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(Storm Over Scotland #2)

Genre: Historical Romance

Cover Blurb (Amazon):

December 1743: In a snow-swept Edinburgh, Redcoat Captain Robert Catto and surgeon-apothecary’s daughter Christian Rankeillor face each other across a divide no bridge can cross. She’s in deadly danger: not least from him.

His investigations have turned up compelling evidence of a real threat posed to the House of Hanover by a plan to restore the House of Stuart to the British throne. Two of those at the heart of Jacobite political intrigue in Scotland are Patrick Rankeillor and his daughter Christian. Yet with each day that passes and despite their very different and deeply-held views, Robert and Kirsty are falling ever more deeply in love.

Robert Catto always does his duty. It’s all he’s ever had to hold on to: but he’s in danger too. Forced to confront his difficult past and a family connection that could call his loyalty to the crown into question, he could be risking the ruin of his military career.

And then there’s runaway Geordie Smart, his sister Alice and young African boy, Joshua. All three have been cruelly treated by a family of bored and cruel members of the gentry. Robert Catto and Christian Rankeillor stand ready to help Geordie, Alice and Joshua but that’s not going to be easy.

How is Robert Catto to reconcile doing his duty with his feelings for Christian Rankeillor? And how is she to balance her commitment to her father, their friends and the Stuart Cause with her feelings for Robert Catto?

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This is the second book in Maggie Craig’s Storm Over Scotland trilogy and I strongly recommend that you read Gathering Storm first to fully appreciate Dance to the Storm.

I like how Ms. Craig explores Robert and Kirsty’s relationship in greater depth in this book, but also provides enough drama and suspense to keep the story moving at a good pace, as Robert continues his search for the Jacobite conspirators.

Both are torn between their love for each other and their loyalty to others. Honour and duty have always been paramount to Robert, but now there is someone who means more to him. He vows to keep Kirsty and her father safe even though it means compromising his own integrity and jeopardising his military career. Not knowing who he can trust, he is going to have to proceed cautiously, and I think Ms. Craig’s analogy of walking a tightrope to describe Robert’s situation – one wrong step and you fall – fits perfectly.

Kirsty is similarly torn and begins to question her loyalty to the Jacobite cause. She cannot accept that the end justifies the means when it comes to murder. Given the choice of telling those who support the cause of the potential danger, or protecting Robert, she chooses the man she loves.

At times, she does make some foolish decisions, apparently oblivious to the consequences of her actions. I certainly couldn’t blame Robert for being so angry with her when he is risking everything to try and save her.

Robert has never known much love or affection in his life and it was heartwarming to see that, with Kirsty and her household, he had found a place he truly feels he belongs – where he feels part of family again.

I could feel Robert and Kirsty’s intense longing for each other and there were lovely tender moments, made all the more heartbreaking because there seems no way they can ever be together.

I like how Ms. Craig once again weaves social commentary into the fabric of her story, and shows the harsher side of life for ordinary people without power and wealth. Those who worked in Scotland’s coal mines, many young boys, were little more than serfs and legally the property the mine owners. Any runaways who were caught and brought back suffered a terrible punishment.

Among the secondary characters who particularly stood out were Sergeant Livingston who had some some wise advice for Robert; Geordie Smart who had a pretty hard time in this book; Joshua, the young, African servant who showed great courage, and Betty Gilchrist, Kirsty’s formidable little housekeeper.

When it comes to cruel Charlotte Liddell and her depraved brother, Cosmo, I hope that Ms. Craig has some suitable retribution for these two loathsome creatures in the final book.

I’m looking forward to reading Storm Crossed Moon, the final book in this trilogy, but it’s difficult to imagine how Robert and Kirsty will ever have their Happy Ever After. However, to quote the star-crossed pair…

”How are we to find our way through all of this?’ Her voice shook.”
“Somehow we’ll find a way.”

I’m sure Ms. Craig will.

Highly recommended for those who love intelligently written and impeccably researched Romantic Historical Fiction.

Originally posted on Goodreads

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(Storm Over Scotland #1)

Genre: Historical Romance

Cover Blurb (Amazon):

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

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

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

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This book came highly recommended by my friend, Wendy Loveridge, and I certainly wasn’t disappointed because Maggie Craig is a superb writer. The first book in the Storm Over Scotland series, GATHERING STORM is an engrossing story with multi-layered characters, a meticulously researched historical setting and a star-crossed romance.

Edinburgh in 1743 is the backdrop to the story and Ms. Craig brings this historical setting vividly to life with her evocative writing and obvious in-depth knowledge of her subject. I could easily visualise the narrow, winding streets and smell their foulness, and I like how she doesn’t shy away from showing the dark underbelly of the town – the grim lives of those women forced to eke out a living anyway they can, and the depravity of those wealthy men who believed that their rank gave them the right to do whatever they wanted without consequences. It’s also a town of divided loyalties with the Jacobites who support the restoration of the exiled Stuart king on one side, and those who support the Hanoverian king in London on the other. It all combines to create the perfect setting for a fascinating story of political intrigue, murder, danger and betrayal.

