Georgie, All Along by Kate Clayborn

georgie all along

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Longtime personal assistant Georgie Mulcahy has made a career out of putting others before herself. When an unexpected upheaval sends her away from her hectic job in L.A. and back to her hometown, Georgie must confront an uncomfortable truth: her own wants and needs have always been a disconcertingly blank page.

But then Georgie comes across a forgotten artifact—a “friendfic” diary she wrote as a teenager, filled with possibilities she once imagined. To an overwhelmed Georgie, the diary’s simple, small-scale ideas are a lifeline—a guidebook for getting started on a new path.

Georgie’s plans hit a snag when she comes face to face with an unexpected roommate—Levi Fanning, onetime town troublemaker and current town hermit. But this quiet, grouchy man is more than just his reputation, and he offers to help Georgie with her quest. As the two make their way through her wishlist, Georgie begins to realize that what she truly wants might not be in the pages of her diary after all, but right by her side—if only they can both find a way to let go of the pasts that hold them back.

Rating: B+

I don’t read much m/f romance these days, but I’m always up for one of Kate Clayborn’s because they’re so thoughtful and tender and honest. She writes complex, well-drawn characters who are dealing with relatable, real-life problems, and while not ‘flashy’ or full of drama, her books nonetheless pack a real emotional punch. Her newest release, Georgie, All Along seems to be a retread of the ‘protagonist returns to small home-town and finds love and a new direction in life’ trope – and, to an extent, it is – but in Ms. Clayborn’s capable hands the story transcends the trope and becomes something simultaneously deeper and refreshingly different.

Georgie Mulcahy always had a reputation for being a bit flaky and unreliable in her hometown of Darentville, Virginia. She didn’t amount to much at school and never had any real ambitions beyond it; but her ability to live completely in the ‘now’, to adapt and to think on her feet proved to be exactly suited to working as a PA to high-powered (and high-maintenance) intensely creative – and often intensely chaotic – people in the entertainment industry. For the past three years, she’s worked for Nadia, a well-known screenwriter and director, but when Nadia decides – spontaneously – to retire, Georgie is left at a loose end, coming face to face with the fact that she’s never really had a plan for what to do with her life. With Nadia’s suggestion that she can take the time to do “all the things you want to do”, Georgie decides to head back home for a little while, spend some time with her best friend and her family while she works out what she wants to do next.

Arrived in Darentville, Georgie stops at what she remembers as the general store but which she is surprised to find is now somewhat more upmarket than it used to be. In fact, the whole town seems to have undergone a transformation, the slightly shabby place she remembers giving way to new housing and shops and the signs of a flourishing tourism trade. It’s this ‘renewal’ that has drawn her best friend, Bel, back there, to a new life in a new home with her husband and their soon-to-be family (Bel is eight months pregnant). Georgie decides to buy them a couple of strawberry milkshakes – hopefully they’re as good as she remembers – only to be realise she’s left her purse in her car. Embarrassed – she’s only been back in town less than a hour and already she’s living up to people’s memories and expectations of her as a total flake – she’s checking her pockets just in case, when a guy wearing scruffy work clothes and an irritated expression, steps in to pay for the shakes so he can buy his own stuff and be on his way. The guy is pretty dismissive when she says she’ll pay him back; that, and the knowing looks on the face of the other customer – one of her former teachers – only bolsters Georgie’s determination that when she leaves town this time, she’s going to have figured herself out and worked out what she really wants.

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

Why the Devil Stalks Death (Death and the Devil #2) by L.J. Hayward (audiobook) – Narrated by Rowan Scott

Why the Devil Stalks Death CORRECTED300

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

Jack Reardon uncovers secrets for a living, and the Meta-State spy is pretty good at it. Or rather he thought so until he met Ethan Blade—assassin, warrior, enigma. The unlikely pair have decided to give living together a shot, but Jack’s not entirely certain what he’s gotten himself into—or exactly who he’s in it with. Jack’s worries are compounded when he’s assigned to a police strike force hunting a serial killer. With each new puzzle piece, Jack considers the true nature of a serial killer—and how similar it is to an assassin…one particular assassin who’s having trouble adjusting to retirement. Jack’s unsure how to help Ethan; or if he even can.

