Tag Archive | Lucinda Brant

SPOTLIGHT & GIVEAWAY: Proud Mary (Roxton Saga #5) by Lucinda Brant

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The Roxtons are back! Romance. Drama. Intrigue. Family secrets. There’s never a dull moment for the 18th Century’s first family…

Widowed and destitute, Lady Mary Cavendish is left with only her pride. Daughter of an earl and great-granddaughter to a Stuart King, family expectation and obligation demands she remarry. But not just any man will do; her husband must rank among the nobility. Falling in love with her handsome and enigmatic neighbor is out of the question. As always, Mary will do her duty and ignore her heart.

Country squire Christopher Bryce has secretly loved his neighbor Mary for many years. Yet, he is resigned to the cruel reality they are not social equals and thus can never share a future together. Never mind that his scandalous past and a heartbreaking secret make him thoroughly unworthy of such a proud beauty.

Then into their lives steps a ghost from Mary’s past, whose outrageous behavior has Mary questioning her worldview, and Christopher acting upon his feelings, and for all to see. The mismatched couple begin to wonder if in fact love can prevail—that a happily ever after might just be possible if only they dare to follow their hearts.

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OUR REVIEW

Publisher and Release Date: 2017 by Sprigleaf Pty Ltd.

Time and Setting: Gloucestershire, 1777
Heat Level: 2
Genre: Historical Romance
Reviewer Rating: 5 stars

Review by Lady Wesley

I love historical romance series featuring large families and covering a sizable period of time, and Lucinda Brant’s Roxton books fit that bill. The series begins in Paris in 1745, moves to Georgian England, and covers nearly thirty years, during which the expected births, deaths, love affairs, and marriages occur.

Proud Mary, the fifth book, opens in 1777 and features Lady Mary Cavendish, widow of Sir Gerald Cavendish, who has been dead for two years. Sir Gerald and Lady Mary were minor characters in the earlier books, where we learned that Gerald was a conceited bag of hot air who was shunned by Polite Society, disliked by his neighbors, and cruel to his wife and daughter. Lady Mary was completely under his thumb, which is not surprising since she grew up with a domineering snob of a mother, the Countess of Strathsay.

Sir Gerald was both impressed and envious that Mary was the daughter of an earl, a great-granddaughter of King Charles II, and a cousin to the Duchess of Roxton. Indeed, beginning when she was twelve, Mary had spent the happiest years of her life living at Roxton’s estate as a member of the family. When she returned to her mother, Lady Strathsay drilled into Mary’s head that women of her station had a higher calling than their inferiors, that she must precisely follow the rigid rules of society, and that she owed a duty to her noble lineage to marry well and produce sons. Mary was so browbeaten and miserable that she accepted an arranged marriage to Sir Gerald.

Now Sir Gerald is dead, leaving Mary with a nice estate (for her lifetime), Abbeywood, and a mountain of debts. In a final act of maliciousness, Gerald named the local squire, Christopher Bryce, as co-guardian, with the Duke of Roxton, of Mary’s daughter Theodora. “Teddy,” as she is known to all is a ten-year-old tomboy who likes nothing better than riding and hiking the wilds of Gloucestershire. She adores her “Uncle Christopher,” and he clearly returns the feeling. Seeing the sweet interplay between them is the first hint that Christopher has a heart beneath his overly sober exterior.

Christopher is charged with running Abbeywood and helping retire the debts that Gerald left behind. He is a strict administrator, and Mary chafes under his budgetary restraints. Mary politely loathes him, and while he is punctiliously correct toward Mary, he has quietly been in love with her since he returned to Gloucestershire eight years ago. Christopher’s years away from home are a mystery to Mary and the rest of their neighbors, and Christopher knows that his shameful secrets from that time would horrify a gentle lady such as she. For reasons unknown, he left suddenly for the Continent at the age of eighteen and cut himself off entirely from his parents. More than a decade later, he returned home to nurse his dying mother and brought his blind Aunt Kate to live with him. Unbeknownst to everyone, he also has done a bit of spying for England’s Spymaster General, Lord Shrewsbury, and to that end he had befriended Sir Gerald, whom Shrewsbury suspected of selling secrets to the French.

Squire Bryce was portrayed as dour and tyrannical in the previous Roxton book Dair Devil, which led me to have some skepticism about his suitability as a hero in this book. Ms. Brant, however, cleverly allows the reader to discover the real Christopher at the same time that Mary does. They begin to have forthright conversations, and along with Mary we learn that Christopher is an honorable man with strong principles but also strong emotions, which he keeps deeply hidden. Christopher grows more deeply in love with Mary, but knowing that she is an aristocrat and he is the son of nobody, he accepts that there can never be anything between them. He also comes to realize that Gerald had lied and exaggerated about virtually everything – even claiming that Roxton was Teddy’s true father. Gerald was no spy, Christopher decides, and so the hunt must continue.

Mary feels an attraction to Christopher, but she does not consider him as a possible mate even though she is desperately lonely. She is thirty years old and has never been in love or been loved. She has never shared a passionate kiss with any man, nor did the selfish Sir Gerald ever show her pleasure in the marriage bed. She loves her daughter with all her heart, but hopes she still has the capacity to love a man. Since her mother is insisting that it’s Mary’s duty to her family to marry again, she hopes that perhaps she will find love with a new husband.

When Mary pays a rare visit to Christopher’s office one day, he is not a little surprised when she announces that there is a ghost in the house. The couple join forces to discover tangible evidence of an intruder and set out to detect his true identity. His unmasking turns their little world upside down and threatens to bring an end to their budding romance, for the ghost is actually the man whom Mary once hoped to marry. I won’t disclose more, as I think the clever twists and turns of this story should not be spoiled.

Mary and Christopher make a lovely couple, and all of my misgivings about him melted away. In fact, by the time Mary realizes that she has fallen in love with him, I was a little bit in love too. It was wonderful to watch Mary fall for him, always fighting her mother’s little voice in her head pointing out his unsuitability for an earl’s daughter. Equally wonderful was watching Mary gain confidence in herself and fighting to overcome the years of being denigrated and bullied by her mother and her husband. Christopher, for his part, gradually and with great reluctance reveals his past to a shocked Mary, expecting at every turn that she will turn away from him in disgust. Of course, she does not.

I always feel a bit like a time traveler when reading one of Ms. Brant’s books. Using her impeccable research, she creates such an authentic 18th century world, and employing her wonderful imagination, she writes multi-layered stories with intricate plots. These talents are put to particularly good use in Proud Mary. I think that we 21st century readers often have a difficult time appreciating the class-based strictures of the past, and many authors who write cross-class romances downplay the difficulties that would have faced the duke who married his housekeeper, for example. Ms. Brant does not fall into the trap of making things easy for Mary and Christopher, however, and I felt a better understanding of how oppressive, yet widely accepted, the class structure was. It helps here that Mary’s Roxton relations are accepting of their relationship, but then we have seen in earlier books that they are somewhat non-conformist and powerful enough to do as they please.

As Christopher and Mary work toward their happily ever after, we get to see all of her extended family – all of whom, along with young Teddy, play a role in bringing Christopher and Mary together.

Ms. Brant has said that her next book will be Henri-Antoine’s story, but dare we hope that someday there is one pairing Teddy and Jack? I suppose that I am looking for ways for the Roxton Family Saga to continue for a long time. I will add that while Proud Marycan be read as a standalone, there is much more pleasure to be had by reading the series in order and learning to know and love this family as much as I and many other readers have.

Each book has been a joy to read, and I cannot recommend them highly enough.

EXCERPT

“A-a—ghost? You saw a ghost?”

Christopher resisted the urge to roll his eyes and huff his disbelief. A ghost!? God grant him patience. He had interrupted his busy morning schedule for this. Correction. He had interrupted it for her. But she was talking fanciful nonsense.

Yet, in the years he had known her, fanciful was not a word he associated with the daughter of the Earl of Strathsay. Prim, and practical, yes. And proud—oh yes, the Lady Mary was very proud. But fanciful? Never. So there had to be some basis in fact for her belief in a ghost, the fear in her eyes told him so. She truly believed it.

And he believed her. It was just that he did not believe the house was haunted.

So he took a moment to compose himself, lest he appear supercilious, and awaited further explanation.

Lady Mary took his silence for condescending disbelief.

