In the Deep by Loreth Anne White


This title may be purchased from Amazon

I hope you don’t find him. And if you do, I hope he’s dead and that he suffered…

Real-estate mogul Martin Cresswell-Smith is the best thing that has ever happened to Ellie. After her daughter’s devastating death, a divorce, and an emotional breakdown, he’s helped her move as far as possible from the grief, the rage, and the monsters of her past. Ellie imagines her new home with Martin in an Australian coastal town will be like living a fairy tale. But behind closed doors is another story—one that ends in Martin’s brutal murder. And Ellie seems almost relieved…

Naturally, everyone thinks Mrs. Cresswell-Smith is guilty.

Senior Constable Lozza Bianchi has reasonable doubt. She sees evidence of a twisted psychological battle and a couple who seemed to bring out the worst in each other—adultery, abuse, betrayal, and revenge. If anything Ellie says can be believed, that is. As the case takes twist after spiraling twist, Lozza can’t shake the gut instinct that she’s being manipulated. That Ellie is hiding something. That there are secrets yet to surface. Lozza has no idea.

Rating: A

Loreth Anne White is one of my favourite authors, and I’m always ready to get stuck into a new book by her.  Her latest novel, In the Deep, is a fabulous read, a superbly constructed, clever thriller surrounding a murder that takes place in the Agnes Banks area of New South Wales, and I was pulled in straight away and hooked until the very end.

The book opens on the dramatic scene of the arrival of a murder suspect at the court where she is to be tried for the murder of her husband.  The car is greeted by angry crowds calling for justice, reporters, photographers, people waving mobile phones  – and when she and her lawyer exit the car, they’re surrounded by journalists eager for quotes.  It’s hard for her not to react to some of the horrible things being shouted at her, and as she’s swept inside, she can’t help asking herself how she’s come to be here.  When did it begin?

We then skip back to just over a year earlier, and to the discovery of a dead body in a swampy channel off the Agnes River.  Senior Constable Lauren – Lozza – Bianchi has reason to believe it to be that of property developer Martin Creswell-Smith, who was last seen heading out to sea in his boat four days earlier.  Which begs the question – if he’d gone overboard at his last known position ten klicks out to sea, how has his body come to be tangled up in a clump of illegal crab-pot lines in the Agnes Basin?  When Lozza and her fellow officer inspect the body more closely, they can see it’s been mutilated – clearly Creswell-Smith’s death was no accident.

Skipping back almost another year, we meet Ellie Hartley, a young woman whose life fell apart following the death by drowning of her three-year-old daughter Chloe.  Ellie blames herself for what happened; her marriage broke down under the weight of grief and guilt and Ellie became dependent on drugs and alcohol.  But she’s gradually emerging from that dark place of tragedy and despair and now, at the beginning of a new year, is determined to make a new beginning for herself.

That new beginning gets underway quickly after Ellie meets the handsome, charming Martin Creswell-Smith.  He’s in Vancouver seeking investors for his latest project – the development of a luxury resort in New South Wales – and over the following months, Martin drops in and out of Ellie’s life, whisking her away on exotic, romantic vacations at a moment’s notice, his attentiveness and understanding making her feel special  and wanted.  After they marry – at Ellie’s suggestion  – while they’re in Vegas on one of their whirlwind trips, Ellie packs up her old life and moves with Martin to Australia.

Which is when things start to go very, very wrong.

You can read the rest of this review at All About Romance.

Stray Fears by Gregory Ashe

This title may be purchased from Amazon

Elien Martel is a survivor, but surviving, he’s beginning to discover, isn’t the same thing as living. In the house he shares with his much older boyfriend, Elien spends his days trying to stay as far away from living as possible. Living, he has learned, means that sooner or later you’ll get hurt.

When a member of Elien’s support group dies under strange circumstances, though, Elien finds himself in a web of bizarre coincidences. The responding officer turns out to be another member of Elien’s support group—a man named Mason, who has made no effort to hide his dislike of Elien. Then, just a few days later, Mason tries to kill Elien in front of dozens of witnesses.

As violence ripples through Elien’s world, he begins to suspect that the coincidences are not coincidences at all. Something is at work behind the cascade of tragedies, something vicious and intelligent. Something that has wanted Elien for a long time.

To defeat it, Elien will have to do what he fears most and face the darkness in his own past. Worse, he’ll have to take the risk of trying to live again.

Rating: A-

Stray Fears is another compelling story from the pen of Gregory Ashe that once again showcases his talent for creating strong, clever plots and engaging but flawed characters who exhibit considerable growth as individuals throughout the course of the story. As in most of his output, we’ve got an intriguing mystery and a central romance, but this time the mystery has a paranormal/horror vibe that focuses on the members of a support group for people with PTSD. It’s an imaginative, fast-moving and perfectly-paced story in which the author creates a real sense of menace that builds from chapter to chapter, making it a difficult book to put down.

Twenty-two-year-old Elien Martel’s life was ripped apart around a year earlier when his parents were shot dead by his older brother who then turned the gun upon himself. Plagued by grief and guilt, Elien is volatile and prone to lashing out, especially at his much older boyfriend, Richard (whom he lives with), a psychiatrist whose Quiet Understanding (Elien’s capitalisation), insistence on Giving Him Space and refusal to have a damn good row irritates Elien no end. It’s Richard who encourages Elien to attend a support group for people with PTSD which is run by one of his colleagues. Even though Elien comes across as a bit of a self-centred prick to start with, he’s really good with the other members of the group, showing them kindness and compassion and offering support when they need it. The group leader even suggests Elien could lead a support group himself – an idea he laughs off – but he agrees to her request that he keep an eye on fellow group member Ray who’s not been doing so well lately.

A day or so after this, Sheriff’s deputy Dag LeBlanc answers the call for a wellness check on Ray Field and arrives at Ray’s building with his partner Mason – who is a member of the same support group as Elien. Mason dislikes Elien intensely – and for no apparent reason – and when he and Dag arrive to find it was Ellen who made the call, Mason tries to persuade Dag the guy is pulling some kind of stunt – but Dag calmly dismisses that idea and accompanies Elien to Ray’s door. Inside, they discover Ray’s dead body, sprawled on his bed, eyes open and dancing with blue fire, and… well, I’m not going to elaborate, so I’ll just say that things take a really creepy turn, and Dag – deciding he can’t possibly have seen what he thinks he saw – escorts a freaked-out Elien outside… only for the guy to accuse him of cowardice when Dag refuses to acknowledge anything out of the ordinary happened.

You can read the rest of this review at All About Romance.

Pop Star (Famous #1) by Eden Finley (audiobook) – Narrated by Iggy Toma

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

Harley

What happens when the most successful boy band on the planet breaks up? How about 20,000 fans screaming my name. But the price of fame comes with an increased risk to my safety. I’ve been avoiding the dreaded B word for as long as I can, but after a close call with a rambunctious fan, I can’t do it anymore. It’s time to give in. I need to hire a full-time bodyguard. And when he shows up, he not only screams badass, he’s another B word I try to stay away from: boyfriend material.

Brix

Protecting people is not what my company usually does, but the boss knows I need money, and the pop star is offering an insane amount to live with him and make sure no more crazy fans break into his house. I’m doing it for the money and nothing else. He may be the prettiest man I’ve ever seen, and I may feel sorry for the celebrity life he’s been forced into since he was a teenager, but that doesn’t mean anything. Just because he fascinates me, that doesn’t mean I like him. It doesn’t.

Professionalism. I’m gonna live it. Breathe it. Enforce it… Mostly.

Rating: Narration – A-; Content – B-

If you’ve read or listened to Hat Trick, the final book in Eden Finley’s Fake Boyfriend series, you’ve already met Harley Valentine, one of the two protagonists in Pop Star, book one in her new Famous series. Harley was a member of Eleven, the most successful, most famous boy-band on the planet, and he came across as a selfish, spoiled brat, especially when he (in effect) blackmailed his former lover Jet Jackson – one of the leads in Hat Trick – to re-join the worldwide tour Jet had quit through burnout and a need to separate himself from Harley because their relationship was so unhealthy. Harley is gay, but isn’t out and can’t come out – his contract has him nicely hamstrung on that score – and even though Jet had broken up with him several times, their proximity on tour meant that they often fell into bed again – and Jet had had enough of being Harley’s dirty little secret.

By the time Pop Star opens, Eleven has split and its five members have gone their separate ways. Harley has embarked on a – so far – successful solo career, and is as famous and widely-recognised as ever. It’s clear, however, that he’s not exactly happy; if he’s not touring or recording or doing PR for concerts and albums, he’s holed up writing in his LA home, where he lives with his fiancée Evah – although as was made clear in Hat Trick, their relationship was manufactured by the record label in order to squash any rumours that Harley might be gay. To anyone on the outside looking in, Harley has it all – a beautiful fiancée, a great career, public acclaim and more money than he knows what to do with… but from the inside, it’s a lonely life. Harley doesn’t have any real friends, he’s feeling stifled creatively and he can’t set a foot outside his home without being hounded by paparazzi. And then things take a turn for the worse when he returns home exhausted after a concert and meet-n-greet to discover a young man waiting in his kitchen – a young man he doesn’t know who is clearly fixated on him and who creeps him out. Things are – thankfully – safely resolved, but having turned down the idea of hiring a round-the-clock bodyguard on several occasions because he dislikes the idea of having a permanent shadow even in his personal space, Harley is now forced to concede that it’s probably a good idea after all.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals

TBR Challenge: Zero at the Bone by Jane Seville

This title may be purchased from Amazon.

After witnessing a mob hit, surgeon Jack Francisco is put into protective custody to keep him safe until he can testify.

A hitman known only as D is blackmailed into killing Jack, but when he tracks him down, his weary conscience won’t allow him to murder an innocent man.

Finding in each other an unlikely ally, Jack and D are soon on the run from shadowy enemies. Forced to work together to survive, the two men forge a bond that ripens into unexpected passion. Jack sees the wounded soul beneath D’s cold, detached exterior, and D finds in Jack the person who can help him reclaim the man he once was.

As the day of Jack’s testimony approaches, he and D find themselves not only fighting for their lives… but also fighting for their future. A future together.

Rating: B

Jane Seville’s Zero to the Bone (2009) combines a complex and intriguing plot that wouldn’t be out of place in an action movie with an intense, angsty romance between a hitman and his would-be victim.  It’s a gripping read for around the first three-quarters of the book but after that it starts to meander a bit and while I enjoyed it, it’s a bit overlong and could probably have done with a bit of judicious editorial pruning to tighten up some areas of the plotting and writing.

Maxillofacial surgeon Jack Francisco’s life is turned upside down and inside out after he witnesses a mob hit and agrees to give evidence at trial.  He has to leave his Baltimore home and the job that’s been his life’s work behind when he’s taken into protective custody and relocated thousands of miles away in Nevada while he waits for the trial to begin.

The hitman known only as D is one of the best in the business, but is known to have some odd quirks when it comes to which tickets he picks up.  Rapists, child molesters and murderers are fair game, but he won’t touch cheating spouses, kids who want to dispose of elderly relatives to get their hands on their money – or witnesses.  His handler knows this and isn’t surprised when D passes on the contract from the Dominguez brothers to take out a witness – but they aren’t going to take no for an answer.  They blackmail D into picking up the ticket on Jack Francisco, which is why Jack enters the supposedly secure apartment where the Marshals have squirrelled him away, to find a man sitting calmly in an armchair with a gun in his lap.

D knows that if he can get to Jack, then so can anyone else, and although it’s one of the worst ideas he’s ever had, he decides to get Jack out of there and that he’ll protect the man himself until the trial.  He knows he’ll have a price on his head within seconds of the news getting out, but he’s the only one who can protect Jack from the scumbags who are after him… and he also suspects that there’s something more going on than someone being pissed at him for refusing a ticket.  After all, there are plenty of others out there who would have taken the job without a qualm, so why did the Dominguez brothers go to the trouble of blackmailing him?

The author does a great job of building the suspense as Jack and D go on the run, gradually peeling away the different layers of the plot as it becomes clear that D’s suspicions are correct and someone is targeting him through Jack – and that there is a lot more going on than it at first seemed.  The story is intricate and fast-paced, and there are a number of vivid, edge-of-the-seat action scenes and near misses that really ratchet up the tension and keep the reader on their toes.  As we move from one heart-pounding scene to another, Jack and D are starting to get a bit of handle on one another, well, insofar as Jack is able to find out anything from the very tight-lipped and closed-off D other than that he’s… well, tight-lipped, closed-off and deeply damaged.

A break in the action allows the author to develop the relationship between the two leads, who are as different as chalk and cheese.  Jack is the light to D’s dark; he’s a highly respected surgeon and thoroughly decent man with a generally optimistic disposition, while D is a man tormented by the tragic past that has driven him to become what he is.  Weighed down by grief and guilt, he’s spent so much time suppressing his emotions and natural reactions that when we first meet him, he’s starting to wonder if he’s actually a human being any more.  But something about Jack gradually starts to make its way under his skin, and D doesn’t at first know how to handle that.  He’s drawn to Jack and wants to trust him – but for a man who’s lived by his wits and trusted only one other person (the mysterious X, who is something of a guardian angel at times) for the past decade, trust isn’t given easily.  Jack is equally smitten and wants to know the man behind the emotional walls D has constructed, and slowly, the two men forge an incredibly strong bond that develops into a deep and passionate love that is absolutely unshakeable.  The relationship is very well done and contains some beautifully written moments of vulnerability and intimacy; and while the sex scenes are not all that explicit, their mutual attraction, longing and need for each other is visceral and really leaps off the page.

[Note: there’s no mention of prep or lube in the first sex scene (ouch!) and no mention – or use – of condoms at all.]

I got just over half way through the book confidently expecting to give it a fairly high rating – maybe even a DIK – but as I headed into the final quarter, it started to run out of steam and the excitement and tension that had made it such a compelling read were dissipating.  I’m not sure why that was;  there was plenty of plot still to go, but it felt overly dragged out and in the end, went on for too long.  Reading the epilogue, I got the feeling Zero at the Bone was supposed to have been the first in a series (checking the author’s website later, I found this to be the case), but no sequel has so far appeared 😦

Other weaknesses I noted were the lack of background and depth of characterisation of Jack.  We’re told early on that he was married to a woman, and later that he’s had a few relationships with men since; he’s very comfortable with his sexuality, but his marriage and divorce are not explained at all and I couldn’t help wondering why, if he knew he was gay, he married a woman in the first place.  (It’s never suggested he might be bisexual.)  There’s also a real lack of character description;  we don’t even know that Jack is dark-haired until really late in the book, for instance, and I found it very hard to picture him or D.

I really liked the author’s writing style, and she has a real talent for describing locations and action sequences so vividly that the reader is right there with the characters. However,  I wasn’t wild about her decision to write out D’s dialogue in a way to reflect some kind of accent – we’re never told where he comes from, but it’s “ya” for “you” and “fer” for “for” and “caint” for “can’t”.  It’s not as intrusive as some written-out dialects I’ve come across, but it was distracting nonetheless.  Also, some of the internal monologuing could have used a trim; there’s a tendency for a character to have a long-winded conversation with himself in the middle of an action scene or when he has to make a split-second decision, and it disrupts the flow.

Fortunately however, the balance between action, suspense and angsty romance is just about right, the good outweighs the not-so-good, and I enjoyed Zero to the Bone in spite of my reservations.

NOTE:  It has come to my attention that since I purchased this book, the rights have reverted to the author, who has revised and republished it.  One of the things she has changed is the way D’s accent is conveyed; I haven’t got the newer version so I can’t comment on how successful (or otherwise) it is; I just wanted to point out the change.

Live Wire (Brooklyn Boys #2) by E. Davies (audiobook) – Narrated by Nick J. Russo

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

Adam: I might be into guys. Do you have any idea how terrifying that is? I’ve already run halfway across the country to get away from my abusive parents, and I really want to experiment, but I can’t even hook up without scaring myself away. I might look confident on the outside, but this is tearing me apart. Then my new roomie wins a trip for two to a gay resort in Hawaii. Darren wants to show his clueless ex that he’s moved on, and I want to help out. Darren deserves way better, and faking being his boyfriend is the perfect chance to figure out my feelings. But then what do I do when the man I really want turns out to be Darren himself?

Darren: I escaped the regret-fueled hookups with my ex when I moved out. He’s not the worst guy out there, but now we’re going to be at the same resort for a week, and I want to make it clear that I’m off-limits. My hotheaded, impulsive, but surprisingly sweet new roommate is willing to help with that. While I pretend to date Adam, I can’t stop imagining what it’d be like for real. I want to be more than Adam’s experiment, and suddenly keeping up appearances is less important than following my heart. I’m going to have to learn to trust all over again for this to work out once this week is over, though. Can we grow strong enough to build something that lasts forever?

Rating: Narration – B+; Content – B

Live Wire is book two in E. Davies’ Brooklyn Boys series, but although it features characters from Electric Sunshine (book one) and the author’s earlier Significant Brothers books, it works perfectly well as a standalone. It’s a fun, sexy, fake-relationship romance between two roommates that takes off when one of them wins an all-expenses-paid luxury holiday to a gay resort in Hawaii and needs a plus-one… and being not long out of his last relationship, decides to invite his new roomie – his straight roomie – to go with him.

Darren has moved out of the apartment he shared with his ex, after putting an end to their year-long relationship. He and Xavier had been over for a while, but kept falling back into bed (or onto sofas, against walls…) until Darren finally put an end to their convenient hook-ups when he realised they were making him feel like shit. He moves in with Adam, a cute, funny, cheeky (and straight) guy with whom he shares mutual friends, and he’s sworn off casual relationships – for a while at least – and especially relationships with roommates.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

The Sex Coach by Garrett Leigh

This title may be purchased from Amazon

Toby
There’s nothing attractive about a twenty-four year old virgin, especially not one who blushes every time a hot dude looks his way. But I can’t help the heat that ripples through me every time I see Cole Maguire. And the clench of my heart when I realise how unhappy he is. He’s a city boy with a baby on his hip—we have nothing in common—but if he can teach me how to own my sexuality, perhaps I can teach him he’s worth loving.

Cole
I don’t like horses. But I love my daughter, and there’s nothing I won’t do for her, including leaving the city for life on a farm. I’m ready for that, but I’m not ready for blushing stable hands who make my heart race and my blood run hot. Toby has no idea how beautiful he is. I can teach him that, if he can handle the heat, but after one night with him…damn.

Maybe it’s me that has a lot to learn.

Rating: B

Garrett Leigh is an author I keep meaning to read more of, so I eagerly pounced on her latest release, The Sex Coach, a standalone story that is loosely related to her Skins trilogy.  (It’s not essential to have read that series, although I did find it helpful to have done so). Set on Whisper Farm, the horse sanctuary/health farm in Cornwall run by Joe Carter and his husband Harry, it takes place around five years after their story (Whisper) ended and re-introduces readers to Toby, who was taken in by Joe after he was more or less abandoned by his family when he was a kid.  Even though Toby has lived and worked on the farm for over a decade, Joe and the others still see him – and treat him – as the kid he was, and not a strapping man of twenty-four, which irks him a little.  But he loves them, he loves his job and wouldn’t want to be anywhere else – even though being around a group of gorgeous men who are so obviously sure of who they are and secure in their sexual identity is just more than a little overwhelming.

