Posts Tagged ‘Read in 2020’

(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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(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? 


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?


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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(A League of Extraordinary Women #1)

Genre: Historical Romance

Blurb (Goodreads)

England, 1879. Annabelle Archer, the brilliant but destitute daughter of a country vicar, has earned herself a place among the first cohort of female students at the renowned University of Oxford. In return for her scholarship, she must support the rising women’s suffrage movement. Her charge: recruit men of influence to champion their cause. Her target: Sebastian Devereux, the cold and calculating Duke of Montgomery who steers Britain’s politics at the Queen’s command. Her challenge: not to give in to the powerful attraction she can’t deny for the man who opposes everything she stands for.

Sebastian is appalled to find a suffragist squad has infiltrated his ducal home, but the real threat is his impossible feelings for green-eyed beauty Annabelle. He is looking for a wife of equal standing to secure the legacy he has worked so hard to rebuild, not an outspoken commoner who could never be his duchess. But he wouldn’t be the greatest strategist of the Kingdom if he couldn’t claim this alluring bluestocking without the promise of a ring…or could he?

Locked in a battle with rising passion and a will matching her own, Annabelle will learn just what it takes to topple a duke….


This delightful debut novel from Evie Dunmore is a perfect blend of a sensual romance and a well-researched historical backdrop. The ‘opposites attract across the social divide’ is one of my favourite tropes and she pulls it off brilliantly by pairing women’s rights advocate, Annabelle Archer, with the austere Sebastian Devereux, Duke of Montgomery.

 For the past five years, since her father’s death, Annabelle Archer has accepted her narrow existence as her cousin’s general dogsbody, until she discovers that Oxford University has opened a women’s college. The National Society for Women’s Suffrage has granted her a scholarship, and all she has to do is persuade her cousin to let her go. No easy task when, like most men of the time, he believes that ‘too much education derails the female brain’, but Annabelle cleverly manipulates him into agreeing, with certain conditions attached. In return for the scholarship, Annabelle has agreed to support the society’s efforts to further the cause of women’s suffrage by infiltrating the home of the Duke of Montgomery. What she didn’t expect is to feel so attracted to a man who is everything she despises.

The attraction was now firmly back in place, yes, she was beyond denying it: she was hopelessly preoccupied with the grim-faced aristocrat across the footwell.

Sebastian Devereux was only nineteen when he assumed the responsibilities of becoming the Duke of Montgomery. During the last 16 years, his life has been devoted to duty and, at the age of 35, he has become the most powerful duke in England; even the scandal of a divorce failed to mar his reputation. Clever, self-assured and uncompromising, he has earned the position of Queen Victoria’s most trusted strategist. Now she has charged him with the position of advisor to the Tory election campaign. What he doesn’t need is a group of suffragettes invading his home, particularly as Queen Victoria regards them as ‘wicked, foolish creatures’. If only he didn’t feel so attracted to the totally unsuitable Annabelle Archer.

…he didn’t even feel inclined to question why a most unsuitable woman—a commoner, a bluestocking, a suffragist—would give him so much pleasure.

I liked Annabelle from the very first scene. Her intelligence shines through when she cleverly manoeuvres her ignorant, pompous cousin, Gilbert, to her way of thinking. Although low-born, her father and her maternal great-grandmother had ensured that she received a well-rounded education and I admire her determination to fulfil her dreams of going to Oxford.

Sebastian was harder to like at first with his aloofness and obsession with duty above all else. As details of the circumstances surrounding his father’s death are revealed, I came to see him in a more positive light and understood why it was so important for to him to restore his family’s legacy.

I love how Ms. Dunmore really takes the time to develop the relationship between these two. Annabelle’s recuperation at Claremont affords an opportunity for them to talk and get to know each other. When Sebastian sends her a certain book to read, Annabelle realises that a sense of humour lurks beneath his cool exterior. Sebastian finds her stubborn, witty and unpredictable. Each time they meet, I could feel all the sexual tension simmering beneath the surface…

Mundane gestures became infused with meaning; her senses opened and sharpened, and there was an unnerving awareness of the rapid beat of her heart against her ribs.

He wanted to frame her laughing face in his hands and kiss it, anywhere, forehead, cheeks, nose. He wanted to feel her against his mouth.