“I did not see it, Mr. Bryce. I heard it.”

~~~

Mary knew the moment she uttered the word ghost that Mr. Bryce did not believe her.

It was not so much his tone as the way in which his square jaw clamped shut, and his nostrils flared as he pressed his lips together, as if forcing himself not to smile. She was surprised he hadn’t punctuated his incredulity with a roll of his fine eyes. It must have taken all his self-control not to laugh out loud, too.

But she was not deterred by his skepticism. She had expected it; would have been surprised had he reacted in any other way. She had been incredulous herself. But it was the only explanation that made sense. After all, no one had used Sir Gerald’s rooms since his death two years ago. And if anyone did enter them, it was the servants during the autumn cleaning in preparation for winter, to dust what was not under holland covers, and to check that the fireplaces, one in the bedchamber and one in the dressing room, were not inhabited by rodents or birds. And then the servant door by which they had entered was locked again, and the key given to the housekeeper. The main door to the bedchamber, which led onto the corridor, had been locked and this key given to Lady Mary on the day of her husband’s funeral. She had not unlocked it since.

The autumn clean had been over a month ago now. And there was no reason for any of the servants to enter those rooms again, nor had they. She had checked with the housekeeper. And certainly no one would enter them at night, which was when she had heard the noises. And so she told Mr. Bryce, doing her best to appear as if she were discussing the everyday, and not something incorporeal. And because she was delaying for as long as possible confiding in him what she feared most.

“And where did you hear this specter, my lady?”

“I was in my bedchamber. The noises came from Sir Gerald’s dressing room.”

“Thank-you for the clarification. What time was this?”

“At night. It was late.”

“You were not—dreaming—perhaps?”
“No. I thought so at first. I thought I was having a nightmare. But when I was fully awake I knew I was not dreaming, which was far more disturbing than any nightmare.”

“Did you hear these—noises—just the once?”

“No. I was woken again later that night by similar noises. Which is why I-I decided to come to you.”

“Do you think that perhaps what you heard was a cat on the roof, or a bird nesting in the tree outside your window?

Or indeed, it may have been a branch of that tree scraping against the window pane?”

Mary considered this for a moment, then shook her head.

“No, Mr. Bryce. The noises could not have been made by those things. The sounds were different entirely. And it was a still night—has been still all this week. So there was no wind to stir the branches, or whistle through the sills.”

“What precisely did you hear, my lady?”

“My first thought, when I was still half-asleep, was that it was Sir Gerald come through from his bedchamber to visit me. To do so he must walk through his dressing room, which is the room that divides his bedchamber from mine…”

“And so you heard footfall?” Christopher gently prompted when Mary’s voice trailed off and she looked down at her hands.

Mary shook her head again, then slowly lifted her gaze to his brown eyes.

“No. Not footfall…”

GIVEAWAY

 

Lucinda is offering FIVE lucky people the chance to win an eCopy of Proud Mary, book five in her acclaimed Roxton Saga!

Enter at Rafflecopter, below. The Giveaway is open for the next seven days and winners will be notified shortly after the closing date. No purchase is necessary

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Lucinda-Brant-AuthorLucinda Brant is a New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of award-winning Georgian historical romances and mysteries. Her novels are described as “smart, witty, historical adventures full of heart wrenching drama with a happily ever after”. Lucinda is a university trained historian and a retired history and geography teacher who now writes full time. She has been researching and reading about the 18th Century for forty years, and still finds the Georgian era just as fascinating now as then. Lucinda drinks too much coffee and is addicted to Pinterest. Come join her there in her 18th Century world: http://www.pinterest.com/lucindabrant/, and also at:
her website * ~ * Facebook * ~ * Twitter.

Looking Back at 2016 – Our Favourite Books of the Year

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Amazingly, another year has passed, and it’s time for us all to look back at the books we most enjoyed reading in 2016. Here are some of the books chosen by the RHR team as their favourites of the year; if you’ve read any of them do you agree with our assessment? What are your own personal favourites of 2016? Please stop by and tell us what you read this year that you loved!

 


Caz

I’ve had a pretty good year in terms of books; I’ve read and listened to more than 250 titles this year and have rated the majority of them at 4 stars or higher, which is a pretty good strike rate! That said, choosing favourites is always difficult and they change from day to day. So bearing that in mind, here goes…

 

 

A Gentleman’s Position by K.J Charles is the third book in her excellent Society of Gentlemen series, set in the final days of the Regency.  This story takes an in-depth look at the problems inherent in falling in love outside one’s class – as the two protagonists, Lord Richard Vane and his extremely capable valet, David Cyprian struggle to reconcile their feelings for one another with their relative social positions.  The story is compelling, the romance is beautifully written and developed and the sexual chemistry between the principals is absolutely smoking.  This series has without question been one of the best historical romance collections in recent years, and is well worth a few hours of anyone’s time.

Forevermore is the seventh and last book in Kristen Callihan;s wonderful Darkest London series of historical paranormals, and it brings this incredibly inventive series to an action packed and very fitting close.  The author skilfully draws together a number of plotlines sewn in earlier books, a real treat for those of us who have followed the series from the beginning; there’s plenty of action, steamy love scenes, a complex, fast-moving plot, heartbreak, angst … in short, Forevermore delivers all the things that have made all the books in this series such compelling reads.  I’m sorry the series has ended, but it ends on a real high, and I fervently hope that Ms. Callihan might one day return to this fantastical twilight world of shifters, angels, GIMs and demons.

Duke of Sin by Elizabeth Hoyt.  I do love a bad-boy hero, and there’s no denying that Elizabeth Hoyt set herself quite the task when she decided to turn the gorgeous, manipulative, devious and dangerous Valentine Napier, Duke of Montgomery into a romantic hero.  But she does it with aplomb, and without turning Val into a different character in order to effect his redemption.  The sexy game of cat-and-mouse played between the completely outrageous duke who thinks nothing of wandering around naked (well, he’s gorgeous, so why should he deprive people of the sight of him?!) and having the most inappropriate conversations with his housekeeper; and said housekeeper who is by no means insensible to Val’s charms, but who is sensible enough to know that he’s trying deliberately to rile her and not to take the bait – is wonderfully developed, and the relationship that emerges is one of surprising equality.  Duke of Sin is a thoroughly enjoyable novel and the eponymous duke is one of the most charismatic characters ever to grace the pages of an historical romance.

A Splendid Defiance by Stella Riley has been one of my favourite historical romances for the past thirty years, so I was delighted when the audiobook version, narrated by the massively talented Alex Wyndham became available just before Christmas.  Set during the English Civil War, the book tells the true story of the small garrison of just over three hundred men who held the Royalist stronghold of Banbury castle in Oxfordshire against an opposing Parliamentary force of almost ten times their number.  Against this superbly presented historical background, Ms. Riley develops an unforgettable romance between cynical, Royalist captain, Justin Ambrose and Abigail Radford, the sister of  a die-hard Puritan.  This is a real treat for anyone who enjoys their historical romance with an emphasis on the historical; the characterisation is superb, the romance is beautifully developed, and the audiobook is performed by one of the best narrators around.  Seriously – don’t miss it.

Jane Steele by Lindsay Faye, narrated by Susie Riddell.  With the tagline – Reader, I murdered him – there’s no question that Jane Steele – the book AND the character – is inspired by Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre, and there are a number of key moments and events during this book that relate directly back to the classic novel. But this is ultimately a refreshing and somewhat unusual tale that very quickly takes on a life of its own. Jane is a remarkable and compelling character; a quick-witted survivor who doesn’t take crap from anyone but who nonetheless feels like a woman of her time, and what keeps her the right side of the listeners’ sympathies is that she’s motivated by love and loyalty.  We follow her through her time at school, her subsequent life in London and thence to a position as governess to the ward of Mr. Charles Thornfield, a British, Indian-born ex-army doctor with whom she eventually falls in love.  The writing is fresh and witty and the story is a terrific mixture of gothic romance and detective story featuring a unique protagonist, and I highly recommend the audiobook, as the narration by Susie Riddell is very good indeed.


Heather C.

The Duke of Deception by Darcy Burke – I loved the secrets being kept between the hero and heroine and how that pushed the story forward.  They weren’t simply a complication to tangle over.

The Daredevil Snared by Stephanie Laurens- This is the third book in the series and the best so far in my opinion. It isn’t often I say that!  There is less mystery than in the previous books and more action/adventure – with dire consequences.

A Gentleman’s Guide to Scandal by Kathleen Kimmel. The best romance I have read this year.  The romance felt so real and hot, the characters were infuriating (in the best way), and the story forced the heroine WAY out of her comfort zone! Made me immediately pick up the other books in the series.


Jenny Q

Forevermore by Kristen Callihan

I have been a big fan of the Darkest London series from the very beginning, and while I am sad to see it come to an end, Forevermore is one heck of a satisfying conclusion. If you’re a fan of historical paranormals, or if you’ve never read one and want to give the genre a shot, this series, (along with Bec McMaster’s London Steampunk series), is a great place to start. It’s a complicated world of elementals, werewolves, demons, spirits, and fae, and revolves around the Society for the Suppression of Supernaturals, tasked with managing them all. Forevermore gives readers pretty much everything we want in a series finale. I love how this story brought some threads back together from previous books and showed how everything that has happened to our favorite characters was set in motion and why. It was really cool how Kristen Callihan sort of brought everything full circle, not just for the story world but for some of the characters. The ending made me cry, and the epilogue made me smile. Forevermore is a riveting tale from beginning to end, and a worthy, powerful, and emotional conclusion to an outstanding series.

Rivals of Versailles by Sally Christie

Sally Christie’s debut novel, The Sisters of Versailles, about a family of five sisters, four of whom became mistresses of Louis XV, made my list of best books of 2015, and so I was anxiously awaiting my chance to read the sequel, The Rivals of Versailles. It picks up right where we left off, only now the story is being told by Jeanne Poisson, the young and beautiful commoner who will become known to history as the unparalleled Madame de Pompadour. Quickly rising from humble roots, she immerses herself in lessons and becomes the most elegant and cultured woman at Versailles, a patron of the arts and architecture, and a politically savvy negotiator, guiding Louis through two decades of wars and diplomatic relations. I highly recommend this series for lovers of French history and readers who love to read about real women who make their mark on the world against all odds. This book is so complex in its many layers and in its lush depictions of court life in all its beautiful ugliness that I don’t feel my review can do it justice. I can’t wait to see how Sally Christie will bring this chapter in French history and the glory days of Versailles to an end in the final book, The Enemies of Versailles.

Fall of Poppies: Stories of Love and the Great War by Heather Webb, Hazel Gaynor, Beatriz Williams, Jennifer Robson, Jessica Brockmole, Kate Kerrigan, Evangeline Holland, and Lauren Willig

This is an excellent collection of short stories by nine talented historical fiction authors. While the stories are not interconnected, they do all share a common theme, the Armistice that ended World War I, and these stories really capture the conflicting emotions that the end of the war brings. Of course, there is joy and celebration but also a sense of uncertainty. Is it really over? What comes next? What do we do now? What was it all for? How do we go on as before when none of us will ever be the same? The stories are wonderfully varied, giving the reader a glimpse into different aspects of the war and life on the home front in Britain, Belgium, and France. All nine stories are good. There’s not a weak offering among them, though some did resonate with me more than others. All for the Love of You by Jennifer Robson, Something Worth Landing For by Jessica Brockmole, and Hush by Hazel Gaynor stand out as my favorites. These stories of love and war are beautifully written, encompassing the entire range of emotions and shades of humanity, and will stay with you long after you’ve finished reading them.


Lady Cicely

Wicked Highland Wishes by Julie Johnstone

Julie Johnstone has written a riveting tale of love, the desire to do what’s right and throws in some curve balls I didn’t see coming all to great effect.  Bridgette is a strong heroine who goes through ordeals that would truly break a lesser woman.  I bawled at what she goes through then bawled some more as she comes out even stronger.  And Lachlan?  I wasn’t prepared to fall hopelessly in love with this hero!  His adoration, love and patience is what true heroes are made of.

This is one of those rare stories that will sit with you long after you have read it.

Rebel Warrior by Regan Walker

Ms. Walker hits the ground running with this tale of love among war, politics, and betrayal. Her ability to infuse history into her tales without overwhelming the reader is a wonderful talent to have.  Rebel Warrior is an engaging tale that will have the reader thinking they have it figured out only to have the hero and heroine be given a story hiccup and the reader thinking “now I’m not sure” which only fuels the reader’s desire to find out what happens next.

Rescued by a Lady’s Love by Christi Caldwell

Christi Caldwell takes a slight departure from her usual writing style by going a little over to the dark side.  This little trip is a heart wrenching tale of two people who have every right to hate the world and the circumstances that have forced them into that world.  While keeping with the description of the Duke of Blackthorne from previous stories Ms. Caldwell slowly peels the layers back revealing how and why he is the way he is.  She makes the reader feel every ounce of pain and self-loathing both characters suffer and at the same time giving hope that there may be light at the end of the tunnel.

Blythe: Schemes Gone Amiss by Collette Cameron

Another hit by the extremely talented Collette Cameron that will have you laughing & crying all at the same time. Her wit combined with the strength of her characters will draw you in and not let you go.  Looking forward to her next installment to see which Culpepper Miss has me laughing out loud.

Lady Wesley

My favorite reads of 2016 include some old best-loved romance writers and a new-to-me author of mystery/romance stories.

After a fairly ‘meh’ first book in The Ravenels series, Lisa Kleypas got her groove back with Marrying Winterbourne. Rhys Winterbourne joins the ranks of Derek Craven (Dreaming of You) and Lord St. Vincent (Devil in Winter) as one of her most memorable and enticing heroes. I listened to the audio version narrated by Mary Jane Wells, who gets 10+ stars for her performance. Her Rhys Winterbourne is simply the sexiest, swoonworthiest hero I’ve ever heard from a female narrator, and I’m reliably informed that her Welsh accent is excellent. (It is – Ed.)

Once Upon a Dream was a triple delight for me. Two of my favorite authors: Mary Balogh and Grace Burrowes. One of my favorite settings: country house parties. My favorite duke – the Duke of All Dukes: Wulfric Bedwyn, Duke of Bewcastle. No way was I not going to like these two novellas. Balogh’s story takes us back Bedwyn World, a place that I came to love when reading her Slightly and Simply series. Our heroine, Miss Eleanor Thompson, played a secondary role in Slightly Dangerous, when her sister Christine married the top-lofty Duke. Eleanor appeared again in Simply Perfect, when Claudia Martin married the Marquess of Attingsborough, and Eleanor took over Claudia’s role as headmistress of a girls’ school in Bath. It was great fun to see this forty-year-old lady get her HEA. Burrowes gives us a widowed father of young boys who play matchmaker for their father and the daughter of an immensely wealthy cit. As usual, Burrowes excels at writing adorable yet realistically mischievous and exasperating children.

Anna Lee Huber’s Lady Darby series of four novels and one novella – each of them first-rate – features Keira Darby and Sebastian Gage. Now comes the fifth novel in the series, As Death Draws Near, and I believe it is the best yet. Keira and Gage interrupt their honeymoon to investigate the murder of a nun at a convent in Ireland. Although the mystery drives the plot, this book is also a strongly character-driven love story. It is absolutely lovely to watch Keira and Gage navigate through the early days of their marriage. Keira has grown since we met her in The Anatomist’s Wife, but she still harbors insecurities relating to her unhappy first marriage, the notoriety resulting from her work, and her rejection by society. As for Sebastian Gage, he remains handsome, stalwart, and devoted to Keira. His character is not as inclined to introspection as hers, but we do see him trying to navigate, not always successfully, between being Kiera’s husband and being her partner in investigation. Anna Lee Huber is a supremely talented author, and these books are complex, impeccably plotted, and clearly well-researched.


Sara

Duke of My Heart by Kelly Bowen

The idea of a Regency era “Fixer” who is both a peer and a woman shouldn’t have worked as well as it does. Kelly Bowen allows readers to quickly forget the implausibility of her storyline by engaging us with two highly intelligent characters who match wits, clash over control and somehow fall in love while searching for a kidnapped woman. It’s very easy to get wrapped up in the investigation underlying all of their interactions but the story works best in the small moments where the heroine Ivory is allowed to be both strong and independent but still have a woman’s heart to be lost to the right partner.

The Hunter by Kerrigan Byrne

I didn’t believe that Kerrigan Byrne could create a darker and more tortured hero than she did in last year’s The Highwayman but somehow she turned a sociopath into a man to fall in love with. The emotional walls Christopher Argent has erected to protect himself slowly crumble when he interacts with his target Millie LeCour and he begins to see the value of living through her eyes. Mille has her own problems to overcome but the brilliance of her character is that she meets her challenges with courage and never lets them damage her spirit. The mix of his dark soul to her inner light makes their relationship all the more intense. Twists in the story show a reader that sometimes true evil can hide behind the friendliest of faces while true love can heal over scars built from a lifetime of pain.

To Lure a Proper Lady by Ashlyn Macnamara

This book introduced me to one of my favorite characters of the year. Dysart starts off as a snarky Bow Street Runner full of contempt for the nobility but is slowly revealed to be a principled and honorable man. This story also had one of the best romantic partnerships with Dysart and his heroine Lizzie investigating the suspicious illness of her father along with other problems around the estate. I was reminded of the TV show Castle and the partnership of Castle/Beckett in how well Dysart and Lizzie work together but also tease and dance around their intense sexual chemistry. Dysart’s cleverness and dry wit alone make this book a keeper and the romance he finds with Lizzie made it all the more enjoyable.

Do You Want to Start a Scandal by Tessa Dare

In a year full of drama Tessa Dare delivers a romantic-comedy that merges two separate series into a satisfying conclusion for them both. It’s a meeting of opposites when a buttoned-up former spy tangles with a spirited woman to solve a whodunit and save their reputations. Seeing the long suffering Charlotte Highwood all grown up and finding her match was so much fun! The lighter tone of the storyline allows for outrageously humorous moments such as a regency sex-ed discussion full of modern iconography, a child detective on the trail of a “murderer” and a completely garbled declaration of love. There are serious moments too but they never detract from the pure entertainment value of the book.

Unmasking Miss Appleby by Emily Larkin

This was the surprise hit of 2016 for me. Emily Larkin mixes Historical and Paranormal elements into a book that never skimps on characters to sell the fantasy. Pushing the limits of the “woman in pants” storyline by adding the quirk of magic, the title character Charlotte Appleby experiences life for a few weeks as a woman embracing her sexuality and as a man understanding friendship and cameraderie. Charlotte’s physical transformation rather than just a disguise adds a subtext (perhaps inadvertently) about the nature of attraction and of gender being something intrinsic to the person rather than how they look on the outside. I loved seeing Charlotte discover that magic comes in many forms, from the supernatural kind to the type that sparks between people perfect for each other.


Wendy

There was never any doubt that a Stella Riley novel would feature in my ‘best of books published in 2016’ but which to choose? It was extremely difficult as she has had four audio books and one print published this year. In the end I settled on the long awaited Lords of Misrule, the fourth in her Civil War series. And my reason? It’s simply fabulous – a great feast of a book combining what I love best, terrifically researched historical content and a subtle but beautifully developed romance.

Lucinda Brant will always have a place on any ‘best of’ list of mine if she’s had something published within the year. This time she has brought together her fabulous Salt Hendon books in a boxed set in both a print version AND an audio version with the stupendously talented Alex Wyndham narrating it. With both being published within 2016 I’ve had the loveliest of times both reading and listening, and being transported back in time to Ms. Brant’s knowledgeably written and extensively researched, opulent and exciting Georgian world.

One of the queens of historical romance began a new series this year and in her usual understated, subtle manner, Mary Balogh has hooked me in. Someone to Love is an original and fascinating start to her new series and I was thrilled to not only read it but but also to have the pleasure of discussing the characters personally with Ms. Balogh at the Historical Romance Retreat. This author doesn’t need to rely on complicated plot lines to sell her books – her strengths lie in her years of writing and life experience which I feel always comes across, and I love everything she produces.

