Even Odds (FBI Joint Task Force #3) by Fiona Quinn (audiobook) – Narrated by Steve Marvel

even odds

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Double crossed. Double agents. Doubling down… She’s putting her heart and her life on the line.

Raine Meyers is alive today only because of the heroic efforts of the Delta Force Echo Team. It’s time to pay that debt.

As an undercover defense intelligence officer, Raine tracks a Russian threat to the Delta Force wives left vulnerable while their husbands are downrange protecting the US.

FBI Special Agent in Charge Damian Prescott, former Delta Force operator – also Raine’s former fiance – falls quite literally into the middle of her operation.

Since both the DIA and FBI have their teeth clamped onto the same crime, why not join forces? A plan is hatched to insert the two intelligence officers into the action – under the cover of a fake marriage – painting a target on Raine’s back, enticing the mole out into the open.

Damian wasn’t there when his Delta Force brothers saved Raine from the terrorists in Afghanistan…will he be there for her this time, when she’s in the sniper’s rifle sights?

Rating: Narration – D+; Content – C+/B-

Even Odds is book three in Fiona Quinn’s FBI Joint Task Force series set in her wider World of Iniquus series of interconnected romantic suspense novels. I enjoyed the previous two books – Open Secret and Cold Red, which were narrated by Teddy Hamilton and Troy Duran respectively – and was looking forward to another fast-paced, well-plotted story, but when I sat down to write this review after listening to all ten and a half hours of Even Odds, I realised I had a problem. Steve Marvel’s narration just isn’t up to the standard set by the other two performers, and it was so distracting that I just couldn’t get into the story. I got the bare bones of the plot, but I’ve probably missed some of the detail.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

Finding Joy by Adriana Herrera (audiobook) – narrated by Braeden Sinclair

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As his 26th birthday approaches, Desta Joy Walker finds himself in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, the one place he’s been actively avoiding most of his life. For Desta, the East African capital encompasses some of the happiest and saddest parts of his life – his first home and the place where his father died. When an unavoidable work obligation lands him there for 12 weeks, he may finally have a chance for the closure he so desperately needs. What Desta never expected was to catch a glimpse of his future as he reconnects with the beautiful country and his family’s past.

Elias Fikru has never met an opportunity he hasn’t seized. Except, of course, for the life-changing one he’s stubbornly ignored for the past nine months. He’d be a fool not to accept the chance to pursue his doctoral studies in the US, but saying yes means leaving his homeland, and Elias isn’t ready to make that commitment.

Meeting Desta, the Dominican-American emergency relief worker with the easy smile and sad eyes, makes Elias want things he’s never envisioned for himself. Rediscovering his country through Desta’s eyes emboldens Elias to reach for a future where he can be open about every part of himself. But when something threatens the future that’s within their grasp, Elias and Desta must put it all on the line for love.

Rating: Narration – C-; Content – B-

Adriana Herrera’s Finding Joy has been recommended to me a few times, so I eagerly snapped up an audio review copy when it became available. I loved the author’s Dreamers series, which features a group of Afro-Latinx friends living and working in New York; they’re gorgeous, sensual romances that don’t shy away from exploring some very relevant and sensitive topics, but which are a wonderful celebration of diversity and an exploration of the immigrant experience. In Finding Joy, an ex-pat aid worker returns to the land of his birth and discovers a love for the country – and for a handsome colleague.

Twenty-six-year-old Desta Joy Walker is returning to the Ethiopia for the first time since leaving it when he was just three. He’s travelled in Africa quite extensively for his work with Aid USA, but has always avoided being sent to Ethiopia, being scared, deep down, of how it would feel to be back there, especially as his father – also an aid worker – died there while Desta was in high school in the US. But after a messy break-up, Desta decides to take a last-minute assignment which will see him spending eight weeks in Ethiopia; as well as getting out of DC and away from his ex, he hopes it will also give him the time and space he needs to make some important decisions about the direction his life is taking. He has pretty much decided that aid work isn’t what he wants to do going forward and he’s started to realise that fulfilling his father’s legacy is preventing him from following his own dreams. He’s been accepted into NYU’s MSW (Master’s in Social Work) program, but hasn’t yet told his mother – to whom he’s very close – because he fears his decision to no longer follow in his father’s footsteps will break her heart.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

The Wolf at the Door (Big Bad Wolf #1) by Charlie Adhara (audiobook) – Narrated by Erik Bloomquist

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Hunting for big bad wolves was never part of Agent Cooper Dayton’s plan, but a werewolf attack lands him in the carefully guarded Bureau of Special Investigations. A new case comes with a new partner: ruggedly sexy werewolf Oliver Park.

