Tag Archive | Audio Reviews

AUDIO REVIEW: Romancing Mister Bridgerton by Julia Quinn, narrated by Rosalyn Landor

romancing mister bridgerton audio

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Everyone knows that Colin Bridgerton is the most charming man in London. Penelope Featherington has secretly adored her best friend’s brother for…well, it feels like forever. After half a lifetime of watching Colin Bridgerton from afar, she thinks she knows everything about him, until she stumbles across his deepest secret…and fears she doesn’t know him at all.

Colin Bridgerton is tired of being thought nothing but an empty-headed charmer, tired of everyone’s preoccupation with the notorious gossip columnist Lady Whistledown, who can’t seem to publish an edition without mentioning him in the first paragraph. But when Colin returns to London from a trip abroad he discovers nothing in his life is quite the same – especially Penelope Featherington! The girl haunting his dreams. But when he discovers that Penelope has secrets of her own, this elusive bachelor must decide…is she his biggest threat – or his promise of a happy ending?

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Publisher and Release Date: AUDIOBOOK EDITION – Recorded Books, April 2017

Time and Setting: London, 1824
Heat Level: 2
Genre: Historical Romance
Reviewer Rating: Content: 4.5 stars, Narration: 5 stars

Review by Caz

The friends-to-lovers trope is one of my favourites in the genre, and one of my favourite examples of it is Julia Quinn’s Romancing Mister Bridgerton, the fourth book in her iconic series about the eight Bridgerton siblings.
Colin is the third son, and has featured in the previous books as a good-humoured, devil-may-care sort of chap; easy going with a killer smile, good sense of humour, able to laugh at himself and always ready with a quip or witty rejoinder. He’s all of those things, but by the age of thirty-three, has started to feel a little disgruntled at being thought of by practically everyone in society as just “A Bridgerton”. His brother is the viscount, his next eldest brother, Benedict, is making a name for himself as an artist but Colin… well, he’s not sure exactly what and who he is, and doesn’t quite know what he wants to do or to be, either.

Penelope Featherington has also appeared in the previous books as a close friend of the Bridgerton sisters, especially of Eloise. She was an object of catty remarks and ridicule for years, owing to her mother’s tendency to dress her in styles and colours that were completely wrong for her and for that lady’s almost maniacal desire to get her daughters married off. At twenty-eight, Penelope is now firmly on the shelf and is resigned to being the spinster daughter who will care for her mother into old age – although the one good thing about her being on the shelf is that she can dress how she wants and eschew the horrible clothes her mother made her wear.

Being a friend of the Bridgerton sisters means that Penelope has also been frequently in the company of the brothers, too, all of whom are friendly and treat her almost as one of the family, making a point of asking her to dance at balls or seeking her out at other functions. For years, Penelope has harboured a tendre for Colin, but has no hope of a return – why should he look at an unprepossessing woman like her when he’s one of society’s darlings; handsome, charming and witty, he is not without female admirers blessed with both youth and beauty and he can have any woman he wants.

Ms. Quinn freshens up the trope and gives it extra depth by virtue of her characterisation of the two principals. Colin is restless; he travels a lot and in fact spends more time abroad than he does in England. He is tired of being thought of as someone who is only good for a laugh and wants to actually do something with his life but he has no idea what until one day, Penelope inadvertently stumbles upon one of his travel journals and is so engrossed by his writing that she suggests he publish them. At first, Colin is furious at her having read his private journals and they quarrel, but eventually, her genuine enthusiasm and praise for his writing surprise and humble him and start him thinking that perhaps this is what he’s meant to do, and he takes her suggestion to heart.

Previously the perennial wallflower, Penelope has discovered that spinsterhood has its benefits; not only because she can dress as she wants, but because she feels free to be more herself and doesn’t have to put up with her mother’s constant attempts to marry her off. But Penelope has been keeping a huge secret from everyone around her for years; something that started as a way for her to fight back at those who looked down on her and that would ruin her if it ever got out. I’m not going to say more here because it’s a massive spoiler; but this secret is the book’s other major plotline and leads to some major conflict between Colin and Penelope later on.

But the real strength of this instalment in the series is in the characterisation and subtle development of the two leads. Penelope’s infatuation with Colin is of long-standing; she fell for his looks and charm without really knowing him, and during the course of the story discovers that he’s not the perfect man she had imagined. Colin knows Penelope only as the slightly plump, shy friend of his sisters, but through spending time with her, comes to realise that she’s also intelligent, quick-witted and lovely. Neither of them really knows how or why things are changing between them, they just know that they are, and those moments when they both start to really see each other – the best parts of any friends-to-lovers romance – are beautifully done.

Rosalyn Landor is, without question, one of the best narrators of historical romance around and her narrations of these previously unrecorded Bridgerton books (6, 7 and 8 were recorded some time ago, but not books 1-5) have been absolutely stellar. Romancing Mister Bridgerton is no exception; Ms. Landor’s pacing is excellent, her vocal characterisations of every single character are superb and in scenes where large numbers of characters appear, listeners can have no problems whatsoever working out who is speaking, so clear and expert is her manner of differentiating between all of them. It doesn’t matter if a character is old or young, male or female, aristocrat or servant, all are perfectly portrayed. I’m particularly fond of her interpretation of the formidable Lady Danbury, a wonderfully acerbic, perceptive but (secretly) kind elderly dowager of the sort so often found in historicals. Her portrayal of Colin, too, is spot on, and absolutely consistent with the way he was voiced in the earlier books in the series; suitably youthful and with a jaunty air that befits his reputation as a carefree young gentleman about town. But here, Ms. Landor is afforded the chance to explore another side of him, and she does it very well, adding a slight edge to his tone in some moments of heightened emotion or giving him a more seductive, husky note in the more intimate scenes.

If you’re a fan of historical romance audiobooks, you’ve no doubt listened to Rosalyn Landor already and know that her name on the front cover is a guarantee of an excellent narration. If you haven’t tried one, then the Bridgerton books can be listened to in any order, although I think you’ll get more out of them if you listen to them in order, as it will allow you to meet each sibling as they pop in and out of other stories in the series and get to know them better.

