Noble Hops (Trouble Brewing #3) by Layla Reyne

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Everything Dominic Price has worked hard to uphold is about to come crashing down on everything he holds dear.

So much for the quiet life. Just as assistant US attorney and brewery owner Dominic Price is settling into a comfy new chapter with his partner, FBI agent Cameron Byrne, the sudden death of Nic’s father puts their happily-ever-after in jeopardy. Nic immediately suspects foul play, his prime suspect a notorious gangster his father was indebted to—only now the loan shark is out for blood.

Cam has been longing for Nic to finally let him in on this very personal case. But when Nic’s belief that he’s the sole Price heir is upended, the line between personal and professional starts to blur, leaving Cam unsure of where he stands.

Nic is depending on Cam’s kidnap and rescue expertise to save his recently discovered family member before it’s too late. But with a dangerous threat closing in, the ghosts from Nic’s past cast long shadows. Any relationship could crack under the pressure, but for Nic, finding his family might mean losing the love of his life.

Rating: B-

Although I haven’t given as high grades to the books in Layla Reyne’s Trouble Brewing series as I did to some of those in her earlier Agents Irish and Whiskey one, for the most part, I’ve enjoyed the novels in spite of their weaknesses. This is primarily because I like the two principals – FBI agent Cameron Byrne and Assistant US Attorney Nic Price – and the sense of family and connections the author has created between them and the recurring secondary characters, most of whom appeared in the earlier series. These are quick, easy reads that are rather like TV shows or action movies in book form; the heroes are impossibly handsome, the ex-SEAL-turned-Lawyer gets to kick ass physically as well as in the courtroom, and the computer experts can hack pretty much everything in the world without breaking a sweat, or turn up all sorts of information in the five minutes it takes most laptops to simply boot up!

So. Taking a degree of suspension of disbelief as read, Noble Hops brings to a close the overarching plotline of the series, in which Nic discovered that his father Curtis Price, a wealthy businessman, was heavily in debt to Duncan Vaughn, a dangerous criminal and slippery character with a finger in many, many pies, that nobody has – as yet – been able to pin anything on. Vaughn tried threatening Nic and his business – the small craft brewery he co-owns with a former SEAL buddy – as a way to force Curtis to pay off his loans, and then to force Nic to pay them – and the fear of putting those he loves in harm’s way led Nic to try to conceal what was happening from Cam and those he’s closest to. Fortunately, by the end of book one, Nic was brought to see that he didn’t have to deal with the situation alone, and now, he and Cam are openly living together and obviously in it for the long haul. That’s not to say Nic isn’t still carrying around a large crate of worry and guilt over events in his past, but he’s at last adjusting to the fact that he has a family now – maybe not a family by blood, but one forged of strong bonds of friendship and loyalty – people who love him and he can trust to have his back.

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

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Taken by the Rake (Scarlet Chronicles #3) by Shana Galen

This title may be purchased from Amazon.

Sometimes beauty…

Honoria Blake knows she must have had a moment of madness when she accepted a summons by the Scarlet Pimpernel to travel to revolutionary Paris and help his League. She’s an expert forger and glad her services can be of use, but the violence of the Reign of Terror has her longing for her quiet, unobtrusive life in London. Then a bloody man staggers to the door of the house where she’s hiding, claiming he was sent by the Pimpernel. Recently escaped from La Force prison, the former Marquis de Montagne is sinfully handsome and charming. He’s also desperate enough to kidnap Honoria. So much for her return to the quiet life.

Can be a beast…

Laurent is a consummate rake, but even he is captivated by the beautiful Honoria. Laurent cares almost nothing for his own life, but he was always close to the royal family and the little princess was like a sister to him. He will risk everything to save her from a life of imprisonment and possible execution. His plan is risky and surely doomed, but if he can convince Honoria and the League of the Scarlet Pimpernel to help him, it just might succeed. The only question is how far he’s willing to go and whether he’s willing to risk the life of the only woman he’s ever loved to save a doomed princess.

