Stephanie Laurens~~4 1/2 and 5 Star Reviews
The Masterful Mr. Montague
Violet Matcham leads a content existence, working as companion to Lady Halstead, a wonderful old widow. When Lady Halstead checks the latest financial information, she discovers that there is money in the account that should not be there. Her man‑of‑business is young and inexperienced, and Violet places an advertisement in the newspaper to find London's best financial mind. It is in this way that they find Heathcote Montague.
Montague enjoys a good financial puzzle, and Lady Halstead has presented him with a fine one. He is also intrigued by the fetching Miss Matcham. But, things take a far more serious turn when Lady Halstead is murdered. It soon becomes clear that she was murdered by one of her own children or grandchildren, and the killer will not stop at one life taken.
Stephanie Laurens' latest is a "Casebook of Barnaby Adair Novel," and as such is strongly connected to the Cynster universe. New readers should be able to follow because most continuing characters spend little time onstage. The main plot focuses on the mystery, and romance is definitely secondary. But if you enjoy the author's style, be sure to settle in for an absorbing delight.
Heather Nordahl Files
In Henrietta Cynster's family, a beautiful necklace is said to help find a woman's perfect mate. Once the Lady's magic has worked, the lucky lady uses the occasion of her betrothal ball to pass the necklace to the next lady. But Henrietta has had the necklace for some time. She doesnÆt truly expect to find anyone in her state of spinsterhood. She has not worn the necklace until her sister, champing at the bit for her own chance, forces the issue.
Henrietta is gaining notoriety in Society as the Matchbreaker. Love matches are currently in vogue, and she helps young ladies learn if their men are truly in love or have some other motive. After she steers a young lady away from James Glossup, she creates a crisis in his life. She offers to help him, but they quickly come to separate realizations that they are meant for each other. A happy ending is possible, but first they must discover the cause of the increasingly alarming accidents Henrietta is suffering.
Stephanie Laurens' latest follows her usual plot pattern--a concentration on romance in the first half and mystery in the second half. Her strong writing and appealing characters keep things from getting stale. Also, hints of the next story will intrigue readers.
Heather Nordahl Files
Eliza Cynster is unhappy about her lack of freedom but understands it as well. After all, her sister Heather was recently kidnapped by a man who is still at large. Now that Heather has been rescued by her hero, how can Eliza find her own under such circumstances? But then someone working for the laird who had kidnapped Heather, kidnaps her and shoves her into a carriage bound for Scotland. She is drugged for much of the journey, and has little time to plot an escape. As they near Scotland, they stop drugging her, and she draws the attention of a familiar man in a passing carriage.
Jeremy Carling can immediately see that something is wrong‑‑ after all, Eliza shouts "help" from the carriage window‑‑but how can he free her from her very attentive captors? He must follow all the way to Edinburgh and, with the help of his friends, use knowledge of the city to set her free. After this, they must get to mutual friends on the other side of the border. This is not an easy task, but as they wrestle with the vagaries of the road and dodge their pursuers, a surprising passion is born.
Stephanie Laurens combines her Cynsters with the Bastion Club in her latest tale, and while characters from earlier tales make an appearance, they do not unduly intrude. This book is closely tied to September's Viscount Breckenridge to the Rescue, but reading that tale first is not necessary. Ms. Laurens' strength is in crafting absorbing, page‑turning plots, and readers will be driven to follow this one to the bitter end.
Heather Nordahl Files...
Anthology (Stephanie Laurens, Mary Balogh, Jacquie D'Alessandro, Candice Hern)
Following in the footsteps of their previous anthology, It Happened One Night, these brilliant authors once again spin four distinctly different stories from one plot, to the pleasure of the audience.
Second son Sebastian Trantor must marry to ensure the succession, but no girl on the marriage mart pleases him until one night when he witnesses Tabitha Makepeace looking for proof of a blackmail scheme. Tabitha enchants him, and while she thinks their improvised betrothal is an act, Sebastian schemes to make it real. Stephanie Laurens' "The Seduction of Sebastian Trantor" (****1/2) features all of the elements readers expect in her work, and still keeps it fresh and fun.
After a disastrous marriage, widow Cleo Pritchard doesn't believe that she will ever find love. But the man who kissed her during the war is back, and though Jack Gilchrist is handsome and a war hero, he seems genuinely interested in her. She must protect herself from getting hurt again, this time from loving too much. In "Only Love" (****1/2), Mary Balogh does her usual masterful job with characterization, creating empathetic characters in a short format.
Alec Trentwell seeks out Penelope Markham because her brother died under his command at Waterloo. She is currently in straitened circumstances, so he sweeps in to get her out of a rough part of London. While he offers her a portrait‑painting job, he really wants her to be his wife. However, a secret haunts him that he dreads sharing with her. Jacquie D'Alessandro shines in "Hope Springs Eternal" (****1/2), a beautiful and sometimes heart‑wrenching tale.
Captain Nat Beckwith needs a bride, but he dreads the rigors of the marriage mart and the crowds of Society. While hiding at a ball, he meets Philippa Reynolds, whose limp and overprotective family has her hiding as well. Being together gives them strength they would not have alone. Candice Hern's "Fate Strikes a Bargain" (****) is an appealing and touching tale.
Avon Mass Market
Twelve years ago, Christian Allardyce and Letitia Vaux promised to marry when Christian came home from the Napoleonic Wars. Instead, she married someone else, leaving him feeling betrayed. He avoids her until she comes to him. Her husband has been murdered, and her brother stands accused of the crime. Christian is the only man she can trust to clear her brother's name.
The examining physician uncovers evidence that the actual killing blow could have been struck by a woman, and while it's fairly obvious that Letitia did not like her husband, Christian knows she did not kill him. So the lingering mystery remains, who did? They investigate Randall, the deceased, to see if his friends or his past hold any clues, only to find more questions than answers connected to this enigma. And on the personal front, Christian learns that he bears some blame in Letitia's "betrayal" in marrying Randall, making it hard to hold on to his resentful feelings, and making it imperative that he find a way to win her back to him, this time forever.
Stephanie Laurens' latest follows her template to perfection, with a well fleshed-out heroine and a marvelous hero. The mystery is particularly puzzling, and will hold your interest until its resolution.
Heather Nordahl Files
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