The Wrangler and the Orphan (Farthingale Ranch #4) by Jackie North

the wrangler and the orphan

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“Some scars run soul-deep. Some scars only love can heal.”
Brody is the wrangler at Farthingdale Ranch. He knows a lot about horses, but not a whole lot about people.

He is so broken, he cannot imagine anyone would want to love him. Then along comes Kit, a young man in need of shelter, searching for a forever home.

In Kit, Brody sees the scared young man he used to be. In caring for Kit, Brody is in over his head.

But as Brody makes room in his heart for Kit, both their lives begin to change.

Rating: C

The Wrangler and the Orphan is book four in Jackie North’s Farthingale Ranch series; I haven’t read any of the others, but although characters from the other books appear in it, this one stands alone.  It’s a hurt/comfort age-gap romance in which the two leads bond over just how far their lives mirror each other and how much they have in common, but although I generally like age-gap romances, they can be difficult to pull off successfully, and I’m afraid this one didn’t work for me.
Brody Calhoun, wrangler at Farthingdale Ranch, is preparing to head back to the ranch after running some errands in town, when he sees a young man crawling out of a basement window in the Rusty Nail bar.  Brody recognises the kid as one that his friend Clay had stopped being smacked around by the bar’s owner a while back, and it doesn’t take him long to work out that he must be running away.  Brody can’t help seeing a younger version of himself in the scared, bleeding youngster, and signals him to get in to the truck.  He’ll take him back to the ranch and… well, he doesn’t quite know what to do long-term, but for now, he’ll get him cleaned up and fed and figure it out from there.

Kit Foster is nineteen and has spent his life being neglected and abused by his dead-beat mother Katie and her endless string of boyfriends, so much so that it’s become the norm for him.  Her latest boyfriend was Eddie Piggot, owner of the Rusty Nail, but now she’s skipped town after stealing five thousand dollars from him, leaving Kit behind.   Needless to say, Eddie is furious, and takes out that fury on Kit, who, with no money and nowhere to go, has to stay put and take what’s dished out.  Until an especially vicious beating prompts him to finally get away and he squeezes out the basement window.

Thanks to spending his own child-and-young-adulthood with the abusive Daddy Frank, Brody immediately recognises the signs of similar trauma in Kit.  At seventeen, Brody was rescued by trail boss Quint McKay, who showed him care and kindness and taught him that there is good in the world; now Brody decides it’s time for him to pay it forward, and that he’ll do  whatever it takes to help Kit.

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

The Cuckoo’s Call by Lily Morton

the cuckoo's call

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Can a summer romance last forever?

Wren Roberts thought he’d found his fairy tale when he met Mateo Rossi on holiday in Majorca. The wealthy and successful older man swept him off his feet, and before he knew it, he’d thrown caution to the wind and was living in Mateo’s waterside apartment in Venice. It’s a far cry from his harsh upbringing and crummy flat in London.

But as the summer turns to autumn, cracks begin to show. Mateo’s family aren’t welcoming, and there doesn’t seem to be a place for Wren in Mateo’s world. He could have coped with all of that, but Mateo himself seems like a different person away from the sunshine island.

Should Wren have been more cautious in riding off into the sunset when he wasn’t sure what lay over the horizon?

Rating: B+

Lily Morton’s The Cuckoo’s Call is a charming and heartfelt age-gap, opposites-attract romance that looks at what happens to a holiday romance after the holiday is over.  You generally know what you’re getting with a Morton book – steamy sexytimes, witty banter, engaging characters and a good helping of feels – which is exactly what’s on offer here, and if you’ve read at least some of Lily Morton’s other romances, you’ll recognise the character-types – the snarky, free-spirited one and the more world-weary one who falls completely under his spell but fights it all the way.  But tropes are tropes are tropes; as always, it’s what the author does with them that matters, and if the formula happens to work for you (as it did for me here) then you’ll likely enjoy the book.

Wren Roberts was looking forward to taking a holiday on the island of Majorca with his long-time friend, Owen, but didn’t know that they would be joined there by a group of Owen’s rich, snobby friends.  After a week of putting up with their not-so-veiled jibes at his non-designer clothes and being dragged to private beaches and expensive bars, he’s more than a little pissed off when Owen announces the group’s intention to finish their holiday in Madrid – the fare an expense Wren can’t afford.