Rating: B

Shana Galen continues her Scarlet Chronicles series of novels set in the early days of the French Revolution with Taken by the Rake, in which a young Englishwoman – who happens to be a talented forger – working with the League of the Scarlet Pimpernel in order to provide suitably ‘authentic’ documentation for the aristocrats being smuggled across to England, becomes caught up in one man’s personal crusade to rescue the children of the King and Queen of France.  Ms. Galen’s familiarity with the Parisian locations and the politics and history of the period shine through, and she really knows how to pull the reader in, crafting an exciting opening set-piece in which the League orchestrates the escape of the former Marquis de Montagne from prison as part of their plan to rescue the doomed French Queen.

Laurent Bourgogne has spent the last five months incarcerated in La Force, expecting every day that his name would be on the list of executions scheduled, wearily resigned every day when it was not.  Escape is an impossibility and he knows it’s just a matter of time  – until is literally dragged from the prison courtyard by a large man who thrusts a piece of paper into his hand which bears the symbol of a small, red flower and directs him to an address – 6 Rue du Jour.

Honoria Blake followed in her late father’s footsteps, becoming an expert on Roman antiquities and then taking up a position at the newly founded British Museum, spending most of her time there identifying and cataloguing pieces acquired for the museum’s various collections.  But she began to feel restless with the smallness of her world and wanted adventure, to do something to make a difference – which is how she comes to be residing in Paris, at a safe-house used by the League of the Scarlet Pimpernel, forging papers and passports for the people they rescue from Madame la Guillotine.

Even in a city in as much uproar as Paris, the last thing Honoria expects is to find a man covered in blood standing on the doorstep.  Recognising he must be a nobleman on the run, she pulls him inside, and sets about tending his wounds and offering him a place to rest – even though he seems to be just as arrogant and undeserving as all the aristos who have not been so fortunate as to keep their heads.

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

TBR Challenge: Paternity Case (Hazard and Somerset #3) by Gregory Ashe

This title may be purchased from Amazon.

It’s almost Christmas, and Emery Hazard finds himself face to face with his own personal nightmare: going on a double date with his partner—and boyhood crush—John-Henry Somerset. Hazard brings his boyfriend; Somers brings his estranged wife. Things aren’t going to end well.

When a strange call interrupts dinner, however, Hazard and his partner become witnesses to a shooting. The victims: Somers’s father, and the daughter of a high school friend. The crime is inexplicable. There is no apparent motive, no connection between the victims, and no explanation for how the shooter reached his targets.

Determined to get answers, Hazard and Somers move forward with their investigation in spite of mounting pressure to stop. Their search for the truth draws them into a dark web of conspiracy and into an even darker tangle of twisted love and illicit desire. And as the two men come face to face with the passions and madness behind the crime, they must confront their own feelings for each other—and the hard truths that neither man is ready to accept.

Rating: A

Paternity Case is the third in Gregory Ashe’s series of novels featuring two detectives based in the small Missouri town of Wahredua, Emery Hazard and John-Henry Somerset.  These are gritty, complex stories that are practically impossible to put down once started; the mysteries are twisty and really well-conceived but at the heart of each book – and the series – is the complicated, fucked-up relationship between the two principals, a pair of stubborn, emotionally constipated individuals with a dark and  painful shared history that stretches back twenty years.

While each of the six books in the series boasts a self-contained mystery, there is also an overarching storyline that runs throughout, so I’d strongly recommend starting at the beginning with book one, Pretty Pretty Boys.  There’s probably enough backstory in this book for a newcomer, but if you do jump in here, you’ll miss out on a lot of relationship development and exploration of Hazard and Somerset’s history – which is absolutely integral to the series as a whole.  Gregory Ashe knows how to create sexual tension so thick it can be cut with a knife; this is slow-burn romance at its finest – and possibly most frustrating! – so don’t go into this series expecting a quick HFN/HEA.

A little bit of background. Detective Emery Hazard moves back to his small home town of Wahredua after being fired from his job in St. Louis (for reasons we don’t yet know).  The town doesn’t hold many good memories for him; the only openly gay kid at school, he didn’t have many friends and was badly bullied by three boys who made his life a misery for years.  Of these, one is now dead, another is a broken down mess, and the third… Hazard doesn’t know what happened to him, the charming, popular, movie-star handsome John-Henry Somerset, son of one of the town’s wealthiest families – until he turns up at his new station and meets his new partner.

