Mine Till Midnight (Hathaways #1) by Lisa Kleypas (audiobook) – Narrated by Rosalyn Landor

mine till midnight

Their lives defy convention . . .

When an unexpected inheritance elevates her family to the ranks of the aristocracy, Amelia Hathaway discovers that tending to her younger sisters and wayward brother was easy compared to navigating the intricacies of the ton. Even more challenging: the attraction she feels for the tall, dark and dangerously handsome Cam Rohan.

Their desire consumes them both . . .

Wealthy beyond most men’s dreams, Cam has tired of society’s petty restrictions and longs to return to his ‘uncivilized’ Gypsy roots. When the delectable Amelia appeals to him for help, he intends to offer only friendship – but intentions are no match for the desire that blindsides them both. Can a man who spurns tradition be tempted into that most time-honoured arrangement: marriage? Life in London society is about to get a whole lot hotter . . .

Rating: Narration – A; Content – C+

Mine Till Midnight is book one in Lisa Kleypas’s series about the Hathaway family; it was published in 2007 and an audio recording – with Rosalyn Landor at the microphone – was released in 2009. That version was never available worldwide however; only one or two of the series was actually available in the UK before now (the same is true of the earlier and perennially popular (pun intended!) Wallflower series.) Last year, I noticed first two or three titles in the Hathaways series appearing at Audible UK and immediately assumed that they were reissues of the 2009 recordings – but they’re not; they’re brand new recordings.

The five Hathaway siblings were not born to wealth and privilege. Instead, they were thrust into the upper echelons of society when Leo – the only male sibling – inherited a viscountcy from a distant relative, although unfortunately, the title comes with only a modest fortune. Leo has been in a downward spiral for the last year or so, since the death of the young woman he planned to marry, which is how come we first meet our heroine Amelia – the oldest of the four female Hathaways – as she is planning to drag Leo out of Jenner’s (the club owned by Sebastian St. Vincent). She’s accompanied by her adoptive brother Merripen – a Rom (here’s one change from the original – “Gypsy” has been changed to “Rom”) – and they pull up outside the club in time to witness an altercation between some obviously drunk patrons who are vying for the attentions of a prostitute. Before things can get nasty, the fight is broken up by another man – a younger one with dark hair, gleaming hazel eyes and the face of an angel who, for all he is dressed like a gentleman, obviously isn’t one. He’s Cam Rohan (also a Rom), the club’s manager – and just looking at him is enough to take Amelia’s breath away. But she quickly squashes the ripples of nerves and heat that run through her to focus on her reason for being there, irritated when Rohan waves off her concern for her brother as nothing to do with him. It’s only when Merripen speaks to him in their own language that he at last agrees to allow them inside to search for Leo, and on learning that Leo has left the club for a nearby brothel, and of Amelia’s intention to seek him out there, Cam arranges transportation and accompanies them to retrieve the errant viscount.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

Suddenly You by Lisa Kleypas (audiobook) – Narrated by Beverley A. Crick

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

She was unmarried, untouched, and almost 30, but novelist Amanda Briars wasn’t about to greet her next birthday without making love to a man. When he appeared at her door, she believed he was her gift to herself, hired for one night of passion. Unforgettably handsome, irresistibly virile, he tempted her in ways she never thought possible . . . but something stopped him from completely fulfilling her dream.

Jack Delvin’s determination to possess Amanda became greater when she discovered his true identity. But gently-bred Amanda craved respectability more than she admitted, while Jack, the cast-off son of a nobleman and London’s most notorious businessman, refused to live by society’s rules. Yet when fate conspired for them to marry, their worlds collided with a passionate force neither had expected . . . but both soon craved.

Rating: Narration – A- : Content – A-

I was really pleased to see that some of Lisa Kleypas’ older, previously un-recorded/out of print titles are making their way into audio format, and even moreso when Suddenly You popped up at Audible with Beverley A. Crick as the narrator. (I’m not so pleased that Tantor’s next foray into Ms. Kleypas’ backlist, Someone to Watch Over Me, uses one of the worst narrators I’ve ever heard, but that’s another story!)

