Night of the Highland Dragon (Highland Dragon #3) by Isabel Cooper (audiobook) – Narrated by Derek Perkins

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

In the Scottish Highlands, legend is as powerful as the sword-and nowhere is that more true than in the remote village of Loch Aranoch. Its mysterious ruler, Judith MacAlasdair, is fiercely protective of her land-and her secrets. If anyone were to find out what she really was, she and her entire clan would be hunted down as monsters.

William Arundell is on the trail of a killer. Special agent for an arcane branch of the English government, his latest assignment has led him to a remote Highland castle and the undeniably magnetic lady who rules there. Yet as lies begin to unravel and a dark threat gathers, William finds himself drawn deeper and deeper into the mystery of the Highlands . . . and the woman he can neither trust nor deny. He prays she isn’t the murderer; he never dreamed she’d be a dragon.

Rating: Narration – A; Content – C

Even though I was very disappointed in the previous book in this series of historical paranormals (The Highland Dragon’s Lady), I remembered reading the print version of Night of the Highland Dragon a couple of years back, and thought I’d give it another go-round in audio. The final member of the MacAlasdair family of shape-shifters is Lady Judith, who resides at the castle of Loch Arach and takes good care of all those who depend on her and the castle for their livelihoods. Into this Highland idyll comes William Arundell, an investigator for a secret branch of the government who starts asking uncomfortable questions about Judith and her family in the course of his investigations into a gruesome murder. The two are suspicious but drawn to each other, although sadly, the romance is fairly lacklustre and the story as a whole is somewhat dull and lacking in direction. There’s also a severe lack of background information about William’s work and of scene-setting in general. The story is set in a late Victorian era in which magic and witchcraft exist, and listeners are just asked to accept that without any further explanation of how, why, where and who – which this listener found somewhat frustrating.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

Scandal of the Season by Liana LeFay

This title may be purchased from Amazon

Five years ago, Lord Sorin Latham fled England’s shores to avoid heartbreak and scandal in the form of one Lady Eleanor Cramley. On returning home, he finds the young miss he used to scold for lack of decorum is now a stunning woman who fires his blood. But he must resist temptation or risk losing his honor as a gentleman and the friendship of those he holds dear, including Eleanor.

Lady Eleanor is determined to be the paragon of propriety Sorin urged her to become. But now that he’s back, the man she once thought of as an older brother makes her long to be anything but proper. She must make Sorin see her as worthy of his heart and his desire without losing his good opinion, or her Season will end in disgrace.

Rating: C-

Scandal of the Season is a standalone friends-to-lovers historical romance in which the twelve-year age gap between the principals means that the hero has been something of an older brother and mentor figure to the heroine for most of their lives. The premise attracted me – one of my favourite books of all time is Jane Austen’s Emma – but it unfortunately falls largely flat here, as pacing, characterisation and plot issues drag the story down. There is also a particularly problematic scene which I’ll discuss later in the review plus – I spent most of the book wondering what the scandal was and when I was going to find out about it!

Lady Eleanor Cramley, cousin to Charles, Duke of Ashford, grew up in her cousin’s family after the death of her parents when she was a child. Charles’ closest friend, Sorin Latham, Lord Wincanton (Sorin? Seriously? What sort of name is that for a 19th century English nobleman?) was often around when she was growing up and did his best to curb the worst of her hoydenish tendencies and teach her the importance of proper behaviour. When she’s sixteen, he becomes suddenly, uncomfortably aware that she is now a young woman and, realising his feelings for her go deeper than friendship, is rather cool and aloof towards her, which upsets her and makes her wonder what she’s done wrong. Sorin is horrified at the idea of lusting after his friend’s cousin, so he decides to keep as far away from her as possible and leaves England to travel abroad. Returning after an absence of five years, he is somewhat dismayed to discover that his attraction to Eleanor hasn’t abated – if anything it’s stronger – but he is determined not to act upon it (even though there is absolutely nothing preventing him from doing so) because he thinks he’ll crush her spirit if he marries her and because he thinks considering her in an amorous light is a betrayal of Charles’ trust.

Eleanor was upset by Sorin’s coldness but they have repaired their friendship and been regular correspondents during his five year absence. When he returns, she is overjoyed to see him and hopes things will return to the way they were, but when her flighty friend, Caroline, sets her cap at Sorin, Eleanor finds herself unaccountably jealous, and, in spite of her avowal to remain unmarried, slowly comes to realise that perhaps there could be something else between them, something more than friendship.

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

Lord of Chance (Rogues to Riches #1) by Erica Ridley (audiobook) – Narrated by Marian Hussey

This title is available to download from Audible via Amazon.

Disguised as a country miss, Charlotte Devon flees London, desperate to leave her tattered reputation behind. In Scotland, her estranged father’s noble blood will finally make her a respectable debutante. Except she finds herself accidentally wed to a devil-may-care rogue with a sinful smile. He’s the last thing she needs…and everything her traitorous heart desires.

Charming rake Anthony Fairfax is on holiday to seek his fortune…and escape his creditors. When an irresistible Lady Luck wins him in a game of chance – and a slight mishap has them leg-shackled by dawn – the tables have finally turned in his favor. But when past demons catch up to them, holding on to new love will mean destroying their dreams forever.

Rating: Narration – B; Content – C+

In Lord of Chance, the first in Erica Ridley’s new Rogues to Riches series, we are introduced to the handsome, charming Anthony Fairfax, a somewhat rackety young man who supports himself and his family by means of an inveterate gambling habit. Ms. Ridley has already released a number of her books in audio format (her Dukes of War series, narrated by Stevie Zimmermann) but this is the first I’ve listened to and I have to say that the result is a mixed bag. The narration by Marian Hussey is good, but while Ms. Ridley has a deft touch with the humour and dialogue, and she does briefly touch on a couple of darker themes, the story is a little too fluffy for my taste.

In order to escape pressing debts, Anthony Fairfax has left London to try his fortunes elsewhere. He is currently at a small inn on the Scottish border and things are looking up. On this particular night, it seems he cannot lose, and he can’t help but attribute this to the mysterious, cloaked woman he has nicknamed “Lady Fortune”, who is sitting quietly on the other side of the room. But when Lady Fortune is encouraged to join the card game, it seems she makes her own luck, because she cleans Anthony out completely and wins everything on the table.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

The Girl Who Knew Too Much by Amanda Quick (audiobook) – Narrated by Louisa Jane Underwood

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

At the exclusive Burning Cove Hotel on the coast of California, rookie reporter Irene Glasson finds herself staring down at a beautiful actress at the bottom of a pool. The dead woman had a red-hot secret about an up-and-coming leading man, a scoop that Irene couldn’t resist. Seeking the truth about the drowning, Irene finds herself drawn to a master of deception.

Once a world-famous magician whose career was mysteriously cut short, Oliver Ward is now the owner of the hotel. He can’t let scandal threaten his livelihood, even if it means trusting Irene, a woman who seems to have appeared in Los Angeles out of nowhere four months ago. With Oliver’s help Irene soon learns that the glamorous paradise of Burning Cove hides dark and dangerous secrets. And that the past – always just out of sight – could drag them both under.

Rating: Narration – C-; Content – D+

Anyone who has read or listened to even a small number of Amanda Quick’s historical mysteries will have realised that her books tend to be somewhat formulaic. I’m not saying that’s necessarily a bad thing; Ms. Quick’s particular formula – independent heroine meets mysterious, slightly dangerous hero and they solve a mystery while falling in love (and have their first sexual encounter anywhere else but a bed!) – is a popular and successful one, and I have no problem with formulaic when it’s done well. I wanted to listen to The Girl Who Knew Too Much mostly because the setting of 1930s Los Angeles is a departure from the author’s usual setting of 19th Century England, and being a bit of an old movie buff, I was looking forward to a noir-ish mystery with a touch of good old Hollywood glamour. Sadly, however both the noir and the glamour were missing and the mysteries – there are two of them – were very predictable.

Adding to my disappointment was the narration by Louisa Jane Underwood, which did nothing to help an already lacklustre book and in fact, made listening to it a chore rather than a pleasure. Had I not been listening for review, I’d have DNFed and returned it to Audible.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

The Convenient Felstone Marriage by Jenni Fletcher

the convenient felstone marriageThis title may be purchased from Amazon

“I have a proposal for you…”

The last place respectable governess Ianthe Holt ever expected to be proposed to was in a train carriage…by a stranger…who had just accused her of trying to trap another man into marriage!

Shipping magnate Robert Felstone may be dashing, but he’s also insufferable, impertinent–and Ianthe’s only possible savior from her uncertain fate. She’s hesitant to play the perfect Felstone wife, but Robert soon shows Ianthe there’s more to him than meets the eye, and more to marriage than vows…

Rating: C+

The Convenient Felstone Marriage is Jenni Fletcher’s second historical romance for Harlequin, and is set in and around the port of Whitby in Yorkshire in the mid-Victorian era. It’s a nice change to read an historical romance set outside London, and the fact that the plot centres on a marriage of convenience drew me like catnip – but while I liked the premise, the story falls short in the execution. The pacing flags in the middle, the ending is over-dramatic and the heroine, whom I’d liked to start with, began to get on my nerves in the latter part of the book, her motivations and thought-processes becoming an overly convenient – and rather flimsy – way of dragging things out and attempting to inject some tension into the story.