What I love about Robert Catto is that he’s such a complex character. He is something of a mystery because, despite being born a Scot, he has spent half his life in the army, serving King George II. It’s clear that his reluctance to return to his homeland stems from something that happened in his youth; something so life-changing that he has done everything to conceal his past and his true identity.

At face value, it would would be easy to dislike Robert. In the scene where he breaks into Professor Rankeillor’s house and is confronted by an incensed Christian (Kirsty), he’s rude, sarcastic, belligerent and coarse. It is only later that I discovered he has every reason to hate the Jacobite cause on a personal level. He regards the Jacobites as dreamers and fools who have no conception of the realities of war, but Robert has seen first hand the horrific consequences of war, while fighting in Europe, and will do whatever he must to prevent a civil war in Scotland, and the bloodshed that would follow. It helped me to understand his motivations and, as the story unfolds, I began to see another side to him – a man who is honourable, loyal and caring, although he hides it well. I like how he realises that he can make a difference to Geordie’s life by treating him with respect and kindness, and I saw his compassion towards Geordie’s sister after her ordeal. Robert might be a hardened soldier, but he would always protect those who needed it.

Kirsty is very close to her father and she had an unconventional upbringing because he actively encouraged her interest in medicine. She helps him in his apothecary shop and has no qualms about observing a dissection. She’s intelligent and capable with a kind heart, but she’s no wilting lily and doesn’t crumble under Robert’s confrontational behaviour. I admired her fierce loyalty to her father but she did seem heedless of the potential consequences of helping the Jacobite spy.

As Robert and Kirsty are thrown into each other’s company more and more, a strong attraction sparks between them, one they know is going nowhere…

Wrong time, wrong place. Wrong man, wrong woman. Wrong situation.

…but one they are helpless to ignore.

Fully aware of the danger Kirsty is in, Robert is determined to keep her safe regardless of the huge risk to himself.

There is a strong cast of secondary characters who all add depth to the story. I particularly liked Duncan Forbes of Culloden, the Lord President of Scotland, an honourable and wise man, who cares about Scotland and doesn’t want to see it plunged into civil war, and Geordie Smart, the young cook boy who brings out Robert’s softer side, was certainly a scene stealer.

The various plot threads running through the story often seem unconnected and I love how Ms. Craig skilfully draws them all together to provide a surprise revelation that I certainly didn’t see coming. There are just enough threads left hanging to make me eager to read the second book, DANCE TO THE STORM and, of course, see what happens to Robert and Kirsty.

This was a superbly written story which skillfully blends history, political intrigue, mystery, danger and a star-crossed romance between a Redcoat Captain and a Jacobite lady. 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 .

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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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(The Devils of Dover #3.5)

Genre: Historical Romance

Cover Blurb (Amazon):

Can he trust her with his darkest secret?

Ruthless. Dangerous. Known simply as King. No one knows his true name or where he came from. And when he learns that the man who betrayed him has returned to London, King has only one goal: vengeance. But first, he must seek out an unlikely ally to aide him in his pursuit…

Adeline Archambault is as mysterious as she is beautiful. Exiled after the French Revolution, she’s determined to reclaim her birthright and deliver the justice that is owed her. King’s offer to help her, in exchange for her assistance, is a bargain she can’t refuse. But will this deal with a devil lead to a future she never dared hope for?

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Ever since reading Kelly Bowen’s excellent Season for Scandal series, I have been anxiously awaiting the enigmatic King’s story. I was, therefore, somewhat disappointed to discover it was a novella but, despite the obvious constraints, Ms. Bowen succeeded in creating a deeply emotional story that kept me engrossed from start to finish.

With a past shrouded in mystery and a reputation for being dangerous, ruthless, cunning, and unpredictable, King has risen to the top of London’s underworld, but is just as comfortable in the upper echelons of London society. His sartorial elegance, genuine knowledge of art and antiques, love of playing the piano, and obvious concern for the young boys in his employ all seem so at odds with his formidable reputation.

I knew that King must have had a dark past, but I never guessed just how dark and heartbreaking it really was. To be so cruelly abandoned to a living hell by those who should have loved, protected and believed in him, I could appreciate just how much King’s past had shaped him into a man he has become – ‘A merciless man who does whatever awful things are necessary to keep surviving.’ He has buried those terrible memories in the deepest recesses of his mind but is forced to confront them head on when someone from his past reappears.

