My 2020 in Books & Audio

2020, huh? I don’t think I need to expound on that particular dumpster fire except to say that I feel lucky to be someone who has managed to read/listen to books pretty much as normal throughout it all. Books – and writing about them – have provided a much-needed escape from everything going on “out there”, and there have been times this past year when I don’t know what I’d have done without them.

So, what was I reading/listening to in 2020? Well, according to Goodreads (which shows an average rating of 4.1 stars overall), I read and listened to 269 books in total (which was 30 fewer than 2019) – although I suspect that number may be slightly higher as I sometimes forget to mark any re-listens I do. But just taking the new reads/listens, I listened to almost as many books as I read – 52.9% ebook and 47.1% audio, according to this new spreadsheet I’ve been using, and almost three-quarters of the total were review copies.

Of that total there are 77 5 star books, 152 4 star books – by far the biggest category – 36 3 star books and 6 2 star books. (Books sorted by rating.)

The 5 star bracket includes those titles I rate at 4.5 but round-up (which I equate to A-); the 4 star bracket (B) includes the 4.5 star grades I don’t round up (B+) and the 3.5 star ones I do round up (B-), the 3 stars are C+/C/C- and so on.  Of the 77 5 star ratings, only around 17 are straight A grades in terms of the story (in the case of audiobooks, sometimes a 4 star review will get bumped up because the narration is so fabulous), so the rest of that 77 are A minuses or audiobooks where A and B grades combined to rate a higher overall total. Looking back at my 2019 Books & Audio post, those numbers are fairly consistent, although I didn’t have any one stars or DNFs in 2020, which isn’t a bad thing!

The books that made my Best of 2020 list at All About Romance:

Reviews are linked in the text beneath each image.

As usually happens, I always have a few “also-rans”, books I could have included if I’d had the space:

If you follow my reviews, you’ll already know that in 2020, I awarded more top grades than ever to a single author, which isn’t something that’s ever happened before; sure, I give high grades to some authors consistently (Sherry Thomas, KJ Charles and Meredith Duran spring to mind) but those have been one every few months or per year – not nine in a single year! So, yes, 2020 is, in my head, the Year of Gregory Ashe 😉  I could have chosen any number of his books for these lists as they’re all so very good.

Sadly noticeable by its (near) absence on these lists – historical romance.  I said in my 2019 post that the amount of really good historical romance around had been declining for a while, and although there were some excellent  historicals around in 2020, they were fairly few and far between. Many of the best came from Harlequin Historical – Virginia Heath’s Redeeming the Reculsive Earl is a lovely, funny and warm grumpy-reclusive-hero-meets-breath-of-fresh-air-(and neuroatypical) heroine, while Mia Vincy continues to demonstrate her mastery of the genre with A Dangerous Kind of Lady, a sexy, vibrant, not-really friends-to-lovers story in which the leads embark on a difficult journey of self-discovery while coming to realise how badly they’ve misjudged each other. The “modern” historical is a term being coined for novels set in the more recent past, and Asher Glenn Gray’s Honeytrap, the love story between an FBI agent and Red Army office that spans thirty-five years, would proibably have made my Best of list had I read it in time.  Annabeth Albert is a big favourite of mine; Feel the Fire is book three in her Hotshots series, a second-chance romance that just hit the spot.


When I struggled to read something – which fortuantely, didn’t happen often – I could usually find something in audio that suited my mood, plus the fact that there are still back-catalogue titles coming out of books I haven’t got around to reading means that audio is always my preferred method of catching up!  I listened to a lot of pretty good stuff over the year, but for my 2020 Favourites for AudioGals, I stuck to titles to which I’d given at least ONE A grade (usually for the narration) and nothing lower than a B+.

So that was 2020 in books and audio.  I’m incredibly grateful to those authors and narrators who continued to provide me with such great reading/listening material through what has been an incredibly trying time for all of us;  I know some who have really struggled to get words on a page this year, and I just want to say that you’re worth waiting for and I’ll be here whenever you’re ready.

