The Book Gourmet

Book reviews à la bookworm...The good, the bad, and everything in between.



Professional Reader Reviews Published

Tempt the Flames by Marnee Blake

Tempt the Flames - Marnee Blake

Ten years ago, the lives of two families imploded. Two men died in a fire, one was blamed for both deaths and friendships crumbled.

Lance Roberts is back in Redmond, Oregon. First, to get his father's old job and second, to uncover the truth about the death of his and his best friend's father, his father was also blamed for. He doesn't really expect a warm welcome, but he also doesn't expect threats and sabotage...Or falling (again) for his ex-best friend's sister who also happens to be his trainer.

I liked the blurb of this book...But that's pretty much all I liked. Let me put it this way. This book was the reading equivalent of puffed rice cakes. Bland, tasteless and odorless.

The characters were bland, the story was bland, the pacing was poor, the suspense lacked any oomph, the villains were one too many, the romance was lackluster at best (I preferred the angst before they got together)...

It failed to capture my attention and I was bored by the time I got to chapter 4. I admit to only skimming the rest of it, because I kept hoping something would click.

It didn't.

The Killings At Badger's Drift by Caroline Graham

The Killings At Badger's Drift  - Caroline Graham

An old lady witnesses something in the woods as she's searching for an orchid. Something so terrible, someone is willing to kill her to keep it hidden. But as soon as the police is involved, thanks to the lady's nosy neighbor, more and more secrets are coming out...

An interesting murder mystery with multiple possible suspects, loads of red herrings and a surprising final reveal.

Unfortunately, it was also very slow with a quite a plodding pace and some of the filler scenes were rather boring and dull.

I much prefer the series, actually, including the characterization of Barnaby and Troy.

Tribute by Nora Roberts

Tribute - Nora Roberts

Cilla McGowan, washed-up star, comes to Virginia to restore her famous grandmother's house. But someone doesn't want Cilla around, determined to do anything to drive her out of town. But she's not alone; her hot and quirky neighbor, Ford Sawyer, a comic book author, is close at hand to help...And to keep her in Virginia.

What makes this book (if you saw the TV movie, the book is way better, even though you know who did it) memorable is Ford Sawyer. He deserves five stars all on his own. I love the guy. What's not to love after all. He was nerdy, quirky, hot, protective, loyal, deceptively laid back and relaxed and so damned in love it made me want to go out and find me a Ford of my own.
Compared to him, Cilla, the heroine, paled and I must say I didn't really know her, not even in the end. It's not every day the heroine plays such a second fiddle to the hero. She was rather formulaic, a pretty standard NR heroine with a chip on her shoulder and an independent streak. But she was rather bland and generic.
Heck, Spock the dog had more personality than she did. The supporting cast was more interesting than she was. I don't know how to explain it, she left me quite cold and disinterested.

The suspense was good, even though I knew who the villain was. If I didn't, the identity would've been a huge surprise, something I wouldn't have seen coming, which is always a plus. The big bad was pleasantly twisted, wearing a perfectly innocuous mask, which made the big reveal that more coldly shocking.

The book started off rather slow and I didn't much care for the flashback/dream scenes, but it picked up the pace toward the end, creating a nice feeling of anticipation. The hero was adorable, the supporting cast provided a nice backdrop to the story and the shop talk, though rather abundant, didn't deter from the overall enjoyment.

Four Weddings and a Sixpence (anthology) by Julia Quinn, Elizabeth Boyle, Laura Lee Guhrke, Stefanie Sloane

Four Weddings and a Sixpence: An Anthology - Julia Quinn, Elizabeth Boyle, Stefanie Sloane, Laura Lee Guhrke

Four young girls, roommates at a boarding school, find an old sixpence in a mattress and decide it would be their lucky charm in finding suitable husbands when the time came...

Something New by Stephanie Sloane (❀❀❀)
Miss Anne Brabourne needs to find a husband and quickly, before she’s banished into the country. She also has a list of requirements and that list doesn’t include either love or passion thanks to the destruction, caused by heightened emotions, she’d witnessed as a child. Anne also gains a strange ally in her husband-seeking quest; Rhys Alexander Hamilton, Duke of Dorset. He’s determined to help her, but he has his own reasons.

This was a cute story. Maybe a tad too short, since both characterization and the plot itself suffered a bit—everything happened rather quickly, feeling a bit rushed. But I liked both main protagonists and especially their matchmaking aunts.

Something Borrowed by Elizabeth Boyle (❀❀❀❀)
Miss Cordelia Padley has invented a fake betrothed to curb her aunt’s enthusiasm of thrusting vicars upon her. But now she’s invited to her friend’s wedding and she’s supposed to bring her man along. The only one she could turn to is the famous Captain Kipp Talcott, her childhood friend. But as she pays him a visit, she discovers Kipp isn’t her Kipp anymore, but Winston Christopher Talcott, the Earl of Thornton. Still, she asks him to pretend to be her betrothed and he agrees, even though he was about to really get betrothed himself.

A sweet story of long-lost childhood friends finding each other again, trying to navigate between old and new dreams and real adult responsibilities, but in the end only one thing prevails—the heart.
I liked the contrast between the slightly flighty heroine and the stuffy hero, they provided a nice balance, complimenting each other rather splendidly. The story moved well, and though the love-story might appear rushed, the fact they were childhood friends compensated for the lack of space and time dedicated to the deeper development of their romance.

Something Blue by Laura Lee Guhrke (❀❀)
Lady Elinor Daventry is determined to save her father no matter the cost. Even marrying a man she doesn’t love. Anything is preferable to her father standing trial for things he didn’t commit. That’s why, six months before, she broke off her engagement to Lawrence Blackthorne, the man who believes all the nasty rumors about her father, determined to ruin him.
Ellie knows the sixpence is her ticket to marriage to the son of the duke, who might sway the peers to believe her father, but Lawrence Blackthorne has other ideas…And steals the coin.

This would’ve been a lovely second-chances story if it weren’t for the heroine and her determination to believe her father no matter what. Even when she had proof, she was still stubbornly in denial. I didn’t like how she treated the hero when he was doing his duty, the man that gave her up in order to seek justice for thousands of men.
I felt she wasn’t really worthy of everything Lawrence did to get her back, and somehow I didn’t really believe her feelings in the end, either.

...and a Sixpence in Her Shoe by Julia Quinn (❀❀❀❀)
Miss Beatrice Mary Heywood is the most pragmatic of the four friends. And the only reason she’s wearing the sixpence in her shoe is to keep her promise to her friends that she’d do so. And then she meets Lord Frederick Grey-Osbourne and all her dreams suddenly come true.

Short, but sweet.

Granted, the romance seemed a bit rushed, but we’re talking about a short story after all. I liked both protagonists, especially Bea, who looked beyond appearances and her enthusiasm was rather contagious. Frederick was a bit bland, at least compared to Bea, and I absolutely adored aunt Calpurnia in all her matchmaking glory.

One Wild Winter's Eve by Anne Barton

One Wild Winter's Eve - Anne  Barton

Lady Rose Sherbourne is quiet, proper and following the rules of the ton. No one would suspect there's anything remotely similar to passion under her placid exterior, but as she embarks on a quest to find out what happened to her mother, she discovers there's nothing more liberating than following one's heart...

I must confess, I much preferred the Honeycote portion of this series than the Sherbourne one. I simply felt there were things missing in the last two installments. Like spunk, spark, humor and passion.

Unlike her sister Rose was much more sedate and proper, but she was too placid, downright vapid at the beginning of the story. She captured my interest once she went rogue and sprung her boyfriend out of jail, but then almost immediately went back to huddling in on herself, fretting and feeling sorry for herself. She didn't appear to have much agency, most of her decisions were based on Charles, the hero.
Who was rather bland himself. I never got to really know him, beside in context of his puppy-like devotion to Rose and he also failed to have anything to do that would make him an individual instead of part of the couple with Rose.

The story only came alive once they were in the company either of Lady Boneville or Rose's family who at least brought some spark to the proceedings.

I liked the suspense sub-plot and would've appreciated it if it was developed a little further and more fully instead of only serving as catalyst to bring Charles and Rose together.

Scandalous Summer Nights by Anne Barton

Scandalous Summer Nights (A Honeycote Series Book 3) - Anne Barton

Lady Olivia Sherbourne has been in love with James Averill, her brother's solicitor and friend, for a decade, but the man is completely oblivious. She always thought she had time to make him notice her, make him fall in love, but that time is running out. James is on his way to Egypt. For two years. And Olivia finally takes off her gloves and decides to fight dirty.

This series certainly is hit-and-miss. I had in inkling I would particularly like this one, since I found Olivia to be too bratty and self-centered in the previous two books, but I thought that once she got her own book, her own story, she would grow on me.

