The Daughter of Sherlock Holmes by Leonard Goldberg (audiobook) – Narrated by Steve West

This title may be downloaded from Audible.

1910. Joanna Blalock unknowingly is the product of a sole assignation between the late Sherlock Holmes and Irene Adler. After the nurse and her ten-year-old son see a man fall to his death in an apparent suicide, elderly Dr. John Watson and his charming handsome son Dr. John Watson Jr. invite her to join their detective team. From hidden treasure to the Second Afghan War of 1878-1880, the group devise an ingenious plan to catch a murderer in the act while dodging Scotland Yard the British aristocracy.

Rating: Narration – B+ Content – C-

I’ll confess straight off that I’m not what I’d call a Sherlock Holmes “aficionado”. I’ve read some of the books and stories, and have enjoyed his various celluloid iterations, from Basil Rathbone and Peter Cushing to Jeremy Brett and Benedict Cumberbatch, and Sherry Thomas’ re-imagining of Sherlock as Charlotte in A Study in Scarlet Women was one of my favourite books and audiobooks of last year. But I can’t quote chunks of text or even remember all the plots of the stories I’ve read, so I’m most definitely not a card-carrying member of the Sherlock Fan Club.

But I was definitely up for the idea of a story featuring The Daughter of Sherlock Holmes, although now I’ve finished it, I can’t say if it’s the sort of book that will appeal to diehard Sherlockians or to the relatively uninitiated. Speaking as a member of the latter group, I’m not sure whether the style adopted by author Leonard Goldberg is akin to Conan Doyle’s or if it was his intention for the entire book to seem like averagely-written Sherlock Holmes fanfiction. Reviews of the book on Goodreads certainly indicate that those more familiar with Conan Doyle’s work appreciated the writing in this, but I found it plodding and unimaginative.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

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Royally Matched (Royally #2) by Emma Chase (audiobook) – Narrated by Andi Arndt and Shane East

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon.

Some men are born responsible, some men have responsibility thrust upon them. Henry John Edgar Thomas Pembrook, Prince of Wessco, just got the motherlode of all responsibility dumped in his regal lap.

He’s not handling it well.

Hoping to help her grandson to rise to the occasion, Queen Lenora agrees to give him “space”—but while the Queen’s away, the Prince will play. After a chance meeting with an American television producer, Henry finally makes a decision all on his own:

Welcome to Matched: Royal Edition.

A reality TV dating game show featuring twenty of the world’s most beautiful blue bloods gathered in the same castle. Only one will win the diamond tiara, only one will capture the handsome prince’s heart.

While Henry revels in the sexy, raunchy antics of the contestants as they fight, literally, for his affection, it’s the quiet, bespectacled girl in the corner—with the voice of an angel and a body that would tempt a saint—who catches his eye.

The more Henry gets to know Sarah Mirabelle Zinnia Von Titebottum, the more enamored he becomes of her simple beauty, her strength, her kind spirit… and her naughty sense of humor.

But Rome wasn’t built in a day—and irresponsible royals aren’t reformed overnight.

As he endeavors to right his wrongs, old words take on whole new meanings for the dashing Prince. Words like, Duty, Honor and most of all—Love.

Rating: Narration – A (Shane East)/B (Andi Arndt) Content – C+

I’ll admit to some trepidation when I picked up Royally Matched. There seems to be a current fad for fake-British royals in romances, in which authors seem to think it’s okay to mangle British history and geography just so they can employ the trappings of the monarchy in their stories. For her Royally series, author Emma Chase appears to have carved up the UK to create the kingdom of Wessco (which sounds like a supermarket chain). I gather it has ties to England and Scotland that go back to medieval times – so where is it? A rock in the North Sea? A bit of Scotland that has somehow become independent, referendum notwithstanding? I’m sorry, I know this is a rom-com and most people probably don’t care, but I live here (the UK, not a rock in the North Sea) and things like this BUG me!

Anyway. In the previous book, the Crown Prince, Nicholas, stepped aside from the succession in order to marry the woman he loved, leaving his younger brother Harry Henry as heir to their grandmother, the formidable Queen Lenora. Henry has always been the “other” one, the rebel who likes to party long and hard, the one who doesn’t care about tradition and rules – and the one most likely to fuck up. But now, he’s faced with the prospect of becoming king one day, and he’s not adjusting at all well.

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 🙂

A Scoundrel by Moonlight (Sons of Sin #4) by Anna Campbell (audiobook) – Narrated by Steve West

soundrel audio

Anything can happen in the moonlight.

Justice. That s all Nell Trim wants for her sister and for the countless other young women the Marquess of Leath has ruined with his wildly seductive ways. Now she has a bold plan to take him down as long as she can resist the scoundrel s temptations herself.

From the moment Nell meets James Fairbrother, the air positively sizzles. Yet for all his size and power, there s something amazingly tender in his touch. Could he really be such a depraved rogue? The only way to find out is to beat the devil at his own game one tempting kiss at a time.

Rating: A for narration; B+ for content

In A Scoundrel by Moonlight, the fourth book in Anna Campbell’s Sons of Sin series, the hero has a slightly different background to that of the other three, who are united by long-standing friendship and through the scandal they have weathered owing to the fact that they are all illegitimate. There are no such questions over the parentage of James Fairbrother, Marquess of Leath, who has appeared as rather a villainous figure in the previous books, although like the other men, he now finds himself the subject of unpleasant gossip. A man of vast political power and ambition, Leath has a reputation for iron control and implacability, but the taint of scandal resulting from his nefarious uncle’s suicide (A Rake’s Midnight Kiss) and his sister’s elopement (What a Duke Dares) has led his political masters to “suggest” that perhaps he needs a break from London to allow the gossip to die down. Frustrated and angry, he takes himself off to Yorkshire, hoping this enforced period of rustication will not last for too long.

In order to fulfill the deathbed promise made to her younger sister, Miss Eleanor (Nell) Trim has taken a position in the household of Alloway Chase, Leath’s Yorkshire estate. Nell’s younger sister died in childbed and made Nell swear to expose the identity of and the crimes perpetrated upon her and many other young women by her seducer. She discovered that the man actually kept a diary in which he stored details of his encounters with all the other girls he had ruined – and names him as none other than the Marquess of Leath.

On his first night back home, Leath is surprised to encounter a young woman snooping around in his library in the early hours of the morning, and naturally demands to know what she is doing. Nell, who is searching for the diary her sister spoke of, is intimidated by her employer’s darkly forceful presence, but refuses to kowtow to him, standing her ground and explaining that she’s a housemaid. The marquess is suspicious – she’s well-spoken, literate, and doesn’t carry herself like a servant, but he lets it go, determined to find out more. The next day, he encounters the delectable Miss Trim again and discovers that she’s actually his mother’s companion, something about which he’s not at all happy. He doesn’t trust her, and worse, for a man not given to sudden sexual urges, is shocked and annoyed at the powerful physical desire he feels for her, which given Miss Trim’s status as an employee, puts her firmly off limits.

Having believed the marquess to be a cruel, rapacious seducer, Nell is surprised by his kindness to and obvious love for his invalid mother, his fairness towards his staff, and by his industriousness when it comes to taking care of his estates and tenants. By every word and action, Leath reveals himself to be a decent, honourable man and gradually, Nell comes to realise that he can’t be the man her sister had described. The intensity of their mutual attraction is palpable and leaps off the page, but both of them know they don’t have a future together. He’s a peer of the realm with a glittering political career ahead of him, and she’s the daughter of a mere sergeant-major; marriage isn’t an option so they only way they can possibly be together is for Nell to become Leath’s mistress. It’s something they both struggle with; to sleep with a man outside of marriage goes against everything Nell has been taught, but she’s deeply in love and is torn between upholding her morals and pursing a course which will bring her happiness for as long as it lasts. And Leath, whose sexual liaisons have previously been confined to women of experience, knows what he’s asking of an innocent young woman but his feelings run just as deeply as Nell’s and he can’t find it in himself to walk away.

The relationship between the protagonists crackles with sexual tension right from their first meeting, and the choices they face are realistically portrayed. The class differences between them are fully recognised, as are the problems which could arise as the result of an illicit liaison. But just as it seems that happiness – albeit temporary – is within their grasp, Nell makes a heartbreaking discovery that overturns everything she has come to believe about the man she loves.

The scenes in which Nell confronts Leath with her knowledge, and the way he doesn’t try to bulldoze her concerns, but rather asks her to think back over the weeks of their relationship and own what she knows to be the truth are affecting and very well done. Characters from the other books make a reappearance towards the end of the story, and I especially enjoyed the way they welcome Leith – a very solitary man, in spite of wide circle of influence and acquaintance – into their circle, regardless of their previous enmity. I always enjoy well-written friendships, and even though this rapprochement doesn’t take place until late in the book, it’s a definite high point.

I may have raved – just a bit! – about Steve West’s performance in What a Duke Dares – and have had my fingers crossed ever since that he’d return as narrator for Leath’s book. He is a superb vocal actor and his delicious baritone is an absolute pleasure to listen to. He makes the most of an extensive vocal range that allows him to use a higher pitch for the female characters without resorting to falsetto, as well as to find a suitably gravelly tone at the lower end for the hulking Jonas Merrick. His portrayal of both principals is excellent; Leath is described as being a large man, “built like a prize-fighter”, and Mr West voices him accordingly, employing a deeply resonant tone that is by turns commanding and tender, and which he uses to knee-weakening effect in the love scenes. He expertly brings out Leath’s admirable characteristics – softer notes when speaking with his mother, his underlying dry humour in many of his exchanges with Nell – but there is no mistaking that this is a man of influence and power. Mr West’s interpretations of the secondary characters are just as good, and he differentiates very effectively between the heroes of the previous books and their wives in the scenes in which they all appear together. The narrative is expressive and well-paced, and all in all, this is a wonderfully characterised and emotionally resonant performance. I can’t wait to hear more from this highly talented narrator.

 

What a Duke Dares by Anna Campbell (audiobook) – narrated by Steve West

what duke dares audio

What woman in her right mind would say no to marrying the dashing Duke of Sedgemoor? Miss Penelope Thorne, that’s who. She’s known Camden Rothermere since they were children – and she also knows she’d bring nothing but scandal to his name.

Cam can hardly believe Penelope turned down his proposal. But if she wants to run off to the Continent and set the rumor mill ablaze, he can’t stop her. Then her brother’s dying request sends him to bring home the one woman he thought he’d finally gotten over.

The only way they’ll both get back to London without their reputations in tatters is to pretend they’re married during the journey. That means kissing like they mean it and even sharing a bed – until it becomes hard to tell where the game ends and true desire begins…

Rating: A for narration; B for content

In What a Duke Dares, Camden Rothermere, future Duke of Sedgemoor is young, handsome, rich – and completely stunned when Penelope Thorne turns down his proposal of marriage. He and Pen have known each other almost all their lives, and while the Sedgemoor title has been tarnished in recent years by the very public way in which his parents’ marriage has disintegrated, it’s one of the oldest in the kingdom. Cam is determined to force the polite world to forget his parents’ serial infidelities as well as the fact that the old duke is probably not his biological father, and he lives his life by an incredibly rigid set of rules, making sure his actions are above reproach and doing everything he can to restore his family name to respectability.

Penelope – Pen – insists that she’s not the right wife for him. She has a mind of her own, a reputation for hoydenish behaviour, and her father and brothers are hardly models of propriety. Given Cam’s desire to restore his family’s reputation, she tells him he needs a wife who is beyond reproach, one who will never give him a moment’s concern or cause people to smirk behind their hands.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals