In Celebration of June Is Audiobook Month

To mark June is Audiobook Month, I and my fellow AudioGals have been choosing some of our favourite audiobooks in our favourite genres, and this week it was my turn to choose my Top Five Historical Romance audios. Which wasn’t easy. Last week saw Kaetrin picking her Top Five Contemporary Romances, and the week before that, BJ chose her Top Five Urban Fantasy/Paranormal listens. There’s still time to enter the giveaway for earbuds and downloads – head over to AudioGals and scroll down to the bottom of this week’s post for details.

In the meantime… my Top Five.

I might as well say this right now. I am utterly HOPELESS at choosing favourites. The minute anyone says to me “what’s your favourite (something)?” my mind goes completely blank and I struggle to think of ANYthing, let alone the ones I’d rate above all others. Then after the initial panic has subsided, I can think of too many. But because, when it comes to audiobooks, I’m someone who always places the narrator ahead of the author in terms of importance when it comes to choosing the ones I want to listen to (sorry, authors!), choosing five audiobooks I think would be a good introduction to historical romance in audio for someone who wants to take the plunge but doesn’t know where to start didn’t prove too difficult. My choices are therefore selected by narrator first; and as such, feature my “Fab Four” – four narrators I would quite happily listen to if they were reading the phone book.

You can read the rest of my list at AudioGals.

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A Very Belated Best Of 2015

read all dayAlmost six weeks into 2016, and I haven’t been able to get around to writing up a post about my favourite reads and listens of 2015. I’ve written one each for All About Romance, Romantic Historical Reviews and AudioGals (running soon), and of course for each one, I could have chosen different titles or more titles… I had a good year last year when it came to books and audiobooks which made choosing the ones I enjoyed the most a difficult task.

I’m only including those books for which reviews appeared in 2015, as in most cases, I don’t put them here until they’ve appeared at the outlet for which they were initially written. This means that some of the books and audiobooks are ones I might have read or listened to at the end of 2014; similarly, there are a few missing from the end of 2015 for which reviews didn’t appear until 2016. Confusing perhaps, but if I had to go and check the date I’d actually finished each title it would have made the job of compiling this post an even longer one and given me another reason to put it off!

From my Goodreads stats:

Of the 231 books I read and/or listened to I gave 57 of them 5 stars; 97 of them 4 stars; 52 of them 3 stars; and 16 of them 1 or 2 stars.

As Goodreads doesn’t allow half-stars and I know that a large number of my 5 star ratings are actually 4.5 stars, here’s how I work them out. At AAR, we use a letter grading system; B+/B/B- and so on, so for me, an A is automatically a 5 star book (I’ve only given one A+ so far). A- and B+ equate to 4.5 stars, but I round an A- up to five and a B+ down to 4. B- and C+ equate to 3.5 stars, but I round a B- up to 4 and a C+ down to 3 and so on.

Top Books:

– ones I’ve given 5 stars or 4.5 stars and rounded up (A+/A/A-)

Honourable Mentions:

– a few of the B+ books I enjoyed

Of Rakes and Radishes by Susanna Ives
In Bed With a Spy by Alyssa Alexander
The Soldier’s Dark Secret by Marguerite Kaye
The Duke and the Lady in Red by Lorraine Heath
The Earl’s Dilemma by Emily May
The Marriage Act by Alyssa Everett
The Chaperone’s Seduction by Sarah Mallory
The Highwayman by Kerrigan Byrne
The Lure of the Moonflower by Lauren Willig
The Soldier’s Rebel Lover by Marguerite Kaye
A Talent for Trickery by Alissa Johnson
Cold Hearted Rake by Lisa Kleypas
Daniel’s True Desire by Grace Burrowes
The Spinster’s Guide to Scandalous Behaviour by Jennifer McQuiston
Sweetest Scoundrel by Elizabeth Hoyt

Top Audiobooks:

– ones that have received 4.5/5 stars or an A/A- for narration AND at least 4 stars/B for content.  This will naturally exclude a few titles where an excellent narration hasn’t been matched by a story that was equally good, OR where a really good story hasn’t been paired with a narrator who could do it justice.

