Review: The Murder at Mandeville Hall

Review: The Murder at Mandeville HallThe Murder at Mandeville Hall (The Casebook of Barnaby Adair, 5) by Stephanie Laurens
Published by Savdek Management Pty Ltd on August 16, 2018
Genres: Historical, Mystery
Goodreads
three-half-stars

FINAL DECISION: The mystery was good, but the solution was pretty obvious to me from the beginning. In compensation, however, the romance was a nice diversion as the two get to know one another and solve the crime.

THE STORY: Alaric, Lord Carradale has been a rake but something has changed recently and he is considering looking for a bride. Unfortunately, the sweet innocent young woman that would be the typical bride is someone who would likely bore Alaric in a week. While attending a house party by his friend and neighbor, Alaric ends up stumbling across one of the young women who is attending the party dead in the bushes. The young woman’s cousin immediately comes across Alaric and it appears that he is the most likely criminal. Constance Whittaker has arrived too late to help her cousin but is determined to find the murderer. Soon Constance and Alaric have teamed up to solve the murder and bring in Barnaby Adair, his wife Penelope and Inspector Stokes of Scotland Yard.

OPINION: I enjoyed this book, but the balance of the story wasn’t as good as others in the series. The mystery was intriguing all the way until the reveal. Unfortunately, I had pegged the villain from the start and the exact reason for the crime. It made the resolution of the mystery anticlimactic.

While I enjoyed the story between Alaric and Constance, I missed seeing more of Barnaby and Penelope. Because there was no real conflict between Alaric and Constance other than the crime, I liked them as characters, but their relationship wasn’t really something that I had to root for.

This was a fine one time read, but I have enjoyed others in the series more.

WORTH MENTIONING: The hero here briefly appeared in THE CURIOUS CASE OF LADY LATIMER’S SHOES.

CONNECTED BOOKS: THE MURDER AT MANDEVILLE HALL is the seventh book in the Casebook of Barnaby Adair series. The story here is self-contained, but Barnaby Adair and his wife and the Scotland Yard investigator are continuing characters. Here, however, they are not as prominent as the couple and thus this is a good standalone in the series.

STAR RATING: I give this book 3.5 stars.

 

three-half-stars

Review: The Confounding Case of the Carisbrook Emeralds

Review: The Confounding Case of the Carisbrook EmeraldsThe Confounding Case of the Carisbrook Emeralds by Stephanie Laurens
Series: Casebook of Barnaby Adair #6
Published by Savdek Management Pty Ltd on June 14, 2018
Genres: Historical, Mystery
Goodreads
four-stars

FINAL DECISION: This is really a mystery with only a dash of secondary romance — not between the main characters — this is really the continuing stories of Barnaby and his wife Penelope and their friends who have joined together to work through mysteries of the aristocracy. I enjoyed this mystery and getting to see the characters again.

THE STORY: Miss Cara Di Abaccio is accused by her aunt of stealing the family jewels. This begins an investigation into the theft conducted by Inspector Stokes along with Barnaby and Penelope Adair, Stoke’s wife Griselda, and their friends Violet and Montague. Barnaby’s own cousin, Hugo, has taken a romantic interest in Cara and knows she is innocent. The investigation takes a serious turn when one of the maids is found dead.

OPINION: I enjoyed this book which is really a mystery and the romance is really minimal unlike the others in the series. I believe that because of the recurring characters, I didn’t mind that the “romance” that is new here isn’t particularly interesting to me. Instead, I really liked the updates about the characters that I already loved.

The story was one that kept me turning the pages until the end because I liked that there were various stories going on which all had to be resolved in order for the mystery to be “solved”.

The mystery was a good one with a well-developed group of suspects. Each character has a purpose for being in the story and felt like a developed personality. Each character has secrets that are revealed in the course of the story. This is a mystery really based on the characters and thus having a cast of interesting suspects is vital. I enjoyed these characters and their motivations kept the story moving.

WORTH MENTIONING: Very clean story with no sex except implied.

CONNECTED BOOKS: THE CONFOUNDING CASE OF THE CARISBROOK EMERALDS is the sixth book in the Casebook of Barnaby Adair series. The mystery in this book is completely self-contained. The characters who do the investigation continue through the series and we get some personal moments and information, but this book can be read as a standalone.