Toby knows he’s queer;  he’s been with a handful of women but never with a man, and although he wants to, he has no idea how to go about it or what to do… and to make things worse, attractive men melt his brain and turn him into a dribbling idiot who[ falls ]apart at the first sign of affection.  He worries he’ll never be sufficiently confident enough around a guy to have a relationship, that he’ll never have what his friends have.  That he’ll never be… enough.

Eight months earlier, pilates teacher Cole Maguire became the father of baby Ella (the result of a one-night stand) and has taken a temporary gig standing in for physical therapist Angelo (Dream) at Whisper Farm so that he can continue to see Ella after her mother decided to move to Bude in Cornwall.  He’s not the greatest fan of horses, but there’s nothing he wouldn’t do for Ella, and he reckons that between his work schedule and her visits, he’ll be too busy to spend time around the farm – which is just how he wants it anyway.

You can read the rest of this review at All About Romance.

Off Balance (Painted Bay #1) by Jay Hogan

This title may be purchased from Amazon

When JUDAH MADDEN flees his tiny suffocating home town in New Zealand for the dream of international ballet stardom, he never intends coming back. Not to Painted Bay. Not to his family’s struggling mussel farm. Not to his jerk of a brother. Not with his entire life plan in shreds. And certainly not into the tempting arms of MORGAN WIPENE, the older, ruggedly handsome fisheries officer who seems determined to screw with Judah’s intention to wallow in peace.

But dreams are fickle things. Shatter them and it’s hard to pick up the pieces. Hard to believe. Hard to start again.

And the hardest thing of all? Finding the courage to trust in love and build a new dream where you least expected to find it.

Rating: A-

In Off Balance, the first book in her new series of contemporary romances, author Jay Hogan takes a big geographical leap from one end of New Zealand to the other, from the lakes and mountains of the Southland (the setting for her recent Southern Lights books) to the coastal region of subtropical Northland at the northern tip of the North Island, and the small town of Painted Bay. It’s an emotional, powerful story about two very different men who end up back in their home town following tragedy and heartbreak, and how they learn to come to terms with the past and move forward with their lives while also working out how – and if – they can manage to do that together.

Judah Madden got out of Painted Bay as soon as he possibly could, having spent sixteen years never fitting in because he was too flamboyant, too gay and too unwilling to be anything other than who and what he was.  His ticket out was his talent as a dancer; his parents supported him both morally and financially, and helped him to follow his dreams of making it as a ballet dancer, and when we meet him, he’s twenty-five and has already made himself a name as a world-class performer.  But his world comes tumbling down when – during a performance – he has a severe dizzy spell which causes him to fall and then pass out.  Shortly after this, he is diagnosed with Menière’s Disease – a chronic illness which affects the inner ear, causing (among other things) vertigo, tinnitus and potentially, hearing loss.  It’s a condition for which there is no cure.

With no alternative left open to him, Judah returns to Painted Bay to lick his wounds and try to work out what to do next.  The Menière’s means his future employment prospects are severely limited – he can’t drive, he can’t operate machinery – and in any case, the only thing he’s ever trained for, the only thing he’s ever been good at is ballet… which is no longer an option.

Around five years before this, another man whose life had been devastated by tragedy arrived in Painted Bay, needing to get away from the suffocating concern of his family while he worked through his grief.  Fisheries officer Morgan Wipene lost his wife Sally to a particularly aggressive form of cancer, and it hit him hard, but over the years, he’s learned to process his grief and accept her loss, and while he still feels her absence at times, it’s a gentle comfort rather than a searing pain.   After five years, he’s ready to move on; he’s always known he’s bisexual, but has mostly been with women, and had certainly reckoned without being knocked sideways by a gorgeous, smart-mouthed, but obviously deeply wounded (and much younger) man who is not coping well with whatever has brought him back to Painted Bay.

You can read the rest of this review at All About Romance.

Lethal Temptation (Rifle Creek #2) by Kaylea Cross

This title may be purchased from Amazon.

She’s got her guard up.

Detective Avery Dahl finally has her life back on track after a painful divorce. She’s not going to risk her heart again, especially to a sexy veteran with heartbreak written all over him. Due to extenuating circumstances at an upcoming family wedding, she reluctantly agrees to bring him as her fake boyfriend—and soon realizes her mistake. Because Mason is as lethal with seduction as he is with a weapon, and keeps pushing her boundaries until her carefully constructed walls begin to crumble. Her instinct is to push him away, but when a mysterious enemy targets her, Avery has a choice to make. Face it alone, or take a risk and let him in.

He’s determined to get past it.

After a horrific accident ended his military career, Mason Gallant has struggled to fit into the civilian world. Now that he and his buddies are opening a business together in Rifle Creek, he’s finally found his footing again. But he never counted on meeting a woman like Avery. He can’t stop thinking about her, so when she needs help, he steps up. Except posing as her boyfriend makes things even worse—because he soon realizes he wants way more than just her body. Now that he’s seen the caring, sensual woman inside the tough cop, he wants to protect her from whoever is threatening her. As the attraction between them heats up, the danger escalates. Mason must prove to her that she can trust him with her heart as well as her life—or risk losing her to the bullet of a stone-cold killer.

Rating: C+

Kaylea Cross is a popular and prolific author of romantic suspense novels, and I’ve read (and listened to) a few of her books with varying degrees of success – some have worked for me and some haven’t; and unfortunately, her latest release, Lethal Temptation (book two in her Montana-set Rifle Creek series) falls into the latter category.

After a painful divorce, Detective Avery Dahl has pretty much buried herself in her work and vowed never to risk her heart on another man.  Her ex is now married again – to a much younger woman – with a baby on the way, and the way he withdrew from Avery emotionally not long after they tied the knot, and his obvious disapproval of her job really put her through the wringer.  She’s contentedly single and intends to remain so, in spite of the fact that her new lodger is hot as hell and clearly interested in her.

Avery’s former tenant Nina moved out of the basement apartment and in with her boyfriend, Avery’s work-partner, Tate Baldwin, and Tate’s best friend and soon-to-be business partner Mason Gallant has become Avery’s new downstairs neighbour. Mason alternately irritates her and turns her on, so she tries to have as little to do with him as possible, but his relationship with Tate means they cross paths fairly often.  When Tate – who had agreed to accompany Avery to a family wedding at the weekend – admits to a snafu with the dates, he suggests Mason could go in his stead, but Avery flat out rejects the idea.  Mason is far too appealing for her peace of mind.  But… she’s so tired of the whispers and the pity, which is bound to be worse as her ex will be at the wedding with his pregnant wife, and when Mason quietly intimates that he understands some of how she feels and that he’d like to be there to have her back… she relents and takes him up on his offer.

Mason served in the elite division of the Canadian army until a horrific accident ended his career and left him with PTSD.  He’s struggling to adjust to civilian life, but thanks to Tate and their friend Brax (who I assume is the hero of the next book), he’s starting to find his way and the three of them are about to open a business in Rifle Creek.  Mason has been attracted to Avery since the moment he laid eyes on her, but doesn’t understand why she’s so stand-offish towards him; he really does want to help her out by acting as her fake-boyfriend, but he can’t deny that he hopes that spending time together might give him a chance to work his way through her defences… and maybe into her bed.

You can read the rest of this review at All About Romance

Manners & Mannerisms by Tanya Chris (audiobook) – Narrated by Joel Leslie

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon
Everyone in Highley eagerly anticipates the arrival of Reginald Abernathy, the new master of Albon Manor. Everyone, that is, except Lord William Bascomb. William knows he’ll be expected to woo Reginald’s sister, and he can’t summon the interest for it. But when the Abernathys arrive at last, William discovers he’s interested after all – in Reginald. Reginald is the most handsome, most dashing, most intriguing man he’s ever known. Better yet, he seems to share William’s preference for men. The addition of the Abernathys to Highley suits everyone. William’s sister adores Reginald’s, Aunt Harriet foresees many happy matches between the two families, William’s sister-in-law is pleased at the prospect of unloading her penniless relatives at last, and all the eligible ladies in Highley want the man who only has eyes for William. Against a backdrop of elegant balls and frolicking picnics, William and Reginald enjoy furtive moments of ecstasy until a scandal erupts, forcing William to choose between Reginald and the only life he’s ever known.

Rating: Narration – A-; Content – D

Manners & Mannerisms is a standalone m/m historical romance by Tanya Chris, who is the author of a number of contemporary and paranormal romances – and based on this, I’d suggest she should stick to those, because historicals clearly aren’t her forté. The story is dreadfully dull, and had I not agreed to review it, I’d probably have DNF’ed; even the fabulous Joel Leslie can’t turn this audiobook into anything other than it is – painfully uneventful and completely devoid of chemistry and humour. Our PoV character is Lord William Bascombe, younger brother of the Marquess of Eldridge. The family is very strapped for cash thanks to their father’s mismanagement, and they have avoided destitution by the marquess’ marriage to an heiress. William and his younger siblings, Frederick and Catherine, still live at the family home, although William knows that he should be considering taking a wife for himself and setting up his own household. He also knows that he is not inclined towards women, and has instead resigned himself to living alone. His aunt, however, has other ideas; Mr. Reginald Abernathy of Virginia – the new owner of the neighbouring estate of Albon Manor – would be an excellent choice of suitor for Catherine, and more than that, he has a sister of marriageable age who would no doubt make William a good wife. You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

Better Than People (Garnet Run #1) by Roan Parrish (audiobook) – Narrated by James Cavenaugh

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

It’s not long before their pet-centric arrangement sparks a person-centric desire…

Simon Burke has always preferred animals to people. When the countdown to adopting his own dog is unexpectedly put on hold, Simon turns to the PetShare app to find the fluffy TLC he’s been missing. Meeting a grumpy children’s book illustrator who needs a dog walker isn’t easy for the man whose persistent anxiety has colored his whole life, but Jack Matheson’s menagerie is just what Simon needs.

Four dogs, three cats and counting. Jack’s pack of rescue pets is the only company he needs. But when a bad fall leaves him with a broken leg, Jack is forced to admit he needs help. That the help comes in the form of the most beautiful man he’s ever seen is a complicated, glorious surprise.

Being with Jack—talking, waking, making out—is a game changer for Simon. And Simon’s company certainly…eases the pain of recovery for Jack. But making a real relationship work once Jack’s cast comes off will mean compromise, understanding and lots of love.

Rating: Narration – B+; Content: B

Roan Parrish’s Better than People is a sweet, tender and steamy character-driven romance that is rather less angsty than other books of hers I’ve read and listened to, but is no less enjoyable for that. It’s a lovely, romantic hurt/comfort story featuring two guys who bond over their love of animals and gradually start to build a deep and genuine friendship that turns into something more.

Jack Matheson is a successful illustrator of children’s books, but when his friend and collaborator shafted him by presenting their publisher with Jack’s ideas as his own, Jack – quite understandably – felt terribly betrayed and hurt. Since that happened about eight months earlier, Jack hasn’t drawn a thing; worried that perhaps he won’t ever draw again, he’s holed himself up in his cabin in Wyoming with his ‘pack’ of rescue dogs and cats, cut himself off from his brother (his only family) and drifts from day to day rather aimlessly.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.