Tag Archive | Stella Riley

AUDIO REVIEW AND GIVEAWAY: A Splendid Defiance by Stella Riley, narrated by Alex Wyhdham

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This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon.

For two years, England has been in the grip of Civil War. In Banbury, Oxfordshire, the Cavaliers hold the castle, the Roundheads want it back and the town is full of zealous Puritans. Consequently, the gulf between Captain Justin Ambrose and Abigail Radford, the sister of a fanatically religious shopkeeper, ought to be unbridgeable. The key to both the fate of the castle and that of Justin and Abigail lies in defiance… but will it be enough?

A Splendid Defiance is a dramatic and enchanting story of forbidden love, set against the turmoil and anguish of the first English Civil War.

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Published and Release Date: Stella Riley, December 2016

Time and Setting: Banbury, Oxfordshire, England 1642-4
Genre: Romantic Historical Fiction/ Audiobook
Heat Level: 2
Reviewer Rating: 5 stars content, 5 stars narration

Review by Wendy

If you are a fan of historical fiction or historical romance, then you must, must, must, read or listen to Stella Riley’s work, and a good place to start is A Splendid Defiance. (Our review of the book is HERE.) It was this story and another of the author’s books – The Marigold Chain – that initially piqued my interest in this turbulent period in England’s history. Both are superbly researched standalone stories and each is eminently enjoyable. I wouldn’t have imagined it possible to improve upon my enjoyment of the print version of A Splendid Defiance but by employing the superbly talented Alex Wyndham to narrate her powerful story, Ms. Riley has done just that, because Mr. Wyndham brings her exciting, wonderfully romantic feast of a book to multi-dimensional life.

Captain Justin Ambrose is moodily kicking his heels at the Royalist controlled garrison of Banbury Castle in Oxfordshire owing to having made an ill-judged remark about one of the King’s favourites. A career soldier of considerable experience, he has earned a formidable reputation and naturally he feels resentful at being stuck in such a backwater. His generally acerbic and sarcastic tongue is even more prominent as the prolonged inactivity begins to take its toll on his temper.

Abigail Radford is a young, sweet, and innocent seventeen year old when this story begins. She lives and works in the home and drapery shop owned by her older brother, Jonas, but this is no happy household, for Jonas is an autocratic, over-bearing bully of a man whose hatred of the Cavaliers at the castle is topped only by his religious fanaticism.

Justin is a man of integrity, honesty and honour and a Royalist to his bones – completely and unwaveringly dedicated to his King and cause; and a man who has sworn off love and marriage. At his first encounter with Abby – during which he saves her from being ravished by a couple of his subordinates – he doesn’t really see her as anything more than a terrified girl. It takes time and several more unplanned meetings before he notices that beneath the extremely plain clothing and white puritanical cap, there is a rather attractive young woman. Any possible furtherance of their acquaintance is delayed by the arrival in Banbury of a large Roundhead contingent, the senior officers of which take up residence at the Radford home. And the first siege of the castle begins. I admire the way Stella Riley grows her love stories in all of her novels but particularly in this one; understated and plausible, it is entirely in keeping with unfolding events. After the first siege is over, the Roundheads ousted and on the run after Royalist re-enforcements arrive, the garrison can breathe again and life returns to some semblance of normality. Ms. Riley then continues to develop the growing attraction between Justin and Abby, throwing them together in various situations which further advance their apparently ill-fated friendship. For how can two people on opposing sides of a civil war ever have a chance at happiness?

Justin is a multi-layered character with many deep dark secrets; even his closest friends know little about him other than he has a well-deserved reputation with the ladies. His is such a believable character, especially when one finds oneself getting cross with him because he’s given Abby an undeserved tongue lashing, upsetting her to the point that it feels as though he’s kicked a puppy. But then, conversely, one finds oneself going all gooey over him when he’s being particularly charming – and by God he certainly can turn it on when he chooses! Abby’s character grows over the course of the story from the timid girl we meet at the outset to an attractive young woman with a lot more oomph than she had to begin with. Justin sets out initially – not entirely altruistically – to help her stand up to, and defy his nemesis, the odious Jonas. But in the end, he’s hoist by his own petard, finding himself drawn more and more to her quiet, unassuming and undemanding presence. Eventually Justin realises that she is the only person in his life who has ever cared for him or gives a damn what happens to him, and their eventual acceptance of the love between them is heartwarming, tender and all the better for the waiting. And as is the norm with Stella Riley, she doesn’t need to resort to explicit love scenes – instead sensuality and tenderness is the order of the day and I was left with a warm glow as she eventually brought these two lovely characters together against all of the odds.

Alex Wyndham’s performance is stupendous. There are few performers who could have tackled such a varied and wide cast of characters and fool the listener into feeling as though they are listening to a rather superior radio play with numerous actors rather than one man’s narrative of a story. As this is a story set in time of war, it features a large number of male characters, but this poses no difficulty as Mr. Wyndham switches effortlessly between a variety of accent, tone and timbre to give each of them a distinct interpretation. I cannot recommend this audiobook highly enough because it has everything that I look for in an historical romance. Filled with atmospheric, superbly researched historical content and a spine tingling romance, A Splendid Defiance has to be awarded a straight 5 star rating for both content and narration, although quite honestly that doesn’t seem high enough. But whatever the star rating, this is another winner for this phenomenal writer/narrator team.

GIVEAWAY

WE HAVE THREE (3) COPIES OF THIS WONDERFUL AUDIOBOOK TO GIVE AWAY TO THREE LUCKY READERS. TO ENTER, CLICK ON THE RAFFLECOPTER BOX BELOW AND FOLLOW THE INSTRUCTIONS. THE GIVEAWAY WILL REMAIN OPEN FOR SEVEN DAYS – AFTER THAT, WINNERS WILL BE CONTACTED BY EMAIL.

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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!

