Pretty Face (London Celebrities #2) by Lucy Parker

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This title may be purchased from Amazon

The play’s the fling

It’s not actress Lily Lamprey’s fault that she’s all curves and has the kind of voice that can fog up a camera lens. She wants to prove where her real talents lie—and that’s not on a casting couch, thank you. When she hears esteemed director Luc Savage is renovating a legendary West End theater for a lofty new production, she knows it could be her chance — if only Luc wasn’t so dictatorial, so bad-tempered and so incredibly sexy.

Luc Savage has respect, integrity and experience. He also has it bad for Lily. He’d be willing to dismiss it as a midlife crisis, but this exasperating, irresistible woman is actually a very talented actress. Unfortunately, their romance is not only raising questions about Lily’s suddenly rising career, it’s threatening Luc’s professional reputation. The course of true love never did run smooth. But if they’re not careful, it could bring down the curtain on both their careers…

Rating: A

Lucy Parker’s début novel, Act Like It was – it seems – an instant hit, one of those books you suddenly see all over your Goodreads feed because all your friends are reading it. I’m confidently predicting the same for her follow up, Pretty Face, because it’s every bit as vibrant, funny, sexy and poignant as the first book – quite possibly even more so, on all counts. I finished the last page with a smile on my face and feeling uplifted – and wondering if I had the time to go back and read it all over again, which doesn’t happen very often, I can tell you.

Like its predecessor, Pretty Face is set amid the chaotic world of London’s West End, shedding light on all the behind the scenes activity that has to happen in order to mount a theatre production, and taking a good look at the impact of celebrity culture and media intrusion on the lives of those who work in that particular field.

Luc Savage is an extremely successful and respected director. He has the reputation of being something of a martinet – a stickler for discipline and professionalism and a hard task master, although not unfair or mean. The theatre is in his blood; his father is an actor, his mother an opera singer and over the past few years he has invested heavily – both in terms of money and time and effort – in renovating the Queen Anne Theatre, which has been owned and run by his family for generations, but which fell into disrepair some twenty-five years earlier. It’s a massive task for him both professionally and personally, but it’s nearing fruition and he has chosen to open with a production of 1553 a play by a multi-award winning young playwright and in which the three principal characters are Queen Mary I, Elizabeth Tudor and Lady Jane Grey. Having had to recast the role of Mary due to the fact that his long-time girlfriend, actress Margot Roy, recently left him to get married to an Italian opera singer, Luc now faces the prospect of having to re-cast Elizabeth, too, because the actress originally chosen has broken her leg. One of the young actresses on the list of potential replacements is Lily Lamprey, twenty-six, blonde, beautiful and the star of the hit historical drama-cum-soap opera, Knightsbridge, in which she plays the part of Gloria, a scheming man-stealer that viewers love to hate.

Luc knows that casting a popular TV star could be good publicity and increase ticket sales, but no way is he interested in bringing on board some Marilyn Monroe look-alike with a porn-star voice who probably needs direction to tie her own shoes. But his casting director – whom he trusts – thinks Lily has potential and eventually Luc is persuaded to give her an audition. And when he does, he’s surprised to discover that Lily definitely does have a certain something –

Under the soap-opera shit, an actor

– even though her voice is going to need work.

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

My Best Books of 2016 – at All About Romance

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Over the past week or so All About Romance has been publishing the team’s lists of their Top Ten books read in 2016. The vast majority of these are books published in 2016, although a few are books published previously that have been read this year.

All my choices are 2016 titles, and as usual, it was a tough list to compile. I’ve had a good reading year (I’ll be taking a look at my stats at some point and posting about those) and at AAR, have awarded a good number of B Grades and up, indicating that I read many more books I enjoyed than books I didn’t, which I count a definite plus.

Pinning it down to ten books was TOUGH, as was picking an outright “book of the year”, because this year (unlike last), that moniker could have been applied to practically every book on my list. But being I’m a bit of an angst-bunny, I went for the book that ripped out my heart and stomped on it a few times, AND which I’d been most eagerly anticipating.  Click on the link and all will be revealed!

My Best of 2016

A Splendid Defiance by Stella Riley (audiobook) – Narrated by Alex Wyndham

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This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon.

For two years, England has been in the grip of Civil War. In Banbury, Oxfordshire, the Cavaliers hold the castle, the Roundheads want it back and the town is full of zealous Puritans. Consequently, the gulf between Captain Justin Ambrose and Abigail Radford, the sister of a fanatically religious shopkeeper, ought to be unbridgeable. The key to both the fate of the castle and that of Justin and Abigail lies in defiance…but will it be enough?

A Splendid Defiance is a dramatic and enchanting story of forbidden love, set against the turmoil and anguish of the first English Civil War.