When the killer strikes close to home, Jack must race against the clock to stop another murder, despite the price someone has put on his head. Could the matters be connected? Is a certain assassin at the center of both? Surrounded by killers, the only one Jack wants near disappears, leaving Jack drowning in secrets. He’ll have to do what he does best—unravel the secrets, including Ethan’s—to stop the killer and save the life he and Ethan have only just begun to build.

Rating: Narration – A;  Content – A

Note: The books in this series need to be listened to in order; there are spoilers for the previous books in this review.

Why the Devil Stalks Death, the second full-length book in L.J. Hayward’s Death and the Devil series picks up the story of Metastate “asset” (spy) Jack Reardon and assassin Ethan Blade some months since the events of Death Takes a Holiday (found in the novella Devil in the Details). Before they were attacked by a group of mercenaries and all hell broke loose, Jack and Ethan finally managed to have “the talk” and agreed that what they’ve been doing for the past few months – hooking up whenever they’re both in the same vicinity – was no longer enough for either of them. Before they parted, Jack asked Ethan to move in with him; Ethan agreed, telling Jack he’d see him soon, after sorting out the clean-up.

But clearly, Ethan’s definition of “soon” is different to Jack’s. Four months go by with no contact from him, and Jack is beginning to think that maybe Ethan has changed his mind. The strain of keeping their relationship under wraps and of all the doubts creeping in the longer Ethan’s silence goes on isn’t going unnoticed by his friends and colleagues; Jack is on a short fuse and will be more than pleased to get back to Sydney when his current undercover operation – to deliver a terrorist known as The Messiah into government custody – is over.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

The Happy List (Better With You #1) by Briar Prescott (audiobook) – Narrated by Kirt Graves & Joel Leslie

the happy list

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

Gray: There are some things I excel at: Exercising rigid control over every aspect of my life. Making sensible decisions at every turn. Being organized, predictable, and responsible.

In short, I’m boring as hell and in desperate need of a change. Luckily I have my best friend by my side and a newly written to-do list to guide my way through the murky waters of finding happiness. It’s all very promising at first, but as weeks pass, I start to realize that the best part of my day has always been Kai. And when I see him out on a date with some guy? Let’s just say I’m definitely not happy about it.

Kai: I’m back in Boston after ten years of traveling, and I’ve fulfilled all my goals: See the world. Figure out what to do with my life. Get over my impossible crush on Gray. Check, check, and check.

Life’s good until I accidentally find Gray’s happy list, which contains some very interesting things that friends never ever do with each other. And as weeks pass, it becomes clear those not-so-innocent parts are the ones Gray is determined to explore with me. I can’t resist him, and pretty soon I’m forced to admit that I’m not as done with my crush as I thought I was . . .

Rating: Narration – A-; Content – B

Briar Prescott’s The Happy List is book one in her Better With You series that centres on a group of friends who live and work in Boston. I read it back in March 2022 and enjoyed it, so I was pleased to see it getting an audio version, especially with two such experienced narrators at the helm. It’s a warm and funny friends-to-lovers / opposites-attract romance between Grayson – Gray – Quinn, a meticulous planner and workaholic, and his life-long best friend Kai Morgan, who is more of a go-with-the-flow kinda guy.