STAR RATING: I give this book 4 stars.

four-stars

Review: The Designs of Lord Randolph Cavanaugh

I received this book for free from Netgalley in order to prepare an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Review: The Designs of Lord Randolph CavanaughThe Designs of Lord Randolph Cavanaugh by Stephanie Laurens
Series: The Cavanaughs #1
Published by MIRA on April 24, 2018
Genres: Historical
Pages: 384
Goodreads
two-stars

 

FINAL DECISION: I found the topic very interesting dealing with an invention of the combustion engine, but I thought the romance bland and the ultimate story line didn’t have much consequence. I liked the characters, but the story didn’t give them enough to delve into.

THE STORY: Lord Randolph Cavanaugh is determined to make something of himself through his investments. Traveling to Throgmorton Hall to see the status of an investment in an engine and finds that the inventor has died. The son has taken on the task of finishing the engine. The daughter, Felicia, has been keeping the family afloat for years and is not a fan of inventors’ obsessions. With someone out to make sure that the invention fails, Rand and Felicia must work together to save all their fortunes.

OPINION: I really love the Cynster books and I loved the story of Rand’s brother, but I couldn’t love this one.

The characters were really nice and I liked them, but just about everything about the story failed them. Nothing was particularly interesting to me.

The romance was really bland and I never felt a connection between Rand and Felicia. There romance felt formulaic to me without any real spark between the characters. I ultimately liked how they related to one another, but I never felt that these two had the desperate passion between them that I would expect. The whole romance felt too left brain for me.

Then there was the story itself. The beginning felt like it would be dramatic and interesting and while the Victorian topic of engines was interesting, the story itself didn’t feel compelling. The twists hinted at in the blurb ended up less intriguing that I supposed.

The entire book felt too cold and plotted for me and lacked the passion on all levels that I look for in Laurens’ books.

WORTH MENTIONING: Ryder and Mary Cavanaugh make a significant appearance here.

CONNECTED BOOKS: THE DESIGNS OF LORD RANDOLPH CAVANAUGH is the first book in the Cavanaughs series. This book is connected to THE TAMING OF RYDER CAVANAUGH which tells the story of Rand’s older brother.

STAR RATING: I give this book 2 stars.

NOTE: I received an ARC of this book via Netgalley in order to prepare a review. I was not required to write a review or to write a positive review. All opinions contained herein are my own.

 

two-stars

Review: Lady Osbaldestone’s Christmas Goose

Review: Lady Osbaldestone’s Christmas GooseLady Osbaldestone's Christmas Goose (Lady Osbaldestone's Christmas Chronicles #1) by Stephanie Laurens
Series: Lady Osbaldestone's Christmas Chronicles #1
Published by Savdek Management Pty Ltd on October 19th 2017
Genres: Historical
Pages: 192
Goodreads
four-stars

FINAL DECISION:  This is a lovely Christmas story with a little mystery and a little romance. Lovely and sweet, I didn’t have high expectations but found this a pleasant little story.

THE STORY: Lady Osbaldestone, after being widowed a few years before has three of her grandchildren joining her for Christmas. Lady Osbaldestone has come to her dower house and the nearby village to see if wants to reside there more permanently. Despite not being high society, the village has plenty to keep a lady occupied. Among other things, the flock of Christmas geese have gone missing and a local gentleman and lady need a push to discover their destiny.

OPINION: This is a sweet Christmas story combined with a tiny mystery and a gentle romance. It was an interesting choice for the author to give the story from the perspective of Lady Osbaldestone who is discovering her own path after the death of her husband. This isn’t a story of grief because she has been a widow for several years, but rather her finding a purpose and a usefulness and a place.

I didn’t expect to like the story, but I really did. I thought the village was charming and Lady Osbaldestone’s relationships interesting and funny. I also loved seeing her work her matchmaking magic on a man who has lost hope and a woman who is living her life for her brother’s future. I thought the romance worked extraordinarily well and felt nice for the type of story this is.

I enjoyed this book and would definitely read more of this series.

WORTH MENTIONING: This is a clean romance. Kissing only.