Suddenly You was originally published in 2001, and it’s easy to understand why it’s such a firm favourite with many. It’s got a higher steam-quotient than some of the author’s other books dating from this period, but the thing I most enjoyed about it was the way in which the hero is so completely smitten with the heroine from the outset and is wonderfully supportive and encouraging of her throughout.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

A Christmas to Remember (anthology) by Lisa Kleypas, Lorraine Heath, Megan Frampton & Vivienne Lorret

This title may be purchased from Amazon

Romance stars Lisa Kleypas, Lorraine Heath, Megan Frampton, and Vivienne Lorret prove in this collection of stories that love is the most magical during Christmas…

“I Will” by Lisa Kleypas

To be reinstated into his father’s will, Andrew, Lord Drake, must court a respectable woman-his friend’s spinster sister, Miss Caroline Hargreaves. After he blackmails Caroline into helping him, the charade begins-but is it really a charade once love takes hold of their hearts…?

“Deck the Halls With Love” by Lorraine Heath

Alistair Wakefield, the Marquess of Chetwyn, devastated Lady Meredith Hargreaves when he proposed to another. But when he becomes free to pursue her, it’s too late for she’s on her way to the altar….. As Christmas approaches, Chetwyn vows to lure Lady Meredith back into his arms.

“No Groom at the Inn” by Megan Frampton

James Archer detests his mother’s matchmaking ways. When ordered to attend a Christmastime house party filled with simpering maidens, he produces a fiancee-Lady Sophronia Bettesford. James and Sophronia pretend to be in love for one month. But their pact soon turns into love.

“The Duke’s Christmas Wish” by Vivienne Lorret

To the Duke of Vale, science solves everything-even marriage. When the impulsive Ivy Sutherland makes him question all of his data, he realizes that he’s overlooked a vital component in his search for the perfect match: love.

Rating: C+

Note: A Christmas to Remember is a collection of four Christmas-themed novellas that have been previously published elsewhere.

Anthologies are, by their very nature, a mixed bag, and I usually find they consist of perhaps one excellent story, one poor one and a couple in between. In the case of A Christmas to Remember, however, while there is one poor story (the last) the quality of the others is fairly consistent in that the grades all fall within the mid-range, but that does mean that the anthology as a whole lacks that one outstanding tale that makes the whole thing worth the price of admission.

I Will by Lisa Kleypas

Grade: C   Sensuality: Warm

When I started reading I Will, I immediately thought – “this is the one.  This is going to be the best of the bunch” – and that thought stayed with me for around the first half of the novella.  It’s a classic bluestocking-meets-rake story in which our hero, Lord Andrew Drake (legitimate half-brother of Logan Scott from Because You’re Mine), an unrepentant rake, needs to convince his terminally ill father that he is a reformed character in order to inherit the family fortune and intends to do so by pretending to be betrothed to a thoroughly unobjectionable and respectable young woman.  Andrew, whose relationship with his father has always been strained and who has no intention of reforming once he inherits, approaches Lady Caroline Hargreaves, the sister of one of his friends, and pretty much blackmails her into agreeing to become his fake fiancée.

Caroline has never liked Andrew and likes him even less now because he is leading her brother into bad company and habits; Andrew has never liked Caroline because she is opinionated and starchy and not at all his type.  Yet as he starts to really look at her during their discussion, he starts to see things about her he’s never noticed before and to realise, to his shock, that he desires her.

The novella comes in at just under a hundred pages, but the events within span a few weeks during which Andrew eschews his normal rounds of drinking and depravity so as to make his performance as a reformed character more convincing.  I really liked the way that Caroline comes to see the real Andrew beneath the rakish façade and how the strength of her belief touches Andrew and gives him the confidence he needs to be able to reform in truth, but unfortunately, it’s not long after this that things take a very different direction and the whole thing falls apart.  There’s an extremely awkward sex-scene (which comes very close to being non-consensual – on his part, not hers) and a hurried and somewhat silly blackmail plot which I could have done without.  I Will stars very promisingly, but ends up as a bit of a mess.

Deck the Halls with Love by Lorraine Heath

Grade: B-   Sensuality: Warm

This novella is book 2.5 in the Lost Lords of Pembrook series and tells the story of Alastair, the Marquess of Chetwyn, who was betrothed to Lady Anne, heroine of Lord of Temptation.  Upon realising his betrothed was in love with someone else, Chetwyn released her from their engagement, and now, he is intent on pursuing the woman he has always loved.  The problem is that she is due to marry another man just after Christmas, so Chetwyn is facing an uphill struggle if he is to convince her that he is – they are – worthy of a second chance.

A year or so earlier, Lady Meredith Hargreaves (no relation to Caroline, above!) had been on the verge of falling in love with Alastair Wakefield when he turned his attention to another lady.  Meredith told herself – or tried to – that she had had a lucky escape and that it was as well his defection had happened before she could fall for him completely.  She is now happily engaged to be married, although she can’t deny that her intended has never made her pulse race or her stomach flutter.  Still, it’s a good match, and no matter that seeing Chetwyn again has churned up all her emotions, she can’t afford to be charmed by him all over again.

Chetwyn is in deadly earnest over his pursuit of Meredith, but he’s not pushy or possessive; in fact what he wants is for her to be able to follow her heart and choose freely.  There’s a nice frisson of sexual tension between the pair and the fact that they share a romantic history means that their rekindled relationship doesn’t feel quite so rushed as it could have done.  Deck the Halls with Love is a charming story, and while it’s the shortest in the collection, it’s the one I enjoyed the most.

No Groom at the Inn by Megan Frampton

Grade: C+    Sensuality: Warm

Here we have another fake-betrothal story, this time between an earl’s daughter and a gentleman desperate to avoid his mother’s matchmaking schemes.  Lady Sophronia Bettesford has been left almost destitute by her late father, who cared far more for his books and his studies than for anything remotely practical such as making sure his daughter was provided for after his death.  No longer able to support herself, all she has to look forward to is a life of drudgery living with a distant cousin – which is why, when a strikingly handsome stranger asks her to marry him – or at least, to pretend to be engaged to him – she doesn’t immediately dismiss him as some sort of madman.  When he offers to buy her a cottage –an attractive alternative to living with her cousins, their children and their chickens – Sophronia agrees to a month-long pretend engagement.

James Archer sounds to me like he has a serious case of ADHD!  He can hardly sit still and dislikes remaining in one place for any length of time, spending most of his life travelling and collecting, buying and selling the artefacts (or “arty facts” as his mother calls them) he finds on his travels.  His mother loves him dearly and he loves her; he doesn’t want to settle down but can’t face telling her so, hence his need for a fake fiancée who can accompany him to an upcoming house party he has learned will be comprised mostly of young, eligible females.  I have to say that I wasn’t wild about the deception being practiced upon James’ mother, who really didn’t deserve it, and his initial exit-strategy is just plain dumb.

The attraction between James and Sophronia is built well considering the limits imposed by the page-count, and I liked the way their characters are shown to balance each other.  James yearns to get away – which makes sense given his family history – while Sophronia wants to settle somewhere quiet and peaceful, yet both of them start to wonder if, perhaps, there is something to the other’s lifestyle.  James wonders if perhaps, with someone like Sophy at his side, he could be content to wander less, while she thinks that perhaps mouldering away in a remote cottage for the rest of her life without love isn’t perhaps all it’s cracked up to be.

No Groom at the Inn is a light-hearted, easy read, although I found it difficult to connect with the characters.  Ms. Frampton is an accomplished writer and I’ve read and enjoyed a number of her other books, but the humour in this often felt forced and at times, the heroine’s internal monologues waffled on too long.

The Duke’s Christmas Wish by Vivienne Lorret

Grade: D   Sensuality: Kisses

The weakest story in the anthology features a scientifically minded duke who has invented a formula for creating successful marriages (or so he thinks) and a young woman who thinks he should marry her best friend in order to help her to secure her inheritance.  After having spent most of the first chapter reading about how the heroine (Ivy) was desperate to pee owing to having imbibed one too many cups of tea, and then spent the next two chapters watching the duke and Ivy desperately avoiding each other because of the confusing emotions they each evoked in the other, I was bored and probably wouldn’t have continued reading had this not been the final novella and if I hadn’t been reviewing it.  Our hero is sweet if somewhat clueless, but ultimately both central characters are bland, there is no chemistry between them whatsoever and though the writing is decent, not having your principals interact for three chapters out of ten is a bad move.

I don’t read a great many anthologies as I find that the majority of novellas I’ve read have tended to be fairly average, but they’re useful for those times you’re busy and want to read something that satisfies the appetite for an HEA when you don’t have time to commit to a full-length novel.  A Christmas to Remember is actually fairly un-memorable, but if you’re in a forgiving mood, it delivers a quick romance-fix with a nice side order of Festive spirit thrown in for good measure.


