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

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

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

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

Rating: Narration – A- : Content – B-

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

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

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

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

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

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

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

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

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

Rating: Narration – A- : Content – B-

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

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

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

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

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

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

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

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

Rating: Narration – B+ : Content – A

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

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

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

Preacher, Prophet, Beast (Tyack & Frayne #7) by Harper Fox (audiobook) – Narrated by Tim Gilbert

This title is available to download from Audible via Amazon.

Lee would gladly trade all his psychic gifts for a chance at ordinary life with his husband and his little girl. Three years into their marriage, they’re settled in their new home – but the House of Joy can’t shield them from an oncoming threat with the power to uproot their whole world.

Lee can’t define it further, and even his beloved Gideon can’t unmask a monster with no face at all. Gideon is mired in problems and secrets of his own as he struggles to adjust to his new rank and the complexities of plainclothes police work with CID, and for once the devoted Tyack-Frayne partnership is failing to communicate.

Turbulent times in the world at large reach deep into the Bodmin heartland, and the village of Dark is without its guardian constable. More than Lee and Gideon can possibly know has been depending upon their rapport, and as the summer rises towards the longest day, a new and unfathomable kind of Beast is afoot on the moors….

Note: There are spoilers for earlier books in the Tyack & Frayne series in this review.

Rating: Narration – A : Content – B

Since reviewing Once Upon a Haunted Moor and Tinsel Fish, books one and two in Harper Fox’s series of romantic paranormal mysteries featuring Cornish bobby Gideon Frayne and TV psychic Lee Tyack, I’ve been gradually making my way through the rest of the series. Seven of the nine titles are available in audio (at time of writing), and having now reached book seven – Preacher, Prophet, Beast – I thought it was time to catch you all up on what’s been going on in that particularly mystical corner of Cornwall. Lee and Gideon have been together for three years, married for over two of them and are the parents of a little girl – Lee’s niece – whom they adopted more than a year earlier. They’ve continued to encounter threats both spiritual and mundane; it’s become clear that Lee’s gifts carry a heavy price and more recently, that the strong bond he and Gideon share, their psychic link, if you will, is not just one-sided. Gideon is sceptical, but it seems the Tyacks aren’t the only family to have been blessed with psychic abilities. And speaking of family, it’s been clear since her birth that little Tamsyn has inherited the Tyack family trait – although her gifts seem to be manifesting themselves in a different way.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

Red Fish, Dead Fish (Fish Out of Water #2) by Amy Lane (audiobook) – narrated by Greg Tremblay

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

They must work together to stop a psychopath – and save each other.

Two months ago, Jackson Rivers got shot while trying to save Ellery Cramer’s life. Not only is Jackson still suffering from his wounds, the trigger-man remains at large – and the body count is mounting.

Jackson and Ellery have been trying to track down Tim Owens since Jackson got out of the hospital, but Owens’ time as a member of the department makes the DA reluctant to turn over any stones. When Owens starts going after people Jackson knows, Ellery’s instincts hit red alert. Hurt in a scuffle with drug-dealing squatters and trying damned hard not to grieve for a childhood spent in hell, Jackson is weak and vulnerable when Owens strikes.

Jackson gets away, but the fallout from the encounter might kill him. It’s not doing Ellery any favors either. When a police detective is abducted – and Jackson and Ellery hold the key to finding her – Ellery finds out exactly what he’s made of. He’s not the corporate shark who believes in winning at all costs; he’s the frightened lover trying to keep the man he cares for from self-destructing in his own valor.

Rating: Narration – A+ : Content – A

Please note that there will be spoilers for Fish Out of Water in this review.

Amy Lane’s Fish Out of Water was a fabulous listen; an exciting, fast-paced suspense story, interwoven with a steamy, opposites-attract romance laced with plenty of snark and quieter moments of emotional insight and intensity. Needless to say, Greg Tremblay hit the narration out of the park, so I eagerly jumped into the sequel, Red Fish, Dead Fish, which picks up the story a couple of months later. Following a(nother) near-fatal shooting, private investigator Jackson Rivers is still (and, he insists, temporarily) living with his lover, defense attorney Ellery Cramer, while his house – which was shot to bits in the drive-by in which he was wounded – is set to rights. He’s impatient with his convalescence, he’s jonesing to get back to work and he’s on edge about the status of his… whatever it is with Ellery; Jackson doesn’t do permanence and the deep-seated insecurities that tell him he’s bad news and not good enough for anyone to bother with have him pretty much always poised for flight. Fortunately for Jackson, Ellery has him pegged and is well aware that deep down, Jackson is scared of what’s happening between them and that he’s looking for excuses to run. At least – for the moment – Jackson has nowhere to run TO, and Ellery’s patience and gentle, but inexorable persistence seem to be inexhaustible. Not that Jackson doesn’t drive him nuts at times – he absolutely does – but Ellery is every bit as stubborn as he is, doesn’t take any crap and is prepared to wait for Jackson for as long as it takes.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

The Henchmen of Zenda by K.J. Charles

This title may be purchased from Amazon

Jasper Detchard is a disgraced British officer, now selling his blade to the highest bidder. Currently that’s Michael Elphberg, half-brother to the King of Ruritania. Michael wants the throne for himself, and Jasper is one of the scoundrels he hires to help him take it. But when Michael makes his move, things don’t go entirely to plan—and the penalty for treason is death.