Yep.

The first book sees Hazard and Somerset – who now goes by Somers – starting to work though the issues that lie between them, although it’s going to take more than an apology and the new, grudging, respect Hazard slowly develops for his new partner’s ability as a detective, and Somers’ admiration for Hazard’s intellect and his ability to work his way through complicated puzzles and construct solutions, to fix things between them.  Somers is almost desperate to prove to Hazard that he’s changed – and he really has – since they were in college, but Hazard is cautious and doesn’t want to have anything to do with him that isn’t work-related.  Somers is garrulous and quick to tease the much more serious Hazard, and on the surface they’ve got a bit of an ‘odd couple’ thing going on; but underneath, it’s all much darker and more complicated as the feelings that sparked between them twenty years earlier come roaring back to life.

For two books, readers have watched them struggle to adjust to their working partnership and ignore the intense mutual attraction that neither wants to acknowledge.  They’ve had their heated moments, but are both in deep denial; Somers has been trying (unsuccessfully) to work things out with his estranged wife (with whom he has a two-year-old daughter), while Hazard has embarked on a relationship with a gorgeous (and much younger) grad-student, Nico Flores. Both men are involved with someone who just doesn’t ‘get’ them or understand their dedication to their job or loyalty to each other, especially Nico, who can’t understand how Hazard can bear to work with Somers considering their history.

Paternity Case opens as Hazard and Somers are getting ready to go out – on a double-date, of all things; Hazard and Nico, Somers and his almost-ex-wife, Cora.  The reader already knows this is one of the worst ideas in history and a train-wreck in waiting, but before things can get too uncomfortable, Somers receives a phone call from his father, who practically orders him to the family home during the Somerset’s annual pre-Christmas party.  It’s not a case, but Somers insists Hazard accompanies him anyway, and they arrive to find a very drunk – or stoned – old guy wearing nothing but a Santa hat in the middle of the Somerset’s living room.  As Somers and Hazard try to find out what on earth is going on, the lights go out and shots are fired, one killing a young woman and five of the others landing in Glenn Somerset’s chest but somehow not killing him.

Naked-Santa is deemed to be responsible and is taken into custody, but both Hazard and Somers are immediately seeing things that don’t add up. And when they arrive at the hospital to discover that the suspect has been shot and killed by another detective, it ratchets up suspicions they’ve held for a while now that one of their colleagues is on the take.  The hints of political corruption and intrigue that have appeared in the earlier books now become something more solid, and when Hazard and Somers are ordered to drop their investigation they smell more than just one rat.  Their boss insists there’s nothing to investigate, but neither man buys that; for Somers this is personal – he might not get along with Glenn Somerset, but the man is still his father – and Hazard isn’t about to sit idly by and watch his partner self-destruct or put himself in danger without someone to watch his back.

While both characters get equal billing in the series title, the previous two books have focused a little more on Hazard as the main protagonist. Here, that focus shifts to Somers, and as he starts to unravel, readers are shown more of what lies beneath that gorgeous, wise-cracking exterior – a man who doesn’t like himself much and who is weighed down by the guilt of a terrible betrayal he wrought years ago.  Mr. Ashe very deftly delineates Somers’ toxic family situation, and his insight into the power dynamics that existed when Hazard and Somerset were kids is completely on the nose.  We see a different side to the normally personable, laid-back detective as the author peels away the layers to reveal  the loneliness lying at his core as he is forced to face up to some painful and unwelcome truths about his long-buried feelings, and to reach some significant conclusions as a result.

Both men are guarded and not easy to understand. They talk a lot – well, Somers does – but rarely – if ever – say what they mean, and right from the start, their conversations have been as much about what they don’t say as what they do. They’re both excellent detectives; Hazard is precise and logical while Somers has the kind of emotional intelligence that makes him a really good ‘people person’ – and yet they’re both blind when it comes to each other.  While the investigation is the focus of the plot, the intensity of the underlying love story permeates the book; these two are stupid in love but certain the other doesn’t feel the same, and the emotional punch the author delivers at the end is simply masterful.

