The Negotiator (Games People Play #2.5) by HelenKay Dimon

This title may be purchased from Amazon.

Lauren Gallagher’s life changed almost three years ago. After her husband disappeared at sea, she was left with a failing pleasure boat company and more than a few secrets. Now, after years spent rebuilding the business and paying off the pile of debts, she finally feels in control. But when she finds her husband, actually dead, on the floor, she becomes the leading suspect in his murder investigation.

Garrett McGrath wants Lauren in his bed, not his heart. He doesn’t do emotions, but every time he sees her, holding himself back gets harder and harder. When Lauren comes under suspicion for killing her previously presumed-dead husband, he knows he has to help her, any way he can.

But as the danger becomes more intense and Garret and Lauren grow closer than either planned, they’re in danger of losing everything…including their hearts.

Rating: C+

In HelenKay Dimon’s Games People Play series, the heroes are all men who bonded in their youth when they were taken under the wing of someone named Quint, who saved them from the downward spirals they were in, helped all of them learn to utilise their unique skill-sets and set them on the straight and narrow.

Years later, the ‘Quint Five’ are all well-placed and powerful individuals who are often called upon by government departments and law enforcement to undertake missions and cases that they can’t touch.  In book one, The Fixer, we met Wren – an enigmatic man whose speciality is making problems go away – and his second-in-command, former Black Ops, professional negotiator, Garrett McGrath.

In The Enforcer (book two) Garrett was sent along to ride shotgun on the mission undertaken by Matthias Clarke, another of the five, whose private security firm is often used by Wren in the course of his business.  Garrett immediately captured my attention; his gregarious, wise-cracking ways were such a contrast to the gruff, taciturn Matthias (I do love a smart-mouthed charmer!) and so many tough-guy heroes are dark, brooding and almost miserable that it was a refreshing change to come across one who knew how to lighten up.   I’ve been looking forward to his book, but I confess that I’d hoped for a full-length novel rather than a novella.  I’m not the greatest fan of novellas anyway (few authors really know how to get them right) and Garrett is such a great character that he deserved more page time.

The Negotiator picks up a few months after the events of The Enforcer, which took place in the small, seafront town in Annapolis where Matthias was searching for a woman named Kayla Roy who was suspected of murder.   One of the secondary characters in the book was Kayla’s friend, Lauren Gallagher, who runs a pleasure boat and fishing tour business; and for the past few months, a rather smitten Garrett has travelled regularly to Annapolis to spend time with Lauren, who adamantly refuses to go on a date with him.  She tries to tell him it’s because she’s older than he is (by five years) or because she was a mess and … he could do better.  But Garrett is a shrewd man and knows there’s more to it than that – and he has his theories as to what that ‘more’ is.  Still, the one thing Lauren hasn’t said is that she’s not interested, so he continues to hope that she will eventually open up and let him in.

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

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TBR Challenge: Dissident (Bellator Saga #1) by Cecilia London


This title is available FREE on Amazon

“I will always be with you…”

Rising Democratic star Caroline Gerard hasn’t had an easy year. After losing her husband, she is raising two small children alone while trying to navigate the tricky and sometimes shallow halls on Capitol Hill. A string of nasty speeches has her scrambling to apologize to any number of candidates, including newly elected Republican Jack McIntyre. Falling in love again is the last thing on her mind.

Jack McIntyre might have a reputation as a playboy, but he has his sights set solely on his new colleague. Can he break through Caroline’s grief and capture her heart?

Told mostly in flashback and set against a chilling fascist backdrop, Dissident is a rollercoaster ride of political intrigue, passionate contemporary romance, and undying love.

One of my fellow AAR reviewers, Kristen Donnelly, has raved about Cecilia London’s Bellator Saga – and given that I like a nice, juicy political thriller, I decided pretty much at the beginning of the year that Dissident, the first book in the series would be my recommended read this year.

I’ll start out by saying that the saga is a serial in which one storyline runs through all six books in the series; rather like a TV mini-series, all the books need to be read in order for the reader to experience the entirety of the story, so if you’re planning on having a look at this one, be prepared to be in it for the long haul.  I think each book ends on a cliffhanger (which is clearly stated at Amazon); this one definitely does and I’m sufficiently invested in the story and characters (especially the two principals) to want to read more.

The story opens in the present as we follow a couple – a husband and wife we learn are named Jack and Caroline – as they run through the woods in the attempt to evade the soldiers who are pursuing them.  Both are injured, but Caroline is clearly in a very bad way, and she urges Jack to continue without her, telling him that the information they have risked so much to gather is more important than either of them.  It’s clear that these two are devoted to one another and that it costs Caroline a lot to make the suggestion and even more for Jack to hear it.  Even though we’re just a few pages into the book at this point, it’s quite devastating when Jack wrenches himself away and prepares to do as Caroline asks, saying:

“I will come back for you, Caroline.  Understand?  I promise I will come back.  I’m not giving up.  I will find someone I can trust and I will come back.”

As it’s the first in a series, Dissident is mostly set-up, focusing on the two central characters, the recently widowed Democratic Congresswoman Caroline Gerard and Jack McIntyre, a multi-millionaire Republican with a reputation for being an arsehole.  Having read Kristen’s reviews of two of the later books in the series, it’s clear that the author is going to take us to some dark and uncomfortable places, so it’s important that we get to know and understand these individuals given that they are our windows into the story, and that the relationship that evolves between them is its bedrock.

Over five years earlier, Jack and Caroline got off to a rocky start when she bad-mouthed him to the media, calling him a “millionaire playboy trying to buy his way into Congress.”. Her only defence is that at that time, she was in a very bad place; she had recently lost her husband and had thrown herself into work to compensate, making a number of bad decisions of which spouting off about would-be Congressman McIntyre was one.  Months later, she hopes to apologise to him in person, but he doesn’t want to hear it and brushes her off abruptly, which Caroline thinks she probably deserves.  But later that same night, Jack relents and the two of them strike up a conversation which leads to the development of a very close friendship which is terribly important to them both.

Ms. London writes this growing relationship incredibly well; Jack and Caroline are mature characters (he’s forty-seven, she’s thirty-six) and their life experience shows, lending a real sense of authenticity to their interactions, which are deep, playful, witty and insightful by turns.  Their gradual falling-in-love is superbly and subtly depicted; it’s obvious that Jack is head-over-heels fairly early on but recognises that he shouldn’t rush things, while Caroline is a little more hesitant to become romantically involved.  She’s warm, funny and utterly devoted to her young daughters as well as being the sort of person who fights for the underdog and wants to make a difference.  Jack comes across as an arrogant arse when we – along with Caroline – first meet him, but it’s soon clear that isn’t really who he is, and I loved the way that as their friendship progresses,  Caroline comes to see him for the good man he is beneath the highly polished exterior.  Their romance is beautifully done and nicely steamy (Jack is one hot silver fox!) and the emotional connection they share is very deeply rooted and one which, I suspect, is going to prove a lifeline for both of them as the story progresses.

While something like seventy-five percent of the book takes place five years in the past and concentrates on the growing romance between Jack and Caroline, there are a few  present day chapters scattered strategically throughout Dissident showing us what happens after Jack leaves Caroline in the woods.  (The fact that he leaves her is one of the reasons this character-building story is essential; we need to know the strength of Jack’s feelings for Caroline in order to realise just how important the information he is carrying must be if he is prepared to leave her to an unknown fate to keep it safe.)  It’s clear that all is not well in America; the information I’ve gleaned has come mostly from reading reviews, so I won’t spoil it here, save to say that mentions of secession and martial law and the accusations of treason levelled at Caroline definitely tell us we’re not in Kansas any more.

There are a few writing hiccups and the odd place where the pace flags a bit, but for the most part, this is a strongly-written and well-conceived tale of political intrigue that sucked me in from the start and kept me eagerly turning the pages.  Jack and Caroline are engaging characters, their romance is believable and passionate, and the author has started the ball rolling on what promises to be an epic story.

I’m definitely in it for the long haul.

Murder and Mayhem (Murder and Mayhem #1) by Rhys Ford (audiobook) – Narrated by Greg Tremblay

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

Dead women tell no tales.

Former cat burglar Rook Stevens stole many a priceless thing in the past, but he’s never been accused of taking a life – until now. It was one thing to find a former associate inside Potter’s Field, his pop culture memorabilia shop, but quite another to stumble across her dead body.

Detective Dante Montoya thought he’d never see Rook Stevens again – not after his former partner falsified evidence to entrap the jewelry thief and Stevens walked off scot-free. So when he tackled a fleeing murder suspect, Dante was shocked to discover the blood-covered man was none other than the thief he’d fought to put in prison and who still makes his blood sing.

Rook is determined to shake loose the murder charge against him, even if it means putting distance between him and the rugged Cuban-Mexican detective who brought him down. If one dead con artist wasn’t bad enough, others soon follow, and as the bodies pile up around Rook’s feet, he’s forced to reach out to the last man he’d expect to believe in his innocence – and the only man who’s ever gotten under Rook’s skin.

Rating: Narration – A+ : Content – B+

It’s no secret that when I’m looking for new audiobooks to listen to or review, 99.9% of the time, I look at the narrator’s name first. Because of this, I find I’m much more likely to genre-hop in audio than I am in print, so when I saw that Greg Tremblay – whose narration I enjoyed very much in Rachel Grant’s Tinderbox earlier this year – had recorded a number of books by Rhys Ford, an author I haven’t come across before, and because I enjoy romantic suspense, I decided to jump in and test the water.

Murder and Mayhem was released in 2015 and follows LA cop, Dante Montoya and a former cat burglar named Rook Stevens as they work together to track down a murderer and whoever is responsible for several attempts on Rook’s life. It’s a well-paced and entertaining story, written with an extremely sure hand and laced with humour (and several laugh-out-loud moments), pop culture references that made me smile and lots of lovely sexual tension between the protagonists. When you add in a truly outstanding performance by Mr. Tremblay, this was an audiobook I couldn’t bear to put down.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

Laws of Attraction (Librarians in Love #3) by Sarah Title


This title may be purchased from Amazon

It’s taken law librarian Becky Schrader a long time to stop comparing herself to her family of overachievers and hone in on what she really wants—a normal life, white picket fence and all, Mr. Dream Guy included. But before she gets ahead of herself, her girlfriends convince her she needs to let down her hair for once, meet a hot guy and let the moment take over . . .

After graduating from an Ivy League law school and practicing in New York for a few years, the plan for Foster Deacon was to return home to Denver and join the family firm, marry the right woman, shoulder his responsibilities. Except Foster’s always been a bit of a rebel, and he’s decided to suit up with his family’s rival firm. What better way to celebrate than to spend a night with a gorgeous blonde who leaves before he could say, “Good morning . . .”

Becky feels she did the right thing, leaving her lover’s bed and not her number. After all, she needs to focus on her job at Glassmeyer & Polak—until the new hire walks through the door . . . with a bad case of happily ever after.

Rating: B

Laws of Attraction, the third entry in Sarah Title’s Librarians in Love series, is a delightfully frothy concoction of a romantic comedy that often had me smiling and, once or twice, laughing out loud.  Mild-mannered legal librarian Becky Schrader is fed up with falling for the wrong guy; she supposes it’s her own fault for constantly looking for Mr. Dream-Guy-picket-fence-and-a-dog, and her best friend is trying to convince her to let her hair down once in a while and have some fun with Mr. let-me-keep-you-up-all-night-screaming-my-name instead.  Becky isn’t averse to the odd bout of anonymous hot monkey sex, but deep down she really does want a normal life, the picket fence and the great guy.

On a night out with her friend Dakota, Becky is about to leave to make her way home when a new arrival catches her eye and changes her mind.  Dressed casually in a flannel shirt and jeans and sporting sexy face-scruff … forget the hot monkey, she’s picked herself out a hot lumberjack for the night.  There’s an instant zing of heat between her and the guy she hears addressed as ‘Deke’, and before long, they’re on the way back to his place. The sex is every bit as toe-curlingly hot as she could have wanted, and Becky sneaks out of Mr. Lumberjack’s surprisingly chic apartment the next morning with head held high – mission accomplished – fully expecting never to see him again.

Becky obviously hasn’t read enough romance novels, because naturally, her scruffy, sexy lumberjack walks into the offices of the law firm where she works a couple of days later. Clean-shaven, designer-suited (and still sexy) he turns out to be none other than hotshot lawyer Foster Deacon, who has left his high-flying job in New York and returned home to Denver in order to prosecute a big intellectual property case.  While Foster is pleased to see Becky and has hopes of picking up where they left off, Becky is little short of horrified.  Foster is cute, funny and great in bed, but he’s a legal genius – and she’s sworn off lawyers and she’s doubly sworn off geniuses (genii?).  Plus she’s not looking for another relationship; he was supposed to be a one-night-stand, not a potential Mr. Picket-Fence.

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

Single Malt (Agents Irish and Whiskey #1) by Layla Reyne (audiobook) – Narrated by Tristan James

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

Eight months after the car crash that changed everything, FBI agent Aidan Talley is back at work. New department, new case, and a new partner. Smart, athletic, and handsome, Jameson Walker is 12 years his junior. Even if Aidan was ready to move on – and he’s not – Jamie is off-limits.

Jamie’s lusted after Aidan for three years, and the chance to work with San Francisco’s top agent directly is too good to pass up. Aidan is prickly – to put it mildly – but a growing cyber threat soon proves Jamie’s skills invaluable.

Jamie’s talents paint a target on his back, and Aidan is determined to protect him. But with hack after hack threatening a high-security biocontainment facility, time is running out to thwart a deadly terrorist attack. They’ll have to filter out distractions, on the case and in their partnership, to identify the real enemy, solve the case, and save thousands of lives, including their own.

Rating: Narration – B+ Content – B+

Single Malt is Layla Reyne’s début novel and is the first in a romantic suspense trilogy featuring FBI agents Aidan Talley and Jameson Walker, nicknamed Agents Irish and Whiskey. I read and thoroughly enjoyed the series earlier this year and was really pleased to see the books being released in audio format. I’m not familiar with narrator Tristan James, but he’s got over thirty titles to his name at Audible so I decided to take a chance and I’m glad I did; he delivers a strong and entertaining performance in this fast-paced, intriguing and sexy thriller.

Eight months after the car crash that killed both his husband, Gabe, and his FBI partner, Tom Crane, Special Agent Aidan Talley has been given the go ahead to return to work. On the evening before he is due to show up at the office, he is visited by his sister-in-law, Melissa Cruz – who also happens to be his boss – and given some unsettling news. The day she was promoted to her current position of Special Agent in Charge, she received an anonymous package containing an encrypted flash drive and information suggesting that the crash was no accident. Aidan is stunned; he has been convinced of that from the moment he woke up in the hospital, but no one would take him seriously. Now, however, Mel gives him the permission to start investigating on the quiet – and tells him, rather cryptically, that she has given him everything he needs to start getting answers.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

Moonlight Over Manhattan (From Manhattan With Love #6) by Sarah Morgan

moonlight over manhattan2
This title may be purchased from Amazon

She’ll risk everything for her own Christmas miracle…

Determined to conquer a lifetime of shyness, Harriet Knight challenges herself to do one thing a day in December that scares her, including celebrating Christmas without her family. But when dog-walker Harriet meets her newest client, exuberant spaniel Madi, she adds an extra challenge to her list – dealing with Madi’s temporary dog-sitter, gruff doctor Ethan Black, and their very unexpected chemistry.

Ethan thought he was used to chaos, until he met Madi – how can one tiny dog cause such mayhem? To Ethan, the solution is simple – he will pay Harriet to share his New York apartment and provide 24-hour care. But there’s nothing simple about how Harriet makes him feel.

Ethan’s kisses make Harriet shine brighter than the stars over moonlit Manhattan. But when his dog-sitting duties are over, and Harriet returns to her own home, will she dare to take the biggest challenge of all – letting Ethan know he has her heart for life, not just for Christmas?

Rating: B

It’s no secret that I don’t read a great deal of contemporary romance, but I know that many have enjoyed the other books in Sarah Morgan’s From Manhattan With Love series, so when the latest instalment –Moonlight Over Manhattan – came up for review, I thought I’d give it a try.  On the whole, reading it was a successful venture; I enjoyed the author’s upbeat, gently humorous style and both central characters; and while there’s nothing new here, this would certainly be a good option for anyone looking for a comforting and engaging seasonal read.

Harriet Knight (twin sister of Fliss from Holiday in the Hamptons) is fed up with being treated like she’s a little on the fragiie side by her twin and older brother.  She recognises that their intentions have always been good, but realises now that their protectiveness has resulted in her never really having to tackle anything difficult, whether professionally – where Fliss handles the admin and the awkward clients of the dog-walking company they run together – or personally, so she’s never really had to step outside her comfort zone.  This protectiveness originates from their childhood, which was a miserable one owing to the continual tension that existed between their parents, their never-ending rows and their father’s frequent verbal abuse, which terrified Harriet. The fact that she had a stammer just made things worse – and recognising her particular vulnerability, Fliss and Daniel always tried to divert their father’s attention and protect her from the worst of his vitriol.

With Fliss now settled in the Hamptons with her husband, Harriet feels somewhat adrift, and is determined to forge a new path for herself and take charge of her life.  To this end, the month between Thanksgiving and Christmas is designated as Challenge Harriet month, one month during which she will do things she doesn’t normally do or finds difficult – one day, one thing at a time.

One of those challenges is to go on dates.  It’s not that Harriet is desperate for a man – although having someone in her life might be nice if it’s the right someone – it’s that she doesn’t find dating easy, and doing things she doesn’t find easy is what Challenge Harriet is all about.  Unfortunately, however, by date number three, she’s pretty much had enough, and rather than tell the guy – whose online profile was very clearly misleading – that she thinks they should just go home, she instead makes her exit via the bathroom window, and twists her ankle when she lands outside.  Painfully, she makes her way to the ER to make sure it’s not broken, and is seen by the sinfully gorgeous attending physician, Dr. Ethan Black (in spite of the difference in colouring – Ethan is dark haired and blue-eyed –  my mind at this point immediately flew to George Clooney in the early days of ER… *sigh*) who tells her her ankle is badly sprained and to keep off of it for a while.

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

Hot Pursuit (Black Knights International #11) by Julie Ann Walker


This title may be purchased from Amazon

He puts the hot…

Christian Watson, a former SAS officer and current BKI operator, never thought he would return to England after a terrible turn of events forced him to abandon his homeland. But now he’s back on British soil where old enemies are determined to do him in. Fighting for his life is pretty much SOP for Christian. Doing it with the beautiful, bossy Emily Scott in tow is another matter entirely.

In hot pursuit.

Emily lost her coveted job at the CIA because of a colleague turned rogue, and now she has just one rule when it comes to men: they’re for recreational purposes only. But when she and Christian are thrust into very close quarters while evading two mysterious men who want Christian dead, she can’t help but question all her ideas about love and life lived on the edge. Battling the bad guys is hard enough, battling her feelings for Christian just might prove impossible.

Rating: D-

Hot Pursuit is the latest in Julie Ann Walker’s Black Knights Inc. series which features a group of ex- special forces operatives who now work for a covert government defence firm set up by a former US President.  The book is billed as romantic suspense, but disappointingly, it’s neither romantic nor particularly suspenseful; the central characters are supposed to be in their early thirties and yet act like a pair of hormonal teenagers much of the time, and Ms. Walker has a tendency to talk directly to her audience through the heroine, which is odd and the exact opposite of endearing.

The plot is tissue-paper thin.  After a mission gone wrong, Christian Watson, together with two other members of BKI, their office manager, Emily Scott (who apparently tagged along to keep them out of trouble), and a former marine turned charter-boat captain are forced to hole up in a small cottage in Cornwall until they can safely get out of England and back to the US.  Their anonymity is shot to hell, however, when a bunch of reporters turn up on the doorstep trying to get to Christian, to get the story of what happened when he was captured towards the end of the war in Iraq.  The timing was politically sensitive and the mission to rescue him was messy;  Christian was blamed for the incident (although his identity was never divulged) and quietly left the SAS. He has spent the last few years living well under the radar, so someone must have discovered his identity and location and fed it to the media.  The question is, who?

Watching the news on TV not far away are Lawrence and Ben Michelson, brothers of the soldier killed when the mission to rescue Christian went pear-shaped.  Both are police officers, but Lawrence is a loose cannon – he has never forgiven the unknown SAS officer for his brother’s death and the later deaths of both their parents, and is out for revenge.  Lawrence and Ben make for the cottage hide-out, just in time to witness Christian and his team make their escape, and then follow them to Newquay airport, where a jet is waiting.

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