Adeline’s parents, the Comte and Comtesse de Chadonnet, lost everything during the French Revolution and the family was forced to flee. Tragically, after returning to Paris ten years later to reclaim their birthright, her parents were murdered and the culprit never caught. Forced to fend for herself, Adeline is determined to obtain the justice for others that she was unable to get for her parents. When no one else is willing or able to help, clients employ Adeline to recover stolen family fortunes and treasures and bring the culprits to justice whenever possible.

I really admire Adeline’s strength and courage in the face of adversity and her desire to help those who have lost everything. Yes, it’s a way of making a living, but she sees her clients as people first and genuinely cares about them.

Adeline is the perfect heroine for King because they are alike in many ways – both have known the loneliness of surviving in a world where both honour and trust were in short supply. From their first meeting, the attraction between them is palpable and Ms. Bowen creates a sexual tension that positively sizzles. I enjoyed seeing King, who has always been in total control of his emotions and his actions, become completely unravelled by Adeline and vulnerable in a way he never has been before.

I love how they truly ‘see’ and understand each other as no one else ever has. King sees Adeline as honourable, beautiful and clever, while Adeline sees beyond King’s ruthless, cunning and callous façade to a man who protects those he cares for. The scene where he sends Adeline away, believing that she deserves a man as honourable as she, is truly heart-breaking.

It takes some wise words from his close friend, Noah, to make him realise that he has to let go of the past and embrace the future.

“Yet all of those moments are gone. You can remember them or forget them, like them or hate them, but you cannot change them. Only the moments to come can be changed.”

The final chapter was just perfect and so romantic. It was heart-warming to see two people, who are perfectly in tune with each other, finally find the happiness they truly deserve.

Although this novella is part of The Devils of Dover series, King has his origins in Ms. Bowen’s Season for Scandal series. I would highly recommend reading this series not only because it’s excellent, but also because it provides background to King’s character, and insight into his past relationships with Elise Ellery & Noah Ellery, the Duke of Ashland, and Ivory Harcourt, Duchess of Alderidge, the main secondary characters in this novella.

King’s story was so worth the wait and more than exceeded my expectations. Highly recommended.


Originally posted on Goodreads

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Genre: Historical Romance

Cover Blurb (Amazon):

An Uncommon Beauty…
Hidden away in rural Devonshire, Phyllida Satterthwaite has always been considered more odd than beautiful. But in London, her oddity has made her a sensation. Far worse, it’s caught the eye of the sinister Duke of Moreland — a notorious art collector obsessed with acquiring one-of-a-kind treasures. To escape the duke’s clutches, she’s going to need a little help.

An Unlikely Hero…
Captain Arthur Heywood’s days of heroism are long past. Grievously injured in the Peninsular War, he can no longer walk unaided, let alone shoot a pistol. What use can he possibly be to a damsel in distress? He has nothing left to offer except his good name.

Can a marriage of convenience save Philly from the vengeful duke? Or will life with Arthur put her — and her heart — in more danger than ever?

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I always look forward to reading one of Mimi Matthews’ books because I’m assured of an engaging and tender romance that is elegantly written with characters that capture your heart. THE WORK OF ART has a Regency setting rather than her usual Victorian one, but Ms. Matthews’ research is equally impeccable.

Since returning from the Peninsula War three years ago, Arthur Heywood has been in constant pain from a serious leg wound, forcing him to walk with a stick, and his right hand also sustained severe injury. Riding and shooting were an important part of who he had once been and he’s finding it hard to come to terms with the limitations imposed by his injuries. In recurring nightmarish dreams, Arthur constantly relives the harrowing events that followed his last battle. He has given up all hope of ever enjoying any sort of normal life again, and lives a reclusive existence at his country estate in Somerset. When his father sends him to London to contract some business on his behalf with financier Edgar Townsend, Arthur has every intention of returning to Somerset as soon as the business is concluded – that is until he meets Townsend’s niece, Phyllida (Philly) Satterthwaite, a young lady desperately in need of someone to rescue her from an untenable situation.

Phyllida Satterthwaite had once enjoyed a contented life living with her grandfather in rural Devon. She loved nothing more than going on rambles with her motley assortment of rescued dogs. Her circumstances change after her grandfather dies and she goes to live in London with her Uncle Edgar, the only living heir to her grandfather’s estate. Although unhappy, she is determined to make the best of her situation. Her uncle has promised to finance a season for her so that she might find herself a suitable husband but, when she discovers that he has already literally sold her to the menacing Duke of Moreland, she turns to the only person she feels she can confide in, Arthur Heywood.

I have a soft spot for damaged heroes like Arthur. He has been scarred both physically and mentally by his wartime experiences and has lost all sense of self-worth, believing that his loss of physical prowess now defines who he is. At heart, he is honourable, kind, thoughtful and steadfast, qualities that come to the fore in his determination to help Philly and keep her safe. Philly is such a lovely heroine. Her kindness, gentleness and compassion are balm to Arthur’s troubled spirit and, when they first meet, I love how she is so attuned to his difficulties and helps him in an unobtrusive way.

The ‘marriage of convenience’ is a favourite of mine and Arthur and Philly are such an engaging couple. I love how their initial bond of friendship, based on mutual liking, respect and trust, develops into a tentative attraction, which gradually blossoms into love. How refreshing to see them actually discuss any problems and misunderstandings before they became insurmountable.

It was so heart-warming to see the changes Philly brings to Arthur’s life. With her gentle encouragement, he takes daily walks, slowly regaining some of his physical strength and his sense of hope. Heywood House had been a place of gloom, but Philly had made it feel like a real home. I loved Arthur’s determination to protect Philly and, in doing so, he becomes a true hero.

It was undeniably Arthur. But it wasn’t her Arthur. It wasn’t the husband who kissed her and called her his sweetheart. No. This was a different man. A dangerous man. This was Captain Arthur Heywood. This was the soldier who had crushed a man’s throat with one bare hand.

Among the secondary characters there’s Philly’s devious and avaricious Uncle Edgar; her cold-hearted aunt, Mrs Vale; her horrid cousins, Elizabeth and Abigail; the cold and menacing Duke of Moreland; the conniving Mrs Eliot, and not forgetting Philly’s sundry canines.

The mystery of who is threatening Philly added an intriguing layer to story, and the culprit’s identity was certainly a surprise I didn’t see coming.

A lovely, heart-warming and beautifully written romance with just a touch of mystery. Highly recommended.

Originally posted on Goodreads

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(Difficult Dukes #2)

Genre: Historical Romance

Cover Blurb (Goodreads):

Cassandra Pomfret holds strong opinions she isn’t shy about voicing. But her extremely plain speaking has caused an uproar, and her exasperated father, hoping a husband will rein her in, has ruled that her beloved sister can’t marry until Cassandra does.

Now, thanks to a certain wild-living nobleman, the last shreds of Cassandra’s reputation are about to disintegrate, taking her sister’s future and her family’s good name along with them.

The Duke of Ashmont’s looks make women swoon. His character flaws are beyond counting. He’s lost a perfectly good bride through his own carelessness. He nearly killed one of his two best friends. Still, troublemaker that he is, he knows that damaging a lady’s good name isn’t sporting.

The only way to right the wrong is to marry her…and hope she doesn’t smother him in his sleep on their wedding night.

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The second book in Loretta Chase’s Difficult Dukes series has been a long time coming, but I’m delighted to say it was well worth the wait. It combines all the elements I love so much about Ms. Chase’s books – an entertaining story filled with fascinating characters, sparking wit, laugh-out-loud moments and a captivating romance.

I admit to having doubts that Ms. Chase could make Ashmont not only likeable, but also deserving of the heroine’s love. I’m pleased to say that my reservations proved groundless, because she does a splendid job. In A Duke in Shining Armor, Ashmont displayed none of the qualities of a true romantic hero. He may be handsome, rich and possessed of natural charm, but these attributes are far outweighed by his flaws. He’s an immature, irresponsible, reckless libertine who is forever causing mayhem with his silly pranks. If that wasn’t enough, he let his would-be bride slip through his fingers and nearly killed his best friend in a duel.

Cassandra is intelligent, strong-willed, impulsive and confident – a woman who fully embraces her individuality. As a member of the Andromeda Club, a ladies’ charity, she is fully aware of the poverty that exists and the injustices inflicted on those less fortunate than herself. I like how she doesn’t just play lip service to her charity work but is actively involved in it. She has strong political views and is not afraid to voice them in public, much to her father’s vexation. Hoping that a husband might curb Cassandra’s behaviour, he stipulates that her younger sister, Hyacinth, cannot marry until Cassandra herself weds. Despite everything, she clearly loves her family very much, but cannot deny her true self. Her father isn’t tyrannical but simply someone who loves his family and fears that his daughter’s behaviour will reflect badly on the whole family.

Ashmont is the last person Cassandra would ever consider marrying. As a young girl, she had fallen hopelessly in love with him and imagined that he would grow up to be somebody fine and noble, only to have her dreams crumble to dust. However, a carriage accident and scandal will change the course of both their lives.

Ashmont is totally captivated by Cassandra; he admires all the attributes other men find unattractive – her plain speaking, her intelligence, her confidence, and her impulsiveness. He’s knows that his looks and charm won’t carry any sway with Cassandra and he must gain her trust and respect. He knows it will be a Herculean task but he’s determined to do it. I enjoyed watching Ashmont gradually becoming the man Cassandra hoped he would be. He stops drinking and takes time to find out what’s important to Cassandra, and in doing so, comes to appreciate the constraints placed on women by society, and the plight of the poor, things he had previously been oblivious to. He comes to realise just how pointless his life has been until now.

