A Fallen Lady by Elizabeth Kingston (audiobook) – Narrated by Nicholas Boulton

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

Six years ago, to the outrage of her family and the delight of London gossips, Lady Helen Dehaven refused to marry the man to whom she was betrothed. Even more shockingly, her refusal came on the heels of her scandalous behavior: she and her betrothed were caught in a most compromising position. Leaving her reputation in tatters and her motivations a mystery, Helen withdrew to a simple life in a little village among friends, where her secrets remained hers alone.

For reasons of his own, Stephen Hampton, Lord Summerdale, is determined to learn the truth behind the tangled tale of Helen’s ruin. There is nothing he abhors so much as scandal – nothing he prizes so well as discretion – and so he is shocked to find, when he tracks Helen down, that he cannot but admire her. Against all expectations, he finds himself forgiving her scandalous history in favor of only being near her.

But the bitter past will not relinquish Helen’s heart so easily. How can she trust a man so steeped in the culture of high society, who conceals so much? And how can he, so devoted to the appearance of propriety, ever love a fallen lady?

Rating: Narration – A+ Content – A-

In A Fallen Lady, Elizabeth Kingston and Nicholas Boulton leave the political intrigue and the rolling hills and valleys of medieval Wales behind them and head East (and a few centuries into the future) to end up in Regency era Herefordshire for this story of a young woman who refused to endure the censure of society and her family and left both of them behind her in order to carve out a new life for herself.

Six years earlier and aged just seventeen, Lady Helen Dehaven jilted her fiancé without explanation, even though they had previously been found in a compromising position. In refusing to marry him, Helen risks irretrievable damage to her reputation and being shunned by society, but when she attempts to explain the situation to her brother, he dismisses her as hysterical and her explanation as wild and incomprehensible. Young as she is, Helen is stunned by his lack of faith in her, and leaves home, settling in the small village of Bartle-on-the Glen in Herefordshire where she owns a small dower house. She makes a life for herself there, becoming popular with the villagers who are all very protective of her. It’s not easy – Helen was born into luxury and has had to learn to keep house for herself, and she lives practically from hand to mouth – but she is independent and mostly content, especially in her friendship with Marie Anne de Vauteuil, the former mistress of a nobleman and another “fallen” woman who lives in the village.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals

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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.

Fair, Bright and Terrible (Welsh Blades #2) by Elizabeth Kingston (audiobook) – Narrated by Nicholas Boulton

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

Wales is conquered, and Eluned has lost everything: her country, her husband, her hope. All that remains is vengeance, and she will stop at nothing to have it.

When Robert de Lascaux is asked to marry the woman he has loved for eighteen years, he never hesitates. No wealth has ever mattered to him as much as Eluned has. But she, it seems, does not want him at all. Trapped in a web of intrigue, revenge, and desire, they cannot forget their past – but can they dare to share a future?

Rating: Narration – A+; Content – A-

Fair, Bright, and Terrible is the sequel to Elizabeth Kingston’s The King’s Man, and is, like its predecessor, set in and around the final years of the Welsh struggle for independence against the military might of England under King Edward I. The book is an engrossing mix of historical romance and historical fiction; the author has obviously and extensively researched the political and military history of the time and the second-chance love story between two older and wiser protagonists – they’re both in their forties – is expertly woven throughout. But make no mistake – this is a gritty and angsty story about a proud, scheming woman who is so entirely focussed on revenge that she is prepared to sacrifice her happiness and her life if need be in order to obtain it; and her almost fanatical desire for vengeance to the exclusion of all else makes her difficult to like.

Eluned of Ruardean was not a popular character in The King’s Man, in large part thanks to the way in which she had so sternly controlled her daughter’s – Gwenllian’s – life and insisted on training her to be the saviour of the Welsh people, without really considering that Gwenllian was entitled to a say in her own life. She is still not the most sympathetic of women, but she’s a fascinating character nonetheless; driven, uncompromising and self-aware, and by the end of the book I was won over and seriously impressed by the author’s ability to have made such a flawed character both admirable and likeable.

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 🙂

Glitterland by Alexis Hall (audiobook) – Narrated by Nicholas Boulton

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This title is available to download from Audible via Amazon

Ash Winters is barely holding on, near drowning in his own darkness and fear. He lives a gray shadow of a life, sullen and cynical, unable to remember hope or happiness – much less the distant, fading glitterball of love. It has to be a sick joke of the universe that he finds himself hooked up with good-humored Essex boy Darian Taylor, a wannabe model in a sparkly jacket and a fake tan. Darian may not be an intellectual giant, but he’s hysterically funny, and he’s got the courage to challenge Ash to live again.

