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Posts Tagged ‘18th Century’

(Brandon Brothers #2)

Genre: Historical Romance

Blurb (Goodreads):

Meet Adam Brandon … acutely intelligent and master-swordsman but gradually realising that he isn’t yet ready for the future he had previously planned.

Victim of a cruel deception, Camilla Edgerton-Foxe has a jaundiced view of the male sex and a tongue as sharp as her wits … but she also possesses an extraordinary talent.

A peculiar encounter offers Adam the kind of employment for which he is uniquely suited and which will exercise his mind as well as his muscles. The fly in the ointment is that Miss Edgerton-Foxe comes with it … as does Rainham, viscount and master of disguise, with a frequently misplaced sense of humour.
From Paris, via London, to the mists and mysteries of Romney Marsh, these three are sent on the trail of something darker and infinitely more dangerous than the kegs of brandy that come ashore at the dark of the moon. 

♥♥♥♥♥♥

Under a Dark Moon, the second in Stella Riley’s Brandon Brothers trilogy, is set in and around the atmospheric and starkly beautiful plains of Romney Marsh in Kent. As well as the smuggling of tax free luxury goods, something else far more sinister is going on, and there is a conspiracy of silence with the locals involved closing ranks. Very few people know who the leader of the smuggling ring is, but as the benefits are financially lucrative, no one involved is willing to jeopardise their ‘livelihood’ by speculating or questioning. This stretch of the Kent coast is the shortest distance between France and England making Romney Marsh with its swamplands and heavy mists perfect for the activity. The local churches mentioned in the story really exist and were visited in the course of the author’s extensive and immaculate research. While innocent and unobtrusive by day, they take on sinister undertones by night, and play their part in the concealment of the illegal smuggled goods once landed. The taverns and pubs mentioned throughout the story, are also kosher. For instance, The City of London Tavern, Dymchurch, is actually a sixteenth century tavern still operating today. 

Ms.Riley lives fairly close by and I love how she often uses this beautiful, intriguing and mysterious part of the country in some of her books. I’ve actually been so caught up in previous stories, such as The Player, that I’ve visited the area she’s described to experience it for myself. So well does she weave her magic that her fictional characters become living, breathing, people and some, especially Adrian, the MC of the above mentioned story, has taken up residence in my heart as one of my ‘book boyfriends’. This is research and writing at its best and I’m never disappointed as every single book and character she writes about is different to the last. I appreciate accurate historical detail, and when an author goes to this much trouble to achieve authenticity for her readers, it’s never lost on me. 

Adam Brandon is a silver-gilt haired, dashing, fearless, sword carrying dreamboat, and not only is he extremely easy on the eye, but a thoroughly decent man to boot. He’s no pushover, either, as his soon-to-be-boss, Goddard discovers; he even goes so far as to earmark Adam as a worthy counterpart for his feisty niece, Camilla, who is also an operative in M Division. I can remember every single one of this author’s extensive list of male characters from all of her books in three dimensional clarity, so memorable are they. Adam is a worthy addition to the list and I loved everything about him from his silver-gilt hair to his air of quiet authority, and no nonsense approach to life.

Adam has been honing his exceptional skill with the sword amongst the very best in Paris, with the ultimate goal of setting up his own Fencing academy aiming to pass on his skills in serious sword play, as well as the gentleman’s sport of fencing. However, he’s still young and with enough adrenaline pumping through his blood that he’s happy to put his ambitions on hold when he is offered an exciting proposition from an unexpected source. Goddard (aka the Earl of Alveston), the leader of a little known government unit known as M Division, has been quietly investigating and observing Adam for some considerable time. As well as receiving confirmation of Adam’s integrity from an old friend, he has also seen for himself that, whilst Adam is a formidable swordsman, he is not an indiscriminate killer, and has all the qualities Goddard is looking for as an addition to his small multi-talented team. 

Adam’s first task after completing his training in the field – which encompasses such nefarious tasks as lock picking – is to escort Camilla to her family’s country estate, Dragon Hall, in west Kent. The fact that this task also coincides with his first assignment is by the by because initially Camilla makes it almost impossible for the two of them to co-exist happily, even as she guesses they are to be on the same team. They lock horns from their first meeting when she tries unsuccessfully to get the better of him. Having almost married a man she believed herself to be in love with a year previously, only to discover by accident, in a humiliatingly overheard gossipy conversation, that he was not the man she thought him to be, Camilla has lost trust in all men and sworn off them for good. So unfortunately for Adam, being the first attractive young man she has encountered in the past year, he was always going to have a rough time. 

To me, Camilla initially comes over as an embittered and uncompromising young woman which, of course, is understandable given her experience with her ex fiancé. However, I must admit to jumping very much to Adam’s defence – such is Stella Riley’s ability to make me love her male characters. Soon, however, Camilla’s indomitable spirit melted my animosity towards her and, as the two spend more time together as working colleagues, I could see that this intelligent, feisty young woman was the perfect partner for the gorgeous Adam, in more ways than one. Plus, of course, she soon begins to really see Adam without her prejudices getting in the way, so I can forgive her initial rancour at his habit of “issuing orders and expecting everyone – including her – to jump”…even if he did adopt this attitude because of her obvious (at the time) aversion to him. Adam himself first begins to see the softer side of Camilla after she arrives at her home and is greeted by the staff who quite obviously love her; her smile dazzling him “in its warmth” and…”although he knew it wasn’t for him, Adam found himself smiling stupidly back”… this was the moment Adam began to lose his heart even if he wasn’t aware of it at the time.

After getting off to such a bad start, Adam sets out to deliberately charm Camilla although he also manages to keep wrong footing her with his mischievous repartee. Still, bit by bit, he begins to break down her defences – who wouldn’t be charmed by Adam? The two, together with Rainham, a fabulous secondary character who could easily have had his own book, and Harry Finch, Adam’s valet/right-hand man, are soon working together as a team. Another plus is that we get to see some characters from previous books, not least Sebastian Audley (The Wicked Cousin), one of the author’s most memorable and much loved characters. By now Sebastian has inherited the title of Viscount Wingham from his recently deceased father, and with his wife, Cassandra, and their baby son, live at Audley Court, Rye. We see quite a lot of him as he aids Adam, Camilla, and Rainham in their undercover investigations. I love that the author does this; I’m never content to say goodbye to her characters so when they become involved as secondary characters in later stories, I’m happy to be back in her magical Georgian world with them.

With the initial mutual dislike soon dissipating, we don’t have long to wait before Adam and Camilla – both equally intelligent – recognise each other’s professional acumen and skills, which in turn leads to respect, liking, trust, and a delicious slow burn romance. Adam is one of those rare breeds, a one woman man, and when he finds her (as he has) he’s chivalrous to a point which completely fits the picture of him I have in my imagination. There is no gratuitous sex on the page but the sexual tension between them positively simmers as the story progresses and, in my opinion, is far sexier than pages of descriptive text. Plus, Adam’s occasional, but perfectly timed risqué comments to Camilla, are both amusing and sexy in themselves and add another layer to the overall romantic feel of the story. Camilla’s female staff also fall under Adam’s charismatic spell, and I love how he’s unaware of it, a fact which only makes him all the more endearing. 

Alex Wyndham is Stella Riley’s chosen narrator and has, to date, recorded almost all of her backlist (with more of her stunning R&C series in the pipeline I believe), and all of her more recently published work. He expertly portrays her well drawn characters; feisty, out of the ordinary, no nonsense women, and her men…oh her men…long hair, frock coats, and swords, bringing them to life in such a way that they are truly memorable. 

Alex Wyndham’s smooth, cultured voice is perfectly suited to this genre, but having said that, he is also, very convincingly, able to subtly alter his own voice and, taking it down a notch or two, communicates the rougher, gravelly tones of the working class man. In Under a Dark Moon he has a fair few of these men to portray – of all ages. On occasions some of these men are involved in multi-character conversations or arguments with the more cultured Rainham, Sebastian and Adam. In one such scene, he impressively juggles five or more different male characters whilst keeping them all distinctly recognisable using only tone and local dialect; I would have known some of these characters even without the dialogue tags. Not only is this quite a feat in itself, but at the same time he also successfully implies the background menace prevalent to the whole conversation/interrogation. This, coupled with the author’s ever present wit and humour is delivered smoothly as he effortlessly switches between characters with his usual panache, in the process, proving what a versatile and talented actor can add to an already outstanding story.

Under a Dark Moon (Brandon Brothers #2) is a stunning historical romance with the added bonus of a plausible and clever mystery which has been brought to life by Alex Wyndham. Once more, author and narrator have raised the bar to bring us something out of the ordinary, plus of course, more fabulous characters for us to love. With only Leo Brandon’s story to add to this trio of books, I’m wondering where Stella Riley’s clever mind will take her next, because, having very skilfully linked both  her Roundheads and Cavaliers and Rockliffe series to the Brandon Brothers, I’m looking forward to what she has up her sleeve in the future. 

Highly Recommended.

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(Rockliffe #6.1)

Genre: Historical Romance

Blurb (Goodreads);

Celebrate among old friends … and perhaps a gate-crasher or two. There will be wassailers and kissing-boughs; music, dancing and romance; laughter and some tears. Above all, expect the unexpected because at Christmas anything can happen.

So accept your invitation for what promises to be the most talked-of house-party of 1778 … and is also a last Huzzah to the Rockliffe series.

♥♥♥♥♥♥

I loved Stella Riley’s superb Rockliffe series and was saddened when it came to an end. To say I was overjoyed when she announced the release of this novella is an understatement, and what a festive treat it was.

It was an absolute joy to have so many of my beloved characters all gathered together to celebrate Christmas. Rockliffe is his usual unflappable self, and I was also delighted to see that Sebastian is still the ‘master of mischief’.

If I were to choose one character that really stands out, it’s Julian. He is such a wonderful father to Tom, Rob and Ellie – so kind, loving and patient. The children obviously adore him and I challenge anyone not to have tears in their eyes when Tom tells his story.

There are some unwelcome guests in the form of Adrian’s mother, the Dowager Countess of Sarre, and Caroline’s mother, Mrs Hayward. These two could definitely give the Macbeth witches a run for their money and so I love how Rockliffe subjects the Dowager Countess to one of his snubs.

There is romance in the air for four of the guests and some special Christmas magic that is sure to warm your heart.

This is an enchanting story full of warmth, charm, fun, laughter and romance. It’s the perfect close to this wonderful series. Highly recommended.


Previously posted on Goodreads

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(Brandon Brothers #2)

Genre: Historical Romance

Blurb (Goodreads):

Meet Adam Brandon … acutely intelligent and master-swordsman but gradually realising that he isn’t yet ready for the future he had previously planned.

Victim of a cruel deception, Camilla Edgerton-Foxe has a jaundiced view of the male sex and a tongue as sharp as her wits … but she also possesses an extraordinary talent.

A peculiar encounter offers Adam the kind of employment for which he is uniquely suited and which will exercise his mind as well as his muscles. The fly in the ointment is that Miss Edgerton-Foxe comes with it … as does Rainham, viscount and master of disguise, with a frequently misplaced sense of humour.
From Paris, via London, to the mists and mysteries of Romney Marsh, these three are sent on the trail of something darker and infinitely more dangerous than the kegs of brandy that come ashore at the dark of the moon. 

♥♥♥♥♥♥

Under a Dark Moon is the second book in Ms. Riley’s Brandon Brothers trilogy and, as with all her books, it’s eminently readable, impeccably researched and intricately plotted, with loveable characters, witty dialogue, and a lovely romance.