Rupert of Hentzau is Michael’s newest addition to his sinister band of henchmen. Charming, lethal, and intolerably handsome, Rupert is out for his own ends—which seem to include getting Jasper into bed. But Jasper needs to work out what Rupert’s really up to amid a maelstrom of plots, swordfights, scheming, impersonation, desire, betrayal, and murder.

Nobody can be trusted. Everyone has a secret. And love is the worst mistake you can make.

A retelling of the swashbuckling classic The Prisoner of Zenda from a very different point of view.

Rating: A-

I’ve been looking forward to The Henchmen of Zenda, K.J. Charles’ ‘queered’ retelling of the classic The Prisoner of Zenda, ever since she announced it months ago, and in fact the book made my ‘most eagerly awaited of 2018 list‘ at AAR.  I love a ripping adventure yarn, and that’s exactly what the author has delivered – a tale of swashbuckling derring-do featuring a pair of amoral, cynical and devil-may-care anti-heroes, palace intrigue, political shenanigans, double crosses, triple crosses… and hot sex.  The latter being missing from Anthony Hope’s original novel, which isn’t surprising considering it was written in 1894. 😛  The Henchmen of Zenda can be enjoyed without reference to the original, although I’ll admit that for me, part of the fun was spotting the places where the stories meshed and picking up on the in-jokes.

For anyone not familiar with The Prisoner of Zenda, the story is basically this. Rudolf V, the new King of (the fictional) small European country of Ruritania, is drugged on the eve of his coronation by those working for his half-brother, Michael, Duke of Strelsau, who wants the throne for himself.  In a desperate attempt to stop Michael, those loyal to the king persuade an English gentleman (Rudolf Rassendyll) who bears an uncanny resemblance to the monarch and happens to be holidaying in their country to impersonate the king during the coronation.  Things are complicated when Michael’s men kidnap the king and Rassendyll falls in love with the Princess Flavia, who is Rudolf’s betrothed; complications, plots and counter-plots ensue, Rassendyll leads an assault on the castle of Zenda and rescues the king, and then honourably bows out, leaving Flavia to do her duty to her king and country.

When our narrator, Jasper Detchard, immediately dismisses Rassendyll’s account as a pile of shit, and Rassendyll as an uptight prick who lied to make himself look good, the reader immediately knows they’re in for a rollicking good time.  Detchard’s deadpan, sarcastic narrative style grabbed me right away:

“My name is Jasper Detchard, and according to Rassendyll’s narrative, I am dead.  This should give you some idea of his accuracy, since I do not dictate these words to some cabbage-scented medium from beyond the veil.”

A disgraced former army officer who now makes his living as a mercenary, Detchard is approached by Michael Elphberg, Duke of Strelsau, to become one of his trusted bodyguard (known as The Six).   Michael demands absolute, unquestioning loyalty, and Detchard, not one to be overly picky as to where he lays his hat or sells his sword – signs up. As it turns out, for more than he bargained for.

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

A Warriner to Seduce Her (Wild Warriners #4) by Virginia Heath

This title may be purchased from Amazon

A sensible schoolmistress…

Awakened by the notorious rake!

In this The Wild Warriners story, schoolmistress Felicity Blunt feels old beyond her years―and desperately dull. Meeting confirmed rake Jacob Warriner brings her gloriously alive, and yet no matter his allure she must remain immune to his obvious charms and unashamed flirtation. But is Jacob merely a mischievous scoundrel? Or is there much more to this Warriner than meets the eye…?

Rating: A-

This final book in Virginia Heath’s thoroughly enjoyable series featuring the four Warriner brothers focuses on the youngest, Jacob – or Jake, as he is more commonly known.  We’ve met him in the previous books in the series, and unlike his siblings – Jack, the Earl of Markham and head of the family, Jamie, a former soldier and Joe, a doctor – he’s a bit of a wastrel and spends most of his time amid the hedonistic delights of London, where he’s acquired quite the reputation as a ladies’ man.

Ms. Heath has dropped the odd subtle hint that there’s more to Jake than meets the eye, and in A Warriner to Seduce Her, we find out exactly what that is.  While his brothers eye him with fond exasperation and despair of his ever marrying and settling down, the truth is that Jake was recruited by the British Government when he left Cambridge and has been working for them ever since.  A member of a small team known as the King’s Elite, Jake and his colleagues have been tasked with discovering the identity of the man behind a large-scale smuggling operation that is trying to destabilise the British economy by flooding the market with illegal goods and channelling funds to an organisation determined to return Napoléon from exile.  But in spite of their best efforts, the identity of the lynch-pin remains as elusive as ever.

