Who Speaks for the Damned: A Sebastian St. Cyr Mystery (Book 15), by C.S. Harris, narrated by Davina Porter—A Review

Who Speaks for the Damned by CS Harris 2020 audiobookFrom the desk of Sophia Rose:

Over a decade ago, CS Harris released the first in a long-standing series of Regency Era historical mysteries featuring an aristocratic detective who starts out as the suspect solving his first crime to a renowned amateur detective in his own right. That book, What Angels Fear, introduced a complex hero who must solve murders and at the same time, the mystery of his own past. He must deal with what he discovers, learn the hard lessons of love, and come into his own throughout the series alongside other series regulars.

From the beginning, I was enamored with Sebastian St. Cyr and the rest of the characters who joined him along the way. I was enthralled with the author’s way of writing not just a mystery, but Sebastian’s story. Fifteen books later, I am still a tremendous fan and tend to fan girl over Sebastian and stalk the author’s website to get any tidbits about the next release.

Who Speaks for the Damned opens with the murder of black sheep Nicholas Hayes.  No one knew the man was still alive since it has been years since he was charged with the murder of a Frenchman’s wife and sentenced as a hard labor convict in a prison colony. Sebastian has heard of the man, of course, but now he has to discover the answers to the present murder and sudden appearance of Hayes by delving into the man’s past. There are still some around who knew him and knew him well including Sebastian’s own valet, Calhoun. Many give him half-truths and lies, but he ruthlessly picks them apart to expose a disturbing, emerging picture. Sebastian is slowly convinced that Hayes wasn’t necessarily guilty in the past and that means someone got away with murder and plans to keep it that way. Meanwhile, a young child who depended on Hayes has been missing since the murder and someone wants this last witness silenced.

Sebastian’s progressive and brilliant wife Hero isn’t idle during this time. She is conducting her own investigation in her ongoing crusade to bring to light the conditions of London’s poor. Her focus for this study are the street musicians and she observes one young musician who may be more than he seems and the key to her husband’s case.

Who Speaks for the Damned offers colorful and well-drawn historical backdrop, a clever twisting mystery, tastes of ongoing series plot advancements, but above all richly drawn and complex characters from Sebastian right on down to the victim and the villain.  There is also a blend of steady detecting work on Sebastian and the police’s part, to his home life and their life in society, and to the action sequences that have the reader breathless as Sebastian faces off with raw street roughs and smiling society enemies.  There is so much going on and yet it flows so well together. Each story, including this one, pluck at the reader’s emotions whether it is a social injustice of the time or the lives of the characters that are sometimes heartbreaking. There are little curiosities that sometimes are explained and sometimes left to be answered later. The book and the series simply sparkle.

For the first time since I started the series, I chose the audio version. I have known for some time that one of my favorite narrators, Davina Porter, narrated the books. If I had a concern that after fourteen books read and voices established in my mind not being the same as the narrators, that was put to bed quickly. These books always get to me and keep me enthralled but add her fabulous audio work and I had no desire to turn the book off even when I needed sleep. She narrates male and female, old and young, various classes, and accents with such talent.  I must go back and listen to the whole series now.

In summary, a murdered victim’s heartbreaking life leads to a gritty murder and I couldn’t put the book down. Those who appreciate a clever mystery, an engaging detective, and an authentic historical backdrop should not hesitate to pick up this series.  And, if you can, don’t miss the audio version.

5 out of 5 Regency Stars

Who Speaks for the Damned: A Sebastian St. Cyr Mystery (Book 15), by C.S. Harris, narrated by Davina Porter
Recorded Books, Inc; Unabridged Edition (May 23, 2020)
Hardcover, eBook, & audiobook (336) pages
ISBN: 978-1664460102

AMAZON | BARNES & NOBLE | BOOK DEPOSITORY | INDIEBOUND | GOODREADS | BOOKBUB

Cover image courtesy of Recorded Books, Inc. © 2020; text Sophia Rose © 2020, Austenprose.com

Georgiana: Pride & Prejudice Continued (Book 3), by Sue Barr—A Review

Georgiana Pride & Prejudice Continued by Sue Barr 2020From the desk of Sophia Rose:

I have been aware of Sue Barr’s work since she released the first book in her Pride and Prejudice Continued series, Caroline. My curiosity was aroused when she chose to continue Austen’s classic story with the memorable side character and didn’t hesitate to redeem Caroline Bingley and give her a chance at happiness in an unlikely place. Then it was Kitty Bennet’s turn in book two, Catherine, who fell hard for a man who was not what he seemed. And, here we have the third book, Georgiana, with Mr. Darcy’s little sister stepping out of the shadows of her past and becoming the current heroine.

Georgiana is recovered physically and emotionally from her youthful mistake with George Wickham, but now that she is on the cusp of her presentation and entrance into London society, she wonders if she is truly ready or if she will be fooled again. If only Max Kerr, Duke of Adborough, the kind gentleman who put her at ease and made her feel they belonged, felt the same way about her as she did for him. Their families are friendly, and she knows they could be happy. Instead, she hears nothing from Max and now must face a London season of discovering the difference between those who would pursue her for her fortune. She has her family around her, but the danger still circles and, in the end, after a painful, winding road, can she let trust grow and forgiveness heal so she can find love with the right man.

Georgiana was a story that I read out of order and from which I still found great enjoyment. I had no trouble doing so because the early chapters caught the reader up on the two previous books and the news of the family. However, it is something of a series spoiler because it shares what happened with the earlier couples to a certain extent. So, if a reader likes to get all the surprises and story as it happens, then it is best to start at the beginning with Caroline.

As to the story, the first half was gently paced, sweet, and rather predictable. Georgie was an adorable heroine and easy to like and wish well. She wants to be done with her past and have the love and friendship she sees in her brother’s marriage and those of her friends. She knows she can have that with Max but is not certain he sees her the same way. Max’s perspective alternates with Georgiana’s so the reader does know what Max is thinking and it’s all going on swimmingly toward a rapid conclusion even if there are sharks in the water after Georgie’s fortune and match-making mamas intent on Max as a future son in law. Continue reading

All Stirred Up: A Novel, by Brianne Moore—A Review

All Stirred Up by Brianne Moore 2020From the desk of Sophia Rose:

A modern-day Persuasion retelling set in Edinburgh against the backdrop of the high-end restaurant world. What could be more delicious? I eagerly picked up this book by a debut author who knows her way around a professional kitchen and resided in Edinburgh. It was quite obvious the author made these, along with her love of literature, the superb ingredients she stirred into a low-heat second chance romance.

Susan Napier closes a restaurant in London and her life there. The failure hadn’t been her fault—that lay with her father who knew nothing about food and even less about business. She is flying ahead of her family to Edinburgh and back to her grandfather’s original Elliott’s to take over this flagging restaurant that once was the gem of the Royal Mile and, hopefully, can turn it around again. Unfortunately, this return brings with it all the regrets and painful memories of her past. It was at this Elliott’s under her grandfather and her mother’s tutelage in the kitchen where she met and fell in love with both food and a certain red-haired up and coming chef her grandfather gave a chance to. Then she lost her grandfather, her mother, and, because she gave up in a weak moment, the only man she could love. Years have passed and her dad has handed over the baton when the situation has grown dire. She has to shake off the past and forge ahead with an innovative menu, updated restaurant, and a motivated staff behind her if she is to save her grandfather’s legacy and prove to herself, her family, and beyond that she has what it takes.

She no sooner sets foot in Edinburgh than she runs smack into her still handsome ex, Chris Baker, and her biggest regret. Chris went on to become a celebrity chef and amazingly successful from his humble roots in the rough streets of Leith. Now, he seems to barely notice her existence and can’t think of a good thing to say about her family’s restaurant. Susan needs to step up her game whether it’s joining forces with her fashionable older sister to redo the restaurant interior, helping her younger sister through her neurosis and marriage troubles, keeping her dad’s spending in check, fighting off a sharkish reporter who wants to see something more than food sizzling, or taking on a celebrity chef in a cooking contest.

All Stirred Up took the bones of Jane Austen’s Persuasion and built its modern equivalent in a new place and setting. It takes it’s time and doesn’t rush through the setup of characters, their backgrounds, the professional kitchen world, or a slice of life in Edinburgh. I enjoyed how the author had Susan come into her own from her under-appreciated, dull-looking, and lacking in self-confidence self to a woman who set her goals and pressed forward with grit and hard work. The deck was stacked against her on all fronts and I loved seeing her quietly step up and meet the challenges. Continue reading

Someone to Romance: The Westcott Series (Book 8), by Mary Balogh—A Review

Someone to Romance by Mary Balogh 2020From the desk of Sophia Rose:

I discovered Mary Balogh’s tender, relationship-driven historical romances by browsing a book shop about a decade ago. The cover of her book merely depicted a landscape, but I recognized the possibilities of a new to me Regency-era author who did indeed pay attention to the details of the historical background of her stories, the social mores of the day, and could still deliver engaging characters and romances.

Someone to Romance is the eighth in the Westcott series. This is Lady Jessica Archer’s story. Jessica watches her cousin Abby with her newborn, a daughter, a loving husband, and a lovely home. She is ashamed of the envy that stabs her especially when Abby had to go through so much to have this. Jessica is determined to participate in the London Season and choose a husband, so she need not feel left out as others get married and have their own lives. Her loved ones want her to choose for love, but she doesn’t believe love is for her. No man has ever stirred more than mild interest in her.  But, at a coaching inn, a bold-eyed man, looking like he is far beneath her, rouses her ire and confounds her at every turn. When other more eligible men come around, it is Mr. Thorne who sparks her interest and she feels a burning curiosity for the mystery surrounding him.

Gabriel Thorne is unhappy that he must return to England after thirteen years away. A terrible, dark event happened, and he was forced to flee his uncle’s home who had taken him in after the death of his parents. He lands in Boston with his mother’s cousin and builds a rewarding new life. Now, duty forces him to return. It occurs to him when he is ousted from the private parlor at a coaching inn for an arrogant duke’s sister that she is just the type of woman he will have to marry now that he is taking the family title and lands back. Only, he doesn’t want ‘a’ wife, he wants Lady Jessica Archer. She boldly dares him to romance her and so he will.

Jessica was a character I had mixed feelings about from the first book in the series and even into the early pages of Someone to Romance. She had several spoiled, rich girl moments and had some naïve notions. Her motivations at the beginning of the book reflected those notions and I was not sure I was going to like her or even care if she found her way to romance. But, getting her perspective and seeing her stumble, become confused, and then start along a new path was worth it. She was more than that spoilt woman and her good points came out as well as a shrewdness that stood her well. Besides, it wasn’t Jessica who naively under-estimates an enemy there near the end. Continue reading

Rebellion at Longbourn: A Pride and Prejudice Variation, by Victoria Kincaid—A Review

Rebellion at Longbourn by Victoria Kincaid 2020From the desk of Sophia Rose:

What is left to a woman when by law she is at the mercy of an incompetent, oafish cousin? Why, a quiet rebellion, of course!

Victoria Kincaid has authored many lively Pride and Prejudice variations and retellings over the years which I have thoroughly enjoyed. While respecting Jane Austen and her works, Ms. Kincaid infuses her latest, Rebellion at Longbourn, with strong entertainment value and a shout for human injustice.

After Mr. Bennet passes away in the prime of his life, his daughter Elizabeth discovers that life is not fair, and justice is not just when women and dependents have no recourse. By law, her family’s estate of Longbourn must go to a male heir, which is their odious cousin Mr. Collins. In addition, her sister Lydia’s thoughtless elopement has destroyed the reputation of her entire family.

As she watches her nincompoop cousin Mr. Collins take over her family estate and proceed to run it into the ground, their very survival is now in jeopardy. The income from the harvest is not enough to sustain Collin’s extravagant expenditures, so he pulls from the estate resources resulting in less for the workers and the dependent Bennet family.

After Mr. Collins refuses to listen to good advice about running the estate, Elizabeth has had enough. She realizes that what Collins’ ignorance does not know will benefit others. So, she sets out to make things right on the estate and assuages her conscience that what she and others do behind his back is still benefiting him, so they are not stealing or taking advantage. Continue reading

Murder at Northanger Abbey: Sequel to Jane Austen’s Spoof on the Gothic Novel, by Shannon Winslow—A Review

Murder at Northanger Abbey by Shannon Winslow 2020From the desk of Sophia Rose:

Do you ever read a book and enjoy it to such an extent that your mind continues to dwell on the characters, and you imagine your own continuation of the story? If that story is Northanger Abbey, then it is no stretch to imagine that the heroine, Catherine Morland, must have her dream of living inside one of her delicious gothic novels fulfilled even while reveling in the happiness of being married to her Henry. Oh, not as the gullible young girl who conjured up ghouls and mystery where it did not exist, but a heroine worthy of adventure when the adventure finds her. If you perked up at this possibility, then, like me, dear reader, you are primed for Shannon Winslow’s Murder at Northanger Abbey.

The story opens with Catherine and Henry Tilney, newlywed and living in bliss at Woodston Cottage. Catherine is still settling in as mistress and exalting in the tender and passionate love of her husband. She has learned from her earlier adventures and set aside the impressionable girl who saw a bloody skeleton in every locked trunk or a villain in every frown. She is sensible now and seeks to be a credit as a vicar’s wife.

Into this idyllic life, an invitation arrives from General Tilney for them to attend an All Hallows Eve Masquerade Ball at Northanger Abbey. Henry is dubious and still has strong feelings about his father’s previous treatment of Catherine, but if this means an olive branch, he should accept. Catherine is thrilled about the ball and revels in the chills she feels about spending All Hallows Eve at a house she once thought haunted.

Their arrival reunites all the Tilneys including Elinor and her husband. Catherine also meets a pretty, young, but ineligible woman whom Frederick brought to annoy the General, though she is startled to notice a soft spot in the cruel Captain. The General also has a young pretty woman on his arm and she is very much eligible as the daughter of a Marquess. He is bursting with some sort of inner glee over what is to come later in the evening, and she can only take heart that he welcomed them if a tad coolly. Continue reading

Recipe for Persuasion: A Novel, by Sonali Dev—A Review

Recipe for Persuasion by Sonali Dev 2020From the desk of Sophia Rose:

Jane Austen’s Persuasion gets a modern facelift Desi-style in this standalone sequel to Sonali Dev’s 2019, Pride, Prejudice and Other Flavors, as Indian American chef, Ashna Raje, and Brazilian footballer, Rico Silva, encounter each other once again as acrimonious cooking partners on a reality TV show. I love that the author has cooked up a series of modern retellings of Jane Austen’s classic works by giving members of the Raje family their chances at romance.

In Recipe for Persuasion Ashna’s family is convinced a reality cooking show is just the jumpstart her dying restaurant needs and she is willing to do anything to preserve this last bit of her father who opened the restaurant.

As a pro footballer at the top of his game, Rico thought he had moved on from Ashna’s rejection. That is until he is injured badly and yet another relationship didn’t work out.  He decides he has to do something about not being over his teenage love so signs onto the show to be Ashna’s partner. He vents his long-smoldering anger, but also understands as an adult what his teenage self couldn’t when he learns the true state of Ashna’s affairs. Understanding her leads to an understanding of the past.

Ashna had a difficult childhood. Her father, a prince, was forced out of India for some trouble he got into and lost the lifestyle he was accustomed to making him a bitter, angry man. Her parents were stuck in a loveless marriage where abuse and alcoholism were rife and Ashna was physically abandoned by her mother while the remaining parent’s issues were just as unhealthy for her so that, even after his death, she works to please a father who was never going to be pleased.

It was his dream to go to Paris and become a superb chef which she did for him and she now can’t even create her own dishes without bringing on an anxiety attack. She can only keep his restaurant just as he had it and cook only his dishes which is why the restaurant is failing. Others see it and she refuses to heed them because honoring her father is all she has left. Into this situation steps the boy become man from her past and she hasn’t gotten over him. Continue reading