Well, she didn't. She was a self-centered, spoiled brat for more than half her story, pushing and prodding, demanding to have it her own way, disregarding what others, namely the man she supposedly loved, might want and wish. And once she got it, she still wasn't satisfied. She truly reminded me of a spoiled child who, once she gets her toy, she doesn't want it anymore.
And, unlike the previous two novels, she didn't grow on me, because she didn't learn anything. She still got her way in the end without much suffering. She merely proved that all she needed was a fit and everything will be handed to her.
I would actually pity her hero, but I didn't much care for him either. He was bland a dull, without much character or agency, beyond catering to Olivia, her agenda, and her story. And I didn't buy his about face about her feelings either. It was too abrupt. It would've worked if he was infatuated from the start, but he actually noticed her only once she stopped flitting about him. Which makes him rather self-centered as well, come to think of it. He started pursuing her only once she stopped (at least outright) pursuing him.

In the end, I guess they pretty much deserved one another. And I didn't really buy the romance/love thing. They certainly worked better as friends with possible crushes on one another than lovers. But maybe that's just me and my general dislike of both of them.

I liked the supporting cast, though. Granted, they were relegated to the sidelines mostly, but it was still a pleasure seeing them and getting to know the new additions to the "family".

Once She Was Tempted by Anne Barton

Once She Was Tempted  - Anne  Barton

Benjamin Elliot, Earl of Foxburn, will do anything to prevent his best friend's younger brother from falling into the clutches of a fortune huntress. Which is what Miss Daphne Honeycote seems to be. Because Ben knows she's not the ethereal, innocent beauty everybody sees. Nope, Ben knows very well, what she hides underneath her clothes, because proof of it hangs in his study.

When her mother was ill, Daphne made a choice. She chose to pose for two rather scandalous portraits in order to get the money for her mother's medicine. Now that choice has come back to bite her in the form of the Earl of Foxburn and his blackmailing scheme; leave his friend's brother be or he'd reveal the truth.

But soon Ben becomes her ally, since Daphne has no idea what has happened to the other portrait, and Ben realizes his altruism toward his friend's brother was rather bogus. He wants Daphne for himself.

Yet another wonderfully told story. A little bit darker than the first book, mostly thanks to the hero and his broody, ornery, stubborn self, yet still packing quite a punch, even without the star-crossed lovers theme.

I loved Daphne. She might look all fragile and carefree, but inside, where it counts the most, she hid her worries and her pain, not letting anyone see it, until Ben came along.
Ben became rather annoying toward the middle, with his whining and feeling sorry for himself. I'm all for wounded, brooding heroes, I even adored his brutal honesty, but I couldn't stand his self-pity and pushing people away. And he almost succeeded in pushing the most important person away for good, only to pull his head out of his ass at just the right moment for everything to work out just fine. I wouldn't have minded a little bit more grovelling on his part, though.

The baddie was your regular spiteful asshole with a grudge, the bitch from the first book returned with a vengeance and once again failed to do any lasting damage, the supporting cast was perfectly placed and "proportioned", I was glad for Belle and Owen, I loved the character of Lady Bonneville and I hope to see more of her in the next two books, although I'm dreading the next installment a little, since it features more of Olivia, Huntford's slightly too self-centered sister (I'm growing tired of her droning on an on about her James).

This was a lovely story about self-discovery, courage and changes one is capable of under the right motivation.

Death Is Not Enough by Karen Rose

Death Is Not Enough - Karen Rose

Thomas Thorne is finally ready to confess his feelings for his business partner and best friend of twelve years, Gwyn Weaver (he has no choice, really), but ends up drugged and naked in his bed with a murdered woman by his side.

None of his friends believe he did it, but someone obviously has a grudge against him. A grudge so big, they're willing to dig around his past, dredging up painful memories, and putting everybody he loves, putting Gwyn in danger.

This book obviously marks the end of the Baltimore-based books (we're moving to California next with Taylor's adoptive sister, Daisy) and it was lovely seeing all the old friends and faces again. The only two missing were Grayson and Daphne, but they were there in spirit as the others fought against time and death itself in order to figure out who and why was making Thorne suffer and how to stop them.

