International Player by Louise Bay (audiobook) – Narrated by Saskia Maarleveld and Shane East

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

Being labelled a player never stopped me from being successful with women. Until I met Truly Harbury. Truly was the first girl who ever turned me down. The first female friend I ever had. And she might just be the first woman with whom I ever fall in love.

When an emergency means she needs my help running her family’s charity, I’m happy to introduce her to the glitz and glamour of the London business world – taking her to dinners, coaching her through speeches, zipping up the sexy evening gown I helped her pick out. The more time we spend together, the more I want to convince her I’m not a man to avoid, that we’re not as unsuited as she believes.

She sees herself as the book-reading, science-loving introvert while I’m the dangerous, outgoing charmer. She thinks I love parties and people whereas she prefers pajamas and takeout. What she doesn’t realize is that I like everything about her – the way her smile lights up a room, how her curves light up my imagination, and especially the way her lips taste when coated with tequila.

She’s the first woman with whom I ever fell in love. I just need to know if she could ever love me, too.

Rating: Narration – B+ : Content – D

*sigh* International Player is another of those books that reminded me why I don’t read or listen to all that many contemporary romances.  The plot is pretty much a repeat of all the books by this and similar authors (you know the ones); predictable, clichéd and revolving around the fact that the leads NEVER HAVE A FUCKING CONVERSATION ABOUT THEIR RELATIONSHIP.  I only picked it up because the narrators are excellent – and they’re the only reason I finished it.

Truly Harbury has had a crush on her brother-in-law’s best friend Noah for years.  They were good mates before he left London to work in New York, but haven’t really kept in touch (which is weird, if they were such great friends) and she doesn’t know he’s back in England until her twin sister Abigail – with whom Truly runs the family’s charitable foundation – tells her.

Noah is, of course, sex-on-a-stick, and Truly keeps telling herself not to let her crush become a ‘thing’. Noah is a player and not at all the settling-down type – but when Abigail has pregnancy complications which mean she’s going to be confined to bed for the next five months, Noah is the ideal solution to the problem of how Truly is going to do all the schmoozing necessary to keep the donations rolling in at the foundation.  She’s very much a back-room girl while Abigail has been the one to do all the presentations and attend all the glitzy parties – Truly is an introvert who has panic attacks at the mere thought of all that.

So Truly and Noah do the Pygmalion thing as he helps her with her presentations and her wardrobe, and it’s all fine until she comes to the conclusion that the only way to tamp down her crush and get Noah out of her system is to – you guessed it – have lots of no-strings sex with him.  Yeah,  because that always works out SO well.  Even though she comes up with a list of rules like “I don’t want to hear about your other women” (he doesn’t have any) and “we only shag by appointment”, which Noah thinks are a bit weird, he’s thinking with his small brain by this point and completely prepared to go with the flow.

But as this goes on, he realises that the friendship side of their relationship – which he’d valued highly – has disappeared, and he can’t work out what’s going on and why Truly is so reluctant to spend any time with him out of bed.  Of course, they don’t TALK about any of this and things come to a head when Truly decides she has to end things because the whole casual sex thing hasn’t worked (what a surprise) and she has to get out before she falls any more deeply in love with him.

I found myself actively disliking her by this point.  She knows Noah has never been one for serious relationships in the past and judges him completely based on that, choosing to ignore the fact that he’s a decent guy with his heart in the right place who obviously cares about her and wants her for more than what happens between them in bed.  She ends things without giving him any say in the matter simply because she’s convinced he’ll get tired of her soon.  Because it’s all about her and her need to protect her heart and sod the guy who’s propped her up for the last five months and who she used to think of as her best friend.

I know International Player isn’t typical of all contemporary romances, but it’s typical of a huge and incredibly popular chunk of the market at the moment.  I have nothing against the sort of fluff this aspires to be, but even fluff needs to be well-written, the characters need to be likeable and their motivations need to make sense – and this just isn’t the case here.  I liked Noah well enough, but Truly was immature and selfish and I just wanted her to go away and for Noah to find someone who could appreciate him.

Thankfully, because this audio is part of the Audible Romance Package, I didn’t buy or use a credit on it – if I had, it would be going straight back.  Saskia Maarleveld and Shane East are terrific performers, but even they can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear like this one, and I cringed at some of the dialogue they had to utter.  Kudos to them for being able to do it and not sound as though they had their tongues in their cheeks, but that’s their job and they do it very well.  All the things you’d expect from such experienced performers – pacing, enunciation, characterisation and differentiation – are good, they inject the right amount of expression into their performances, and the love scenes are delivered unselfconsciously and with conviction, but that’s not enough to make for a good listen when those performances are tied to such a weak and uninspiring story.

There are better examples of this type of book out there. Unless you absolutely HAVE to listen to every single thing Shane East and/or Saskia Maarleveld has ever recorded, go and find one of those instead.

 

The Glass Ocean by Beatriz Williams, Lauren Willig & Karen White (audiobook) – Narrated by Brittany Pressley, Vanessa Johansson & Saskia Maarleveld

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon.

May 2013

Her finances are in dire straits, and best-selling author Sarah Blake is struggling to find a big idea for her next book. Desperate, she breaks the one promise she made to her Alzheimer’s-stricken mother and opens an old chest that belonged to her great-grandfather, who died when the RMS Lusitania was sunk by a German U-boat in 1915. What she discovers there could change history.

Sarah embarks on an ambitious journey to England to enlist the help of John Langford, a recently disgraced member of parliament whose family archives might contain the only key to the long-ago catastrophe….

April 1915

Southern belle Caroline Telfair Hochstetter’s marriage is in crisis. Her formerly attentive industrialist husband, Gilbert, has become remote, preoccupied with business…and something else on which she can’t quite put a finger. She’s hoping a trip to London in Lusitania’s lavish first-class accommodations will help them reconnect – but she can’t ignore the spark she feels for her old friend, Robert Langford, who turns out to be on the same voyage. Feeling restless and longing for a different existence, Caroline is determined to stop being a bystander and take charge of her own life….

Tessa Fairweather is traveling second-class on the Lusitania, returning home to Devon. Or at least, that’s her story. Tessa has never left the US, and her English accent is a hasty fake. She’s really Tennessee Schaff, the daughter of a roving con man, and she can steal and forge just about anything. But she’s had enough. Her partner has promised that if they can pull off this one last heist aboard the Lusitania, they’ll finally leave the game behind. Tess desperately wants to believe that, but Tess has the uneasy feeling there’s something about this job that isn’t as it seems….

As the Lusitania steams toward its fate, three women work against time to unravel a plot that will change the course of their own lives…and history itself.

Rating: Narration – B+ : Content – B

Three authors, three main characters, three narrators; The Glass Ocean is a dual timeline story from the pens of the 3Ws – Williams, Willig and White – that weaves together interconnecting stories featuring three very different woman in two different time-periods almost a century apart. I have no idea which author penned which character – and apparently it’s a very closely guarded secret – but the narration is clearly assigned, with Vanessa Johansson reading the chapters told by Sarah Blake, and Brittany Pressley and Saska Maarleveld reading those from the points of view of Caroline Hochstetter and Tess Schaff respectively.

Five years earlier, Sarah Blake wrote a very successful book about the mid-nineteenth century Irish Potato Famine. For a year she was feted, interviewed, sought after for book signings and events… but when inspiration for a follow-up book failed to arrive, she more or less fell off the radar, and now, even her agent hardly ever calls her. She’s struggling – both creatively and financially – and in desperation, turns to an old family heirloom, breaking her promise to her Alzheimer-stricken mother and opening the chest that belonged to her great-grandfather, who died when the RMS Lusitania was torpedoed by a German U-Boat in 1915. What she finds there leads her to travel to England to request access to the archives of the Langford family in the hope that the documents contained within it will help her to find answers to the questions raised by her great-grandfather’s papers. The problem is that getting permission to view the Langford family’s documents is going to be difficult. John Langford MP has recently become unwillingly entangled in a scandal involving his ex-wife and is lying low in an attempt to dodge the paparazzi stalking him, so Sarah is going to have to approach him carefully – and probably using subterfuge – if she’s to stand any chance of getting him to agree to her request.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

Forbidden Stranger (The Protector #3) by Megan Hart (audiobook) – Narrated by Saskia Maarleveld

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

Nina Bronson and Ewan Donahue have put their love to its limits. To Ewan, she’s the only woman he wants to be with for the rest of his life. To Nina, whose memories have been ripped out of her, Ewan is her kind and generous boss who’s helping her recover after an accident she also can’t remember. The more time they spend together, the more she begins to feel for him, but Ewan knows the truth – she loved him once.

As Ewan tries to do whatever it takes to get Nina back to herself without putting her in danger, the two of them have to build a brand-new relationship from the ground up. Sometimes, a lie isn’t a betrayal, it’s a lifesaver. Can Nina forgive Ewan for not telling her the truth about why she lost so much of her memories, or are they doomed to never be together again?

Rating: Narration – A- : Content – B-

Forbidden Stranger is the final instalment of Megan Hart’s futuristic Protector trilogy, in which the overarching storyline pairs a kick-ass female bodyguard with a wealthy billionaire industrialist. I loved the premise of the series, the author’s world-building is terrific, the narration is excellent, and the first book is gripping, but sadly, books two and three suffer from the same problems – too much filler, not enough action and final acts that are rushed. On reflection, this story would probably have worked better as a duology, with the events of book two stripped of the filler and combined with a pared-down book three.

Please note that there will be spoilers for books one and two – Dangerous Promise and Wicked Attraction – in this review.

In Dangerous Promise, listeners were introduced to the author’s vision of a near-future coloured by war, environmental damage and cyber-terrorism. Nina Bronson is one of fifteen former soldiers who were technologically enhanced during life-saving surgery, the nano-chips implanted in their brains enabling them to be stronger and faster than normal humans and to control their emotional and physical reactions. The chips also allow the enhanced to have their memories wiped and for them to be reset after sensitive assignments should their clients so wish. Nina is engaged by billionaire businessman Ewan Donahue, the most vocal opponent of enhancement technology, as his personal bodyguard after several failed attempts on his life.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

Romancing the Scot (Penningtons #1) by May McGoldrick

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

Hugh Pennington – Viscount Greysteil, Lord Justice of the Scottish Courts, hero of the Napoleonic wars – is a grieving widower with a death wish. When he receives an expected crate from the continent, he is shocked to find a nearly dead woman inside. Her identity is unknown, and the handful of American coins and the precious diamond sown into her dress only deepen the mystery.

Grace Ware is an enemy to the English crown. Her father, an Irish military commander of Napoleon’s defeated army. Her mother, an exiled Scottish Jacobite. When Grace took shelter in a warehouse, running from her father’s murderers through the harbor alleyways of Antwerp, she never anticipated bad luck to deposit her at the home of an aristocrat in the Scottish Borders. Baronsford is the last place she could expect to find safety, and Grace feigns a loss of memory to buy herself time while she recovers.

Hugh is taken by her beauty, passion, and courage to challenge his beliefs and open his mind. Grace finds in him a wounded man of honor, proud but compassionate. When their duel of wits quickly turns to passion and romance, Grace’s fears begin to dissolve…until danger follows her to the very doors of Baronsford. For, unknown to either of them, Grace has in her possession a secret that will wreak havoc within the British government. Friend and foe are indistinguishable as lethal forces converge to tear the two lovers apart or destroy them both.

Rating: Narration – A- : Content – B-

Romancing the Scot is the first book in writing duo May McGoldrick’s series of Regency-era novels about the Pennington siblings. In this story, Hugh – Viscount Greysteil – a decorated former army officer and widower of eight years, meets his match in the form of a mysterious young woman who arrives unexpectedly and in a most unusual manner at his estate of Baronsford near the Scottish border.

