Perfect Day by Sally Malcolm

This title may be purchased from Amazon.

Love doesn’t burn out just because the timing’s wrong. It grows. It never leaves.

When Joshua Newton, prodigal son of one of New Milton’s elite, fell in love with ambitious young actor Finn Callaghan, his world finally made sense. With every stolen moment, soft touch and breathless kiss, they fell deeper in love.

Finn was his future…until he wasn’t.

Love stays. Even when you don’t want it to, even when you try to deny it, it stays.

Eight years later, Finn has returned to the seaside town where it all began. He’s on the brink of stardom, a far cry from the poor mechanic who spent one gorgeous summer falling in love on the beach.

The last thing he wants is a second chance with the man who broke his heart. Finn has spent a long time forgetting Joshua Newton—he certainly doesn’t plan to forgive him.

Love grows. It never leaves.

Rating: A-

Sally Malcolm’s first published m/m romance is a contemporary retelling of Jane Austen’s Persuasion (which regularly vies with Emma for first place in my ranking of Austen’s novels!) set in a sleepy New York seaside town. I admit I’m usually a bit wary of retellings of classic novels – especially when they’re great personal favourites – but I’ve known the author on and off for over a decade, I enjoy her writing and was confident that she’d treat the material with respect – and that confidence wasn’t misplaced. Perfect Day is a beautifully told second-chance-at-love story that tugs at the heartstrings and can be enjoyed regardless of whether you’re familiar with Persuasion or not. It stands on its own very well, although the fun for those of us who do know the original is in recognising the plot points and characters the author has chosen to ‘transplant’ and how she’s made them work in a contemporary setting.

During one halcyon summer eight years earlier, Joshua Newton and Finn Callaghan met when Finn was employed to work on Charles Newton’s classic car collection at his Hanworth Hall estate on Long Island. The Newtons were extremely wealthy; Joshua’s father and older brother Michael were tough-nosed businessmen who believed money was everything, but Josh was always a bit of an outsider, a talented musician and gentle soul whose ambitions lay in a different direction. He and Finn spent as much time together as they possibly could over the couple of months that followed, falling deeply and passionately in love and eventually deciding to move to Los Angeles together, where the stunningly handsome Finn would pursue an acting career while Josh would further his musical studies.

But their dreams came to an abrupt end when Josh allowed his aunt Ruth to persuade him not only that he should finish his MBA at Harvard, but that for Finn to arrive in LA with a boyfriend in tow would end his career before it had even begun. If Josh truly loved Finn, he should end their relationship and let him go.

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

Advertisements

Tight Quarters (Out of Uniform #6) by Annabeth Albert (audiobook) – Narrated by Greg Boudreaux

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

Petty Officer Bacon, a Navy SEAL and ace sharpshooter, has been on the front lines of more than his fair share of dangerous ops. Yet when a minor injury relegates him to the beta team, he’s tasked with what may be his riskiest assignment yet: babysitting a silver fox journalist, who is the hottest, most charismatic man he’s ever encountered.

Award-winning journalist Spencer Bryant may have been named one of Pride magazine’s most eligible bachelors of the year, but he’s not looking to change his relationship status. He’s a consummate professional who won’t risk his ethics or impeccable reputation by getting involved with a source. Even a sexy-as-hell military man. But while Spencer can resist his physical attraction to Bacon, he has less control over his emotions – especially when the mission goes sideways and the two men are trapped alone.

Getting out of the jungle alive turns out to be easy compared to facing the truth about their feelings for one another back in the real world. And whether or not they can build a future is a different story altogether.

Rating: Narration – A+ : Content – A

Annabeth Albert’s Out of Uniform series has been a consistently enjoyable one in both print and audio, despite the odd blip. Tight Quarters is the sixth instalment, and I was glued to it from start to finish, zipping through it in two or three sittings. Yeah, yeah, I know – I’d listen to Greg Boudreaux read his shopping list, but fortunately, Annabeth Albert has provided him with something MUCH sexier and emotionally satisfying (although I don’t know – maybe his shopping lists are sexy and emotionally satisfying?) to get stuck into, in this tale of a journalist who embeds with a team of Navy SEALs looking for a story and finds something he really hadn’t bargained for.

