The Groom Says Yes (Brides of Wishmore #3) by Cathy Maxwell (audiobook) – Narrated by Mary Jane Wells

the groom says yes

He had a noose around his neck and a price on his head…

Sabrina Davidson, dutiful daughter, avowed spinster, thought she’d secured a place for herself in Aberfeldy society – until her hard-earned acceptance of her fate is challenged by the arrival of Cormac Enright, earl of Ballin, trained physician, soldier of fortune, and convicted felon.

A prim and proper miss was the last thing he needed…

Mac is determined to clear his name, but first he has to find the man whose testimony sentenced him to a hangman’s noose. Of course, Robert Davidson is missing and protecting Mac is Davidson’s daughter, the most entrancing, frustrating, beguiling, stubborn woman Mac has ever met.

And it doesn’t help that he has already tasted her kisses. Or that he has found in her a passion for life and adventure to rival his own. Mac has turned Sabrina’s world inside out – but what will happen when he leaves?

Or will the groom say yes..?

Rating: A for narration; C+ for content

This is the final book in Cathy Maxwell’s Brides of Wishmore trilogy, but I don’t think it’s necessary to have listened to the previous books in order to understand or enjoy this one. The Groom Says Yes boasts a fairly straightforward story with an added touch of mystery concerning the threat to the hero, and both central characters are likeable and well-matched, but I suspect that had I read it rather than listened to it, I’d have found it a little bland. The audiobook, however, benefits from another fine performance from Mary Jane Wells; and while she can’t rework the story, she does infuse it with colour, light and shade by virtue of her skilful characterisations and by injecting both humour and emotional depth into all aspects of her narration.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

The Highwayman by Kerrigan Byrne

the highwayman

STEALING BEAUTY
Dorian Blackwell, the Blackheart of Ben More, is a ruthless villain. Scarred and hard-hearted, Dorian is one of London’s wealthiest, most influential men who will stop at nothing to wreak vengeance on those who’ve wronged him…and will fight to the death to seize what he wants. The lovely, still innocent widow Farah Leigh Mackenzie is no exception—and soon Dorian whisks the beautiful lass away to his sanctuary in the wild Highlands…

COURTING DESIRE
But Farah is no one’s puppet. She possesses a powerful secret—one that threatens her very life. When being held captive by Dorian proves to be the only way to keep Farah safe from those who would see her dead, Dorian makes Farah a scandalous proposition: marry him for protection in exchange for using her secret to help him exact revenge on his enemies. But what the Blackheart of Ben More never could have imagined is that Farah has terms of her own, igniting a tempestuous desire that consumes them both. Could it be that the woman he captured is the only one who can touch the black heart he’d long thought dead? 

Rating: B+

I haven’t read anything by Kerrigan Byrne before, but after reading The Highwayman, that’s something I think I’m going to have to rectify quite soon. Set in the late Victorian era, the story centres around a man who has been so brutalised that he believes himself to be beyond redemption and the young woman who has lived in his memory as a talisman through the darkest days of his life. So yes, it’s an intense story, full of lush, lyrical language and lots of angst and thus, might not be to everyone’s taste. But I’m a bit of an angst-bunny and am always ready for a story that puts me through the emotional wringer; and apart from a few small (ish) niggles, I enjoyed the book very much.

Infamous crime-lord Dorian Blackwell is the scourge of the Metropolitan Police Force. He has fingers in practically every illegal pie in England, a wide network of informants, henchmen and officials in his pocket as well as a large number of legitimate business interests and has become, in the years since his release from Newgate Prison, a very wealthy and influential man. News of Blackwell’s arrest by Chief Inspector Sir Carlton Morley occasions a growing mob outside the entrance to Scotland Yard, full of people eager to catch a glimpse of the Blackheart of Ben More – which proves frustrating for Mrs Farah MacKenzie, a respectable widow who works at the Yard as a clerk, as she is unable to enter her place of employment.

Farah is to take notes during the Inspector’s interrogation of Blackwell, and finds herself inexplicably discomfited by the man. His build, his mis-matched eyes, the sense of leashed strength and power are both horrifying and compelling, and thoughts of him dog her through the next few days – until she returns home one evening to find Blackwell waiting for her in the shadows.