I’ve also (finally!) got around to updating my 2015 TBR Challenge post with the list of books I chose to read last year. I completed the Mount TBR Challenge at Goodreads, too, knocking 32 or 33 books off my pre-2015 TBR pile.


(There are some overlaps with the TBR Challenge, and as I’ve been compiling this post, I’ve realised I missed a few out!) But I’m back into both challenges again this year and shall attempt to update my progress more regularly than I managed in 2015.

To sum up, almost half the books I read and/or listened to last year got at least 4 stars, which I think is a pretty good strike rate considering the numbers of books put out (and the amount of dross that’s out there to wade through).  2016 is also off to a good start, so keep watching these pages (or find me at my other haunts!) to find out what’s making me happy 🙂

The Hidden Heart by Laura Kinsale (audiobook) – Narrated by Nicholas Boulton

the hidden heart audio

When her naturalist father dies on the upper reaches of the Amazon, Lady Tess Collier sets out to fulfill his last wish: return to England and marry. Desperate and broke, privateer Gryphon Meridon takes on an assignment he’d much rather refuse – shepherding a beautiful, eccentric young lady through London’s ballrooms.

Rating: A+ for narration; B for content

Nobody who has listened to Laura Kinsale’s wonderful prose brought vividly to life by the massively talented Nicholas Boulton can be in any doubt that the dozen audiobooks they have produced (so far – fingers crossed) have shown again and again exactly what an audiobook can and should be. Every aspect – writing, performance, direction and overall production have combined to put these titles at the top of the heap when it comes to romance audios, and they undoubtedly represent a pinnacle of achievement in the field.

But all good things must come to an end – unfortunately – and The Hidden Heart – the first of the author’s published works – is the last of Ms Kinsale’s books to come to audio. While I enjoyed it, I can’t help thinking that perhaps it would have been better to have had a different title as the Kinsale/Boulton swansong. I realise that these things can’t always be planned, but this isn’t my favourite Kinsale story; the pacing is uneven, the protagonists spend large chunks of time apart and there were times I wanted to throttle the hero!

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

Seize the Fire by Laura Kinsale (audiobook) – Narrated by Nicholas Boulton

seize the fire audio

Captain Sir Sheridan Drake is no knight in shining armor, even if he happens to be famous for his heroism. An exiled princess with revolutionary ideas is just a convenient opportunity to get himself out of debt. Princess Olympia isn’t precisely fairy-tale royalty herself; she’s plump and a little shy, and desperate to do something of importance in the world. But though their meeting begins with her hopeless hero worship, a harrowing journey to the bleak edge of the world will transform them both, plunging Olympia into the darkest depths of Sheridan’s battered warrior’s heart and awakening demons she could never imagine in her dreams of glory.

Rating: A+ for narration; A for content

Even though I have eagerly snatched up every single audiobook from this hugely talented author/narrator team as soon as they’ve appeared, Seize the Fire is one I’ve been waiting for ever since Laura Kinsale and Nicholas Boulton began their collaboration. The prospect of hearing Sheridan Drake brought to life in all his tortured, roguish, f**cked-up, delicious glory by such a wonderfully skilled narrator made this one of my most highly anticipated listens of the year. And needless to say, my expectations were more than met.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

Lessons in French by Laura Kinsale (audiobook) – Narrated by Nicholas Boulton

lessonsfrench audio

Laura Kinsale’s best romantic comedy, narrated in Nick Boulton’s sexy, wicked voice….

Trevelyan d’Augustin and Lady Callista Talliafaire were secret sweethearts, until the day her father dismissed him with a whip across the face. Ten years and three jiltings later, shy Callie is resigned to a quiet village life as the late earl’s spinster daughter. But now Trev has returned from his estates in France, upending everything, dragging her into adventures, stealing Hubert the prize-winning bull, and flinging Callie’s heart into mayhem again.

Laura and Nick fans who enjoy a practical, witty heroine will love shy Lady Callista with her cattle and daydreams, and believe dashing Trev will be a lucky man if he can win her back…or perhaps just kidnap her instead!

Rating: A+ for narration; B+ for content

I’m a sucker for a good “second chance” romance, and given that Lessons in French is the tale of two lovers reunited after a decade apart, it was bound to be right up my street. Throw in the words “narrated by Nicholas Boulton” and not only is it right up my street, it’s got its boots off warming its toes in front of the fire at the pub round the corner!

Lady Callista Taillefaire, daughter of the Earl of Shelford, and Trevelyan Davis d’ Augustin, descended from a family of French aristocrats who fled the Terror, fell in love as teenagers, but were separated by the earl, who didn’t believe an impoverished Frenchman was worthy of his daughter.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

A 2014 Retrospective

I was going to write a “favourite books of 2014” or “best books of 2014” post or something of that nature, but then realised that I’ve written and contributed to a number of those, so I’m doing something different here.

cat_asleep_on_bookSo instead, I’m stealing an idea from the lovely Wendy the Super Librarian and have been looking through my Goodreads Stats to see how my ratings panned out across the year. Because I review a large number of new and current releases, the majority of the books I read in 2014 were published in 2014, but I managed to squeeze in a few others. And because Goodreads counts print/ebooks and audiobooks of the same title as two different books, while my total for the year was 231, it’s probably closer to 180 different books.

Looking through my stats (and if I’ve counted correctly!) the majority of my reading and listening fell within the 4/5 star bracket, which is pretty good going.

I gave 34 books and 19 audiobooks 5 stars (some will have been 4.5 stars rounded up) A/A-
I gave 63 books and 32 audiobooks 4 stars (some will have been 4.5 stars rounded down) B+/B
I gave 43 books and 15 audiobooks 3 stars (some will have been 3.5 stars rounded down) B-/C+/C
I gave 14 books and 2 audiobooks 2 stars C-/D+/D
I gave 3 books and two audiobooks 1 star (one of the books was a DNF, as was one of the audiobooks, because the narration was utterly dire.)

Putting together the list of books to which I gave a 5 star/A rating, it’s interesting to see that I’ve rated as many audio books at that level as I have printed books. Obviously, when rating an audiobook, I take the narration into account too – and if you look closely, you’ll see there are three names that crop up repeatedly as the narrators on those audiobooks; Nicholas Boulton, Rosalyn Landor and Kate Reading, who are, quite simply, three of the best narrators around when it comes to historical romance. In many cases, these are audiobooks where I may have rated the story at a A- or B+, but the narration is so good that the overall rating is bumped up. Of course, even the best narrator can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear, so even in those audios where the story isn’t quite at the five star level, it’s not going to be a dud!

The reviews are linked to the titles below the images.

5 star books:

 


Only Enchanting by Mary Balogh
Rogue Spy by Joanna Bourne
Douglas: Lord of Heartache by Grace Burrowes
The Captive and The Traitor by Grace Burrowes
Prospero’s Daughter by Nancy Butler
Vixen in Velvet by Loretta Chase
At Your Pleasure by Meredith Duran
Fool Me Twice by Meredith Duran
Mr (Not Quite) Perfect by Jessica Hart
Marrying the Royal Marine by Carla Kelly
Never Judge a Lady by Her Cover by Sarah MacLean
The Suffragette Scandal by Courtney Milan
The King’s Falcon by Stella Riley
It Takes Two to Tangle by Theresa Romain
Shadow Lover by Anne Stuart
The Luckiest Lady in London by Sherry Thomas

5 star Audiobooks:


The Escape by Mary Balogh & Rosalyn Landor
The Black Hawk by Joanna Bourne & Kirsten Potter
The Forbidden Rose by Joanna Bourne & Kirsten Potter
Captives of the Night by Loretta Chase & Kate Reading
Lord of Scoundrels Loretta Chase & Kate Reading
Silk is for Seduction by Loretta Chase & Kate Reading
A Week to be Wicked by Tessa Dare & Carolyn Morris
Arabella by Georgette Heyer & Phyllida Nash
The Corinthian by Georgette Heyer & Georgina Sutton
The Unknown Ajax by Georgette Heyer & Daniel Philpott
Venetia by Georgette Heyer & Phillida Nash
The Shadow and the Star by Laura Kinsale & Nicholas Boulton
Uncertain Magic by Laura Kinsale & Nicholas Boulton
The Countess Conspiracy by Courtney Milan & Rosalyn Landor
The Suffragette Scandal by Courtney Milan & Rosalyn Landor
It Takes Two to Tangle by Theresa Romain & Michelle Ford
Silence for the Dead by Simone St. James & Mary Jane Wells
His at Night by Sherry Thomas & Kate Reading<
The Mask of the Midnight Manzanilla by Lauren Willig & Kate Reading

Honourable Mentions:

– go to books and audios I’ve rated at 4.5 stars/A-/B+, but which I’ve rounded up to five because while there might have been something that niggled at me, it was a damn good book and felt closer to 5 stars than 4. Or just a book that, despite a few flaws, I really enjoyed.


