My Dangerous Duke (Inferno Club #2) by Gaelen Foley (audiobook) – Narrated by Marian Hussey

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This title may be downloaded from Audible.

Rohan Kilburn, the Duke of Warrington, has quite a reputation. He’s “The Beast” – a debauched rake whose many exploits echo in the countryside surrounding his ancient familial castle. In truth, he’s devoted his life to the Inferno Club, swearing off love for duty in an attempt to thwart a tragic family curse.

Beautiful spitfire Kate Madsen wants nothing to do with “The Beast” after she is mistakenly abducted by smugglers and delivered into his fearsome clutches. Rohan similarly refuses to fall for her, mindful of the many dangers in his life. But when she starts to thaw his icy heart, Rohan knows he will do anything to make Kate his own.

Rating: Narration – B; Content – C

I really struggled with the first few hours of My Dangerous Duke, and had I not been listening for review, there’s a good chance I might have abandoned it. The narration by Marian Hussey is fine – in fact, it’s the best thing about the audiobook – and she’s a massive improvement on Annette Chown, who narrated the previous instalment in the Inferno Club series. But the early part of the story progresses at the speed of a snail moving through molasses and is weighed down by lots of irrelevant and overly descriptive prose, so much so that I wished (and here I’m dating myself) I could cut and splice large chunks of it so as to keep things moving.

Fortunately, however, things do start to pick up a bit after that, as the hero and heroine finally meet and begin interacting. The story is one of murky secrets, dark deeds and feats of derring-do; in fact, the last section of the book turns into a cross between Indiana Jones and a computer game, as our intrepid heroes head off on the trail of a hidden treasure. There are plenty of sparks flying between them, although I’m somewhat weary of the hero who believes he is unworthy of love because He is A Bad Man Who Does Bad Things – and that’s the source of most of the conflict in the romance. I also had to check the publication date of the book – 2010 – because there’s an old-skool feel to My Dangerous Duke (especially when it comes to some of the wince-inducing purple prose – I hope Ms. Hussey was well compensated for having to utter lines like this: He knew how to safely wield the oversized weapon with which Nature had endowed him) that made me think it must have been written in the 90s or earlier.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

The Secret of Love (Rakes and Rebels #2) by Cynthia Wright (audiobook) – Narrated by Tim Campbell

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This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon.

When Lady Isabella Trevarre first laid eyes on Gabriel St. Briac, she announced to her best friend: “That is the man I will marry!” Now a woman grown, Izzie has traded her girlish dreams for the independent life of an artist, but she never quite forgot the dazzling Frenchman who captivated her young heart. When he appears again in Cornwall, the seeds of desire grow between them.

As Napoleon’s army loots art treasures throughout Europe, Gabriel St. Briac’s priceless Leonardo da Vinci painting vanishes from its hiding place. Bent on recovering his family’s prized possession, Gabriel sets sail for the chaos of wartime France – only to find Izzie stowed away on his ship. Though fearful for her safety, he allows her to join in his quest. But Izzie harbors a dark secret…a secret that could shatter the tender blossom of their trust. When danger puts them both to the test, will these two guarded souls dare to risk all for love?

Rating: Narration – B-; Content – C+

This latest instalment in Cynthia Wright’s long-running Rakes and Rebels series is the sequel to Smuggler’s Moon, which I reviewed a couple of years back. Even though it’s part of a series, The Secret of Love can be listened to as a stand-alone novel, because while some characters from other books in the series appear in this one, they have secondary roles to play and the storyline is self-contained, so there is no real need to have read or listened to any of the other instalments.