I invariably fall in love with all Ms. Riley’s heroes. Each one is gorgeous and unique in their own way, and Adam Brandon is no exception. With his silver-gilt hair, striking looks, and proficiency with a sword, he certainly cuts a dashing figure. In addition to being honourable, honest, dependable and discreet, he also has a quick mind, strength of character and integrity. It is these very qualities that convince Goddard/ Earl of Alveston, the head of M Section, a secretive Government department, that Adam would make an excellent agent. Adam’s ultimate ambition is to establish a Salle d’Armes offering both swordplay and fencing, but he doesn’t feel the time is right. So the intermittent nature of the work suits Adam perfectly and he accepts the offer of a job, much to his older brother Max’s apprehension.

His first mission takes him to Romney Marsh in Kent, where he and a fellow agent are to investigate the increased smuggling in the area, and a possible espionage ring operating under the cover of the smuggling. The only fly in the ointment is Camilla Edgerton-Foxe, the Earl of Alveston’s niece, whom Adam is to accompany to Dragon Hall, her home on Romney Marsh. If their first meeting is anything to go by, he doesn’t relish the task!

I think Camilla is destined to become one of my favourite Stella Riley heroines. I admire her intelligence, courage, determination, and, as Adam later discovers, ‘Camilla’s spine had as much steel in it as his sword … and that made her unique’. Her extraordinary memory for details only ever caused her trouble during her younger days, but it has proved invaluable to M Section since her uncle recruited her. She was once engaged to be married but, after discovering her finance’s deceit, she cancelled the wedding. The experience has left her with a deep distrust of men, and she has resolved never to risk her heart again. There is one point in the story where Camilla could have made an unwise decision but she is intelligent enough to think it through first before taking action. I also love how she sends the obnoxious Peter Blane away with a flea in his ear.

Ms. Riley excels in writing a slow-building romance between her hero and heroine, letting the reader experience every nuance of their evolving relationship. Initially, Camilla is hostile towards Adam considering him rude and overbearing and, for a man who doesn’t usually have a problem with women, he is at a loss to understand why she has taken such a dislike to him. I enjoyed the back and forth, as each of them tries to get the upper hand, and Adam’s cool politeness is more than a match for Camilla’s cutting remarks. As Camilla gets to know Adam better, she realises that it was wrong of her to make him suffer because of another man’s actions and apologises to him. This paves the way for friendship, attraction, and ultimately love to blossom.

Adam treats Camilla as an equal and listens to her opinions, something no man has ever done before. He admires her intelligence and encourages the fact that she is a strong and capable woman, having two such woman in his life already, his mother and his sister. Camilla appreciates that Adam is unlike any other man she has ever known before. He’s clever, kind, honourable and funny, and accepts her just the way she is. The fact that he has a ‘devastating smile and a spectacular body‘ doesn’t hurt either. I like the vulnerability Adam shows when he believes that he doesn’t stand a chance with Camilla, but who could fail to love a man who would willingly give his own life for you.

I love Leo’s wedding gift to Camilla, and Adam’s special way of thanking her for agreeing to be his wife is deliciously romantic.

It’s probably due to my advancing years but, when it comes to love scenes, I’m finding that less is more. In the wedding night scene, I felt Ms. Riley weaves a lovely romantic, playful and sensual atmosphere without the need to be overtly explicit. Sometimes certain things are best left to the imagination.

Ms. Riley’s secondary characters always add depth to her stories and I especially loved Viscount Rainham, a fellow M Section agent, who to quote Camilla:

”You know, don’t you, that even though you’re the most provoking person I know, I’m rather fond of you?”

That makes two of us, Camilla!

and Harry Finch who may be an atrocious valet where Adam is concerned, but the ideal man to cover one’s back in a tight situation.

A more serious Sebastian Audley, now Viscount Wingham, plays an important role in the investigation and it was lovely to see Cassie again too. Ms. Riley also brings together many other beloved characters from her Rockliffe series, and Brandon family members, to celebrate Adam and Camilla’s nuptials. It was like catching up with old friends you haven’t seen for a long time.

Ms. Riley always seems to include lovely moments of humour in her stories and there is a wonderful scene where they are threatening one of the smugglers with a specific instrument of torture. Who would have thought that a simple kitchen implement would have struck fear into a burley smuggler’s heart.

Once again, Ms. Riley’s in-depth research is apparent in her descriptions of the Romney Marsh landscape and the fascinating facts relating to smuggling. There is plenty of action, danger and suspense with Romney Marsh providing a suitably atmospheric backdrop for all manner of dark deeds – smuggling, murder, espionage and kidnapping. Both Camilla’s ability to memorise things and Adam’s prowess with a sword play an important role, and the revelation at the end was certainly a surprise to me.

If you are looking for a well-written, engrossing story with memorable characters and a captivating romance, then I can highly recommend UNDER A DARK MOON.

Originally posted on Goodreads

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(Brandon Brothers #1)

Genre: Historical Romance

Blurb (Goodreads)

Someone is misusing Max Brandon’s name – resulting in bills for services he never ordered and goods he did not buy. For reasons he can’t begin to guess, he has become the victim of some unknown person’s campaign of persecution.

When the games move closer to home, almost forcing him to fight a duel … more particularly, when they draw in Frances Pendleton, a lady he never expected to see again … Max vows to catch the man behind them, no matter what the cost.

The result is a haphazard chase involving ruined abbeys, a hunt for hermits, a grotesque portrait … and a love story which, but for this odd trick of fate, might never have been given a second chance.

♥♥♥♥♥♥

A TRICK of FATE is the first book in Ms. Riley’s much anticipated Brandon Brothers series. With its intriguing storyline, heart-warming romance, endearing characters and sparkling dialogue, it is an absolute delight from start to finish.

I have fallen in love with every one of Ms. Riley’s heroes and Max is no exception. In Cadenza, he was so loving and protective, but also understanding towards his sister, Arabella, and he showed kindness in the way he helped Julian. In A TRICK OF FATE, he is honourable, hardworking, loyal and totally dedicated to his family too. I love how his serious side is offset by a deliciously wicked sense of humour and a real appreciation of the frivolous.

The flashbacks showing how he and Frances met and fell in love five years earlier at a house party are utterly charming and their dialogue sparkles like champagne. They are so in tune with each other that I never doubted they were truly meant to be together, which made what transpired to keep them apart all the more heart-breaking.