Devil in Spring (Ravenels #3) by Lisa Kleypas (audiobook) – Narrated by Mary Jane Wells


An eccentric wallflower
Most debutantes dream of finding husbands. Lady Pandora Ravenel has different plans. The ambitious young beauty would much rather stay at home and plot out her new board game business than take part in the London Season. But one night at a glittering society ball, she’s ensnared in a scandal with a wickedly handsome stranger.

A cynical rake

After years of evading marital traps with ease, Gabriel, Lord St. Vincent, has finally been caught by a rebellious girl who couldn’t be less suitable. In fact she wants nothing to do with him. But Gabriel finds the high-spirited Pandora irresistible. He’ll do whatever it takes to possess her, even if their marriage of convenience turns out to be the devil’s own bargain.

A perilous plot

After succumbing to Gabriel’s skilled and sensuous persuasion, Pandora agrees to become his bride. But soon she discovers that her entrepreneurial endeavors have accidentally involved her in a dangerous conspiracy – and only her husband can keep her safe. As Gabriel protects her from their unknown adversaries, they realize their devil’s bargain may just turn out to be a match made in heaven.

Rating: Narration – A; Content – B+

I think it’s fair to say that Devil in Spring is the most highly anticipated historical romance of 2017. I know that I – along with practically every other fan of the author and the genre – was excited at the prospect of meeting Lord St. Vincent mark II in the form of Gabriel Challon, eldest son of the Duke and Duchess of Kingston; aka Sebastian and Evie from Devil in Winter, surely one of the genre’s most beloved couples.

In the book’s prologue, Sebastian – who is as gorgeous at sixty as he was at thirty – and Evie discuss the fact that a couple of nights earlier at a ball, Gabriel was found in a compromising position with Lady Pandora Ravenel. Pandora, who had been attempting to do a favour for a friend, became stuck in the ornate scrollwork of a piece of furniture, and when Gabriel was helping her get free, they were seen at the worst possible time by their host, leaving Gabriel no alternative but to offer marriage.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

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 🙂

Cold Hearted Rake by Lisa Kleypas

cold hearted rake uk
This title is available to purchase from Amazon

A twist of fate…

Devon Ravenel, London’s most wickedly charming rake, has just inherited an earldom. But his powerful new rank in society comes with unwanted responsibilities . . . and more than a few surprises. His estate is saddled with debt, and the late earl’s three innocent sisters are still occupying the house . . . along with Kathleen, Lady Trenear, a beautiful young widow whose sharp wit and determination are a match for Devon’s own.

A clash of wills…

Kathleen knows better than to trust a ruthless scoundrel like Devon. But the fiery attraction between them is impossible to deny—and from the first moment Devon holds her in his arms, he vows to do whatever it takes to possess her. As Kathleen finds herself yielding to his skillfully erotic seduction, only one question remains:

Can she keep from surrendering her heart to the most dangerous man she’s ever known?

Rating: B+

Lisa Kleypas makes a very welcome return to the world of the historical romance with her latest book Cold Hearted Rake, the first in a new series set in the late Victorian era. It’s been around five years since Ms Kleypas last published an historical and I suppose what everyone is dying to know is – was it worth the wait? The answer has to be YES, absolutely – although the book isn’t without its faults and the central romance, while satisfyingly steamy, is a little inconsistent, and isn’t my favourite thing about the novel as a whole.

Devon Ravenel and his younger brother, Weston, are a pair of rather dissolute young men who have had nothing and nobody to look after but themselves for pretty much their entire lives, until, at twenty-eight, Devon is stunned – and furious – to learn that he has inherited an earldom owing to the sudden death of a distant relation. He doesn’t want the title, the estate, the responsibilities and, most importantly, the crushing debts, and is determined to sell everything off as soon as possible and return to his unencumbered bachelor existence.

Along with the aforementioned burdens, Devon is faced with the prospect of dealing with his predecessor’s widow of three days, and his three sisters – all of whom Devon wants out of the house quickly so that he can realise his capital and leave.

Kathleen, Lady Trenear, is not at all pleased on learning of Devon’s plans when it comes to the estate, but not for her own sake or that of her sisters-in-law. She had expected she would have to leave Eversby Priory and hopes to be able to support the four of them on her jointure; her concerns are mainly for the some two hundred tenants who live and work on the estate, many of whom have served the Ravenels for their whole lives and are unlikely to be able to find alternative employment.

