Dair Devil (Roxton Family Saga #4) by Lucinda Brant (audiobook) – Narrated by Alex Wyndham

Dair Devil audio

Opposites attract. Appearances can deceive. A dashing and rugged façade hides the vulnerable man within. He will gamble with his life, but never his heart. Always the observer, never the observed, her fragility hides conviction. She will risk everything for love. One fateful night they collide. The attraction is immediate, the consequences profound….

London and Hampshire, 1777: The story of Alisdair “Dair” Fitzstuart, nobleman, ex-soldier, and rogue, and Aurora “Rory” Talbot, spinster, pineapple fancier, and granddaughter of England’s Spymaster General, and how they fall in love.

This title may be purchased from Audible via Amazon

Rating: A+ for narration; A- for content

This fourth book in Lucinda Brant’s Roxton Family Saga, is a lovely, beautifully romantic story about a man who hides his true self behind a wild, brash exterior, whose life is transformed by a young woman who had thought only to observe life from the sidelines.

Big, strong and handsome, Major Lord Alisdair (Dair) Fitzstuart more than lives up to his nickname. He is a military hero, having displayed enormous courage in battle and emerged unscathed; but has the reputation of being a complete rapscallion, renowned for his wild, often outrageous behaviour, and for the fact he never turns down a bet, no matter how ridiculous or dangerous the challenge. His antics keep society well entertained, but what most people fail to realise is that he’s bored. Returned six months previously from the war in the Colonies, where, unbeknownst to many, he worked as a spy as well as an army officer, he is at a loose end. Heir to the Earl of Strathsay, he has been left in limbo by his father, who left England twenty years ago without leaving his son any authority over his English estates. Until he marries, Dair has no independent means and can have no hand in the management of the estates that will one day be his.

The book opens with Dair and two of his best friends about to invade the studio of artist, George Romney in order to play an audacious prank. With Dair and Lord Grasby stripped down to loincloths and daubed with ashes and paint in order to look like American Indians, the plan is to cause mayhem by frightening the bevy of lovely opera dancers currently serving as models for Romney’s next painting. Cedric Pleasant is infatuated with the beautiful Consulata Baccelli, so Dair’s plan is that his friend will intervene at an opportune moment, scare off the two savages, save the day and thus win the lady’s admiration and, hopefully, gratitude (*wink*). Unfortunately, however, their “invasion” coincides with the unplanned visit to the studio of Lady Grasby and her party, which also includes Grasby’s sister, Lady Aurora (Rory) Talbot. In the ensuing fracas, Dair and Rory end up – literally – tangled together; and even though they have met before at social events (he is cousin to Antonia, dowager Duchess of Roxton who is Rory’s godmother) he hasn’t really taken much notice of her and doesn’t realise who she is to start with. All he knows is that he is in possession of a very pretty, funny, quick witted, perceptive and warm armful of woman and he wants her.

It’s not until the next day that Dair discovers the identity of that warm armful, but before he can speak to Rory about the events of the previous evening, her grandfather, the Earl of Shrewsbury, has made him swear to act as though he remembers nothing about it so as to spare Rory’s delicate sensibilities.

Shrewsbury is England’s spymaster and a very powerful man, but he dotes on Rory, who because of a birth defect (a club foot), walks with a cane. At twenty-two, she doesn’t expect ever to marry, much as she would like to, because of her disability and also because her grandfather is so over-protective that he doesn’t afford her many chances to meet eligible gentlemen.

The bulk of the story deals with the progression of Dair and Rory’s relationship, which is deliciously romantic and extremely well-developed. We are also treated to further – and unexpected – developments in the lives of Antonia and her new husband, and the continuation of the sub-plot that began in Autumn Duchess, concerning the involvement of Dair’s brother with the American revolutionaries. All these elements are woven together skilfully and seamlessly; and while at one point early on, it seemed as though there was the potential for the introduction of an angsty Big Misunderstanding, I was relieved that Ms Brant opted not to go there. Thankfully, she’s a good enough writer that she doesn’t need to employ such devices to create conflict or tension, which instead arise naturally from the characters or from the way she has designed her story.