Whatever you do, though, Romancing Mister Bridgerton is another must listen for fans of this talented author/narrator pair and for fans of historical romance in general.

AUDIO REVIEW AND GIVEAWAY: A Splendid Defiance by Stella Riley, narrated by Alex Wyhdham

splendid-defiance-audio-cover

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon.

For two years, England has been in the grip of Civil War. In Banbury, Oxfordshire, the Cavaliers hold the castle, the Roundheads want it back and the town is full of zealous Puritans. Consequently, the gulf between Captain Justin Ambrose and Abigail Radford, the sister of a fanatically religious shopkeeper, ought to be unbridgeable. The key to both the fate of the castle and that of Justin and Abigail lies in defiance… but will it be enough?

A Splendid Defiance is a dramatic and enchanting story of forbidden love, set against the turmoil and anguish of the first English Civil War.

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Published and Release Date: Stella Riley, December 2016

Time and Setting: Banbury, Oxfordshire, England 1642-4
Genre: Romantic Historical Fiction/ Audiobook
Heat Level: 2
Reviewer Rating: 5 stars content, 5 stars narration

Review by Wendy

If you are a fan of historical fiction or historical romance, then you must, must, must, read or listen to Stella Riley’s work, and a good place to start is A Splendid Defiance. (Our review of the book is HERE.) It was this story and another of the author’s books – The Marigold Chain – that initially piqued my interest in this turbulent period in England’s history. Both are superbly researched standalone stories and each is eminently enjoyable. I wouldn’t have imagined it possible to improve upon my enjoyment of the print version of A Splendid Defiance but by employing the superbly talented Alex Wyndham to narrate her powerful story, Ms. Riley has done just that, because Mr. Wyndham brings her exciting, wonderfully romantic feast of a book to multi-dimensional life.

Captain Justin Ambrose is moodily kicking his heels at the Royalist controlled garrison of Banbury Castle in Oxfordshire owing to having made an ill-judged remark about one of the King’s favourites. A career soldier of considerable experience, he has earned a formidable reputation and naturally he feels resentful at being stuck in such a backwater. His generally acerbic and sarcastic tongue is even more prominent as the prolonged inactivity begins to take its toll on his temper.

Abigail Radford is a young, sweet, and innocent seventeen year old when this story begins. She lives and works in the home and drapery shop owned by her older brother, Jonas, but this is no happy household, for Jonas is an autocratic, over-bearing bully of a man whose hatred of the Cavaliers at the castle is topped only by his religious fanaticism.

Justin is a man of integrity, honesty and honour and a Royalist to his bones – completely and unwaveringly dedicated to his King and cause; and a man who has sworn off love and marriage. At his first encounter with Abby – during which he saves her from being ravished by a couple of his subordinates – he doesn’t really see her as anything more than a terrified girl. It takes time and several more unplanned meetings before he notices that beneath the extremely plain clothing and white puritanical cap, there is a rather attractive young woman. Any possible furtherance of their acquaintance is delayed by the arrival in Banbury of a large Roundhead contingent, the senior officers of which take up residence at the Radford home. And the first siege of the castle begins. I admire the way Stella Riley grows her love stories in all of her novels but particularly in this one; understated and plausible, it is entirely in keeping with unfolding events. After the first siege is over, the Roundheads ousted and on the run after Royalist re-enforcements arrive, the garrison can breathe again and life returns to some semblance of normality. Ms. Riley then continues to develop the growing attraction between Justin and Abby, throwing them together in various situations which further advance their apparently ill-fated friendship. For how can two people on opposing sides of a civil war ever have a chance at happiness?

Justin is a multi-layered character with many deep dark secrets; even his closest friends know little about him other than he has a well-deserved reputation with the ladies. His is such a believable character, especially when one finds oneself getting cross with him because he’s given Abby an undeserved tongue lashing, upsetting her to the point that it feels as though he’s kicked a puppy. But then, conversely, one finds oneself going all gooey over him when he’s being particularly charming – and by God he certainly can turn it on when he chooses! Abby’s character grows over the course of the story from the timid girl we meet at the outset to an attractive young woman with a lot more oomph than she had to begin with. Justin sets out initially – not entirely altruistically – to help her stand up to, and defy his nemesis, the odious Jonas. But in the end, he’s hoist by his own petard, finding himself drawn more and more to her quiet, unassuming and undemanding presence. Eventually Justin realises that she is the only person in his life who has ever cared for him or gives a damn what happens to him, and their eventual acceptance of the love between them is heartwarming, tender and all the better for the waiting. And as is the norm with Stella Riley, she doesn’t need to resort to explicit love scenes – instead sensuality and tenderness is the order of the day and I was left with a warm glow as she eventually brought these two lovely characters together against all of the odds.

Alex Wyndham’s performance is stupendous. There are few performers who could have tackled such a varied and wide cast of characters and fool the listener into feeling as though they are listening to a rather superior radio play with numerous actors rather than one man’s narrative of a story. As this is a story set in time of war, it features a large number of male characters, but this poses no difficulty as Mr. Wyndham switches effortlessly between a variety of accent, tone and timbre to give each of them a distinct interpretation. I cannot recommend this audiobook highly enough because it has everything that I look for in an historical romance. Filled with atmospheric, superbly researched historical content and a spine tingling romance, A Splendid Defiance has to be awarded a straight 5 star rating for both content and narration, although quite honestly that doesn’t seem high enough. But whatever the star rating, this is another winner for this phenomenal writer/narrator team.

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AUDIO REVIEW: Noble Satyr by Lucinda Brant, narrated by Alex Wyndham

noble satyr

This title is available to download from Audible via Amazon

1740s France and England. Abandoned to fend for herself at the court of Versailles, Antonia turns to her distant cousin, the all-powerful Duke of Roxton, to help her escape the attentions of a lecherous nobleman. Roxton is an unlikely savior-arrogant, promiscuous, and sinister. Antonia’s unquestioning belief in him may just be his salvation, and her undoing.

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Publisher and Release Date: Sprigfield Pty Ltd., November 2015

RHR Classifications:
Place and time: France of Louis XV and England of George II
Genre: Historical Romance
Heat Level: 1
Reviewer Rating: 5 stars

Review by Wendy

Noble Satyr the first in the Roxton Family Saga, is a simply superb, classy, character-driven story which ably sets the stage for the subsequent books, Midnight Marriage, Autumn Duchess and Dair Devil.

