Tag Archive | mystery

A Most Extraordinary Pursuit by Juliana Gray

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February, 1906. As the personal secretary of the recently departed Duke of Olympia—and a woman of scrupulous character—Miss Emmeline Rose Truelove never expected her duties to involve steaming through the Mediterranean on a private yacht, under the prodigal eye of one Lord Silverton, the most charmingly corrupt bachelor in London. But here they are, improperly bound on a quest to find the duke’s enigmatic heir, current whereabouts unknown.

An expert on anachronisms, Maximilian Haywood was last seen at an archaeological dig on the island of Crete. And from the moment Truelove and Silverton disembark, they are met with incidents of a suspicious nature: a ransacked flat, a murdered government employee, an assassination attempt. As they travel from port to port on Max’s trail, piecing together the strange events of the days before his disappearance, Truelove will discover the folly of her misconceptions—about the whims of the heart, the motives of men, and the nature of time itself…

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Publisher and Release Date: Berkley, October 2016

Time and Setting: 1906, England and various locales in the Mediterranean
Genre: Historical mystery with paranormal elements
Heat Level: 1
Reviewer Rating: 3.5 stars

Review by Lady Blue

The beloved Duke of Olympia is dead, and his great-nephew and heir is nowhere to be found. The duke’s grieving duchess calls upon Emmeline Truelove, the late duke’s secretary, to travel to the Mediterranean, find the heir, and bring him home to his new dukedom. The duchess has also arranged for the Marquess of Silverton to accompany Emmeline, which does not make her happy, as her first impression of him is that he’s a shallow wastrel. The marquess (Freddie) is, in fact, a rakish, witty man, but he’s also an excellent fighter and a trained agent. Emmeline, who is called by her last name “Truelove” for most of this story, is not at all delighted with this situation, but agrees to travel with Freddie to find the missing Mr. Haywood, now the new duke. Truelove’s agreeing to go on this quest is also against the advice (demand) of the deceased Queen Victoria, who regularly appears to have conversations with her. Yes, Truelove communicates regularly with the former monarch, as well as with her own deceased father.

During the course of their travels, the prickly Truelove fends off any flirtatious attempts by Freddie with biting remarks, which he happily volleys. It soon becomes apparent that Haywood has not just gone off on his own – there is some nefarious plot afoot. The current events happening are directly related to a mythological tale (or is it?) from the past – and even involves the future.

This adventurous story is certainly a departure from previous books by Juliana Gray, and I give her credit for this intricate and detailed plot. A Most Extraordinary Pursuit undoubtedly held my attention and entertained me, but I did not become invested in the protagonists and their almost-sort of-romance. When I don’t find myself rooting for the characters to be together, or truly care for their future, the book doesn’t touch my emotions, and isn’t my preferred type of read. There are many unanswered questions, which I’m sure will be addressed in future books featuring Emmeline Truelove. If you enjoy a rollicking adventure with a bit of time-travel, some paranormal elements and plenty of witty banter, I believe this might well hit the spot.

The Duke of Olympia Meets His Match by Juliana Gray

the duke of olympia meets his matc

From Juliana Gray comes an all-new historical romance novella featuring the famous—and often infamous—Duke of Olympia.

Aboard the luxuriously appointed SS Majestic, the duke is on a mission to retrieve a most important portfolio of papers and thwart a known anarchist. As the ship steams across the Atlantic, the duke’s search for the notorious master of disguise forces him into close quarters with an American heiress and her widowed governess, Mrs. Penelope Schuyler.

While Olympia has known his fair share of intriguing women, Mrs. Schuyler seems to have a way of challenging his expectations at every turn. But as their clandestine meetings lead them down an unexpected path, the duke must determine if Penelope is a woman to be trusted…

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Publisher and Release Date: Intermix, May 2016

Time and Setting: 1893, crossing from New York to England
Genre: Historical fiction novella with a mystery
Heat Level: 1
Reviewer Rating: 4.5 stars

Review by Maria Almaguer

Juliana Gray burst on to the historical romance scene a few years ago with her enchanting Victorian-era Affairs by Moonlight series and then continued her success with the passionate Princess in Hiding series. Throughout both of those series, however, there was one enigmatic figure who was a constant; an older gentleman behind the scenes, organizing – well, manipulating really – but also protecting and matchmaking the heroes and heroines of those novels: the Duke of Olympia.

In the previous stories, Olympia is the grandfather and uncle to the protagonists but, in this historical romance novella with a mystery, he is the romantic hero.

Admittedly, he’s not your usual hero: for one, he is seventy four years-old, but in this day of age awareness and consideration, why should that matter? He is tall, strong, and dashing and debonair. He turns many a head and, naturally, one American mama has her eye on him for her American heiress daughter. Her twenty year-old daughter wants nothing to do with Olympia romantically but is content to put on a flirtatious show for her mother even as she secretly meets with her true love.

The entire novella takes place on an ocean voyage on the S.S. Majestic in March, 1893, and each day represents a chapter in the story. Olympia, who has long been in government espionage for the Crown, is in hot pursuit of a mysterious woman carrying important papers. Ms. Gray creates a nice setting of a bygone era of travel on board ship.

Olympia meets Mrs. Penelope Schuyler, an attractive and vivacious fifty-something widow who serves as a companion to Miss Ruby Morrison, the American heiress. Mrs. Schuyler was left destitute and at the beck and call of the Morrison family for a roof over her head and food to eat but she also possesses a strong sense of dignity and self-respect. She is also carrying the significant papers that Olympia seeks.

