Headliners (London Celebrities #5) by Lucy Parker

This title may be purchased from Amazon

He might be the sexiest man in London, according to his fan site (which he definitely writes himself), but he’s also the most arrogant man she’s ever met.

She might have the longest legs he’s ever seen, but she also has the sharpest tongue.

For years, rival TV presenters Sabrina Carlton and Nick Davenport have traded barbs on their respective shows. The public can’t get enough of their feud, but after Nick airs Sabrina’s family scandals to all of Britain, the gloves are off. They can barely be in the same room together—but these longtime enemies are about to become the unlikeliest of cohosts.

With their reputations on the rocks, Sabrina and Nick have one last chance to save their careers. If they can resurrect a sinking morning show, they’ll still have a future in television. But with ratings at an all-time low and a Christmas Eve deadline to win back the nation’s favor, the clock is ticking—and someone on their staff doesn’t want them to succeed.

Small mishaps on set start adding up, and Sabrina and Nick find themselves—quelle horreur—working together to hunt down the saboteur…and discovering they might have more in common than they thought. When a fiery encounter is caught on camera, the public is convinced that the reluctant cohosts are secretly lusting after one another.

The public might not be wrong.

Their chemistry has always been explosive, but with hate turning to love, the stakes are rising and everything is on the line. Neither is sure if they can trust these new feelings…or if they’ll still have a job in the New Year.

Rating: A

In Headliners, the fifth book in her London Celebrity series, author Lucy Parker shifts her focus from London’s Theatreland to the world of television, to bring readers a wonderfully sharp, funny, sexy and grown-up romance between a pair of rival TV presenters who profess to hate each other’s guts, but who, of course, doth protest too much.

[Unlike the other books in this series, Headliners isn’t really a standalone and readers would benefit from reading The Austen Playbook first, as part of this story deals with the fallout of events which took place in that book. ]

The sparks flew fast and explosive between current affairs presenters Sabrina Carlton and Nick Davenport when we met them in The Austen Playbook. The pair have been trading barbs on screen for years, the jabs and jibes at each other made on their respective shows starting off relatively light-hearted and encouraged by their production teams as a way of generating publicity.  As time has passed, those jabs and jibes have become sharper, and what had begun as contemptuous amusement has soured into actual antipathy.  But things reached an all-time low after (at the end of the previous book) Nick broke the story of a decades-old Carlton family secret in the most damaging way possible, and even though the story and ensuing scandal had absolutely nothing to do with Sabrina, her popularity has taken a dive and her career is hanging in the balance.

So her gleeful reaction to the news of a massive faux-pas by Nick is hardly surprising.  He’s been caught on video bad-mouthing the CEO of the network, who – naturally – is pissed as hell.  Nick is promptly removed from the nightly show he’s hosted for the past four years, The Davenport Report, and he and Sabrina – whose contract is up for renewal  – are given Hobson’s Choice; they’re out unless they agree to team up throughout December to present the network’s flagging breakfast show, Wake Me Up London.  They have until Christmas Eve to improve the show’s embarrassingly shit ratings  – and if they deliver (without actually killing each other in the process), then their immediate boss will agree to discuss the renewal of their contracts.

Of course, neither Nick nor Sabrina is thrilled with this idea, and not just because of their mutual dislike.  The early-morning show is a bit of a joke, not at all the sort of serious-minded, current affairs material they’re used to dealing with.  But both of them have worked incredibly hard and made a lot of personal sacrifices to get where they are in an exceptionally cut-throat business, and neither of them is willing to throw that away.  They agree to the deal.

 

Thus, the scene is set for a sometimes hilarious, sometimes poignant but always entertaining romance between two characters with scorching chemistry who simply light up the pages.  Lucy Parker captures the frenetic behind the scenes energy of live television just as well as she depicted the backstage shenanigans of the theatre scene, and the scenarios she dreams up for the breakfast show – from blind biscuit decorating, to interviewing the creator of that year’s must-have (really bizarre) toy, to a Christmas-themed whodunit aboard the Murder Train – are all ridiculously plausible and entertaining as we watch Nick and Sabrina realising that the morning gig is not as easy to pull off as they’d thought. I liked the way they come to admit to themselves – and then to each other – that they were wrong in their assumptions about it. There’s also an intriguing sub-plot in which it becomes apparent that someone is trying to sabotage the show, and while this remains firmly in the background for most of the time, it’s another of the things which serves to bring Nick and Sabrina together, as they agree to work together to try to find out who it is.

Nick and Sabrina are multi-faceted, complex characters who feel like real people, and their romance is really well done, the move from animosity to partnership to love evolving naturally and organically. Ambitious and career-minded, they’re alike in many ways, and have a – grudging – respect for each other on a professional level, but when forced to work together, they also have to face up to the fact that there’s something else going on that they’ve been supressing for quite some time.  Nick actually realises he’s in love fairly early on, and is completely honest with himself about it (which I loved), and although Sabrina takes a bit longer to connect the dots, once they’re together, they’re together; there’s no dithering or second-guessing, and the way they support each other through some difficult times is just lovely to see.  One of the things I so love about Lucy Parker’s romances is that her protagonists behave like mature adults; they communicate well and are honest with themselves – and each other.  Things could have veered into Big Mis territory a couple of times, but instead, Nick and Sabrina confront the problems head on, talk about them and resolve them together, showing clearly that trust and respect are the strongest of all foundations for love.

As always, the writing is top notch, the dialogue sparkles with wit and humour, the pop culture references are spot on and most of all, I love knowing that I can pick up a Lucy Parker book and feel instantly as though I’m in a place I recognise.  It’s an idealised version of the London I know and love perhaps, but it’s completely recognisable and the author captures the British idiom incredibly well.  I enjoyed catching up with other characters from the series – Richard and Lainey, Lily, Freddie and Griff (and Charlie – I hope he’s going to get his own book soon) – and I did adore watching the awful Sadie Frost get a well-deserved comeuppance!  In fact, I have only one quibble with the story.  It’s hard to say much without spoilers, but I did find it just a little bit difficult to believe that someone like Nick, with a background in hard-hitting investigative journalism, would make the transition to an essentially fluffy ‘lifestyle’ show so easily.  (It would be like Jeremy Paxman presenting The One Show. Just  – nope.) That said, the author does make it work, and once we know the backstory of his difficult relationship with a demanding father, it’s perhaps easier to understand.  Like Nick, Sabrina has a difficult relationship with her father, feeling he’s dismissed her because of her career choices (among other things), so both characters have to confront those relationships in order to reach some important realisations and decisions about themselves and who they want to be.

If you’ve enjoyed the other books in the London Celebrities series, you won’t be surprised when I say that Headliners delivered everything I wanted and expected.  It’s warm, funny and gorgeously romantic, the characters are rounded and engaging, the writing is terrific and everything about it works on every level.  It’s the sort of book that wraps you up in a big cuddle and leaves you smiling.

Tough Guy (Game Changers #3) by Rachel Reid


This title may be purchased from Amazon

They have nothing in common—so why does Ryan feel most like himself whenever he’s with Fabian?

Pro hockey star Ryan Price may be an enforcer, but off the ice he struggles with anxiety. Recently traded to the Toronto Guardians, he’s determined to make a fresh start in the city’s dynamic LGBTQ Village. The last thing he expects to stumble upon in his new neighborhood is a blast from his past in the fabulous form of Fabian Salah.

Aspiring musician Fabian loathes hockey. But that doesn’t stop him from being attracted to a certain burly, ginger-bearded defenseman. He hasn’t forgotten the kiss they almost shared back in high school, and it’s clear the chemistry between them has only intensified.

Fabian is more than happy to be Ryan’s guide to the gay scene in Toronto. Between dance clubs and art exhibits—and the most amazing sex—Ryan’s starting to feel something he hasn’t experienced in a long time: joy. But playing the role of the heavy on the ice has taken its toll on his body and mind, and a future with Fabian may mean hanging up his skates for good.

Rating: B

Tough Guy is book three in Rachel Reid’s Game Changers series, set in the world of professional hockey. While I wasn’t as utterly caught up in the romance here as I was in the previous book (Heated Rivalry – which made my Best of 2019 list), I nonetheless enjoyed the novel, and appreciated the way the author flips the stereotype of the confident, ripped jock so often found in sports romances (both m/f and m/m) and creates instead an endearing, gentle-giant-type character with severe self-esteem issues who struggles to reconcile the person he truly is with the one he’s expected to be on the ice.

At six-feet-seven inches, with a build like a bulldozer, Ryan Price knows how to intimidate.  On the ice, he’s an enforcer, someone other players actually aspire to fight with – especially rookies, for whom “paying the Price” is something of a rite of passage.  But it’s an image and a job that Ryan wrestles with, and which has been weighing down on him more and more as the years have passed, because that’s not who he is at all.  When the story begins, Ryan has just been traded – yet again – this time to the Toronto Guardians, and is being urged – ordered, really – by his coach to be more of a team player both on and off the ice, and unsubtly quizzed about his mental health.  Anxiety, self-esteem issues and finding social situations hard to deal with mean Ryan has always found it difficult to connect personally and professionally, and a well-publicised “freak out” the previous season (a panic attack) has made him even more self-conscious. This is the ninth team Ryan has played for in almost as many years; he’s never played anywhere long enough to put down roots or make any real friends, but this time he’s determined to change that, and finds himself an apartment in the vibrant, LGBTQ part of town.  Ryan is openly – albeit quietly – gay but that’s never been an issue, partly, he suspects, because he’s moved too often for anyone to really notice or care, and with a few other players – notably Scott Hunter (Game Changer) – coming out recently, it hasn’t seemed necessary to hide it. Sex hasn’t often been a positive experience for him; he  hasn’t had many partners, and those he has had haven’t really been interested in him as a person, or been able to see past his size or their own preconceptions of what he should like and want.  He’s lonely, the medication he’s on is screwing up his libido and… it sucks.

When Ryan enters  a local pharmacy in order to get a prescription filled, he’s surprised to see Fabian Salah working there.  When Ryan was seventeen, he’d been billeted with the Salahs, a Lebanese family who lived and breathed hockey and whose daughter was a rising hockey star, but whose son, a hugely talented musician, seemed hardly to merit their notice.  Even then, Ryan thought Fabian was beautiful and had a mad crush on him – which he suppressed, having quickly learned that Fabian despised everything to do with hockey.  Over the year Ryan lived with Salahs, Fabian’s attitude changed and they became friends, but they haven’t seen each other since Ryan made the NHL.

Fabian is Ryan’s complete opposite in just about every way.  Femme, confident and extrovert, he’s amazingly talented, completely adorable and has zero fucks to give about what others think or say about him. Plus he has the most fabulous group of friends I’ve read about in quite some time.  Fabian had quite the crush on Ryan back in the day (but thought he was straight,) and seeing him again brings back a lot of that old fascination and attraction.  Fabian isn’t pushy, but he does need to nudge Ryan out of his comfort zone a little to start with, and before long, they’re seeing each other regularly and fast moving toward couple-dom, helped considerably by Fabian’s ability to understand Ryan’s fears and anxieties and treat them as part of him and not something to be ashamed of or weird.

Tough Guy is a very different book to its predecessor, and anyone coming to it expecting more of the same may need to adjust those expectations.  It’s what I’d call a ‘quiet’ book in general; the romance evolves naturally and realistically, and the drama is mostly supplied by Ryan’s growing conviction that he’s not happy in his chosen career and his struggles to deal with his self-esteem issues and see himself as someone worthy of someone as vibrant and sexy as Fabian.  Ms. Reid handles Ryan’s anxiety issues very sensitively and never over – or under – plays them, and I appreciated her decision to write a main character who is experiencing sexual difficulties and isn’t always raring to go at the drop of a hat, something not often explored in romance novels.

I loved Fabian’s confidence and easy charm, although I was less than impressed with his actions towards the end, which actually felt like a deliberately contrived way of injecting some last minute tension into the story.  Fortunately, things are resolved quickly, but that short section felt like an insert rather than an organically evolved part of the story, and I had to knock the final grade down a bit as a result.

Following a book as good – and well-loved – as Heated Rivalry was always going to be tricky, but the author’s decision to do something completely different was a good one.  Tough Guy is a sweet, sensual and charming romance, and if you like opposites attract, gentle ginger giants and/or second-chance romances, then I’d urge you to give it a try.

Treble Maker (Perfect Harmony #1) by Annabeth Albert (audiobook) – Narrated by Brad King


This title may be purchased from Audible via Amazon

Cody Rivers is determined to be a rock star, but couch-surfing between bar shows gets old fast. Joining an a cappella group for a new singing competition show could be his last chance at real fame – unless the college boy from the heart of the country messes it up for him. Lucas Norwood is everything gothy, glittery Cody is not-conservative, clean-cut, and virginal. But when a twist in the show forces them together, even the sweetest songs get steamy as the attraction between them lights up the stage. Lucas wants to take it slow, but Cody’s singing a different tune – and this time it may be a love song….

