Besotted With the Viscount by Susanna Malcolm (audiobook) – Narrated by Nicholas Boulton

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

Lord Gideon Birch, wounded former naval Captain and freshly minted Viscount, has a colorful history as a renowned lover of women. But a decade at war has transformed this sensual rake, and what he wants now is only to live a life on his own terms. And so he comes to the quietest village in England, searching for serenity, and instead encounters an astonishingly enthralling pair of green eyes that unsettle his carefully constructed world.

Though she would love nothing more than to leave Littleover, Miss Theadosia Ridley is sorely hampered by a lack of funds. Desperately trying to earn enough to feed herself and her ailing family servant, she must reluctantly accept Lord Birch’s opportune offer of employment: He needs her and her knowledge of Greek to catalog and translate the extensive library he’s accumulated over the course of the war. Dubious of his motives, she vows to keep her distance from the dashing newcomer. But time in his company unveils a compelling man far more complex than his shallow reputation would lead one to believe.

Can she uphold her vow not to succumb to his charms?

Rating: Narration – A- : Content – C

Susanna Malcolm’s Besotted with the Viscount is a fairly low-angst tale set in a small English village, which sees two people who don’t quite fit in discovering that they fit in with each other rather well. It’s a leisurely-paced, character-driven tale, that starts well, but drags in the middle and then resorts to a rather clichéd Big Misunderstanding in order to create some much-needed tension towards the end.  The principals are likeable for the most part, although I found the heroine to be rather too negative, and I can’t deny there were times I thought both principals needed a slap!

Captain Lord Gideon Birch, younger brother of an earl, has recently been ennobled in recognition of his service during the recent wars.  Widely regarded as a hero, he has no wish to be continually reminded of his life in the Navy, a career forced upon him by his family and which he hated.  Now retired due to a serious injury to his knee, he wants nothing more than to live quietly somewhere as far from the sea as possible, and has purchased a property in the vicinity of the remote village of Littleover in Derbyshire.

Thea Ridley is the daughter of a scholar and lived most of her life in Greece before returning to England following the deaths of her parents.  She lives in a small cottage with her elderly companion and is barely making ends meet, so when the opportunity arises to work for the captain as a kind of librarian – Lord Birch has acquired a large number of Greek texts he cannot read (he doesn’t know Greek) – she jumps at the chance to earn some money, with a view to making enough to be able to leave England and make a home in Italy.

It’s a nice way of getting the two together, but I couldn’t help asking myself how it was that neither of them thought it improper to be alone together so often.  I suppose it could be that Gideon regarded Thea as a servant and therefore without a reputation to worry about, but that’s clearly not the case, given that they first meet at a social event.  He’s immediately smitten by her beautiful face (and in fact, if anyone is besotted in this story, it’s him), so when the local vicar suggests she would be the ideal person to catalogue and translate his books, he jumps at the chance to have her in his house and hopes to get to know her. But Gideon’s reputation as a rake and libertine is widely known, so Thea, who is still getting over being thrown over by the young man she’d expected to marry – is wary, of Gideon and of men in general.

This is a romance novel, so I don’t need to spell out where things are headed. Thea is equally taken with the handsome captain, but keeps reminding herself that Men Are Not To Be Trusted and remains in denial about the truth of her feelings for Gideon.  Until, that is, her former love arrives back in the village accompanied by his new – pregnant – wife (whom he married for money), and promptly propositions Thea, intending to make her his mistress.  She’s so furiously indignant, she goes back to Gideon’s house, figures if all men are going to think she’s a whore, she might as well be one, and jumps Gideon – much to his delight.

Things between them are fairly blissful (fortunately, Gideon has hardly any servants, so there’s nobody to witness them getting it on in all the rooms in the house) – although at no point does he, a gentleman, mention marriage – until the Big Mis kicks in near the end.  Without spoilers, something happens to Thea which turns the whole village against her, and when details reach Gideon – who has had to go away for a week – he immediately believes the worst, and, on returning to Littleover, makes no attempt to see or speak to Thea to get her side of the story.