Devon and Kathleen clash immediately and often, both of them finding themselves reluctantly attracted to the other. Their bickering is imbued with sexual attraction, and the friendship and respect which gradually develop between them are well-written, but I never quite bought into them as being in love. Devon is one of those types of heroes so often found in the pages of romance novels whose parents’ disastrous marriage put him firmly off the idea of love – yet he wavers back and forth between wanting Kathleen in his life permanently and then just for a transient affair. The physical relationship upon which they embark is a deliciously passionate one, but Devon’s attitude towards Kathleen is somewhat inconsistent and thus a little frustrating.

That said, all the other elements that make up this story are so thoroughly engaging as to make that issue a little less problematic. The characterisation is strong all-round, and there is a terrific cast of supporting characters, not least of which is Devon’s wastrel brother who manages to turn his life around and find himself in the process. Ms Kleypas also sets up the rest of the series brilliantly, and in fact, she sets up the next book – Marrying Mr Winterborne – so well, that I found myself rather more invested in the secondary characters of Lady Helen Ravenel and the self-made, hard-nosed businessman, Rhys Winterborne, than in Devon and Kathleen!

One of the things I liked most about the story is that Ms Kleypas has once again written a bad-boy hero who turns things around as much for himself as for the woman he is coming to love, and it’s the first part of that sentence that’s the most important. After all, making a change to please someone else is a change unlikely to last, while making it for oneself is an entirely different matter. Devon certainly does do that – he decides that it’s time for him to step up and face the challenge of the estate head-on, and considering the challenges he’s facing, it’s an incredibly brave – and maybe stupid – thing to do. But his intelligence, pragmatism and determination serve him well, and, in the same way as West, Devon finds his purpose in life. He’s an attractive hero; handsome, witty, clever, incredibly sexy and – deep down – a kind and compassionate man, not that he’d ever admit to it! And even though I wasn’t completely convinced by the romance, Kathleen’s equally strong personality makes her a good match for Devon.

Cold Hearted Rake may not be the best of Lisa Kleypas’ historical romances, but it’s certainly a very strong start to her new series and has much to recommend it. It’s beautifully written, well-plotted and makes excellent use of its historical setting; and whether you’re a fan of hers, or have never read her work before, I’m sure you will find much to enjoy.


Devil in Winter by Lisa Kleypas (audiobook) – narrated by Rosalyn Landor

diwBack on Valentine’s Day, AudioGals ran a feature entitled Our Valentine to Romance Audiobooks, in which all the reviewers shared thoughts on the romance audiobooks which got us hooked on the genre. As she read and collated all of our jottings, our esteemed editor realised that, because AG is still fairly young (less than two years old) many of these titles have never been reviewed there, and decided to make March a Month of Romance Audio Favourites, in which all of us would contribute a couple of reviews of the audios we’d mentioned in the Valentine’s Day article.

My first romance audio was Devil in Winter by Lisa Kleypas, and it hooked me completely. I wrote a short review last year, when I first listened to it (yes, it was – incredibly – only a year ago!) and now I’ve written a completely new review of the audiobook itself, and reminisced a little, too.

Here’s the new version.

Rating: A for content and A for narration.

I’m a relative newcomer to the world of romance – both in terms of books and audiobooks – and even though I’m a voracious reader, there are still a number of older books on my TBR pile that I despair of ever getting around to reading. That’s one of the reasons my audiobook listening has increased so much over the last couple of years; discovering that a number of those titles I had on my TBR list were available in audio format gave me the opportunity to listen to a large number of books that would probably still be languishing on that very pile, of which, until last year, Devil in Winter was one.

I have no idea what made me choose it out of the list of titles I could have selected. I remember that a number of my Goodreads friends had urged me to read the book and, one day when I was poking around various websites looking for inspiration (as one does), I came across a very reasonably priced MP3 CD copy and bought it on impulse.

At its most basic, the novel is a take on the “rake-meets-wallflower” plot AND it also boasts my favourite of all tropes, the one of “marriage-of-convenience-turns-to-love”, so it was a good bet I was going to enjoy it. What an understatement.

Devil in Winter may be a collection of tropes, but the whole thing is so brilliantly written and wonderfully characterised that it deserves a category of its own. It’s easy to see why it’s such a firm favourite with so many romance readers.