At the end of Smuggler’s Moon, fourteen year-old Lady Isabella – Izzie – Trevarre told her best friend that she had met the man she was going to marry. That man was Gabriel St. Briac, a handsome young Frenchman and associate of her brother Sebastian’s from the brief time he made his living as a smuggler. Moving on six years, we find Isabella in London at the salon of the famous artist, <a href=https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/%C3%89lisabeth_Vig%C3%A9e_Le_Brun, who recognised Izzie’s considerable artistic talent and agreed to be her mentor. Izzie is determined not to end up trapped in a loveless marriage like her mother and has set her sights instead on making her way in the world as an artist.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

From London with Love (Reckless Brides #3) by Diana Quincy

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This title may be purchased from Amazon.

Emilia St. George is moments away from marrying the admired grandson of a duke when the man who once jilted her decides to kidnap her at the altar. It’s the second time in five years Hamilton Sparrow has ruined her wedding day, and Emilia isn’t about to forgive him. The mere sight of her ex-fiancé revives painful memories—and, most regrettably, aching desires that refuse to be ignored.

Scanning the guests at Emilia’s wedding, Sparrow spots a familiar face: an assassin he recognizes from his days as a spy in France. Whisking Emilia away, he’s pleasantly surprised by her newly formed curves. Could this be the same flame-haired slip of a girl once promised to Sparrow? And does the fop she still insists on marrying realize what a prize she is? True, Sparrow left Emilia at the altar. But he’s afraid that the only way to right that particular wrong is to risk the one thing he’s always guarded: his heart.

Rating: C+

This third book in Diana Quincy’s Rebellious Brides series is an enjoyable read featuring a central couple who have known each other for years and were actually supposed to marry five years earlier – until the groom cried off on the morning of the wedding for reasons he never discussed with his betrothed.  I enjoy a good second-chance romance, and this one is carried off fairly well, but I am getting just a bit tired of the hero who won’t risk his heart because “a nasty woman betrayed me/used me/broke my heart so I can never love again”.  I realise that there are a plethora of such heroes in historical romances, but some of their reasons are more compelling than others, and I wasn’t completely convinced by those attributed to our hero, Hamilton Sparrow (yep – you read that right) and there were times I really wanted to tell him to just man up and get over it already.

Five years since the first time she was supposed to walk down the aisle, Emilia St. George is about to attempt the trip again, this time in order to marry Mr Edmund Worsley, the grandson of the Duke of Arthingon.  But before she can get as far as taking the first step, her erstwhile bridegroom suddenly reappears, informs her that her life may be in danger and insists that she leaves with him immediately.  Once Emilia has stopped laughing, she refuses in no uncertain terms, and Sparrow, a man who is by no means as puny as his namesake, is left with no alternative than to bodily haul her out of the church and into his waiting carriage.

When they are attacked by a man Sparrow knows to be a highly-paid assassin, Emilia starts to take the possibility of a threat to her life seriously – and to wonder who could be trying to kill her.  She’s her father’s only child and heir to his immense fortune, but her fiancé does not want for money, and besides, if she were to die before their wedding he’d get nothing, so he doesn’t have a motive.  But if something should happen to her, her father’s heir would be her cousin, Dominick Ware, a man with a shady past, a tendency to disappear, and who, for reasons we don’t learn in this book, is suspected of killing his own parents. It doesn’t help that when Sparrow was attacked by the assassin, Emilia bashed the man’s head in with a rock, so they’re unable to interrogate him due to the fact that he’s unconscious and probably near death.  Sparrow and Emilia agree that Ware needs to be found and questioned – but first, they must return to Emilia’s home to lay the whole matter before her father and arrange for Emilia’s protection, so leaving a man with important information and a potentially fatal head wound in the care of trusted servants, the couple heads back to town.

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

Four Weddings and a Sixpence (anthology) by Julia Quinn, Laura Lee Guhrke, Elizabeth Boyle and Stefanie Sloane (audiobook) – Narrated by Mary Jane Wells

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This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

Beloved authors Julia Quinn, Elizabeth Boyle, Laura Lee Guhrke, and Stefanie Sloane deliver the stories of four friends from Madame Rochambeaux’s Gentle School for Girls who find an old sixpence in their bedchamber and decide that it will be the lucky coin for each of their weddings…

“Something Old”
Julia Quinn’s prologue introduces her heroine Beatrice Heywood and the premise for Four Weddings and a Sixpence.

“Something New”
In Stefanie Sloane’s unforgettable story, an ever-vigilant guardian decrees that Anne Brabourne must marry by her twenty-first birthday. But love finds her in the most unexpected of ways.

“Something Borrowed”
Elizabeth Boyle tells the tale of Cordelia Padley, who has invented a betrothed to keep her family from pestering her to wed. Now she’ll need to borrow one to convince them she’s found her true love.

“Something Blue”
In Laura Lee Guhrke’s story, unlucky Lady Elinor Daventry has her sixpence stolen from her and must convince the rake who pilfered the coin to return it in time for her own wedding.

“… and a Sixpence in Her Shoe”
Julia Quinn finishes with the story of Beatrice Heywood, who never believed that the sixpence was anything but a tarnished old coin-until it led all of her friends to true love. But her faith in the coin is tested when it keeps sending her to the wrong man!

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

I’m not a big fan of anthologies or novellas in general, because I find there are few authors who really understand how to use the shorter form to greatest effect, and I most often come away from them feeling a bit disappointed. And anthologies tend to be uneven; there will usually be one really good story and the others will be of lesser, variable quality. So why did I listen to this one? A look at the narrator’s name will answer that question. Mary Jane Wells can make even average material enjoyable to listen to, and while two of the stories here do fall into the average category, the other two – from Julia Quinn and Laura Lee Guhrke – definitely transcend that qualification. Each story in Four Weddings and a Sixpence features one of a group of four friends who, while at school, find an old sixpence in a mattress and, based on the words of the old rhyme:

Something old, something new

Something borrowed, something blue… and a silver sixpence for your shoe

– decide to keep the sixpence on the chance that it may lead them to true love.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

May the Best Man Win (The Best Men #1) by Mira Lyn Kelly (audiobook) – narrated by Seraphine Valentine and Tad Branson

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This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon.

Jase Foster is as loyal and committed as a friend can get – when it comes to the guys, that is. But with women he keeps it casual and experiences what one would call a “high turnover rate”.

Emily Klein is beautiful and confident…and has mile-long legs that have been strutting in and out of Jase’s life since adolescence, leaving a wake of destruction. As they get paired up time after time as the best man and maid of honor in the upcoming nuptials of all of their best friends, Emily and Jase find their mutual resentment simmering just beneath the surface…right alongside their mutual attraction. Committed to maintaining order for their friends’ sakes, they keep their personal loathing for each other under wraps…at least so long as they have an audience. But once they’re alone…

Rating: Narration – B-/C; Content – B

May the Best Man Win is the first book in Mira Lyn Kelly’s four-book series, The Best Men, in which a group of friends are at that time in their lives when many of their peers are making trips down the aisle, and are regularly asked to be part of those wedding celebrations as groomsmen. This book comprises a charming, sexy and funny (fr)enemies-to-lovers story that focuses on Jase Foster and Emily Klein who have known each other since high school, but who really don’t get along. Back then, Jase “like” liked Emily, and Emily “like” liked Jase, but his best friend, Eddie, asked her out before Jase could get around to it, and like the good guy he was – and still is – Jase backed off.

Since then, they’ve seen each other occasionally, mostly because their circles of friends have some overlap, and they have ended up being paired up in a few wedding parties, because as two of the tallest people in any given room – he’s six-feet-five, she’s five-feet-eleven in stockinged feet – they don’t risk dwarfing their partner. But they hate it. And each other. There’s a lot of history and baggage between them dating back to their high school days, as both of them blame the other for a significant incident in their pasts; and when they meet, they can barely be civil, although they do put on a show of amity for friends, family and wedding guests. But Jase can’t deny that he likes yanking Emily’s chain, and takes delight in getting a rise out of her.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

Seconds to Sunrise (Black Ops: Automatik #3) by Nico Rosso

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This title may be purchased from Amazon.