Miss Ianthe Holt is furious with her younger brother, Percy, for attempting to engineer a match between her and Sir Charles Lester, a man some thirty years her senior. When the train carrying them to Yorkshire on a visit to their aunt makes a short stop, Percy takes the opportunity to jump down to walk along the platform, leaving his sister fuming – and embarrassed when she realises that the man who had been asleep in the corner of their compartment must have heard every word of their argument. Ianthe’s wrath spills over and she accuses the man of deliberately eavesdropping; he retorts sharply and accuses her of being a scheming harpy, willing to marry an older man for his money and then hoping for a fast widowhood.

Robert Felstone is travelling home to Whitby following a stinging rejection by the young woman to whom he has just proposed. Robert is the bastard son of a lord with a penchant for seducing his housemaids, but due to his own hard work and aptitude for business, has made something of himself and is now a wealthy and successful shipping magnate. He owns one large shipbuilding firm and is looking to buy out one of his oldest competitors – but all he has achieved wasn’t enough for the society beauty to whom he’d proposed and she laughed in his face, making it clear that he had aspirations above his station. He is still smarting from her rejection when he overhears the argument in his train carriage, and deciding discretion is the better part of valour, pretends to remain asleep rather than acknowledge he’s overheard everything. But the young woman’s challenge and attitude strike a raw nerve, and he can’t help blurting out exactly what he thinks of her. Fortunately, however, he soon realises how disgraceful it is of him to make such an assumption and apologises, at the same time realising that perhaps he has just been presented with an answer to one of his problems. In order to expand his business by purchasing the shipyard belonging to the old-fashioned Mr. Harper, Robert needs to be respectably married as the old man won’t consider selling to anyone other than a family man. The young woman in front of him is faced with the prospect of being forced into marriage, but if she were to agree to marry Robert instead… it’s a solution to both their present difficulties.

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

Lord of Chance (Rogues to Riches #1) by Erica Ridley

This title may be purchased from Amazon

Disguised as a country miss, Charlotte Devon flees London, desperate to leave her tattered reputation behind. In Scotland, her estranged father’s noble blood will finally make her a respectable debutante. Except she finds herself accidentally wed to a devil-may-care rogue with a sinful smile. He’s the last thing she needs…and everything her traitorous heart desires.

Charming rake Anthony Fairfax is on holiday to seek his fortune…and escape his creditors. When an irresistible Lady Luck wins him in a game of chance—and a slight mishap has them leg-shackled by dawn—the tables have finally turned in his favor. But when past demons catch up to them, holding on to new love will mean destroying their dreams forever.

The single title 2017 release is an expanded “Author Edition” of the story that first appeared in the Scandal’s Daughters anthology.

Rating: C+

Erica Ridley’s Lord of Chance is the first in a new series from the author entitled Rogues to Riches. Our rogue this time out is one Mister (not Lord – so what’s with the title?) Anthony Fairfax, a charming but rather rackety young man whose appetite for gaming has seen him run up such large debts in London that he has travelled to Scotland in order to try to win enough money to enable him to repay them and return home.

While enjoying a reasonable streak of luck at a small inn not far from the border, Anthony’s eye is repeatedly caught by a young woman whose face is hidden behind a hood, but whose form is pleasing. He nicknames her ‘Lady Fortune’ in his mind, as her presence seems to have helped turn his fortunes. All that changes, however, when she is invited to the table and decides to play. Anthony’s Lady Fortune makes her own luck, it seems, and she cleans him out, winning everything on the table, and in addition, Anthony’s promise to do her bidding for the night ahead. It will come as no surprise when I say that his idea of doing the lady’s bidding all night is rather more lascivious than hers.

Anthony may be a wastrel, but he’s still a gentleman, so when the lady is accosted on their way out of the public room, he steps in and tells her drunken admirer that she is his wife and he should treat her with more respect. The pair then proceed to her room, where Anthony proceeds to make himself useful by ironing and folding her gowns (er… okay) and, in gentlemanly fashion, spends the night on the lumpy sofa.

Charlotte Devon has travelled to Scotland in search of the father she has never met. Her mother is a famous – or infamous – London courtesan, so when Charlotte ruefully reflects that she was ruined before she was even born, she isn’t wrong. Unfortunately, this is an era where the sins of the father were visited upon the children, and her illegitimacy, her mother’s profession and her strong resemblance to her mother all mean that Charlotte has little chance of achieving the sort of respectability she craves.

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

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

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

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

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

Rating: Narration – C-; Content – C+

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

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

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

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals