The Duke With the Dragon Tattoo (Victorian Rebels #6) by Kerrigan Byrne (audiobook) – Narrated by Derek Perkins

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The bravest of heroes. The brashest of rebels. The boldest of lovers. These are the men who risk their hearts and their souls-for the passionate women who dare to love them . . .

He is known only as The Rook. A man with no name, no past, no memories. He awakens in a mass grave, a magnificent dragon tattoo on his muscled forearm the sole clue to his mysterious origins. His only hope for survival-and salvation-lies in the deep, fiery eyes of the beautiful stranger who finds him. Who nurses him back to health. And who calms the restless demons in his soul . . .

A LEGENDARY LOVE

Lorelei will never forget the night she rescued the broken dark angel in the woods, a devilishly handsome man who haunts her dreams to this day. Crippled as a child, she devoted herself to healing the poor tortured man. And when he left, he took a piece of her heart with him. Now, after all these years, The Rook has returned. Like a phantom, he sweeps back into her life and avenges those who wronged her. But can she trust a man who’s been branded a rebel, a thief, and a killer? And can she trust herself to resist him when he takes her in his arms?

Rating: Narration – A : Content – C+

I’ve read and/or listened to all the books in Kerrigan Byrne’s Victorian Rebels series, and I hate to say it, but I think it’s running – has run – out of steam. The first two or three were very good – The Highwayman (book one) continues to be my favourite of the series, with The Hunter a close second – but books four to six have been distinctly lacklustre, and I think that had it not been for the fact that Derek Perkins is one of my favourite narrators and I’ll always jump at the chance to listen to him performing an historical romance novel, I might well have given up on it by now.

When I started The Duke with the Dragon Tattoo (and don’t get me started on the penchant for derivative titles in HR these days!), I thought – at first – that at last, here was a return to the gripping storytelling of The Highwayman, but after a very strong opening and first few chapters, things start to fizzle out; the rest of the plot is tissue-paper thin, the central relationship is almost completely recycled from book one, the principals are bland and underdeveloped and there are large chunks in the middle of the book where nothing much happens.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

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

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

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 Protector (Games People Play #4) by HelenKay Dimon (audiobook) – Narrated by Jeremy York

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

Salvation, Pennsylvania. The commune located in the small town was advertised as a modern Utopia: a place to live, share, and learn with other like-minded young people. Cate Pendleton’s sister was one of them. Now she’s dead – and Cate won’t rest until she finds out who killed her. Stonewalled at every turn, she approaches a DC Fixer for help and ends up with Damon Knox, a mysterious man with a secretive past. But Cate soon discovers that she not only needs Damon, she wants him, which isn’t good – for the attraction brewing between them will only lead to complications that can turn into danger….

Damon has tried to erase the hellish memories and the evil that happened in Salvation ever since he left a long time ago. Still, he can’t turn his back on Cate. As Damon works with Cate to uncover her sister’s killer, he finds himself drawn to her more and more. But how will she feel about him when she learns about his connection to the place?

Joining forces to uncover the truth, they must stay one step ahead of a cunning killer who’s bent on not being exposed.

Rating: Narration – B : Content – B-

The Protector is the fourth full-length novel in HelenKay Dimon’s series of romantic suspense tales, Games People Play. The other three aren’t available in audio (yet?) but fortunately, while there are some characters who recur in each book, each story is self-contained, so there’s no need to be familiar with the earlier instalments in order to be able to follow this one. It might help to have a rough idea of the premise – the hero of each story is a member of a mysterious group that operates under the radar (and sometimes outside the law) in order to fix the seemingly unfixable – but the author includes enough basic information about the enigmatic Wren and his organisation for the newbie to be able to work it out easily enough. Jeremy York is another of those narrators I’ve been aware of for some time but haven’t yet listened to, so as I’ve read some of the earlier books, this seemed like a good opportunity to give him a try.

Cate Pendleton has been trying for years to find the truth about the circumstances surrounding her sister’s death at a place known as Salvation, a commune in South Pennsylvania that advertises itself as the ideal place to live, work, share and learn among other like-minded people. But Cate suspects it to be something more sinister, and past events involving the place would seem to bear that out. Around fourteen years earlier, an FBI investigation into Salvation ended in violence, and Cate is convinced the place is more akin to a cult than a harmless Utopian community. Having come to dead end after dead end, Cate has only one place left to turn for help in her search for the truth about her sister, and reaches out to Wren in the hope that he’ll be able to help her to get the answers she’s looking for.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

Cut and Run (Cut and Run #1) by Madeleine Urban and Abigail Roux (audiobook) – Narrated by Sawyer Allerde

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

A series of murders in New York City has stymied the police and FBI alike, and they suspect the culprit is a single killer sending an indecipherable message. But when the two federal agents assigned to the investigation are taken out, the FBI takes a more personal interest in the case.

Special Agent Ty Grady is pulled out of undercover work after his case blows up in his face. He’s cocky, abrasive, and indisputably the best at what he does. But when he’s paired with Special Agent Zane Garrett, it’s hate at first sight. Garrett is the perfect image of an agent: serious, sober, and focused, which makes their partnership a classic cliché: total opposites, good cop – bad cop, the odd couple. They both know immediately that their partnership will pose more of an obstacle than the lack of evidence left by the murderer.

Practically before their special assignment starts, the murderer strikes again – this time at them. Now on the run, trying to track down a man who has focused on killing his pursuers, Grady and Garrett will have to figure out how to work together before they become two more notches in the murderer’s knife.

Rating: Narration – B- : Content – B-

I’m on a bit of an m/m romantic suspense kick at the moment, so this first book in the Cut and Run series seemed like a good fit. There are nine books in all – the first four co-written by Madeleine Urban and Abigail Roux, and the last five by Abigail Roux solo when Ms. Urban decided to stop writing. Cut and Run was originally published in 2008 (with the audio following in 2010) and I suspect it was a bit of a trailblazer in the genre – it certainly seems that way from reading reviews and seeing how many people loved the series and the central characters.

The whole series is available in audio with several different narrators; here it’s Sawyer Allerde (the others are Sean Crisden and J.F. Harding) who I’ve listened to once before, and he does a decent job overall, in spite of some pacing issues and pretty poor female voices (luckily, there aren’t too many women in the book so it’s not too great a problem.)

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

Full Package (Big Rock #4) by Lauren Blakely (audiobook) – Narrated by Sebastian York

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

I’ve been told I have quite a gift. Hey, I don’t just mean in my pants. I’ve got a big brain, too, and a huge heart of gold. And I like to use all my gifts to the fullest, the package included.

Life is smooth sailing…until I find myself stuck between a rock and a sexy roommate, which makes for one very hard…place. Because scoring an apartment in this city is harder than finding true love. So even if I have to shack up with my buddy’s smoking-hot and incredibly amazing little sister, a man’s got to do what a man’s got to do.

I can resist Josie. I’m disciplined, I’m focused, and I keep my hands to myself, even in the mere 500 square feet we share. Until the one night she insists on sliding under the covers with me. It’ll help her sleep after what happened that day, she says.

Spoiler – neither one of us sleeps.

Did I mention she’s also one of my best friends? That she’s brilliant, beautiful, and a total firecracker? Guess that makes her the full package, too. What’s a man stuck in a hard place to do?

Rating: Narration – B+ : Content – C+

Full Package is fairly typical Lauren Blakely fayre, a flirty, fun rom-com featuring a couple of attractive central characters with great chemistry, plenty of hot sex and very little angst. It fits into the Big Rock universe, following on from Well Hung; and the heroine Josie Hammer is the sister of Nick from Mister O.

Josie runs a successful ‘boutique’ bakery in NYC and urgently needs a new flatmate as the friend she’s been sharing with up till now is leaving; Chase Summers is a hard-working ER doctor who is having trouble finding a place to live in the city since returning from a stint abroad with Doctors Without Borders.  Chase and his brother Max have known Nick and Jodie for years and they often hang out together; Chase and Josie are good mates, who share common interests and a sense of humour so… yeah, the solution to their problems is fairly obvious.

Chase moves in and everything is peachy.  Sort of.  Because the searing attraction that’s building between him and Josie is becoming harder and harder to resist – but neither of them wants to risk doing anything to jeopardise their friendship, which is what always happens when friends hook up.  But… maybe, just maybe there’s a way they can have both – all the toe-curlingly hot sex AND stay friends after this thing between them burns out.  The trouble is that the more time Chase spends with Josie, the more convinced he becomes that she’s the one… and she’s made it clear ‘forever’ isn’t on the table.

I picked up the audio book of this because I’d had a few mediocre listens on the trot and I knew Sebastian York wouldn’t disappoint.  He’s extremely good in these light-hearted, guy-PoV contemporary romances, bringing just the right degree of confident, uber sexiness to the narrative while also being able to convey the character’s inner emotions and vulnerabilities.  Chase is a great character, a thoroughly decent, dedicated and compassionate man who – it’s clear early on – has carried a torch for Josie for years, and Josie is a good foil for him, successful in her work life and not afraid to ask for what she wants when it comes to the bedroom.  They make a great couple and the build-up of sexual tension between them us superbly done, but once they hit the sheets, I confess the whole thing started to deflate.  The sex scenes are raunchy and hot and well written, but all the thinking at cross purposes – “this isn’t going to last so we have to stop before things go bad so we can still be friends” – got very wearing very quickly, and the last couple of hours were a bit of a slog.  I’ve listened to several books by this author (when I’m in the mood for sexy fluff), so I know they tend to be fairly low angst and that’s fine  –  not everything needs to be high-drama all the time – and a simple, sexy story about two people falling in love is sometimes just what the doctor ordered (!), but when the one stumbling block in the romance could be solved by having a simple conversation, it ends up feeling contrived and becomes extremely frustrating.

Sebastian York is, as I’ve said, a great choice of narrator for this sort of story; his deep, almost-drawl is a great fit for Ms. Blakely’s brand of sexy, self-aware heroes, and he has a nice way with the flirty banter and laid-back humour.  His female voices are okay – there’s a significant difference between Chase and Josie so there’s no confusion as to who is speaking – and he differentiates subtly but appropriately between the other men in the story.

I got what I expected and wanted from this audiobook – a bit of brain candy and to listen to a good narrator after a few disappointments.  Job done.

A Match Made in Bed (Spinster Heiresses #2) by Cathy Maxwell (audiobook) – Narrated by Mary Jane Wells

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

Miss Cassandra Holwell is too tall, too bookish, and too smart – but she does have money and a father who wants a grand title for her. Cassandra hasn’t felt a desire to marry until she meets the sinfully handsome Duke of Camberly, who captures her imagination…until Soren York, Earl of Dewsberry and her family’s sworn enemy, steps in the way.

The Holwells ruined Soren’s family, and he’s lived on the knife’s edge trying to resurrect their fortunes…until he considers marrying the Holwell heiress. Not only would her dowry give him the funds he needs, he has secretly had an eye on the independent-minded bluestocking since they both first realized the differences between men and women.

She likes to read; he has no patience for books. She knows little of sex; he is a man of the world and willing to school her. Her family destroyed his; his offer of marriage may be her only salvation.

Now Cassandra and Soren must learn to love each other for who they are, not what they are – and the lessons are becoming an exercise in absolute pleasure.

Rating: Narration – A : Content – B-

In A Match Made in Bed, the second instalment of Cathy Maxwell’s Spinster Heiresses series, attention turns to Miss Cassandra Holwell, the tall, bookish daughter of a rather bombastic MP. Like her two friends – heroines of the other books in the series – Cass has been ‘out’ for several seasons and even though she is heiress to a great fortune, remains unmarried.

Soren York, Earl of Dewsberry, wants to marry an heiress and he needs to do it quickly – but more specifically, he wants to marry Cassandra Holwell, whom he’s known and liked since childhood. He hopes to propose to her while they’re both attending the Duke of Camberley’s house party, but two things seem destined to foil his plans. One – Cass seems to be deliberately avoiding him; and two, the long-standing feud between the Yorks and the Holwells means her father is unlikely to approve the match. Still, Soren is convinced that if he can just talk to her, he’ll be able to persuade her; after all she’s been on the marriage mart for three seasons and needs a husband as much as he needs a wife.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

Imperial Stout (Trouble Brewing #1) by Layla Reyne (audiobook) – Narrated by Tristan James

You can download this title from Audible via Amazon

It’s a good thing assistant US attorney Dominic Price co-owns a brewery. He could use a cold one. Nic’s star witness has just been kidnapped, his joint operation with the FBI is in jeopardy, his father’s shady past is catching up with him, and the hot new special agent in San Francisco is the kind of distraction best handled with a stiff drink.

Kidnap and rescue expert Cameron Byrne has his own ideas about how to handle Nic, but his skills are currently needed elsewhere. The by-the-book FBI agent goes deep undercover as a member of an infamous heist crew in order to save Nic’s witness, break up the crew, and close the case before anyone else gets hurt. Nic in particular.

Things heat up when Cam falls for Nic, and the witness falls for Cam. As the crew’s suspicions grow, Cam must decide how far he’s willing to go – and how far into his own dark past he’s willing to dive – to get everyone out alive.

Rating: Narration – B : Content – C

I’ve been looking forward to this latest book from Layla Reyne for months. I loved her Agents Irish and Whiskey series of fast-paced, steamy romantic suspense novels, and was over the moon when she announced that she’d be writing a spin-off series featuring two of the major secondary characters from those books – Special Agent Cameron Byrne, one of the FBI’s top K&R (kidnap and rescue) specialists and Assistant US Attorney Nic Price. Imperial Stout is book one in the Trouble Brewing series (as well as his day job as a legal eagle, Nic co-owns a craft brewery) and I was looking forward to more of the same; a fast-paced, tightly plotted and complex story and two fully rounded, engaging characters I could root for. Sadly, however, Imperial Stout doesn’t deliver on any of those things. There’s an attempt to follow a similar pattern as the I&W books, in that there’s one thread that looks set to run through the whole series, accompanied by a self-contained plot that is wrapped up by the end of each book; but while the long-running thread is certainly intriguing, the self-contained plot is pretty lacklustre, the villain is a caricature and the large suspensions of disbelief required on the part of the listener in order to make it work are just too much.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.