Wren is giving Owen a piece of his mind in the hotel lobby when he notices their exchange being watched by a striking, dark-haired man at the reception desk who is trying to suppress a smile.

Although disappointing, Owen’s departure at least means Wren will be able to explore the island and do the things he wants to do.  Not so good though is the treatment he’s afforded by the hotel staff; now he’s on his own and not with a rich crowd, they’re less than polite towards him, and one of the waiters is in the process of turning Wren away from the restaurant when the man Wren had seen earlier announces that Wren is his dinner guest – and the waiter’s attitude immediately turns from dismissive to obsequious.  Wren isn’t sure what’s going on, but when the man – who introduces himself as Mateo – invites him to join him, Wren allows himself to be persuaded to stay.

Wren and Mateo share a meal and an enjoyable evening, but it’s not until Wren has, with typical self-deprecating humour, spoken about the rudeness of the staff that he realises exactly whom he’d had dinner with.  Mateo Rossi.  The owner of the hotel.

Oops.

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

House on Fire (Ashes & Dust #2) by Jenn Burke

house on fire

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He’s done fighting his attraction to the sexy vampire…

To say former firefighter Colin Zhang is struggling to accept his new life would be a vast understatement. He’s bound to a vampire he didn’t choose, living in a house filled with creatures better left to the imagination—there’s a lot to resent. As much as he tries, he doesn’t resent Evan—far from it. But he needs to know that what he feels is real and that requires breaking their bond. No matter the cost.

Vampire private investigator Evan Fournier is more than willing to explore his connection with Colin, but the crisis at hand keeps getting in the way. Their bond makes it dangerous for them to be apart, so he’s forced to put the other man at risk while he investigates the latest in a series of murders. If he doesn’t find the killer soon, the paranormal community will seek retribution on all humans, not just the guilty ones.
As the tensions escalate, Evan and Colin find solace in each other and their growing attraction. But if their bond is broken, attraction—even love—might not be enough to keep them safe.

Rating: B-

Note: There are spoilers for previous books in this review.

Jenn Burke’s Ashes & Dust  – a sequel/spin off to the Not Dead Yet series – got off to a strong start earlier this year with All Fired Up, which finds Wes, Hudson and Evan running a successful PI business in Toronto five years after the end of Graveyard Shift.  This series puts “Baby Vamp” Evan Fournier into the spotlight as the PoV character, and All Fired Up introduced a new love interest for him in the form of Colin Zhang – a firefighter who was believed to have died in the 1990s but who had actually been kidnapped and held captive by a witch who forced him to suck the magic from other supernatural beings.   I’d strongly suggest anyone thinking about reading this one should start at the very beginning with Not Dead Yet, as there are a lot of recurring characters in these stories and you’ll understand the relationship dynamics more easily.

It’s been five months since the events of All Fired Up, and Evan is no closer to discovering the identity of whoever was behind the operation at the Rising Sun Retreat.  During those months, Colin and Evan have begun adjusting to their mistakenly-formed bond, although Evan recognises it’s a lot easier on him than on Colin, who has to spend most of his days just hanging out in the Caballero Investigations offices instead of getting out and making a new life for himself (if Colin and Evan get too far apart physically, the bond causes them excruciating pain).  Evan recognises that his feelings for Colin probably go deeper than Colin’s for him, but is determined to give Colin the space he needs to work things through and not to push him into anything he’s not ready for.  When Colin asks if it might be possible to break the bond, Evan is dead set against it; for one thing it could be very dangerous, for another – he believes Colin won’t want to be with him without it.

The lives of everyone in the Westerson-Rojas household has been further complicated by the addition of Hudson’s brother Lance, whom Hudson has brought to live with them.  Lance has no idea about the paranormal world, so they all have to work hard to keep him in the dark, even though Hudson knows he really should tell him the truth.  But when videos showing shifters actually shifting headlined with messages such as “this is not special effects” and “they are all around us” begin circulating, it’s clear that Evan and the gang have far more to worry about than someone letting something slip in front of Lance.