Rating: Narration – B+; Content – B

Annabeth Albert is one of my favourite authors, so when I saw one of her backlist series, Perfect Harmonywas coming to audio, I was quick to request a copy of book one, Treble Maker, for review. Narrator Brad King is new-to-me – and I’m always a little nervous about listening to new narrators – but although he took a little while to really settle in, he delivers a strong performance overall, and I definitely intend to check out the rest of the series as the books are released.

Perfect Harmony is the title of a reality TV singing competition for a cappella (unaccompanied) singing groups (think Pentatonix), and when the book opens, there are thirteen hopeful groups competing for ten places in the next round. Embellish, consisting of two women and three men, is one of the smaller groups, and its members haven’t been performing together all that long; in fact, their lead singer, Cody Rivers, isn’t much used to ensemble or a cappella singing having spent his career so far as a lead or solo singer. Talented and ambitious, Cody is set on making it as a rock star, but living out of his clapped-out van or couch-surfing with friends is getting old, so he’s entered the show in what could very well be his last chance at a big break. He’s been on his own since he was sixteen, when his grandmother rejected him after he came out; he knows who he is and isn’t shy about doing whatever he needs to in order to gain advantages and make opportunities for himself.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

I Buried a Witch (Bedknobs & Broomsticks #2) by Josh Lanyon

This title may be purchased from Amazon

Cosmo Saville adores his new husband but his little white lies—and some very black magic—are about to bring their fairytale romance to an end. Someone is killing San Francisco’s spellcasters—and the only person Cosmo can turn to—the man who so recently swore to love and cherish him—isn’t taking his phone calls..

The only magic Police Commissioner John Joseph Galbraith believes in is true love. Discovering he’s married to a witch—a witch with something alarmingly like magical powers—is nearly as bad as discovering the man he loved tricked and deceived him. John shoulders the pain of betrayal and packs his bags. But when he learns Cosmo is in the crosshairs of a mysterious and murderous plot, he knows he must do everything in in his mortal power to protect him.

Till Death do them Part. With their relationship on the rocks, Cosmo and Commissioner Galbraith join forces to uncover the shadowy figure behind the deadly conspiracy…

Can the star-crossed couple bring down a killer before the dark threat extinguishes love’s flame?

Rating: B-

I Buried a Witch is the middle book in Josh Lanyon’s Bedknobs and Broomsticks trilogy, a series of fantasy/mystery/romance novels set in and around San Francisco and featuring witch and antiques dealer Cosmo Saville and his husband, John Joseph Galbraith, the Commissioner of Police.

The books don’t really stand alone as there’s an overarching storyline, (and the previous book raised more questions than it answered!) so if you haven’t read book one, Mainly by Moonlight, then you’ll be a bit lost if you start here; and it also means there will be spoilers in this review.

Mainly by Moonlight introduced readers to the world of the Craft (as Cosmo and his fellow witches refer to themselves) and its hierarchy; Cosmo is pretty high up in the pecking order, being the son of the witch next in line to be Crone (chief witch!), the Duchesse d’Abracadantès.  Cosmo is preparing to marry the man he’s fallen head-over-heels in love with in just a few short weeks, and to say that the duchesse is not at all happy about her son’s decision to marry an ordinary mortal would be a massive understatement.  She drops a bombshell when she tells Cosmo that John is under a love-spell; Cosmo is furious and insists that the spell be lifted immediately, even if it does mean that there’s a chance he’ll lose the love of his life.

While Cosmo is looking for signs that John is falling out of love with him, he’s also dealing with a number of troubling incidents ranging from the murder of a business rival to the sudden disappearance of one of his oldest friends, to another close friend being put into a coma following a hit-and-run, and to top it all, discovers the existence of a secret organisation whose activities threaten the entire Craft.  As the day of the wedding draws closer, Cosmo is relieved to discover that John doesn’t want to call it off, even though Cosmo can’t ignore the subtle changes that have started to take place in their relationship.  He’s so deeply in love that he carelessly ignores the warning signs that perhaps entering into marriage without having told John the truth about himself is not the best idea.

At the beginning of I Buried a Witch, Cosmo and John return home from their honeymoon in Scotland and are starting to settle into their new home.  Sadly, however, it’s not long before things between the newlyweds become strained and Cosmo is forced to admit that he has no-one but himself to blame for the tension between them.  When he discovers that several members of the local Wiccan community have been murdered in various gruesome ways, Cosmo wants to be allowed to help with the investigation; his knowledge of Wiccan customs, together with his witchy insight and understanding of possible motives surely make him the person best placed to provide the sort of information the police will need, but John makes it clear, in no uncertain terms, that he doesn’t want Cosmo going anywhere near the investigation.  Cosmo, of course, is having none of it, and the shit hits the fan when, during an argument, he tells John the truth about himself.

John, utterly stunned and furious at the deception, packs his bags and leaves that night.

Cosmo is devastated but not ready to give up on his marriage quite yet, even though John refuses to see or speak to him. While he tries to find a way to repair the damage, Cosmo can’t help continuing to look for solutions to the various magical conundrums that surround him. Who is the so-called Witch Killer and how are they connected to the murder (in book one) of Seamus Reitherman? Who is responsible for the hit-and-run that almost killed his friend? And worse, who is trying to kill him? Combined with some of the questions left over from the first book, there’s a lot to unravel here, and clearly some of these questions won’t be answered until the final book in the series, Bell, Book and Scandal.

I continue to like Cosmo as a character; he’s made mistakes and doesn’t always listen to good advice, but he’s smart and funny and kind-hearted, and I really want him to get the HEA he wants and deserves. The trouble is that at the moment, I’m not convinced that John is the man for him. In my review of Mainly by Moonlight, I said I recognised hints that there was more to John than meets the eye; the fact that he seemed able to deflect much of Cosmo’s magic appeared to be important, and I was eager to find out why, but the reason given here – if it’s the real reason – is almost an afterthought and does nothing to shed light on John’s character. In fact, he continues to be overbearing and dismissive of Cosmo; the scene in which John expects Cosmo to deal with the contractors coming to build a pool at the back of their house when Cosmo has said, explicitly, that he’s terrified of water and doesn’t want a pool left me wondering (again) what on earth Cosmo sees in him. But then, John will do or say something that indicates he really does care a great deal for Cosmo, and I’m rooting for them to find their way back to one another. In fact, there’s something of an epiphany for Cosmo when he finally realises that theirs has never been a relationship between equals and that if they’re to have any chance at a future together, he must stop trying to be someone he’s not and start to assert himself – and most importantly, be himself.

I dithered a bit when it came to assigning a final grade for this book. I was caught up in the story and in spite of my reservations about John, I ended up really wanting him and Cosmo to work out their differences and make a fresh start. But then perhaps that’s a testament to the author’s skill; she’s created two very different characters in John and Cosmo, and in spite of the fact that one of them is much easier to like than the other – I usually find it difficult to enjoy a romance in which I feel one character doesn’t really deserve the other – has written them and their relationship in a way that has me wanting things to work out for them. I might not love John, but I believe, honestly and truly, that Cosmo does – and that makes me at least want to like him. So it’s a low-level recommendation from me for I Buried a Witch; I’m invested enough to want to see all the mystery elements brought to a conclusion and to see how John and Cosmo are able to come back from their separation and make their tentative reunion into something solid, so I’ll be picking up the final book in the trilogy when it’s released in the Spring.

The Mysterious and Amazing Blue Billings (Black & Blue #1) by Lily Morton

This title may be purchased from Amazon

Levi Black is at a crossroads. After suffering a loss and breaking up a long-term relationship, he’s looking for a change. When he receives the news he’s inherited a house in York, he seizes the opportunity to begin a new chapter in his life.

However, when he gets there, he finds a house that has never kept its occupants for very long. Either through death or disinclination, no one stays there, and after a few days of living in the place, Levi can understand why. Strange noises can be heard at all hours of the day and night, and disturbing and scary things begin to happen to him. He never believed in ghosts before, but when events take a sinister turn, he knows he must look for help. He finds it in the unlikely form of the blue-haired leader of a ghost tour.

Blue Billings is edgy, beautiful, and lost. Utterly lost. He conceals so many secrets that some days it’s a miracle he remembers his own name. He knows that he should ignore Levi because he threatens the tenuous grip Blue has on survival. But there’s something about the kind-eyed man that draws Blue to him. Something that demands he stay and fight for him when he would normally run in the opposite direction.

As the two men investigate the shocking truth behind Levi’s house, they also discover a deep connection that defies the short length of time they’ve known each other. But when events escalate and his life is on the line, Levi has to wonder if it was wise to trust the Mysterious and Amazing Blue Billings.

Rating: B+

In a departure from her usual m/m contemporary romance fare, Lily Morton has embarked upon a new series of paranormal romances featuring The Mysterious and Amazing Blue Billings, a psychic with a tragic past, dark secrets and a big heart he’s kept under wraps for years.  The book is part ghost story, part romance, and the author certainly knows how to bring the spooky – so you might want to make sure you’re reading it in a well-lit room! The things I so enjoy about her contemporary romances – complex, likeable characters, snark, tenderness, steamy sexytimes and authentic British-ness – are all here too, and it’s a winning combination.

Levi Black has relocated from London to York, where he has inherited a house in a prime location not far from the Minster.  He knows little about the house, other than it belonged to a cousin of some sort, and that it was bequeathed to his mother; and now his mother has passed away it belongs to him.  Eager to make a fresh start after breaking up with his partner of five-years (who cheated on him), Levi is determined to fix the house up (it’s not been lived in for years) and make it his home, in spite of some odd noises coming from upstairs and the rather nervous demeanour of the solicitor who meets him there to hand over the keys.  Levi had hoped to be able to stay in the house while the work is completed, but the place is in a worse state than he’d thought, so he moves into an hotel for the duration.

Six months later, Levi is finally able to move in and quickly makes himself at home – although he’s at a loss to explain the pervasive scent of lily of the valley, and the sudden banging of the open doors and windows that he’s sure he’s closed and latched.  Later that evening, he’s surprised to discover his house on the route of one of York’s many ghost tours – surprised and embarrassed when he wanders downstairs naked to find a group of people staring at him through the kitchen window! – and to hear it referred to as the ‘Murder House’ by the tour guide, a strikingly attractive young man with vivid blue hair whom Levi has seen around town a few times.

Waking up the next morning to a freezing cold house – all the windows have been thrown open and the boiler has been switched off – Levi decides he needs to find out more about the history of his new home, so that night, he waits for the tour to pass by and tags along, intending to question the guide at the end. Over a drink, the guide – Blue – tells Levi the gruesome story behind the Murder House, but becomes quickly withdrawn when Levi expresses his scepticism about ghosts and the spirit world.

But as more inexplicable things start to happen and an inexorable aura of darkness and dread descends on the house, Blue realises that Levi needs help of the sort only he can provide.  He’s a psychic and is able to see the spirits that move among the living of the city, many of whom seem intent on communicating with him. The problem is that he has never really worked out how to hear as well as see them; he has never honed his talent and for the first time, finds himself regretting that, as it leaves him unable to help Levi as much as he would like.

The romance between Levi and Blue is a lovely slow-burn and I really liked both central characters, who are very, very different, but who just click together to make a perfect fit.  Blue has had a tough life, ending up in care and then homeless at thirteen and doing what he had to in order to survive on the streets.  He’s prickly and defensive, scared of emotional attachments because they never last; but when he finally lets his guard down around Levi he’s revealed to have a huge capacity for love.  Levi is an absolute sweetie; honest and caring, he’s fascinated by Blue and wildly attracted to him, but doesn’t think someone so gorgeous and unusual could possibly be interested in someone as ordinary as he is, while Blue, of course, thinks a guy like Levi is way out of his league and is surprised at his impulse to protect and help him.  There’s a definite spark of attraction between them from the moment they meet, but their relationship develops slowly, as a genuine friendship first and then evolving into something more.

Levi is grieving the death of his mother around six months earlier, and Ms. Morton handles the subject with a great deal of sensitivity; the scene in which Blue takes Levi to see a stained glass window in one of York’s oldest churches is just so lovely:

“I think this is what grief is really like. After we lose someone, we’re like this window. We’re broken in pieces. Eventually we put ourselves back together, but it’s never the same as the original us. Instead, we’re a jumbled-up version with funny angles and new faces to show the world.” He turns to face the window. “Still beautiful and still whole. But just in a new way.”