The secondary cast is strongly-drawn, the plot is cleverly constructed and Gregory Ashe’s writing ranges from the vividly descriptive  –

At this time of year, when darkness came early, Warhedua looked like the last place of light and warmth in a burned-out world. Ahead of them, the sodium lights dropped away until the only thing illuminating the asphalt was the Interceptor’s headlights, bluish-white, the color of fresh snow if it had somehow transformed into light.

to the lyrical…

Love isn’t a choice. Love is collision. Love is catastrophe. Somers had thought he’d understood. He thought he’d known how dangerous those words were, he thought he’d sensed how deeply Emery Hazard had upset his life.

But he’d had no idea.

There are moments of observation and insight so sharp it’s almost painful, and the circumlocutory conversations that characterise Hazard and Somers’ interactions are both completely absorbing and a masterclass in how to say something without ever actually uttering the words.

I’ve rambled on long enough, so I’ll close by saying that if you’re a fan of m/m mysteries and romantic suspense, then you’re going to want to start on the Hazard and Somerset series right away.  I promise you’ll thank me later 😉

 

Appetites and Vices (The Truitts #1) by Felicia Grossman

This title may be purchased from Amazon

He’s her ticket into high society…

Banking heiress Ursula Nunes has lived her life on the fringes of Philadelphia’s upper class. Her Jewish heritage means she’s never quite been welcomed by society’s elite…and her quick temper has never helped, either.

A faux engagement to the scion of the mid-Atlantic’s most storied family might work to repair her rumpled reputation and gain her entrée to the life she thinks she wants…if she can ignore the way her “betrothed” makes her feel warm all over and stay focused on her goal.

She’s his ticket out…

Former libertine John Thaddeus “Jay” Truitt is hardly the man to teach innocent women about propriety. Luckily, high society has little to do with being proper and everything to do with identifying your foe’s temptation—an art form Jay mastered long ago. A broken engagement will give him the perfect excuse to run off to Europe and a life of indulgence.

But when the game turns too personal, all bets are off…

Rating: B-

Felicia Grossman’s début historical romance, Appetites & Vices makes use of a setting I’ve not come across before in historical romance – 1840s Delaware – and boasts a couple of interesting, though flawed, central characters who enter into a faux engagement in an attempt to better the social standing of the heroine so she can marry the man of her choice.  There are some things about the plot that didn’t quite work and some odd writing tics that took me out of the story on occasion, but overall it’s a solid outing and I’ll be keeping an eye out for more of Ms. Grossman’s work.

Ursula Nunes is twenty-one, beautiful, clever and wealthy.  By rights, she should have society at her feet, and she would, but for two things.  One, she says what she thinks and has no social skills whatsoever.  And two – she’s Jewish, which, in Delaware in 1841 puts her pretty much beyond the pale.  She and her dearest friend Hugo Middleton have decided that it would be preferable to marry each other than to marry strangers, but the Middletons are one of the oldest families in society and with Hugo’s father intent on securing personal advancement, won’t countenance Hugo’s marriage to a Jew, no matter how rich she is.

John Thaddeus Truitt V – Jay – comes from a family that is even more prestigious than the Middletons, but that doesn’t mean life is any easier for him.  The only son of a disapproving father who always believes the worst of him, Jay is well aware he’s a disappointment all round and wants nothing more than to take himself off to Europe and never come back.  When he witnesses Ursula and Hugo in intense, whispered conversation and then overhears Ursula muttering to herself about ways she could ingratiate herself with the Middletons , he finds himself fighting back laughter at the incongruity of the idea of a woman as strong and vibrant as Ursula paired with a man so clearly  unsuited to her as Hugo.  But then inspiration strikes – and he has the solution to both their problems.  In spite of his blackened reputation, the Truitt name still counts for something, and if he and Ursula pretend to be engaged to one another, her association with him means she’ll be able to move in the exclusive social circles to which she is currently denied entrance.  And when she jilts him publicly,

“A good faux broken heart will be enough for my parents to stop trying to make me into something I’m not.”