We met Petty Officer Bacon in the previous book in the series, Squared Away, and at the beginning of his one, he’s more than a little bit pissed off because the finger he dislocated on a training exercise has him sidelined and unable to take his regular place on Team Alpha. His annoyance is further compounded when he is directed to be the liaison officer for a reporter who is going to embed with Bacon’s unit during their next mission. The team’s recent shake up following the departure of its XO (executive officer) and explosives expert (Wes and Dustin from Wheels Up) coupled with the rumours that the pair are now an item and began their relationship while working together despite the strict non-fraternization policy, make Bacon – a friend of both men – very hostile to the idea of a journalist poking around for a story and he resents being demoted to the role of babysitter. Even worse – the reporter is Spencer Bryant, a heavyweight, multi-award-winning journalist and author who is openly gay… and is one seriously hot silver fox. Under any other circumstances, Bacon would have so gone there – but he’s got to keep Bryant at a distance and away from anything that could potentially embarrass his team or the Navy in general.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

Firestorm (Flashpoint #3) by Rachel Grant (audiobook) – Narrated by Greg Tremblay

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

CIA covert operator Savannah James is after intel on a potential coup in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, but she needs a partner fluent in Lingala to infiltrate the organization.

Sergeant First Class Cassius Callahan is the perfect choice, except he doesn’t like her very much. He doesn’t trust her, either, despite the sparks that flare between them, fierce and hot. Still, he accepts the assignment, even though their cover requires Savvy to pose as his mistress.

They enter battle-worn Congo to expose the financing for the coup. A trail of cobalt, gold, and diamonds leads them into the heart of darkness, a jungle in which everyone is desperate to find the mother lode of ore and gems. Betrayal stalks them as they follow the money, but Savvy will stop at nothing to bring down the would-be dictator before he can ignite a firestorm that will engulf all of Africa.

Deep in the sultry rain forest, spy and Green Beret forge a relationship more precious than diamonds, but Cal knows Savvy is willing to sacrifice anything – or anyone – to complete her mission. As they near the flash point, Cal will have to save her from the greatest threat of all: herself.

Rating: Narration – A+ : Content – A

I had the same feeling when I finished listening to Firestorm (book three in Rachel Grant’s Flashpoint series) as I did when I finished reading the novel a few weeks back – the urge to stand up, applaud and yell “bravo!” – because it is easily one of the best romantic suspense novels I’ve ever listened to. It’s also a story I’ve been waiting for since the series began; Sergeant First Class Cassius ‘Cal’ Callahan and CIA operative Savannah James have been striking sparks off each other for two books now, and in Firestorm they get their chance to kick ass, take names, and burn up the sheets. (And then some).

Both Savvy and Cal were prominent secondary characters in the other books, and it’s been clear from the off that while Cal doesn’t particularly like Savvy, he’s strongly attracted to her – and that the reverse is true. Savannah is the resident “spook” at the military base at Camp Citron in Djibouti, and pretty much everyone on base views her with suspicion; she’s widely rumoured to be with the CIA, but nobody knows for sure. Whatever her affiliation though, there’s no question she’s extremely competent and is completely focused on getting the job done, no matter what the cost. This ruthlessness is one of the things about her that Cal dislikes intensely; he believes she’ll sacrifice anything and anyone in pursuit of her goals – plus he has his own reasons for being wary of the CIA. So when his commanding officer tells him that Savvy has requested his services for a sensitive operation, he’s not eager to sign up.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

YOU CAN ENTER THE GIVEAWAY AT AUDIOGALS – THERE ARE TWO COPIES OF FIRESTORM UP FOR GRABS – UNTIL WEDS 8th AUGUST.

The Wolf at the Door (Big Bad Wolf #1) by Charlie Adhara


This title may be purchased from Amazon

Hunting for big bad wolves was never part of Agent Cooper Dayton’s plan, but a werewolf attack lands him in the carefully guarded Bureau of Special Investigations. A new case comes with a new partner: ruggedly sexy werewolf Oliver Park.

