Wanderlust by Lauren Blakely (audiobook) – Narrated by Richard Armitage and Grace Grant


This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

A British accent is my weakness…

Good thing I can avoid that kind of temptation in my new job in Paris. And when my company hooks me up with my own personal translator, I should be on the fast track for success. Except, he’s charming, witty, and, oh yeah, he just so happens to be British, which means everything he says melts me.

Don’t mix business with pleasure. I do my best to resist him as he brings the city to life for me. Soon, I can navigate the streets, discuss perfume with my co-workers, and barter at the outdoor market. But I also learn how to tell the sexy man by my side how much I want him to kiss me under the streetlamps.

Except there’s a catch – I can’t have him.

***

One more assignment before I take off on my big adventure…

And it’s a good farewell gig too since my newest client is a fetching American who loves to explore the cafes and cobbled streets while I teach her the language of love. We fall into a fast and flirty friendship, doing our best to resist each other. But you know what they say about best intentions. Soon we’re spending our nights together too, and I don’t want to let her go. The trouble is, my wanderlust is calling to me, and before we know it, I’ll be traveling the globe to fulfill a promise I made long ago.

What could possibly go wrong with falling in love in Paris? Nothing…unless one of you is leaving.

Rating: Narration – A: Content – C

I’ve enjoyed listening to several of Lauren Blakely’s light-hearted, sexy romances; they’re fun, easy listens, made moreso by the fact that they’re read by some of the best narrators in the business. Her latest story, Wanderlust, is set in Paris and boasts a British hero, so I was hoping a British narrator would be cast – and when the author announced it would be Richard Armitage, I, like many, was gobsmacked.  While he’s narrated a number of audiobooks, he has not, other than a few abridged recordings of some Georgette Heyer titles,  narrated a romance, so the fact that he’d signed on to narrate this Audible Original  (which is available in audio only until the end of March) is A Big Deal.

Wanderlust is fairly typical Blakely fare; steamy, flirty and low-angst, it tells the story of an American in Paris – Joy Danvers Lively – who relocates from her home in Texas to take up a one year secondment to the Paris offices of the cosmetics company for which she works.  She’s excited about the challenge facing her, and delighted at the prospect of living in one of the world’s most beautiful cities; she doesn’t speak the language, but she’s trying her best with the aid of a phrase book and has read extensively about what the city has to offer.

Her first morning, she’s in the bakery close to her hotel and mangles the pronunciation of the item she’s asking for when the man in front of her quietly corrects her so she can obtain what she wants.  He apologises – says it’s habit – and Joy is surprised to discover, when he speaks to her in English, that he’s not French, but British.  Outside, they carry on a flirtatious conversation during which they play at guessing each other’s names, ending up with Archie (for Archibald) and Judy.  They’re about to tell each other their real names when Joy’s phone rings and ‘Archie’, deciding he’s de trop, waves goodbye and leaves.

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

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Never Dare a Wicked Earl (Infamous Lords #1) by Renee Ann Miller

This title may be purchased from Amazon.

Known as a brazen philanderer, Hayden Milton, Earl of Westfield, is almost done in by a vengeful mistress who aims a gun at a rather essential part of his anatomy—but ends up wounding his thigh instead. Recuperating in his London town house, Hayden is confronted by his new medical attendant. Sophia Camden intrigues him, for behind her starched uniform is an enticing beauty better suited for bedding than dispensing salves and changing bandages.

Unshaken by his arrogance, not to mention impropriety, Sophia offers Hayden a dare: allow her ten days to prove her competency. If she resigns in exasperation like her two predecessors, she will be beholden to this wicked seducer. As a battle of wills begins, Sophia finds herself distracted by the Earl’s muscular physique . . . and discovers that the man within longs only for a second chance to love.