Given her past disappointment, Cassandra finds it hard to trust or respect Ashmont because she’s certain he will break her heart all over again. But time and again, she is surprised by his actions, such as the obvious thought and care he’d taken in choosing the gift for Keeffe, or diffusing the situation with the rent collector, using restraint rather than his customary fists.

The chemistry between these two is positively delicious and their witty banter an absolute delight. Of course, the path to true love never runs smoothly and obstacles come in the form of Ashmont’s rival, Mr. Titus Owsley, (or as Ashmont refers to him, ‘Mr. Tight-Arse Oh-So-Holy’), and the vindictive Lady Bartham who sets out to destroy their new found happiness. Unlike so many other heroines, Cassandra is sensible enough to tell her parents the truth of the situation, and I love the scene where her mother, Lady deGriffe, thwarts Lady Bartham’s insidious scheming.

The story is rich in Ms. Chase’s trademark wit and humour and these are just a few of my favourites moments – the ‘umbrella fight’ which conjured up the most wonderful images in my mind, the letters between them after Keeffe’s accident, and Cassandra’s letter to Ashmont detailing ten events that had happened since he ‘staggered’ into her life. I also like how Ms. Chase always brings an element of social commentary to her books, The secondary characters all add depth to the story and I particularly liked Keeffe, Cassandra’s groom, who is more than just a servant, and Sommers, Ashmont’s valet, who is prone to weeping at the state of master’s attire.

I am looking forward to reading Alice & Blackwood’s story in the final book in the series, and also hoping that the obvious history between Ripley’s Aunt Julia and Ashmont’s Uncle Frederick will finally be revealed.

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.
 

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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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(Roundheads and Cavaliers #4)

Genre: Historical Fiction

Cover Blurb (Amazon)

Still tied to his desk in the Intelligence Office, Colonel Eden Maxwell has become increasingly disenchanted with both Oliver Cromwell and his own daily existence; and with the advent of new Royalist conspiracies, he despairs of ever getting away. Then a brick hurled through the window of a small workshop sets in motion a new and unexpected chain of events. After all, who would want to hurt Lydia Neville – a young widow, giving work and self-respect to maimed war veterans considered unemployable elsewhere? But when the assaults in Duck Lane escalate, threatening the life and remaining limbs of some of Eden’s former troopers, finding the culprit becomes a personal crusade.

At their first meeting, Lydia finds Colonel Maxwell annoying; by their second, having discovered that he had arrested and questioned her brother in connection with the Ship Tavern Plot, she mistrusts his motives. On the other hand, it swiftly becomes plain that she needs his help … and has difficulty resisting his smile.

Solving the increasingly hazardous mystery surrounding Lydia is not Eden’s only task. Between plots to assassinate the Lord Protector and a rising in Scotland, he must also mend the fences within his own family and get to know his son. Life suddenly goes from mind-numbing boredom to frenetic complexity.

With reckless Cavaliers lurking around every corner and a government still struggling to find its way, Lords of Misrule is set against a time of national discontent and general failure. But readers of the previous books in the series can look forward to catching up with old friends as well as meeting new ones … while, against all the odds, Eden and Lydia find danger and reward in equal measure.

♥♥♥♥♥♥

Set during the years 1653 to 1655, when Oliver Cromwell ruled as Lord Protector, Lords of Misrule is the fourth book in Stella Riley’s excellent Roundheads and Cavaliers series. As with the previous books, it is an absorbing and intelligently written story which effortlessly blends history, politics, mystery, danger and, of course, romance.

Eden Maxwell has been an important secondary character since he first appeared in The Black Madonna, when his wife’s betrayal had such a devastating affect on him. Garland 0f Straw saw Eden serving as a major in Cromwell’s New Model Army, but still unable to put the past behind him and frequently finding solace in a bottle. It took some straight talking from his commanding officer to make him realise that he risked throwing his military career down the drain. In The King’s Falcon Eden, now a colonel, had finally come to terms with what happened and events leave him free to find the happiness he truly deserves.

What I love about Eden is that he is such a flawed and complex character. Despite being a battle-hardened soldier, he is a man of honour and integrity, as his actions in The King’s Falcon, and his disenchantment with Cromwell and what he stands for, reveal. The pain and anger he felt discovering his wife’s infidelity was understandable, made all the more heart-breaking because it was the same day his beloved father was buried. The hurt and disillusionment ran so deep that he vowed never to marry again. It was sad to see him distancing himself from his family and especially his two children. He had become a virtual stranger to his son, Jude, and resented his daughter, Viola, because he knows she isn’t his child. It was heartwarming to watch Eden making a positive effort to break down the barriers he had built between himself and his children. Jude proves to be young man with a wise head on his shoulders and offers his father some sound advice when it comes to building bridges with Viola.

Lydia is independent, capable and stubborn, and I admire her refusal to be hounded into selling her charitable businesses by her late husband’s family. Her kindness and compassion is evident in her desire to provide gainful employment to war-widows and crippled ex-soldiers, regardless of which side they fought on. In doing so, she hopes to restore their self respect, and it’s clear that the men and women she helps adore her and would defend her without hesitation.

”If you ever need a rag-tag army to stand at your back, you can count on us.  All of us.”

It was refreshing to see Lydia’s late husband shown in a positive light, rather than an odious old lecher as so often happens. He was kind and always had her best interests at heart. She obviously loves her brother, Aubrey, and worries about him, although, at times, he seems totally irresponsible in his actions.

The romance was deliciously slow-building and watching Eden and Lydia gradually see each other in a new light and begin to fall in love was very satisfying.

As always, with Ms. Riley, the relationships between her male characters are so brilliantly written, especially the brotherly exchanges between Eden and Toby, and the close bond of friendship between Eden and Gabriel.

Ms. Riley’s books are so meticulously researched and watching the historical events unfold through the eyes of her characters brought the history to life, and made me care about the fate of these characters.

The mystery of who is threatening Lydia, and why, is well-plotted with plenty of action and danger, and the villain’s identity certainly came as a surprise.

There are some delightful moments of humour throughout the story and one of my particular favourites is the scene where Lydia pretends to be absent-minded when soldiers arrive to question her about her brother’s whereabouts. It is so funny.

Among the secondary characters are a number of familiar favourites from the previous books including Gabriel and Venetia Brandon, Phoebe Clifford, Venetia’s youngest sister, Sir Nicholas Austin and a cameo appearance from Ashley Peverell. I felt a lot of sympathy for Deborah but she was pragmatic enough to accept that there was no future for her with Eden. Toby was definitely a scene stealer and I loved the banter between him and Eden. A real charmer and ladies man on the surface, but not someone to be underestimated, especially in a life-threatening situation. Like so many other readers, I do hope that Toby gets his own book in the not too distant future.

I strongly recommend that you read the previous books in this series to get a full appreciation of Eden’s character, and his connection to the other recurring characters who appear in this book.

Another superbly written story from Stella Riley. I can highly recommend all the books in this excellent series.

Originally posted on Goodreads

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(Roundheads and Cavaliers #3)

Genre: Historical Fiction

Cover Blurb (Amazon):

A tale of war and witchcraft … plots and playhouses … love and loyalty.

Charles the Second’s attempt to reclaim his throne ends in a crushing defeat at Worcester. With only the clothes on their backs, Ashley Peverell and Francis Langley flee to Paris where Ashley, known to some as the Falcon, resumes his secret work for the King.

Beautiful and street-wise, Athenais de Galzain has risen from the slums of Paris to become the city’s leading actress … but along with success comes the attention of a powerful nobleman, accustomed to taking what he wants.

Ashley and Athenais are drawn together with the force of two stars colliding.
Ashley, lacking money and often forced to risk his life, has two priorities; to guard the King from a dastardly plot hatched in London … and to protect Athenais from the man who would destroy her. Both will test him to the limits.

The King’s Falcon follows the Cavaliers’ last crusade and poverty-stricken exile whilst taking us behind the scenes in the playhouse. There is danger, intrigue, romance … and more than one glimpse into darkness.

♥♥♥♥♥♥

The King’s Falcon, the third book in the excellent Roundheads and Cavaliers series, is everything I have come expect from Ms. Riley – a superbly written and totally absorbing story, which perfectly blends history, politics, intrigue, drama and romance.

For me, one of Ms. Riley’s greatest strengths lies in her ability to create multi-faceted and realistic characters. In The King’s Falcon, we have not just one but two male protagonists, and my response to Pauline’s question…

“I’ve rarely seen one man as pretty as that – let alone a pair.  So which took your fancy?”

would be that they are both sigh-worthy in their own way.

The outrageously good-looking Royalist agent, Ashley Peverell, made a brief appearance in Garland of Straw, but now we discover that behind his seemingly carefree nature and amiability lies a very different man. Most know him as a colonel in the Royalist army, but only a select few know him as the Falcon. His keen mind and ruthlessness have served him well in his covert work for the king, work that is often ‘neither honourable or pretty’ but necessary. Although Ashley doesn’t see himself as a man of honour and integrity, it’s clearly shown in his determination to protect Athenais, his unswerving loyalty to his friends, and his willingness to risk his life for the king.

