The Other Miss Bridgerton (Rokesbys #3) by Julia Quinn

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She was in the wrong place…

Fiercely independent and adventurous, Poppy Bridgertonwill only wed a suitor whose keen intellect and interests match her own. Sadly, none of the fools from her London season qualify. While visiting a friend on the Dorset coast, Poppy is pleasantly surprised to discover a smugglers’ hideaway tucked inside a cave. But her delight turns to dismay when two pirates kidnap her and take her aboard a ship, leaving her bound and gagged on the captain’s bed…

He found her at the wrong time…

Known to society as a rascal and reckless privateer, Captain Andrew James Rokesby actually transports essential goods and documents for the British government. Setting sail on a time-sensitive voyage to Portugal, he’s stunned to find a woman waiting for him in his cabin. Surely, his imagination is getting the better of him. But no, she is very real-and his duty to the Crown means he’s stuck with her.

Can two wrongs make the most perfect right?

When Andrew learns that she is a Bridgerton, he knows he will likely have to wed her to avert a scandal-though Poppy has no idea that he is the son of an earl and neighbor to her aristocratic cousins in Kent. On the high seas, their war of words soon gives way to an intoxicating passion. But when Andrew’s secret is revealed, will his declaration of love be enough to capture her heart…?

Rating: B-

The Other Miss Bridgerton is the third instalment in Julia Quinn’s series of novels featuring members of the previous generation of Bridgertons and their neighbours and long-standing family friends the Rokesbys.  In the first book, Because of Miss Bridgerton, Sybilla (Billie) Bridgerton married George Rokseby; in the second, the story focused on the next Rokesby brother, Edward, an officer serving in North America. Andrew is the third brother and, when we met him in the first book, he was on leave from the Navy while he recovered from a broken arm.  Handsome, good-humoured, and well-liked by all, he’s a convivial chap with a sharp mind, a quick wit, and a reputation as the family jokester.

He’s also – unbeknownst to his family – a spy.

Poppy Bridgerton – cousin to Billie and niece of Viscount and Lady Bridgerton – has had two London seasons and has not, so far, found a man she wants to marry.  She’s starting to think she never will; perhaps it’s too much to hope that she will find a man who is interesting to talk to and who can make her laugh.  With the season winding down, Poppy has gone to stay in Dorset with a friend who is expecting her first child, and is enjoying the small freedoms afforded to her away from the eyes of society.  On a ramble along the beach, Poppy stumbles across a cave she’s never seen before and decides to investigate – only to find herself captured by members of the crew of the Infinityand forcibly taken aboard and into the presence of its captain, the devastatingly handsome, charming, witty and completely infuriating Andrew James. (aka Andrew James Edwin Rokesby. Of course).

When Andrew learns Poppy’s last name he’s surprised, to say the least, and also thankful that her being from a different branch of the Bridgerton family means they’ve never met. Time is of the essence if he is to deliver the packet of important documents which he has been tasked to deliver to the British envoy in Portugal, so he has no alternative but to take her along on the two-week return journey to Lisbon.

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

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Better Not Pout by Annabeth Albert

This title may be purchased from Amazon

One hard-nosed military police officer.

One overly enthusiastic elf.

One poorly timed snowstorm.

Is it a recipe for disaster? Or a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for holiday romance?

Teddy MacNally loves Christmas and everything that goes along with it. When he plays an elf for his charity’s events, he never expects to be paired with a Scrooge masquerading as Santa Claus. His new mission: make the holiday-hating soldier believe he was born to say ho-ho-ho.

Sergeant Major Nicholas Nowicki doesn’t do Santa, but he’s army to his blood. When his CO asks an unusual favor, Nick of course obliges. The elf to his Kris Kringle? Tempting. Too tempting—Nick’s only in town for another month, and Teddy’s too young, too cheerful and too nice for a one-night stand.

The slow, sexy make-out sessions while Teddy and Nick are alone and snowbound, though, feel like anything but a quick hookup. As a stress-free holiday fling turns into Christmas all year round, Teddy can’t imagine his life without Nick. And Nick’s days on the base may be coming to a close, but he doesn’t plan on leaving anything, or anyone, behind.

