – A

So compelling was K.J. Charles’Flight of Magpies that I listened to all six-and-a-half-hours of it in one sitting. In the third book of the A Charm of Magpies series, the author has crafted an engrossing story full of intrigue, magic and danger which pits our heroes, Lucien, Lord Crane and practitioner (magician) Stephen Day, against some truly evil old enemies bent on revenge while at the same time exploring the effects of, for want of a better expression, ‘real life’ on a couple in an established – although illegal – relationship.

Please note that there are spoilers for books one and two in this review.

By the end of book two of the trilogy, A Case of Possession, Lucien and Stephen are a couple; ILYs have been exchanged, Lucien has decided to remain in England with Stephen – at least, until such time as he can persuade his lover to go to Shanghai with him – and they’re in it for the long haul. Stephen has always been a bit elusive, but he’s now spending several nights a week at Lucien’s flat and their lives are becoming more and more intertwined, and not just because they are inextricably linked together by an ancient and potent magic. Lucien’s ancestor, The Magpie Lord, was the most powerful sorcerer England has ever seen, and although Lucien has no magical abilities himself, the supernatural power that runs through his blood can somehow amplify Stephen’s already considerable abilities and together, they are a force to be reckoned with.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.