CONNECTED BOOKS: Lady Osbaldestone is a recurring secondary character in many of Lauren’s novels. This book, however, is completely separate and doesn’t require reading any of the other books. In fact, it occurs prior to the other books.

STAR RATING: I give this book 4 stars.

four-stars

Review: The Greatest Challenge of Them All

Review: The Greatest Challenge of Them AllThe Greatest Challenge Of Them All (Cynster #26; Cynster Next Generation #6) by Stephanie Laurens
Series: Devil's Brood Trilogy #3, ,
Published by Savdek Management Pty Ltd on July 7th 2017
Genres: Historical, Mystery
Pages: 400
Goodreads
four-stars

“She’d had enough of playing by his rules.”

FINAL DECISION: This was the best of the three book trilogy as Drake and Louisa have a battle of wills over her involvement in Drake’s investigation. The focus in this series is the mystery and that is true here as well, but the romance was satisfying.

THE STORY: Drake Varisey, Marquess of Winchelsea and heir to the Duke of Wolverstone has taken up the reins of trying to unravel the plot to blow something in London up. The one woman he doesn’t want to help is Lady Louisa Cynster. For years, there has been something between these two and Louisa is determined to find out if there is any possibility of a future between them and he doesn’t intend to allow Drake to avoid her anymore. Recognizing that he needs Louisa’s vast social knowledge and connections, Drake allows Louisa to worm her way into his investigation, but he risks the emotional entanglement that he has been avoiding for years.

OPINION: This book pulls together the threads from the first two books of the series in both the mystery and the romances (as all three couples make appearances here). In fact, if I have a real complaint it is that it appears that all the real significant action was kept until this book which makes the first two books a little unnecessary.

Much of the book is about the mystery of what is going on with the gunpower that the characters have been searching for in the trilogy. There are differing points of view, including the villains in the story. That makes for a weighty story that has many moving parts.

Louisa is a woman who might be the strongest willed heroine that I’ve ever read by Laurens. She is already a mature woman who knows what her roll in life will be. She is giving Drake an audition so to speak. From the beginning she admits that there is no love between them because they haven’t been able to interact enough. (Honestly, I thought their beginning a little cold which has been an unfortunate repeated refrain in Laurens more recent books.  Too much intellectual evaluation, too little emotional upheaval). I like how she just does what she wants and doesn’t flinch at all from Mr. All powerful Spymaster extraordinaire.

Drake is a man who keeps control by avoiding those things that could challenge his control — namely Louisa. But as he cannot avoid her any longer, Drake is drawn closer and closer to the wonderfully competent and intelligent Louisa. And the closer he gets to her, the closer he wants to be.

I thought that these two had the best clashes as Drake is determined to avoid Louisa’s charms (but he doesn’t hold out well). I thought that this book best interwove the mystery and the romance. I also thought that the mystery was particularly good at the end as the unexpected target and motivations of the villains too center stage at the end of this book.

But what I loved most about this book was the extended epilogue which tied all the romances together in a beautiful fashion. That is what made this into a Cynster book for me.

WORTH MENTIONING: There is a bit with Devil and Honoria which is my favorite part — because they remain my favorite Laurens’ couple.

CONNECTED BOOKS: THE GREATEST CHALLENGE OF THEM ALL is the third book in the Devil’s Brood Trilogy. While the trilogy books work together as one mystery is solved, I think a reader could read just this book and not miss any of the mystery since there is a recap in the beginning.

STAR RATING: I give this book 4 stars.

four-stars

Review: An Irresistible Alliance

Review: An Irresistible AllianceAn Irresistible Alliance by Stephanie Laurens
Series: Devil's Brood Trilogy #2, Cynsters #25, Cynsters Next Generation #5
Published by Savdek Management Pty Ltd on May 11th 2017
Genres: Historical
Goodreads
four-stars

“You men always want to keep all the fun for yourselves.”

FINAL DECISION: A well rounded, if a little intellectual and mechanical, romance that mixes mystery with two people working a partnership to solve a mystery into a life partnership.

THE STORY: Lord Michael Cynster has been freed from his obligation to carry on the family line by the betrothal of his older brother, but now Michael feels at loose ends. When his brother and fiancee cannot continue the investigations they began, Michael takes up the reins to discover the barrels of gunpower now in London. His search takes him to Hendron Shipping for help where he meets Miss Cleome Hendon who has been running the family shipping offices. Cleo’s efficiency is her enemy as she longs for something new and exciting. Michael’s appearance offers that as Cleo bargains with information in order to become part of the investigation.

OPINION: This book brings together two of the children from Laurens’ Cynster and Bastion Club series. I enjoyed this book, but have to admit that I miss the parents who seem like a lingering and missing presence in the book.

This book has a political mystery drama (similar to the Bastion Club series) that continues from the first book. Cleo is definitely her mother’s daughter and demands her equal role from the start. The mystery of the book is the method by which these two work out their relationship. In that fashion, it is a historical romantic suspense. The mystery is the central story here with the romance a constant presence, but only worked out as the two engage in their investigations.

While I enjoyed the interactions between these characters and I especially like that Michael quickly reconciles himself to wanting all of Cleo (including the adventurous part). His father gives him some good advice and I did enjoy seeing Devil in his fatherly role. The romance between the two seemed too pat and organized and reasonable. I have to admit that I kind of like romances where the match needs to be worked out more. This one was like pulling on a pair of favorite socks. Comfortable but not particularly exciting. Perhaps that it what is likely to happen with well known characters children (who don’t have misfortunes in their background).

I thought the story was well constructed and I enjoyed it, but it doesn’t reach the level of the early Cynster books which were superlative.

WORTH MENTIONING: This is really a next generation book so fans wanting glimpses of the original Cynsters might be disappointed. There are small glimpses of Devil and Honoria but only small ones.

CONNECTED BOOKS: AN IRRESISTIBLE ALLIANCE is the second book in the Devil’s Brood Trilogy which is a spin-off of the Cynsters Next Generation series (Book #5) which is itself a spin-off of the Cynsters series (Book #25). This book should be read as part of the Devil’s Brood Trilogy because there is an overarching storyline that is divided between the books even if the romance is self-contained.

STAR RATING: I give this book 4 stars.

four-stars

Review: The Lady by his Side

Review: The Lady by his SideThe Lady By His Side by Stephanie Laurens
Series: Devil's Brood Trilogy #1
Published by Savdek Management Pty Ltd on March 9th 2017
Genres: Historical
Pages: 350
Goodreads
four-stars

FINAL DECISION:  Good story, good romance, but I wish there was more on the romance and less on the mystery.  These were highly anticipated characters and I wish there was more about their journey.  That being said, I understand it is more difficult to write stories about well-adjusted happy characters so I appreciate that their story needed more.

THE STORY:  Sebastian Cynster knows that it is time for him to find a wife because the women in his family are never patient about helping the men along if they need it.  Just when Sebastian comes to that realization, he is asked by one of his friends, the heir to the Duke of Wolverstone, to help make contact with a peer who might have information about a plot against the country.  Sebastian, however, needs a cover for attending the house party where he is to make contact.  For that, he approaches another family friend, Antonia Rawlings to help provide a cover.  Although the two grew up together, Sebastian has not had much contact with Antonia for years.  He finds himself unexpectedly attracted to her.  As to two work together to investigate the plot, they find themselves drawing closer.

OPINION:  I enjoyed this one but the mystery story was predominate here and by necessity there was a lot of backstory to set up in order to begin the trilogy.  As a result, I didn’t see much conflict in the relationship between Sebastian and Antonia. Everything was nice between them (as might be expected between two family friends where the relationships are so intertwined) and I liked them as a couple, but there wasn’t much tension between them.

There was also less hot sexiness between them — probably because Sebastian wasn’t going to act the rake with Antonia. I did like the book however, and I thought the mystery was filled with interest and tension. I thought this one is working out better than many of the other series with the same overarching mystery format.  Plus, what is not to love about having two characters infused with so much history find love together.  My only real negative is that I wish we had seen Devil and Honoria in the book.  Missed them greatly.

WORTH MENTIONING:  This book has a plot that is not resolved in this book. Although the romance is completed, there is an ongoing storyline that will be pursued by the next couple in the series.

CONNECTED BOOKS:  THE LADY BY HIS SIDE is the first book in the Devil’s Brood Trilogy.  It is also intimately connected with the long running Cynsters series.  This book however, can be read as a standalone.

STAR RATING:  I give this book 4 stars.

four-stars

Review: Lord of the Privateers

Review: Lord of the PrivateersLord of the Privateers (The Adventurers Quartet, #4) by Stephanie Laurens
Published by MIRA on December 27th 2016
Genres: Historical
Pages: 384
Goodreads
four-half-stars

FINAL DECISION:  Exciting and adventurous conclusion to the Adventurers Quartet, this is a second chance at love story. The focus here is more on the adventure than the romance, but I enjoyed both.  The only negative is that I didn’t like that the entire set up was because the two characters didn’t talk to one another for important things for years.

THE STORY: Royd Frobisher, the eldest brother, is prepared to take on the final leg of the rescue mission that his brothers have been participating in.  The brothers are working for the English government to try and find out what is happening to people going missing in the West African town. Royd’s younger brothers have discovered that the people going missing have been captured by slavers and taken to work in a diamond mine. Now it is time for the rescue to happen. Just at this moment, Isobel Carmichael comes to Royd and insists that he take her to search for her missing cousin Katherine (whose story is told in Book 3 of the series). Isobel is Royd’s childhood sweetheart, the woman who was Royd’s handfasted bride until she broke off with him. Isobel is also Royd’s current business partner. Royd ends up agreeing with Isobel’s demand in order to discover what if anything still exists between them.  When the two find a surprise aboard Royd’s ship, everything changes.

OPINION:  This was a very enjoyable conclusion to the Adventurers Quartet.  There is a lot of action in this book and readers of the series are rewarded with a full cast of characters from the series.  The only criticism is that this book is more focused on the adventure than the romance.  The romance is there, but it is less developed on a page to page basis than one might expect.

Isobel is a strong woman. She is a ship designer and in charge of her family’s shipbuilding business.  She and Royd have been connected to one another since childhood.  She also has a big secret that she has been hiding.

One of my favorite parts of Laurens’s books is that she has such tough heroines. Strong willed, smart, unwilling to be pushed aside or protected, they make their own decisions and take their own risks. Isobel and the other Frobisher women quickly build a bond. There is something special about the power of women working together. A companionship. A joint effort that shows the power that women can have working together.

Royd is a man who lost the woman he loved and is determined to not make the same mistakes again. He is a natural leader and wants to protect Isobel but recognizes that he cannot smother her. I loved the maturity of Royd. The willingness to make concessions to get what he wants — Isobel.

The biggest weakness of this book is the reason that Isobel and Royd fell apart years ago. I’m not a fan of people failing to talk and that causing problems for a couple. I really have a hard time believing that these two could have allowed so many years to go by without addressing their past. However, that is something that I could reluctantly accept in order to set the stage for this story.

I thought the strength of this story was the adventure story.  The pacing of the rescue of the captives and the revelation of the people in charge worked very well.  Using a large cast of characters from the series, Laurens neatly wrapped up all the loose ends.

WORTH MENTIONING: Fans of Stephanie Laurens will be treated to appearances by characters from the Bastion Club series and the Cynsters themselves.

CONNECTED BOOKS:  LORD OF THE PRIVATEERS is the fourth and final book in the Adventurers Quartet.  The book assumes knowledge of the prior books in the series and should be read in order.

STAR RATING:  I give this book 4.5 stars.

four-half-stars

Review: The Daredevil Snared

Review: The Daredevil SnaredThe Daredevil Snared (The Adventurers Quartet, #3) by Stephanie Laurens
Published by MIRA on June 28th 2016
Genres: Historical, Mystery
Pages: 464
Goodreads
four-half-stars

FINAL DECISION: My favorite of the series so far.  I loved the hero Caleb and I thought the story was active and interesting and I loved that Caleb and Kate spent so much time together falling in love.