With all the pent-up longing and desire, it is inevitable that they will eventually succumb, and I enjoyed seeing the role reversal of the heroine seducing the hero.

Sebastian’s protective instincts come to fore when he arranges for Annabelle to be released from prison despite knowing how this will anger the Queen. When she tells him about her past, I love how he listens as a friend and isn’t judgemental.

I like how Annabelle sees beyond his cold, severe ducal facade to the man beneath – a man with a steadfast heart, who can be charming and makes her feel cherished.

I admire Annabelle for being willing to give up the man she loves because she doesn’t want Sebastian to lose his reputation, his political standing and everything he has worked for, but thank goodness Sebastian is not willing to give up the woman he loves. I enjoyed the scene in Parliament and later when Sebastian says to Annabelle…

”A very clever woman once told me to think about on which side of history I want to be,” he said. “I made my choice today.”

I am always disappointed when there’s no Epilogue but the final chapter provided a charming end to the story.

Ms. Dunmore introduces a number of secondary characters who I am sure are destined to have their own books.

* Lady Lucie Tedbury, secretary of the National Society for Women’s Suffrage.

* Lady Catriona Campbell, assistant to her father, Alastair Campbell, who is an Oxford professor, Scottish earl, and owner of a castle in the Highlands.

* Miss Harriet Greenfield, daughter of Julien Greenfield, Britain’s most powerful banking tycoon.

* Lord Tristan Ballentine -a rogue with a diamond stud in his right ear

* Peregrin Devereux – Sebastian’s unruly, younger brother

A brilliant debut novel in what promises to be a must-read series. Highly recommended

Originally posted on Goodreads

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(The Ravenels #6)

Genre: Historical Romance

Cover Blurb (Amazon):

Everything has a price . . .

Railway magnate Tom Severin is wealthy and powerful enough to satisfy any desire as soon as it arises. It should be simple to find the perfect wife – and from his first glimpse of Lady Cassandra Ravenel, he’s determined to have her. But the beautiful and quick-witted Cassandra is equally determined to marry for love – the one thing he can’t give.

Everything except her . . .

Severin is the most compelling and attractive man Cassandra has ever met, even if his heart is frozen. But she has no interest in living in the fast-paced world of a ruthless man who always plays to win. When a newfound enemy nearly destroys Cassandra’s reputation, Severin seizes the opportunity he’s been waiting for. As always, he gets what he wants – or does he? There’s one lesson Tom Severin has yet to learn from his new bride:

Never underestimate a Ravenel.

The chase for Cassandra’s hand may be over. But the chase for her heart has only just begun .


This is the 6th book in The Ravenels series and, while many of the books in this series failed to live up to my expectations, CHASING CASSANDRA certainly did. It was pure delight from start of finish.

Lady Cassandra Ravenel has always dreamed of having a husband who loves her, children and a home of her own. She has no grand ambitions but would like to help people in need. In her first season she received several proposals but not one of the gentlemen had stirred her heart. However, when she meets Railway Magnate Tom Severin, she finds him the most attractive and compelling man she has ever met. However, after making an impromptu marriage proposal in the morning, he hightails it back to London that afternoon, leaving Cassandra thinking…

He’d proposed marriage in the morning, and abandoned her by evening. What a frustrating, fickle man.

With hard work, determination and a brilliant mind, Tom Severin had risen from humble beginnings to become one of the wealthiest and most powerful businessmen in London. He has a reputation for being shrewd, ruthless, manipulative and unprincipled – a man who is emotionally detached.

”…long ago I identified the feelings that were helpful to me. I decided to keep those and not bother with the rest.”

and love is definitely not one of those feelings.

When he meets Cassandra he is totally besotted but knows he can never fulfil her dreams of having a husband who loves her, but he simply cannot forget her. However, when scandal threatens to destroy Cassandra’s reputation, Tom comes to her rescue and she accepts his marriage proposal. But, will she be able to thaw his ‘frozen’ heart?

Tom Severin was such a complex and fascinating character and, in an interview, Lisa Kleypas describes him as ‘very nearly sociopathic’ because he is so disconnected from his emotions. As he reveals details of his childhood experiences to Cassandra, I could see how these would have had such a traumatic affect on him emotionally.

