From London, With Love (London Steampunk #6) by Bec McMaster

This title may be purchased from Amazon

With London finally at peace, there is only one threat remaining to the stability of the monarchy…. The queen is without an heir.

Queen Alexandra is done with marriage, but as always, the Duke of Malloryn has a plan. With Malloryn insisting upon an heir for the realm, Alexandra reluctantly agrees to accept a husband. But who? With Europe’s most eligible bachelors in London to attend her exhibition, she finds herself pining for the only man who has never betrayed her. The only man she wants. And the one man she cannot have.

A queen’s duty is never done.

Alexandra’s feelings for her dearest friend Sir Gideon have always been warm, but a stolen kiss pushed a friendship into dangerous waters. How can she explain that she has never known desire before? How can she stand to be in the same room as Gideon, without betraying her feelings? And how can she marry someone else?

But there’s an assassin on the loose, and while she may currently be at odds with Sir Gideon, he’s the only man who can save both her wounded heart—and the future of the realm. Foreign princes and meddling dukes, bedamned.

Rating: B-

Bec McMaster’s fantastic London Steampunk: The Blue Blood Conspiracy series reached a breathtakingly exciting close back in February 2019 with Dukes are Forever, wrapping up the overarching plotlines and giving the enigmatic Duke of Malloryn his HEA, leaving the Company of Rogues all happily settled as they continue in their mission to protect their queen and the realm.

But the author wasn’t quite done, and shortly afterwards, gifted her newsletter subscribers with From London, With Love, a long-ish novella (now available to buy) in which the long-suffering Queen Alexandra gets her very own HEA as well.  It’s a story readers had been asking for, and because it’s definitely one for followers of the series, it will make little sense if you haven’t read at least some of the novels that precede it.

When we first met Alexandra in the original London Steampunk books, she was nothing more than her husband’s puppet; the Prince Consort kept her drugged up and docile while he and the ruling Echelon pursued ruthless policies against the non-blue blood denizens of London, keeping the humans, mechs and wervulfen beaten down and using them as fodder for the draining factories that supported blue blood society.  At the end of that series, the Prince Consort was killed, the regime was overthrown, and by the time the Blue Blood Conspiracy series opened three years later, the Queen is recovered and is once more on the throne and ruling with the help of a much more tolerant and even-handled council comprised of her staunch allies (Malloryn, Barrons and Mina, Lynch, Blade etc.).  But as the books in that series showed, the throne is still vulnerable and the political situation, while improving, is still not completely stable.  From London, With Love opens as Malloryn puts a proposal to Alexandra, one she doesn’t care for at all – namely, she needs to marry and produce an heir or name her successor. Should something happen to her before either of those things is done, it could ignite a(nother) civil war.

“I’m tired of war.  I want to take a bloody holiday with my wife without the palace going up in flames.”

Alexandra might not like it, but she sees the wisdom of Malloryn’s words and agrees to seek a husband; at least this time, she will be choosing for herself and marrying on her own terms.   What she doesn’t know is that the wily Malloryn already has someone in mind…

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

Love Him Free (On the Market #1) by E.M. Lindsey (audiobook) – narrated by Nick Hudson

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

Socially awkward, 36-year-old virgin, Simon Kadish, knows he wants more from life than a failing bakery and an empty apartment. He just doesn’t know how to get it.

From an early age, Simon’s life has been marked by loss. After the death of his father, Simon and his infant brother are ripped from their home in Tel Aviv and forced to settle in a small mountain town in the US where no one speaks his language. By the age of 12, Simon is an orphan. By the age of 21, Simon finds himself the unwilling owner of his bubbe’s bakery, and the hesitant guardian of his little brother. Terrified of losing what little he has left, Simon dedicates himself to his faith, sacrificing everything to keep the fragile scraps of his broken family.

But, when Simon’s favorite film star’s life suddenly falls apart on social media, Simon makes a choice. He goes against every one of his instincts and fires up his camera, sending a message in rusty ASL. He doesn’t expect anything from it, of course. After all, Simon’s life has been anything but charmed.

Deaf film star Rocco Moretti had anyone’s fantasy life, and he wouldn’t change it for the world.

But when Rocco wakes up to his boyfriend leaving, he has nowhere to turn. Rocco realizes in that moment, he wants something more. He’s not sure where to find it, but he thinks maybe the shy video in shaky ASL in his DMs is a good place to start. After all, Cherry Creek is in the middle of nowhere, and since seeing that video, Rocco hasn’t been able to stop thinking about that shy baker’s long fingers, shy smile, and the constellation of freckles on his pale cheeks.

Rocco isn’t sure leaving his life behind is the right choice, and Simon isn’t sure he belongs in Rocco’s world. But the one thing they do know is that this love has a chance to set them both free.

Rating: Narration – A-; Content – B-

Both the author AND narrator of Love Him Free are new-to-me, although both have been on my radar for a while. Nick Hudson is also the narrator of Jordan Castillo Price’s ABCs of Spellcraft series (I’m a massive fan of her PsyCop books, so Spellcraft is on my TBL) and Kaetrin recently mentioned that she’d enjoyed Mr. Hudson’s performance in them, so I was pleased to have a chance to listen to him in Love Him Free.

It’s the first book in the On the Market series, and although I believe it has connections to another series, it mostly works as a standalone.

Simon Kaddish was only a child when, following his father’s death in a bomb attack, his mother and grandmother whisked him and his baby brother Levi from their home in Tel Aviv and moved them to a small, mountain town in the States. After his mother’s death in a car crash, and with his grandmother working all hours in her small bakery, the care of Levi fell mostly to Simon; and when at twenty-one, tragedy struck again and his grandmother died, Simon – terrified of further loss – made a vow to dedicate his life to his faith and to keeping Levi safe and happy:

“This will be my exile. I will give it all up. Just… let Levi have what he wants. Let me keep him.”

Fifteen years later, Simon, who has never found it easy to make friends or cope in social situations, is struggling to keep the Chametz Bakery going, still putting Levi first and has never had a relationship – he’s still a virgin at thirty-six.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

The Scandalous, Dissolute, No-Good Mr. Wright (Spindle Cove #4.5) by Tessa Dare (audiobook) – Narrated by Carolyn Morris


This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

Miss Eliza Cade is a lady in waiting. And waiting. Because of a foolish mistake in her youth, she’s not allowed “out” in Society until her three older sisters are wed. But while she’s trying to be good, she keeps bumping elbows – and more distressingly, lips – with notorious rake Harry Wright. Every moment she spends with him, she risks complete ruin.

The sensual passions he stirs in her are so wrong…but Eliza just can’t resist Mr. Wright.

Rating: Narration – B; Content – B

I remembered enjoying this novella – which rounds out Tessa Dare’s Spindle Cove series – when it came out in print what I thought was just a few years ago. Imagine my surprise when I checked Goodreads and discovered I’d read it in 2012! Where did those eight years go?!

Anyway. I enjoyed it and was pleased to see it finally making it into audio with Carolyn Morris at the microphone; her performance of what I think is the author’s best book (A Week to be Wicked) is one of my favourites.

The Scandalous, Dissolute, No-Good Mr. Wright is a novella so it’s a short listen, and it’s really a series of vignettes that span a period of around four years, detailing several meetings between the titular Mr. Wright and a young lady named Eliza Cade who made a silly mistake made when she was just fourteen (and no, it wasn’t that sort of mistake!), and because of it, her father decided to delay her society début until all her sisters were ‘out’ so as not to spoil their chances on the marriage mart.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

My 2020 in Books & Audio

2020, huh? I don’t think I need to expound on that particular dumpster fire except to say that I feel lucky to be someone who has managed to read/listen to books pretty much as normal throughout it all. Books – and writing about them – have provided a much-needed escape from everything going on “out there”, and there have been times this past year when I don’t know what I’d have done without them.

So, what was I reading/listening to in 2020? Well, according to Goodreads (which shows an average rating of 4.1 stars overall), I read and listened to 269 books in total (which was 30 fewer than 2019) – although I suspect that number may be slightly higher as I sometimes forget to mark any re-listens I do. But just taking the new reads/listens, I listened to almost as many books as I read – 52.9% ebook and 47.1% audio, according to this new spreadsheet I’ve been using, and almost three-quarters of the total were review copies.

Of that total there are 77 5 star books, 152 4 star books – by far the biggest category – 36 3 star books and 6 2 star books. (Books sorted by rating.)