Rating: B+

I’m one of those people who doesn’t start feeling Christmassy until a couple of weeks beforehand.  I hate the fact that the cards and decorations start appearing in the shops at the end of August; I won’t listen to a Christmas song until well into December if I can avoid it, and it’s not time for It’s a Wonderful Life, Scrooge or The Muppet Christmas Carol until at least the second week of the month. The same holds true for Christmas-themed books; I don’t tend to pick them up until well into December, but I made an exception for Annabeth Albert’s Better Not Pout because the premise sounded so damn cute – a hard-boiled military police officer playing Santa for charity gets stranded in a snowstorm with a too enthusiastic (and too attractive) elf and realises that perhaps his life needn’t be so regimented after all.

Sergeant Major Nicholas Nowicki has spent twenty-eight years as a military police officer, and now, aged forty-six, is a month short of his retirement.  Truth be told, he doesn’t want to retire – but he isn’t being given the choice.  The military has been his family and his life for the entirety of his adulthood and it suits him.  He likes the structure, he likes the work, the thought that he’s serving his fellow personnel and his country – and the prospect of no longer having all that is a daunting one.  After he leaves the military, he plans to join a friend and former colleague in Florida who now runs a small business chartering boat trips for tourists; it’s pretty clear from the outset that this is unlikely to be a particularly good fit for Nick, but he figures he has to something with the rest of his life – and it might as well be this, right?  He’s made a firm commitment to his friend, and Nick never reneges on his promises; as the clock ticks down to his last weeks and days in the service, he tries to find some enthusiasm for the future…  but his heart just isn’t in it.

He’s in something of a state of limbo as regards his job, too.  It’s his last month on the base at Fort End in upstate New York, but in many ways it seems everyone around him has already moved past his leaving and he feels as though he’s somewhat superfluous to requirements.  So he’s not in the best frame of mind when his commanding officer asks a favour of him.  The local small town of Mineral Springs has a thriving charity centre called the Helping Hand, and her husband usually dons a Santa suit around this time of year to support the drive to generate funds and gifts for families in need.  But he’s unwell and is unable to participate this year – and Nick is asked to take his place.  Nick is far from enthusiastic but doesn’t feel he can say no, so he heads off to the Helping Hand Resource Center – where he is greeted by an extremely chatty and almost sickeningly upbeat young man dressed as an elf, who turns out to be the director of the charity and the centre.

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

The Purloined Heart (Tyburn Trilogy #2) by Maggie MacKeever

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Poor Maddie Tate. Widowed with two children. An ordinary sort of female, no more memorable than a potted palm. Seven and twenty years of age.

Lucky Angel Jarrow. Temptation incarnate, lazy and spoiled – and why should he not be, when the whole world adores him, save for the notable exception of his wife?

Maddie Tate and Angel Jarrow. In the ordinary course of events, their paths might never cross. But then comes the Burlington House bal masque, when Maddie witnesses something she should not, and flees straight into Angel’s arms.

And he discovers that he does not want to let her go.

Mysterious masqueraders. Misbehaving monarchs. Political perfidy.

While in the background the ton twitters, and a fascinated London follows the Regent’s preparations for his Grand Jubilee.

Rating: B

A few months back I picked up Maggie MacKeever’s The Tyburn Waltz for a prompt in the TBR Challenge, and enjoyed it enough to want to read the other books in the Tyburn Trilogy.  At that point, only the second book – The Purloined Heart – was available, but I was pleased to learn the third was on the way, especially as it would feature two secondary characters from the first book who were clearly destined for one another. Although there are a couple of characters who appear in both books – most notably Kane, Baron Saxe – The Purloined Heart can be read independently of its predecessor, and proved to be an enjoyable mix of mystery and romance.

Maddie Tate is, at twenty-seven, the widowed mother of two young sons, and has gone back to live under her stentorian father’s roof.  Sir Owen Osborne Is dismissive and dictatorial, and Maddie fears he may try to separate her from the boys if she doesn’t dance to his tune.  But that particular dance is palling quickly and she’s chafing under her father’s constant criticisms of her manner, her clothes and, well, everything about her; hence her decision to sneak out to a scandalous masquerade being held at Burlington House one night, where she’s borrowed the costume that was supposed to have been worn by a friend who is unable to attend.  She’s nicely tipsy when a young gentleman dressed as Henry VIII approaches her and starts spouting Shakespeare and fiddling with the arrows in her quiver. (Get your mind out of the gutter!  She’s dressed as Diana the huntress!) Puzzled as to why Henry should have been lurking outside the ladies’ withdrawing room, Maddie follows him as he wends his way along the more private corridors of the house, watching as he enters an out-of-the way room. Hearing raised voices, Maddie peers through the keyhole, and witnesses a man dressed as an Egyptian pharaoh clubbing Henry over the head; he falls to the floor just as the door inconveniently swings open, revealing Maddie behind it.  She runs, only to collide with a gentleman dressed as a Cavalier, and demands he kiss her – to hide from her pursuer of course. One kiss turns into two… three, and into something more than a simple matter of expediency.

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

Hiding the Moon (Fish Out of Water #4) by Amy Lane

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Can a hitman and a psychic negotiate a relationship while all hell breaks loose?

The world might not know who Lee Burton is, but it needs his black ops division and the work they do to keep it safe. Lee’s spent his life following orders—until he sees a kill jacket on Ernie Caulfield. Ernie isn’t a typical target, and something is very wrong with Burton’s chain of command.

Ernie’s life may seem adrift, but his every action helps to shelter his mind from the psychic storm raging within. When Lee Burton shows up to save him from assassins and club bunnies, Ernie seizes his hand and doesn’t look back. Burton is Ernie’s best bet in a tumultuous world, and after one day together, he’s pretty sure Lee knows Ernie is his destiny as well.

But when Burton refused Ernie’s contract, he kicked an entire piranha tank of bad guys, and Burton can’t rest until he takes down the rogue military unit that would try to kill a spacey psychic. Ernie’s in love with Burton and Burton’s confused as hell by Ernie—but Ernie’s not changing his mind and Burton can’t stay away. Psychics, assassins, and bad guys—throw them into the desert with a forbidden love affair and what could possibly go wrong?

Rating: B-

Hiding the Moon is nominally book four in Amy Lane’s Fish Out of Water series, but really it’s a branch off the main tree, a spin-off featuring some of the characters who appeared in secondary roles in the previous book, A Few Good Fish.  (For which there are spoilers in this review).  In that book, our heroes – Jackson Rivers and Ellery Cramer – were pursuing an investigation into a shady quasi-military organisation that they believed responsible for training and unleashing a particularly violent, sadistic serial killer into society (and probably more like him).  Certain lines of enquiry led them back to an encounter they’d had a while back, in the tiny desert town of Victoriana, at the home and garage belonging to Ace Atchison and Sonny Daye (from Racing for the Sun), a pair of ex-military guys who live as far below the radar as possible and are keen to keep it that way – and they become instrumental in helping Jackson and Ellery to bring down the leader of the group known as Corduroy, and in closing down the whole operation.

The events of Hiding the Moon take place immediately before and during those of A Few Good Fish, and focus on two of the other characters featured in that book – black-ops assassin Lee Burton and psychic Ernie Caulfield (and yes, the Burt and Ernie reference hasn’t escaped me!).  If you haven’t read the previous book at the very least, you’ll be completely lost here, as this one really only works as part of the series as a whole.  It began life as a series of shorts on Ms. Lane’s website to introduce these characters who were to play a pivotal role in A Few Good Fish and then she decided to write their story in full.

Lee Burton’s targets are usually the scum of the earth, so he expects the next one he’s given by his handler will be some low life scumbag.  But Ernie Caufield?  He’s just a club bunny who likes to party, feeds all the local stray cats and works at a small coffee shop;  and Lee can’t for the life of him fathom why anyone would want him dead.  But before he has the chance to start figuring out what’s going on, someone else tries to kill Ernie; Lee ends up saving his life and takes him to the safest place he knows – the garage in Victoriana owned by his friends Ace and Sonny.

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

The Duke of Lies (The Untouchables #9) by Darcy Burke (audiobook) – Narrated by Marian Hussey

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

Verity Beaumont has suffered domineering men most of her life; first with her father and then with her husband. Free from both men, she has finally found peace even meeting a kind and hard-working gentleman who just might be the perfect father her young son so desperately needs. But as she dares look to the future, her carefully ordered world is shattered when her dead husband returns.

After six years away, Rufus Beaumont, Duke of Blackburn, returns to claim his place and protect his family. Only, the life he finds is not the life he left, and he must convince his wife that their marriage is worth fighting for; that he’s not the man he was.

When the truth about what happened to him leaks out, he must prove that not everything about him, especially his love for her, is a lie.

Rating: Narration – A- : Content – B

I’ve read and/or listened to a number of the books in Darcy Burke’s The Untouchables series and generally enjoyed them, but what attracted me specifically to The Duke of Lies was the fact that the premise is reminiscent of one of my favourite films, The Return of Martin Guerre. Set in medieval France, a man returns to his village – and his wife – after a long absence and is welcomed and accepted by all… until doubts begin to creep in as to whether he really is who he says he is. (The film was remade in the 1990s as Sommersby, and the setting shifted to the American Civil War).

In The Duke of Lies, the returning character is Rufus Beaumont, Duke of Blackburn, who has been absent for six-and-a-half years after disappearing without explanation during a visit to London. His wife, Verity, is not exactly heart-broken at her husband’s continued absence; he was a thoroughly unpleasant, boorish man who routinely ill-treated her and humiliated her, and she was actually relieved at the news of his sudden disappearance. At the beginning of the book, she is visiting an old retainer, the former steward of Beaumont Tower (Blackburn’s seat in the north of England), with her young son, Beau, whom she hadn’t known she was expecting until after she learned her husband had vanished without a trace. She has become concerned of late with the behaviour of the current steward – a man who was appointed by her interfering father – and has decided it’s time to do something about it and plans to dismiss him. Feeling lighter now that she’s made the decision, she returns home only to have her peace and happiness shattered by a completely unexpected – and unwelcome – arrival. Rufus.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

Building Forever (This Time Forever #1) by Kelly Jensen

Building Forever by Kelly Jensen

This title may be purchased from Amazon

Charlie King is doing fine. Sure, he’s a widower raising a teenage daughter who just got her first boyfriend, his book series isn’t writing itself, and he has a crush on his new neighbor — the guy next door. But everything’s just fine.

Simon Lynley is doing better. He moved to Bethlehem to fall out of love and rebuild his career. An affair with his neighbor isn’t part of the plan, but the attraction between them is too hard to ignore.

But when Simon’s ex follows him to Pennsylvania seeking reconciliation, and Charlie’s life starts to feel like a video on repeat, everything comes apart. Charlie worries that he’s failing as a father, and Simon is a distraction he can’t afford. Meanwhile Simon doesn’t know if he could survive being left again, and he hasn’t come all this way to make the same mistakes. But despite their fears, it’s only together that they’ll find the strength to slay old foes and build the forever they’ve been waiting for.

Rating: B+

I’ve come across Kelly Jensen before as an author of m/m Sci-Fi romance (I’m thinking of the Chaos Station series she co-wrote with Jenn Burke) but haven’t so far managed to read anything of hers.  When I saw that her new contemporary romance series, This Time Forever would feature protagonists a bit older than the norm, I jumped on book one, Building Forever, in which a widower with a teenaged daughter and the handsome architect who moves in next door find themselves slowly falling in love.

Charlie King married his childhood sweetheart, Merry, after Merry got pregnant when they were both around eighteen.  He never regretted it and loved his wife dearly, but she died of cancer five years earlier, and he’s been caring for his daughter Olivia (who is now seventeen) on his own ever since.  As every parent is, he’s continually beset by doubts about his parenting skills, worried about Liv’s health – and when he finds out she’s got a steady boyfriend, his anxiety levels go through the roof. (As the parent of teenage daughters myself, I could understand a lot of his concerns!)  He’s a writer – technical manuals by day, Sci-Fi novels by night (as it were) – so he works from home, which is how come he’s in his kitchen stuffing his face with Cheez-Its and covered in crumbs when his gorgeous new neighbour comes in through the back door.

Simon Lynley has moved to Bethlehem from New Jersey intending to make a fresh start.  He ended a twelve-year relationship with the man who was also his business partner a few months back, and still beats himself up about the fact that he let things between them go on for so long – like, a decade too long – when he knew Brian wasn’t faithful and that Simon wasn’t happy, either personally or professionally.  He’s an architect, but had become disillusioned with the way his career was going, unhappy with projects that required no imagination, designing homes with no soul or character.  The move offers him the opportunity to build something of his own and work in a town full of character, to immerse himself in a like-minded community, converse with people who, like him, wanted to preserve the old rather than flatten it to make way for the new – and to work on projects he believes in.

The character property next door is just the sort of thing Simon admires and so, it turns out, is its owner.  He is immediately struck by Charlie’s handsome features, his ready smile and open-hearted garrulousness.  Charlie doesn’t seem to have a brain-to-mouth filter, but Simon doesn’t mind; in fact he’s charmed by it, even as the alarm bells are ringing because Charlie is (as far as Simon knows) both straight and married.