When we were first introduced to Francis Langley in The Black Madonna, he was a charming, frivolous young man who preferred writing poetry to fighting. However, as a captain in the Royalist army (Garland of Straw), his experiences of war have given him maturity and a self-awareness, and his willingness to put his life on the line in the service of the king speaks volumes for his character. I have always had a soft spot for Francis and it was lovely to see him fulfil his true potential as a writer. I also loved his sharp, witty responses when talking to his sister, Celia, particularly as she’s not one of my favourite characters. Anyone who has read The Black Madonna will understand why.

The illegitimate daughter of a retired mercenary and a laundress, Athenais de Galzain was born Agnes Stott in a dingy back-street of Paris. It had taken her six long years of struggle, hard work, and a change of name, to forge a successful career in Théâtre du Marais, rising to become one of its leading actresses. I admire how she achieved her success not just because she was beautiful, but through sheer determination and natural talent. Unfortunately, she has caught the eye of the Marquis d’Auxerre, who is determined to make her his mistress. Athenais is pragmatic enough to know that, one day, such a step would be necessary to protect her career, but there is something about the Marquis that she finds unsettling.

I found Pauline Fleury such an interesting character. She had once enjoyed a dazzling acting career herself, until an accident left her with a scarred left cheek and a slight limp and she is now Athenais’ dresser and mentor. Beneath the prickly surface and forthrightness, she is clever and astute, and she is such a loyal, protective friend to Athenais. I like how supportive Pauline is of her protégé, never showing any jealousy of the younger woman’s success.

The two romances run concurrently but develop in very different ways. Ashley and Athenais have an instant attraction but, as an ex-soldier with little money and no prospects, who is frequently called upon to risk his life, Ashley knows he has nothing to offer Athenais and is determined to keep his distance while ensuring that Athenais is safe from the Marquis d’Auxerre. It’s not long before their all-consuming passion can no longer be denied, but dramatic events will test the strength of their relationship. Ms. Riley deals with a very difficult subject and handles it well. I could feel the deep emotional turmoil Athenais goes through and I love how Ashley allows her time to heal and shows such empathy, encouragement and patience.

I enjoyed seeing the slow building romance between Francis and Pauline. Francis is surprised to find that he has come to enjoy Pauline’s company and is forced to admit that the reason he had written his play was because he found her fascinating. He saw beyond her scarred face and limp to the attractive, intelligent and competent woman beneath. He even liked her sharp tongue. Although Pauline has feelings for Francis, she knows that nothing can come of it

Good-looking titled gentlemen didn’t belong with scarred, one-time actresses past their first blush.

Francis certainly has his work cut when it comes to persuading Pauline to marry him because she’s the most stubborn woman he has ever met. Slowly, but surely, he breaks down her defences, and I love how he tells her that her head, heart and spirit far outweigh her imperfections.

Eden Maxwell has been an important secondary character since he first appeared in The Black Madonna, when his wife’s betrayal had such a devastating affect on him. It was satisfying to see that he has finally come to terms with what happened, and events in The King’s Falcon leave him free to find the happiness he deserves in Lords of Misrule. He is also instrumental in saving the lives of two people.

Among the other secondary characters are…

– Sir Nicholas Austin, a Royalist captain, who is taken in by Eden after he loses an arm at the Battle of Worcester.

– Deborah Hart who is saved by Eden when she is falsely accused of being a witch, and becomes his housekeeper and mistress.

– Celia Maxwell, Francis’s sister, who elicits Francis’s help in obtaining a divorce from Eden.

– Jem Barker, Ashley’s loyal servant and a former highwayman.

– The evil Marquis d’Auxerre who, I’m pleased to say, meets a suitable end.

Like the first two books in this series, The King’s Falcon is rich in period detail, whether it be the bloody Battle of Worcester, the unjust witches trials, the behind the scenes workings of the Théâtre du Marais, the Fronde in Paris, or the plight of the exiled Royalists in Paris, Ms. Riley seamlessly blends fact and fiction, creating a strong sense of time and place. Charles II, the Duke of Buckingham, and Cyrano de Bergerac are among the real people in the story, but the fictional characters are so well drawn that it was difficult to distinguish the real from the fictional. The various plot twists and turns are skilfully handled culminating in an exciting conclusion.

Another superb book from Stella Riley. Highly recommended.

Originally posted on Goodreads

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(Roundheads and Cavaliers #2)

Genre: Historical Fiction

Cover Blurb (Amazon):

The marriage of a well-bred Royalist lady and an illegitimate Roundhead Colonel is less a match made in heaven than a union doomed to hell. Unfortunately, Sir Robert Brandon’s last will and testament leaves Venetia Clifford and Gabriel Brandon with little choice in the matter – deeply though they both resent it.

Their tempestuous relationship is reflected in the events buffeting the nation as England slides into a second Civil War. While Gabriel continues to serve in the New Model Army, Venetia engages in clandestine activities on behalf of the King; and both their lives are complicated still further when Gabriel’s half-brother – to whom Venetia was formerly betrothed – returns from exile.