Park is an agent of The Trust, a werewolf oversight organization working to ease escalating tensions with the BSI. But as far as Cooper’s concerned, it’s failing. As they investigate a series of mysterious deaths unlike anything they’ve seen, every bone in Cooper’s body is suspicious of his new partner – even when Park proves himself as competent as he is utterly captivating.

When more people vanish, pressure to solve the case skyrockets. And though he’d resolved to keep things professional, Cooper’s friction with Park soon erupts…into a physical need that can’t be contained or controlled. But with a body count that’s rising by the day, werewolves and humans are in equal danger. If Cooper and Park don’t catch the killer soon, one – or both – of them could be the next to go.

Rating: Narration: C-; Content: A-

Charlie Adhara’s Big Bad Wolf series of romantic suspense novels with a paranormal twist was a surprise hit for me given I’m not usually a fan of shifter/werewolf stories. But I was persuaded to pick up the first book – The Wolf at the Door – last year by one of my fellow AAR reviewers, and was immediately hooked by the unique premise and the skilful way in which the author combined romance, mystery and paranormal elements into an exciting and entertaining procedural drama. I’d hoped that perhaps the series would make it into audio, and was really excited when I saw it pop up on a forthcoming release list… although that excitement was tempered slightly by the fact that the narrator was new-to-me and because Tantor doesn’t have the greatest track record when it comes to selecting the right narrator for the job.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

The Pros & Cons of Deception (Pros & Cons #2) by A.E. Wasp (audiobook) – Narrated by Tor Thom and Alexandre Steele

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There’s nothing like being blackmailed by a dead man to really bring a group of cons together. The deal is simple, we do the jobs and Charlie’s lawyer wipes the slate clean for each of us, one at a time.

Job number two lands right in my lap. I’m Bond. Wesley Bond. (I can’t resist saying it that way. Blame my dad, if you can find him.) You could call me a hacker. I redistribute wealth – moving it from rich slimebags to poorer but infinitely more deserving people – and make a tidy profit as I do. My mission, should I choose to accept it, is to bring down some modern-day slave traders.

With the life of the one person in this world I love on the line, I can’t afford any screw-ups or distractions. Unfortunately, my biggest distraction is my biggest asset – Danny Monroe. Danny is a leftover complication from our first job. He’s a smart, funny, gorgeous ex-prostitute, who can’t seem to keep his clothes on. I can’t seem to keep my mouth shut around him. But I need a fake boyfriend, and Danny is the only option.

We don’t know who the bad guy is; we have no idea how to prove anything. If I’m going to do this, I’m going to need all the help I can get. Like it or not, we’re all in this together.

Rating: Narration: C-/B-; Content: C

The Pros & Cons of Deception is the second book in the Pros & Cons series, and the synopsis for the series – a group of misfits is blackmailed into carrying out a series of missions left to them by a dead man – sounded like a mash-up of LeverageCharlie’s Angels and Ocean’s Eleven and as though it might be fun. Having finished this instalment, I not sure that “fun” is the word I’d use to describe it; in fact, it turned out to be rather silly, with a bunch of grown men acting and talking like hormonal, teenaged-boys, and a plot so thin as to be see-through.

Retriever of illicitly obtained information Charlie Bingham is dead, and in his will, he left instructions for his lawyer, Miranda Bosley (yes, really ;)) to bring together a disparate group of men – some of them criminals, some not – in order to carry out his last instructions in exchange for the destruction of the information Charlie held on each of them. In the previous book, The Pros & Cons of Vengeance, ex-Special Forces Close Protection specialist Steele Alvarez was instructed to take down a dirty Senator – and along with hacker Wesley Bond, grifter Carson Grieves, thief Ridge Pfeiffer and disgruntled FBI Agent Leo Shook – set about doing just that. Along the way, he and the team rescued two young ex-hookers – Breck and Danny – from a violent situation, and Steele fell for Breck (who happens to be Ridge’s brother). When this book opens, we find them all, together with the enigmatic housekeeper Josie (whom the author bills as an “International Woman of Mystery”), comfortably holed up in Charlie’s luxury home in Miami.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

The Hunt by J.M. Dabney and Davidson King (audiobook) – Narrated by Kirt Graves and Tor Thom

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

Disgraced detective turned private investigator, Ray Clancy, left the force with a case unsolved. Finding the killer was no longer his problem, but it still haunted him. How long would he survive the frustration of not knowing before he gave into the compulsion of his nature to solve the crime?