Rating: D+

As I’ve said in the past, I make it a point to try new authors when I can – after all, I had some pretty good luck a couple of years back when I found not one, but three début authors whose books have since become ‘must reads’, and I live in hope of finding others.  Unfortunately, however, on the strength of her first novel, Never Dare a Wicked Earl, Renee Ann Miller isn’t going to make that list by a long chalk; the cover trumpets a “fresh new romance” – but it’s about as fresh as week-old kippers, and I ended up reading a story I’ve read several times before.   It’s a solidly average book; not badly written, but the story is hackneyed, the characters are stereotypical and the author seems to have thought it a good ideal to throw the kitchen sink into the (very weak) plot.   Plus – what on earth is the heroine wearing on the cover?  The book is set in 1875, and by no stretch of the imagination is that dress from the late Victorian period.  I know that’s not the author’s fault, but it nonetheless telegraphs “Danger, Will Robinson!” to the potential reader.  With good reason, as it turns out.

When Hayden – a very unlikely name for a man (let alone an earl) in Victorian England – Earl of Westfield is shot in the leg by a demented ex-mistress, he is confined to bed and not at all happy about it.  He runs off two male attendants by virtue of his appalling manners and threatening  behaviour, so his sister, thinking he might not be quite so rude and abrasive towards a woman, engages a nurse by the name of Sophia Camden.  Of course, the fact that Sophia is female makes no difference to Hayden’s dreadful behaviour, and he begins to try to get rid of her, too, adding not-so-subtle sexual innuendo to his established repertoire of bad manners and ill temper.

Naturally, Sophia is wise to his tricks, and decided to stay, especially as – and here’s where we get lip-service to the title – Hayden dares Sophia to stick it out for ten days.  If she wins, he will throw his political weight behind a new bill to allow women to qualify as doctors (as this is what Sophia wants to do) and if he wins he’ll get… well, he’ll think about that tomorrow.

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

The Lady’s Guide to Larceny with a Dashing Stranger & The Rise and Fall of Reginald Everhart (Lady Travelers Society #2 &#1.5) by Victoria Alexander (audiobook) – Narrated by Marian Hussey

This title is available to download from Audible via Amazon

She must secure her future

A lady should never be obliged to think of matters financial! But when Lady Wilhelmina Bascombe’s carefree, extravagant lifestyle vanishes with the demise of her husband, her only hope lies in retrieving a family treasure – a Renaissance masterpiece currently in the hands of a cunning art collector in Venice. Thankfully, the Lady Travelers Society has orchestrated a clever plan to get Willie to Europe, leading a tour of mothers and daughters…and one curiously attentive man.

He must reclaim his heritage

Dante Augustus Montague’s one passion has long been his family’s art collection. He’s finally tracked a long-lost painting to the enchanting Lady Bascombe. Convinced that the canvas had been stolen, he will use any means to reclaim his birthright – including deception. But how long before pretend infatuation gives way to genuine desire?

Now they’re rivals for a prize that will change everything

Willie and Dante know they’re playing with fire in the magical moonlit city. Their common quest could compromise them both…or lead them to happily-ever-after.

Rating: Narration – A: Content – B

The Lady Travelers Guide to Larceny with a Dashing Stranger (which I’m henceforth going to refer to as LTGLDS) is book two in Victoria Alexander’s current Lady Travelers Society series, and the audiobook edition also includes the preceding novella, which is a nice bonus for listeners – who are getting one-and-a-half books for the price of one! As the events of the novella don’t relate to those of the book, it can be listened to completely independently, and I’ll touch upon it briefly at the end of this review.

In LTGLDS, we meet the widowed Lady Wilhemina Bascombe, whose husband, George, died a couple of years earlier and left her in straitened financial circumstances. Willie and George had married against the wishes of her parents, but they were happy, enjoying a carefree, somewhat extravagant lifestyle and ran with a fast set. When George died, Willie was left with debts and a less-than-pristine reputation for being daring and reckless; and although she has just about scraped together enough money to pay off his creditors, once they’re paid she will have very little left. Her one remaining hope is to liquidate her one remaining asset – a painting by the Renaissance artist, Portinari – which was given to her by her grandmother. The problem is that George used it as collateral for a loan from an art collector – an Italian count – and while Willie has just about enough money left to repay the loan, she doesn’t have enough to be able to buy passage to Venice in order to meet with the Conte di Sarifini.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

