All Note Long (Perfect Harmony #3) by Annabeth Albert (audiobook) – Narrated by Brad King

all note long

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

Giving true love a spin…

Michelin Moses is a country music star on the rise. With a hit single under his Texas-sized belt buckle and a sold-out concert tour underway, his childhood dreams of making it big are finally coming true. But there’s one thing missing – a promise to his dying mother that he’d find it – him – when the time was right. With a little luck, he won’t have to wait too long….

Lucky Ramirez is a hunky boy toy who dances at The Broom Closet, one of West Hollywood’s hottest gay bars. He loves what he does, and he’s good at it – almost as good as he is at playing dumb when he spots Michelin Moses at the bar. What happens next is off the charts – and keeps Michelin coming back for more. He’s just not sure it’s the right move for his career. But if Lucky gets his way, Michelin will get Lucky – and no matter how the media spins it, neither of them will be faking it….

Rating: Narration – B+; Content – B+

Another deep dive into my Audible library to find titles I own but haven’t yet listened to turned up All Note Long, the third and final book in Annabeth Albert’s Perfect Harmony series, which is centred around characters involved with a TV singing/talent show. I reviewed book one, Treble Maker, when it came out in audio a couple of years back; I enjoyed it and picked up the other two books in the series, but unlike those – which feature characters who were contestants on the show – All Note Long focuses on country music star Michelin Moses, who was one of the judges and mentors.

Michelin (and right from that start, I had trouble with the name – I kept thinking of tyres!) was a pop star before he changed tack and moved into country music. Being gay in the country scene is a no-no, and he’s deeply in the closet, convinced coming out will mean the end of his career. When the story begins, he’s at a birthday celebration for one of his mentees, even though he knows his publicist and label would have kittens if they knew he’d met up with them at a gay bar. It’s a new experience for him, and he finds himself completely fascinated by one of the go-go dancers, a beautiful young Latinx guy who goes by Lucky. Michelin can’t help looking – even though he knows he shouldn’t – and decides to leave quietly soon afterwards, but he mistakes the way to the exit and ends up wandering the corridors backstage, where he bumps into Lucky, who notices he’s rather flustered and offers to get him some water.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals

TBR Challenge: Marked by Fire by Mia West

marked by fireThis title may be purchased from Amazon

Eighteen-year-old Arthur burns for two things: a warrior’s ink, and Bedwyr, his older brother’s shieldmate.

Though the warlord’s son is beyond his reach, a Saxon incursion finally brings Arthur’s chance at the tattoo that will brand him a fighter.

But when he abandons his training in the heat of battle, his reckless ambition costs Bedwyr his sword hand.

Once, Bedwyr trusted in two things: he was a warrior, and the presumed heir of Uthyr.

Now, reeling from injury and sent away by his father, he’s lost everything. The last person he wants to see is the cub who ignited his disastrous instinct to protect.

Especially when he arrives with Bedwyr’s armor and a dangerously hopeful scheme to restore him to his rightful place.

Rating: B-

I really had to wrack my brains to recall if I already had a book that would fit this month’s prompt of “unusual”, and I was coming up with a big blank – until I found Mia West’s Marked by Fire, book one in her Sons of Britain series, and decided that an m/m romance set in sixth century Wales definitely fit the bill!

Ms. West has mined Arthurian legends and given them a new slant, so that while the characters are mostly familiar, they don’t always fit the roles we may be used to seeing them in – for instance, Arthur isn’t the son of Uther Pendragon (or Uthyr, the Pen y Ddraig) and Bedwyr, who is often related to the sidelines in the myths, has a central role – and given there are so many legends and so many variations on them, I had no problem with that.  This is certainly not the Camelot of chivalric legend and the Lady of the Lake; no, this is the Dark Ages, mere decades since the Romans departed Britain, and life is tough and brutal.  The author does an excellent job capturing the feel of the period – it’s dark and gritty and very real – and of setting up the network of relationships that will populate her version of the story.