This elegant novella has the breezy, self-assured style that Ms. Gray displayed so well in her first six novels. It’s more of a short story mystery with a romance than an historical romance, and it’s charming and fun to read.

The mystery element is handled in a satisfactory way and I really enjoyed the twists and turns as well as the unexpected results at the story’s end. The implications of Olympia falling for Mrs. Schuyler instead of Miss Morrison are well depicted and the reader really gets a sense of the precarious financial and domestic situation in which Penelope finds herself.

It looks like, with this prequel, Ms. Gray is creating a Victorian-era mystery with a romance series, a very different sort of story than her other novels. It seems like it will be more history and mystery than romance and, with Ms. Gray’s beautiful writing and colorful characters, I’m sure it will also be original and fresh.

If you like shipboard romances, intrigue, and an intelligent and amusing story, you will enjoy The Duke of Olympia Meets His Match.

A Pressing Engagement (Lady Darby #4.5) by Anna Lee Huber

02_A Pressing Engagement

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With her wedding to fellow investigator Sebastian Gage only a day away, Kiera is counting down the hours. But just when matrimonial jitters threaten to consume her, Kiera receives a welcome distraction in the form of a mysterious gold necklace.

The Celtic torc, thought missing for decades, was directly involved in a recent investigation. Now, Kiera feels compelled to uncover the truth behind its sudden reappearance.

But with an overwhelming flock of wedding guests, a muddled cat, an unpaid favor, and a ferocious storm throwing things into disarray, it’s anyone’s guess whether Kiera and Gage will actually make it to the altar…

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Publisher and Release Date: Intermix, May 2016

RHR Classifications:
Time and Setting: Edinburgh, 1831
Genre: Historical Mystery
Heat Level: 1
Reviewer Rating: 3.5 stars

Review by Caz

Fans of Anna Lee Huber’s Lady Darby mysteries have followed the adventures of the unusual and talented Keira Darby and her fellow investigator, the gorgeous Sebastian Gage through four books, now, in which the couple has gone from an initial mistrust and animosity to grudging respect, liking, the stirrings of attraction and, finally, love. At the end of the third book, A Grave Matter Gage proposed and in the fourth, A Study in Death, they were an engaged couple, working alongside each other to solve a mystery involving a case of poisoning and the misplacement of some valuable artefacts.

In the next book, As Death Draws Near, we will finally see them as a married couple continuing their already established strong and complementary working relationship as they adjust to marriage, but before that release in July, comes A Pressing Engagement an eighty-three page novella which takes place on the day before (and day of) the wedding, as a nice little teaser to whet our appetites for the release of the next book in July.

From the previous book, we already know that Keira was being driven round the bend by her sister Alana’s enthusiasm about the wedding preparations and her wishing to ensure it is a spectacular occasion. Deep down, Keira doesn’t want all the fuss – she’d happily marry Gage over the anvil – but at that time, Alana, heavily pregnant, needed something to stop her brooding about the impending birth, so Keira allowed her to fuss and fret while she and Gage pursued their latest enquiry.

Even though she gave birth just weeks ago, Alana is up and running around making sure things are organised and double-organised, and Keira finds it hard to summon up an interest in how many flounces are on her dress or how many flower arrangements there should be… so when her cousin Jock arrives bearing a gift which she and Gage suspect may be linked to their previous investigation, there is only one thing to be done. They must find out the truth, but have only the day in which to do it.

I should say first off that anyone who hasn’t read at least a couple of the books in the series, especially the last one, is likely to be completely adrift reading this story, as it doesn’t work as a standalone. Apart from the central couple, there are several recurring characters making an appearance, and the continuance of the various familial relationships that have already been established.

Truth to tell, the mystery aspect of the plot is a little flimsy and isn’t really what interested me; I was in it for the wedding and to watch Keira and Gage working together again. The relationship between Keira and her sister is very well-done, and there is a nicely poignant conversation between them towards the end, in which Keira is brought to admit that perhaps she has been a little selfish in her disinterest in the wedding preparations. I loved how she confronted Gage’s father and put her foot down, and most of all, how well she and Gage work together and complement each other.

A Pressing Engagement is a welcome bit of filler for those of us eagerly awaiting the next book, but anyone who likes the sound of it but hasn’t read the other books should go back to the beginning and start with The Anatomist’s Wife. If you’ve enjoyed Deanna Raybourn’s Lady Julia mysteries or Tasha Alexander’s Lady Emily books, you won’t be disappointed.

A Curious Beginning (Veronica Speedwell #1) by Deanna Raybourn

A curious beginning
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London, 1887. As the city prepares to celebrate Queen Victoria’s golden jubilee, Veronica Speedwell is marking a milestone of her own. After burying her spinster aunt, the orphaned Veronica is free to resume her world travels in pursuit of scientific inquiry—and the occasional romantic dalliance. As familiar with hunting butterflies as she is fending off admirers, Veronica wields her butterfly net and a sharpened hatpin with equal aplomb, and with her last connection to England now gone, she intends to embark upon the journey of a lifetime. But fate has other plans, as Veronica discovers when she thwarts her own abduction with the help of an enigmatic German baron with ties to her mysterious past. Promising to reveal in time what he knows of the plot against her, the baron offers her temporary sanctuary in the care of his friend Stoker—a reclusive natural historian as intriguing as he is bad-tempered. But before the baron can deliver on his tantalizing vow to reveal the secrets he has concealed for decades, he is found murdered. Suddenly Veronica and Stoker are forced to go on the run from an elusive assailant, wary partners in search of the villainous truth.