The Marquess Tames His Bride (Brides for Bachelors #2) by Annie Burrowes

This title may be purchased from Amazon

‘I have just announced our betrothal’

Now there’s no going back…

In this Brides for Bachelors story, the Marquess of Rawcliffe has always found his childhood friend Clare Cottam enthralling, but any relationship has been forbidden by her strict father. Now the couple are embroiled in a heated argument that puts Clare’s reputation in danger, and Rawcliffe is forced to declare her his fiancée. It will be his pleasure to tame his independent, innocent bride…

Rating: C

The Marquess Tames His Bride is the second book in Annie Burrows’ Brides for Bachelors series, which, although the romance is self-contained, picks up the storyline about a number of jewel thefts that began in book one, The Major Meets His Match.  I have read that book, although I confess I couldn’t remember very much about the continuing plotline; but fortunately the author has given enough of a recap for new readers to be able to pick it up and work out what is going on.  That said, it’s not an especially exciting mystery and there’s not much progression here; I’d worked out where things were headed within the first few pages, and at the end, it’s conveniently left hanging for the hero of book three to pick up and bring to a close.

Clare Cottam has spent the best part of her life caring for her drunkard of a father – a vicar – and her obnoxious older brothers.  The recent death of the Reverend Cottam has left Clare homeless and penniless, but one of her brothers, Clement – who is also a clergyman – has arranged for her to take up a position as companion to an elderly lady who lives in Dorset.  It’s not what Clare would have wished for herself, but she tries to see her brother’s interference as a kindness – and anyway she has no alternative.  She has stopped briefly at an inn along the way when she hears the well-remembered, mocking voice of the Marquess of Rawcliffe demanding to know why she’s there.  Clare has known Rawcliffe since she was a girl, and he’s always taken great delight in laughing at her and needling her until she loses the temper that is her greatest trial.  He’s the last person to whom she is going to confess the truth of her situation, but when he persists in teasing her, Clare has had enough and punches him on the nose.

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

Dangerous Promise (The Protector #1) by Megan Hart

This title may be purchased from Amazon.

Nina Bronson used to be all human — until the experimental surgeries and internal technology that saved her life and enhanced her as a soldier also forced her to leave the army for private service. Now she and her peers are facing slow, painful deaths unless their technology is upgraded, and the one man keeping those upgrades illegal and unavailable is an obnoxious billionaire. A man too gorgeous for his own good.

A man she’s supposed to guard with her life.

Ewan Donahue is the public voice speaking out against the enhancement procedures of injured soldiers. But when his lobbying leads to death threats, he needs someone to protect him around the clock. He doesn’t want to rely on an enhanced soldier—Nina’s tech goes against everything he stands for. But he really doesn’t want her to be beautiful like she is. Doesn’t want her to suffer like she will.

Doesn’t want to succumb to the searing desire he feels for her.

As a series of attacks on his life send them to a remote cabin, their close proximity brings them together in ways they never imagined. They know they must prevent the need simmering between them, resist each other at all costs. But when tensions are high and danger is close, passion burns hottest of all…

Rating: B

I don’t read much sci-fi romance, but I like it occasionally, and when I read one of my fellow AAR reviewers’ take on Dangerous Promise, it sounded really intriguing.

Set in a near future (a date is not specified, but I’m guessing late 21st/early 22nd century), Dangerous Promise introduces readers to kick-ass female bodyguard Nina Bronson, one of fifteen former soldiers who were all ‘enhanced’ using newly invented nano-technology which both saved their lives and has given them greater strength and stamina and the ability to control their physical and emotional reactions and bodily functions.  When Nina joined the army at nineteen and signed documents allowing her body to be used in the event of her death, she’d assumed it meant organ donation – not that she’d be brought back from the dead by having a number of nanochips implanted in her brain and nervous system.

