The Long Game (Game Changers #6) by Rachel Reid (audiobook) – Narrated by Cooper North

the long game

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

To the world they are rivals, but to each other they are everything.

Ten years.

That’s how long Shane Hollander and Ilya Rozanov have been seeing each other. How long they’ve been keeping their relationship a secret. From friends, from family…from the league. If Shane wants to stay at the top of his game, what he and Ilya share has to remain secret. He loves Ilya, but what if going public ruins everything?

Ilya is sick of secrets. Shane has gotten so good at hiding his feelings, sometimes Ilya questions if they even exist. The closeness, the intimacy, even the risk that would come with being open about their relationship…Ilya wants it all.

It’s time for them to decide what’s most important—hockey or love.

It’s time to make a call.

Rating: Narration – A; Content – A

The Long Game, the sixth intstalment in Rachel Reid’s Game Changers series of hockey romances is one of my most highly anticipated books of 2022 – and I’m delighted to say that not only did it meet all my expectations, it exceeded them. It’s the sequel to Heated Rivalry, the story that introduced us to top- flight players Shane Hollander and Ilya Rozunov who, despite their highly publicised reputation as intense rivals who hate each other’s guts, had in fact been carrying on a years-long affair in secret. By the end of that book, their relationship – which began as hook-ups when they were both in the same place at the same time – has evolved into a deep and abiding love, but they decide to continue to keep things under wraps for the foreseeable future – at least while they’re still playing hockey at the highest level. Coming out as queer is going to be difficult enough, but for two players whose professional rivalry is legendary to reveal that they’re in love with each other is going to need really careful handling when they decide to go public.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

Criminal Intentions S1E2: Junk Shop Blues by Cole McCade (audiobook) – Narrated by Curt Bonnem

junk shop blues

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

A murdered night club mogul unlocks a web of infidelity and deceit. The most likely suspect? The daughter of the richest family in Baltimore, if only Detectives Malcolm Khalaji and Seong-Jae Yoon can piece the evidence together. The clues just aren’t lining up—but Malcolm can’t tell if he’s missing a piece of the puzzle or completely missing the mark. The McAllister case still haunts him. So many dead. So many he couldn’t save. It’s throwing him off his game.And the only one who really understands is his strange, coldly aloof partner.

A partner he can never see the same way, after a moment of intimacy that haunts him as much as the voices of the dead.

Seong-Jae Yoon is struggling in his own way. He can’t solve the case when he can’t trust Malcolm, and he can’t trust Malcolm when the grizzled old wolf is growing increasingly erratic, increasingly dangerous. What disturbs Seong-Jae is how much he needs to trust Malcolm. He doesn’t get that close. He doesn’t get that involved.

But he may have no choice, if they want to stop a powerful killer from slipping away.

Rating: Narration – B+; Content – B

I was completely hooked into Cole McCade’s long-running Criminal Intentions romantic suspense series by the time I’d reached the end of the first chapter of book one, so was chomping at the bit to get stuck into the next one! The Cardigans introduced listeners to two very different protagonists – detectives Malcolm Khalaji and Seong-Jae Yoon – and set up what looks set to be a very slow burn romance as well as telling a tense and exciting story of the investigation into the string of murders that brings them together.

Junk Shop Blues opens about a week since the pair started working with each other – and things aren’t going well. Neither of them is dealing well with the emotional fallout of the Macallister case, and neither of them is prepared to open up or attempt to process it with the person most able to really understand what they’re going through – each other. Malcolm is distracted and snappish and more irascible than usual, and Seong-Jae has no idea why – which, in turn, annoys him and makes him irritable, too. But the world – and crime – doesn’t stop just because they’re unaccountably pissed with each other, and they’re quickly assigned a new case – a murder at a luxury hotel.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

The Bridge of Silver Wings & This Other Country (More Heat Than the Sun #3&4) by John Wiltshie (audiobook) – Narrated by Gary Furlong

The Bridge of Silver Wings and This Other Country may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

The Bridge of Silver Wings

Nikolas and Ben discover that bonds aren’t forged with blood or scars, but in the hearts of men strong enough to love.
Siberia in winter isn’t a place for good men.
There is nothing Nikolas won’t do to keep Ben alive.
Nikolas has exorcised his demons, but when they end up stranded in Russia, the monster inside needs to be let loose. Ben discovers the truth of the adage, ‘be careful what you wish for’!

Nikolas then faces an enemy he can’t defeat: Ben Rider himself. Discovering a new family, Ben realizes he’s been living too long in the shadows cast by Nikolas’s all-consuming love. For the first time, life apart from Nikolas is possible.
Is Nikolas strong enough to let Ben go?

This Other Country

Nikolas is the sanest, straightest person Ben knows, so can anyone tell him why he is on a gay-therapy course?

Nikolas Mikkelsen could make a very long list of unpleasant things he’s endured in his life. Then order it from “nearly killed me” to “extremely horrific and don’t want to do again”. And what does it say about his 45 years, that being hit by a tsunami would be considerably way down on this list? But nothing – not torture, imprisonment, or starvation – has prepared him for what he now has to endure for Ben Rider’s sake – attendance on a residential gay-therapy course.

At least he has a new contender for the top spot on his “my awful life” list.

Rating: Narration – A+; Content – B+

The Bridge of Silver Wings and This Other Country are books three and four in John Wiltshire’s More Heat Than the Sun series of thriller/romantic suspense novels following the exploits of Ben Rider, a former SAS operative, and enigmatic (ex) diplomat Sir Nikolas Mikkelsen, two of the most stubborn Alpha Males who ever stubborned. The books are characterised by fast-paced, dramatic plots – there’s no such thing as ‘low-drama’ in Ben and Nik’s world – lots of humour, terrific dialogue and the continually evolving relationship between the two leads, a pair of complex, damaged and compelling individuals who aren’t always likeable but who always manage to be fascinating.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

TBR Challenge: Mr. Warren’s Profession by Sebastian Nothwell

mr. warren's profession

This title may be purchased from Amazon

Lindsey Althorp, the only son of a wealthy baronet, has never worked a day in his life. Aubrey Warren was born in a workhouse and hasn’t stopped working since.

When Lindsey wins a textile mill in a game of cards, he falls at first sight for the assistant clerk, Aubrey. Lindsey is certain that Aubrey is the Achilles to his Patroclus, the David to his Jonathan. Yet Aubrey, unaccustomed to affection, refuses to be a kept man-though he isn’t immune to Lindsey’s considerable charm.

Buoyed by Lindsey’s optimism and fuelled by Aubrey’s industry, the two men strive to overcome the class gulf between them. But a horrific accident reveals a betrayal that threatens to tear them apart forever.

Rating: B+

For the Tales of Old prompt, I went for the obvious and picked up an historical romance I’ve been meaning to read for ages.  Mr. Warren’s Profession is set at the end of the nineteenth century and is as much about the difficulties of two people from very different ends of the social spectrum being together as it is about the problems inherent in a relationship between two men at that time.  It’s well written – despite a few Americanisms – and obviously well-researched, the wealth of background detail carefully integrated into the story in order to create a wonderfully strong sense of time and place.

Aubrey Warren works as a clerk at a textile mill in Manchester.  He’s very good at his job, extremely diligent and hard-working – and used to doing the work of two since the other office clerk is lazy and only has the job because of his family connections.  But Aubrey is at least content – and doesn’t expect happiness.  He’s come from nothing – he was brought up in the workhouse – to a responsible position that provides him with income enough to live decently, if not well, and has dreams of one day becoming an engineer. His quiet and unassuming life is suddenly blown apart by the appearance of Lindsey Althorp, the son of a baronet, who has won the mill in a card game, and who actually takes an interest in the place, much to Aubrey’s surprise.

Lindsey had no idea of becoming involved in the business of the mill, but that changes the moment he lays eyes on the beautiful, dark-eyed clerk sitting at a desk in the office and is immediately smitten.  It’s a defining moment for Lindsey;  for the first time in his life, he feels a true and strong desire for another person, and like a bolt from the blue, it crystallises the truth – that he is, and always has been, attracted to men.  He’s well aware that’s something that must be hidden, but in the first flush of infatuation, in his overwhelming desire to see and spend time with Aubrey, Lindsey behaves less than discreetly – requesting several tours of the factory and anything else he can think of that will put him into Aubrey’s company.

While Aubrey is every bit as attracted to Lindsey as Lindsey is to him, he tries hard to distance himself, and it’s easy to understand why. He knows full well that Lindsey’s marked attention to him could have serious repercussions and knows how easy it would be for him to lose even the little he has should anyone suspect where his interest lies.  The precariousness of his situation as someone of lower social standing, without family or other support system is well articulated and well-contrasted with Lindsey’s; a relationship with another man would be risky for both of them, but Lindsey has the ‘safety net’ of family, wealth and title that Aubrey does not.  But Lindsey’s warmth, enthusiasm and sheer joy in their connection are hard to resist; it’s been a long time since he’s allowed himself to feel just about anything – and before long, Aubrey can’t find it in him to deny himself the happiness he longs for.

While Aubrey and Lindsey get together somewhat quickly, there’s still plenty of relationship development going on and there’s no denying the strength of the love and affection they find in each other.  They’re from completely different worlds, but Lindsey is so wonderfully supportive of Aubrey and wants the world for him; and Aubrey, once he allows himself to love Lindsey, does so with his whole heart.  As I said at the beginning, the historical context here is well-done, with full acknowledgement of the risks of pursuing a homosexual relationship at this time, and the class difference between the two principals just makes things even more difficult. Men of equal status spending time together in public would not have been looked at askance, but a baronet’s son and a lowly clerk?  Very suspicious indeed.

So there are, of course, a lot of obstacles in the way of their HEA, from interfering and well-meaning (and not so well-meaning) friends, to a jealous and ill-intentioned colleague to a villainous blackmail plot.  There’s loss and heartbreak, but the author pulls everything together with great skill to reach a very satisfying conclusion in which Aubrey and Lindsey get their well-deserved HEA (and the villain gets his equally deserved comeuppance!)

There’s a strongly characterised secondary cast and lots of fascinating historical detail, ranging from the Cleveland Street Scandal and the Post Office boys, to advances in engineering, the work of the mill and incipient worker’s rights, in such a way that it never feels didactic or info-dump-y. However, there were a few things that stretched my credulity a bit –  for example, Lindsey’s father and sister realising he was an ‘invert’ before he did and his father’s plan to ‘protect’ him from that knowledge by not sending him off to Eton, and his sister’s habit of employing handsome, similarly inclined footmen so Lindsey could, er, sow his wild oats discreetly!  Then there’s the ease and frequency with which the characters travel between London and Manchester by train, seemingly just to spend the day there (Google tells me it takes between two and two-and-a-half hours now, but it must have been more than that back then?) and not only that, but surely Aubrey couldn’t have afforded to travel between Manchester and London and Wiltshire (where Lindsey owns a house) so often.

In the end, however, those are fairly minor concerns, more ‘things I noticed’ than ‘things that spoiled the book for me’.  Mr. Warren’s Profession is an enjoyable historical romance filled with interesting period detail, and Aubrey and Lindsey are a likeable couple who are easy to root for.  I really enjoyed their growth as characters and as a couple, together with the story’s focus on their deepening emotional connection and how they surmount the obstacles on their path to happiness.  If you’ve enjoyed books by KJ Charles and Joanna Chambers, I’d definitely suggest giving this one a try.

Temporary Partner (Valor & Doyle #1) by Nicky James

This title may be purchased from Amazon

Can two rivals work together to solve a case?

When an infant is taken from his carriage in broad daylight, missing persons detective, Quaid Valor, must race against the clock to find the child and bring him safely home to his family. Unfortunately, Quaid’s partner isn’t available, and his team is spread thin. Begrudgingly, Quaid must accept the help from his rival, homicide detective Aslan Doyle, if he wants to get the job done.

Aslan is Quaid’s opposite in every way. He’s bold, outspoken, arrogant, and the office playboy. And much to Quaid’s chagrin, Aslan seems to have set his sights on Quaid as his next conquest.

Quaid doesn’t have time to deal with Aslan’s flirty behavior when he’s trying to solve a case and juggle his cheating ex’s incessant interruptions.

It doesn’t matter how attractive Aslan is or the undeniable chemistry they seem to have. Getting involved with Aslan would be a huge mistake.

But as tension with the case builds, Quaid keeps forgetting he’s supposed to hate this new partner. Maybe Aslan is exactly the kind of distraction he needs.

Temporarily at least.

Right?

Rating: A-

Temporary Partner, the first book in a new series of romantic mysteries from Nicky James, features two rival detectives who team up to solve a missing persons case.  It’s a thoroughly entertaining read and I raced through it in a couple of sittings; it’s fast-paced, tightly-plotted and the sexual tension between the two leads is off-the-charts.

In the short prequel, Department Rivals (available through the author’s newsletter), we were introduced to detectives Quaid Valor of the Missing Persons Unit and Aslan Doyle (yes, his mother was a Narnia fan!) from Homicide.  There’s a long-standing and not at all friendly rivalry between Homicide and the MPU at the Toronto Police Service, and in that story, the higher-ups arrange a team-building exercise in which a detective from one division partners with a detective from the other in order to solve a case-like puzzle.  Of course, the department playboy – Doyle – is partnered with the standoffish, anally-retentive Valor, and while neither is impressed with the other, they’re rather annoyed to find they work surprisingly well together.  It’s not absolutely necessary to read that first, but it’s a quick read and a fun introduction to the characters.

Temporary Partner opens a few months later when Quaid is called in after a five-month-old baby goes missing, snatched from the back-yard of his very well-to-do family home.  Time is of the essence in these cases and Quaid needs to get the ball rolling quickly, but his regular partner is currently on leave dealing with a family situation and all the other detectives in the MPU are on assignment so Quaid’s boss requests help from other departments – which is how come Aslan Doyle ends up working the case. Quaid isn’t best pleased – but it’s Doyle or no-one if he wants to find little Matthieu and return him to his parents safe and sound.

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

Everything for You (Bergman Brothers #5) by Chloe Liese

everything for you

This title may be purchased from Amazon

Gavin
We’ve been teammates for two years, but it feels like a lifetime that Oliver Bergman’s been on my last nerve. A demanding captain and veteran player, I’m feared and friendless, while he’s the beloved rising star, all sunshine smiles and upbeat team spirit. To make matters worse, he’s obscenely attractive. In short: he’s genetically designed to get under my skin.

Avoiding Oliver has been my survival tactic on and off the field. But when Coach drops the bomb that we’re now co-captains, avoiding him becomes impossible, and keeping the truth from him–let alone my distance–is harder than ever.

Oliver

Life was great until soccer legend Gavin Hayes joined the team and proved he’s nothing like the guy I grew up idolizing. Instead, he’s a giant–albeit gorgeous–grump who lives to rain on my parade. I’ve sworn off pranks since entering the public eye, so rather than settle our differences the Bergman way, I’ve had to settle for killing Gavin with kindness. There’s just one problem: killing him with kindness is killing me.

To make matters worse, Coach gives us an ultimatum: put an end to our enmity or say goodbye to being captains. I’m prepared to be miserable while we meet her demands and make nice, but the last thing I expect is to discover an explosive attraction we can’t help but act on, and worse yet, to realize the man hiding beneath Gavin’s gruff exterior is all I’ve ever wanted.

Rating: C

Everything for You – book five in Chloe Liese’s Bergman Brothers series – is the first entry in that series to feature a same sex couple and is also the author’s first m/m romance. As I haven’t read anything by Ms. Liese before, I decided to rectify that by picking it up for review.  It’s an antagonists-to-lovers romance set in the world of professional football – or soccer as it’s termed on The Other Side of The Pond – between a newly established star of the game and a veteran player facing the prospect of retirement, but while age-gap and grumpy/sunshine are among my favourite tropes – and I appreciated the way certain aspects of the storyline are handled, especially with respect to Gavin’s fears over his future – the book as a whole is too problematic for me to be able to offer a recommendation.

At twenty-four, Oliver Bergman is a new star on the soccer scene.   He was over the moon when he learned that his idol and teenage crush, Gavin Hayes, had signed with his team – the L.A. Galaxy – and looked forward to playing alongside him, but his hopes of friendship and  camaraderie were dashed when the guy proved to be a total dick.  Ever since they met, Gavin has been cold, dictatorial and downright unpleasant, but Ollie refuses to be cowed or daunted, meeting every scowl with a smile, every curt word with a friendly retort – just because he knows it winds Gavin up no end.

At thirty-four, Gavin is facing the end of an illustrious career, and the prospect of retirement is terrifying.  Living with chronic pain from various injuries sustained over the years, he is struggling to work out how to be – or even who he will be – without the sport that has defined and sustained him for so many years.  Although he knows he can’t continue to hide the truth of his situation from those around him – let alone that he’s still hiding it from himself – he’s in serious denial, and the last thing he needs is his hugely inconvenient attraction to Mr. Sweetness-and-Light himself, the guy who never gets flustered or riled-up, and who, in a massive knee-to-the-balls administered by fate, happens to live in the house right next door.

Neighbours they may be, but friends they most certainly are not, which is exactly how Gavin wants things to stay; the less he has to do with Oliver Bergman the better he can continue to pretend he’s fine and that Ollie is no more to him than an annoying pain in the arse.  Until a very large spanner is thrown into those works by their team coach, who has had enough of the obvious enmity between them and decides to solve the problem by making them joint captains, the implication being that either they bury the hatchet and learn to work together or one of them is canned.  It’s Ollie’s first captaincy and likely Gavin’s last; neither of them is going to risk rocking the boat.

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

Out of the Ashes (Ashes & Dust #3) by Jenn Burke

out of the ashed

This title may be purchased from Amazon

Some bonds weren’t meant to be broken.

Vampire PI Evan Fournier has dealt with his fair share of danger and heartache, but nothing prepares him for the pain of a broken bond with his mate—especially when his mate is the one who severed it. Bond or no, he still loves Colin—fiercely. Trust, however, is harder to come by. And when a demon starts terrorizing paranormals in Toronto, trust in one another is exactly what they’ll need.

Former firefighter turned crime-fighting phoenix Colin Zhang knows who Evan was—is—to him, but he doesn’t know if he can give him what he wants. He just needs a little time to figure things out. Unfortunately, bringing down a demon bent on mass murder leaves little time for anything else.

The only way they’ll destroy the demon is by teaming up with an unlikely partner to infiltrate a gang of terrorists. But the only way they’ll save themselves is by finding a path back into each other’s arms—and hearts—once again.

Rating: B

Out of the Ashes is the third and final book in Jenn Burke’s Ashes & Dust series of paranormal romances set in and around Toronto, featuring vampire investigator Evan Fournier, his lover Colin Zhang – a phoenix – and their extended family of werewolves, vampires, witches – and a god.  The author does include information about the previous instalments for readers new to the series, but I’d advise reading the books in order so as to fully understand the character backstories and the emotional impact of past events.

Please note that there are spoilers in this review.

At the end of House on Fire, Colin made the decision to break the bond that had accidentally formed between himself and Evan (in All Fired Up).  It was risky, but he’s come through it okay – mostly; while he’s retained his memories and knows who Evan is, he has no emotional attachment to those memories, and Evan can tell that every time Colin looks at him, he sees a virtual stranger.  Understanding why Colin did what he did makes it no less devastating, and Evan is trying desperately to cling to the hope given him by Colin’s confession of love and exhortation to fight for them in the letter he left before he underwent the spell.  But weeks later, and with no indication that anything is changing,  a heartbroken Evan is struggling to keep his depression at bay, wondering how long he’ll be able to keep alive the hope that Colin will come back to him.

At the same time as Evan is trying to come to terms with the fact that the man he loves may never again love him back, the Westerson-Rojas household is reeling from the murder of Hudson’s brother by a demon, and the disappearance of Hudson’s niece Priya, who fears she will be accused of the crime.  And they’re still no nearer to discovering who is responsible for the spate of attacks on members of the paranormal community over the past few months.

