Tag Archive | AUDIOBOOK

AUDIO REVIEW: The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue by Mackenzi Lee, narrated by Christian Coulson

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Henry “Monty” Montague doesn’t care that his roguish passions are far from suitable for the gentleman he was born to be. But as Monty embarks on his grand tour of Europe, his quests for pleasure and vice are in danger of coming to an end. Not only does his father expect him to take over the family’s estate upon his return, but Monty is also nursing an impossible crush on his best friend and traveling companion, Percy.

So Monty vows to make this yearlong escapade one last hedonistic hurrah and flirt with Percy from Paris to Rome. But when one of Monty’s reckless decisions turns their trip abroad into a harrowing manhunt, it calls into question everything he knows, including his relationship with the boy he adores.

Witty, dazzling, and intriguing at every turn, The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue is an irresistible romp that explores the undeniably fine lines between friendship and love.


Publisher and Release Date: Harper Audio, October 2017

Time and Setting: 18th Century England and Europe
Heat Level: 1
Genre: Young Adult/Historical Romance
Reviewer Rating: Content: 5 stars / Narration: 5 stars

Review by Em

I loved Mackenzi Lee’s A Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue when I read it earlier this year, and when I decided to listen to the audio version in order to review it here, I doubted I could like it any better. Reader, I DID.  A Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue (in audio) is my favorite book of 2017.  This version, with Christian Coulson’s fabulous, spot-on narration elevates all the best parts of this marvelous book; I laughed, I cried, I grimaced and swooned my way through it.  It’s that good.  Read it – or listen to it (even better) and prepare to fall in love with its naughty, charming, and mischievous hero Henry Montague, his best friend Percy, and indomitable younger sister Felicity as they embark on a truly grand tour.

AGGTVAV is the (sometimes cautionary) tale of two lifelong friends making their Grand Tour told from the point of view of Henry ‘Monty’ Montague.  Monty is an unrepentant rake: handsome, flirtatious, charming, funny, lazy and largely oblivious to his many faults.  Though graced with good looks (and dimples), a winning personality and a wealthy family, life hasn’t been easy for Monty.   His father shows nothing but contempt for him, and his constant abuse – both physical and emotional – has led Monty to believe his life has no value or purpose.  He’s also utterly and completely in love with his best friend Percy, whom he’s convinced has no romantic feelings for him whatsoever. Emotionally adrift, fated to spend his life pining for the one man he can never have, and facing a bleak future at his father’s side, Monty is determined this Grand Tour will be memorable in all the best ways – drinking, debauchery, gambling and wild adventures.

Much to his dismay, Monty’s father has other ideas and informs Monty, moments before their departure, that they will be accompanied by Mr. Lockwood, who will ensure the group (Monty, Percy, and Monty’s younger sister Felicity – en route to a year of finishing school) behave appropriately, soak up the local culture, visit all the most significant and edifying sights. Most worryingly, he will report back and if Monty strays in any way he will be immediately cut-off and forced to make his own way in life.

The group sets off and the Grand Tour is everything Monty hoped it wouldn’t be.  Lockwood barely leaves them time to themselves, Felicity is buried in her books, Monty is rarely permitted a drink, and his heart aches with longing for Percy.  Finally, in a fortuitous turn of events, Monty and Percy manage a night out in Paris.  They drink, they gamble, they flirt… and then they passionately kiss.  Monty can’t believe his good fortune, but in typical Monty fashion mucks things up by hedging about his feelings. The evening ends in harsh words and a distance between them – quite the opposite of how Monty hoped it would unfold.

After their evening out  an awkward tension springs up between the pair and Monty, in typical fashion, promptly makes it worse.  Days later, attending an afternoon garden party at Versailles, he observes Percy talking to another guest who’s clearly (to Monty’s eyes) flirting with his friend.  Assuming the worst, Monty proceeds in short order to tell off his host,  get drunk, engage in an inappropriate liaison, and then, when interrupted in flagrante, runs naked through a room full of party guests to escape.

Much as expected, Mr. Lockwood informs the trio the Grand Tour is over.  He makes plans to drop Felicity at school and Percy in Holland (where he will attend law school), but in a stroke of (good?) luck, their carriage is overtaken by highway robbers.  Forced out of the carriage and onto their knees, it quickly becomes clear these aren’t your typical highwayman, and that they’re looking for something.  After a brief scramble with their captors, Percy manages to knock the leader out with his ever present fiddle case, and the three take off into the woods leaving Mr. Lockwood to fend for himself.  When they finally pause to take stock of their situation, Monty belatedly realizes the men are likely after the small box he swiped as he made his his calamitous exit from Versailles.

Once Monty, Percy and Felicity are separated from Mr. Lockwood, AGGTVAV hits its stride, detailing their misadventures across the Continent as they seek to restore the box to its rightful owner.  There are plot twists, manhunts, guns, double crosses, swords, pirates, true love and more – and you’re never quite sure what (wonderful) thing the author has up her sleeve next.  But it all works, and Monty, our intrepid guide, transcends the busy narrative and steals the show.  Charming, naughty and desperately in love with Percy, Monty somehow begins to find himself as the story unfolds.  Though it would be easy to dismiss Monty as simply a selfish and (disastrously) impetuous teenager, Ms. Lee has crafted a truly delightful, funny and marvelously entertaining hero for the ages.  Monty is far, far from perfect – but his faults are part of his charm, and his adoring – pure – love for Percy, make him impossible to dislike.

Much of what makes AGGTVAV such a great story are the supremely well-written principal and secondary characters.  Percy patiently endures Monty’s frequent and recurring missteps, stoically supporting him through thick and thin.  But despite a relatively privileged life, he’s still the biracial son of a West Indies landowner, and he’s spent a lifetime dealing with the thinly veiled racism and condescension of his peers – and Monty’s ignorance of the same.  For the past few years he’s also been keeping a significant and life changing secret from Monty;  when it comes to light, it threatens the future of their relationship.  When I initially read AGGTVAV, I thought Felicity made a nice contrast to her brother and Percy, but she didn’t particularly stand out to me.  I felt very different listening to the audio version.  A bluestocking in training, Felicity more than holds her own against Monty – she’s smart, wickedly funny, wise and wonderful, and without her, the story just wouldn’t be the same.  She’s a terrific contrast to the sweetness of Percy and naughtiness of her brother and the three of them together are a wonderful combination.

Although Ms. Lee’s writing is fantastic, Christian Coulson’s amazing narration truly brings this story to life.  He perfectly captures Monty’s voice – his charm, his confusion over his feelings for Percy, his sad acceptance of his father’s brutality, his wicked humor, his uncertainty about his life and it’s meaning and I loved his interpretation of the character.  He does a similarly excellent job with Percy’s voice – somber, amused and bemused; and he nails Felicity’s dry sense of humor and no nonsense approach to life.  I wasn’t as fond of his Spanish accent – but that’s a very minor quibble and it didn’t detract from my enjoyment of the audio at all.  Mr. Coulson is a revelation and his reading of AGGTVAV is nothing short of masterful.  Bravo.

Funny, romantic, and special, A Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue is this year’s best YA novel; with Christian Coulson’s narration, it’s simply the best – full stop.

AUDIO REVIEW: Fair, Bright and Terrible (Welsh Blades #2) by Elizabeth Kingston, narrated by Nicholas Boulton

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Wales is conquered, and Eluned has lost everything: her country, her husband, her hope. All that remains is vengeance, and she will stop at nothing to have it.

When Robert de Lascaux is asked to marry the woman he has loved for eighteen years, he never hesitates. No wealth has ever mattered to him as much as Eluned has. But she, it seems, does not want him at all. Trapped in a web of intrigue, revenge, and desire, they cannot forget their past – but can they dare to share a future?

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Publisher and Release Date: Elizabeth Kingston, April 2017

Time and Setting: Wales, 1282
Genre: Romantic Historical Fiction
Heat Level: 2
Reviewer Rating: 5 stars content; 5 stars narration

Review by Wendy

In my opinion, Elizabeth Kingston is one of the best – if not THE best – newly published author writing in the historical genre. Fair, Bright and Terrible, the second in her Welsh Blades series ticks every single box on my list of requirements for a stimulating, entertaining and engrossing read/listen. With narrator Nicholas Boulton added into the mix I was quite literally in book heaven – enthralled from beginning to end. This story follows directly on from The King’s Man and covers the true and bloody period in Welsh/English history where the last Welsh Prince Llewelyn is ruthlessly disposed of in the most barbaric of medieval methods.

In book one of the series, we met Eluned of Ruardean who was a strong driving force in the life of her daughter, Gwenllian whom she relentlessly controlled. I disliked Eluned intensely and she didn’t grow on me one iota, so when I realised that Fair, Bright and Terrible was Eluned’s story, I approached it with trepidation and some pre-conceived prejudices. I carried on disliking her, especially after she marries the compellingly likeable and adorable hero of the story, Robert de Lascaux. How, I wondered, could this gorgeous man have loved this woman for eighteen years? And this is where Elizabeth Kingston shows her immense talent for character development – because by the end of the story I understood, respected, and actually liked and admired Eluned.

As the story begins, Eluned’s dreams of a successful uprising to bring independent sovereignty back to Wales is in tatters following King Edward I’s ruthless suppression of the recent rebellion. Coming hard upon the heels of this defeat is the news that her long absentee husband has died in the Holy Land and her son is eager for her to remarry in order to augment his lands and standing. Her husband-to-be is none other than Robert de Lascaux, with whom she had a passionate affair some eighteen years earlier. She put this behind her long ago, but Robert is delighted and immediately agrees to the match, hoping to take up where they left off. Throughout the story, Eluned appears as a woman who does nothing without good reason; she always comes across as cold, calculating and controlling, and her marriage to Robert is no different. Overjoyed at being re-united with his former love, he is destined to be disappointed as he quickly realises that the love he has nurtured is not returned. It quickly becomes apparent that Eluned has a hidden agenda, her goal being admittance to the court of Edward and his inner circle.

I continued to dislike Eluned, especially as she treats the sweet natured and utterly honourable Robert with such cold disdain. But, slowly and cleverly over the course of the story, Ms. Kingston peels away, layer by layer, Eluned’s prejudices and shows her reluctant and hidden love for Robert, well buried under the baggage her life has acquired over the past eighteen years. Ironically it is the appearance and actions of her despised Norman son-in-law, Ranulf (The King’s Man), which finally knocks down the walls she has erected and we are finally allowed to see the woman she really is. Bravo Elizabeth Kingston – what a compelling, clever story and the fact that you persuaded me to like and admire this woman whom I had disliked for the best part of two books is quite remarkable.

As to the narration – what can I say other than that as usual, Nicholas Boulton gives a faultless performance and shows what a first rate actor he is? His voice is smooth, pleasing and utterly addictive to the listener; anything with his name on it is always going to get my attention. My initial dislike for Eluned was perpetuated by the exceptional manner in which he portrays her cold disdain, the emptiness and hopelessness she feels and can’t change… but then, as her defences begin to crumble, he effects a subtle softening of tone; her voice still recognisable but transformed from cold disdain into loving warmth. Mr. Boulton is one of only a handful of narrators who is equally good at portraying men and women. I particularly enjoyed his rendition of Robert – at first buoyant and happy as he meets his beloved after eighteen years apart, but then as he realises his love is not returned, quiet, wary and subdued. And of course, a particular favourite of mine is the fierce Norman lord, Ranulf Ombrier – a fierce man brought to his knees by the love of his warrior wife, Gwenllian and their two little boys. I can’t recommend this book highly enough and I hope that this isn’t the last in the series. Hopefully we may get to see what happens to William, Eluned’s sixteen year old son.

Fair, Bright and Terrible is an exciting, heart warming piece of historical fiction with a beautiful romance at its centre and is strongly recommended.

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

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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: Katie Mulholland by Catherine Cookson – Narrated by Susan Jameson

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Some women are destined to arouse in men either fierce hatred or insatiable desire. Such a woman was Katie Mulholland.

At 15, a scullery maid in the house of the Rosires, she had been raped by the master. Now, many years later, she had enough money to maintain three carriages if she wanted to, and she was on her way to see Bernard Rosier under very different circumstances.

There was no pride in Katie Mulholland’s heart, however, only fear, for half of Tyneside still talked about the way she had flouted convention, and sniggered about the way she had made her money. So she had decided that her only hope was to climb above them, and that she would conquer her fear with power…

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Publisher and Release Date: Audible Studios, August 2016 (Originally published 1967)

Time and Setting: 1860 – WWII – North East England
Genre: Historical Romance
Heat Level: 1
Reviewer Rating: 5 stars content/5 stars narration

Review by Wendy

Catherine Cookson’s tales of northern England were a part of my growing up. I have many on my ‘keeper’ shelf and have read many of my favourites by her, over and over again. She was a South Tyneside lass, illegitimate and born into abject poverty with a ‘sister’ she later discovered was her mother. Most of her stories are based on the people and places she was familar with. Her stories are gritty, shocking, sometimes sad but always real and compelling, and it is obvious that the poverty she writes of has been inspired by and lived through, not just researched. There is always the obligatory happy ending, but it is not easily reached. Ms.Cookson’s characters are, in my opinion always far more realistic than the norm – very few hearts and roses for her heroes/heroines. And one of the things I have always loved about her writing is that these heroes and heroines are not always beautiful or classically handsome – often they are working men and women who have suffered hardships and misery but who almost always triumph over adversity.

Katie Mulholland spans a period of some eighty odd years, beginning when Katie is just fifteen and has been working as a scullery maid at ‘the big house’ owned by the local landowners and coal mining family, the Rosiers. The tenants and workers of the Rosiers are treated abominably, they live in houses not fit for animals, work in the family mine, and even have to spend their hard earned ‘brass’ (money) on groceries at vastly inflated costs at the company shop. Katie is considered by her cohorts to be lucky not to be working down the mine or in the local rope works. A beautiful, sunny natured child, she is adored by her family and every fortnight, her trip across the moors on her afternoon off brings light into their soul destroying existence. Then one day Katie is brought home in disgrace, she is pregnant and will not name the father of her child for fear of what will happen when her father retaliates; as she knows he will. Bernard Rosier, the eldest son, raped her on the night of his engagement ball and, fearing the repercussions should his fiancée’s powerful family discover his perfidy, forces Katie into marriage with the mine supervisor, Mark Bunting, a man who is despised by the pit men. He holds the miner’s livelihoods in the palm of his hand and by marrying him, Katie will earn the derision of the local people. She marries against the wishes of her family, thinking to save them, but as it turns out, nothing can stop the terrible and tragic series of events which sees Katie and her family on the road with her baby daughter. By now Katie has become the lynchpin of her family. Like children, they all look to her for guidance, and eventually, because of the overwhelming love she feels for them and also the guilt as a result of her pregnancy, she is forced into making a heart-rending decision which will have far reaching consequences. She may think that she has left the Rosier family behind, but her life is inextricably linked with them forever.

Katie meets and eventually marries a Swedish/Danish ship’s captain, Andree Franenkel, whom she calls Andy and, through him becomes a rich and powerful woman. But again and again, her life is touched by the vindictive and tyrannical Bernard Rosier who holds her accountable for every ill that has ever befallen him and refers to her as ‘the Mullholland woman’.

Katherine Cookson’s characters, are real, down-to-earth and intuitively developed. Bernard Rosier, though initially handsome and powerful, degenerates into a dissolute, menacing and frightening monster and each time he made an appearance I was on the edge of my seat. Katie is a beautiful and talented young women, but no matter how powerful she becomes, she never quite conquers her fear of Bernard Rossier and such is the power of Catherine Cookson’s writing that we, the reader, feel that fear, which is palpable and overshadows Katie’s entire life. Andy is just adorable, large, blonde, bearded and older than her by some sixteen years, he is utterly captivated by her from the first night he meets her. It is Andy who is Katie’s salvation and it is he who recognises that the only way he can help his ‘Kaa-tee’ kick poverty and her fear of Bernard Rossier is by making her rich and powerful and sets out to do just that – and succeeds with amazing results.

Susan Jameson, a British actress of some repute, is absolutely superb as the narrator of Katie Mulholland and handles the large cast of male and female characters, northern dialect, upper classes and – later on in the story – an American, with aplomb. I don’t believe that there is another actress who could capture and hold without wavering, and without putting a foot wrong, the dialects, humour and characters through almost twenty one hours of narration in the way that she does. Considering that this story spans such a long period, Katie’s voice goes from a youthful fifteen year old, through to a very old lady and Susan Jameson adapts her own tone and timbre to take account of this ageing process whilst still making Katie very recognisable. Andy’s English, spoken with a strong Scandinavian accent and an undoubtedly male, deeper intonation, is superbly done and the all consuming love he feels for his ‘Kaa-tee’ shines through and is really quite moving at times; even the jaunty sailor in him is apparent.

I just loved this feast of a book, one of Catherine Cookson’s earlier novels, first published in the 1960s. Susan Jameson brings it to glittering life with her very talented acting skills; this is no light listen and it is one which will probably leave the listener feeling wrung-out. Nevertheless I highly recommend it. There are more and more of this author’s books becoming available in audio, all narrated by Susan Jameson and I am holding my breath and waiting for two all time favourites to become available – The Dwelling Place and Kate Hannigan.

AUDIO REVIEW: Lady Chatterley’s Lover by D.H Lawrence, narrated by Katherine Littrell

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This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon.

First published privately in 1928, Lady Chatterley’s Lover was banned from wider publication in the UK until 1960 and was the subject of censorship and book banning in the United States and elsewhere. Its erotic subject material, colorful language, and discussion of interclass relations were deemed obscene.

Now deemed a classic work of artistic merit written before its time, D.H. Lawrence’s thoughtfully penned novel scrutinizes marriage, infidelity, and the things people do to achieve physical and emotional happiness. The novel’s frank approach to sex and desire infuses Lady Chatterley’s Lover with a modern sensibility that rings as true and thought-provoking in the present as upon its first scandalous publication.

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Publisher and Release Date: Listen2aBook.com, August 2016

Time and Setting: Post WWI – Derbyshire, England
Heat Level: 1.5
Genre: Classic Literature
Reviewer Rating: 3 stars content/3.5 narration

Review by Wendy

I first read Lady Chatterley’s Lover in the 1960’s not long after it had been released for public consumption – for all of the wrong reasons! The book was whispered about and clandestinely read by school children (myself included), mostly because of its notoriety, and I’ll admit that I didn’t really understand or care about it’s deeper meaning. Reading, or in this case, listening, to it again, with a more mature view on life, I found the writing to be quite modern, with a lot of what was written being still pertinent or topical nearly ninety years after publication, although it is quite blatantly misogynistic. It is obvious to me why Lawrence was considered to be a man ahead of his time. What struck me throughout though, was the utter cynicism in tone; the characters don’t seem to like each other, which casts a very dreary pall on the story. There is no joy, no one is happy – not even when they are engaging in their very lacklustre sexual encounters.

The story is set post WWI when women were just beginning to emerge as a force to be reckoned with, and the very backbone of the upper classes is beginning to crumble. Constance (Connie) married Clifford Chatterley before he went off to war and they had had a short, normal, but insipid married life before their separation and he returned a badly injured man. He was not expected to live but made a surprisingly good recovery, albeit he is now confined to a wheeled chair and paralysed from the waist down. A baronet, he accepts his lot in life with equanimity and settles down to rule his little part of Derbyshire. The Chatterley’s lives plod on in a rather dull routine, the dullness felt mostly by Connie who is almost constantly at her husband’s beck and call. His own life is reasonably interesting; he begins to write seriously, takes an active interest in his coal mine and has visits from friends who engage in intellectual conversations in which Connie is not invited to participate. She sits quietly in the corner without comment whilst her husband and his cronies talk in great depth about sex, politics, the industrialisation of the Midlands, the class divide etc. I felt quite irritated on Connie’s behalf for the way she is quite summarily dismissed as a nonentity by her husband and his gang of ‘Hooray Henries’. I wanted to give her a shake but this is the 1920’s and women are still fighting for all women to have the right to vote, let alone the right to an opinion. I think what annoyed me most was the fact that Connie just accepts being put down; a colourless character overall, she had only really grown a little more on me by the end of the story.

Clifford begins to think that he might like an heir to succeed him and kind of gives Connie permission to have a quiet, discreet, affair and will accept any child conceived as his own – as long as the sire is intelligent and worthy. The insular and bitter gamekeeper – Oliver Mellors, is the man – although she doesn’t really choose him; he just crooks his finger, tells her to lie down and the deed is done! What an anticlimax. The sex is described in what I thought to be quite a degrading manner; Mellors had already decided he would live his life alone without sex after a disastrous marriage, but hey ho, here’s the lady of the manor apparently needing a stud. The first encounters between them come across as a man taking his own pleasure with no thought for hers; if she finds any – and later, occasionally she does –  it’s quite by accident. I was at a loss to understand why she kept going back for more, but she does, and it doesn’t get much better. I found his references to his ‘John Thomas’ and her ‘Lady Jane’, laughable… really? It’s at times like these that it is easy to remember that Lady Chatterley’s Lover was written by a man.

The new-to-me, narrator Katherine Littrell does a good job in the telling of this rather boring, long winded story. She is an Australian and I could detect a slight inflection but it does not override or spoil the listening experience. In fact I enjoyed the narration far more than I did the content. Miss Littrell has a pleasant, melodious voice and switches effortlessly between characters so that they are recognisable, especially in the scenes where Clifford and his gang of cronies are in deep discussion. She is adept at capturing the mixed cast of upper class characters, both male and female, but her Derbyshire accent leaves something to be desired. Given that the book is set in Derbyshire and the lower classes (including the gamekeeper), play a large part in the story, this niggled at me. Still Miss Littrell is a narrator I will watch out for in the future as I liked her performance overall .

The whole story is based around a woman’s relationship with her rather needy, demanding husband, his striving to increase his already massive ego, and her illicit sex romps with their gamekeeper; which by today’s writing standards are pretty tame and uninspiring. Lady Chatterley’s Lover is definitely not a keeper for me.  I accept that Lawrence was a good writer but – rather like marmite – he is not to my taste.

 

The Soldier (Windhams/The Duke’s Obsession #2) by Grace Burrowes, narrated by James Langton

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His idyllic estate is falling down from neglect, and nightmares of war give him no rest. Then Devlin St. Just meets his new neighbor….

With her confident manner hiding a devastating secret, his lovely neighbor commands all of his attention, and protecting Emmaline becomes Devlin’s most urgent mission.

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Publisher and Release Date: Tantor Audio, June 2016

Time and Setting: Yorkshire, England 1818
Heat Level: 2
Genre: Historical Romance
Reviewer Rating: 3,5 stars (4 stars for the story / 3 stars for the narration)

Review by Wendy

I always enjoy Grace Burrowes quirky writing style, it has a warmth and ‘homeliness’ about it which is quite unique and very recognisable as the author’s very own. The Soldier second in her Windham series, features Lt. Colonel Devlin St.Just, newly created first Earl of Rosecroft, who is the epitome of this author’s likeable, down-to-earth, male characters. Although I haven’t read all of the various series’ attached to this book, it wasn’t too hard to follow – even with the numerous friends and family members who pop up throughout the story, and I would say that it can be read/listened to as a standalone.

Devlin St.Just is the eldest – though illegitimate – son of the Duke of Windham, but lived with the Windham family from the age of five and has always been accepted and loved by the duchess and his younger half-siblings. For most of his adult years, Devlin was a soldier and fought with honour at Waterloo. Throughout the story it is obvious that he is suffering from what we know today as PTSD; obviously a sensitive and caring man he is tortured by flashbacks, nightmares and even – initially – impotence. He also suffers with a serious drink problem which his younger brother, Valentine, has helped him to overcome, although he still has to fight his urges for the liquor bottle – especially on a bad day.

On his arrival at his new estate, Devlin is presented with his predecessor’s by-blow, a small girl who was recognised by her father and grandfather, the old earl. Devlin understands, with the knowledge of someone-who-has-been-there-and-done-that, how important it is for the all but feral little Bronwyn – or Winnie as she is most commonly known – to be loved and accepted. It’s one of the really nice aspects of the story; the way Grace Burrowes shows this connection and understanding between the fully grown, product-of-his-past, man, and the tiny vulnerable little girl. Along with Winnie comes her very attractive, also illegitimate cousin, Emmaline Farnham. Emmie has lived on the edge of village society, barely tolerated by all but the local vicar who has a long-held affecton for her. Emmie is the only one who has ever really shown Winnie love, but as she is forced to earn a living – working herself into the ground in the process – baking for the local community, she has not been able to give much of her attention to her charge.

Emmie and Devlin are drawn together by their similar pasts but also by the love and concern they share for Winnie. It soon becomes apparent that the two belong together but Emmie has a secret which she is determined not to reveal, and for the second half of the book, as their attraction to each other ratchets up, she seems to do nothing but cry! And whilst I admire the fact that Grace Burrowes doesn’t shy away from mentioning bodily functions, I did get a bit fed up with Devlin talking about her ‘menses’ being the cause. Apparently with five sisters he knew all about such things! However, menses and bodily functions aside, I really liked Devlin; he develops throughout the story into a thoroughly decent and likeable man, his insecurities only making him more endearing and loveable. The author captures little Winnie perfectly. The child reacted as I would expect a child of her age to behave in certain situations, especially given the insecurities and tragedies she has suffered.

I do not think that James Langton was a good choice to narrate this story. Whilst he captures Devlin quite adequately and effectively portrays his caring side, I found his use of an Irish accent a little over the top. Devlin had lived with his Irish mother for only the first five years of his life and I find it difficult to believe that after well over twenty years living amongst the aristocracy, he wouldn’t have lost his strong Irish brogue. Emmie is described as extremely attractive with long blonde hair (which, in true Grace Burrowes fashion, Devlin likes to brush for her!), but as I said previously she cries a lot, and Langton’s high pitched tone of voice highlights her as a rather whingy, whining, misery. She was not a character I liked a great deal anyway, but the tone of voice employed dispelled any image in my mind of attractiveness. The vicar, whom Grace Burrowes indicated as handsome, caring and tolerant in her written portrayal of him has been given a lisping, foppish voice with a rather patronising edge to it. But by far the worst characterisation is that of Douglas Allen, Viscount Amery (Douglas – Lonely Lords, #8) apparently a rather dishy, youngish man, with a wife, stepdaughter and new baby who sounds like a pompous, ninety year old, his voice croaky and elderly.

As usual Grace Burrowes’ use of Americanisms is annoying. The sorts of muffins we eat for breakfast in England are toasted and not the sorts of things you can just put in your pocket (unless you want a pocket full of melted butter and jam!) and there is even mention of rabid dogs! Did we have rabid dogs in England in the nineteenth century? And a swing on the porch – reminiscent of the Deep South of America but not something I’d expect to find on a Yorkshire estate. On the whole, though, The Soldier is a solidly and empathetically written story, covering quite a few serious issues which are still relevant today.

AUDIO REVIEW: The Mésalliance (Rockliffe #2) by Stella Riley, narrated by Alex Wyndham

The Mésalliance audio

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon.

The Duke of Rockliffe is 36 years old, head of his house, and responsible for his young sister, Nell. He is, therefore, under some pressure to choose a suitable bride. Whilst accompanying Nell to what he speedily comes to regard as the house-party from hell, he meets Adeline Kendrick – acid-tongued, no more than passably good-looking yet somehow alluring. Worse still, her relatives are quite deplorable – from a spoiled, ill-natured cousin to a sadistic, manipulative uncle. As a prospective bride, therefore, Adeline is out of the question. Until, that is, a bizarre turn of events cause the Duke to throw caution to the wind and make what his world will call a mésalliance.

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Publisher and Release Date: Stella Riley, March 2016

RHR Classifications:
Time and Setting: England, 1775
Genre: Historical Romance
Heat Level: 1
Reviewer Rating: Content: 5 stars/Narration: 5 stars

Review by Wendy

I adored The Mésalliance, the second in the Rockliffe series, even more than The Parfit Knight, if that’s possible. How can Stella Riley keep improving upon perfection? Every book of hers I read, or in this case listen to, enthrals me more.

The Duke of Rockliffe, whom we met in The Parfit Knight, is doing his brotherly duty and reluctantly attending a house party with his younger sister, Nell. At this party he makes the acquaintance of Nell’s friends, twins Diana and Althea Franklin. He is also surprised to see a young woman whom he had met a few times eight years previously. At that time Adeline Kendrick was a girl of sixteen, quite evidently gently born, but happily running wild. On investigation he is told that she is an orphan and lives with her paternal grandfather. The girl had made enough of an impression on him that he remembers her, but although the young woman he sees now is recognisable, she is also drastically changed. A close relative of the Franklin family, Adeline has been coerced into becoming the much despised companion of her aunt, and is treated little better than a servant. She has learnt – the hard way – to hold her tongue, but occasionally, using her intelligence and quick wit, is able to deliver a well deserved barb to her persecutors, and in the process retains her dignity and self respect. There is conniving and matchmaking in the air; Diana, who has always been encouraged by her mother to believe herself incomparable, is in reality a beautiful, vain, spoilt brat. With an eye to becoming a duchess, she attempts to compromise Rock into marriage, but these machinations go spectacularly wrong and instead results in his making an offer of marriage to Adeline.

I loved the central protagonists, especially Rockliffe, who is the epitome of the perfect hero. Tall, dark and handsome, he is urbane, poised and unerringly courteous, except when he is administering a suavely, softly-spoken set-down so perfectly delivered that often the recipients have no idea that they have been insulted. He has oodles of integrity and an innate, deep down kindness, which is shown time and time again as the story progresses. Then there is Adeline, on the face of it a completely unsuitable duchess. She is no beauty, yet she has captured Rock’s attention in a way that no other woman ever has, something he is at a loss to understand. As their marriage settles down, her cool tranquility, understated elegance, intelligence and that indefinable something I can only call sex appeal, become even more captivating; and as she gains in self-assurance, Rock falls more deeply under her spell and finds it increasingly difficult to maintain his legendary self-control around her.

The conniving of Diana has set the scene for the events that follow, rather like the collapsing of a house of cards, where every action has an effect on the next. The marriage between Rockliffe and Adeline is only really the beginning as we listen in awe to Stella Riley’s intensely dramatic and emotional story ratcheting up to a terrifically explosive culmination which is so skilfully achieved that I wondered where it all came from! Emotions are so raw by the time we reach the end that I defy anyone not to feel deeply moved and also not to have to wipe away a tear or two. In fact, I cannot think of another book that I have read with a more emotionally satisfying ending.

Alex Wyndham’s acting talents and smooth, deliciously pleasing voice are particularly suited to this beautifully written, character driven story which adapts itself so perfectly from print to audio. So sensitively does he interpret Ms. Riley’s rollercoaster ride of emotions that it is obvious that the author and her narrator are completely in-tune. I was especially moved by his portrayal of the swoon-worthy Rockliffe, which is spot-on; as are his interpretations of the group of admirable, honourable and gorgeous friends, Amberley, Jack Ingram and Harry Caversham. Male friendships are something Stella Riley writes particularly well in all of her novels and in this one I think she has surpassed even herself. Alex Wyndham not only captures and highlights the affection between these men but we are also never in any doubt as to whom we are listening to during their interactions. Mr Wyndham’s portrayal of Rock’s gradual unravelling as we head towards the intensely moving climax of the story is touching to say the least. By the end, I was left feeling wrung-out but well satisfied and I wait in anticipation for the release of The Player, the next in this series. Stella Riley has shown her deeply insightful understanding of human nature in The Mésalliance , and if you’re looking for intelligent writing, a cleverly contrived plot, plenty of angst and a soul deep, spine-tingling romance then look no further, because I promise you won’t be disappointed.

AUDIO REVIEW: Treacherous Temptations by Victoria Vane, narrated by Stevie Zimmerman

Treacherous Temptations audoi
This audiobook may be purchased from Audible via Amazon

A reluctant heiress resigned to her fate…

Mary Elizabeth Edwardes possesses one of the largest fortune’s in England, but has no desire to leave her quiet country existence… and even less to acquire a husband she cannot choose for herself.

A dissolute nobleman bent on retribution…

Trapped in a duplicitous existence since scandal destroyed his fortune and family name, Lord Hadley Blanchard has spent the better part of a decade posing as a disaffected exile while spying and seducing in the service of the English Crown.

A dangerous game of seduction, and intrigue…

By employing the full measure of his seductive charm, he woos the ward of the man who destroyed his life, little knowing that winning Mary’s fortune will mean risking his own treacherous heart.

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Publisher and Release Date: Victoria Vane, January 2016

RHR Classifications:
Time and Setting: Georgian London 1728
Genre: Historical Romance
Heat Level: 2.5
Reviewer Rating: 4 stars for content, 3.5 stars for narration

Review by Wendy

This enjoyable, well-written, wickedly sexy Georgian romance has a sweetly innocent heroine and a charming, dissolute rogue at its centre and – to add some extra intrigue – a malevolent, conniving stepmother.

Miss Mary Elizabeth Edwards finds herself an unwitting pawn in a dangerous game. She is a country girl, and though gently raised and very rich, she is no sophisticate and therefore ripe for manipulation. Lord Hadley Blanchard, the son of a disgraced earl, has been living a hand-to-mouth existence on the continent since his father’s suicide seven years previously. Whoring his way through life and also spying for the crown, he is decadent, charming and dependent on his step-mother, Barbara, Countess of Blanchard, for pin money in order to be able to continue his dissipated life style. She summons him back to England with a proposal that will make them both rich; he is to seduce and marry the unworldly Mary, the idea being that he and Barbara will carry on their torrid and incestuous affair while they live off Mary’s money. Hadley has grown tired of his uncertain, Tom-cat lifestyle, and wishes to cut his ties with Barbara and see his father’s name cleared, the Blanchard estates returned and his title re-instated.

Hadley’s puppet master, Sir Richard, was also the instrument of his father’s downfall and now a spymaster with his finger in many pies, he holds Hadley’s life in the palm of his hand and constantly tweaks the reins. He is also Mary’s guardian and in control of both her fortune and marriage prospects, with no intention whatsoever of allowing the disgraced earl’s son access to his ward. As well as controlling both Mary and Hadley he is also lover to the devious and depraved Barbara, Countess of Blanchard.

In this way, Victoria Vane has cleverly intertwined the main characters into a clever and plausible plot in this rather witty and risqué romp.

To begin with, Hadley’s charming exterior is artfully manufactured for the sole purpose of catching and ensnaring the innocent Mary, but soon he becomes enchanted with her innocence. His ennui and cynical attitude begin to drop away and the kind and generous young man who existed before his father’s disgrace and his own exile starts to re-emerge. Mary, although no fool, is nonetheless dazzled by the handsome and debonair nobleman.

The story takes a dark twist and suddenly Mary’s very life is in danger. Always having an eye to the main chance, her guardian has a list of influential men drawn up as possible candidates for her hand with no care for how sexually deviant or elderly they may be. All he cares about is that they will further his own political career, so Mary will go to the highest bidder.

With the developing – but secret – romance between Mary and Hadley kept under wraps, they tread a dangerous path while Hadley attempts to keep Mary safe. Certain revelations about Hadley’s past throw her into a dilemma, and she has nowhere to turn; no one to trust. Hadley has been hoist by his own petard. Now that he has found and recognised his love, and realises he wants nothing from her other than herself… but she does not believe him.

The narration by Stevie Zimmerman is really quite well done. She handles the large cast with confidence, portraying the devious and dastardly Barbara and the oily, corrupt Sir Richard particularly well. While Hadley is masquerading as a primped, powdered and pomaded Italian nobleman, she effects drawling, bored aristocratic tones, but as Hadley returns to his more honourable self, she effects a subtle change and adopts a pleasant, manly voice with just the right amount of inflection to render him more likeable. I didn’t really connect with her portrayal of Mary, however, who at times comes over as whinny and a bit pathetic, although Ms. Vane has written her as a strong, sensible character. My main complaint though, is with the production quality. There is a tinny, slightly echoey background, as if Ms. Zimmerman was recording in a tunnel and I found it quite disconcerting. I listen to a lot of audiobooks and I rarely come across this problem.

On the whole, I enjoyed this audio version of Treacherous Temptations. it has a well thought out, plausible plot line and expertly captures the outrageously decadent and opulence of the Georgian era to a tee with sumptuous descriptions of the fashions, wigs, powders and patches of the times.

AUDIO REVIEW: The Parfit Knight (Rockliffe #1) by Stella Riley, narrated by Alex Wyndham

the parfit knight audio
This title is available for download from Audible via Amazon

When the Marquis of Amberley’s coach is waylaid by highwaymen and his coachman shot, he is forced to take shelter at the first house he finds and is subsequently trapped there for a week by a severe snowstorm.

Oakleigh Manor is the home of Rosalind Vernon who lives alone but for her devoted servants and an ill-natured parrot, cut off from the outside world by the tragic result of a childhood accident. But Rosalind is brave and bright and totally devoid of self-pity – and it is these qualities which, as the days pass and the snow continues to fall, touch Amberley’s heart.

On his return to London, the Marquis persuades Rosalind’s brother, Philip, to bring her to town for a taste of society, despite her handicap. But the course of Amberley’s courtship is far from smooth. Philip Vernon actively dislikes him; Rosalind appears to be falling under the spell of the suavely elegant Duke of Rockliffe; and worse still, Amberley is haunted by a dark and terrible secret that, if revealed, may cause him to lose Rosalind forever.

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Publisher and Release Date: January 2016 by Stella Riley

RHR Classifications: Georgian Historical Romance
Time and Setting: England, 1774
Heat Level: 1
Reviewer Rating: 5 stars

Review by Lady Wesley

This is my first Stella Riley book, but it most assuredly will not be the last. Despite recommendations from several friends, I had put off trying this author’s work, but when she engaged British actor Alex Wyndham to narrate the audio version, I jumped at the chance to listen.

Because I am a word nerd, my first task was to look up the meaning of “parfit,” which turns out to be from Chaucer and is an English variation for the French word for “perfect.” In this book, Dominic, the Marquis of Amberley is handsome, charming, intelligent, and kind – a perfect knight to swoop in and rescue lonesome Rosalind Vernon. Dominic is a bit of a rake, but not nearly so much as society may believe. He doesn’t really care about the ton’s opinion and makes no effort to correct some of the more outrageous tales about his exploits.

Rosalind is twenty-two, unmarried, and blind. Ever since the accident that caused her blindness twelve years earlier, she has lived virtually alone at Oakleigh Manor, surrounded by familiar things, a devoted staff, and a raucous parrot with the vocabulary of a sailor. Her parents are dead, and her elder brother, a recently sold-out army officer, is not on the scene. Rosalind is content, however, with being loved and protected from the outside world. She has not one iota of self-pity, but in reality she is living the unfulfilling life of the proverbial bird in a gilded cage.

Dominic appears at the doors of Oakleigh Manor during a blizzard after highwaymen have severely wounded his coachman during an attempted robbery. Upon meeting the lady of the house, Dominic is gobsmacked by her beauty and astonished to learn that she is blind. Although he knows that it is improper for him to be staying in the home of an unchaperoned single lady, he rationalizes that the weather and his coachman’s injuries compel him to be on the premises. He is also just a bit intrigued by Rosalind and somewhat appalled at what he considers her brother’s unfeeling neglect.

During the days that follow, Dominic enjoys prompting Rosalind to step outside her comfort zone. They spend hours talking, go on little expeditions, and have a snowball fight. Dominic treats her with respect, like a fully grown woman and not a helpless child. Eventually, he confesses to her that he does feel pity for her, not because of her blindness but because of her solitary, reclusive life at Oakleigh.

Rosalind slowly blossoms in Amberley’s company and is intrigued by his suggestion that she should insist upon being brought to London for a season. The most beautiful scene in the book is when he is teaching her to dance and suddenly realizes that he has fallen in love with her. It’s always fun to read a story where the more traditional roles are reversed – he is a world-weary rake plunged into romantic love for the first time in his life. For her part, Rosalind is smitten by Amberley, but she has no expectations and thus no thoughts of true love.

Storm clouds appear on the horizon, however, as Amberley suddenly departs Oakleigh Manor for London, where he encounters Rosalind’s brother, Lord Phillip, who knows Amberley’s reputation and considers him totally unsuitable for his sister. Rosalind arrives in London as well, and things begin to get complicated, but I won’t spoil it by revealing more. There is a Big Secret (which at one point becomes fairly easy to figure out), the results of which are perhaps too easily forgiven. Rosalind and Amberley, however, are both such good, kind, honorable people that it is not too difficult to believe that they are able to overcome the obstacles to their HEA.

One of the joys of this story, besides the lovely romance, is the introduction of compelling secondary characters. Amberley’s best friend and potential suitor for Rosalind, the Duke of Rockcliffe, is so intriguing that we want to see more of him – a desire that Ms. Riley fulfills in the next book, The Mésalliance. Lord Phillip is by turns kind and infuriating, as he doggedly refuses to see any good in Amberley. His fiancée Isabel is a strong, independent, sympathetic woman, but her brother is her polar opposite – selfish and deceptive – and the closest thing to a villain in the story. Each of these characters is so well-drawn that their appearance midway through the story does not in the least detract from the main plot. And finally, there is comic relief from the ill-tempered parrot, Broody, a shameless scene-stealer who indirectly inspires a duel.

Narrator Alex Wyndham gives his typical first-class performance. As I have discovered in other books, he has the ability to subtly change his voice to suit a variety of characters – from the French dowager Duchess of Amberley to her sexy son to, yes, Broody. I have just about run out of superlatives to describe the excellence of his work narrating historical romances, so I will say simply that when you have listened to one of his narrations you will want to hear them all.

I am so glad to have finally discovered Stella Riley and look forward to the next two books in this series coming out in audio. I’ll be keeping my fingers crossed that her widely-respected English Civil War series will be forthcoming. As for The Parfit Knight, it is just a parfit historical romance.