As for what I’m looking forward to in 2021… more of the same, really – lots of good books!  There are a number of titles I know are coming up in the first part of the year that I’m really excited about – the third Lamb and the Lion book from Gregory Ashe – The Same End – is out at the end of January, and I’m also eagerly awaiting new adventures with North and Shaw and Theo and Auggie. Then there’s book three in KJ Charles’ Will Darling Adventures, Subtle Blood, at least three (squee!) new books from Annabeth Albert, including the fourth Hotshots book; and a new instalment in Jordan Castillo Price’s long-running Psycop series (Other Half) due out in January, although I’ll be waiting for the audio because Gomez Pugh’s incredible turn as Victor Bayne is well worth waiting for.  (I really must catch up with JCP’s ABCs of Spellcraft books, in audio, too!).  There’s a new book in Hailey Turner’s  Soulbound series coming soon, a new instalment in Jay Hogan’s Southern Lights series, and later on, I’m hoping Josh Lanyon’s The Movie Town Murders will be out this year – I need more Sam and Jason! – and I’m looking forward to new books in her Secrets and Scrabble series.  I’m looking forward to more from Lucy Parker, Loreth Anne White, Garrett Leigh, Rachel Reid, Roan Parrish… There are new books slated from many of my favourite authors and narrators, and I’m looking forward to another year of great reading and listening.

I’ll be back this time next year to see if my expectations were fulfilled!

Ten Things I Hate About the Duke (Difficult Dukes #2) by Loretta Chase

This title may be purchased from Amazon

Cassandra Pomfret holds strong opinions she isn’t shy about voicing. But her extremely plain speaking has caused an uproar, and her exasperated father, hoping a husband will rein her in, has ruled that her beloved sister can’t marry until Cassandra does.

Now, thanks to a certain wild-living nobleman, the last shreds of Cassandra’s reputation are about to disintegrate, taking her sister’s future and her family’s good name along with them.

The Duke of Ashmont’s looks make women swoon. His character flaws are beyond counting. He’s lost a perfectly good bride through his own carelessness. He nearly killed one of his two best friends. Still, troublemaker that he is, he knows that damaging a lady’s good name isn’t sporting.

The only way to right the wrong is to marry her…and hope she doesn’t smother him in his sleep on their wedding night.

Rating: A

It’s been three years since we last had a new book from Loretta Chase, and I’m sure the burning question for historical romance fans is – was the long wait worth it?  I’m happy to say that yes, it was; Ten Things I Hate About the Duke may be one of those silly movie-reference titles that abound in historical romance these days, but the book itself is – thankfully – far from silly.  It’s classic Chase, featuring a pair of well-rounded, likeable protagonists, oodles of sexual tension and prose filled with insight, a generous helping of snark and the author’s customary razor-sharp wit.  It’s the best historical romance of the year, hands down.

Note: There are minor spoilers for the previous book, A Duke in Shining Armor, in this review.

Miss Cassandra Pomfret, eldest daughter of Lord deGriffith, is young woman who not only dares to hold opinions of her own but (even worse) dares to actually express them.  Cruelly nicknamed by the ton – Medusa and de Griffith’s Gorgon are just two of the charming epithets she’s attracted – she is continually frustrated by the restrictions imposed on her by society, the expectation that she should care more about her frocks than about working to make the world a better place.  But after she speaks out at a political meeting – and almost causes a riot – her father, a respected and influential politician, has had enough of her unconventional and ill-advised behaviour.  He has no doubt of her good intentions or her belief in the causes she espouses, but she needs to recognise that her actions reflect badly on her family, and particularly on her younger sister Hyacinth, who is having her very first London Season.  Lord deGriffith sees no point in his younger daughter moving in society if Cassandra’s actions continually undermine her position and reputation, and declares it is at an end, and that he will not give permission for Hyacinth to marry until Cassandra has done so.  For her part, Hyacinth – who has become the toast of the Season and attracted a host of beaux – isn’t particularly bothered at having her Season curtailed, but even so, Cassandra feels dreadfully guilty about it.  A couple of days later, Hyacinth urges her sister to go to visit their ailing former governess in Roehampton, and Cassandra sets out, with her maid and her groom accompanying her.