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

Deadly Affair (Alec Halsey Mystery #2) by Lucinda Brant (audiobook) – Narrated by Alex Wyndham

deadly affair

Career diplomat Alec Halsey has been elevated to a marquessate he doesn’t want. His lover has decided she won’t marry him after all. What’s more, the suspicion that he murdered his brother still lingers in London drawing rooms. So returning to London after seven months’ seclusion may have been a mistake.

Alec’s foreboding deepens when a nobody vicar drops dead at a party-political dinner, he witnesses the very public humiliation of an up-and-coming portrait painter, and his rabble-rousing uncle Plantagenet is bashed and left for dead in a laneway. When the vicar’s true identity is revealed, Alec suspects the man was poisoned. But who would want a seemingly harmless man of God murdered, and why?

Rating: A+ for narration; B+ for content

In Deadly Affair, the second book in Lucinda Brant’s series of Alec Halsey Mysteries, listeners are again immersed in the world of Georgian London so skilfully evoked by the author, whose love for and detailed research into the period shine through at every turn. Her descriptions of the sights, sounds – and smells! – of the homes of the rich, the back-street slums, the coffee houses; and of the silks, velvets and lace adorning the fashions of the day put the listener right into the middle of the action and make it easy to picture the locations and characters in the mind’s eye.

Eschewing the opulence of colour and decoration espoused by the ton in favour of severe black, like a raven amid a muster of peacocks, is the austerely handsome and intelligent Alec Halsey, career diplomat and brother to an earl. In the previous book, Deadly Engagement, listeners learned of the long and deeply held enmity between Alec and his brother and now, following the earl’s death, Alec is poised to inherit a title he doesn’t want but cannot refuse. Even worse for him, the title is elevated to a marquessate, and the new Marquess Halsey then buries himself at his country estate for seven months while he attends to various family matters and estate business. During this time, rumours begin to circulate which suggest Alec is responsible for the death of his brother; and if that isn’t bad enough, his recently re-kindled love affair with the woman he’s loved for years has taken a turn for the worse.

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

My Lady Faye (Sir Arthur’s Legacy #2) by Sarah Hegger

MyLadyFaye - SarahHegger

The Lady
The fair Lady Faye has always played the role allotted her. Yet the marriage her family wanted only brought her years of abuse and heartache. Now, finally free of her tyrannical husband, she is able to live her own life for the first time. But someone from the past has returned. Someone she has never been able to forget.

The Warrior
After years of servitude as a warrior for King and Country, Gregory is now free to pursue his own path: to serve God by becoming a monk. The only thing stopping him is Faye. Gregory has loved Faye since the moment he saw her. But their love was not meant to be. How can he serve God when his heart longs for her? He can neither forsake God nor the woman he loves.

The Promise
When Faye’s son is kidnapped, Gregory answers her family’s call for help, only to find that even in the most dangerous of circumstances, neither can fight their forbidden attraction. An attraction that now burns brighter than ever before. And it is only a matter of time until it consumes them both.

Rating: C+

My Lady Faye is the second book in Sarah Hegger’s Sir Arthur’s Legacy series, and it picks up the story of Faye, Countess of Calder and sister to the heroine of the first book, Sweet Bea. In that book, Faye finally finds the courage to flee her abusive husband with her two young sons, accompanied by her faithful protector, Sir Gregory. Throughout the seven years of her horrible marriage, the knight was Faye’s only true friend, the one man who knew the truth of what Faye had to endure at her husband’s hands, who offered her what comfort and solace he could and the man who was more of a father figure to her boys than their biological father ever was. It was clear, in Sweet Bea that there was something deeper than mere friendship lying between Faye and her handsome escort, but his long avowed intention to join a religious order stood between them; and having seen Faye and her boys safely returned to her father, he has left Anglesea to pursue his lifelong dream of taking holy orders.

Months later, Faye continues to feel Gregory’s absence keenly and is still angry with him for the ease with which he was able to walk away from her seemingly without regret.

Faye’s worst nightmare comes true one day when her eldest son goes missing, snatched by Calder’s men and returned to his father. She is distraught, knowing Calder to be a cruel, vengeful who will not hesitate to use the boy in order to exact his revenge upon her. Because a married woman and her children are legally her husband’s property – and because he is still looked upon warily following his participation in the barons’ rebellion against the now deceased King John – Sir Arthur’s hands are tied. He has no legal rights in the matter and cannot afford to attract the notice of the new king, and Faye is driven almost out of her mind with frustration and worry, until the arrival of the one man upon whom she has always been able to depend.

Brought from the abbey by Faye’s brother-in-law, Sir Gregory knows that his conflicting loyalties will be sorely tested by proximity to the woman he has loved for so long, but he cannot refuse to help her to get back her son. When she insists on accompanying Gregory to Calder, her father and brothers are adamant that she stay at Anglesea, but she will not be dissuaded. She and Gregory set off with Faye disguised as a boy, to make the journey back to the place she hates most in the world in order to effect the rescue.

One of the things Ms Hegger does very well in this story is to explore the nature of the conflict between Faye and Gregory, which one could almost describe as a Love Triangle. Gregory has wanted to enter the church since he was a boy, an ideal he clung to even when he was fostered out to Calder’s household in the way that boys of the nobility were at that time. He had not, however, bargained on falling in love, and given that Faye was married and there was no hope for them, he kept to his resolve to devote his life to God. Yet he is still torn between his love for his calling and his love for Faye which is, he knows, the reason he has not yet been allowed to take his final vows. He wants to help Faye in any way he can, but when thrown back into an even closer proximity to her than before, he is unable to deny the pull of the attraction between them.

Faye spends quite a lot of the story being angry because Gregory chose the church over her, which sometimes makes her seem rather selfish – but on the other hand, it’s easy to understand her feelings. The man she married turned into a monster and the only person she could rely on was the strong, taciturn knight set to guard her. When her only source of tenderness and comfort left, it’s natural that she should feel abandoned and aggrieved, but she has a habit of constantly needling Gregory that isn’t always easy to read. Fortunately, Faye is redeemed somewhat by the fact that she knows she’s being selfish and petulant, even though she can’t always help herself.

She also grows throughout the story, turning from the timid, helpless woman she had been during her marriage into one who is prepared to put up a fight for what she wants and not to be cowed by her brutal husband, even if it proves bad for her.

On the downside, the writing is a little choppy in places and there is a very modern feel to much of the dialogue, which often took me out of the story. I can’t believe, in this day and age of the internet, that non-British authors are not aware that the English slang word for posterior is “arse” and NOT “ass”. Honestly, every time I see an English heroine grabbing her lover’s ass during a love scene I wonder if there’s a donkey in bed with them! And similarly, a sentence like this:

Verily, the Abbey had not improved his conversational skills any.

– sticks out like a sore thumb and provoked simultaneous cringeing and laughter, because if you’re going to include faux-Medieval dialogue (most authors who set books in this period do, and I’m fine with it), don’t then juxtapose it with a modern-day Americanism. (In Britain, we don’t use the word “any” in that way.) We also don’t travel anywhere “a ways” and describing someone as “going spare” (i.e, freaking out) is certainly idiomatic English, but it’s a very modern expression and once again, feels very out of place. One can argue that the author should have written the book in Medieval French for authenticity, but that’s not my point and is, besides, an argument that is out of place here.

In spite of my criticisms, I did enjoy the story and am certainly not averse to reading future books in the series. Ms Hegger has a good grasp of the historical background and politics and she has penned a sweetly sensual romance between the Lady and her knight which takes serious note of the issues that lie between them. I’d certainly give the book a qualified recommendation to fans of Medieval romances, and to anyone looking for a new author to try.

Viscount’s Wager (Gambling on Love #3) by Ava March

viscounts wager

London, 1822

You never forget your first love, but is a second chance worth the gamble?

Anthony, Viscount Rawling, knows exactly what he wants in life and he isn’t above having a look about London for it. When he spots recently widowed Gabriel Tilden at a ton function, he thinks he might have found love…again.

Gabriel is as gorgeous and reserved as he was when he broke Anthony’s heart seven years ago. But they were only adolescents then…surely Anthony won’t hold the incident against him. And especially not when the attraction between them is stronger than ever.

Gabriel came to London in search of distraction, and a teasing Anthony is impossible to resist. As Anthony introduces Gabriel to the pleasures that can be found in the city—and in his bedchamber—their bond deepens into something more. Yet both men are hiding secrets that could pull them apart forever…

Rating: B-

Viscount’s Wager is the third book in Ava March’s Gambling on Love series, but even though characters from earlier books appear in it, I don’t think it’s essential to have read them to understand this one. It’s a well-told and engaging story and I enjoyed reading it, but the pacing around the middle of the book drags somewhat and the big secret being kept by one of the protagonists is allowed to go on for a bit too long, which caused me to lower my final grade a little.