The Boleyn Reckoning by Laura Andersen
The Laird by Grace Burrowes
The MacGregor’s Lady by Grace Burrowes & Roger Hampton
Scandal Wears Satin by Loretta Chase & Kate Reading
Firelight by Kristen Callihan & Moira Quirk
When the Duke Was Wicked by Lorraine Heath
The Leopard Prince by Elizabeth Hoyt
A Grave Matter by Anna Lee Huber
Three Weeks with Lady X by Eloisa James
Strangers at the Altar by Marguerite Kaye
Sweet Disorder by Rose Lerner
It Takes a Scandal by Caroline Linden
Till We Next Meet by Karen Ranney
Night of a Thousand Stars by Deanna Raybourn
The Devil’s Waltz by Anne Stuart
The Perilous Sea by Sherry Thomas

I think it’s fair to say I had a pretty good year, reading-wise, with a high proportion of books I’d describe as good or better, and not too many “meh” or dire ones. (Although where would we be without the odd turkey to snark about?)

The first crop of 2015 releases looks promising; I’m taking part in a few challenges next year as well, which I’ll post about soon so I can keep track and I’m looking forward to my next year of reading, listening and reviewing.

How did you do last year?

Uncertain Magic by Laura Kinsale (audiobook) – Narrated by Nicholas Boulton

uncertain magic

As a lovely heiress, Roderica Delamore should be a prize catch–except for her shameful secret. She has the ability to hear the thoughts of those around her. Even her family and close friends can’t hide from her strange gift. Knowing that she can never marry, for no man could bear it, Roddy still longs hopelessly for a family of her own. Until she meets the man she’s been waiting for–the Earl of Iveragh, a mysterious Irish aristocrat whose thoughts are entirely closed to her.

The impoverished Devil Earl is damned in society by dark rumor and innuendo, and, for all she knows, he could be a liar, a rogue, or much, much worse. But Roddy must dance with him at midnight on All Hallows Eve, and entrust her life–and her heart–to a riveting stranger, called by his torment into the faerie mists to discover what she most fears about herself and her own magic.

Rating: A+ for narration, B+ for content

Originally published in 1987, Uncertain Magic was Laura Kinsale’s début novel, something which is perhaps difficult to credit given the incredible beauty of the prose and the complexity of the storyline. It’s also easy to forget, in these days of plentiful Paranormal Romances, that the inclusion of supernatural elements into a romance was an unusual thing to do back then.

One of the (many) things I have come to admire very much about Ms Kinsale as a writer is her willingness to take risks in her books. Some work, some don’t – but one thing is for sure. Her books are never dull, and I would take a duff Kinsale (if there is such a thing) over many of the sub-standard historical romances being published at the moment. Her characters are sometimes difficult to get to grips with and/or like – Leigh in The Prince of Midnight treats the hero like s**t for most of the book; Maddy in Flowers from the Storm allows her guilty conscience to come between her and the love of her life; Allegro Navona is an dark-hearted assassin who believes himself beyond redemption – and yet all are compelling; whether one likes them or not, it’s impossible to put the books down.

Uncertain Magic brings together a number of familiar tropes – a marriage of convenience, a tortured hero with a dark, mysterious past – sets them against the backdrop of the 1797 Irish rebellion and tops it all off with a touch of the supernatural in the form of the heroine’s unusual “gift” and the inclusion of the Sidhe, creatures of Gaelic myth.

Roderica – Roddy -Delamore was born with the ability to hear people’s thoughts and feelings, something she views as more a curse than a gift. As she has grown older, she has become used to the way that family and friends withdraw from her, afraid of her ability to know their innermost thoughts. She has resigned herself to becoming an old maid; surely no man will want to spend his life with a woman who can read his thoughts, and in any case, she has witnessed the marriages of those of her female relatives similarly “gifted” disintegrate because of it.

