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

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.

An Offer from a Gentleman (Bridgertons #3) by Julia Quinn (audiobook) – Narrated by Rosalyn Landor

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This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon.

Sophie Beckett never dreamed she’d be able to sneak into Lady Bridgerton’s famed masquerade ball – or that Prince Charming would be waiting there for her! Though the daughter of an earl, Sophie has been relegated to the role of servant by her disdainful stepmother. But now, spinning in the strong arms of the debonair and devastatingly handsome Benedict Bridgerton, she feels like royalty. Alas, she knows all enchantments must end when the clock strikes midnight.

Who was that extraordinary woman? Ever since that magical night, a radiant vision in silver has blinded Benedict to the attractions of any other – except perhaps this alluring and oddly familiar beauty dressed in housemaid’s garb whom he feels compelled to rescue from a most disagreeable situation. He has sworn to find and wed his mystery miss, but this breathtaking maid makes him weak with wanting her. Yet if he offers her his heart, will Benedict sacrifice his only chance for a fairy tale love?

Rating: Narration – A+; Content – B+

An Offer From a Gentleman – or The Bridgertons do Cinderella – is the third in Julia Quinn’s perennially popular series of books following the lives and loves of the eight alphabetically named Bridgerton siblings.

Benedict is the second eldest and has spent most of his life being referred to simply as “A Bridgerton” or “number two” and he’s fed up with it. Nobody – other than his family (and sometimes not even them!) – sees him as an individual, a man worthy of attention on his own account, until he meets a lovely masked woman in a silver gown at a masquerade, who sees him – Benedict – and his life changes instantly.

Our Cinders is Miss Sophie Beckett, the illegitimate daughter of the Earl of Penwood. Sophie has never been publicly acknowledged by the earl, although he has always provided for her; and while society whispers about the truth of her parentage, Sophie is known simply to be the earl’s ward. But her life changes dramatically after he remarries, and takes a real turn for the worse after his death when her stepmother grudgingly agrees to allow Sophie to remain living in her former home in return for an increased allowance under the terms of the earl’s will.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

The Viscount Who Loved Me (Bridgertons #2) by Julia Quinn (audiobook) – Narrated by Rosalyn Landor

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This title may be purchased from Audible via Amazon

1814 promises to be another eventful season, but not, this author believes, for Anthony Bridgerton, London’s most elusive bachelor, who has shown no indication that he plans to marry. And in all truth, why should he? When it comes to playing the consummate rake, nobody does it better… – Lady Whistledown’s Society Papers, April 1814

But this time the gossip columnists have it wrong. Anthony Bridgerton hasn’t just decided to marry – he’s even chosen a wife! The only obstacle is his intended’s older sister, Kate Sheffield – the most meddlesome woman ever to grace a London ballroom. The spirited schemer is driving Anthony mad with her determination to stop the betrothal, but when he closes his eyes at night, Kate’s the woman haunting his increasingly erotic dreams.

Contrary to popular belief, Kate is quite sure that reformed rakes do not make the best husbands – and Anthony Bridgerton is the most wicked rogue of them all. Kate is determined to protect her sister – but she fears her own heart is vulnerable. And when Anthony’s lips touch hers, she’s suddenly afraid she might not be able to resist the reprehensible rake herself.

Rating: Narration – A+; Content – A

This is the first of Julia Quinn’s books I ever read and one of the first ‘modern’ historical romances I ever read about a decade or so ago, when I was just starting to read the genre. As a result, I have a bit of a soft spot for it, but that’s not surprising, considering it’s a terrific book.

It’s a classic enemies-to-lovers/compromised-into-marriage story and remains one of my favourite HRs and one of my favourites of the Bridgerton series (it’s up there with When He Was Wicked). I admit that I haven’t read it for some time, and I have forgotten bits, so this new audio was a fantastic reminder.

The relationship between Anthony and Kate is brilliantly done – the sexual chemistry just sizzles between them right from the start, and the author does a superb job of showing both characters falling head-over-heels with each other while trying to maintain their outward animosity.

I loved that Anthony is so family-oriented; there are so many dysfunctional families in romance that it’s refreshing to find one that isn’t. He’s also, quite simply, sex-on-legs.

Rosalyn Landor does an incredible job in the audio version. It’s a given that she’s technically superb – she’s always spot on when it comes to things like differentiation and pacing – but where she scores over practically ever other narrator of historical romance is that she ‘gets’ it like no-one else. The way she brings the emotional content of the story to the fore so vividly always amazes me and I had a lump in my throat several times while listening to this one.

I’m sure I don’t need to convince any reader of HR that this is a fabulous book, or anyone who listens to romance audios regularly that the narration is outstanding.

But I still had to shout about it, because it’s just THAT good.

Because of Miss Bridgerton (Rokesbys #1) by Julia Quinn (audiobook) – Narrated by Rosalyn Landor

because of miss bridgerton audio

This title is available to download from Audible.

