The Rose Garden by Susanna Kearsley (audiobook) – Narrated by Nicola Barber

rose garden

“Whatever time we have,” he said, “it will be time enough.”

Eva Ward returns to the only place she truly belongs, the old house on the Cornish coast, seeking happiness in memories of childhood summers. There she finds mysterious voices and hidden pathways that sweep her not only into the past, but also into the arms of a man who is not of her time.

But Eva must confront her own ghosts, as well as those of long ago. As she begins to question her place in the present, she comes to realize that she too must decide where she really belongs.

From Susanna Kearsley, author of the New York Times bestseller The Winter Sea and a voice acclaimed by fans of Gabaldon, du Maurier, and Niffenegger alike, The Rose Garden is a haunting exploration of love, family, the true meaning of home, and the ties that bind us together.

Rating: C for narration; C+ for content

Eva Ward, a Brit who now resides in Los Angeles, has recently lost her sister, Katrina, a well-known actress. At the request of her sister’s husband, Eva returns to England to scatter Katrina’s ashes at a location that was dear to her. They spent their summers as children near an idyllic Cornish coastal town called Polgelly; and remembering how happy they were back then, Eva heads to Trelowath House, to stay with their old childhood friends, Mark and Susan Hallett, who now run the rose-growing business – The Rose Garden – that has been in their family for generations.

It’s not long after she arrives that Eva starts to experience hallucinations, sounds and visions which she at first puts down to the fact that she’s still grieving for her sister and to the medication she’s taking for her sleeplessness. But when her hallucinations begin to interact with her, she realises what’s really happening: she is somehow travelling back in time.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

I Loved a Rogue (Prince Catchers #3) by Katharine Ashe

i loved a rogue

In the third in Katharine Ashe’s Prince Catchers series, the eldest of three very different sisters must fulfill a prophecy to discover their birthright. But if Eleanor is destined to marry a prince, why can’t she resist the scoundrel who seduced her?

She can pour tea, manage a household, and sew a modest gown. In short, Eleanor Caulfield is the perfect vicar’s daughter. Yet there was a time when she’d risked everything for a black-eyed gypsy who left her brokenhearted. Now he stands before her—dark, virile, and ready to escort her on a journey to find the truth about her heritage.

Leaving eleven years ago should have given Taliesin freedom. Instead he’s returned to Eleanor, determined to have her all to himself, tempting her with kisses and promising her a passion she’s so long denied herself. But if he was infatuated before, he’s utterly unprepared for what will happen when Eleanor decides to abandon convention—and truly live.

Rating: A-

I Loved a Rogue is the final book in Ms Ashe’s Prince Catchers trilogy, and it’s a fabulous end to what has been a very enjoyable series. One of the things I’ve very much appreciated about these books is the way each of them has a different ‘feel’ which is specifically related to the personalities of the three heroines. In the first book, the middle sister, Arabella, is a bit of a romantic who ends up falling for a sea-captain who turns out to be heir to a dukedom. The youngest, Ravenna, is free-spirited and naturally inquisitive, finding her true love at the same time as playing detective to solve a murder at a country house party. And now, we get the eldest sister, Eleanor’s story. She’s always been the quiet one, the well behaved one, the girl most likely to spend her days keeping house for her adoptive father, the local vicar, helping with his sermons and carrying on good works in the parish.

But Eleanor’s shell of outward perfection hides a truly passionate nature, one which has been long repressed; there’s the sense that she’s like a pressure cooker and all that emotion and longing she’s so long buried is about to erupt. ”Quite simply, she wanted an adventure.” Her position as her father’s housekeeper-cum-helpmeet has changed with his recent remarriage as his new wife will, of course, want to assume the reins of the household. So Eleanor can have her adventure – yet the prospect of freedom is as terrifying as it is exciting. Overwhelmed by offers of home and security from her sisters and by their seeming desire to push her into marriage with her new step-brother, Eleanor suddenly announces her intention to take up the quest begun by Arabella to discover the identity of their parents – a quest which, according to a gypsy prophecy, will also see one of them wed to a prince.

Arabella is delighted at Eleanor’s decision, even though Eleanor immediately wonders what on earth made her suggest such a ridiculous idea. But before she can change her mind, Arabella insists that she needs an escort for her journey – and asks the one man Eleanor wants to avoid at all costs.

You can read the rest of this review at All About Romance.

For Love of the Duke by Christi Caldwell (audiobook) – Narrated by Morag Sims

for love of duke

After the tragic death of his wife, Jasper, the 8th Duke of Bainbridge buried himself away in the dark cold walls of his home, Castle Blackwood. When he’s coaxed out of his self-imposed exile to attend the amusements of the Frost Fair, his life is irrevocably changed by his fateful meeting with Lady Katherine Adamson. With her tight brown ringlets and silly white-ruffled gowns, Lady Katherine Adamson has found her dance card empty for two Seasons. After her father’s passing, Katherine learned the unreliability of men, and is determined to depend on no one, except herself. Until she meets Jasper. In a desperate bid to avoid a match arranged by her family, Katherine makes the Duke of Bainbridge a shocking proposition; one that he accepts. Only, as Katherine begins to love Jasper, she finds the arrangement agreed upon is not enough. And Jasper is left to decide if protecting his heart is more important than fighting for Katherine’s love.

Rating: B- for narration; B- for content

For Love of the Duke was a “new-to-me” listen in terms of both author and narrator, but the book seems to have been fairly well received so I decided to give the audio a try.

Twin sisters Lady Katherine and Lady Anne Adamson are shopping at a frost fair on the Thames in the run-up to Christmas when disaster strikes. Katherine literally steps onto thin ice, plunging into the frigid water beneath – and would have drowned but for the quick thinking and actions of Jasper, the Duke of Bainbridge, who dives in and pulls her out.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

In Bed With a Spy by Alyssa Alexander

in bed with a spy

Revenge has never been so seductive.

When her husband is killed at Waterloo, Lilias Fairchild takes up his cavalry sword and boldly storms the front, earning herself the nickname Angel of Vengeance. But there is another angel on the battlefield who is just as single-minded, and just as ruthless…

Alistair Whitmore, the Marquess of Angelford, is a British spy. Code name: Angel. Still haunted by a first love felled by assassins, his mission draws him to Waterloo, where he is captivated by a beautiful and mysterious woman fighting amongst the men—a woman who becomes his most intoxicating memory of war.

Passion has never been so dangerous.

Two years later, Lilias and Angelford lock eyes in a crowded ballroom and the memory returns in an exhilarating rush. The history they share, and hide from the world, is as impossible to ignore as the heat of their attraction. But it’s that very connection that spells doom for their scandalous affair. When someone from the shadows of their past proves a dire threat to their lives, passion might not be enough to save them.

Rating: B+

I haven’t (yet) got around to reading Alyssa Alexander’s début novel, The Smuggler Wore Silk, but having heard good things about it from friends whose opinions I trust, I was keen to read her latest book, In Bed With a Spy. I was very impressed with the author’s ability to create a fast-paced story and compelling, rounded characters, and at the same time to develop a romance with a very “adult” feel to it (in the sense that the characters act their ages rather than their shoe sizes!) with enough sexual chemistry between the leads to set the book alight.

Crazed with grief and bent on revenge upon learning of her husband’s death on the battlefield at Waterloo, Lilias Fairchild took up his sabre and rode into battle herself, killing many enemy soldiers and earning herself the nickname The Angel of Vengeance.

Alastair Whitmore, Marquess of Angelstone is a British spy who has spent years tracking down a group of assassins known as the Death Adders. It’s become rather an obsession with him ever since they murdered his lover four years before, and he has diligently collected evidence from every assassination the group has claimed. Tasked with carrying a message to Wellington at Waterloo, he briefly fought at Lilias’ side, and has never forgotten the sight of the lone woman, riding hell-for-leather, wielding her sabre inexpertly but with deadly intent. When, two years later, he sees her in a crowded ballroom, he is immediately captivated and determined to have her.

The couple trade witticisms and thinly veiled double-entendres that immediately communicate to the reader the fact that here are two people who aren’t afraid to acknowledge the attraction between them and are prepared to go after what they want. Lilias hasn’t felt even the tiniest stirring of attraction for any man since Waterloo, and certainly nothing like the heat of the desire the handsome marquess evokes in her. Yet she’s wary – Angelstone is a notorious rake and she senses something dark and hidden in him which should repel her, but which only draws her toward him even more.

Not long after her first encounter with Angel, Lilias makes the devastating discovery that her late husband – a man she’d loved deeply and lived with for six years – was not the person she had believed him to be. It’s a crushing blow, and yet Lilias is not defeated; instead, she’s furious at the deception, and perhaps angry with herself for never suspecting – and steels herself to find out the truth, no matter how dangerous the search or how distasteful the that truth turns out to be.

You can read the rest of this review at All About Romance.

Lessons in French by Laura Kinsale (audiobook) – Narrated by Nicholas Boulton

lessonsfrench audio

Laura Kinsale’s best romantic comedy, narrated in Nick Boulton’s sexy, wicked voice….

Trevelyan d’Augustin and Lady Callista Talliafaire were secret sweethearts, until the day her father dismissed him with a whip across the face. Ten years and three jiltings later, shy Callie is resigned to a quiet village life as the late earl’s spinster daughter. But now Trev has returned from his estates in France, upending everything, dragging her into adventures, stealing Hubert the prize-winning bull, and flinging Callie’s heart into mayhem again.

Laura and Nick fans who enjoy a practical, witty heroine will love shy Lady Callista with her cattle and daydreams, and believe dashing Trev will be a lucky man if he can win her back…or perhaps just kidnap her instead!

Rating: A+ for narration; B+ for content

I’m a sucker for a good “second chance” romance, and given that Lessons in French is the tale of two lovers reunited after a decade apart, it was bound to be right up my street. Throw in the words “narrated by Nicholas Boulton” and not only is it right up my street, it’s got its boots off warming its toes in front of the fire at the pub round the corner!

Lady Callista Taillefaire, daughter of the Earl of Shelford, and Trevelyan Davis d’ Augustin, descended from a family of French aristocrats who fled the Terror, fell in love as teenagers, but were separated by the earl, who didn’t believe an impoverished Frenchman was worthy of his daughter.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

TBR Challenge: Rakes and Radishes by Susanna Ives

rakesand radishes

When Henrietta Watson learns that the man she loves plans to marry London’s most beautiful and fashionable debutante, she plots to win him back. She’ll give him some competition by transforming her boring bumpkin neighbor, the Earl of Kesseley, into a rakish gothic hero worthy of this Season’s Diamond.

After years of unrequited love for Henrietta, Kesseley is resigned to go along with her plan and woo himself a willing bride. But once in London, everything changes. Kesseley–long more concerned with his land than his title–discovers that he’s interested in sowing wild oats as well as radishes. And Henrietta realizes that gothic heroes don’t make ideal husbands. Despite an explosive kiss that opens her eyes to the love that’s been in front of her all along, Henrietta must face the possibility that Kesseley is no longer looking to marry at all…

Rating: B+

This, Susanna Ives’ début novel was published by Carina in 2010, and is one of the most unusual historical romances I’ve read. In fact, it sometimes doesn’t feel like a romance at all; what it actually is is the story of a conflicted young man who has struggled all his life not to allow himself to be defined by his past, and who faces some very difficult – and perhaps even insurmountable – challenges in his attempt to find his true self.

That said, there is a love story running throughout the book, and it’s definitely a romance in the sense that there is eventually a happy resolution for the central couple. But it doesn’t come easily and both hero and heroine have to go through the wringer in order to get there, which makes for some uncomfortable reading. Both characters act in ways which could render them irredeemably unlikeable, but fortunately, Ms Ives is a strong enough writer to be able to turn that around in a believable manner and to show that both principals have grown as a result of their experiences. They aren’t ready to be together at the beginning of the story, but they come through all the trials, tribulations and heartbreak that ensues as more enlightened and self-aware people who are ready to make a life together.

The author has very successfully turned one of the most commonly-used tropes in the genre upside-down and inside-out. The story of the hardened rake who eventually settles down with the love of his life to become a doting husband and responsible member of the community is reversed, as the hero – the Earl of Kesseley – travels in the opposite direction. He begins the book as a loveable and kindly gentleman farmer – and later plunges into a life of dissipation when his anger and frustration at both himself and the heroine become too much for him to bear.
In fact, Rakes and Radishes could easily have been subtitled Be Careful What You Wish For, as most of the conflict in the story stems from the heroine’s desire to turn her oldest friend into a fashionable man-about-town – and all because of something she wants rather than for his own benefit.

Thomas, the Earl of Kesseley has been in love with Henrietta Watson for as long as he can remember. They more or less grew up together, and he would frequently take refuge at the Watson’s home to get away from the miserable atmosphere at his own. His father was a hardened libertine who abused his mother and the young Thomas grew up seeing things no child should ever have to see. Even before he inherited his title, Kesseley was determined never to become a man like his father, and, at the age of twenty-five, he has succeeded. He has devoted his life to the management of his land and estates, and has finally managed to reverse the damage done by his father’s neglect.
Henrietta knows how Kesseley feels about her, but although he’s her dearest friend and has always been there for her, she isn’t interested in him romantically. In fact, she imagines for herself a glamorous London life at the side of her cousin Edward, a handsome poet. Edward has recently travelled to London in order to further his literary ambitions and believing herself in love, Henrietta is on tenterhooks awaiting a letter from him. He has been in London for six weeks, and hasn’t written once – and when Henrietta reads of his betrothal to the beautiful Lady Sara, she is in despair. She’s fully aware of what she’s doing when she uses Kesseley as a shoulder to cry on – but she can’t help herself. She is so completely self-obsessed that she doesn’t even try not to hurt him, even as she recognises what she’s doing and feels bad about it. But all she cares about is winning Edward back from Lady Sara, and suggests to Kesseley that he should make Lady Sara fall in love with him instead and steal her from Edward! Kesseley is aghast at such an idea – but Henrietta is insistent. He’s so much more handsome than Edward anyway, and if he just cut his hair and dressed like an earl instead of a farm-hand, he’d have the debutantes swooning at his feet!

She manoeuvres him into taking her to London as his mother’s companion – something about which Lady Kesseley is not at all happy, not liking the way Henrietta takes her son for granted. But Henrietta is too focused on her goal of getting Edward back to care very much about that and blithely continues to insist that if Kesseley would just smarten himself up, and perhaps act like the darkly brooding Lord Blackraven, the hero of her favourite novel, that perhaps he’ll have a better chance of finding himself a wife, regardless of whether he helps Henrietta with Edward or not.

By this point, Kesseley is disgusted with Henrietta but even more disgusted and angry with himself for the way he lets her walk all over him. Having suffered humiliation at various social events, he eventually snaps. He’s had enough of Henrietta’s machinations and needs to get her out from under his skin. In doing so, he does all the things she’s been urging him to – going to a good tailor, getting himself a decent valet and a good haircut – and even emulating the ennui and mystery embodied by the fictional Lord Blackraven. Kesseley isn’t stupid –he realises that what attracts young women to this romantic hero in droves is the air of mystery he exudes – and decides that that’s the way to play the game.

No one is more stunned than Henrietta at Kesseley’s transformation; she’s always thought him handsome but now he’s devastatingly so – and he immediately sets about wooing Lady Sara and every other young woman in sight. But this isn’t Kesseley – overnight he’s become a stranger to Henrietta, and the truth hits her like a ton of bricks. This isn’t the man he should be – and it certainly isn’t the man she now realises she loves.

Sometimes this is a hard book to read. Henrietta is blinkered and selfish and is an easy heroine to dislike at the start of the book. Granted, that’s the way the reader is supposed to respond to her, and Ms Ives has done a good job in showing her to be an immature young woman who can’t tell the difference between infatuation and love. The reader can see quite clearly that what Henrietta feels for Kesseley is more than friendship. She’s deeply attracted to him (there’s a point at which she finds herself thinking about him in the bath – all wet, naked, bulging muscle!) and has responded enthusiastically to the odd kiss they’ve shared. But her familiarity and easy relationship with him blinds her to the true nature of her feelings for him – and when she does realise them, it’s too late.

Kesseley begins the book as a very sympathetic character, even though one can’t help but agree with his own assessment of his relationship with Henrietta – namely that he lets her take him for granted and is spineless for doing so. The author does an excellent job of showing and building his frustrations and conveying his desperation to stop himself from enduring further hurt at her hands. She then proceeds to turn him into a rake of the first order – and one of the things I appreciated about that section of the book as a whole is that Kesseley really does become a rake. There’s a line of Henrietta’s where she admits she’d had no idea what being a rake truly meant , having only a fictional character to go by – which is a surely a comment on the genre as a whole. There are so many books around with the words “rake”, “rogue”, “devil”, or “wicked” in the title in which the hero is actually no such thing. So while it’s perhaps not his most shining hour, it’s important to the story that Kesseley really does plumb the depths – drinking, gambling, whoring, even attempting to drunkenly seduce a friend’s wife – as I think he needs to go there, to the edge of self-destruction, in order to be able to appreciate the honesty and openness of the life he’d led before. And I think Henrietta needs to see him like that in order to realise the depth of the damage her thoughtlessness has wrought – how asking Kesseley to act the part of a rake, she’d opened up all the old wounds inflicted on him by his father.

Rakes and Radishes is a very strong début novel, and kudos to Ms Ives for daring to challenge and upend some of the most beloved tropes in the genre. The writing has a few rough edges to it here and there, and there is the usual (and unfortunate) smattering of Americanisms, but the author’s handling of difficult subject matter and the emotional complexity of the story more than make up for those deficiencies.

Twice Tempted (Drake’s Rakes #5) by Eileen Dreyer

twice tempted

Fiona Ferguson and her twin sister Mairead are missing. Sisters of an alleged traitor, they have been cast out by their noble grandfather, who believes their brother’s reputation will taint them. Furious at the old man’s behavior, Drake’s Rakes Alex Knight and Chuffy Wilde set out to find the sisters.

What Alex and Chuffy don’t know is that they are also leading agents for the traitorous cabal The Lions right to the women. Caught in a deadly game of cat and mouse, the sisters and their rescuers are forced farther and farther into the slums of London to escape not only the Lions, but Minette Ferrar, a notorious assassin looking to revenge herself on Ian Ferguson by killing his sisters. What Fiona Ferguson cannot escape, though, is the dawning realization that she is falling in love with Alex Knight, who is burdened with secrets that pose the most danger of all.

Rating: B+

Twice Tempted is the fifth instalment in Eileen Dreyer’s Drake’s Rakes series, and follows neatly on from book four, Once a Rake. During the course of that book, twin sisters Fiona and Mairead Ferguson learned that their brother, Ian, had been killed following his unsuccessful attempt to assassinate the Duke of Wellington. Disgust and fear of the scandal likely to ensue prompted their grandfather – never the kindest or most tolerant of men – to disown them and throw them out. When, a few weeks later, Alex Knight and his friend and colleague, Lord Charles Wilde (Chuffy) return to the Marquess of Rayburn’s estate to advise him and Ian’s sisters that he’s still alive and very much innocent, it’s too late. The ladies have gone and nobody knows where they went.

Fiona and Mairead Ferguson-Hawes are no strangers to homelessness, having more or less grown up on the streets of Edinburgh following the death of their mother when they were girls. They slept rough on the streets, with Fiona working hard to keep body and soul together, and they can do it again if necessary. Disappearing in a big city like London is easy to accomplish, and while Fiona works out what to do next, they take temporary refuge at the girls’ school in Blackheath that’s run by a friend.

Alex and Fiona actually met four years before, as told in the novella It Begins with a Kiss. Fiona was just sixteen, yet it was apparent that she and Alex were attuned to each other, and she has carried a torch for him ever since. They shared just one passionate kiss – but Alex was married and far too honourable a man to attempt to take anything further. Now he’s a widower and even though his attraction to Fiona has never abated, he doesn’t think he’s deserving of her love or dare to think they might have a future together. Alex might have been dubbed the “White Knight” by his fellow Rakes because of his drive to protect those he loves, but he doesn’t see himself that way at all, dwelling instead on the times he has let others down or failed to save them. In the last book, he had to make an impossible choice between duty to his country and to his friends when he was blackmailed by a group of traitors called the Lions – and he continues to be haunted by his actions. Still under a cloud, he is sickened to hear from the Lions again, this time accusing his beloved step-father and his late wife of treason, and threatening to reveal all if Alex doesn’t lead them to Fiona and Mairead.

You can read the rest of this review at All About Romance.