Have Mercy by Christina Lee (audiobook) – Narrated by Nick J. Russo

have mercy

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

Julian North

My whole world changed with one roadside bomb and an honorable discharge. Not even the city I used to love can ease the restlessness inside me. I don’t expect visiting my cousin Sienna’s farm to do the trick, either, but the change of scenery can’t hurt.

Wyoming isn’t what I expected – from the mischievous pig following me around, to the rescue horse I’ve become strangely fascinated with. And then, there’s Kerry, the handsome, brooding cowboy, who somehow calms the storm inside me – and just happens to be Sienna’s ex-husband.

Kerry Carmichael

I’ve had a rough go of it since I came out – disappointing my family, the divorce, and the blow of my daughter’s illness. Things are settling down now, my kiddo is healthy, and Sienna and I are finally on solid ground. Not everyone accepts me, but I’ve owned my truth, even if I spend my life solo. Only, now that Julian’s here, I’m not so lonesome, anymore. He’s a kindred spirit. First as someone to talk to, then as…more. The first time I hold him through one of his nightmares, I feel a rightness I never expected to find.

We know this’ll end with the summer, but with every stolen kiss against the stable walls, with every heated or tender moment, I fall deeper. The reality is, I can’t risk my family or the business by going public with him. I know this can never last and that Julian doesn’t belong here. So, why does it feel like he already does?

Rating: Narration – A-; Content – B+

Christina Lee’s Have Mercy is a “quiet” book; a simple but heartfelt slow-burn romance between two men who are struggling to find their place in the world. It’s the first time I’ve listened to anything by this author, but I plan to seek out more of her work on the strength of it. Audible shows me that Iggy Toma and Kale Williams have both narrated for her, so I feel a glom coming on.

Military veteran Julian North completed two tours in Afghanistan before being injured in the roadside bomb attack that killed two of his comrades. Left with a dodgy knee and scars – both internal and external – he’s been back in New York for a year, but he’s struggling to find a new direction in life. His mother, a successful real estate agent, has been keeping him busy with a variety of jobs requested by some of her clients, but they both know he can’t just drift along like that indefinitely. Then she suggests that perhaps he might go to stay with his cousin Sienna at her dairy farm in Wyoming to help out with a construction project – a change of scenery and pace for a few weeks, plus a concrete task to work on could be just the thing he needs. Julian allows himself to be convinced, although he’s not too keen on re-encountering Sienna’s ex-husband Kerry, who hurt her badly when he came out as gay a few years into their marriage. But even though he dislikes Kerry for what he did to Sienna, Julian can’t help feeling just a little bit of admiration for the man, given how difficult it must have been to come out while living amid the very conservative ranching community.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

Devilry (King University #2) by Marley Valentine (audiobook) – Narrated by Cooper North and Aiden Snow


This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

Attending King University was at the top of my bucket list. Falling in love with my professor wasn’t. 

Earning a full scholarship to King University was my hard-earned ticket out of hell. I’m happy to be away from the small town I grew up in and all the equally small-minded people who live there.

King was going to be my safe haven. A place where I could leave the old me behind and finally grow into the young man my family had desperately tried to hide away.

Diving head first into new experiences, new friends, and parties, I didn’t expect to run straight into the one thing I wasn’t ready for.

His arms are welcoming, his body is addictive and his lips are heaven. Cole Huxley is everything I could fall in love with, except for one problem…I never wanted to fall for my professor.

Rating: Narration – B+; Content – C

Having enjoyed Marley Valentine’s Without You, I was pleased to learn another of her books would be making it into audio format, and seeing that Devilry also had two excellent narrators attached, I eagerly requested a review copy. Caveat Emptor, I suppose, because while Cooper North and Aiden Snow are great, I’m really struggling to remember much about the actual story. Which is, quite possibly, because there isn’t very much of it, and what there IS is stretched very thinly for an almost ten hour audiobook.

Elijah Williams comes from a small town in Texas filled with small-minded people – including his ultra conservative parents – and couldn’t get out of there fast enough. He’s been the subject of his father’s criticism all his life, but when, aged sixteen, Elijah was discovered making out with another boy, things went from bad to worse. His father – the local pastor – pretty much disowned him and hasn’t spoken to him since. Two years later, Elijah has earned a scholarship to the prestigious King University in Washington DC, and hopes at last to be able to live honestly and on his own terms.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals

Love Him Desperate (On the Market #5) by E.M. Lindsey (audiobook) – Narrated by Nick Hudson

love him desperate

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon.

“Don’t be ridiculous. There was nothing to steal. I was always yours.” 

Every important thing in Dmitri Williams’ life has come and gone along the narrow roads and tall mountain peaks of Cherry Creek.

Dmitri wants love, but he’s not quite sure he’ll ever find it. His sexuality is confusing on a good day, and the one person he wants is the one friend who can never know how he feels. Raphael Meyer is older, charming, and better looking than Dmitri will ever deserve – and somehow, he thinks Dmitri is worth his time.

Dmitri knows he will never be worthy, so he puts all of his efforts into making sure Raphael finds someone who will adore him as much as he deserves. Even if it destroys his heart in the process. And no matter what his friends keep saying, Dmitri isn’t sure he’ll ever believe that Raphael returns his feelings.

It’s the makings of star-crossed lovers, because Dmitri has never believed in happily-ever-afters. But, in the end, Raphael might just have enough desperate hope for the both of them.

Rating:  Narration – A-; Content – B

Love Him Desperate, book five in E.M Lindsey’s On the Market series, is a slow-burn, friends-to-lovers romance between two complex, damaged individuals who have a lot of soul-searching to do before they can finally be together. It’s beautifully written and richly characterised, with two likeable leads and a strong secondary cast, and Nick Hudson’s excellent performance certainly makes the case for experiencing the story in audio.

Raphael Meyer lives with cerebral palsy and epilepsy, and while life hasn’t been easy, he’s comfortable in his body and has always lived life as himself, as a proud disabled person. He was born and raised in Germany and lived there until his thirties, when his American lover asked him to accompany him when he returned to the US. Even though Raphael sensed that their relationship wasn’t really built to last, he was restless and ready for change, so he agreed, settling in Cherry Creek after that relationship ended. Now approaching (or in? I don’t recall if his exact age is given) his forties, Raphael is mostly settled and mostly content – although he continues to search for the love and connection he longs for and hasn’t yet managed to find. He knows that being with him can be difficult, and has come to think that romantic love – lasting romantic love – isn’t for him, as everyone he’s loved – and who has loved him – has left him eventually.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

Rank & File (Anchor Point #4) by L.A. Witt (audiobook) – Narrated by Nick J. Russo

rank and file

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

Senior Chief Will Curtis is as straitlaced as they come. While his fellow Sailors have partied their way through their enlistments, he’s had his eye on the prize – making master chief and retiring after 30 years of service.

Lieutenant Brent Jameson is a Navy brat turned Annapolis grad. He’s lived and breathed the military his whole life, and he knows he’s destined for great things – once he’s done paying his dues at the bottom of the ladder.

When their paths cross, both men know better than to give in to temptation, but that doesn’t stop them. It also doesn’t keep them from coming back for more, even though being discovered would sink their careers. Something has to give – Will can retire, Brent can resign, or they’ll both face court-martial.

But there’s also the option neither wants to acknowledge: jump ship and walk away from each other instead of ending their careers over a fledgling relationship. And they should probably decide before they fall in love.

Except – too late.

Rating:  Narration – A-; Content – B+

I really like that the stories in the Anchor Point series all take an in-depth look at the various problems that can face those in long-term military service and that (so far) no two stories have been the same.  In this one, we’ve got a forbidden romance between an older, career enlisted Master at Arms (a Senior Chief), and a younger Lieutenant – when officer/enlisted “fraternisation” is strictly against the rules.