The last few months have been exhausting and Jake is looking forward to heading home to Markham Manor for some well-earned leave.  He’ tired, he misses his family a great deal and longs for:

Three months of being himself, no hidden agendas, no danger, no responsibilities and no web of lies.

(Except the one.)

… and feels keenly the gulf that has opened between himself and his brothers in recent years because of the secrets he has to keep.  So he’s none too pleased when his boss tells him that his leave is cancelled because there’s a new lead in their search for the boss of the smuggling ring.  Suspicion has fallen upon Lord Crispin Rowley, whose fortunes have recently taken  a sudden and unexpected upturn – and Jake is tasked with the seduction of Rowley’s niece, a country miss fresh out of Sister Ursuline’s School for Wayward Girls in Cumbria who will surely be an easy target for his masculine charms.

The letter summoning twenty-five-year-old schoolmistress Felicity Blunt to London came completely out of the blue.  It seems that her uncle, Lord Crispin Rowley, had finally decided to fulfil the promise he made her dying mother to give Fliss a Season – but she isn’t interested.  She doesn’t want a Season and she doesn’t want a husband, but Sister Ursuline insists she should travel to London and have an adventure – which has, so far, proved to be a huge disappointment.  Rowley hasn’t taken Fliss anywhere she wants to go, insisting instead on dragging her to boring balls and parties, but being leered at and squinting at blurry figures (Rowley insists she leave off her spectacles) from the sidelines of a ballroom isn’t exactly the type of adventure she had in mind.

Jake is pleasantly surprised when he discovers that the lovely woman he’d been observing from his vantage point at the edge of the ballroom at Almack’s is none other than the woman he’s been instructed to seduce.  He’d been expecting a dowdy, nunnish-type, not a lush beauty with honey-gold hair, a spectacular figure and a dry sense of humour, who is nowhere near as impressionable as he’d been led to believe.  They converse amiably for a short while, until Jake, still tired and annoyed at the cancellation of his leave, makes a misstep and attempts to soften her up too quickly. Fliss’ warm, friendly manner evaporates and she makes it clear she’s seen through Jake’s practiced charm and hackneyed compliments and has no further interest in conversing with him.

Jake is – reluctantly – impressed.  And intrigued.  And just a bit ashamed. For the first time, he feels an element of distaste about the fact that he uses sex as a means to extract information – although he can’t allow himself to dwell on it as he still has a job to do.  Fliss’ summary dismissal of him may have stirred the first genuine interest he’s felt in a woman in years, but he can’t lose sight of his mission; so over the next few days, he contrives to encounter her on several occasions in an attempt to wear down her resistance and to see what she can be induced to tell him about her uncle.

Fliss can’t deny that she’s been attracted to Jake since the first time they met, but she’s not interested in charming, sexy and gorgeous, she wants respectable and dependable.  She is determined to steer clear of him, but somehow, he’s always there when she needs help, and keeps turning up at the social events her uncle insists she attend… and the more time she spends with Jake, the more Fliss can’t help liking him.  She sees something – very occasionally – behind the suave, rakish façade that interests her, the possibility that there lies a man of more substance than he is willing to reveal to the world; he’s amusing, self-deprecating and genuinely charming, and she can’t help falling for him.

Jake is similarly smitten, finding Fliss’ lack of artifice totally refreshing and admiring her honesty – she’s “Blunt by name and blunt by nature” – even if it is a but brutal at times.  He finds it harder and harder to reconcile his growing feelings for her with his instructions to use her in order to get close to her uncle, but Rowley is obviously up to his neck in something both nefarious and dangerous, and Jake has no choice but to continue with his deception.

One of the many things I’ve really enjoyed about all the books in the Wild Warriners series is the family dynamic the author has created between the brothers.  They’ve not had it easy, courtesy of generations of scandalous, spendthrift relatives, and until recently, they’ve struggled to make ends meet – yet the love they bear towards each other is unstinting and permeates all their scenes together.  In the book’s prologue, we learn of a long-buried and painful secret Jake has carried since childhood, which has set him apart from his brothers to an extent and has obviously shaped the man he has become.  Ms. Heath doesn’t allow it to turn Jake into one of those ‘woe-is-me’ overly brooding types, but it has obviously informed many of his choices as an adult, and she very skilfully brings us full-circle towards the end of the novel as Fliss and Jake’s brothers finally help him to overcome it and put it to rest.

Boasting a strong plotline, two attractive central characters with scorching chemistry and a wonderful cast of secondary characters, A Warriner to Seduce Her is a superb end to an excellent series, and is the third (or fourth?) novel of Ms. Heath’s to grace my Keeper shelf.  And there’s more good news;  her next series, featuring Jake’s colleagues from the King’s Elite, is on the way – I can’t wait to meet The Mysterious Lord Millcroft in August.