Rating: Narration – A; Content – A

Anyone who – like me – appreciates Historical Romance that has a firm emphasis on the “Historical” will find a great many things to enjoy in this new audiobook version of Stella Riley’s A Splendid Defiance.  Set during the turbulent years of the English Civil War, the novel tells the true story of the small garrison of around three hundred and fifty men who held the strategically important Royalist stronghold of Banbury Castle in Oxfordshire in the face of overwhelming odds, and many of the characters who grace its pages are people who actually existed.

Skilfully interwoven with the story of the castle and its defenders is the glorious (but fictional) slow-burn romance between Justin Ambrose, a cynical, acerbic captain in the King’s army and Abigail Radford, whose brother, Jonas, is a leader of the local community and a die-hard Puritan.  The romance starts very slowly – so anyone who expects the first kiss between the hero and heroine to happen in chapter three is going to be disappointed – but builds steadily throughout and is all the more believable as a result.  Justin and Abigail begin the story as strangers and the author allows their relationship to develop in a manner that feels perfectly realistic, considering he’s a serving army officer with duties to perform and Abby lives a very restrictive life controlled by her harsh zealot of a brother.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals

The Earl (Devil’s Duke #2) by Katharine Ashe (audiobook) – Narrated by Saskia Maarleveld

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This title may be downloaded from Audible

In Katharine Ashe’s newest unforgettable romance, the question on everyone’s lips is answered at last: Who is Lady Justice?

How does a lady of wit and courage bring an arrogant lord to his knees? Entice him to Scotland, strip him of titles and riches, and make him prove what sort of man he truly is.

Opposites…

Handsome, wealthy, and sublimely confident, Colin Gray, the new Earl of Egremoor, has vowed to unmask the rabble-rousing pamphleteer Lady Justice, the thorn in England’s paw. And he’ll stop at nothing.

Attract.

Smart, big-hearted, and passionately dedicated to her work, Lady Justice longs to teach her nemesis a lesson in humility. But her sister is missing, and a perilous journey with her archrival into unknown territory just might turn fierce enemies into lovers.

Rating: Narration – B+; Content – A

The Earl is the second book in Katharine Ashe’s Devil’s Duke series (The Rogue is book 1), and is also the last in her Falcon Club series which is not, sadly, available in audio format. Because it refers to a number of characters and events featured in earlier stories, this might not be the best introduction to Ms. Ashe’s work for anyone unfamiliar with it, although it could be listened to as a standalone if you’re prepared to do a bit of homework in advance and perhaps read a few reviews and the synopses of the earlier books.

Throughout the Falcon Club books, the club’s secretary, Peregrine, carried on a public, witty and usually caustic correspondence with Lady Justice, a popular pamphleteer whose passionate outpourings on the subject of political reform and disdain for the injustices wreaked on the masses by the privileged few are a real thorn in the side of the establishment. But at the end of The Rogue, the unthinkable happened. Knowing of the Falcon Club’s expertise at locating missing persons, Lady Justice asked Peregrine for help to locate a young woman who has disappeared.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

The Viscount Who Loved Me (Bridgertons #2) by Julia Quinn (audiobook) – Narrated by Rosalyn Landor

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This title may be purchased from Audible via Amazon

1814 promises to be another eventful season, but not, this author believes, for Anthony Bridgerton, London’s most elusive bachelor, who has shown no indication that he plans to marry. And in all truth, why should he? When it comes to playing the consummate rake, nobody does it better… – Lady Whistledown’s Society Papers, April 1814

But this time the gossip columnists have it wrong. Anthony Bridgerton hasn’t just decided to marry – he’s even chosen a wife! The only obstacle is his intended’s older sister, Kate Sheffield – the most meddlesome woman ever to grace a London ballroom. The spirited schemer is driving Anthony mad with her determination to stop the betrothal, but when he closes his eyes at night, Kate’s the woman haunting his increasingly erotic dreams.

Contrary to popular belief, Kate is quite sure that reformed rakes do not make the best husbands – and Anthony Bridgerton is the most wicked rogue of them all. Kate is determined to protect her sister – but she fears her own heart is vulnerable. And when Anthony’s lips touch hers, she’s suddenly afraid she might not be able to resist the reprehensible rake herself.

Rating: Narration – A+; Content – A

This is the first of Julia Quinn’s books I ever read and one of the first ‘modern’ historical romances I ever read about a decade or so ago, when I was just starting to read the genre. As a result, I have a bit of a soft spot for it, but that’s not surprising, considering it’s a terrific book.

It’s a classic enemies-to-lovers/compromised-into-marriage story and remains one of my favourite HRs and one of my favourites of the Bridgerton series (it’s up there with When He Was Wicked). I admit that I haven’t read it for some time, and I have forgotten bits, so this new audio was a fantastic reminder.