One of my greatest reading pleasures has always been historical fiction and in particular books about the Plantagenets. There are no historical fiction writers whom I enjoy more than Elizabeth Chadwick and The Autumn Throne, the third and final book in her fascinating Eleanor of Aquitaine series is quite simply superb. Ms.Chadwick’s knowledge of the period and scholarship is mind boggling. All of her books are eloquently written, with exceptional attention to detail, but this series in particular really struck a chord with me and I finished it with a thirst to learn as much as I could about this fascinating historical character.

My final choice is a bit of a departure for me. K.J Charles is a new-to-me author in 2016 and was recommended by a respected reviewer friend. M/M historical romance is not something I had ever considered trying, nor to be honest, even knew existed. But I’m so glad I gave this author a try because I loved her Society of Gentlemen series and in particular, A Gentleman’s Position. This is such a clever story, taking place at a time when gentlemen could be executed for their predilections. But this story is about so much more than that, and the way the author develops the plot and brings it all to a satisfactory and plausible conclusion is very skilful. The love between her characters is tender and believable and the historical content is in-depth, real and fascinating.


All books in this list are linked to Amazon, so click to find out more!

 

The Salt Hendon Collection by Lucinda Brant

salt hendon collection

This special edition brings together two of Lucinda Brant’s best-loved books, Salt Bride and its sequel Salt Redux. For this comprehensive edition we listened to reader requests; the original prologue to Salt Bride has been reinstated and the first edition cover art has been added. Also included is a 20,000-word bonus novella, Salt Angel, a new extended version of Fairy Christmas (previously published in A Timeless Romance Anthology: Silver Bells Collection) featuring well-loved characters from the Salt books. The Salt Hendon Collection is a great introduction to Lucinda Brant’s unique storytelling and her richly romantic 18th century world.

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Publisher and Release Date: Sprigleaf Pty, June 2016
Place and time: England, 1760s
Genre: Historical Romance
Heat Level: 1
Reviewer Rating: 5 stars

Review by Wendy

This is the second read for me of Lucinda Brant’s Salt Bride and its sequel Salt Redux, this time with the added bonus of the original prologue to Salt Bride having been reinstated and with the inclusion of a novella which was originally published as Fairy Christmas in an anthology and which has been newly extended for its addition to the set. The novella, light and sweet – neatly ties off the complete boxed set. The Salt Duo was my first foray into Lucinda Brant’s gorgeously sumptuous Georgian world and I am now an addict of this author’s work and devour everything she has written and wait with eager anticipation for future work. I thoroughly enjoyed these stories – probably even more than I did initially – especially as I now fully appreciate the extensive research and work Ms. Brant undertakes on each and every book on her fabulous backlist.

The added prologue, which had already been removed when I read Salt Bride (due to some controversy over its content), was not as shocking as I had expected. It tells the story of Miss Jane Despard’s miscarriage and, in my opinion, is very sensitively handled, with just the right amount of information revealed. However, having read the book with and without said prologue, I do not believe the story lacked anything by its absence. Ms. Brant very successfully drip feeds the circumstances of Jane’s miscarriage throughout Salt Bride; and on reflection, I would conclude that I preferred the edition without the prologue as the gradual revelations of past events add an element of mystery to the story.

Both Salt Bride and Salt Redux feature one of the most memorable female villains I have ever encountered. Lady Diana St. John, Salt’s cousin, is truly an exceptional bad-girl, highly intelligent, but criminally insane, she operates in such a rational, self possessed manner that her madness is hidden beneath her cloak of self-assured entitlement. She features, highly in both of the novels, and the prologue, already mentioned, and completely steals the show with her machinations and downright, badness. The lengths she goes to to achieve her objectives are truly mind boggling but so expertly does Ms. Brant develop Diana’s character that she manifests as alarmingly believable. I wondered how the author would give Diana the comeuppance she deserves and when it came, I was not disappointed.

I loved the character of Magnus Sinclair, Earl of Salt Hendon. He’s an utterly gorgeous man who has been raised to feel completely comfortable in his own skin and fully accepts his powerful position. But he is finally knocked off his pedestal and brought down to the level of a mere mortal by the love and devotion of the serenely beautiful Jane Despard. The first book is very much about the traumatic events leading up to their forced marriage (a premise I love in HR) and the development of their romance; it is already in its infancy when they marry, but they have some way to go. And we see Salt finally becoming a more human, down-to-earth man and a loving husband and future father. The second book features Salt and Jane with a growing family but highlights Salt’s best friend, diplomat, Sir Anthony Templestowe who has recently returned from St.Petersburg where he was the darling of the Russian court. Salt’s little sister Caroline (Caro), and Antony (Tony) have loved each other for a while, but a high profile incident at the end of Salt Bride sent Tony into virtual exile to Russia. He now returns in order to help find a solution which will immobilise his diabolical sister, Diana, once and for all, but also to hopefully mend some fences with Caro. Anthony is a darling man but also a self-confessed alcoholic and I loved that Lucinda Brant tackles this very real problem in a pragmatic and practical manner, making it perfectly clear along the way that it can’t ever be resolved. Anthony has faced that – as alcoholics must – but more importantly, he has accepted that the fight with his addiction is an ongoing one. He is a lovely man and his vulnerability just serves to make his character more real and compelling. Caroline, too, has confessions to make before they can reach their HEA and the two make an interesting and charismatic couple.

Lucinda Brant expertly brings all of her primary characters together to bring Diana down – no mean feat – and I wondered, more than once, how she managed to keep her intricate plotting and placing of characters clear in her head. There is so much going on, especially during the dramatic culmination, that I had to think twice about where everyone was at any given time. Lucinda Brant doesn’t just write spine tingling romance – she always throws in an element of clever plotting and mystery and it is one of the aspects of her writing that I love; she keeps us guessing.

The novella is a nice addition and as I said, brings the whole series to a neat conclusion with not one but two delightful romances. Three of the characters appeared in the Salt Duo as secondary characters and the third, Prince Timur-Alexei Nikolai, makes his first appearance in the novella. Lucinda Brant has a pleasing way of including every age group in her romances; we are never too old for love and the elderly Russian Prince is an absolute sweetheart. His addition to the Fairy Christmas a delightful touch and his love story makes for a perfect ending to a terrific series. I loved the Salt Hendon collection and if you have never read a Lucinda Brant historical romance or mystery, this is a good place to start. Highly recommended.

AUDIO REVIEW: Noble Satyr by Lucinda Brant, narrated by Alex Wyndham

noble satyr

This title is available to download from Audible via Amazon

1740s France and England. Abandoned to fend for herself at the court of Versailles, Antonia turns to her distant cousin, the all-powerful Duke of Roxton, to help her escape the attentions of a lecherous nobleman. Roxton is an unlikely savior-arrogant, promiscuous, and sinister. Antonia’s unquestioning belief in him may just be his salvation, and her undoing.

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Publisher and Release Date: Sprigfield Pty Ltd., November 2015

RHR Classifications:
Place and time: France of Louis XV and England of George II
Genre: Historical Romance
Heat Level: 1
Reviewer Rating: 5 stars

Review by Wendy

Noble Satyr the first in the Roxton Family Saga, is a simply superb, classy, character-driven story which ably sets the stage for the subsequent books, Midnight Marriage, Autumn Duchess and Dair Devil.

The love story between the unashamedly dissolute Renard Hesham, 5th Duke of Roxton, and the very young, but determined Antonia Moran, would seem, on the face of it, to be unlikely. Renard believes (for despite his morals, he does have his own code of honour) that the eighteen year-old, innocent beauty is not for the likes of him, and yet somehow, as the story progresses, the listener is left in no doubt that they are, in fact perfect for each other, and the slowly developing sensual and tasteful love story between them is breathtaking.

Antonia has been cast adrift. She is an orphan and under the guardianship of her absent, dying grandfather who is coerced into betrothing her to the Viscomte d’Ambert, the excitable and erratic son of Roxton’s cousin. The predatory Comte de Salvan has his own devious and lecherous reasons for wanting the marriage, wanting to bed Antonia as well as to secure her large fortune. Antonia begs the Duke to rescue and protect her from this alliance, claiming her distant relationship with him and reminding him of her late father’s wish that he take care of her. Antonia thinks herself very clever in forcing Roxton into saving her from Salvan’s clutches, when in fact he is a man who cannot be forced into anything by anyone unless he wants it. He is enchanted by her innocence and intelligence, finding her to be a breath of fresh air in the grossly licentious and corrupt court of Louis XV.

The content of all Lucinda Brant’s stories is very different, but she always takes so much time and effort to set her glittering stage; charming and exotic but with fascinating glimpses into the excesses and curiously fascinating, hedonistic times of the Georgian era. Her depictions are so carefully researched and described by her that I wouldn’t be surprised to see the outrageously primped, powdered and perfumed Comte de Salvan suddenly appear and totter towards me in his outrageous high heels. On the other hand, Ms. Brant’s description of Roxton’s unpowered, long, dark, plaited hair is the exact antithesis of the preening males of the court. He does not conform as do the other overdressed peacocks, preferring his own understated style. Sensuality is very high on the agenda, yet Ms. Brant manages to convey this without going into endless prose; one scene in particular, which I will not reveal, but I guarantee will leave the listener tingling, is one where we are left feeling as though we have witnessed something rather special though in fact the door is very firmly shut in our faces.

Once again, the delectable Alex Wyndham gives a fantastic performance. His portrayal of Roxton epitomises the handsome, charismatic though slightly bored aristocrat, his tone perfectly conveying dissolution and ennui, while also hinting at the kindness and the love he eventually cannot hide. As the story progresses and Roxton begins to allow his reluctant attraction to Antonia, the modulation of the narrator’s voice changes subtly so that, with just a slight alteration in tone, we can hear that Roxton is succumbing, his reservations crumbling.

