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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, 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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(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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A Trick of Fate

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, the first book in Stella Riley’s new Brandon Brothers series, will be released on October 25th and can be pre-ordered from from Amazon, Kobo, and Barnes & Noble.

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