I really loved Cassandra. She’s intelligent, patient, understanding and kind, but knows her own mind and has an inner strength – all qualities that make her the ideal match for someone like Tom.

Their romance was heartwarming and romantic with lots of memorable scenes, which suited me perfectly in the current crisis. Tom is totally smitten with Cassandra and I love the lengths he is willing to go to protect her.

”There are no limits to what I would do for you.” (Sighs)

It was both touching and funny to see Tom struggling with his ‘feelings’ for Cassandra.

”Christ, Winterborne … I don’t know what I believe anymore. I have feelings coming at me I don’t even know the names for.”

I love how perceptive Cassandra is and understands Tom as no one else ever has. Recognising that he will need time to come to terms with his past and the feelings he has kept locked away for so many years, she is willing to be patient with him. I like how she knows what she wants and will fight for it in her own quiet way.

I mentioned early that there were lots of memorable scenes and here are few of my favourites.

* Tom and a bare-footed Cassandra dancing in the moonlight and their kiss – gloriously romantic.

Gently his hand came up to cradle the back of her head, his mouth moving over hers with erotic lightness … moment after moment … breath after breath.

* The lessons Tom has learned from the books Cassandra has inspired him to read and his response after reading Jane Eyre!

”Rochester is an irrational arse,” Tom said flatly. “He could have simply told Jane the truth and installed his wife in a decent Swiss clinic.”

* Negotiating the marriage contract –

Wife will acquire no more than one domestic canine companion,” Tom said grimly as he wrote. “A: Not to exceed twelve inches in height at the withers, chosen from a list of acceptable breeds to be determined later. B: Canine companion will sleep in designated areas at night, and C:”—his voice turned stern—”Will under no circumstances be allowed on beds or upholstered furniture.”
“What about ottomans?”
The tip of the graphite pencil lead snapped and flew off the table with a ping. Cassandra interpreted that as a no.

The secondary characters all add richness and depth to the story and I loved the street urchin, Bazzle, who worms his way into Tom’s heart. The scenes between them are both heartwarming and funny.

Tom had regarded him with a frown. “Do you never wash, Bazzle?”
The boy had shrugged. “I runs under the pump at a stable, or splashes meself from a trough.”
“When was the last time?” After watching the boy struggle to come up with an answer, Tom had glanced heavenward. “Don’t think so hard, you’re about to sprain something.”

I also liked Tom’s personal secretary, Barnaby, whose reactions to Bazzle are so amusing.

I loved the friendly banter between Tom, Rhys, Devon and West and liked how they came to see the changes in Tom and accepted that he was a worthy husband for Cassandra. Kathleen sums it up perfectly…

There was no doubt she and Tom Severin were good for each other, and their feelings were developing into a deep and enduring bond.

Ms. Kleypas always infuses her stories with lots of historical details which help to bring the late Victorian era to life. I also appreciated the Author’s Note detailing her research which was I found very interesting.

CHASING CASSANDRA combined everything I could wish for in a Historical Romance – a heart-warming and romantic story, wonderful characters you fall in love with, and lots of passion and humour. 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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(Wagers of Sin #2)

Genre: Historical Romance (Regency)

Cover Blurb (Amazon):

When you gamble at love . . .

When Hugh Deveraux discovers his newly inherited earldom is bankrupt, he sets about rebuilding the family fortune—in the gaming hells of London. But the most daring wager he takes isn’t at cards. A wealthy tradesman makes a tantalizing offer: marry the man’s spinster daughter and Hugh’s debts will be paid and his fortune made. The only catch is that she must never know about their agreement.

You risk losing your heart . . .

Heiress Eliza Cross has given up hope of marriage until she meets the impossibly handsome Earl of Hastings, her father’s new business partner. The earl is everything a gentleman should be, and is boldly attentive to her. It doesn’t take long for Eliza to lose her heart and marry him.

But when Eliza discovers that there is more to the man she loves—and to her marriage—her trust is shattered. And it will take all of Hugh’s power to prove that now his words of love are real.


This is the second book in Caroline Linden’s Wagers of Sin series and she succeeds in giving the popular ‘marriage of convenience’ trope a refreshingly different twist in this intelligently written and wonderfully romantic story.