I’m a total sucker for a smart-mouthed, witty, sexy, naughty hero with a bit of a tortured past, and Sebastian St. Vincent ticks all those boxes and then some. On the surface, he’s the epitome of the rake for whom life no longer holds any surprises. He’s been there, done that, done it again – several times over – and has reached the ripe old age of thirty-two staring financial ruin in the face (which, to be fair, isn’t completely his fault) and has nothing in his life of any meaning or permanence. Being the sort of chap he is, he masks all that hollowness under a veneer of ennui yet it’s clear from fairly early on in the story that, despite his divine good looks, his poise and incredible self-assurance, he doesn’t like himself very much.

Fortunately for Sebastian, salvation literally shows up on his doorstep one night in the form of Miss Evangeline Jenner, a young woman regarded as a perennial wallflower. She’s slight, red-haired, freckled, suffers from a stammer (which has led some young men of the ton to make very disparaging comments about her), and she’s also about to inherit a fortune from her dying father – a fortune her grasping relatives would do almost anything to get their grubby mitts on, so Evie has got to act quickly if she’s to evade their plans to marry her to her equally unpleasant cousin.

Knowing that Sebastian is desperate for money, she offers to marry him on condition that he allows her to care for her dying father until the end. She doesn’t want anything else – she doesn’t want Sebastian, she doesn’t want a huge fortune, she doesn’t really want to be married, but as a young unmarried woman who is subject to male authority – in Evie’s case, her avaricious uncles – the only way she can break their hold over her is to transfer their authority to another man. A husband. Then, of course, she has to hope that husband will hold to their agreement and not attempt to interfere in her life.

Sebastian has no alternative. He agrees to Evie’s suggestion that they marry quickly and afterwards go their separate ways and the pair leaves for Gretna Green immediately.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

Stranger in my Arms by Lisa Kleypas (audiobook) – Narrated by Rosalyn Landor

sma audio

“Lady Hawksworth, your husband is not dead.”

With those words, Lara’s life turned upside down. Hunter, Earl of Hawksworth, had been lost at sea. Or so she’d been told. Their unhappy marriage, with its cold caresses and passionless kisses was over. But now a powerful, virile man stood before her, telling secrets only a husband could know, and vowing she would once again be his wife in every way. While Lara couldn’t deny that this man with the smouldering dark eyes resembled Hunter, he was attentive and loving in ways he never was before. Soon she desperately wanted to believe, with every beat of her heart, that this stranger was truly her husband. But had this rake reformed or was Lara being seduced by a cunning stranger?

Rating: C+ for the story and A for the narration

This is a take on The Return of Martin Guerre (which was also the inspiration for the film Sommersby), in which a widow is suddenly confronted with the reappearance of her dead husband. It’s been a while since I saw either film, but if I recall correctly in both cases – as in this book – the reader isn’t in on the secret as to whether the returning husband is, in fact, the man he says he is, or an imposter come to worm his way into his ‘wife’s’ affections and establish himself in the local society for nefarious means.

In each case, the hero is sufficiently attractive and the dead husband was sufficiently unpleasant so as to make the viewer/reader root for him and want him to get the girl and the life he wants rather than to care very much about whether he’s the man he says he is.

In Stranger in my Arms Lara, Lady Hawksworth has her ordered and swelf-sacrificing existence torn apart when she is told that a man calling himself Hunter Crossland, the Earl of Hawksworth has presented himself in London. Lara’s husband had been somewhat of a boor – over fond of drink, frequently unfaithful, cruel and a man who used his wife’s body with no gentleness or finesse. Upon his death, the earldom passed to a cousin, Arthur, and his grasping wife, both of whom have run the estates into the ground in the intervening years, and who continue to spend money like water with no thought for their responsibilities to the estate workers and tenants.

They evicted Lara from her home and sent her to live in a tiny, run-down cottage on the estate, saying it is sufficient for her needs. She does not complain, preferring to reside somewhere in privacy rather than to go to live with relatives. Also, living there means she can stay close to the village of Market Hills, where she expends much of her time and money on charitable works, most notably at the local orphanage.

When Hunter returns, he is sufficiently similar in looks to her husband that Lara is unsure whether he is truly Hunter or an imposter. (Although being this is a romance, he’s slimmer, more muscular, sexier and far more handsome than Lara remembers!) Added to that is a notable change in his manner towards Lara. Whereas before he’d had no care for her whatsoever, other than as a thing he possessed, Hunter is now most solicitous of her and although he desires her, is adamant that he will not force her to his bed as he had often done before.

