Wild Wicked Scot (Highland Grooms #1) by Julia London (audiobook) – Narrated by Derek Perkins

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This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

Born into riches and groomed in English luxury, Margot Armstrong didn’t belong in a Scottish chieftain’s devil-may-care world. Three years ago she fled their marriage of convenience and hasn’t looked back – except to relive the moments spent in wild, rugged Arran McKenzie’s passionate embrace. But as their respective countries’ fragile unity threatens to unravel, Margot must return to her husband to uncover his role in the treachery before her family can be accused of it.

Red-haired, green-eyed Margot was Arran’s beautiful bride. Her loss has haunted him, but her return threatens everything he has gained. As the Highland mists carry whispers of an English plot to seize McKenzie territory, he must outmaneuver her in games of espionage – and seduction. But even as their secrets tangle together, there’s nothing to prevent love from capturing them both and leading them straight into danger.

Rating: Narration – A-; Content – B

I confess straight out that I’m not the world’s biggest fan of books with the word “Scot” or “Highlander” in the title as the majority of those I’ve read have seemed to have identical plots and characters. So reviewing Wild Wicked Scot, the first in Julia London’s new Highland Grooms series wasn’t an automatic choice for me – until I saw Derek Perkins listed as the narrator. I’ve listened to him several times before and he always delivers a solid, entertaining performance, so with him at the helm, I settled in to enjoy at least the narration – and discovered that, taken as a whole, the listen exceeded my expectations.

Lady Margot Armstrong, the daughter of the Earl of Norwood , is nearly eighteen, beautiful, flighty – and rather spoiled. She enjoys the attentions of the well-mannered, courtly young gentlemen around her and fully expects she will eventually marry one of them and continue living in the style to which she is accustomed. Until one night when, completely out of the blue, her father introduces her to Laird Arran Mackenzie and announces that they are to be married.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

The Highlander (Victorian Rebels #3) by Kerrigan Byrne (audiobook) – Narrated by Derek Perkins

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This title is available to purchase from Amazon

They call him the Demon Highlander. The fearsome Lieutenant Colonel Liam MacKenzie is known for his superhuman strength, towering presence, and fiery passion in the heat of battle. As laird to the MacKenzie clan, the undefeated marquess has vanquished his foes with all the rage and wrath of his barbaric Highland ancestors. But when an English governess arrives to care for his children, the master of war finds himself up against his greatest opponent…in the game of love.

Defying all expectations, Miss Philomena is no plain-faced spinster but a ravishing beauty with voluptuous curves and haughty full lips that rattle the laird to his core. Unintimidated by her master’s raw masculinity and savage ways, the headstrong lass manages to tame not only his wild children but the beast in his soul. With each passing day, Liam grows fonder of Miss Mena – and more suspicious. What secret is she hiding behind those emerald eyes? What darkness brought her to his keep? And how can he conquer this magnificent woman’s heart…without surrendering his own?

Rating: Narration – A; Content – B-

The Highlander is the third book in Kerrigan Byrne’s popular Victorian Rebels series, a dark, richly woven tale of a man trying to come to terms with his brutal past and a woman who has been so horribly abused that she has become a shadow of her former self.

The eponymous Highlander of the title is, to give him his full name, Lieutenant Colonel William Grant Ruaridh Mackenzie of the Her Majesty’s Highland Watch, Marquess Ravenscroft and Thane of Clan Mackenzie of Wester Ross. He is also a widower of some ten years with two teenaged children, Rhianna, seventeen, and Andrew, thirteen – and has, after years serving his country, finally decided to settle at home and look after his extensive lands and estates. He’s known to be a brutal man and a fearsome warrior – he isn’t called the ‘Demon Highlander’ for nothing – but he struggles every day to keep that side of him in check. He is the son of a violent man, one who thought to mould his sons in his image by forcing them to violence and sin at a young age. The book’s prologue goes to some dark places as we learn exactly what the previous marquess expected of his sons and how Liam took it upon himself to save them.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

The Hunter (Victorian Rebels #2) by Kerrigan Byrne (audiobook) – Narrated by Derek Perkins

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This title is available to download from Audible

Christopher Argent lives in the shadows as the empire’s most elite assassin. Emotion is something he tossed away years ago, making him one of the most clear-eyed, coldhearted, wealthiest, and therefore untouchable men in London.