THE STORY:  Caleb Frobisher, the youngest brother, has taken on the next part of the mission — without permission. His brothers have worked to discover the secret of the missing English people in the West African town of Freetown. People are being abducted by slavers to work in a mine.  Caleb is to find the location of the mine and send the information back so that a rescue can be mounted. Katherine “Kate” Fortescue is a governess who has been taken by the slavers to care for the captive children.  She meets Caleb and under extreme circumstances, the two find a way to bring hope to the captives and fall in love.

OPINION:  This is the third book in the series and I really think the action has picked up from the second book.  Caleb is a daredevil who might seem reckless but is actually an amazingly optimistic and flexible thinker. He is willing to change plans, to make adjustments, to work towards a goal without being deterred by setbacks.  I really loved his character which I found compelling. He seems like a guy I would like in real life. He doesn’t have an ego that demands he be recognized as the leader.  He is willing to share responsibility, work with other people and take suggestions. All of these qualities are ones that Kate admires in Caleb.  The most important thing he brings to the captives, including Kate, is hope.

Kate is a leader herself. Independent. Strong. A woman who has made the best of a horrible situation. She is willing to take the hope that Caleb’s presence provides and work for her rescue and future. She is a good match for Caleb.

One of the best parts of this book is how Caleb and Kate manage to have a relationship in midst of bad circumstances. Somehow, they have a sweet courtship and get to know one another.  There is something beautiful about love in the midst of horrible circumstances. It gives hope and also shows that things like friendship, love, community can prevail even in the most dire of circumstances.

This book has a countdown clock on it and thus the pacing was well done. Things matter in this book — every moment is important. The captives need to live through this by working together towards making it to their rescue.

This book has set up the series for a great conclusion.

WORTH MENTIONING:  Oh, oh!  I can’t wait to find out who the troublesome woman is in the fourth book.

CONNECTED BOOKS:  THE DAREDEVIL SNARED is the third book in the Adventurers Quartet.  While the romance is self-contained in this book, there is an overarching story which is told through all four books.  The books are meant to be read in order.

STAR RATING:  I give this book 4.5 stars.

four-half-stars

Review: A Buccaneer at Heart

Review: A Buccaneer at HeartA Buccaneer at Heart (The Adventurers Quartet, #2) by Stephanie Laurens
Published by MIRA on April 26th 2016
Genres: Historical
Pages: 512
Goodreads
two-half-stars

FINAL DECISION:  I generally love Laurens books, but this one was almost boring for the first half. The second half (after the hero and heroine meet) was really good, but I couldn’t help but wish that they had met earlier to pick up the pacing.

THE STORY: Captain Robert Frobisher picks up the investigation into the disappearances of people in West Africa. He travels there with the mission to find the camp of the slavers who have been kidnapping men, women and children.  When he arrives, Robert finds another person doing her own search. Miss Aileen Hopkins has come to West Africa searching for her younger brother who is one of the missing.  Robert knows that he has to convince Miss Hopkins to stop her search before she disturbs the wrong person and ends up missing as well.

OPINION:  This book was just so-so for me.  Once Robert and Aileen met and began investigating together, things heated up and the pace of the story picked up.  Unfortunately, that really didn’t happen until halfway through the book.

For the entire first part of the book Robert and Aileen are engaged in their own investigations and the investigation is the central story in the book.  What I really wanted was to know more about these characters, but instead, I got detail about the kidnapping and methods of investigations.  Those items don’t bother me in a Laurens book because the mystery is central to the story, but here, the hero and heroine spent too much time apart on the investigation.

Once Robert and Aileen join forces, the story picked up and I was happily turning pages.  The two are clearly the perfect match and there wasn’t much keeping them apart except for the adventure they are on.  Truthfully, the adventure/mystery itself was much more intriguing and exciting once they joined forces.  If there was more of that in the book and less of them apart, I would have really enjoyed this book.

WORTH MENTIONING: I usually never mention things like covers, but I have to say this one might be one of the worst I have seen.  The expression on Robert’s face on the front creeped me out every time I looked at it.

CONNECTED BOOKS: A BUCCANEER AT HEART is the second book in the Adventurers Quartet.  These book feature a continuing overarching storyline and are meant to be read in order.  That being said, the romance itself is completely self contained.

STAR RATING:  I give this book 2.5 stars.

two-half-stars
Rating Report
Cover
one-star
Overall: one-star