The Rogue and I (Must Love Rogues #1) by Eva Devon (audiobook) – Narrated by Tim Campbell

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A Lady Ready for Battle

Miss Harriet Manning once made the mistake of falling completely, totally, and irreversibly in love with a duke’s son. It’s a mistake she won’t repeat twice. Truly. Especially since he abandoned her just when they were about to elope to Gretna Green. Five years later, Harriet hasn’t forgotten the way Lord Garret’s smoldering gaze and wicked sense of humor touched her soul. Still, there’s no way she’ll forgive the traitorous libertine, no matter how he stirs her passions. Now, Harriet is determined to show him she doesn’t care, and never did, by making merry right under his nose but a tragic turn of events at her cousin’s wedding has her wondering if just maybe, love deserves one last chance.

A Lord Who Lost His Heart

Lord Garret Hart, second son of a duke and now brother to the present Duke of Huntsdown, is never ever EVER getting married. Bachelorhood is for him. After all, women are the very devil. Especially one woman. Miss Harriet Manning is Garret’s own personal Medusa and she has turned his heart to stone. Indeed she has, but not before she absolutely ripped it to shreds, leaving him a complete wreck. Nothing will ever induce him to matrimony or nauseating protestations of boyish love again. But when he is forced into close proximity at his brother’s wedding with the woman who first taught him to dream and see the world as a wondrous place, sparks flash and passions explode. Still, Harriet is not to be trusted. She callously betrayed him once. So how can he ever allow himself another chance at love when love always seems to hurt so much?

Rating: Narration – A- Content – C+

Eva Devon (who has also written as Maire Claremont) opens her Must Love Rogues series with The Rogue and I, a story she says in her author’s note is an homage to her favourite Shakespeare play, Much Ado About Nothing (which is one of my favourites, too). Many, many romances feature couples who bicker à la Beatrice and Benedick, but Ms. Devon has taken that one step further and the first part of her story follows the plotline of the play fairly closely, mirroring some scenes and adapting dialogue to fit characters of the nineteenth rather than the sixteenth century. I enjoyed spotting those similarities (such as, when faced with confronting the heroine, the hero says “Send me anywhere… anywhere but here”, while Benedick begs: “Will your grace command me any service to the world’s end?”), although I felt that sometimes the implied bawdiness didn’t quite fit the regency setting.

As the play is a well-known one, I think it’s probably pointless for me to try to avoid spoilers in this review. The plot of the book and the plot of the play do diverge after the half-way point, however, so I’ll keep those events under wraps as far as possible for the potential listener.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

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Of One Heart (St. Briac #2) by Cynthia Wright (audiobook) – Narrated by Tim Cambell

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

A BATTLE FOR POSSESSION

… in which the beautiful young French widow Michelene Tevoulere becomes the pawn in a royal scheme involving England’s King Henry VIII and the court of France’s Francois I.

A BATTLE FOR POWER

… in which handsome young Earl of Sandhurst is betrothed against his will to the bewitching Michelen but conceives an even grander plot to outwit the kings and test both Michelene’s honor and her sensuality.

A BATTLE FOR PASSION

… in which the splendid Michelene finds the very depths of her womanhood aroused and tormented by a man her body adores but her mind resists.

Rating: Narration – B+ Content – C-

Of One Heart (originally titled A Battle for Love) is the second in Cynthia Wright’s St. Briac series and was originally published in 1986. It’s set in Paris and London in 1532/3 and charts the romance between an English Marquess and the beautiful young French widow he is ordered to marry, sight unseen. I am a big fan of the arranged marriage trope, and given I’m a bit of a Francophile to boot, I thought I’d find much here to enjoy. Sadly, however, I found a dull story that is stretched out for far too long, a couple of cardboard cut-out protagonists, a romance that isn’t particularly romantic and an ending so ridiculous that I couldn’t wait for it to be over. It’s largely thanks to the engaging performance by Tim Campbell that I was able to make it to the end without falling asleep.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

A Drop of Ink by Megan Chance (audiobook) – Narrated by Taylor Ann Krahn and Tim Campbell

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon.

Penniless and disgraced, Adelaide Wentworth is feeling rather desperate. With nothing left to lose, she and her sister, Louisa, flee to Lake Geneva with Adelaide’s lover, the infamous poet Julian Estes. There, Louisa hopes to persuade Bayard Sonnier—celebrated writer and her former lover—to advance Julian’s career. He is their last hope for salvation.

At the Villa Diodati—the place that inspired the writing of Frankenstein sixty years earlier—Louisa plots to rekindle her affair with Bayard, while Adelaide hopes to restore her fading love for Julian by being the muse he needs.

But soon, secrets are revealed, passions ignited, and hidden talents discovered. Adelaide begins to imagine a different life. Confused, she turns to Giovanni Calina—Bayard’s assistant and a man with his own secrets and deep resentments—and the two form a dangerous alliance. No one leaves unscathed in this richly imagined, emotionally nuanced tale of passion, ambition, inspiration, and redemption.

Rating: Narration – C/B; Content – B+

In 1816, a group of five writers lived for a few months at the Villa Diodati on the shores of Lake Geneva. One night, during a particularly virulent storm, they sat around telling each other ghost stories, and then one of their number issued a challenge that they should all write one … and the rest is history because one of those stories was eventually published as Frankenstein. The writers were, of course, Lord Byron, Percy Shelley and his wife, Mary, her step-sister Claire (and Shelley’s some-time lover) and Byron’s friend and physician, Dr. John Polidori, whose own effort, The Vampyre, was written several decades before Bram Stoker’s Dracula.

In A Drop of Ink, Megan Chance re-imagines this story some sixty years later, in 1876. Author Bayard Sonnier is as famous for his romantic liaisons as for his writing, and, as was the case with Byron, he’s the equivalent of a rock star in terms of his fame and the interest that is generated by anything and everything he does. Following the ending of his most recent, scandalous, love affair, Bayard has left England in the attempt to find some anonymity and time to work on his next book, which is already overdue. He is accompanied by his secretary, Giovanni Calina who, in spite of his Italianate name, hails from Bethnal Green in the East End of London. The son of a cobbler, Giovanni – usually referred to in the book as ‘Vanni’ – has been well educated and managed to land the job as Bayard’s secretary, in part because of his skill with languages – a definite plus, given Bayard’s intention to travel. Vanni is also an aspiring writer, and hopes that perhaps he will be able to learn something about the craft by working closely with the renowned author.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals

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.