Pretty Face (London Celebrities #2) by Lucy Parker

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This title may be purchased from Amazon

The play’s the fling

It’s not actress Lily Lamprey’s fault that she’s all curves and has the kind of voice that can fog up a camera lens. She wants to prove where her real talents lie—and that’s not on a casting couch, thank you. When she hears esteemed director Luc Savage is renovating a legendary West End theater for a lofty new production, she knows it could be her chance — if only Luc wasn’t so dictatorial, so bad-tempered and so incredibly sexy.

Luc Savage has respect, integrity and experience. He also has it bad for Lily. He’d be willing to dismiss it as a midlife crisis, but this exasperating, irresistible woman is actually a very talented actress. Unfortunately, their romance is not only raising questions about Lily’s suddenly rising career, it’s threatening Luc’s professional reputation. The course of true love never did run smooth. But if they’re not careful, it could bring down the curtain on both their careers…

Rating: A

Lucy Parker’s début novel, Act Like It was – it seems – an instant hit, one of those books you suddenly see all over your Goodreads feed because all your friends are reading it. I’m confidently predicting the same for her follow up, Pretty Face, because it’s every bit as vibrant, funny, sexy and poignant as the first book – quite possibly even more so, on all counts. I finished the last page with a smile on my face and feeling uplifted – and wondering if I had the time to go back and read it all over again, which doesn’t happen very often, I can tell you.

Like its predecessor, Pretty Face is set amid the chaotic world of London’s West End, shedding light on all the behind the scenes activity that has to happen in order to mount a theatre production, and taking a good look at the impact of celebrity culture and media intrusion on the lives of those who work in that particular field.

Luc Savage is an extremely successful and respected director. He has the reputation of being something of a martinet – a stickler for discipline and professionalism and a hard task master, although not unfair or mean. The theatre is in his blood; his father is an actor, his mother an opera singer and over the past few years he has invested heavily – both in terms of money and time and effort – in renovating the Queen Anne Theatre, which has been owned and run by his family for generations, but which fell into disrepair some twenty-five years earlier. It’s a massive task for him both professionally and personally, but it’s nearing fruition and he has chosen to open with a production of 1553 a play by a multi-award winning young playwright and in which the three principal characters are Queen Mary I, Elizabeth Tudor and Lady Jane Grey. Having had to recast the role of Mary due to the fact that his long-time girlfriend, actress Margot Roy, recently left him to get married to an Italian opera singer, Luc now faces the prospect of having to re-cast Elizabeth, too, because the actress originally chosen has broken her leg. One of the young actresses on the list of potential replacements is Lily Lamprey, twenty-six, blonde, beautiful and the star of the hit historical drama-cum-soap opera, Knightsbridge, in which she plays the part of Gloria, a scheming man-stealer that viewers love to hate.

Luc knows that casting a popular TV star could be good publicity and increase ticket sales, but no way is he interested in bringing on board some Marilyn Monroe look-alike with a porn-star voice who probably needs direction to tie her own shoes. But his casting director – whom he trusts – thinks Lily has potential and eventually Luc is persuaded to give her an audition. And when he does, he’s surprised to discover that Lily definitely does have a certain something –

Under the soap-opera shit, an actor

– even though her voice is going to need work.

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

May the Best Man Win (The Best Men #1) by Mira Lyn Kelly (audiobook) – narrated by Seraphine Valentine and Tad Branson

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This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon.

Jase Foster is as loyal and committed as a friend can get – when it comes to the guys, that is. But with women he keeps it casual and experiences what one would call a “high turnover rate”.

Emily Klein is beautiful and confident…and has mile-long legs that have been strutting in and out of Jase’s life since adolescence, leaving a wake of destruction. As they get paired up time after time as the best man and maid of honor in the upcoming nuptials of all of their best friends, Emily and Jase find their mutual resentment simmering just beneath the surface…right alongside their mutual attraction. Committed to maintaining order for their friends’ sakes, they keep their personal loathing for each other under wraps…at least so long as they have an audience. But once they’re alone…

Rating: Narration – B-/C; Content – B

May the Best Man Win is the first book in Mira Lyn Kelly’s four-book series, The Best Men, in which a group of friends are at that time in their lives when many of their peers are making trips down the aisle, and are regularly asked to be part of those wedding celebrations as groomsmen. This book comprises a charming, sexy and funny (fr)enemies-to-lovers story that focuses on Jase Foster and Emily Klein who have known each other since high school, but who really don’t get along. Back then, Jase “like” liked Emily, and Emily “like” liked Jase, but his best friend, Eddie, asked her out before Jase could get around to it, and like the good guy he was – and still is – Jase backed off.

Since then, they’ve seen each other occasionally, mostly because their circles of friends have some overlap, and they have ended up being paired up in a few wedding parties, because as two of the tallest people in any given room – he’s six-feet-five, she’s five-feet-eleven in stockinged feet – they don’t risk dwarfing their partner. But they hate it. And each other. There’s a lot of history and baggage between them dating back to their high school days, as both of them blame the other for a significant incident in their pasts; and when they meet, they can barely be civil, although they do put on a show of amity for friends, family and wedding guests. But Jase can’t deny that he likes yanking Emily’s chain, and takes delight in getting a rise out of her.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

Seconds to Sunrise (Black Ops: Automatik #3) by Nico Rosso

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This title may be purchased from Amazon.

She thought she’d lost everything…

April Banks thought her website crashing was just a glitch. Starting the online forum for war widows has been the only thing keeping her together since her husband died, and she won’t let anything interfere with her work. But this is no technical malfunction—cyberterrorists have targeted the information locked in April’s website and they’ll do anything to get it. Even if that means removing April. Permanently.

He’ll make them pay…

Automatik gave former SAS agent James Sant a way to protect the innocent again. He thinks life in the shadows is all he deserves…until he meets his newest assignment. April is everything James has never let himself want and he knows she’s already had too much heartbreak in her life to risk feeling for him. But keeping things professional while hunting the hackers with the gorgeous widow is going to be the hardest job he’s ever taken on.

Rating: C

Nico Rosso’s Seconds to Sunrise, the third in his Black Ops: Automatik series, felt very much like a book of two halves. But I don’t mean in that terms of the pagination; I’m talking about the difference in the successful (or not) treatment of the two plot elements, because one worked well and the other… didn’t. A good romantic suspense novel has to work in both areas, and while the suspense plot is fairly effective, the romance is stilted, with a lot of telling rather than showing and a singular lack of chemistry between the two leads.

April Banks’ husband, Mark, was killed during a tour in Afghanistan four years earlier. Utterly devastated, she has gradually re-built herself and her life, even though she is still living quietly in the shadows. She doesn’t have close friends or family, but she has a large support network she has built up through her website foundafter.com, a forum for women who are similarly circumstanced. The site has been a real lifeline for April, so when she discovers it’s been hacked, she feels as though she has been personally violated and exposed – but she isn’t going to give up without a fight. Her own computer skills are a match for the hackers, who have yet to break through her deeply encrypted security protocols. But she fears it’s only a matter of time before whoever is behind the hack breaks through and is able to steal all the personal and financial information belonging to the thousands of forum members.

Former SAS operative James Sant was at a loss when he left the army and did some things he’s not proud of. Joining Automatik offered him a way back into helping people again, and he’s never looked back – even though he is still haunted by the years he spent at the bottom of a bottle when he wasn’t running operations for a former colleague who wasn’t very discriminating about the jobs and clients he took on.

I haven’t read the other books in this series, but that’s not a hindrance, because the story in this one is self-contained, and the author includes enough information about Automatik for the reader to be able to work out that it’s a secret organisation made up of former military and special services operatives who now work to solve problems that nobody else can. They fly under the radar and won’t hestitate to use any means necessary to ensure the success of their missions.

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

My Best Books of 2016 – at All About Romance

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Over the past week or so All About Romance has been publishing the team’s lists of their Top Ten books read in 2016. The vast majority of these are books published in 2016, although a few are books published previously that have been read this year.

All my choices are 2016 titles, and as usual, it was a tough list to compile. I’ve had a good reading year (I’ll be taking a look at my stats at some point and posting about those) and at AAR, have awarded a good number of B Grades and up, indicating that I read many more books I enjoyed than books I didn’t, which I count a definite plus.

Pinning it down to ten books was TOUGH, as was picking an outright “book of the year”, because this year (unlike last), that moniker could have been applied to practically every book on my list. But being I’m a bit of an angst-bunny, I went for the book that ripped out my heart and stomped on it a few times, AND which I’d been most eagerly anticipating.  Click on the link and all will be revealed!

My Best of 2016

King of Wall Street by Louise Bay (audiobook) – Narrated by Andi Arndt and Sebastian York

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This title is available to download from Audible via Amazon.