On becoming Earl of Hastings, Hugh Devereaux was shocked to discover that his beloved father had frittered away the family’s entire fortune, leaving Hugh with a bankrupt estate, huge debts and no money for his sisters’ dowries or his mother’s widow’s jointure. How could he tell them that the man they all adored had left them virtually penniless? He simply couldn’t cause even more distress to his already grieving family and resolved to deal with matters himself. Only one option was open to him – marry an heiress, but not just yet. During the past few years, his luck at the card tables has enabled Hugh to pay off the most pressing debts and keep the family afloat but now, with his sister, Edith’s, imminent engagement, he needs to provide her with a dowry. So when Edward Cross approaches him with a solution to all his financial problems, Hugh cannot refuse. In return, he must court and marry Cross’s daughter, but she must never know of their agreement.

Edward Cross is one of the wealthiest men in England, having made his fortune speculating in shares. Ever since his wife died in childbirth, Elizabeth (Eliza), his only daughter, has become the centre of his universe and he is determined that she will acquire all the accomplishments befitting a lady. His ultimate goal is for her to marry an aristocrat and he is prepared to do anything to achieve it. Rather plain and shy, Eliza would rather remain single than marry a man who values her dowry more than herself, and is quite content looking after her father, playing with her dog, Willy, and tending her garden. However, when she meets and gets to know her father’s new business partner, the handsome and charming Hugh Deveraux, Earl of Hastings, she is soon hopelessly in love. To her delight, he seems to genuinely like her, and when he asks to court her and then proposes, she willingly accepts, totally unaware of the agreement made between Hugh and her father.

I couldn’t help but sympathise with Hugh who is caught between a rock and a hard place. He is an honourable man who cares deeply for his family and is determined to protect them from the harsh truth about his father. The only way he can achieve this is by deceiving a young woman who he knows will get hurt if she discovers the truth.

Eliza is such a lovely heroine – so warm-hearted, honest, generous and selfless, with a surprisingly droll sense of humour, and nothing like her manipulative father. I liked how she found such joy in simple pleasures and the scenes with Willy were charming and funny too. However, there is nothing weak about her because she has a core of steel when needed.

She would hold up her head and be strong, and not let any slight cow her. She was a countess now, Hugh’s countess—incredible thought—and she must rise to the demands of her position.

Watching Eliza win over Hugh’s mother and sisters with her warmth, kindness and understanding was so heartwarming.

I loved how the relationship evolved between Hugh and Eliza, particularly on Hugh’s part. He may have been blackmailed into marrying Eliza but he has every intention of being a kind and faithful husband, which only strengthened my opinion that he is honourable man. I love how each day he comes to appreciate Eliza more and more, discovering things about her that he had never anticipated.

He liked simply talking to her, which he had not expected. Eliza was a wonderful listener, caring and thoughtful, with clever ideas and a knack for making him laugh even when he didn’t mean to.

They are so perfect together both emotionally and sexually, and it’s obvious that Hugh is falling head over heels in love with his wife, but the fear of Eliza discovering the truth is constantly weighing on his mind. He knows that he should tell her but not only does he not want to lose her, he also knows how hurt she would be to learn of her father’s machinations.

He didn’t want to hurt his wife, and he damned sure didn’t want to risk losing her. Not when he thought he might be falling in love with her. So he added one more facet to the bargain he’d made with the devil: keep the truth from Eliza at all costs, for her sake and for his own.

I knew it was only a question of time before Eliza discovered Hugh’s duplicity and the scene where she confronts him is so heartbreaking that it was hard to believe that they could ever be reconciled. But when the reconciliation does come, it really touches the heart.

He tipped up her chin until her gaze met his. “I want you for you, my love. If you no longer want me -“
“I do,” she said, blinking back tears.

Eliza’s dearest friends, Sophie and Georgiana, are on hand to offer her moral support and advice when she most needs it.

I couldn’t really hate Edward Cross because he loved his daughter and, however misguided his actions were, he only wanted to do what he thought would make her happy. He hoped Hugh would see what a treasure she was and he did. I was pleased to see hints of a reconciliation between father and daughter in the Epilogue.

I loved this book and Caroline Linden proves yet again why she is one of the foremost Historical Romance authors. Highly recommended.

Originally posted on Goodreads

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