The Forbidden Duke (The Untouchables #1) by Darcy Burke (audiobook) – Narrated by Marian Hussey

Spinster Miss Eleanor Lockhart is suddenly homeless and employment is her only option. Ruined after succumbing to a scoundrel’s excessive charm nearly a decade ago, she’s lucky to obtain a position as a paid companion and committed to behaving with the utmost propriety. She definitely shouldn’t be in the arms of a man capable of utterly destroying what little remains of her reputation…

Titus St. John, Duke of Kendal, is known as the Forbidden Duke, a mysterious, intimidating figure who enters Society just once each year at his stepmother’s ball. A decade ago, he was a devil-may-care rake until his idle roguery brought about the ruin of Eleanor Lockhart—and his resulting self-imposed isolation. Now she’s back, and she needs his help. But by “saving” her, he may just ruin her life all over again.

Rating: Narration – B+; Content – C+

The Forbidden Duke is the first book in Darcy Burke’s The Untouchables series, so named because the heroes are all men whose highly elevated positions in society make them unattainable by any but ladies of the highest station and put them most definitely beyond the reach of the heroines… supposedly.

I’ve read and enjoyed a couple of the later books in the series, so when this one popped up at Audible, I thought I’d give it a go; I haven’t read it and narrator Marian Hussey is always reliable.

Eleanor – Nora – Lockhart is twenty-seven and regards herself as being firmly on the shelf. During her second London Season several years earlier, she was found in the arms of a young man she erroneously believed was going to marry her and was forced to return home, her reputation in tatters. She has lived quietly with her father ever since, but now faces the prospect of becoming homeless due to his having lost a large sum of money in a poorly judged investment. They will have to sell their modest home, and while her father is going to go to live with his sister, there is no room for Nora and she has no other option but to seek employment. Fortunately for her, she lands well and truly on her feet first time out, securing a position as companion to the kindly Lady Sattersfield, who is willing to overlook Nora’s past and ruined reputation and give her a second chance.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals

My Dangerous Duke (Inferno Club #2) by Gaelen Foley (audiobook) – Narrated by Marian Hussey

my-dangerous-duke

This title may be downloaded from Audible.

Rohan Kilburn, the Duke of Warrington, has quite a reputation. He’s “The Beast” – a debauched rake whose many exploits echo in the countryside surrounding his ancient familial castle. In truth, he’s devoted his life to the Inferno Club, swearing off love for duty in an attempt to thwart a tragic family curse.

Beautiful spitfire Kate Madsen wants nothing to do with “The Beast” after she is mistakenly abducted by smugglers and delivered into his fearsome clutches. Rohan similarly refuses to fall for her, mindful of the many dangers in his life. But when she starts to thaw his icy heart, Rohan knows he will do anything to make Kate his own.

Rating: Narration – B; Content – C

I really struggled with the first few hours of My Dangerous Duke, and had I not been listening for review, there’s a good chance I might have abandoned it. The narration by Marian Hussey is fine – in fact, it’s the best thing about the audiobook – and she’s a massive improvement on Annette Chown, who narrated the previous instalment in the Inferno Club series. But the early part of the story progresses at the speed of a snail moving through molasses and is weighed down by lots of irrelevant and overly descriptive prose, so much so that I wished (and here I’m dating myself) I could cut and splice large chunks of it so as to keep things moving.

Fortunately, however, things do start to pick up a bit after that, as the hero and heroine finally meet and begin interacting. The story is one of murky secrets, dark deeds and feats of derring-do; in fact, the last section of the book turns into a cross between Indiana Jones and a computer game, as our intrepid heroes head off on the trail of a hidden treasure. There are plenty of sparks flying between them, although I’m somewhat weary of the hero who believes he is unworthy of love because He is A Bad Man Who Does Bad Things – and that’s the source of most of the conflict in the romance. I also had to check the publication date of the book – 2010 – because there’s an old-skool feel to My Dangerous Duke (especially when it comes to some of the wince-inducing purple prose – I hope Ms. Hussey was well compensated for having to utter lines like this: He knew how to safely wield the oversized weapon with which Nature had endowed him) that made me think it must have been written in the 90s or earlier.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

The Trouble with Being Wicked (Naughty Girls #1) by Emma Locke (audiobook) – Narrated by Marian Hussey

the trouble with being wicked audio
This title is available to download from Audible via Amazon.

HE PUT HER ON A PEDESTAL
When Celeste Gray arrives in the sleepy village of Brixcombe-on-the-Bay, she thinks she’s one step closer to leaving her notorious past behind. She even suspects the deliciously handsome–if somewhat stuffy–viscount next door is developing a tendre for her. That is, until the day Ashlin Lancester learns she’s not the unassuming spinster she’s pretending to be.

NOW SHE HAS FARTHER TO FALL
After a decade of proving he is nothing like his profligate father, Ash is horrified to have given his heart to a Cyprian. He launches a campaign to prove his attraction is nothing more than a sordid reaction he can’t control. But he soon learns that unlike his father, he can’t find comfort in the arms of just any woman. He needs Celeste. When he takes her as his mistress, he’s still not satisfied, and the many late nights in her arms only make him want more…

Rating: Narration – B+; Content – D

I decided to review The Trouble with Being Wicked solely on the strength of narrator Marian Hussey whose work has impressed me in the past. I was also quite intrigued by the book synopsis, which tells of a romance between an ex-courtesan and an uptight, very proper young viscount who is so desperate to put his tragic family history behind him that he has become a complete killjoy and is gradually suffocating his sisters with his over-protectiveness.

Celeste Gray is the most sought after courtesan in London but, at thirty-three, is tired of that life and wants to leave it behind. Having amassed herself a considerable fortune over the past eighteen years, she purchases a cottage in a small village called Brixcombe-on-the-Bay in Devon and travels there with her very pregnant friend, Elizabeth, with a view to making her home there. The cottage’s former owner, Ashlin Lancester, Viscount Trestin, comes over to see how the ladies are settling in and immediately senses that not all is as it seems. I have no idea how, but he determines that Elizabeth is not a respectable married lady and is extremely disgruntled because of the lustful thoughts Celeste inspires. Because of course it’s her fault for being so shaggable, and nothing to do with Ash at all.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

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Meet the Earl at Midnight by Gina Conkle (audiobook) – narrated by Marian Hussey

meet earl at midnight audio

Enigma Earl. The Phantom of London. That’s what the gossip pages call Lord Edward Greenwich, a mysterious nobleman who doesn’t show his face in London Society. With a reputation like that, no wonder Lydia Montgomery is horrified to be dragged from bed and packed off to live with him to save her mother from penury.

While Lydia has received all of the training a lady should endure, she’s decidedly un-ladylike. She despises her corset and isn’t interested in marriage. She’d prefer to remain unmarried and spend her time improving her art. But if she wants a chance at happiness, she’ll have to set aside her fear of the earl and discover the man hiding behind the beast.

Will Edward and Lydia’s greatest discovery be each other before time runs out?

Rating: B+ for narration; C for content

[It should be noted that I listened to this audio and wrote this review some months before reading the next book in this series, The Lady Meets Her Match.]

I selected this title for review solely because Marian Hussey is the narrator. I’ve listened to her a couple of times recently and was very impressed with her performances in Brenda Joyce’s Splendor and Lucinda Brant’s Salt Bride, so I’ve been scouring Audible to find more of her work to listen to. When Meet the Earl at Midnight showed up, I jumped at the chance to review it.

It’s the first book in a new series by Ms Conkle which very loosely reworks well-known fairy tales. This one is a riff on Beauty and the Beast, with the opening very closely mirroring that section of the story in which the heroine’s father delivers up his daughter to the Beast as part of a deal – in this case, to pay off his debts and keep him and his son from going to prison.

The Beast in question is the reclusive Earl of Greenwich – known throughout society by a variety of monickers, including “The Beast of Greenwich” or “The Phantom Earl”. He needs a wife urgently and isn’t too worried as to where she comes from, as long as she is young enough to give him an heir. Lydia Montgomery’s stepfather has been embezzling funds from the earl’s successful shipping company, and has offered Lydia in lieu of the debt. Lydia is disgusted, but her prime concern is not for herself; she’d rather be away from her stepfather’s home anyway. Her beloved mother could be incarcerated along with her husband, something from which she would never recover, so Lydia agrees to go with the earl, secretly hoping that she will be able to bring him to see that a marriage between them – an earl and a nobody – is a bad idea.

It quickly becomes apparent that the earl – Edward – is set on the marriage for his own ends. When Lydia confesses to him that she’s not a virgin he says they should wait a month before marrying (or doing anything else!), as he naturally wants to make sure that any child she bears as a result is his. Lydia understands his reasons and goes along with his plans, still hoping to dissuade him from marrying her.

But she can’t deny that she finds Edward very attractive, despite the scars he bears on one side of his face and body. He’s also not at all the beastly creature that society has dubbed him; he’s witty, highly intelligent, and passionately dedicated to the scientific pursuits which have gained him renown far and wide. In him, Lydia recognises something of a kindred spirit; she is as dedicated to her desire to paint and exhibit her work as Edward is to science, and their similarity of outlook helps to draw them together.

Gina Conkle writes well and has created two interesting and engaging protagonists in Edward and Lydia. There is certainly a good deal of chemistry between the leads, although the romance is under-developed and poor Edward is cock-blocked rather too often! I have no problem with delayed gratification in a romance; indeed it’s part of the box-of-tricks of the romance author. But it’s overdone on this occasion, with the couple being interrupted every time they got into a passionate clinch, and it got irritating quickly.

And this leads me on to the fact that there are a number of other inconsistencies within the book that I found distracting and which ultimately took me out of the story.

For instance, Lydia is obviously an intelligent young woman and yet she allows herself to be dragged out of bed in the middle of the night and handed over to a complete stranger without question or protest. It’s said on several occasions that Lydia has agreed to marry Edward in order to protect her mother but after the odd letter to the woman, she seems to forget all about her. We never meet Lydia’s mother in the story, and I have no idea what happened to her in the end. Why does Edward insist on waiting a month before wedding and bedding Lydia? If he wants to be sure she’s not already pregnant, he only has to wait until after her next “monthly”. And he never asks her how long it is since she last had sex – it could have been years, in which case there is no need to wait! His reasons for wanting a hasty marriage (and an equally hasty impregnation of his bride!) are ultimately selfish and he point-blank refuses to see that the concerns expressed both by Lydia and his mother (with whom he has a love/hate relationship) are valid ones because he is so intent on his purpose. Edward fails – or refuses – to see that marriage and the possibility of impending fatherhood require a re-evaluation of his situation. And the resolution, when it comes, is something he could have done at any time, which makes the previous conflict an unnecessary contrivance.

All this isn’t to say that I disliked the book – I didn’t. I was just disappointed because it could have been so much better had things been tightened up a little. The time devoted to the needless “conflict” would have been better spent on developing the romance.

Fortunately, however, the audiobook is shifted from the “not bad” category to the “good” one by virtue of Marian Hussey’s excellent performance. I enjoyed listening to her so much that many of the issues I’ve outlined above only intruded upon my conscience after I’d turned the audio off because her narration kept me sufficiently engaged in the story as to make them less obvious at the time of listening. Ms Hussey has a pleasant, attractive voice which is easy to listen to, her enunciation is very clear and the narrative is expressive and well-paced. She differentiates very effectively between all the characters, and her performance of Edward is especially good; she lowers her pitch slightly and adds a harder edge to his speech which leaves no doubt as to his masculinity and which never sounds strained or false. Her portrayal of his mother, too, is excellent. The character immediately comes across as overbearing and unlikeable, but Ms Hussey brings a degree of color and shade to her interpretation that convey the woman’s inner vulnerability in a way that is perhaps more difficult to discern on the page.

I’m giving the audiobook a qualified recommendation, mostly because of the excellent narration. The story is entertaining enough and I would certainly consider reading or listening to more from Ms Conkle as she clearly has the ability to tell a good story. But this is ultimately Marian Hussey’s show; she is definitely a narrator to watch and I’m eager to hear more from her.

Splendor by Brenda Joyce (audiobook) – narrated by Marian Hussey

Splendor

She played a dangerous game.

Carolyn Browne was a poor bookseller’s daughter and an enlightened thinker, delighting London with her scathingly witty columns, written under the name Charles Copperville. Penetrating the town’s gilded salons in male disguise, Carolyn soon throws her barbs at the wrong man – the enigmatic Russian prince, Nicholas Sverayov.

He was a dangerous target. His notoriety, extravagances, and indulgent disregard for social convention fuel Carolyn’s outrage. Nicholas has moved through the balls and soirees of high society effortlessly, a natural target of gossip, envy, and desire. But Nicholas is furious to find himself lampooned by Copperville, and quickly discovers Carolyn’s dearly held secret. Now, as the two spar, a new game begins – a game of deception and pride, of longing and chance.

And they played for the ultimate prize… As Nicholas sweeps Carolyn from the teeming streets and gala balls of Regency London to the splendor and majesty of St. Petersburg, against all odds the unlikely lovers embark upon a whirlwind of passion and peril until there is no turning back – for the stakes have changed, demanding no less of them than the unwavering courage to claim the love of a lifetime.

Rating: B+ for narration; B for content

Originally published in 2004, Splendor is a richly detailed and captivating story which moves from London to St. Petersburg over the course of a few months in the fateful year of 1812. With Napoleon’s army sweeping across Europe, Russia is under threat of invasion and Tsar Alexander has sent his cousin, Prince Nicholas Sverayov, to England in order to make peace with their former enemy and negotiate an alliance against Bonaparte.

The prince is highly intelligent, liberal in his views, well-read and honourable, with a dry wit he doesn’t display often to those who don’t know him well. He’s also very handsome and charming, and is certainly not averse to living up to his reputation as a ladies’ man, despite the fact that he’s married to one of the most beautiful women in Europe.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals

Salt Bride by Lucinda Brant (audiobook) – Narrated by Marian Hussey

salt bride

England, 1763. The Earl of Salt Hendon and squire’s daughter Jane Despard share a secret past of mistrust and heartache. Forced into a marriage neither wants, the patient and ever optimistic Jane believes love conquers all; the Earl will take some convincing. Enter Diana St. John, who will go to extremes, even murder, to hold the Earl’s attention. Can the newlyweds overcome past prejudices and sinister opposition to fall in love all over again?

