Rebel (415: Ink #1) by Rhys Ford (audiobook) – Narrated by Tristan James

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

The hardest thing a rebel can do isn’t standing up for something – it’s standing up for himself.

Life takes delight in stabbing Gus Scott in the back when he least expects it. After Gus spends years running from his past, present, and the dismal future every social worker predicted for him, karma delivers the one thing Gus could never – would never – turn his back on: a son from a one-night stand he’d had after a devastating breakup a few years ago.

Returning to San Francisco and to 415 Ink, his family’s tattoo shop, gave him the perfect shelter to battle his personal demons and get himself together…until the firefighter who’d broken him walked back into Gus’s life.

For Rey Montenegro, tattoo artist Gus Scott was an elusive brass ring, a glittering prize he hadn’t the strength or flexibility to hold on to. Severing his relationship with the mercurial tattoo artist hurt, but Gus hadn’t wanted the kind of domestic life Rey craved, leaving Rey with an aching chasm in his soul.

When Gus’s life and world starts to unravel, Rey helps him pick up the pieces, and Gus wonders if that forever Rey wants is more than just a dream.

Rating: Narration – C+ : Content – C

I’ve listened to a number of Rhys Ford’s novels recently, and I’ve enjoyed Tristan James’ work in other books of hers, so I was pleased to pick up Rebel, the first book in her 415: Ink series, for review. Ms. Ford is a prolific author who writes in a variety of genres – fantasy, paranormal, romantic suspense, for instance – so Rebel, which is more of an ensemble family drama, is a bit of a departure from the other stories of hers I’ve listened to. And I have to confess that I wasn’t as drawn in by it as I’d hoped to be. The major characters are engaging, and their backgrounds are intriguing and skilfully incorporated into the story, but the central romance is lacklustre; there’s minimal conflict which is resolved rather easily, and I just wasn’t feeling the chemistry between the central couple. Add to that some odd quirks in the narration, and Rebel proved ultimately to be a bit of a let-down.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

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Squared Away (Out of Uniform #5) by Annabeth Albert (audiobook) – Narrated by Greg Boudreaux

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

In the wake of tragedy, SEAL Mark Whitley rushed stateside to act as guardian to his sister’s three young children. But a conflicting will could give custody to someone else – someone Mark remembers as a too-young, too-hot, wild party boy. Even after six years, Mark can’t shake the memory of his close encounter with Isaiah James, or face up to what it says about his own sexuality.

Isaiah’s totally over the crush that made him proposition Mark all those years ago. In fact, he’s done with crushing on the wrong men altogether. For now, he’s throwing himself into proving he’s the best person to care for his cousin’s kids. But there’s no denying there’s something sexy about a big, tough military man with a baby in his arms.

As the legal details get sorted out, their long-buried attraction resurfaces, leading to intimate evenings after the kids are tucked in. A forever future is within reach for all of them, if only Mark can find the courage he needs to trust Isaiah with his secrets – and his heart.

Rating: Narration – A+ : Content – B+

I wasn’t wild about the previous book in this series (Wheels Up) and wasn’t sure I was going to continue to read or listen to any more, but then I saw the blurb for Squared Away AND that Greg Boudreaux was narrating it, so I decided to give it a try.  And I’m glad I did, because it turned out to be a beautifully told story of love – romantic and familial – trust, and acceptance, featuring an unusual (in my reading/listening experience, that is) slow-burn romance as two men come to terms with a devastating event that changes their lives irrevocably.

Six years earlier, eighteen-year-old Isaiah James decided it was time to lose his v-card and knew exactly who he wanted to give it to.  He’s had a crush on his cousin Cal’s best friend for a while and decides it’s time to make his move on Navy SEAL medic Mark Whitley (who is the bride’s brother) at Cal and Danielle’s wedding.  Sadly for Isaiah, his evening didn’t turn out as expected and Mark turned him down; in the intervening six years, they’ve hardly seen each other and Isaiah suspects Mark has actually gone out of his way to avoid him.  But that can’t continue when Cal and Danielle are killed in an accident, leaving behind three young children.  Mark is deployed at an undisclosed location when the tragedy occurs, so by the time he gets the news and returns to the States, it’s to find Isaiah installed in the family home with the kids, clearly knowing what he’s doing.  This version of Isaiah is more mature, more confident than the one Mark remembers and he’s not quite sure what to make of him at first.  He certainly doesn’t like the way Isaiah seems to have taken control of everything, and Isaiah’s calm confidence with the kids unsettles Mark, who hardly knows them, and knows little about children in general.

Mark assumes that the kids will have been left to his care, as he’s their closest relative, so it’s a surprise to discover that both Cal and Danielle made wills and that things aren’t so cut and dried.  In one, Mark is named, and in the other, Isaiah; so they agree to continue as they are for the time being until such time as a legal decision can be made.  Mark knows that his job is probably not all that conducive to being granted custody of young children, as it takes him away from home for long periods of time, but that’s a surmountable obstacle – once he has the children in his care, he can hire a good nanny.  What surprises him, however, is the ferocity with which Isaiah makes clear his desire to gain custody of baby Liam and his two pre-school age sisters.  As far as he’s concerned, the kids are family, and he’s not prepared to hand them off to someone else to bring up.

I loved this story, and the author has done a terrific job of showing what it’s like to be the parents of three very young children; they’re hard work and don’t conveniently disappear when the plot demands they do.  Isaiah is great with them and clearly adores them, while Mark doesn’t have the first clue of how to handle them.  In fact, he comes across as a bit of a dickhead in the first part of story, assuming he’ll get custody of the kids but leaving all the heavy lifting to Isaiah, and then being persuaded into a course of action that he knows isn’t right and will cause a major issue further down the line, but doing it anyway.

One of the joys of the story, though, is seeing Mark gradually unbend and adapt to his new situation.  He loves the kids, too, but hasn’t any experience of being around them, and he’s got a lot to learn.  But to his credit, once he realises that he’s not pulling his weight around the house, he mans up and starts to integrate into this small and rather special family unit.

The romance is sensual and beautifully developed, the fact that Mark is demisexual (or maybe grey ace) meaning that it focuses more on the emotional connection that develops between the two men, especially in the early stages, than a sexual one.  While Isaiah is the younger of the two, Mark is the least experienced; his sexual experiences so far have not been positive ones and he came away from them feeling guilty for disappointing his partner and not reacting in an expected way.  He’s given up hoping to find someone to ‘put up with him’, so he’s astonished at the ease with which Isaiah accepts his sexuality and is prepared to let Mark set the pace.  Ms. Albert does a superb job of conveying the complexity of Mark’s emotions and the way his feelings for Isaiah change and develop.

Books 1-4 in this series had four different narrators, so I was a bit surprised to see Greg Boudreaux’s name on the cover of this one… or maybe I wasn’t because, let’s face it, once Greg’s narrated one of your books, you’re ruined for anyone else 😉 (That’s my theory and I’m sticking to it! And even better, he’s narrating the next book, too!)  Of course he does a fantastic job with the narration, expertly characterising the principals (Isaiah’s soft tones contrasting nicely with Mark’s gruff, prickly ones) and skilfully realising Mark’s insecurity and uncertainty about his sexuality and his new role as a parent.  The various secondary characters (including those from previous books) are all clearly differentiated and easy to tell apart, his female voices are excellent and he does an especially good job with the two little girls, who sound age appropriate without being too high-pitched or squeaky.

Squared Away is a fairly angsty story, but is generally a ‘quiet’ book, focusing on the characters and their emotional journeys. In this case it’s about processing grief and learning to adapt in order to move forward, learning to trust, support and grow as a person and part of a couple and family.  I really enjoyed the story, and with Greg Boudreaux delivering another wonderfully insightful, nuanced performance, it’s an audiobook I can recommend without reservation.

Forbidden Stranger (The Protector #3) by Megan Hart (audiobook) – Narrated by Saskia Maarleveld

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

Nina Bronson and Ewan Donahue have put their love to its limits. To Ewan, she’s the only woman he wants to be with for the rest of his life. To Nina, whose memories have been ripped out of her, Ewan is her kind and generous boss who’s helping her recover after an accident she also can’t remember. The more time they spend together, the more she begins to feel for him, but Ewan knows the truth – she loved him once.

As Ewan tries to do whatever it takes to get Nina back to herself without putting her in danger, the two of them have to build a brand-new relationship from the ground up. Sometimes, a lie isn’t a betrayal, it’s a lifesaver. Can Nina forgive Ewan for not telling her the truth about why she lost so much of her memories, or are they doomed to never be together again?

Rating: Narration – A- : Content – B-

Forbidden Stranger is the final instalment of Megan Hart’s futuristic Protector trilogy, in which the overarching storyline pairs a kick-ass female bodyguard with a wealthy billionaire industrialist. I loved the premise of the series, the author’s world-building is terrific, the narration is excellent, and the first book is gripping, but sadly, books two and three suffer from the same problems – too much filler, not enough action and final acts that are rushed. On reflection, this story would probably have worked better as a duology, with the events of book two stripped of the filler and combined with a pared-down book three.

Please note that there will be spoilers for books one and two – Dangerous Promise and Wicked Attraction – in this review.

In Dangerous Promise, listeners were introduced to the author’s vision of a near-future coloured by war, environmental damage and cyber-terrorism. Nina Bronson is one of fifteen former soldiers who were technologically enhanced during life-saving surgery, the nano-chips implanted in their brains enabling them to be stronger and faster than normal humans and to control their emotional and physical reactions. The chips also allow the enhanced to have their memories wiped and for them to be reset after sensitive assignments should their clients so wish. Nina is engaged by billionaire businessman Ewan Donahue, the most vocal opponent of enhancement technology, as his personal bodyguard after several failed attempts on his life.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

Murder Takes the High Road by Josh Lanyon (audiobook) – Narrated by Gary Furlong

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

Librarian Carter Matheson is determined to enjoy himself on a Scottish bus tour for fans of mystery author Dame Vanessa Rayburn. Sure, his ex, Trevor, will also be on the trip with his new boyfriend, leaving Carter to share a room with a stranger, but he can’t pass up a chance to meet his favorite author.

Carter’s roommate turns out to be John Knight, a figure as mysterious as any character from Vanessa’s books. His strange affect and nighttime wanderings make Carter suspicious. When a fellow traveler’s death sparks rumors of foul play, Carter is left wondering if there’s anyone on the tour he can trust.

Drawn into the intrigue, Carter searches for answers, trying to fend off his growing attraction toward John. But as unexplained tragedies continue, the whole tour must face the fact that there may be a murderer in their midst – but who?

Rating: Narration – A- : Content – B-

I’m a relative newcomer to Josh Lanyon’s work, although I’ve enjoyed the few books of hers I’ve read or listened to and am definitely planning on reading and listening to more. Murder Takes the High Road is a new standalone romantic mystery set in Scotland, wherein our hero, California-based librarian Carter Matheson, is spending his holiday on a To Die For tour of the locations associated with the work of his favourite author. If you enjoy stories in which the author throws a subtle wink or three in your direction, then this is likely to appeal; Ms. Lanyon references many of the conventions and tropes found in genre fiction, name-dropping everything from classic mystery writers to Midsomer Murders and skilfully creates a Christie-like scenario culminating in a shocking murder at a remote Scottish castle. It’s low-angst, light-hearted fare, and the focus is definitely on the mystery – so anyone expecting something akin to the author’s normal brand of romantic suspense might be a bit disappointed. Murder Takes the High Road is more of a “cozy” mystery; it’s enjoyable, but lacks the steamy, fast-paced thrills I associate with the kind of m/m romantic suspense novels I’ve been listening to lately.

Carter Matheson definitely fits the definition of a superfan when it comes to British crime author Dame Vanessa Rayburn. There is only one To Die For tour each year and the highlight is the four nights spent on a remote Scottish island owned by the lady herself, where her superfans get to stay in her castle, spend time with her and talk to her about her work.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

Infamous (Famous #2) by Jenny Holiday (audiobook) – Narrated by Michael Fell

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

All that up-and-coming musician Jesse Jamison has ever wanted is to be on the cover of Rolling Stone. When a gossip website nearly catches him kissing someone who isn’t his famous girlfriend – and also isn’t a girl – he considers the near miss a wake-up call. There’s a lot riding on his image as the super-straight rocker, and if he wants to realize his dreams, he’ll need to toe the line. Luckily, he’s into women too. Problem solved.

After a decade pretending to be his ex’s roommate, pediatrician Hunter Wyatt is done hiding. He might not know how to date in the Grindr world, how to make friends in a strange city, or whether his new job in Toronto is a mistake. But he does know that no one is worth the closet. Not even the world’s sexiest rock star.

As Jesse’s charity work at Hunter’s hospital brings the two closer together, a bromance develops. Soon, Hunter is all Jesse can think about. But when it comes down to a choice between Hunter and his career, he’s not sure he’s brave enough to follow his heart.

Rating: Narration – B+ : Content – A

Rock Star romances really aren’t my bag and that, together with the unappealing front cover of this one, would have been enough to make me pass on Jenny Holiday’s Infamous without a second glance. BUT. One of my fellow AAR reviewers absolutely raved about the book when it came out towards the end of 2017, so when I stumbled across it at Audible, I thought I’d give it a go. And I’m SO glad I did, because it’s wonderful; sweet, sexy and gorgeously romantic, featuring two strongly drawn, attractive principals, a colourful secondary cast and the sort of HEA that is guaranteed to give the listener a serious case of the warm fuzzies and all the feels. Narrator Michael Fell is new-to-me, so I’ll admit to a little trepidation, but I needn’t have worried – he delivers a strong performance that was sufficiently engaging as to enable me to get past the few minor problems.

All Jesse Jamison has ever wanted to do is make music. Well, that and be on the front cover of Rolling Stone – and he and his band, Jesse and the Joyride are steadily making a name for themselves. Unfortunately however, while Jesse is hot, charismatic and extremely talented, he’s also something of a loose cannon, and his latest PR disaster – being photographed kissing someone other than his popular supermodel girlfriend – is the last straw for his manager, who promptly dumps Jesse and the band. Jesse has just boarded the train that will take him home to Toronto from Montréal, where he’s been visiting his sister and his nephew, when he sees the photo online and gets the bad news. He promptly decides to commiserate by consuming as much of the refreshment cart’s alcohol as possible, and invites the attractive man with whom he’s been chatting to join him.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

Quickie Reviews #1

Given that both my TBR and TBL are normally fairly full of review copies, I don’t always get many opportunities to read or listen to books that I’m not reviewing somewhere. But lately, I’ve been getting through a large number of audiobooks due to the fact that I have a thirty-minute commute each day, and that when I get home, looking at words on a page sends me to sleep so it’s easier to listen than to read!

I like to keep track of my reading/listening, so even though I haven’t got time to write full-length reviews for these titles, I’ve posted short reviews on GoodReads and thought I might as well put them here as well, given this blog is supposed to be the Place Where I Review All The Things. (One day, I might even get around to using it that way!)

So here are some quickie reviews for audiobooks I’ve listened to over the past few weeks.


Clockwork Tangerine by Rhys Ford, narrated by Greg Tremblay

The British Empire reigns supreme, and its young Queen Victoria has expanded her realm to St. Francisco, a bustling city of English lords and Chinese ghettos. St. Francisco is a jewel in the Empire’s crown and as deeply embroiled in the conflict between the Arcane and Science as its sister city, London—a very dark and dangerous battle.

Marcus Stenhill, Viscount of Westwood, stumbles upon that darkness when he encounters a pack of young bloods beating a man senseless. Westwood’s duty and honor demand he save the man, but he’s taken aback to discover the man is Robin Harris, a handsome young inventor indirectly responsible for the death of Marcus’s father.

Living in the shadows following a failed coup, Robin devotes his life to easing others’ pain, even though his creations are considered mechanical abominations of magicks and science. Branded a deviant and a murderer, Robin expects the viscount to run as far as he can—and is amazed when Marcus reaches for him instead.

Rating: Narration – B+ : Content – C+

An enjoyable steampunk novella/short story set in a recognisable alternative Victorian London that plants lots of threads and ideas – I’m guessing for a series that has never materialised? And that’s a shame, because the world-building is richly imagined and the two central characters – a viscount (although the author needs a bit of guidance about the use of titles and inheritance, because a third son would not have a courtesy title) and an inventor – are likeable and intriguing. This review pretty much encapsulates my thoughts 🙂

I’ve heard Greg Tremblay’s British accent before, although he didn’t have to sustain it as long as here; he does an extremely good job with both central characters, although one of the secondary cast (a female doctor) does sometimes sound more Antipodean than Cockney (a fairly common problem with American narrators who Bring the Brit) but for the most part, he does a superb job. Just one thing, Greg – I love you to bits, but “duke” is NOT pronounced “dook” on this side of the pond! (More like “juke” – just sayin’).

If this ever expands into a full series, I’ll definitely be picking it up.


Third Solstice by Harper Fox, narrated by Tim Gilbert


Gideon’s managed to swing a few festive days off, and he and Lee are looking forward to celebrating their little girl’s first birthday. But duty calls, and Gideon is too good an officer to ignore the summons. He finds himself on the streets of Penzance, helping police the midwinter Montol celebrations.

It’s his third winter solstice with Lee, and disturbance, danger and magic are in the air. His daughter is beginning to show some remarkable gifts, and not all the family can cope with them. As the Montol festivities reach their fiery heights, will Lee and Gideon find a way to keep those they love best on the right side of the solstice gate?

Rating: Narration – A- : Content – B

Another charming – though short – visit with the Tyack-Frayne household, as baby Tamsyn approaches her first birthday and is showing signs of the magical and supernatural abilities that run in her bloodline. The focus is firmly on the domestic here; Lee and Gideon are more in love than ever and their time as new parents is brilliantly depicted – anyone who has had to cope with the chaos of having a young child/toddler in the house will be nodding their heads sagely at the descriptions of shirts stained with breakfasts or sticky hands!

Zeke and Ma Frayne are back, and we also bump into a number of other characters we’ve met throughout the series, and – as is the case with each of the books in the series – we’re given more glimpses of the supernatural world of Dark and Cornish/Celtic folklore; it’s a bit bonkers sometimes, but I love it.

Narrator Tim Gilbert does a spectacular job once again; he captures Lee, Gid and Zeke so perfectly, and his narration is wonderfully nuanced and hits all the right emotional notes. Recommended.


All Kinds of Tied Down by Mary Calmes, narrated by Tristan James

Deputy US Marshal Miro Jones has a reputation for being calm and collected under fire. These traits serve him well with his hotshot partner, Ian Doyle, the kind of guy who can start a fight in an empty room. In the past three years of their life-and-death job, they’ve gone from strangers to professional coworkers to devoted teammates and best friends. Miro’s cultivated blind faith in the man who has his back…faith and something more.

As a marshal and a soldier, Ian’s expected to lead. But the power and control that brings Ian success and fulfillment in the field isn’t working anywhere else. Ian’s always resisted all kinds of tied down, but having no home – and no one to come home to – is slowly eating him up inside. Over time, Ian has grudgingly accepted that going anywhere without his partner simply doesn’t work. Now Miro just has to convince him that getting tangled up in heartstrings isn’t being tied down at all.

Rating: Narration – B : Content – B

An enjoyable m/m romantic suspense story featuring two US Marshals, All Kinds of Tied Down is my first experience with author Mary Calmes. The first half of the story is somewhat disjointed, although I suppose that’s largely due to the nature of the job these guys do; I’m not too well-versed in who does what when it comes to US law enforcement, but if I’ve understood correctly, these are the guys who are sent to pick up and escort prisoners and oversee witness protection and things like that, which means this is a bit different from your normal police procedural when the characters will follow a case from beginning to end. There’s a meatier plotline that runs from about the halfway point, but what the earlier section does well is set up the two central characters; the fashion conscious, organised Miro(slav) Jones, an all-round nice guy nobody seems to have a bad word to say about, and his partner, Ian Doyle, who is also a Captain with the Green Berets (I have no idea how that works, but I went with it). Ian is prickly, snarky and a slob – so we’ve got a bit of an odd couple thing going on. Oh, and he’s straight, which is hell for Miro who has a serious crush on him.

The author sets up their friendship well – Ian is a regular pain in the arse and everyone says that he’s only bearable when Miro is around – and because the story is told through Miro’s PoV, we recognise all the signs he misses that Ian might not be as out of Miro’s reach as he thinks he is. It’s a decent story with likeable characters – not the best I’ve ever come across, but it’s entertaining and the banter and teasing between Ian and Miro is well done.

Tristan James narrates – I’ve listened to him a few times now and he delivers an entertaining performance, although sometimes there wasn’t sufficient differentiation between the principals, but he does a good job overall, his narration is well paced and he captures the spirit of the central relationship really well.

This is a four book series, so I’ll probably pick up book two at some point and see how it goes.


HIM by Sarina Bowen and Elle Kennedy, narrated by Jacob Morgan and Teddy Hamilton

They don’t play for the same team. Or do they?

Jamie Canning has never been able to figure out how he lost his closest friend. Four years ago, his tattooed, wise-cracking, rule-breaking roommate cut him off without an explanation. So what if things got a little weird on the last night of hockey camp the summer they were eighteen? It was just a little drunken foolishness. Nobody died.

Ryan Wesley’s biggest regret is coaxing his very straight friend into a bet that pushed the boundaries of their relationship. Now, with their college teams set to face off at the national championship, he’ll finally get a chance to apologize. But all it takes is one look at his longtime crush, and the ache is stronger than ever.

Jamie has waited a long time for answers, but walks away with only more questions—can one night of sex ruin a friendship? If not, how about six more weeks of it? When Wesley turns up to coach alongside Jamie for one more hot summer at camp, Jamie has a few things to discover about his old friend…and a big one to learn about himself.

Rating: Narration – A- : Content – B+

NA (I’m calling it that because the two main characters are in their early 20s) isn’t my normal cuppa, but I’ve heard many good things about this story – and the narration – that I thought I’d give it a go and picked it up in an Audible sale recently.

It’s a superbly done friends-to-lovers / sexual awakening story featuring two likeable protagonists; cocky, loudmouthed Wes is out, long-time friend Jamie has no idea he’s not completely straight. Sweet, funny and hot, it’s very well narrated and was definitely worth a listen.


Guardians of the Haunted Moor by Harper Fox, narrated by Tim Gilbert

The wedding is just the beginning…Gideon and Lee have spent a year in chaotic married bliss, with all the trimmings – a dog, tricky in-laws, and a baby girl they both adore. But even the best of lives can be fragile, and a shocking family loss hits their new world like a demolition ball.

Gideon has little energy left to investigate a murder that’s taken place in the fields outside Dark. He still has his duties to his community, though, and with Lee at his side, he begins to unfold the mysterious death of Farmer John Bowe. It’s harvest time, ancient West Country magic in the air, and rumors are flying through the village of an enemy Gideon thought he’d left behind long ago.

Can the beast of Bodmin possibly be real? Everything in Gideon’s stoical police-sergeant’s nature says no. But Lee has taught him to see the world differently, and now they must pool their resources to unmask a killer before more lives are lost – and somehow find a way to mend their shattered family, too.

Rating: Narration – A- : Content – A-

I love this series, and this fifth instalment doesn’t disappoint. Gideon and Lee have been happily married for six months and are preparing to adopt a child – Lee’s niece – but unfortunately things don’t go to plan, leaving them both bereft. But there’s no time for them to process or grieve properly; a horribly mutilated body is discovered at one of the local farms, and with rumours once again circulating about the Beast of Bodmin, it’s up to Gideon to find out the truth.

I love the way the author blends the mundane and the supernatural in these stories; Cornish myths, rituals and ancient folklore all combine to create an atmosphere of eerie uncertainty, and the devastation Gideon and Lee feel over the sudden upset of their cherished plans is palpable. The characters are well-established by now – Lee and Gideon of course, but also Gideon’s brother, Ezekiel, and his “right on” mother, both of whom have important roles to play in the story and in the life of the central couple.

Tim Gilbert’s narration is – again – spot on and thoroughly enjoyable. I know these stories are novella length and thus quite short when compared to many audiobooks, but believe me, they really are worth the credits.


I’ve optimistically titled this as Quickies #1.  Hopefully, I’ll have time for more in future.

Making Up (London Celebrities #3) by Lucy Parker

This title may be purchased from Amazon

Once upon a time, circus artist Trix Lane was the best around. Her spark vanished with her confidence, though, and reclaiming either has proved…difficult. So when the star of The Festival of Masks is nixed and Trix is unexpectedly thrust into the spotlight, it’s exactly the push she needs. But the joy over her sudden elevation in status is cut short by a new hire on the makeup team.

Leo Magasiva: disgraced wizard of special effects. He of the beautiful voice and impressive beard. Complete dickhead and—in an unexpected twist—an enragingly good kisser.

To Leo, something about Trix is…different. Lovely. Beautiful, even though the pint-size, pink-haired former bane of his existence still spends most of her waking hours working to annoy him. They’ve barely been able to spend two minutes together for years, and now he can’t get enough of her. On stage. At home. In his bed.

When it comes to commitment, Trix has been there, done that, never wants to do it again. Leo’s this close to the job of a lifetime, which would take him away from London—and from Trix. Their past is a constant barrier between them.

It seems hopeless.

Utterly impossible.

And yet…

Rating: B+

Lucy Parker is pretty much the only author of contemporary romance whose books are a must-read for me, and I suspect that there are many, many readers out there in Romancelandia who, like me, have been eagerly awaiting Making Up, the third book in her London Celebritiesseries.  Set in the world of London’s West End, the stories take place amid the smell of the greasepaint, the roar of the crowd, the backstage backstabbing, the gossip, rivalry and intense camaraderie of theatre companies mounting high-status, high profile productions.  Ms. Parker completely nails the London setting and the sheer amount of graft from all involved required to mount a commercially successful West End production; her characters work hard, play hard and show readers that not all is glitz and glamour behind the footlights.

So… what you want to know is – was Making Up worth waiting for?   Absolutely.  Is it as good as Act Like It and Pretty Face?  Weeeeeell…  not quite.  Don’t get me wrong – it has all the ingredients that made the other books in this series such great reads.  The two principals are appealing, the dialogue sparkles, the banter zings back and forth and the romance is well-done… but it lacks the emotional depth of its predecessor which, for my money, is the strongest of the series.

Towards the end of that book, Trix Lane, best friend of the heroine, Lily, was just emerging from an emotionally abusive relationship with a guy who had gradually been separating her from her friends, belittling her profession and eroding her self-esteem.  Fortunately, Trix managed to extricate herself before things got worse, but it’s left some big emotional scars and serious dents in her self-confidence.

At the beginning of Making Up, the lead aerial performer in Festival of Masks – an odd mix of carnival, rock concert and dark fairy tale with a bit of smut thrown in for good measure –  is hospitalised after an accident on-stage.  A combination of circumstances conspires to catapult Trix into the limelight to take over the role at the next performance and for the foreseeable future.  But Trix – who would in the past have jumped at the chance to get out there and show what she’s made of – is terrified.  It doesn’t help that the stage manager is a prick who never has a kind word or word of praise for anyone, but Trix knows the problem goes deeper than that.  She is fully aware that this newly found lack of assurance is a hangover from her relationship with Dan St. James; somehow his backhanded compliments and subtle and not-so-subtle digs and jibes insidiously wormed their way into her psyche and they’re hard to shake off.

Leo Magasiva has known Trix on and off for years, ever since they were at school.  They had been good friends once, but a nasty, unguarded comment from Leo, followed by Trix’s departure for a posh boarding-school put paid to their friendship, and they’ve been at daggers drawn ever since.  Somehow, though, they have never been able to completely avoid each other, running into one another at various events and gatherings over the years, and taking advantage of the opportunity to indulge in a game of verbal one-upmanship.

A talented and widely respected make-up artist, Leo’s career has taken a nose-dive courtesy of an actor who failed to disclose his skin allergies.  Which is how come Leo is prepared to take a short-term gig in the West End; he can lie low for a bit and also get ready for a major make-up and special effects competition being held in London which he’s hoping might open doors for him in the movie industry.

As soon as Trix and Leo set eyes on each other, old wounds are reopened and old hurts resurrected.  Leo isn’t thrilled about working in close proximity with Trix, and she’s openly hostile to him while she’s friendly with her cast-mates, and one guy in particular.  Leo immediately labels her as a fake and a flirt, although it’s very clear that his antagonism is rooted in jealousy and something else that relates to their past.  Fortunately, however, the author doesn’t string out the issues that lie between them for too long and the misunderstandings that led to the end of their youthful friendship are cleared up well before the half-way point.  The sexual tension that has been simmering between them since their first scene (and for the past decade!) finally boils over, but it’s clear that keeping things casual is going to be difficult for both of them and Trix, especially, is terrified.  Insecurites continue to plague her about her professional ability, and the thought of trusting a man again, no matter that she knows Leo is nothing like her ex… it’s all too much and she’s finding it hard to cope.

Fortunately for Trix, Leo is an amazing guy.  He’s generous of spirit, insightful and incredibly supportive, knowing when to push and when to hold back, watching out for Trix even as he’s worrying over his younger sister who, for most of the book is a total  bitch and is clearly unhappy about something but won’t open up to him.   He refuses to allow Trix to lose sight of who she really is – “You’re the strongest person I’ve ever met” – or to give up on herself or on them.

There are many things to enjoy about the story, not least of which is the fact that Leo and Trix come across as adults who have real conversations dealing with complex issues and emotions.  Their banter is witty and perceptive; Ms. Parker has a way of using verbal sparring between characters to illuminate their weaknesses as well as their strengths and while the level of snark varies from the gentle to the punishing, it’s never downright nasty.  The secondary characters are well-drawn and the backstage camaraderie is the perfect mixture of heartfelt and cynical; Trix and Leo are talented people, both ambitious, dedicated to – and supportive of – their careers, and the overlying message of the book is one we can all identify with, the need to find happiness where we may, amid “life in all its occasional shittiness.”

While Making Up doesn’t quite rise to the heights of the previous books in the London Celebritiesseries, it’s nonetheless an extremely entertaining and enjoyable novel and one I’m more than happy to recommend.  Funny, sexy, poignant, warm, intelligent – and I haven’t even mentioned the cute baby hedgehog yet – it’s the perfect summer read.