Splendid (Splendid Trilogy #1) by Julia Quinn (audiobook) – Narrated by Lucy Rayner

There are two things everyone knows about Alexander Ridgely. One, he’s the Duke of Ashbourne. And two, he has no plans to marry anytime soon…

That is until a redheaded American throws herself in front of a carriage to save his young nephew’s life. She’s everything Alex never thought a woman could be—smart and funny, principled and brave. But she’s a servant, completely unsuitable for a highborn duke—unless, perhaps, she’s not quite what she seems…

American heiress Emma Dunster might be surrounded by Englishmen, but that doesn’t mean she intends to marry one—even if she has agreed to participate in one London Season. When she slipped out of her cousins’ home, dressed as a kitchen maid, all she wanted was one last taste of anonymity before her debut. She never dreamed she’d find herself in the arms of a dangerously handsome duke… or that he’d be quite so upset when he discovered her true identity. But true love tends to blossom just when one least expects it, and passion can melt even the most stubborn of hearts.

Rating: Narration – C-; Content – C+

Splendid, the first book in Julia Quinn’s Blydon trilogy (the others being Dancing at Midnight and Minx) was issued in 1995 and is Ms. Quinn’s first published work. I’ve read many of her most recent books, but not her earliest ones, so I was interested to listen to this to find out how it would compare. Naturally, it’s not as polished as her later work, although the writing is confident and there are flashes of the humour for which she has become renowned. On the downside though, the storyline is rather predictable (and goes off the rails a bit towards the end), and the characters – outspoken American heiress, stuffy (but hot) duke, bluestocking cousin etc. – are rather stock-in-trade and never really transcend that. There’s nothing wrong with predictability in a romance – we know where it’s going to end up and who is going to end up with whom, after all – but there has to be something else that makes up for it, whether it’s characterisation, sub-plots or dialogue, but here, unfortunately, that’s not the case, and large portions of the book tend to drag while the hero and heroine – who are clearly crazy for each other – try to make up their minds about how they feel.

But by far the biggest impediment to the enjoyment of this story in audio is the narration. I don’t know what on earth Harper Audio was thinking when they engaged Lucy Rayner to narrate all three audiobooks in this series – were Rosalyn Landor and Mary Jane Wells unavailable? – but they’ve done themselves and one of their best-selling authors a serious disservice. I listened to Ms. Rayner a couple of months back in Kat Martin’s Bold Angel, and gave her narration a C grade, saying: sometimes her tone is overly harsh, and lacking in subtlety or expression. There were times I found myself wincing at obvious and painful overacting… and that her male voices were below par.

Sadly, those things are still true here, and the narration as a whole proved so difficult to listen to that it often distracted me from the story and I found myself having to rewind to listen to large chunks where I’d just zoned out.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals

Bold Angel by Kat Martin (audiobook) – Narrated by Lucy Rayner

bold-angel

This title may be purchased from Amazon.

They were enemies in a divided land…

Saxon beauty Caryn of Ivesham longed to escape the chill gray cloisters of the convent to which she’d fled – but not in marriage to the towering, feared Raolfe de Gere, the Norman knight they called Ral the Relentless. Even though he had once saved her from a fate worse than death, she could not forget he’d raised the grim battlements of Braxston keep on her dead father’s lands or that his men had dishonoured her sister. If she wed him to bring peace to her people, he would have to lay siege to her bed. But their destiny was more powerful than the clash of swords. The darkly handsome warlord’s blood coursed with desire for Caryn’s burnished crimson lips, and his passion would not be denied. But in the wild ecstasy they shared Ral feared more than his heart was in danger. Could his rebellious bride be a traitor deadlier than the wolves and brigands prowling deep in English forests?

Rating: Narration – C; Content – D

I suppose I should have known what I was letting myself in for when I read the title and synopsis of Bold Angel:

“Saxon beauty Caryn of Ivesham longed to escape the chill gray cloisters of the convent to which she’d fled-but not in marriage to the towering, feared Raolfe de Gere, the Norman knight they called Ral the Relentless.”