His Grace with the Angel Face the Duke of Ashmont has repaired to The Green Man on Putney Heath following the duel earlier in the morning with the Duke of Ripley.  Ashmont issued the challenge after his fiancée absconded on the morning of their wedding with Ripley in tow (perfectly innocently at first), and then, a few days later, jilted Ashmont in order to marry Ripley. Honour (and given this is Ashmont, a good deal of booze) demanded the challenge, and fortunately for all concerned, Ashmont didn’t put a bullet through Ripley.  A few hours later, Ashmont has drunk away the morning, despondent, and still shaken by the thought that he could conceivably have killed his best friend, He’s set to drink the rest of the day away when a commotion outside draws his attention.  Very much the worse for wear, he staggers outside, his one intention to stop the row that’s adding to the hammering in his head; he raises his pistol and fires into the air – causing the horses drawing an approaching carriage to bolt and the carriage to topple over.

Horrified – and still very drunk – Ashmont staggers over to the scene to find two young women lying near the carriage and a third body – a man – a short distance away.  He’s made his way over to the women and is relieved when one of them – a redhead – sits up… and not so relieved when she yells at him and smacks him with her bonnet.  As he finally faceplants, she gets up and calmly steps over him saying “Yes, you, of course… It only wanted this.”

Somehow, Cassandra thinks, she should have known Ashmont to have been the cause of all this mayhem – it’s what he does best after all.  She’s known him, on and off, all her life, and was even – as a girl – in love with him… until she realised he was never going to become the man she hoped he would.  But there’s no time to dwell on that;  her groom has been badly injured and needs help; Ashmont’s clout and money are needed which means, unfortunately, that so is he.

Still lying on the ground, Ashmont is contemplating the clouds and flashing grey eyes and dark red curls… when a bucket of cold water is dumped unceremoniously on his head and he’s exhorted to get up and make himself – and his money – useful.

Ashmont does indeed make himself (and his money) useful and he tries hard to fix the humungous mess he’s made – especially after Cassandra’s maid decides to return home, leaving her mistress completely unchaperoned.  Once word gets out about his involvement, Cassandra will be ruined – but luckily for all concerned, Ashmont’s uncle Frederick (Lord Frederick Beckingham, whom we met in the previous book) has a cooler, wiser head and advises Ashmont to leave as soon as possible after buying the silence of the staff at the inn, and thus protect Cassandra’s reputation.

Ashmont is sensible enough to take good advice, and disaster is averted. But… clever, challenging, imperturbable, waspish Cassandra Pomfret has completely captivated him, and he decides to pursue her.  The trouble is, she clearly isn’t impressed by his looks, his money or his rank – which are the things that usually get him what he wants – and he’s going to have to work harder than he’s ever worked at anything (which, let’s face it, he’s never done) if he wants to win her.

What follows is a sprightly and absolutely delightful dance as Ashmont, who is far from the idiot he allows the world believe him to be, slowly but surely works out how to prove to Cassandra that he’s serious about her.  He listens to her, he values her opinion, he finds out about things that are important to her and in the process, he starts to take stock of his own life, and to realise how little he’s made of it – which makes Ten Things as much a story of a man discovering the person he’s truly meant to be as it is a romance.  Ashmont isn’t a man redeemed by love, or a rake reformed due to the love of a good woman; he’s a man redeeming himself, a man coming to realise that he’s wasting the many gifts he’s been given and that he wants to be a better man than he’s been hitherto.  Yes, Cassandra provides the impetus by making him want to change, and by opening his eyes to the reality and frequent unpleasantness of the world around him – but no change of this sort is effective if the person concerned isn’t determined to do it, and Ashmont is prepared to work at turning his life around.

Ashmont and Cassandra are superbly drawn characters who simply light up the pages when they’re together, and the author has done a splendid job of making Ashmont – who could have been hard to like – an endearing character, even when he’s making bad decisions.  Cassandra is intelligent, independent, outspoken, and deeply compassionate, and I was impressed with the way she’s shown to be a woman pushing at the boundaries of the conventions that constrain her and trying to make a difference in the world, while still being very much a woman of her time.  The author’s subtle but pertinent commentary on the position of women in society is beautifully observed and quite low-key but no less scathing for that.

