The Lady’s Guide to Larceny with a Dashing Stranger & The Rise and Fall of Reginald Everhart (Lady Travelers Society #2 &#1.5) by Victoria Alexander (audiobook) – Narrated by Marian Hussey

This title is available to download from Audible via Amazon

She must secure her future

A lady should never be obliged to think of matters financial! But when Lady Wilhelmina Bascombe’s carefree, extravagant lifestyle vanishes with the demise of her husband, her only hope lies in retrieving a family treasure – a Renaissance masterpiece currently in the hands of a cunning art collector in Venice. Thankfully, the Lady Travelers Society has orchestrated a clever plan to get Willie to Europe, leading a tour of mothers and daughters…and one curiously attentive man.

He must reclaim his heritage

Dante Augustus Montague’s one passion has long been his family’s art collection. He’s finally tracked a long-lost painting to the enchanting Lady Bascombe. Convinced that the canvas had been stolen, he will use any means to reclaim his birthright – including deception. But how long before pretend infatuation gives way to genuine desire?

Now they’re rivals for a prize that will change everything

Willie and Dante know they’re playing with fire in the magical moonlit city. Their common quest could compromise them both…or lead them to happily-ever-after.

Rating: Narration – A: Content – B

The Lady Travelers Guide to Larceny with a Dashing Stranger (which I’m henceforth going to refer to as LTGLDS) is book two in Victoria Alexander’s current Lady Travelers Society series, and the audiobook edition also includes the preceding novella, which is a nice bonus for listeners – who are getting one-and-a-half books for the price of one! As the events of the novella don’t relate to those of the book, it can be listened to completely independently, and I’ll touch upon it briefly at the end of this review.

In LTGLDS, we meet the widowed Lady Wilhemina Bascombe, whose husband, George, died a couple of years earlier and left her in straitened financial circumstances. Willie and George had married against the wishes of her parents, but they were happy, enjoying a carefree, somewhat extravagant lifestyle and ran with a fast set. When George died, Willie was left with debts and a less-than-pristine reputation for being daring and reckless; and although she has just about scraped together enough money to pay off his creditors, once they’re paid she will have very little left. Her one remaining hope is to liquidate her one remaining asset – a painting by the Renaissance artist, Portinari – which was given to her by her grandmother. The problem is that George used it as collateral for a loan from an art collector – an Italian count – and while Willie has just about enough money left to repay the loan, she doesn’t have enough to be able to buy passage to Venice in order to meet with the Conte di Sarifini.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

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Lord of Chance (Rogues to Riches #1) by Erica Ridley (audiobook) – Narrated by Marian Hussey

This title is available to download from Audible via Amazon.

Disguised as a country miss, Charlotte Devon flees London, desperate to leave her tattered reputation behind. In Scotland, her estranged father’s noble blood will finally make her a respectable debutante. Except she finds herself accidentally wed to a devil-may-care rogue with a sinful smile. He’s the last thing she needs…and everything her traitorous heart desires.

Charming rake Anthony Fairfax is on holiday to seek his fortune…and escape his creditors. When an irresistible Lady Luck wins him in a game of chance – and a slight mishap has them leg-shackled by dawn – the tables have finally turned in his favor. But when past demons catch up to them, holding on to new love will mean destroying their dreams forever.

Rating: Narration – B; Content – C+

In Lord of Chance, the first in Erica Ridley’s new Rogues to Riches series, we are introduced to the handsome, charming Anthony Fairfax, a somewhat rackety young man who supports himself and his family by means of an inveterate gambling habit. Ms. Ridley has already released a number of her books in audio format (her Dukes of War series, narrated by Stevie Zimmermann) but this is the first I’ve listened to and I have to say that the result is a mixed bag. The narration by Marian Hussey is good, but while Ms. Ridley has a deft touch with the humour and dialogue, and she does briefly touch on a couple of darker themes, the story is a little too fluffy for my taste.

In order to escape pressing debts, Anthony Fairfax has left London to try his fortunes elsewhere. He is currently at a small inn on the Scottish border and things are looking up. On this particular night, it seems he cannot lose, and he can’t help but attribute this to the mysterious, cloaked woman he has nicknamed “Lady Fortune”, who is sitting quietly on the other side of the room. But when Lady Fortune is encouraged to join the card game, it seems she makes her own luck, because she cleans Anthony out completely and wins everything on the table.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

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