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.

Devil in Spring (Ravenels #3) by Lisa Kleypas (audiobook) – Narrated by Mary Jane Wells

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An eccentric wallflower
Most debutantes dream of finding husbands. Lady Pandora Ravenel has different plans. The ambitious young beauty would much rather stay at home and plot out her new board game business than take part in the London Season. But one night at a glittering society ball, she’s ensnared in a scandal with a wickedly handsome stranger.

A cynical rake

After years of evading marital traps with ease, Gabriel, Lord St. Vincent, has finally been caught by a rebellious girl who couldn’t be less suitable. In fact she wants nothing to do with him. But Gabriel finds the high-spirited Pandora irresistible. He’ll do whatever it takes to possess her, even if their marriage of convenience turns out to be the devil’s own bargain.

A perilous plot

After succumbing to Gabriel’s skilled and sensuous persuasion, Pandora agrees to become his bride. But soon she discovers that her entrepreneurial endeavors have accidentally involved her in a dangerous conspiracy – and only her husband can keep her safe. As Gabriel protects her from their unknown adversaries, they realize their devil’s bargain may just turn out to be a match made in heaven.

Rating: Narration – A; Content – B+

I think it’s fair to say that Devil in Spring is the most highly anticipated historical romance of 2017. I know that I – along with practically every other fan of the author and the genre – was excited at the prospect of meeting Lord St. Vincent mark II in the form of Gabriel Challon, eldest son of the Duke and Duchess of Kingston; aka Sebastian and Evie from Devil in Winter, surely one of the genre’s most beloved couples.

In the book’s prologue, Sebastian – who is as gorgeous at sixty as he was at thirty – and Evie discuss the fact that a couple of nights earlier at a ball, Gabriel was found in a compromising position with Lady Pandora Ravenel. Pandora, who had been attempting to do a favour for a friend, became stuck in the ornate scrollwork of a piece of furniture, and when Gabriel was helping her get free, they were seen at the worst possible time by their host, leaving Gabriel no alternative but to offer marriage.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

Four Weddings and a Sixpence (anthology) by Julia Quinn, Laura Lee Guhrke, Elizabeth Boyle and Stefanie Sloane (audiobook) – Narrated by Mary Jane Wells

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This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

Beloved authors Julia Quinn, Elizabeth Boyle, Laura Lee Guhrke, and Stefanie Sloane deliver the stories of four friends from Madame Rochambeaux’s Gentle School for Girls who find an old sixpence in their bedchamber and decide that it will be the lucky coin for each of their weddings…

“Something Old”
Julia Quinn’s prologue introduces her heroine Beatrice Heywood and the premise for Four Weddings and a Sixpence.

“Something New”
In Stefanie Sloane’s unforgettable story, an ever-vigilant guardian decrees that Anne Brabourne must marry by her twenty-first birthday. But love finds her in the most unexpected of ways.

“Something Borrowed”
Elizabeth Boyle tells the tale of Cordelia Padley, who has invented a betrothed to keep her family from pestering her to wed. Now she’ll need to borrow one to convince them she’s found her true love.

“Something Blue”
In Laura Lee Guhrke’s story, unlucky Lady Elinor Daventry has her sixpence stolen from her and must convince the rake who pilfered the coin to return it in time for her own wedding.

“… and a Sixpence in Her Shoe”
Julia Quinn finishes with the story of Beatrice Heywood, who never believed that the sixpence was anything but a tarnished old coin-until it led all of her friends to true love. But her faith in the coin is tested when it keeps sending her to the wrong man!

Rating: Narration – A- ; Content – C-/C/B+/B

I’m not a big fan of anthologies or novellas in general, because I find there are few authors who really understand how to use the shorter form to greatest effect, and I most often come away from them feeling a bit disappointed. And anthologies tend to be uneven; there will usually be one really good story and the others will be of lesser, variable quality. So why did I listen to this one? A look at the narrator’s name will answer that question. Mary Jane Wells can make even average material enjoyable to listen to, and while two of the stories here do fall into the average category, the other two – from Julia Quinn and Laura Lee Guhrke – definitely transcend that qualification. Each story in Four Weddings and a Sixpence features one of a group of four friends who, while at school, find an old sixpence in a mattress and, based on the words of the old rhyme:

Something old, something new

Something borrowed, something blue… and a silver sixpence for your shoe

– decide to keep the sixpence on the chance that it may lead them to true love.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

A Date at the Altar (Marrying the Duke #3) by Cathy Maxwell (audiobook) – Narrated by Mary Jane Wells

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This title is available to download from Audible via Amazon.

Twice he has been close to the altar and still no duchess. Will the third time be the charm?

A duke can’t marry just anyone. His wife must be of good family, be fertile, and be young. Struggling playwright Sarah Pettijohn is absolutely the last woman Gavin Whitridge, Duke of Baynton, would ever fall in love with. She is an actress, born on the wrong side of the blanket, and always challenges his ducal authority. She never hesitates to tell him what she thinks.

However, there is something about her that stirs his blood, which makes her perfect for a bargain he has in mind: In exchange for backing her play, he wants Sarah to teach him about love.

And he, in turn, has a few things to teach her about men.

Rating: Narration – A-; Content – B-

It’s no secret that I’ve been rather disappointed with the previous books in Cathy Maxwell’s Marrying the Duke series; my reviews of The Match of the Century and The Fairest of Them All have praised the performances given by Mary Jane Wells, but the stories themselves have been lacklustre. Part of the problem was that, in both cases, the major secondary character of Gavin Whitridge, the Duke of Baynton, was far more interesting and attractive than either of the heroes and I was at a loss as to why either of the heroines would have thrown him over for someone else!

But throw him over they did, and now, in this final book in the trilogy, Gavin finally gets his HEA. In the latter stages of The Fairest of Them All, Gavin met Mrs. Sarah Pettijohn, a widowed actress and playwright, when the pair had to join forces to track down her niece, Lady Charlene, who had run away with Gavin’s twin brother. The sparks flew between them, with Sarah labelling Gavin an arrogant stuffed-shirt, and Gavin insisting Sarah was an infuriating harpy. Both of them were extremely relieved when their journey came to an end, and they did not expect to see each other again.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

The Fairest of Them All (Marrying the Duke #2) by Cathy Maxwell (audiobook) – Narrated by Mary Jane Wells

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This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon.

The penniless orphan of a disreputable earl, Lady Charlene Blanchard thrives on the adventure of picking the pockets of unsavory gentlemen to survive. But due to her extraordinary beauty and prized bloodlines, she is hand-chosen as a potential bride for the Duke of Baynton, who is on the hunt for a suitable wife to provide heirs. All Char has to do is act the part she was born to play and charm a duke she’s never laid eyes on into proposing. Except the duke turns out to be the tall, dark and sexy stranger who just caught her red-handed as a thief!

Or is he? Jack Whitridge is the duke’s twin who had “gone missing” over ten years ago. Now back in England, he knows that the supposed Lady who has his brother’s love is hardly duchess material—except he needs her to save his adopted country from war. He is willing to bargain with her heart, until he finds himself falling for Char . . .

Rating: Narration – A; Content – C-

I’m going to confess upfront that the only reason I chose to listen to this second book in Cathy Maxwell’sMarrying the Duke series, The Fairest of Them All, is because Mary Jane Wells is the narrator. I was singularly underwhelmed by the first book, The Match of the Century, which was where we first met Gavin Whitridge, the Duke of Baynton. That book tells the story of Gavin’s younger brother, Benedict, and Elin Morris, the young lady to whom Gavin had been betrothed for a number of years. Ben and Elin had been young lovers who were torn asunder when their fathers discovered them, and the book tells the story of their finding their way back to each other.

Although he genuinely cared for Elin, Gavin clearly saw that she and Ben were meant for one another and graciously stepped aside. But he is still in the market for a wife, and in the manner of handsome princes everywhere, holds a ball to which all the eligible young ladies of the ton are invited. He is instantly captivated by the most beautiful young woman he has ever seen, Lady Charlene Blanchard, the daughter of an earl who gambled away everything he owned and then took his own life, leaving his wife and daughter practically destitute. Even so, Charlene is lovely, demure, poised and everything Gavin is looking for in a duchess. He quickly secures her hand for the first dance, but things don’t get that far because the ball is suddenly interrupted by a group of American gentlemen, one of whom turns out to be Gavin’s long-lost twin brother, Jack, who disappeared from Eton when they were fifteen and from whom nothing has been heard for the last seventeen years.

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 🙂

The Match of the Century by Cathy Maxwell (audiobook) – Narrated by Mary Jane Wells

Match of the Century
This title may be purchased from Audible via Amazon

Every debutante aspires to snag a duke. Elin Morris just happens to have had one reserved since birth. But postponements of her marriage to London’s most powerful peer give Elin time to wonder how she will marry Gavin Baynton when she cannot forget his brother, Benedict.

Already exasperated at being yanked from the military to meet “family obligations”, now Ben must suffer watching his arrogant sibling squire the only woman he has ever loved. Joining the army saved Ben from sinking into bitterness, but seeing Elin again takes him back to the day they surrendered to their intoxicating desire.

As the wedding draws near, Elin tries to push Ben far from her thoughts. When danger brings them together, there is no denying their feelings. But can Elin choose love over duty?

Rating: A- for narration; C+ for content

Elin Morris has been betrothed to Gavin Whitridge, Duke of Baynton for as long as she can remember, the match engineered by both sets of parents when they were little more than children, and viewed by society as The Match of the Century, an alliance of great wealth on both sides. Now Elin is in her early twenties and Gavin a little older, it is time for the betrothal to be announced officially, and to begin preparations for the wedding. Given that Gavin is young, rich and gorgeous, it would seem that this story has nowhere to go – but the problem is that, while Elin likes and respects Gavin, she doesn’t love him and knows that while he thinks well of her and will always look after her, he doesn’t love her either. To make things even more difficult, eight years ago, when Elin was barely sixteen, she had believed herself in love with Gavin’s younger brother, Benedict, and had spent the night with him, although her dreams of a life with him were cruelly dashed when he left the very next day to embark on a military career.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

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