The Secret of Love (Rakes and Rebels #2) by Cynthia Wright (audiobook) – Narrated by Tim Campbell

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This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon.

When Lady Isabella Trevarre first laid eyes on Gabriel St. Briac, she announced to her best friend: “That is the man I will marry!” Now a woman grown, Izzie has traded her girlish dreams for the independent life of an artist, but she never quite forgot the dazzling Frenchman who captivated her young heart. When he appears again in Cornwall, the seeds of desire grow between them.

As Napoleon’s army loots art treasures throughout Europe, Gabriel St. Briac’s priceless Leonardo da Vinci painting vanishes from its hiding place. Bent on recovering his family’s prized possession, Gabriel sets sail for the chaos of wartime France – only to find Izzie stowed away on his ship. Though fearful for her safety, he allows her to join in his quest. But Izzie harbors a dark secret…a secret that could shatter the tender blossom of their trust. When danger puts them both to the test, will these two guarded souls dare to risk all for love?

Rating: Narration – B-; Content – C+

This latest instalment in Cynthia Wright’s long-running Rakes and Rebels series is the sequel to Smuggler’s Moon, which I reviewed a couple of years back. Even though it’s part of a series, The Secret of Love can be listened to as a stand-alone novel, because while some characters from other books in the series appear in this one, they have secondary roles to play and the storyline is self-contained, so there is no real need to have read or listened to any of the other instalments.

At the end of Smuggler’s Moon, fourteen year-old Lady Isabella – Izzie – Trevarre told her best friend that she had met the man she was going to marry. That man was Gabriel St. Briac, a handsome young Frenchman and associate of her brother Sebastian’s from the brief time he made his living as a smuggler. Moving on six years, we find Isabella in London at the salon of the famous artist, <a href=https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/%C3%89lisabeth_Vig%C3%A9e_Le_Brun, who recognised Izzie’s considerable artistic talent and agreed to be her mentor. Izzie is determined not to end up trapped in a loveless marriage like her mother and has set her sights instead on making her way in the world as an artist.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

The Scottish Duke by Karen Ranney (audiobook) – Narrated by Tim Campbell

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This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon.

Though raised as a gentleman’s daughter, Lorna Gordon is obliged to take a position as an upstairs maid at Blackhall Castle when her father dies. Alex Russell, the Duke of Kinross, is the most tempting man she’s ever seen—and completely unattainable—until, at a fancy dress ball, Lorna disguises herself as Marie Antoinette and pursues an illicit tryst…with scandalous consequences.

Months after his mysterious seductress disappears, Alex encounters her again. Far from the schemer the distrustful duke assumed her to be, Lorna is fiercely independent and resourceful. She’s the one woman capable of piercing his defenses. But when danger threatens Lorna, Alex must prove himself not just the lover of her fantasies, but the man who will fight to protect her.

Rating: Narration – B-; Content – B

The Scottish Duke is the first book in a new series from Karen Ranney, and is set in Victorian Scotland on the estate of the eponymous duke, Alexander Russell, Duke of Kinross. Alex is a scientifically minded gentleman – principally interested in the emerging science of fingerprinting – and on the day the book opens has suffered a big professional disappointment; his work was passed over by the Scottish Society for Scientific Achievement. His plan to hide away, sulk and get extremely drunk is going to be difficult to carry out given that he is hosting a grand, fancy-dress ball that evening, but he’s had enough of polite society and is well on the way to being half-cut when he notices the young woman dressed as Marie Antoinette and is immediately intrigued by her stillness. Unlike everyone else who is busy chatting, flirting and dancing, “Marie” is just taking stock of her surroundings, until their gazes meet and Alex decides it’s time to forego the drink and indulge in another of life’s pleasures.

The daughter of a renowned botanist, Lorna Gordon was forced to take work a maid at Blackhall Castle in order to support herself after her father’s death a couple of years earlier. She is infatuated with the Duke of Kinross, who is quite the handsomest man she has ever seen, and when she finds an old costume in the attics, decides to go to the ball in the hopes of seeing him. Her friend, Nan, tries to discourage her, but Lorna won’t be talked out of it; it’s her only chance of ever experiencing a society ball. And perhaps, getting to see the duke up close.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

Forever Betrothed, Never the Bride (Scandalous Seasons #1) by Christ Caldwell (audiobook) – narrated by Tim Campbell

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Hopeless romantic, Lady Emmaline Fitzhugh, is tired of sitting with the wallflowers, waiting for her betrothed to come to his senses and marry her. When Emmaline reads one too many reports of his scandalous liaisons in the gossip rags, she takes matters into her own hands.

War-torn veteran, Lord Drake devotes himself to forgetting his days on the Peninsula through an endless round of meaningless associations. He no longer wants to feel anything, but Lady Emmaline is making it hard to maintain a state of numbness. With her zest for life, she awakens his passion and desire for love.

The one woman Drake has spent the better part of his life avoiding is now the only woman he needs, but he is no longer a man worthy of his Emmaline. It is up to her to show him the healing power of love.

Rating: C- for narration; C+ for content

The first book in Christi Caldwell’s Scandalous Seasons series, Forever Betrothed, Never the Bride has an intriguing premise and an engaging heroine, but while I did enjoy the story, there are a number of faults in the execution which made it impossible for me to rate it more highly. The same is true of the narration by Tim Campbell who is, apart from one rather large flaw, a very accomplished narrator and vocal actor.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

What a Rogue Wants by Julie Johnstone (audiobook) – narrated by Tim Campbell

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Lady Madelaine Aldridge might be the worst lady-in-waiting to ever grace King George III’s court. An oddball who prefers archery to embroidery and honesty to deception, she earns the dislike of the Queen, the cruelty of the other ladies-in-waiting and the advances of a lecherous fiend who wants to make her his whore. Her father demands she find a proper husband? A task that seems hopeless until Lord Grey Adlard rides into court.

Grey Adlard lives up to his reputation as a dangerously handsome rake when he proposes Madelaine meet him in the stables for a tumble. Yet when she needs a protector the most, Grey offers his services and vows he wants to court her. Wary yet intrigued by the mystery he presents, Madelaine slowly allows Grey to capture her confidence and then her heart.

Things seem perfect until her father is imprisoned for plotting against the King and Madelaine learns Grey is not who he pretends. As King George III sinks deeper into insanity, Madelaine must prove her father’s innocence in order to save his life. With the future of England hanging in the balance and a ruthless murderer hunting them Grey and Madelaine engage in a clash of wills and a battle fraught with suspicion, secrets, betrayal and two hearts that cannot deny the impossible, irresistible love between them.

Rating: C- for narration, C for content

Lady Madelaine Aldridge is a Lady in Waiting to Queen Charlotte, but doesn’t quite fit in at Court and is frequently the subject of cruel remarks from the other ladies of the queen’s retinue. She doesn’t possess any of the usual female “accomplishments”, preferring archery to embroidery and riding to singing or painting, and has little patience with the pretense and deceit continually practiced by those around her. She is not happy in her position – the queen dislikes her intensely because of an old feud with Madelaine’s late mother – but she bears it as best she can because she wants to please her father, who has sent her to Court in order for her to learn to be a “proper lady” and find herself a husband.

Lord Grey Adlard (Grey doesn’t seem to me to be the sort of name that would have been found in Georgian England, I must say!) arrives at Court to take up the position of equerry to Lord Pearson. He is immediately attracted to Madelaine, and believes she’s probably like so many other court ladies and will be up for a quick tumble in the stables. He’s a rake of the first order, a lifestyle he’s pursued most diligently in order to annoy his father, who has never had time or affection for his second son. Grey’s determination to seduce Madeleine naturally sees him spending more and more time in her company, and as they get to know each other, he is stunned to realise that he wants more from her than some short-lived, illicit liaison, and determines to win her honourably.

Things between them are going well, until Grey discovers the real reason he has been summoned to Court. Shortly after that, Madelaine’s father is arrested for treason and imprisoned in the Tower, and Grey is instructed to use his relationship with her to discover all he can about the plot against the king. Madelaine protests her father’s innocence, and while Grey can’t believe that the woman he loves can have had any part in her father’s treachery, her determination to exonerate her father leads her to make a poor decision which brings her into conflict with Grey and puts both their lives in danger.

The story is decently told and reasonably engaging, although I felt it could have done with some judicious editing as there are numerous repetitions which interrupt the flow. For example, Madelaine often mopes that such a gorgeous specimen as Lord Grey can’t possibly be interested in a girl like her – and just as often expresses her astonishment that he likes her in spite of her oddness, and perhaps because of it. There is occasionally some terribly creaky dialogue, and the plot, while decently constructed and executed, is fairly predictable. But on the positive side, the author takes the time to fill the listener in on Madelaine’s life at Court, and allows time for the romance to develop rather than relying on the insta-lust that seems to be a feature of so many romances at the moment.

I had a hard time grading Tim Campbell’s narration. In fact, I wish I could be like one of the Olympic judges in the gymnastics who gets to hold up two score cards – one with a mark for artistic merit and the other with a mark for technical ability! If I did, I’d be giving this performance something like an 8 for the former and a 3 or 4 for the latter, because this would have been a highly graded narration were it not for one massive technical flaw.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.