I especially enjoyed the road trip element of the story because their close proximity creates a palpable sexual tension between Max and Frances, while providing the opportunity for them to confront the past and rekindle their love for each other. I enjoyed the descriptions of the Scottish landscape and the interesting historical details, which are blended into this part of the story without it sounding like a travelogue.

I LOVE the humour in this book – from the ridiculous hermit repartee, to the wee, timorous beasties tale, to Max and Leo’s witty banter, to Max’s naughty innuendos. The mystery concerning the illusive ‘Mr Grey’ kept the story moving and I never once suspected his true identity or his motives. Cleverly done, Ms. Riley.

It was lovely catching up with characters from Cadenza – Julian, Arabella, their three adopted children, and Lizzie and Ralph, who all make an appearance. Ralph’s vulnerability when it comes to his wife, and learning that he was once kind to Frances when she needed it, most certainly confirmed his redemption in my eyes.

As always, the main characters are supported by a wonderful cast of secondary ones including:

• Max’s younger brothers – Leo, a talented artist, and Adam, who is mad about swords and swordsmanship

• Lady Louisa, Max’s mother, who loves her family and only wants their happiness.

• Duncan Balfour, Max’s red-headed, Scottish secretary, who is more of a friend to him

• Lady Pendleton, Frances’ mother, a selfish old battle-axe, but she no match for a wrathful Max

I love how Ms. Riley incorporates family links to her Roundheads and Cavaliers series when Max tells Frances about his great-great-grandparents, Gabriel and Venetia Brandon, whose story is told in Garland of Straw. The ‘exceptionally talented goldsmith on Bond Street is sure to be a descendant of Toby Maxwell, a character from The Black Madonna.

What a wonderful start to a new series and I eagerly await Leo and Adam’s stories. Highly recommended.

Originally posted on Goodreads

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(Alec Halsey Mystery #4)

Genre: Historical Mystery

Cover Blurb (Amazon)

Murderous Family Secrets

Summer 1764. Alec and Selina anxiously await the birth of their first child at their estate in Kent. It should be a time of family celebration, but the death of a young poacher has Alec investigating murder. And when renovations to his sprawling manor unearth a secret burial chamber, a shocking family secret comes to light. Everything Alec thought he knew about his birth is again called into question, and with it the special bond with his irascible uncle Plantagenet.
 

♥♥♥♥♥♥

This is the fourth book in the Alec Halsey Mystery series and, once again, Lucinda Brant weaves a gripping tale of murder and shocking family secrets. While this book can be read as a standalone, I would definitely recommend reading the other books in the series first to fully appreciate this one. It’s no hardship as each one is excellent in its own right.

Alec and Selina have removed from London to Deer Park, the Halsey ancestral home in Kent, to await the birth of their first child. This is no quiet retreat however, as the long-neglected Jacobean manor house is in desperate need of modernisation to make it habitable. Overseeing the work provides a welcome distraction from Alec’s fears over Selena and the forthcoming birth.

However, when a young boy is found brutally murdered, and his workmen discover a secret vault below the flagstones, Alec is determined not only to find the murderer but also to uncover the secrets the vault holds. The more he investigates, the more certain he becomes that the murder, the vault, and the conspiracy of silence that pervades among the villagers, are all interconnected in some way. But Alec is unaware that in uncovering the truth, everything he thought he knew about his past will be turned upside down.

The chilling Prologue sets the scene for an intricately plotted story in which Ms. Brant builds the suspense with plenty of unexpected twists and turns, leading to a dramatic climax. The identity of Alec’s father has always been the subject of conjecture and it is one of the revelations in this story, although I did already have my suspicions. Alec has always believed that his mother simply abandoned him, but the truth is far more complex, and the letter she leaves in the vault for Alec is both heartbreaking and strangely uplifting, so much so, that it brought tears to my eyes.

I enjoyed the quiet moments of intimacy between Alec and Selina which provided a welcome contrast to the darker elements of the story. I loved how they are so attuned to one another’s thoughts and I could certainly sympathise with Alec’s fears about childbirth.

Ms. Brant’s books are always rich in history and detail, creating a strong sense of place – of being transported back to the Georgian era. I like how the Black Act and Gavelkind (full details are provided in the Author’s Notes) are woven into and form the backbone of the story.

As with all her books, there is an extensive, well-developed and colourful cast of secondary characters, many of whom were introduced in the previous books.

– Alec’s irascible, republican uncle, Plantagenet Halsey, (who seems to be hiding secrets of his own), and Alec’s formidable, aristocratic godmother, Olivia, The Duchess of Romney St. Neots, who have formed a most unlikely romantic attachment.

– Hadrian Jeffries, Alec’s valet, and apothecary, Thomas (Tam) Fisher, whose devotion to Alec brings them together as unexpected allies.

– Clive Vesey, Earl of Cobham, Selina’s idiot brother and Head of the Foreign Department, who supplies some much needed light relief.

”I want to strangle someone every time I trip over a confounded cushion or Lady Cobham shoves a bowl of that Frenchie stuff under m’nose and tells me to sniff. Once got a piece of dried orange peel lodged up a nostril. Painful bloody business!”

The other secondary characters provided an abundance of potential murder suspects.

Another brilliant addition to this excellent series and I’m looking forward to meeting up with my favourite characters again soon in DEADLY DIPLOMACY. Highly Recommended.

Originally posted on Goodreads

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Genre: Historical Romance (18th Century – 1743)

Cover Blurb:

Jacobite Intrigue and Romance in 18th Century Edinburgh.

Edinburgh, Yuletide 1743, and Redcoat officer Robert Catto would rather be anywhere else on earth than Scotland. Seconded back from the wars in Europe to captain the city’s Town Guard, he fears his covert mission to assess the strength of the Jacobite threat will force him to confront the past he tries so hard to forget.

Christian Rankeillor, her surgeon-apothecary father and his apprentice Jamie Buchan of Balnamoon are committed supporters of the Stuart Cause. They’re hiding a Jacobite agent with a price on his head in Edinburgh Royal Infirmary, a hanging offence.

