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

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

In the Shadow of Croft Towers: A Novel, by Abigail Wilson — A Review

Shadow of Croft Towers by Abigail WIlson 2019

From the desk of Katie Patchell: 

The highwayman: A mysterious figure riding on cloudless nights, a man whose purpose goes beyond treasure for wealth’s sake. There’s something about the highwayman that captures our imagination and has done so for centuries. Is it his inevitable strength and beauty (if he’s the novel’s hero)? Is it because he’s misunderstood by those who know him within the pages, so our sympathy reaches out? Or is it because he’s a figure in the vein of Robin Hood, a romantic symbol of a freer, wilder, more dangerous age? In Abigail Wilson’s 2019 debut, In the Shadow of Croft Towers, a masked highwayman appears once again, this time with gray eyes narrowed in laughter behind his mask, and a quest in his heart for something stronger than diamonds but as insubstantial as the mist: The truth. 

“I often wonder what my life would have been like if I had never learned the truth. I wouldn’t have set off as I did for Croft Towers. I never would have met him.” (1)

Sybil Delafield is well-educated but an orphan, and in a world tailored for men, her opportunities to make a way for herself are limited. When her mysterious benefactor’s funds run out and a strange message arrives to seek answers about her parentage at the unknown Croft Towers, Sybil sees no reason to decline the seemingly random offer to work as companion to the owner of the very same Croft Towers. In fact, she welcomes it. Even a highwayman – especially one smokey-eyed, confusing specimen who refuses to harm or steal anything from the carriage yet makes them all stand in the rain as he searches for something – cannot stop her from finding out once and for all who her parents are.

Unfortunately for Sybil, more questions – not answers – materialize at Croft Towers. Why is it that the charming Mr. Cantrell attaches himself to her, despite her low status? What is the secret that tortures Mrs. Chalcroft and why does she ask Sybil to deliver secret letters under cover of darkness? And why, oh why, does Sybil find herself in the same house with her employer’s moody godson, the man who only she knows is the highwayman?

When rumors of a traitor to the Crown swirl around the foundations of Croft Towers, Sybil must decide who to trust in a house where everyone has their own hidden past that they’d risk everything to protect. In the process, she might even find out who she is and where she came from…if she manages to stay alive, that is. Continue reading

Forget Me Not: The Gents (Book 1), by Sarah M. Eden—A Review

Forget Me Not by Sarah M. Eden 2020From the desk of Katie Jackson: 

I unabashedly admit to gasping with delight when I first heard about a new Georgian-era book series being crafted by one of my all-time favorite historical romance authors, Sarah M. Eden. Then I discovered that the stories begin with none other than the elusive Lucas Jonquil, father of the delightful brothers in the Jonquil Family series. Commence a jubilant pirouette! Forget Me Not is the first book in the new series The Gents that will be centered around six, close-like-brothers friends, supporting each other through life’s varied challenges.

In 1777 Nottinghamshire, Lucas Jonquil has come “face-to-face with the extreme frailty of life.” (3) Grief-stricken, he is determined to leave his family home Lampton Park for untold escapades. His motto: “Don’t forget to live.” (3) Thinking of those he’s lost, he declares, “I mean to have enough adventures for two lifetimes. Maybe even three.” (11)

Julia Cummings, age 12, Lucas’s intrepid childhood playmate at neighboring estate Farland Meadows, relies on him as an older brother and best friend and feels abandoned and betrayed by his sudden departure. Heartbroken and lonely, she turns inward and seeks comfort in her forced isolation. “It didn’t do to set one’s heart on people when all people did was leave.” (8)

After eight years away, Lucas returns home from his travels to discover his sweet little Julia is all grown up. He is thoroughly confused by the unexpectedly cold welcome he receives from the dear friend he’s never forgotten, utterly oblivious to the part he played in it. And then, their well-intentioned parents deliver a shocking blow with a joyful announcement at Lucas’s homecoming ball: Lucas and Julia are betrothed and shall marry by special license within days.

Julia flees. “She had not survived all she had these past years to simply cower and accept the absurdity of other people’s moments of madness.” (36) Lucas attempts to negotiate with his parents, arguing the seeming incompatibility between him and his childhood friend now that they were grown. His father’s opinion on the matter seals Lucas’s future. “This is the match we have chosen for you, son. I know you don’t see it now, but it will be a good one. You will sort out your difficulties so long as you are willing to try.” (43) After Julia’s efforts to reason with her own father fail, she resigns herself to her fate: marriage to a man who does not care for her and will surely leave her again. “She was about to be married, and she had never felt more wretched.” (59) Continue reading

Who Wants to Marry a Duke: (Duke Dynasty Book 3), by Sabrina Jeffries—A Review

Who Wants to Marry a Duke by Sabrina Jeffries 2020From the desk of Pamela Mingle:

Romance, mystery, and a most intriguing hero and heroine are what you’ll find in Who Wants to Marry a Duke. This is the third entry by Sabrina Jeffries in the Duke Dynasty series and can also be read as a standalone.

We first meet young Marlowe Drake, the Duke of Thornstock, at a ball, where his older half-brother Grey—Duke of Greycourt—warns him about the marriage-minded mamas lurking about. Ignoring this wise advice, Thorn quickly finds himself caught in a compromising position with a young lady.

