Risk Taker (Mixed Messages #3) by Lily Morton (audiobook) – Narrated by Joel Leslie

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

Being in love with your best friend is hard.

Henry’s the odd man out. All his friends are settling down, and his reputation as the hook-up king of London seems more like a curse than a blessing, these days. Especially when it keeps photojournalist Ivo, his best friend and the brilliant man he’s loved since they were 15, at arm’s length. But that’s where Ivo wants him, right? Putting aside his feelings, Henry decides to give up casual sex and look for the real deal.

After all, he has no chance with Ivo. Or, does he?

Henry is everything to Ivo. Best friend, soul mate, the one person who has never let him down. The one person he is loyal to above everything and everyone. But Henry’s in a box marked best friend, and that’s where Ivo’s kept him for nearly 20 years, despite steadily falling in love with the gentle man. And besides, why would Henry want to date Ivo? Burned out and injured, he’s the walking embodiment of damaged.

Distance has helped Henry and Ivo keep a lid on their attraction, but when they find themselves in the same city for a change -Ivo hurt and needing assistance and Henry more than willing to provide it – the two best friends grow closer than ever, forcing a realization and a decision.

Risk their friendship for their hearts? Or can they have both?

Rating: Narration – A; Content – B+

Risk Taker is book three in Lily Morton’s Mixed Messages series, and in it, the author turns her focus to Henry Ashworth, who is Gabe’s (Rule Breaker) former college roommate and closest friend. Handsome, witty, clever Henry has appeared in both the previous books, coming across as someone who’s got his shit together – although his ability to offer wryly insightful relationship advice when his friends need a little nudge in the right direction is rather at odds with his penchant for casual sex in nightclub toilets. For years, he’s been content with a series of NSA hook-ups, but has lately started to realise that lifestyle isn’t working for him anymore and, having watched his close friends fall in love and settle down, decides it’s time he started looking for something a bit more long-term.

I’m going to find someone who wants me: Henry, the family lawyer who loves his dog, works hard and sometimes comes home late and knackered. Someone who will embrace the life I yearn for. Monogamy and a true partnership that works because the couple love each other.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

In the Requiem (Metahuman Files #5) by Hailey Turner (audiobook) – Narrated by Greg Boudreaux

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

Never let go.

Weighed down by scandal, Captain Jamie Callahan must choose between saving his family’s reputation and his father’s political aspirations, or taking down the enemy once and for all. Choosing one over the other will have lasting repercussions he can’t escape. Whatever path Jamie ultimately picks, Staff Sergeant Kyle Brannigan will be right by his side to face the consequences. Kyle knows in a situation like this the only way out is through. Together they can make it to the other side, but surviving that journey will take everything they have.

One last chance.

Agent Sean Delaney is learning what it means to be part of Alpha Team through trial by fire. He wouldn’t change it for the world, nor would he give up the life he’s building with Staff Sergeant Alexei Dvorkin. But their time together is threatened by outside forces they can’t outrun. Having put the nightmare of Boston behind him, Alexei is focused on keeping his family safe, but he can’t have eyes on everyone. Alexei knows he can’t ignore the danger on the horizon, and when it strikes, he is unprepared for the tragedy it leaves in its wake.

Risking it all.

The odds are stacked ever higher against Alpha Team, and outmaneuvering a precog is a daunting, almost impossible task. Jamie knows something has to give, and when it does, it just might break him the way nothing else in his life ever could.

Rating: Narration – A+; Content A-

Oh. My. God. Hailey Turner pulls out all the stops in this, the final** instalment of her military/futuristic Metahumans Files series, bringing the overarching storyline to a thrilling, high-stakes close… but not without leaving a couple of unanswered questions that leave the door ajar for future stories. And it will come as no surprise when I say that Greg Boudreaux – who has done some truly incredible work throughout the series – makes it five for five with a barnstorming performance that had me smiling, sighing, blushing, fuming and sobbing into my dinner.