Meeting as enemies, Robert and Kirsty are thrown together as allies by the mysterious death of a young prostitute and their desire to help fugitive brother and sister Geordie and Alice Smart. They’re on the run from Cosmo Liddell, bored and brutal aristocrat and coal owner.

As they pick their way through a labyrinth of intrigue, Robert and Kirsty are increasingly drawn to each other. She knows their mutual attraction can go nowhere. He know his duty demands that he must betray her.

Bringing to life a time when Scotland stood at a crossroads in her history, Gathering Storm is the first in a suite of Jacobite novels by Scottish writer Maggie Craig, author of the ground-breaking and acclaimed Damn’ Rebel Bitches: The Women of the ’45.

♥♥♥♥♥♥

I loved this magnificent, fast paced, brilliantly researched novel of 18th century Edinburgh. Full of political intrigue, conspiracy, deception, murder and even secret dissections, it’s darkly creepy and fascinating but with a touch of spine tingling romance.

This is a story about people believing themselves to be in the right of it; the Jacobites determined to win independence for Scotland, no matter the cost, committed supporters of the Stuart cause and their opponents, the soldiers and politicians of the English crown, equally resolute and tenacious.

Ms.Craig begins with a bang. I could hear the click of boots on the cobbled streets as the soldiers march through the echoey, empty, dank and dark roadway.

“Robert Catto swept out through the Bristol Port and wheeled left. Adjusting his steadying grip on the hilt of his sword, he proceeded to cover the newly-cobbled causeway behind Edinburgh University at a fast and loping stride.”…and…”Bringing his right hand up to the side of his head, he splayed his long fingers so everyone would be sure of seeing the signal to stop. As he came to a graceful halt, spinning round on the balls of his feet to face the men, the soft folds of his cloak billowed out around him.”

These opening sentences completely set the scene for what is to follow. Redcoat officer, Captain Robert Catto of the despised Town Guard, is on a mission. He has been summoned from front line duty in Europe and promoted to Captain by Duncan Forbes of Culloden, the Lord President. Culloden is a humane and honourable man whose only agenda is the peace and prosperity of his beloved Scotland. He has seconded Robert Catto to carry out a covert mission – to assess the strength of the Jacobite threat under the auspices of Captain of the Town Guard.

Much of the intrigue is centred around Edinburgh’s Royal Infirmary where Christian (Kirsty) Rankeillor lives and works with her father, a much respected Professor, surgeon and apothecary. They are Jacobite sympathisers along with Professor Rankeillor’s apprentice, Jamie Buchan of Balnamoon. Robert Catto is aware that unlawful dissections are taking place in the dead of night in the Infirmary. He uses this knowledge as a cover to enter and search the premises, frightening the women of the Rankeillor household in the process. Finding evidence of a clandestine meeting, Robert suspects Christian and her father of hiding a Jacobite agent with a price on his head, and is duty bound to root out this traitor to the crown.

The story proceeds with Robert and Kirsty aware of a growing and unwanted attraction between them but on opposing sides, each determined to succeed; Kirsty to help the agent to escape and Robert to stop this happening at all costs. I love Robert’s character…honourable and charismatic, but entirely human, no chocolate box hero. Kirsty is a feisty, loyal and beautiful young woman but unusual in that she has been treated as an equal by her father and is not afraid of the dead or the dissecting of them for medical science. Their growing love for each other is apparent, but does not overshadow the serious subject, that of Scotland at a crossroads in her history – a time for action, one side wishing to throw her into civil war, the other to avoid this if at all possible.

There are many twists and turns with the death of a young prostitute, bestial behaviour by some of Edinburgh’s young and wealthy spoilt aristocrats, political intrigue and clandestine meetings. All combine to make this a thoroughly enjoyable, intriguing, and fascinating story. Maggie Craig is a historian of repute as well as a talented writer and her meticulous research and love of her homeland clearly shows. I have recently completed the first two Outlander novels and it’s difficult not to compare the two writers. The fact that Gathering Storm has been written by a Scot, who knows her subject by simply living and breathing it, is obvious. Even the language used could only have been written by someone in the habit of using and hearing this vernacular every day…loved it.

I can’t wait for the next book in this series and I’m hopeful that Maggie Craig can also persuade her publisher to employ the fabulous actor, Lesley Mackie, to narrate this powerful tale as she did with her poignant and beautiful novel, One Sweet Moment. Gathering Storm with its evocative and turbulent background set in 18th century Edinburgh, would benefit from Ms Mackie’s intuitive and talented reading of it – a dream team indeed.

 

Footnote: added 8 June 2015

Having just listened to the newly released audio version read by James Bryce, I loved it all over again. In the end, it was decided that a male Scottish actor would do justice to the myriad of characters in this wonderful feast of a novel. Maggie Craig’s stunning story is vividly brought to life by this talented actor, who interprets perfectly the many nuances of the Scottish language.

I was at first unsure that Mr. Bryce could do justice to the delectable Robert Catto and, if I have a criticism, it is that James Bryce does not have a youthful enough voice for Robert Catto. Nevertheless, Maggie Craig’s story is so wonderful that I lost myself in the story and forgot all about my reservations over Bryce’s portrayal of Catto. At first, the young officer comes across as an unfeeling, cynical, sarcastic man who puts duty over all else. However, by degrees his softer side and his conscience emerge and his interaction with Kirsty Rankeillor and his wee cook boy, Geordie, shows his softer side and this is expertly captured by James Bryce.

Ms.Craig’s admiration for Duncan Forbes of Culloden is evident in her portrayal of him and James Bryce’s representation of him captures this admiration. His deep, cultured voice with its Scottish intones is immediately recognisable – without the necessity for explanation – in his clandestine dealings with Captain Catto. As for the female members of Professor Rankeillor’s household – well the housekeeper is just hilarious! Bryce brings to mind a fussy, bossy little bantam hen. The depiction of the drawling, supercilious, spoilt Cosmo Liddell, one of Edinburgh’s dissolute elite, is impressive and the members of the town guard, with their mixture of accents, from the highlands to the lowlands, young and old alike, is perfection. But one of the real highlights for me was when the Professor, in a flashback, was explaining the facts of life to an eleven-year-old, motherless Kirsty… poignantly sad but sweetly funny at the same time.