But when his latest target turns out to be London’s own darling, Millicent LeCour, Christopher’s whole world is turned upside down. Overwhelmed by her stunning combination of seduction and innocence, Christopher cannot complete the mission. She has made him feel again. Now he will do anything to save her life, so he can claim her as his own…

When Millie learns what Christopher was hired to do, she is torn between the fear in her heart and the fire in her soul. Putting herself in this notorious hunter’s arms may be her only path to safety – even if doing so could be the deadliest mistake she’s ever made. But how can she resist him? As the heat between her and Christopher burns out of control, danger lurks in the shadows. Is their desire worth the risk? Only the enemy knows what fate has in store…

Rating: Narration – A-; Content – B

In this second book in her Victorian Rebels series, Kerrigan Byrne delivers another dark, lushly romantic tale featuring a deeply flawed hero who is most ably brought to life by Derek Perkins in another accomplished and engaging performance. Christopher Argent (The Hunter of the title) is widely known to be one of the deadliest – if not THE deadliest – men in all of the British Empire. A cold, ruthless assassin, listeners encountered him briefly towards the end of the previous book in the series, The Highwayman, where he was revealed to be a long-time associate of Dorian Blackwell, and his right-hand man in the war they fought some years ago for the control of the criminal underworld.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals

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The Highwayman by Kerrigan Byrne (audiobook) – Narrated by Derek Perkins

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Dorian Blackwell, the Blackheart of Ben More, is a ruthless villain. Scarred and hard-hearted, Dorian is one of Victorian London’s wealthiest, most influential men who will stop at nothing to wreak vengeance on those who’ve wronged him… and will fight to the death to seize what he wants. The lovely, still innocent widow Farah Leigh Mackenzie is no exception-and soon Dorian whisks the beautiful lass away to his sanctuary in the wild Highlands…. But Farah is no one’s puppet. She possesses a powerful secret-one that threatens her very life. When being held captive by Dorian proves to be the only way to keep Farah safe from those who would see her dead, Dorian makes Farah a scandalous proposition: marry him for protection in exchange for using her secret to help him exact revenge on his enemies. But what the Blackheart of Ben More never could have imagined is that Farah has terms of her own, igniting a tempestuous desire that consumes them both. Could it be that the woman he captured is the only one who can touch the black heart he’d long thought dead?

This title may be purchased from Audible via Amazon

Rating: B+ for narration; B+ for content

The first in a new series of historical romances set in the Victorian era, The Highwayman is a darkly intense story that has a real “old-skool” feel about it. It’s angsty and perhaps a bit melodramatic at times, but I don’t mind that when the story is as gripping and the romance as deeply-felt as is the case here.

The story opens in the Scottish Highlands in 1855, when eleven-year-old Dougan Mackenzie is nursing wounds from yet another beating received at the hands of one of the sisters at the orphanage where he’s lived most of his life. He is found by a girl he has not seen before, a girl with silvery ringlets and grey eyes who refuses to leave him alone and then binds his damaged palm, introducing herself as Farah Leigh – and showing him the only affection he has ever known.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

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Vienna Waltz by Teresa Grant (audiobook) – Narrated by Derek Perkins

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Nothing is fair in love and war…

Europe’s elite have gathered at the glittering Congress of Vienna–princes, ambassadors, the Russian tsar–all negotiating the fate of the continent by day and pursuing pleasure by night. Until Princess Tatiana, the most beautiful and talked about woman in Vienna, is found murdered during an ill-timed rendezvous with three of her most powerful conquests…

Suzanne Rannoch has tried to ignore rumors that her new husband, Malcolm, has also been tempted by Tatiana. As a protgégé of France’s Prince Talleyrand and attach for Britain’s Lord Castlereagh, Malcolm sets out to investigate the murder and must enlist Suzanne’s special skills and knowledge if he is to succeed. As a complex dance between husband and wife in the search for the truth ensues, no one’s secrets are safe, and the future of Europe may hang in the balance…

Rating: B+ for narration; A- for content

Vienna Waltz is a real treat for fans of meaty, intricately plotted and well-researched historical fiction. Set during the Congress of Vienna in 1814, when the ambassadors from the major powers in Europe – Britain, Austria, Prussia, Russia and France – gathered in order to seek a long-term peace following the French Revolutionary Wars and the Napoleonic Wars, the book is the first in a series of mystery/espionage novels featuring Malcolm Rannoch, attaché to the British delegation, and his half-French, half-Spanish wife, Suzanne.