Antonia is exquisitely portrayed. Mr Wyndham highlights her rather unconventional take on life, playing her exactly as written – intelligent and precocious but playful and quite obviously virginal although certainly not boring. With her sweetly pronounced French accent, it’s no wonder Roxton is captivated, even against his better judgement, and all this comes over distinctly and clearly in Ms. Brant’s addictive storytelling and in Mr. Wyndham’s intuitive interpretation of her words. Lord Vallentine, Roxton’s long time friend, a kindly, warm character is perfectly characterised as a rather stolid but honourable nobleman, sometimes flustered and blustering but nevertheless pleased to be the butt of Antonia’s persistent teasing. Salvan’s voice is oily and slimy – in my mind’s eye I see a caricature of a ludicrously overdressed little man with greedy, licentious eyes – I can almost hear Salvan smacking his lips! So talented and expert is Alex Wyndham at his craft, that it is hard to believe he is single-handedly performing such a large group of fascinating characters.

The entire Roxton Saga is just sublime, and I can’t recommend it highly enough. All the titles CAN be listened to as standalones, but when they are all so very good – especially with the added benefit of Alex Wyndham’s superb narration – I can’t imagine why anyone would want to stop at just one.

Breakdown of Grade: 5 stars for content, 5 stars for narration.

A 2015 Retrospective – Our Favourite Books of the Year

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It’s that time of year when we start looking forward to another year of great reads, but also look back on the books we’ve read and enjoyed throughout the previous year. Members of RHR’s team of reviewers have chosen some of their favourite books and audiobooks from 2015; maybe they’re books you read and enjoyed, too, or they’re books you meant to read that got forgotten (so now’s the chance to catch up!).

If we’ve missed YOUR favourite books of last year, be sure to let us know yours in the comments!

Caz’s Favourites:

Stella Riley continues her Georgian-set Rockliffe Series with The Player , in which the hero, Adrian Devereux is forced to return from exile in France in order to assume the title and responsibilities of the Earl of Sarre. He left England under a cloud when he was wrongly suspected of the murder of his fiancée, and simply vanished, making his living as an actor – and an incredibly talented one, at that. But his return is fraught with difficulties, not least of which is that his decade of playing a part has left him unsure of who he is any more. Ms Riley has given us yet another swoonworthy hero in Adrian and her writing is a strong and intelligent as ever. The Player is a truly delightful read with a strong storyline, a well-written, tender romance and a cast of well-developed supporting characters.

It Started with a Scandal is the tenth in Julie Anne Long’s popular Pennyroyal Green series, and is a wonderfully romantic story with a bit of a “Jane Eyre-ish” vibe to it, about two people who don’t quite fit in finding that they fit perfectly with each other. Philippe and Elise are from different spheres of life – he French nobility, she a housekeeper – yet they are both fiercely protective towards those they love and desperate to do the right thing by them. Their romance is a delicious slow-burn, full of sexual tension and wonderfully witty banter, and the book is full of warmth and charm.

Lucinda Brant’s Deadly Peril is a popular choice, and deservedly so. It’s the third in her series of Georgian Historical Mysteries featuring the urbane and fiercely intelligent former diplomat, Alec Halsey, and it’s her best yet – which is saying something considering that the previous books are terrific reads. Here, Alec is made to confront some of the less pleasant aspects of his past as he travels to the German principality of Midanich, a place he had hoped never to see again. The plotting is superb – Ms Brant really does have a devious mind 😉 – and the fictional state of Midanich is so brilliantly evoked that I almost had to look it up on a map to see if it was real!  This book – actually, the whole series – is a must for fans of historical mysteries with a strong element of romance.

Alyssa Everett is one of my favourite authors, and her most recent book, The Marriage Act is a terrific, though not always easy, read.  It’s the story of an estranged couple who agree to reunite solely to assure the heroine’s father that they are happy together, and tells how they gradually begin to see that they have both been guilty of mistaken assumptions and of projecting their own hurts and insecurities onto the other. The characterisation and writing are both excellent, and even though there are times that both act in ways that are far from admirable, Ms Everett has written them in such a way as to ensure that even when the reader is thinking “ouch!”, their motivations are understandable.  The chemistry between John and Caroline is terrific and this is a story in which the messiness of the central relationship feels all the more realistic for not being  perfect.

While I’m a big fan of historical fiction, I was unsure about branching out into “alternate” historical fiction a couple of years back when I read Laura Andersen’s Boleyn Trilogy, which is set in a timeline in which Anne Boleyn had given Henry VIII a son who lived to inherit the throne. But I was utterly enthralled by the author’s ability to tell a great story while also incorporating a number of real historical events and figures. In The Virgin’s Daughter, Ms Andersen sets up yet another great “what if?” premise by having Elizabeth I married to Philip of Spain and having had a daughter by him. It’s a terrific read, the plot is enjoyably complex (although not confusing), the story is rich in background detail and intrigue and there’s an enjoyable romance running throughout the main story. I’m looking forward to reading more in this entertaining series.

Claudia’s Favourites


M is for Marquess by Grace Callaway

I discovered a new auto-buy author with this book … I’ve now read each of Grace Callaway’s books and loved them – which is exceptional. Gabriel and Thea from this book were two of the best characters I read this year. Both had their difficulties and it was charming to see how they overcame them together, even though it wasn’t always easy for them. This is my favourite book of 2015.

Falling Into Bed with a Duke by Lorraine Heath

This is the first book in a new series by this author, and I loved it. The way these two characters found their way to each other was delightful to read and I can’t wait for the next book.

Love in the Time of Scandal  by Caroline Linden

This is a great book and I really enjoyed how the two central characters worked out their troubles and found a way to each other. Benedict was a delightful hero, he was sweet, warm, charming but could also be wicked (in the nicest way!) and Penelope was the perfect heroine for him. I loved her more for the way she tried to make the best of things.

Lady Wesley’s Favourites:

This was the year that I became an audiobook addict, so for your listening enjoyment I’ve picked some audio titles published in 2015. By the way, I actually have read all of these books and can wholeheartedly recommend the print versions as well.

This year Loretta Chase continued treating her fans to audio versions of some of her classics. The Last Hellion, first published in 1998, pairs Lord Dain’s (Lord of Scoundrels) best friend, Vere Mallory, with crusading female journalist Lydia Grenville. Mallory, who never expected or wanted to be a duke, is probably a bigger reprobate than Dain, and carouses to forget his grief for the loved ones whose untimely deaths elevated him to the Ainsworth dukedom. Grenville, a fearless bluestocking, has no interest in men, and views Ainsworth with utter disdain. The plot is classic battle-of-the-sexes, with dangerous escapades and lots of Chase’s trademark banter. Lord and Lady Dain make cameo appearances, as does Lady Dain’s goofy brother, Bertie Trent, who gets his own HEA. Kate Reading, one of the best in the business, delivers another first-class performance.

Mary Balogh, another leading light in the historical romance genre, continued her Survivors’ Club series with Only a Promise) , narrated by the incomparable Rosalyn Landor. Waterloo survivor Ralph Stockwood, whose wounds are psychic and thus largely invisible to the world, is reluctant to take a wife even though he knows that he needs to. Enter Chloe Muirhead, who wants to marry and have a family but whose hopes have been dashed by scandal in her family. She proposes to Ralph, offering him a marriage of convenience free of pesky feelings of love and desire. Ah, but this is Romance, so it is inevitable that the two will indeed fall in love. Chloe and Ralph are mature adults, however, and thus it is the deliberate, realistic, and poignant manner in which this HEA comes about that distinguishes this story.

Last year, I recommended Grace Burrowes’ entire Captive Hearts trilogy, as I could not pick a favorite from among them, and this year I find myself in a similar quandary. Lucinda Brant, whose books are set in Georgian England, has published three series, but I think the very best is the Alec Halsey Mystery series. The first two volumes – Deadly Engagement and Deadly Affair – came out in audio format in 2015. The third, Deadly Peril, was published in print last month, and the audio version will be issued very soon. Alec Halsey is a career diplomat who was rather chagrined to find himself elevated to a marquessate for services to the crown. He is handsome, intelligent, somewhat enigmatic, intensely honorable, and decidedly his own man, and he gets involved with intrigues and mysteries, while trying to revive his relationship with his first love, a lady who is now a widow. With impressive research and first-class writing, Lucinda Brant vividly recreates 18th century England and deftly combines mystery and romance into one big delightful package that will please fans of both genres. She has found the perfect narrator in British actor Alex Wyndham, whose beautiful baritone perfectly captures the swoon-worthy Halsey, and who is equally adept at voicing females of all ages. Wyndham does not just narrate Brant’s stories, he virtually inhabits Brant’s characters. Listening to him is a joy beyond joy.

Natalie’s Favourites:

The Lure of the Moonflower by Lauren Willig

This book was the much awaited ending to Willig’s Pink Carnation series. In the final installment the Pink Carnation herself is finally paired with an intriguing turncoat spy and sparks fly. I adored the entire series, and was very happy with this final instalment that brought closure to several characters in Willig’s trademark style.

Death Comes To Kurland Hall by Catherine Lloyd

This is the third instalment in the Kurland St. Mary Mysteries and follows the curmudgeonly Major Robert Kurland and Spinster Lucy Harrington as they investigate yet another murder. I fell in love with the first two books in the series because our two main characters are both such anti-heroes but slowly they started coming around and in Death Comes to Kurland Hall they finally declare their feelings toward one another. This book falls more on the side of historical mystery but if you don’t mind a very chaste love story, pick up the first two books and then finish with this one.

Night of the Highland Dragon by Isabel Cooper

This third book in Isabel Cooper’s Highland Dragons series follows Judith MacAlasdair, the third shape-shifting MacAliasdair, and only female. Judith has been living in the ancestral home for 2 decades and is quickly coming on the moment when she will have to leave to hide her immortality from the townsfolk. But when a stranger turns up at the same time as several brutal murders are discovered, Judith realizes she must stay and protect her neighbors. I had read the first two books in this series a while back and when I started this one I was thrilled to have a female shape-shifter as the heroine of the final book in the series.

Sara’s Favourites:

The Highwayman by Kerrigan Byrne
This book had a bit of everything; a deeply tortured hero combined with a strong, supportive and caring heroine. A dark secret and the redeeming power of love. The story was gripping and immersive, giving a reader so much more than just the basic plot of two characters falling in love. It’s an incredible story that I was reluctant to finish, have already re-read, and has made me eager for more.

Diary of an Accidental Wallflower by Jennifer McQuinston
A romance that crosses classes and puts a working man into the spotlight as a hero. What makes the book special is that both main characters have dimension, developing and changing from their experiences throughout the story. The secondary characters are just as appealing and do their job of supporting the story and pushing the main characters in the right directions. This was an early release in the year but still remains a favorite.

I Loved a Rogue by Katharine Ashe
The conclusion to The Prince Catchers series, this story rewards a reader who has followed the breadcrumbs left by the author about her characters and their future. All the threads left hanging from the previous stories are tied up nicely, but the highlight is the romance between two souls kept apart by personal fears and social prejudices. A perfect mix of adventure and emotion in one amazing story.

Wendy’s Favourites:

Deadly Peril by Lucinda Brant: this Georgian mystery, the third in the Alec Halsey series, was just fascinating; it has so many twists and turns that the reader is kept guessing until the last paragraph. A fair indicator of an excellent read as far as I am concerned, is whether I can put it down easily – I couldn’t.

The King’s Man by Alison Stuart: this historical romance set during the English Civil war was my first by this author and I thoroughly enjoyed it. I particularly liked her characters, especially the hero, a bad boy (well only through circumstances) reformed by the love of a good woman. I look forward to more of this author’s work.

The Soldier’s Dark Secret by Marguerite Kaye is an historical romance by one of my favourites. Set in the aftermath of Waterloo, it features a compelling hero damaged by his experiences; as I’m fond of dark and angsty, this hit the spot.

The Highwayman by Kerrigan Byrne: again another first for me, I found this very unusual novel, set in Victorian England strangely compelling. Written in a very unusual style it nevertheless appealed to me with its darker side. Not to everyone’s taste, but definitely to mine.

Tall, Dark, and Wicked by Madeleine Hunter: yet another first for me and I loved it. I thought a barrister as a hero a very original and interesting concept; Ms. Hunter is most definitely on my radar now.

 

So these are some of our favourite books of 2015.  I’m sure we could all have picked more that we’ve enjoyed, but these have been the titles that have stuck in our memories and those books we’ve put onto our “keeper” shelves.

We’d love to hear from you about the books you enjoyed last year, so please do join in the discussion in the comments!

happy new year

 

 

 

 

 

 

Caz

AUDIO REVIEW: Dair Devil (Roxton Family Saga #4) by Lucinda Brant, narrated by Alex Wyndham

Dair Devil

Available to purchase from Audible via Amazon

Opposites attract. Appearances can deceive. A dashing and rugged façade hides the vulnerable man within. He will gamble with his life, but never his heart. Always the observer, never the observed, her fragility hides conviction. She will risk everything for love. One fateful night they collide. The attraction is immediate, the consequences profound….

London and Hampshire, 1777: The story of Alisdair “Dair” Fitzstuart, nobleman, ex-soldier, and rogue, and Aurora “Rory” Talbot, spinster, pineapple fancier, and granddaughter of England’s Spymaster General, and how they fall in love.

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Publisher and Release Date: Sprigleaf PTY Ltd., October 2015

RHR Classifications:
Time and Setting: England, 1777
Genre: Historical Romance
Heat Level: 1
Reviewer Rating: 5 stars

Review by Caz

This fourth book in Lucinda Brant’s Roxton Family Saga, is a lovely, beautifully romantic story about a man who hides his true self behind a wild, brash exterior, whose life is transformed by a young woman who had thought only to observe life from the sidelines.

Big, strong and handsome, Major Lord Alisdair (Dair) Fitzstuart more than lives up to his nickname. He is a military hero, having displayed enormous courage in battle and emerged unscathed; but has the reputation of being a complete rapscallion, renowned for his wild, often outrageous behaviour, and for the fact he never turns down a bet, no matter how ridiculous or dangerous the challenge. His antics keep society well entertained, but what most people fail to realise is that he’s bored. Returned six months previously from the war in the Colonies, where, unbeknownst to many, he worked as a spy as well as an army officer, he is at a loose end. Heir to the Earl of Strathsay, he has been left in limbo by his father, who left England twenty years ago without leaving his son any authority over his English estates. Until he marries, Dair has no independent means and can have no hand in the management of the estates that will one day be his.

The book opens with Dair and two of his best friends about to invade the studio of artist, George Romney in order to play an audacious prank. With Dair and Lord Grasby stripped down to loincloths and daubed with ashes and paint in order to look like American Indians, the plan is to cause mayhem by frightening the bevy of lovely opera dancers currently serving as models for Romney’s next painting. Cedric Pleasant is infatuated with the beautiful Consulata Baccelli, so Dair’s plan is that his friend will intervene at an opportune moment, scare off the two savages, save the day and thus win the lady’s admiration and, hopefully, gratitude (*wink*). Unfortunately, however, their “invasion” coincides with the unplanned visit to the studio of Lady Grasby and her party, which also includes Grasby’s sister, Lady Aurora (Rory) Talbot. In the ensuing fracas, Dair and Rory end up – literally – tangled together; and even though they have met before at social events (he is cousin to Antonia, dowager Duchess of Roxton who is Rory’s godmother) he hasn’t really taken much notice of her and doesn’t realise who she is to start with. All he knows is that he is in possession of a very pretty, funny, quick witted, perceptive and warm armful of woman and he wants her.

It’s not until the next day that Dair discovers the identity of that warm armful, but before he can speak to Rory about the events of the previous evening, her grandfather, the Earl of Shrewsbury, has made him swear to act as though he remembers nothing about it so as to spare Rory’s delicate sensibilities.

Shrewsbury is England’s spymaster and a very powerful man, but he dotes on Rory, who because of a birth defect (a club foot), walks with a cane. At twenty-two, she doesn’t expect ever to marry, much as she would like to, because of her disability and also because her grandfather is so over-protective that he doesn’t afford her many chances to meet eligible gentlemen.

The bulk of the story deals with the progression of Dair and Rory’s relationship, which is deliciously romantic and extremely well-developed. We are also treated to further – and unexpected – developments in the lives of Antonia and her new husband, and the continuation of the sub-plot that began in Autumn Duchess, concerning the involvement of Dair’s brother with the American revolutionaries. All these elements are woven together skilfully and seamlessly; and while at one point early on, it seemed as though there was the potential for the introduction of an angsty Big Misunderstanding, I was relieved that Ms Brant opted not to go there. Thankfully, she’s a good enough writer that she doesn’t need to employ such devices to create conflict or tension, which instead arise naturally from the characters or from the way she has designed her story.

Both principals are likeable and strongly drawn. Dair is a rogue, but he’s an honourable one, a man with a huge capacity for love and understanding, as is shown in his interactions with his ten-year-old son, the product of his first, youthful liaison with a serving maid. I know that some listeners might be put off by the fact of the hero’s having a child, but the fact that he acknowledges the boy and continues to be a part of his life says a lot about him, and I liked him all the more for it. Rory is witty and intelligent, determined to live her life to the full in spite of her disability, and it’s easy to understand why Dair is so immediately smitten with her. He doesn’t care about her club foot or that she walks with a cane – he sees a lovely, loveable young woman and is determined to make her his.

I have listened to a number of Alex Wyndham’s narrations now and he is, quite simply, one of the best narrators around. Every time I come to write a review of one of his performances, I find myself opening up the thesaurus to find more superlatives, because he is so incredibly good that I have run out of them! Every single character is clearly delineated so that there is never any question as to who is speaking in any given scene, and his female voices are the best I have ever heard from any male narrator in the genre. I continue to adore his interpretation of Antonia, (now the Duchess of Kinross), and his portrayal of Dair is utterly perfect; determined, playful, authoritative and sexy by turns, Mr Wyndham gives so much more than a mere “performance”. It probably helps that he has a gorgeous voice to lend to the delectable heroes Ms Brant has created for us, but add to that his perfect pacing, his incredible range of timbre and accent and his ability to get to the emotional heart of both story and characters and you have the perfect performance.

I can’t recommend the audiobook of Dair Devil highly enough. The love story is compelling, the historical setting is used to great effect and the narration is flawless. It really doesn’t get any better than this.

Breakdown of grade: Narration – 5 stars; Content – 4.5 stars

Deadly Peril (Alec Halsey Mysteries #3) by Lucinda Brant

Deadly Peril

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Winter 1763. Alec, Lord Halsey is sent on a diplomatic mission to Midanich, imperial outpost of the Holy Roman Empire, to bargain for the freedom of imprisoned friends. Midanich is a place of great danger and dark secrets; a country at civil war; ruled by a family with madness in its veins. For Alec it is a place of unspeakable memories from which he barely escaped and vowed never to return. But return he must, if he is to save the lives of Emily St. Neots and Sir Cosmo Mahon. In a race against time, Alec and the English delegation journey across the icy wasteland for the castle fortress where Emily and Cosmo are imprisoned. The severe winter weather is as much an enemy as the soldiers of the opposing armies encamped along the way. Awaiting him at his destination is the Margrave and his sister, demanding nothing less than Alec’s head on a pike.

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Publisher and Release Date: Sprigleaf PTY Ltd., November 2015

RHR Classifications:
Time and Setting: 1763; London, England & Margraviate of Midanich, Holy Roman Empire
Genre: Georgian Mystery/Romance
Heat Level: 1
Reviewer Rating: 5 stars

Review by Lady Wesley

I adored this book, but it is difficult to review for several reasons. First, it is the third volume of the Alex Halsey Mystery series, and the first two books contain a lot of highly relevant backstory. Unlike some series, this one really needs to be read in order. Moreover, there are so many twists, turns, and surprises throughout the story that it is virtually impossible to write a thorough review without spoilers. (The publisher’s blurb simply sets up what we learn in the first few chapters.) And finally, this book, and indeed the entire series, is so wonderful that I want you to read for yourself without any hints that I might throw out in my review.

One of the things that I have come to admire about Lucinda Brant’s writing is how intricately layered her plots are. She reveals things throughout the story, which keeps the reader from becoming frustrated, but also holds back enough that the ending always is a surprise. She has the ability to deftly combine mystery and romance into one big delightful package that will please fans of both genres.