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Publisher and Release Date: September 2015 by NAL/Penguin

RHR Classifications:
Time and Setting: London, 1887
Genre: Mystery/Adventure with a hint of romance to come
Heat Level: 1
Reviewer Rating: 5 stars

Review by Lady Wesley

Readers who enjoyed Deanna Raybourn’s Lady Julia series of Victorian mystery/romance stories will definitely want to try A Curious Beginning, the first volume of a new series featuring an independent-minded Victorian woman who goes sleuthing with a sexy, mysterious man of many secrets. On the surface, the characters sound similar to Lady Julia and Brisbane, but they are sufficiently different from that couple to make this series stand on its own.

Veronica Speedwell (and yes, that is an intentionally redundant name, as “Speedwell” is the common name for the flowering genus Veronica) is an orphan raised by two spinsters who call themselves her aunts but who really are not related to her. She never knew her parents and apparently never was curious to know about them. She took up lepidoptery in her youth as a way of getting out of the house by herself, and she has turned it into a quasi-career and traveled to remote parts of the world. As she is a thoroughly modern young woman, she has occasionally indulged her carnal desires with men she met on her travels. The story opens as the last aunt has died after Veronica returned from a butterfly-hunting trip to Costa Rica.

Veronica is rational, independent, stubborn, and outspoken. She has none of the usual accomplishments expected of a Victorian female and has no desire to marry and have children. It is not surprising, therefore, that when she returns from her aunt’s funeral to find an intruder in their cottage, she fights and then pursues him. When the intruder attempts to drag her into a waiting carriage, she is rescued by a courtly German gentleman who introduces himself as Baron Maximilian von Stauffenbach. He tells her that her life is in jeopardy and that she must put herself under his protection. Trusting her instincts – which Veronica does quite often – she agrees and they set off for London.

It turns out that the baron knew her mother, but he is reluctant to tell her much immediately. “If it were in my power to tell you everything . . . ” he tells Veronica as he leaves her in London, promising to return. The baron commits Veronica to a man he trusts completely, Stoker, a naturalist and taxidermist who works in a dilapidated Thames-side warehouse crammed full of scientific specimens, dead animals, and all sorts of related paraphernalia. Stoker does not make a good first impression, but he owes the baron some type of debt of honor, so he begrudgingly agrees to let Veronica stay and promises to protect her. Emphasis on begrudgingly.

Lots of authors create romantic heroes who are rude, moody, and misogynistic, but with Stoker, Deanna Raybourn has outdone them all. In the early parts of the book, it is very difficult to imagine Stoker as a hero; he is truly a jerk. Soon, however, when the baron is found murdered and Stoker takes Veronica on the road to elude the assassin, the pair begin to develop a reluctant respect for one another. Veronica is not one to be cowed by any man, and there is delightful banter between the two. It becomes easier to admire Stoker, although he never will be a hail-fellow-well-met type of guy. He is devoted to protecting his charge, and there were a few times I became impatient with Veronica’s reluctance to trust him.

There are far too many twists and turns in the plot for me to do it justice in this review. Suffice it to say that you will not in your wildest dreams imagine what is coming next. And yet, thanks to Ms. Raybourn’s skill, it all works beautifully in the end. The mystery of Veronica’s birth is revealed, but there is lots of room for further developments in that area. And some of Stoker’s past comes to light, although he still remains a man of deep mystery. The author has pulled off a neat trick in making the heroine a plain-speaking, practical, and unsentimental woman, while the hero is more of an emotional, reticent, and easily wounded romanticist (although he would deny it).

In the end, Veronica devises a clever plan for them to continue working together, as she realizes that she does not want to simply say good-bye to Stoker forever.

Something about his quickness of mind, his determination to live by his own lights, had called to me. I recognized his nature as my own. It was as if we were two castaways from a far-off land, adrift among strangers whose ways we could not entirely understand. But something within us spoke the same language, for all our clashes of words. He did not trust me entirely; that much was certain. And I frequently frustrated him to the point of madness. But I knew that whatever bedeviled him, he had need of me—and it seemed a betrayal to turn my back upon one of my own kind. I had seldom met another such as we, and I had learned that to be a child of the wilderness was a lonely thing.

So, is this book truly a romance? Some readers would say “no,” given that the couple don’t even exchange a kiss. The underlying, unspoken sexual tension between them, however, is off the charts. In this respect, it is similar to the initial relationship between Lady Julia and Brisbane, and I am relieved to say that by the end I found Stoker attractive enough to make a potential romance appealing. I don’t know that he will replace Brisbane as one of my favorite book-boyfriends, but I am eager to see him try.

Deanna Raybourn is a talented writer, and her adroit mixture of history, romance, and mystery have made her one of my favorites. In A Curious Beginning, she has put together a first-rate combination of plot, characters, and atmosphere that has me eagerly looking forward to spending a lot more time with Veronica and Stoker.

Seductive Secrets by Colleen Connally

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Blurb:

Shunned from London society for being the daughter of England’s most notorious spy, Alyce Hythe desires only to clear her father’s name. For years, she has been hidden away from all prying eyes, given a new identity and told to forget who she was. But strange things have been happening causing old rumors to once more be whispered.