It goes on to tell how the

“darkly handsome warlord’s blood coursed with desire for Caryn’s burnished crimson lips”

… yeah, I should probably have moved on at that point, but I had decided I wanted to listen to Lucy Rayner, who has been listed as the narrator of several Julia Quinn romances being released in December (Splendid, Dancing at Midnight and Minx), in order to get an idea of her abilities and performance style.

The result is a mixed bag. It probably didn’t help that the story is unoriginal and the heroine made me want to wring her neck for pretty much the entire (seemingly interminable) fourteen hours and forty minutes of the audiobook. And I couldn’t help thinking that Ms. Rayner’s crystal-clear tones – while not unpleasant – are rather too bright for a romance. I kept expecting her to shout “jolly hockey sticks!” à la Joyce Grenfell whenever things got heated, difficult or angsty.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

Happily Bedded Bliss (Rakes of Cavendish Square #2) by Tracy Anne Warren – Narrated by Charlotte Anne Dore

happly bedded bliss audio

When Lady Esme Byron happens upon a gorgeous naked man sleeping beside a secluded country lake, she can’t resist the impulse to sketch him. But when her highly improper drawing is mistakenly revealed at a party, she finds her once-pristine reputation in tatters.
Gabriel, Lord Northcote, may be a notorious rakehell, but he is still stunned to find himself accused of despoiling a duke’s sister – especially since he’s never set eyes on her. When Esme’s six irate brothers demand a hurried trip down the aisle, he has no choice but to comply. He thinks that he can forget about his inconvenient bride, but Esme Byron is no ordinary woman, and Gabriel is about to learn just how unforgettable she can be.

Rating: Narration – F; Content – B

I enjoyed Happily Bedded Bliss when I read it a couple of months ago and was looking forward to listening to the audiobook version. The previous book in the series, The Bedding Proposal, boasted both an unusual and deliciously angsty storyline and was also excellently narrated by Barrie Kreinik. I had been hoping for more of the same, but for some inexplicable reason, Tantor has used a different narrator for this second book. I have only listened to Charlotte Anne Dore once before – her lacklustre narration more or less ruined Sherry Thomas’ My Beautiful Enemy – but I believe in giving people a second chance, just to see if maybe I was having a bad day when listening, or if they have improved. I can’t remember what sort of mood I was in when I listened to My Beautiful Enemy, but I’m afraid that Ms Dore’s performance here is every bit as uninspiring as it was the last time I listened to her, and her narration has completely ruined what is, in print, an enjoyable, well-developed romance.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

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Lady Sarah’s Sinful Desires by Sophie Barnes (audiobook) – Narrated by Rebecca Rogers

Lady Sarah's sinful desires

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon.

There are thousands of things Christopher, Viscount Spencer, would rather do than hunt for a bride, especially since experience has taught him that women are not to be trusted. Then he finds the intriguing Lady Sarah scrambling around in Thorncliff’s conservatory and he is instantly charmed by her passionate nature. But why is she so intent on avoiding him?

Lady Sarah would make the perfect bride for a peer—if not for a tarnished past that she’s hiding from the ton. A stay at Thorncliff Manor was meant to help her plan for her future, not fall in love. Yet Christopher’s kisses are irresistible, his gallantry enticing. When her secret stands to be revealed, will the truth ruin their dreams of happiness?

Rating: Narration – D; Content – D

Sometimes – if you’re lucky – you can start a book or audio and know pretty much straight away that you’re going to enjoy it. And sometimes – if you’re UNlucky – you pick one up and immediately know the opposite. That’s what happened to me when I started listening to Lady Sarah’s Sinful Desires. In the (almost) three years I’ve been reviewing for AudioGals, I think I’ve only DNFed one, perhaps two titles, but this came close to being the third. I know part of the reviewer’s lot is to take the rough with the smooth, so along with the “OMG, awesome!” listens, there are going to be a proportion of “Meh, okay, but won’t listen again” ones. This one, however, was one of the “OMG, why am I subjecting myself to this?” kind.

