While the Duke Was Sleeping (Rogue Files #1) by Sophie Jordan (audiobook) – Narrated by Carmen Rose

while-the-duke-was-sleeping

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon.

Sometimes the man of your dreams . . .

Shop girl Poppy Fairchurch knows it’s pointless fantasizing about the Duke of Autenberry. Still, dreams can’t hurt anyone . . . unlike the carriage Poppy spies bearing down upon the unsuspecting duke. After she pulls him to safety, the duke lapses into a coma and Poppy is mistaken for his fiancée. But one person isn’t fooled: his arrogant and much too handsome half-brother, Struan Mackenzie. Soon Poppy isn’t sure what she wants more . . . the fantasy of her duke or the reality of one smoldering Scot who challenges her at every turn.

. . . is not who you think.

An illegitimate second son, Struan may have built an empire and established himself as one of the wealthiest men in Britain, but he knows he will always be an outsider among the ton. Just like he knows the infuriating Poppy is a liar. There’s no way the haughty Duke of Autenberry would deign to wed a working class girl. It doesn’t matter how charming she is. Or tempting. Or how much Struan wants her for himself.

Rating: Narration – C+; Content – C+

How much you enjoy the storyline of While the Duke Was Sleeping (the first in Sophie Jordan’s new series, The Rogue Files) may well depend on how familiar you are with the plot of the 1995 Rom Com, While You Were Sleeping and whether or not you enjoyed it. Adapting a plot from a well-known source can be a double-edged sword, as fans of the original are bound to make comparisons, although some such retellings have worked extremely well. Clueless, for example, is a brilliant re-working of Jane Austen’s Emma,successfully translating the action of the novel to Beverly Hills while keeping very much to the spirit of the original. And Sophie Jordan’s isn’t the only Historical-Romance-Rom-Com-Makeover currently doing the rounds; Maya Rodale’s current series, Keeping Up with the Cavendishes also uses famous films as the inspiration for its plotlines, having so far mined Bridget Jones’ Diary and Roman Holiday.

Coming back to While the Duke… now I’ve listened to it, I think anyone considering it would be best off NOT thinking about the original movie while listening. In fact, the only real similarity between the two is the premise; in the film, lonely Lucy falls for the gorgeous guy she sees every day from her booth at the train station and after she saves his life, a mix up leads his warm, loving and wonderfully scatty family to believe she is his fiancée. In the book, shop-girl Poppy Fairchurch worships the handsome Duke of Autenberry from afar, eagerly awaiting his weekly visit to the flower shop where she works. When he becomes involved in an altercation with another man in the street and is knocked into the path of an oncoming carriage, Poppy pulls him to safety, and is afterwards mistaken for the duke’s fiancée.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

Do You Want to Start a Scandal by Tessa Dare (audiobook) – Narrated by Carmen Rose

scandal-audio

You’d think they would have got around to giving a major release a decent cover image!

This title is available to download from Audible via Amazon.

On the night of the Parkhurst ball, someone had a scandalous tryst in the library. Was it Lord Canby, with the maid, on the divan? Or Miss Fairchild, with a rake, against the wall? Perhaps the butler did it.
All Charlotte Highwood knows is this: It wasn’t her. But rumors to the contrary are buzzing. Unless she can discover the lovers’ true identity, she’ll be forced to marry Piers Brandon, Lord Granville – the coldest, most arrogantly handsome gentleman she’s ever had the misfortune to embrace. When it comes to emotion, the man hasn’t got a clue.

But as they set about finding the mystery lovers, Piers reveals a few secrets of his own. The oh, so proper marquess can pick locks, land punches, tease with sly wit, and melt a woman’s knees with a single kiss. The only thing he guards more fiercely than Charlotte’s safety is the truth about his dark past.
Their passion is intense. The danger is real. Soon Charlotte’s feeling torn. Will she risk all to prove her innocence? Or surrender it to a man who’s sworn to never love?

Rating: Narration – B-; Content – B+

Do You Want to Start a Scandal is both the fifth book in Tessa Dare’s Spindle Cove series and the fourth in her Castles Ever After series as the protagonists are Miss Charlotte Highwood (sister of Minerva from A Week to Be Wicked) and Piers Brandon, Marquess of Brandon – the marquess who didn’t get the girl in Say Yes to the Marquess. Fortunately, however, the book works perfectly well as a standalone, so anyone new to Ms. Dare’s work or to either series could start listening here quite easily. Some characters from the other books make brief appearances (notably Charlotte’s sisters and Piers’ brother), but they are incorporated in such a way that the newbie won’t feel adrift.

Charlotte Highwood is twenty years old, pretty, vivacious, intelligent – and being driven slowly mad by her mother’s constant attempts to throw her into the paths of eligible men. The ladies are at a house-party at the Nottinghamshire home of Charlotte’s best friend, Delia Parkhurst, and when Charlotte discovers that the wealthy and eminently eligible Marquess of Granville is also in attendance, she takes it upon herself to assure him that she has no desire to marry him. He’s rather surprised by her statement, but it doesn’t faze him one bit and he quickly shows himself to be possessed of a dry wit and sardonic sense of humour. He’s also gorgeous, but even if he weren’t completely beyond her touch, Charlotte isn’t interested in finding a husband right now, as she is planning to go on a tour of the continent with Delia as soon as the pair of them can secure their parents’ permission.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

The Harlot Countess by Joanna Shupe (audiobook) – Narrated by Carmen Rose

the harlot countess

Fact: Drawing under a male pseudonym, Maggie is known as Lemarc. Her (his!) favorite object of ridicule: Simon Barrett, earl of Winchester. He’s a rising star in Parliament – and a former confidant and love interest of Maggie’s who believed a rumor that vexes her to this day.

Fiction: Maggie is the half-Irish harlot who seduced her best friend’s husband on the eve of their wedding. She is to be feared and loathed, as she will lift her skirts for anything in breeches. Still crushed by Simon’s betrayal, Maggie has no intention of letting the ton crush her as well. In fact Lemarc’s cartoons have made Simon a laughingstock… but now it appears that Maggie may have been wrong about what happened years ago and that Simon has been secretly yearning for her since…forever. Could it be that the heart is mightier than the pen and the sword after all?

This title is available to purchase from Amazon or to download from Audible.

Rating: B for narration; B for content

This is the middle book in Joanna Shupe’s Wicked Deceptions trilogy, and having enjoyed the first book, The Courtesan Duchess, in print (I gave it a B at AAR), I decided to pick up the second in audio. The author impressed me with her storytelling and her ability to create strong, well-defined characters as well as to turn up the heat with some crackling sexual tension and steamy love scenes. The Harlot Countess is certainly no slacker in the steam department, and Ms Shupe has once more created a couple of interesting characters; but I can’t deny that the plotline – much of which revolves around the massive misunderstanding the couple experienced a decade earlier and their inability/unwillingness to talk about it until well into the book – is somewhat frustrating at times.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

add-to-goodreads-button

All The Ways to Ruin a Rogue by Sophie Jordan (audiobook) – Narrated by Carmen Rose

all the ways to ruin audio

First friends, then enemies…

Lady Aurelia hasn’t always hated Max, Viscount Camden, her brother’s best friend. In fact as a besotted girl, she thrived under his kind attention, sure that he was the most noble and handsome man in the land. Until her young heart discovered what manner of rogue he really was. Now, though she enjoys nothing more than getting on his last nerve, she can’t deny Max drives her to distraction – even if she tries to pretend otherwise.

Now something more…

Max cannot recall a time when Aurelia did not vex him. If she was not his friend’s sister, he would stay far away from the infuriating vixen. Unfortunately they are always thrown together. At parties and family gatherings – she is always there. Mocking him, tossing punch in his face, driving him mad – until one night she goes too far, and he retaliates in the only way he can: with a kiss that changes everything.

Rating: C for narration; B- for content

All the Ways to Ruin a Rogue is the follow-up to Sophie Jordan’s A Good Debutante’s Guide to Ruin, and having really enjoyed the sexually-charged interactions between two of the secondary characters (one, the heroine’s friend, and the other a childhood friend of the hero), I was looking forward to their story with great anticipation. I rather like the enemies-to-lovers trope, and while I do have some quibbles with this particular book, if you’re looking for a story about a couple whose pointed and sometimes cruel barbs barely conceal the fact that they’re dying to rip each other’s clothes off, then it’s definitely worth looking at in print. In audio, however, I confess to being very disappointed.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

A Good Debutante’s Guide to Ruin by Sophie Jordan (audiobook) – Narrated by Carmen Rose

good deb

The last woman on earth he would ever touch…

Declan, the Duke of Banbury, has no interest in ushering Rosalie Hughes, his stepsister, into society. Dumped on him with nowhere else to go, he’s determined to rid himself of the headstrong debutante by bestowing on her an obscenely large dowry, making her the most sought after heiress of the Season.

…is about to become the only one he wants.

But Rosalie isn’t about to go along with Declan’s plans. Surrounded by fortune hunters, how is she supposed to find a man who truly wants her? Taking control of her fate, Rosalie dons a disguise and sneaks into Sodom, a private club host to all manner of illicit activity – and frequented by her infuriatingly handsome stepbrother.

Rating: B- for narration; B for content

A Good Débutante’s Guide to Ruin is the first in a new series from Sophie Jordan, and if you can get past the rather daft idea of two innocent, well-bred young ladies sneaking out to a sex club, being provided with suitably skimpy clothing by the owner/madam, and not being recognized by the male relatives they encounter there, it’s an enjoyable story which boasts plenty of sizzling chemistry between the two leads.

Twenty-year-old Rosalie Hughes completed her education at a Yorkshire school two years earlier, but her mother has ignored all the polite reminders to come collect her daughter. Rosalie’s only other family is the step-brother she hasn’t seen for over a decade. Declan, now the Duke of Banbury, was fifteen when his father threw him out of the family home. He is not best pleased at finding a young woman he hardly knows on his doorstep, but he is at heart a gentleman and allows her to stay, calling on his aunt to move in and act as chaperone.

Rosalie is relieved at the fact he doesn’t turn her out, but rather bewildered by his coldness and thinly veiled hostility towards her. It’s clear that she worshipped him as a child and continues to carry a torch for him. But for Declan, Rosalie only dredges up painful memories of her mother Mélisande , who caused his rift with his father and whose lies and deceit have coloured his attitude towards women ever since. All he wants to do is get rid of Rosalie so he can return to his normal round of drinking, gaming and whoring.

Declan decides that the best way to be rid of Rosalie is to marry her off, so he lets it be known that he has settled a large dowry upon her. Rosalie isn’t against marriage, and, trying to set aside her childish fancy for Declan, knows the best she can hope for is to be able to find a kind and considerate husband. But before she settles, she wants to live a little, so when Declan’s cousin Aurelia suggests they slip out and pay a visit to Sodom, the notorious sex club frequented by the young men of the ton, Rosalie agrees. On the appointed night, skimpily gowned and heavily masked, the girls are escorted through the club by its mysterious lady owner, and get an eyeful of various amorous encounters (!). While Aurelia is quite happy to hang around and watch, Rosalie decides that what she’d like is to be kissed for the first time, and by someone who knows what he’s doing.

The identity of the selected orally experienced paragon will come as no surprise.

Rosalie is intelligent, kind, and unafraid to speak up for herself, without being stupidly feisty or independent to the point of being TSTL. Declan is a prize arse at the beginning of the book – cold, unpleasant, haughty and doggedly determined to persist in his dislike of Rosalie because of who her mother is. But in the weeks they spend under the same roof, he begins to remember what he used to love about the young woman he once nicknamed “Carrots” – and then, to his dismay, he begins to realize he’s starting to feel more than “like” for the young woman she is now. Declan can’t get the masked, lithe-limbed beauty he’d kissed at Sodom out of his mind, but his fascination with her does not quench his growing desire for Rosalie. But just as he learns to separate his animosity for Mélisande from his feelings towards her daughter, a massive spanner is thrown into the works: the woman herself reappears, out to get her hands on Rosalie’s dowry by fair means or foul.

I enjoyed the story, although there were points at which I had to suspend my credulity just a little bit too much. I also struggled to find an emotional connection between the pair that was matched their desire for each other. Rosalie has clearly been nursing a tendre for Declan for years, but he’s not given her a second thought – so his sudden, overwhelming lust for her comes as a bit of a surprise. Much more satisfying in terms of the storytelling is the way in which Ms Jordan hints at the reasons for Declan’s hatred of Mélisande, and then doesn’t delay the big reveal or allow those reasons to come between him and Rosalie.

Still, the chemistry between the couple is scorching. All credit to Carmen Rose for her portrayal of Declan in the love scenes: he’s a deliciously naughty, take-charge kind of guy, and she has a way of injecting an element of sternness into her delivery that expertly conveys his dominant personality which is quite sexy and very appropriate.

Her naturally low-pitched voice enables her to portray Declan convincingly by giving an added resonance and harder edge to her tone. She portrays Rosalie using an attractively husky timbre and a slight northern accent. Her performance of Mélisande is excellent – the woman is a self-centred bitch beneath a beautiful façade – and Ms Rose expertly captures the calculating menace beneath the veneer.

I generally enjoy Carmen Rose’s narrations, and this is no exception, although minor issues I’ve mentioned in other reviews (her tendency to breathe in odd places or to emphasise the wrong word in a phrase) are still present. There’s one glaring mispronunciation that occurs throughout: Rosalie’s school “Harwich” is pronounced “Harrich,” NOT “Har-Witch.” Still, the strength of Ms Rose’s characterisations and her differentiation are good enough that these become minor concerns which did not detract from my enjoyment overall.

Taken as a whole, A Good Débutante’s Guide to Ruin is an enjoyable audiobook. The story is entertaining, well-told and well-performed, and I will definitely be looking out for future instalments in the series.

How to School Your Scoundrel by Juliana Gray (audiobook) – narrated by Carmen Rose

howscoundrelaudio

Princess Luisa has devoted her life to duty, quietly preparing to succeed her father as ruler. Nothing, however, primed her to live on the run, disguised as a personal secretary to a notorious English scoundrel. The earl is just the man to help her reclaim her throne, but Luisa is drawn to her powerful employer in ways she never could never imagine.

Philip, Earl of Somerton, has spent six years married to a woman in love with another man – he refuses to become a fool due to imprudent emotions ever again. Only, as his carefully laid plans for vengeance falter, fate hands him hope for redemption in the form of a beautiful and determined young princess who draws him into a risky game of secrets, seduction, and betrayal. And while his cunning may be enough to save her life, nothing can save him from losing his heart.

Rating: Narration B-; Content B+

This is the third and final book in Ms Gray’s A Princess in Hiding trilogy, in which three royal sisters have to flee their homeland following a revolution. The princesses are transported to England where their uncle, the powerful Duke of Olympia arranges for them to go into hiding disguised as young men. How to School Your Scoundrel focuses on the eldest sister Luisa who, following the assassination of her father, is now the Crown Princess of Holstein-Schweinwald-Huhnhof. At the beginning of the book she arrives, in the guise of Mr Louis Markham, at the home of the Earl of Somerton to apply for the position as his personal secretary.

Anyone who is familiar with Ms Grey’s earlier Affairs by Moonlight trilogy will recognise the Earl as the villain of A Gentleman Never Tells, in which he pursues his estranged wife to Italy with the intention of gaining custody of their five year-old son. I confess that Somerton is the big draw for me when it comes to this book. I’m a sucker for seemingly irredeemable, tortured bad-boys. Unlike so many of the “wicked,” “rakish,” or “rogue” heroes that abound in historical romance today, Somerton really is a black-hearted scoundrel – ruthless, implacable and unscrupulous. He isn’t well liked, he’s feared rather than respected, and he doesn’t give a damn what anyone else thinks of him. Which are, of course, qualities that make him ideally suited to helping to wrest back a kingdom (or, in this case, small German principality).

Somerton finds something admirable in the fact that young Mr Markham not only stands up to him, but shows no fear when doing so, and employs him. As the months pass, they strike up an odd kind of master/servant relationship. Somerton puts up with Mr Markham’s cheek because the man is efficient, straightforward and trustworthy – and his trust is something Somerton does not give lightly or often. There is also the sense of a developing friendship, which is clearly something with which Somerton does not have much experience.

I admit that it does seem odd that Somerton, one of the government’s foremost intelligence masterminds doesn’t see through Luisa’s disguise immediately; I can only presume he is so focused on his own goal of proving his wife’s infidelity and exacting revenge on her lover that he fails to see what is under his nose.

Luisa is growing increasingly concerned for the safety of her sisters and impatient to regain her throne. Things come to a head when an attempt is made on Luisa’s life, and it becomes necessary for her to reveal the truth and ask for Somerton’s help. There’s a lot of humour in the book – I particularly enjoyed the sniping between Somerton and Luisa’s uncle Olympia – as well as an enjoyably complex plot in which the double-dealing and double-double-crossing of the revolutionaries continues to threaten the lives of the princesses.

The love story is emotionally satisfying, too, as Luisa, who has heretofore lived for duty, finds the ideal partner in Somerton. He is not only “the sort of chap who will confound her enemies and do her dirty work, behind the scenes, so she may appear as an unsullied angel to her subjects,” but also a passionate lover who shows her how much more there is to life than duty. And Somerton, a man who has no experience with love or affection, and whose first love cruelly rejected him, finds the woman for him in the form of this loving, loyal young princess, whose good heart refuses to believe the worst of him, and sees honour where he’d believed none remained.

One of the things I’ve enjoyed about this and Ms Gray’s previous trilogy is the fact the stories take place concurrently rather than one after the other. The listener gets brief glimpses of events which have taken place in the other books from different points of view. It isn’t necessary to have read or listened to any of the others, as this works fairly well as a standalone, but I definitely think it enhances the experience if one is familiar with the other stories and characters.

I listened to and enjoyed Carmen Rose’s performance in the previous book and am pleased to see she has finished out the series. Her voice is pleasantly modulated and her narration is measured and clear, although sometimes it feels a little on the slow side. She has an occasional tendency to snatch breaths mid-sentence, which leads to some odd vocal inflections, and I noticed a few mis-pronunciations (although not too many).

Ms Rose differentiates clearly between all the characters and performs male roles well by using a variety of timbres and accents. The Duke of Olympia, who has been a background presence in the other stories, here assumes a more prominent secondary role, and she differentiates clearly between him and Somerton – they’re easily distinguishable in the numerous scenes in which they both appear.

It must be a challenge to represent a female character who is pretending to be a man using only one’s voice. Does one choose to voice the character in a masculine way to help to perpetuate the deception being practiced within the story, or represent them in the same way – as female – throughout? Ultimately, I think Ms Rose has found the happy medium here, by performing Luisa at the lower end of her range, which still allows her to pitch Somerton and Olympia a little bit lower.

The Princess in Hiding trilogy has proved to be an entertaining series. None of the reservations I’ve expressed about the narration are serious enough to have adversely affected my enjoyment of the story. Overall , Carmen Rose delivers an accomplished and nuanced performance.

Romancing the Duke by Tessa Dare (audiobook) – narrated by Carmen Rose

rtdaudio

As the daughter of a famed author, Isolde Ophelia Goodnight grew up on tales of brave knights and fair maidens. She never doubted romance would be in her future, too. The storybooks offered endless possibilities.

And as she grew older, Izzy crossed them off. One by one by one.
• Ugly duckling turned swan?
• Abducted by handsome highwayman?
• Rescued from drudgery by charming prince?

No, no, and . . . Heh.

Now Izzy’s given up yearning for romance. She’ll settle for a roof over her head. What fairy tales are left over for an impoverished twenty-six year-old woman who’s never even been kissed?

This one.

Rating: B- for narration, B+ for content

Tessa Dare is, in my book, the undisputed queen of the sexy, funny, screwball-style historical romance. Her latest series, Castles Ever After, begins with Romancing the Duke which is full of her trademark humour as well as delivering a deeply felt romance featuring two thoroughly engaging protagonists.

Isolde Ophelia (Izzy) Goodnight has been left almost destitute following the death of her father, a famous author of childrens’ stories. When she discovers, completely out of the blue, that she has been left a bequest in her godfather’s will, she uses the last of her meagre finances to travel to Gostley Castle in Northumberland to meet with the executor at his request. On arrival, she meets a dishevelled but devastatingly handsome man who proclaims himself to be Ransom Vane, Duke of Rothbury and owner of the castle – but when the executor arrives, he informs her that SHE is now the owner, as the castle had been purchased by her godfather some months before.

Both Izzy and Ransom are aghast. For one thing, Ransom has holed up at the castle intent on the biggest self-pity party in the history of the universe following an incident which left him scarred and almost blind – and he most definitely does NOT want company. He also knows that he has not sold the property, and is adamant that Izzy must leave. For her part, Izzy had hoped for a monetary bequest to support herself – instead, she is confronted with a huge, dilapidated, bat-and-rat-infested castle in the north of England. But Izzy has elevated the practice of “making the best of things” to an art form in her twenty-six years – she informs Ransom that she’s not leaving and starts making plans to set the place to rights.

Ransom is still determined to get rid of her and tries everything he can think of – which includes presenting himself as a threat to her virtue by kissing her senseless – but Izzy won’t be deterred and in any case, she has nowhere else to go. So they strike a bargain. Because of his injury, Ransom is unable to deal with the huge mountain of correspondence which has arrived over the last seven months – in which, Izzy suggests, they might find documentation about the supposed sale – and she offers to act as his secretary.

During the course of their work, it becomes apparent that there is something insidious afoot, which could cost Ransom more than his run-down castle.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.