Server Andrew Shay existed where he didn’t feel he belonged, living behind the guise of a costume. Yet it paid the bills, and he refused to complain about the little things in life. One night he returned home from work to find his roommate dead and the killer still there. Afraid and alone, his life spiraled, and he didn’t know what to do. Could a detective at his core and a scared young man join forces to bring down the killer in their midst?

Rating: Narration:B/D+ ; Content: C-

Both J.M. Dabney and Davidson King are new-to-me authors, and I confess I picked up their latest collaboration, The Hunt, mostly because Kirt Graves is one of the narrators. The other, Tor Thom, is a name I’ve seen cropping up more and more frequently of late, and I wanted to try something of his – but the jury’s still out. My initial impression, from the first few minutes, was not at all favourable owing to a lot of audible breathing and Mr. Thom’s low-pitched almost-whisper; and had I not been reviewing this audiobook, I may well have set it aside never to return. But I persevered, and was able to at least make it to the end without ripping out my earphones and stomping on them.

The Hunt opens with Detective Ray Clancy arriving at the gruesome scene of the murder of a young man who was mutilated post mortem. This is the third such killing he’s seen and the Medical Examiner at the scene privately agrees with Ray that they’ve got a serial killer on their hands that, for some reason, the higher ups don’t want to acknowledge. But before Ray can get started on an investigation, his captain sends him back to the precinct – to a meeting with Internal Affairs… and his suspension. Accused of taking bribes and with no way of proving otherwise, Ray eventually quits the force and sets up as a PI.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

Sweet Enemy (Veiled Seduction #1) by Heather Snow (audiobook) – Narrated by Kate Marcin

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Beakers and ball gowns don’t mix. So when lady chemist and avowed spinster Miss Liliana Claremont receives a coveted invitation to the earl of Stratford’s house party, no one expects her to accept. After all, it’s well known Lord Geoffrey Wentworth, a rising political star, is in need of a suitable bride, and it’s assumed he will choose one from the select group of attendees.

Yet Liliana has no desire to lure the rich and powerful earl into marriage. She’s come to Somerton Park for one reason – to uncover what the Wentworths had to do with the murder of her father. She intends to find justice, even if she has to ruin Stratford to do it.

To get the evidence she needs, Liliana intends to keep her enemy close, though romance is not part of her formula. But it only takes one kiss to start a reaction she can’t control…

Rating: Narration – C- : Content – C+

Heather Snow’s début novel, Sweet Enemy, was originally published in 2012 and is the first in her Veiled Seduction trilogy of historical romances featuring smart, scientifically minded heroines. I remember reading and very much enjoying the third book, Sweet Madness, but I haven’t managed to get around to reading the other two books, so I was delighted when Sweet Enemy popped up at Audible and immediately requested a review copy.

Liliana Claremont has lived alone since the death of her father and has devoted herself to scientific pursuits, mostly her overriding interest in chemistry and how it can be applied to healing. She’s dedicated, intelligent and continually frustrated at not being taken seriously by the scientific institutions of the day which are, of course, only open to men. Returning to her home following yet another rejection, she discovers it has been ransacked – and worse than that, the intruder is still there. She manages to escape unharmed and is gradually setting things back to rights when she finds a secret compartment she’s never seen before, and inside it, a large bundle of letters. When she finds one dated two days before her father’s death, something within it kick-starts her memories of that day and of his final words to her – and she realises that his death had been no accident.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

The Truth About Cads and Dukes by Elisa Braden (audiobook) – Narrated by Mary Sarah


This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

When a wager goes wrong….

Painfully shy Jane Huxley is the furthest thing from a diamond of the first water. Bookish, bespectacled, and, well, plain, she never expected to befriend a dissolute charmer like Colin Lacey, much less agree to help him retrieve a lost family heirloom. Fortunately, he is nothing like his cold, rigid older brother. Unfortunately, he is not above deception if it means winning a wager. And that puts Jane in a most precarious position.

A formidable duke will marry a plain Jane….

For Harrison Lacey, the Duke of Blackmore, protecting his family honor is not a choice, it is a necessity. So, when his cad of a brother humiliates the unwitting Lady Jane, Harrison must make it right, even if it means marrying the chit himself.

And a marriage of convenience will become so much more….