I loved crotchety Tom, the owner of the bookshop where Blue has spent many hours – Levi isn’t wrong when he says he’s what Blue will probably be in his sixties! – I hope we’ll see more of him and Blue’s friend Will in future books.  And York itself feels like character in the story given the author’s wonderfully vivid descriptions of the city and its history; it’s a beautiful place full of wonderful old buildings and bursting at the seams with character and it’s easy to picture the old bookshop tucked away in sight of the Minster and the narrow cobbled streets.

I enjoyed the book a great deal, but near the end both Levi and Blue veer rather close to TSTL territory, which caused me to knock off half a grade-point.  It’s hard to explain without venturing into spoiler territory; let’s just say that maybe Levi’s Scooby-Doo references weren’t too far off the mark!

That said however, I’m still giving The Mysterious and Amazing Blue Billings a strong recommendation.  The characters are likeable, the romance is sweet and sexy, and the banter is spot on; and although the mystery is perhaps a tad predictable, the ghost story is well done and the spooky parts are downright creepy!

I’m looking forward to reading more about Black & Blue.

Blindsided (Fake Boyfriend #4) by Eden Finley (audiobook) – Narrated by Alexander Cendese and Iggy Toma

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

Miller:

When Talon left to play pro ball six years ago, the hole in my chest confused me. I focused my heartache into making my own NFL dreams come true, and by the time I was drafted, the longing I had for my best friend was buried deep. Now, he wants everything to be like it was in college, but we can’t have threesomes and be reckless like we once were. The media storm would be enough to break both our careers. That’s not my biggest concern, though. The torch I had for him burns brighter after so long apart, and there’s nothing I can do about it. Marcus Talon is straight. I need to stay away from him.

Talon:

Years ago, Miller and I made a pact that we’d win a Super Bowl together. When I’m offered a position on his team in Chicago, I don’t hesitate. I move across the country to chase a dream that’s a decade old. Only, now that I’m here, he’s avoiding me every chance he gets. If he was anyone else, I’d cut my losses. But this is Shane Miller – the guy who makes everything better just by existing in my universe. The guy I’d do anything for. The guy who’s more to me than a brother, a friend, or even a teammate. I’m not going to let him get away.

Rating: Narration – B+ ; Content – B-

I’ve been having fun listening to Eden Finley’s Fake Boyfriend series. The books are funny, sexy and light-hearted although not without their deeper, more serious moments, and as per the series title, each book features a fake relationship. Blindsided is book four and the only one in the set NOT to feature the fake boyfriend trope (the author is upfront about this and it’s in the blurb); the two leads were secondary characters in earlier books who were crying out for a story, and this is it.

Marcus Talon and Shane Miller have known each other since college, where they became great friends on and off the football field, and also in and out of the bedroom, where they frequently indulged in threesomes with a woman in the middle, never touching each other and keeping their focus firmly on their female partner. When their college days come to an end, they both make the draft for the NFL and are signed to different teams, so they go their separate ways and interact only over social media until around six years later when Talon – by now one of the sport’s biggest names – signs up with Miller’s team, the Chicago Warriors. It’s not long before Miller and Talon end up in bed again – with two women between them – but this time Miller realises he’s made a huge mistake and makes it clear he doesn’t want to go there again.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

First Impressions (Auckland Med. #1) by Jay Hogan

This title may be purchased from Amazon

Michael:

Two years ago, I made a mistake, a big one. Then I added a couple more just for good measure. I screwed up my life, but I survived. Now I have the opportunity for a fresh start. Two years in NZ. Away from the LA gossip, a chance to breathe, to rebuild my life. But I’m taking a new set of rules with me.

I don’t do relationships.

I don’t do commitment.

I don’t do white picket fences.

And I especially don’t do arrogant, holier-than-thou, smoking hot K9 officers who walk into my ER and rock my world.

Josh:

One thing for certain, Dr. Michael Oliver is an arrogant, untrustworthy player, and I barely survived the last one of those. He might be gorgeous, but my daughter takes number one priority. I won’t risk her being hurt, again. I’m a solo dad, a K9 cop and a son to pain-in-the-ass parents.

I don’t have time for games.

I don’t have time for taking chances.

I don’t have time for more complications in my life.

And I sure as hell don’t have time for the infuriating Dr. Michael Oliver, however damn sexy he is.