The love story between the unashamedly dissolute Renard Hesham, 5th Duke of Roxton, and the very young, but determined Antonia Moran, would seem, on the face of it, to be unlikely. Renard believes (for despite his morals, he does have his own code of honour) that the eighteen year-old, innocent beauty is not for the likes of him, and yet somehow, as the story progresses, the listener is left in no doubt that they are, in fact perfect for each other, and the slowly developing sensual and tasteful love story between them is breathtaking.

Antonia has been cast adrift. She is an orphan and under the guardianship of her absent, dying grandfather who is coerced into betrothing her to the Viscomte d’Ambert, the excitable and erratic son of Roxton’s cousin. The predatory Comte de Salvan has his own devious and lecherous reasons for wanting the marriage, wanting to bed Antonia as well as to secure her large fortune. Antonia begs the Duke to rescue and protect her from this alliance, claiming her distant relationship with him and reminding him of her late father’s wish that he take care of her. Antonia thinks herself very clever in forcing Roxton into saving her from Salvan’s clutches, when in fact he is a man who cannot be forced into anything by anyone unless he wants it. He is enchanted by her innocence and intelligence, finding her to be a breath of fresh air in the grossly licentious and corrupt court of Louis XV.

The content of all Lucinda Brant’s stories is very different, but she always takes so much time and effort to set her glittering stage; charming and exotic but with fascinating glimpses into the excesses and curiously fascinating, hedonistic times of the Georgian era. Her depictions are so carefully researched and described by her that I wouldn’t be surprised to see the outrageously primped, powdered and perfumed Comte de Salvan suddenly appear and totter towards me in his outrageous high heels. On the other hand, Ms. Brant’s description of Roxton’s unpowered, long, dark, plaited hair is the exact antithesis of the preening males of the court. He does not conform as do the other overdressed peacocks, preferring his own understated style. Sensuality is very high on the agenda, yet Ms. Brant manages to convey this without going into endless prose; one scene in particular, which I will not reveal, but I guarantee will leave the listener tingling, is one where we are left feeling as though we have witnessed something rather special though in fact the door is very firmly shut in our faces.

Once again, the delectable Alex Wyndham gives a fantastic performance. His portrayal of Roxton epitomises the handsome, charismatic though slightly bored aristocrat, his tone perfectly conveying dissolution and ennui, while also hinting at the kindness and the love he eventually cannot hide. As the story progresses and Roxton begins to allow his reluctant attraction to Antonia, the modulation of the narrator’s voice changes subtly so that, with just a slight alteration in tone, we can hear that Roxton is succumbing, his reservations crumbling.

Antonia is exquisitely portrayed. Mr Wyndham highlights her rather unconventional take on life, playing her exactly as written – intelligent and precocious but playful and quite obviously virginal although certainly not boring. With her sweetly pronounced French accent, it’s no wonder Roxton is captivated, even against his better judgement, and all this comes over distinctly and clearly in Ms. Brant’s addictive storytelling and in Mr. Wyndham’s intuitive interpretation of her words. Lord Vallentine, Roxton’s long time friend, a kindly, warm character is perfectly characterised as a rather stolid but honourable nobleman, sometimes flustered and blustering but nevertheless pleased to be the butt of Antonia’s persistent teasing. Salvan’s voice is oily and slimy – in my mind’s eye I see a caricature of a ludicrously overdressed little man with greedy, licentious eyes – I can almost hear Salvan smacking his lips! So talented and expert is Alex Wyndham at his craft, that it is hard to believe he is single-handedly performing such a large group of fascinating characters.

The entire Roxton Saga is just sublime, and I can’t recommend it highly enough. All the titles CAN be listened to as standalones, but when they are all so very good – especially with the added benefit of Alex Wyndham’s superb narration – I can’t imagine why anyone would want to stop at just one.

Breakdown of Grade: 5 stars for content, 5 stars for narration.

AUDIO REVIEW: Tall, Dark and Wicked by Madeline Hunter, narrated by Lulu Russell

tall dark and wicked audio

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Most women will give him anything he wants. She is not most women…

As a well-known barrister and the son of a duke, Ives confines his passionate impulses to discreet affairs with worldly mistresses. A twist of fate, however, has him looking for a new lover right when a fascinating woman shows up in his chambers, asking him to help save her father from the gallows. Unfortunately, he has already been asked to serve as the prosecutor in the case, but that only ensures close encounters with the rarity named Padua Belvoir. And every encounter increases his desire to tutor her in pleasure’s wicked ways…

Having always been too tall, too willful, and too smart to appeal to men, Padua Belvoir is shocked when Ives shows interest in her. Knowing his penchant for helping the wrongly accused, she had initially thought he might be her father’s best hope for salvation. Instead, he is her worst adversary—not least because every time he looks at her, she is tempted to give him anything he wants…

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Publisher and Release Date: Blackstone Audio, October2015

RHR Classifications:
Time and Setting: London, 1819
Genre: Historical Romance
Heat Level: 2
Reviewer Rating: 4 stars

Review by Wendy

This is the first time I have listened to or read a book by Madeline Hunter and I loved it! She has created a wonderfully sexy, delicious… barrister in Lord Ywain (Ives to family and friends) Hemingford, who is the younger brother of Lance, Duke of Aylesbury. Even though Tall, Dark and Wicked is the second book in a trilogy, it can be read or listened to as a stand-alone because Ms. Hunter does an excellent job of filling in the necessary background – and from the first chapter I was engrossed in this unconventional, intriguing tale.

Ives is in the process of searching for another mistress after being let down by his last one, and being the sort of man he is, legally trained, ordered and disciplined, he has compiled a list of necessary qualities, loyalty being at the top. At that ‘sliding door’ moment in his life, into his home strides Miss Padua Belvoir. She is tall, unexceptional to look at – at least on first sight – and judging by her shabby, plain dress, poor. On questioning, he discovers that she is a school teacher, intelligent, smart and unswervingly loyal, and discovers that he is inexplicably drawn to her. Padua’s scholarly father has been incarcerated in Newgate prison on charges of counterfeiting and sedition, and she has come to request that Ives takes his case and defends him in court. Vaguely recognising her father’s unusual name – Hadrian Belvoir, Ives searches through his correspondence and realises that he has already been instructed by the crown to prosecute the case.

The increasing attraction between this unlikely pair, which fairly quickly becomes physical, is very sensually developed. Ives likes to be dominant in the bedroom and Padua certainly doesn’t mind! But he’s not just gorgeous and good in bed, he’s also unfailingly kind and honourable. And Padua is no fool; as well as being tall, willowy and quietly attractive she is clever and educated in subjects that would have done a man of the time proud. But most of all, she has the quality that Ives admires most of all – loyalty. Her unerring support of her apparently uncaring Father is what makes Ives put his own integrity into question.

I have no idea regarding the rights and wrongs of the legal system, and I’m quite sure that two hundred years ago there were differences to the system we have now. For the purposes of this book, Ms. Hunter tells a very plausible story, with Ives sounding and acting much as I imagine a barrister would; although I did wonder whether a prosecutor would have had as much interaction with a defendant. This, I suppose is explained by his increasing interest and growing attraction to Padua.

Lulu Russell does a reasonable job in narrating this story, though she is no Rosalyn Landor. Her portrayal of Ives is good, it would have been easy to spoil this intriguing man without the right tone of voice but I felt she captured him really well. Her portrayal of Lance, on the other hand is not so good. It’s as though she tries too hard to differentiate between the brothers, and ends up making him sound like a drawling, foppish twit! If she narrates Lance’s story I hope she corrects this. Her interpretation of the third brother, Gareth (hero of His Wicked Reputation, the first book in the series) is better; he sounds slightly amused and laid back and Ms Russell handles the character parts decently, although her Scottish accent leaves a lot to be desired. To start with I wasn’t sure that her portrayal of Padua was going to be to my liking, but it grew on me and I ended up enjoying it. Ms. Russell affects a light, slightly teasing tone, which works well to convey the humour often to be found in her dialogue, as well as injecting just the right amount of intelligent argumentativeness.

Tall, Dark and Wicked is intelligently and well written, the historical research is excellent and the plot is well-drawn and plausible with just the right amount of drama. I loved listening to the descriptions of an area of London I’m familiar with and am very fond of – Lincoln’s Inn Fields, near to the legal quarter and close to the Courts of Justice and Temple church. I would love to have had a description of Ives in his wig and gown, but as we didn’t actually see him in action in court, it was not to be! Perhaps I’ll have a go at persuading Ms. Hunter to write a series around a barristers’ chambers, which would be a pleasant change from the usual round of bored aristocrats.

Breakdown of Grade: Content – 4.5 stars Narration – 3.5 stars

AUDIO REVIEW: The Renegade’s Heart (True Love Brides #2) by Claire Delacroix, narrated by Saskia Maarleveld

the renegade's heart

This title may be purchased from Audible via Amazon

Released from the captivity of the Fae, Murdoch Seton wants nothing more than to forget his lost years. Undertaking a quest to recover treasure stolen from his family seems the perfect solution – but Murdoch is not counting upon a curious maiden who holds both the secret to the theft and his sole redemption.
Isabella is outraged to find her brother’s keep besieged by a renegade knight – especially one who is too handsome for his own good or hers. After a single encounter, she becomes convinced that his cause is just and decides to unveil the true thief, never imagining that their single shared kiss has launched a battle for Murdoch’s very soul. As the treacherous Fae move to claim Murdoch forever, Isabella seeks to heal the knight who has stolen her heart. But will Murdoch allow her to take a risk and endanger herself? Or will he sacrifice himself to ensure Isabella’s future?

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Publisher and Release Date: Deborah A. Cooke Publishing, September 2015

RHR Classifications:
Time and Setting: Medieval Scotland
Genre: Historical/Paranormal romance
Heat Level: 2
Reviewer Rating: 3 stars

Review by Wendy

I admit that I opted to review this audiobook principally because I enjoy listening to audiobooks, because actually, the premise of this Medieval/Paranormal was somewhat outside of my comfort zone. Initially, I struggled to enjoy it, and had it not been an audiobook, I may not have finished it. But I persevered and ultimately found it to be a passable listen, but even so I had to backtrack a few times to get the gist of the rather complicated storyline.

Murdoch Seton has returned to his homeland after an absence of three years, although to begin with he is unaware of the lengthy time lapse. His father has died in his absence and his brother, now the reluctant Laird, is blaming Murdoch for the misfortunes that have befallen the family. Murdoch, has in fact been ensnared by the Elphine Queen and has unwittingly sold his soul to her in exchange for his short term release to return home to see his family. Unknown to him, his freedom will last only one short month, after which the queen will take Murdoch forever into her fae world. She holds a replica of his heart in a rather macabre orb – throughout the story we get glimpses of the heart turning black and slowly dying within it.

Murdoch is as yet unaware that he is living on borrowed time, but is determined to make amends for his unintentional desertion of his family. He sets out on a quest to retrieve a stolen holy relic, and is led to Kinfairlie where he meets nothing but cool hostility from the Laird, Alexander. He does, however encounter an unexpected ally – Isabella, one of the Laird’s younger sisters. Although she does not believe her brother to be a thief, she does believe he is lying and so begins to help Murdoch; no doubt the fact that the two immediately clicked helped her in her decision.

As the story progresses we see more of the fae, an apparently parallel universe of tiny creatures, living out of sight of all but a few of the humans of the medieval keep of Kinfairlie. While I am not a lover of this kind of story, I can see why Claire Delacroix has such a following – she writes well and with great imagination. And if you like fairies and fae creatures then this story might hold some appeal for you. The author does, however, have one particularly irritating writing trait – she uses the character’s names so often that I felt like screaming; whilst listening I counted the use of Isabella’s name alone sixteen times in five minutes! Once Murdoch and Isabella embarked on their courtship she became ‘my Isabella’ which had me cringing.

Narrator Saskia Maarleveid does a decent job – she captures the honourable, trustworthy and knightly demeanour of Murdoch Seton particularly well, with her slightly husky tones. Her portrayal of most of the characters is good and each one is different enough so the listener is able to know who is talking at any given time. Unfortunately, her regional accents – particularly the Scottish and Irish ones – are very disappointing.

Ultimately, The Renegade’s Heart was just an “okay” listen. I doubt that I will become a follower of Ms, Delacroix, although if you are a fan of paranormal romances, then this title may work for you better than it did for me.

AUDIO REVIEW: Autumn Duchess by Lucinda Brant, narrated by Alex Wyndham

autumn duchess

Available from Audible via Amazon

A beautiful duchess mourns for her beloved.

A sun-bronzed merchant returns to claim a birthright.

Disparate souls in need of love and renewal.

Paths cross and the journey begins…

Hampshire, England, 1777: Antonia, Dowager Duchess of Roxton, has been mourning the loss of her soul mate for three long years. Her despair is all-consuming until into her life steps a devilishly handsome younger man. Unconventional and self-assured, wealthy merchant Jonathon Strang will stop at nothing to convince Antonia she can love again, and deeply.

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Publisher and Release Date: Sprigleaf PTY, Ltd, September 2015

RHR Classifications:
Time and Setting: England, 1777
Genre: Historical Romance
Heat Level: 1
Reviewer Rating: 5 stars

Review by Wendy

Each time I listen to hugely talented Alex Wyndham narrating one of Lucinda Brant’s novels, I am completely blown away. This duo is so perfect together that I am completely lost to all else once I have started a Brant/Wyndham audiobook – indeed I have to ration myself; at present I have Dair Devil waiting in my Audible library and I dare not start it yet or there will be nothing done in my house!

Autumn Duchess opens with Indian-born merchant Jonathon Strang attending the annual April ball at the home of Julian and Deb, the present Duke and Duchess of Roxton and the hero and heroine of . Jonathon is completely captivated by the stunningly beautiful woman wearing unrelieved black, and, even after discovering that she is Antonia, dowager Duchess of Roxton, and regardless of the fact that she is clearly unattainable, he decides he WILL dance with her. He is persistent in his endeavours and persuades Antonia to take to the floor with him, much to the astonishment and consternation of all in attendance, including her very protective son, Julian. Her motives in complying are to save this confident, handsome and endearing man from social ruination, as will surely happen if she refuses his very public request to dance. She admires his candid and direct approach, which is a refreshing change for Antonia who has been used to the bowing and scraping of sycophants since her marriage to the late duke thirty years previously.

This is one of a very few social events that Antonia has graced; she has been in mourning for her beloved “Monseigneur” for three years. Her family, especially Julian, is despairing of her ever joining the land of the living again, and has even used a surreptitious form of emotional blackmail to entice her out of what he believes to be her deeply unhealthy melancholy. Her only pleasure is in the daily visits of her grandchildren, with whom she has a very loving and special relationship; it is this relationship that Julian exploits in his endeavours to winkle his Mother out of her blacks. To be fair to him, this is only done out of his deep love and concern for her welfare.

Initially, Jonathon had had an ulterior motive in becoming acquainted with Antonia. She occupies Crecy Hall which was gifted to her by her husband and is therefore hers to dispose of and also special to her. The hall forms part of lands and property embezzled from Jonathon’s ancestors by a previous Duke of Roxton. These lands and property, he feels, are his by right and he is determined to regain them. His growing attraction to Antonia, however, soon takes precedence, and before long, he is interested only in winning her affections.

The growing of the romance between Jonathon Strang and Antonia is quite movingly beautiful and touching; and the fact that he is ten years her junior (very unusual in an historical romance) is seamlessly incorporated in such a plausible manner that it quickly becomes unimportant to this story, so adeptly is it dealt with by the author. Jonathon is quite scrumptious and his character is so well-drawn that it would be impossible not to like him. He sets out to break down Antonia’s walls, brick-by-brick, argument-by-argument, winning the approval along the way, of Deb if not Julian. Slowly, through his persistence, Antonia begins to thaw and I felt ridiculously pleased as Jonathon achieved his objective, convincing her along the way that age is of no importance. I particularly liked the fact, that he did not try to replace her Duke and even encouraged her to talk about him; this went in no small way towards helping Antonia to trust and eventually love him.

There is also a factually correct secondary plot going on in which Antonia becomes innocently embroiled; it involves a close relative and nearly proves disastrous for the dowager Duchess. Lucinda Brant pays such close attention to historical detail and her painstaking research into this novel is such, that we get fascinating and interesting, living, breathing characters from the past, intertwined with the fictitious.

The gifted and skilled Alex Wyndham quite obviously enjoys reading Lucinda Brant’s work. The word ‘narrator’ is such a trite word to apply to him – he inhabits each and every role with consummate skill and professionalism – ‘becoming’ each character. Jonathon’s overwhelming gorgeousness is due, in no small part, to Mr Wyndham’s portrayal of him; he uses a smooth and honeyed tone with a trace of laid-back amusement in it, which immediately sums up the deliciously large, handsome, sun bronzed, Adonis. Antonia’s French-accented speech is perfectly pitched for a female and is subtly nuanced whether grieving, autocratic, sweet and playful with her grandchildren and – eventually, when Jonathon works his magic – lover like and romantic. There is never any doubt, even when there are a number of men in a discussion, who is who, and Julian and Deb sound exactly as they did in Midnight Marriage

All in all, Autumn Duchess is an absolutely terrific audiobook and one I’m recommending most highly. Lucinda Brant and Alex Wyndham are a force to be reckoned with, and I for one, will devour every one of their collaborations.

AUDIO REVIEW: Midnight Marriage by Lucinda Brant, narrated by Alex Wyndham

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Publisher and Release Date: Sprigleaf PTY Ltd, May 2015

RHR Classifications:
Time and Setting: England, 1760s
Genre: Historical Romance
Heat Level: 1
Reviewer Rating: 5 stars

Review by Lady Wesley

A twelve-year-old girl is awakened in the middle of the night and escorted to her brother’s library where a bishop in full regalia marries her to a drunk, distraught teenaged boy. The groom and the two elderly men who accompanied him disappear, and the bride returns to the nursery. I had a hard time buying into this situation until I learned that this book was inspired by the real-life story of the second Duke and Duchess of Richmond. (You can read Ms. Brant’s discussion of this subject HERE.)