Both principals are likeable and strongly drawn. Dair is a rogue, but he’s an honourable one, a man with a huge capacity for love and understanding, as is shown in his interactions with his ten-year-old son, the product of his first, youthful liaison with a serving maid. I know that some listeners might be put off by the fact of the hero’s having a child, but the fact that he acknowledges the boy and continues to be a part of his life says a lot about him, and I liked him all the more for it. Rory is witty and intelligent, determined to live her life to the full in spite of her disability, and it’s easy to understand why Dair is so immediately smitten with her. He doesn’t care about her club foot or that she walks with a cane – he sees a lovely, loveable young woman and is determined to make her his.

I have listened to a number of Alex Wyndham’s narrations now and he is, quite simply, one of the best narrators around. Every time I come to write a review of one of his performances, I find myself opening up the thesaurus to find more superlatives, because he is so incredibly good that I have run out of them! Every single character is clearly delineated so that there is never any question as to who is speaking in any given scene, and his female voices are the best I have ever heard from any male narrator in the genre. I continue to adore his interpretation of Antonia, (now the Duchess of Kinross), and his portrayal of Dair is utterly perfect; determined, playful, authoritative and sexy by turns, Mr Wyndham gives so much more than a mere “performance”. It probably helps that he has a gorgeous voice to lend to the delectable heroes Ms Brant has created for us, but add to that his perfect pacing, his incredible range of timbre and accent and his ability to get to the emotional heart of both story and characters and you have the perfect performance.

I can’t recommend the audiobook of Dair Devil highly enough. The love story is compelling, the historical setting is used to great effect and the narration is flawless. It really doesn’t get any better than this.


Only a Kiss (Survivor’s Club #6) by Mary Balogh (audiobook) – Narrated by Rosalyn Landor

only a kiss audio

The Survivors’ Club: Six men and one woman, injured in the Napoleonic Wars, their friendships forged in steel and loyalty. But for one, her trials are not over…. Since witnessing the death of her husband during the wars, Imogen, Lady Barclay, has secluded herself in the confines of Hardford Hall, their home in Cornwall. The new owner has failed to take up his inheritance, and Imogen desperately hopes he will never come to disturb her fragile peace.

Percival Hayes, Earl of Hardford, has no interest in the wilds of Cornwall, but when he impulsively decides to pay a visit to his estate there, he is shocked to discover that it is not the ruined heap he had expected. He is equally shocked to find the beautiful widow of his predecessor’s son living there. Soon Imogen awakens in Percy a passion he has never thought himself capable of feeling. But can he save her from her misery and reawaken her soul? And what will it mean for him if he succeeds?

This title is available for download from Audible

Rating: A for narration; A- for content

I’ve enjoyed every one of the novels I’ve read and/or listened to in Ms Balogh’s Survivor’s Club series, and Only a Kiss, the sixth book, is no exception. The author continues her extraordinarily insightful stories about a group of people – six men and one woman – indelibly scarred by their wartime experiences with the story of Imogen, Lady Barclay who, eight years previously, watched her officer husband die at the hands of his French captors.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.


The Wrong Bride (Highland Weddings #1) by Gayle Callen

the wrong bride

Shaken from sleep during the night and bundled off to the Highlands by a burly Scot, Riona is at first terrified, then livid. Hugh McCallum insists they were promised to each other as children to ensure peace between their clans. The stubborn laird refuses to believe he’s kidnapped the wrong Catriona Duff. Instead, he embarks on a campaign of slow-burning seduction.

At first, Hugh cares only what their marriage can do for his people. Now he’s starting to crave Riona for her own sake, but her true identity jeopardizes his clan’s contract. And unless she chooses to risk all to be his bride, he’ll lose the only thing he prizes more than the lands he’s fought so hard to save—the passionate marriage they could have together.

This title may be purchased from Amazon

Rating: B-

The Wrong Bride, the first in a new series from Gayle Callen, is one of those books that’s hard to grade. It’s well-written, the author allows time for her romance to develop and there’s a nicely sensual undercurrent to many of the interactions between the central couple; but it’s the sort of book I had no problem putting down when I had to, rather than one that compelled me to keep reading and ignore everything else around me while I did.

We jump right into the story on the opening page, as Catriona (Riona) Duff is rudely awakened in the middle of the night by a hand over her mouth and an intruder in her bedroom telling her that she’s his betrothed and must go with him. She quickly realises that struggling will be to no avail and tries to talk the man out of his intent, insisting that she’s nobody’s intended bride – but he will have none of it. Once they are underway, the man introduces himself as Hugh McCallum, chief of Clan McCallum and informs her that her father, the Earl of Aberfoyle, had betrothed her to him when she was just a baby, as a way of putting an end to the enmity between their clans, and that her dowry is payment for the shared land rights which were agreed at the time of their betrothal. But when Hugh had called on the earl in London, the man had tried to renege on the deal, leaving Hugh little alternative but to resort to desperate measures.

