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Posts Tagged ‘5 Stars’

(Scoundrels of St. James #1)

Genre: Historical Romance

Blurb (Goodreads):

They call him the Devil Earl—a scoundrel and accused murderer who grew up on the violent London streets. A proper young lady risks more than her reputation when consorting with the roguishly handsome Lucian Langdon, but Lady Catherine Mabry believes she has no choice. To protect those she loves, she would do anything—even strike a bargain with the devil

Lucian desires respectability and a wife above all else, but the woman of his choosing lacks the social graces to be accepted by the aristocracy. Catherine can help Lucian gain everything he wants. But what she asks for in exchange will put their very lives in jeopardy. When danger closes in, Catherine discovers a man of immense passion and he discovers a woman of immeasurable courage. As secrets from his dark past are revealed, Lucian begins to question everything he knows to be true, including the yearnings of his own heart.

(First published 6 October 2009)

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This was the first series I read by Lorraine Heath and it established her as one of my favourite Historical Romance authors. Over the years, she has continued to captivate me with her beautifully written and deeply emotional love stories. Re-reading this series, I found myself falling in love with her wonderful characters all over again.

Inspired by Charles Dickens ‘Oliver Twist’, the series tells the stories of Luke, Jack, Frannie, Jim and William, all orphans and members of Feagan’s notorious gang of child thieves. Their lives are irrevocably changed when it’s discovered that Luke is Lucian Langdon, the long-lost heir to the Earl of Claybourne.

The entries in Luke’s journal, which form the Prologue, were an unusual way of opening the story. Not only did they provide intriguing details of his past, but they were also an effective hook which certainly had me eager to read on.

As the Earl of Clayborne, Luke has all the trappings of wealth and privilege but he is shunned by society. It’s well known that he once murdered a man, something he has never sought to deny, and his unsavoury past has led many to question the validity of his claim to the earldom, earning him the title Devil Earl. No lady dare risk her reputation by dancing with him and no gentleman would be seen conversing with him in public for fear of having his respectability questioned. Haunted by his past dark deeds, Luke leads a lonely existence, plagued by debilitating headaches. He is torn between his old life and his new one, neither of which he feels he truly belongs to.

Luke is such a complex and appealing hero. He’s strong, loyal, caring and willing to do anything to protect those he loves. Murder can never be condoned, but I understood why Luke felt that he had to take the law into his own hands to protect someone he cared for. Justice was in short supply for those living on the streets of Victorian London.

I couldn’t condemn him for deceiving the old Earl of Claybourne into believing he was his long-lost grandson. Who wouldn’t choose a life of wealth and security when the alternative was being hanged? It says a lot for Luke’s character that he feels so much guilt for his deception, especially as he grew fond of his ‘Grandfather’.

“I wish I had been his grandson. He showered me with love that rightfully belonged to another, and that I was never comfortable with.

Catherine is an independent, strong, bold and determined heroine and I loved how she proved more than a match for Luke and Jack Dodger…

 “Shh! I’ll not tolerate your interference in this matter. Take Mr. Dodger with you as I don’t much care for him. Be sure to close the door smartly on your way out.

She is selfless in the way she took on the heavy burden of looking after her invalid father and his estates in her brother’s absence. It has given her a level of independence that was generally denied to other women. She is also a kind and caring person which is evident in her obvious love for and devotion to her father.

 “I wish you could tell me what you wanted.” She brushed her fingers through his thinning silver hair. “I hope you’re not in pain.”

I also admired her loyalty to and her fierce desire to help her friend, Winnie, who is trapped in an abusive marriage.

I loved how their relationship developed… the heated kisses, the simmering sexual tension, their undeniable passion for each other, culminating in a sensual love scene. During their time spent together, Catherine comes to see a different side to Luke. She is surprised by his honesty, his gentleness towards Frannie, and how much he cares about the plight of children on the streets and prison reform. In Catherine, Luke finds a woman who is independent, strong, determined, loyal and courageous. Even though I was often frustrated by his misguided determination to marry Frannie, I enjoyed the moment when Luke finally realised that it’s Catherine he truly loves, thanks to some wise words from Frannie. It spoke of the depth of her love for Luke that Catherine was willing to sacrifice her own happiness, believing that Luke loved Frannie.