Ms. McGoldrick provides an interesting historical backdrop to her tale and in Hugh, has created a progressive, forward thinking hero whose position as a Lord Justice of the Scottish Courts gives him ample opportunity to observe the inequalities and injustices faced by so many of the underprivileged around him. He takes his responsibilities – to his estates and in upholding the law – very seriously and does his utmost to help those in need and to ensure that justice is well-served.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

Dangerous Promise (The Protector #1) by Megan Hart (audiobook) – Narrated by Saskia Maarleveld


This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon.

Nina Bronson used to be all human – until the experimental surgeries and internal technology that saved her life and enhanced her as a soldier also forced her to leave the army for private service. Now she and her peers are facing slow, painful deaths unless their technology is upgraded, and the one man keeping those upgrades illegal and unavailable is an obnoxious billionaire. A man too gorgeous for his own good.

A man she’s supposed to guard with her life.

Ewan Donahue is the public voice speaking out against the enhancement procedures of injured soldiers. But when his lobbying leads to death threats, he needs someone to protect him around the clock. He doesn’t want to rely on an enhanced soldier – Nina’s tech goes against everything he stands for. But he really doesn’t want her to be beautiful like she is. Doesn’t want her to suffer like she will. Doesn’t want to succumb to the searing desire he feels for her. As a series of attacks on his life send them to a remote cabin, their close proximity brings them together in ways they never imagined. They know they must prevent the need simmering between them, resist each other at all costs. But when tensions are high and danger is close, passion burns hottest of all….

Rating: Narration – A : Content – B+

Megan Hart’s The Protector trilogy is set in the near future, in a world which has suffered a Second Cold War, massive environmental damage following an abortive attempt to colonise the moon and the near destruction of the planet’s computer infrastructure when an unknown hacker wiped out around ninety percent of the world’s servers and back-up data, deleting bank accounts, personal data and causing untold chaos. It’s a world that is recognisable (and eerily plausible!) yet subtly different from our own, and the author does a fabulous job in Dangerous Promise  of balancing the need for backstory and world-building with the plot and the romance in the story.

I’ll say now that this is a trilogy in which all three books need to be read or listened to in order to experience the complete story and reach the HEA; fortunately, at time of writing, all three books are available so you’ll be able to jump straight in to the whole thing without having to wait months for the next instalment.

Nina Bronson is one of fifteen former soldiers who underwent experimental surgery after being severely injured. In fact, she was dead for seven minutes – and was brought back to life by the implantation of newly invented nano-technology in her brain, technology which gives her greater strength and stamina and the ability to control her physical and emotional reactions and bodily functions. But not long after these procedures were carried out, the program which created it was shut down and laws were passed forbidding any future research or experimentation on the tech, meaning that Nina and her fellow ‘enhanced’ are the only ones like them in existence, and that as the tech eventually degrades, so will they.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

The Jane Austen Project by Kathleen A. Flynn (audiobook) – Narrated by Saskia Maarleveld

This title may be purchased from Audible via Amazon.

London, 1815: Two travelers – Rachel Katzman and Liam Finucane – arrive in a field in rural England, disheveled and weighed down with hidden money. Turned away at a nearby inn, they are forced to travel by coach all night to London. They are not what they seem but rather colleagues who have come back in time from a technologically advanced future, posing as wealthy West Indies planters – a doctor and his spinster sister. While Rachel and Liam aren’t the first team from the future to “go back”, their mission is by far the most audacious: meet, befriend, and steal from Jane Austen herself.

Carefully selected and rigorously trained by The Royal Institute for Special Topics in Physics, disaster-relief doctor Rachel and actor-turned-scholar Liam have little in common besides the extraordinary circumstances they find themselves in. Circumstances that call for Rachel to stifle her independent nature and let Liam take the lead as they infiltrate Austen’s circle via her favorite brother, Henry.