Of course, things develop as one would expect. Lara begins to trust Hunter more as each day passes, as he proves himself to be a changed man in more ways than one. He shows a flair for business and land management that means he will soon be able to set their finances to rights, he takes an interest in the local community and, against his own inclinations, undertakes some tasks on Lara’s behalf when she takes in an orphan who had been living with his (now hanged) father in prison.

There’s nothing new in the story, but it’s a solid and enjoyable one for the most part. Hunter is a very attractive character indeed, kind, honourable and great in bed, just as one would expect from a romantic hero. Lara is harder to like however, as in the early part of the book she comes across as priggish and self-righteous. Her previous sexual experiences were far from pleasant, yet even though she enjoys Hunter’s kisses and having his hands on her, she is adamant that she will not sleep with him willingly, even going to far as to invite his former mistress to a party in the hope that he will resume his relationship with her so as to spare Lara the marital bed. There was one point, where Hunter, in desperation, tries to bargain for a night with her and she accuses him of being unable to think of anyone except himself that I almost wanted him to tell her she wasn’t worth the aggravation!

But that aside, the story was enjoyable, if rather predictable. There’s plenty of sexual tension crackling through the encounters between Lara and Hunter, and even though the outcome was hardly unexpected, there was still enough uncertainty as to how it would come about to keep me interested.

There’s also a secondary story concerning Lara’s sister Rachel, and the physical abuse she is suffering at the hands of her husband. I thought Rachel’s attitude was portrayed realistically, and the fact that she was her husband’s property was brought home with Hunter and Lara’s knowing that they would be unable to keep her away from her husband indefinitely.

I listened to the audiobook which was read by the incomparable Rosalyn Landor, and as usual, she doesn’t disappoint – in fact, turning what would probably have been an average read into something better. All her characterisations were excellent – she pays close attention to even the most minor characters, so that all the maids and men-servants sound different, and she is also very good when it comes to voicing young children. She was able to give Lara’s voice the required amount of prigishness and yet still convey the impression that she was gradually falling under Hunter’s spell. I very much liked her interpretation of Hunter and I thought she invested him with an underlying vulnerability, especially when it came to showing his frustrations with Lara (which weren’t just sexual ones!) and showed how, even when he was trying to be manipulative, it just wasn’t in him as far as she was concerned.

I can understand that some readers/listeners may have thought Hunter’s motives for seeking Lara out were somewhat stalkerish, but then, as I’ve discovered, sometimes one person’s stalker is another person’s passionate admirer, and in this case, I prefer the latter interpretation. I think I’d have liked a little more forays into Hunter’s mind and his motivations, but then that would have been difficult given that, like Lara, the reader is unsure as to his true identity until the reveal near the end of the book.

Overall, I thought Stranger in my Arms was an enjoyable and undemanding listen.

Picking favourites

ponder cat

One of the many joys of being one of the team of reviewers over at All About Romance is the opportunity to chat about books and ‘stuff’ with a great bunch of ladies and also the opportunity it affords to be able to contribute blog posts on many different subjects – book and non-book related.

In the run-up to AAR’s annual “Top 100 Romances” list which will appear in October, each reviewer is putting forward their own, personal Top Ten Favourite Romance Novels, and today it was my turn. Picking favourites is always a tough thing to do, even though I’m nowhere nearly as well-read across the different sub-genres as most of my fellow reviewers. But there are always some titles that stick, no matter what, and once I’d got it sorted in my head as to what qualities I value in the romantic novels I read, it became obvious that sticking to just ten was going to be the problem!

Anyway, I managed, with the proviso that it’ll probably have changed by the next time I’m asked!

Normally, the question “what’s your favourite book/piece of music/film?” is one that’s likely to turn me into a jibbering idiot and turn my mind completely blank. I mean really – just one favourite? And in any case, it usually depends on my mood on any one day. One day might demand Mozart and the next, Mahler. Or I’ll be in the mood for Die Hard one evening and Wall-E the evening after. By that token, if my choices tend to be mood dependent, how was I going to produce a list of titles that wasn’t going to change from day-to-day? So I decided the first thing I needed to do was to decide on the benchmark qualities I look for in a book that would qualify it for a place in my Top Ten.

Anyone that knows me knows I’m a bit of a stickler for good spelling and grammar, and for writing that displays at least a basic grasp of good sentence construction and logic. But those things should be a given in any good book, so they should be taken as read. So, was my criteria to be based on good writing or an unusual storyline; good characterisation or a talent for sparkling dialogue?

Find out here!