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

The Reluctant Companion (13 Kingdoms #1) by H.L. Day

This title may be purchased from Amazon

Sebastian might have the power to summon animals, but winning Jack over? Far more difficult.

As first encounters go, Jack and Sebastian’s isn’t ideal, leaving Jack nursing a grudge he’s not about to let go of in a hurry. Yet, if Jack is to find his missing sister, and Sebastian is to rescue his captured prince, they’ll need to set their differences aside and work as a team.

Jack is stubborn and somewhat volatile. Sebastian is vain and clearly in love with himself. But as the unlikely companions face all manner of dangers together, they grow closer. Rescuing the prince should be easy. Rescuing him from an impenetrable tower guarded by dragon-shifting knights? Okay, that part is harder.

But once the adventure is over, letting Sebastian go might be the hardest thing Jack has ever had to do.

Rating: B+

The first book in a new series by H.L. Day, The Reluctant Companion is a light-hearted fantasy adventure featuring an opposites-attract romance between a snarky farm boy and a handsome charmer who team up – reluctantly, as the title suggests – to undertake a quest, and fall for each other along the way. It’s a lot of fun with plenty of action and adventure, a nicely evoked faux-medieval setting and two engaging leads; it’s a great start to the series and I really enjoyed it.

Jack Straw is twenty-six and has lived pretty much his entire life in his small village on his family farm. But when we meet him, he’s sitting somewhat forlornly in a tavern miles from home wondering whether to continue the search for his missing sister, Annabelle, or if his dwindling resources mean he will have to return home without finding any news of her. His musings are interrupted when a small monkey drops onto the table and starts chittering angrily at him before jumping down and disappearing out the door. It’s only then that Jack notices his purse has also disappeared.

Dashing out into the street, Jack is in time to see the monkey making its way along the street at roof-level and follows, his eyes fixed on the animal until he bumps into a large, shirtless man whose good looks (and very tight trousers) are so utterly mesmerising that it’s a second or two before Jack notices the monkey sitting on his shoulder. Angry now, Jack demands the return of his money – only for the monkey to vanish in a shower of golden sparks. It figures. Not only is this guy gorgeous – and thoroughly aware of it – he’s been blessed with magic, too.

Sebastian – Bast to his friends – is rather delighted by the sharp-tongued and furious young man in front of him – being berated is such a refreshing change from being fawned over! He listens to Jack’s torrent of insults with good humour and then proposes a compromise. He needs the money to use as a stake in a gaming tournament the next day, and when he wins, he’ll be able to pay Jack way more money than was in the purse. Jack begrudgingly agrees, and the next day sees them heading off towards the town of Clearwater and the tournament – on what will turn out to be the first of many adventures.

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

Dipped in Sunshine (Surfing the Waves #2) by Fearne Hill

dipped in sunshine

This title may be purchased from Amazon

“You think you can do the jiggy with my baby brother, without wooing him for approximately three years first? Hah! I hope you weren’t too attached to your toenails.”

Fifty is a simple man. He doesn’t know much, but he knows this: to stay well clear of Otto Eggebraaten. The nineteen-year-old is cute, blond, and trouble. His overprotective big brother, Eggy, hounds Otto’s every move.

Outwardly, Fifty’s life is good. He surfs, teaches other folks to surf, drinks beer, and hangs with his friends. But with his thirtieth birthday on the horizon, he’s hoarding a secret he’s too ashamed to confide in anyone, even his best friend, Eggy. When Otto accidentally discovers it, Fifty finds his ordered, and lonely existence unravelling in a way he never expected.

Rating: B+

Fearne Hill’s Dipped in Sunshine is a fun, sexy/sweet age-gap romance with a lot of humour and an endearing grumpy/sunshine pairing.  It picks up right after the previous book – Brushed with Love – ended, and although it’s not essential to read that book before this, I’d recommend it because a) it’s a great read and b) it introduces the main players in this story and readers will benefit from knowing a bit about them in advance.