When the book begins, Gray is reeling from the fact that his girlfriend of two years has just proposed to him in front of a dinner table-full of their friends and family. Astonished and more than slightly horrified, it’s a wake-up call for Gray, as he realises that while he does love Cee, he’s not IN love with her and that they clearly want different things from life. Forced to turn her down in public, Gray flees the table, and knowing he can’t possibly return to the restaurant to face everyone, decides to escape by crawling through the bathroom window. It’s a bit of a squeeze but he manages it, and as he walks through the back street to the main road, he bumps into Kai, who was about to go inside. Gray is overjoyed to see him – Kai has spent the last few years travelling with only sporadic visits home – and they immediately fall into their usual pattern of affectionate teasing and trash-talk. Gray can’t help comparing their easy camaraderie with his relationships with just about everyone else in his life; with Kai there’s no pressure or expectations, Gray can just be himself.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

TBR Challenge: Tommy Cabot Was Here (The Cabots #0.5) by Cat Sebastian

tommy cabot was here

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Massachusetts, 1959: Some people might accuse mathematician Everett Sloane of being stuffy, but really he just prefers things a certain way: predictable, quiet, and far away from Tommy Cabot—his former best friend, chaos incarnate, and the man who broke his heart.

The youngest son of a prominent political family, Tommy threw away his future by coming out to his powerful brothers. When he runs into Everett, who fifteen years ago walked away from Tommy without an explanation or a backward glance, his old friend’s chilliness is just another reminder of what a thoroughgoing mess Tommy has made of his life.

When Everett realizes that his polite formality is hurting Tommy, he needs to decide whether he can unbend enough to let Tommy get close but without letting himself get hurt the way he was all those years ago.

Rating: B

For the first prompt of 2023 – Starting Over – I chose Cat Sebastian’s Tommy Cabot Was Here, a short and sweet second-chance romance set in 1959 about two men who were best friends (and more) at boarding school, went their separate ways after college and who unexpectedly find each other again fifteen years later.

On “Visting Sunday” – a month after the start of the new school year – Everett Sloane is surprised to see a familiar face among the crowds of parents at Greenfields, the prestigious boarding school where he was once a pupil and to which he has returned as a teacher. The face belongs to Tommy Cabot, the youngest son of an influential political family, with whom Everett shared his first kiss, his first sexual experiences and who was his first love – until after graduating college, Tommy told Everett he would be getting married, to exactly the ‘right’ sort of wealthy young woman his family have been expecting him to marry. Heartbroken, Everett left for England right after the wedding, and the two haven’t seen each other since.

Catching a glimpse of the boy at Tommy’s side, Everett realises this must be his son, Daniel, but when he really looks at Tommy, he looks nothing like the polished, successful politician he had imagined Tommy would be by this time; instead he’s a bit frayed around the edges, his clothes slightly dishevelled, his hair overlong, his shave not quite close enough – and he’s holding himself stiffly and somewhat defensively. Before Everett can beat a hasty retreat, however, Tommy notices him and greets him warmly – and with an unexpected hug; after a few excruciating minutes Everett, confused and upset, makes an excuse and walks away.

Tommy is surprised to see Everett at Greenfields, but not surprised to see how little he’s changed over the years, still neat as a pin and just a bit starchy… it hurts to remember how much Tommy had loved coaxing him out of that stuffiness, getting a smile or a laugh out of him, and hurts even more to think how clueless he’d been as to the nature of his feelings for Everett back then, how stupid he’d been not to realise how deeply that cluelessness had hurt the man who had been his best friend. And who could, perhaps, have been so much more.

For all it’s only ninety-one pages long (the rest of the Kindle edition I read is taken up with a preview of  Peter Cabot Gets Lost), Tommy Cabot Was Here doesn’t lack depth or emotion. The author rounds out the characters very well indeed, so we get a real sense of their quite different personalities; Tommy the people pleaser, Everett, reserved and quieter, but far more aware of his feelings than the outgoing Tommy was when they were younger, and she creates a strong emotional connection between them so that their rekindled romance is entirely believable. There’s a real sense of longing between them in the early stages of the story, with both of them feeling conflicted about seeing each other again and fearing that maybe it’s too late to be anything more than nodding acquaintances. But the pull they feel towards one another is strong enough to give them the courage to work through past hurts and losses to find a way forward together.

I’ve read a lot of novellas I wish had been longer, but I can’t say that’s the case here. In fact, I think that had this been novel-length, I might have found it too drawn out and criticised it for not containing enough plot! That said, I do think some things are a bit too glossed over (such as Tommy’s decision to come out to his family – it’s 1959, wasn’t he worried someone might report him to the police for being “bent”? – and seek a divorce given he knew he’d be cut off ) and the cameo by Tommy’s nephew Peter (presumably to set up the next book) feels a bit contrived. Despite that, however, I found Tommy Cabot Was Here to be a rather lovely, warm and moving story about finding hope, love and second chances and I’m glad I read it.

Shelf Life (Hearts & Crafts #2) by Kelly Jensen

shelf life

This title may be purchased from Amazon

Good things come to those who bake.

Grayson used to love baking, but the recipe for running his parents’ café changes every day. His dad, overwhelmed by grief, is no help. They can’t even talk about Gray’s mom, let alone the failing business. Of less help is the crush Gray has on Sporty—a trainer from the local gym. Gray barely has time for his friends, let alone scratching the itch Sporty inspires.

Aaron suspects he’s not Gray’s type, meaning Gray probably isn’t into fitness, board games, or redheads. Still, that doesn’t stop Aaron visiting the café twice a week. The day Gray finally speaks to him personally could have been the start of something—if Gray hadn’t immediately suffered a heart attack.

The prescription for Gray’s recovery includes exercise, but when Aaron steps in to help, Gray is dubious. He’s never been fond of working out. The more he gets to know Aaron, though, the more they seem to have in common, especially when it comes to games. Aaron has been quietly designing his own, and when Gray shows interest, they embark on a quest to complete it together: a hero’s journey complicated by family, the demands of their careers, their fledgling relationship, and learning to be honest about what they want out of life.

Rating: B-

I really enjoyed Kelly Jensen’s Sundays With Oliver, book one in her Hearts and Crafts series. Like her This Time Forever series, Hearts and Crafts features older characters (well, in their forties) finding love, and she does it very well, creating characters and situations that feel very realistic, especially given she’s writing about people who have put down roots, who have commitments and the baggage that comes with having been around the block a few times. We met Grayson – Gray – Clery in Oliver’s book; he’s Oliver’s best friend, and he runs a small family bakery/coffee/sandwich shop that enabled him to help Oliver out when he was getting his own baking/consumables business going.

Gray moved back to Stroudsburg after the death of his mother two years earlier, to help his dad with the business, but his dad was – and is – so weighed down by his loss that he’s basically ’checked out’ and Gray has been doing everything. His real love is bread and baking, but having to deal with all the admin on top of the day-to-day business of preparing food and serving customers in a really busy shop has stretched him very thin and he has absolutely no time for himself. He’s stressed up to the eyeballs and hasn’t been feeling good for a while, but he’s ignored it, too busy to listen to what his body is telling him, until it forces him to, and he has a heart attack in the middle of the morning rush.

Aaron Asher is a personal trainer and fitness instructor at the local gym he co-owns with his sister and her wife. He’s a regular customer at Clery’s and has had a crush on Gray for quite a while, but Gray is always so busy, Aaron hasn’t managed to have an actual conversation beyond his sandwich order. He’s buying his lunch when he notices Gray doesn’t look so good; when Gray doubles over, Aaron manages to prevent him from crashing to the floor and then yells for someone to call 911.

While Grey is recovering from what he terms “All The FussTM, his friends rally round to help with the café and keep things going until Gray is well enough to return to it. He’s surpised to discover Aaron among their number; they don’t know each other at all really, although he can’t deny he’s noticed Aaron’s trim body, bright red hair and freckles whenever he’s come in for lunch, and likes what he sees. One afternoon just after closing, Gray finds Aaron still there clearing up, and surprises himself by inviting Aaron up to his apartment for a cup of coffee. Well, tea, as he’s supposed to be off the caffeine. As they chat, a little awkwardly at first, Gray starts to tell him about all the ‘rules’ he was given after leaving hospital, about the exercise he should be doing and about what he should and shouldn’t eat. This sort of thing is totally in Aaron’s wheelhouse, and he suggests that he could create an appropriate fitness program for Gray, one that will help him to build up his strength and stamina most efficiently while also being something to help him stay healthy in the long term. Gray is obviously a bit wary, but in the end agrees to give it a go.

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

Foxed by Jay Hogan

foxed 475This title may be purchased from Amazon

FOXED: To be thrown into a state of uncertainty—flustered, bamboozled, bewildered, puzzled, vexed.

AKA, me. Jed Marshall. 55-year-old successful classic car mechanic; divorced, mostly closeted, and whose wholly inexperienced bisexuality has suddenly awakened after one smouldering look and said, ‘Damn, who’s the hottie?’ Or words to that effect.

Cue, Nash Collingwood. 53-year-old scarily smart high school principal; out, gay, confident, and sexy as hell. He’s also my daughter’s boss. So, not complicated at all, right? Nash could ignite a bonfire with a single sultry look, comes fully accessorised with a charm offensive Churchill would be proud of, an easy-going flattery that thrills my heart far too effortlessly, and an impressive track record with men many decades my junior.

In short, Nash is everything I’m not, and everything I’ve avoided for roughly my entire life. He’s the hot rod to my sensible family car, that is if you like your family cars with a few dents, creaky suspension, unexpected backfires, and a dodgy stick.

The last thing I need is a relationship—especially with a man. I buried that pipe dream a long time ago and a little loneliness is a small price to pay. The festive season and long summer vacation are on our doorstep. I’m finally getting things right with my family who mean everything to me, and I don’t want to mess that up.

But Nash doesn’t care about my awkward inexperience, or clumsy excuses, or any of my insecurities. Nash only sees me. He wants me. For the first time in years, I feel alive and sexy and a whole lot more than just a good father and grandfather.

I should walk away, but the closer Nash and I become, the more he fills my grey world with colour, and the promise of a second chance at love I never thought possible.

Rating: A-

Jay Hogan’s Foxed is a standalone contemporary romance featuring a couple of guys in their fifties – one a devoted father and grandfather, the other someone who never really thought a relationship and family was on the cards for him – who discover that maybe it’s time to re-think some of their embedded perceptions about themselves and, most importantly, about love. It’s a thoroughly enjoyable read; a bit lower on the angst-o-meter than many of the author’s other books, but still full of her customary warmth and humour, and with the added bonus of some wonderfully observed commentary on ageing (the creaking joints and grey hairs are not airbrushed out!) that will resonate with many, and on the challenges incumbent on making room for a relationship later in life when one has become somewhat set in one’s ways.

Jed Marshall is a fifty-five-year-old divorced father and grandfather who runs a successful classic car restoration business and is – mostly – content with his life. He adores his granddaughter and loves spending time with her, but lately, he’s started feeling like he’s being taken just a little bit for granted, as though Jed the man with his own interests and hobbies is fading from view in favour of Jed the doting grandfather who can be relied on to babysit at the drop of a hat. Not that he begrudges any of the time he gets to spend with three-year-old Bridie, it’s just… an uncomfortable niggle.

Jed has known he’s attracted to both men and women since he was in his teens, confirming it with a clumsy make-out session with a boy at school when he was fifteen. But he’s never acted on his attraction to men; meeting the woman he would later marry – also at fifteen – dating her, getting married and having kids was enough for him and even after their divorce eight years earlier, Jed has continued to push aside the knowledge of his bisexuality, viewing it as something inconvenient and potentially troublesome. He’s gone this long without exploring that side of himself and doesn’t want to start now; he’s not looking for a relationship anyway, and quite honestly doesn’t want to have to bother with any unpleasantness that might result from coming out. Things are… fine, just as they are.

Until six months earlier, when he met Nash Collingwood, the new principal at the local high school where his daughter Abbie is a teacher. Nash is around Jed’s own age, he’s fit, handsome, charming and completely comfortable in his own skin – in short, he’s everything Jed has avoided thinking about for the past forty years, and everything he doesn’t want to start thinking about now.  When the book begins, Abbie is hosting the end-of-year/ pre-Christmas party for the school staff, and after engaging in some grandaughter-wrangling, Jed has taken himself off to a quieter corner of the garden for a bit of peace and quiet when Nash, also seeking a bit of down time, joins him. Nash is upfront about his interest in Jed, and Jed can’t help admiring Nash for having the guts to open that door. But no matter how attracted he is, Jed isn’t going to go through it. Old dog, new tricks and all that.

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

Unstable Connections (Valor and Doyle Mysteries #3) by Nicky James (audiobook) – Narrated by Nick J. Russo

Unstable Connections

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

Missing children are reappearing, and the ties to a 30-year-old cold case can’t be ignored.

Detective Quaid Valor has too much on his plate. Between his shaky, brand-new relationship with reformed office playboy Detective Aslan Doyle, his sister’s case going from cold to hot overnight, his father insisting on being involved, and his boss breathing down his neck, Quaid is on edge.

The stress of the case is impacting Quaid’s whole life. He isn’t eating or sleeping, and every time he and Aslan are together, he is overwhelmed by feelings of inadequacy which threaten to ruin the one good thing he has. Aslan’s patience seems unending until something happens to turn his life upside down too.

Can their relationship survive the personal and professional pressures they’re facing, or will it crash and burn?

Between media rumors and unstable connections, Quaid and his team need to hustle and piece together a complicated case before more children fall victim to their unknown serial kidnapper. Maybe once everything is solved, Aslan and Quaid will have time to work on their rocky relationship and find stable ground once again.

Rating: Narration – A; Content – A

Nicky James’ Valor and Doyle Mysteries series has got better and better with each book, a trend continued by the latest – Unstable Connections – which is saying something considering the high quality of the first two books in the series! The stories revolve around the opposites-attract relationship between two Toronto-based detectives, Quaid Valor of the Missing Persons Unit and Aslan Doyle who works Homicide. Over the course of two books, we’ve watched them argue, flirt, and generally get under each others’ skin, the unwanted pull of mutual attraction between them slowly morphing from an itch to be (almost begrudgingly) scratched into a genuine connection that, by the end of Elusive Relations has become impossible to ignore or deny.

As this is a same-couple series in which the development of the central relationship is ongoing, there are spoilers for the earlier books in this review.

At the end of Elusive Relations, Quaid and Aslan had agreed to stop trying to pretend that simply hooking-up every so often was enough for them, and that they’d give an actual relationship a try. They know it’s not going to be easy, especially as Quaid’s ex did a number on him, severely trashing his self-confidence and making it hard for him to allow himself to be vulnerable and emotionally open. He fears being seen as clingy and needy, traits which are bound to drive Aslan away, and is clearly just waiting for it to happen. Aslan knows this about him, knows that deep down, Quaid is searching for the kind of closeness and security he’s never experienced in his own family life, and is determined to show him, in every way possible, that he’s in it for the long haul and that he believes Quaid is absolutely worth whatever it takes to convince him of that.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

Undone (Vino and Veritas #18) by Leslie McAdam (audiobook) – Narrated by Tim Paige & Iggy Toma

undione

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

My new roommate has the worst taste in men. I mean, Murph’s special. He’s funny and flamboyant and full of life.

While I’m straight, even I can tell these guys aren’t good enough for him. I had to yell at one date, toss another one out the door, and throw a beer in another’s face.

Kind of embarrassing, really. I don’t know what’s gotten into me.

I ask my sister what’s wrong with me and she says I’m jealous. Jealous? Please. Me? Come on.

Only thing is, I hate the thought of Murph kissing any guy. Ever.

Except, maybe . . . me?

Rating: Narration – B+; Content – C

Leslie McAdam is a new-to-me author, so as has been the case with many of the audiobooks in the Vino and Veritas series, it was the names of the narrators that caught my eye. Tim Paige and Iggy Toma are both accomplished performers with a strong track-record in m/m romance, so I decided to take a chance on Undone, a bi-awakening roomies-to-lovers romance between a self-declared fabulous, sparkly princess and the sweet, nerdy insurance salesman he moves in with. It’s based on a story originally posted on Reddit in which a guy was worried he was being homophobic towards his gay roommate only to realise he’d fallen in love with him!

Jason Falkner is a nice guy. He’s kind and sweet, but he’s tended to just coast through his life, going along with what other people want and letting others make decisions for him. He works for his dad’s insurance firm but doesn’t enjoy it – and doesn’t have an alternative he feels passionately enough about to be prepared to rock the boat with his dad. When we meet him, Jason is about to meet the new roommate his sister has found for him who turns out to be… not exactly what he’d expected. Not that he’d had any expectations really, but if he had, they didn’t include a cheeky, flamboyant and vivacious gay guy with fantastic hair, glossed-lips and a propensity to talk at a mile a minute. David Murphy – known to all simply as Murph – is a funny, flirty force of nature, his outgoing personality a complete contrast to Jason’s quieter, more thoughtful one, but they hit it off straight away, and start to bond over a love of cooking and old movies.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

All the Way Happy by Kit Coltrane

all the way happy

This title may be purchased from Amazon

Their differences made them enemies.

One summer tied them together forever.

From the moment Jack Gardner first laid eyes on Theodore Beaumont, he hated everything about him. Emanating wealth and icy perfection, Theo was everything Jack was not. Their time together at the elite Gwynns Academy changed them both, but it wasn’t until a chance encounter the summer after graduation that the tension between them became palpable–unbearable.

Seventeen years later, Jack’s and Theo’s worlds collide as they drop their sons off at Gwynns. Theo wants the kind of authentic life that requires confronting past lies–specifically the steamy summer affair he and Jack kept buried like a secret beneath the floorboards of their marriages.

Jack is…less than convinced.

Existing in the present and simultaneously in their shared past, in the richness of their memories and the way they once clung together, Jack and Theo struggle to reconcile the worlds they have built apart with their longing to be together–and the fear of being hurt all over again.

Rating: C+

Kit Coltrane’s All the Way Happy is an enemies-to-lovers story that spans twenty years. I liked the premise – two men who are meant to be together but whose paths diverged for various reasons finding each other again – but I came away from it thinking that what I’d read wasn’t really a romance, despite the eventual HEA.

The story begins when the two protagonists, Theo Beaumont and Jack Gardner, meet on their first day at Gwynns Academy, the prestigious Baltimore school they’re both attending, and take an instant dislike to each other. Theo comes from money and has been brought up to believe he’s better than everyone else and entitled to whatever he wants; Jack has a scholarship place and is, of course, someone Theo feels bound to look down on. When Jack makes it clear that he doesn’t give a shit who Theo is or where he comes from, Theo is furious – but afraid as well. It’s the first time he’s ever been spoken to like that, and the first time someone has seen past the polished veneer of money and expensive clothes.

Nineteen years later, Jack and Theo, now fathers themselves, meet again when they take their sons to Gwynns and help them get settled in, unprepared for the discovery that Jasper (Beaumont) and Will (Gardner) are to be roommates. They don’t do much other than acknowledge each other’s presence and that’s that – or not, because seeing each other again brings back a shedload of memories and feelings both of them have worked hard to forget. But a few weeks later, Jack sends Theo a rambly text asking if they can meet for coffee – because their sons are roommates – to exchange emergency details and be prepared for possibly awkward social situations in the future. Theo doesn’t reply – can’t reply – not straight away, but he can’t forget it either. Eventually he sends a terse, two word response agreeing to meet.

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

Death and the Devil: The Novellas (Death and the Devil #1.2, #1.4, #1.6, #1.8) by L.J. Hayward (audiobook) – Narrated by Rowan Scott

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

Meta-State spy Jack Reardon believes that after the showdown, everything has been taken care of. He has a verbal agreement with his boss to keep Blade happy, and Jack is more than willing to do his best in that regard. He also has his bargain with Ethan to keep seeing each other.

Small victories, interspersed with exploding bombs, smashed cars, and miffed co-workers, all while consorting with an international assassin. Contract killer Ethan Blade values his security, and with Jack, it’s the first time he’s found safety with another person. Wiring a warehouse or an outback shelter for security, no problem. Keeping safe a prickly ex-soldier-turned-spy who’s a magnet for trouble, not so easy.

Instead of faceless, nameless jobs, Ethan keeps poking his fingers into Jack’s cases—a car bomb gone awry, a Hen party gone wild; much to Jack’s mounting dismay. They have a deal and neither one of them can seem to stick to it. It’s Jack versus Ethan as the two men learn to navigate their ever-evolving not-a-relationship without losing the benefit of the bargain.

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

Work-life balance for a spy may be an oxymoron, but Jack Reardon likes a good challenge, and he’s almost bested this one! He’s settled into his Meta-State promotion as a field leader and into his new team with a second he can trust. Shop in order, Jack can take a day or two off when Ethan blows into town, their bargain finally starting to pay off.

Assassin Ethan Blade has few pleasures in his life—a decent cup of tea, a job well done, racing his fleet of supercars, and Jack. With plans to combine the last two into one thrilling weekend, Ethan’s attempt at having a normal, happy life may deliver everything he’s ever desired; or backfire spectacularly. Jack and Ethan made a bargain, but the deal is thrown into jeopardy when the expectations and identities of the dealmakers shift; stoking the fires of doubt and jealousy. Not to mention a contract killer out for revenge and an illness that threatens to reveal closely guarded secrets.

Rewards are on the table for both men, maybe bigger than they even realize, if only they can renegotiate and survive.

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

If there’s one thing assassin Ethan Blade knows, it’s how to plan a job. How to study a target, find the weak spot, and strike. He keeps his guns clean, his knives sharp, and his heart sealed away behind more locks than his precious cars. Alone but safe.

Until Jack Reardon burrowed his way into Ethan’s life, his car, and his heart. This may just be the deadliest mess he can’t plan his way out of. Jack wasn’t sure he’d see Ethan again; not after the less-than-stellar ends to their previous hookups. Even finding the assassin skulking about his apartment isn’t as reassuring as it should be, especially when he works out Ethan’s motive for being there might not be personal. That said, Jack will take any chance he can to salvage their relationship, assuming he survives whatever plan Ethan is cooking up. Ethan and Jack had a bargain, but the parameters changed and neither is certain how to move forward; together or apart.

But before they can start to renegotiate, lives, trust, and hearts are endangered by ghosts from the past. Even if they dodge their enemies; bullets, there’s a risk of friendly fire, and when you let someone get too close, even small knives can cut deep.

Rating: Narration – A-; Content – A-

Novellas are generally hit and miss for me. So often they’re a bit flimsy, the shorter page count/run time contributing to a feeling that the story and/or characters are underdeveloped, and that there isn’t enough of a story to sustain a full-length novel. There are exceptions to that rule, however, and the novellas that span the gap between books one and two of L.J. Hayward’s fabulous Death and the Devil series are three of them. Unlike many novellas in series, however, you can’t skip them, because if you do you’ll miss out on a lot of really important relationship and character development that takes Jack and Ethan’s relationship to a very different place at the beginning of book two (Why the Devil Stalks Death) to where it was when we left them at the end of Where Death Meets the Devil. Taken all together, the novellas are a mini-series of action-packed ‘episodes’ boasting interesting, fast-paced plots that form a single story arc (linked back to that of WDMtD) which also start to peel away the layers of these two complex characters and show them forging an even deeper connection.

Note: The books in this series must be listened to in order, so if you haven’t listened to Where Death Meets the Devil first, you’ll probably be a bit lost. There are spoilers for that book in this review.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.