Riona is stunned, and tells Hugh that she is not the earl’s daughter but his niece, and that his betrothed is her cousin, whose name is also Catriona Duff – but of course, he doesn’t believe her, thinking her just as duplicitous as Aberfoyle.

The journey from London to the Highlands is long and arduous, and even though Riona is constantly on the look-out for a means to escape, she eventually realises it’s not going to happen, contenting herself instead by throwing sharp-tongued remarks at Hugh whenever she can. Once arrived at Larig Castle, however, Riona begins to see a different side to her abductor. His reception by the clan after an absence of ten years is not an especially cordial one, and there are many among the men who appear to distrust him. At first Riona sees this as an opportunity – if she can win one of the powerful clansmen to her side, then perhaps he will help her to escape. But the longer she resides at Larig, the more she comes to realise just what the revelation of her true identity will mean for Hugh and for his clan; no peace with the Clan Duff, no influx of cash from her dowry… and Hugh will be blamed for the resulting hardship.

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


Tempted by a Rogue by Lauren Smith (audiobook) – narrated by Carolyn Morris

Tempted by a rogue

The rogue’s temptation would be her undoing….

Gemma Haverford knows exactly who she will marry: James Randolph, the man she’s had a secret understanding with for the last 11 years. With every letter written between them while he’s been off at sea, their love has grown. Now they will be reunited with his return to England.

There’s just one problem. The man whose words she’d fallen in love with isn’t James at all….

Jasper Holland, a gentleman rogue of the first order, is trapped. Talked into a scheme by his best friend, he pretended to be James for 11 years as he wrote to Gemma, even though he’d promised James he’d break it off. But now with his return to England, his secret will come out – and he’ll lose the one woman he can’t live without.

What began as a game of words, now becomes a game of hearts, and Jasper will pay any price to call Gemma his.

This title is available to download from Audible via Amazon

Rating: B for narration; D for content

Lauren Smith’s novella,Tempted by a Rogue has exactly two things going for it. First – it is narrated by the excellent Carolyn Morris, whose name has been woefully absent among the lists of new audiobook historical romances over the past year or so; and second – it’s short. Mind you, at around three hours and fifteen minutes, it’s not short enough, because by the half way mark the inconsistencies in the storytelling and characterisation had become so annoying that I struggled to finish it.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.


The Captain’s Christmas Bride by Annie Burrows

the captain's christmas bride

Wrong man

Lady Julia Whitney is at her wit’s end. Her perfect beau just won’t propose! But she’s struck upon a plan to ensure her marriage by Christmas. Between masquerades and mistletoe, she finds herself fully compromised by the wrong man!

Right husband?

Captain Dunbar cannot believe he’s fallen for this chit’s game! Now he must marry society miss Lady Julia with nothing to connect them other than incredible passion. But he’s about to discover that the best Christmas presents come in surprising, and delightful, packages!

This title may be purchased from Amazon

Rating: B

I freely admit that I can’t walk past a compromised-into-marriage story without giving it at least a second and third look. The Captain’s Christmas Bride sucked me in straight away with the immediate clash of personalities between the two protagonists; the spoilt princess used to getting her own way, and the blunt-spoken, somewhat forbidding ex-naval man who is utterly furious at having been duped by a mere chit of a girl – and one he doesn’t even like very much at that.

The thing that lifts what could have been a fairly run-of-the-mill story into the above average bracket is the way in which Annie Burrows gradually reveals the heroine not to be at all what she seems to be, and shows both principals coming to a greater understanding of each other through their interactions with one another and with those around them.

Now aged twenty, Lady Julia Whitney, daughter of the Earl of Mountnessing, is the apple of her father’s eye. She has been his hostess since the death of her mother (his second wife) and he has indulged her in almost everything – except when it comes to her choice of a husband. Julia wants to marry David, a young man she has known for several years and who is studying to be a doctor, but her father won’t hear of it. David is below her in station and the earl believes he is a fortune hunter. Desperate to get her own way on this, Julia concocts a plan with the help of a couple of friends; disguised in a rather daring gown and wearing a mask, she will entice David away from that evening’s masquerade ball and take him somewhere quiet and dark where they will be discovered (by her friends) engaged in some illicit kisses. Once she is compromised, her father will have no alternative but to allow the match.