Not long after she and her fellow ‘enhanced’ were created and the implications of the tech were fully understood, laws were passed outlawing any further implantations or any further development of the tech.  Nina and her fellows are thus the only enhanced humans in existence, and as the tech gradually decays, so will they, as they’ve effectively been denied access to the necessary upgrades.

Billionaire businessman Ewan Donahue is the highest-profile, most vocal of those who oppose the development of enhancement technology, and he’s a very visible target for those who believe the tech should be available to others – especially one organisation who wants to use it to build legions of super soldiers.  Being threatened is nothing new to him, but when the number of death threats he receives increases, leading to the deaths of not one, but two of his bodyguards, he approaches the elite ProtectCorps agency and hires Nina as his personal protection.

Both are well aware of the dichotomy inherent in their situation and make no bones about it.  But what Nina doesn’t know is that while Ewan now speaks out against the enhancement tech, he’s the one responsible for developing it in the first place.  Desperate to help his sister Katie, who was dying of Dementia, he invented and programmed the original software that connected to the brain and nervous system that should have allowed Katie to regain control of her mind and body… but sadly, the breakthrough came too late to save her.  After her death, and finally realising the implications of what he’d done, Ewan came back to reality with a thud and realised how messed up it was to want to play god with people’s lives – and made sure the program was shut down.

But their positions on either side of the debate don’t prevent a powerful attraction developing between them.  They are together 24/7 and spend a lot of time talking about many different things, including the ethical implications of the enhancement tech and Nina’s very existence.  Nina finds Ewan very attractive and her enhanced abilities allow her to work out that that feeling is mutual.  She isn’t averse to having a sexual relationship with him and is safe in the knowledge that she can turn off her emotions and just enjoy the sex… but for Ewan, it’s different. He’s come to know and like Nina as a person, and is falling in love with her, deeply and completely.  There are a number of superbly-written steamy scenes between them, and before very long, Nina starts finding it more and more difficult to keep herself aloof and begins slowly to open up and allow herself to have the sort of feelings for Ewan she’s never had for anyone.

Of course, the path of true love can never be allowed to run completely smooth, and with Ewan’s secret hanging in the air between them, the book concludes on a dramatic and heart-rending cliff-hanger with the story to picked up in book two, Wicked Attraction.

Ms. Hart establishes the background to her story brilliantly, and her world-building is superb.  The earth of the time the book is set is recognisable, but has suffered a second Cold War, environmental disasters as the result of an abortive attempt to colonise the Moon, and something called Gray Tuesday, when an unknown hacker destroyed ninety percent of the world’s servers and back-up data, wiping out bank accounts, personal data and generally causing untold chaos.  She also explores the importance of memory to who we are – the nanochips that give the enhanced their increased abilities can also be reprogrammed so parts (or all) of the person’s memory can be erased – and the idea that Nina and those like her are regarded with suspicion and hatred, and that they are somehow ‘lesser’ because of what they have become.

Dangerous Promise is an action-packed, sexy read based on a well-developed and intriguing premise which features two flawed, interesting characters with great chemistry.  I’m hooked, and will definitely be snapping up books two and three to find out how everything turns out.

The Secret Casebook of Simon Feximal by K.J. Charles (audiobook) – Narrated by Gary Furlong

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

A story too secret, too terrifying – and too shockingly intimate – for Victorian eyes.

Dear Henry,

I have been Simon Feximal’s companion, assistant, and chronicler for 20 years now, and during that time my Casebooks of Feximal the Ghost-Hunter have spread the reputation of this most accomplished of ghost-hunters far and wide.

You have asked me often for the tale of our first meeting, and how my association with Feximal came about. I have always declined, because it is a story too private to be truthfully recounted, and a memory too precious to be falsified. But none knows better than I that stories must be told.

So here is it, Henry, a full and accurate account of how I met Simon Feximal, which I shall leave with my solicitor to pass to you after my death.

I dare say it may not be quite what you expect.