That’s the set-up for the story, and the author does a really good job of exploring the prejudice Ursula encounters because of her birth and the difficulties she faces because she has so little patience with the superficiality of high society.  She wants so badly to belong, but she doesn’t fit in anywhere, not in Hugo’s world, certainly not in Jay’s… and not even in that of her own (Jewish)  family.

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

Navy SEAL to the Rescue (Aegis Security #1) Tawny Weber

This title may be purchased from Amazon

Rescued by the alpha SEAL

Injured in the line of duty, navy SEAL Travis “Hawk” Hawkins retreats to paradise. But R & R takes a turn when he runs smack into a beautiful blonde who just witnessed a murder. Travis offers to help, only to find himself equally taunted and titillated by irresistible Lila Adrian.

Can the wounded warrior protect Lila and take down a deadly crime ring?

Rating: C+

Navy SEAL to the Rescue is the first book in a new series from Harlequin ‘regular’ Tawny Weber, marking her move from the now defunct Blaze line to Harlequin Romantic Suspense.  It’s a fairly predictable story that makes use of classic character-types and tropes, and yet I enjoyed it (for the most part) for what it was, a quick, sexy and undemanding read  – although the final section of the story goes in a direction I wasn’t keen on and the HEA is rather rushed.

Lila Adrian is determined to make her own way in life, out from under the shadow of her exacting father and perfect brother, who have always been dismissive of her opinions and ambitions.  To this end, she’s started her own business called At Your Service, of which she’s brains, brawn and chief headhunter, finding specialist staff who are the perfect fit for all sorts for wealthy clients.  She’s in Costa Rica in order to make an offer of employment to a chef whose food so impressed a rich, honeymooning couple that they want him to work for them exclusively, and is about to enter the disappointingly run-down restaurant at which he now works when she is temporarily side-tracked by the sight of the most gorgeous man she’s ever seen emerging from the ocean.

Travis Hawkins is in Puerto Viejo de Talamanca for some R&R following the knee-injury that ended his Navy career.  He’s completely adrift and has absolutely no idea who he is outside of his job and no plans for what he’s going to do with the rest of his life.  He definitely likes the look of the petite, curvy blonde eyeing him up, but he’s not in Puerto Viejo to hook up with random women – he has life and shit to sort out.

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

Not Dead Yet (Not Dead Yet #1) by Jenn Burke

This title may be purchased from Amazon.

Dying isn’t what it used to be.

Wes Cooper was dead. Then he wasn’t—though he’s not exactly alive, either. As an immortal not-ghost, he can transition between this world and the otherplane, which makes him the perfect thief for hire. For seventy years he’s made a “living” returning items to their rightful owners, seeing his fair share of the bizarre in the process. But he’s never witnessed murder. Until now.

His latest mission brings him more than he bargained for: a very-dead actor who is definitely going to stay that way. It’s just Wes’s luck that his ex-boyfriend, Detective Hudson Rojas, is assigned to the case. Hudson broke Wes’s heart years ago—and could again, given he’s rocking a hot silver-fox look that shouldn’t be legal.

As they work together to track down the murderer before anyone else gets hurt, it becomes clear Wes and Hudson have unfinished business. And when a secret Hudson’s been keeping threatens more than just their happiness, it might mean the end of their not-life together—permanently.

Rating: A-

For some reason, I’ve been gravitating towards paranormal romances lately, most often ones featuring characters involved in law enforcement, which was the immediate appeal of Jenn Burke’s Not Dead Yet.  It’s the first in a new series in which one of the protagonists is, as the title suggests, Not Dead.  Although he’s Not Alive either, which is certainly a unique twist and not something I’ve come across before.  Not Dead Yet is a hugely enjoyable read featuring two well-rounded principals, an intriguing mystery, and a slow-burn romance; I wasn’t sure what to expect when I picked it up, but it turned out to be a winner and I’m definitely on board for the rest of the series.