Fast forward nine years to 1769 and Deb Cavendish is living in Bath – alone, which is somewhat scandalous – except for her nine-year old nephew Jack, the orphaned son of her late half-brother – which also is somewhat scandalous, as his mother was a Gypsy. One day Jack and Deb stumble across a wounded young man, apparently a participant in a duel, in the woods near Bath. Deb tends to his wounds and falls in love at the same time, but the man is carried off by a stranger to recuperate, and Deb is left to dream about what might have been.

Julian Hesham, Marquess of Alston, cannot get the image of his beautiful savior out of his mind, but he doesn’t even know her name. Later, when Deb visits the home of Martin Ellicott, her French tutor, she comes face to face with Julian, who is Ellicott’s godson. Thus begins Julian’s courtship of his own wife.

After their forced marriage, Julian’s father, the powerful father the Duke of Roxton, had banished him to the Continent on account of Julian’s outrageous behavior toward his mother, with Martin Ellicott as his chaperon and teacher. Knowing that his son was headstrong and rebelious and fearing that he would marry some unsuitable foreign lady, the duke had decided that Deb Cavendish would make a proper wife for Julian, and Deb’s brother and guardian Gerald agreed.

After the wedding, Deb was convinced by her nurse that the strange ceremony had been merely a dream. At the age of eighteen, she had defied her brother Gerald and traveled alone to Paris to nurse her brother Otto through a fatal illness. When he and his wife both died, she returned with Jack to live in a respectable but not fashionable part of Bath. Her reputation had suffered among the high sticklers, but being a cousin to the Duke of Devonshire and a considerable heiress ensured that she was accepted among certain segments of Bath society.

Julian is smitten with his wife, but he fears that she will reject him because of his tarnished reputation. He is thought by all to be a rake and he has been accused by a influential Parisien, M. Lefevbre, of seducing his daughter and refusing to marry her. Deb is Julian’s wife in law, but he does not want her to feel compelled into becoming his wife in fact. Thus, he decides to court her as plain Mr. Julian Hesham and hopes to secure her affection before it becomes necessary to tell her the truth.

This aspect of the plot is a bit too far-fetched for me. I understood what the old duke was trying to do by selecting Julian’s bride, but why the secret wedding in the middle of the night? Why did Deb’s brother never tell her the truth? Here she is larking around Bath with suitors galore and she’s utterly unaware that she’s already married! Indeed, during her stay in Paris she came close to eloping with the artist Evelyn Ffolkes (who happens to be Julian’s cousin), and now she is being pursued by Mr. Robert Thesiger (heir to a baron but rumored to be the natural son of the Duke of Roxton). My goodness, this is an awfully small world. And when Deb does fall in love with Julian and they “marry” again, why does he still not tell her the truth? And why does this otherwise kind and loving man eventually reveal everything in the cruelest manner possible? And why does Deb go completely around the bend upon learning that she is married to a man she loves and who loves her back?

These are among the issues that really irked me as I was reading this book, but when I listened to the audio, they pretty much dissolved into the ether. I decided to quit asking questions and just listen to the beautiful voice of Alex Wyndham and his marvelous narration of this book. This was the first time that I have read a book and then immediately listened to the audio, and it really doesn’t surprise me that while I might have rated the book at 3.5 stars or so, Mr. Wyndham’s ten-star performance compels me to award the audio book a full five stars.

Don’t get me wrong; the writing is excellent. In fact, everything that I have read by Lucinda Brant is first-class and fully immerses the reader in the world of Georgian England. But in the reading, I kept second-guessing the characters’ decisions, while in the listening I was swept up by dialogue and events. And there are plenty of events: marriage, separation, meeting the in-laws, dodging a murderous villain, and all sorts of intrigue. One of the things I enjoy about Ms. Brant’s style is that she doesn’t keep the reader dangling for too long. Instead, she reveals pieces of the story as the book progresses, which has the effect of keeping me turning the pages, or listening late into the night as the case may be.

For those historical romance fans who have been gobsmacked by Nicholas Boulton’s presentation of Laura Kinsale’s books, I am thrilled to report that Alex Wyndham is every bit as good. His narrative voice is deep and lovely, but he skillfully segues from the aging, imperious Roxton to the French duchess to the young boys, Jack and his best friend Harry. He is very good with the various female voices – avoiding the falsetto that some male narrators adopt – but the star of this audio book has to be Julian. He is young and cocky but also tremendously warm and quite funny, all of which comes through beautifully in his voice.

Alex Wyndham already has narrated Ms. Brant’s Alec Halsey mystery/romance series and is set to do the remainder of the Roxton series. For reasons not clear to me, the first Roxton book, Noble Satyr, will be the last one brought out in audio, but I don’t think that it’s necessary to have read it in order to enjoy the remainder of the books.

Despite my quibbles about parts of the plot, I unreservedly recommend that you listen to Midnight Marriage.

(Interested readers also might enjoy Audiogals’ charming interview with Brant and Wyndham, where we discover that he is a Georgette Heyer fan.)

AUDIO REVIEW: A Code of the Heart by Jacki Delecki, narrated by Pearl Hewitt

code of the heart audio

Available from Audible via Amazon.

Miss Amelia Bonnington has been in love with her childhood hero since she was 11 years old. Or so she thought until a not-so-proper impassioned and unyielding kiss from the not-so-honorable and equally disreputable Lord Derrick Brinsley gave her reason to question the feelings of the heart.

Lord Brinsley, shunned from society for running off with his brother’s fiancée, hasn’t cared about or questioned his lack of acceptance until meeting the beguiling Amelia Bonnington. One passionate moment with the fiery Miss Bonnington has him more than willing to play by society’s rules to possess the breathtaking red-haired woman.

Amelia unwittingly becomes embroiled in espionage when she stumbles upon a smuggling ring in the modiste shop of her good friend. To prove her French friend’s innocence, she dangerously jumps into the fray, jeopardizing more than her life.

On undercover assignment to prevent the French from stealing the Royal Navy’s deadly weapon, Derrick must fight to protect British secrets from falling into the hands of foreign agents and the chance at love with the only woman capable of redeeming him.

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Publisher and Release Date: Doe Bay Publishing, February 2015

RHR Classifications:
Time and Setting: London 1803
Heat Level: 2
Genre: Historical Romance
Reviewer Rating: 3 stars

Review by Wendy

This, the third in the Code Breakers series by Jacki Delecki, is a sweetly romantic espionage story. Miss Amelia Bonnington is saved from possible ravishment at a house party by acknowledged rake Lord Derrick Brinsley. He has a dark secret, one which has earned him his reputation and from which he adamantly refuses to defend himself, preferring society to believe the worst of him. The two are discovered sharing a passionate kiss and of course Amelia is compromised, although she laughingly refuses to be compelled to marry him – a fact about which Derrick is secretly disappointed. Amelia is fiery and brave, well deserving of her nickname’Red’ – which aptly describes her flaming red hair and intelligent and courageous nature; and for the first time, Derrick feels himself genuinely attracted to a woman for honourable reasons.

The two are palpably attracted to each other, although when he discovers that Amelia has been in love with a childhood friend since she was eleven, Derrick backs off, believing himself to be unworthy and unlikely to be able to win her love. Amelia feels the pull to Brinsley and as a result is soon able to put her childish infatuation into perspective and embarks on a plan to win his regard.

Lord Derrick Brinsley is quite scrumptious. As well as possessing extremely swoon-worthy good looks, he is an agent for the Crown involved in a covert mission to save British secrets from falling into the hands of foreign agents – who wouldn’t be attracted by such attributes? Protective, loyal Amelia stumbles into the plot through the involvement of a friend, and is determined to prove that friend’s innocence.

The story is narrated by Pearl Hewitt and although Ms. Hewitt has a pleasant voice I didn’t feel that she did justice to the fiery, independently free-spirited Amelia. She adopts a ‘little’ voice which just does not fit the image painted by the author of this intrepid young lady. Derrick’s speech is lengthened with drawn-out vowels; it is pitched well enough as to sound reasonably masculine but the slightly effeminate drawling rather spoilt it for me. When, at the time of their initial stolen kiss, Derrick says… “say my name, I want to hear Derrick on your lips”… I couldn’t take it seriously – little voice meets drawl just didn’t work for me, at least. Ms Hewitt also consistently mispronounces the word “ton” as “tone” which is quite disconcerting. Her talents definitely lie in the more character driven roles, such as Aunt Euphemia, who she portrays superbly.

In summary, A Code of the Heart is fairly light and fluffy considering its fairly serious subject-matter. I also think I might have enjoyed it more had I read the previous two books in the series, as reference is made to previous plots, and they are relevant as are the characters mentioned who crop up regularly in this novel. The author also talks of the protagonists waltzing – to the best of my knowledge, at the time this story is set, the waltz had not been introduced into England. There are annoying modern terms and Americanisms dotted throughout, too, which is incredibly annoying. Nevertheless, this is, on the whole, a well written story, if lacking a little grittiness and substance for my taste and I am sure that it will appeal to listeners in search of an “espionage-lite” spy story.

AUDIO REVIEW: Salt Redux (Salt Hendon #2) by Lucinda Brant, narrated by Marian Hussey

salt redux

Available to download from Audible

Jane and Salt—four years of Happily Ever After
Sir Antony Templestowe—four years of Exile
Lady Caroline—four years of Heartache
Diana St. John—four years plotting Revenge
The time has come . . .

How does a brother cope with life knowing his sister is a murderess? How can a nobleman have the life he has always wanted when a lurking evil consumes his thoughts and haunts his dreams? What will it take for good to triumph over evil? For readers who enjoyed Salt Bride, the story continues . . . .

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Publisher and Release Date: Sprigleaf PTY Ltd, August 2014

RHR Classifications:
Time and Setting: London, England, 1767
Genre: Georgian Historical Romance
Heat Level: 1
Reviewer Rating: 5 stars

Review by Lady Wesley

A few months ago, I noticed that some of my Goodreads friends were reading and loving this book (and its predecessor Salt Bride), which combines my two favorite fiction genres – historical romance and mystery. So when the chance came to review this audiobook, I eagerly jumped in, and I have now become a huge Lucinda Brant fan.

Salt Bride featured the Magnus Sinclair, fifth Earl of Salt Hendon, and his reluctant bride, Jane Despard. They were plagued by the evil machinations of Salt’s cousin Diana, Lady St. John, a widow whose son is Salt’s heir, and a more diabolical villainess would be hard to imagine. Her interference kept Salt and Jane apart for four years, and she was determined to ruin their marriage. In the end, she was carried away, kicking and screaming in the hands of burly footmen, to private imprisonment in a far away Welsh castle.

Lord Salt’s closest friend is Diana’s brother, Sir Antony Templestowe. After Diana’s disgrace, Tony took himself off to St. Petersburg, where he has overcome his fondness for the bottle and become a successful diplomat. Four years later, however, Diana has escaped and Tony rushes back to London to find her. She’s hiding in plain sight at Antony’s townhouse, telling everyone that she has been touring the Continent and running up bills on Tony’s credit. She has engaged a “companion” and planted a spy in Salt’s home, both of whom rather credulously believe that Diana is the true Countess of Salt Hendon and Jane is a brazen usurper. With their help, she plans to pull off an intricate plan to make herself personally and politically indispensible to Salt.

The romance here, which is really secondary to the intrigue, involves Tony and Salt’s younger sister, Lady Caroline Aldershot. They were in love before Tony went away, but his drink-fueled outrageous behavior and Caroline’s immaturity kept them apart. Caroline is widowed after being unhappily married to another man. Tony wastes no time in proposing marriage and she turns him down in the classic “I’m not worthy” style of a romance heroine, but you know that won’t last. Tony makes for an incredibly appealing hero, but I found Caro just a tad annoying. Nevertheless, their love story is engaging.

The book largely revolves around Diana’s plans for revenge, as Tony and Salt try to get her out of the way without causing a scandal that would expose Diana’s heinous crimes and forever taint both of their families. Ending her life would be the easiest way, and well deserved, but neither one has the stomach for that. It would be spoilerish to go further into the details of the plot, and I’m not sure that I have enough space in this review to sum it all up anyway. It’s a complex story.

Lucinda Brant is a very good storyteller, and this the tale is multi-layered with threads from the past brought seamlessly into the present. The writing is excellent, albeit occasionally interspersed with modernisms. Her impressive knowledge of the Georgian era and her attention to detail make the people and places come vividly into focus. The characters’ clothing, their houses, and their surroundings are lushly described. Her description of the gifts Tony brings back from Russia is so exquisite that the reader longs to see these treasures. Well – just visit the author’s Pinterest page and there they are! Many authors are supplementing their books with Pinterest images these days, but Ms Brant’s page is the best that I’ve encountered.

Marian Hussey, a new-to-me narrator, does an excellent job. Her narrative voice is low and quite cultured, but she very ably portrays men and women of all ages and classes. She especially excels in voicing the vile Diana, veering between her persona as a respectable society widow and the privately expressed hatred that reveals her to be a true sociopath. When the action gets almost unbearably suspenseful, she maintains an even pace and does not use her voice to add unnecessarily to the drama.

There are so many things that I loved about this book that I’ll just have to give a short list. There is Tony’s obsession with tea and his insistence upon following his own elaborate brewing ritual, along with his platoon of Russian-speaking servants whose job is not only to serve but to keep him from succumbing to the siren call of wine. Caroline tries to fill the empty spot in her heart with devotion to her young step-daughter as well as her varied menagerie of pets. Salt and Jane and their children do not just make cameo appearances, as happens in many sequels, but are present throughout and integral to the story. Tony and Salt are men of their time, but their sincere, often halting, efforts to rebuilt their life-long friendship and protect their families are touching. But really, Diana St. John somewhat steals the show. Her mixture of madness, intelligence, charm, and determination make her a walking time bomb ready to ruin the lives of anyone – man, woman, or child – who stands in her way.

I listened to this book before reading Salt Bride, but to fully appreciate the story I recommend that both be read in order. I don’t know what to call the audiobook equivalent of a “page turner,” but Salt Redux is exactly that.

AUDIO REVIEW: A Code of Love by Jacki Deleki, narrated by Pearl Hewitt

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Threatened by French spies, assassins, and calculating suitors, can Lady Henrietta Harcourt trust the infamous rake, Lord Cordelier Rathbourne, with her carefully guarded family secrets?

In his new, undisclosed position as Director of English Intelligence, Cord faces more peril keeping the brilliant, Harcourt family of code breakers safe than he did as undercover spy in Napoleonic France.

Cord’s passionate attraction for the indomitable Henrietta hasn’t diminished in his four years abroad, but neither has Henrietta’s memory of his libertine past.

In pursuit of the missing brother, Henrietta and Cord become entangled in a web of international intrigue, danger, and white hot passion.

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Publisher and Release Date: Doe Bay Publishing, July 2014

RHR Classifications:
Time and Setting: 1802 London and Paris
Genre: Historical Romantic Fiction
Heat Level: 1.5
Reviewer Rating: 3.5 stars

Review by Maria Almaguer

The members of Lady Henrietta (Hen) Harcourt’s family are experts at code deciphering and her older brother, Michael, has been in Paris on a secret mission, and has not been heard from in a while. Hen has trained in the code breaking arts alongside her beloved but ailing, Uncle Charles, and has undertaken some code work of her own, a very unusual and dangerous occupation for anyone, much less a young woman of good family in early nineteenth century England. When Michael sends Hen a code book for safe keeping, Hen’s life suddenly becomes threatened.

Enter Lord Cordelier (Cord) Rathbourne – an unusual name – a renowned rake whom Hen has known of for years in social circles, and to whom she is secretly attracted, albeit against her better judgement. Cord knows all about the Harcourt family’s unique talents. After all, he is their superior as the Director of English Intelligence. And years ago, he fell in love with Hen during her very first London season, but circumstances cut her promising season short and they fell out of touch.

Henrietta doesn’t know any of this; she only knows that Cord is a promiscuous rogue and she has never approved of him. She’s also very angry at her own unwanted attraction to him. She doesn’t know the real reasons behind his past actions and reputation – he was once a spy in Napoleonic France. Cord has always been attracted to Hen, not only for her beauty but also her keen intelligence and talent at code breaking and he wants the chance to win her heart as well as keep her and her family safe. But he struggles with keeping the true nature of his occupation from her while trying to court her.

I feel this story is best appreciated over frequent listenings since the strategies and spy games can be somewhat confusing. In fact, I’d say it’s possibly even more prominent than the central love story which, while pleasing to listen to, is a little on the tame side rather than searingly passionate. This is not a complaint, however – although if you enjoy your romances on the spicier side, you may be a bit disappointed. But if you like conspiracy, there’s plenty of that here.

I feel like I didn’t get to know Cord quite as well as I got to know Hen. I could feel Hen’s fears, her indignation, and her joy; all of these emotions are conveyed very well by Ms. Hewitt. The male characters, in comparison, seem a little stiff and formal, especially the Frenchmen. At the same time, however, Hen also comes across as a bit girlish and young, and her younger brother, Edward, is annoying and I feel done a little over the top for emotional manipulation.

What is extremely effective here, however, is the love and protectiveness that Hen feels for her family – her wayward brother, Michael and her beloved and ill Uncle Charles – as well as the love that Cord feels for Hen.

This story is rich in its exciting atmosphere of Napoleonic intrigue in both Paris and London, but this audiobook recording reminds me at times of a Georgette Heyer novel of manners. I think it’s because of the narrator, Pearl Hewitt, whose voice sounds more cozy than serious. Her reading, while crystal clear and pleasing to the ear, feels more comforting than suspenseful so I wasn’t quite sure if I should feel fear during the more tension-filled parts of the story or consolation that everything would turn out fine eventually. Which it always does in historical romance. Ms Hewitt’s voice doesn’t quite match the menacing content of this novel, and she reminds me a little of Ruth Sillers, who recently narrated Georgette Heyer’s The Masqueraders.

This is the first in Jacki Delecki’s Code Breakers series and its Epilogue promises even more adventures to come.

A well written and entertaining novel of spies, secrets, and seduction.