The two leads first meet when Will Curtis and some of his MAs are called to a domestic dispute; he arrives to find a heated situation between a husband, wife and another man, and fortunately is able to de-escalate the situation before it becomes more serious.  Lt. Brent Jameson is the other man in the situation; he met the woman on a hook-up app and had no idea she was married – which he admits later was pretty dumb of him.  Will gets him home and that’s that – except that he can’t stop thinking about the younger man, even though he’s obviously straight.

Around a year earlier, Will got out of a long-term relationship with a guy who cheated on him, and he hasn’t been interested in anyone since; deciding to get out of his funk (and to try to divert his thoughts from Brent Jameson), he goes out to the nearest thing Anchor Point has to a gay bar looking to hook-up… and who should he see there but the object of more than a few of his recent night-time fantasies.

Brent (who is bi) hadn’t been able to get Will out of his head either and he’s just as surprised to see the supposedly straight MA at a gay bar as vice-versa.  They both know it’s incredibly stupid, but the intense attraction between them is undeniable and leads to an equally intense fuck in the bathroom.  They then head back to Brent’s place to do it all over again… and realising that sex like that doesn’t come along very often, they decide to risk seeing each other again.

L.A. Witt writes sex scenes incredibly well – and there are a lot of them here, which serve to show just how sexually compatible (and combustible!) Will and Brent are, and why they keep coming back for more despite the very real risk they’re running.  But she also does a great job showing the development of an actual relationship between them and their growing feelings for one another outside the bedroom.  Of course, they’re not going to be able to continue to sneak around for ever and are bound to get caught; they both know this and think they really should stop seeing each other before they get in too deep.  The trouble is they only see that line in the sand once it’s way back in the rear-view mirror.

The dilemmas that face Brent and Will are very real and the consequences they could incur if caught are potentially career-ending. Will is career military and having served nineteen years, plans to stay in until the thirty year mark; Brent on the other hand was brought up living and breathing the Navy – his father served and so does his older brother – and was never really allowed to explore any other options for his future.  Nine years in, he’s not feeling it and tells himself that’s due to the fact that he’s still at the bottom of the ladder, and that things will get better as he starts to climb through the ranks.  But the longer he’s involved with Will, the more he starts to question that belief; and only when he finally realises what it feels like to actually want something for himself is he finally able to distinguish between what he wants and what others want for him; and I loved the way he handled the situation in every respect.

I’ve been dipping in and out of this series – I’ve listened to books 1-5 so far and plan to finish it – but Rank and File is possibly my favourite of the series so far.  Nick J. Russo does a great job with the narration; he always provides clear, distinct voices for the main characters, and differentiates well between the secondary characters, providing believable female voices when needed.  He’s extremely good in the sex-scenes as well; he doesn’t hold back but neither does he go stupidly over the top, which is important in a book like this where there’s such a lot of it!

A solid 4/4.5 stars for the story, and 4.5/5 for the narration.

Mr Uptight by Felice Stevens (audiobook) – Narrated by Kale Williams

mr uptight

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon


What do you do when you wake up with a hangover and find yourself in bed with your best friend’s younger brother?

Who happens to be your new brother-in-law?

The man who drives you crazy.

The man who always skated by on fast-talk, good looks, and a bright smile.

The one who makes you want to break all the rules.

You hire him as your assistant, of course.

And pray you can keep your sanity.

And your hands off him.


How do you prove you’ve changed?

That you’re no longer the party boy who always needed rescuing from his own mistakes – and boy you’ve made some big ones.

But no one needs to know your secrets.

You take a job with the one man who doesn’t trust you.

Who’s waiting for you to screw up.

You try and forget that one explosive night together.

Except you can’t.

And to your shock…neither can he.

What do you do when the one man you can’t imagine living with is the one you can’t live without?

Rating: Narration – B+; Content – B+

Reading the synopsis for Mr. Uptight, you’d be forgiven for thinking it’s one of those “oops, the guy I had wild monkey sex will all last night is my frenemy/best friend’s little brother/new boss” rom-coms – and to an extent, you’d be right. But while the story certainly does start out with one of those typically awkward morning-afters, it doesn’t take the cutesy, kooky path and instead opens out into a deeply emotional story about two men who don’t (think they) like each other very much learning to reassess their opinions of both each other and themselves.

Jude Staubman and his best friend’s brother Mason have never really got on. For years, Mason was the annoying little brother, and then he grew into the annoying little brother who continually needed extricating from his latest fuck-up – and even bailing out of jail on one occasion! He’s an irresponsible party-boy who gets by on his good looks, quick wit and charm; in short, he’s everything the sensible, serious-minded Jude isn’t… which makes the stupid crush Jude has had on him for years even more stupid. So waking up – naked – in bed with Mason the morning after his sister’s wedding is something Jude wants to pretend never happened. Along with whatever they got up to the night before.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals

Playing the Palace by Paul Rudnick (audiobook) – Narrated by Michael Urie

playing the palace

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

After having his heart trampled on by his cheating ex, Carter Ogden is afraid love just isn’t in the cards for him. He still holds out hope in a tiny corner of his heart, but even in his wildest dreams he never thought he’d meet the Crown Prince of England, much less do a lot more with him. Yes, growing up he’d fantasized about the handsome, openly gay Prince Edgar, but who hadn’t? When they meet by chance at an event Carter’s boss is organizing, Carter’s sure he imagined all that sizzling chemistry. Or was it mutual?

This unlikely but meant-to-be romance sets off media fireworks on both sides of the Atlantic. With everyone having an opinion on their relationship and the intense pressure of being constantly in the spotlight, Carter finds ferocious obstacles to his happily ever after, including the tenacious disapproval of the queen of England. Carter and Price Edgar fight for a happy ending to equal their glorious international beginning. It’s a match made on Valentine’s Day and in tabloid heaven.

Rating: Narration – B-; Content – D+

When I read the synopsis of Playing the Palace a few months back, my immediate reaction was a big, fat NOPE. (Any author who uses the term “Crown Prince” to describe the heir to the British throne and doesn’t bother to discover that while the term CAN be applied to the heir apparent to a monarch, the term is NOT used in the UK where the male heir to the throne is the Prince of Wales – gets an immediate no from me). I even put the book on my “No Way José” shelf on Goodreads! BUT. The offer of a review copy of the audiobook came my way and as, at the time, I was completely out of review copies, I thought I’d give it a try. Just to see if it could possibly be as bad as I expected.

Long story short: It is.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals

Rosaline Palmer Takes the Cake (Winner Bakes All #1) by Alexis Hall

rosaline palmer takes the cake

This title may be purchased from Amazon

As an expert baker, Rosaline Palmer is a big believer in always following the recipe. She’s lived her life by that rule – well, except for when she dropped out of college to raise her daughter, Amelie. Now, with a paycheck as useful as greaseproof paper and a house crumbling faster than biscuits in tea, she’s teetering on the edge of financial disaster. But where there’s a whisk there’s a way . . . and Rosaline has just landed a spot on the nation’s most beloved baking show.

Winning the prize money would give her daughter the life she deserves, but more than collapsing trifles stand between Rosaline and sweet, sweet victory. Suave, well-educated, and parent-approved Alain Pope knows all the right moves to sweep her off her feet, but it’s shy electrician Harry Dobson who makes Rosaline question her long-held beliefs – about herself, her family, and her desires.

Rosaline fears falling for Harry is a recipe for disaster. Yet as the competition – and the ovens – heat up, Rosaline starts to realize the best quality bakes come from the heart . . .

Rating – B+

The first thing I’m going to say about this book – which I enjoyed very much – is that while it’s as clever, wonderfully observed and laugh-out-loud funny as Alexis Hall’s other books, and there is an HEA at the end, the focus is more on Rosaline and her journey towards acceptance and coming into her own than it is on the romance.

I reviewed this one with my good friend and fellow All About Romance reviewer Em Wittmann; we’re both big Alexis Hall fans and you can read our review here: Rosaline Palmer Takes the Cake.


Teach Me (There’s Something About Marysburg #1) by Olivia Dade (audiobook) – Narrated by Kelsey Navarro

teach me

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

Their lesson plans didn’t include love. But that’s about to change….

When Martin Krause arrives at Rose Owens’s high school, she’s determined to remain chilly with her new colleague. Unfriendly? Maybe. Understandable? Yes, since a loathsome administrator gave Rose’s beloved world history classes to Martin, knowing it would hurt her.

But keeping her distance from a man as warm and kind as Martin will prove challenging, even for a stubborn, guarded ice queen. Especially when she begins to see him for what he truly is: a man who’s never been taught his own value. Martin could use a good teacher – and luckily, Rose is the best.

Rose has her own lessons – about trust, about vulnerability, about her past – to learn. And over the course of a single school year, the two of them will find out just how hot it can get when an ice queen melts.

Rating: Narration – B Content – B

Book one in Olivia Dade’s There’s Something About Marysburg series, Teach Me is a sweet, uncomplicated, low-drama romance between rival history teachers, both of whom are divorced and in their forties. I enjoyed the story – and the performance by new-to-me narrator Kelsey Navarro – although I can’t say it bowled me over like last year’s Spoiler Alert did.

Rose Owens has been teaching for more than twenty years, and despite the constant frustrations that come with the job (too much admin, school politics etc.) she loves it and is utterly dedicated to helping her students be the best they can be. She’s especially proud of her success in recruiting students to the AP program (and here I have to say that all the talk of AP students and Honors students lost me – the UK system is completely different – but I think I got the gist of it) who might not ordinarily have gone on to study history at a higher level. Just before the beginning of the new school year, she learns that a number of the classes she’d expected to be teaching have been assigned to someone else (a new – male – teacher), and she’s devastated at the news as well as intensely worried about the survival of the AP program, as the change in her teaching groups will mean that not as many students are likely to follow her from Honors into AP next year. But Rose absolutely refuses to let anyone see how upset she is; she’s long since learned to keep her feelings to herself and present a calm, friendly and slightly aloof demeanour to the world.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals

A Reluctant Boy Toy (Men of St. Nacho’s #3) by Z.A. Maxfield

a reluctant boy toy
This title may be purchased from Amazon
A physically scarred veteran. An emotionally scarred young actor. Can they let go of the past and find a future together?

Stone Wilder is happiest with his emotional support dog and the hybrid wolfdogs he rescues. They don’t react to his scars or call him queer because sex doesn’t interest him all that much. Maybe that’s why he doesn’t believe the rumors that paint gorgeous Sebastian Keye as an unprofessional “it boy.” To Stone, Sebastian is simply a nice kid who shares his interest in dogs.

Sebastian is drawn to Stone’s warmth and caring nature. With the help of his stalwart PA Molly, Sebastian and Stone begin a quiet friendship. But a video from Sebastian’s past suddenly goes viral, causing old hurts and humiliations to destroy his emotional stability and nearly cost him his life.

After Sebastian’s world falls apart, Stone wants to support him. But Stone has his own tortured past, and they can’t move forward unless he makes things right.

Will growing close to Sebastian lead Stone to a new understanding of who he is and what he wants?

Rating: C

I enjoyed the first two books in Z.A  Maxfield’s Men of St. Nacho’s series, so I was happy to pick up the third, A Reluctant Boy Toy for review.  I admit the title did give me pause for thought, but I like the author’s work so I pushed ahead, and for the first two-thirds or so of the book, thought I’d made a good decision.  But then it went completely off the rails, took a diversion into where-the-hell-did-that-come-from? town and crashed headlong into a rushed and unsatisfying ending.

But let’s start with the good stuff.  Thirty-nine-year-old military veteran Stone Wilder is an animal handler who is currently working with two wolf-hybrids on a location shoot for a popular teen-drama series.  He doesn’t normally do this sort of thing, but he’s stepped in to help out his sister Ariel, who is expecting her first baby any day.  He’s wrapped for the day and is about to take the hybrids back to the RV that is their temporary home when the assistant director tells Stone he’s going to have to move his rig – including all the training equipment and kennels  – from his spot, because their recently-arrived star, Sebastian Keye, demands  that nobody be within a half a mile radius of him; he needs “complete privacy” unless he’s on set.  The AD clearly doesn’t like Keye and thinks he’s a spoiled brat, and Stone isn’t best pleased either, but he can’t really do anything other than agree to the move.

Just as he’s finishing the conversation however, he gets his first sight of Sebastian Keye and starts to think that maybe his demand for privacy is more a need for self-preservation.  He’s an incredibly beautiful man and Stone can’t help but wonder if Keye – who makes his living in one of the most cutthroat businesses in the world – has learned the hard way that beauty such as his is a magnet for predators.   And if so, Stone really can’t fault his desire for distance.

Sebastian – Bast – is twenty-five and has spent almost his entire life in front of the camera, thanks to his pushy, manipulative mother who used him as a meal ticket.  He’s worked steadily, transitioning from child star to adult actor and making a solid name for himself – but a few years back, his reputation took a nose dive after some unpleasant accusations were levelled against him, and while they were proved untrue, mud sticks and he still has a name for being difficult to work with.  Bast has tried to move on and insists he doesn’t care what people say about him… but it’s clear he’s never really been able to completely get past what happened.

Stone hadn’t expected to have much to do with Sebastian Keye, so he’s surprised when the man shyly asks if he can introduce himself to the two hybrids and is obviously very impressed and a little in awe of them.  They get talking and it’s clear very quickly that Keye is nothing like the brattish diva the AD had described to Stone; he’s quiet and considered and very interested in the animals and the sanctuary in Colorado where they normally live, eagerly taking Stone up on the offer to visit as soon as his schedule permits.  Even more surprising is Sebastian’s invitation to have dinner with him; in Stone’s experience, the talent doesn’t mingle with lowly animal handlers, and beautiful people tend to avoid people like him, “as if my scars were contagious.”  But before he can think about it too hard, Stone accepts, and they arrange to meet the following evening for takeout at Stone’s RV.

This first part of the story is absolutely captivating as these two completely different, damaged individuals get to know each other and come to recognise something of a kindred spirit in the other.  Sebastian is attracted to Stone right from the start.  He’s always been into older men, and Stone’s kindness, his gentle humour and the unconditional love he shows to his animals strike a chord deep within him.  Stone doesn’t recognise Bast’s attraction at first though; sexual attraction – and sex – have not happened very often for him and he thinks maybe there’s something wrong with him. When he didn’t join in when his army buddies lusted over women, they thought maybe Stone was gay – but he never looked at guys either.  He’s had one lover in his life – his ex-wife Serena, whom he loved wholeheartedly until his stubborn refusal to seek help for his PTSD tore their marriage and family apart.

It’s clear however, that what he’s starting to feel for Bast is something other than friendship, even if he doesn’t immediately recognise it for what it is.  The attraction builds slowly and I enjoyed the warmth and honestly of their burgeoning relationship, the gradual lowering of the walls and barriers they’ve erected to keep themselves safe.

Their evolving relationship is thrown into chaos however when something from Sebastian’s past comes back to haunt him in a truly devastating way.  In order for him to heal – from both physical (he breaks both arms in an accident) and mental injuries – Stone suggests that he takes him back to the sanctuary in Colorado which should keep him away from prying eyes.  It’s after this happens, just after the halfway point that the wheels start to fall off the wagon.

It’s hard to say much without spoilers, but after the slow burn and gradual build-up of the first half, the second is rushed, and all the interesting storylines the author sets up just don’t pay off.  We never learn the true extent of what happened to Bast as a young actor to blight his career, and the plotline is not fully resolved. Stone finally realises he needs to reconnect with his ex-wife and kids in order to apologise for what he put them through – and while he does meet with them and has a long talk with Serena nothing is resolved there, either.  And while the book blurb promises a happy ever after, what we’re left with is an HFN – and a fairly flimsy one at that.

I also expected Stone’s realisation that he’s probably demisexual to have been handled more deftly than it is.  He and Bast don’t even discuss it; Stone tells his brother he’s been looking it up (the sexual spectrum) online and that he thinks he’s demi and maybe bi.  The one thing that worked for me about it was Stone being able at last to realise that he isn’t “some weird, cold dude who couldn’t be bothered with sex.”

Finally, the where-the-hell-did-that-come-from? thing I mentioned at the beginning.


With two broken arms, Bast is unable to do most normal, everyday things – like eating and dressing – for himself, and Stone is only too happy to help him.  But Bast is uncomfortable because Stone doesn’t realise what it means to him; he likes Stone feeding him and doing things for him for reasons he thinks Stone will be angry about:

“It’s foreplay for me, okay… I feel weird getting turned on by something you’re doing out of ignorance and kindness. It’s creepy. That’s why you’d be mad.”

And then the penny drops for Stone:

Sebastian liked older men. Check.

Sebastian thought of feeding as foreplay. Check.

Sebastian got a boner when I bathed him. Check.

Sebastian wanted a Daddy. Check, check, check.

My main problem with this is – how does someone like Stone who, by his own admission, has never had much interest in sex and has had just one sexual partner, even know what a Daddy is in that context?!

Bast thinks that because he was “raised by a wonderful, loving and kind father”, he naturally wants “a partner like Stone, who reminded me of all my father’s best qualities…”

And all I could think was –  Recipe For Disaster.

I was really engaged by the characters and the set-up, and had the second part of the book continued in the same vein as the first, I’d be giving A Reluctant Boy-Toy a much higher grade.  But while the story had great potential, there are too many plot-threads left unresolved and the romance takes such an odd turn before rushing to a really abrupt conclusion that I’m afraid I can’t recommend it.

Daybreak (Vino and Veritas #12) by Kate Hawthorne


This title may be purchased from Amazon

Liam Luckett is on an adventure. He’s dropped out of his Master’s program without telling his overbearing parents and set off on a road trip across the country. Armed with little more than his guitar, he’s looking for his best life. He never expected his car to break down in the middle of nowhere Vermont with a huge storm pending, leaving him stranded and at the mercy of a hunky local mechanic.

Jasper Cunningham is in a holding pattern. Three years after the death of his husband, he still hasn’t moved on. A hot, younger, stranded tourist is exactly the sort of complication this mechanic has been avoiding. But he can’t leave the guy in the snow. He brings Liam home to crash on the couch. The air is heavy with more than snow, and when the power goes out, the two men become closer than either of them expects.

Every silken note Liam sings on that guitar thaws Jasper’s heart a little.  Suddenly, Liam’s itchy feet aren’t so eager to move on. When their feelings get too big to ignore, the bond they’ve formed is tested. Will daybreak leave them going their separate ways?

Rating: B-

Kate Hawthorne’s entry in the Vino and Veritas series is a fairly short one; you could call it a long novella or a short novel, depending on how you want to look at it.  Daybreak is an opposites-attract story featuring mechanic and widower Jasper Cunningham (whom we met in Jay Hogan’s Unguardedand Liam Luckett, whose car breaks down when he’s part-way through a round-the-States-road-trip he began some weeks earlier when he just up and left his home in California without a word to anyone.

Jasper and his husband Michael were teenage sweethearts, and had been married for a decade when Michael died suddenly and tragically of a brain aneurysm.  That was three years ago, and as the pain of his loss has slowly started to soften around the edges and missing him has become more manageable, Jasper has begun to realise that it’s time for him to move on and get on with living his life.  It’s what Michael would have wished for him, and he wants it for himself, too; he’s tired of being sad and lonely.  But the problem is – he has no idea how to go about getting his life back.

Liam decided on his cross-country trip as a means of escape – from college, from his parents and from their expectations, which have dogged him for almost his entire life – and the longer he can stay away from LA the better. He’s been on the road for a few weeks now, stopping off here and there, playing his guitar at open mic nights whenever he can.  But his car starts playing up as he’s approaching Burlington and he just about manages to pull into a parking lot before it gives out completely.  Fortunately, the parking lot is in front of a row of shops and restaurants and a big brick building with a neon sign – Vino and Veritas – outside.  Liam heads into the ‘vino’ side of the building and orders himself a glass of wine, mentioning in passing that he’ll need to find someone to take a look at his car in the morning.

When a somewhat disgruntled Jasper arrives (in response to a text from Tai (Unguarded) who is in the V and V that night, he’s thrown completely off balance by his first look at Liam, who is too pretty, too vibrant, too full of life (in short, too everything Jasper isn’t)  – and yet is the first person he’s found remotely attractive since Michael died. The attraction is unwelcome and absolutely irrefutable,  but he ruthlessly tamps it down and heads outside take a look at the car.  Which isn’t going anywhere that night.  It’s already snowing and the weather is set to get worse; with no way of driving to a hotel (even there was a decent one nearby) Tai helpfully suggests that Jasper could put Liam up for the night.  Jasper’s initial reaction is to refuse, but realising the guy has nowhere else to go (and being helpless in the face of Liam’s pleading puppy-dog eyes) he relents and takes Liam home.  To sleep on the couch, of course.

Liam ends up staying with Jasper for a few days in the end, thanks to the deteriorating weather, a power outage and because the part needed to repair his car gets sent to the wrong place.  Neither man tells the other much about themselves, so Liam doesn’t know Jasper is a widower (although he knows he was married) and Jasper doesn’t know that Liam is the son of a well-known conservative politician, but then, why should they?  The attraction they’re both feeling doesn’t need to lead to more than a little sexy fun; Liam is going to be leaving as soon as his car is fixed and Jasper isn’t ready for a new relationship – so maybe Liam can be his ‘in-between’ person, someone to help him get back into the saddle (so to speak).

I liked the premise of Daybreak, and the writing is very good indeed. The way the author describes Jasper’s grief and the feelings of loss he’s trying to come to terms with is so heartfelt that it leaps off the page, and I especially loved the metaphor of the classic car he and Michael had planned to fix up but which is still sitting, neglected, in the garage.  But while Jasper is strongly characterised, Liam isn’t, and it’s a very stark contrast which makes the whole thing feel rather unbalanced, and the romance – which, given it happens in less than a week is already on shaky ground – really difficult to buy into.  And I just couldn’t.  There’s certainly plenty of chemistry between Jasper and Liam, but there’s no getting round the fact that in less than a week, Jasper goes from deciding he’s not ready to have someone else in his life to falling in love with someone he barely knows.

And I just couldn’t get my head around the fact that Liam – who is a grown man – hasn’t yet told his father that he doesn’t want to follow in his footsteps and go into politics.  Liam is twenty-four, not a kid; if he’d been sixteen, eighteen – maybe I could have bought into it more.  But he’s been a legal adult for six years and I just couldn’t sympathise with a situation that was partly his own making.

In the end, Daybreak is one of the weaker entries in the Vino and Veritas series (I say that with the caveat that I haven’t read them all – yet) and I fully admit that having read it after I read Jay Hogan’s fabulous Unguarded means it may have suffered by comparison.  But even so, the instalove romance and the poor characterisation of Liam are undeniable; but the excellent writing and characterisation of Jasper are enough to earn Daybreak a low-level recommendation.