Besides being the culmination of a plot arc, In the Requiem also features a large number of recurring secondary characters, and while the author does include some backstory and background information about both plot and characters, I don’t think this story will make a great deal of sense if you haven’t read or listened to the books that precede it. I’m assuming that anyone who has made it to this point knows the story so far…

**At time of writing this was the final book, but book six has just been announced.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

Love Lettering by Kate Clayborn (audiobook) – Narrated by Nicol Zanzarella

This title may be downloaded from Audible.

Meg Mackworth’s hand-lettering skill has made her famous as the Planner of Park Slope, designing custom journals for her New York City clientele. She has another skill too: reading signs that other people miss. Knowing the upcoming marriage of Reid Sutherland and his gorgeous fiancee was doomed to fail is one thing, but weaving a secret word of warning into their wedding program is another. Meg may have thought no one would spot it, but she hadn’t counted on sharp-eyed, pattern-obsessed Reid….

A year later, Reid has tracked Meg down to find out how she knew that his meticulously planned future was about to implode. But with a looming deadline and a bad case of creative block, Meg doesn’t have time for Reid’s questions – unless he can help her find her missing inspiration. As they gradually open up to each other, both try to ignore a deepening connection between them. But the signs are there – irresistible, indisputable, urging Meg to heed the messages Reid is sending her, before it’s too late….

Rating: Narration – A-; Content: B+

Kate Clayborn arrived on the contemporary romance scene a couple of years ago and made a big splash with her Chance of a Lifetime trilogy which featured three friends who won the lottery. She’s followed up that success with Love Lettering, a gorgeous slow-burn romance featuring a pair of truly likeable characters who, while complete opposites nonetheless complement each other perfectly.

Meg Mackworth has made a name for herself as a calligrapher and hand-letterer, producing beautiful custom-made journals, planners and stationery for the small, boutique paperie owned and run by a friend. But recently, her work has gained a wider audience and she has become something of an internet celebrity; her Instagram “how to” videos get hundreds of thousands of hits, she’s more in demand than ever, and she’s about to move her business to the next level by pitching a new range of designs to a company that will produce and distribute her work far more widely. So things are going well and life is good. Except… it isn’t.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

Police Brutality (Hazard and Somerset: A Union of Swords #2) by Gregory Ashe

This title may be purchased from Amazon

For the first time in a long while, Emery Hazard’s life is good. His new business as a private detective is taking off. Things are good at home. He loves his boyfriend, John-Henry Somerset; he loves their daughter. He might even love the new friends they’ve found. There’s only one problem: Somers has been talking about marriage.

When a former colleague, Walter Hoffmeister, comes to Hazard and hires him to look into a series of anonymous death threats, Hazard eagerly jumps on the distraction. Hoffmeister might be a jerk, but he’s a paying jerk, and Hazard isn’t convinced the threats are serious.

Until, that is, Hoffmeister is almost gunned down on Hazard’s doorstep. As Hazard investigates more deeply, he learns that more than one person in Wahredua has a reason to wish Hoffmeister dead. His search takes him to the Ozark Volunteers, reincarnated as the Bright Lights movement, but it also leads him into a sanctuary of radical Christianity. Meanwhile, an antifa activist has arrived in town, calling for Hoffmeister’s death and threatening total war with the Bright Lights.

As Hazard continues to look for answers, he becomes a target too—and not just because he’s helping Hoffmeister. The Keeper of Bees is still at large, and the killer hasn’t lost interest in Emery Hazard. Not yet. Not, Hazard begins to suspect, until the Keeper has taken everything Hazard holds dear.

Rating: A-

I chose The Rational Faculty – the fabulous and compelling first book in Gregory Ashe’s second series of novels featuring detectives Emery Hazard and John-Henry Somerset – as my favourite book of 2019.  I’ve become addicted to the author’s brand of gritty, complex mystery combined with angsty, equally complex romance, and have been eagerly awaiting the next instalment in the Union of Swords series. The events of Police Brutality take place a couple of months after those of the previous book, and as it opens, we find Hazard and Somers a little more settled than they were and enjoying a night in with friends.

In general, things are going well. Hazard and Somers are deeply in love and firmly committed to one another, and they seem to have got past at least some of the bumps that threatened to derail things between them when Hazard became unofficially involved in a case Somers was working, which resulted in a lot of complications for Somers and put a strain on their relationship.  Now, Hazard is getting to grips with opening his own PI firm and Somers is getting used to his new partner – but as is always the case with these two, nothing is plain sailing. Hazard is still struggling to deal with his depression and the PTSD that followed the attack on him and Somers some months earlier, and this, together with the guilt he feels over the recent, gruesome murders of the sheriff’s son and his husband, and his growing suspicion that the killer is – for some as yet unknown reason – targeting him and those around him, is weighing heavily on his mind.  And this being Emery Hazard, ‘weighing heavily’ means ‘obssessing and over-thinking’.

While Somers is assigned to work the case of a trio of young female college students who have been the victims of sexual assault, Hazard is surprised to receive a visit from a former colleague, Walter Hoffmeister, who wants to hire him to find out who is behind the weird and unpleasant things that have been happening to him lately.  Shit in the mail, someone messing around in his house and car, someone following him – and finally a threatening note; his boss, police chief Cravens, isn’t taking any of this seriously, and Hoffmeister is clearly pissed off and pretty freaked out.  Privately, Hazard isn’t sure he believes the threats are serious either – Hoffmeister is brusque, loud-mouthed and obnoxious, and has recently been suspended from duty pending an investigation into an accusation of assault and battery on a suspect, so it’s not surprising he has enemies – but a job is a job, and Hazard agrees to take it on and see what he can find out.

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

Trusting Miss Trentham (Baleful Godmother #2) by Emily Larkin (audiobook) – Narrated by Rosalyn Landor

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon</a.

Letitia Trentham is noteworthy for three reasons. One, she’s extremely wealthy. Two, she can distinguish truth from lies. Three, she’s refused every man who’s ever proposed to her.

Until Letty receives a proposal she can’t turn down.

Icarus Reid barely survived the Battle of Vimeiro. He lives for one thing – to find the man who betrayed him to the French. He doesn’t want to marry Miss Trentham; he wants to use her talent for uncovering lies.

Suddenly, Letty finds herself breaking the rules, pretending to be someone she’s not, and doing things a lady would never do. But her hunt for the truth may uncover more than one secret – including the secret that haunts Icarus day and night. The secret he intends to take to his grave….

Rating: Narration – A; Content B+

Trusting Miss Trentham is the second full-length novel in Emily Larkin’s historical-with-a-touch-of-the-paranormal Baleful Godmother series, which features a group of young women who have been granted magical ‘gifts’ by their faerie godmother. (There is a novella – Resisting Miss Merryweather – between book one, Unmasking Miss Appleby, and this one, but it’s not necessary to have read or listened to either of them to enjoy this instalment). Each of the ladies is allowed to choose their gift – although they must choose carefully, as the aforementioned faerie godmother is not the benevolent sort so often found in fairy tales and will trick them if she can – and in this story, our heroine, Leticia Trentham, has chosen to be able to hear when someone is lying to her.