 

Lords of Misrule (Roundheads and Cavaliers #4) by Stella Riley

Lords of Misrule March 2016Purchase now from Amazon

Still tied to his desk in the Intelligence Office, Colonel Eden Maxwell has become increasingly disenchanted with both Oliver Cromwell and his own daily existence; and with the advent of new Royalist conspiracies, he despairs of ever getting away.

Then a brick hurled through the window of a small workshop sets in motion a new and unexpected chain of events. After all, who would want to hurt Lydia Neville – a young widow, giving work and self-respect to maimed war veterans considered unemployable elsewhere? But when the assaults in Duck Lane escalate, threatening the life and remaining limbs of some of Eden’s former troopers, finding the culprit becomes a personal crusade.

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

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

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

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Publisher and Release Date: Stella Riley, May 2016

RHR Classifications:
Time and Setting: England 1653 – 1655
Genre: Romantic Historical Fiction
Heat Level: 1.5
Reviewer Rating: 5 stars

Review by Wendy

It’s always difficult to come to a series of books part-way through, so when I knew that I was going to review Lords of Misrule, I decided to quickly acquaint myself with some of the background information to the series and about the English Civil War, my knowledge of which was sketchy to say the least. I was advised to read The Black Madonna (first in the Roundheads and Cavaliers series) and was very glad I did, as it’s here that we first meet Eden Maxwell, who is the hero of Lords of Misrule. Married young to a woman who was completely wrong for him, his early experience of love and marriage has left Eden deeply mistrustful, embittered and unable to show love to his son and resentful of the little girl he realises he did not father. He rarely returns home even though his wife disappears with her lover soon after discovery and his continuing absence drives a wedge between himself and his family even while it is not what he wishes. A decade later, and older and wiser, he has vowed never to trust love and absolutely never to marry again. By now a confident and battle-scarred soldier, Eden is also a man who does not suffer fools or trust easily; and I adored the tetchy, vulnerable, overprotective, charismatic character that Eden has become – and then there’s that devastating smile!

These are serious times. England has been in the grip of civil war for well over a decade; families are split, the Country is short of money and the anointed King has been executed. Oliver Cromwell has been named Lord Protector – king in all but name – and parliament is attempting to bring some order to a divided country. Eden Maxwell has become a discontented and disenchanted man, and, owing to his inborn integrity and sense of justice is finding himself frequently in sympathy with both sides. Employed as an Intelligence officer and code breaker at the Tower of London, Eden reports directly to Cromwell’s Secretary of State, John Thurloe. He is first and foremost a soldier, and having fought in and survived three civil wars, is not happy with his current role as paper pusher and glorified errand boy.

When a brick is hurled through a window of recently widowed Lydia Neville’s workshop in a seemingly random attack, she is thrown into the orbit of Colonel Eden Maxwell. He instantly becomes interested – Lydia, an entrepreneur and philanthropist, has continued on with the work she began with her now deceased husband. They had intuitively recognised a need, and then provided the opportunity for honest employment for wounded and disabled soldiers, casualties of both sides of the war; and then too, for the widows of soldiers left with families to care for. At first Lydia and Eden strike sparks off of each other, he overbearing, cynical and dismissive; she independent, feisty and not about to allow any man to control her or her actions. Worthy adversaries both, it isn’t long before their antipathy turns to reluctant attraction, as they are drawn to each other firstly by their joint empathy for Lydia’s workforce and then by the threats and intimidation levelled at Lydia herself.

The challenge presented by the ever increasing threats to Lydia and her workforce is something that Eden relishes and embraces with enthusiasm, as well as bringing out his inborn desire to protect. The romance, which develops slowly over the entire story, sends shivers down the spine, but in Stella Riley’s inimitable style is never allowed to take-over, this being very much a historical romance with the emphasis on ‘historical’. Ms. Riley’s characters are superbly well drawn and they quickly become our friends; we love them; admire them; feel for them; worry for them. It’s something the author does incredibly well, we meet actual people, who lived and contributed to the past, but so well developed are her fictitious personalities that it’s easy to forget which are historical and which are figments of her very fertile imagination.

Stella Riley’s story has encompassed everything; fantastically well researched and richly described historic detail, characters to love and swoon over and an incredibly well devised plot that had me guessing until the end. It’s intricate, plausible and intelligent, displaying her unique talent for ratcheting up the drama until we’re left gasping from the sheer ingenuity and thrill of it all. As is always the case with any story written by this author, the relationships between her characters, especially the men, are sensitively and tenderly grown, their camaraderie beautiful, moving and at other times extremely funny. Ms. Riley has a very dry wit and some of the scenes between Eden and his brother, Tobias, are especially touching and amusing in turns.

What a fascinating period the seventeenth century was, and since embarking on my Stella Riley binge, I am continuously asking myself how I could have failed to be interested in this vital period in English history. Ms. Riley’s scholarship is incredible; this is such a complicated period to get to grips with and her descriptions, knowledge and quite obvious love for it shines throughout. How can we, the reader, fail to be infected by this author’s hard work, enthusiasm, knowledge and outstanding writing skill? I can’t recommend the Roundheads and Cavaliers series highly enough and fully intend to go back and read Garland of Straw and The King’s Falcon because it is not to be missed.

SATURDAY SPOTLIGHT: Lords of Misrule (Roundheads & Cavaliers #4) by Stella Riley

Lords of Misrule March 2016

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Still tied to his desk in the Intelligence Office, Colonel Eden Maxwell has become increasingly disenchanted with both Oliver Cromwell and his own daily existence; and with the advent of new Royalist conspiracies, he despairs of ever getting away.

Then a brick hurled through the window of a small workshop sets in motion a new and unexpected chain of events. After all, who would want to hurt Lydia Neville – a young widow, giving work and self-respect to maimed war veterans considered unemployable elsewhere? But when the assaults in Duck Lane escalate, threatening the life and remaining limbs of some of Eden’s former troopers, finding the culprit becomes personal.

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

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

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

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We’re pleased to welcome Stella Riley back to Romantic Historical Reviews to talk about the latest instalment in her Roundheads and Cavaliers series – LORDS OF MISRULE.

So here, finally, is the book I’ve been asked for more times than I can count since I started re-issuing the Roundheads & Cavaliers series. Affectionately known as “The Eden Project”, the story starts about eight months after the end of The King’s Falcon on the day Oliver Cromwell becomes Lord Protector… and our hero is in a very bad mood.

I didn’t find Lords of Misrule an easy book to write. Eden’s age (he’d have been thirty-five in 1654) defined the period in which the story had to be set if he wasn’t to be well on the way to his fortieth birthday before finding his happy ending! So here we are in the period between the start of the Protectorate in December ’53 and the Rule of the Major Generals in the summer of ’55…and national affairs aren’t going any better than Eden’s private life.

The Lord Protector’s reign didn’t exactly begin in a blaze of glory, and by the time Cromwell finally called Parliament, his popularity was registering at several points below zero. And the Cavaliers weren’t doing any better. They hatched endless failed plots to seize London or Scotland or to assassinate Cromwell – while, in Paris, Charles II and Ned Hyde created the Sealed Knot to coordinate Royalist conspiracies…but it never actually did anything.

As a consequence of all this, much of Misrule revolves around Eden’s developing relationship with Lydia Neville and the seemingly inexplicable dangers surrounding her. The workshop in Duck Lane is a lorinery – a place where bridles, bits, stirrups, and other pieces of harness are made – and where Lydia employs disabled ex-soldiers. She’s twenty-seven years old, nobody’s fool and, as Eden soon discovers, has a spine of pure steel.

Fans of Gabriel Brandon will enjoy meeting him again as, with the utmost reluctance and a good deal of irritation, he takes his seat in Cromwell’s first Parliament. Toby Maxwell plays a much larger role than previously – attracting women like flies and rarely inclined to brush them off. And there are numerous other guest appearances; Dorothy Maxwell, Luciano del Santi, Ashley Peverell, and Sir William Compton – to name but a few.

Through the latter stages of Lords of Misrule I’ve also had my first taste of audiobook creation with the Rockliffe series. This has been a roller-coaster ride; exhilarating, sometimes scary, and quite intense. It has also been an immense pleasure working with Alex Wyndham. All three audios were released within a three-month period – Alex having chosen to work on them back-to-back in order to “stay in the zone.” No one who has listened to anything he’s done will need to be told how supremely talented he is. His performances throughout are outstanding – with The Player, thanks to the numerous subtleties and narrator-traps woven into the text, being particularly impressive. I’m looking forward to collaborating with him again later this year when we’ll be getting to grips with A Splendid Defiance. Meanwhile, I’m contemplating a fourth (and probably final) book in the Rockliffe series.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

stella riley

Stella Riley trained as a teacher in London and after living in numerous UK locations has now settled in Kent.

She enjoys Amateur Dramatics, dancing, reading and travel.

After a long break in her writing career, she has published her back-catalogue as e-books. A Splendid Defiance, The Black MadonnaGarland of Straw and The King’s Falcon will shortly be joined by Lords of Misrule, Book 4 of the Roundheads & Cavaliers series. When not writing, she enjoys travel, the theatre, dancing and reading.

For all the latest information or merely to drop in for a chat, join her at https://stellariley.wordpress.com

AUDIO REVIEW: The Mésalliance (Rockliffe #2) by Stella Riley, narrated by Alex Wyndham

The Mésalliance audio

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon.

The Duke of Rockliffe is 36 years old, head of his house, and responsible for his young sister, Nell. He is, therefore, under some pressure to choose a suitable bride. Whilst accompanying Nell to what he speedily comes to regard as the house-party from hell, he meets Adeline Kendrick – acid-tongued, no more than passably good-looking yet somehow alluring. Worse still, her relatives are quite deplorable – from a spoiled, ill-natured cousin to a sadistic, manipulative uncle. As a prospective bride, therefore, Adeline is out of the question. Until, that is, a bizarre turn of events cause the Duke to throw caution to the wind and make what his world will call a mésalliance.

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Publisher and Release Date: Stella Riley, March 2016

RHR Classifications:
Time and Setting: England, 1775
Genre: Historical Romance
Heat Level: 1
Reviewer Rating: Content: 5 stars/Narration: 5 stars

Review by Wendy

I adored The Mésalliance, the second in the Rockliffe series, even more than The Parfit Knight, if that’s possible. How can Stella Riley keep improving upon perfection? Every book of hers I read, or in this case listen to, enthrals me more.

The Duke of Rockliffe, whom we met in The Parfit Knight, is doing his brotherly duty and reluctantly attending a house party with his younger sister, Nell. At this party he makes the acquaintance of Nell’s friends, twins Diana and Althea Franklin. He is also surprised to see a young woman whom he had met a few times eight years previously. At that time Adeline Kendrick was a girl of sixteen, quite evidently gently born, but happily running wild. On investigation he is told that she is an orphan and lives with her paternal grandfather. The girl had made enough of an impression on him that he remembers her, but although the young woman he sees now is recognisable, she is also drastically changed. A close relative of the Franklin family, Adeline has been coerced into becoming the much despised companion of her aunt, and is treated little better than a servant. She has learnt – the hard way – to hold her tongue, but occasionally, using her intelligence and quick wit, is able to deliver a well deserved barb to her persecutors, and in the process retains her dignity and self respect. There is conniving and matchmaking in the air; Diana, who has always been encouraged by her mother to believe herself incomparable, is in reality a beautiful, vain, spoilt brat. With an eye to becoming a duchess, she attempts to compromise Rock into marriage, but these machinations go spectacularly wrong and instead results in his making an offer of marriage to Adeline.