Just being able to laugh is extraordinary enough to Ash. Loving may be a gift he can’t bear to accept, even if his denial breaks the biggest heart he’s ever known.

Rating: Narration – A+; Content: A

Glitterland is a book that’s been on my radar for a while as a result of the many great reviews I’ve seen which have praised its emotional depth, humour and the intelligence and beauty of the writing, but I haven’t yet found the time to read it. I often end up listening to audio versions of books I can’t get round to reading, so when this came up for review – as another of the titles Laura Kinsale has chosen to produce with Nicholas Boulton narrating – I immediately said “yes, please!”

And once I’d clicked “start”, I couldn’t stop. I listened to the whole thing almost non-stop, because I was so very quickly caught up in the story of “posh” Ash and “Essex boy” Darian, which made me laugh very loudly, wince in pain and tear up on several occasions, sometimes all at once.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

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The King’s Man by Elizabeth Kingston (audiobook) – Narrated by Nicholas Boulton

The Kings Man audio

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

Ranulf Ombrier’s fame throughout England for his skill at swordplay is rivaled only by his notoriety as King Edward I’s favorite killer. Ranulf’s actions have gained him lands, title, and a lasting reputation as a hired butcher. But after years of doing his king’s bidding, he begins to fear for his mortal soul and follows his conscience away from Edward, all the way to the wilds of Wales.

Gwenllian of Ruardean, Welsh daughter of a powerful Marcher lord, has every reason to leave Ranulf for dead when one of her men nearly kills him. As a girl she was married by proxy to a man Ranulf murdered, only to become a widow before she ever met her groom. In the years since, she has shunned the life of a lady, instead studying warfare and combat at her mother’s behest. But she has also studied healing and this, with her sense of duty to knightly virtues, leads her to tend to Ranulf’s wounds.

Saving her enemy’s life comes with consequences, and Gwenllian and Ranulf are soon caught up in dangerous intrigue. Forced together by political machinations, they discover a kinship of spirit and a surprising, intense desire. But even hard-won love cannot thrive when loyalties are divided and the winds of rebellion sweep the land.

Rating: A+ for narration; B for content

A couple of months ago, Laura Kinsale announced on her website that although Nicholas Boulton had finished recording all her books (boo!) he was going to be recording some more historical romances (yay!) – “recent titles that I’ve loved and appreciated for their quality and emotional intensity”. That recommendation together with the prospect of being able to listen to more of that velvety voice was enough to have me eagerly snapping up the audiobook of Elizabeth Kingston’s début novel, The King’s Man.

The story centres around two emotionally damaged characters who have spent most of their lives doing the bidding of others. Both of them are struggling to break free of the expectations that bind them to their pasts, but only together can they find the strength to be true to themselves and to lead their own lives.

Ranulf Ombrier, Lord of Morency, is known throughout the land as King Edward’s man, his enforcer, a man as ruthless as his master and one for whom no deed is too foul. At the beginning of the book, Ranulf awakens in a strange bed in a strange room and looks up to see what he thinks is an angel tending him. He has been severely wounded in a skirmish with a group of knights from Ruardean, a formidable stronghold on the Welsh Marches, and gradually comes to realise that he has been close to death. A death he would actively welcome as a way of finally escaping the memories that haunt him.

His ‘angel’ is Gwellian of Ruardean, a young woman who has been groomed since birth to be ready to lead the people of Wales in an uprising against the King. But having to constantly be what her domineering mother wants, to prove herself to be stronger and faster than the men around her, to inspire and lead is exhausting, and all Gwenllian really wants is to be left alone with her herbs and plants to further her knowledge of the healing arts. But her men respect her and look up to her, and no matter how much she wishes things to be different, they are what they are, and she accepts the weight of command to which she has been bred. Because of her unusual upbringing and military training, Gwenllian believes herself lacking as a woman – tall and leanly muscled, she knows she is unprepossessing and has none of the feminine accomplishments that ladies of her status are expected to have acquired.