She thought she’d lost everything…

April Banks thought her website crashing was just a glitch. Starting the online forum for war widows has been the only thing keeping her together since her husband died, and she won’t let anything interfere with her work. But this is no technical malfunction—cyberterrorists have targeted the information locked in April’s website and they’ll do anything to get it. Even if that means removing April. Permanently.

He’ll make them pay…

Automatik gave former SAS agent James Sant a way to protect the innocent again. He thinks life in the shadows is all he deserves…until he meets his newest assignment. April is everything James has never let himself want and he knows she’s already had too much heartbreak in her life to risk feeling for him. But keeping things professional while hunting the hackers with the gorgeous widow is going to be the hardest job he’s ever taken on.

Rating: C

Nico Rosso’s Seconds to Sunrise, the third in his Black Ops: Automatik series, felt very much like a book of two halves. But I don’t mean in that terms of the pagination; I’m talking about the difference in the successful (or not) treatment of the two plot elements, because one worked well and the other… didn’t. A good romantic suspense novel has to work in both areas, and while the suspense plot is fairly effective, the romance is stilted, with a lot of telling rather than showing and a singular lack of chemistry between the two leads.

April Banks’ husband, Mark, was killed during a tour in Afghanistan four years earlier. Utterly devastated, she has gradually re-built herself and her life, even though she is still living quietly in the shadows. She doesn’t have close friends or family, but she has a large support network she has built up through her website foundafter.com, a forum for women who are similarly circumstanced. The site has been a real lifeline for April, so when she discovers it’s been hacked, she feels as though she has been personally violated and exposed – but she isn’t going to give up without a fight. Her own computer skills are a match for the hackers, who have yet to break through her deeply encrypted security protocols. But she fears it’s only a matter of time before whoever is behind the hack breaks through and is able to steal all the personal and financial information belonging to the thousands of forum members.

Former SAS operative James Sant was at a loss when he left the army and did some things he’s not proud of. Joining Automatik offered him a way back into helping people again, and he’s never looked back – even though he is still haunted by the years he spent at the bottom of a bottle when he wasn’t running operations for a former colleague who wasn’t very discriminating about the jobs and clients he took on.

I haven’t read the other books in this series, but that’s not a hindrance, because the story in this one is self-contained, and the author includes enough information about Automatik for the reader to be able to work out that it’s a secret organisation made up of former military and special services operatives who now work to solve problems that nobody else can. They fly under the radar and won’t hestitate to use any means necessary to ensure the success of their missions.

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

Kill Without Shame (ARES Security #2) by Alexandra Ivy

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This title may be purchased from Amazon.

Five brave military heroes have survived the hell of a Taliban prison to return home—and take on civilian missions no one else can. They’re the men of ARES Security. Highly skilled, intimidating, invincible, and one by one, tested again and again…

Lucas St. Clair’s prestigious family had a political future neatly planned out for him—one that didn’t include his high school sweetheart, Mia Ramon. Under their pressure, Lucas gave her up. But since surviving captivity, he’s a changed man—and a crucial member of ARES Security. When he discovers a dead man clutching a picture of Mia that bears a threatening message, his fiercest protective instincts kick in, and he knows he must go to her.

Mia has never forgiven Lucas for breaking her heart, and she’s convinced her feelings for him are in the past. But it’s soon clear that isn’t true for either of them. Now, determined to solve the crime and keep Mia safe, with his ARES buddies backing him up, Lucas will have to reconstruct the murder victim’s last days—and follow a lethal trail that leads right back to the fate of the woman he still loves…

Rating: C-

Kill Without Shame is the second book in Alexandra Ivy’s ARES Security series, and while mention is made of a plot thread concerning one of the team who has been receiving threats which I assume was begun in the previous book, that plotline is not really advanced here so this one can be read as a standalone. That said, I can’t really recommend it, as the whole thing is incredibly unexciting; the romance is seriously underdeveloped and not at all believable given the context, and the suspense is pretty much non-existent – the fact that it took me over four days to read shows how easy it was to put the book aside.