Needless to say, Gideon’s behaviour at that point is unforgiveable and I didn’t blame Thea for the decision she makes afterward.  All is happily resolved, of course, but I have to say that while I generally liked Gideon, his lack of faith in Thea in the final stages of the novel left a nasty taste in my mouth.

It will come as no surprise when I say that the narration was by far the strongest part of this audiobook.  Unfortunately, however, not even the velvet tones of Nicholas Boulton were enough to raise the book above the average, and actually, it’s the first time I’ve ever said that I wished he’d been given better material to work with, as so far, the authors he’s narrated for in the romance genre – Laura Kinsale, Alexis Hall, Elizabeth Kingston – are all top-notch.  His performance is excellent, as usual; his interpretations of the various characters are fabulous, they’re all very clearly differentiated, and his ability to get to the emotional heart of any given scene is superb.  But ultimately, the story is weak and the heroine is difficult to warm to, so in spite of Mr. Boulton’s best efforts – wonderful though they are – Besotted by the Viscount is rather a middling affair.


Damage Control (Laws of Attraction #1) by Kate McMurray

Senate candidate Parker Livingston chose his political dreams over a future with the man he loved. He lives with constant regret about not having Jackson Kane in his life. Or his bed. And when a strange woman is found murdered in Parker’s apartment, Jackson is the only person Parker trusts to help clear his name.

Jackson never forgave Parker for the way their relationship ended. He moved on, built a name for himself as a criminal defense attorney and swore he’d never let heartbreak back in. But when Parker shows up on his doorstep, wild-eyed and handsome and desperate for his help, Jackson can’t say no. Parker is a lot of things, but he’s no murderer.

Forced back together, searching for answers, their attraction returns with a vengeance. Any distraction—personal or professional—could be deadly. The murderer is still at large, and he’s made it clear one of them is his next victim.

Rating: C-

Damage Control is the first book in the author’s Laws of Attraction series, and it opens when top defence attorney Jackson Kane is approached by senatorial candidate Parker Livingston to represent him when, as looks likely to happen, Livingston is arrested for the murder of a woman found dead in his apartment.  The book is a reasonably well written and engaging tale, but there were a number of issues that kept pulling me out of the story, and there were times when the suspension of disbelief required was just too large for comfort.

Jackson and Parker – Park – have history.  They met at college, aged nineteen, and were each other’s first everything; they stayed together for eight years until Park’s political ambitions (and daddy issues) forced them apart.  Eight years later, Park is running for the senate… as a Republican.  Okay – I’m British, so it’s entirely possible that some of the finer political points in the story passed me by, but basically, Park is a left-of-centre Republican who espouses many of the party’s conservative economic tenets while also believing it has gone off the rails and that change can only be effected from within.  But the party and voters will never accept a gay republican, so he’s firmly closeted.  Even though it’s a matter of record – and it comes up a few times – that Park and Jackson shared a couple of addresses over the years, we’re asked to believe that nobody, at any time during the vetting process put two and two together and made four? They were together as a couple for EIGHT YEARS.  They didn’t ever have friends round for dinner?  They never went out as a couple?  Setting aside the fact I have a hard time believing that ANYONE would want to identify as a Republican these days, surely someone running for high political office would have been thoroughly investigated?

Anyway.  It seems the murdered woman was a socialite whose father is a major donor to the party and Park’s campaign.  Fortunately, however, Park has a watertight alibi for the time of the murder, and once that is established,  the story turns its attention to trying to find out why the victim was at Park’s apartment in the first place? Did his political opponents lure her there with the intention of framing Park for murder?

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

Perfect Day by Sally Malcolm

This title may be purchased from Amazon.

Love doesn’t burn out just because the timing’s wrong. It grows. It never leaves.

When Joshua Newton, prodigal son of one of New Milton’s elite, fell in love with ambitious young actor Finn Callaghan, his world finally made sense. With every stolen moment, soft touch and breathless kiss, they fell deeper in love.

Finn was his future…until he wasn’t.

Love stays. Even when you don’t want it to, even when you try to deny it, it stays.