There’s a good reason for this choice. Letty is heiress to a massive fortune and knew that she would need to be able to tell the difference between a man who wanted her for herself and one who wanted her for her money. Now aged twenty-eight, the more than two hundred marriage proposals she has received in the years since her come out at twenty-one have all been made by fortune hunters, and now, she rather despairs of ever finding a man who can tell her honestly that he isn’t just after her money. She knows she doesn’t have much else to recommend her; she’s not pretty or possessed of the other sorts of qualities likely to attract a husband. She doesn’t simper or defer and she’s intelligent and not afraid to show it – which isn’t exactly a sought-after quality on the marriage mart. She has just turned down yet another would-be suitor when she is approached by a tall, gaunt man with a military bearing and an undeniable air of exhaustion who has heard of her uncanny ability to be able to tell truth from lies – and who asks for her help.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

Powder & Pavlova (Southern Lights #1) by Jay Hogan

This title may be purchased from Amazon

ETHAN SHARPE is living every young Kiwi’s dream—seeing the world for a couple of years while deciding what to do with his life. Then he gets a call. Two days later he’s back in New Zealand. Six months later his mother is dead, his fifteen-year-old brother is going off the rails and the café he’s inherited is failing. His life is a hot mess and the last thing he needs is another complication—like the man who just walked into his café,

a much older…

sinfully hot…

EPIC complication.

TANNER CARPENTER’s time in Queenstown has an expiration date. He has a new branch of his business to get up and running, exorcise a few personal demons while he’s at it, and then head back to Auckland to get on with his life. He isn’t looking for a relationship especially with someone fifteen years his junior, but Ethan is gorgeous, troubled and in need of a friend. Tanner could be that for Ethan, right? He could brighten Ethan’s day for a while, help him out, maybe even offer some… stress relief, no strings attached. It was a good plan, until it wasn’t.

Rating: A-

I read and enjoyed a couple of books by Jay Hogan last year, so I was more than happy to jump into Powder & Pavlova, the first book in her Southern Lights series of m/m romances set in and around Queenstown, New Zealand.  This is a May/December story featuring a pair of engaging and well-rounded protagonists whose flaws make them seem all the more real, and their romance is a gorgeous slow-burn, full of chemistry that fizzes and pops every time they’re together on the page.  Powder & Pavlova is charming, sexy and poignant; funny at one moment, heart-breaking the next, and I loved every minute of it.

Twenty-three-year-old Ethan Sharpe planned to travel for a year or so when he left school, intending to use the time away to figure out what he wanted to do with his life before returning home to Queenstown.  But that one year became two; two became three, then four… until Ethan received a phone call six months before the book opens and he discovered his mother had terminal cancer and just a few months left to live.  Now, just months after her death, Ethan is spending most of his time trying to keep the café she’d loved from going under and trying to do the best for his sixteen-year-old brother Kurt, whose grades are nose-diving at school and whose teenage attitude and snark always rub Ethan the wrong way. Ethan recognises his brother is hurting, but so is he; and it hurts even more when he remembers how he’d thought that he and Kurt would be there for each other – yet now he can’t seem to do anything right.

Tanner Carpenter is a former champion snowboarder whose career ended due to injury fourteen earlier, and who has never been near the snow since.  He now works for a PR company that is looking to extend its profile and snag some contracts in the sports arena – rugby and snowsports specifically – and he’s in Queenstown for five months, heading up a small team whose brief is to test the market and come up with a pitch for contracts in the next Audi Quattro Winter Games.   He noticed Ethan in the kitchen of the local coffee shop when he was on an office coffee run – and now makes a point of doing the runs himself; after all, nothing says ‘team culture’ more than the boss pitching in and getting the coffee in.

Well, that’s his excuse and he’s sticking to it.

Ethan has noticed Tanner, too, but the hot, almost-silver fox with the devastating smile and maturity and confidence painted all over him is way out of his league – and even if he wasn’t, Ethan doesn’t have time for dating or anything else.  But the next time Tanner comes into the café, he engages Ethan in an unmistakeably flirtatious conversation and Ethan can’t help but flirt back; the sparks really do fly between them right from the start, and flirtation soon turns into a genuine friendship.  Both men acknowledge the strength of the attraction they feel towards each other, but agree not to cross the boundary between friendship and something more.  Ethan has his hands full trying to keep the café’s head above water and Tanner will be returning to his life in Auckland in a few months, so getting in any deeper is a terrible idea.