MY VERDICT: I’ve said it above, but I really cannot wait for the next book in this fascinating series. 5 mega stars! Can you tell how much I loved it?

 

REVIEW RATING:  STELLAR 5 STARS

SENSUALITY RATING: WARM

 

Read November 2014

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MAIDEN LANE SERIES BOOK 4

A MASKED MAN…

Winter Makepeace lives a double life. By day he’s the stoic headmaster of a home for foundling children. But the night brings out a darker side of Winter. As the moon rises, so does the Ghost of St. Giles-protector, judge, fugitive. When the Ghost, beaten and wounded, is rescued by a beautiful aristocrat, Winter has no idea that his two worlds are about to collide.

A DANGEROUS WOMAN….

Lady Isabel Beckinhall enjoys nothing more than a challenge. Yet when she’s asked to tutor the Home’s dour manager in the ways of society-flirtation, double-entendres, and scandalous liaisons-Isabel can’t help wondering why his eyes seem so familiar-and his lips so tempting.

A PASSION NEITHER COULD DENY….

During the day Isabel and Winter engage in a battle of wills. At night their passions are revealed…. But when little girls start disappearing from St. Giles, Winter must avenge them. For that he might have to sacrifice everything-the Home, Isabel…and his life.

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I absolutely loved this book!

It was amazing to see Ms Hoyt turn the dour, surly, humourless Winter Makepeace into a take-your-breath-away hero. I was surprised to discover that he was the Ghost of St. Giles at the end of Scandalous Desires. My money had been on the elusive brother, Asa. But, as they say, never judge a book by its cover.

Winter is so refreshingly different from other heroes and that really appealed to me. I love his total dedication to rescuing and caring for those vulnerable children who are preyed upon in the dangerous streets of St. Giles. This is his life’s work and requires a hundred per cent of his time and he has forsworn a wife and family, keeping his emotional and physical needs suppressed. But when his alter-ego, the Ghost of St Giles, takes over, it’s exciting to see a very different side to him. The mask gives him anonymity and allows him to give free rein to his darker emotions. He is daring, reckless and so very sexy. I loved this passionate crusading Winter.

There are some scenes where he melted my heart with his gentleness and understanding.

Most interesting is the fact that he’s a virgin, a rare phenomenon among romance heroes. I love this aspect of him because it provides for some memorable scenes between Winter and Isabel. More about those later!

I think Winter may just have usurped Charming Mickey as my favourite hero of this series!

I did have some qualms about whether I would like Isabel. In Scandalous Desires she appeared shallow and patronising. But, as with Winter, appearances can be deceptive and Isabel proved to be a delightful heroine and just perfect for Winter.

She is charming, confident, intelligent, caring, brave and witty. I particularly liked that she is older than Winter and sexually experienced. She had taken a few lovers after her husband’s death and isn’t afraid to admit that she enjoys sex which I found refreshing. She had suffered tragedy in her life but hides the hurt and pain beneath a mask of flirtation and frivolity. Only Winter sees the vulnerable woman beneath.

For a split second he was shocked to see pain in her face. Then she smiled brilliantly as if to mask whatever emotions she might be feeling.

Watching her slowly realise how much she has come to care for her husband’s son, Christopher, was really heart-warming.

What amazing sexual tension Ms Hoyt created. Talk about steaming up my glasses! The role reversal with the younger inexperienced man and the older experienced woman worked so well. I liked that Winter wasn’t shy but totally at ease with himself while it was Isabel who was flustered by his outspokenness.

One of my favourite scenes is where Isabel is given the task of tutoring Winter in social etiquette. She has asked him to think of a suitable compliment about a lady’s appearance and, whilst looking at Isabel, he’s thinking:

I would do violence for one glimpse of your naked breasts. Bleed for one taste of your nipple on my tongue.
No, that was probably not the type of compliment she was looking for.

I loved watching Winter’s sexual awakening under Isabel’s tutelage and what woman wouldn’t want to be the focus of all that suppressed desire? The love scenes were positively smouldering, particularly the one where Winter tells Isabel:

”I am the one in charge tonight my lady. I am the one who holds the reins.”

He certainly puts all Isabel’s lessons into good practice!!!

Once again Ms Hoyt brings alive the atmosphere of St. Giles perfectly. I could sense the danger lurking in the shadows, see the squalidness, smell the filth and hear the sounds of the dregs of society.

I’m not sure about the pairing of the hero and heroine in the next book, Lord of Darkness, but I have every confidence that Ms Hoyt will pull another winner out of the bag.

FAVOURITE QUOTE

“I’ll never look at you in any way but complete admiration.” He stroked her hair soothingly. “You’ll never be a millstone about my neck. Rather you’re the sunshine that brightens my day.”

VERDICT: FABULOUS – A MUST READ!

RATING: STELLAR ★★★★★

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MAIDEN LANE SERIES BOOK 3

Can a pirate learn that the only true treasure lies in a woman’s heart?

Widowed Silence Hollingbrook is impoverished, lovely, and kind—and nine months ago she made a horrible mistake. She went to a river pirate for help in saving her husband and in the process made a bargain that cost her her marriage. That night wounded her so terribly that she hides in the foundling home she helps run with her brother. Except now that same river pirate is back . . . and he’s asking for her help.

“Charming” Mickey O’Connor is the most ruthless river pirate in London. Devastatingly handsome and fearsomely intelligent, he clawed his way up through London’s criminal underworld. Mickey has no use for tender emotions like compassion and love, and he sees people as pawns to be manipulated. And yet he’s never been able to forget the naive captain’s wife who came to him for help—and spent one memorable night in his bed . . . talking.