Eight years later, Finn has returned to the seaside town where it all began. He’s on the brink of stardom, a far cry from the poor mechanic who spent one gorgeous summer falling in love on the beach.

The last thing he wants is a second chance with the man who broke his heart. Finn has spent a long time forgetting Joshua Newton—he certainly doesn’t plan to forgive him.

Love grows. It never leaves.

Rating: A-

Sally Malcolm’s first published m/m romance is a contemporary retelling of Jane Austen’s Persuasion (which regularly vies with Emma for first place in my ranking of Austen’s novels!) set in a sleepy New York seaside town. I admit I’m usually a bit wary of retellings of classic novels – especially when they’re great personal favourites – but I’ve known the author on and off for over a decade, I enjoy her writing and was confident that she’d treat the material with respect – and that confidence wasn’t misplaced. Perfect Day is a beautifully told second-chance-at-love story that tugs at the heartstrings and can be enjoyed regardless of whether you’re familiar with Persuasion or not. It stands on its own very well, although the fun for those of us who do know the original is in recognising the plot points and characters the author has chosen to ‘transplant’ and how she’s made them work in a contemporary setting.

During one halcyon summer eight years earlier, Joshua Newton and Finn Callaghan met when Finn was employed to work on Charles Newton’s classic car collection at his Hanworth Hall estate on Long Island. The Newtons were extremely wealthy; Joshua’s father and older brother Michael were tough-nosed businessmen who believed money was everything, but Josh was always a bit of an outsider, a talented musician and gentle soul whose ambitions lay in a different direction. He and Finn spent as much time together as they possibly could over the couple of months that followed, falling deeply and passionately in love and eventually deciding to move to Los Angeles together, where the stunningly handsome Finn would pursue an acting career while Josh would further his musical studies.

But their dreams came to an abrupt end when Josh allowed his aunt Ruth to persuade him not only that he should finish his MBA at Harvard, but that for Finn to arrive in LA with a boyfriend in tow would end his career before it had even begun. If Josh truly loved Finn, he should end their relationship and let him go.

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

Desperate Girls (Wolfe Security #1) by Laura Griffin

This title may be purchased from Amazon

Defense attorney Brynn Holloran is right at home among cops, criminals, and tough-as-nails prosecutors. With her sharp wit and pointed words, she’s a force to be reckoned with in the courtroom, but in her personal life, she’s a mess.

When a vicious murderer she once helped prosecute resurfaces and starts a killing spree to wipe out those who put him behind bars, one thing becomes clear: Brynn needs to run for her life.

Turning to a private security firm for protection, Brynn can’t resist getting involved in the investigation. As the clock ticks down on a manhunt, Brynn’s desperate search for the truth unearths long-buried secrets and reignites a killer’s cold fury.

Rating: B-

I’ve enjoyed a number of Laura Griffin’s Tracers series of romantic suspense novels, and have been impressed with her ability to craft fast-paced, complex plots that combine a bit of steam with action-packed set pieces and fascinating, behind-the-scenes detail.  Desperate Girls is book one in a new series – Wolfe Security – which is linked to the Tracers books by virtue of the fact that security expert Liam Wolfe, the owner of the high-end private security firm is the hero of Shadow Fall (Tracers #9).

Defence attorney Brynn Halloran has a reputation as a ball-buster, which is just the way she likes it.  Coolly professional and determined to get the job done, she’s tough as nails and lives for her job… which is just as well, because her personal life – what there is of it – is a bit of a mess.  The case she’s working on right now is one that could make or break her career; it’s the first time her boss has given her the lead on such a high profile case as this one, in which a mixed-race teenager is accused of first-degree murder.  Brynn knows he’s innocent and is sure she can win the case – until her key witness disappears just days before the trial is due to commence.

But there’s more bad news to come.  Arrived at the offices of the small defence firm she works for, Brynn learns that her friend and mentor, Judge Jen Ballard, has been murdered in her own home.  And that’s not all; the suspected killer, James Corby, escaped from prison just days before the murder, and he has reason to want to exact revenge on the two lawyers – Jen and Brynn – who secured his conviction, three years earlier, for the rape and murder of a number of women.  When Brynn’s boss insists that she could be Corby’s next target and that she needs protection during the upcoming trial in Dallas. Brynn tries to argue against him – she doesn’t need some lumbering goon hanging over her 24/7 while she’s trying to track down a missing witness and save a young man’s life.  But her boss is adamant and she’s overruled.

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

Tight Quarters (Out of Uniform #6) by Annabeth Albert (audiobook) – Narrated by Greg Boudreaux

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

Petty Officer Bacon, a Navy SEAL and ace sharpshooter, has been on the front lines of more than his fair share of dangerous ops. Yet when a minor injury relegates him to the beta team, he’s tasked with what may be his riskiest assignment yet: babysitting a silver fox journalist, who is the hottest, most charismatic man he’s ever encountered.

Award-winning journalist Spencer Bryant may have been named one of Pride magazine’s most eligible bachelors of the year, but he’s not looking to change his relationship status. He’s a consummate professional who won’t risk his ethics or impeccable reputation by getting involved with a source. Even a sexy-as-hell military man. But while Spencer can resist his physical attraction to Bacon, he has less control over his emotions – especially when the mission goes sideways and the two men are trapped alone.

Getting out of the jungle alive turns out to be easy compared to facing the truth about their feelings for one another back in the real world. And whether or not they can build a future is a different story altogether.

Rating: Narration – A+ : Content – A

Annabeth Albert’s Out of Uniform series has been a consistently enjoyable one in both print and audio, despite the odd blip. Tight Quarters is the sixth instalment, and I was glued to it from start to finish, zipping through it in two or three sittings. Yeah, yeah, I know – I’d listen to Greg Boudreaux read his shopping list, but fortunately, Annabeth Albert has provided him with something MUCH sexier and emotionally satisfying (although I don’t know – maybe his shopping lists are sexy and emotionally satisfying?) to get stuck into, in this tale of a journalist who embeds with a team of Navy SEALs looking for a story and finds something he really hadn’t bargained for.

We met Petty Officer Bacon in the previous book in the series, Squared Away, and at the beginning of his one, he’s more than a little bit pissed off because the finger he dislocated on a training exercise has him sidelined and unable to take his regular place on Team Alpha. His annoyance is further compounded when he is directed to be the liaison officer for a reporter who is going to embed with Bacon’s unit during their next mission. The team’s recent shake up following the departure of its XO (executive officer) and explosives expert (Wes and Dustin from Wheels Up) coupled with the rumours that the pair are now an item and began their relationship while working together despite the strict non-fraternization policy, make Bacon – a friend of both men – very hostile to the idea of a journalist poking around for a story and he resents being demoted to the role of babysitter. Even worse – the reporter is Spencer Bryant, a heavyweight, multi-award-winning journalist and author who is openly gay… and is one seriously hot silver fox. Under any other circumstances, Bacon would have so gone there – but he’s got to keep Bryant at a distance and away from anything that could potentially embarrass his team or the Navy in general.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

Entropy (Atrophy #4) by Jess Anastasi

This title may be purchased from Amazon

Captain Qaelan Forster is used to trouble. He lives on the wrong side of the law and he’s on the most-wanted lists. He’s mixed up in his cousin’s mess who has problems on a cosmic level—like shape-shifting aliens who want them dead. But Qaelan’s not prepared for the cheeky kind of trouble called Camille Blackstone, whose infamous father has any man interested in his daughter executed.

After Camille drags Qaelan into an impulsive act of rebellion, she finds herself trying to defend the sexy captain from her overprotective father’s wrath, even if she has to handcuff herself to the captain to keep him alive. However, it soon becomes apparent there are much more dangerous things lurking in the dark corners of the universe than a vengeful pirate lord. And she’s just landed in the middle of it.

Rating: B

Entropy is book four in Jess Anastasi’s Atrophy series of Sci-Fi romances, and the first thing I’m going to say is that it’s not really a standalone. While each of the books has a self-contained plot and different romantic pairing, there are long-running storylines begun in book one (Atrophy) which impact on each subsequent title, and a newbie would most likely have a bit of trouble working out what’s going on.  The good news is that the other books are enjoyable and well-written, so if you like the genre, then reading them is no hardship.

Disillusioned with life in the military after seeing first hand its disregard for some of the most basic human rights, Captain Qaelan – Qae – Foster resigned his commission, bought a ship and has lived on the wrong side of the law ever since, hiring out the Ebony Winter for whatever dodgy deals are up for grabs.  He’s got a reputation as a maurauder other pirates shouldn’t think about messing with, a smart mouth, good looks and charm by the bucketload.  He’s on galaxy-wide most-wanted lists, and his problems have been recently compounded by the fact that the Ebony Winter is now home to his cousin, Captain Rian Sherron – one of the most feared men in the galaxy – and the crew of his ship, the Imojenna, which was stolen in the previous book.

In the year since Qae and Rian teamed up, they’ve been taking jobs from notorious pirate Rene  Blackstone in between chasing down mostly dead-end leads as to the location of the Imojenna. Sitting in his favourite bar one night pondering the fact that the ship is probably so much scrap metal by now, Qae’s musings are interrupted by the entrance of a stunning young woman  whose presence clearly makes the other patrons uncomfortable.  The barman tells him that she never leaves the bar with anyone – which is like a red rag to a bull; Qae is never one to resist a challenge.

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

Born to be Wilde (The Wildes of Lindow Castle #3) by Eloisa James

This title may be purchased from Amazon

The richest bachelor in England plays matchmaker…for an heiress he wants for himself!

For beautiful, witty Lavinia Gray, there’s only one thing worse than having to ask the appalling Parth Sterling to marry her: being turned down by him.

Now the richest bachelor in England, Parth is not about to marry a woman as reckless and fashion-obsessed as Lavinia; he’s chosen a far more suitable bride.

But when he learns of Lavinia’s desperate circumstances, he offers to find her a husband. Even better, he’ll find her a prince.

As usual, there’s no problem Parth can’t fix. But the more time he spends with the beguiling Lavinia, the more he finds himself wondering…

Why does the woman who’s completely wrong feel so right in his arms?

Rating: D+

I’ve never made a secret of the fact that Eloisa James’ books have generally been rather hit or miss (mostly miss) for me.  I’ve read some and enjoyed them – I gave Three Weeks with Lady X a DIK at All About Romance, and have rated other books highly, but after Seven Minutes in Heaven, I decided it was probably time for us to part ways. There are plenty of other books out there to read, so no big loss.  But… this is Eloisa James, right? One of the biggest names in historical romance.  Maybe I’ve missed something?  It’s that feeling that has made me go back to her books occasionally, so I decided I’d pick up Born to be Wilde, the third book in her Wildes of Lindow Castle series, just to see if maybe I’d got it wrong and she would wow me again.

I should have had the courage of my convictions and stayed away.

Born to be Wilde is nonsensical superficiality from start to finish.  The story is pretty much non-existent, the characters are bland and unmemorable, the romance is flat and seriously underdeveloped and the eleventh-hour conflict is utterly ridiculous.

Beautiful, vivacious and wealthy, Lavinia Gray is used to having men at her feet.  She’s turned down numerous proposals of marriage, secure in the knowledge that she could afford to wait for the right one – until she discovered that her mother’s spendthrift ways and gambling habits mean they’re broke and worse, that her mother resorted to stealing valuable jewellery and selling it for cash.  And as if that weren’t bad enough, she’s become addicted to laudanum to such a degree that she’s sent to a sanatorium at the beginning of the book to be weaned off the drug.  So – Lavinia is desperate.  She needs money and she needs it quickly if she’s to prevent her mother’s being carted off to Newgate; and what’s the easiest way to obtain it?  Yep – marry it.  The book opens with Lavinia turning up at the hero’s room and asking him to marry her.

Parth Sterling was born in India to an English father and Indian mother, but was sent to live in England at the age of five where, as a ward of the Duke of Lindow, he grew up with the Wildes and is regarded by them as a member of the family.  He’s a self-made man, one of the wealthiest in England, and even owns a bank.  He and Lavinia have known each other for years; she thinks he thinks she’s an empty-headed hat-fetishist, he thinks she thinks he’s a prig. Based on the fact that the worst insult she can come up with for him is “Appalling Parth”, I’d tend to agree with his assessment.  There’s no doubt she’s beautiful and desirable… but Parth doesn’t want to marry her.  Instead, though, he’ll help her to find a husband and sets about presenting her to highly eligible men, none of whom – of course – is good enough for her.

That’s pretty much the sum of their relationship.  She thinks he doesn’t like her; he’s confused about his feelings because she’s frivolous and he wants the woman in his life to have a bit more substance.  (Hence his intention to court a lovely Italian contessa). But of course, Lavinia DOES have substance; when she offers to put together a trousseau for her dear friend Diana – who is marrying the heir to the Duke of Lindow – the mercer (fabric merchant) suggests that with her exquisite taste (of which he has little discernible evidence), Lavinia should set up as a kind of personal stylist to society ladies, and that he would pay her a commission for using his fabrics.  Um.  Essentially –  a tradesman suggests that a Lady works for money.  In 1780.  Nope.  Not buying it.

Lavinia loves the idea, and thinks she can earn enough to pay off her mother’s debts AND enough to provide herself with a decent dowry. She adores fashion, so selecting fabrics, trimmings and designs isn’t really ‘work’, but doing something she loves.  She spends the next few weeks working her fingers to the bone – we’re told she often works late into the night and forgets to eat – preparing this trousseau, which seems excessive.  I know making clothes by hand is very labour-intensive, but still, it’s presented as though she’s working on achieving world peace or how to feed the world, rather than on sewing gowns.

By around two-thirds of the way through, Lavinia and Parth have both realised they were wrong about each other, that they’re wildly (!) attracted to each other and have jumped into bed.  Parth somehow has a condom to hand for their first time – it’s not the use of it I query, because of course they were around, it’s more than he has one so conveniently to hand in a room not his own bedroom.  They didn’t come in little foil packets back in the eighteenth century.

Of course, Parth wouldn’t have taken Lavinia to bed had he not intended to marry her, something which appears to go without saying for both of them.  All is going to plan until that eleventh-hour conflict I mentioned, which is shoe-horned in for the sake of it, and only provides yet another opportunity for Lavinia to bemoan her own unworthiness and conviction that Parth doesn’t respect her.

The story is basically one big trope-fest, and there is absolutely NO sense whatsoever of time or place in the novel; had it not been for the timestamps at the beginning of each chapter telling me events were taking place in 1780, I’d have had no idea when the story was set, in spite of the extremely tedious descriptions of patterns and fabrics.  And the fact that the hero is Anglo-Indian is mentioned a few times in passing and has so little bearing on his character or the story that I have no idea why the author chose to give him that background.  I am well aware that mixed-race relationships/marriages were not uncommon at this time and have absolutely no issues whatsoever with the hero being of mixed parentage.  But in the same way as the novel having no sense of time or place, there’s no sense of what his heritage means to him or how it has shaped him.

It’s all so much froth and banal superficiality.  I like a well-written piece of fluff as well as the next person, but Born to be Wilde is just DULL.  The antics of the Wildes basically scream “LOOK AT US – WE’RE UNCONVENTIONAL!” the humour is forced and unfunny, Parth and Lavinia share no chemistry whatsoever and Ms. James plays fast-and-loose with the conventions of the time.  There are a lot of authors out there – I won’t name names, but it’s a long list – who write stuff like this all the time; characters in pretty frocks and tight breeches who pay no attention to social convention and speak and act with twenty-first sensibilities.  If that’s what you want to read – and some authors do it very well – then fine, but part of the challenge of historical romance is, surely, in creating and developing a romantic relationship between characters who would, in the real world of the period, not have been allowed to spend time together alone – and making their interactions believable.

Mission SO not accomplished.  As I said on Goodreads.  “That’s three and a bit hours of my life I’ll never get back.”

I’m sorry Ms. James – you have a large number of fans who love your work and good luck to you and them.  But I’m done.