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