Long has Lord Julian Casvelyn lived with guilt brought on when his brother was murdered by England’s most infamous traitor. But one eventful night has changed everything Lord Julian believed about his brother’s death. Never did he suspect the woman he has just saved from certain harm is the daughter of that man. Now Julian is caught in midst of a conspiracy and desire for that woman. Thrown together by fate, the two search for answers long denied them and along the way discover a love that can free them both.

Publisher and Release Date: Smashwords, June 2012
RHL Classifications:
Time and Setting:  Regency England
Genre:  Historical Romance
Heat Level:  2
Reviewer Rating:  4 stars

Review by Susan

Colleen Connally spins a warm romance amidst a string of surprises that will have readers gasping in shock through her latest endeavor Seductive Secrets.  Taking a crack at action adventure, Connally intertwines the investigative skills of Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes with a series of cleverly placed turns reminiscent of David Balducci’s work.   The language is true to the era being depicted in addition to the character’s behavior showing a viable representation of the society and its figures at that time.  The novel could easily be considered a literary work in the vein of Charlotte Bronte, Jane Austen or Gustave Flaubert.

The story centers around Mary Alyce Hythe whose father, an English spy, is accused of committing suicide after killing Roland Casvelyn, the grandson of Colonel Tolworthy and the younger brother of Lord Julian Gillespie Vernon Casvelyn, Earl of Pentilyon.  Mary means to prove her father’s innocence which poses an honorable objective that drives the story and stimulates the reader’s interest.  There are vestiges of deception, drama, duplicity and trickery peppered throughout the tale, keeping the reader guessing as to who is behind the conspiracy to frame Mary’s father.   When Mary encounters Julian, she expects to see contempt in his eyes.  Instead, he assists her in her investigation to clear her father’s name.  It is only several chapters later that the reader learns precisely how Julian strategically orchestrated Mary’s safety and kept her from being murdered like her father.  Each chapter builds the story to its climax as the identity of the conspirator is slowly revealed and made clear to the reader.

At times, the story drags and repeats past events, which causes the reader to skim through several passages. Another liability is the author overwhelming the reader with superfluous characters coming out of various corners and who present little significance to the story.  It’s the intelligently placed surprises that motivate the reader and the love match of Julian and Mary which gives the story its appeal.  The hero shows strength in a crisis as he leads his lady to safety.  The heroine, however, is a bit wishy-washy but protects her man and those she loves.  The characters are relatable to real people as Colleen Connally takes readers into a microcosm of Regency society.

What the Duke Desires (The Duke’s Men #1) by Sabrina Jeffries

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Blurb:

Maximilian Cale, the Duke of Lyons, long ago buried his grief for his missing elder brother, Peter, who was presumed dead after being kidnapped. When a mysterious note arrives from Tristan Bonnaud asserting that the Duke’s brother is alive, it leads Max straight to the winsome Lisette Bonnaud, illegitimate daughter of a viscount and Tristan’s sister. Soon he and Lisette are traveling to Paris posing as husband and wife, in search of Tristan, who has disappeared. And the longer he spends with Lisette, the easier it is for Max to see that the line between dukedom and desire is easier to cross than he imagined…

Publisher and Release Date: Pocket Books, 18 June 2013
RHL Classifications:
Time and Setting: England and France, 1816 & 1828
Genre: Historical Romance/Mystery
Heat Level:2
Reviewer Rating: 4.5 stars

Review by Caz

What the Duke Desires is the first in a new series of books by Sabrina Jeffries, and I certainly plan to read the others in the series on the strength of this one.

Lisette Bonnaud and her brother Tristan are the illegitimate children of Viscount Rathmore and his French-born mistress, a former actress, who lives with her children in Yorkshire. When their father dies, leaving them nothing, the new viscount, George, who has long hated his father’s “other” family, wastes no time in evicting them from their home; but not before Tristan, young and hot-headed, has stolen George’s favourite horse and sold it in order to provide some immediate funds to support his family.

Fortunately for Tristan and Lisette, their other half-brother, Dominic Manton, has always been their friend, and he helps Tristan to leave the country, knowing that George will take great pleasure in having him arrested and hanged for thievery. (Horse stealing was a hanging offence at the time the story is set).

Several years later, we meet Dominic and Lisette in London. Estranged from his brother because of his defence of his half-siblings, Dom has to make his own way in the world and is running a successful investigation agency. He is about to depart London to work on a case in Edinburgh, leaving Lisette to run the office.

Not long after he has left, Lisette receives an unexpected visitor in the form of Maximilian Cale, the Duke of Lyons. He tells her that he has received a communication from Tristan regarding an old family tragedy – the kidnap and subsequent death of his elder brother – and is insistent that Lisette tells him immediately where he can find Tristan.

Lisette is astonished at Lyons’ request. She had no idea Tristan was in England as he still has a warrant out for his arrest and Lyons’ suspicious, dismissive manner immediately gets her hackles rising.

“Forgive me, madam, it appears that you and I got off on the wrong foot.”

“You got off on the wrong foot. I merely watched you shove it into your mouth.”

The air fairly crackles with antagonism until Lyons realises that trying to bully answers out of the young Frenchwoman will get him nowhere and decides to confide a little of his situation to Lisette.

What follows is an enjoyable mystery story in which Max and Lisette travel to France to find Tristan. For the sake of propriety, Lisette suggests they travel as plain Mister Cale and his sister until a chance encounter with a neighbour puts paid to that idea and they are instead forced to travel as a married couple. I confess to the fact that the “pretend couple” is a favourite trope of mine, and I thought this one was handled very well.

The advantage of a road-trip story is that it gives the reader time to get to know both principals, and allows the attraction between them to develop at a realistic pace. But while Max is upfront with Lisette from the outset, she is more reticent and although she is not untruthful, she lies by omission at times; and he finds it difficult to reconcile the fact that he knows she is holding something back with his growing attraction to her.

Both of them are carrying a couple of cases of emotional baggage as well. Lisette doesn’t want to end up like her mother – with a couple of children, no means of support and disappointed in the man she loves; and Max is living daily with the prospect that he may someday succumb to the madness that killed both his father and his uncle. I have to say that I was grateful for the way the author dealt with Max’s fears in a manner that eschewed melodrama or turning him into a clichéd “tortured hero”. He knows what he could be facing and has allowed that fear to dictate the way he lives his life, staying aloof and building walls around his heart. But we are allowed frequent glimpses of the man beneath, one who craves love and companionship and who has much to give in return. The scene where Max breaks down because he is unable to sit helplessly by the bedside of his dying cousin is truly heart-wrenching.

Max and Lisette are both very sympathetic characters and it is easy to understand their mutual attraction. They counterbalance each other – Lisette’s humanity often softens Max’s haughtiness, his intelligence complements her intuition and both are fiercely loyal to those they love. I particularly enjoyed the way Ms Jeffries explored just what it meant to be a duke in the society of the time. When dukes are such a staple of much romantic fiction, it is easy to forget just how powerful these men were. Despite their proliferation in novels, there are actually not that many of them (about twenty or so) and many of them today are members of the Royal Family. So when Max has to travel without the advantages of his title, he really feels the lack to begin with – until he realises that it is actually rather freeing to be simple “Mister” Cale. And conversely, in the later stage of the book, when Max “reassumes” his title, it is fascinating to see just how much power he wields.

The only thing that prevented me from giving this book 5 stars is that it feels as though rather too much plot was crammed into the last quarter of the story. I liked the fact that quite a lot of time was devoted to Max and Lisette’s journey and to building the relationship between them, but that probably meant less time for the dénouement.

Overall, the book boasts an interesting plot and two very attractive protagonists. The writing is excellent, the romance is well-developed and there is plenty of humour and intrigue. I’m really looking forward to reading more about The Duke’s Men.

About me

I’m a musician, teacher and mother of two girls and have always been an avid reader. I was introduced to the novels of Jean Plaidy at the age of eleven and have never looked back! I love good, meaty, well-researched historical fiction – whether it’s about real figures (Sharon Penman) or fictional ones (Dorothy Dunnett), but I’m a sucker for a well-written historical romance, too. I post all my reviews at Caz’s Reading Room and at my Goodreads page, so please come and say hello!

A Spear of Summer Grass by Deanna Raybourn

A Spear of Summer Grass

Paris, 1923

The daughter of a scandalous mother, Delilah Drummond is already notorious, even amongst Paris society. But her latest scandal is big enough to make even her oft-married mother blanch. Delilah is exiled to Kenya and her favorite stepfather’s savannah manor house until gossip subsides.

Fairlight is the crumbling, sun-bleached skeleton of a faded African dream, a world where dissolute expats are bolstered by gin and jazz records, cigarettes and safaris. As mistress of this wasted estate, Delilah falls into the decadent pleasures of society.

Against the frivolity of her peers, Ryder White stands in sharp contrast. As foreign to Delilah as Africa, Ryder becomes her guide to the complex beauty of this unknown world. Giraffes, buffalo, lions and elephants roam the shores of Lake Wanyama amid swirls of red dust. Here, life is lush and teeming-yet fleeting and often cheap.

Amidst the wonders-and dangers-of Africa, Delilah awakes to a land out of all proportion: extremes of heat, darkness, beauty and joy that cut to her very heart. Only when this sacred place is profaned by bloodshed does Delilah discover what is truly worth fighting for-and what she can no longer live without.

RHL Classifications:

1920s
Heat Rating: 1
Reviewer Rating: 4.5 stars

Review by Caz

I’ve read and enjoyed Ms Raybourn’s Lady Julia Grey books, so when I saw she’d written a story set in the 1920s, I was intrigued and at the same time a little apprehensive. Not only was the author treading new ground, but so was I – my taste in historicals tends to run to the 17th, 18th and 19th Centuries. Maybe because I was born and grew up in the second half of the 20th Century, it’s still a little too close for me to really regard it as “historical”!

Fortunately, however, my apprehension was quickly proved groundless, because A Spear of Summer Grass grabbed me from the start.

Delilah Drummond is presented as the epitome of the 20s good-time girl. She’s rich, spoiled, does exactly as she likes and doesn’t care who she shocks or upsets along the way. She’s been married three times (widowed twice, divorced once) regularly takes lovers (including her ex-husband on occasion) without a second thought and has a taste for all the good things in life.

At the beginning of the book however, she has caused one scandal too many for the liking of her family, and she is sent to rusticate in Africa until such time as the gossip has died down and she can return to Europe.

Even in Africa though, she continues to ruffle feathers, mostly because of the fact that she treats the natives as people and takes upon herself the traditional duties of the ‘lady of the manor’ in treating their illnesses and making sure her workers are adequately fed and well-treated. She is immediately adopted by the local ex-patriots, who are real bunch of misfits, having nothing in common other than their presence in Africa and a thinly veiled dislike of each other.

One of the first of these ex-pats encountered by Delilah is Ryder White, who makes his living principally from safari-guiding. He’s sort of a cross between Indiana Jones and Allan Quartermain (I can’t help wondering if J. Ryder White is an hommage to H. Rider Haggard) although rather more promiscuous than either of them. But he’s a compelling character; ruggedly masculine, with a good sense of humour and an air of vulnerability and fatalism about him that sometimes belies the steely exterior. Ryder escorts Delilah to Fairlight, the estate owned by her stepfather. To her dismay, it’s a mess – but being Delilah she doesn’t let it deter her and with the help of her cousin and companion Dora, and local workmen, she sets about putting things to rights.

I’ve seen a number of comments from other readers pointing out the similarities between this story and Karen Blixen’s Out of Africa. I confess I’ve not read her book, and it’s been quite a long time since I’ve seen the film, so I don’t want to comment on that. All I’ll say is that if that is the case, it didn’t stop me enjoying Delilah’s story.

In Delilah Drummond, Ms Raybourn has created a character that, to quote Jane Austen (on Emma) “no one but myself will much like”. Perhaps we’re not supposed to like her all that much in the beginning, but like her or not, she’s ballsy, courageous and outspoken, and isn’t afraid to admit to her own shortcomings – well, some of them. Of course, behind the highly polished exterior lies a wealth of pain and doubt, a woman who has experienced more than her fair share of loss and heartbreak. As she says to her lover, Kit – “Like every bad thing that’s ever happened to me, I lock it up and don’t think about it.”

In terms of the love story in the novel, I think there are actually two. The relationship between Delilah and Ryder develops slowly to start with. There’s a strong current of mutual attraction and antagonism between them, and the sexual tension fairly crackles as they play a game of one-upmanship as to who will seduce whom. But alongside the human romance is the story of how Delilah is seduced by Africa; the sights, the sounds, the smells, the customs and kindness of the people, and how she is changed by it.

My one complaint is that the romance between Delilah and Ryder could have been better developed. It was clear that they wanted each other physically and that they bonded through an understanding of the life and customs of the country. But these were two emotionally prickly people, and I felt there needed to be more said between them. I’m not really a fan of the plotline in which one of the protagonists has to be alerted as to how the other feels about them by a third party; and Ryder’s actions at the end of the book when he ploughs everything he owns into Fairlight for Delilah’s sake but without any certainty of her reciprocation seemed rather out of character for the man we’ve encountered throughout the rest of the novel.

Those reservations aside however, A Spear of Summer Grass has much to recommend it, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. It’s superbly written and well-paced, the characterisation is excellent throughout and Ms Raybourn’s descriptions of the scenery and landscape are simply ravishing.

(Incidentally, more of Ryder’s backstory is revealed in the prequel novella Far in the Wilds, and I don’t think it has to be read before Spear. I read it afterwards and enjoyed getting the full story of some of the events alluded to in the novel in retrospect.)

I should point out that although I have indicated there is only mild sexual content in the book, there are frequent references to sex, but no explicit sex scenes.

With thanks to Harlequin/MIRA and NetGalley for the review copy.

About me

I’m a musician, teacher and mother of two girls and have always been an avid reader. I was introduced to the novels of Jean Plaidy at the age of eleven and have never looked back! I love good, meaty, well-researched historical fiction – whether it’s about real figures (Sharon Penman) or fictional ones (Dorothy Dunnett), but I’m a sucker for a well-written historical romance, too. I post all my reviews at Caz’s Reading Room and at my Goodreads page., so please come and say hello!

The Chalice by Nancy Bilyeau

chalice

England, 1538. A bloody power struggle between crown and cross tears England asunder. Young Joanna Stafford has already tasted the wrath of the royal court, seen what lies inside the king’s torture rooms and escaped death at the hands of those desperate to possess the power of an ancient relic. After seeing such sights, the quiet life is not for Joanna. Soon she risks arrest and imprisonment again, when she is caught up in a conspiracy scheming against Henry VIII. As the powerplays grow deadly, Joanna must realise if her role is more central than she’d ever imagined. As one fateful night at the shrine of Saint Thomas Becket proves, she must make a choice between those she cares for most and taking her place in a prophecy foretold by three different seers, each more powerful than the last. To learn the final, sinister piece of the prophecy, she flees across Europe with an amoral spy sent by Spain. As the necromancers complete the puzzle, Joanna realises the life of Henry VIII as well as the future of Christendom are in her hands; hands which must someday hold the chalice that lies at the centre of these deadly prophecies…

RHL Classifications:

Tudor Era, Mystery
Heat Rating: 1
Reviewer rating: 5 stars

Review by Caz

This is the second historical novel to feature Joanna Stafford, niece of the Duke of Buckingham and formerly a novice at Dartford Priory. The first was The Crown, in which Joanna was forced into the service of the powerful Bishop of Winchester, Stephen Gardiner in order to save the life of her father.

I don’t think it’s essential to have read that book first in order to fully appreciate this one, as the story stands alone, even though many of the historical figures we encounter appear in both. I regret to say that I haven’t read The Crown, but definitely intend to do so in the near future.

In The Chalice the English Reformation has led to the destruction of the religious way of life and Joanna, while still referred to as ‘Sister’ is no longer a novice nun. She continues to reside in Dartford, intent on starting a tapestry-weaving business; but as a member of a prominent family, related to both the King and the Duke of Norfolk, the powerful factions around her are not willing to leave her to a peaceful life in obscurity.

The story hinges on a prophecy made about ten years before the action of the book, in which Joanna was told that she would be the one to bring about a change in the fortunes of the Catholic Church in England and to undo all that Henry VIII had done to crush it. Despite her devotion to her faith, or perhaps because of it, Joanna wants nothing to do with the prophecy and in any case, does not see how someone as insignificant as she could possibly be destined for such an act.

The prophecy also tells that Joanna will need to meet with a further two seers in order to discern her course of action, something that she is determined never to do. But as events ten years later bring her into contact with the Exeters, Norfolk, Gardiner and the Spanish ambassador, it becomes clear that she is never going to be able to escape her destiny.

The plot is complex, but never confusing. Bilyeau’s writing is superb, and for the most part, well-paced; and in the character of Joanna Stafford, she has created an extremely likeable, multi-faceted heroine who is shown to be fallible as well as heroic. Joanna is devout, but it’s clear that she would have probably had trouble with vows of obedience. She has problems controlling her temper at times, and has an inquiring mind; perhaps not the best qualities in one expected to conform and submit without question. She is kind without being sugary-sweet, intelligent, but not all-knowing. Her impetuosity and honesty lead her into dangerous situations and attract the wrong sort of notice – yet she is brave, determined and self-possessed.

She has faults – the way she continually denies her attraction to a man who loves her passionately and instead turns to one who, while also loving her, is a much less ‘dangerous’ choice – is a huge self-deception on her part, as well as being somewhat frustrating for the reader. But although there are strong threads of romance running through the book, it is not the main focus. Joanna knows she has more to do than fall in love and finally, having been rather beaten down by circumstances, she makes the decision to hear the final prophecy and meet her destiny.

The Chalice is a superb read, full of suspense and intrigue. The author’s attention to historical detail is excellent – from the conventions of Court life to the day-to-day existence of the lower echelons, and she presents the reader with a fascinating glimpse of the intricate power struggles and politics of Henry’s court. She also raises an interesting question concerning the fate of those expelled from religious orders due to the Reformation; no longer able to serve God in their chosen manner, they were also forbidden to marry and were forced to live on the fringes of society, banned both from a purely religious life and a secular one. If I had an issue with the book as a whole, it was with the fact that the final section which deals with Joanna’s journey to and escape from the Low Countries felt a little rushed, but that didn’t in any way spoil my enjoyment of it.

I can think of no higher praise than to say that this was one of those rare occasions when the fact that the story is told in the first person didn’t bother me in the least – which just goes to show how gripped I was!
Highly recommended – and I hope there are more of Joanna’s stories to come.

About me

I’m a musician, teacher and mother of two girls and have always been an avid reader. I was introduced to the novels of Jean Plaidy at the age of eleven and have never looked back! I love good, meaty, well-researched historical fiction – whether it’s about real figures (Sharon Penman) or fictional ones (Dorothy Dunnett), but I’m a sucker for a well-written historical romance, too. I post all my reviews at Caz’s Reading Room and at my Goodreads page., so please come and say hello!

A Passion for Him (Georgian #3) by Syliva Day

 A Passion for Him

Re-Published: January 29, 2013

Originally Published November 1, 2007

Publisher’s Blurb:

Stranger

He wears a mask…and he is following her. Staring at her like no other man since Colin. But Colin is dead and Amelia believes she will never again shiver with pleasure, never again sigh his name.

Lover

Until her masked pursuer lures her into a moonlit garden and a single, reckless kiss. Now she is obsessed with discovering his identity. Perfectly attuned to his every desire, his every thought, she will not stop until she knows his every secret.

 

Tags: Romance, Historical, Scotland

Time Frame: London 1780

Heat Level: 2.5

REVIEW RATING : 4.5 stars

REVIEW BY LEE ANNE:

Lovers Lost

Lovers Found

Betrayal

Murder

Deception

A Passion for Him has it all. Many years Amelia Brenbridge lost the only man she’s ever loved. He died protecting her. Many years later her childhood friend is wooing her. Trying to get her to marry him. He waits patiently.

A masked stranger appears and awakens something in Amelia that’s been dead for a long time. Passion. Desire. But who is he? Why does she feel so much when he’s around?

This was a really good book. It had all of the elements I love in a book. We had passion, deceit, romance, murder, a little mahem, and a duel. What more could you ask for?

Sylvia Day did an amazing job of weaving a world where I could lose myself and dream of things that may be and things that will come. It was sweet and passionate.

One of the things I really liked about Amelia was her unconventionality. She acted with decorum and poise when in public, but when it was just her and Ware or her masked paramour, she threw convention to the wind and said what was on her mind. It was refreshing.

The intrigue and murder crossed country lines. The murders that began in France followed our masked paramour into London. There he was trying to find the real killer and clear his name. While trying to keep Amelia far from the danger, only put her in more danger than anyone realized.

The characters in this story were amazing. There are some great secondary characters. They’re stories are apparently in the first two of this series. This story only made me want to go back to read those stories. They are amazing and I can’t wait to read their stories!

**At the time of the review, this book was available from Amazon for $9.39**

ABOUT LEE ANNE:

I am a happily married mother of three very busy children.  Most of my time is spent chauffeuring my kids to their various activities. I cram reading into any spare moment I have. Some days I can have an hour or two and others I’m sneaking in quick reads while waiting on the kids to finish their soccer or gymnastics practice. I like to read a wide variety of genres but I definitely prefer romance. I can’t really pinpoint a favorite author as it changes on a regular basis. I absolutely love finding new authors and giving their stories a chance to be heard. We all have a voice in our heads writing stories and those voices should be given a chance to be heard.

The Silver Lion by Lynn Kerstan

Published by Bell Bridge Books, November 2012

BLURB: A deceptively demure beauty. A man of such breathtaking appeal that women compare him to the angels. Can their sensual attraction overcome a veil of secrets that links her to his bitter enemy? Book Three of Lynn Kerstan’s elegant trio of Regency historicals. Miss Helena Pryce continues her journey through Regency society as an intriguing, modest, and respectable mystery. Confident servant, dutiful secretary, or something far less tame? Her confidence only seems to waiver in the presence of Lord Varden, a worldly bachelor who astounds his vivacious female relatives by deciding to settle down. He’ll marry within the next year. And his intended? The amusingly unsuitable Miss Pryce. She just doesn’t know it.Can a lowly secretary marry an Earl? And what of his notoriously unpredictable affections? Can she overlook the propriety of society to find her heart’s true desire?Varden finds himself in quite the predicament when his unlikely temptress insists they avoid romantic entanglements and, instead, find the missing Duke of Tallant. His sworn enemy, the man who took away his only love. Why does Miss Pryce insist he resolve that old animosity before she’ll consider becoming his wife?Can the two of them move on from past secrets to see a future together?

RHFL Classifications:

Heat Level 2

Romance/Mystery

REVIEW RATING: 3.5 STARS

Review by Caz

The Silver Lion is the final book in Lynn Kerstan’s Big Cat Trilogy, (the others being The Golden Leopard and Heart of the Tiger) and although, like the others, it can be read independently, it actually picks up some of the plot threads left behind at the end of Heart of the Tiger, so it might be an idea to have read that first.

We have already met the two protagonists. The super-efficient, mysterious Helena Pryce appeared at the start of the series as Jessica Carville’s assistant and secretary in The Golden Leopard, and made several appearances in that book and in Heart of the Tiger. She has an unrivalled skill when it comes to acquiring knowledge – much of it gleaned through her numerous contacts in the less salubrious areas of London – is an expert negotiator and organiser and fiercely intelligent. Although she is a servant, she is not subservient, yet it is clear that there is more to her than meets the eye. Her appearance is marked by the unusual spectacles she has to wear to protect her eyes from the light – and more than that, she hides her true self from the world behind them.

This, together with a series of mysterious attacks on influential members of the aristocracy, thrusts Varden and Helena into a deadly search for incriminating documents relating to extortion and murder. This part of the story is very well done and I enjoyed the mystery. The set-up is established quite early on, and the clues and reveals come gradually at first, with the pace quickening as we get closer to the end.

I also enjoyed finding out more about the enigmatic Helena – and I can honestly say that I hadn’t the faintest idea about the fact that she was living under an assumed name and identity, and that the reveal came as a complete surprise.

I didn’t feel that Varden was as well characterised as Helena, or as Keynes or Hugo in the earlier books. He’s handsome, clever, rich and honourable, knows his duty as the head of his family and, at Helena’s prompting, begins to take more of an interest in political issues. But he’s never more than two-dimensional really, and that made it hard for me to buy into the romance between him and Helena.

The two of them get off to a shaky start. Varden needs a new secretary; Helena applies for the job, but he isn’t interested in employing her, despite her experience and spectacular references. So he sets her a seemingly impossible task – which of course she performs without any problem – and he has to retain her services. But instead of keeping her employed himself, he sets her to organising his nieces’ come-out, which is not the sort of thing she is at all accustomed to (or enjoys) doing. He knows that Helena will find these duties dull and uninspiring; in the light of this, Varden comes across as small-minded and prejudiced – and yet, not long after Helena has informed him she desires to leave his service, he takes her to bed and they share one night of unbridled and life-changing passion.

There are indications that Helena has had feelings for Varden for some time, but nothing to explain his sudden impulse to sleep with her – she is spinsterish and not especially attractive, even though Varden is intrigued by her and enjoys their verbal ‘fencing’. After their one night, he is determined there should be more, despite his admission that he is deeply in love with the Duchess of Tallant (previously Mira Holcombe).

Varden’s motivations and actions are therefore confusing and I felt that made it difficult to believe in the relationship between him and Helena. That said however, they do begin to forge a trusting friendship as the story progresses which is based on a mutual respect for each other’s abilities rather than lust or attraction, which eventually, which I felt formed a much stronger basis for a long-term future.

I enjoyed the book although I found it a little slow to start. It’s not the strongest of the three (I think that is the middle book) but still has plenty to recommend it, not the least of which are some of the final scenes between Varden and Keynes as the two adversaries realise that they are going to have to bury their animosity and learn to get along.

Finally – I think that the blurb as posted on Amazon is somewhat misleading. While the romance is a large element in the story, the search for the murderer/blackmailer is just as (if not more) important, and anyone expecting a story about an Earl and his secretary struggling to find social acceptance of their relationship is going to be disappointed.

With thanks to Bell Bridge Books and NetGalley for the review copy.

About me

I’m a musician, teacher and mother of two girls and have always been an avid reader. I was introduced to the novels of Jean Plaidy at the age of eleven and have never looked back! I love good, meaty, well-researched historical fiction – whether it’s about real figures (Sharon Penman) or fictional ones (Dorothy Dunnett), but I’m a sucker for a well-written historical romance, too.