Sometimes you find love in the most unexpected of places…

This is not one of those times.
Everyone expects Billie Bridgerton to marry one of the Rokesby brothers. The two families have been neighbors for centuries, and as a child the tomboyish Billie ran wild with Edward and Andrew. Either one would make a perfect husband…someday.

Sometimes you fall in love with exactly the person you think you should…

Or not.
There is only one Rokesby Billie absolutely cannot tolerate, and that is George. He may be the eldest and heir to the earldom, but he’s arrogant and annoying, and she’s absolutely certain he detests her. Which is perfectly convenient, as she can’t stand the sight of him, either.

But sometimes fate has a wicked sense of humor…
Because when Billie and George are quite literally thrown together, a whole new sort of sparks begins to fly. And when these lifelong adversaries finally kiss, they just might discover that the one person they can’t abide is the one person they can’t live without…

Rating: Narration – A+; Content – B

Julia Quinn’s Bridgerton family are among the most iconic creations in historical romance in recent years. Throughout eight books (and then a set of subsequently published Second Epilogues), readers followed the exploits of Anthony, Benedict, Colin, Daphne et al as they found the loves of their lives and their happy ever afters.

Now, in Because of Miss Bridgerton, the author returns to her much-loved family to kick off a prequel series set in the late Georgian period, The Rokesbys, who are a neighbouring family with whom the Bridgertons have always been very close. The eponymous Miss Bridgerton – Billie – is the older sister of Edmund, father of the Regency era siblings; here, he’s just fifteen and still away at school.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

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Because of Miss Bridgerton (Rokesbys #1) by Julia Quinn

because of miss bridgerton

This title may be purchased from Amazon.

Sometimes you find love in the most unexpected of places…

This is not one of those times.

Everyone expects Billie Bridgerton to marry one of the Rokesby brothers. The two families have been neighbors for centuries, and as a child the tomboyish Billie ran wild with Edward and Andrew. Either one would make a perfect husband… someday.

Sometimes you fall in love with exactly the person you think you should…

Or not.

There is only one Rokesby Billie absolutely cannot tolerate, and that is George. He may be the eldest and heir to the earldom, but he’s arrogant, annoying, and she’s absolutely certain he detests her. Which is perfectly convenient, as she can’t stand the sight of him, either.

But sometimes fate has a wicked sense of humor…

Because when Billie and George are quite literally thrown together, a whole new sort of sparks begins to fly. And when these lifelong adversaries finally kiss, they just might discover that the one person they can’t abide is the one person they can’t live without…

Rating: B

There can’t be many people in Romancelandia who haven’t at the very least heard of Julia Quinn’s Bridgerton series. Through eight books (not including the subsequently published set of Second Epilogues), we followed the eight Bridgerton siblings as they found love, romance and their happily ever afters, and they’ve become some of the most beloved and iconic creations in the historical romance genre.

The problem for any author who has achieved such a feat must be how on earth to follow such a resounding success? Ms Quinn has written a number of enjoyable historical romances since she finished with the Bridgertons, but it seems that none of those has quite managed to work its way into the hearts and minds of readers as that family has. It’s been almost ten years since the last full-length novel in the series, but finally, there’s a new Bridgerton book on the scene and of course what people want to know is – is it any good? And – is it as good as the earlier series?

Honestly? Yes and no. Yes, it’s a good read and I enjoyed it. But no, it’s not The Viscount Who Loved Me or When He Was Wicked. But there is a truly evil game of Pall Mall and the Mallet of Death makes an appearance, if that’s any consolation!

If you’re looking for a story with lots of action and derring-do, Because of Miss Bridgerton isn’t it. It’s one of those books where the romance IS the story, and I liked that about it because it’s a delicious slow build and I was content to just watch things unfold and enjoy the way the protagonists gradually began to see each other in a different light. Snarky-not-quite-friends-to-lovers is a plot device I usually enjoy, so the basic storyline appealed to me straight away; and while the book doesn’t pack the emotional punch found in some of the original Bridgerton tales, the two central characters are very well drawn and fleshed out and it’s easy to believe in their emotional connection.

When we first meet Billie – Sybilla – Bridgerton, she is stranded on a roof because she climbed up an adjacent tree in order to rescue a kitten that quite obviously didn’t want to be rescued. Stuck on a roof with a badly sprained ankle and not much daylight left, Billie is at first delighted to see a distant figure heading in her direction – and then dismayed as she realises it’s the one person she really doesn’t want to find her in such a situation, her neighbor, George Rokesby, Viscount Kennard. Son and heir of the Earl of Manston, George is around five years older than Billie, who used to run wild with his younger brothers, Andrew and Edward, while George was receiving the education befitting the heir to an earldom. For some reason they can’t quite fathom, George and Billie have never really seen eye to eye; she’s vibrant and impulsive whereas George has responsibilities to live up to and is the frequent target of his brothers’ and Billie’s teasing, all of them viewing him as a bit of a stuffed shirt.

He isn’t, of course. But he’s a man who takes his responsibilities as an earl’s heir seriously, even though he does chafe at the fact that his station in life precludes his doing anything other than waiting to inherit his father’s title. He can’t help the frustration he feels over the fact that Andrew and Edward are serving their country in the Navy and Army respectively, and the author does a good job in conveying that and the restlessness that dogs him beneath his usually stoic demeanour.

With the normally active Billie forced into a short period of inactivity, Andrew, home on leave because of a broken arm, is the one who would usually be the designated cheerer-upper. But even though he is his normal madcap self and he and Billie fall easily into their established pattern of a couple of fast-talking hellions, Billie is rather surprised to discover that it’s George she looks for each day, and even moreso at the disappointment she feels on the occasions Andrew visits her without his brother.

George is equally bewildered at the strength of the attraction he feels for Billie, having spent so long regarding her almost as an annoying younger sister. But she thinks he’s a boring stick-in-the-mud, doesn’t she? – so he has to hope that this ridiculous infatuation will pass before he betrays himself and ends up as the butt of even more of his brothers’ jokes.

I have to say that the book synopsis is a little misleading when it states that George and Billie can’t stand the sight of each other because that isn’t the case. It’s pretty clear from the start that dislike isn’t what keeps them at a distance from each other and the tension that crackles between them whenever they meet has another cause. Their story isn’t so much about hatred turning to love as it is about their coming to understand the reason they have never felt quite comfortable around one another and finally admitting the truth to themselves and each other.

Because of Miss Bridgerton takes place in 1779, and Billie is the elder sister of Edmund, who, as fans will know, is the father of Anthony, Benedict, Colin and the rest of the crew. Billie’s a tomboy who does far more around her father’s estate than anybody realises; she’s the de Facto manager to whom all go with their problems and she’s the one who makes all the decisions since her father has become increasingly less active in the running of their estate. Edmund is still at school and with nobody else to lean on, her father turned to forthright, quick-witted Billie, who prefers to be outdoors riding around the tenant farms or inspecting fencing and drainage than being cooped up inside and has no skill whatsoever in the usual feminine accomplishments like needlework or dancing. I’m not normally a big fan of this type of heroine, but Ms Quinn adds layers to her character by having her be so obviously insecure when it comes to having to venture beyond the estate and local community where everybody knows her and doesn’t question what society at large would undoubtedly term her eccentricities. But because she’s Billie, who manages basically everything, nobody gives much thought to her as a person, even her own family; and there’s something about that aspect of her character that really resonated with me, the idea that she has been fulfilling other peoples’ expectations of her for so long that they can’t see that isn’t who she really is.

The one person who really does see her is George.

And he kissed her tenderly, because this was Billie, and somehow he knew that no one ever thought to be tender with her.

As a couple, they complement each other; he lends her some much needed steadiness and she brings him out of his shell a little. Most importantly, she enables him to see that he is doing something just as valuable as his brothers by staying at home and maintaining their parcel of English soil as a place fit for fighting men to return to.

Although it’s fairly slow-moving, I enjoyed the developing love story and would certainly recommend the book on the strength of it. What doesn’t work so well however, is an odd sub-plot that concerns Edward, the second Rokesby brother, who is away fighting in America. Without giving too much away, events transpire that see George becoming unwittingly embroiled in a potentially dangerous situation, but it doesn’t make much sense and the ending is rushed and somewhat confused.

Ultimately though, readers will be invested in the love story between George and Billie, who are a likeable, well-matched couple with great chemistry and about whose mutual affection and understanding there is no doubt. Because of Miss Bridgerton is an entertaining story that has plenty of warmth and humour and I’m sure it will delight the author’s many fans.

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The Secrets of Sir Richard Kenworthy by Julia Quinn (audiobook) – narrated by Rosalyn Landor

richard kenworthy audio

Sir Richard Kenworthy has less than a month to find a bride. He knows he can’t be too picky, but when he sees Iris Smythe-Smith hiding behind her cello at her family’s infamous musicale, he thinks he might have struck gold. She’s the type of girl you don’t notice until the second—or third—look, but there’s something about her, something simmering under the surface, and he knows she’s the one.

Iris Smythe–Smith is used to being underestimated. With her pale hair and quiet, sly wit she tends to blend into the background, and she likes it that way. So when Richard Kenworthy demands an introduction, she is suspicious. He flirts, he charms, he gives every impression of a man falling in love, but she can’t quite believe it’s all true. When his proposal of marriage turns into a compromising position that forces the issue, she can’t help thinking that he’s hiding something . . . even as her heart tells her to say yes.

Rating: A for narration; B- for content

The Secrets of Sir Richard Kenworthy is the final book in Ms Quinn’s Smythe-Smith Quartet, and while I think it’s the strongest of the four, it has keenly divided opinions amongst readers and listeners due to the actions of its eponymous hero, which, it has to be said, are very far from heroic.

Sir Richard Kenworthy, a baronet from Yorkshire, comes to London in search of a wife. A bride with a big fat dowry would be nice, but what he’s really looking for is someone who will marry him quickly. Having asked around, it seems to him that attending the annual Smythe-Smith musicale would be a good idea, as a family with five daughters is bound to have at least one that needs marrying off.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.