I've been curious about Thorne since he first appeared on scene and I'm glad he didn't suffer a character transplant in his book as some of the previous seemingly larger-than-life heroes. He was compassionate and loyal, willing and able to do anything to protect those he loved and cared about, and I was glad the tough exterior he was known for was just a cover for the marshmallow-y inside.
It's a real pity about the heroine, though. I didn't like Gwyn. There've been plenty of KR heroines who's gone through what she's been through, but somehow she felt she was different, somehow special and unique, making her way too whiny for my taste. She was also incredibly selfish. Someone wanted to hurt Thorne, but she always seemed to make everything about herself and her feelings.
As the story progressed, and she finally pulled her head out of her ass about Thorne and their relationship, I actually started to like her, only to grit my teeth at her inability just to tell everything up front. I didn't get the secret keeping and I hated she told Thorne the truth about her past only when she feared it would come out anyway.

The suspense also left much to be desired, which is surprising for a KR book. It felt like it was all over the place, the twists and turns making it rather convoluted and disjointed. The main villain was rather disappointing, since he couldn't keep his hands firmly on the reins, but trusted all those other people to do his dirty work. People make mistakes. The more people, the more mistakes. It made him appear weak and quite a caricature, unintentionally similar to the Bond villains of old with much talk and not enough action.
It made the positive ending a given, instead of making the reader tremble alongside the characters.

This book definitely wasn't what I've come to expect from Karen Rose, but hopefully it's just a fluke.

To All the Rakes I've Loved Before by Anne Barton

To All the Rakes I've Loved Before (Honeycote, #1.5) - Anne  Barton

Miss Amelia Wimple is a recluse, refusing to leave the house she lives in with her mother and go out into the ton again after the humiliating incident that happened two years ago on the eve of her would-be engagement. The man who was supposed to propose eloped with another and she and her overbearing mother became laughingstocks. But there's one bright memory from that dreadful night; Lord Stephen Brookes and his kindness toward her.

Now, her mother is off to Bath and Amelia has the house all to herself, but her short life of bliss is rudely interrupted by the man who jilted her bringing the unconscious, severely beaten Lord Stephen Brookes to her doorstep seeking refuge. Amelia, God bless her, decides to hide Stephen until his wounds heal enough that he doesn't scare people...But she might get more in return that she's bargained for.

Another cute and slightly humorous story in this series. Pity it suffered from its lack of length.

I liked the two protagonists; they were both hiding their true selves and only the other could see it. I liked the camaraderie between them, the strange friendship and the blossoming romance. But the latter was so quick and rushed, it failed to be believable. I could see the potential, but it certainly needed a few more chapters to be developed properly...Or, it could've been presented as the blurb insinuated; that Stephen has always had a tendre for Amelia and used the golden opportunity of his stay with her to his advantage.
Alas, the way it was written, it felt like it happened in the blink of an eye, when they barely knew each other. Not a good foundation for lasting love that.

Still, it was an enjoyable read.

The Wicked Wife by Mary Lancaster

The Wicked Wife - Mary Lancaster

Lady Frances Torridon, a new mother, escapes her husband's estate to do something to relieve her ennui and her doubts as to her husband's affections, and seeks refuge with her friend, outrageous widow, Ariadne Marshall. She inadvertently takes the rubies, her husband has given her with her, resulting in her friend making up a wager—they'd go out in disguise and the woman who is recognized, loses her jewels.

Frances's test is the masked ball at his brother's castle in Blackhaven, where no one recognizes her, and where she meets an intriguing stranger with a Russian accent, a stranger that helps her rescuing her sisters and whose help she'll beg when the rubies are stolen. Little does she know the masked stranger is none other than her husband who came running after her, determined to reclaim his wife and her love no matter what.

This was a sweet story of a second chance at love when that love is presumed to be lost. It was lovely reading of Frances and Alan, husband and wife who are a little more than strangers to one another, even after a year of marriage and how they get to know one another and the other's feeling for themselves as they learn the "magic" of communication and the skills of letting go of misconceptions and rules in order to listen to their hearts and instincts.
The two spent most of the story apart, but the feelings for one another were palpable, despite the misgivings and doubts, so it was a wonderful experiencing the story alongside them.

Sure, they had to work against pretty mighty forces in the form of an overbearing, controlling mother-in-law and a fake friendship, but they persevered and once they started actually talking and once Torridon let go of his rigid control, it was all smooth sailing.

This story also featured a reunion of sort of previous protagonists, showing us glimpses of what is going on after their own HEA's...And the war is finally over.

A lovely ending to the series, though I'm a little sad to leave Blackhaven. Now, I only have to wait for Dr. Lampton to get his second chance.

When She Was Wicked by Anne Barton

— feeling amazing
When She Was Wicked  - Anne  Barton

Nothing is more important than family for Anabelle Honeycote. She's willing to do anything to save her ailing mother, even extort money from unsuspecting members of the ton. Anabelle's job as a seamstress doesn't bring much money and her mother's medicine is expensive, not to speak of rent or food...She has no other option. Still, she has rules; she never blackmails someone who cannot afford it, she only does it once per person, she never reveals the secret and she never socialized with her "victims".

But the fourth time everything unravels. Not only does her mark, Owen Sherbourne, the Duke of Huntford, lie in wait and catches her, he literally imprisons her in his home as a personal seamstress to his two younger sisters.

Soon a strange relationship blossoms between the mark and extortionist, a relationship that somehow blurs the lines between their opposing social standings and make them dream of possibilities that aren't meant to be. Not only can a union between a duke and a lowly seamstress never be, no matter their feelings and wants, Anabelle has a secret that might ruin her star-crossed romance with Owen and destroy her friendship with his sisters forever.

I loved this story so much, I don't know how to write an adequate review. I guess it's all still so vivid in my mind, but I have to write something, or I might just burst.

This was yet another impulse buy for me, but boy am I glad for it. I started reading without much expectations beyond hoping it wouldn't suck.

Not only it didn't suck, it blew me away!

The characters were so well-developed and depicted so vividly, I felt like they were in the room with me and we were old friends. Every scene was painted so masterfully, I felt like I was watching a movie, experiencing what the characters did, seeing what they saw, feeling what they felt, laughing and crying alongside them.
Not many authors can make me tremble with excitement with each scene they write, but I can safely say, Ms. Bennett is one of them.

I rooted for Anabelle and Owen despite the cards stacked against them, I loved Owen's sisters as much as he and Belle did, I suffered with them, despaired against the odds alongside them...It's such a cliché to say that two characters are perfect together, but Belle and Owen fit. They were both layered characters with hidden depths, both wearing masks in their lives, masks that only the other could see behind and embrace the real person underneath the persona of the duke and the seamstress.
Their strange relationship and budding romance were beautifully portrayed, and the conflict stemming from the social chasm between them was heartbreaking in its realism. But I loved the fact they came from two different ends of the social spectrum and how they both learned (but especially him), that nothing is more important than love and one's happiness.
And yes, the scene at the ball made me sniffle. It was just so perfect.

The supporting cast offered a lovely backdrop to the main story, from creating the opportunity for Belle and Owen to actually meet, offering support, friendship, care and family ties, to throwing obstacles in their path (the little perfect would-be duchess was so delightfully mean, it was a pleasure to discover her true nature and in the end cackle at her metaphorical demise).

This book was a real pleasure to read, literally unputdownable (I read it when I was supposed to be doing something else), I kept turning the pages, wanting to see what happens next, hoping against hope for a happily ever after. Yes, it's a romance story, so a HEA is pretty much a given, but the fact I trembled anxiously, the fact that I had doubts, speaks to the author's skill. She was able to transport me back in time, she made me fall in love with Bella and Owen...I was invested and I loved every second of it.

Thank you, Anna Bennett/Anne Barton!

Hunted by the Past by Jayne Evans

Hunted by the Past - Jayne Evans

Lucy Smith's life is derailed when she has to babysit her nephew after her sister suddenly decides to prolong her vacation. Then she's cornered at a bank, having to shoot a cop to save her nephew...But despite what the cop, who survives, tells her, she's determined things aren't connected. Nothing is about to derail her meticulously planned life.
Then her car blows up, luckily without her in it, her nephew is once more almost kidnapped...And maybe, just maybe, her sister's disappearance isn't as innocuous as it seems.

And the only one Lucy believes can keep her and the little boy safe is the man she shot at the bank...

This story started off with a bang. Almost literally. The mystery was intriguing, the suspense was ramped up to a thousand, the hero was perfectly flawed and issue-filled, the little boy was utterly adorable...The problem, as mostly happens, was the heroine and her control-freak, disbelieving in spite of everything, tendencies. She was a lawyer, but she still presumed to know more than professionals in the field of law enforcement, and there's nothing you can tell me that will dissuade me from my conviction that the successful kidnapping attempt happened because of her and her I-know-better-than-everybody attitude.
The romance was rushed and rather unbelievable...Maybe because it was so rushed or maybe because of my dislike for the heroine, but the suspense worked.

Until the reason behind the kidnapping and murder attempts was revealed...And everything simply fell apart. It was so thin and seemingly conjured out of thin air and it didn't really make much sense. I'm still wondering why.

Mountain of Lies by Jayne Evans

Mountain of Lies (The Pack Book 1) - Jayne Evans

***eBook available for free on Amazon***

Mia Blackmore finds herself in a strange predicament. First, she's almost covered by a landslide and supposedly left there by a would-be rescuer. To get free, she provokes another slide and takes her would-be rescuer along with her.

The guy out to be an undercover cop, Hudson McClure, up on the mountain looking for a stash of drugs, when Mia took him with her on her way down, and now, partly to protect her and partly to do his job, he's determined to stick around.

Only she doesn't want him to stick around and it quickly turns out, Mia is as good as keeping secrets and wearing masks as he is.

Usually freebies are mostly misses, and this one didn't look like much at the beginning. But it didn't sound so bad as to make me stop reading, and once the story kicked into higher gear, I was hooked.

Yes, I found it a little too filled with coincidences and the heroine got on my nerves a little with her supposed passivity (which I promptly forgot about, once the story got into its groove), and I loved the hero, their interactions and the relationship blossoming between them, I adored Neville, Mia's furry sidekick and lie detector, and the suspense, despite its many coincidences tying it all up in a nice little bow, was nicely developed, well-paced, and quite intriguing.

Because of the coincidental suspense, I somewhat wished the story was longer and the two cases weren't as connected as they turned out to be, but in hindsight, I must admit, the length was rather perfect. Not too short to make it all seem rushed, and not too long to drag it all down to a halt.

I liked the voice and narrative style and I'm looking forward to reading more from this author.

The Wicked Gypsy by Mary Lancaster

The Wicked Gypsy - Mary Lancaster

Gervaise Conway, frustrated with his inability to make things better with his politics and slightly in his cups, concocts a cunning plan to take some revenge on his political enemy. He decides to take a beautiful gypsy girl on loan from her family, since she bears the uncanny resemblance to his nemesis's family. He'll pass her for the long lost, and presumed dead, Eleanor Gardyn, in order to prevent her uncle Julius from inheriting Haven Hall and evicting the Benedicts.

Dawn has her own motives to stay at Braithwaite castle. First is rather petty; she wants to get back to her father for having sold her to the earl (and then presumed she'd steal from the man). Second is much more personal; there's something about Gervaise that draws her, and soon she finds herself falling in love with him.

But even if she is Eleanor Gardyn, the gap between them is still too big. And gets even bigger as the dowager countess returns from Scotland and brings a prospective young countess with her. But no one counts with Gervaise and what he wants.

This was a lovely story. Romantic, slightly suspenseful (it was more of a mystery that straight-up suspense), with a little bit of angst, drama and star-crossed love thrown into the mix.

I liked the heroine, and especially her predicament as she straddled both worlds while not really belonging in either. Her struggles, both with accepting the truth about herself, but mostly as she dealt with her feelings for Gervaise, were nicely portrayed.
On the other hand, I have nothing much to say about the hero. He was a rather formulaic romance hero, with a deceptively calm exterior that hid a will of iron and determination that only few knew about or recognized. But since this was mostly Dawn's story, it helped that her hero didn't really overshadow her. He had his moments, mostly at very opportune times, when either Dawn or his mother needed a push or a shove, and he accomplished his mission with aplomb. I have a problem with his name, though, but that's probably just me.

Since this was a story of love blossoming on two opposite sides of the society spectrum and a story of self-discovery, the supporting cast did an excellent job of supporting the two protagonists, and create a suitable backdrop of support, disdain or scorn (provided by the hero's own mother, who I never really liked, but luckily she came around, since she had no other option).
The suspense/mystery subplot seemed rather superfluous, not really pushing the plot forward; it served more as filler and the actual catalyst for the initial meeting and the overall plot. The real reason behind the disappearance of Eleanor Gardyn was never really explained and the villain and the motive came out of the left field and seemed to be written more as an afterthought to make it all come together nicely.

But, as I said, this was a love story and a story of self-discovery and it didn't need much else to keep it afloat, so the disappointment in the suspense/mystery department didn't really impact the overall reading experience.

