How to Love a Duke in Ten Days (The Devil You Know #1) by Kerrigan Byrne (audiobook) – Narrated by Derek Perkins

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

Famed and brilliant, Lady Alexandra Lane has always known how to look out for to herself. But nobody would ever expect that she has darkness in her past – one that she pays a blackmailer to keep buried. Now, with her family nearing bankruptcy, Alexandra strikes upon a solution: Get married to one of the empire’s most wealthy eligible bachelors. Even if he does have the reputation of a devil.

Love takes no prisoners.

Piers Gedrick Atherton, the Duke of Redmayne, is seeking revenge and the first step is securing a bride. Winning a lady’s hand is not so easy, however, for a man known as the Terror of Torcliff. Then, Alexandra enters his life like a bolt of lightning. When she proposes marriage, Piers knows that, like him, trouble haunts her footsteps. But her gentleness, sharp wit, independent nature, and incredible beauty awakens every fierce desire within him. He will do whatever it takes to keep her safe in his arms.

Rating: Narration: A-; Content: B

The first thing I’m going to say about How to Love a Duke in Ten Days, the first book in Kerrigan Byrne’s new Devil You Know series is this: don’t let the cutesy title fool you. Unlike most of the romances out there with dumb movie or song rip-off titles, this isn’t a light-hearted, fluffy historical rom-com. Ms. Byrne has become known for writing fairly dark stories featuring damaged characters with troubled pasts, filled with purple-tinged prose and melodrama, and this is no different. The book opens with what’s become one of the author’s trademarks – an impactful yet disturbing prologue set some years in the past that details a traumatic event in the life of one of the leads. In this case, there’s a scene of sexual assault and murder, and listeners should be aware that the assault and its effects on the heroine in terms of how she views men and relationships are mentioned throughout. And while it’s possible to avoid listening to the event itself, skipping the prologue in its entirety will mean missing out on meeting Alexandra’s friends (and future heroines) and the events that bind them together.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

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

This title may be purchased from Amazon

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.

The Scot Beds His Wife (Victorian Rebels #5) by Kerrigan Byrne (audiobook) – Narrated by Derek Perkins

This title may be purchased from Audible

They’re rebels, scoundrels, and blackguards – dark, dashing men on the wrong side of the law. But for the women who love them, a hint of danger only makes the heart beat faster.

Gavin St. James, Earl of Thorne, is a notorious Highlander and an unrelenting Lothario who uses his slightly menacing charm to get what he wants-including too many women married to other men. But now, Gavin wants to put his shady past behind him…more or less. When a fiery lass who is the heiress to the land he wishes to possess drops into his lap, he sees a perfectly delicious opportunity.

A marriage most convenient

Samantha Masters has come back to Scotland, in a pair of trousers, and with a whole world of dangerous secrets from her time spent in the Wild West trailing behind her. Her only hope of protection is to marry – and to do so quickly. Gavin is only too willing to provide that service for someone he finds so disturbingly irresistible. But even as danger approaches, what begins as a scandalous proposition slowly turns into an all-consuming passion. And Gavin discovers that he will do whatever is necessary to keep the woman he has claimed as his own.

Rating: Narration – A: Content – B-

In The Scot Beds His Wife, author Kerrigan Byrne returns to the Scottish Highlands and the Mackenzie clan, this time focusing on Gavin St. James, Earl of Thorne, brother of Liam, the Marquess Ravenscroft (The Highlander) and half-brother of Dorian Blackwell (The Highwayman). [His mother was the old Marquess’ second wife and Gavin’s title comes through her side of the family, for anyone who is wondering (because it’s the sort of thing I wonder about!)]. Like his brothers, Gavin also suffered horribly at the hands of his cruel, depraved father; in fact, in the high-stakes, high-drama prologue which has become a trademark of this series, Ms. Byrne revisits the events of the prologue of The Highlander in which the debauched, ruthless old Laird forced his sons to torture a whore. When his father discovers Gavin pouring his heart out to his mother afterwards, he beats him and then literally throws him from the window and leaves him to the biting cold; bruised and with a broken collarbone, Gavin can do nothing but lie out there and listen to the beating his father then gives his mother until his best friend, Callum, finds him and gets him away.

As one would expect after an experience like that, Gavin is determined to disassociate himself from the Mackenzie family once and for all, and it’s this long-time driving force that leads him to want to purchase the abandoned neighbouring estate of Erradale. He currently manages the distillery owned by his older brother Liam – whom he once idolised and now hates – and wants out; Gavin has set his sights on cattle farming, and the extra land and the stock currently roaming Erradale will be just what he needs to get started while he waits for the Queen to grant him emancipation from the Mackenzie family.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

The Duke (Victorian Rebels #4) by Kerrigan Byrne (audiobook) – Narrated by Derek Perkins

This title is available to download from Audible

Strong as a Viking. Handsome as Adonis. Rich as Midas. Collin “Cole” Talmage, Duke of Trewyth, is the stuff that legends are made of. He’s the English Empire’s golden son – until fate has its way with him. Cole’s family is killed and his closest comrade betrays him on the battlefield, leaving him gravely injured. But Cole is not one to dwell on misfortune. He is a man of duty, honor, and desire. And now he’s ready for the fight of his lifetime….