Robert Caldwell
September 1914

Rating: Narration – A-: Content – A

K.J. Charles’ The Secret Casebook of Simon Feximal is a collection of wonderfully imaginative, well-written and downright spooky tales of ghostly goings on and supernatural shenanigans set in the late Victorian era featuring ghost-hunter extraordinaire, Simon Feximal, and his chronicler and long-term companion Robert Caldwell. The author draws on ancient legends and late Victorian sensation fiction for inspiration and has crafted a set of original and compelling creations while also charting the development of the relationship between her two protagonists, a lasting partnership built on a solid foundation of love and respect that endures through dark days and the direst of adversity.

When we first meet Robert Caldwell, he is a making a name for himself as a journalist for The Chronicle. He has recently inherited old, dilapidated Caldwell Place and decides to sell it rather than live there. The only problem is that it appears to be haunted – and when the walls start bleeding, Robert realises he’s got to do something about it before he can even think of putting the place up for sale. So, he calls in the renowned ghost-hunter Simon Feximal in the hope that he will be able to get rid of his unwanted, ghoulish guest, and is immediately struck by Simon’s imposing form and air of command. Feximal clearly knows what he’s doing – but both he and Robert have reckoned without the strength of a spirit long denied its desires, and a highly-charged, passionate encounter ensues which sends the mischievous spirit packing and sees our principals left to their own – most pleasurable – devices.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

If Ever I Should Love You (Spinster Heiresses #1) by Cathy Maxwell (audiobook) – Narrated by Mary Jane Wells

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

Once upon a time there were three young ladies who, despite their fortunes, had been on the marriage mart a bit too long. They were known as “the Spinster Heiresses”….

He’s inherited a title, but not a penny to speak of, so the Earl of Rochdale knows he must find a wife – preferably one tolerably pretty and good-tempered but definitely wealthy, and who will exchange her fortune for his family name.

His choice: Leonie Charnock, one of the season’s “Spinster Heiresses”. Years before, the earl had saved the dark-eyed beauty’s reputation, and she is still breathtakingly lovely, leading Rochdale to hope that their marriage will be more than in name only.

However, Leonie doesn’t want to be anyone’s wife. Nearly destroyed by the secrets in her past, Leonie agrees to their union with one condition: There will be a wedding but no bedding. But it’s a condition the new Countess Rochdale isn’t sure even she can keep…

Rating: Narration – A-: Content – B

Given my disappointment with Cathy Maxwell’s last series (Marrying the Duke), I wasn’t sure I was going to read or listen to any of her new Spinster Heiresses novels, but Mary Jane Wells’ name on the cover meant that I couldn’t resist picking up book one for review. If Ever I Should Love You proved to be a stronger book than any in Ms. Maxwell’s previous series, telling the story of a couple with a shared secret in their past which has affected them both profoundly in very different ways. The author tackles some difficult issues with insight and sensitivity as our hero and heroine discover that secrets thought long buried have a way of bleeding through into the present.

Former army officer Roman Gilchrist inherited the earldom of Rochdale on the death of his uncle, and is dismayed to discover that the title is an empty one (i.e., there is no money to go with it) and that he is expected to honour his uncle’s massive gaming debts. Without the funds to do that, or to run his Somerset estate of Bonhomie, Roman has no alternative but to consider marring a wealthy heiress – after all, it’s a common enough practice for men in his situation. The idea sticks in Roman’s craw, but he listens grudgingly to his solicitor – who is also his godfather – extolling the virtues of the three so-called ‘Spinster Heiresses’, three attractive, extremely wealthy young women who are still unmarried because their fathers are holding out for a duke or marquess – but who might accept the holder of one of the oldest titles in England even though he is a mere earl. Roman’s ears prick up when he hears the name of the last of the three – Miss Leonie Charnock. Miss Charnock is beautiful, charming and rich as Croesus, but she is also the woman responsible for ruining Roman’s army career; he was serving in India when they first met, and he killed a fellow officer in a duel over her. Recalling her loveliness, Roman admits it will be no hardship to marry a woman he finds attractive – and deciding that Leonie owes him, Roman determines to marry her. Or rather, to marry her money.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.