Eighteen-year-old Arthur ap Matthias is restless, hotheaded and eager to prove himself in battle and impress not only his leader, Uthyr, but also Uthyr’s son Bedwyr, who Arthur has watched and longed for from afar for years.  His chance comes when a small band of Saxons is spotted advancing into Cymru, but he fails to heed instructions and his recklessness has dire consequences – and in trying to defend him Bedwyr loses a hand.  His survival is in doubt, but Matthias – who is the village healer – is able to save him. (The author doesn’t sugarcoat the treatment he undergoes, so there are some scenes that might not be for the squeamish!). Arthur is distraught and desperate to beg Bedwyr’s forgiveness, but Bedwyr point blank refuses to see him.  Of course he’s furious with Arthur for costing him his sword hand, but he’s fearful, too – what use is a warrior who cannot fight?  Bedwyr’s worst fears come true when his father banishes him to a small shepherd’s hut outside the village.

Uthyr summons Arthur and makes it clear he expects Arthur to pay a price for causing Bedwyr’s injury.  Arthur at first thinks Uthyr is going to take his own right hand, and is shocked when Uthyr tells him to take his and Bedwyr’s armour to the hut and that he’s going to retrain Bedwyr to fight with his left hand – and that he must not, under any circumstances, tell Bedwyr that Uthyr sent him.  Relieved and pleased to have a chance to make amends, but worried Bedwyr will refuse to see him, Arthur nonetheless sets out for the hut, determined to do whatever it takes.

Bedwyr has pretty much given up and succumbed to self-pity when Arthur turns up, and he wants nothing to do with him.  But Arthur is stubborn and determined, and – begrudgingly – Bedwyr starts to acknowledge him and then to take an interest in what he’s come there to do.  A tentative friendship forms, and as the days pass, Bedwyr begins to pull himself out of his funk and to become the man – and warrior – he has always been meant to be, while Arthur’s remorse and desire to do right by Bedwyr engenders a new maturity and self-control.  And as Bedwyr comes to know Arthur as a man and not just as his best friend’s foolhardy younger brother, he takes his first step towards accepting the truth of his desires.  (Although the fact he has a bit of a crush on Matthias at the beginning of the book made his growing interest in Arthur a bit… ick?  I had to blank that out!)

Marked by Fire is a well-paced and enjoyable story with a strong setting and engaging, flawed characters who are both trying to learn from their mistakes and have undergone considerable growth by the end.  The romance between Arthur and Bedwyr is a slow-burn, and I enjoyed their progress from awkwardness to dawning friendship, playfulness and trust as their attraction to one another strengthens.  They have strong chemistry and the love scenes are nicely steamy, but I’d like there to have been a little more depth to their relationship overall.  That said, their story continues in book two (Bound by Blood); this one ends on an HFN (with a final scene that is a bit of a cliffhanger) so there is clearly more to come and I’m intrigued enough to want to know what happens next, so I’ll be reading that at some point.

Beautiful Mistakes (Second Chances #3) by Felice Stevens

beautiful mistakes

This title may be purchased from Amazon

Wolf
Desire: What Wolf struggles with from the moment he sees Spencer Hawkins the first day of college.

Fear: Not a word in Wolf’s vocabulary except when it comes to facing his feelings for Spencer.

Lust: What he gives in to that changes everything between them. And his life forever.

Denial: Something Wolf is all too familiar with—denying who he is and who he wants. It’s better this way, even if it’s tearing him and his friendship apart.

Spencer:
Hide: What Spencer does best. He hides from everyone, especially himself and the crazy attraction to Wolf he can’t shake.

Walls: Spencer throws them up to protect himself from all the hurts life heaps on him—his mother’s death, his father’s indifference, and the men who share his bed and walk away.

Betrayal: Not by just anyone. By Wolf. The one man he can’t forget. Or forgive.
Want: Spencer wants to live in the moment, but he can’t stop thinking about that night. And it doesn’t help that he and Wolf keep knocking heads…and locking lips.

Love: What those two idiots need to realize is happening between them. What started out as their ugliest regret could end up being the most beautiful mistake they ever made.

Rating: B

I’ve been eager to read this story from pretty much the first moment Garrett Wolf and Spencer Hawkins were introduced in The List, book one in Felice Stevens’ Second Chances series.  Spencer and Wolf – along with their best friends Elliot and Chess – have known each other since college, but the minute they appeared, it was clear that there was something going on between them that wasn’t covered by the term ‘friendship’. The chemistry zinging between them was electric, and theirs seemed to be a relationship based on teasing and sniping that was obviously a cover for something else.  But by the time Beautiful Mistakes begins, what  had started out as mostly good-natured banter has turned into something else,  verbal digs and jibes that are hurtful and sometimes downright nasty, and it was difficult to see how Spencer and Wolf could possibly pull back from that.  In this final book in the series, the author reveals their heartrending backstories and the truth behind their deepening antagonism in a story that sees them both facing the possibility of losing what has been one of the defining relationships of their lives – and each other.

Spencer is the life-and-soul of the party.  He’s always upbeat and ready with a cheeky comeback, and he’s a big believer in ‘the more, the merrier’ when it comes to his seemingly endless parade of bed-partners.  He works as a fashion consultant for a high-end store, and the show he’s organising for the talented young designer he’s discovered promises to be a real career high point. But his trademark insouciance and carefree attitude mask a deep hurt and a secret he’s never shared, even with his closest friends.

Wolf is Spencer’s polar opposite in almost every way.  Quiet and introspective, tightly controlled and serious to a fault, he’s always been a workaholic, even as a student, driven by his need to right the wrongs of the world as a kind of penance for the actions of his father.  Like Spencer, he’s concealing something from his friends, a past he’s been trying to leave behind for almost all of his life, and which is leading him down a path that threatens to consume him utterly.

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

Portrait of a Scotsman (League of Extraordinary Women #3) by Evie Dunmore

portrait of a scotsman

This title may be purchased from Amazon

Going toe-to-toe with a brooding Scotsman is rather bold for a respectable suffragist, but when he happens to be one’s unexpected husband, what else is an unwilling bride to do?

London banking heiress Hattie Greenfield wanted just three things in life:

1. Acclaim as an artist
2. A noble cause
3. Marriage to a young lord who puts the gentle in gentleman

Why then does this Oxford scholar find herself at the altar with the darkly attractive financier Lucian Blackstone? Trust Hattie to take an invigorating little adventure too far. Now she’s stuck with a churlish Scot who just might be the end of her ambitions . . .

When the daughter of his business rival all but falls into his lap, Lucian sees opportunity. As a self-made man, he has vast wealth but holds little power, and Hattie might be the key to finally setting his political plans in motion. Driven by an old desire for revenge, he has no room for his new wife’s apprehensions or romantic notions, bewitching as he finds her.

But a sudden journey to Scotland paints everything in a different light. Hattie slowly sees the real Lucian and realizes she could win everything – as long as she is prepared to lose her heart.

Rating: B

Evie Dunmore’s series about a group of young women activists in late Victorian Britain continues with Hattie’s story, Portrait of a Scotsman.  Like the previous two novels in the set, this one is extremely well written and strongly characterised; the lack of agency of well-bred young ladies of the period is again critically examined, and the very genuine struggles they face in trying to reconcile rigidly traditional upbringings with their own emerging sense of self and a desire for something more are articulated with a great deal of insight.  If you enjoyed the author’s previous work, chances are you’ll enjoy this, too; all the things you’ll have come to expect of her books – strong heroines and heroes who actively support them and understand their worth, themes of female empowerment and sexy, well-written romances are to be found here.  BUT.  In spite of all that, I have mixed feelings about this novel as a whole – mostly because I wasn’t wild about the heroine and I really disliked the ending.

Hattie Greenfield is studying art at Oxford University, but is frustrated at not being taken seriously – even by her professors, who are condescending to all the female students.  She longs to create more meaningful work and paint more challenging subjects – and hopes to gain some inspiration from the work of the Pre-Raphaelites.  To this end, she arranges to join a tour to view John Everett Millais’ famous painting of Ophelia, which is currently in the collection belonging to one Mr. Blackstone – a man with a reputation so black society has dubbed him “Beelzebub”, and who happens to be one of her father’s business rivals – but when she arrives at the gallery at the appointed time, she’s concerned to discover that either she’s late for the tour, or that nobody else has arrived.  While she’s waiting to view the painting, a man enters the room – a darkly attractive man with hard grey eyes and unruly black hair – who offers to give her the whole tour… and promptly kisses her instead.

Lucian Blackstone (whom we met briefly in A Rogue of One’s Own) is a self-made man with a reputation for cold-blooded ruthlessness in his business dealings.  Born into a Scottish mining community, he’s survived real hardship and suffering, but has pulled himself up from nothing to become a captain of industry and amass a fortune along the way.  He never forgets where he came from though, and is determined to do whatever he can to improve the lots of the people who work for him.  But while he’s very wealthy, he has little real power or influence, and he needs both if he’s going to be able to bring about the changes he wants to effect; so in order to make himself more… acceptable to society, he has begun the attempt to rehabilitate his fearsome reputation.  Unfortunately, he hasn’t met with much success so far, but his brief meeting with Greenfield’s daughter has given him the germ of an idea as to what his next move should be.  And while there are a number of well-bred young ladies in society who would suit his purpose, he’s rather surprised to find there’s really only one of them he wants.

It’s not a spoiler – it’s in the blurb – to say that it’s not long before Hattie and Blackstone are married, and even though Hattie is wildly attracted to her new husband, it’s far from the sort of marriage she had envisioned for herself.  She’d wanted to find a true life-partner, someone who would share his time – and himself – with her, someone she deeply loved and who would love her the same way, and I liked that about her, that she wants love and affection and family and doesn’t see that desire as somehow ‘lesser’ – while at the same time being determined to attain her independence and be herself.

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

Isn’t It Bromantic? (Bromance Book Club #4) by Lyssa Kay Adams (audiobook) – Narrated by Andrew Eiden

isn't it bromantic

This title may be downloaded from Audible

He’s ready to create his own sweeping romance – both on and off the page.

Elena Konnikova has lived her entire adult life in the shadows. As the daughter of a Russian journalist who mysteriously disappeared, she escaped danger the only way she knew how. She agreed to marry her childhood friend, Vladimir, and move to the United States, where he is a professional hockey player in Nashville.

Vlad, aka The Russian, thought he could be content with his marriage of convenience. But it’s become too difficult to continue in a one-sided relationship. He joined the Bromance Book Club to learn how to make his wife love him, but all he’s learned is that he deserves more.

The Bros are unwilling to let Vlad forgo true love – and this time they’re not operating solo, joining forces with Vlad’s senior citizen neighbours, a group of meddling widows who call themselves The Loners. But just when things finally look promising, the danger from Elena’s past life intrudes. Now the book club face their first-ever life-or-death grand gesture as they race to a happy ever after.

Rating:  Narration – A; Content – B

Isn’t it Bromantic?, the fourth book in Lyssa Kay Adams’ Bromance Book Club series is my favourite of the set so far. (I admit I missed book three, but I listened to and reviewed the first two). The series premise – a group of guys read romance novels in order to try to more fully understand and appreciate the women in their lives – is a lot of fun and provides the opportunity for some inside jokes and meta commentary about the genre. Up until this book though, I haven’t felt as though the author has quite hit her stride; while the first two instalments had some interesting and original plotlines and a couple of thoroughly likeable heroes, I found the heroines hard to like (especially Liv in Undercover Bromance) and there were some glaring plot holes that rather took me out of the stories. I’m pleased to say, however, that Isn’t It Bromantic? is a step up from those books; the hero is adorable, the heroine is more likeable and the story feels much more cohesive – at least, it does until around the ninety percent mark, when the author shoves in a last-minute suspense plot that feels a bit jarring. But by then I was sufficiently invested in the characters and their HEA to want to find out how it all played out.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

Uncharted (Survival Instincts #2) by Adriana Anders

uncharted
This title may be purchased from Amazon

Hotshot pilot Leo Eddowes is afraid of nothing and no one. So when she’s asked to evacuate a man from the wilds of Alaska, she doesn’t hesitate. But with enemies in close pursuit and the weather turning sour, what should have been a simple mission quickly shifts to disaster.

And there’s only one way out.

When Elias Thorne disappeared, he was America’s most wanted. Now he’s spent more than a decade in one of the most remote places on earth, guarding a dangerous secret. Leo’s arrival, quickly followed by a team of expert hunters, leaves him no choice but to join forces with her—and run. Neither is prepared for their reluctant partnership to flare into something as wild and untamed as the frozen world around them…but as desperately cold days melt into scorchingly hot nights, Leo and Elias must learn to dig deep, trust in each other, and forge a bond as strong as the forces of nature.

Rating: C

I haven’t read Whiteout – the book that precedes Uncharted in Adriana Anders’  Survival Instincts series – but although there is an overarching plotline running through the series, there’s enough information provided here for a newbie to jump into the story without feeling lost, so Uncharted can be read as a standalone.  It’s my first experience with this author, and unfortunately, I can’t say I was all that impressed; the writing is solid, the story is intriguing and the set-pieces are well-written, but the central characters are bland and never came to life, the romance is lacklustre and while most romantic suspense requires some suspension of disbelief, way too much of it is required here.

Leo Eddowes is former military, a pilot with a unit from an elite private security company tasked with locating the man believed to be in possession of one of only two extant samples of a deadly virus.  She and her team had been in Antarctica in Whiteout, where they barely survived a confrontation with a… team of scientists and mercenaries tasked with stealing and testing a deadly virus by Chronos Corporation, one of the world’s biggest pharmaceutical companies.  She and her team have moved their search for the virus and the man believed to have it to Alaska, but have been unable to locate either of them – and now her team has left and she’s had to stay behind owing to a bout of food poisoning or a stomach bug; whatever it is, she’s not in top condition and just wants to sleep it off and go home.  She’s not allowed to do either of those things however, because old Amka, one of the women from the town of Schink’s Station won’t stop pounding on her cabin door.  When Leo, groggy and still sick, opens the door, Amka tells her that another team from Chronos will arrive any minute and demands Leo fly out to bring her godson safely home.  Believing that godson to be the man in possession of the only remaining sample of the virus, Leo shucks off her grogginess (or tries to), and goes with Amka to find the town’s only remaining air transport – a small light aircraft from the 1940s that’s obviously been cared for, but which has seen better days.

Elias Thorne is one of America’s Most Wanted, a former US Marshal set up to take the fall for mass murder – including the deaths of his own parents – and he’s been in hiding for the last decade.  A static-laden phone call from Schink’s Station alerts him to the fact that trouble is on the way and tells him “she” is on her way to get him – but he has no idea who “she” is and doesn’t know if “she” is part of a rescue or of another group who is after him. Then he watches, helpless, as a small plane is shot down and crashes into the frozen lake; Elias makes his way carefully across the ice to see if he can help the pilot, only to be confronted by a woman in the cockpit pointing a gun at his head.

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

Codirection (Borealis: Without a Compass #4) by Gregory Ashe

codirection

This title may be purchased from Amazon

They killed a girl to keep their secrets. They won’t stop there.

A new home, a fresh start, a chance to do things right this time—and Shaw and North are determined to make it work. But the night of their housewarming party, things don’t go as planned. A reporter arrives, wanting to talk to North about his ex-husband, his father, and a criminal syndicate. No sooner have they gotten rid of her than another unwanted guest appears: a street boy named Nik, whom Shaw met months before, begging them to help him find his missing friend, Malorie.

Retracing Malorie’s steps, North and Shaw learn about the dangerous demimonde of runaway teenagers. Their investigation takes them into the path of men and women who have learned to profit off the suffering and abandonment of children: shelters, clinics, labor brokers, and pimps.

Meanwhile, North’s Uncle Ronnie is set on revenge, and his target this time is North’s father. As North struggles to track down Ronnie and put an end to the danger, he finds himself considering a deal with the devil, and the offer might be too good to pass up.

When North and Shaw find Malorie’s body, evidence suggests she was murdered—and that her death is connected in some way with a truck stop halfway across the state. But as they draw closer to the truth, the danger grows. The people who killed Malorie have the Borealis detectives in their sights, and North and Shaw must race to save their own lives before the killers can strike again.

Rating: A-

Note: There are spoilers for the previous Borealis books in this review.

Well.  Here we are at the concluding instalment of Gregory Ashe’s Borealis: Without a Compass series, and what a ride it’s been!  We’ve watched North and Shaw solve crimes of course, but these books are so much more than well-written and suspenseful mysteries, and our two protagonists have also gone through heartbreak and serious soul-searching while facing incredible danger at the hands of some truly despicable individuals, but at last, and after all the horrible things they’ve been through – and inflicted on each other – they’re back where they belong (i.e. together) and are making a determined effort to move forward as a committed couple.

In the months since the events of Redirection, North and Shaw have bought a house together, and we rejoin them on the day of their housewarming party – which ends abruptly when local reporter Belia Lopez arrives and opens a massive can of worms by telling North that Tucker (from whom he is now, thankfully, divorced) is claiming he was framed for his assault on Shaw, and that North, David McKinney, Borealis and Shaw’s family are all mixed up in a criminal syndicate operating in the city. Needless to say, North is not impressed and tells her – in his own inimitable fashion -to get lost.

Shortly after they’ve got rid of Belia, they’re interrupted by another unexpected visitor hammering on their door and demanding their help.  We met Nikshay (Nik) in Indirection; he’s a teenager living (and working) on the streets whom Shaw spoke to while he and North were trying to track down a suspect, and although Shaw told Nik he should come to them if he needed help, he never did.  Until now.  He’s worried about his friend Malorie, who has gone missing, and he wants North and Shaw to find out what’s happened to her.  As it so often goes with these two, Shaw is keen to help while North is more sceptical; the difference is that they’re now both trying hard to see the other’s point of view and to compromise… but of course they end up agreeing to see what they can do.

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

I’m Only Wicked With You (Palace of Rogues #3) by Julie Anne Long

I'm only wicked with youThis title may be purchased from Amazon

He’s the battle-hardened son of a bastard, raised in the wilds of New York. She’s the sheltered, blue-blooded darling of the London broadsheets, destined to marry a duke. Their worlds could only collide in a boardinghouse by the London docks…and when they do, the sparks would ignite all of England.

Nothing can stop Hugh Cassidy’s drive to build an American empire…unless it’s his new nemesis, the arrogant, beautiful, too-clever-by-half Lady Lillias Vaughn. The fascination is mutual. The temptation is merciless. And the inevitable indiscretion? Soul-searing—and the ruination of them both. Hugh’s proposal salvages Lillias’s honor but kills their dreams for their futures…until they arrive at a plan that could honorably set them free.

But unraveling their entanglement inadvertently uncovers enthralling truths: about Lillias’s wounded, tender heart and fierce spirit. About Hugh’s stunning gentleness, depth, and courage. Soon Hugh knows that as surely as he’d fight a thousand battles to win her…the best way to love Lillias means breaking his own heart.

Rating: C+

I reviewed this one jointly with my fellow All About Romance reviewer Evelyn North; she liked it a lot more than I did and gave it an A, whereas I couldn’t go higher than a C+. I didn’t care much for the heroine, and while I did like the hero, there’s nothing worse tnan a romance in which you feel one half of the central couple doesn’t “deserve” the other, which was where I ended up on this one.

You can read our review HERE

The Sign of the Raven (Ash & Juliana #2) by L.C. Sharp

the sign of the raven

This title may be purchased from Amazon

The London ton protect their own. Even when it comes to murder. 

“There’s been an incident.”

In the finer circles of 1749 London, incident is apparently the polite way to describe discovering a body with a gruesome wound and no sign of the killer. But for newlyweds Lady Juliana and Sir Edmund “Ash” Ashendon, it’s a chance to track down the culprit and right a wrong—something they are both intimately familiar with.

Indeed, it is the only thing they are intimately familiar with. For the moment.

Though their marriage may be one of convenience, there’s nothing convenient about learning the victim has ties to a name from their past: the dreaded Raven. And the Raven isn’t the only danger they face. The aristocracy protects its own, and in London’s darkest corners, no one wants to be unmasked.

With Juliana’s life on the line, time is running out for Ash to find the killer before their marriage comes to an inconveniently bloody end.

Rating: C+

Opening around a year after the events of the previous book (The Wedding Night Affair), The Sign of the Raven, the second book in L.C. Sharp’s series of historical mysteries set in Georgian London sees husband and wife Ash and Juliana looking into the suspicious death of a nobleman at a firework display.  Like the previous book, this story benefits from a strong sense of time and place and two very engaging leads whose evolving relationship is one of the book’s main draws – but the slow pacing meant I found it difficult to get into and the mystery was so simplistic that I was left with a feeling of ‘is that it?’ by the end.

Please note that this review contains spoilers for the previous book in the series.  While it’s not essential to have read that first, I’d advise it, as it provides important background information about the two principals and their relationship.

Sir Edmund Ashendon is with his family – his wife and his siblings – at a firework display at Vauxhall Gardens when a member of staff summons him to the scene of “an incident”.  The incident in question is actually a dead body – that of a man lying face down on the ground, blood still seeping from the bullet wound to his back.  By the look of his clothing and possessions, the man is obviously well-to-do, but neither Ash nor Juliana can identify him.  An examination of his pockets yields little of interest other than some tokens made of a dull, silvery metal with something stamped on the surface –  and it’s not until Juliana’s parents put in an appearance, disapproval radiating from them, that Ash and Juliana can put a name to the victim – Lord Coddington.

The name rings a bell for Ash; he’s heard of Coddington and his “exploits” – a fondness for gaming hells and running up debts among them.  At first, the gossip puts Coddington’s death down to a robbery gone wrong, but Ash isn’t so sure; too many things don’t add up, and when another gentleman is murdered, Ash and Juliana find themselves setting an elaborate trap to catch the killer.

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

Dangerous Ground (Fiona Carver #1) by Rachel Grant

dangerous ground grant

This title may be purchased from Amazon

Archaeologist Fiona Carver has unfinished business in the Aleutian Islands. After an emergency evacuation cut her first expedition short, she’s finally back. But time is not on her side as she races to finish documenting the remnants of a prehistoric village, recover missing artifacts, and track down missing volcanologist Dylan Slater.

Having bluffed his way onto Fiona’s team with fake credentials, wildlife photographer Dean Slater is willing to risk more than federal prison to find his missing brother, but he needs Fiona’s help. She knows the inhospitable terrain better than anyone.

When the two set out together on a perilous journey, it becomes more than a recovery mission. In their fight for survival, nature isn’t the only threat. They aren’t the only ones on the hunt. Mile by dangerous mile, someone is hunting them.

Rating: B

Given the number of disappointing romantic suspense reads I’ve experienced lately, it’s no understatement to say that I’ve been very eagerly awaiting the next book from Rachel Grant, someone I know I can rely on to deliver a fast-paced and tightly-plotted story of mystery and suspense alongside a well-developed steamy romance.  Dangerous Ground is a little bit of a departure for her however, in that it’s the first of a series that will feature the same central couple, so I want to make it clear that there’s no HEA –or even HFN – in this book, although I’m sure our hero and heroine will get there eventually.  Actually, I’m pleased to see an author of m/f romantic suspense taking this approach; most of the really good RS I’ve read lately has been m/m in series in which each book features a self-contained suspense plot while the character and relationship development is ongoing.  So I was in no way put off by the lack of a concrete ending for the protagonists in Dangerous Ground and have high hopes for the further progression of their relationship in subsequent books.

Another reason I always look forward to Ms. Grant’s books is the way she so skilfully draws on her  background in history and archaeology to produce stories that are incredibly well-researched and informative about the various aspects of conservation/preservation/exploration that she includes in them, and this is no exception.  Civilian naval archaeologist Fiona Carver is part of the team assigned to produce an EIS (Environmental Impact Statement) of the new submarine base the US Navy wants to build in the Aleutian Islands off the coast of Alaska.  Five weeks before the story begins, Fiona had made a very significant discovery – that of a prehistoric village on Chiksook Island  – but before she was able to do any further excavation, an emergency evacuation was ordered.  Expecting to be back in a few days, she took as many precautions as she feasibly could with the equipment she had available at the time, but now, five weeks later, she fears the site may have been destroyed.  Dangerous Ground opens as she is returning to Chiksook along with a few members of the original team, and a couple of newcomers she hasn’t met before, one of whom is ornithologist Bill Lowell. Objectively, Fiona can see Bill is gorgeous (she mentally nicknames him “Hot Bird Man”)  – but she can also see he’s one of those men who is well aware he’s attractive, and shuts down his attempts at flirting while trying her best to remain friendly.  She doesn’t do field flings (or any type of fling, really) and isn’t about to change her stance on that, no matter how good-looking or charming the guy is.

Wildlife photographer Dean Slater’s twin brother Dylan, a volcanologist, was one of Fiona’s team-mates on the previous expedition, but Dean hasn’t seen him since his supposed return from Chiksook Island.  The last email Dean received from him stated that he was going off the grid for a few months, but that email came from a generic work email address rather than Dylan’s personal account and Dean is certain Dylan wouldn’t just go off like that without at least talking to him beforehand or leaving him some contact details.  And when he gets stonewalled by both the Navy and their contracted engineering company, he becomes increasingly suspicious.  Worried for his brother’s safety, Dean ‘borrows’ the name of an ornithologist he’d worked for years ago and blags his way onto the team.  It’s risky – if he’s found out he could face going to prison – but there’s nothing he wouldn’t do for his brother.

The person Dean is most interested in meeting is Fiona Carver.  Dylan’s emails had been full of her and he’d said she was his girlfriend, so surely she must know something?  Yet she shows no sign of knowing anything, and Dean dislikes what he interprets as a total lack of concern for her boyfriend.  Yet despite that – and the fact that she’s “Dylan’s girl” – he can’t help being drawn to her.  She’s beautiful, sure, but there’s more to it than that; there’s a passion for her work, a competence and assurance and fierce intelligence that impress and captivate him.

The first quarter or so of the book is fairly slow going as we’re introduced to the two leads and the author starts to lay out some of the clues that may – or may not – relate to Dylan’s disappearance. Fiona does have some suspicions about what may have happened to him, although she’s wary of making unfounded accusations and doesn’t at first realise his personal safety is at stake.  There are things about Bill that don’t add up, an uncomfortable feeling about a last-minute replacement on the team, and all this, together with her worries over the fact that she may have unintentionally contributed to the destruction of a hugely important ancient site, contributes to a growing sense of unease she just can’t shake off.  The author does a fabulous job of creating and gradually building an atmosphere full of apprehension and suspicion as Fiona starts to wonder who she can trust.  Then things take a sudden and dangerous turn for the worse, and Fiona and Dean find themselves stranded together with no way off the island and no way to survive the harsh conditions unless they can find a way to work together.  But overcoming their mutual mistrust is the last of their worries when they realise that there may be someone else on the island – someone who wants to make sure they never leave it.

Dangerous Ground is a strong start to this new series, boasting a unique setting, smart and interesting characters and fascinating background detail.  Fiona is a terrific heroine; she’s smart, capable and courageous, and I very much liked that she’s not afraid to own up when she’s scared and then pushes herself through it.  Dean is harder to like to start with – he’s pushy and a bit smarmy when he’s pretending to be Bill, although I kind of gave him a pass because the author makes it so very clear just how much he loves Dylan – who is his only family.  He’s basically a decent guy forced to take desperate measures although he does do and say some dumb things, especially in his persistence in believing that Fiona and Dylan are an item when she repeatedly tells him otherwise.  And while I sort of understood the reasons for his playboy lifestyle and aversion to relationships, his ‘love kicked me in the guts and I want nothing more to do with it’ stance is rather stereotypical and it got old fast.

I always come away from a Rachel Grant book having learned something new, but there’s a bit of information overload in this one and I have to admit that some of the technical detail and overly obvious ‘teaching moments’ took me out of the story a few times.

Dangerous Ground is an intriguing, suspenseful mystery with an intricate, well-woven plot, well-written action sequences and an engaging heroine. The romance is clearly going to be a slow burn and I can’t deny that the ending is somewhat abrupt, but I enjoyed it despite my criticisms, and I’ll definitely be back for book two, Crash Site, when it’s released early in 2022.