The lady in question is Miss Olivia Norley. She offers to clean a wine stain from Thorn’s waistcoat and afterward, Thorn steals a kiss. They are seen by Olivia’s stepmother, who unbeknownst to Olivia, blackmails Thorn into offering Olivia marriage by threatening to reveal a secret about his father.

The following morning, Thorn proposes to Olivia with barely disguised contempt. He looked “…like a thief being dragged to the gallows,” so she declines. He doesn’t want to marry her, but her refusal stings, nonetheless. He believes Olivia was party to the blackmail and can’t understand why she would then reject him.

Fast forward nine years. Using a false identity, Thorn has become a playwright, and Olivia, a chemist. (No wonder she knew how to remove that stain!) At a ball hosted by his family, Thorn spots Olivia. He intends to have her thrown out, but relents when he learns that his half-brother Grey has asked her to investigate the suspicious death of his father by testing his remains for arsenic.

Thorn asks Olivia to dance and challenges her on her motives for performing the tests. All she really wants is to establish a reputation for herself. Olivia prefers chemicals to people because they act in predictable ways. The two adjourn to the garden to speak privately, and Olivia reveals she wants to publish the results of her tests. Thorn is horrified. Dukes don’t wish to have their scandals aired in public.

Olivia has fought hard over the years to put Thorn out of her mind and is irritated that she still feels an attraction to him. The inevitable happens, and this time Olivia thinks his kisses “…were as combustible as sweet oil of vitriol and nearly as dangerous.” Again, they’re almost caught, but Olivia dashes from their hiding place and pretends she was merely enjoying the heady scents of the garden. Continue reading

Mr. Malcolm’s List, by Suzanne Allain—A Review

Mr Malcolm's List by Suzanne Allain 2020From the desk of Melissa Makarewicz:

Late one evening I was mindlessly scrolling through Twitter, as one does, when a post caught my eye. “Have you seen “Mr. Malcolm’s List? It’s an Austenesque series with a diverse cast,” asked @ctrichmon. At the mention of Austen, my interest was piqued. I immediately watched the video of Mr. Malcolm’s List on YouTube. Ten minutes later, I was hooked. Suzanne Allain’s debut novel (soon to be a major motion picture) has the biting wit and satirical charm that Austen fans adore. With a hint of Pride and Prejudice undertones, this corset-busting satire sets the old standard for Regency romps spinning on its head.

Mr. Malcolm, a wealthy second son, has decided to guard his heart against all fortune-seeking females. To keep his focus, he has made a list of all the qualities he desires in his future wife. His list includes qualifications such as “amiable, handsome, graceful, educates herself by extensive reading.” Does such a woman even exist?! Taking his time courting women and then moving on to the next one when they do not meet his criteria, he has earned quite a reputation in society. Oblivious to his harsh, calculating behavior, his friend Cassie informs him that he has become known as a “Trifler, a breaker of hearts, a destroyer of young ladies’ dreams.” (2)

Selina is the twenty-two-year-old unmarried daughter of a vicar. Alone after her chaperone dies, she finds herself wishing she had better luck finding a husband. When she receives a letter from her former schoolmate, Julia, she jumps at the chance to go visit her in London in the hopes that it will bring adventure, and possibly love.

Once she reaches Town, Julia informs Selina of her recent romantic rejection by Mr. Malcolm and the injustice he has done to her.

“You see, there is a young gentleman, a Mr. Malcolm, who is widely known for his arrogance. He distinguished me by paying me very pointed attentions, but then humiliated me by withdrawing his suit.” (14)

Continue reading

Bronte’s Mistress: A Novel, by Finola Austin—A Review

Brontes Mistress by Finola Austin 2020From the desk of Molly Greeley:

The mystique of the Brontë sisters hasn’t lessened in the years since they wrote their extraordinary novels. Their brother Branwell is remembered by history less for his literary talents than for his notorious addictions, and for the alleged affair he had with his pupil’s mother, Lydia Robinson. In Brontë’s Mistress, Finola Austin explores this affair from Lydia’s perspective with both compassion and a good writer’s capacity to empathically—and mercilessly—depict her characters as fully-realized people, at both their best and their worst.ë

Lydia is the original Mrs. Robinson, and not only in name: a mother of five, trapped in a marriage with a cold and unaffectionate man, unfulfilled by the narrow role deemed socially acceptable for women, and desperate for love and attention, she finds herself drawn to her son’s tutor, the handsome, poetic, and much-younger-than-she-is Branwell Brontë.

Their affair is passionate, sweeping Lydia away from the dullness of her everyday life. She revels, at first, in Branwell’s capacity for love, and in his willingness to speak of things most people in her circles of acquaintance never would, and his unconventionality frees Lydia to express her own.

He “railed against convention, society, religion, talking about us but not about us, redirecting his fire towards the legal and spiritual strictures that kept us apart… I joined him, dancing closer and closer to the precipice and uncovering aspects of my nature I’d never thought8 to expose to the light, delighting in our shared, secret, impotent rage.” (121).

But soon enough, Lydia comes to see Branwell’s many flaws, and as his behavior becomes increasingly erratic, his vices more obvious, she becomes fearful of the whispered rumors about them that have already begun circulating. She worries, of course, about the servants’ talk, but also about Branwell’s literary sisters—with whom she has something of an obsession and who, she fears, might put the story of their brother’s affair in their work. Continue reading