The 5 star bracket includes those titles I rate at 4.5 but round-up (which I equate to A-); the 4 star bracket (B) includes the 4.5 star grades I don’t round up (B+) and the 3.5 star ones I do round up (B-), the 3 stars are C+/C/C- and so on.  Of the 77 5 star ratings, only around 17 are straight A grades in terms of the story (in the case of audiobooks, sometimes a 4 star review will get bumped up because the narration is so fabulous), so the rest of that 77 are A minuses or audiobooks where A and B grades combined to rate a higher overall total. Looking back at my 2019 Books & Audio post, those numbers are fairly consistent, although I didn’t have any one stars or DNFs in 2020, which isn’t a bad thing!

The books that made my Best of 2020 list at All About Romance:

Reviews are linked in the text beneath each image.

As usually happens, I always have a few “also-rans”, books I could have included if I’d had the space:

If you follow my reviews, you’ll already know that in 2020, I awarded more top grades than ever to a single author, which isn’t something that’s ever happened before; sure, I give high grades to some authors consistently (Sherry Thomas, KJ Charles and Meredith Duran spring to mind) but those have been one every few months or per year – not nine in a single year! So, yes, 2020 is, in my head, the Year of Gregory Ashe 😉  I could have chosen any number of his books for these lists as they’re all so very good.

Sadly noticeable by its (near) absence on these lists – historical romance.  I said in my 2019 post that the amount of really good historical romance around had been declining for a while, and although there were some excellent  historicals around in 2020, they were fairly few and far between. Many of the best came from Harlequin Historical – Virginia Heath’s Redeeming the Reculsive Earl is a lovely, funny and warm grumpy-reclusive-hero-meets-breath-of-fresh-air-(and neuroatypical) heroine, while Mia Vincy continues to demonstrate her mastery of the genre with A Dangerous Kind of Lady, a sexy, vibrant, not-really friends-to-lovers story in which the leads embark on a difficult journey of self-discovery while coming to realise how badly they’ve misjudged each other. The “modern” historical is a term being coined for novels set in the more recent past, and Asher Glenn Gray’s Honeytrap, the love story between an FBI agent and Red Army office that spans thirty-five years, would proibably have made my Best of list had I read it in time.  Annabeth Albert is a big favourite of mine; Feel the Fire is book three in her Hotshots series, a second-chance romance that just hit the spot.

Audio

When I struggled to read something – which fortuantely, didn’t happen often – I could usually find something in audio that suited my mood, plus the fact that there are still back-catalogue titles coming out of books I haven’t got around to reading means that audio is always my preferred method of catching up!  I listened to a lot of pretty good stuff over the year, but for my 2020 Favourites for AudioGals, I stuck to titles to which I’d given at least ONE A grade (usually for the narration) and nothing lower than a B+.

So that was 2020 in books and audio.  I’m incredibly grateful to those authors and narrators who continued to provide me with such great reading/listening material through what has been an incredibly trying time for all of us;  I know some who have really struggled to get words on a page this year, and I just want to say that you’re worth waiting for and I’ll be here whenever you’re ready.

As for what I’m looking forward to in 2021… more of the same, really – lots of good books!  There are a number of titles I know are coming up in the first part of the year that I’m really excited about – the third Lamb and the Lion book from Gregory Ashe – The Same End – is out at the end of January, and I’m also eagerly awaiting new adventures with North and Shaw and Theo and Auggie. Then there’s book three in KJ Charles’ Will Darling Adventures, Subtle Blood, at least three (squee!) new books from Annabeth Albert, including the fourth Hotshots book; and a new instalment in Jordan Castillo Price’s long-running Psycop series (Other Half) due out in January, although I’ll be waiting for the audio because Gomez Pugh’s incredible turn as Victor Bayne is well worth waiting for.  (I really must catch up with JCP’s ABCs of Spellcraft books, in audio, too!).  There’s a new book in Hailey Turner’s  Soulbound series coming soon, a new instalment in Jay Hogan’s Southern Lights series, and later on, I’m hoping Josh Lanyon’s The Movie Town Murders will be out this year – I need more Sam and Jason! – and I’m looking forward to new books in her Secrets and Scrabble series.  I’m looking forward to more from Lucy Parker, Loreth Anne White, Garrett Leigh, Rachel Reid, Roan Parrish… There are new books slated from many of my favourite authors and narrators, and I’m looking forward to another year of great reading and listening.

I’ll be back this time next year to see if my expectations were fulfilled!

Special Ops Seduction (Alaska Force #5) by Megan Crane


This title may be purchased from Amazon

She’s the last woman he ever wanted to see again…

After an official operation turned deadly, Jonas Crow began a new life in Grizzly Harbor with Alaska Force. But when fellow soldier Bethan Wilcox joins the group, she forces him to remember things he actively prefers to forget. That’s unforgivable enough. But now the two of them are forced together on a mission to uncover deadly secrets tied to their complicated past, and with the heat between them at a boil, forgiveness is the least of his worries…

And the only woman he needs.

Bethan Wilcox, one of the first women to make it through Army Ranger school, didn’t join Alaska Force to deal with Jonas’s foul temper. Or her own errant attraction to him. Thrown together in a race against the clock, they have to pretend to be a couple and play nice to throw the enemy off their scent. She knows better than to let their pretend love feel real…especially while time is running out.

Jonas has always been good at saving the world. But it’s Bethan he needs to save this time around—if she doesn’t save him first.

Rating: C+

Special Ops Seduction is the fifth book in Megan Crane’s Alaska Force series of romantic suspense novels and I picked it up mostly because I’d enjoyed the previous book (Delta Force Defender) and because I liked the premise of the romance in this one – two tough-as-nails special operatives who have an uneasy history have to pose as a couple in order to gain much-needed intelligence pertinent to their current mission.  Unfortunately however, the suspense plot, while quite compelling, doesn’t really get going until around three-quarters of the way into the book, the hero has as much personality as a plank of wood (which is partly intentional, but still makes him very difficult to relate to or like) and the middle section of the book is kind of all over the place and failed to hold my attention.

Bethan Wilcox is the only female member of the elite Alaska Force, which is comprised of former special forces operatives who wanted to continue to fight the good fight after they left the military.  As one would expect of a former Army Ranger, she’s strong, tough and fiercely competent; a woman operating in a man’s world, Bethan works harder, longer and with more intensity and determination than anyone, conscious she can never let her guard down and compartmentalising the different sides of her personality.  A fearsome hardass is the face she shows to everyone on the team; behind the locked door of her cabin home is the only place she allows herself to indulge in her softer side and be wholly herself.

Big, brooding, taciturn and deliberately unknowable, Jonas Crow is a perennial thorn in Bethan’s side.  He’s one of the founding members of Alaska Force and is known for his ability to be almost invisible – in the sense that he somehow does the exact opposite of attract attention – and for being utterly implacable and completely unemotional; more machine than man.  He and Bethan have a history that goes way back, well past the eighteen months she’s been with Alaska Force – a past he refuses to talk about or acknowledge, but one which clearly makes him uncomfortable (insofar as he feels any emotions about anything).   I have to admit here that given the way it’s built up, I expected this history to be something incredibly shocking – but it isn’t.  Bethan saved Jonas’ life following a bomb attack in the desert and kept him alive until help arrived; he apparently told her all sorts of things he now regrets saying as he drifted in and out of consciousness and – er… that’s it.  He behaves like a total dick to her for eighteen months because Mr. Big, Bad ‘n’ Broody is pissed he got saved by a girl.

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

Ticking the Boxes (Cold Coast Collage #2) by L.J. Hayward

This title may be purchased from Amazon

Sean Sale has life worked out. It’s about ticking the boxes. Checking off the events that mean you’re alive and functioning and, well, normal. At twenty-six, Sean has a handsome fiancé, an adorable fur baby, and a job he loves. Tick, tick, tick: life accomplished. That is, until it’s all ripped away from him. Broken-hearted and homeless, he ends up at the Wild Pines townhouse complex, his last-ditch effort to find a place to live and start afresh. Meeting the hot, kind manager, Lucas, wasn’t on his checklist, but Sean’s very okay with this unexpected event.

Lucas Harrison sees life as a road with roundabouts, hairpin turns, and detours. He’s certainly taken more than a few detours in order to get where he is now, managing Wild Pines and raising his eight-year-old niece, Amy. There are things from his past Lucas would rather not have to face again, but when he finds Sean on his doorstep in desperate need of help, one of those things—a hopeless crush on Sean—crashes right back into his life. This time, though, Lucas isn’t going to let his fears stop him from having someone just for himself.

As Sean starts to build a new life, Lucas and Amy become an important part of his world, and Lucas feels the same way about Sean. However, their past experiences threaten their future happiness, making it hard for them to form a real connection. How can they each find the strength to confront their issues and be worthy of each other?

Rating: B

Book two in L.J. Hayward’s Gold Coast Collage series, Ticking the Boxes is a sexy and emotional character-driven romance about two men who lives have diverged from the paths they’d had mapped out, and the importance of not closing yourself off to possibility.

Sean Sale had it all worked out from an early age;  get an education, get a job, get a life partner, get a couple of kids… and by twenty-six, he’s got it covered.  He got a good education, has a job he enjoys, a handsome fiancé, a nice apartment (and mortgage to go with it) a cute dog he adores, and even though he wishes Brett – a dentist – wasn’t pushing him to change his job,  Sean is blissfully happy.  Until, that is, he comes home from work early one day to find Brett banging one of their friends in their bed.  Needless to say, Sean is devastated; the life he’d dreamed of has crumbled around him and he’s left with… nothing.

Lucas Harrison was on track to get his PhD, but his life was derailed when his younger sister ran off leaving him – literally – holding the baby.  All his life, his scientist mother drilled into him the importance of concentrating on his studies and acquiring knowledge with no distractions or deviations from the set path, insisting on making sure he wasn’t “wasting his life and intelligence”. Home-schooled until the age of fourteen, then sent to a boarding school for a couple of years before university, Lucas never had the time for friends or relationships, but after his sister left him with Amy, he decided he’d had enough of living up to someone else’s expectations, and despite his mother’s insistence that he was throwing his life away, he left the PhD programme to bring up his niece.  Over the years, Lucas took a variety of fairly menial jobs in order to support them, and now works as the manager of a housing complex, but has kind of resigned himself to remaining single.  Being so focused on his studies, then caring for a baby, he’s had no time to make a life of his own – which is why he’s still a virgin at the ripe-old age of thirty-three.

He’s  getting one of the newly-vacant homes ready for a public viewing when one of the residents asks Lucas if a friend of his might come by to look at the place.  This friend has recently been made homeless because of a break-up, and has been couch-surfing for a few weeks, but is rapidly running out of friends to stay with. Lucas is a bit wary, but he’s also someone who believes in paying it forward and helping people who are down on their luck, so he agrees to let the guy have a look around before the main viewing starts.

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

TBR Challenge: The Rake’s Retreat by Nancy Butler

This title may be purchased from Amazon

While sketching in a wooded grove, Lady Jemima Vale encounters a young actress who witnessed a murder in the grove . . . and her rescuer, the notorious libertine Beecham Bryce. When he insists young Lovelace Wellesley take shelter at his nearby home, Lady Jemima offers to act as chaperon, not realizing her maidenly reserve will soon be shattered by her devilish host.

Rating: A-

I generally think of a comfort read as something I’ve already read, but because I try to choose my TBR Challenge reads from books I haven’t read, I decided to go for one by an author whose work I’ve enjoyed and want to read more of.  Nancy Butler’s The Rake’s Retreat got my 2021 TBR Challenge off to a great start; it makes excellent use of the trope of the-rake-who-falls-hard-for-a -spinster-ish-heroine, and it contains some of the best verbal sparring I’ve ever come across.  The romance is wonderful; the chemistry between the leads is off the charts and their relationship is superbly written, with lots of insight, tenderness and mutual understanding on display amid the banter and the delicious sexual tension.

The Rake’s Retreat opens when seventeen-year-old travelling player Lovelace Wellesley, leading lady of Wellesley’s Wandering Minstrels, witnesses a murder in the Kentish countryside.  Unfortunately for her, the murderer sees her, and she flees in fear of her life – but in the way of all heroines-in-peril  – she falls and turns her ankle.  Fortunately for her, she is rescued by the local landowner, Beecham Bryce, who is obviously sceptical of her story of murder, but who decides to accompany her to the (supposed) scene of the crime so that, if nothing else, he can convince her that she is in no danger.