So – rather than writing a typical review, I’m going to tell you a bit about the series and what I loved about this book, starting with the primary cast of characters who populate all three books.

Alec Halsey – the younger son of the Earl of Devlin, Alec Halsey chose to make his living as a diplomat. He is a truly swoon-worthy romantic hero: handsome, intelligent, somewhat enigmatic, intensely honorable, and decidedly his own man. After the death of Alec’s odious elder brother, Alec became the earl but he soon was elevated to a marquessate by the King in recognition of his services to the Crown.

Emily St. Neots – a beautiful, spirited young lady whom Alec had once thought to marry, although he was not deeply in love with her.

Selina Jameson-Lewis – the woman with whom Alec fell deeply in love at a young age. Her family thwarted their romance and forced her into a marriage with an older, cruelly abusive man. Selina is now a widow, but she an Alec have had to deal with some difficulties while rekindling the love that both of them still feel for one another.

The Duchess of Romney-St. Neots – a redoubtable old lady who is Alec’s godmother and also Emily’s grandmother. Nothing and nobody intimidates her.

Plantagenet Halsey – Alec’s uncle and an outspoken member of the House of Commons, who despite his noble connections is something of a republican happy to offer his opinions freely. He is more of a father to Alec than Alec’s actual father ever was (and there is a story behind that). He and the Duchess of Romney-St. Neots have a tetchy relationship (and there may be a story behind that too).

Sir Cosmo Mahon – Alec’s closest friend, Sir Cosmo is rotund, jovial, and loyal to those he loves. He is a cousin to both Emily St. Neots and Selina Jameson-Lewis.

As the book opens, Alec is emotionally reeling after Selina rejected his proposal of marriage. Then he learns that Emily and Sir Cosmo, who are touring Europe, have been detained and imprisoned by the new Margrave of Midanich, Prince Ernst. Ten years before the events in this book, Alec was a junior official in Midanich, a small principality in the Holy Roman Empire. For reasons that I cannot divulge, he was thrown in the ruler’s reputedly escape-proof dungeon, from which he did in fact escape. Now, the Margrave demands that Alec return to Midanich to negotiate for the release of his friends. Although Alec fears that his life could be in danger, his honor and his affection for his friends demand that he go.

Midanich is in the midst of a civil war, following the death of the old Margrave, with Prince Ernst under attack by his younger half-brother Prince Viktor. Ernst is a weak, unstable man, known to be under the influence of his mysterious, insane twin sister Princess Joanna. In the opening chapter, it appears that Joanna hastens the old Margrave’s death by placing a pillow over his face. Castle Herzfeld, Prince Ernst’s impregnable fortress, is a hotbed of intrigue; courtiers await developments, but nobody can truly trust anyone, and the prince’s desires are often irrational and unpredictable. The plight of the people of Midanich is dire; this civil war follows years of occupation by foreign troops in connection with the Seven Years’ War. As winter approaches, they face shortages of food and fuel, and Prince Ernst’s army maintains control with draconian ruthlessness.

Alec’s trip is fraught with peril, and his plans for a discreet arrival in Midanich are thwarted when both the Duchess of Romney-St. Neots and Selina Jameson-Lewis, as well as Alec’s Uncle Plantagenet, finagle their way into his party. When this ill-assorted group arrives in Midanich, the adventures begin, with the first occurring shortly after they get off of the boat. To reveal more would deprive the reader of enjoying the myriad twists and turns that follow. As a long-time fan of the mystery genre, I must say that the plotting is impeccable. Midanich is full of intrigue; there were so many developments that I simply did not anticipate, yet none of them was the least bit implausible. There is a touch of romance here, as well, as Alec and Selina begin to find their way back to one another in a most surprising manner.

Novels that convey a strong sense of place have long been a favorite of mine, and in this regard the author’s impeccable research impresses beyond description. The bleak winter landscape, along with the accompanying sights and sounds, utterly transport the reader to another time and place. Not everything is left to the imagination, however, and I commend the reader to Ms. Brant’s delightful Pinterest page full of images displaying things mentioned in the book – including castles, clothing, furniture, horses, and various accoutrements of late 18th century life.

Although Lucinda Brant has been publishing books for several years, my first encounter with her work was a mere five months ago, and I have now read all seven of her full-length books. Every one of them is worthy of five stars, but I think that Deadly Peril is possibly the best yet. It is, quite simply, a perfect combination of mystery, romance, and history.

Alec, Lord Halsey's Nécessaire de Voyage (Tea/coffee travel set), inherited from his mother, consisting of porcelain teapot, coffeepot, cups with saucers, sugar bowl, milk jug, tea canister, candle warmer, all in a lined leather trunk with lock and key. From the author's Pinterest page.

Alec, Lord Halsey’s Nécessaire de Voyage (Tea/coffee travel set), inherited from his mother, consisting of porcelain teapot, coffeepot, cups with saucers, sugar bowl, milk jug, tea canister, candle warmer, all in a lined leather trunk with lock and key. From the author’s Pinterest page.

AUDIO REVIEW: Autumn Duchess by Lucinda Brant, narrated by Alex Wyndham

autumn duchess

Available from Audible via Amazon

A beautiful duchess mourns for her beloved.

A sun-bronzed merchant returns to claim a birthright.

Disparate souls in need of love and renewal.

Paths cross and the journey begins…

Hampshire, England, 1777: Antonia, Dowager Duchess of Roxton, has been mourning the loss of her soul mate for three long years. Her despair is all-consuming until into her life steps a devilishly handsome younger man. Unconventional and self-assured, wealthy merchant Jonathon Strang will stop at nothing to convince Antonia she can love again, and deeply.

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Publisher and Release Date: Sprigleaf PTY, Ltd, September 2015

RHR Classifications:
Time and Setting: England, 1777
Genre: Historical Romance
Heat Level: 1
Reviewer Rating: 5 stars

Review by Wendy

Each time I listen to hugely talented Alex Wyndham narrating one of Lucinda Brant’s novels, I am completely blown away. This duo is so perfect together that I am completely lost to all else once I have started a Brant/Wyndham audiobook – indeed I have to ration myself; at present I have Dair Devil waiting in my Audible library and I dare not start it yet or there will be nothing done in my house!

Autumn Duchess opens with Indian-born merchant Jonathon Strang attending the annual April ball at the home of Julian and Deb, the present Duke and Duchess of Roxton and the hero and heroine of . Jonathon is completely captivated by the stunningly beautiful woman wearing unrelieved black, and, even after discovering that she is Antonia, dowager Duchess of Roxton, and regardless of the fact that she is clearly unattainable, he decides he WILL dance with her. He is persistent in his endeavours and persuades Antonia to take to the floor with him, much to the astonishment and consternation of all in attendance, including her very protective son, Julian. Her motives in complying are to save this confident, handsome and endearing man from social ruination, as will surely happen if she refuses his very public request to dance. She admires his candid and direct approach, which is a refreshing change for Antonia who has been used to the bowing and scraping of sycophants since her marriage to the late duke thirty years previously.

This is one of a very few social events that Antonia has graced; she has been in mourning for her beloved “Monseigneur” for three years. Her family, especially Julian, is despairing of her ever joining the land of the living again, and has even used a surreptitious form of emotional blackmail to entice her out of what he believes to be her deeply unhealthy melancholy. Her only pleasure is in the daily visits of her grandchildren, with whom she has a very loving and special relationship; it is this relationship that Julian exploits in his endeavours to winkle his Mother out of her blacks. To be fair to him, this is only done out of his deep love and concern for her welfare.

Initially, Jonathon had had an ulterior motive in becoming acquainted with Antonia. She occupies Crecy Hall which was gifted to her by her husband and is therefore hers to dispose of and also special to her. The hall forms part of lands and property embezzled from Jonathon’s ancestors by a previous Duke of Roxton. These lands and property, he feels, are his by right and he is determined to regain them. His growing attraction to Antonia, however, soon takes precedence, and before long, he is interested only in winning her affections.

The growing of the romance between Jonathon Strang and Antonia is quite movingly beautiful and touching; and the fact that he is ten years her junior (very unusual in an historical romance) is seamlessly incorporated in such a plausible manner that it quickly becomes unimportant to this story, so adeptly is it dealt with by the author. Jonathon is quite scrumptious and his character is so well-drawn that it would be impossible not to like him. He sets out to break down Antonia’s walls, brick-by-brick, argument-by-argument, winning the approval along the way, of Deb if not Julian. Slowly, through his persistence, Antonia begins to thaw and I felt ridiculously pleased as Jonathon achieved his objective, convincing her along the way that age is of no importance. I particularly liked the fact, that he did not try to replace her Duke and even encouraged her to talk about him; this went in no small way towards helping Antonia to trust and eventually love him.

There is also a factually correct secondary plot going on in which Antonia becomes innocently embroiled; it involves a close relative and nearly proves disastrous for the dowager Duchess. Lucinda Brant pays such close attention to historical detail and her painstaking research into this novel is such, that we get fascinating and interesting, living, breathing characters from the past, intertwined with the fictitious.

The gifted and skilled Alex Wyndham quite obviously enjoys reading Lucinda Brant’s work. The word ‘narrator’ is such a trite word to apply to him – he inhabits each and every role with consummate skill and professionalism – ‘becoming’ each character. Jonathon’s overwhelming gorgeousness is due, in no small part, to Mr Wyndham’s portrayal of him; he uses a smooth and honeyed tone with a trace of laid-back amusement in it, which immediately sums up the deliciously large, handsome, sun bronzed, Adonis. Antonia’s French-accented speech is perfectly pitched for a female and is subtly nuanced whether grieving, autocratic, sweet and playful with her grandchildren and – eventually, when Jonathon works his magic – lover like and romantic. There is never any doubt, even when there are a number of men in a discussion, who is who, and Julian and Deb sound exactly as they did in Midnight Marriage

All in all, Autumn Duchess is an absolutely terrific audiobook and one I’m recommending most highly. Lucinda Brant and Alex Wyndham are a force to be reckoned with, and I for one, will devour every one of their collaborations.

AUDIO REVIEW: Midnight Marriage by Lucinda Brant, narrated by Alex Wyndham

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Publisher and Release Date: Sprigleaf PTY Ltd, May 2015

RHR Classifications:
Time and Setting: England, 1760s
Genre: Historical Romance
Heat Level: 1
Reviewer Rating: 5 stars

Review by Lady Wesley