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

All The Feels (Spoiler Alert #2) by Olivia Dade

all the feels uk

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Alexander Woodroe has it all. Charm. Wealth. A starring role on the biggest show on TV. But the showrunners have wrecked his character, he’s hounded by old demons and his future remains uncertain. When all that reckless emotion explodes into a bar fight, the tabloids and public agree: his star is falling.

Enter Lauren, the former therapist hired to keep him in line. Compared to her previous work, watching over a handsome but impulsive actor shouldn’t be especially difficult. But the more time she spends with Alex, the harder it is to hold on to her professionalism, and her heart . . .

When another scandal lands him in major hot water, and costs Lauren her job, Alex becomes determined to keep his impossibly stubborn and extremely endearing minder in his life any way he can. On a road trip up the California coast together, he intends to show her exactly what a falling star will do to catch the woman he loves . . .

Rating: A-

Olivia Dade’s All the Feels is a terrific follow-up to last year’s Spoiler Alert, a charming, thoroughly entertaining read that, for all its outward lightheartedness, tackles some knotty issues in a sensitive but down-to-earth way.  We met Alex Woodroe briefly in Spoiler Alert and he charmed me completely, so I’ve been eager to catch up with him in his own book ever since – and I’m happy to say that All the Feels is just as enjoyable and sharply observed as its predecessor.

Like his best friend Marcus, Alex has been playing a lead role in the hit TV show Gods of the Gates for the past seven years.  The similarities to Game of Thrones – in the sense that the showrunners have run out of books to adapt and are going it alone (and fucking it up) are obvious – and like Marcus, Alex has become very disenchanted with the writing and the storylines given to his character, Cupid, and for similar reasons.  But there are other reasons for his discomfort that nobody else knows about, reasons related to past trauma and overwhelming guilt that have begun to affect his – already erratic – behaviour.

When the book begins, Alex is in big trouble; he was involved in a bar fight the previous night and the showrunners have had enough.  He’s always been a bit of a loose cannon, but this is too much, so for the rest of the shoot, he’s assigned a minder, someone to go wherever he goes, to keep him in line and who will report back on his behaviour.  Needless to say, Alex is not at all happy about this; but worse is the fact that nobody has asked to hear his side of the story – everyone assumes it happened just because he’s Alex, and getting into trouble is what he does.

Lauren Clegg is a former ER therapist who desperately needed a break from her job and decided to go to Europe for a much-needed vacation.  The Gods of the Gates showrunner is her cousin (a total dickhead who was always awful to her when they were kids and whom she’s never liked) so while she’d never in a million years have gone anywhere near the GotG set in Spain if it had been up to her, family pressure finds her accepting the job of “babysitter” to the show’s bad-boy star.

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

The Geek Who Saved Christmas by Annabeth Albert

the geek who saved christmas

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Gideon Holiday is the perfect neighbor. Need a cup of sugar? Spare folding chair? Extra batteries? He’s always ready to help. And he’s waited years for his hot, grumpy, silver fox neighbor, Paul, to need him. For anything. But this December, Gideon would be happy if he could just get the Scrooge-like Paul on board with the neighborhood holiday lights fundraiser.

Paul Frost has no intention of decking his halls or blazing any Yule logs. Even if his spunky bowtie-clad neighbor does look perfect for unwrapping, Paul would prefer to hide away until December is done. But when his beloved younger brother announces an unexpected visit, Paul needs all the trimmings for a festive homecoming—and fast.

Luckily, Gideon is there with a color-coded plan to save Christmas. Soon Paul’s hanging lights, trimming trees, and rolling out cookies. And steaming up his new flannel sheets with Gideon. How did that happen?

It’ll take some winter magic to preserve their happiness and keep these rival neighbors together longer than one holiday season.

Rating: B

Annabeth Albert’s The Geek Who Saved Christmas is a charming confection of seasonal goodness featuring a sweet and steamy grumpy/sunshine romance and lots of warm and fuzzy Christmas feels.  It’s a light-hearted, undemanding read, but the low-angst nature of the story don’t mean it lacks depth or a bit of bite;  even when she dials down the drama, Ms. Albert creates engaging characters with relatable problems and insecurities that arise naturally from their circumstances, so conflict feels organic rather than manufactured.  And with both leads in their forties, there’s plenty of baggage to be unpacked and learned behaviours to be unlearned before this Christmas Elf and his Grinch can arrive at a well-deserved HEA.

Bright and chirpy, Gideon Holiday (yes, really!) is the sort of guy who’s always ready to lend a hand. He enjoys helping people and making them happy – and he’s especially in his element when the holidays come around.  Every year, he co-ordinates the neighbourhood holiday lights fundraiser, selecting the theme, organising the donations and planning various holiday-themed activities – he loves doing it and when the book begins, it’s the night of the big reveal of this year’s scheme.  On his way into the community centre, Gideon bumps into his next-door neighbour, Paul Frost (yes, really!) and is rather surprised to see him as Paul is a bit of a grouch and community meetings aren’t really his thing.  The man may be a seriously hot silver fox, but Gideon doesn’t think he’s ever seen him smile, attend a single neighbourhood party or put up a single Christmas decoration.  But, ever the optimist, Gideon hopes that maybe Paul’s attendance at the meeting is a sign that might be about to change.

It isn’t – Paul is at the meeting for another reason entirely, but he can’t deny Gideon is fun to look at, with his impish grin and sparkling eyes as he gushes about lighting schemes and donation collection duties.  Paul doesn’t do Christmas and doesn’t see anything inherently magical about December – it’s just another month on the calendar and not worth all the fuss.  But then Gideon approaches him after the meeting and suggests that Paul can still contribute to the fundraising effort, but won’t have to do a single thing; Gideon can set up all the lights on Paul’s house and put them on timers.  Paul’s instinct is ‘hell, no’ – and he knows he’ll have to convince Gideon to leave him to have his seasonal funk in peace.

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

Cascade Hunger (DuPage Parish Mysteries #2) by Gregory Ashe

cascade hunger

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Eli and Dag survived a monster.

Two monsters, in fact.

A year later, though, they’re still trying to settle into a ‘regular’ life. Dag is working hard in school. It’s not going great. Eli is working hard at…being a better Eli. He’s eating right. Most of the time. He’s thinking about exercise in healthy ways. He’s ok with how he looks, as long as he doesn’t walk past any mirrors.

He goes out some nights, though. He goes across the lake, back to Bragg, where the monsters were. And he’s not sure why. He’s not sure what keeps calling him back.

When a woman is brutally murdered and an eyewitness claims to have seen the killer transform into a mysterious light, Eli and Dag are forced to set aside their own problems and face a difficult truth: there is another monster out there. Worse, there doesn’t seem to be anybody else who can stop it from killing again.

But not all monsters are the same, as Eli and Dag discover. And the most dangerous monster might be the one who can give you what you’ve always wanted.

Rating: A-

The second book in Gregory Ashe’s DuPage Parish series of paranormal-with-a-horror-vibe mysteries, Cascade Hunger catches up with Elien Martel (who has reverted to going by his real name of Eli Martins) and Dagobert LeBlanc around a year after the events of Stray Fears. In that book, Eli and Dag discovered the existence of a supernatural being called a Hashok, a malevolent spirit that fed on pain and suffering, and which had been consuming negative energy from Eli – who, in addition to carrying around a shedload of guilt over the deaths of his parents and brother, struggles with body dysmorphia and self-esteem issues – for a long time without his being aware of it.  Eli and Dag were able to defeat and destroy the Hashok – not without considerable risk to themselves – and now, a year later, we find them living together in the house they’ve bought, and getting on with their lives.

Well.  Sort of.

After working for a few years as a Sheriff’s Deputy, Dag is now at college studying marine biology, and although he loves the subject, he’s struggling.  And Eli… well, he’s still Eli.  Sharp-tongued, prickly, damaged, and his own worst enemy at times, he loves Dag but can’t seem to stop himself from doing things he knows will hurt him.  When the story begins, Eli seems to have fallen back to his old self-destructive ways, sneaking out of the house late at night and heading to Bragg where he wanders around and binge-eats and then calls Dag for a ride home. Eli knows it’s not good for him, he knows it upsets Dag (and how unfair it is of him to be calling so late when Dag has to get up early for college) but he just can’t seem to fight off the compulsion that draws him back there time and again.

Dag loves Eli very much, but he’s tired.  Lack of sleep is affecting his college work, but Eli’s simultaneous skittishness and neediness can be just as exhausting.  Even though they’ve lived together for a year, Eli isn’t willing to label what they are – their latest fight was over Dag’s use of the “b” word – and while Dag tries hard to be supportive and understanding (seriously, the man has the patience of a saint!) sometimes it’s hard.

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

Never Fall for Your Fiancée (Merriwell Sisters #1) by Virginia Heath

never fall for your fiancee

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The trouble with lies is they have a tendency to catch a man out.

The last thing Hugh Standish, Earl of Fareham, wants is a wife. But since the only way to keep his mother’s matchmaking ways at bay is the promise of impending nuptials, Hugh takes the most logical action: he invents a fake fiancée.

It’s the perfect plan – until Hugh learns that his mother is on a ship bound for England to meet his ‘beloved’. He needs a solution fast, and when he collides with a mysterious beauty, he might just have found the answer to his prayers.

Minerva Merriwell is desperate for money to support her sisters, and although she knows that posing as the Earl’s fiancée might seem nonsensical, it’s just too good an offer to refuse.

As the Merriwells descend upon Hugh’s estate, the household is thrown into turmoil as everyone tries to keep their tangled stories straight. And with Hugh and Minerva’s romantic ruse turning into the real thing, is true love just one complication too many?

Rating: B-

Virginia Heath has been one of my favourite authors of historical romance since I read her second book (Her Enemy at the Altar) for Mills & Boon/Harlequin back in 2016. Her stories are generally light-hearted and a lot of fun although not without a more serious side, her characters are well-rounded and engaging, her prose is crisp and the humour never feels forced.   Never Fall for Your Fiancée, the first book in her new Merriwell Sisters trilogy, is her first book for St. Martin’s Press, and it bears all the hallmarks of her style – a gorgeous hero, an intelligent and snarky heroine who won’t put up with any crap, sparking dialogue and genuinely witty banter – although it’s a tad overlong and the chemistry between the two principals isn’t quite as compelling as I know she’s capable of delivering.  The plot isn’t going to win any prizes for originality, but Ms. Heath makes good use of the fake-relationship trope and her bright and breezy writing style carries the day.

Hugh Standish, Earl of Fareham, is in a bit of a bind.  His mother, who lives in Boston with her second husband, is on her way to England for a visit expressly to meet Hugh’s fiancée Minerva, the young woman to whom he’s been engaged for the past two years.  The problem?  Minerva is entirely a product of Hugh’s imagination, invented in order to head off his mother’s constant reminders that he should get married and her offer (which Hugh saw more as a threat) to come home to help him find a bride.  Hugh adores his mother, but he is absolutely convinced that a man should only enter into a marriage when he had every intention of honouring his vows, and being sure he isn’t capable of either love or fidelity, he has decided to eschew matrimony.  But his mother’s arrival is imminent, and the idea of telling her the truth weighs heavily.  He never, ever wanted to hurt her and, if he’s honest with himself (which he tries hard not to be too often), he also wants to avoid admitting to her that he’s far too much like his late father to consider settling down.

Minerva Merriwell has been the family caretaker since their mother died when Minerva was nine, and has been solely responsible for her younger sisters Diana and Vee (short for Venus) since their good-for-nothing father abandoned them when she was nineteen.  Now twenty-four, Minerva ekes out a living as an engraver but it’s a hand-to-mouth existence and her worries are never-ending.  Today’s is that one of the people she’s produced work for is four weeks late with payment; she’s confronted him outside his house to request – politely – that he pay her right away and things are deteriorating when a gentleman steps in and offers his assistance.  The bluster displayed by Minerva’s ‘employer’ can’t hold up in the face of the stranger’s aristocratic hauteur; the debt is settled and the gentleman offers to escort her home.

Hugh can’t believe his good fortune.  Not only does this young woman share the name of his fake fiancée, she’s entirely captivating – beautiful, witty and self-assured – and on the spot, he decides the answer to his problem is right in front of him.  He’ll pay Minerva to act as his fiancée, and then engineer some sort of falling-out that will end their ‘engagement’.  But he’s surprised when Minerva expresses reservations.  It’s clear she needs the money he’s offering, but she’s not happy about the idea of practicing such a deception; the Merriwells may be on the cusp of destitution, but they had morals.