Lady Jemima Vale is visiting Kent with her brother Lord Troy, London’s premier playwright, and is spending the afternoon sketching while she waits for him to return to the inn at which they are staying.  Her solitude is interrupted when she is approached by a starkly attractive gentleman who asks if she’s seen anyone in the woods.  Oddly unsettled by the stranger, whose easy grace, aura of danger and sudden, surprisingly engaging smile do odd things to her knees, Jemima replies that she has not seen anyone – and he explains that his young companion claims to have witnessed a murder in the woods just half an hour before.  He looks around for a while and finds nothing – but when Jemima gets to her feet shortly afterwards, he notices the blood-stains on her dress and realises she must have been sitting in the very spot the murder took place.  Lovelace may well be in danger after all, and Jemima is all for going back to the inn and returning her to her family – but the Minstrels have departed, mistakenly believing Lovelace to have been asleep in one of their carts.  Bryce suggests she should stay at his home while he arranges for someone to find her parents, but Jemima is horrified at the suggestion; leave a lovely young woman alone with a notorious rake?  Unthinkable!  Bryce – who has taken quite a shine to the tall, long-limbed brunette who challenges him at every turn and responds to his flirtatious teasing with a haughtily raised brow and a sharp retort – sees his chance, and suggests that Jemima should avail herself of his hospitality as well… to act as chaperone to Lovelace of course.

Over the next few days, Bryce and Jemima find themselves spending a lot of time together, sometimes in easy companionship, sometimes shooting verbal arrows at each other, both of them clearly having the other’s measure, both of them at something of a crossroads in life.  Jemima is firmly on the shelf and approaching her thirtieth birthday; she is starting to take stock of her life – most of which she has spent at her brother’s beck and call – and realising that she’s missed out on having a life of her own.  The artistic and literary salons she hosts in London may have provided intellectual stimulation, but she has neglected her emotional life and longs for something different.  Bryce is a swoonworthy hero; witty, sexy and insightful, he’s a man of intelligence and compassion hiding behind a mask of ennui and innuendo, and has returned to the family home in Kent in order to take care of it while his father – with whom he doesn’t get on –  is on a six-month long visit to warmer climes for his health.  Bryce is a womaniser and a libertine and makes no apologies for it, but he’s also quick to see and understand Jemima’s frustrations and to encourage her to step out from her brother’s shadow.  He sees Jemima for who she truly is, and he falls hard, although he does end up torn between wanting her and wanting what (he thinks) is best for her, which means his behaviour is sometimes a little hurtful as he tries to push her away ‘for her own good.’

But there is never any doubt in the reader’s mind that they’re perfect for one another.  The author shows over and over again, through their words and actions, through the sparkling dialogue and verbal sparring, that they’re a match in wit and intellect, and that they belong together.

The mystery is interesting, although it’s fairly easy to guess where it’s going, but it’s nicely done all the same; and Lovelace makes for an engaging secondary character who, while she starts off being rather self-obsessed and a bit whiny, exhibits substantial character growth throughout the story.  There’s another character who provides considerable insight into Bryce’s character, showing him to be a deeply caring, loving person (and who has an important part to play in the story) but I can’t reveal more without spoilers.

When AAR reviewed this title back in 1999, it was awarded DIK status, and I’d say it’s worn pretty well and still deserves that grade (A-).  It’s not a straight A because I wasn’t wild about the way Jemima so easily distrusted Bryce towards the end, and some behaviour that veered a bit too close to TSTL territory – but those are minor irritants when set against all the things this book does so incredibly well, which is pretty much everything else.

The Rake’s Retreat is a fabulous, witty and charming romance that has definitely stood the test of time. I highly recommend it.

Cry Wolf (Big Bad Wolf #5) by Charlie Adhara

This title may be purchased from Amazon

Agent Cooper Dayton never thought anything could be harder than solving murders. Until he had to plan a wedding. After taking down an old adversary, Agent Cooper Dayton of the Bureau of Special Investigations has earned a break. Not that planning a wedding to his sexy shifter partner, Oliver Park, is necessarily stress free, but it’s better than worrying about the ominous warning, delivered months ago, that Cooper’s life is in danger.

When he’s dragged to an event by his family, Cooper braces for an awkward evening, but instead finds himself in the middle of an ugly feud between Park’s ex and a rebel pack leader. What was supposed to be a quick outing turns into a full-blown murder investigation after the pack leader ends up dead, Park’s ex goes missing, and Cooper and Park are sent a series of disturbing wedding gifts that are somehow connected to it all.

The list of potential suspects is long, and with the bodies piling up, Cooper must turn to the one person he trusts the least: the villain he’s already put behind bars once and who has nothing to lose by lying and everything to gain if Cooper is out of the picture—for good.

Rating: A

Cry Wolf is the fifth instalment of Charlie Adhara’s paranormal/romantic suspense Big Bad Wolf series,  and I started reading it with mixed feelings;  eagerness at the thought of another story featuring Cooper and Park, and sadness at the thought of having to say goodbye to them, because I thought this was to be the final book in the series.  But having finished it, I’m now hopeful that we’re going to be gifted with yet more stories set in this world, because Cry Wolf sets up some extremely interesting potential plotlines, especially in relation to the things we learn about the hierarchy of wolf society, reminds us of a number of important unanswered questions, AND brings back a charismatic secondary character who – it seems to me – is crying out for an HEA of his own.  So please, Ms. Adhara, can we have some more?

Note:  Minor spoilers ahead for previous books in the series.

At the very end of Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing, the newly engaged Cooper and Park received the unsettling news that Dr. Emily Freeman, the scientist who absconded with scientific proof of the existence of werewolves at the end of Thrown to the Wolves, had broken into their apartment, surrendered herself into custody and is refusing to speak to anyone but Cooper.  Cry Wolf opens a week later as Cooper goes to see her; she tells him he’s in great danger and says she’ll tell him who’s coming for him in exchange for a deal that will grant her a new identity and see her released without charge.  When Cooper doesn’t show a great deal of concern she takes great delight in taunting him about how little he really knows about werewolves and their way of life, and then clams up.

Eventually, Cooper, Park and their boss dismiss Freeman’s claims as just another attempt to manipulate Cooper, meaning he can get back to quietly freaking out about planning his and Park’s wedding.  Marriage isn’t a thing in the werewolf community, but Park is so head-over-heels in love with Cooper, he’ll do whatever it takes to make him happy and enthusiastically accepted his proposal.  But being unfamiliar with the concept of weddings and how to actually go about getting married, Park has left all the planning up to Cooper, who wants it to be perfect and is practically paralysed into indecision as a result.  (Gah! – he luuuuuurves Park so damn much and he wants to show that he knows what a big statement Park is making by undergoing such a very human ritual, but how does he say that with flowers?  Or a ring? Or a big wedding? Or a minutely curated guest list? Or a hundred other possibilities he really can’t decide on?)

The reappearance of Eli, Park’s ex, gives Cooper something else to think about. Eli is being blackmailed by someone from the distant past he’s worked hard to put behind him, someone from his days running with rebel packs who betrayed him horribly, leaving him trapped in fur with people who kept him in chains until the Park pack found him, rescued him and took him in.  It all happened years ago, but Eli recently received a letter threatening to send evidence of his involvement to the big packs he and his fellow rebels stole from unless Eli pays him.  Refusing to let this person control him again, Eli has tracked him down and discovered that he’s working as – of all things – a zookeeper in DC, and he asks Cooper for his help in finding the evidence, which he suspects is hidden somewhere at the zoo.

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

His Compass (His #2) by Con Riley

This title may be purchased from Amazon

Tom has one rule: don’t sleep with the crew. A second chance with a younger, gorgeous deckhand tempts him to break it.

After a busy season as a charter-hire skipper, Tom yearns for some downtime. His lonely heart also aches for adventure with someone special, but paying his bills has to come first. A surprise sailing contract and huge bonus offer his first glimpse of freedom for years. There’s only one catch: he must crew with Nick, a deckhand who jumped ship once already.

Nick’s as young and untested as the new yacht they’re contracted to sail, and he’s just as gorgeous. Forced to spend a month as Nick’s captain, Tom discovers depths he hadn’t noticed. He’s captivated, and happier sailing with Nick than he’s been in forever. However, their voyage is finite, and both men keep soul-deep secrets.

As the contract draws to an end, they must get honest about what’s in their hearts if they want to share a life at sea, and love, forever.

Rating: A-

His Compass – the second book in Con Riley’s His series – is a beautifully written, emotionally charged May/December love story featuring two characters we met briefly in book one, His Horizon.  That was the first book I’ve read by this author, and while I liked it, it didn’t knock my socks off. His Compass, however, is a completely different matter and my socks are long gone 😉

When Tom Kershaw, skipper of the charter yacht Aphrodite, took his crewmate and friend Jude Anstey home to Cornwall, he had to fill Jude’s shoes pretty quickly so he could move on to his next charter.  Unfortunately however, Jude’s replacement proved to be something of a liability; gorgeous, sociable Nick’s claims of growing up around boats and crewing from the moment he left school proved at best, to be highly exaggerated and at worst, to be outright lies.  Sure, Nick was outgoing and good with people, but he was also lazy, messy and unreliable; he never finished a task he started, he couldn’t cook or do any of the jobs Tom needed him to do – and one day, he just up and left without a word.

A few months later, Tom is offered the chance to sea-trial a brand spanking new yacht – so new, she doesn’t even have a name yet – for a big fat bonus he badly needs.  He’s apprehensive and worried that this new vessel may be poised to replace his beloved Aphrodite and that perhaps, once the trial is over, he will find himself out of work – but those worries fly from his mind when he steps aboard to discover that the deckhand he’s been assigned is the last one he’d ever want to sail with again.  Tom is angry (and maybe a little relieved to find out that Nick is safe and well) and ready to storm off and insist on getting another deckhand – but Nick pleads to be allowed to stay, promises he’ll try harder and Tom reluctantly agrees to let him.  But there are conditions.  First, that Nick must always be completely honest about what he does and doesn’t know; second, that Nick stops bullshitting about his experience.  Tom doesn’t want to hear any more excuses.

Most of the story is set aboard the yacht on the month-long sea trial, during which Tom comes to the realisation that there is a lot more to Nick than he ever suspected, and that far from being lazy and incompetent, he’s bright and enthusiastic and capable – and that all he’d really needed to unlock his potential was someone to encourage and believe in him.  The story is told solely from Tom’s PoV, but he’s so strongly attuned to Nick that it’s almost as good as hearing from Nick himself and the author does a fantastic job of showing us Nick’s thoughts, actions and motivations through Tom’s eyes.  There’s a very good reason we don’t get Nick’s side of the story until quite late in the book, but I never once felt the lack of his viewpoint.

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

One Time Only by Lauren Blakely (audiobook) – Narrated by Teddy Hamilton and Jacob Morgan

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

Ever hear the story about the bodyguard who falls for the rock star?

Yeah, it never ends well.

Each day I remind myself that it’s my job to protect Stone. And nowhere in the job description does it say I should lust after the charismatic, charming man.

Especially since we’re opposites.

But every night I spend with him the dangerous, off-limits attraction grows more intense.

Until one night in a limo when we combust.

One time only will have to be enough. One scorching, forbidden night.

Because the mistakes from the past are chasing me. And if I give in again, I’ll lose everything.

But sometimes you grab hold of the desire. And other times, the desire takes hold of you.

No matter the cost.

Rating: Narration – A; Content – C-

Teddy Hamilton and Jacob Morgan have only recorded a handful of books together, but thanks to their performances in the much-loved Him/Us/Epic from Sarina Bowen and Elle Kennedy, they’ve become something of m/m narrating royalty. I listen to Mr. Hamilton fairly frequently, and he’s a firm favourite here at AG – although I have to confess that I’ve hardly listened to Mr. Morgan at all; not because I don’t like his voice or his work, but because he doesn’t record often – if at all – in the genres I tend to enjoy.

So I was really excited to learn the pair was teaming up again for Lauren Blakely’s latest m/m story One Time Only, a romance between hot, openly bisexual rock star Stone Zenith (yes, really) and his equally hot, ex-marine bodyguard, Jackson Pearce – and they are both, of course wonderful.

The story? Not so much.

In fact, the most notable thing about the story in One Time Only is its absence.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.