Park is an agent of The Trust, a werewolf oversight organization working to ease escalating tensions with the BSI. But as far as Cooper’s concerned, it’s failing. As they investigate a series of mysterious deaths unlike anything they’ve seen, every bone in Cooper’s body is suspicious of his new partner—even when Park proves himself as competent as he is utterly captivating.

When more people vanish, pressure to solve the case skyrockets. And though he’d resolved to keep things professional, Cooper’s friction with Park soon erupts…into a physical need that can’t be contained or controlled. But with a body count that’s rising by the day, werewolves and humans are in equal danger. If Cooper and Park don’t catch the killer soon, one—or both—of them could be the next to go.

Rating: A-

An excellent début form Charlie Adhara, Wolf at the Door combines romance, mystery and paranormal elements and weaves them skilfully together into a procedural drama that provides a thoroughly entertaining and gripping read.

FBI Cooper Dayton narrowly survived a werewolf attack around a year before the story begins.  At the time, he had no idea what had caused his injuries; as far as he knew, he was chasing down a murder suspect.  Given the choice between finding out what really happened, and continuing in ignorance, he opts for the former – and is inducted into the Bureau of Special Investigations with the FBI, a small unit that has been created specially to deal with “monsters”. (No, it’s not quite the X-Files!)  Cooper is one of a very small number of people to know that werewolves actually exist and live freely among the general population, and that five years previously, their leadership group – the Trust – had decided to reveal the truth to governments around the world in an attempt to help werewolves to continue to live peaceably in the modern world.

That’s the background to an intriguing suspense novel that sees Cooper paired with a Trust agent – Oliver Park – as an experiment to foster werewolf/human co-operation.  They are assigned to investigate the deaths of two – possibly three – hikers in the White Mountain National Forest in Maine, who are believed to have been killed by werewolves.  When a fourth victim is found alive, it seems at first to be an unrelated case of kidnap and assault – but is it?  Cooper and Park have to navigate their way through small-town politics as well as the wider political canvas of human/werewolf relations – not to mention risk their lives – if they’re going to find out the truth.

The mystery element of the story is well executed, and I wasn’t sure of the identity of the villain until it was finally revealed, which is always a good thing.  The author creates a suitably menacing small-town atmosphere for the fictional town where much of the story takes place as Cooper and Park gradually pull together the disparate threads and clues they uncover.

They’ve got a kind of Odd Couple thing going on; Park is always smartly dressed and exudes confidence while Cooper is a bit of a shambles most of the time; he’s very shrewd and observant (as Park notices) but he sometimes lacks the courage of his own convictions and tends to second guess himself.  Given his experience with werewolves, it’s to be expected that Cooper isn’t best pleased at having one for a partner, plus his more experienced BSI partner has drummed it into him to be suspicious of all wolves; which makes his instinct to trust Park that much more confusing.

While he’s trying – not too hard at first – to get used to having a werewolf around, he tends to be snippy and displays an inordinate talent for putting his foot in his mouth, but Park is calm and unflappable; he gives Cooper the space to work things out and his quiet confidence that Cooper will make the right calls goes a long way towards helping him to come into his own over the course of the story. The author does a great job of creating a strong rapport between them; you gotta love a couple who can quote movie references in perilous situations – which makes the physical relationship they embark upon later in the book feel like a natural extension of their working one.

I knocked off half a grade point mostly because I wanted to know a bit more about Park.  The story is told entirely through Cooper’s PoV, and for most of the story Park is coolly aloof and completely professional; he’s hard to read until Cooper starts to get to know him and to recognise his subtle non-verbal signals, and that means he’s pretty much an enigma for the reader, too.  Most of the things we learn about him – he’s from an old and very much venerated pack, but doesn’t live with them any more – just pose more questions, which I hope will be answered in later books in the series.

Ms. Adhara gets the balance between the romance and the suspense just about right here, and does a tremendous job of paralleling the development of the relationships – personal and professional – between her two principals.  I wolfed down (!) The Wolf at the Door in a couple of sittings and would definitely recommend it to fans of the genre.

Too Hot to Handel (John Pickett Mysteries #5) by Sheri Cobb South (audiobook) – Narrated by Joel Froomkin

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

When a rash of jewel thefts strikes London, magistrate Patrick Colquhoun deploys his Bow Street Runners to put a stop to the crimes. The Russian Princess Olga Fyodorovna is to attend a production of Handel’s Esther at Drury Lane Theatre, where she will wear a magnificent diamond necklace. The entire Bow Street force will be stationed at various locations around the theatre – including John Pickett, who will occupy a box directly across from the princess.

In order to preserve his incognito, Pickett must appear to be a private gentleman attending the theatre. Mr. Colquhoun recommends that he have a female companion – a lady, in fact, who might prevent him from making any glaring faux pas. But the only lady of Pickett’s acquaintance is Julia, Lady Fieldhurst, to whom he accidentally contracted a Scottish irregular marriage several months earlier, and with whom he is seeking an annulment against his own inclinations – and for whom he recklessly declared his love, secure in the belief he would never see her again.

The inevitable awkwardness of their reunion is forgotten when the theatre catches fire. In the confusion, the Russian diamonds are stolen, and Pickett is struck in the head and rendered unconscious. Suddenly it is up to Julia not only to nurse him back to health, but to discover his attacker and bring the culprit – and the jewel thief – to justice.

Rating: Narration – A : Content – B

This fifth John Pickett mystery is a bit of a departure from the other books in the series in that our hero spends a rather large part of it unconscious, leaving his lady-love, Lady Julia Fieldhurst to the bulk of the sleuthing when it comes to solving the mystery of some missing diamonds. That said though, John is nonetheless a major presence in Too Hot to Handel, and Joel Froomkin’s hugely entertaining narration kept me engaged throughout, so I didn’t feel the slightest bit short-changed.

Note: There will be spoilers for earlier books in the series in this review.

It’s three months since Bow Street Runner John Pickett said farewell to the woman he fell in love with almost a year earlier, and a matter of weeks before the case for the annulment of the “irregular marriage” they inadvertently contracted in Scotland comes before the ecclesiastical court. At the end of the previous book, Dinner Most Deadly, he declared his love for Lady Julia Fieldhurst, but also said that they should not meet again; he has always known that the huge gulf in their stations makes any relationship between them impossible, and it’s become too painful for him to keep spending time with her while knowing she can never be his. For Julia it’s been three long, colourless months and none of her usual activities hold much interest for her any more. Even a night out at the theatre is dull until, on the way out, she hears a distressed older lady claiming that her jewels have been stolen. Recalling that the Duchess of Mallen’s rubies had also disappeared while that lady was at the theatre, and that they had been recovered by the Bow Street force, Julia suggests sending for a Runner, and for a few brief minutes, is excited at the prospect of seeing John again – only to come crashing down when someone else appears in his stead.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

Unfit to Print by K.J. Charles


This title may be purchased from Amazon

When crusading lawyer Vikram Pandey sets out in search of a missing youth, his investigations take him to Holywell Street, London’s most notorious address. He expects to find a disgraceful array of sordid bookshops. He doesn’t expect one of them to be run by the long-lost friend whose disappearance and presumed death he’s been mourning for thirteen years.

Gil Lawless became a Holywell Street bookseller for his own reasons, and he’s damned if he’s going to apologise or listen to moralising from anyone. Not even Vikram; not even if the once-beloved boy has grown into a man who makes his mouth water.

Now the upright lawyer and the illicit bookseller need to work together to track down the missing youth. And on the way, they may even learn if there’s more than just memory and old affection binding them together…

Rating: A-

K.J. Charles always finds fresh, new angles to pursue in her stories and peoples them with characters in unusual walks of life – and her new novella, Unfit to Print, is no exception.  Set in late Victorian London, one of the protagonists is a purveyor of naughty books and has a shop in Holywell Street, which was, at that time, the centre of London’s porn trade; while the other is a somewhat uptight lawyer who views the whole business with a degree of distaste.  The novella boasts a mystery to be solved, a relationship to be rekindled and a mountain of filth to be shifted, and all of it is deftly and expertly done in well under two hundred pages.