While the Army and Parliament argue over the fate of the King, Gabriel realises that he has a dangerous enemy. And as events gather pace, bringing the King to trial, the tangled web of danger and deceit surrounding both Gabriel and Venetia slowly tightens its grip.

♥♥♥♥♥♥

Set against the turbulent events leading up to the trial and execution of Charles I (1648 to 1649), Garland of Straw is the second book in Stella Riley’s Roundheads and Cavaliers series. Once again, I was treated to an intelligently written and engrossing story which skillfully combines history, politics, intrigue, suspense, tragedy, and a stormy romance between a staunch Royalist lady and a Roundhead colonel.

I have loved everyone of Ms. Riley’s heroes, but Gabriel might just be my favourite. The illegitimate son of Sir Robert Brandon and raised by foster parents, I admire the way he has never let his illegitimacy define who he is. He has forged a career for himself as a professional soldier, fighting in various European wars before returning to England to join Cromwell’s New Model Army. He is an honourable and principled man and, although initially sympathetic towards the Parliamentary cause, witnessing the atrocities committed at Basing House has left him disillusioned. As events unfold, he is faced with some difficult, life-changing choices.

Venetia was a secondary character in The Black Madonna. As one of the Queen’s entourage, she enjoyed a carefree life at court. Engaged to Ellis Brandon, the man she loves, everything seemed perfect, but the war changed that. It claimed the lives of both her father and her eldest brother, while her other brother, Harry, and Ellis had gone into into exile. With no-one else in the family capable of running Ford Edge Manor, and keeping a roof over their heads, responsibility has fallen firmly on Venetia’s shoulders. I could understand how circumstances had led to Venetia becoming so hard and bitter, and how they coloured her initial attitude towards Gabriel.

Often I have read books where the hero and heroine dislike each other, but there is a strong, underlying attraction. This is certainly not the case with Gabriel and Venetia. From their first meeting at the reading of the will, their mutual animosity fairly drips off the page. However unpalatable, Gabriel and Venetia are forced to marry, and it promises to be a battle royal considering Venetia regards Gabriel as ‘a misbegotten bumpkin in an orange sash’ who is rude, callous and arrogant, while Gabriel sees Venetia as beautiful, but with ‘the tongue of a shrew, an expression that gives you frostbite and no manners worth mentioning.

Ms. Riley develops their relationship very slowly, which seemed realistic given the circumstances. The major change in their relationship comes when Venetia tends Gabriel after he is set upon and badly injured. They talk for the first time without the usual hostility and sarcasm and it was very satisfying to see respect, liking, trust and ultimately love steadily growing between them, even though there was a bump in the road, in the form of Ellis Brandon; but Venetia soon comes to see that Gabriel is ten times the man Ellis will ever be.

This was a very complex period in British history and I admire the way in which Ms. Riley seamlessly blends real-life events and personages with the lives of her fictional characters. The resulting realism it brings to the story made me truly care about the fate of these characters.

Bravo to Ms. Riley for keeping me clueless regarding the identity of the person responsible for the attempts on Gabriel’s life, until just before the harrowing climax.

There is a fascinating array of secondary characters, some familiar favourites and others new, including…

Walter (Wat) Larkin – Gabriel’s faithful servant and companion for 15 years, with ‘the nose of a bloodhound and the instincts of a ferret? 

Eden Maxwell (The Black Madonna) – Gabriel’s Major, who is still trying to drown his personal problems in a bottle.

Ellis Brandon, Gabriel’s half brother and Venetia’s fiancé, who is selfish, arrogant and a liar when it serves his interests.

Phoebe Clifford – Venetia’s youngest sister, ever the optimist, who immediately befriends Gabriel much to her (Venetia’s) displeasure.

Jack Morrell – Gabriel’s foster brother who is more like a real brother to him

Francis Langley (The Black Madonna) – an elegant Royalist, who would prefer writing poetry to fighting.

Handsome Captain Ashley Peverell, alias the Falcon, a Royalist spy.

Having read and loved A Splendid Defiance, it was wonderful to catch up with Captain Justin Ambrose (now a Colonel), his wife Abigail, and her younger brother, Samuel (Sam) Radford. Justine strikes up an unlikely friendship with Gabriel, while there is a secondary romance between Sam and Jack Morrell’s niece, Bryony.

Ms. Riley still manages to incorporate some much welcome humour into the story. For instance, I love the hilarious scene where Venetia is smuggling Frances Langley past guards on the bridge and passing him off as her drunken husband. Phoebe’s enthusiastic search for the Lacey Garland also brought a smile to my face.

A meticulously researched and engrossing story with fascinating characters, and an emotionally satisfying romance. Highly recommended.

Originally posted on Goodreads

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