Unfit to Print by K.J. Charles (audiobook) – Narrated by Vikas Adam

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

When crusading lawyer Vikram Pandey sets out in search of a missing youth, his investigations take him to Holywell Street, London’s most notorious address. He expects to find a disgraceful array of sordid bookshops. He doesn’t expect one of them to be run by the long-lost friend whose disappearance and presumed death he’s been mourning for 13 years.

Gil Lawless became a Holywell Street bookseller for his own reasons, and he’s damned if he’s going to apologize or listen to moralizing from anyone. Not even Vikram; not even if the once-beloved boy has grown into a man who makes his mouth water.

Now the upright lawyer and the illicit bookseller need to work together to track down the missing youth. And on the way, they may even learn if there’s more than just memory and old affection binding them together…

Rating: Narration – B+ : Content – A-

If you like the sound of an historical romance in which one of the principal characters makes his living by selling pornographic literature and the other is an uptight lawyer, then you need look no further. In Unfit to Print, K.J. Charles has crafted a romantic, witty and socially observant story in which two long-lost friends reunite to solve a mystery while they ponder morality and sexuality, and try to work out how – and even if – they can ever again be what they once were to each other.

Gilbert Lawless is surprised – to say the least – when he’s asked to attend his half-brother’s funeral. Matthew Laws was a complete git who wanted nothing to do with his illegitimate, half-breed mulatto brother and had sixteen-year-old Gil cast onto the streets before their father’s body was cold. Even more surprising is the discovery that the sanctimonious bastard had amassed a truly amazing amount of porn during his lifetime. Gil – who owns a small bookshop in Holywell Street (which was the centre of the pornography trade at this point in time) and both writes and sells erotic fiction – has never seen anything like it, which, considering his line of work, is saying something!

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

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A Duke Changes Everything (The Duke’s Den #1) by Christy Carlyle

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Nicholas Lyon gambled his way into a fortune and ownership of the most opulent, notorious gentlemen’s club in England. But when Nick’s cruel brother dies, he inherits a title he never wanted. The sooner Nick is rid of the estate that has always haunted him, the sooner he can return to the life he’s built in London. But there’s one obstacle—the exquisite Thomasina Thorne.

When the new heir to the Tremayne dukedom suddenly appears in Mina Thorne’s life, she’s flustered. Not only is he breathtakingly handsome, but he’s also determined to take away her home and position as steward of the Enderley estate. If Mina learns what makes the enigmatic duke tick, perhaps she can change his mind—as long as she doesn’t get too close to him.

With each day Nick spends with Mina, his resolve weakens as their colliding wills lead to explosive desire. Could she be the one woman who can help him finally bury the ghosts of his past?

Rating: C+

A Duke Changes Everything is the first book in Christy Carlyle’s new series set in the early Victorian Era.  It features a reluctant duke who happens to own a successful London gaming club – seriously, nineteenth century London – the historical romance edition – not only has about a million more dukes than could feasibly exist, but it seems the entire city consists of gambling establishments owned by aristocrats.  It’s become such an over-used character type that my eyes are starting to glaze over whenever I read a synopsis in which the words ‘duke’ (or earl) and ‘gambling club’ appear in the same sentence.

Anyway.  This particular duke has absolutely no interest in being one.  Nicholas Lyons is the second son of the Duke of Tremayne, who, from the sound of it, was completely insane.  Believing Nick to have been the product of his wife’s infidelity, the old duke hated his younger son and subjected him to unbelievable cruelty before the duchess was able to get them both away to France.  When she died, Nick was just sixteen and he returned to England penniless, determined to make his own way and wanting nothing whatsoever to do with his family.  After his father died, the title passed to Nick’s older brother, Eustace – and it’s the latter’s recent death that sees Nick now saddled with a dukedom and attendant duties and estates he doesn’t need or want.  His memories of Enderley Castle are far from happy ones, and so naturally, the last thing he wants is to set foot in the place, but he knows he’ll have to if he’s going to carry out his plan of selling everything of value, setting the place to rights and then leasing it out.

Mina Thorne has lived at Enderley her entire life, and seeing the previous duke took no interest in the place, took over her late father’s role as steward.  She’s highly competent and genuinely cares for the land and its inhabitants, although naturally the local gentry shake their heads disapprovingly and insist it isn’t proper for her to hold such a position.

