The Last Kiss by Sally Malcolm

This title may be purchased from Amazon

A tender and triumphant story of forbidden love in the aftermath of war

When Captain Ashleigh Arthur Dalton went to war in 1914, he never expected to fall in love. Yet over three long years at the front, his dashing batman, Private West, became his reason for fighting—and his reason for living.

But Ash’s war ends in catastrophe. Gravely wounded, he’s evacuated home to his family’s country house in Highcliffe. Bereft of West, angry and alone, Ash struggles to re-join the genteel world he no longer understands.

For Harry West, an ostler from London’s East End, it was love at first sight when he met kind and complex Captain Dalton. Harry doubts their friendship can survive in the class-bound world back home, but he knows he’ll never forget his captain.

When the guns finally fall silent, Harry finds himself adrift in London. Unemployed and desperate, he swallows his pride and travels to Highcliffe in search of work and the man he loves. Under the nose of Ash’s overbearing father, the men’s intense wartime friendship deepens into a passionate, forbidden love affair.

But breaching the barriers of class and sexuality is dangerous and enemies lurk in Highcliffe’s rose-scented shadows.

After giving their all for their country, Harry and Ash face a terrible choice—defy family, society and the law to love as their hearts demand, or say goodbye forever…

Rating: B+

Sally Malcolm’s latest novel is something of a departure for anyone familiar with her excellent New Milton series. The Last Kiss is an historical romance set in England immediately after World War One, and it features two characters for whom the class divide is as insurmountable an obstacle to their love for each other as is their sexuality.  Ms. Malcolm is one of my favourite writers; her ability to delve deep into the thoughts and emotions of her characters is something that always impresses me, and here, she combines that with a sharply observed, unvarnished look at the problems faced by the men who were lucky enough to return from a war that forever changed them – to a world in which they no longer fit.

Captain Ashleigh Dalton and his batman Private Harry West met in 1914, and became close friends in spite of their difference in rank and backgrounds. Ash is the son of a baronet and worked in a bank and Harry was an ostler in Bethnal Green, but war is a great leveller; they’ve lived side-by-side and have been through hell together, and as time has worn on, their friendship – and deep mutual affection – is just about the only thing that has made life bearable for both of them.  The story begins in the early hours of a morning in October 1917 when Ash and his men are waiting for the final command to go over the top.  Ms. Malcom brilliantly evokes the overall feelings of trepidation and despair felt in the trenches and also does a fantastic job of showing readers the strength of the bond that exists between Ash and Harry – not with words, because they can’t possibly say any of the things they feel, but rather through the actions that communicate their obvious care for one another. When Ash is severely wounded, Harry’s world almost comes to a stop, and fearing the man he loves is dead, his first thought is to invite a German bullet to end it all. But seeing the men look to him for guidance and reassurance, he can’t do it.  Clinging to hope, Harry somehow finds the courage to carry on, and one month later, receives the news that Ash is alive, and is being sent home to England.

The fact that Ash lost part of one leg and is suffering from “nerve damage” (which we’d call PTSD today) are not the only things that have made it impossible for him to pick up the reins of his old life.  He misses Harry desperately, and he’s full of anger and frustration at the way that those around him – most notably his parents and others of their generation – seem to want to brush the war under the carpet and go on as though nothing has changed, and he can’t bear it.

“What was it for, if everything goes on the same?”

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

I Buried a Witch (Bedknobs and Broomsticks #2) by Josh Lanyon (audiobook) – Narrated by Kale Williams

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Something old, something new, something borrowed…something blacker than the darkest night.

Cosmo Saville adores his new husband, but his little white lies and some very black magic are about to bring their fairy tale romance to an end. Someone is killing San Francisco’s spell casters, and the only person Cosmo can turn to – the man who so recently swore to love and cherish him – isn’t taking his phone calls.

The only magic police commissioner John Joseph Galbraith believes in is true love. Discovering he’s married to a witch – one with something alarmingly like magical powers – is nearly as bad as discovering the man he loved tricked and deceived him.

John shoulders the pain of betrayal and packs his bags. But when he learns Cosmo is in the crosshairs of a mysterious and murderous plot, he knows he must do everything in in his mortal power to protect him.

Till death do them part. With their relationship on the rocks, Cosmo and Galbraith join forces to uncover the shadowy figure behind the deadly conspiracy.

Can the star-crossed couple bring down a killer before the dark threat extinguishes love’s flame?