When Roddy meets a man whose mind is closed to her, she realises this is her once chance to marry and have the family she craves. Faelan Savegar, Earl of Iveragh has a diabolical reputation, yet Roddy doesn’t care. He’s young, handsome, and he needs money; she’s an heiress and in her desperation to make a life of her own, she all but proposes to him – and Faelan, both impressed and intrigued by this young woman who seems to care nothing for his terrible reputation, recognises the advantages of the arrangement she proposes. But “The Devil Earl” is not completely without honour; before the wedding, he warns Roddy off, telling her of the truly dreadful deeds for which he is believed responsible – the ruin of innocents, blackmail, and even murder. To his amazement, Roddy refuses to be deterred.

The pair are married, to the dismay of many of Roddy’s family and friends, and Faelan plans for them to return to Ireland as soon as possible. But before they do so, Roddy makes some uncomfortable discoveries about her husband. She encounters his mistress, and from the woman’s thoughts knows her to believe her relationship with Faelan will continue even though he is now married. Then Roddy discovers something even worse – that he has seduced and ruined a young woman with promises of marriage. Even his own mother doesn’t try to refute the rumours that dog him, and because Faelen will not confirm or deny anything, Roddy finds herself in the unusual position – for her – of not being able to find out the truth by reading his thoughts.

The couple’s troubles continue when they reach Ireland and become unwillingly swept up in the Irish Rebellion of 1797. Faelan wants only to restore his home and lands to profitability, and introduces many measures to improve the lot of his tenants. But his dearest and oldest friend, Geoffrey (who has known Roddy since she was younger, and with whom she had been youthfully infatuated) has become involved in smuggling arms to the rebels, and while Faelan has made his position clear – he wants nothing to do with it – Geoffrey nonetheless manages to drag him into the thick of things, which leads to an explosive and tragic series of events.

The plot is satisfyingly complex and the historical background is very well researched indeed. I’m not normally one for Paranormal stories, but the inclusion of the mythical elements works really well here, and was something I didn’t find distracting or too far-fetched.

What drew me in however, was the central relationship the two strongly written protagonists. Roddy has been used to being able to discover what people are really thinking because she can read minds – but it isn’t until she meets Faelan that she realises that even with her “gift” (and I have to say, the frequency with which that word, or the word “talent” is used to describe Roddy’s ability is a bit annoying), she doesn’t really know anyone at all. She’s never had to learn to read people’s faces or vocal inflections, so she often finds herself at a bit of a loss with him. And if you like a tortured hero, then Faelan is one of the most tortured I’ve come across. He’s believed to have killed his father, and because he has gaps in his memory, he has no idea whether he is responsible for that, or any of the other dark deeds laid at his door. When Roddy confronts him, he never denies anything – because he can’t, and when the truth finally comes out about his memory lapses, and we discover the reason Roddy can’t read his mind… my heart broke for him.

This really is an extraordinary book, and one I’ll certainly return to. The relationship between Roddy and Faelan is really well developed. They marry early on in the book, and their marriage is a very passionate one – but it’s clear that Faelan often uses sex as a method of diverting Roddy’s attention from difficult subjects he doesn’t want to discuss. They have a lot to contend with, both as a result of their personal issues and of the unstable political situation – but Roddy’s faith in Faelan touches him deeply, and their love for each other enables them to weather the storms life throws at them.

It’s difficult to find something to say about Nicholas Boulton’s narration other than that it’s absolutely fantastic. When it comes to audiobook narrators, he is, quite simply, in a class of his own. On a basic level, his characterisations are well differentiated, the narrative is well-paced and very subtly nunanced and he is an absolute joy to listen to. In this audiobook in particular, he gets to show off his ability to perform a wide variety of regional Irish accents, ranging from Faelan, whose accent is barely noticeable, to the thicker accents of the estate workers. But Mr Boulton is far more than a technically accomplished vocal actor. He also manages to find the emotional heart of the characters, bringing them vividly to life in the listener’s mind in such a way that they stay with one, long after the book has finished.

Uncertain Magic is a wonderful addition to the list of audiobooks already available from this incredibly talented author/narrator team, and one I can’t recommend highly enough.