I don’t think it’s a spoiler to reveal that Luke truly is the Earl of Claybourne’s grandson because there are strong hints throughout the story. It’s the mystery of what happened on that fateful night that kept me intrigued, and the denouement is quite shocking.

We are introduced to the other members of Feagan’s gang who have each overcome their pasts to become successful in their own right. They all take an active role in the story and all have interesting stories of their own to tell. I felt desperately sorry for Catherine’s friend, Winnie, who’s spirit had been broken by her abusive husband, and I was delighted to see the Duke of Avendale get his just deserts. I took a dislike to Catherine’s brother, Sterling, who left her with the burden of looking after their father and his estates, whilst he swanned around the world. I also hated the overbearing way he treated Catherine after he returned home. As the hero of Surrender to the Devil, the third book in the series, I think there will be some serious redeeming to be done.

I like how Ms. Heath doesn’t shy away from showing the grim realities of life for the young, orphaned children living on the dangerous streets of London. Forced to steal to survive, they are subject to terrible punishments if caught. She also highlights the plight of those woman trapped in abusive marriages, who have no redress to the law because they are considered to be their husband’s property.

The excerpt from Luke’s journal, which forms the Epilogue, is very moving and captures the essence of the story beautifully.

This story combines everything I look for in Historical Romance – an emotional and sensual love story, unforgettable characters, passion and drama. Highly recommended.

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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. 

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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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(Revelations of the Carstairs Sisters #1)

Genre: Historical Romance

Blurb (Amazon):

Unaware of her beauty…

Until he awakens her.

Prudence Carstairs knows her scars leave her with no romantic prospects—instead, she’s content revolutionising her employer’s home with her technological marvels. Then he unexpectedly perishes, and his mysterious younger brother, dashing Dominic Thorburn, reluctantly takes over. In the new earl, Prudence finally finds someone who meets her gaze without flinching. Might he see the beautiful, intelligent woman beyond her scars?

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I have read several of Marguerite Kaye’s books and never been disappointed and The Earl Who Sees Her Beauty, the first book in her two book Revelations of the Carstairs Sisters, was no exception.

Having left the army under a cloud, Dominic Thorburn has spent the last five years living a simple life in Greece until, by chance, he discovers that his brother, Jeremy, has died in a train crash and he is now the new Earl of Bannatyne. Dominic has every reason to detest the aristocracy and everything they stand for and has no intention of assuming the title. He will only spend enough time in England to enable him to sell off everything appertaining to his inheritance, invest the proceeds in a worthy cause, and then return to Greece as soon as he can. However his plans go awry when he meets Prudence Carstairs, the self-proclaimed custodian of Hawthorn Manor, the Bannatyne’s ancestral home.

Prudence Carstairs, who lives with her brother Clement, suffered an accident when she was a child which left her face badly scarred. Having experienced how people recoil on seeing her face, she never goes out without wearing a wide-brimmed hat and a veil. With her keen interest in anything mechanical, the late Earl had given Prudence the task of overseeing the renovation and modernisation of Hawthorn Manor. After his death, she has continued to look after the property, but the appearance of new Earl threatens the refuge she has found at Hawthorn Manor.

When Dominic reveals his family history, I could understand why he is so determined never to join the ranks of the nobility, and how the circumstances surrounding his dishonourable discharge from the army only served to reinforce his low opinion of them. His actions reveal him to be brave, honourable, and a man who refuses to compromise on his principles, regardless of the personal cost.

I could sympathise with Prudence who’s disfigurement has shattered her youthful dreams of love and marriage. She does not conform to Victorian standards that put so much emphasis on beauty. There is one particularly emotional scene when she is exposed to public scrutiny and my heart went out to her. It’s her unconventional interest in the Victorian advancements in engineering that reveal the true Prudence – independent, brave, confident and clever.

The first meeting between Dominic and Prudence was certainly one of the most memorable ones I’ve read in a long time, but I won’t spoil it for you. The feathers fly but that doesn’t last long, and I enjoyed seeing the easy rapport between them which develops into mutual attraction and finally love. It was so satisfying to see how they help each other to overcome their personal demons.

Dominic sees beyond Prudence’s scars to the extraordinary woman she is and is determined to convince her that her scars don’t define her, unless she lets them. I love how he wants to keep her safe and make her happy. The way he woos her is unconventional to say the least but, as far as Prudence is concerned, it’s the most romantic gift.

“…if ever I was fortunate enough to be introduced to one of the new sewage pumping stations which are being constructed in London, I fear it may just steal my heart.”

I love how Prudence makes Dominic take a good look at himself and opens his eyes to the fact that, by assuming his title, he would have the influence to carry out the work he wants to do for the poor.

Later in the story when they finally make love, it just feels right. The love scene is beautifully done – tender, romantic and sensual.

I did get a little frustrated with Prudence’s wavering when it came to accepting Dominic’s marriage proposal, but this was a minor niggle and didn’t spoil my overall enjoyment of the story.

I liked Clement, Prudence’s brother, who obviously loves his sister, but could be slightly overprotective at times. Prudence’s sister, Mercy, has been trapped in an unhappy marriage and I’m looking forward to reading her story in the second book. I liked Mercy’s friend Lady Sarah Fitzherbert-Wright, and I’m intrigued by the potential pairing of this vivacious and outspoken lady with the scholarly Clement.

Ms. Kaye’s research is evident in the fascinating details she incorporates into the the story, whether it’s the clothing, the bathing huts or the intricacies of Victorian plumbing. I was so intrigued by the Crossness Pumping Station, which still survives today, that I had to Google it. I can fully understand why Prudence fell in love with it!

I like how Ms. Kaye doesn’t shy away from describing the horrors endured by the ordinary fighting men at the siege of Sebastopol, or the terrible housing conditions that the poorer people of London lived in. It all added depth to the story and showed the deep divide between the rich and the poor in Victorian society.

If you are looking for a story that is well written and impeccably researched, with interesting characters and a lovely romance, then I can highly recommend this book.

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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.

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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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(Parish Orphans of Devon #4)

Genre: Historical Romance

Blurb (Goodreads):

She needed to be seen…

As a lady’s companion, Clara Hartwright never receives much attention from anyone. And that’s precisely how she likes it. With a stormy past, and an unconventional plan for her future, it’s far safer to remain invisible. But when her new employer is invited to a monthlong holiday at a remote coastal abbey, Clara discovers that she may not be as invisible as she’d hoped. At least, not as far as one gentleman is concerned.

He wanted to be heard…

Neville Cross has always been more comfortable with animals than people. An accident in his youth has left him with a brain injury that affects his speech. Forming the words to speak to his childhood friends is difficult enough. Finding the right things to say to a lovely young lady’s companion seems downright impossible. But Miss Hartwright is no ordinary companion. In fact, there may not be anything ordinary about her at all.

During a bleak Devon winter, two sensitive souls forge an unexpected friendship. But when Clara needs him most, will Neville find the courage to face his fears? Or is saying goodbye to her the most heroic thing he can do? 

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This sweet, uplifting and heart-warming love story was an enchanting finale to Mimi Matthews’s best-selling Parish Orphans of Devon series

While I loved all the previous heroes in this series, there is just something special about Neville that captured my heart. At times, I wanted to reach into the book and hug him so tight. Through his thoughts and feelings, Ms. Matthews gives the reader an insight into how the effects of Neville’s injury have shaped his life.

Ever since Justin had provided a home for him at Greyfriars Abbey, it has been a place where Neville felt safe and secure, and happy working with the animals. It was sad to realise how his speech impediment had defined his life choices.

Ambitions required aptitude. The ability to learn and grow. And there was no fixing his speech. No remedy to the fact that it made him seem slow and stupid.

I had a lot of sympathy for Clara, a romantic at heart, whose youthful indiscretion had such an impact on her life. Not only did she lose her own teaching job, but her brother, Simon, lost his tutor and the local squire’s patronage too. Taking responsibility for the damage she had caused to her family’s reputation and her brother’s prospects, she has taken a position as a companion to help pay for Simon’s school fees.

It was her own cross to bear. Her secret shame.

As a companion, she is expected to fade into the background, but I admire her for having ambitions beyond society’s normal expectations for a woman.

Ms. Matthews beautifully nuanced and eloquent writing made this one of the loveliest romances I have ever read. I loved how the focus of the story was on Neville and Clara’s developing relationship, showing their feelings for each other gradually evolving and allowing the romance to flourish in a natural way. It’s a journey of discovery for them as individuals and as a couple.

I love how Clara is just perfect for Neville. She understands his struggle in a way that no one else does – how frustrating and painful it must be for someone as intelligent as Neville to struggle with forming even a simple sentence.

A flicker of sympathy stirred in her breast. What must it be like? To be thoughtful and intelligent and unable to express it? To have to struggle for every word?

She also sees how capable, strong, honest, kind and gentle he is.

Neville sees not only Clara’s outward beauty but also her inner beauty, something he feels that only he is privileged to see. I love how he encouraged her to read poetry and novels again, something she hasn’t done for many years.

My heart went out to Neville when Clara in forced to leave and he believes he will never see her again, but it makes him realise that he wants what his friends have…a life of his own and a chance at happiness with Clara.

He did want more. He wanted a life of his own choosing.
He wanted her

I loved Neville’s determination to help Clara. It took at lot of courage, knowing that he would have to face his fears and insecurities head on, but it showed the depth of his love for her.

There are so many lovely moments in this book that it was difficult to pick just two.

He rested his forehead gently against hers. And the emotion imbued in that single gesture was so sweet, so tender, she felt she might drown in it. That she might lose herself entirely.

His heart clenched. Having her on his arm, bright and beautiful, and singing so sweetly. There was a rightness to it that was almost painful. He wanted to keep it close. To save the moment forever, like a winter flower pressed between the pages of a book.

I was pleased to see Clara eventually cleared of the stain on her reputation, and I enjoyed seeing how she handled her selfish, ungrateful brother, Simon.

I always appreciate the historical details and social commentary Ms. Matthews brings to her books. Here it is the month-long Christmas celebrations at Greyfriars Abbey with the freshly cut Christmas tree, pine boughs, holly, mistletoe, and the delicious Christmas feast. Ms. Matthews also highlights the inequality in education where women were excluded from going to university.

The Epilogue provided the perfect end to both this book and the series. I sighed, knowing that all four of the orphaned friends had now found love, acceptance and happiness.

”There’s happiness.” Clara rested her head on his shoulder. “There’s this. Every day. With you. For the rest of our lives. The stuff of dreams.”

I can highly recommend not only this book but the whole series.



Originally posted on Goodreads

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(Parish Orphans of Devon #3)

Genre: Historical Romance

Blurb (Goodreads):

She Needed a Husband…

It’s been three years since Laura Hayes’s father died, leaving her and her invalid brother to subsist on the income from the family’s failing perfume business. But time is swiftly running out. What she needs is a husband, and fast. A noble gentleman who can rescue them all from penury. When a mysterious stranger arrives in the village, he seems a perfect candidate. But Alex Archer is no hero. In fact, he just might be the opposite.

He Wanted a Fortune…

Alex has no tolerance for sentiment. He’s returned to England for one reason only: to find a wealthy wife. A country-bred heiress in Surrey seems the perfect target. But somewhere between the village railway station and the manor house his mercenary plan begins to unravel. And it’s all the fault of Laura Hayes—a lady as unsuitable as she is enchanting.

From the beaches of Margate to the lavender fields of Provence, a grudging friendship slowly blossoms into something more. But when scandal threatens, can a man who has spent his entire life playing the villain, finally become a hero? Or will the lure of easy riches once again outweigh the demands of his heart?

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Whenever, I pick up a book by Mimi Matthews, it’s always a treat to read. Her stories are beautifully written and wonderfully romantic, with characters that capture your heart. They are impeccably researched with lots of fascinating historical details, and she captures the Victorian era to perfection.

A Convenient Fiction is the third book in the Parish Orphans of Devon series and, although it can be read as standalone, I think it enhances the reading experience if the series is read in order.

I have been waiting for Alex’s book to discover what happened to him after he mysteriously ran away from the orphanage at the age of thirteen, leaving his friends to wonder at his fate – never knowing whether he is alive or dead. It transpires that he is very much alive and, for the past twenty years, his aptitude at cards has enabled him to make a lucrative living at the card tables in London and France, by luring unsuspecting gentlemen into gambling recklessly and losing. More than money, he wants property that will give him a sense of permanency and the only way to achieve this is to marry an heiress.

But it wasn’t enough. It would never be enough without property. Property was the thing. And for a man of his pedigree, the only way to attain such property was to marry an heiress.

His opportunity arises when George Wright incurs large losses which Alex agrees to forget in return for an introduction to George’s friend and neighbour, Henrietta Talbot, an heiress with property. Accompanying George to Surrey, Alex has every intention of wooing and marrying Henrietta, but his plans become somewhat derailed when he meets the beautiful and fascinating Laura Hayes.

Three years ago, Laura, her father and her younger brother, Edward (Teddy), all contracted a fever. While Laura made a full recovery, her father died and her brother was left an invalid and confined to a wheelchair. Since then, Laura has been caring for her widowed Aunt Charlotte and Freddy, struggling to survive on the meagre quarterly allowance received from her father’s solicitor, Mr. Weatherwax. On his 21st birthday, which is fast approaching, Teddy will take control of his inheritance and Laura is determined to rebuild the remains of the family perfumery business. However, Mr. Weatherwax refuses to relinquish control on the grounds that her brother is too ill to take on the responsibilities.

”Unless I can find a way to challenge him, my family must resign themselves to living on the quarterly allowance he provides us. It isn’t enough. Not nearly.”

With everything else to worry about, Laura certainly doesn’t need the added complication of her attraction to the handsome newcomer, Alex Archer. They are constantly thrown into each other’s company as Laura is acting as Henrietta’s chaperone and, although they admit that there is something between them, both are determined to forget it and move on.

”But now we’ve acknowledged it…perhaps we’ve robbed it of its power. We can move on. Forget any of this ever happened.”

However, a trip to Margate changes everything. In the course of saving Laura’s life, Alex’s actions cause a scandal and he proposes a marriage of convenience to save Laura’s reputation – a temporary measure for a month or two and then they are free to go their separate ways. But things don’t always go to plan.

As I have come to expect from Ms. Matthews, this was a charming, tender, romantic, character driven romance which develops in a natural way. It was very satisfying to see how Alex and Laura grew, both as individuals and a couple, and I also love how Ms. Matthews creates just the perfect chemistry between them.

What a complex and fascinating character Alex is. At first, he seems more anti-hero than hero – a man who willingly betrayed his friends; an unscrupulous gambler and a self-confessed fortune hunter; a man who selfishly pursues his own interests without blinking an eye. It was hard to understand how he could have betrayed his friends who were the only family he had ever had. But when he reveals the circumstances that drove him to it, I could appreciate the sheer desperation Alex must have felt and why he would do anything to get away. He had no one to turn to and who would have believed an orphan like him.

He’d known then that, if he wanted saving, he would have to save himself. Even if that meant burning all of his bridges behind him.

Laura shows great strength of character and determination and I respect her for taking on the heavy burden of looking after the family. That she sometimes rages against her current situation, I could certainly relate to. I’m sure everyone has had times when everything seems to get on top of them.

She senses that Alex is hiding his true self…

…there was always something else there—something lurking behind his eyes. A secret self, hidden from the world. It was as if he wore a very lifelike mask.

He is convinced that he is not a good man but, to Laura, he has been ‘every inch a hero’ from the very first day they met, with his kindness to Teddy and Aunt Charlotte, his desire to help and protect Laura, and his willingness to save her life, despite his fear of water, and to save her reputation.

Alex sees Laura as beautiful and charming but also incredibly brave and compassionate too. He has been alone for so long with no one to trust or rely on, no friend or family. Now he has Laura.

”I’ve never had a home to yearn for.” He took her hand gently in his. “Not until you.”

Even though he hasn’t told Laura he loves her, it’s evident in his every word and action, but when he does finally say the words, the whole scene is so romantic.

I wonder if there is such a thing as fate. Some force that drew me to you, across continents, and across the sea. I think I knew you the moment I laid eyes on you. My love. My Laura.”

Ms. Matthews always seems to incorporate some fascinating historical details into her books and I particularly enjoyed the part describing the bathing machines, the ‘promiscuous’ bathing, as Aunt Charlotte calls it, and the nosey parkers with their telescopes.

The scene in the Epilogue where Alex sees Justin and Neville for the first time in 20 years was so emotional that it brought tears to my eyes, but left me with such a lovely warm glow.

It was as if a page had been turned on a dark chapter of their lives, offering a clean slate. A new beginning.

Another excellent addition to this captivating series. Highly recommended!


Originally posted on Goodreads


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(Parish Orphans of Devon #2)

Genre: Historical Romance

Blurb (Goodreads):

He Needed Peace…

Solicitor Tom Finchley has spent his life using his devious intellect to solve the problems of others. As for his own problems, they’re nothing that a bit of calculated vengeance can’t remedy. But that’s all over now. He’s finally ready to put the past behind him and settle down to a quiet, uncomplicated life. If only he could find an equally uncomplicated woman.

She Wanted Adventure…

Former lady’s companion Jenny Holloway has just been given a modest independence. Now, all she wants is a bit of adventure. A chance to see the world and experience life far outside the restrictive limits of Victorian England. If she can discover the fate of the missing Earl of Castleton while she’s at it, so much the better.

From the gaslit streets of London to the lush tea gardens of colonial India, Jenny and Tom embark on an epic quest—and an equally epic romance. But even at the farthest edges of the British Empire, the past has a way of catching up with you.

♥♥♥♥♥♥

A Modest Independence is the second book in Mimi Matthews’ Parish Orphans of Devon series. Both the hero, Thomas (Tom) Finchley, and the heroine, Jenny Holloway, had important roles in The Matrimonial Advertisement. Tom was Justin’s solicitor and Jenny, Helena’s distant cousin and companion.

I found it refreshing that Tom is not your stereotypical hero. He is neither titled nor is there is anything exceptional about his appearance. However, with hard work and determination, he has risen above his humble beginnings in the orphanage to become a solicitor. Tom has always been in control of every aspect of his life and is totally dedicated to his work and the clients he represents are sometimes less than honourable.

At the age of twenty-eight, Jenny has always been at someone else’s beck and call – first as little more than a drudge for her drunkard of a father and her selfish brothers, and then as Helena’s companion. She has always longed to be independent and fulfil her dreams of travelling and when she receives the money from Helena, I can understand why she is so determined to embrace her newfound freedom.

In The Matrimonial Advertisement, while helping Helena, Tom and Jenny formed a close friendship and it seemed possible that it might have developed into something more. Unfortunately Tom’s actions created friction between them, but the long journey to India allows the strong attraction to flourish and turn to love.

I like how they come to confide in each other and talk openly about their feelings and why they can never be together. Ms. Matthews captures their emotional turmoil so well that, even though I knew that there would be a Happy Ever After, it seemed an impossibility because they both want very different things from life. Jenny is unwilling to give up her independence while Tom has built a life for himself in London and has clients who depend on him.

Tom has his faults but ultimately he proves to be a true hero. He is willing to let Jenny go to pursue her dreams regardless of the heartbreak it causes him. For me such self-sacrifice shows the depth of his love for her. I like how he took a long hard look at himself and the choices he had made in his career and resolved only to represent those who truly deserved his help.

Jenny now has her freedom but realises that she is alone and has no one to share her adventures with. She has been afraid to trust anyone because her family has always let her down. Jenny loves Tom and, in her heart, she knows that she can marry him and not lose her independence.

The journey forms a interesting and colourful backdrop to the romance and Ms. Matthews’ research is evident in the fascinating details she incorporates into the story, bringing to life the vibrant sights and sounds of the places they visit. The use of the Bradshaw’s Guide was especially interesting to me having watched Michael Portillo’s BBC TV series, in which he retraces the journeys featured in George Bradshaw’s 1913 Continental Railway Guide.

The mystery surrounding Helena’s brother Giles, the social and political commentary, and the secondary characters all add to the story.

There is a charming Epilogue which also paves the way for the next book, A Convenient Fiction which is Alex’s story.

Once again, Ms. Matthews delivers a beautifully written, emotionally satisfying and meticulously researched Victorian romance. Highly recommended.


Originally posted on Goodreads


NOTE

If you would like to read my 4.25 star review of The Matrimonial Advertisement (Parish Orphans #1) on Goodreads click on the link below.

https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/2538419431

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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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Genre: Historical Romance

Blurb (Amazon):

She couldn’t forget
Wealthy squire’s daughter Margaret Honeywell was always meant to marry her neighbor, Frederick Burton-Smythe, but it’s bastard-born Nicholas Seaton who has her heart. Raised alongside her on her father’s estate, Nicholas is the rumored son of notorious highwayman Gentleman Jim. When Fred frames him for theft, Nicholas escapes into the night, vowing to find his legendary sire. But Nicholas never returns. A decade later, he’s long been presumed dead.

He wouldn’t forgive
After years spent on the continent, John Beresford, Viscount St. Clare has finally come home to England. Tall, blond, and dangerous, he’s on a mission to restore his family’s honor. If he can mete out a bit of revenge along the way, so much the better. But he hasn’t reckoned for Maggie Honeywell. She’s bold and beautiful—and entirely convinced he’s someone else.

As danger closes in, St. Clare is torn between love and vengeance. Will he sacrifice one to gain the other? Or with a little luck—and a lot of daring—will he find a way to have them both?

♥♥♥♥♥♥

I have loved every one of Mimi Matthews’ books I have read, and GENTLEMAN JIM is no exception. She skillfully blends an exciting story of mystery, revenge and intrigue with an emotionally charged second-chance love story.

The way that Ms. Matthews conveys the inseparable bond between the young Maggie and Nicholas in the Prologue is so beautifully done. I loved Nicholas’ gentle teasing:

“…I never do what?”
“Stare at my bosom.”
Heat rose in his cheeks. He looked at her a moment, dumbstruck, before giving her a crooked smile. “What bosom?”

and Maggie’s fiery temper:

“The blackguard!” Maggie’s low voice trembled with fury. “The confounded coward!…”

It was heart-breaking to see Maggie and Nicholas torn apart by Fred’s evil machinations, but it compelled me to read on, desperate to know what happened to them.

Ten years have passed, and I was sad to notice the change in Maggie. A bout of influenza and two periods of mourning for her father and aunt have left her in a fragile state of health. As executor of her father’s will, I hated how much control Fred exerted over Maggie’s life and how she had no choice but to marry him if she wished to retain her beloved home, Beasley Park. Despite everything, Maggie’s spirit has never been broken and this is clearly seen later on in the story.

…what she lacked in physical stamina, she more than made up for in spirit. In heart.

John Beresford, Viscount St. Clare, the Earl of Allendale’s grandson, has recently returned to England after spending many years on the continent. His whole bearing proclaims him as someone of wealth and privilege since birth. He is known for his coldness – a man who ‘never lets his emotions get the better of his reason’. His grandfather is eager for him to find a wife to secure the survival of the family line.

When Maggie goes to London to stay with her friend, Jane Trumble, she discovers that Fred is to fight a duel with Viscount St. Clare. Fearful of what would happen to Beasley Park should Fred be killed, Maggie goes to see St. Clare in the hope of stopping the duel. She is shocked to see that he bears an uncanny resemblance to her beloved Nicholas!

I knew in my heart of hearts that St.Clare and Nicholas Seaton must be one and the same person, but Ms. Matthews certainly kept me in suspense. How on earth could an illegitimate, lowly groom become a well-educated and much travelled viscount? Even Maggie has her doubts at first, but the clues are there – the eyes, the smile, the way he says her name, and the one thing that ultimately proclaims, beyond a shadow of a doubt, his true identity.

“Great God, I knew it.” Her eyes found his, a glimmer of triumph shining in their liquid sapphire depths. “It really is you.”

The romance is so beautifully written, and I could feel the depth of their love for each other – both willing to give up on their dreams to be together. I think this is definitely the most sensual book Ms. Matthews has written, and she succeeds in making a single kiss or a look far more effective than any number of tedious sex scenes.

Their happiness is threatened by Fred who is always scheming to drive them apart, and Cousin Lionel and his mother who are spreading rumours to cast doubt on St. Clare’s legitimacy. I’m delighted to say that they all get their just deserts.

At first, I disliked Clare’s grandfather. It seemed that all he cared about was securing the family title, and St. Clare meant nothing to him other than a means to an end. However, his actions later in the story reveal how much he truly cares for his grandson. I liked Maggie’s friend, Jane Trumble, and her maid, Bessie, who showed such loyalty. Jane’s Aunt Harriet, their supposed chaperone, made me smile with her habit of falling asleep the minute she sits down and her inability to hear anything without her ear trumpet!

Although deceased, Gentleman Jim has a strong presence in the book and the mystery surrounding his true identity and his relevance to the characters and events in the story was intriguing.

The icing on the cake was a truly charming Epilogue.

Another wonderful book by one of my favourite authors. Highly recommended.

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