Rating: Narration – B+; Content – B

I Buried a Witch is book two in Josh Lanyon’s Bedknobs and Broomsticks series, and it picks up just a couple of weeks after the events of book one, Mainly by Moonlight. Because all three books are linked by an overarching plot, it’s fairly safe to say that this one doesn’t really work as a standalone. The author does include a bit of backstory and information about book one, but I think listeners will be best served by listening to the books in order so as to get the full picture.

Mainly by Moonlight introduced us to Cosmo Saville, antiques dealer and witch, and his fiancé John Galbraith, the newly appointed Police Commissioner for San Francisco. The story kicks off when Cosmo finds a business rival dead at his shop and after that it’s an almost non-stop few days of mayhem when one of Cosmo’s friends is left in a coma following a hit-and-run, one of his oldest friends disappears, he learns of the existence of a secret society that threatens the existence of the Craft (as witches are known) – and to top it all, someone tries to kill him on his wedding day. Oh, and there’s just one other problem that could put paid to the life he’s looking forward to building with the man he loves. Cosmo hasn’t told John he’s a witch. Oops.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

Cross Her Heart (Bree Taggert #1) by Melinda Leigh

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For more than twenty-five years, Philadelphia homicide detective Bree Taggert has tucked away the nightmarish childhood memories of her parents’ murder-suicide… Until her younger sister, Erin, is killed in a crime that echoes that tragic night: innocent witnesses and a stormy marriage that ended in gunfire. There’s just one chilling difference. Erin’s husband, Justin, has vanished.

Bree knows how explosive the line between love and hate can be, yet the evidence against her troubled brother-in-law isn’t adding up. Teaming up with Justin’s old friend, former sheriff’s investigator and K-9 handler Matt Flynn, Bree vows to uncover the secrets of her sister’s life and death, as she promised Erin’s children. But as her investigation unfolds, the danger hits close to home. Once again, Bree’s family is caught in a death grip. And this time, it could be fatal for her.

Rating: B+

Bestselling author Melinda Leigh introduces readers to Detective Bree Taggert in Cross Her Heart, the first book in her new series of romantic suspense novels.  It’s an excellent start, a solid, intriguing and well-paced mystery that introduces and starts fleshing out the central characters and the relationships between them at the same time as it presents a mystery that is very personal for Bree, whose tragic past is brought abruptly back to her in the worst possible way.

The book opens on a harrowing scene taking place at eight-year-old Bree’s home in Grey’s Hollow in upstate New York.  She is desperate to protect her younger siblings – Erin and baby Adam – from their violent, abusive father, as he rages at and beats their mother. Bree has managed to call the police and to keep herself and her brother and sister safe, although when the police arrive, it’s too late for their mother – and their father then turns the gun he used to shoot her on himself.

While Adam and Erin were taken in and brought up by their grandmother, Bree, who was something of a handful, was brought up by a stern cousin in Philadelphia. Looking back, Bree can see that their childhood separation has had a negative effect on their adult relationship; they’re not close, and although Erin continues to live in Grey’s Hollow, Bree has rarely been able to get past her issues to visit there, so Erin and her two kids visit Philly once a year instead.  When we meet Bree again, she- now a homicide detective with the Philadelphia PD – and her soon-to-retire partner, Dana Romano,  have just chased down a suspect when Bree picks up a panicked message from Erin saying she’s in trouble, but when she calls back, only gets voicemail.  Worried because Erin is the head down, go to work, raise her kids sort who’s never in trouble, and still unable to contact her, Bree heads to Grey ‘s Hollow – and her fears for Erin only ratchet up when she arrives at her sister’s house to see two sheriff’s department vehicles parked outside.  Something is very, very wrong.

Erin has been killed, and the chief deputy explains that their main suspect is her estranged husband, Justin, who is currently missing.  Erin’s body was found by Justin’s friend, Matt Flynn, a former sheriff’s investigator and K-9 handler, who was at the house to collect Justin to take him to his Narcotics Anonymous meeting.  Drugs were the cause of Justin and Erin’s split; he became addicted to pain meds following a car accident, and she didn’t want him around her kids while he was using.  But they were still seeing each other and intended to work things out, and Justin has been trying, with Matt’s help and support, to get clean.

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

And Then He Kissed Her (Girl Bachelors #1) by Laura Lee Guhrke (audiobook) – Narrated by Zara Hampton-Brown

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

Supremely sensible Emmaline Dove wishes to share her etiquette expertise with London’s readers, and as secretary to Viscount Marlowe, Emma knows she’s in the perfect position to make her dream come true. Marlowe might be a rake with a preference for can-can dancers and an aversion to matrimony, but he is also the city’s leading publisher, and Emma is convinced he’s her best chance to see her work in print…until she discovers the lying scoundrel has been rejecting her manuscripts without ever reading a single page!

As a publisher, Harry finds reading etiquette books akin to slow, painful torture. Besides, he can’t believe his proper secretary has the passion to write anything worth reading. Then she has the nerve to call him a liar, and even resigns without notice, leaving his business in an uproar and his honor in question. Harry decides it’s time to teach Miss Dove a few things that aren’t proper. But when he kisses her, he discovers that his former secretary has more passion and fire than he’d ever imagined, for one luscious taste of her lips only leaves him hungry for more.

Rating: Narration- B; Content – B

And Then He Kissed Her, book one in Laura Lee Guhrke’s Girl Bachelors series, is one of those books that’s often cited as a favourite by historical romance fans. Originally published in 2007, this is the first time it’s been available in audio, and it’s good to see some old favourites finally making it into the format.

Set in the late Victorian era, And Then he Kissed Her tells the story of the romance between Harry, Viscount Marlowe – who, although an aristocrat, works for a living and owns a successful publishing house – and Miss Emmaline Dove (Emma), who has been his secretary for five years but is certainly not desperately in love with him and, knowing him to be a rake of the first order, is glad not to be so. When the book opens, Emma is being forced to listen to a ‘woe is me’ speech from Marlowe’s latest mistress – to whom he has just given her congé – and has no patience with any of it, relieved (sort of) that she’s not at all the sort of woman who would attract the attention of a such a man. Aged thirty, Emma has kind of accepted she’s likely to remain a confirmed spinster, and in any case, her ambitions lie in a different direction. She hopes one day to become a published author, and has in fact written a number of books on etiquette for young women; she has not so far been able to persuade Marlowe to publish any of them, but continues to write, undaunted.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

Murder at Pirate’s Cove (Secrets & Scrabble #1) by Josh Lanyon

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Ellery Page, aspiring screenwriter, Scrabble champion and guy-with-worst-luck-in-the-world-when-it-comes-to-dating, is ready to make a change. So when he learns he’s inherited both a failing bookstore and a falling-down mansion in the quaint seaside village of Pirate’s Cove on Buck Island, Rhode Island, it’s full steam ahead!

Sure enough, the village is charming, its residents amusingly eccentric, and widowed police chief Jack Carson is decidedly yummy (though probably as straight as he is stern). However, the bookstore is failing, the mansion is falling down, and there’s that little drawback of finding rival bookseller–and head of the unwelcoming-committee–Trevor Maples dead during the annual Buccaneer Days celebration.

Still, it could be worse. And once Police Chief Carson learns Trevor was killed with the cutlass hanging over the door of Ellery’s bookstore, it is.

Rating: B

Murder at Pirate’s Cove is the first book in a new series of cozy mysteries by Josh Lanyon – a kind of Adrien English meets Jessica Fletcher if you will! All the ingredients of the genre are there – a small village community, eccentric characters, dastardly doings and an intrepid hero; in this case one who ends up at the wrong end of a murder investigation!

Screenwriter Ellery Page left New York and his cheating boyfriend for the small Rhode Island resort town of Pirate’s Cove when he inherited a bequest from his great-great-great aunt Eudora. That bequest consisted of the town’s mystery bookshop, Crow’s Nest, and a rambling (and ramshackle) late-Victorian era house just outside town, and Ellery, feeling the need to make a change, has thrown himself into running the shop and renovating the house. He likes Pirate’s Cove, although he’s still something of an outsider, and is determined to make a go of things there… although three months in, he’s not sure how much longer he’ll be able to afford to stay if business doesn’t start to pick up soon.

Walking back to the shop from the pub late one evening, Ellery is surprised to see the lights are on – and even more surprised to find a dead body – dressed in a pirate costume – lying on the floor. Trevor Maples – a local property developer who was pressuring Ellery to sell Crow’s Nest – was a nasty piece of work, and the fact that he and Ellery were overheard in an altercation on the day Maples died means things don’t look too good for our hero. When the chief of police, Jack Carson (a former LAPD Homicide detective) makes it clear that Ellery is currently the number one suspect, Ellery decides that if the police aren’t looking for the real killer, then he’ll have to find something to persuade them to look elsewhere – and maybe even prove his own innocence. As the body count rises, it becomes clear that someone is actively trying to frame Ellery for the murders – but who, and why?

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

The Spice King (Hope & Glory #1) by Elizabeth Camden (audiobook) – Narrated by Pilar Witherspoon

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

Gray Delacroix has dedicated his life to building his very successful global spice empire, but it has come at a cost. Resolved to salvage his family before it spirals out of control, he returns to his ancestral home to save his brother and sister before it’s too late.

As a junior botanist for the Smithsonian, Annabelle Larkin has been charged with the impossible task of gaining access to the notoriously private Delacroix plant collection. If she fails, she will be out of a job and the family farm in Kansas will go under. She has no idea that in gaining entrance to the Delacroix world, she will unwittingly step into a web of dangerous political intrigue far beyond her experience. Unable to deny her attraction to the reclusive business tycoon, Annabelle will be forced to choose between her heart and loyalty to her country. Can Gray and Annabelle find a way through the storm of scandal without destroying the family Gray is fighting to save?

Rating: Narration – C+; Content: B

I haven’t read or listened to anything by Elizabeth Camden before, but one of my fellow reviewers at All About Romance is a big fan of her work, and after reading the synopsis of the author’s latest release, The Spice King, I decided to give it a try. It proved to be an entertaining listen; the writing is smooth and flows beautifully, the story has obviously been very well-researched, and the characters are engaging and three-dimensional.

Gray Delacroix has spent much of his life abroad in service to his family’s business, Delacroix Global Spice, finding new and unique flavours to excite the palate and building on the work done by his late father in restoring the family fortunes after the Civil War. But his success hasn’t come without a price. He’s tired, he suffers regular bouts of ill-health due to malaria, and he feels he has neglected his younger half-siblings, who, he feels, have been overindulged during his absences and have become rather spoiled and aimless as a result. He has also decided that, at forty, it’s time for him to settle down and have a family – and life – of his own.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

Ricochet (Out for Justice #1) by Reese Knightley (audiobook) – Narrated by Tristan James

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon.

WITSEC victim Noah Bradford knows secrets that could get him killed, and staying hidden seems like a good plan. What he didn’t plan on is losing his heart to a man who is sworn to protect him.

Battle scarred US Marshal Robert “Mac” Mackenzie has a job to do, and guaranteeing the safety of Noah Bradford is at the top of that list. Mac will do whatever it takes to keep Noah safe, even if it means walking away.

Mac and Noah, brought together during extreme circumstances, have been separated by evil. It’s been six years, give or take, and Noah is coming for vengeance against the men who killed his mother. He’s on a collision course with Mac, who has no idea of the man Noah has become. Sparks fly and the heat sizzles when these two powerful men are reunited, but will they survive the passion the past created?

Rating: Narration – B-; Content – D+

I liked the sound of Ricochet, the first in new-to-me author Reese Knightley’s Out for Justice series of romantic suspense novels featuring a team of elite operatives known as Phoenix. I hadn’t, when I requested the title, realised it was the author’s début book – not that I have anything against first-time authors, in fact, I’ve found some terrific stories and authors to look out for by reading or listening to débuts – but sadly, this author and this book don’t fall into that category. The story itself feels like a bare-bones outline that needs a lot of fleshing out; there are elements of the storytelling that just don’t work, the characterisation is thin, there’s way too much telling and not enough showing, and the writing itself is distinctly average and could have used a good editor to weed out the annoying repetitions and overblown, clichéd phrases.

Seventeen-year-old Noah Bradford is inducted into the Witness Protection Program after he and his best friend Jenny are rescued from the compound belonging to Terrance Manning, the vicious criminal who murdered Noah’s mother. For reasons we don’t learn until much later, Manning was intent on grooming Noah to be his second-in-command and eventual successor, but rather than treating him as some sort of favourite, he instead tried to crush Noah – in both body and spirit – at every opportunity. During the raid on the compound by the FBI, police and US Marshals, Noah is found by Marshal Rob Mackenzie (Mac) and helped to safety. Neither Manning nor his chief henchman – Noah’s stepfather – are to be found; they’ve managed to get away.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.