Vikram Pandey and Gilbert Lawless are from minority – albeit fairly well-do-do – backgrounds, and met at boarding school several years before the story opens.  Vik’s father had been a high-ranking government official in India, while Gil is the result of a liaison between a black housemaid and a wealthy gentleman who publicly acknowledged him, paid for his education and treated him as a son.  Gil and Vik bonded at school and became the best of friends in spite of the fundamental differences in their natures, Gil seeming never to have a care in the world while Vik was always a little uptight and reserved. But one day when they were sixteen, both their lives were upended when Gil disappeared without warning or a word to anyone.  Vik was devastated, but his enquiries at school were always met with stony silence and disapproval, and eventually he stopped asking about or looking for Gil, believing him to be dead. He must be, or surely he’d have got word to Vik somehow, to tell him what happened.

In fact, Gil was removed from school and pretty much cast onto the streets on the day his father died and his half-brother inherited the estate.  Gil begged and scraped a living and now runs a small bookshop on Holywell Street near the Strand which, at that time, contained the largest concentration of porn shops in England.  Gilbert Lawless, Bookseller is Gil’s two-fingered-salute to the brother who, he later learned, cheated him out of his father’s last bequest, as well as to the “kind of respectability that means keeping other people in line while you do as you please.”

He is surprised when his cousin Percy asks him to attend Matthew Lawes’ funeral – and not at all surprised when he discovers there was an ulterior motive for inviting him. It seems his uncle was a connoisseur of pornography of all sorts, and faced with a massive library of books and photographs which could cause the family huge embarrassment, (not to mention large fines and possible imprisonment!)  they want Gil to take it all away and dispose of it.  Gil isn’t interested in most of it, but some of the books – one of them particularly rare – catch his eye, so he decides he might as well get what he can out of it, and agrees to have the lot transported to his shop.  It’s when he’s looking through some of the photographs that he recognises the likeness of a young lad – a rent boy – named Errol, who was found dead in a local alley just three weeks earlier.

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

Firestorm (Flashpoint #3) by Rachel Grant


This title may be purchased from Amazon

CIA covert operator Savannah James is after intel on a potential coup in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, but she needs a partner fluent in Lingala to infiltrate the organization. Sergeant First Class Cassius Callahan is the perfect choice, except he doesn’t like her very much. He doesn’t trust her, either, despite the sparks that flare between them, fierce and hot. Still, he accepts the assignment even though their cover requires Savvy to pose as his mistress.

They enter battle-worn Congo to expose the financing for the coup. A trail of cobalt, gold, and diamonds leads them into the heart of a jungle in which everyone is desperate to find the mother lode of ore and gems. Betrayal stalks them as they follow the money, but Savvy will stop at nothing to bring down the would-be dictator before he can ignite a firestorm that will engulf all of Africa.

Deep in the sultry rainforest, spy and Green Beret forge a relationship more precious than diamonds, but Cal knows Savvy is willing to sacrifice anything—or anyone—to complete her mission. As they near the flashpoint, Cal will have to save her from the greatest threat of all: herself.

Rating: A

I’ve been eager to get my hands on Firestorm, the third book in Rachel Grant’s gripping Flashpoint series, for months – and it was definitely worth the wait.  This is one high-octane, high-stakes ride; steamy, complex, intricately plotted, politically astute and emotionally fraught, Firestorm is easily one of the best romantic suspense novels I’ve read in ages and Ms. Grant is clearly an author at the top of her game.

All the books in the series have been set in and around the fictional US base of Camp Citron on the outskirts of Djibouti.  The series is called Flashpoint for a very good reason; the stories take place in some of the most dangerous places in the world (the Horn of Africa, Sudan and Congo), which are – literally – potential flashpoints that turn on a knife-edge; unstable regions and countries open to exploitation by influences both foreign and domestic.  In this story, most of the action takes place in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where the Russian-backed dictator-in-waiting, Jean Paul Lubanga, is planning to seize power and gain control of the country’s massive wealth in diamonds, minerals and uranium oxide.  Russian control of the DRC would destabilise the already precarious political situation in Central Africa, and most worrying of all, the likely supply of uranium to places like Syria and Iran could be the first step towards World War Three.  The stakes couldn’t be higher, and Camp Citron’s resident ‘spook’, Savannah James, has been tasked with finding out exactly how close Lubanga is to staging a coup.