While ostensibly a diplomat and bureaucrat, Malcolm is in fact one of the British Foreign minister’s most successful intelligence agents – he doesn’t like the word “spy”. His wife is equally tough and resourceful and, like her husband, adept at keeping secrets – many of which pertain to their hasty marriage two years previously. We learn throughout the course of the story that theirs is a marriage of convenience, albeit one “with benefits”, as they have a son. Malcolm literally stumbled across Suzanne, bruised and bloodied following an attack on her home – during an intelligence mission in the Spanish mountains. After escorting her to the British Embassy in Lisbon it seemed that marriage was the most logical way to afford her his protection.

As a working partnership in the service of the British government, they are a superb team, and as parents, they dote on their son, Colin. But as a couple, their relationship is shrouded in the unspoken, and they are quite guarded around each other when it comes to expressing their feelings. Malcolm, the grandson of a duke, had never intended to marry, given the frequency with which he is required to risk his life and the example afforded him by his parents of a disastrous marriage in which both partners were frequently and blatantly unfaithful. And Suzanne is a mystery – to Malcolm and to the listener – although some aspects of her past are revealed in this story. Yet while the pair views their marriage as one of expediency, it’s obvious to everyone who sees them together that they care very deeply for each other.

The romantic angle in the book is fairly low key, although it is integral to the story. At the beginning, Suzanne receives a note from Princess Tatiana Kirsanova, one of the most beautiful women present at the Congress. The princess is known to have taken many lovers from the highest echelons of society, including both Tsar Alexander of Russia and Prince Metternich, Foreign Minister of Austria. And, if rumour is to be believed, Suzanne’s own husband is one of those men currently in receipt of the lady’s favours.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals

Knight of Desire by Margaret Mallory (audiobook) – Narrated by Derek Perkins

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His surcoat still bloody from battle, William FitzAlan comes to claim the strategic borderlands granted to him by the king. One last prize awaits him at the castle gates: the lovely Lady Catherine Rayburn.

Catherine risked everything to spy for the crown. Her reward? Her lands are declared forfeit and she is given this choice: marry FitzAlan or be taken to the Tower. Catherine agrees to give her handsome new husband her body, but she’s keeping secrets, and dare not give him her heart. As passion ignites and danger closes in, Catherine and William must learn to trust in each other to save their marriage, their land, and their very lives.

Rating: B for content and C for narration

Knight of Desire is a medieval romance set in a period that I haven’t come across very often in historical romance – the time immediately following the usurpation of the English throne by Henry Bolingbroke (Henry IV). This story of a young woman who is forced into marriage not once, but twice, is played out against the backdrop of great political unrest in England, and most specifically, along the Western Marches, the borders between England and Wales. The historical detail has clearly been well researched and I especially enjoyed the author’s portrait of the future King Henry V, who, at the time this story takes place, is a youth of eighteen and already a seasoned soldier.

Lady Catherine is married at sixteen for her money and lands. Her much older husband, Lord Rayburn, takes out his frustration over his bedroom inadequacies on her and beats her with increasing violence to the extent that she fears for her life. Unable to stand up to him physically, she works secretly to ensure his downfall by spying on him and passing on information of his treasonous activities to the king. Given Rayburn’s treatment of her, it’s no wonder that her reaction to the news of his death in battle is one of overwhelming relief.

Unfortunately for Catherine, she is not destined to remain a widow for long. Even though she had been instrumental in exposing Rayburn as a traitor to the crown, King Henry is mistrustful of a woman who would betray her husband so easily and is of a mind to have her imprisoned in the Tower of London to await execution as an accessory. Fortunately for Catherine, Prince Henry (Harry) intercedes on her behalf. They grew up together and have remained friends over the years and Harry, knowing Catherine to be loyal, persuades his father to clemency. The king decrees that Catherine’s fate shall be decided by Sir William FitzAlan, the man responsible for the defeat of the rebel forces and the man to whom Henry has gifted Rayburn’s lands and castle. FitzAlan can marry the lady or send her to the Tower as he sees fit.

Fortunately for Catherine, FitzAlan is a chivalric and honourable knight and he determines he will marry her, sight unseen. Given that her last husband had been chosen for her by the previous king (Richard II), Catherine is naturally not especially sanguine about marrying the choice of the current monarch. She is surprised when William turns out to be young, handsome, and kind. Given she has no alternative but to agree, they are married before the day is out.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.