A twelve-year-old girl is awakened in the middle of the night and escorted to her brother’s library where a bishop in full regalia marries her to a drunk, distraught teenaged boy. The groom and the two elderly men who accompanied him disappear, and the bride returns to the nursery. I had a hard time buying into this situation until I learned that this book was inspired by the real-life story of the second Duke and Duchess of Richmond. (You can read Ms. Brant’s discussion of this subject HERE.)

Fast forward nine years to 1769 and Deb Cavendish is living in Bath – alone, which is somewhat scandalous – except for her nine-year old nephew Jack, the orphaned son of her late half-brother – which also is somewhat scandalous, as his mother was a Gypsy. One day Jack and Deb stumble across a wounded young man, apparently a participant in a duel, in the woods near Bath. Deb tends to his wounds and falls in love at the same time, but the man is carried off by a stranger to recuperate, and Deb is left to dream about what might have been.

Julian Hesham, Marquess of Alston, cannot get the image of his beautiful savior out of his mind, but he doesn’t even know her name. Later, when Deb visits the home of Martin Ellicott, her French tutor, she comes face to face with Julian, who is Ellicott’s godson. Thus begins Julian’s courtship of his own wife.

After their forced marriage, Julian’s father, the powerful father the Duke of Roxton, had banished him to the Continent on account of Julian’s outrageous behavior toward his mother, with Martin Ellicott as his chaperon and teacher. Knowing that his son was headstrong and rebelious and fearing that he would marry some unsuitable foreign lady, the duke had decided that Deb Cavendish would make a proper wife for Julian, and Deb’s brother and guardian Gerald agreed.

After the wedding, Deb was convinced by her nurse that the strange ceremony had been merely a dream. At the age of eighteen, she had defied her brother Gerald and traveled alone to Paris to nurse her brother Otto through a fatal illness. When he and his wife both died, she returned with Jack to live in a respectable but not fashionable part of Bath. Her reputation had suffered among the high sticklers, but being a cousin to the Duke of Devonshire and a considerable heiress ensured that she was accepted among certain segments of Bath society.

Julian is smitten with his wife, but he fears that she will reject him because of his tarnished reputation. He is thought by all to be a rake and he has been accused by a influential Parisien, M. Lefevbre, of seducing his daughter and refusing to marry her. Deb is Julian’s wife in law, but he does not want her to feel compelled into becoming his wife in fact. Thus, he decides to court her as plain Mr. Julian Hesham and hopes to secure her affection before it becomes necessary to tell her the truth.

This aspect of the plot is a bit too far-fetched for me. I understood what the old duke was trying to do by selecting Julian’s bride, but why the secret wedding in the middle of the night? Why did Deb’s brother never tell her the truth? Here she is larking around Bath with suitors galore and she’s utterly unaware that she’s already married! Indeed, during her stay in Paris she came close to eloping with the artist Evelyn Ffolkes (who happens to be Julian’s cousin), and now she is being pursued by Mr. Robert Thesiger (heir to a baron but rumored to be the natural son of the Duke of Roxton). My goodness, this is an awfully small world. And when Deb does fall in love with Julian and they “marry” again, why does he still not tell her the truth? And why does this otherwise kind and loving man eventually reveal everything in the cruelest manner possible? And why does Deb go completely around the bend upon learning that she is married to a man she loves and who loves her back?

These are among the issues that really irked me as I was reading this book, but when I listened to the audio, they pretty much dissolved into the ether. I decided to quit asking questions and just listen to the beautiful voice of Alex Wyndham and his marvelous narration of this book. This was the first time that I have read a book and then immediately listened to the audio, and it really doesn’t surprise me that while I might have rated the book at 3.5 stars or so, Mr. Wyndham’s ten-star performance compels me to award the audio book a full five stars.

Don’t get me wrong; the writing is excellent. In fact, everything that I have read by Lucinda Brant is first-class and fully immerses the reader in the world of Georgian England. But in the reading, I kept second-guessing the characters’ decisions, while in the listening I was swept up by dialogue and events. And there are plenty of events: marriage, separation, meeting the in-laws, dodging a murderous villain, and all sorts of intrigue. One of the things I enjoy about Ms. Brant’s style is that she doesn’t keep the reader dangling for too long. Instead, she reveals pieces of the story as the book progresses, which has the effect of keeping me turning the pages, or listening late into the night as the case may be.

For those historical romance fans who have been gobsmacked by Nicholas Boulton’s presentation of Laura Kinsale’s books, I am thrilled to report that Alex Wyndham is every bit as good. His narrative voice is deep and lovely, but he skillfully segues from the aging, imperious Roxton to the French duchess to the young boys, Jack and his best friend Harry. He is very good with the various female voices – avoiding the falsetto that some male narrators adopt – but the star of this audio book has to be Julian. He is young and cocky but also tremendously warm and quite funny, all of which comes through beautifully in his voice.

Alex Wyndham already has narrated Ms. Brant’s Alec Halsey mystery/romance series and is set to do the remainder of the Roxton series. For reasons not clear to me, the first Roxton book, Noble Satyr, will be the last one brought out in audio, but I don’t think that it’s necessary to have read it in order to enjoy the remainder of the books.

Despite my quibbles about parts of the plot, I unreservedly recommend that you listen to Midnight Marriage.

(Interested readers also might enjoy Audiogals’ charming interview with Brant and Wyndham, where we discover that he is a Georgette Heyer fan.)

AUDIO REVIEW: Salt Redux (Salt Hendon #2) by Lucinda Brant, narrated by Marian Hussey

salt redux

Available to download from Audible

Jane and Salt—four years of Happily Ever After
Sir Antony Templestowe—four years of Exile
Lady Caroline—four years of Heartache
Diana St. John—four years plotting Revenge
The time has come . . .

How does a brother cope with life knowing his sister is a murderess? How can a nobleman have the life he has always wanted when a lurking evil consumes his thoughts and haunts his dreams? What will it take for good to triumph over evil? For readers who enjoyed Salt Bride, the story continues . . . .

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Publisher and Release Date: Sprigleaf PTY Ltd, August 2014

RHR Classifications:
Time and Setting: London, England, 1767
Genre: Georgian Historical Romance
Heat Level: 1
Reviewer Rating: 5 stars

Review by Lady Wesley

A few months ago, I noticed that some of my Goodreads friends were reading and loving this book (and its predecessor Salt Bride), which combines my two favorite fiction genres – historical romance and mystery. So when the chance came to review this audiobook, I eagerly jumped in, and I have now become a huge Lucinda Brant fan.

Salt Bride featured the Magnus Sinclair, fifth Earl of Salt Hendon, and his reluctant bride, Jane Despard. They were plagued by the evil machinations of Salt’s cousin Diana, Lady St. John, a widow whose son is Salt’s heir, and a more diabolical villainess would be hard to imagine. Her interference kept Salt and Jane apart for four years, and she was determined to ruin their marriage. In the end, she was carried away, kicking and screaming in the hands of burly footmen, to private imprisonment in a far away Welsh castle.

Lord Salt’s closest friend is Diana’s brother, Sir Antony Templestowe. After Diana’s disgrace, Tony took himself off to St. Petersburg, where he has overcome his fondness for the bottle and become a successful diplomat. Four years later, however, Diana has escaped and Tony rushes back to London to find her. She’s hiding in plain sight at Antony’s townhouse, telling everyone that she has been touring the Continent and running up bills on Tony’s credit. She has engaged a “companion” and planted a spy in Salt’s home, both of whom rather credulously believe that Diana is the true Countess of Salt Hendon and Jane is a brazen usurper. With their help, she plans to pull off an intricate plan to make herself personally and politically indispensible to Salt.

The romance here, which is really secondary to the intrigue, involves Tony and Salt’s younger sister, Lady Caroline Aldershot. They were in love before Tony went away, but his drink-fueled outrageous behavior and Caroline’s immaturity kept them apart. Caroline is widowed after being unhappily married to another man. Tony wastes no time in proposing marriage and she turns him down in the classic “I’m not worthy” style of a romance heroine, but you know that won’t last. Tony makes for an incredibly appealing hero, but I found Caro just a tad annoying. Nevertheless, their love story is engaging.

The book largely revolves around Diana’s plans for revenge, as Tony and Salt try to get her out of the way without causing a scandal that would expose Diana’s heinous crimes and forever taint both of their families. Ending her life would be the easiest way, and well deserved, but neither one has the stomach for that. It would be spoilerish to go further into the details of the plot, and I’m not sure that I have enough space in this review to sum it all up anyway. It’s a complex story.

Lucinda Brant is a very good storyteller, and this the tale is multi-layered with threads from the past brought seamlessly into the present. The writing is excellent, albeit occasionally interspersed with modernisms. Her impressive knowledge of the Georgian era and her attention to detail make the people and places come vividly into focus. The characters’ clothing, their houses, and their surroundings are lushly described. Her description of the gifts Tony brings back from Russia is so exquisite that the reader longs to see these treasures. Well – just visit the author’s Pinterest page and there they are! Many authors are supplementing their books with Pinterest images these days, but Ms Brant’s page is the best that I’ve encountered.

Marian Hussey, a new-to-me narrator, does an excellent job. Her narrative voice is low and quite cultured, but she very ably portrays men and women of all ages and classes. She especially excels in voicing the vile Diana, veering between her persona as a respectable society widow and the privately expressed hatred that reveals her to be a true sociopath. When the action gets almost unbearably suspenseful, she maintains an even pace and does not use her voice to add unnecessarily to the drama.

There are so many things that I loved about this book that I’ll just have to give a short list. There is Tony’s obsession with tea and his insistence upon following his own elaborate brewing ritual, along with his platoon of Russian-speaking servants whose job is not only to serve but to keep him from succumbing to the siren call of wine. Caroline tries to fill the empty spot in her heart with devotion to her young step-daughter as well as her varied menagerie of pets. Salt and Jane and their children do not just make cameo appearances, as happens in many sequels, but are present throughout and integral to the story. Tony and Salt are men of their time, but their sincere, often halting, efforts to rebuilt their life-long friendship and protect their families are touching. But really, Diana St. John somewhat steals the show. Her mixture of madness, intelligence, charm, and determination make her a walking time bomb ready to ruin the lives of anyone – man, woman, or child – who stands in her way.

I listened to this book before reading Salt Bride, but to fully appreciate the story I recommend that both be read in order. I don’t know what to call the audiobook equivalent of a “page turner,” but Salt Redux is exactly that.