The Hidden Heart by Laura Kinsale (audiobook) – Narrated by Nicholas Boulton

the hidden heart audio

When her naturalist father dies on the upper reaches of the Amazon, Lady Tess Collier sets out to fulfill his last wish: return to England and marry. Desperate and broke, privateer Gryphon Meridon takes on an assignment he’d much rather refuse – shepherding a beautiful, eccentric young lady through London’s ballrooms.

Rating: A+ for narration; B for content

Nobody who has listened to Laura Kinsale’s wonderful prose brought vividly to life by the massively talented Nicholas Boulton can be in any doubt that the dozen audiobooks they have produced (so far – fingers crossed) have shown again and again exactly what an audiobook can and should be. Every aspect – writing, performance, direction and overall production have combined to put these titles at the top of the heap when it comes to romance audios, and they undoubtedly represent a pinnacle of achievement in the field.

But all good things must come to an end – unfortunately – and The Hidden Heart – the first of the author’s published works – is the last of Ms Kinsale’s books to come to audio. While I enjoyed it, I can’t help thinking that perhaps it would have been better to have had a different title as the Kinsale/Boulton swansong. I realise that these things can’t always be planned, but this isn’t my favourite Kinsale story; the pacing is uneven, the protagonists spend large chunks of time apart and there were times I wanted to throttle the hero!

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

Forever Your Earl (The Wicked Quills of London #1) by Eva Leigh

forever your earl

Eleanor Hawke loves a good scandal. And readers of her successful gossip rag live for the exploits of her favorite subject: Daniel Balfour, the notorious Earl of Ashford. So when the earl himself marches into her office one day and invites her to experience his illicit pursuits firsthand, Eleanor is stunned. Gambling hells, phaeton races, masquerades…What more could a scandal writer want than a secret look into the life of this devilishly handsome rake?

Daniel has secrets and if The Hawk’s Eye gets wind of them, a man’s life could be at stake. And what better way to distract a gossip than by feeding her the scandal she desperately craves? But Daniel never expected the sharp mind and biting wit of the beautiful writer, and their desire for each other threatens even his best laid plans.

But when Eleanor learns the truth of his deception, Daniel will do anything to prove a romance between a commoner and an earl could really last forever.

Rating: A

When it was announced at last year’s RWA that Zoe Archer was going to be turning her hand to writing Regency romances under the pseudonym of Eva Leigh, I was undoubtedly one of many immediately asking “when? WHEN?!” (and “who do I have to kill to get a copy?”) I have enjoyed other books of hers, most notably her Victorian-set Nemesis Unlimited series, which featured tightly-plotted, action-packed storylines, strong, independently-minded heroines, wickedly sexy heroes and great dialogue. I started reading Forever Your Earl hoping for more of the same – and wasn’t disappointed.

Eleanor Hawke, editor and proprietor of The Hawk’s Eye, a modestly successful periodical devoted to exposing the foibles of the rich and infamous, is surprised when completely out of the blue, one of her most recent targets, the rakish – and, she has to admit, gorgeous – Earl of Ashford storms into her office. He angrily insists that she stop printing lies about him, even going so far as to suggest that her readers might like to read actual news rather than “spurious gossip about a figure as inconsequential as myself.”

But Daniel Balfour has more at stake than simply putting a stop to gossip. For weeks, he has been trying to discover the whereabouts of his oldest friend, Jonathan Lawson, who disappeared into London’s underbelly before learning that the death of his brother had elevated him to a dukedom. Lawson, unlike Daniel, had been able to serve in the army during the recent war, but returned from it a changed man. All Daniel has to go on is that shortly before his disappearance, Jonathan had been seen in the worst sort of company in the less salubrious areas of London – and knows that should news of it ever leak out, it will ruin him, his family and his sister’s chance of making a good marriage. As Jonathan’s closest friend, Daniel can’t allow that to happen and besides, he feels partially responsible for the situation, having noticed something wasn’t right with his friend and not having taken any steps to help him.

Realising that having his every move scrutinised so closely could jepoardise his search and increase the risk to the Lawson family, Daniel decides to turn the gaze of The Hawk’s Eye elsewhere, by offering to open up his life to public scrutiny within its pages. He offers Eleanor the chance to write the truth about him; where he goes, what he does and who he sees, the life of one of the ton’s most infamous rakes setout in black and while for all the world to see.

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

All The Ways to Ruin a Rogue by Sophie Jordan (audiobook) – Narrated by Carmen Rose

all the ways to ruin audio

First friends, then enemies…

Lady Aurelia hasn’t always hated Max, Viscount Camden, her brother’s best friend. In fact as a besotted girl, she thrived under his kind attention, sure that he was the most noble and handsome man in the land. Until her young heart discovered what manner of rogue he really was. Now, though she enjoys nothing more than getting on his last nerve, she can’t deny Max drives her to distraction – even if she tries to pretend otherwise.

Now something more…

Max cannot recall a time when Aurelia did not vex him. If she was not his friend’s sister, he would stay far away from the infuriating vixen. Unfortunately they are always thrown together. At parties and family gatherings – she is always there. Mocking him, tossing punch in his face, driving him mad – until one night she goes too far, and he retaliates in the only way he can: with a kiss that changes everything.

Rating: C for narration; B- for content

All the Ways to Ruin a Rogue is the follow-up to Sophie Jordan’s A Good Debutante’s Guide to Ruin, and having really enjoyed the sexually-charged interactions between two of the secondary characters (one, the heroine’s friend, and the other a childhood friend of the hero), I was looking forward to their story with great anticipation. I rather like the enemies-to-lovers trope, and while I do have some quibbles with this particular book, if you’re looking for a story about a couple whose pointed and sometimes cruel barbs barely conceal the fact that they’re dying to rip each other’s clothes off, then it’s definitely worth looking at in print. In audio, however, I confess to being very disappointed.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

Highlander Undone by Connie Brockway

highlander undone 2

While recovering at his uncle’s estate from wounds sustained in the Sudan, Jack Cameron—a loyal Scottish captain in the British army—is haunted by the words of a dying officer: one of Her Majesty’s Black Dragoons is aiding the slavers they were sent to suppress. But how will he find the traitor without sending the culprit to ground? He finds a way while listening to the voices beneath his open window—particularly those of Addie Hoodless, a beautiful widow, and her brother, Ted, a famed artist commissioned to paint portraits of the Black Dragoons’ senior officers.

Posing as an artist, Jack decides to infiltrate the close circle of friends at Ted’s studio to listen in on the unguarded conversations of the officers. But first, he must win Addie’s trust despite the emotional wounds of her past. Will Jack dupe the only woman he has ever loved or stand down from hunting the traitor? If his real identity is exposed, Addie’s life will be in terrible danger.

Rating: B

Connie Brockway’s latest historical romance, Highlander Undone, boasts a dash of intrigue, a strong period feel, witty dialogue, a secondary romance (that cries out for its own book!) and a couple of engaging protagonists. It’s a well-crafted and enjoyable read, even though there are a few things that felt a bit rough around the edges and the set-up is a little weak.

John (Jack) Cameron, Captain of Her Majesty’s Cormack Highlanders is serving in the Sudan when he is badly wounded and sent back to England to recover and convalesce. He spends several months confined to bed in the quiet of the dower house on his great-uncle’s estate, and because he is bedridden, is an unintentional eavesdropper on the conversations that take place on the terrace outside his open bedroom window. The participants are most usually his aunt’s protégé, Ted Phyfe, a popular portraitist, and his sister, Addie Hoodless, the widow of an officer in the Black Dragoons.

Unaware they have an audience, Addie and Ted often speak of personal matters pertaining to Addie’s unhappy marriage to a man who consistently abused her and who injured Ted when the latter tried to intervene. Addie, once a vivacious, extrovert young woman has had the life literally beaten out of her; and even though she is now a widow, she is uncomfortable with men in general and with soldiers in particular, believing them to be as cruel and brutish as her late husband.

As Jack regains his health and strength, he recalls that in the moments before he was injured, he had received some truly shocking information. An officer in the Black Dragoons regiment was abusing his position in order to make enormous profits from the slave trade and, to protect those profits, had delayed important orders which ultimately caused the death of hundreds of soldiers. Jack has vowed to find the man responsible and have him brought to justice, but he can’t do anything openly. Alerting his superiors will bring the lumbering machinery of Whitehall into play, and that risks bringing any investigation out into the open and giving the culprit time to cover his tracks.

Overhearing that Ted has been commissioned to paint the portraits of a number of the officers in that very regiment, Jack realises that he has been given the ideal opportunity to gather information unobtrusively. His great-aunt is Ted’s patron, so Jack will easily be able to gain access to the artist’s studio and hang around to take advantage of the loosened tongues that the boredom of long sittings is bound to produce in Ted’s subjects.

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

Trapped by Scandal by Jane Feather (audiobook) – Narrated by Jill Tanner

trapped  by scandal

Lady Hero Fanshawe has chafed at society’s dictates since the death of her fiancé taught her that joy can be fleeting. When her brother disappears in Paris at the height of the Terror, she has no hesitation in disguising herself as a boy and risking her life to find him—or in joining forces with a chance-met ally, the enigmatic William Ducasse, Viscount St. Aubrey. And no regrets in indulging in a passionate affair with the dangerously handsome stranger in the shadow of the guillotine…

Half French, half English, William is committed to his shadow life, flirting with death to rescue imperiled aristocrats, and marriage is an indulgence he cannot afford. Once Hero returns to London, he refuses to risk her good name by continuing their liaison. But he has reckoned without the determined Hero’s disregard for propriety…or the dictates of his own treacherous heart.

Rating: C- for narration; D for content

The blurb for this book proudly trumpets the author’s “return to the Regency” – about a story set in 1795. If that had been the only thing wrong with Trapped by Scandal, I might have enjoyed it, a story of adventure and espionage on the streets of London and post-Revolutionary Paris with an intrepid heroine and a dashing hero intent on rescuing aristos from Madame La Guillotine. What I actually got was a pair of bland, unlikeable protagonists with zero chemistry, a non-existent romance and a pointless kidnap plot involving a cartoonish villain with a stupidly-shaped eyebrow. Sadly, he didn’t twirl it around while emitting an evil “Muahahahah!”

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

The Rogue You Know (Covent Garden Cubs #2) by Shana Galen

the rogue you know

She’s beyond his reach…
Gideon Harrow has spent his life in London’s dark underworld-and he wants out. A thief and a con, he plans one last heist to finally win his freedom. But when everything goes wrong, he finds himself at the tender mercies of one of Society’s most untouchable women-Lady Susanna Derring.

…and out of her depth.
Susanna has spent her life in London’s glittering ton, under the thumb of a domineering mother-and she wants out. When a wickedly charming rogue lands at her feet, she jumps at the chance to experience life before it’s too late. But as she descends into London’s underworld, she finds that nothing- not even Gideon-is as it seems. As excitement turns to danger, Susanna must decide what price she’s willing to pay…for the love of a reformed thief.

Rating: B

Like the previous book in Shana Galen’s Covent Garden Cubs series, The Rogue You Know features an engaging – if improbable – cross-class romance, this time between an aristocratic young woman and a thief who wants to get out of the game and make a better life for himself. We met Gideon Harrow briefly in Earls Just Want to Have Fun, when he helped its protagonists to dispose of a threat to the heroine, but while it helps to have a rough idea of who he is and how he relates to those events, it’s not absolutely necessary to have read that book, as this one works perfectly well as a standalone.

Lady Susanna Derring, sister to the Earl of Dane, is a very proper, well-brought up young lady who is never allowed to forget the importance of good ton and deportment by her overbearing mother. In fact, Susanna has been so properly raised that the constant need to be correct in all things is stifling her, and causing her to resent the Dowager Countess immensely. She cannot understand her mother’s suffocating over-protectiveness which extends to not even letting her go to the ladies’ retiring room on her own at the age of twenty!

On yet another boring visit to one of her mother’s acquaintances, Susanna at last manages to slip the noose for a few moments, and during that time is engaged in conversation by a malicious gossip who hints to Susanna that her mother might not have always been the upright, respectable matron she is now, and makes mention of events that may have taken place many years ago at Vauxhall Gardens. Susanna is instantly determined to go to Vauxhall to see if she can make any sense of the remarks made to her, but the Countess is adamant in her refusal to allow her to go.

Rookery thief Gideon Harrow is on the run from Beezle, the nasty piece of work who now runs the Cubs. He had agreed to do one last job – to steal an incredibly valuable diamond necklace – and planned to use the money he would earn to get out of London and make a fresh start somewhere else. Unfortunately, he ran into trouble during the theft and had to make a run for it, meaning that Beezle believes he has been double crossed. On the run from someone who knows the rookeries every bit as well as he does, Gideon heads for Mayfair instead, intending to hide the jewels at the home of his friend and former accomplice Marlowe, now the Countess of Dane.

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

Luck Be a Lady (Rules for the Reckless #4) by Meredith Duran

luck be a lady

They call her the Ice Queen. Catherine Everleigh is London’s loveliest heiress, but a bitter lesson in heartbreak has taught her to keep to herself. All she desires is her birthright – the auction house that was mercilessly stolen from her. To win this war, she’ll need a powerful ally. Who better than infamous crime lord Nicholas O’Shea? A marriage of convenience will serve them both.

Having conquered the city’s underworld, Nick seeks a new challenge. Marrying Catherine will give him the guise of legitimacy and access to her elite world – no one need know he’s coveted her for a year now. Their arrangement is strictly business, free from the weakness of love. Seduction, however, is an altogether different matter – an enticing game that he’s determined she’ll play, and what’s more, enjoy…

Rating: A

I haven’t yet met a book by Meredith Duran I didn’t at the very least like, and this one I LOVED. Everything about it just worked; the plot, the romance, the characterisations – it’s tightly written and incredibly well-researched, and the central relationship is wonderful. I love a good “marriage of convenience” story – it’s my favourite trope in the genre – and this is a very good one.

In lieu of a proper review, I’m linking to the Pandora’s Box discussion I had with Dabney over at All About Romance’s Blog.