Imogen Pritchard is a beautiful lass who works in a hospital by day and as a serving maid at night. Years ago, when she was young and penniless, she ended up spending a scandalous night with Cole, whose tormented soul was matched only by his earth-shattering passion. Imogen entered a marriage of convenience – one that left her a wealthy widow – but she never forgot Cole. Now that her long-lost lover has turned up in her hospital, injured and with no memory of her, Imogen is torn. Is it a blessing or a curse that their past remains a secret to Cole, even as his new passion for her leaves him wanting to protect and possess her at all costs?

Rating: Narration – A; Content – B-

Note to cover designer: It is repeatedly stated throughout the book that Cole is BLOND. Clearly, you didn’t get that particular memo.

Kerrigan Byrne’s brand of slightly darker, high-stakes romances featuring larger-than-life, dangerously sexy heroes and the women who love them has proved to be a hit with readers and listeners alike. Her Victorian Rebels books comprise one of the strongest historical romance series to have appeared in recent years, and I’ve enjoyed them all to varying degrees. The audiobook versions have the added attraction of excellent narration by Derek Perkins; and I freely admit that in The Duke, the strength of his performance goes a long way towards papering over the cracks in the characterisation and storytelling that make this particular story the weakest of the set so far.

We first meet our eponymous duke, Collin Talmage, the Duke of Trenwyth, on the day he has just buried his mother, father and brother, who were killed in a tragic accident. Not only does he have his grief to deal with, on the following day he has orders to leave England for an undisclosed location in order to undertake a very hush-hush mission. He and some of his fellow officers end up at The Bare Kitten in Soho intent on drinking the night away and availing themselves of some willing, warm female bodies; and Trenwyth – Cole – decides he wants Ginny, the dark-haired serving maid. Ginny is not a whore, but when Cole offers the club’s owner the huge sum of twenty pounds for her, she has no alternative but to do as she is told. But Ginny isn’t actually Ginny at all – she’s Imogen Pritchard, a nurse at St. Margaret’s Hospital by day, who works at the Kitten by night in order to pay off the debt to the place incurred by her father before his death. Cole is well into his cups, but not incapable (romance heroes never seem to suffer from Brewer’s Droop!) and Imogen is surprised at the gentleness shown her by this intimidatingly large, gorgeously handsome but heartbreakingly sad man.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

You can also read my interview with Derek Perkins HERE

The Duke (Victorian Rebels #4) by Kerrigan Byrne

the-duke

This title may be purchased from Amazon.

He is noble, notorious, and takes no prisoners…

They say that now His Grace, Collin Talmage, Duke of Trenwyth has only one hand, he might finally be a mere mortal, but no one seems willing to test the theory. Rich as Midas, big as a Viking, beautiful as Adonis, and lethal as a feral wolf, he is the English Empire’s golden son. But now he’s lost everything. Most of his family died in a terrible accident, his protégé and closest friend betrayed him on the battlefield, and his left hand was cut off while he was a prisoner of war. The only thing that’s kept him going until now is the memory of a night spent in the arms of a mysterious raven-haired woman almost a year ago…

Imogen Pritchard is a nurse by day, but a fallen woman—and a spy—by night. Seduced on the job years ago by a Duke who mourned for the loss of his family, Imogen has never shaken the memory of the man’s despair—or the fathomless depths of pleasure he brought to her. But as the threat of betrayals, blackmail, and secrets abound, Imogen and Collin are thrown back together in a dizzying swirl of dangerous games and earthshattering desire. But can their love overcome the everything that threatens to tear them apart?

Rating: B-

The eponymous duke in this fourth book in Kerrigan Byrne’s Victorian Rebels series is Collin Talmage, Duke of Trenwyth.  We met him briefly in the previous book, The Highlander, where we learned that he is a formidable soldier, rumoured to have been both a spy and an assassin. Fans of Ms. Byrne’s will undoubtedly find everything they have come to expect from her books here; lyrical writing, strong characterisation, a larger-than-life hero tormented by the demons of his past, a self-reliant heroine who is prepared to go toe-to-toe with him, no matter how much his sheer masculinity and aura of barely leashed power attract and frighten her; and an element of mystery with a gruesome side, and a look at some of the darker, seedier aspects of Victorian London.

The Duke opens with Trenwyth – Cole to his friends – at a spectacularly low ebb.  He has just acceded to his dukedom, but has done so at the cost of losing the rest of his family in an accident.   Everyone insists on congratulating him while he just wants to grieve –  he is under orders to leave England for an undisclosed location and his next mission the following day

He just wants to forget it all for one night.  At the Bare Kitten Gin and Dance Hall, he pays a small fortune for a night with one of the girls – Ginny – who isn’t really Ginny at all. She’s Imogen Pritchard, a nurse at St. Margaret’s Hospital, who works as a serving maid at the Kitten at night in order to pay off debts incurred by her late father.   Unlike the other girls who work there, Imogen is no whore, but she has no choice but to do as she is told and bed the duke.  Imogen can’t deny that he’s an attractive man; he has the face of a Greek God and a body to match, but what attracts her even more is the aura of sadness that surrounds him.  Their encounter is unexpectedly tender, Trenwyth tending to her pleasure as much as his own, and taking comfort from her presence.

Around a year later, London is abuzz with the news that the Duke of Trenwyth – who had been thought dead – has returned to England.  He is delivered to St. Margaret’s Hospital at the request of his cousin, the Queen, but his condition is serious and he is not expected to live.  After a few days, Imogen suspects he has been misdiagnosed, but the doctor in charge won’t listen to her, so she approaches another doctor – who agrees with her assessment and saves the duke’s life.  Unfortunately, however, Imogen’s involvement leads to her instant dismissal.

Things go from bad to worse when, later the same night, she is attacked by a drunken patron at the Kitten. She stabs him in self-defence, and runs off believing she has killed him – then sneaks back into the hospital intending to steal some clean clothes and some money from one of the patients. She had always had a good relationship with the elderly Earl of Anstruther and hates herself for stooping so low as to steal from him, but she’s desperate. In keeping with the sort of luck Imogen has been having, things don’t to go plan – but this time, her fortunes take a turn for the better.

Fast forward two years, and Cole is back in London, restored to health physically, but inside he’s broken, full of bitterness and rage, haunted by the terrible things he’s seen and done. The one memory he cherishes of the past is of the night he spent with Ginny; his recollections of her were the only thing that kept him going after he was captured and tortured, and he is now actively searching for her. At the same time, he’s also incredibly frustrated by the antics of his next door neighbour, the lovely, widowed Countess of Anstruther, a scheming harpy who tricked her sick husband into marriage not long before he died and left her his entire fortune. Not only that, she dares to take in whores, unwed mothers and other unfortunates, using her home as the base for her charity cases – and Cole is outraged that she is turning one of the finest houses in London into a home for delinquents.

This version of Cole is not a likeable character. He’s haughty, dictatorial, rude, and sometimes downright cruel, such as when he insults Imogen in front of a dinner table full of guests at a charity event. But Imogen is no longer the scared young woman with no options who shared his bed, and while the tension that radiates from Trenwyth is alarming, she makes it clear she isn’t prepared to just put up with his insults. She is relieved that he hasn’t recognised her as Ginny, but she is also saddened because she can see no trace in him of the man who showed such tenderness to a woman he’d bought and paid for.

When, the morning after the event, a woman is found dead in Imogen’s garden, Chief Inspector Sir Carlton Morley of Scotland Yard (and Ms. Byrne, please stop referring to him as “Sir Morley” – it should be “Sir Carlton”) and his colleague, Imogen’s neighbour, Christopher Argent (The Hunter) are called in to investigate. Evidence proves the woman was murdered, and other clues point towards the fact that she is not the killer’s first victim. She also bears a certain resemblance to Imogen – and before long it’s clear that Imogen could also be in danger. While Morley, Argent and Cole are putting together the pieces of the puzzle, Cole and Imogen are gradually becoming closer, his initial antagonism towards her turning into an almost overwhelming attraction. Yet in his heart it’s still Ginny he wants… or is it? There’s an interesting dichotomy here as Cole struggles to reconcile his growing feelings for Imogen with what he feels for Ginny – although I have to say that it’s a bit of a stretch to believe that he could have been so strongly affected by one night with an unknown woman that he’d be so desperate to find her three years later.

The good things about The Duke are very good. The writing is lush and strong (if a little purple-tinged in places), Imogen is an independent, confident heroine, the murder mystery is nicely suspenseful and Ms. Byrne once again does a spectacular job of putting the reader right in the middle of the dank, dirty backstreets of London and showing the truly horrible situations faced by so many women at the time. I enjoyed the book and the storyline kept me eagerly turning the pages, but I was taken out of the story once too often; by a coincidence too far (Cole just happening to be sent to the hospital where Imogen worked, for example, or his ending up living next door to her) or because of over-long passages of introspection which meant the pacing was somewhat uneven. And then there’s the fact that Cole is so downright unlikeable for almost all of the book. Yes, he endured terrible suffering and torture, and it’s natural that he would have been changed by those experiences. But he’s so angry and so bitter that it’s difficult to see him ever letting go of those things and being able to live a normal life.

And then there’s this. I said back in my review of The Hunter that I hoped Morley would get his own story, and it certainly seems as though Ms. Byrne is heading in that direction given the hints she drops in this book about a past tragedy and Argent’s sharp observations that his boss is not at all what he seems. The trouble was that the moment Morley appeared on the page, he grabbed my attention so strongly that I wanted to read about him more than I did about Cole and Imogen. That bodes well for the next book in the series, for sure, but it’s never a good thing when a secondary character eclipses the hero in his own book.

All that said, I’m going to give The Duke a qualified recommendation because in spite of the reservations I’ve expressed, and the fact that I really couldn’t warm to the hero, the story pulled me and kept me entertained. It’s a flawed book, but this series continues to be one of the most unusual and intensely readable around; and while The Highwayman has yet to be surpassed in my estimation, there is nonetheless plenty to enjoy in this instalment.

The Highlander (Victorian Rebels #3) by Kerrigan Byrne (audiobook) – Narrated by Derek Perkins

the-highlander-audio

This title is available to purchase from Amazon

They call him the Demon Highlander. The fearsome Lieutenant Colonel Liam MacKenzie is known for his superhuman strength, towering presence, and fiery passion in the heat of battle. As laird to the MacKenzie clan, the undefeated marquess has vanquished his foes with all the rage and wrath of his barbaric Highland ancestors. But when an English governess arrives to care for his children, the master of war finds himself up against his greatest opponent…in the game of love.

Defying all expectations, Miss Philomena is no plain-faced spinster but a ravishing beauty with voluptuous curves and haughty full lips that rattle the laird to his core. Unintimidated by her master’s raw masculinity and savage ways, the headstrong lass manages to tame not only his wild children but the beast in his soul. With each passing day, Liam grows fonder of Miss Mena – and more suspicious. What secret is she hiding behind those emerald eyes? What darkness brought her to his keep? And how can he conquer this magnificent woman’s heart…without surrendering his own?

Rating: Narration – A; Content – B-

The Highlander is the third book in Kerrigan Byrne’s popular Victorian Rebels series, a dark, richly woven tale of a man trying to come to terms with his brutal past and a woman who has been so horribly abused that she has become a shadow of her former self.

The eponymous Highlander of the title is, to give him his full name, Lieutenant Colonel William Grant Ruaridh Mackenzie of the Her Majesty’s Highland Watch, Marquess Ravenscroft and Thane of Clan Mackenzie of Wester Ross. He is also a widower of some ten years with two teenaged children, Rhianna, seventeen, and Andrew, thirteen – and has, after years serving his country, finally decided to settle at home and look after his extensive lands and estates. He’s known to be a brutal man and a fearsome warrior – he isn’t called the ‘Demon Highlander’ for nothing – but he struggles every day to keep that side of him in check. He is the son of a violent man, one who thought to mould his sons in his image by forcing them to violence and sin at a young age. The book’s prologue goes to some dark places as we learn exactly what the previous marquess expected of his sons and how Liam took it upon himself to save them.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

The Hunter (Victorian Rebels #2) by Kerrigan Byrne (audiobook) – Narrated by Derek Perkins

The Hunter audio

This title is available to download from Audible

Christopher Argent lives in the shadows as the empire’s most elite assassin. Emotion is something he tossed away years ago, making him one of the most clear-eyed, coldhearted, wealthiest, and therefore untouchable men in London.

But when his latest target turns out to be London’s own darling, Millicent LeCour, Christopher’s whole world is turned upside down. Overwhelmed by her stunning combination of seduction and innocence, Christopher cannot complete the mission. She has made him feel again. Now he will do anything to save her life, so he can claim her as his own…

When Millie learns what Christopher was hired to do, she is torn between the fear in her heart and the fire in her soul. Putting herself in this notorious hunter’s arms may be her only path to safety – even if doing so could be the deadliest mistake she’s ever made. But how can she resist him? As the heat between her and Christopher burns out of control, danger lurks in the shadows. Is their desire worth the risk? Only the enemy knows what fate has in store…

Rating: Narration – A-; Content – B

In this second book in her Victorian Rebels series, Kerrigan Byrne delivers another dark, lushly romantic tale featuring a deeply flawed hero who is most ably brought to life by Derek Perkins in another accomplished and engaging performance. Christopher Argent (The Hunter of the title) is widely known to be one of the deadliest – if not THE deadliest – men in all of the British Empire. A cold, ruthless assassin, listeners encountered him briefly towards the end of the previous book in the series, The Highwayman, where he was revealed to be a long-time associate of Dorian Blackwell, and his right-hand man in the war they fought some years ago for the control of the criminal underworld.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals

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