The Wicked Spy by Mary Lancaster

The Wicked Spy - Mary Lancaster

Lady Anna Gaunt is not what she seems. Yes, she's the sister of the Marquis of Tamar, but her visit to her brother in Blackhaven has nothing to do with family. Anna is here on the Foreign Office mission to free a French prisoner and turn him onto the British side. But the man manages to get free without her help, she merely intercepts him in the woods, cares for his wound...And the man has the gall to disappear again. And he doesn't go far.

Louis Delon stays in Blackhaven under the guise of a British nobleman, waiting for his moment to strike down at the man who betrayed him. But the enemy is already in town, waiting for something or someone else and Louis is determined to stop him at any cost, even by putting his trust in the hands of the enigmatic British beauty...Which turns out to be a rather pleasant prospective as the lines between pleasure and duty start blurring on both sides.

This is the first book in this series with a strong suspense sub-plot, which also turned out to be its strongest point.
I loved the intrigue and the mystery of it all, the skulking around in the middle of the night, the hidden stilettos and daggers, the "masquerades", secret identities, and the assassination plot. It was intense, interesting and the pacing complimented the rising excitement beautifully.

Also, the premise of two enemy spies falling for one another promised to make things even more interesting. Alas, the story didn't deliver on the promise. I simply didn't find the rushed romance believable. I didn't even find the possibility of friendship believable. The two simply spent too much time (in an otherwise rather short book) lying to each other, mistrusting and trying to use one another for the romance between them blossoming so fast (or at all) to actually make sense.
It felt more like attraction and passion as they found some common ground between them, as they could remove their masks in each other's company and be (more or less) themselves, but in the end, the first thought that came to my mind was "I give it a couple months".

I didn't much care for Anna and Louis separately, either. The rest of the cast worked much better, especially seeing how they were old friends (and it was lovely to see Rosa finally speak). As I said, the suspense saved it.

The Wicked Governess by Mary Lancaster

The Wicked Governess - Mary Lancaster

Caroline Grey is suddenly dismissed from her post as Earl of Braithwaite's sisters's governess, when the earl's mother thinks she has designs on her son. The Earl, convinced his mother will soon change his mind, loans Catherine as governess to a mysterious tenant of Haven House and his mute daughter. And soon Caroline realizes this is where she's supposed to be, helping the little girl and her father rejoin society.

Javan Benedict is a recluse, determined to protect his daughter at all costs. But Caroline Grey soon makes him realize that protecting his daughter shouldn't be equated with keeping the girl a relative prisoner in her home. Besides, little Rosa falls in love with her new governess almost from the start and Javan realizes Caroline might just be good for him as well...

This story had an almost gothic feel with the overgrown, supposedly haunted house and its scarred, brooding tenant and his supposedly crazy sister (or is it wife?) and his mute, fearful daughter. But as you should never judge the book by its cover, so you should never judge people by their appearance or others's perceptions of them. And the heroine in this story proved to be just the right person for the job. She never judged, she just wanted to help however she could. Sure, she fell for her employer, but that's Romancelandia for you.

I loved Caroline and her gentle, caring and nurturing nature. She offered comfort with her presence alone, while always trying to stay in the background. And it took the right man to see her for what she was.
The hero needed some time to get used to, I guess. But as Caroline slowly got to know him (although he remained a mystery for the better part of the story), so did this particular reader, and I must say I liked what I discovered. A hero who thought his honor was in tatters, yet was determined at all costs to protect his daughter and spare her from gossip, scandal or any slights that might arise from his supposedly lost honor. Sure, he had his moments of obtuseness, mostly because he thought he didn't deserve to be happy (he was an epitome of tortured hero), but then there was his mischievous cousin to provide the swift kick Javan needed to see straight and finally realize what he wanted.

I liked how the romance seemed to progress slowly (even though it all happened in a week or two). I think it had all to do with the pace and the fact the reader discovers all these new things and gets to know new people alongside the heroine, so it all seemed longer. The progress of the romance was quite realistically portrayed (despite the swiftness of it) and it felt organic and true, which I appreciated.

The suspense didn't play as a pivotal role as in the previous books, but what there was, provided an added intensity and grip to the story. The villain was creepily twisted, the suspicion and the subsequent truth of his actions offered a counterbalance to the "lightness" of the romance with its darker topic, and the first big climax propelled the romance forward a little bit more.

The supporting cast was great, as usual, with old "friends" mingling with new ones and Javan's daughter, Rosa, was absolutely adorable.

This was another great addition to the series.