Her reputation hanging by a thread, Jane agrees to wed the arrogant Duke of Blackmore, although she’s convinced it will result in frostbite. Only after lingering glances lead to devastating kisses does she begin to suspect the truth: Perhaps – just perhaps – her duke is not as cold as he appears.

Rating: Narration – C-: Content – C+

Having read and enjoyed a couple of Elisa Braden’s books in print, when I saw that her Rescued from Ruin series was coming to audio, I immediately decided to pick up one of them for review. I’ve never heard of narrator Mary Sarah, but I listened to the sample (of another book) on Tantor’s website and decided it was worth the risk, so I requested a copy of The Truth About Cads and Dukes, the second book in the series.

Well, it just goes to show you can’t set too much store by samples, because it wasn’t long before I was holding my head in agony at the constant stream of mispronunciations and Ms. Sarah’s manner of speaking in an odd kind of sotto voce almost-whisper. The mispronunciations are those typically made when American narrators attempt British accents – turning the flat ‘a’ (as in ‘hat’) into an elongated ‘ah’, so that instead of ‘back’ we get ‘bahck’ and instead of ‘fact’, we get ‘fahct. When she should elongate the ‘a’, she doesn’t, and ‘father’ becomes ‘fother’ and ‘aunt’ becomes ‘ont’. Other highlights include a laughing ‘stook’ (stock), one character going to the ‘dorks’ (docks) – and the most heinous of all, the word ‘duke’ is NOT pronounced ‘dook’. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Why do audio publishers never learn? If you can’t get Kate Reading, Barrie Kreinik or Saskia Maarleveld, then USE A BRITISH NARRATOR.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

The Royal Conquest (Scandalous House of Calydon #4) by Stacy Reid (audiobook) – Narrated by Anna Parker Naples

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

After being cruelly jilted by a lord who claimed to adore her, Miss Payton Peppiwell swore her future husband would be as ordinary as she. Now if only her family would listen to her. Then she meets Mikhail Konstantinovich, an untitled horse breeder, in a highly improper and scandalous encounter. Never had Payton expected to be so attracted to the dark, intriguing man, who seduces her to recklessness with a mere stare.

Mikhail abhors anything to do with intimacy. Yet Miss Peppiwell stirs hunger and a need long forgotten in him. But Mikhail has a dark past-one that means his lust must be sated in a way entirely unsuitable for a lady. But his biggest secret will be the hardest for Payton to overcome: Mikhail is not only titled, he’s a prince…

 

Rating: Narration – D- Content – D

 

I’m not exaggerating when I tell you that Stacy Reid’s The Royal Conquest is far and away the front runner for the title of “Worst Audiobook I Have Listened to This Year”. I’ve listened to mediocre stories performed by excellent narrators and excellent stories ruined by poor narrators, but this one has it all – a mediocre story performed by an inept narrator. It rarely gets worse than this.

But such is the reviewer’s lot. Sometimes when looking for titles to review, I think – “oh, I’ve not listened to that author/narrator before, so let’s give it a go”, and sometimes I’m lucky – like when I thought “oh yes, Alex Wyndham – I’ve seen him on the telly, so let’s see what he does with an audiobook” – and sometimes I’m not. This is one of those times.

Normally when I write a review of an audiobook, I spend a bit of time talking about the plot and characterisation and leave the discussion of the narration until the end. This time, however, I am going to reverse that, because even if this book had been the best ever written – and that isn’t the case by a long chalk, I assure you – the narration is so dreadful it would have rendered it completely un-listenable-to. (I may have made that term up – put it down to my still being traumatised!)

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

A Strange Scottish Shore (Emmeline Truelove #2) by Juliana Gray (audiobook) – narrated by Gemma Massot

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

Scotland, 1906. A mysterious object discovered inside an ancient castle calls Maximilian Haywood, the new Duke of Olympia, and his fellow researcher Emmeline Truelove north to the remote Orkney Islands. No stranger to the study of anachronisms in archeological digs, Haywood is nevertheless puzzled by the artifact: a suit of clothing that, according to family legend, once belonged to a selkie who rose from the sea and married the castle’s first laird.

But Haywood and Truelove soon realize they’re not the only ones interested in the selkie’s strange hide. When their mutual friend Lord Silverton vanishes in the night from an Edinburgh street, their quest takes a dangerous turn through time, which puts Haywood’s extraordinary talents – and Truelove’s courage – to their most breathtaking test yet.