When his bastard baby girl was dumped in his lap—her mother having died—Mickey couldn’t resist the Machiavellian urge to leave the baby on Silence’s doorstep. The baby would be hidden from his enemies and he’d also bind Silence to him by her love for his daughter.

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Only Elizabeth Hoyt could take a ruthless river pirate, who not only steals and murders without guilt or remorse but also ruins a young woman’s life on a whim, and turn him into one of the most memorable romantic heroes ever!! Surviving a harrowing childhood, Mickey is forced to beg and steal in order to survive on the dangerous streets of St Giles until eventually he claws his way up to be the most feared river pirate on the Thames. After such a struggle, I can understand why he makes no apologies for being who he is:

Pirating was all he had to guard against starving and want. Pirating had saved him, fed him and given him a life and a future. His money was his strength.

The gentler emotions of love and compassion have no place in his life because to him they represent signs of weakness. I think it is, therefore, the allure of Silence’s purity, gentleness and deep capacity for love that draws Mickey to her because his life has been so devoid of all these things. As Mickey starts to open up to Silence, it changes everything between them because she begins to see the real man behind the flamboyant pirate.

A man moved by Silence’s tears:

He’d seen men gutted and killed, watched starving women prostitute themselves, seen beggar children lie down in the gutter and die. He’d fought with tooth and nail to reach the place where he was now – where he didn’t worry over food or a roof over his head. He’d killed men and never thought about their faces again.

Yet the sight of Silence in tears nearly unmanned him.

A man who is stirred by beautiful music:

Mick had come to the opera a little more than a year ago on a whim and had been instantly enthralled. That a man could produce such a wonderful sound almost made him believe in God.

A man who treasures a certain special book:

The one that had taught him there was beauty in the world. She’d (Silence) found Michael’s treasure, the heart he’d kept hidden.

A true romantic hero who captures your heart!

Silence definitely comes into her own in this book showing courage and strength of character in her defiance of Mickey’s absurd, autocratic commands. She also does some serious soul searching about her marriage. She has always thought she had the perfect marriage and that William truly loved her. But she comes to realise that it was all a delusion because when she truly needs him the most, he doesn’t believe her and turns away from her. She compares William’s love with the all consuming love that Lord Caire has for her sister, Temperance and knows that her husband never loved her like that. She realises that her feelings for Mickey run far deeper because, although she still feels the pain of William’s loss, it is nothing like the terrible loss she would feel if anything happened to Mickey.

Ms Hoyt does an excellent job of building up the sexual tension between Mickey and Silence and one particularly memorable scene comes to mind where Silence spies on Mickey through the connecting door to their bedrooms:

So she stayed at the crack in the door, watching breathlessly as Mickey O’Connor did something very earthy indeed.

Not difficult to guess what he was doing! As I’ve come to expect from Ms Hoyt, when Mickey and Silence finally come together, the love scenes are filled with eroticism and sensuality.

SCANDALOUS DESIRES has a fast-paced and exciting plot with some very dramatic revelations (including the identity of the Ghost of St Giles) and a really heart-stopping climax. We get to see some familiar faces including Temperance and her husband, Lord Caire, Lady Hero Reading and Silence’s brothers, Winter, Concord and the elusive Asa. I love Mickey’s two henchmen, Harry and Bert who provide some light relief and Mary Darling is simply adorable.

My Charming Mickey

My Silence

VERDICT: FABULOUS – A MUST READ!

RATING: STELLAR ★★★★★

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MAIDEN LANE SERIES BOOK 2

Their lives were perfect . . .
Lady Hero Batten, the beautiful sister of the Duke of Wakefield, has everything a woman could want, including the perfect fiancé. True, the Marquis of Mandeville is a trifle dull and has no sense of humor, but that doesn’t bother Hero. Until she meets his notorious brother . . .

Until they met each other.
Griffin Remmington, Lord Reading, is far from perfect – and he likes it that way. How he spends his days is a mystery, but all of London knows he engages in the worst sorts of drunken revelry at night. Hero takes an instant dislike to him, and Griffin thinks that Hero, with her charities and faultless manners, is much too impeccable for society, let alone his brother. Yet their near-constant battle of wits soon sparks desire – desire that causes their carefully constructed worlds to come tumbling down. As Hero’s wedding nears, and Griffin’s enemies lay plans to end their dreams forever, can two imperfect people find perfect true love?

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Absolutely loved this book and although it’s only the second book in the Maiden Lane series, I’m really hooked!

I adore Hero and Griffin and love the risque opening scene in which they meet for the first time, particularly as she has no idea who he is! I thought the part where Griffin jumps up and dives under the settee was hilarious. I kept picturing that in my mind.

They are so right together and, although very different in many ways, they share a great love of classical history. It’s a case of opposites attract and I thought Griffin’s bread and butter analogy fitted perfectly. How could Hero not fall in love with Griffin? Maybe he’s not handsome but he has a wicked sense of humour and he’s honest about himself and doesn’t pretend to be something he isn’t. But behind his roguish facade is a man who works tirelessly to provide for his family whom he cares for very much.

This is a complete contrast to his brother, Thomas, Marquess of Mandeville. He appears above reproach but secretly lusts after his former mistress, the highly unsuitable Mrs Tate. He’s neither honest with himself or Hero. Yet, when Hero tells him that she’s slept with his brother, his behaviour shows just how hypocritical he is. He never once considers that he may be wrong about Griffin seducing his first wife, Anne. To me he is totally unappealing although I did sort of understand his character a little more when he and Griffin have their heart to heart towards the end of the book. But I still think Elizabeth Hoyt was very generous in letting Thomas have a HEA.

Hero starts out as the perfect lady and, as the daughter of a Duke, she’s only too aware of her duty to make an advantageous marriage. From the time she meets Griffin, you see her struggle between duty and love. Luckily, as in all good historicals, love wins the day. It’s not an easy journey though because they have a lot heart-searching to do and there are plenty of potholes on the way, not least of all, Hero’s brother, Maximus, Duke of Wakefield.