I loved the central protagonists, especially Rockliffe, who is the epitome of the perfect hero. Tall, dark and handsome, he is urbane, poised and unerringly courteous, except when he is administering a suavely, softly-spoken set-down so perfectly delivered that often the recipients have no idea that they have been insulted. He has oodles of integrity and an innate, deep down kindness, which is shown time and time again as the story progresses. Then there is Adeline, on the face of it a completely unsuitable duchess. She is no beauty, yet she has captured Rock’s attention in a way that no other woman ever has, something he is at a loss to understand. As their marriage settles down, her cool tranquility, understated elegance, intelligence and that indefinable something I can only call sex appeal, become even more captivating; and as she gains in self-assurance, Rock falls more deeply under her spell and finds it increasingly difficult to maintain his legendary self-control around her.

The conniving of Diana has set the scene for the events that follow, rather like the collapsing of a house of cards, where every action has an effect on the next. The marriage between Rockliffe and Adeline is only really the beginning as we listen in awe to Stella Riley’s intensely dramatic and emotional story ratcheting up to a terrifically explosive culmination which is so skilfully achieved that I wondered where it all came from! Emotions are so raw by the time we reach the end that I defy anyone not to feel deeply moved and also not to have to wipe away a tear or two. In fact, I cannot think of another book that I have read with a more emotionally satisfying ending.

Alex Wyndham’s acting talents and smooth, deliciously pleasing voice are particularly suited to this beautifully written, character driven story which adapts itself so perfectly from print to audio. So sensitively does he interpret Ms. Riley’s rollercoaster ride of emotions that it is obvious that the author and her narrator are completely in-tune. I was especially moved by his portrayal of the swoon-worthy Rockliffe, which is spot-on; as are his interpretations of the group of admirable, honourable and gorgeous friends, Amberley, Jack Ingram and Harry Caversham. Male friendships are something Stella Riley writes particularly well in all of her novels and in this one I think she has surpassed even herself. Alex Wyndham not only captures and highlights the affection between these men but we are also never in any doubt as to whom we are listening to during their interactions. Mr Wyndham’s portrayal of Rock’s gradual unravelling as we head towards the intensely moving climax of the story is touching to say the least. By the end, I was left feeling wrung-out but well satisfied and I wait in anticipation for the release of The Player, the next in this series. Stella Riley has shown her deeply insightful understanding of human nature in The Mésalliance , and if you’re looking for intelligent writing, a cleverly contrived plot, plenty of angst and a soul deep, spine-tingling romance then look no further, because I promise you won’t be disappointed.

AUDIO REVIEW: The Parfit Knight (Rockliffe #1) by Stella Riley, narrated by Alex Wyndham

the parfit knight audio
This title is available for download from Audible via Amazon

When the Marquis of Amberley’s coach is waylaid by highwaymen and his coachman shot, he is forced to take shelter at the first house he finds and is subsequently trapped there for a week by a severe snowstorm.

Oakleigh Manor is the home of Rosalind Vernon who lives alone but for her devoted servants and an ill-natured parrot, cut off from the outside world by the tragic result of a childhood accident. But Rosalind is brave and bright and totally devoid of self-pity – and it is these qualities which, as the days pass and the snow continues to fall, touch Amberley’s heart.

On his return to London, the Marquis persuades Rosalind’s brother, Philip, to bring her to town for a taste of society, despite her handicap. But the course of Amberley’s courtship is far from smooth. Philip Vernon actively dislikes him; Rosalind appears to be falling under the spell of the suavely elegant Duke of Rockliffe; and worse still, Amberley is haunted by a dark and terrible secret that, if revealed, may cause him to lose Rosalind forever.

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Publisher and Release Date: January 2016 by Stella Riley

RHR Classifications: Georgian Historical Romance
Time and Setting: England, 1774
Heat Level: 1
Reviewer Rating: 5 stars

Review by Lady Wesley

This is my first Stella Riley book, but it most assuredly will not be the last. Despite recommendations from several friends, I had put off trying this author’s work, but when she engaged British actor Alex Wyndham to narrate the audio version, I jumped at the chance to listen.

Because I am a word nerd, my first task was to look up the meaning of “parfit,” which turns out to be from Chaucer and is an English variation for the French word for “perfect.” In this book, Dominic, the Marquis of Amberley is handsome, charming, intelligent, and kind – a perfect knight to swoop in and rescue lonesome Rosalind Vernon. Dominic is a bit of a rake, but not nearly so much as society may believe. He doesn’t really care about the ton’s opinion and makes no effort to correct some of the more outrageous tales about his exploits.

Rosalind is twenty-two, unmarried, and blind. Ever since the accident that caused her blindness twelve years earlier, she has lived virtually alone at Oakleigh Manor, surrounded by familiar things, a devoted staff, and a raucous parrot with the vocabulary of a sailor. Her parents are dead, and her elder brother, a recently sold-out army officer, is not on the scene. Rosalind is content, however, with being loved and protected from the outside world. She has not one iota of self-pity, but in reality she is living the unfulfilling life of the proverbial bird in a gilded cage.

Dominic appears at the doors of Oakleigh Manor during a blizzard after highwaymen have severely wounded his coachman during an attempted robbery. Upon meeting the lady of the house, Dominic is gobsmacked by her beauty and astonished to learn that she is blind. Although he knows that it is improper for him to be staying in the home of an unchaperoned single lady, he rationalizes that the weather and his coachman’s injuries compel him to be on the premises. He is also just a bit intrigued by Rosalind and somewhat appalled at what he considers her brother’s unfeeling neglect.

During the days that follow, Dominic enjoys prompting Rosalind to step outside her comfort zone. They spend hours talking, go on little expeditions, and have a snowball fight. Dominic treats her with respect, like a fully grown woman and not a helpless child. Eventually, he confesses to her that he does feel pity for her, not because of her blindness but because of her solitary, reclusive life at Oakleigh.

Rosalind slowly blossoms in Amberley’s company and is intrigued by his suggestion that she should insist upon being brought to London for a season. The most beautiful scene in the book is when he is teaching her to dance and suddenly realizes that he has fallen in love with her. It’s always fun to read a story where the more traditional roles are reversed – he is a world-weary rake plunged into romantic love for the first time in his life. For her part, Rosalind is smitten by Amberley, but she has no expectations and thus no thoughts of true love.

Storm clouds appear on the horizon, however, as Amberley suddenly departs Oakleigh Manor for London, where he encounters Rosalind’s brother, Lord Phillip, who knows Amberley’s reputation and considers him totally unsuitable for his sister. Rosalind arrives in London as well, and things begin to get complicated, but I won’t spoil it by revealing more. There is a Big Secret (which at one point becomes fairly easy to figure out), the results of which are perhaps too easily forgiven. Rosalind and Amberley, however, are both such good, kind, honorable people that it is not too difficult to believe that they are able to overcome the obstacles to their HEA.

One of the joys of this story, besides the lovely romance, is the introduction of compelling secondary characters. Amberley’s best friend and potential suitor for Rosalind, the Duke of Rockcliffe, is so intriguing that we want to see more of him – a desire that Ms. Riley fulfills in the next book, The Mésalliance. Lord Phillip is by turns kind and infuriating, as he doggedly refuses to see any good in Amberley. His fiancée Isabel is a strong, independent, sympathetic woman, but her brother is her polar opposite – selfish and deceptive – and the closest thing to a villain in the story. Each of these characters is so well-drawn that their appearance midway through the story does not in the least detract from the main plot. And finally, there is comic relief from the ill-tempered parrot, Broody, a shameless scene-stealer who indirectly inspires a duel.

Narrator Alex Wyndham gives his typical first-class performance. As I have discovered in other books, he has the ability to subtly change his voice to suit a variety of characters – from the French dowager Duchess of Amberley to her sexy son to, yes, Broody. I have just about run out of superlatives to describe the excellence of his work narrating historical romances, so I will say simply that when you have listened to one of his narrations you will want to hear them all.

I am so glad to have finally discovered Stella Riley and look forward to the next two books in this series coming out in audio. I’ll be keeping my fingers crossed that her widely-respected English Civil War series will be forthcoming. As for The Parfit Knight, it is just a parfit historical romance.

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

The Player (Rockliffe #3) by Stella Riley

The Player

Purchase Links: Amazon US * ~ * ~ * Amazon UK * ~ * ~ * Smashwords.

Tragedy drove him into unwilling exile. Death demands his reluctant return.

In the decade between, he has answered to many names and amassed a variety of secrets.

Now the actor known to Paris as “L’Inconnu” must resume his real identity and become Francis Adrian Sinclair Devereux, Earl of Sarre … a man he no longer knows how to be and whose name, thanks to the malice of a friend turned enemy, remains tarnished by an old scandal.

Revenge, so long avoided, slithers temptingly from the shadows.
Grand-daughter of a wealthy wool-merchant, Caroline Maitland is not finding her Society debut either easy or enjoyable … but, to Marcus Sheringham, she is the perfect solution to his crushing mountain of debt.

Knowing she will be married for her money, Caroline never believed she would find love; but neither did she bargain for a certain charming French highwayman … and a surprising turn of events.

The stage is set, the cast assembled and the Duke of Rockliffe waits for the curtain to rise.

In the wings, Lord Sarre prepares to make his entrance.

He doesn’t expect to be greeted with applause.

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Publisher and Release Date: Stella Riley, 6th March 2015

Time and Setting: Georgian England
Genre: Historical Romance
Heat Level: 1.5
Reviewer Rating: 5 stars

Review by Caz

Taking a break from her epic Civil War series, Stella Riley returns to Georgian England for The Player, the third book in her Rocklliffe Series.

Eagle eyed readers of the previous novel, The Mésalliance, may recall mention of a celebrated and hugely talented actor gracing the theatres of Paris, known as L’ Inconnnu (The Unknown). At one point in the story, the Duke of Rockliffe recalls the rumour that this actor is, in fact, an English nobleman whose life has been tainted by tragedy and scandal.

Francis Adrian Sinclair Devereux, now the Earl of Sarre, fled England following the tragic death of his fiancée when he was just twenty-one. Although her death was accidental, Adrian was suspected of murder – even by his father who didn’t want to hear any explanations and ordered him to leave the country or face the consequences. Exiled and practically penniless, Adrian disappeared, cut ties with his family and proceeded to re-invent himself.

But ten years later, he receives a letter that changes everything. Although he was the heir to the title, he was content for his younger brother to assume the reins of the earldom upon the death of their father some years previously. But his brother’s recent death means that Adrian must return to claim his rightful inheritance. He doesn’t particularly want to be an earl, but he does recognise the responsibility he owes to his tenants and the people who depend on the Earls of Sarre for their livelihood.

Deciding that one of the things incumbent upon him is to take a wife, Adrian travels to London in order to re-enter society. He doesn’t expect to be welcomed with open arms considering the rumours that still dog him, so is surprised to find himself warmly accepted by the set which includes the Marquess of Amberley and Lord Philip Vernon (from The Parfit Knight) as well as his old friend Nicholas Wynstanton (the Duke of Rockliffe’s younger brother). He very soon comes face to face with his former best friend, Marcus Sheringham – the man who seduced Adrian’s fiancée and then accused him of murder. Having learned some months before his return that Sheringham is deeply in debt, Adrian is just waiting for the right time to make his move and take his revenge, once and for all.

When he learns that Sheringham is dangling after Miss Caroline Maitland, an heiress with a dowry of one hundred thousand pounds, Adrian hatches a daring plan to keep her out of the other man’s reach. But he misjudges the lengths to which Sheringham will go in his desperation to secure the lady’s fortune and realises there is only one way he can ensure the man’s downfall and at the same time, protect Caroline – whom he has come to like and respect – from marriage to someone who will make her miserable.

Caroline is something of a wallflower at the beginning of the story; her clothes don’t suit her and are overly fussy and she is shy in company, knowing that most of the people she meets in society look down on her because her money comes from trade. Yet that’s not who she really is, and she berates herself for fading into the background rather than asserting herself. She’s clever and perceptive, with a sharp wit and a kind heart; and knows she deserves better than to spend the rest of her life bound by duty, responsibility and Making the Best of Things. Like any young woman, she longs for romance and adventure – never dreaming to find them in the arms of a mysterious, seductively-voiced French highwayman.

Ms Riley’s heroes are always captivating men – attractive, witty, intelligent and ruthless when necessary but with a vulnerable streak that only those closest to them ever see. Adrian Devereux certainly fits that bill – and when we add his rather unique acting skills into the mix, we have another gorgeous hero to fall in love with. He still feels the betrayal of his friend and his family keenly, but more importantly, he’s a man who has spent so long playing a part – a variety of parts, in fact – that he isn’t quite sure who he is any more. Not quite sure exactly who the Earl of Sarre is either, Adrian adopts an austere persona, presenting himself as a controlled, emotionless man as a way of deflecting the gossip that will inevitably accompany his reappearance in society. But he’s struggling to find his true self, and it’s not until Caroline enters his life that he starts to rediscover the man he is meant to be.

The Player is a truly delightful read with a strong storyline, a well-written, tender romance and a cast of well-developed supporting characters. The two protagonists are attractive and engaging, and while the single love scene is fairly tame by today’s standards, there is no lack of heat between them. The undercurrent of sexual tension that simmers between them is delicious, and although their relationship develops over a fairly short period of time, it doesn’t feel rushed or improbable.

The author writes with intelligence and humour, and her customary eye for historical detail is much in evidence in her descriptions of the fashions and customs of the period. She has a lot of fun in this story, creating different characters as played by her actor/earl-hero and taking a tongue-in-cheek swipe at a familiar “hero-in-disguise” trope that certainly made me smile.

If you enjoyed Ms Riley’s other Georgian romances, then you’ll certainly enjoy The Player. If this is your first experience with this author, then The Player works perfectly well as a standalone – but be warned –her books are addictive. Once you’ve read this one, you’ll want to go back and read the other books in this series and then devour everything Ms Riley has ever written!

SATURDAY SPOTLIGHT: The Player (Rockliffe #3) by Stella Riley

The Player

Tragedy drove him into unwilling exile. Death demands his reluctant return.

In the decade between, he has answered to many names and amassed a variety of secrets.

Now the actor known to Paris as L’Inconnu must resume his real identity and become Francis Adrian Sinclair Devereux, Earl of Sarre … a man he no longer knows how to be and whose name, thanks to the malice of a friend turned enemy, remains tarnished by an old scandal.

Revenge, so long avoided, slithers temptingly from the shadows.
Grand-daughter of a wealthy wool-merchant, Caroline Maitland is not finding her Society debut either easy or enjoyable … but, to Marcus Sheringham, she is the perfect solution to his crushing mountain of debt.

Knowing she will be married for her money, Caroline never believed she would find love; but neither did she bargain for a certain charming French highwayman … and a surprising turn of events.

The stage is set, the cast assembled and the Duke of Rockliffe waits for the curtain to rise.

In the wings, Lord Sarre prepares to make his entrance.

He doesn’t expect to be greeted with applause.

Purchase Links: Amazon US * ~ * ~ * Amazon UK * ~ * ~ * Smashwords.

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Today, we’re delighted to welcome author Stella Riley back to Romantic Historical Reviews to tell us a little about her new historical romance set in Georgian England.

Years ago, when I first wrote The Mésalliance, the publisher insisted on severe cuts so that it would fit into their standard 192 pages – and, painful as this was, I did it. However, I always thought that the book deserved better and so, when I started to prepare the e-version, I spent a great deal of time restoring it to what it should have been; and because I recognised the possibility that I might want to add another book to the series, Rockliffe’s evening at the Comédie Française in Paris contains the loose thread that would help me to do so.

The result is The Player.

He had many incarnations. There were half a dozen he used on a regular basis, all of them ingrained and as easy to slip into as a well-worn boot. Then there were the roles he could create at will when the occasion demanded it and even, sometimes, when it didn’t. And finally there was the one he had been born with; the one that, due to a sudden tragic turn of events, he would shortly be forced to resume … if only he could remember who that had been.

So … I wanted to feature Rockcliffe again and I had a hero possessed of unusual talents and a damaged and damaging back-story. Only then a third character stepped out of a painting, refused to step back again – and demanded to be the book-cover.

‘Come tread a measure with Claude Duvall.’ His voice was a silky-soft invitation. ‘Dance with me.’

What girl could refuse just one moment of moonlit magic in a life otherwise composed of ‘Doing What Is Expected’ and ‘Making The Best Of Things’? Caroline couldn’t.

Making her debut at the advanced age of twenty-two meant that she no longer had any romantic illusions about being swept off her feet by a dashingly handsome fellow – noble or otherwise. She knew that the only reason any titled gentleman would marry a girl who came from a background of cotton mills and trade was the money she brought with her. In essence, Caroline didn’t mind this. Or not much, anyway.

Inevitably, The Player contains some old friends as well as introducing new ones. Lord Nicholas Wynstanton, Rock’s younger brother, makes his bow – as does Sarre’s friend, Bertrand and his business-partner, Aristide Delacroix. Meet Caroline’s annoying and frequently embarrassing Mama and her paid chaperone, Lily Brassington. And then there’s Marcus, Lord Sheringham … whose role in the ensuing drama is pivotal.

Lord Sarre feared that return would lead him to exhume what exile had allowed him to leave buried. He wasn’t going back because he wanted to. He was going because his presence had become an unavoidable duty.

He doubted if anyone would welcome him.

At some point during the writing, I expect to fall in love with my heroes and Sarre was no exception – though, because he finds playing a role easier than being himself, it took a little longer than usual and came about in a way I’d neither planned nor anticipated. But there’s nothing like a surprise present, is there?

EXCERPT

The dreams were back.

Dreams that remembered what his waking self only wanted to forget.

And all because of a letter.

It was the night before his twenty-second birthday and three days before the wedding. At first, he wasn’t sure what woke him. Then he realised that the door to his chamber stood open and, outlined against the darkness outside it, was a still figure in trailing white. For an instant, with sleep still fogging his brain, he thought it was a ghost but, even as shock propelled him upright, he recognised Evie’s husky, faintly unsteady laugh and saw her beckon him, then vanish like the apparition he’d briefly thought her.

The dream telescoped time as she led him through the semi-derelict north wing and out on to the roof. Then everything swung sharply back into focus.

She climbed on the low parapet, her body in its thin draperies haloed by the rising sun and the rippling rose-gold hair gleaming about her shoulders. Instinctively, he reached out to pull her back but she held him off saying, ‘No. If you wanted to catch me, you should have run faster.’

Her eyes were too bright and her voice too brittle. He’d seen her over-excited and highly-strung before – but never like this. She frightened him as much in the dream as she’d often done in reality.

He tried to speak but nothing came out.

And then, with a sudden dazzling smile, she said, ‘I’m not going to marry you.’

The words hit him like a punch in the stomach.

‘What?’

‘I’m not going to marry you. Don’t you want to know why?’

He didn’t. He wanted her to stop. He wanted her to laugh and say she was joking. He wanted the alarm bells ringing inside his head to fall silent.

He said, ‘I imagine you’ve brought me out here to tell me.’

‘Yes.’ The expression in the lovely eyes changed into something he didn’t recognise and she took her time about replying. Then she said baldly, ‘I’m pregnant.’

The sense of it was too far off to grasp.

‘You can’t be. We’ve never …’ He fought the hard knot that was forming in his chest. ‘Evie, if this is some game –‘

‘It’s no game.’ She took a graceful dance-step along the broad, flat ledge and pivoted to face him. ‘And it isn’t about you. I’m telling you that I have a lover and that I’m pregnant by him. I could have kept it to myself and married you anyway. Would you have preferred that?’

‘I don’t … I’d have preferred there was nothing to tell.’ His brain still couldn’t accept that this was really happening. ‘Who is it?’

‘Guess.’

‘I can’t. Who is he?’

‘Someone you know. Someone so very unlike you, he could be your opposite.’ Her voice grew rhythmically hypnotic, as if she either had no idea of the torment she was inflicting or simply didn’t care. ‘One so dark, the other so fair. One heir to a high-ranking title, the other already possessed of a lesser one.  Need I go on – or can you guess yet?’

He could but he didn’t want to. Bile rose sickeningly in his throat and he said chokingly, ‘Say his name.’

‘I don’t need to, do I? You know.’

‘I shall know when I hear you say it.’

And so, with a smile and a shrug, she tossed him the name that ought to have been inconceivable but somehow wasn’t.

Sometimes, when he was really lucky, this was where the dream let go of him and he woke drenched in sweat, his breath coming in retching gasps. Mostly, these days, it held him in its grip until the bitter end.

GIVEAWAY

TO WIN AN eCOPY OF THE PLAYER, ENTER AT RAFFLECOPTER, BELOW. THE GIVEAWAY IS OPEN FOR 7 DAYS AND THE WINNER WILL BE NOTIFIED SHORTLY AFTER THE CLOSING DATE.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

stella rileyMuch as I love the seventeenth century, I felt the need for a short break from it after finishing The King’s Falcon – which, as many readers will know, was my first new title in a very long time. I’m returning to it now as I begin work on the fourth book in the series but, for the last few months, The Player has provided a very enjoyable holiday.

When not writing, I enjoy travel, the theatre, dancing and reading.

My husband and I are about to celebrate our first anniversary of living in the ancient Cinque Port of Sandwich in Kent.

Those readers who know that I lived in Banbury whilst writing A Splendid Defiance and Yorkshire during the creation of Garland of Straw won’t be particularly surprised to find that Lord Sarre, alias The Player, has a house on Sandwich Bay. He invites you to visit him there.

For all the latest information or merely to drop in for a chat, join me at https://stellariley.wordpress.com

The King’s Falcon (Cavaliers and Roundheads #3) by Stella Riley

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

Following his coronation in Scotland, Charles ll leads an army south to reclaim his throne but the dream ends in a crushing defeat at Worcester, leaving no alternative but flight. With little more than the clothes on their backs, Ashley Peverell and Francis Langley manage to reach Paris where Ashley, known to some as The Falcon, resumes his under-cover and unpaid work for the King.

Beautiful, stubborn and street-wise, Athenais de Galzain has risen from the slums of Paris to become the Marais Theatre’s leading actress. Unfortunately, this brings her to the attention of the Marquis d’Auxerre – an influential nobleman of unsavoury reputation who is accustomed to taking what he wants.

While the Prince’s Fronde flares up anew and turns the city into a battle-ground, Francis is bullied into helping his sister, Celia, obtain a divorce from Eden Maxwell. Currently working as a cryptographer in the Commonwealth’s intelligence service, Eden watches Cromwell creating a king-sized space for himself and begins to question the cause to which he has devoted a decade of his life.

From the first, Ashley and Athenais are drawn together with the unstoppable force of two stars colliding; a force which Ashley, lacking both money and prospects and aware of the frequency with which he’s required to risk his life, cannot deny but resolves to conceal. He has only two priorities; his work for Charles ll and his determination to protect Athenais from the Marquis. Both are to test him to the limits.

‘The King’s Falcon’ follows the Cavalier’s last crusade and the bitter, poverty-stricken exile that followed it, whilst also taking us behind the scenes at the Theatre du Marais. There is danger, intrigue and romance in this sequel to The Black Madonna and Garland of Straw.

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Publisher and Release Date: Stella Riley, 3 October 2014

RHR Classifications:
Time and Setting: England, Scotland and France, 1650-1652
Genre: Romantic Historical Fiction
Heat Level: 1.5
Reviewer Rating: 5 stars

Review by Caz

The King’s Falcon is the long-awaited third instalment of Ms Riley’s projected quartet of novels set during the tumultuous period of the English Civil War. The two earlier books – The Black Madonna and Garland of Straw – were originally published in the 1990s and revised and republished digitally in 2013, so this is Ms Riley’s first new book in around twenty years. And yes – it was definitely worth the wait.

Like both the books that precede, it, The King’s Falcon is a very well-researched piece of historical fiction which has, at its heart, a strongly characterised and well-developed romance.

The eponymous Falcon was seen briefly in Garland of Straw, and is otherwise known as Ashley Peverell, a Colonel in the Royalist army. His stunning good looks and outward appearance of relaxed amiability hide a sharp intellect and a ruthlessness he has often put to use in the service of King and Country in his work as an intelligence gatherer and spy. Arriving in Scotland to witness the coronation of King Charles II, Ashley meets and strikes up a friendship with Francis Langley (also featured in the previous books), whose sister married Eden Maxwell, now a Colonel in the New Model Army. The story follows Ashley and Francis through the final and disastrous Worcester campaign of 1651, which was the last-ditch effort by the Royalists to re-instate the monarchy, and which ultimately led to Charles’ fleeing to safety in France.

With the king in exile and the Royalist cause seemingly defeated, the story after Worcester focuses more on the personal stories of Ashley and Francis, with both men becoming romantically involved and Ashley undertaking more covert and dangerous work on behalf of the king. Life for a couple of down-on-their-luck soldiers isn’t easy and the two are living practically hand-to-mouth in a dingy Parisian garret. Neither is rich – Ashley is a second son whose older brother switched sides at the last minute and Francis’ estates were sequestered by the Parliamentarians, so returning to England isn’t an option, and paid employment is almost impossible to come by.

On a previous trip to the city, Ashley had briefly caught a glimpse of a strikingly beautiful young actress at the Théâtre du Marais. She’d been playing a bit-part, but her looks and stage presence drew the eye of every man in the place – and Ashley hasn’t quite been able to put her out of his mind. Returning to Paris, he discovers the enchanting Mademoiselle Athenais de Galzain has now become a leading actress at the Marais, and he and Francis venture backstage one evening to meet her.

Athenais may be the toast of the Parisian theatrical world, but she’s a girl from the streets who does what she must to survive and make her way in life. Her father is an ex-soldier who spends most of his time in his cups, and her new found fame has brought her to the attention of the dissolute Marquis d’Auxerre, who intends to make her his mistress. Ever practical, Athenais has always known the time would come when she may have to consider taking such a step simply to safeguard the career she’s worked so hard to build.

But meeting Ashley Peverell changes everything, and Athenais finds herself drowning in an infatuation the like of which she’s never experienced. Ashley, too, is deeply smitten, and with circumstances conspiring to bring the pair into almost daily contact with each other, he finds it increasingly difficult to keep his hands off the lovely Athenais. He’s practically destitute, and his work for the king often sees him in life-threatening situations, so feeling he has nothing to offer her he determines to keep her safe while keeping his distance.

The stage is set for a heartbreakingly sweet romance, but as Ashley and Athenais tiptoe around each other, Ms Riley never loses sight of the bigger picture, reminding the reader of the tumultuous times in which her characters are living. In France, the power struggle between the royal houses of France (some of them backed by forces from Spain and the Netherlands) erupts into violence on the Streets of Paris, leading to the temporary closure of the Marais. And in England, Eden Maxwell, now working as a cryptographer for Cromwell’s intelligence service, uncovers a plot which could have far-reaching consequences.

The King’s Falcon is a well-paced, beautifully-written story in which the author’s extensive research and breadth of knowledge of the period really shine through. Ms Riley’s prose is as crisp and incisive as it ever was, her eye for historical detail is flawless, and she weaves her multiple plot strands together seamlessly and with great skill. The principal romance is by turns sweet and sensual, and is filled with tenderness, humour and a real sense of deep trust and affection that enables Ashley and Athenais to support each other through some terrible times. Each of the principals is strongly characterised and the author has once again presented readers with a hero to swoon over in the form of the dashing Colonel Peverell. Ashley is fiercely intelligent, witty and deeply honourable, a military man with no desire to be a “hero”, but whose covert actions on behalf of his king surely give him the right to that particular epithet.

Athenais is similarly well fleshed-out and given a most intriguing backstory. She’s a young heroine (just twenty) but she’s an old head on young shoulders; pragmatic and quick-witted, she’s nobody’s fool, although she’d be the first to admit that her wits tend to go flying out the window when confronted with a certain handsome English officer.

I’ve had rather a soft-spot for Francis Langley since we first met him in The Black Madonna. In that book, he was a rather self-absorbed, pleasure-loving young man without many serious thoughts in his head. But he’s grown up, his experiences of warfare surely enough to change any man, and over the course of three novels, Francis has become more considered and aware of his situation and his own strengths and shortcomings. It’s wonderful to see him coming into his own here, as he finds his niche and the perfect outlet for his talents in his work for the Marais – and to see him meet his match at last.

This is the third book in a series, but I wouldn’t say that it’s absolutely necessary to have read the other two – although they’re so good, I can’t imagine why anyone wouldn’t want to read them! But because there are a few characters from them who either appear in this one, or are mentioned, I would definitely recommend doing so.

The King’s Falcon is a superb read, and I was completely captivated from first page to last. On a purely personal level, I’m thrilled that one of my favourite authors has resumed her writing career after such a long break, and following such a strong return, make no apologies for saying that I’m going to be very impatiently waiting for the next book in the series.

Warning: There is one (not graphic) scene of sexual assault in the book.