The trouble is, of course, that there comes a point when friendship isn’t enough for either of them. Even as the friendship the couple decides is all they can allow themselves grows and deepens, the author is showing readers how absolutely in tune they are; even as they recognise that they’re asking for trouble by embarking on a relationship, she’s showing us that they’re perfect for one another romantically – and the emotional connection she creates between them simply leaps off the page.

I generally enjoy May/December romances, although it’s not every author who can pull it off successfully and achieve the right balance of youth and maturity in the make-up of both characters to make the relationship believable, but Jay Hogan does it extremely well here.  Ethan has a lot on his young shoulders; he’s still grieving his mother, he feels guilty about not being what his brother needs, and even more guilty about the possibility of failure when it comes to his mother’s business.  Tanner is fifteen years older and more settled, even though he has his own fears and insecurities to overcome.  I loved that these guys are so supportive of each other, and that even when they disagree, they’re strong enough and mature enough to admit when they get something wrong, further strengthening the bond between them.

The relationships between Ethan and his friends, Adrian (the mysteriously tight-lipped barista – I hope he’s getting his own book!) and Lucy, are well written, and the sibling relationship between Ethan and Kurt is skilfully handled. Even though we don’t get Kurt’s PoV, the author is able to convey his hurt and frustration so well that it’s easy to empathise with him, even when he’s behaving like a shit towards Ethan, and I was rooting for them to repair the damage and get things between them back on track.

This review wouldn’t be complete without my mentioning the mouth-watering food and desserts Ethan and his team regularly prepare, or the wonderful descriptions of the South Island scenery; the view across Lake Wakatipu, the snowy mountains and the Aurora Australis, for instance, which all made me want to look up the price of a plane ticket!

Funny, sexy, sweet and touching, Powder & Pavlova made me smile and it made me cry, and I was so captivated by it that I raced through it in a couple of sittings.  Jay Hogan has earned a place on my list of ‘must read’ authors, and I’m really looking forward to the next instalment in the Southern Lights series.

A Madness of Sunshine by Nalini Singh (audiobook) – Narrated by Saskia Maarleveld

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

On the rugged West Coast of New Zealand, Golden Cove is more than just a town where people live. The adults are more than neighbours; the children, more than schoolmates.

That is until one fateful summer – and several vanished bodies – shatters the trust holding Golden Cove together. All that’s left are whispers behind closed doors, broken friendships, and a silent agreement not to look back. But they can’t run from the past forever.

Eight years later, a beautiful young woman disappears without a trace, and the residents of Golden Cove wonder if their home shelters something far more dangerous than an unforgiving landscape.

It’s not long before the dark past collides with the haunting present and deadly secrets come to light.

Rating: Narration – A; Content – B

I have a confession to make. This is only the second book by Nalini Singh I’ve ever read (the other being an old Harlequin that I remember enjoying over a decade ago!). I know she’s the author of a number of very successful series, including the hugely popular PsyChangeling books – but I just haven’t found the time to pick up any of them (one of these days…). So when I saw that she was branching out into the suspense genre with A Madness of Sunshine, a standalone title set in her homeland of New Zealand, I was intrigued; and seeing that the excellent Saskia Maarleveld had signed on to narrate it just cemented my decision to pick up the book in audio.

Anahera Rawiri returns to her hometown of Golden Cove on the coast of New Zealand’s South Island eight years after turning her back on it forever, or so she’d hoped at the time. Having pursued a glamorous career as a classical pianist, Anahera based herself in London, but decided to return to NZ following the death of her famous playwright husband, who – she’d discovered after his death – had not only cheated on her but left his mistress pregnant. Even though she’d worked hard to get away from Golden Cove, a small, provincial town that offered no prospects, something has called Anahera back there, and she decides to make her home in the remote cabin that she had lived in with her late mother.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.