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

Miss Moriarty, I Presume (Lady Sherlock #6) by Sherry Thomas

miss moriarty ukThis title may be purchased from Amazon

A most unexpected client shows up at Charlotte Holmes’s doorstep: Moriarty himself. Moriarty fears that tragedy has befallen his daughter and wants Charlotte to find out the truth.

Charlotte and Mrs. Watson travel to a remote community of occult practitioners where Moriarty’s daughter was last seen, a place full of lies and liars. Meanwhile, Charlotte’s sister Livia tries to make sense of a mysterious message from her beau Mr. Marbleton. And Charlotte’s longtime friend and ally Lord Ingram at last turns his seductive prowess on Charlotte—or is it the other way around?

But the more secrets Charlotte unravels about Miss Moriarty’s disappearance, the more she wonders why Moriarty has entrusted this delicate matter to her of all people. Is it merely to test Charlotte’s skills as an investigator, or has the man of shadows trapped her in a nest of vipers?

Rating: B

The game is – once again – very much afoot in this sixth installment in Sherry Thomas’ Lady Sherlock series of clever historical mysteries.  As the synopsis indicates, she finally comes face-to-face with her nemesis – but rather than the expected violent confrontation, ‘Mr. Baxter’ instead wants to engage Holmes’ services to investigate the disappearance of his daughter from a Hermetic (possibly occultist) community in a remote corner of Cornwall.  Of course, Charlotte knows not to take anything at face value, but with no other options available, Charlotte, Lord Ingram and Mrs. Watson head for the Garden of Hermopolis to see what they can find out.  In the meantime, Charlotte’s sister, Livia, is following an intriguing trail of breadcrumbs left by Stephen Marbleton that leads to some very intriguing coded messages which could prove vital in the fight against Moriarty.

I reviewed this one jointly with Dabney Grinnan over at All About Romance.

Total Creative Control (Creative Types #1) by Joanna Chambers & Sally Malcolm

total creative control

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Sunshine PA, meet Grumpy Boss…

When fanfic writer Aaron Page landed a temp job with the creator of hit TV show, Leeches, it was only meant to last a week. Three years later, Aaron’s still there…

It could be because he loves the creative challenge. It could be because he’s a huge Leeches fanboy. It’s definitely not because of Lewis Hunter, his extremely demanding, staggeringly rude…and breathtakingly gorgeous boss.

Is it?

Lewis Hunter grew up the hard way and fought for everything he’s got. His priority is the show, and personal relationships come a distant second. Besides, who needs romance when you have a steady stream of hot men hopping in and out of your bed?

His only meaningful relationship is with Aaron, his chief confidante and indispensable assistant. And no matter how appealing he finds Aaron’s cute boy-next-door charms, Lewis would never risk their professional partnership just to scratch an itch.

But when Lewis finds himself trapped at a hilariously awful corporate retreat, Aaron is his only friend and ally. As the professional lines between them begin to blur, their simmering attraction starts to sizzle

… And they’re both about to get burned.

Rating: A-

Two of my favourite authors teaming up to write a grumpy/sunshine “angsty rom-com” ? YES, PLEASE – sign me up! Total Creative Control is a captivating read and I blew through it two sittings. Featuring two complex, superbly characterised protagonists, and a small but equally well-written supporting cast, it’s full of humour, witty banter, delicious sexual tension and a multitude of feels – and I loved it.

The ”grumpy” part of the pairing is Lewis Hunter, creator and writer of the hit TV show, Leeches (an urban fantasy-type show with vampires!) which, when the book opens, has been on air for three years. He’s dynamic, hugely talented and very charismatic… but he’s also brusque, demanding, doesn’t seem to have a verbal filter, and is hell to work for. Which is why he goes through assistants like a knife through butter – until the morning his most recent one quits, and he’s assigned a temp named Aaron Page for the rest of the week. Aaron is a big fan of Leeches – which Lewis is both surprised and pleased at – and very quickly shows his aptitude for the job. He’s just finished teacher training and has a job lined up for September; Lewis has never had a PA who actually loved Leeches before, and is already thinking of ways to keep him on for longer. He suggests that if things go well that week, he’d like Aaron to stay until September. Aaron agrees.

The story then skips ahead three years – and finds Aaron still working for Lewis. In the intervening time, he’s made himself pretty much indispensable – not just because he knows Lewis likes brown sauce in his bacon rolls or how many sugars he takes in his tea, but because his knowledge of and love for the show is second only to Lewis’ and he’s provided a lot of valuable feedback and insight into the scripting process during that time. He’s far more than a PA now, and Lewis is a decent enough boss that he’s made sure Aaron is properly compensated for his expanded role. But, as one of Aaron’s colleagues points out, although Aaron well paid for what he does, shouldn’t he be looking to move into a job that would stretch him creatively and make greater use of his talents? But Aaron is happy where he is – and refuses to let himself dwell on the real reason for it. That moving on to a different job would mean leaving Lewis – because that way madness lies. Lewis made it clear on Aaron’s very first day that he doesn’t get involved with colleagues, EVER, and despite the stirrings of attraction they felt for each other when they met, they’ve kept things perfectly professional between them ever since. They’ve both worked hard to maintain that fine line between colleagues and friends, not allowing themselves to be too curious about each other’s personal lives, never attending work functions together, carefully steering their way around anything too intimate – and it’s worked, for the most part, enabling them to carry on with their working relationship as though that’s all that lies between them.

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

The Brightest Star in Paris by Diana Biller

the brightest star in paris

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Amelie St. James is a fraud. After the Siege of Paris, she became “St. Amie,” the sweet, virtuous prima ballerina the Paris Opera Ballet needed to restore its scandalous reputation, all to protect the safe life she has struggled to build for her and her sister. But when her first love reappears looking as devastatingly handsome as ever, and the ghosts of her past quite literally come back to haunt her, her hard-fought safety is thrown into chaos.

Dr. Benedict Moore has never forgotten the girl who helped him embrace life after he almost lost his. Now, years later, he’s back in Paris. His goals are to recruit promising new scientists, and maybe to see Amelie again. When he discovers she’s in trouble, he’s desperate to help her—and hold her in his arms.

When she finally agrees to let him help, they disguise their time together with a fake courtship. Soon, with the help of an ill-advised but steamy kiss, old feelings reignite. Except, their lives are an ocean apart. Will they be able to make it out with their hearts intact?

Rating: B

The Brightest Star in Paris is the follow up to Diana Biller’s 2019 début, The Widow of Rose House.  I haven’t got around to reading that one, but I gather that the books are linked by virtue of the fact that the hero of Brightest Star – Doctor Benedict Moore – is the brother of Sam from Rose House, and Alva, its heroine, is a good friend of this book’s heroine, Amelie.  Despite those connections however, the stories in each book are separate and I had no trouble reading this one as a standalone.  It’s rather lovely – beautifully written with a melancholy tinge, dealing with themes of grief and loss at the same time as it details the second-chance romance between Amelie and Benedict – but there are a few things that didn’t quite work for me that mean I can’t give it a higher grade.

The bulk of the story takes place in 1878, although there are a few flashback chapters that date back to twelve years earlier, when Benedict and Amelie first met.  This was after Benedict returned from serving as a medic in the American Civil War, so haunted by his experiences that his family is deeply concerned for his health and spirits.  Meeting Amelie, a bright, enchanting young woman who overflows with positive energy and completely captivates him, helps him find a renewed sense of purpose and start on his road to recovery;  the pair fall in love, but (for reasons not made clear until much later in the book) Amelie sends him away and he leaves to return to America with his family. Just a few years later,  Amelie and the people of Paris face terrible hardships resulting from the Franco Prussian WarThe Siege of Paris and the bloody fall of the Paris Commune in 1870-1; these events effect profound changes on her life, as she is forced to do whatever is necessary in order to survive and take care of her much younger sister, Honorine.

Now, though, she’s the darling of Paris.  Prima ballerina – étoile – at the Paris Opéra, Amelie is ‘St. Amie’, widely known and loved for her perfection, both on stage and off, a paragon of virtue in a world in which dancers were generally regarded as one step up from prostitutes.  Her pristine image hasn’t come without a price, however; as she’s worked her body hard to attain peak physical condition so she’s also worked hard to create a very specific image, one she now has to maintain at all costs.

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