But diagnosing Jane’s fatal illness and obtaining an unpublished novel hinted at in her letters pose enough of a challenge without the continuous convolutions of living a lie. While her friendship with Jane deepens and her relationship with Liam grows complicated, Rachel fights to reconcile the woman she is with the proper lady 19th-century society expects her to be. As their portal to the future prepares to close, Rachel and Liam struggle with their directive to leave history intact and exactly as they found it…however heartbreaking that may prove.

Rating: Narration – A Content – B+

When I read The Jane Austen Project a few months back, I admit that I approached it with some trepidation. Two people travelling back in time to meet Jane Austen and retrieve a previously unpublished manuscript sounded – on the one hand – like a great premise, and on the other like a potential disaster. The author would have to be very careful with tone and characterisation to make it work – and I’m pleased to say that she strikes the right notes in both cases, displaying a thorough attention to period detail and portraying Jane Austen herself as the sort of witty, intelligent and insightful woman we imagine her to have been.

Austen devotee Doctor Rachel Katzman – a medical doctor who has spent most of her career working in the world’s flashpoints – and actor-turned-academic Professor Liam Finucane have been selected and trained by The Royal Institute for Special Topics in Physics to be able to take on the personas of Doctor William Ravenswood and his sister, Mary when they travel back in time to 1815. They arrive, disoriented and bedraggled in a field just outside Leatherhead in Surrey, with thousands of pounds worth of counterfeit money hidden beneath their clothes and a cover story that they have recently sold off their plantation in Jamaica, freed their slaves and come back to England to live. Unable to secure rooms at the nearest inn because of their lack of luggage and generally suspicious appearance, they hire a chaise and head straight to London where they go about the task of setting themselves up at a respectable address, kitting themselves out as befits a couple of independently wealthy siblings and generally orienting themselves to their new lives in 1815.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

The Empire State Series: A Week in New York, Autumn in New York, Summer in Manhattan by Louise Bay (audiobook) – Narrated by Saskia Maarleveld and Sebastian York

This title may be purchased from Audible via Amazon

Anna Kirby is sick of dating. She’s tired of heartbreak. Despite being smart, sexy, and funny, she’s a magnet for men who don’t deserve her. A week’s vacation in New York is the ultimate distraction from her most recent break-up, as well as a great place to meet a stranger and have some summer fun. But to protect her still-bruised heart, fun comes with rules. There will be no sharing stories, no swapping numbers, and no real names. Just one night of uncomplicated fun. Super-successful serial seducer Ethan Scott has some rules of his own. He doesn’t date, he doesn’t stay the night, and he doesn’t make any promises. It should be a match made in heaven. But rules are made to be broken.

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

Having recently listened to Louise Bay’s King of Wall Street, which I picked up on the strength of the review by one of my fellow AudioGals, I was keen on trying more of the author’s work. The Empire State Series caught my eye because of the narrator pairing; I’ve listened to and enjoyed Saskia Maarleveld in a few historical romances, but I’ve never listened to her in a contemporary; and Sebastian York… yeah, well, he could probably make the phone book sound sexy, so I was sold.

A Week in New York opens with Londoners Anna and Leah, at a bar in New York on a night out. Anna has recently come out of a bad relationship and Leah has travelled with her fiancé on a business trip and both are determined on a week of hanging out, retail therapy and soaking up some culture. Anna is approached by an unutterably gorgeous man who makes his interest in spending the night with her very clear – and Anna thinks “why not?” – and decides to go for it. One night stands aren’t her normal style, but the guy is hotter than hell and, she’s sure, knows his way around a woman’s body. She insists on a few rules though; no real names (which he refuses to go with – after all, he doesn’t want the woman he’s in bed with screaming any other name than his own!), no personal details, no exchanging numbers or email addresses; just one night of steamy sex. Other than the names thing, the guy – Ethan – is perfectly happy with all of those things, although he scoffs at Anna’s choice of name – Florence – and insists on giving her a better one, deciding upon – Anna. She can’t deny that’s a bit weird – that he should somehow have hit upon her real name, but doesn’t dwell on it. There are better things to do, after all.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.