Wicked Delights of a Bridal Bed (Byrons of Braebourne #4) by Tracy Anne Warren (audiobook) – Narrated by Rebecca de Leeuw

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

To her surprise, Lady Mallory Byron finds herself walking down the aisle with the last man she ever expected to ask for her hand….

Everyone knows the Byron brothers are “mad, bad, and dangerous.” Now their sister shockingly discovers she’s the newest talk of the Ton when she marries the scandalous Earl of Gresham. Faced with a tragic loss, she’d sought comfort from him as a family friend. But soon consolation turned to passion, scandal – and a wedding! In the bridal bed, she finds pleasure beyond her wildest dreams. But can nights of wicked delight change friendship into true love?

Charming rakehell Adam, Earl of Gresham, has secretly loved Mallory for years. He lost her once to another man, but now he has a second chance to win her love – and plans to do so by any means necessary. Will Mallory’s heart give him what he so dearly desires? Or is the past too much to overcome?

Rating: Narration: B; Content: C

Tracy Anne Warren’s Byrons of Braebourne series about the five Byron siblings (four male, one female) was originally published between 2009 and 2011, but was only released in audio format recently. Rebecca de Leeuw is the pseudonym of a narrator I’ve enjoyed listening to a couple of times before, so I decided to pick up one of the books for review. I chose book four, Wicked Delights of a Bridal Bed, because I enjoy friends-to-lovers stories and because according to the synopsis, the hero has been secretly in love with the heroine for years; I’ve got a bit of a soft spot for romances in which the hero is a total goner for his lady-love.

Mallory Byron has spent the last year mourning the death of her fiancé, Michael Hargreaves, who was killed in battle during the Napoleonic Wars. Her large, close-knit family is worried about her; it’s been over a year since Hargreaves was killed but Mallory continues to avoid social gatherings and family events and none of them is quite sure what to do or how to help her to start to put her grief aside and move on with her life. But there’s one person who might be able to get through to her and help her to start living again, Adam, Earl of Gresham, a family friend of long-standing who has always been especially close to her.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

Bedchamber Games (Rakes of Cavendish Square #3) by Tracy Anne Warren (audiobook) – Narrated by Beverley A. Crick

This title may be purchased from Amazon

Rosamund Carrow has spent years learning the law by assisting her barrister father, despite the frustrating truth that the profession is closed to women. When he dies unexpectedly, necessity compels her to disguise herself as a man so she can step into the courtroom to finish his cases. She’s willing to put her reputation at risk, but she never expects that the greatest peril will be to her heart…

Lord Lawrence Byron is a rising star in London’s legal circles, despite his reputation as an unrepentant rakehell. When an upstart young barrister defeats him in court, he’s determined to discover everything he can about his rival. He’s stunned when he uncovers the shocking secret that his new opponent is actually a beguiling, brilliant woman… one he can’t help but want in his bed. Passion draws them together as they break all the rules, but it may lead to something more lasting – like love…

Rating: Narration – A-; Content – B-

I’ve enjoyed the three stories that comprise Tracy Anne Warren’s Rakes of Cavendish Square trilogy in both print and audio – with the exception of the audiobook version of Happily Bedded Bliss (book two) which is the only narration to which I’ve ever awarded an F grade. I was glad, therefore, that Tantor Audio engaged Beverley A. Crick to narrate this last instalment, Bedchamber Games, which tells the story of the one remaining unmarried Byron sibling, Lord Lawrence, who, although the brother of a duke, has built himself a career and sterling reputation as a barrister.

Lawrence is at the top of his profession, known to possess one of the keenest legal minds around, and his reputation for winning his cases is pretty much second to none. So it comes as a bit of a shock one day when he is bested in court by a young barrister, new to London, named Ross Carrow. But Lawrence is gracious in defeat, acknowledging that his opponent’s carefully reasoned arguments carried the day, and invites Mr. Carrow to have a drink with him at his club the following evening.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

Bedchamber Games (Rakes of Cavendish Square #3) by Tracy Anne Warren

This title may be purchased from Amazon.

Rosamund Carrow has spent years learning the law by assisting her barrister father, despite the frustrating truth that the profession is closed to women. When he dies unexpectedly, necessity compels her to disguise herself as a man so she can step into the courtroom to finish his cases. She’s willing to put her reputation at risk, but she never expects that the greatest peril will be to her heart…

Lord Lawrence Byron is a rising star in London’s legal circles, despite his reputation as an unrepentant rakehell. When an upstart young barrister defeats him in court, he’s determined to discover everything he can about his rival. He’s stunned when he uncovers the shocking secret that his new opponent is actually a beguiling, brilliant woman, one he can’t help but want in his bed. Passion draws them together as they break all the rules, but it may lead to something more lasting like love…

Rating: B-

This final book in the Rakes of Cavendish Square trilogy features Lord Lawrence Byron, the twin brother of Lord Leo whose story was told in the first instalment, The Bedding Proposal. I enjoyed both that and the previous book (Happily Bedded Bliss) enough to want to read this final one, even though it uses one of my least favourite tropes – a woman passing herself off as a man. It’s testament to the author’s ability to tell an entertaining story and craft strong characters that I was able to set aside that dislike and enjoy the developing relationship between the two protagonists, which is well-paced and imbued with a slow-burning sexual tension that really draws the reader in.

Rosamund Carrow and her brother, Bertram, were both extensively tutored in law by their father, a renowned barrister. Even though the profession is closed to her purely because of her gender, Rosamund showed a great aptitude for the subject and regularly assisted her father in his preparations and research, but his sudden death leaves behind a lot of unfinished, untried – and unpaid – cases. The obvious solution would be for Bertram to complete the work and make the necessary court appearances, but he suffers from a speech impediment which becomes worse whenever he gets nervous, and it quickly becomes apparent that he isn’t going to be able to take on his father’s role. Nervously, Rosamund agrees to Bertram’s suggestion that she should pose as their cousin, Ross Carrow; that way, she can assist Bertram in court and as soon as the cases are cleared, she can return to being herself again and quietly disappear.

On their first day in court, Rosamund and Bertram find themselves pitted against none other than Lord Lawrence Byron, a man with a formidable reputation for winning his lawsuits and a keen legal mind. He’s also the handsomest man Rosamund has ever seen, with a rakish reputation to go along with his abundance of good looks and charm. The case – brought by a young widow against her late husband’s family – is a tricky one, Bertram’s nerves prove his undoing and he’s forced to ask Rosamund to take over as lead counsel. Still unable to believe that nobody has noticed the deception she is practicing, she nonetheless rises to the challenge and, incredibly, wins the case.

Lawrence is gracious in defeat, acknowledging that “Mr. Carrow’s” persuasive arguments carried the day, and, finding himself rather well disposed towards the young lawyer, invites “him” to dinner at his club.

Over the next few weeks, as Rosamund continues to represent her late father’s remaining clients in court, she also gets to spend more time with Lawrence, who has taken her under his wing. Lawrence is amused at the gaucheness of this slight young man who can’t hold his drink and doesn’t quite seem comfortable in his own skin, but he can’t help admiring his quickness of mind and his ability to construct a strong legal argument. The problem is that for the first time in his life, Lawrence finds himself distracted by the speaking eyes, plump lips and nicely rounded bottom of a member of his own sex – and is unnerved by it.

Luckily for poor, confused Lawrence, a random comment made by his brother very quickly brings everything into focus with startling clarity; all those things about “Ross Carrow” that didn’t add up before do so now, and Lawrence is determined to unmask “him” as a fraud.  But then he decides against it; Miss Carrow is obviously talented and clever and even though her sex precludes her from entering the profession legitimately, he believes she deserves to be able to continue to do something she so clearly loves.  And besides, Lawrence has appreciated her friendship and wants it to continue – while also adding other things to the mix.  Things like kissing and… more than kissing.

During the weeks of their acquaintance, Rosamund has found it more and more difficult to deny the strength of the attraction she feels towards Lawrence, but she knows that even if he met her as a woman, a twenty-eight year old spinster is unlikely to have attracted his notice.  So when she realises he has seen through her disguise, the last thing she expects is for him to tell her that he wants to take her to bed – and also that she should continue her work.  She is wary, but when Lawrence makes it clear that there are no strings attached, and that he doesn’t expect her to go to bed with him for any reason other than that she wants to, Rosamund decides to take what Lawrence is offering; a chance to experience pleasure and passion with a deeply sensual and devastatingly attractive man.

The story is a simple one, and because the author takes care to emphasise Rosamund’s misgivings about her disguise and how careful she is to maintain her male persona, it helped me to achieve the necessary suspension of disbelief required to accept not only that she could pass as a man, but that she could pass as a man working in as complex a profession as the law.  She’s a well-defined character, a strong, intelligent woman who has the ability to be and to do more than the constraints of the time will permit, but who recognises that she’s playing a dangerous game.  I particularly enjoyed watching her growing confidence as “Ross”, and seeing how much her work means to her; and, importantly, that Lawrence is able to recognise both those things, too, and to appreciate her all the more for it.  Lawrence is less strongly characterised, however; while his being the son of a duke who actually has a profession makes him a bit different from so many of the other titled heroes who abound in historical romance, he’s otherwise a little stereotypical.  That’s not to say he’s dull or unattractive – he’s not – just that he isn’t as fully fleshed-out as Rosamund.

While the central relationship develops at a good pace and the romance is tender and sensual, there are other aspects of the story which I found problematic and which caused me to lower my final grade. Throughout the book, Lawrence is paying court to the daughter of an influential judge whom he hopes will help him to advance in his career;  which didn’t worry me because the supposed-to-marry-one-while-in-love-with-another thing isn’t uncommon in historical romance.  The problem is that this is the sole element of conflict throughout the entire novel, and it’s weak, because ultimately, Lawrence hasn’t made any promises or offers and can change his mind if he wants to.  The fact that he allows his ambition to blind him to what he really wants isn’t his finest hour, but if he hadn’t done that, there would have been no conflict at all in the story.  Our lovers undergo a separation and are miserable for a bit, but after that, things are wrapped up quickly and easily – rather too quickly and easily, really – and I was left thinking “oh – was that it?”  and also with a few unanswered questions.

Bedchamber Games is an entertaining read and I certainly don’t regret the hours I spent reading it, but it’s the weakest of the trilogy and brings it to a rather lacklustre close.  So I’m giving this one a qualified recommendation, because the romance is well done, I liked the author’s exploration of what it meant to be a woman and therefore unable to enter a profession – and there aren’t enough sexy barristers in historical romance.

 

Happily Bedded Bliss (Rakes of Cavendish Square #2) by Tracy Anne Warren – Narrated by Charlotte Anne Dore

happly bedded bliss audio

When Lady Esme Byron happens upon a gorgeous naked man sleeping beside a secluded country lake, she can’t resist the impulse to sketch him. But when her highly improper drawing is mistakenly revealed at a party, she finds her once-pristine reputation in tatters.
Gabriel, Lord Northcote, may be a notorious rakehell, but he is still stunned to find himself accused of despoiling a duke’s sister – especially since he’s never set eyes on her. When Esme’s six irate brothers demand a hurried trip down the aisle, he has no choice but to comply. He thinks that he can forget about his inconvenient bride, but Esme Byron is no ordinary woman, and Gabriel is about to learn just how unforgettable she can be.

Rating: Narration – F; Content – B

I enjoyed Happily Bedded Bliss when I read it a couple of months ago and was looking forward to listening to the audiobook version. The previous book in the series, The Bedding Proposal, boasted both an unusual and deliciously angsty storyline and was also excellently narrated by Barrie Kreinik. I had been hoping for more of the same, but for some inexplicable reason, Tantor has used a different narrator for this second book. I have only listened to Charlotte Anne Dore once before – her lacklustre narration more or less ruined Sherry Thomas’ My Beautiful Enemy – but I believe in giving people a second chance, just to see if maybe I was having a bad day when listening, or if they have improved. I can’t remember what sort of mood I was in when I listened to My Beautiful Enemy, but I’m afraid that Ms Dore’s performance here is every bit as uninspiring as it was the last time I listened to her, and her narration has completely ruined what is, in print, an enjoyable, well-developed romance.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

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Happily Bedded Bliss (Rakes of Cavendish Square #2) by Tracy Anne Warren

happily bedded bliss

This title may be purchased from Amazon.

When Lady Esme Byron happens upon a gorgeous naked man sleeping beside a secluded country lake, she can’t resist the impulse to sketch him. But when her highly improper drawing is mistakenly revealed at a party, she finds her once-pristine reputation in tatters.

Gabriel, Lord Northcote, may be a notorious rakehell, but he is still stunned to find himself accused of despoiling a duke’s sister—especially since he’s never set eyes on her. When Esme’s six irate brothers demand a hurried trip down the aisle, he has no choice but to comply. He thinks he can forget about his inconvenient bride but Esme Byron is no ordinary woman and Gabriel is about to learn just how unforgettable she can be.

Rating: B

I’ve been eagerly awaiting Happily Bedded Bliss since I read the first book in Tracy Anne Warren’s Rakes of Cavendish Square series (The Bedding Proposal) last year. That book was a compelling read that was quite dark in places, given the treatment doled out to the divorced heroine, both by her ex-husband and society at large, so I was hoping for something equally gripping in this second novel. Probably because of those expectations, I came away from this book rather disappointed – but that doesn’t mean there’s anything badly wrong with the story or characters; just that it lacks the emotional impact of the previous one.

On the upside, however, the story does use what is probably my favourite trope in the genre, that of a couple who is forced to marry for appearances’ sake, and who we then see adjusting to life together and eventually falling in love. Lady Esme Byron is one of the two remaining unwed Byron siblings, and while not against the idea of marriage in general – her brothers and sister are all blissfully happy – isn’t in a hurry, despite the fact that she’s already twenty and many other young ladies of her age are already settled with husbands and children. But she enjoys her life of relative freedom, surrounded by her menagerie of cats, dogs, a wounded hawk and the various other small animals she takes care of, and indulging her talent for drawing and painting.

Unfortunately, however, that talent proves her undoing when, on one of her long rambles, she strays onto the adjoining property and spies an incredibly handsome man emerging from a swim in the lake. Her artist’s eye is caught; and when he stretches out on the grass and falls asleep – completely naked – she can’t resist the impulse to draw him. Well aware that what she’s doing is scandalous, Esme also knows she is unlikely to ever again have such an opportunity to draw from life. She will just have to make sure that she keeps her sketch securely hidden away. But of course, things like this never go according to plan and a mistake means Esme’s drawing is seen by her entire family and their guests. After that, there is only one way to prevent a massive scandal and protect her reputation.

When he left London in order to rusticate in the peace and quiet of a friend’s country estate, Gabriel Lansdowne, Lord Northcote, hadn’t the least idea of becoming involved with any young woman, let alone ending up having to marry one. When suddenly confronted one evening by several large, angry men – including his London neighbours, Lords Leo and Lawrence Byron – he is at a loss to understand why they are so furious with him. His reputation is terrible, of course, but all the Byron men were just as bad before settling down, and he sure as hell hasn’t seduced or even met their sisters, so being accused of debauching one of them is a complete shock. A rakehell he may be, but a gentleman’s word counts for something and the Byrons accept Gabriel’s explanation that he has never met Esme; but even so, her reputation will be in tatters when word gets out about the sketch, and there’s no alternative but for him to marry her without delay.

The set-up happens quickly, leaving the author plenty of time to develop the relationship between Esme and Gabriel, which she does very well. The pair are most definitely attracted to each other from the outset, and when Esme turns out to be intelligent and quick-witted as well as beautiful, Gabriel thinks he might not have made such a bad bargain after all. Esme had worried that a husband would want to curb her personal freedom and what society has termed her “eccentricities”; her work with animals and her painting, but Gabriel shows no signs of wanting to do that. Instead he encourages and supports her; even when she reveals that she doesn’t eat meat (very unusual for the time), he doesn’t turn a hair and makes sure that their household staff is aware of her preferences. They’re compatible sexually, they enjoy each other’s company and they like each other – but Esme has always been aware that there is something about her new husband that he isn’t willing to share with her, a jaded cynicism which seems to be almost waiting for her to find him unworthy and reject him.

Gabriel is one in a long line of historical heroes who have forsworn love because of the circumstances of his past; in his case being brought up by an unfeeling relative whose casual cruelty very quickly taught the younger Gabriel that loving things was dangerous as it hurt when they were taken away. An unfortunate youthful love-affair only served to reinforce that belief, and he has disavowed love’s very existence ever since. While his actions and motivations may be somewhat stereotypical, Esme’s are less so and are among the things that lift the book out of the “average” category. She is a loving, giving person and refuses to give up on Gabriel, regardless of his sudden coldness towards her. I liked the way she gradually works her way under his skin and into his heart, and that she refuses to allow him to wallow or give up on their marriage because of his fears and insecurities.

Although I said at the outset that I was a little disappointed with Happily Bedded Bliss, I did enjoy it once I’d adjusted my expectations and would definitely recommend it if you’re looking for a gently romantic and sensual love story. The central relationship is charmingly written and the two principals are attractive, well-rounded characters who are well-matched and whose happiness beyond the HEA is something I could easily believe in.

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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 🙂

The Bedding Proposal by Tracy Anne Warren (audiobook) – Narrated by Barrie Kreinik

bedding proposal

Lord Leo Byron is bored with the aristocratic company he keeps; he needs a distraction, preferably in the form of a beautiful new female companion. So when he sets eyes on fascinating and scandalous divorcée Lady Thalia Lennox, he’s determined to make her intimate acquaintance. But the spirited woman seems to have no intention of accepting his advances no matter how much he chases—or how hard he falls….

Once a darling of Society, Thalia Lennox now lives on its fringes. The cruel lies that gave her a notoriously wild reputation have also left her with a broken heart and led to a solemn vow to swear off men. Still, Leo Byron’s bold overtures are deliciously tempting, and, for the first time, she finds herself wondering whether it just might be worth the risk to let the attractive rake into her life—and her bed….

Rating: B+ for narration; A- for content

The Bedding Proposal boasts a somewhat darker storyline than is found in many historical romances, and certainly possesses a depth which one might not expect on reading the synopsis, which tells us this is the story of a rakish young man who becomes enamoured of a scandalous older woman and doggedly pursues her. That is part of the storyline, it’s true, but it is quickly apparent to the listener that the older woman is not what she is reputed to be, and there is more to the hero than the façade he presents to the world of the devil-may-care rogue.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.