Rating: B for narration; B for content

Salt Bride is a thoroughly enjoyable story set in the Georgian era, in which the author’s sense of style and her evocative descriptions of the clothing and various settings bring the period vividly to life.

At the beginning of the story, Miss Jane Despard is obliged to marry the handsome and wealthy Earl of Salt Hendon (or “Salt”, as he is known). One might think being married to a man blessed with both wealth and good-looks would be no hardship, but Salt and Jane have a history which neither of them can ignore. Four years previously, Salt proposed to – and was accepted by – the lovely Jane and, carried away on the tide of passion, the pair anticipated their vows. Fully intending to present himself to her father the following day, Salt is unexpectedly called away, and when he returns a few weeks later, it’s to discover that Jane has been thrown out of her father’s house and is living under the same roof as her uncle-by-marriage, the prosperous merchant, Jacob Allenby.

Hurt and angry at what he believes to be Jane’s heartless defection, Salt assumes Jane is under Allenby’s “protection” as well as under his roof, and takes himself back to London to embark on a spectacular round of bed-hopping. Jane, whose father disowned her when she discovered she was pregnant, believes Salt abandoned her after having his way with her, as he never made any attempt to see or contact her following the letter she sent advising him of her situation. But years later, fate has a cruel sense of irony, and in order to fulfil the terms of her guardian’s will and prevent the financial ruin of her beloved step-brother, Jane has no alternative but to marry Salt after all.

She’s never fallen out of love with him, but his reaction to her is cold and harsh. He is being forced into this marriage because his sense of honour will not allow him to renege on a promise made to Jane’s father on his death-bed. He does not scruple to make Jane fully aware that he is not marrying her by choice, and indeed treats her very poorly, insulting her and telling her that once married, she will be shut away in the country while he gets on with his life in town. And while Jane knows she has no alternative but to go through with the marriage, she is no pushover and gives back as good as she gets, making it clear that she is just as unhappy about the situation as Salt is.

Obviously, this is not the best basis for a marriage – and it’s also not an uncommon premise in an historical romance. The couple has to navigate their way through misunderstanding and misdirection, much of it orchestrated by the villain of the piece, Lady Diana St. John, who is Salt’s cousin, and obsessed with him to the point of madness. As the story progresses, Jane and Salt grow closer and rekindle their old feelings for each other, as well as coming to understand the reasons behind their misconceptions about each other and, more importantly, the lengths Diana has gone to – and is prepared, still, to go to – in order to get what she wants. Knowing that Salt will never marry her, she nonetheless aims to keep him for herself by acting as his hostess and remaining constantly at his side through the glittering political career for which she believes he is destined.

While the story of the forced-into-marriage may be somewhat formulaic, I was nonetheless compelled to keep listening by the quality of the writing, storytelling and narration, and by the deliciously despicable Diana, who is a brilliantly realised character. She’s over-the-top for sure, but she’s so devious and clever that there are times the listener can almost believe she’s going to get away with her nefarious plans – and they really are nefarious, involving not just a determination to dispose of Jane, but revealing a streak of such dark malevolence and cruelty that makes her both repulsive and strangely compelling.

Marian Hussey isn’t a narrator I’ve listened to before, but her performance here is excellent and I will certainly be seeking out more of her work as a result.

Her voice is very pleasantly modulated and her narrative is well-paced and expressive. She differentiates very effectively between characters so that there is never any question as to who is speaking in those scenes – and there are quite a few – in which there are more than two or three characters present. Her interpretation of the various female characters is very strong, with her portrayal of Diana being the stand-out performance. That lady’s languidly supercilious utterances are laced with venom and bitterness as she cuts a swathe through London’s society as its most sought-after hostess. Ms Hussey doesn’t have a particularly deep voice, but her portrayals of the men in the story are successfully done by use of a variety of tone, pitch and timbre. For Tom, Jane’s younger half-brother, Ms Hussey adds a slight edge to her voice and introduces an element of eagerness into his words which expertly convey his youth and inexperience. Salt’s speech is considered and deliberate, with an air of authority and arrogance that perfectly reflect his austerity of character.

Overall, Salt Bride is a very enjoyable listening experience. Jane and Salt make an engaging central couple, there is a well-drawn cast of supporting characters and the makings of a secondary romance which I believe continues into the sequel. Ms Brandt’s eye for detail and her ability to craft a fast-moving, suspenseful and highly entertaining story combined with a highly polished performance from Marian Hussey make this an audio I have no hesitation in recommending to fans of historical romance and romance audiobooks alike.