While Ranulf is healing, he is rude and dismissive towards Gwenllian, seeing nothing in her of his ‘angel’ and wondering how he could ever have taken such an unattractive woman for such a thing. His taunts and barbs eventually lead to an armed confrontation between them – and when Gwenllian bests him, Ranulf becomes even more resentful. Yet even at this early stage in the story, and after such an inauspicious beginning, there is the sense that there is something growing between them, that these are two kindred spirits who are drawn to each other in spite of their wariness and distrust.

The King’s Man is very much a character driven story, in spite of the turbulent times in which it is set. The pacing allows time for the (at first) reluctant attraction between Ranulf and Gwenllian to build to an almost incendiary degree, and for the author to gradually reveal more and more about what makes them tick. Both characters have serious hang-ups; Ranulf was brought up by a cruel, ruthless man who never subjected Ranulf to the abuses he heaped upon everyone else, leaving him ashamed of the fact that he had loved his foster-father even as he had been ultimately driven to murder him. And Gwenllian has always been a pawn in the strategy of others, never allowed to live for herself or be herself – even her name is not truly her own, having been given to her because of the expectations that she would take on the mantle of her legendary namesake, the Welsh princess who led an army against the Normans more than a century earlier.

The romance between Ranulf and Gwenllian is intense, passionate and refreshingly free of so many of the tropes and stereotypes that abound in historical romance. I admit I was a little sceptical of the idea of Gwenllian as ‘warrior woman’, especially as women of the time were so powerless; but Ms Kingston has written her in such a way as to make it plausible and easy to accept.

Both Ranulf and Gwenllian are strongly-drawn, flawed characters who do not always do the right thing or act admirably. Yet they are compelling and easy to root for, especially when Gwenllian’s mother’s purpose becomes clear and it seems as though the couple are doomed to be on opposite sides in a long-brewing conflict.

I’m sure there were many other fans of historical romance audiobooks who, like me, were hoping that the final audiobook of Laura Kinsale’s oeuvre (so far) wouldn’t be the last we heard of Nicholas Boulton as a narrator in the genre. He really has raised the bar when it comes to audiobook narration, to a height only a very few can hope to match; and here, he once again proves himself a master of artistry and technique. The narrative is expressive and perfectly paced, and every single character, regardless of the amount of ‘screen time’ they get, is clearly and distinctly rendered, so there is never any question as to who is speaking at any given time. Mr Boulton has an incredibly wide range of timbre and accent, many of which he uses to excellent effect here, whether it be for the gravelly-voiced, Welsh-accented Madog, Gwenllian’s cousin and protector, or the tightly controlled, sometimes harsh-edged tone he employs to portray Ranulf, who is clearly a man wound incredibly tightly and full of hidden vulnerability and emotion. The principal female characters of Gwenllian and her overbearing mother are easy to tell apart in their scenes together, with Mr Boulton doing a terrific job with his interpretation of Gwenllian, getting to the heart of the character and skilfully conveying the self-doubt that lies beneath her warrior-queen exterior.

The King’s Man is a well-written, character-driven story, rich in historical detail and in the complexity of its characterisation. If I have a complaint, it is that Ranulf’s journey towards redemption is perhaps a little too easy for him, but overall, this is a strong début which is only enhanced by another incredibly accomplished performance from Nicholas Boulton.

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The Hidden Heart by Laura Kinsale (audiobook) – Narrated by Nicholas Boulton

the hidden heart audio

When her naturalist father dies on the upper reaches of the Amazon, Lady Tess Collier sets out to fulfill his last wish: return to England and marry. Desperate and broke, privateer Gryphon Meridon takes on an assignment he’d much rather refuse – shepherding a beautiful, eccentric young lady through London’s ballrooms.

Rating: A+ for narration; B for content

Nobody who has listened to Laura Kinsale’s wonderful prose brought vividly to life by the massively talented Nicholas Boulton can be in any doubt that the dozen audiobooks they have produced (so far – fingers crossed) have shown again and again exactly what an audiobook can and should be. Every aspect – writing, performance, direction and overall production have combined to put these titles at the top of the heap when it comes to romance audios, and they undoubtedly represent a pinnacle of achievement in the field.

But all good things must come to an end – unfortunately – and The Hidden Heart – the first of the author’s published works – is the last of Ms Kinsale’s books to come to audio. While I enjoyed it, I can’t help thinking that perhaps it would have been better to have had a different title as the Kinsale/Boulton swansong. I realise that these things can’t always be planned, but this isn’t my favourite Kinsale story; the pacing is uneven, the protagonists spend large chunks of time apart and there were times I wanted to throttle the hero!

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.