Devil in Winter by Lisa Kleypas (audiobook) – narrated by Rosalyn Landor


A DEVIL’S BARGAIN Easily the shyest Wallflower, Evangeline Jenner stands to become the wealthiest, once her inheritance comes due. Because she must first escape the clutches of her unscrupulous relatives, Evie has approached the rake Viscount St. Vincent with a most outrageous proposition: marriage Sebastian’s reputation is so dangerous that thirty seconds alone with him will ruin any maiden’s good name. Still, this bewitching chit appeared, unchaperoned, on his doorstep to offer her hand. Certainly an aristocrat with a fine eye for beauty could do far worse. But Evie’s proposal comes with a condition: no lovemaking after their wedding night. She will never become just another of the dashing libertine’s callously discarded broken hearts, which means Sebastian will simply have to work harder at his seductions, or perhaps surrender his own heart for the very first time in the name of true love.

Rating: A+

I love a quick-witted, smart-mouthed, gorgeous bad boy – and Sebastian St. Vincent is quite possibly the baddest, most gorgeous, smartest-mouthed and quickest-witted of them all 🙂

Yes, like many a reader (or in this case, listener) before me, I fell victim to his charms at an early stage of the story and am now wondering what to do with myself.

The story of wallflower-tames-rake is nothing new, but it seems as though Kleypas has done her best to have her protagonists at extremes to make their journey towards each other that bit more remarkable. St. Vincent is profligate in the extreme and makes no apologies about it, and Evie, small, unfashionably red-haired and afflicted with a stammer is the shyest of wallflowers.

Yet however small and shy Evie is, she’s also courageous and tenacious; desperate to escape her abusive uncle and an arranged marriage to his paunchy son, she approaches Sebastian with the proposal that they marry. She can escape from her uncle’s house and he will gain control of her fortune, of which he is in fairly desperate need. The fact that he’s so desperate – and, I suspect, deep-down none too enamoured with the course on which he is set – shows when he acquiesces almost immediately and they head off to Gretna Green.

I won’t rehash the plot –in fact, I’m probably the only person on the planet who hadn’t read this book yet – so all I’ll say is that, despite his reputation, Sebastian proves himself over and over to be a considerate and kind man. He’s similarly surprised by Evie, who he discovers to be intelligent, spirited – and obstinate, which he definitely hadn’t expected.

Sebastian is the epitome of the beautiful, tortured hero who goes through life pretending not to care much about anything and hiding his loneliness and self-hatred behind a barrier of quips and devil-may-care attitude. He lost his mother and sisters to illness at a young age and doesn’t seem to have a particularly close relationship with his father (which I suppose was fairly typical for the time). I very much liked the idea of Sebastian finally finding his purpose in life. He’s a man who has spent his life in idleness, probably unknowingly looking for something – and when he finds it, recognises it on an instinctual level and then has the good sense to seize his opportunity with both hands. Not only does he gain a new respect from his peers, but a new self-respect, something which, despite his outward confidence and bravado, I suspect he’d been missing for a long time. And of course, a second purpose in being a husband to Evie – and perhaps a father, things he thought he never wanted or would never have.

For her part, Evie has grown up with the stigma of being a tradesman’s daughter. She has been well brought up, but life with her uncle is miserable and he is not above physical abuse when she does not do as he wants. She feels she has never really been loved; her uncles don’t want her (just her money) and her father sent her away from him as soon as she emerged from childhood. He sent her away for her own good it’s true – but it clearly hurt her nonetheless.

Fortunately for Evie, the madcap plan she hits on turns out not to have been such a mistake after all. Watching these two, mismatched, emotionally damaged people fall in love was a real delight, and I’m sure that Sebastian, while happily limiting himself to Evie’s bed will continue to be just as much of a rogue between the sheets as he ever was 😉

In terms of the narration, I thought it was excellent. I’ve tended in the past to prefer male narrators as the female ones I’ve listened to have lacked something. Clearly, however, I was listening to the wrong narrators or the wrong books, because Rosalyn Landor is amazing; her interpretation of Evie was simply outstanding as she invested her with shyness and steel at the same time. I do think it’s generally more difficult when it comes to women voicing male characters – and in the case of Sebastian, one who is so well-loved within the genre – but again, she did a superb job with his laconic drawl and still managed to give him an edge, the hint of something dangerous lurking underneath. So brava! to Ms Landor, and I will now have to go out and find everything she’s ever narrated.