Fatal Mistake (White Knights #1) by Susan Sleeman (audiobook) – Narrated by Rachel Dulude

This title may be downloaded from Audible.

An FBI agent must protect the woman who can identify a terrorist bomber in best-selling author Susan Sleeman’s riveting romantic suspense novel.

Each day could be her last…but not if he can help it.

Tara Parrish is the only person ever to survive an attack by the Lone Wolf bomber. Scared and emotionally scarred by her near death, she goes into hiding with only one plan – to stay alive for another day. She knows he’s coming after her, and if he finds her, he will finish what he started.

Agent Cal Riggins has had only one goal for the past six months – to save lives by ending the Lone Wolf’s bombing spree. To succeed, he needs the help of Tara Parrish, the one person who can lead them to the bomber. Cal puts his all into finding Tara, but once he locates her, he realizes if he can find her, the Lone Wolf can, too. He must protect Tara at all costs, and they’ll both need to resist the mutual attraction growing between them to focus on hunting down the bomber, because one wrong move could be fatal.

Rating: Narration – C : Content – D-

I wasn’t even fifteen minutes into Susan Sleeman’s romantic suspense novel, Fatal Mistake, when I realised I’d made a catastrophic mistake in deciding to listen to it. I’m a fan of the sub-genre and am always on the look-out for authors to add to my “must read/listen” list, but instead, I’ve found one to add to my “must avoid” list. The storyline is trite, predictable and filled with stereotypical characters, info dumps, hackneyed dialogue and more introspection and internal monologuing than one can shake a stick at. The principals seem to have aced “Jumping to Unfounded Conclusions 101”; there’s way too much telling and not enough showing, which means that characters make huge leaps of logic and arrive at conclusions for no reason that is made clear to the listener, and the author completely fails to create even the vaguest sense of sexual attraction between the principals. Reviews the novel are overwhelmingly positive, and the blurb promised a “riveting” read… but all I was riveted to was my watch as I kept checking to see how far I was from the end.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

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Red Fish, Dead Fish (Fish Out of Water #2) by Amy Lane (audiobook) – narrated by Greg Tremblay

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

They must work together to stop a psychopath – and save each other.

Two months ago, Jackson Rivers got shot while trying to save Ellery Cramer’s life. Not only is Jackson still suffering from his wounds, the trigger-man remains at large – and the body count is mounting.

Jackson and Ellery have been trying to track down Tim Owens since Jackson got out of the hospital, but Owens’ time as a member of the department makes the DA reluctant to turn over any stones. When Owens starts going after people Jackson knows, Ellery’s instincts hit red alert. Hurt in a scuffle with drug-dealing squatters and trying damned hard not to grieve for a childhood spent in hell, Jackson is weak and vulnerable when Owens strikes.

Jackson gets away, but the fallout from the encounter might kill him. It’s not doing Ellery any favors either. When a police detective is abducted – and Jackson and Ellery hold the key to finding her – Ellery finds out exactly what he’s made of. He’s not the corporate shark who believes in winning at all costs; he’s the frightened lover trying to keep the man he cares for from self-destructing in his own valor.

Rating: Narration – A+ : Content – A

Please note that there will be spoilers for Fish Out of Water in this review.

Amy Lane’s Fish Out of Water was a fabulous listen; an exciting, fast-paced suspense story, interwoven with a steamy, opposites-attract romance laced with plenty of snark and quieter moments of emotional insight and intensity. Needless to say, Greg Tremblay hit the narration out of the park, so I eagerly jumped into the sequel, Red Fish, Dead Fish, which picks up the story a couple of months later. Following a(nother) near-fatal shooting, private investigator Jackson Rivers is still (and, he insists, temporarily) living with his lover, defense attorney Ellery Cramer, while his house – which was shot to bits in the drive-by in which he was wounded – is set to rights. He’s impatient with his convalescence, he’s jonesing to get back to work and he’s on edge about the status of his… whatever it is with Ellery; Jackson doesn’t do permanence and the deep-seated insecurities that tell him he’s bad news and not good enough for anyone to bother with have him pretty much always poised for flight. Fortunately for Jackson, Ellery has him pegged and is well aware that deep down, Jackson is scared of what’s happening between them and that he’s looking for excuses to run. At least – for the moment – Jackson has nowhere to run TO, and Ellery’s patience and gentle, but inexorable persistence seem to be inexhaustible. Not that Jackson doesn’t drive him nuts at times – he absolutely does – but Ellery is every bit as stubborn as he is, doesn’t take any crap and is prepared to wait for Jackson for as long as it takes.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

No Earls Allowed (Survivors #2) by Shana Galen (audiobook) – Narrated by Victoria Aston

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

Lady Juliana, daughter of the Earl of St. Maur, needs all the help she can get. She’s running a ramshackle orphanage, London’s worst slumlord has illicit designs on her, and her father has suddenly become determined to marry her off.

Enter Major Neil Wraxall, bastard son of the Marquess of Kensington, sent to assist Lady Juliana in any way he can. Lucky for her, he’s handy with repairs, knows how to keep her and the orphans safe, and is a natural leader of men.

Unfortunately for both of them, the scandal that ensues from their mutual attraction is going to lead them a merry dance…

Rating: Narration – B- : Content – B-

No Earls Allowed is the second book in Shana Galen’s Survivors series about a group of former soldiers who were members of a specially formed suicide squad during the Napoleonic Wars. Of the thirty members, only twelve returned, something that continues to haunt the unit’s commander Major Neil Wraxall, illegitimate son of the Marquess of Kensington, who also lost his younger half-brother during the conflict. Now the war is over, he spends most of his time at his club with his closest friends, Ewan Mostyn (Third Son’s a Charm) and Rafe Beaumont, or alone, wallowing in guilt and consuming large quantities of alcohol in order to keep the nightmares at bay.

Lady Juliana (Julia), daughter of the Earl of St. Maur, has been struggling to make sense of her life since the death of her beloved sister, Harriett. One of the charities the sisters supported was a home for orphaned boys which Julia optimistically renamed “The Sunnybrook Home for Boys”; and since Harriett’s death in childbirth, her work there has become something of an emotional crutch for Julia, who sees devoting herself to the care of the twelve boys in residence as a way of keeping Harriet’s memory alive. Her father is worried about her and wants her to return home, but Julia is adamant – the boys need her, and having seen the way Harriett’s husband treated her, Julia has no interest in men or marriage, so returning to the usual round of balls and parties of the marriage mart is pointless.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

The Henchmen of Zenda by K.J. Charles

This title may be purchased from Amazon

Jasper Detchard is a disgraced British officer, now selling his blade to the highest bidder. Currently that’s Michael Elphberg, half-brother to the King of Ruritania. Michael wants the throne for himself, and Jasper is one of the scoundrels he hires to help him take it. But when Michael makes his move, things don’t go entirely to plan—and the penalty for treason is death.

Rupert of Hentzau is Michael’s newest addition to his sinister band of henchmen. Charming, lethal, and intolerably handsome, Rupert is out for his own ends—which seem to include getting Jasper into bed. But Jasper needs to work out what Rupert’s really up to amid a maelstrom of plots, swordfights, scheming, impersonation, desire, betrayal, and murder.

Nobody can be trusted. Everyone has a secret. And love is the worst mistake you can make.

A retelling of the swashbuckling classic The Prisoner of Zenda from a very different point of view.

Rating: A-

I’ve been looking forward to The Henchmen of Zenda, K.J. Charles’ ‘queered’ retelling of the classic The Prisoner of Zenda, ever since she announced it months ago, and in fact the book made my ‘most eagerly awaited of 2018 list‘ at AAR.  I love a ripping adventure yarn, and that’s exactly what the author has delivered – a tale of swashbuckling derring-do featuring a pair of amoral, cynical and devil-may-care anti-heroes, palace intrigue, political shenanigans, double crosses, triple crosses… and hot sex.  The latter being missing from Anthony Hope’s original novel, which isn’t surprising considering it was written in 1894. 😛  The Henchmen of Zenda can be enjoyed without reference to the original, although I’ll admit that for me, part of the fun was spotting the places where the stories meshed and picking up on the in-jokes.

For anyone not familiar with The Prisoner of Zenda, the story is basically this. Rudolf V, the new King of (the fictional) small European country of Ruritania, is drugged on the eve of his coronation by those working for his half-brother, Michael, Duke of Strelsau, who wants the throne for himself.  In a desperate attempt to stop Michael, those loyal to the king persuade an English gentleman (Rudolf Rassendyll) who bears an uncanny resemblance to the monarch and happens to be holidaying in their country to impersonate the king during the coronation.  Things are complicated when Michael’s men kidnap the king and Rassendyll falls in love with the Princess Flavia, who is Rudolf’s betrothed; complications, plots and counter-plots ensue, Rassendyll leads an assault on the castle of Zenda and rescues the king, and then honourably bows out, leaving Flavia to do her duty to her king and country.

When our narrator, Jasper Detchard, immediately dismisses Rassendyll’s account as a pile of shit, and Rassendyll as an uptight prick who lied to make himself look good, the reader immediately knows they’re in for a rollicking good time.  Detchard’s deadpan, sarcastic narrative style grabbed me right away:

“My name is Jasper Detchard, and according to Rassendyll’s narrative, I am dead.  This should give you some idea of his accuracy, since I do not dictate these words to some cabbage-scented medium from beyond the veil.”

A disgraced former army officer who now makes his living as a mercenary, Detchard is approached by Michael Elphberg, Duke of Strelsau, to become one of his trusted bodyguard (known as The Six).   Michael demands absolute, unquestioning loyalty, and Detchard, not one to be overly picky as to where he lays his hat or sells his sword – signs up. As it turns out, for more than he bargained for.

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

TBR Challenge: Waking Up Married by Mira Lynn Kelly

This title may be purchased from Amazon.

Her first thought: “Who are you?”

It’s the morning after her cousin’s bachelorette party in Vegas and Megan Scott wakes up with the mother of all hangovers. Even worse, she’s in a stranger’s penthouse having woken up with something else as well – a funny, arrogant, sexy…husband!

Up until now, finding even a boyfriend had seemed impossible – been there, got the broken heart, sworn off men for good. Then a few martinis with Carter…no, Connor Reed and she’s gone from first meet to marriage in one night!

Megan wants a lawyer. But Connor’s shocking bombshell?

“I don’t want a divorce.”

Rating: C+

Scrolling through my Kindle to find a contemporary romance to read for this month’s prompt, I stumbled upon Mira Lyn Kelly’s Waking Up Married, one of the titles in Harlequin’s short-lived Kiss line (which is published as Mills & Boon Modern Tempted in the UK).  I’ve read a couple of the author’s more recent titles and enjoyed them – funny, sexy and sweet, they’re written with a secure but deft hand and boast attractive principals and a strong supporting cast.  I went into this one hoping for more of the same and found it, for the most part, but the story as a whole is rather let down by the hero who spends most of the novel trying to persuade the heroine into doing something she isn’t sure she wants to do.

Megan Scott is in Vegas with a group of (very bitchy) girlfriends, and they’re out partying before being bridesmaids at the wedding of one of their number the next day.  Megan has decided that she doesn’t want or need a man – she has never fallen in love with one and doesn’t think she is capable of it – instead, she intends to fulfil her desire for motherhood by a visit to the local sperm bank.

Connor Reed is surprised – in a good way – when the gorgeous woman he’d noticed earlier as he’d walked by her table approaches him and asks him if he’ll walk her out of the bar.  Her friends have been egging her on all night, and she won’t hear the end of it if she leaves the bar alone.  It’s an odd request, but he agrees, and he and Megan end up spending the next few hours together, during which they really do ‘click’; Megan tells Connor a bit about her seeming inability to fall in love, which she puts down to the fact that her mother has been married seven times (and had boyfriends in between) and having no desire to follow the path of falling in love and being repeatedly left.  As the night progresses,  Connor becomes more and more convinced that Megan wants the same things from life that he does.  Of course, they take in more than a few more drinks along the way, which is how Megan ends up with her head stuck down the great white telephone the next morning with the hangover from hell – and discovers she’s now Mrs. Reed.

In the spirit of ‘What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas’, she tells her new husband they made a horrendous mistake and that they should start divorce proceedings immediately – and is stunned when Connor tells her he wants their marriage to stand.  Megan can’t believe what she’s hearing, but Connor persuades her to hear him out over breakfast.  From what Megan told him the previous night, it seems she wants the same things from a relationship that he does:

“All the vital components that make a relationship successful, without any of the emotional messiness to drag it down. It’s about respect, caring and commitment. Shared goals and compatible priorities. It’s about treating a marriage like a partnership instead of some romantic fantasy. It’s about two people liking each other.”

– and he’s one hundred percent there for that sort of marriage.

Even though Megan has decided she’s probably never going to find ‘the one’, a marriage like the one Connor is suggesting sounds terribly calculating, and she’s not sure it’s what she wants for the rest of her life.  But she agrees to a three month trial – although with no sex allowed – and moves into Connor’s house.

One of the things I liked straight away about Waking Up Married is that the ‘Oh no – we got drunk, got married and must get a divorce as quickly as possible’ trope doesn’t quite pan out that way, because while Megan and Connor did get married while drunk, Connor knew exactly what they were doing when they walked down the aisle.  The trouble is though, that I wasn’t wild about the idea that he was aware of what they were doing while Megan wasn’t; she can’t even remember saying her vows, or much of what Connor told her the previous night.  And while Connor is devastatingly handsome and extremely charming, he’s also incredibly manipulative; for the majority of the book, he’s doing his damnedest to convince Megan that what he wants is what she wants, too, which he does by being Mr. Reasonable and Mr. Unflappable, even when Megan tries everything she can think of to rile him or get him to give up – which seemed a bit mean considering she had actually agreed to give him and their marriage a chance to work out. Neither of them covers themselves in glory here, but fortunately, this stalemate isn’t allowed to continue and things start to look up – until Connor turns into an idiot not far from the end and only manages to turn things around in the last page or two.

Waking Up Married was enjoyable-  but ultimately forgettable – fluff.  I liked both protagonists, and the way Connor was so clueless as to the real state of his feelings about Megan was oddly sweet; he’s a nice blend of alpha and beta hero, a man who wants to protect and support his woman while also applauding her desire for independence.  On the downside, her being independent means less aggro for him and none of those nasty romantic luuurve cooties, so it’s not an entirely altruistic trait.  Ms. Kelly opts to give both characters a backstory that explains their reluctance to pursue love, but it’s very sketchy and could perhaps have been a little more developed; and I also have to admit that I wasn’t always comfortable with Connor’s more manipulative side.

I can’t recommend Waking Up Married without reservations, but if you enjoy rom-coms and are looking for an afternoon quickie (!), it might hit the spot.

Her Last Word by Mary Burton

This title may be purchased from Amazon

Fourteen years ago, Kaitlin Roe was the lone witness to the abduction of her cousin Gina. She still remembers that lonely Virginia road. She can still see the masked stranger and hear Gina’s screams. And she still suffers the guilt of running away in fear and resents being interrogated as a suspect in the immediate aftermath. Now Kaitlin has only one way to assuage the pain and nightmares—by interviewing everyone associated with the unsolved crime for a podcast that could finally bring closure to a case gone cold.

But when a woman Kaitlin questions is later found stabbed to death, she fears that she’s drawn a killer out of hiding. It’s Detective John Adler’s fear that the murders have only just begun. Now his job is to keep Kaitlin safe.

As a bond between Kaitlin and Adler builds, the past closes in just as fast—and it’s darker than Kaitlin remembers. Soon, her wish will come true. She’s going to find out exactly what happened to Gina. Someone has been dying to tell her.

Rating: C+

I’ve read and enjoyed a number of Mary Burton’s romantic suspense novels and have generally found them to contain complex, intriguing mysteries with a reasonably-sized helping of romance that is enough to satisfy my shippy little heart.  Unfortunately however, Ms. Burton’s latest standalone title, Her Last Word is a bit of a mixed bag.  The mystery element is once again based on a cold-case, this time the disappearance of a teenaged girl some fourteen years earlier, and there are plenty of red herrings and wrong turns – but the way the story is constructed proved something of a barrier to my becoming fully engaged and the romance, such as it is, is perfunctory; the overall story would have made perfect sense without it and the book’s single sex scene feels as though it has been inserted for the sake of it.

Kaitlin Roe has spent much of the last fourteen years feeling guilty over what happened the night her cousin, Gina Mason, was abducted.  Kaitlin, Gina and two of their friends, Jennifer and Erika had snuck away with a bottle of spiked lemonade and proceeded to get very drunk; Jennifer called her sister, Ashley, to come and get her and Erika, leaving Kaitlin and Gina to make their way home on their own.  Not long after the other two girls were picked up, a man wearing a clown mask grabbed Gina and yelled at Kaitlin to run.  Even though she was drunk and, as it was later revealed, drugged, Kaitlin refused to leave until her cousin’s assailant pulled a knife, put it to her throat and then, when Kaitlin still didn’t leave, cut off Gina’s ear while threatening to do worse if Kaitlin didn’t do as she was told.  So she ran. And Gina was never seen again.

Fourteen years later, Kaitlin – after some years studying and working in Dallas – has returned to Richmond and is now a professor of communications at Virginia University.  She had a reputation for being something of a ‘wild child’  – hanging out with the wrong boys, regularly getting drunk – but now older and wiser, she’s cleaned up her act and is determined to find out what happened to Gina.  She decides to tap into the recent trend for making ‘true-crime’ podcasts, hoping that talking to people who knew Gina and were involved with the investigation may jog memories – either those of her contributors, or people who listen to the finished product.

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

A Momentary Marriage by Candace Camp (audiobook) – Narrated by Gildart Jackson

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

James de Vere has always insisted on being perfectly pragmatic and rational in all things. It seemed the only way to deal with his overdramatic, greedy family. When he falls ill and no doctor in London can diagnose him, he returns home to Grace Hill in search of a physician who can – or to set his affairs in order.

Arriving at the doctor’s home, he’s surprised to encounter the doctor’s daughter Laura, a young woman he last saw when he was warning her off an attachment with his cousin Graeme. Alas, the doctor is recently deceased and Laura is closing up the estate, which must be sold off, leaving her penniless. At this, James has an inspiration: why not marry the damsel in distress? If his last hope for a cure is gone, at least he’ll have some companionship in his final days, and she’ll inherit his fortune instead of his grasping relatives, leaving her a wealthy widow with plenty of prospects.

Laura is far from swept off her feet, but she’s as pragmatic as James, so she accepts his unusual proposal. But as the two of them brave the onslaught of shocked and suspicious family members, they find themselves growing closer. They vowed, “until death do us part”…but now both are longing for their marriage to be more than momentary in this evocative romance.

Rating: Narration – B+ : Content – B+

A Momentary Marriage is the sequel to A Perfect Gentleman, and focuses on the unlikely romance between Sir James de Vere and Laura Hinsdale, two prominent secondary characters in the earlier story. In that book, we learned that Graeme Parr, Earl of Montclair – James’ cousin – and Laura (daughter of the local doctor) had fallen in love in their youth but were not able to marry because Graeme needed to marry an heiress in order to pull his family out of debt. It had been James who had gone to Laura and told her she needed to break things off with Graeme so that Graeme could salvage his family fortune and honour. Needless to say, while Laura knew that what James said was true, it stung, and they have avoided each other ever since.

In A Perfect Gentleman, James emerged as a witty – though cynical – man with a fondness for his cousin, his huge mastiff Demosthenes (Dem for short) and very little else. Enigmatic, good-looking and charming when he wants to be, he reveals little of himself and is the sort of man who buries his emotions deep and needs to maintain control. A Momentary Marriage opens several months later and finds James suffering from a serious illness that none of the medical men he’s seen can identify. The diagnoses run from a bad heart to brain fever to tumors, but the one thing the physicians do agree on is that he hasn’t long left to live.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.