ARES Security is a high-tech, high-end firm set up by five men, brothers-in-arms, who bonded when they were held prisoner by the Taliban during a tour in Afghanistan. The hero of Kill Without Shame is Lucas St. Clair – the son of a senator – who is estranged from his wealthy, but coldly aloof parents, but whose name still opens doors. He is not above using that name and family connections when needed, but mostly, he wants to leave his old life behind him and concentrate on the new one he is building. That becomes difficult, however, when he is informed that an old acquaintance from his school and college days, Tony Hughes, has been shot and killed in the street, and that he was clutching a picture of Mia Ramon – an old flame of Lucas’ – when he died. Worse, the picture had the words “Kill her, or else” scrawled across it. Lucas didn’t know Tony well – they were from completely opposite backgrounds – but Mia is important to him; even though they haven’t seen each other for fifteen years, he still carries a torch for her and can’t bear the thought of her being in danger.

Mia is a successful businesswoman in her hometown of Shreveport, running a landscaping and garden design business that she has built up from her father’s much smaller operation. The last person she wants – or expects – to see in her office is Lucas St. Clair, and their reunion is frosty. Lucas walked out on her with no explanation fifteen years earlier, and she hasn’t seen him since; he broke her heart and she is not about to put herself through it again. She can’t deny that he’s become a devastatingly attractive man, or that she still feels the same pull towards him as before, but she is determined to keep him at arm’s length, no matter what. Mia looked on Tony as a friend and used to employ him from time to time, so she’s naturally upset to hear of his death – but she has no idea of why anyone would want him dead, and even less as to why she would be a target herself.

Lucas naturally wants to investigate Tony’s murder and the threat against Mia – and keep her safe.  It’s not long before their enforced proximity is rekindling the old feelings between them, or long before they’re giving in to them, but even then, Mia is determined to keep things on a casual footing as a means of self-protection.

The stakes are raised, however, when an attempt is made on Mia’s life.  With help from his team, Lucas gradually uncovers a series of misdeeds that dates back decades, implicating people Mia cares about in a morass of embezzlement, blackmail and murder.  Lucas and Mia have to work together to uncover the truth, even as the killer is closing in on them.

From that description, you’d be forgiven for thinking this is a fast-moving thriller with a sexy romance on the side, but it’s nothing of the sort.  The pacing is pedestrian and the romance is perfunctory and, frankly, unbelievable; Lucas and Mia haven’t seen each other in FIFTEEN YEARS – and they’re hopping into bed together the day after their reunion.  They split up when Lucas was eighteen – I’m assuming Mia was around the same age – and there is a massive difference between what someone is like at eighteen and what they’re like in their early thirties.  They are – or should be – very different people now, yet there’s no sense of them getting to know each other again.  In fact, there’s no romantic development at all – although I do give the author credit for having Lucas be open about his feelings for Mia and prepared to put himself out there, even when it’s clear to him that she is still not sure about him.  There is a cute secondary romance in the story – between Mia’s assistant, Taylor, and the local detective assigned to the case – which is actually more interesting than the non-romance between Lucas and Mia.

The mystery plot is reasonably well put-together, but there’s only one possible villain, which takes away any element of suspense pretty early on, and the storyline is fairly predictable.  The characterisation overall is paper thin and I never connected with either of the principals;  and not only is the main romantic relationship a disappointment, there is no real sense of the emotional bond we’re told exists between Lucas and the other ARES team members.

All in all, Kill Without Shame – which makes absolutely no sense as a title! – is a lacklustre book that proved a big disappointment.  I’m not invested enough in any of the characters to want to pick up another book in the series, and quite honestly, not suitably impressed with any facet of this one – writing, plotting or characterisation – to be inclined to read this author again.