Rating: B

Having really enjoyed Jay Hogan’s Digging Deep when I read it last summer, I was eager to read more of her work.  First Impressions – the first in her Auckland Med. series – is her début novel (recently republished), an enjoyable enemies-to-lovers romance with an element of suspense/crime drama thrown in.  The central characters are engaging and strongly drawn but flawed, and the chemistry between them is fantastic; plus there’s a nicely rounded-out secondary cast, and I thoroughly appreciated the vibrant, laid-back New Zealand setting, which made a refreshing change.

After a tragic event which sent him into a downward spiral of drink and depression, Los Angeles-based ER doctor Michael Oliver took the opportunity to relocate to Auckland as part of a two year exchange program.  He’s been in New Zealand for six months and he loves it; he loves his work, he’s made some really good friends and is more than happy with his revolving door of bed-partners.  His personal life went tits up around the same time his professional life imploded, making Michael more certain than ever that relationships aren’t his thing.  We first meet him when he’s out cruising, making his move on the hot guy he’s decided is going to be his for the night, when his plans are interrupted by a raid on the club and he’s confronted by six-foot-four of scorching hot, snarky cop, an ansty German Shepherd glued to his side.

K-9 officer Josh Rawlins doesn’t have time for the mouthy, arrogant guy obviously checking him out, and has shut down his attempts to flirt when all hell breaks loose and shots are fired.  While Josh and his dog, Paris, are involved in the fight to stop the shooters from escaping, Michael jumps in to help an officer who has been shot, keeping him alive until the paramedics arrive.

Josh and Michael take an instant dislike to each other and Michael takes a particular delight in deliberately needling Josh by attempting to flirt with him.  But Josh is having none of it. His priority is his eleven-year-old daughter, and what he wants most is to make a loving home and family for her – but following his last long-term relationship, which ended after Josh discovered his partner had been cheating on him throughout, Josh has been wary of getting involved again. He certainly isn’t prepared to put himself and his heart on the line for someone like Michael who, Josh thinks, has impermanence written all over him, no matter how tempted he may be.

And Michael Oliver is most definitely tempting. Josh has to admit he’s funny and sexy and smart, and that something about him turns him on “like a fucking switch” .  When the two of them at last give in to the intensity of the attraction between them, things get steamy pretty fast and Michael is surprised to find himself craving the space to just… let go that Josh offers.  They agree to a NSA fling, but somehow things don’t stay that way and ‘casual’ soon develops into something neither man had anticipated.  Josh doesn’t think Michael can ‘do’ relationships, and Michael has labelled himself the same way; he deliberately destroyed his last relationship when he was in that drink-fuelled downward spiral and has convinced himself he’s not cut out for anything long-term.  But as the men spend more and moretime together, they are forced to confront the fact that their first impressions of each other were completely wrong and that perhaps they really do want the same things from life.  The problem is admitting that – to themselves and each other.

I really liked both characters, even though Michael is a bit of a dickhead to start with, and their relationship is very well developed.  The chemistry between them is explosive, and they have a lot of sex,  but they laugh and talk and just hang out, too; they enjoy each other’s company and open up to one another, both feeling safe to let themselves be vulnerable when they need to, and I loved seeing that trust build between them.  I was also relieved that the author didn’t take an obvious turn down Big Mis Lane at a point later in the story.  There’s a great secondary cast, too – Josh’s daughter is a fairly believable eleven and their relationship is nicely done, as is that with his sister, and his friend and fellow cop, Mark; and Michael’s friend and colleague Cam Wano, a gloriously femme, snarky charge-nurse is a highlight – his story is told in the next book in the series.  The crime drama storyline I mentioned at the beginning is perhaps distributed a little unevenly throughout the book – it sort of disappears for a bit in the middle before resurfacing towards the end – and there’s another sub-plot  revolving around Josh’s homophobic parents which is quite heart-breaking  – and quite honestly, I wanted Josh to tell them where to get off rather earlier than he did!  I also had issues with the ending; it’s difficult to say too much without spoilers, but while I understood why Michael did what he did, I nonetheless found it rather selfish and needlessly hurtful.

Still, First Impressions was an engrossing read and one that I got through in only a couple of sittings, which is always a good indication of my engagement with a book.  In spite of my reservations about certain aspects of the plot, the central relationship and romance are really well done, the characters are likeable and if you’re looking for a contemporary romance set outside the US, it’s definitely one to consider checking out.