(The answer to that question, by the way, is so that I can tell you, dear readers, which audiobooks to avoid with a ten-foot pole. Or, in this case, a twenty-foot one.)

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals. Sadly, it won’t make the book any better, but it might afford you a laugh or two.

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Night of a Thousand Stars by Deanna Raybourn (audiobook) – Narrated by Anna Parker-Naples

night of a thousand stars audio

On the verge of a stilted life as an aristocrat’s wife, Poppy Hammond does the only sensible thing – she flees the chapel in her wedding gown. Assisted by the handsome curate who calls himself Sebastian Cantrip, she spirits away to her estranged father’s quiet country village, pursued by the family she left in uproar. But when the dust of her broken engagement settles and Sebastian disappears under mysterious circumstances, Poppy discovers there is more to her hero than it seems.

With only her feisty lady’s maid for company, Poppy secures employment and travels incognita – east across the seas, chasing a hunch and the whisper of clues. Danger abounds beneath the canopies of the silken city, and Poppy finds herself in the perilous sights of those who will stop at nothing to recover a fabled ancient treasure. Torn between allegiance to her kindly employer and a dashing, shadowy figure, Poppy will risk it all as she attempts to unravel a much larger plan – one that stretches to the very heart of the British government and one that could endanger everything and everyone she holds dear.

Rating: C- for narration; A- for content

I read and loved this book last year, so I was delighted to see that it had recently been made available in audio and eagerly snapped it up, even though the narrator is not someone I have listened to before. Night of a Thousand Stars is one of Deanna Raybourn’s set of three loosely connected novels set in the 1920s, and in fact links back to her Lady Julia books in that the heroine is the daughter of Julia’s youngest brother, “Plum” – a fact revealed early in the story and which may have caused just the slightest squee from yours truly upon reading.

As an audiobook, however, Night of a Thousand Stars is a very different prospect, and I struggled to finish it.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

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

trapped  by scandal

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

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

Rating: C- for narration; D for content

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

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

My Wicked Marquess (Inferno Club #1) by Gaelen Foley (audiobook) – Narrated by Annette Chown

my wicked marquess audio

With the war against Napoleon winding down, the Marquess of Rotherstone decides it’s time to restore his family’s tainted reputation. But as a member of the Inferno Club, he knows there is only one way to redeem himself in society’s eyes: marry an impeccable young lady of beauty and breeding, whose behavior is well beyond reproach.

Someone quite unlike Miss Daphne Starling. True, she is temptingly lovely, but a whiff of scandal suggests the blond beauty may be a jilt who enjoys toying with her suitors’ emotions. Still, Max cannot resist her allure – or the challenge of proving London’s gossips wrong. Pursuing her with a spy’s cool, calm calculation, he is soon swept up in the chase. He would do anything to win her hand…and prove that even a very wicked marquess can become the ideal husband.

Rating: C- for narration; D for content

My Wicked Marquess is the first book in Gaelen Foley’s Inferno Club series, and having enjoyed reading some of the later books, I was pleased to see this appear in audio format. Annette Chown is a new-to-me narrator (and from reading an interview with her posted on Ms Foley’s website, it seems she’s fairly new to the world of audiobook narration, too), but I like to give new narrators a chance – everyone has to start somewhere, after all!

Unfortunately, however, My Wicked Marquess is a bit of a mess. The pacing is very uneven, the heroine is annoying to the point of being TSTL and there is a lot of info-dumping going on, whether as back-story or setting up future books; and Ms Chown’s narration, while decent, isn’t sufficiently engaging as to be able to carry the listener through those portions of the story that are, shall we say, less than interesting.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals