Live Wire (Nashville’s Finest #1) by Caisey Quinn

This title may be purchased from Amazon.

HE’S NOT AFRAID OF ANYTHING…

Explosive ordinance disposal specialist Chase Fisk never breaks a sweat defusing even the most complicated of explosives. So when a homicidal maniac threatens to set off military-grade IEDs during Nashville’s largest music festival, Chase is the man to take him down. But with the reappearance of a woman he thought was long dead, everything he thought he knew is blown away.

EXCEPT LOSING HER AGAIN.

FBI operative Vivien Montgomery is an enigma to everyone around her. So when a deadly threat lands her in Nashville and paired up with the only man she’s ever loved, she isn’t looking forward to an emotional reunion. She’s only here to get the job done and get out. But when the madman behind the chaos targets her for death, the one man she left behind might be the only person she can count on to save her life…

Rating: C-

Live Wire is the first book in Caisey Quinn’s aNashville’s Finest series, and with a blurb that promised a homicidal maniac threatening to set off military-grade IEDs during Nashville’s largest music festival,  and a rekindling romance between an explosives expert and his former lover, now an FBI agent, you’d think I was in for an action-packed, emotional rollercoaster of a ride, right?

Wrong.

Because Live Wire is, in fact, a damp squib.  There is very little action, the romance is perfunctory, the characters are barely two-dimensional and the plot is predictable and not particularly suspenseful.

Four years before the book opens, Chase Fisk watched the love of his life get blown to smithereens when a military training exercise went badly wrong.  He still has nightmares about that day, and has never really got over Vivien Brooks, in spite of having spent the first couple of years after her death trying hard to forget her in the beds of numerous other women.  An injury sustained during the blast got him a medical discharge from the army, and Chase now heads up an EOD (Explosive Ordnance Disposal) unit with the Nashville PD.

When a tip off leads Chase and his team to a condemned building on the east side of town they aren’t expecting to find a stash of military grade explosives and maps of the city marked up in a kind of code.  But with the prestigious Country Music Festival just weeks away – which will see a massive influx of tourists into the city – there’s no time to waste in decoding the maps, working out what is planned – and who is planning it.

Given the nature of the discovery, the FBI is called in, and immediately dispatches three highly trained agents to aid the Nashville police.  Among them is Vivien Montgomery, who, four years previously, had been undergoing military training when she’d been informed that she was the target of a Russian mafia boss who had a grudge against her family.  For her own safety, the Bureau faked her death and she was then sent on an undercover assignment to take down said mafia boss, which lasted around two years.  She is naturally wary at the prospect of seeing Chase again, certain he’s going to be furious at her deception rather than pleased to see her – and this is borne out at their first meeting, which is anything but a tender reunion. Fortunately, however, after some initial hostility and sniping, they realise they can’t go on this way and decide they need to address the elephant in the room.

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

The Empire State Series: A Week in New York, Autumn in New York, Summer in Manhattan by Louise Bay (audiobook) – Narrated by Saskia Maarleveld and Sebastian York

This title may be purchased from Audible via Amazon

Anna Kirby is sick of dating. She’s tired of heartbreak. Despite being smart, sexy, and funny, she’s a magnet for men who don’t deserve her. A week’s vacation in New York is the ultimate distraction from her most recent break-up, as well as a great place to meet a stranger and have some summer fun. But to protect her still-bruised heart, fun comes with rules. There will be no sharing stories, no swapping numbers, and no real names. Just one night of uncomplicated fun. Super-successful serial seducer Ethan Scott has some rules of his own. He doesn’t date, he doesn’t stay the night, and he doesn’t make any promises. It should be a match made in heaven. But rules are made to be broken.

Rating: Narration – A-/B+; Content – B

Having recently listened to Louise Bay’s King of Wall Street, which I picked up on the strength of the review by one of my fellow AudioGals, I was keen on trying more of the author’s work. The Empire State Series caught my eye because of the narrator pairing; I’ve listened to and enjoyed Saskia Maarleveld in a few historical romances, but I’ve never listened to her in a contemporary; and Sebastian York… yeah, well, he could probably make the phone book sound sexy, so I was sold.

A Week in New York opens with Londoners Anna and Leah, at a bar in New York on a night out. Anna has recently come out of a bad relationship and Leah has travelled with her fiancé on a business trip and both are determined on a week of hanging out, retail therapy and soaking up some culture. Anna is approached by an unutterably gorgeous man who makes his interest in spending the night with her very clear – and Anna thinks “why not?” – and decides to go for it. One night stands aren’t her normal style, but the guy is hotter than hell and, she’s sure, knows his way around a woman’s body. She insists on a few rules though; no real names (which he refuses to go with – after all, he doesn’t want the woman he’s in bed with screaming any other name than his own!), no personal details, no exchanging numbers or email addresses; just one night of steamy sex. Other than the names thing, the guy – Ethan – is perfectly happy with all of those things, although he scoffs at Anna’s choice of name – Florence – and insists on giving her a better one, deciding upon – Anna. She can’t deny that’s a bit weird – that he should somehow have hit upon her real name, but doesn’t dwell on it. There are better things to do, after all.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

Pretty Face (London Celebrities #2) by Lucy Parker

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This title may be purchased from Amazon

The play’s the fling

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

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

Rating: A

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

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

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

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

Under the soap-opera shit, an actor

– even though her voice is going to need work.

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

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

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This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon.

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

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

Rating: Narration – B-/C; Content – B

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

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

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

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

seconds-to-sunrise

This title may be purchased from Amazon.

She thought she’d lost everything…

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

He’ll make them pay…

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

Rating: C

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

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

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

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

Automatik is aware of what’s happened to April’s website and has quickly taken steps designed to protect her – and it’s just as well, because only days after the hack, she is attacked in the supermarket car park by two hired thugs and saved only by the fact that James and one of his colleagues are keeping an eye on her and are able to act quickly to deal with the attackers and get April away.  Even though she’s scared and has no experience of what she’s unwittingly become a part of, she needs to find the people who have done this to her.  James wants to get her to safety while Automatik does its job, but she quickly convinces him that her computer skills are necessary if they’re going to track down the hackers. Together they head out to follow the leads April has gathered so far.

As I said at the outset, the action/suspense side of the story is handled well for the most part, and the incorporation of the element of cybercrime gives it a really up-to-the-minute feel.  There are some well-written set-pieces; car chases, shoot-outs, a dramatic helicopter escape… and with the end approaching, I was looking forward to finding out why April’s site had been targeted and by whom.  The bad guys get caught, and – epilogue.  Huh?  I thought I’d missed something but no, no explanations.  I’d have thought that given the lengths the hackers went to in order to protect themselves, we’d have been told that some major crime/espionage syndicate was responsible and told why they had targeted April’s website specifically.  Even if those details are contained in one of the earlier books, or one that’s still to come, it’s a pretty major omission in terms of the plot resolution and it was a big let-down.

Unfortunately, the same is true of the romance, which feels forced and almost as though it’s been tacked on.  I was constantly told (rather than shown) that April and James are attracted to each other but I never felt there was any emotional connection between them at all.  There’s a lot of back and forth between them, by which I mean that as soon as they find themselves feeling comfortable around each other, one of them will think of something – usually for April, it’s Mark and for James it’s his murky past – and close themselves off, which the other interprets as meaning they can never be together.  Even during the book’s single sex scene, April is on/off – she wants James, but then feels it’s wrong… she’s been a widow for four years and hasn’t had a relationship (or sex) since her husband’s death, so I could understand why she would feel nervous.  But if she really felt as though she was somehow betraying her husband’s memory – which is what I inferred – then a high-adrenaline, high-stakes situation probably wasn’t the best time to be trying to work out whether she wanted to have sex with someone else or not.

I also had a big problem with the writing style, which may or may not be something that bothers others.  One thing I really dislike in a body of writing is having lots and lots of short sentences all running one after the other.  It’s fine to do it occasionally for effect, but when it’s the norm, it quickly becomes annoying as it breaks the flow of the words and makes the whole thing feel really choppy. It had a big impact on my reading and broke my concentration frequently.  And there were some really odd turns of phrase; one that sticks in my mind is “… the kiss parted”.  Surely, that should be “… the kiss ended”. Or “… their lips parted”?  Another is “her tumult fell into place again” – what does that even mean? (Of course, I know what is meant, but it’s a very strange phrase.)

The reviews for the previous books in this series have been fairly positive, so perhaps this is a case “it’s not you, it’s me.”  But the non-resolution to what is an otherwise intriguing suspense plot and the poorly executed romance make Seconds to Sunrise a book I can’t recommend.

My Best Books of 2016 – at All About Romance

best-of-2016-covers

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

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

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

My Best of 2016

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

king-of-wall-street

This title is available to download from Audible via Amazon.

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

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

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

Rating: Narration – A; Content – B

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

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

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

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

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

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