Savannah – Savvy –  has been a prominent secondary character throughout the series, a coolly enigmatic and ruthless (when called for) woman who is believed throughout the camp to be working for the CIA, although nobody knows for sure.  She’s frighteningly competent and utterly dedicated to getting the job done by whatever means necessary –and sometimes those means aren’t pretty.  Most of the people on camp dislike her and give her a wide berth, although she’s found an ally of sorts in Master Sergeant Pax Blanchard (hero of Tinderbox, book one) and Chief Warrant Officer Sebastian Ford (hero of Catalyst, book two), the latter in spite of the fact that she ordered Bastian to seduce his now-fiancée, Brie Stewart, in order to gain information about the links between Brie’s family and the Russian mafia.  The one man in Bastian and Pax’s circle who makes no attempt to hide his dislike of Savvy is Sergeant First Class Cassius Callahan (Cal); that he also happens to be the one man Savvy wants at her back as she infiltrates a gathering comprising some of the most dangerous men in the world is not about to make life any easier for either of them.

There’s been a strong undercurrent of lust and sexual tension humming between Savvy and Cal since book one; they’re not exactly in denial, they both know they’re intensely attracted to one another, but neither is very happy about it and they keep their distance as far as possible.  But that’s going to be impossible if Cal accepts the mission Savvy outlines; the only way she will be able to gain access to the party being thrown by Radimir Gorov is if she turns up hanging on the arm of an obviously powerful, ambitious and dangerous man.  Which is where Cal comes in.

“Warlords and oligarchs will never accept a woman at the table unless she’s there as a toy… you’re the businessman.  I’ll be your sex toy.”

Cal and Savvy are both strong, likeable, highly intelligent characters who share an intense dedication to doing what’s right and are driven to protect those they care for and those less fortunate.  Savvy is tough as nails and is as highly trained as any special forces operative, yet she has faced – and continues to face – sexism and misogyny, even from those who are supposed to have her back.  When she realises the extent of the manipulation to which she has been subjected by someone she’d trusted implicitly, it’s an excruciating – and ultimately life-threatening – betrayal that sees her and Cal running for their lives.

This is a very personal mission for Cal.  The son of a Congolese mother and American father, his aunt and female cousins were raped and murdered by soldiers in the Second Congo War, and his male cousins disappeared; to this day it’s not known whether they died or have become part of the same rebel group that killed his aunt and her daughters.  Cal may have been born in the US, but there’s no denying the strong kinship he feels with his mother’s homeland, and he’s just as determined as Savvy to strike a blow against the would-be interlopers and criminals who want to strip the Congo of its resources and autonomy.

The fake-relationship trope is perhaps a bit of an overdone premise in this particular genre, but be assured it’s only a springboard for what follows. There is much, MUCH more to this novel than the scorching sexual chemistry between the two leads; we’re plunged straight into a multi-layered story full of danger and nail-biting tension while at the same time we’re seeing the layers of suspicion and distrust built up by both Savvy and Cal being slowly peeled away to reveal the true nature and depth of their feelings for one another.  The author has created compelling and rich personal stories for both protagonists, and, as usual, doesn’t shy away from referring to the atrocities and corruption that are every day occurrences in this part of the world.

I never fail to be impressed by Ms. Grant’s impeccable research and her ability to construct a sophisticated, topical and perfectly paced story that grabs me from page one and pushes me closer to the edge of my seat with each chapter.  Firestorm is a real treat for lovers of romantic suspense; great characters with off-the-charts chemistry, a tender romance, a powerfully compelling plot full of dramatic twists and turns, and one of those against-all-odds finales that has you jumping up and down and punching the air when the good guys triumph over evil.  I think this is the last book in the series and I’m certainly sorry to see it end –although you can colour me intrigued by the little glimpse we’re given of what we might have to look forward to next.

Firestorm is romantic suspense done right and to the max. Don’t miss it.