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

The Henchmen of Zenda by K.J. Charles (audiobook) – Narrated by Antony Ferguson

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

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.

Rating: Narration – C+ : Content – A-

A retelling of Anthony Hope’s 1894 classic adventure story The Prisoner of Zenda from a different point of view, K.J. Charles’ The Henchmen of Zenda introduces us to Jasper Detchard, a disgraced and debauched former army officer who unrepentantly fights and fucks his way around Europe, making his living as soldier of fortune. He’s approached by Michael Elphberg, Duke of Strelsau (from the small European kingdom of Ruritania) to join his trusted bodyguard – known as “the six” – and take part in the overthrow of Michael’s half-brother, the country’s new king, Rudolf V.

The original novel is narrated by one Rudolf Rassendyll, an English gentleman who bears an uncanny resemblance to King Rudolf, and who is holidaying in Ruritania when he is approached by the king’s closest advisers and asked to impersonate the monarch during his upcoming coronation because he’s falling down drunk and unlikely to be sober in time to attend. When Michael’s men kidnap the king, things get even more complicated; Rassendyll falls in love with the king’s betrothed, the Princess Flavia, and all ends well after Rassendyll rescues the king and then honourably bows out, leaving Flavia to do her duty to king and country. It’s a “Boy’s Own” swashbuckling adventure, a piece of Victorian pulp fiction complete with all the clichés and conventions demanded by the genre; an altruistic, honourable hero, a damsel in distress and a black-hearted villain… or two. K.J. Charles does a superb job of turning these conventions on their heads, inside out and backwards to create a story that immediately takes on a life of its own separate from the source material, and of turning the characters into fully-rounded individuals rather than the rather two-dimensional cyphers they are in Hope’s tale.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

The Hollow of Fear (Lady Sherlock #3) by Sherry Thomas


This title may be purchased from Amazon

Under the cover of “Sherlock Holmes, consulting detective,” Charlotte Holmes puts her extraordinary powers of deduction to good use. Aided by the capable Mrs. Watson, Charlotte draws those in need to her and makes it her business to know what other people don’t.

Moriarty’s shadow looms large. First, Charlotte’s half brother disappears. Then, Lady Ingram, the estranged wife of Charlotte’s close friend Lord Ingram, turns up dead on his estate. And all signs point to Lord Ingram as the murderer.

With Scotland Yard closing in, Charlotte goes under disguise to seek out the truth. But uncovering the truth could mean getting too close to Lord Ingram—and a number of malevolent forces…

Rating: A

It seems that my reaction, whenever I finish one of Sherry Thomas’ Lady Sherlock books, is forever destined to be one of complete awe as I sit stunned, with my brain trying to catch up while I’m also trying to scrape my jaw up off the floor. I’m not sure I’m capable of forming whole sentences just yet, because DAY-UM, but the woman has a devious mind!

The Hollow of Fear is the third in the series, and it opens exactly where book two – A Conspiracy in Belgravia – left off. So be aware that what I’m going to say next is a spoiler for that book, and that there are most likely to be spoilers for the other books in this review. Readers should also know that while there is information dotted throughout that supplies some of the backstory, I’d strongly recommend reading all the books in order so as to gain a greater understanding of all the relevant events.

The plotline of Conspiracy concerned the search for one Myron Finch, who is Charlotte Holmes’ illegitimate half-brother. In a surprise twist tight at the end of the book, we learned that Finch has actually been hiding in plain sight all this time, working as the Holmes family’s coachman, and this conversation continues at the beginning of Hollow. Finch explains that he’s in hiding from Moriarty because he – Finch – has something belonging to his former master and knows that death will be his punishment should Moriarty ever find him. After a daring escape – made with the aid of Stephen Marbleton (whose mother was married to Moriarty at one time) – Charlotte is making her way back to the house she shares with Mrs. Watson when a carriage draws up beside her, the door opens – and the gentleman inside gives his name as Moriarty.

Skipping ahead a few months, we find Charlotte and Mrs. Watson comfortably settled in a cottage situated not very far from Stern Hollow, the country estate of Charlotte’s closest friend, Lord Ingram Ashburton.  The two have known each other since they were in their teens and it’s been very clear from the moment readers were introduced to Lord Ingram – Ash – that there’s more lying between him and Charlotte than friendship.  But he is married (albeit very unhappily) and Charlotte is… an unusual woman, to say the least, one who does not “understand the full spectrum of human emotions”, or rather, whose own reactions to those emotions are not always those that are desired or easily understood by others.  Lord Ingram and Charlotte know and understand each other on a deep, instinctual level, and their relationship is both beautiful and frustrating; the complementary way their minds work is wonderful to see – when it comes to logic and investigation, their thoughts mesh seamlessly – but their emotional connection is far more complex and Lord Ingram, fully aware of the nature of his feelings for Charlotte, is just as fully aware that they may never be returned as he would wish.

However, the reason Charlotte and Mrs. Watson are sojourning near Stern Hollow is not Lord Ingram, but Charlotte’s sister, Olivia, who is staying close by, at a house party being hosted by their father’s cousin, Mrs. Newell.  Given that Charlotte was disowned after her disgrace (A Study in Scarlet Women), she cannot openly contact Livia and hopes she will be able to see her while she is in the vicinity.  It looks as though fate is against them when Mrs. Newell’s home is flooded and it seems the party must be broken up, but Lord Ingram steps in to offer the hospitality of Stern Hollow to the displaced guests.  Livia’s enjoyment of her new surroundings is slightly marred by the presence of  two of society’s pre-eminent gossips, who have alleged that Charlotte and Lord Ingram are lovers and are trying to prove it.  Lady Ingram’s continued absence – the story is that she has gone abroad for the sake of her health; the truth is that she was divulging state secrets to Moriarty, and was allowed to leave the country before she could be arrested – produces even more juicy speculation on the part of the two ladies, who are now putting forth the rumours that Lord Ingram may have done away with the wife from whom he was known to be estranged in order to marry Charlotte.  When, a day or so later, Lady Ingram’s dead body is discovered in the ice house, Livia knows it will look as though those rumours are true – and that there’s only one person who will be able to prove Lord Ingram’s innocence.

Gah!  There’s so much more I could say about this book, but I don’t want to give too much away.  The bulk of the story is devoted to the investigation into Lady Ingram’s death – but it’s far more complicated than that, and we’re gripped by the various twists, turns and discoveries as Sherlock’s ‘brother’ – Sherrinford Holmes – helps Lord Ingram to ferret out and piece together the evidence needed to exonerate him. There’s no question the stakes are high; this is the first time we’ve seen Charlotte even the slightest bit rattled, and the pervasive sense of fear running throughout the story is palpable.  For three-quarters of the novel, Ms. Thomas lulls readers into the belief that this is the story – only to rip out the carpet from under our feet and show it’s been about something else all along, revealing that while Ash’s life really IS on the line, he and Charlotte are facing a very dangerous, devious foe and they’re out to do much more than bring a murderer to justice.  That’s not the only twist in the tale however – a couple of chapters later I was reeling from yet another unexpected reveal that had my husband wondering what on earth I was swearing aloud about!

One of the (many) things that marks the Lady Sherlock series out as superior to so many other historical mysteries is the incredible amount of character development going on.  More layers of Charlotte’s complex personality are peeled back here, and we learn a lot more about Lord Ingram and his unpopular wife; but most importantly, with Ash and Charlotte together for almost the entire book we get to see the reality of their messy, complicated relationship and to gain a deeper understanding of why things between them are the way they are.  Their scenes together are electric, the sexual tension so thick it could be cut with a knife; the author wasn’t kidding when she said – “this is the one in which the romance between Charlotte Holmes and her good friend Lord Ingram really picks up steam”, so it’s not a spoiler to say that there are some interesting developments between them, but there is still much to hope for in future instalments.

Even with the high-stakes plot and the character and relationship development, there’s still time to shine a light on Charlotte’s family situation; on her plans for Bernadine, the older sister whose mind has never progressed beyond early childhood and on Livia, prone to melancholy and fearful for the future, but fiercely devoted to Charlotte – and, it seems, in love for the first time.  Inspector Treadles, who has been struggling ever since discovering Sherlock Holmes’ true identity, his judgement strongly coloured by his – probably typical for the time – misogynistic views as to what a woman should and shouldn’t be, proves a trustworthy ally, and by the end of the book – thanks to Charlotte – he’s realised the need to let go of this preconceived ideas.

The story is very cleverly constructed, making excellent use of flashbacks in the latter part to complete the bigger picture and fill in some of the information the reader almost doesn’t realise has been withheld. That’s not to say that I felt cheated at any point – I didn’t.  But I was able to figure out some things and not others, meaning that there were still plenty of surprises in store, and I loved that.

The Hollow of Fear is yet another tour de force from Sherry Thomas – and long may she continue to deliver them. A mystery filled with as many twists and turns as any Conan Doyle fan could wish for, a fascinating character study, and an unusual romance, it’s easily the best book of the series (so far) and my only complaint is that I have to wait until next year for another helping.

When a Duke Loves a Woman (Sins for All Seasons #2) by Lorraine Heath (audiobook) – Narrated by Kate Reading


This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

Gillie Trewlove knows what a stranger’s kindness can mean, having been abandoned on a doorstep as a baby and raised by the woman who found her there. So, when suddenly faced with a soul in need at her door – or the alleyway by her tavern – Gillie doesn’t hesitate. But he’s no infant. He’s a grievously injured, distractingly handsome gentleman who doesn’t belong in Whitechapel, much less recuperating in Gillie’s bed….

Being left at the altar is humiliating; being rescued from thugs by a woman – albeit a brave and beautiful one – is the pièce de résistance to the duke of Thornley’s extraordinarily bad day. After nursing him back from the brink, Gillie agrees to help him comb London’s darker corners for his wayward bride. But every moment together is edged with desire and has Thorne rethinking his choice of wife. Yet Gillie knows the aristocracy would never accept a duchess born in sin. Thorne, however, is determined to prove to her that no obstacle is insurmountable when a duke loves a woman.

Rating: Narration – A : Content – B-

The first two books in the author’s Sins for All Seasons series – Beyond Scandal and Desire and When a Duke Loves a Woman – have been released simultaneously as audiobooks, and as I read and reviewed the first book earlier this year, I opted to review the second in audio. It’s a low-angst, low-conflict Cinderella story which is well written, boasts a couple of engaging central characters and a romance that feels very mature – but ultimately, it lacks the emotional punch I’ve found in other books I’ve read by this author, and I came away from it feeling a little disappointed.

Antony Coventry, Duke of Thornley, is some way into his cups when he decides to make his way to Whitechapel, the last known destination of the woman who jilted him at the altar that morning. While there, Thornley – Thorne – falls foul of a bunch of footpads who rob him and beat him quite badly. He just about recalls hearing a low, melodious voice yelling at the men to leave him alone and moves in and out of consciousness as his rescuer, gets him to her flat, has the doctor called, and then takes care of him until he is well enough to be able to return home.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

The Duke With the Dragon Tattoo (Victorian Rebels #6) by Kerrigan Byrne (audiobook) – Narrated by Derek Perkins

This title may be purchased from Amazon

The bravest of heroes. The brashest of rebels. The boldest of lovers. These are the men who risk their hearts and their souls-for the passionate women who dare to love them . . .

He is known only as The Rook. A man with no name, no past, no memories. He awakens in a mass grave, a magnificent dragon tattoo on his muscled forearm the sole clue to his mysterious origins. His only hope for survival-and salvation-lies in the deep, fiery eyes of the beautiful stranger who finds him. Who nurses him back to health. And who calms the restless demons in his soul . . .

A LEGENDARY LOVE

Lorelei will never forget the night she rescued the broken dark angel in the woods, a devilishly handsome man who haunts her dreams to this day. Crippled as a child, she devoted herself to healing the poor tortured man. And when he left, he took a piece of her heart with him. Now, after all these years, The Rook has returned. Like a phantom, he sweeps back into her life and avenges those who wronged her. But can she trust a man who’s been branded a rebel, a thief, and a killer? And can she trust herself to resist him when he takes her in his arms?

Rating: Narration – A : Content – C+

I’ve read and/or listened to all the books in Kerrigan Byrne’s Victorian Rebels series, and I hate to say it, but I think it’s running – has run – out of steam. The first two or three were very good – The Highwayman (book one) continues to be my favourite of the series, with The Hunter a close second – but books four to six have been distinctly lacklustre, and I think that had it not been for the fact that Derek Perkins is one of my favourite narrators and I’ll always jump at the chance to listen to him performing an historical romance novel, I might well have given up on it by now.