The relationship between Anthony and Kate is brilliantly done – the sexual chemistry just sizzles between them right from the start, and the author does a superb job of showing both characters falling head-over-heels with each other while trying to maintain their outward animosity.

I loved that Anthony is so family-oriented; there are so many dysfunctional families in romance that it’s refreshing to find one that isn’t. He’s also, quite simply, sex-on-legs.

Rosalyn Landor does an incredible job in the audio version. It’s a given that she’s technically superb – she’s always spot on when it comes to things like differentiation and pacing – but where she scores over practically ever other narrator of historical romance is that she ‘gets’ it like no-one else. The way she brings the emotional content of the story to the fore so vividly always amazes me and I had a lump in my throat several times while listening to this one.

I’m sure I don’t need to convince any reader of HR that this is a fabulous book, or anyone who listens to romance audios regularly that the narration is outstanding.

But I still had to shout about it, because it’s just THAT good.

The Earl (Devil’s Duke #2) by Katharine Ashe

the-earl

This title may be purchased from Amazon.

How does a bookish lady bring an arrogant lord to his knees? Entice him to Scotland, strip him of titles and riches, and make him prove what sort of man he truly is.

Opposites…

Handsome, wealthy, and sublimely confident, Colin Gray, the new Earl of Egremoor, has vowed to unmask the rabble-rousing pamphleteer, Lady Justice, the thorn in England’s paw. And he’ll stop at nothing.

Attract.

Smart, big-hearted, and passionately dedicated to her work, Lady Justice longs to teach her nemesis a lesson in humility. But her sister is missing, and a perilous journey with her archrival into unknown territory just might turn fierce enemies into lovers.

Rating: A

Readers of Katharine Ashe’s Falcon Club series will be well aware of the frequent, public, and bitingly sarcastic correspondence that has gone on between the club’s secretary, Peregrine, and the anonymous Lady Justice, pamphleteer, moral crusader and regular denouncer of the abuses and injustices wreaked upon the voiceless masses by the wealthy and privileged. That correspondence continued throughout The Rogue, the first in the author’s Devil’s Duke series, which inhabits the Falcon Club universe and features a number of the same characters. This is also true of The Earl, which references storylines from the earlier series, as well as one of the plotlines begun in The Rogue. That probably all sounds fairly complicated, and I would definitely say that someone new to this author’s work might not want to start here. At a pinch, The Earl could work as a standalone, but I think anyone picking it up without having read any of the earlier books would be at a disadvantage.

Right at the end of The Rogue, the unthinkable happened. Lady Justice, knowing of the Falcon Club’s skill in finding the missing and returning them home, was forced to seek help from the one man she detests above all others: Peregrine. Naturally, Peregrine is intrigued by the request and definitely not above gloating at how much it must stick in Lady Justice’s throat to have to ask him for help. He demands a face-to-face meeting with his nemesis; she refuses. He makes it clear that his help is conditional upon a meeting, and reluctantly the lady agrees, covering herself in a thick veil to prevent Peregrine discovering her identity.

Their meeting is as acrimonious as their written interactions have been, and only confirms Lady Justice’s belief that Peregrine is an arrogant, manipulative, ruthless, self-entitled bastard. Unfortunately, it also shows her something she had not expected – Peregrine is none other than Colin Gray, newly minted Earl of Egremoor, and a man she has known all her life.

Lady Emily Vane is a bit of an odd duck. Bookish and often shy in company as a child, she became a veritable chatterbox in the company of her dearest friend, a boy who could not speak, but whom she nonetheless adored, Colin Gray. Emily’s father and Colin’s were old friends and so the two children spent a great deal of time together as their respective families were happy to leave the two ‘oddities’ to their own devices. But when Colin was thirteen and Emily eight, things changed suddenly and irrevocably, and since then, they have been little more than mere nodding acquaintances. In the eighteen years since, Emily has become somewhat reclusive; the income she has earned over the years means she is independent of her father, can live alone and has no need of – or desire for – a husband. Living alone enables her to retain her anonymity and to continue to argue for reform, rail against injustice and highlight the plight of the oppressed in the pamphlets she continues to write as Lady Justice. Her current crusade is to find a way of getting the Domestic Felicity Act – a bill which will give women actual rights within marriage – introduced into Parliament.

Shocked as she is to discover Peregrine’s true identity, Emily manages to escape that encounter without being unmasked herself.  She needs Colin’s help to find her sister, Amarantha, who had been living in Jamaica until the recent death of her husband. But Amarantha has disappeared, last heard of making for Scotland in search of a friend, and Emily is worried.  Knowing she can’t possibly accept Colin’s help now – even if he agreed to give it – she sets off for Scotland with a couple of her servants, determined to find Amarantha herself.  But Emily has not long arrived at an inn near Loch Lomond when she discovers that Colin has followed leads of his own and that his trail has led him to the same place.  But before they can do more than exchange cold civilities, they find themselves in grave danger, owing to the fact that a man who bears a striking resemblance to Colin and is calling himself the Earl of Egremoor is wanted for murder and highway robbery.  This man has a smaller, fair-haired accomplice who has been seen dressed as a woman – which accounts for the fact that Emily and Colin have encountered such suspicion among the locals.  The animosity directed towards them very quickly reaches boiling point and the pair must act quickly if they are to escape with their lives.  Colin and Emily go on the run, making for the Duke of Loch Irvine’s castle at Kallin where they hope they will be able to get everything straightened out.  But it’s going to be a difficult journey through rough terrain and uncertain weather; and news of the fake earl’s deeds have already spread widely throughout the area, so seeking shelter is risky as they can’t trust anyone not to turn them in.  And all the while, Emily is desperate to keep her secret from the boy who broke her heart and has become a man who stands for everything she hates.

Katharine Ashe has impressed me immensely with her ability to write a gripping adventure yarn that takes full account of historical and political detail while also developing a complex and satisfying romance between two complicated, flawed individuals.  Emily can be difficult to like at times, as she is so intractable and willing to see the worst in Colin, although his high-handedness can be just as annoying as her insistence that he’s arrogant and uncaring about those less fortunate than himself.  Both characters have to face some harsh truths about themselves and their shared past, although it’s Emily who really needs to have the blinkers removed.  She has spent so long feeling hurt and betrayed by the one person in her life she thought knew and understood her that she has allowed her prejudices to cloud her judgement. But as they spend their days and nights running from danger, Emily gradually begins to realise that she is wrong and that Colin is a decent, honourable man who is strongly motivated to act for the good of others.

The pacing throughout is excellent, in terms of both the romance and the adventure. The romance needs time to develop given the fact that Colin and Emily have been estranged for years, and I loved the way it unfolds gradually as they both start to reassess each other.   We glimpse them as children and discover exactly what had bound them so strongly together; we experience Emily’s heartbreak, Colin’s shame and frustration; we feel for them as they reconnect and come to know each other as they are now, and when, towards the end, Emily finally reveals exactly what inspired her to become Lady Justice… I was choked up. It’s a masterstroke.

The chemistry between Peregrine and Lady Justice leapt off the page in the other books, and it burns even hotter between Colin and Emily in this one.  Emily is refreshingly un-missish about the fact that she finds Colin extremely attractive and the love scenes are possibly the most romantic, sexy and intense that Katharine Ashe has yet written.

The Earl is an enormously satisfying read on many levels. An exciting adventure and a sizzling romance all wrapped up in astute observation and social comment, this is historical romance at its best and it’s gone straight on to my keeper shelf.

Slightly Married (Bedwyns #1) by Mary Balogh (audiobook) – Narrated by Rosalyn Landor

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This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon.

Like all the Bedwyn men, Aidan has a reputation for cool arrogance. But this proud nobleman also possesses a loyal, passionate heart – and it is this fierce loyalty that has brought Colonel Lord Aidan to Ringwood Manor to honor a dying soldier’s request. Having promised to comfort and protect the man’s sister, Aidan never expected to find a headstrong, fiercely independent woman who wants no part of his protection, nor did he expect the feelings this beguiling creature would ignite in his guarded heart. And when a relative threatens to turn Eve out of her home, Aidan gallantly makes her an offer she can’t refuse: marry him, if only to save her home. And now, as all of London breathlessly awaits the transformation of the new Lady Aidan Bedwyn, the strangest thing happens: With one touch, one searing embrace, Aidan and Eve’s “business arrangement” is about to be transformed into something slightly surprising.

Rating: Narration – A+; Content – A

Tantor is following its reissue of Mary Balogh’s Simply Quartet with new recordings of the Slightly series, six novels about the Bedwyn siblings which have been on the wish list of many a romance audio fan for some time, starting with Book 1, Slightly Married. Anyone who has read or listened to the Simply books will already have met most of the Bedwyns and be aware of who ends up with whom, but that doesn’t take anything away from the pleasure of being able to hear their stories in audio for the first time.

Colonel Lord Aidan Bedwyn, second of the four Bedwyn brothers has, in the manner of many second sons, made a career in the army. It has been a distinguished career, and he fully expects to continue to serve his country and to eventually rise to the rank of General. When he comes home on leave, his first task is to make his way to the home of Miss Eve Morris, the sister of a fallen comrade. Captain Percy Morris saved Aidan’s life at Ciudad Rodrigo, and his dying request was that Aidan inform Eve of his death in person and that he take care of her, “no matter what”.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.