Seven years after they shared a memorable moonlight kiss, Gabriel Tilden and Anthony, Viscount Rawling run into each other at a musicale. Six months a widower, Gabriel has come to London for the first time since his marriage, desperate to distract himself from the guilt he feels over his wife’s death.

Anthony has been in love with Gabriel ever since he was sixteen, and was heartbroken when, just the day after their kiss, he witnessed Gabriel in a passionate embrace with the young woman he was eventually to marry. But he put that behind him and has since made himself a life he enjoys, even though his attitude towards the management of his estates is rather lax – for reasons that eagle-eyed readers will probably work out before they are revealed. Comfortable with his sexual preferences, Anthony knows he will never find happiness within marriage and, having grown up with parents who loved each other deeply, knows that is the sort of relationship he wants for himself – but with a man. He is good-natured and open-hearted, and even though he has never forgotten Gabriel, he has resigned himself to the fact that he probably wasn’t “the one”.

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

Heartless by Mary Balogh (audiobook) – Narrated by Rosalyn Landor

heartless

Life has taught Lucas Kendrick, Duke of Harndon, that a heart is a decided liability. Betrayed by his elder brother, rejected by his fiancée, banished by his father, and shunned by his mother, Luke fled to Paris, where he became the most sought-after bachelor in fashionable society. Ten years later fate has brought him back home to England as head of the family who rejected him. Unwilling as he is to be involved with them, he must assume responsibility for his younger siblings, the family estate he once loved – and the succession. He faces the prospect of marrying with the greatest reluctance – until he sees beguiling Lady Anna Marlowe across a ballroom one night.

Anna, far from being the bright-eyed innocent Luke takes her for, is no more a stranger to the shadows of a painful past than he is. But for her, marriage cannot so easily solve what is wrong in her life – not when a tormentor stalks her to the very doors of Bowden Abbey, where Luke and Anna must learn to trust in each other or risk any chance they may have for a happy future.

Rating: A for narration; B+ for content

It’s been a treat, over the last few months, to see some of Mary Balogh’s older titles finally making it into audio format. I have noticed a number of them (including this one, and its sequel, Silent Melody) coming back into print and being made available digitally, so I’m hoping that the audiobooks will follow – and will add my voice to those longing for re-issues of Ms Balogh’s Simply series (also narrated by Rosalyn Landor) and for recordings of her Bedwyn books.

Heartless was originally published in 1995 and is set in the late Georgian era. Its hero, Lucas Kendrick, left England a decade earlier following a heart-breaking betrayal and its terrible aftermath, and has since made a life for himself in Paris. Ten years later, Luke is a trendsetter, a man of fashion and influence, deadly with both blade and pistol and much sought after by the ladies, but with a reputation for being cold and unemotional. He’s totally heartless according to Parisian society, and that’s exactly how he likes it. That way, no woman will expect more from him than he is able to give, because his emotions died a decade ago, along with the bookish, mild-tempered and optimistic boy he had been.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

Gathering Storm by Maggie Craig (audiobook) – Narrated by James Bryce

gathering storm

Edinburgh, Yuletide 1743.

Seconded back from the wars in Europe to captain the city’s town guard, Robert Catto fears his covert mission to assess the strength of the Jacobite threat will force him to confront the past he tries so hard to forget.

Christian Rankeillor, known as Kirsty; her surgeon-apothecary father; and his apprentice, Jamie, are committed supporters of the Stuart cause. Meeting as enemies, Robert and Kirsty are thrown together as allies by the mysterious death of a young prostitute and their desire to help fugitive brother and sister Geordie and Alice Smart.

Robert and Kirsty are increasingly drawn to each other. She knows their mutual attraction can go nowhere. He knows his duty demands that he must betray her.

Rating: C+ for narration; A for content

I’ve had this title on my TBR pile for some time, but haven’t found time to read it yet, so when I saw it had been released in audio format, I grabbed it immediately. The book came very highly recommended and the author has a reputation for meticulous research and the ability to expertly immerse her readers into the historical periods about which she writes, so I was looking forward to listening to Gathering Storm with high hopes.

I’m not going to say those hopes were dashed – the story itself is very good indeed – but the audiobook as a whole turned out to be disappointing because the narrator, while very good on some levels, is not a good fit on others.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.