When I started The Duke with the Dragon Tattoo (and don’t get me started on the penchant for derivative titles in HR these days!), I thought – at first – that at last, here was a return to the gripping storytelling of The Highwayman, but after a very strong opening and first few chapters, things start to fizzle out; the rest of the plot is tissue-paper thin, the central relationship is almost completely recycled from book one, the principals are bland and underdeveloped and there are large chunks in the middle of the book where nothing much happens.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

Salt Magic, Skin Magic by Lee Welch

This title may be purchased from Amazon

Lord Thornby has been trapped on his father’s isolated Yorkshire estate for a year. There are no bars or chains; he simply can’t leave. His sanity is starting to fray. When industrial magician John Blake arrives to investigate a case of witchcraft, he finds the peculiar, arrogant Thornby as alarming as he is attractive. John soon finds himself caught up in a dark fairytale, where all the rules of magic—and love—are changed.

To set Thornby free, both men must face life-changing truths—and John must accept that the brave, witty man who’s winning his heart may also be about to break it. Can they escape a web of magic that’s as perilous as love?

Rating: A-

First of all – don’t let that horrible cover put you off!

Salt Magic, Skin Magic is a very impressive almost-début novel from Lee Welch – I say ‘almost’, because the author has previously published a novella – and I devoured it in two sittings.  I’m not widely-read in the fantasy genre, but the premise seemed quite unique, the world-building – in terms of the rules governing the use of magic – is well-thought out and explained, and the two central characters are engaging and strongly defined.

Soren Dezombrey, Lord Thornby, lives a life devoted to pleasure in London, as is usual for many heirs-in-waiting.  He is estranged from his father, the Marquess of Dalton, whom he hasn’t seen for twenty years, so is naturally surprised when the marquess visits him in town and insists that Soren returns to the family’s Yorkshire estate of Raskelf Hall so that he can marry one of two heiresses selected for him.  In fact, the marquess does more than insist; his servants overpower Soren and force him into the carriage, and Soren is now a prisoner in his own home.  For the past eighteen months, he’s been at Raskelf – and he can’t leave.  Literally.  He isn’t bound or locked in; he can go wherever he pleases within the estate boundary, but whenever he gets close to it, he starts to panic, think the nineteenth century equivalent of “damn, I’ve left the oven on!” and immediately turns back and returns to the hall.

John Blake is a down-to-earth industrial magician, an exponent of inanimate magic, which is regarded in magical circles as lesser, more common magic than that practiced by Theurgists, who summon demons to do their magic for them and so don’t get their hands dirty.  His normal line of work is in factories and other industrial buildings, where he is employed to ward against things like fires, injuries or accidents, so the request to visit the home of a nobleman is a very unusual one.  But a friend – who happens to be Lady Dalton’s cousin – tells him that the lady is terrified that her stepson is using magic with intent to harm her, and he asks John to visit Raskelf as a favour.  John reluctantly agrees to go, and immediately senses that there’s something not right.  The house is literally drenched In ancient magic, curses and things John doesn’t understand, and even odder is the fact that Thornby seems to be completely immune to his magic.  John’s curiosity is aroused – as are other things, because Thornby, while the epitome of the arrogant, disdainful nobleman, is quite the most beautiful man John has ever seen.

At first, what he sees would seem to support the idea that Thornby is indeed a malevolent force within the household, and he takes little heed of the latter’s insistence that he holds no ill-will towards Lady Dalton and that he is unable to leave the estate.  It’s only when he witnesses first-hand – by marching Thornby forcibly across the estate boundary – the other man’s struggles to return and then watches as horrible wounds appear on his face that he at last comes to realise that there’s something truly sinister at work at Raskelf and to believe that Thornby is an unwitting pawn in a dangerous game… but what exactly is going on and who is pulling the strings?

Lee Welch has created an original, riveting magical fantasy in Salt Magic, Skin Magic, which combines an intriguing, tightly-constructed and high-stakes plot laden with mysticism, magic and suspense with a warm, tender romance between two men at opposite ends of the social spectrum who should, by rights, never have met.  The chemistry between Soren and John is intense right from the start, although neither is happy about the degree to which they’re drawn to the other man; and I loved the evolution of their relationship as it progressed from antagonism and suspicion to trust, affection and soul-deep belief in each other. Their interactions are flirty, funny and tender, and the romance develops in a wholly believable, organic way.

Salt Magic, Skin Magic is unquestionably one of the most original, compelling books I’ve read this year, and I’m eager to see what Ms. Welch comes up with next.