Ragnar Eggebraaten – Eggy – and his boyfriend Clem have relocated to the Spanish island of Fuerteventura where Eggy and his best friend Fifty have set up a surfing business.  Right at the end of Brushed With Love, Eggy meets his youngest brother, nineteen-year-old Otto, at the airport, believing him to have come for a short visit.  When Dipped in Sunshine begins Otto is quick to disabuse Eggy of that notion and tells him he’s not there for a holiday, he’s there for good and intends to fulfil his ambition of going to nursing school. Fifty and Clem look on somewhat dumbfounded as the six-foot-five, muscle-bound Eggy is pretty much put in his place by the slight, stroppy elf with the shock of blond hair – who clearly shares his brother’s stubbornness and self-confidence, if not his imposing physique.  Otto is determined that he’s going to take charge of his own life from now on and wants to fully embrace his identity as an out, gay man, something which just wasn’t possible in his small home-town – or something he could do living with the homophobic father who threw Eggy out when he was a teenager.  Owing to his health issues (he has epilepsy and also had heart surgery when he was a baby), his large – in both senses of the word  (the other Eggebraaten brothers are all six-foot plus Vikings) – and overprotective family have kept him wrapped up in cotton wool all his life and he’s had enough of that, too.  He’s aware of his limits and all the dos and don’ts relating to his condition and he wants to spread his wings and have some fun.

Fifty – so called because his real name is Christian Grey – and Eggy have been friends ever since he picked up a cold, hungry and homeless seventeen-year-old Norwegian boy at a motorway service station one night.  They’ve spent the intervening years surfing and doing seasonal work back in England, but opening the surf school in Fuerteventura has been their dream for years – and now, they’re living it. Well, mostly.  Fifty is over his very inconvenient crush on Eggy, and seeing his old friend so happy with Clem makes him long for something similar, someone to build a life with – or at least, someone to go on dates and have fun with.  But it’s just not happening for him; crippling anxiety relating to ‘performance’ issues and dating expectations have dogged him for a while now, so here he is, almost thirty, still single and likely to remain so.  He’s miserable and he’s lonely – in his own words, “Fifty Shades of fucked-up.”

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

The Long Game (Game Changers #6) by Rachel Reid

the long game

This title may be purchased from Amazon

To the world they are rivals, but to each other they are everything.

Ten years.

That’s how long Shane Hollander and Ilya Rozanov have been seeing each other. How long they’ve been keeping their relationship a secret. From friends, from family…from the league. If Shane wants to stay at the top of his game, what he and Ilya share  has;to remain secret. He loves Ilya, but what if going public ruins everything?

Ilya is sick of secrets. Shane has gotten so good at hiding his feelings, sometimes Ilya questions if they even exist. The closeness, the intimacy, even the risk that would come with being open about their relationship…Ilya wants it all.

It’s time for them to decide what’s most important—hockey or love.

It’s time to make a call.

Rating: A

Note: As this book is both a sequel and the finale to a long-running series, there will be spoilers for earlier books in this review.

Rachel Reid’s The Long Game is the final book in her Game Changers series of romances set in the world of professional hockey – and, most importantly, the long and eagerly awaited conclusion of the epic love story between Shane Hollander and Ilya Rozanov begun in the second book, Heated Rivalry.  If you, like me, are a fan, you’re going to need no encouragement from me to rush to buy this one as soon as it’s available, so I suppose what you really want to know is – does The Long Game deliver everything we’ve been waiting for?  I’m pleased to be able to give an unequivocal “yes” in answer; Rachel Reid has done herself, her readers and these two much loved characters proud with a story that brings Shane and Ilya’s romance to a wonderfully romantic and emotionally satisfying conclusion while not shying away from showing that their journey has been far from easy and their HEA is hard won.