In 1933, Wes Cooper was shot and killed by his lover, Michael.  But Michael’s sister was a witch and, unable to accept what her brother had done, cast a spell to bring Wes back to life – but not only did it resurrect him, it made him immortal, something that’s changed his life in lots of small ways as well as the one  big one.  Wes will never age physically and because of this, he never – well, almost never – embarks upon close friendships or relationships, knowing there’s only so long he can use the excuse of having good genes to explain away his unchanging appearance.  He’s had to move around and change his identity every ten years or so in order to stop people wondering about him, and his only real friends have been the generations of witches from the family who brought him back from the dead.  Even so, he’s flesh and blood; he lives in the world as we know it, but he also retains a link to the otherplane, the place where the dead go before moving on, and where some of them linger, usually in hopes of concluding unfinished business.

Wes uses his ability to slip between the planes of existence to earn a living, sneaking into people’s private spaces as a ghost to recover items for interested parties – heirlooms they want back, contracts they shouldn’t have signed and even information they can use for blackmail.  He’s treading a fine line; technically he’s committing theft, although he prefers to think of it as ‘retrieval’, but because of the nature of what he does, he has a very strictly defined set of business practices designed to protect him and his identity; clients come to him via a sophisticated set of referrals and anonymous messages, and he never meets directly with any of them.  And their targets are usually shady types, people who’ve done things that are not-so-nice, making them dangerous to be around.

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

Duchess by Deception (Gilded #1) by Marie Force

This title may be purchased from Amazon.

Derek Eagan, the dashing Duke of Westwood, is well aware of his looming deadline. But weary of tiresome debutantes, he seeks a respite at his country home in Essex—and encounters a man digging on his property. Except he’s not a man. He’s a very lovely woman. Who suddenly faints at his feet.

Catherine McCabe’s disdain for the aristocracy has already led her to flee an arranged marriage with a boorish Viscount. The last thing she wants is to be waylaid in a Duke’s home. Yet, she is compelled to stay by the handsome, thoughtful man who introduces himself as the Duke’s estate manager.

Derek realizes two things immediately: he is captivated by her delicate beauty, and to figure out what she was up to, Catherine must not know he is the Duke. But as they fall passionately in love, Derek’s lie spins out of control. Will their bond survive his deception, not to mention the scorned Viscount’s pursuit? Most important, can Catherine fall in love all over again—this time with the Duke?

Rating: D

Marie Force is a very well-known and popular writer of romantic suspense and contemporary romance novels, and is now turning her hand to writing historical romance.  Based on this first foray into the genre, I’m afraid I have to say that she should stick to writing what she knows best, because Duchess by Deception is simply awful; it’s based on a flawed premise and is full of more really tired clichés than you can shake a bundle of sticks at.

Derek, Duke of Westwood, came into his title at the tender age of six following the death of his parents in a carriage accident.  He has grown into his role and is a dedicated young man who manages his responsibilities admirably and is genuinely concerned for the welfare of all those who depend on him – even moreso as his thirtieth birthday approaches.  Because, you see, some ancestor or other put a stipulation in his will that the holders of the title MUST be married by the age of thirty, or they will forfeit it and the dukedom will pass to the next heir.  And Derek, with just a week or so go to before his thirtieth birthday,  hasn’t yet found a woman he wants to marry.  The new crop of debutantes each Season are more vacuous than the last, (and don’t get me started on the sexism inherent in statements like this – “Is there one among them who cares about anything other than her hair or her gown or her slippers?”) – and while he isn’t necessarily holding out for a love match, he does want a wife with whom he can hold intelligent conversations and share affectionate companionship.

Okay, so now let’s rewind.  Derek must marry by his thirtieth birthday or abdicate his title. Er, nope.  British inheritance law doesn’t work like that. It does not allow for a peer to make any stipulations of this sort as to how his title progresses; a title is not a possession and thus is not something that can be bequeathed or have conditions attached to it.  For instance, the Queen doesn’t have a say in who succeeds her (although in very, very exceptional circumstances, I daresay she could, which would involve all sorts of constitutional upheaval and acts of Parliament) and as far as I know, this goes for the peerage as well. So the novel’s plot is based on a completely erroneous premise, which, in my book, is enough to sink it without trace.

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