Over the next few weeks and months, Simon and Charlie see each other occasionally; sometimes by design, such as when Charlie takes Simon to a local art festival, sometimes accidentally, like when Simon discovers Charlie furiously digging in the garden trying to repair a hole in the hedge.  Each finds himself growing more and more attracted to the other, but isn’t sure what to do about it.  Having married so young – and been a faithful husband – Charlie never had the chance to explore the bisexuality he’d acknowledged in his teens.  He hasn’t had a serious relationship since his wife died, confining his sexual encounters to a few hook-ups at the Sci-Fi conventions he attends – but the strength of the pull he feels towards Simon is something he’s never felt towards anyone, male or female.

Building Forever is a funny, charming and sensual romance between two men who’ve been knocked about a bit by life and are recovering from past hurts.  Both leads are extremely likeable and feel like real people, complete with individual quirks, emotional baggage and messy lives; they’re not perfect, but they’re perfect for each other, and the author creates a strong emotional connection between them at the same time as she develops their physical attraction. The chemistry between them fizzes delightfully, and Charlie is, quite simply, one of the sweetest, most adorkable heroes I’ve read in some time. He’s warm, funny and utterly captivating; I loved his self-awareness and honesty when it came to admitting to his feelings for Simon, and his unashamed enthusiasm for new sexual experiences is both cute and sexy.  Charlie’s impulsiveness and compulsive chattiness are a nice contrast to Simon’s quieter, more cautious personality; Charlie brings some much needed lightness and sunshine into Simon’s life, and Simon brings a calming influence to Charlie’s.

Family and friendships are important to both men, and although the secondary cast isn’t large, the relationships between Charlie and his brother-in-law (and best friend) Phil and between Simon and his best friend, Frank, are nicely done and add a bit depth to the principals and the story.  Olivia is a fully-realised individual (so often, children of protagonists in romances are little more than ciphers) and I loved that she’s so supportive of Charlie and Simon together; she’s obviously as devoted to her dad as he is to her.  The one criticism I have of the novel overall is that there isn’t really anything much keeping Simon and Charlie apart, except their own insecurities and some pretty bad timing, but fortunately, Ms. Jensen doesn’t go overboard with the roadblocks or silly contrivances to create unnecessary drama.

Ultimately, Building Forever is a fun, feel-good read with a little bit of angst and a lot of warmth and humour that, for all its frequent light-heartedness, still packs an emotional punch.  If you’re in need of a romantic pick-me-up on a grey day, I reckon this one is more than up to the task.

A Brand New Ending (Stay #2) by Jennifer Probst

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Ophelia Bishop was a lovestruck teenage girl when she and Kyle Kimpton chased their dreams to Hollywood. Kyle’s dreams came true. Ophelia’s did not. When Kyle chose his career over their relationship, Ophelia returned home to rural New York to run the family’s B & B—wiser, and more guarded against foolish fantasies. Now Kyle has come crashing back into her life, and all her defenses are down.

Kyle can’t think of a better place to write his latest screenplay than his hometown. After all, that was where he met the heart of his inspiration—his first love. He knows the damage he’s caused Ophelia, and he wants a chance to mend their relationship. If anyone can prove to Ophelia that happy ever afters aren’t only for the movies, it should be him.

As much as Ophelia’s changed, she still has feelings for Kyle. But her heart has been broken before, and she knows that Kyle could run back to Hollywood at any time. She gave up her dreams once, but maybe she can dare to change her own love story…one last time.

Rating: C+

I’ve not read anything by Jennifer Probst before, but the blurb for A Brand New Ending interested me, so I decided to give it a try. Sadly, it didn’t impress me all that much, although the secondary plotline – about the hero rebuilding his relationship with his recovering-alcoholic father – was truly poignant and very well done. The romance, however, was less impressive; there’s no real relationship development or sense of two people who have been apart for almost a decade coming to know each other as they are NOW, which is what always draws me to second-chance romances. Plus, the central characters are fairly bland; I couldn’t connect with the heroine who is Practically Perfect in Every Way (when it comes to her business, at least) and the hero isn’t one I’m going to remember beyond the writing of this review.

Kristen Donnelly, one of my fellow reviewers at All About Romance, and I decided to team up for this one; she reads a lot of contemporary romances and I don’t, so we though it would be fun to get some different perspectives on the novel. You can find our Pandora’s Box review HERE.