There’s an excellently-drawn secondary cast; I really liked the dynamic between Cassandra’s parents, and appreciated that Lord deGriffith isn’t an ogre, but a loving father driven to the extremes of exasperation.   I can’t wait to find out what’s going on between Blackwood and Alice, and there’s definitely a story to be told about Lord Frederick and Lady Charles.  But for now, Ten Things I Hate About the Duke is a terrific read and a fabulous example of historical romance done right.  Here’s hoping we don’t have to wait three years for the next instalment!

The Best of 2017 – My Favourite Books of Last Year.

It’s something of a tradition to put together a “favourite books of the year” list around Christmas and New Year – I’m a little late with mine this year, but here’s the Best of 2017 list I put together for All About Romance.  Did any of them make your Best Books of 2017 list?

I had to make some really tough choices – here are some of the books that also deserved a place on the list, but which I just couldn’t fit in!

A Duke in Shining Armor (Difficult Dukes #1) by Loretta Chase (audiobook) – Narrated by Kate Reading

This title may be downloaded from Audible.

Hugh Philemon Ancaster, seventh Duke of Ripley, will never win prizes for virtue. But even he draws the line at running off with his best friend’s bride. All he’s trying to do is recapture the slightly inebriated Lady Olympia Hightower and return her to her intended bridegroom.

For reasons that elude her, bookish, bespectacled Olympia is supposed to marry a gorgeous rake of a duke. The ton is flabbergasted. Her family’s ecstatic. And Olympia? She’s climbing out of a window, bent on a getaway. But tall, dark, and exasperating Ripley is hot on her trail, determined to bring her back to his friend. For once, the world-famous hellion is trying to do the honorable thing.

So why does Olympia have to make it so deliciously difficult for him . . . ?

Rating: Narration – A+: Content – A

Was there any likelihood that this, the latest release from the phenomenal author/narrator team of Loretta Chase and Kate Reading, was going to get anything other than top marks? Nah. It’s fabulous, in terms of both narration and content. In A Duke in Shining Armor, book one in her new Difficult Dukes series, Ms. Chase presents listeners with a wonderfully realised, character-driven road-trip romance that’s full of the insight, warmth, humour and sparkling dialogue that is so characteristic of her stories. Add Kate Reading’s outstanding narration to the mix, and you’ve got just over eleven hours of unequivocal audiobook joy to look forward to. I promise.

Lady Olympia Hightower is the only female child of the Earl and Countess of Gonerby and is, at the age of twenty-six, rather firmly on the shelf. The only thing she has achieved during the course of her seven London Seasons is to be named “Most Boring Girl of the Season” each year, so the proposal of marriage from the young, wealthy and utterly gorgeous Duke of Ashmont comes completely out of the blue. Ashmont is one of three disreputable gentlemen known as “Their Disgraces” thanks to their reputations for drunken carousing, high-stakes gaming, fighting-duels and inveterate womanising (the others being their Graces of Blackwood and Ripley), and will most likely make a terrible husband, but Olympia knows her duty. Instead of carefully planning how best to support their six sons after the earl’s demise, her impractical parents have lavished money upon kitting her out each season, pinning their hopes on her making an auspicious marriage and providing for her brothers that way. She’s a practical, no-nonsense sort of girl, so she accepts Ashmont’s proposal.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

A Duke in Shining Armor (Difficult Dukes #1) by Loretta Chase

This title may be purchased from Amazon

Hugh Philemon Ancaster, seventh Duke of Ripley, will never win prizes for virtue. But even he draws the line at running off with his best friend’s bride. All he’s trying to do is recapture the slightly inebriated Lady Olympia Hightower and return her to her intended bridegroom.

For reasons that elude her, bookish, bespectacled Olympia is supposed to marry a gorgeous rake of a duke. The ton is flabbergasted. Her family’s ecstatic. And Olympia? She’s climbing out of a window, bent on a getaway. But tall, dark, and exasperating Ripley is hot on her trail, determined to bring her back to his friend. For once, the world-famous hellion is trying to do the honorable thing.

So why does Olympia have to make it so deliciously difficult for him . . . ?

Rating: A

A new book from Loretta Chase is always cause for celebration, and her latest, A Duke in Shining Armor, gets her new Difficult Dukes trilogy off to a start worthy of much festivity.  On the face of it, it’s the very simple story of two people falling in love with the ‘wrong’ (right) person and having to decide what they are willing to risk to be together; but this is Loretta Chase and in her hands, ‘simple’ encompasses fully-rounded characters with real emotional depth, lots and lots of wonderful, witty dialogue, a beautifully developed romance and a good helping of sharp-eyed social observation.

Lady Olympia Hightower, only daughter of the Earl of Gonerby, has spent the majority of her seven London Seasons sitting on the sidelines with the wallflowers and dowagers. She’s practical, sensible, not the least bit dashing and not the sort of young lady men notice.  In fact, her one claim to fame is that she has been voted Most Boring Girl of the Season for seven years in a row.  So the last thing she expects is to receive a marriage proposal from the gorgeously handsome but dissolute Duke of Ashmont, referred to as ‘His Grace with the Angel Face’ by his closest friends and fellow Dis-Graces, the Duke of Blackwood and the Duke of Ripley.  With financially irresponsible parents and six brothers to be provided for Olympia knows what must be done.  Ashmont is well-heeled – if not especially well-behaved – so she accepts his proposal and preparations for the wedding go on apace.

Hugh Ancaster, seventh Duke of Ripley, has literally just returned from a year spent abroad, so is surprised, on the eve of the wedding, to be pressed into service as groomsman. He does his job well; Ashmont arrives on time the next morning (albeit a little worse for wear from the previous night’s carouse and subsequent fight) and now all that is wanted is the blushing bride – of whom there is no sign.  Worried that the longer the wait, the drunker and more aggressive Ashmont will become, Ripley tries to find her – only to come upon her when she’s half-way out the library window declaring her intention to take a breath of air in Kensington Gardens.  In her wedding dress.  In the rain. It’s obvious Olympia has been crying and he can also smell the strong whiff of brandy about her – but before he can stop her, she’s out of the window and running away.  Ripley tells himself he shouldn’t be the one to hare off in pursuit – she’s not his fiancée after all – but Ashmont put him in charge of ensuring the wedding goes smoothly, and it can’t do that without a bride. After a brief hesitation, he follows her and the pair embarks upon the journey if not quite from hell, then one in which pretty much everything that can go wrong – does.

Ripley tries to persuade Olympia to return for the ceremony, but when it becomes clear she has no intention of doing so, he agrees to escort her to her aunt’s home in Twickenham. Ever the optimist, Ripley tells himself that a few hours shouldn’t make too much difference.  Olympia’s disappearance will be dismissed as yet another of the ridiculous pranks he and his friends are known for; they’ll all have a laugh, Olympia will have sobered up and the wedding will go ahead – merely a few hours later than advertised.  Following a cramped hackney ride, a disastrous boat trip on the Thames, a heated altercation with a ruffian about a dog and an accident that leaves Ripley almost unable to walk, the couple arrives, only to discover that Aunt Delia is from home.  So instead, Ripley takes Olympia to the home of his favourite aunt, the widowed Lady Charles Ancaster.  By this time, of course, his and Olympia’s absence will have been widely noted, his two best friends are likely hard on their heels and Ashmont will no doubt be thinking the worst.

And, for Ripley, things are worse.  How on earth he managed to overlook the quick-witted, sometimes acerbic, self-deprecating and utterly captivating young woman now travelling with him is beyond him. Olympia is lovely, clever, funny, more than able to hold her own in their battle of wits – and Ripley is well and truly smitten. But she’s not his and can’t be – Ashmont is his friend and Olympia is hisintended bride.  And while she’s perfect duchess material  Ripley becomes increasingly certain she shouldn’t become Ashmont’s duchess. Yet how can he possibly contemplate stooping so low as to steal her out from under his friend’s nose?   He’s a scoundrel and a reprobate with a reputation as black as pitch – but he’s nonetheless a gentleman and no matter what debaucheries he may have indulged in in the past, this is one line he cannot – will not – cross.  But oh, how he wants to.

While Ripley learns that Olympia has always been seriously underappreciated and that even her own view of herself – as nothing more than practical, proper and boring – is very skewed, Olympia is discovering the real Ripley, charming, kind, witty, perceptive and increasingly – and unnervingly – attractive.  Good, boring, practical girls like her aren’t attracted to rakes, but it’s impossible for her to deny that’s exactly what she’s feeling.  She’s surprised when Ripley describes her as ‘dashing’ and ‘exciting’ or being too clever and lively for the company she keeps, and tries to tell him she’s none of those things – but he won’t have it.

“Bolting from your wedding… Climbing over the wall. Falling out of the boat.  Whatever else one might say about you – and I’m not sure what to say, frankly – boring isn’t on the list.”

One of the great things about road-trip romances is that they require the hero and heroine to be in close proximity for almost all the story and Ms. Chase really makes the most of this. The couple have many delightful, awkward, often very funny conversations en route, during which Ripley demonstrates much good-natured wit and perspicacity (and a surprising love of romance novels!), while Olympia tries to maintain a kind of poker-faced indifference and fails spectacularly in the face of Ripley’s adorably relentless optimism.  I normally find relationships that develop over short time-spans to be unsatisfying, but that’s not the case here, as the author manages to imbue a romance that develops over just three days with the same depth of understanding and connection as one that evolves over a longer period of time.  In fact, as Olympia herself says later in the book:

“It’s dawned on me that you and I have spent more time together than most couples do before they’re wed.  And so we must know each other rather better than most.”

Given the restrictions placed upon interactions between unmarried men and women at this time, I’m fairly sure she’s right!

The thorny issue of male honour is the biggest road-block on the path to the HEA, something most heroines see as ridiculous and pig-headed – and I suspect many modern readers will agree with that assessment.  But really, it’s more than that.  Ripley is genuinely fond of Ashmont; they grew up together and he doesn’t want to hurt his friend, but he also knows that Ashmont will make Olympia unhappy, and he can’t bear the thought of the woman he loves being miserable.  He’s stuck between a rock and a hard place, but ultimately, is prepared to stand up and fight for what he wants; and his determination to do the right thing is admirable.

A Duke in Shining Armor is a thoroughly entertaining, low-angst read that’s bursting at the seams with humour, warmth and intelligence.  The focus is squarely on Ripley and Olympia and their growing relationship, and there is a nicely drawn cast of secondary characters, including the other two Dis-Graces, Blackwood – who appears to be estranged from his wife (Ripley’s sister) – and Ashmont, who manages to be immature, hot-headed and strangely endearing all at once.  I’m looking forward to both their stories in future books and also to learning more of Ripley’s Aunt Julia, who, it seems, has an unhappy love story in her past.

If you love character-driven romances, a charming, sexy hero with a cracking sense of humour and a heroine who can keep up with him every step of the way, A Duke in Shining Armor is sure to delight.

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.

Don’t Tempt Me (Fallen Women #2) by Loretta Chase (audiobook) – Narrated by Kate Reading

Don't Tempt Me

Scandal! Gossip!

When kidnapped English heiress Zoe Lexham daringly escapes from captivity, her problems have only begun. After 12 years in a harem, she knows far more about erotic practices than how to conduct a proper conversation in civilized parlors.

Her reception from London society’s ladies is arctic; the proposals from their husbands and brothers exceedingly warm; and her loving, but overwhelmed, aristocratic family fear she’ll be an outcast forever – unless someone can launch her to success (and a good marriage)!

Enter Lucien de Grey, the Duke of Marchmont. Lucien is no knight in shining armor; he’s cynical, easily bored, dangerous to women, and utterly indifferent to popular opinion. But good looks, combined with money and title, make him welcome everywhere. The most popular bachelor in the Beau Monde can easily save Zoe’s risqué reputation, if he can prevent the chemistry between them from getting so out of hand…so often…and so deliciously!

Rating: Narration – A+; Content – B

Wonderful as it is to have another new-to-audio story from the terrific team of Loretta Chase and Kate Reading, I’m a little bit sad, too, as Don’t Tempt Me and Your Scandalous Ways complete the set of recordings of Ms Chase’s backlist titles. In case someone with clout is reading this, I’m sure fans won’t object to recordings of the novellas – The Mad Earl’s Bride would be at the top of MY list! But in the meantime, we have a number of terrific recordings to listen to while we wait for something new : )

Don’t Tempt Me tells the story of a young woman, Zoe Octavia Lexham, who, at the age of twelve was abducted while on a trip to Egypt with her parents. Over the past dozen years, there have been many women turning up on Lord Lexham’s doorstep claiming to be his missing daughter, but all have been frauds. Until now. The real Zoe has at last managed to escape from her captivity and has made her way home with the assistance of the British Consulate – and her family is now faced with the prospect of re-integrating her into society and acclimating her to the position that is her due as the daughter of a peer of the realm.

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 🙂

Last Night’s Scandal (Carsington Family #5) by Loretta Chase (audiobook) – Narrated by Loretta Chase

last night's scandal audio

This title is available to download from Audible via Amazon

Peregrine Dalmay, Earl of Lisle, may have survived the deadly perils of Egypt, but back in Regency London, he faces the most dire threat yet: his irrational, emotional family…and the completely uncontrollable Miss Olivia Wingate-Carsington! Descended from a line of notorious – but very aristocratic – adventurers, Olivia has a long history of driving Peregrine to distraction, and her debut into polite society hasn’t lessened her flair for drama, or her ability to drag him into her scandalous schemes. All Peregrine wants to do is escape back to his research and the lesser evils of poisonous snakes and tomb robbers, but his family has guilted him into an impossible mission in the Scottish wilds; and Olivia – who is keenly aware that a respectable future of marriage and rules and propriety looms – decides that accompanying him will be the perfect chance for one last adventure. Besides, she really only wants to help, which is why Lisle and Olivia find themselves in a gloomy Scottish castle inhabited by grumpy servants, spiteful ghosts, and craven murderers…and possibly the greatest peril of all: the wayward commands of their very unruly hearts!

Rating: Narration – A; Content: B

When offered the choice of reviewing this or Not Quite a Lady, I immediately made grabby hands in the direction of Last Night’s Scandal because I’m a fan of the childhood-friends-who-meet-again-after-a-long-separation-and-think – “wow, you’re really hot now you’re all grown up!” – trope. That is, in essence, the plot of the book, but this IS Loretta Chase, so it’s expertly done, with plenty of her trademark deadpan humour and quick-fire banter, as well as a subtle exploration of the inner lives and motivations of her protagonists.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals


Dukes Prefer Blondes (Dressmakers #4) by Loretta Chase

dukes prefer blondes

This title may be purchased from Amazon

Biweekly marriage proposals from men who can’t see beyond her (admittedly breathtaking) looks are starting to get on Lady Clara Fairfax’s nerves. Desperate to be something more than ornamental, she escapes to her favorite charity. When a child is in trouble, she turns to tall, dark, and annoying barrister Oliver Radford.

Though he’s unexpectedly found himself in line to inherit a dukedom, Radford’s never been part of fashionable society, and the blonde beauty, though not entirely bereft of brains, isn’t part of his plans. But Clara overwhelms even his infallible logic, and when wedlock looms, all he can do is try not to lose his head over her.

It’s an inconvenient marriage by ordinary standards, but these two are far from ordinary. Can the ton’s most adored heiress and London’s most difficult bachelor fall victim to their own unruly desires?

Rating: A-

This fourth book in Loretta Chase’s Dressmaker series takes up the story of Lady Clara Fairfax, who has been a recurring secondary character since the first book, . Clara is the most sought-after young lady in London – possibly in the whole of England. She’s beautiful, of excellent lineage and well-dowered, but is suffocating in her life of seeming perfection. As readers of the previous books will already know, Clara is much more than a pretty face; she’s intelligent, witty and wants more from life than to be married to someone who wants her merely as a decorative accessory and a convenient source of money. Yet it seems that is what she is to be consigned to; brought up to be a fitting helpmeet to a duke, she inwardly seething with frustration, rejecting marriage proposals on a weekly basis from many hopeful gentlemen who can’t and don’t want to see the true woman beneath the gorgeous exterior.

Clara is determined, however, to do at least one useful thing in her life before she is forever consigned to the life of boredom enjoyed by society wives. Through her association with the Noirot sisters (heroines of the previous three books), Clara has become a patron of a charity which trains and finds work for young women who might otherwise have ended up on the streets. One of the girls is concerned for her younger brother, who has stopped attending school; she believes that he may have been enticed or forced back into working for a criminal gang. Clara is determined to find the boy and restore him to his sister – but knows she will not be able to do that without help.

Oliver “Raven” Radford is one of the foremost barristers in the country, and, if gossip is to be believed, one of its sharpest-tongued, most offensive men. He doesn’t suffer fools at all, let alone gladly, his brain is always several steps of everyone else’s and he says what he thinks when he thinks it and doesn’t give a damn for others’ opinions of him. His current work is a prosecution of a pauper farm (a place where poorhouses sent their ‘excess’ children) – and it’s to him – as a friend of her brothers’ – that Clara turns to for assistance.

At first, Radford is inclined to dismiss Clara and her idea of rescuing the boy, believing her to be just another society lady whose beauty far outstrips her brains. But Clara very quickly corrects his assumptions when she shows herself perfectly able to keep pace with the speed at which his mind works as well as to trade him barb for barb and quip for quip. He’s the first man not to have fallen at her feet, and much as Clara finds him infuriating and is quite able to sympathise with the number of people who probably want to throttle him, she also likes that he isn’t – or doesn’t seem – affected by her looks. The first part of the story is a sheer delight as the reader watches these two strong, clever people dance around each other, sizing each other up. It’s full of amazingly witty banter and bitingly sarcastic exchanges that are really several chapters’ worth of foreplay – and nobody does that better than Loretta Chase. She also brilliantly conveys the depth of Clara’s frustration with her life and the way everyone else sees her, culminating in an impassioned outburst to Radford: “You don’t know what it’s like to be scolded for reading too much and knowing too much – to be taught to hide your intelligence, because otherwise you’ll frighten the gentlemen away – to stifle your opinions, because ladies aren’t to have any opinions of their own, but must always defer to men.”

Her frequent witty asides and thoughts are also a wonderful commentary on the class system and on the position of women in society:

He was a man, an attractive man if one overlooked the obnoxiousness. But women had to overlook men’s personality flaws else nobody would ever wed and/or reproduce and the human race would come to an end.

Clara and Radford are clearly made for each other, matching each other in intelligence and determination, and the chemistry between them is searing. Clara has finally found her perfect mate – and now all that has to be done is to convince her parents of that fact, a challenge to which Radford, as the foremost barrister of his age, rises with aplomb. The second part of the book changes gear somewhat, with the couple having to work through the numerous adjustments that are necessary to adapt to married life. On top of that, a sudden death in the family means that Radford has to face the prospect of a major and unwanted life change while he’s also having to deal with certain members of the criminal class who are determined to do away with him.

Both protagonists are attractive, engaging characters – even Radford who, as is frequently pointed out, has a talent for being offensive and obnoxious. Those he may be, but he’s also drop-dead sexy, fiercely intelligent, funny and, when it comes to Clara, protective without being stifling. This is the 1830s, so he doesn’t suddenly become a raging feminist, but there is the definite acknowledgement on his part that his wife has a mind of her own that she is capable of putting to good use; and Clara, while pleased that her husband recognises this, remains sensible and doesn’t suddenly rush off and do stupidly out of character things.

I thoroughly enjoyed reading Dukes Prefer Blondes (even though the title has little to do with the story, as Radford isn’t a duke, and while he doesn’t deny that Clara is beautiful, I suspect that the colour of her hair didn’t bother him in the slightest!), but I can’t deny that I had a few issues with the pacing of the story which has knocked my final grade down a bit. The first part is undoubtedly the stronger, positively fizzing with energy as the sparks fly between Clara and Radford like there’s no tomorrow. Once the couple is married, that energy dissipates a little (although not completely) although I appreciated the way in which the author explores the early days of a marriage between two such strong-minded people, especially in the light of Radford’s changing family circumstances. They continue to bicker, but there’s a new understanding to their exchanges, and a sense that both of them are strongly invested in their marriage and prepared to make it work.

In spite of that criticism, Dukes Prefer Blondes is a treat for fans of Ms Chase’s writing and fans of historical romance in general. It’s wonderfully entertaining, with some of the finest banter I’ve ever read, and yet there’s more to it than that in the author’s razor-sharp observations of what it’s like to be a woman of the upper class, and her keen observation of the dress and social customs of the time. It’s a great read, and one I’m recommending highly.