Everything goes according to plan. David follows Julia to the deserted and very dark orangery and kisses her with the sort of passionate fervour that makes her head spin and her knees buckle. Before long, he’s under her skirts and she’s on her back, an enthusiastic partner in her own ruin. Julia hadn’t intended things to go quite so far, but as they will have to get married now, she is not too concerned. Until, that is, she and her lover are discovered by her friends … and David, who is quite clearly appalled.

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


Highlander Undone by Connie Brockway (audiobook) – Narrated by Napoleon Ryan

Highlander Undone

To win her trust, he must betray his heart.

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 uncover 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.

This title is available to purchase from Audible via Amazon

Rating: B+ for narration; B for content

Connie Brockway’s latest novel Highlander Undone is a well-written story which features a mystery running alongside a tender and well-written central romance. I enjoyed reading the book, and chose the audiobook for review because it afforded me the chance to listen to Napoleon Ryan, a narrator whose name I’ve seen cropping up more and more frequently as a narrator of historical romance but haven’t yet heard.

Seriously wounded while on active service in the Sudan, Captain John (Jack) Cameron of the Gordon Highlanders is sent back to England to recover from his injuries, entrusted to the care of his only living relative, his great-uncle Lord Merritt. Jack spends a number of months confined to the dower house on his uncle’s estate, and because he is bedridden, becomes inadvertently privy to a number of conversations that take place on the terrace below his open window.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.


TBR Challenge: The Perfect Rake by Anne Gracie

the perfect rake

She ran from a brute…

Fleeing violent tyranny, Prudence Merridew escapes with her beautiful younger sisters to London. One of them must marry—and fast. To act as her sisters’ chaperone, Prudence invents a secret engagement to a reclusive duke…But when the duke arrives unexpectedly in London, she needs his help to avert disaster.

…into the arms of a rake

Aristocratic Gideon, handsome, rakish and with a strong frivolous streak, casually hijacks Prudence’s game, awarding himself a stolen kiss or three along the way. Used to managing sisters and elderly men, Prudence is completely out of her depth with a charming, devious and utterly irresistible rake. And her plot goes terribly — if deliciously—awry…

This title may be purchase from Amazon

Rating: B+

This is my second year taking part in Super Wendy’s Multi-Blog TBR Challenge, and even though I don’t read the various romance sub-genres widely, I’ve nonetheless managed to find something in my TBR pile to fit the prompts each month. But I’m afraid I’m going to wuss out for the first time. November’s prompt is “It’s all about the hype” – and I don’t have anything that fits the bill. For one thing, historical romances don’t attract that sort of attention any more and for another, as an ex-PR professional, one whiff of hype is enough to make me head for the hills and almost guarantee I’m NOT going to read the book in question!

So instead, I decided to pick up a book from my TBR pile that has been recommended to me various times and is regarded as one of those that every self-respecting historical romance reader should have read. I don’t have too many of those on my TBR these days, and while Anne Gracie’s The Perfect Rake is no Lord of Scoundrels or Flowers from the Storm, it’s a thoroughly enjoyable story which, while mostly light-hearted and humorous, is nonetheless peppered with some darker themes and incidents which add weight to the overall texture and provide a necessary counterpoint to a book which could otherwise have turned into a farce.

It’s unusual to open an historical romance on a shocking scene, but The Perfect Rake does just that, as our heroine, Prudence Merridew has to rescue her youngest sister, Grace, from the severe beating being inflicted upon her by their vicious, maniacal grandfather. The five girls were left to his guardianship following the death of their parents, and he frequently beats and abuses them all. When the old man falls and breaks his leg chasing Prudence down the stairs, she decides, once and for all, that they must get away before one of them is killed. With their grandfather confined to bed, and with the help of the local doctor, Prudence concocts a scheme which sees them away to London to stay with their great-uncle Oswald. In a few weeks, Prue will be twenty-one, and the guardianship of her sisters will revert to her; and if one of them can marry quickly, the fortune left them by their parents will become available to them. With her sisters being such beauties, Prudence is utterly convinced that they will attract the right sort of male attention, and so she has high hopes of their being able to escape their grandfather for good.