He appears austere and totally wedded to his duty but I think that underneath that forbidding exterior he does have a heart. I feel he really cares about Hero’s feelings when he questions whether she is really happy with her engagement and gives her a chance to change her mind. I hope that Elizabeth Hoyt has a heroine waiting in the wings who will shatter his ordered world!

Elizabeth Hoyt manages to write such fabulous love scenes – erotic without being tawdry in any way. We are certainly treated to a variety in this book as Griffin demonstrates his lovemaking prowess in the bedroom….library……carriage…….etc. Definitely no complaints from Hero or this reader!

Griffin’s involvement in gin distilling doesn’t exactly endear him to Hero who has seen the evil effects of gin through her patronage of the foundling home. To make matters worse, Maximus has an almost obsessive hatred of gin distillers and is determined to see them captured and hung. His obsession has its origins in the murder of his parents in St Giles when Hero was very young. (Does anyone else wonder what his parents were doing in St Giles when they were supposed to be attending the theater? I don’t think we’ve heard the last of this mystery).

Griffin is threatened not only by the authorities but also by a rival, the Vicar of St Giles. I love a good fight especially when the hero is in grave danger. This book has a great climax with lots of action, help coming from an unexpected source and one plucky lady proving once and for all that she truly loves Griffin!

I can’t wait to read Scandalous Desires because there is a steady build up in this book in connection with Silence and Charming Mickey. It isn’t hard to guess who the presents for Mary Darling are from but more intriguing is the final gift for Silence herself.  Then there’s the fact that Charming Mickey is obviously watching Silence from a distance. It all has me very intrigued!

I like Phoebe, Hero’s sister, and Megs, Griffin’s sister, and hope they get their own books. I would really like Phoebe to have a HEA.

My Griffin Reading – Brendan Frazer

My Lady Hero Batten – Kate Winslet

Contemporary etching showing poverty in St Giles

VERDICT: THIS BOOK IS A DEFINITE KEEPER

RATING: ★★★★★

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MAIDEN LANE SERIES BOOK 1

A man controlled by his desires…

Infamous for his wild, sensual needs, Lazarus Huntington, Lord Caire, is searching for a savage killer in St. Giles, London’s most notorious slum. Widowed Temperance Dews knows St. Giles like the back of her hand— she’s spent a lifetime caring for its inhabitants at the foundling home her family established. Now that home is at risk.

A woman haunted by her past…

Caire makes a simple offer—in return for Temperance’s help navigating the perilous alleys of St. Giles, he will introduce her to London’s high society so that she can find a benefactor for the home. But Temperance may not be the innocent she seems, and what begins as cold calculation soon falls prey to a passion that neither can control—one that may well destroy them both.

A bargain neither could refuse

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I adore Elizabeth Hoyt’s books and WICKED INTENTIONS, with its slightly darker tone, is no exception. The first book in her ‘Maiden Lane’ series, it is a masterful blend of romance, passion and suspense, which will keep you enthralled.

One of the main reasons I love this book is my fascination with Lazarus and Temperance. They are such complex characters and I really had to delve into their psyche to understand them.

Although not fully explained in the book, I see the fact that Lazarus can’t tolerate anyone touching him as a psychological problem. I have personal experience of something similar. Until his early twenties, my son had a deep-seated fear of wearing a wristwatch but he could never explain to us why. To me, Lazarus’s loveless childhood and the guilt he feels over his sister’s death could have been the root cause of his psychological and emotional problems.

Temperance feels that her sexual desires are sinful and I think it reflects 18th century attitude to women’s sexuality, which is summed up by her husband:

He made it clear that a woman who sought sex was to be pitied.

Her feelings are only magnified by the fact that her sexual desires led her to make a terrible mistake, one which she has been trying to atone for ever since through her work at the foundling home. She manages to subdue her desires until Lazarus comes into his life. He is totally open about his sexual nature and I think Temperance gradually feels free with him to explore her desires to the full because he accepts her as she is.

I think the pace of the development of their relationship is just right and I like the small indications that reflect the relationship is evolving into something deeper, such as:

For a moment, there seemed to be a twinge in his breast, a strange wish that his life, his person, could in some way be different. That he could somehow deserve a woman such as her.

and

Something in her shifted, crumbling apart and reforming into a new and wonderful shape. She didn’t know what that shape was, but she wanted to keep it. To stay in this dim hallway and kiss Caire forever.

I love the way in which Lazarus goads Temperance with whispered salacious comments which should disgust her, but of course, have the opposite effect of arousing her. There is one particular scene where Lazarus forces her to view a couple through a peep-hole in a brothel, all the time whispering provocative words in her ear. The scene is so sexually charged that I thought the page might self-combust! The love scenes are perfectly in harmony with the mood of the story from the raw and sensual scene in the carriage to the beautiful and erotic scene where Temperance wants to show Lazarus just how much she loves him.

Ms Hoyt really excels in creating the unsavoury atmosphere of St Giles. You can almost see the swirling mist and sense the danger lurking in those dark narrow alleys. She has peopled it with larger than life characters such as Mother Heart’s–Ease, owner of the gin house, Mistress Pansy, the brothel madam, and Charming Mickey O’Connor, the feared river pirate.

There is a wonderful core of secondary characters too. Temperance’s brothers, Winter and Asa; Silence, her younger sister; Lady Hero Batten; and Lazarus’s friend, Godric St John, many of whom I am sure will have their own books in due course. In fact, the next book, ‘Notorious Pleasures’ is Lady Hero Batten’s story. I am especially intrigued by the plot line involving Silence and Charming Mickey O’Connor, and am eagerly looking forward to their story in ‘Scandalous Desires’, the third book in the series. I’m curious about the identity of the Zorro-type Ghost of St Giles? I have my suspicions but I’m sure Ms Hoyt will keep us in suspense about his identity a little longer. What better way to make sure we continue to read the series!

If you like your historical romance with a darker tone, complex characters, an intriguing plot, and steamy love scenes, then WICKED INTENTIONS should definitely find a place on your bookshelves.

VERDICT: THIS BOOK IS A DEFINITE KEEPER

RATING: ★★★★★

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