Tag Archive | AUDIOBOOK

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

the soldier audio

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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.

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: Dair Devil (Roxton Family Saga #4) by Lucinda Brant, narrated by Alex Wyndham

Dair Devil

Available to purchase from Audible via Amazon

Opposites attract. Appearances can deceive. A dashing and rugged façade hides the vulnerable man within. He will gamble with his life, but never his heart. Always the observer, never the observed, her fragility hides conviction. She will risk everything for love. One fateful night they collide. The attraction is immediate, the consequences profound….

London and Hampshire, 1777: The story of Alisdair “Dair” Fitzstuart, nobleman, ex-soldier, and rogue, and Aurora “Rory” Talbot, spinster, pineapple fancier, and granddaughter of England’s Spymaster General, and how they fall in love.

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Publisher and Release Date: Sprigleaf PTY Ltd., October 2015

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

Review by Caz

This fourth book in Lucinda Brant’s Roxton Family Saga, is a lovely, beautifully romantic story about a man who hides his true self behind a wild, brash exterior, whose life is transformed by a young woman who had thought only to observe life from the sidelines.

Big, strong and handsome, Major Lord Alisdair (Dair) Fitzstuart more than lives up to his nickname. He is a military hero, having displayed enormous courage in battle and emerged unscathed; but has the reputation of being a complete rapscallion, renowned for his wild, often outrageous behaviour, and for the fact he never turns down a bet, no matter how ridiculous or dangerous the challenge. His antics keep society well entertained, but what most people fail to realise is that he’s bored. Returned six months previously from the war in the Colonies, where, unbeknownst to many, he worked as a spy as well as an army officer, he is at a loose end. Heir to the Earl of Strathsay, he has been left in limbo by his father, who left England twenty years ago without leaving his son any authority over his English estates. Until he marries, Dair has no independent means and can have no hand in the management of the estates that will one day be his.

The book opens with Dair and two of his best friends about to invade the studio of artist, George Romney in order to play an audacious prank. With Dair and Lord Grasby stripped down to loincloths and daubed with ashes and paint in order to look like American Indians, the plan is to cause mayhem by frightening the bevy of lovely opera dancers currently serving as models for Romney’s next painting. Cedric Pleasant is infatuated with the beautiful Consulata Baccelli, so Dair’s plan is that his friend will intervene at an opportune moment, scare off the two savages, save the day and thus win the lady’s admiration and, hopefully, gratitude (*wink*). Unfortunately, however, their “invasion” coincides with the unplanned visit to the studio of Lady Grasby and her party, which also includes Grasby’s sister, Lady Aurora (Rory) Talbot. In the ensuing fracas, Dair and Rory end up – literally – tangled together; and even though they have met before at social events (he is cousin to Antonia, dowager Duchess of Roxton who is Rory’s godmother) he hasn’t really taken much notice of her and doesn’t realise who she is to start with. All he knows is that he is in possession of a very pretty, funny, quick witted, perceptive and warm armful of woman and he wants her.

It’s not until the next day that Dair discovers the identity of that warm armful, but before he can speak to Rory about the events of the previous evening, her grandfather, the Earl of Shrewsbury, has made him swear to act as though he remembers nothing about it so as to spare Rory’s delicate sensibilities.

Shrewsbury is England’s spymaster and a very powerful man, but he dotes on Rory, who because of a birth defect (a club foot), walks with a cane. At twenty-two, she doesn’t expect ever to marry, much as she would like to, because of her disability and also because her grandfather is so over-protective that he doesn’t afford her many chances to meet eligible gentlemen.

The bulk of the story deals with the progression of Dair and Rory’s relationship, which is deliciously romantic and extremely well-developed. We are also treated to further – and unexpected – developments in the lives of Antonia and her new husband, and the continuation of the sub-plot that began in Autumn Duchess, concerning the involvement of Dair’s brother with the American revolutionaries. All these elements are woven together skilfully and seamlessly; and while at one point early on, it seemed as though there was the potential for the introduction of an angsty Big Misunderstanding, I was relieved that Ms Brant opted not to go there. Thankfully, she’s a good enough writer that she doesn’t need to employ such devices to create conflict or tension, which instead arise naturally from the characters or from the way she has designed her story.

Both principals are likeable and strongly drawn. Dair is a rogue, but he’s an honourable one, a man with a huge capacity for love and understanding, as is shown in his interactions with his ten-year-old son, the product of his first, youthful liaison with a serving maid. I know that some listeners might be put off by the fact of the hero’s having a child, but the fact that he acknowledges the boy and continues to be a part of his life says a lot about him, and I liked him all the more for it. Rory is witty and intelligent, determined to live her life to the full in spite of her disability, and it’s easy to understand why Dair is so immediately smitten with her. He doesn’t care about her club foot or that she walks with a cane – he sees a lovely, loveable young woman and is determined to make her his.

I have listened to a number of Alex Wyndham’s narrations now and he is, quite simply, one of the best narrators around. Every time I come to write a review of one of his performances, I find myself opening up the thesaurus to find more superlatives, because he is so incredibly good that I have run out of them! Every single character is clearly delineated so that there is never any question as to who is speaking in any given scene, and his female voices are the best I have ever heard from any male narrator in the genre. I continue to adore his interpretation of Antonia, (now the Duchess of Kinross), and his portrayal of Dair is utterly perfect; determined, playful, authoritative and sexy by turns, Mr Wyndham gives so much more than a mere “performance”. It probably helps that he has a gorgeous voice to lend to the delectable heroes Ms Brant has created for us, but add to that his perfect pacing, his incredible range of timbre and accent and his ability to get to the emotional heart of both story and characters and you have the perfect performance.

I can’t recommend the audiobook of Dair Devil highly enough. The love story is compelling, the historical setting is used to great effect and the narration is flawless. It really doesn’t get any better than this.

Breakdown of grade: Narration – 5 stars; Content – 4.5 stars