Great-uncle Oswald, a fashionable and very kind older gentlemen, is delighted to see his five nieces, and is not only keen to have them stay with him, but also kits them out with new wardrobes and agrees to sponsor their débuts in society. There is, however, an unforeseen snag when Oswald, believing that anyone who sees the younger sisters will not look twice at Prudence, decides that he will “fire her off” alone, and not allow her sisters to appear in public until she has attracted a suitor. She is dismayed – this was not part of her plan at all, and besides, she regards herself as betrothed to Philip Otterbury, a young man employed in one of her grandfather’s businesses out in India, so cannot possibly contract another engagement.

Desperate to find a way to change her great-uncle’s mind, Prudence tells him she is betrothed to the reclusive Duke of Dinstable, knowing that the duke lives far away in Scotland and never leaves his estate. Unfortunately, however, the duke has decided it’s time to find himself a wife and has just arrived in London. Frantic, Prudence goes to his town house early the next morning to pre-empt Uncle Oswald’s call, and finds herself face-to-face with the handsomest – and most annoying – man she’s ever met.

Lord Gideon Caradice is actually the duke’s cousin, and has a reputation as a rake of the first order. Beneath the façade, however, is a truly good, kind-hearted man with a protective streak a mile wide. He’s adorable – gorgeous, funny and charming and even though his flippancy annoys Prudence, she can’t help but be amused by him and struck by his good-looks.

Their conversation here sets the tone for most of their interchanges throughout the book, which are frequently laugh-out-loud funny, often insightful and sometimes beautifully tender. Prudence has become used to thinking of herself as the ugly-duckling of the family, yet she is not envious of her sisters or bitter, wanting only the best for them. So it comes as a major surprise to her to realise that to Gideon, SHE is the beautiful one and he hasn’t even noticed her sisters.

“Plain? Why the devil does everyone keep saying she is plain?” declared Gideon in exasperation. “Do you all need spectacles?”

Where Prudence has looked at herself and seen a small, freckled, unfashionably red-haired young woman, Gideon sees a spirited, curvaceous beauty who trades him quip for quip and heats his blood. I do love the “rake felled by love” trope, and there’s no doubt that Gideon falls fast and hard for Prudence. She is equally smitten, but holds herself back; at first, she thinks his compliments are just the offhand flirtations of a hardened rake, and also feels bound by her betrothal to Philip. Prudence doesn’t take her promises lightly, and her loyalty is another of the things Gideon loves about her, even though, in this instance, it works against him.

Both principals are beautifully drawn characters and the reader is left in no doubt that they are perfect for each other. Given his background as the child of an unhappy marriage, Gideon could easily have been one of those stereotypical brooding heroes who swears off love, but he isn’t. There is a hint of darkness there, but he covers it with a lovely self-deprecating charm and his quick wit, often concealing his keen intelligence behind a buffoonish mask. The depth of his affection for Prudence is wonderful to see, and she truly blossoms under his care. She’s been holding her family together for so long, shoring up her sisters’ spirits by telling them stories of their young lives in Italy:

“We were all born in Italy, in a house filled with sunshine and laughter and love and happiness, and I promise you, no matter how bad it seems, one day we shall all live like that again. With sunshine and laughter and love and happiness. I promise!”

– and of their loving parents, vowing that she will get them away from their nightmarish life; and I loved that she at last found someone who could relieve her of some of that burden.

As is obvious, I really enjoyed The Perfect Rake, although I do have a couple of minor niggles. I’ve already mentioned that the opening is shocking, and while I don’t have a problem with that, I found the sudden change from dark to light once the girls have arrived in London to be a little jarring. I had the same feeling towards the end of the book when the mood again changes abruptly – this time in the opposite direction, and takes a turn for the overly melodramatic. What worked better were the hints dropped throughout the story about Prudence’s past and the truly disgusting treatment she received at the hands of the men who were supposed to care for her. It’s that which makes her story all the more uplifting; she suffered mistreatment and a terrible tragedy and yet she is still able to find it within herself to face the world and to fall in love.

Ms Gracie’s writing flows beautifully, and the humour in the book never feels artificial or forced. There is a strong cast of secondary characters including Prudence’s sisters and their formidable Aunt Agatha, the wonderfully unconventional widow of a South American nobleman. In spite of my small reservations, I’d definitely recommend The Perfect Rake to anyone looking for a light-hearted read with a bit of substance to it.