Heated Rivalry charted the progression of the relationship between rival hockey stars Shane Hollander and Ilya Rozanov, whose on-the-ice animosity translated into an explosive sexual attraction off of it.  Over the course of seven years, their relationship slowly morphed from one based on mutual lust and convenience, hooking up whenever they happened to be in the same place at the same time, to one based on deep affection, understanding and love.  At the end of the book, Shane and Ilya have decided to keep their relationship under wraps for the moment; coming out as queer is going to be difficult enough given the homophobia surrounding professional sports, but for two players whose intense rivalry has become legendary to own up to being in a relationship with each other… well, that’s going to need some really careful handling when they decide to go public.  As a way of trying to show that their animosity isn’t quite as strong as the media paints it, they start a mental health charity in memory of – and named after – Ilya’s mother, who suffered from depression and took her own life when Ilya was just twelve, and together, they run summer hockey camps for kids as one method of fundraising.  This at least means they get to spend a bit of time together each summer away from the media spotlight, even if they can’t be open about what they are to each other quite yet.  Also, Ilya decided to move from the top-flight team he was playing for in Boston to the Ottawa Centaurs, the least successful team in the NHL, to be nearer to Shane’s base in Montreal so they’d be able to spend a little time together during the gruelling hockey season.

By the time The Long Game opens, Shane and Ilya have been together for almost ten years (if you count the ‘hook-up’ years) – and Ilya is finding the hiding and secrecy and the loneliness of long periods apart increasingly hard to manage.  He and Shane are as deeply in love and committed to each other as ever, but with Shane at the top of his game and playing for the best team in the league, Ilya is beginning to fear that perhaps they’re going to have to wait another ten years before they can truly begin making a life together.  After all, they’re only twenty-nine, and realistically could be looking at another decade before retirement.  That’s not to say that Shane likes the situation either, and it’s absolutely clear that he loves Ilya with all his heart, but he’s in a very different place, both professionally and personally, and is able to face the prospect of ten more years of sneaking around more easily than Ilya is.  Except of course, they don’t really talk about it much because during the hockey season they get so little time together that neither of them wants to ‘spoil’ those stolen moments by bringing up the huge elephant in the room.

I think it’s fair to say that Ilya Rozanov has probably become the series’ stand-out, most-beloved character, and while Heated Rivalry felt like it was (mostly) ‘Shane’s book’, The Long Game definitely feels like Ilya’s.  He’s larger-than-life, always ready with a snarky comeback and doesn’t much care what others think of him – he’s got a reputation as a bit of an arsehole, although those closest to him know he’s a truly good person underneath it all, that behind the smart mouth and sardonic attitude lies a man with a heart of gold who feels things very deeply.  He’s still the Ilya we know and love, but in this book, we get to see a much softer, more vulnerable side of him that we’ve only briefly glimpsed before, and it tugs at the heartstrings to watch him face up to the fact that he’s not doing so well, realising just how much he’s put into keeping the relationship going and wondering just how much he has left to give. Shane, too, is trying to do his best to balance the personal and the professional, but his fear of losing everything he’s worked so hard for blinds him to the toll the secrets and lies are taking on the man he loves.  In the end, both men will have to face some hard truths and make some serious adjustments if they’re going to make it in the long run.

If you’ve been following the series, then you’ll already know that the timeline of The Long Game overlaps somewhat with that of Role Model, so we get to see Ilya’s reaction to Troy’s arrival and a little of their developing friendship from Ilya’s PoV (and yes, The Plane Incident, too).  I also liked the way Ms. Reid contrasts the two teams – the Montreal Voyagers may be the best team in the league, but when it comes to management styles and interpersonal skills, they’re crap – dictatorial and overbearing –  while at Ottowa, the opposite is true; their manager is a decent guy who treats his players like human beings and fosters a sense of team spirit and camaraderie that, while it may not bring the big wins, nonetheless makes for a much more positive environment.

I don’t want to say much more and risk spoiling the book, so I’ll end by saying that the author does a wonderful job here with relationship and character development while also making sure that Shane and Ilya remain very much ‘them’ – Ilya, cocky yet endearing, Shane adorably modest and just a bit of a stickler – and in presenting the challenges they’re facing in a realistic way.  The Long Game is full of genuine poignancy and emotion – from the deepest love and affection to heartache, and everything in between – charming moments of domesticity, scorching sex scenes, and the humour, good-natured competitiveness and snarky banter we’ve all come to love.  It delivers everything I wanted for Shane and Ilya and more, and is an early contender for my Best of 2022 list.  Thanks, Rachel, for giving these boys the fantastic send-off they so richly deserve.