The king of Wall Street is brought to his knees by an ambitious bombshell.

I keep my two worlds separate. At work, I’m King of Wall Street. The heaviest hitters in Manhattan come to me to make money. They do whatever I say because I’m always right. I’m shrewd. Exacting. Some say ruthless. At home, I’m a single dad trying to keep his 14-year-old daughter a kid for as long as possible. If my daughter does what I say, somewhere there’s a snowball surviving in hell. And nothing I say is ever right.

When Harper Jayne starts as a junior researcher at my firm, the barriers between my worlds begin to dissolve. She’s the most infuriating woman I’ve ever worked with. I don’t like the way she bends over the photocopier – it makes my mouth water. I hate the way she’s so eager to do a good job – it makes my dick twitch. And I can’t stand the way she wears her hair up exposing her long neck. It makes me want to strip her naked, bend her over my desk, and trail my tongue all over her body. If my two worlds are going to collide, Harper Jayne will have to learn that I don’t just rule the boardroom. I’m in charge of the bedroom, too.

Rating: Narration – A; Content – B

I picked up this audiobook for two reasons.One – Sebastian York is one of the narrators and I could listen to him read the phone book; and two – one of my fellow AudioGals pointed out that the story is a little different to the current crop of sexy, business/co-worker contemporary romances out there, which made it sound like it was worth a listen.

And it was.  The storyline is fairly familiar to start with. Max King is the owner of a highly successful New York consulting firm, and Harper Jayne has wanted nothing more than to work for him since she was at business school.  She’s twenty-five and has recently landed that dream job as a junior researcher at the firm, but to her dismay Max – who is seriously gorgeous  – is a complete arsehole.  He pretty much ignores her and ripped her most recent report to pieces – and hasn’t even bothered to read her revised version.

The thing is, however, is that Max is completely smitten with Harper and for a man who has spent most of his adult life keeping his work life and his personal life completely separate, that’s a massive problem.  But even though he can’t deny the strength of his attraction to her, as long as he keeps his distance, he’ll be able to ignore it until it goes away.  And given that his days are devoted to work, and he spends most of the rest of his time at the Connecticut home he now shares with his daughter, Amanda, keeping his distance shouldn’t be too difficult.  Until, that is, he bumps into Harper at the gym in the basement of the building where he has his New York apartment, and realises she’s his downstairs neighbour.

This is a romance – we know where it’s going.  But what adds extra layers of interest to the storyline and depth to the characters is Max’s life away from the office, as the loving father of a fourteen year-old daughter and his relationship with his sisters; and Harper’s daddy issues, which, she can’t see until quite late in the book, have more or less dictated many of her life-decisions in spite of her desire not to have anything to do with him.  Harper’s difficult relationship with her estranged father causes a few of the speed-bumps on the way to true love, but fortunately, the misunderstandings aren’t dragged out for too long, and Max shows himself repeatedly to be a really good guy.  Harper is perhaps a bit quick to jump to conclusions towards the end, but it’s understandable given her background.

This is a relatively short audiobook – under eight hours – but they flew by courtesy of an engaging story and equally engaging narration from Sebastian York – to whom I’ve listened a few times, now – and Andi Arndt, who I’ve not listened to before, but whom my colleages at AG generally rate highly.  Both narrators do a great job, narrating alternate chapters from Harper’s and then Max’s PoV.  Over the past year, Mr. York seems to have become THE go-to narrator for contemporary romance, and it’s easy to hear why.  He’s fantastic at portraying those confident, intelligent, sexy heroes who know what they want, especially once they’ve set eyes on the heroine 😉  His female voices are good, too – a softening of tone and a very slight lift in pitch works well, and he does a good job in differentiating between Max’s sisters and daughter, and Harper and her friend, Grace.  Andi Arndt is his perfect narrator match; I don’t listen to a lot of books performed by two narrators, and I can imagine there’s nothing worse than one being really good and the other not –but that’s not an issue here on any level.  Ms. Arndt performs the male characters in the story with a drop in pitch and adds a slightly gruff note to her tone, which makes Max sound every bit as sexy as he does when performed by Mr. York.  Both narrators are equally good when things get steamy, performing with confidence and conviction, although I freely admit there’s something a bit knee-weakening about Sebastian York’s sexy growl 😉

All in all, King of Wall Street is an enjoyable listen with an engaging story, likeable characters, plenty of steam, and excellent narration.  I’m definitely going to be on the lookout for more audiobooks narrated by Andi Arndt and Sebastian York, who are a great team.

May the Best Man Win by Mira Lyn Kelly

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This title may be purchased from Amazon.

Jase Foster can’t believe his bad luck. He’s been paired with the she-devil herself for his best friend’s wedding: Emily Klein of the miles-long legs and killer smile. She may be sin in a bridesmaid dress, but there’s no way he’s falling for her again.

They can barely stand each other, but given how many of their friends are getting married, they’ll just have to play nice-at least when they’re in company. Once they’re alone, more than just gloves come off as Jase and Emily discover their chemistry is combustible, and there may be something to this enemies to lovers thing after all…

Rating: B+

I’m not a great reader of Contemporary Romance, but every so often, a book will catch my eye, usually because friends have enjoyed it. In this case one of my fellow AAR reviewers whetted my appetite for this charming, funny and sexy enemies-to-lovers story.

Emily Klein and Jase Foster have known each other since High School, but even though they ‘like’ liked each other back then, Jase lost the girl to his best friend, Eddie, who plucked up the courage to ask her out first – and like the good guy he still is, Jase backed off. Over a decade later, Jase and Emily still see each other occasionally, but there’s a lot of baggage between them, with each blaming the other over a significant incident in their pasts. When they meet, the gloves just about stay on as they put on a show of amity for their friends while continually sniping at each other and barely masking their dislike.

Recently, they’ve been thrown together more frequently than usual, most often at the weddings of friends at which Jase serves as groomsman while Emily is a bridesmaid. As all these friends have big, expensive weddings (and obviously more money than sense!), there are venues to be scouted, arrangements to be made and rehearsals to be attended; and as if that weren’t bad enough, Jase, at six-feet-five is one of the few men not to be dwarfed by Emily’s five-feet-eleven plus in heels, so their heights mean they’re usually paired up in processions, photos and seating plans.

At their second or third wedding on the trot, Jase and Emily can’t ignore the crackling sexual tension between them and decide that maybe hooking-up “just once – to see what it’s like” will enable them to get past this weird attraction and get back to normal; normal being when they didn’t look at each other and wonder what the other looks like with their clothes off. Only in Romancelandia does that ever seem like a good idea, but in any case, Jase and Emily pretty much scorch every flat surface they can find on more than one occasion, each time telling themselves it’s the last time.

Before long, Jase is realising that “just sex” – even the amazing, mind-numbingly incredible sex they’re having – isn’t enough for him. He doesn’t know exactly what he does want, but he knows it isn’t Emily leaping out of bed and being unable to get away fast enough, or her practically shoving him out of her apartment on the morning after. Then something happens to make him realise that perhaps he might have been wrong in some of the assumptions he made about Emily in the past and to want to get to the bottom of it and clear the air. Even though Emily is skittish, they talk it through and both of them come to understand what actually happened and to accept that things weren’t as they seemed. And Jase comes to another important realisation, too. He wasn’t there for Emily back when she needed a friend, and what he wants more than anything now is to be a friend to her as well as whatever else is going on between them. Emily isn’t quite sure she actually wants Jase as a friend, especially as it seems to mean no more toe-curling sex – but after a false start, decides to try the friendship thing… and discovers she likes it.

I liked the way the book is constructed, with Jase and Emily unable to keep their hands off each other in the first part, and then that side of things taking more of a back seat as the emotional side of the relationship comes to the fore and starts to build; and I really appreciated the way the author has Jase and Emily talking through their issues and looking back with more mature eyes to see that they both made mistakes. That’s not to say that everything in the garden is rosy after that, because even though they seem to be setting into a relationship that is good for both of them, they still have trust and commitment issues to deal with, and I admit that some of the back-and-forth got just a teeny bit irritating. Then when, near the end, Jase throws a major guy-tantrum, it felt like a complication-too-far and caused me to lower my final grade a bit.

Another issue I had was with the sheer number of mutual friends these two have, and the number of those mutual friends who were pairing up to get married. I think if Richard Curtis had been on hand, we’d have had Eight Weddings and – Another Wedding or something! But apart from those niggles, I enjoyed May the Best Man Win, which is a great mix of funny, tender, sexy and sweet. The two central characters have real depth and are likeable and attractive – plus the chemistry between them is off the charts. There’s a strong supporting cast, and I enjoyed the way the relationships between Jase and Emily and their circle of friends were presented. I suspect most of these characters will be getting their own books, and on the strength of this one, I might just pick them up.