Rating: Narration – C- Content – A-


Why do audio publishers employ inexperienced narrators to work on major releases by big-name authors? I know everyone has to start somewhere, which is why I make a point of picking up audios using first time – or very early-in-their-careers – narrators; there have to be some who start out fairly well and then get better over time. Sadly, however, most of the newbies I have listened to recently have turned out to be fairly poor and have not done justice to the stories to which they have been assigned. Giving this book to an untried narrator is akin to giving the kid next door the lead role in Hamlet at the RSC. A Strange Scottish Shore is another title that’s being consigned to the “wish they hadn’t done that” pile, because while Gemma Massot has an attractive speaking voice, she lacks the experience and acting chops necessary to perform a tale of such complexity and bring it to life.

A Strange Scottish Shore is the second book in Juliana Gray’s quirky series of Edwardian era historical mysteries (with an unusual twist) featuring the intrepid Miss Emmeline Truelove and the dashing but enigmatic Marquess of Silverton. When I picked up the first book (A Most Extraordinary Pursuit – and it would be wise to read or listen to that before starting this one) I was expecting a straightforward historical mystery, but quickly had to adjust my expectations when our heroine began routinely having conversations with the deceased Queen Victoria and, later on, her late father. Miss Truelove, who had been secretary to the political colossus that was the Duke of Olympia up until his death, was asked to travel to the Greek islands in order to track down the new duke, who had gone missing, in the company of the unspeakably gorgeous but empty-headed Lord Silverton. Silverton, naturally, turned out to be far from stupid (he’s an early 20th century James Bond!) and what followed was an intriguing and thoroughly entertaining story that combined elements of mystery, mythology and time travel with a soupçon of romance and turned out to be unlike anything else I’ve read in the genre and left me eager for more.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

The Most Dangerous Duke in London (Decadent Duke’s Society #1) by Madeline Hunter (audiobook) – Narrated by Charlotte Gray

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Notorious nobleman seeks revenge

Name and title: Adam Penrose, Duke of Stratton. Affiliation: London’s elite Society of Decadent Dukes. Family history: Scandalous. Personality traits: Dark and brooding, with a thirst for revenge. Ideal romantic partner: a woman of means, with beauty and brains, willing to live with reckless abandon. Desire: Clara Cheswick, gorgeous daughter of his family’s sworn enemy.

Faint of heart need not apply

Clara may be the woman Adam wants, but there’s one problem: She’s far more interested in publishing her women’s journal than getting married – especially to a man said to be dead-set on vengeance. Though with her nose for a story, Clara wonders if his desire for justice is sincere – along with his incredibly unnerving intention to be her husband. If her weak-kneed response to his kiss is any indication, falling for Adam clearly comes with a cost. But who knew courting danger could be such exhilarating fun?

Rating: Narration – D+ Content – B+

I’ve read and enjoyed a number of Madeline Hunter’s books and I count myself among her fans, but given she’s one of the biggest names in historical romance, she’s being very poorly served when it comes to audio. Her last series, the Wicked trilogy, started out well, with His Wicked Reputation being excellently narrated by Mary Jane Wells, but went downhill when Ms. Wells was not used for the rest of the series. I was so disappointed by Lulu Russell’s lacklustre performance in book two, (Tall, Dark and Wicked), that I didn’t bother listening to the final book and stuck to the print version. And for her new Decadent Dukes Society series, Ms. Hunter again gets the fuzzy end of the lollipop, this time with a narrator who sounds like a teenaged girl. Maybe casting youthful sounding narrators works in some genres, but it doesn’t work in romance and it REALLY doesn’t work in historicals, where you need someone who can inject those aristocratic males with a sufficient degree of hauteur while at the same time making them sound attractive enough to appeal as a romantic hero. To cast for the ingénue heroine (although the heroine in this book isn’t an ingénue) almost always means getting someone with a very narrow range, whose voice lacks the necessary resonance and colour to be able to render the hero and a range of supporting characters from formidable dowagers to old family retainers. Ms. Gray has a vocal range of about half an octave, and her ‘hero voice’ is higher in pitch than my normal speaking voice. In the book, Adam, Duke of Stratton, is supposed to be dangerous – he’s fought lots of duels, he’s got an unpredictable temper, he’s dark and brooding and sexy – but he sounds as though he’s barely out of short trousers. I wanted to warm him some milk, ruffle his hair and ask if he’d finished his homework yet.

If I were Madeline Hunter, I’d be seriously displeased.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.