The Other Man by Farhad J. Dadyburjor (audiobook) – Narrated by Ariyam Kassam

the other man

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

Heir to his father’s Mumbai business empire, Ved Mehra has money, looks, and status. He is also living as a closeted gay man. Thirty-eight, lonely, still reeling from a breakup, and under pressure from his exasperated mother, Ved agrees to an arranged marriage. He regrettably now faces a doomed future with the perfectly lovely Disha Kapoor.

Then Ved’s world is turned upside down when he meets Carlos Silva, an American on a business trip in India.

As preparations for his wedding get into full swing, Ved finds himself drawn into a relationship he could never have imagined – and ready to take a bold step. Ved is ready to embrace who he is and declare his true feelings regardless of family expectations and staunch traditions. But with his engagement party just days away, and with so much at risk, Ved will have to fight for what he wants – if it’s not too late to get it.

Rating: Narration – A-; Content – B+

Farhad J. Dadyburjor’s The Other Man is one of those audiobooks I picked up on a whim – I hadn’t heard of the author (I’ve since learned he’s been an entertainment and lifestyle journalist for over twenty years) and was similarly in the dark about the narrator, but the premise of the story appealed – and I’m pleased to report that this is one of those times when a gamble paid off, because I enjoyed the story very much and Ariyan Kassam’s narration is excellent.

Ved (pronounced to my Western ears as “Wade”) Mehra seems to have it all. At thirty-eight, he’s handsome, well-off and high-status; he runs his father’s multi-million electronics corporation and as the Mehra’s only child, will one day inherit it. On the surface, he has everything a man would want – but that’s only an illusion. Life as a gay man in a very conservative society where homosexuality is still illegal (the book is set around the time when the law against homosexuality was eventually repealed – which wasn’t until 2018) is difficult and often disheartening; Ved can’t live openly and honestly, yet he can’t face the idea of coming out to his parents, knowing what a dreadful disappointment it would be to them to discover he isn’t the perfect Indian son. He had thought, a few years back, that he’d found someone to share his life with (albeit in secret), until Akshay announced he was bowing to the inevitable and going ahead with the marriage that had been arranged for him. The break-up was four years ago, and Ved has never found anyone else he wanted to spend time with, instead filling the void with endless work and having meaningless hook-ups when he wants sex.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

The Missing Page (Page & Sommers #2) by Cat Sebastian

the missing page

This title may be purchased from Amazon

When James learns that an uncle he hasn’t heard from in ages has left him something in his will, he figures that the least he can do is head down to Cornwall for a weekend to honor the old man’s parting wishes. He finds the family home filled with half-remembered guests and unwanted memories, but more troubling is that his uncle has tasked his heirs with uncovering the truth behind a woman’s disappearance twenty years earlier.

Leo doesn’t like any of it. He’s just returned from one of his less pleasant missions and maybe he’s slightly paranoid about James’s safety, but he’s of the opinion that rich people aren’t to be trusted where wills are concerned. So he does what any sensible spy would do and infiltrates the house party.

Together they unravel a mystery that exposes long-standing family secrets and threatens to involve James more than either of them would like.

Rating: B

The Missing Page is the second book to feature country doctor James Sommers and spy Leo Page, whom we first met in Hither, Page, a cosy mystery  (sort of – true cosies aren’t supposed to include sex or swearing and there’s a little bit of both here!) set in a sleepy English village a few years after the end of World War II.  That book came out in 2019, so we’ve had a bit of a wait for this sequel, but it was worth it; The Missing Page is a charming, clever and none-too serious riff on the classic Country House Mystery in which we learn more about James’ past when he visits the childhood home to which he hasn’t returned in twenty years.

By the time the book begins, Leo has been ‘lodging’ in James’ house in Wychcomb St. Mary for over a year, and they’ve settled into a kind of domesticity neither had ever thought to have, although Leo’s job as a government agent takes him away fairly often.  James is eagerly awaiting Leo’s return from his most recent mission – but shortly before he’s due back, James receives a letter advising him of the death of his uncle, Rupert Bellamy, and asking him to be present at the reading of the will at the family home in Cornwall.   James spent many summers at Blackthorn as a child following the death of his parents, but was whisked away following a family tragedy in 1927 and was never invited back.

James is greeted by his cousin Martha, who had kept house for their uncle for as long as James can remember, and finds Rupert’s surviving daughter, James’ cousin Camilla, her husband Sir Anthony – a Harley Street doctor – and their daughter Lilah, whom he’s surprised to recognise as a famous actress, already gathered together, as well as a woman he doesn’t know at all, who is introduced as Madame Fournier.  The bequests are surprisingly small, until the very end, when the family solicitor reads the final appendix stating that the bulk of the estate will go to whoever can discover what really happened to Rupert’s other daughter Rose on 1st August 1927.  Rose is widely believed to have drowned that day, although there were lots of other rumours in circulation – she took her own life, she ran off with the chauffeur or the vicar, she was murdered  – among them, but Rose’s body was never found and nothing conclusive was ever discovered.

When Leo – exhausted after a very long journey – returns to Wychcomb St. Mary to find James gone, he pays a visit to their friends, former spies Cora and Edith, hoping that perhaps he’ll find James there.  When the ladies tell him where James has gone and why, Leo becomes concerned, especially at learning James had been present on the day that Rose Bellamy is thought to have died, worried at what memories being back there might stir up. Leo wastes no time in following James to Cornwall, determined to do whatever he can to help.

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

White Trash Warlock (Adam Binder #1) by David R. Slayton (audiobook) – Narrated by Michael David Axtell

white trash warlock

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

Not all magicians go to schools of magic.

Adam Binder has the Sight. It’s a power that runs in his bloodline: the ability to see beyond this world and into another, a realm of magic populated by elves, gnomes, and spirits of every kind. But for much of Adam’s life, that power has been a curse, hindering friendships, worrying his backwoods family, and fueling his abusive father’s rage.

Years after his brother, Bobby, had him committed to a psych ward, Adam is ready to come to grips with who he is, to live his life on his terms, to find love, and maybe even use his magic to do some good. Hoping to track down his missing father, Adam follows a trail of cursed artifacts to Denver, only to discover that an ancient and horrifying spirit has taken possession of Bobby’s wife.

It isn’t long before Adam becomes the spirit’s next target. To survive the confrontation, save his sister-in-law, and learn the truth about his father, Adam will have to risk bargaining with very dangerous beings…including his first love.

Rating: Narration: B+; Content ; A-

David R. Slayton’s White Trash Warlock was recommended to me a while back (by Gregory Ashe, no less) so when I saw it in the Audible Plus catalogue, I pounced on it  – and I’m so glad I did, because I was completely glued to it for the entire nine-and-a-bit hours of its run-time.  The story is inventive, the central character is flawed, complex and captivating (just how I like ‘em!) and the narration is really good, so it was a win all round.

Adam Binder has low-level psychic and magical abilities that are often more of a burden than a gift.  Aged just twenty, he lives with his Great-Aunt Sue in Guthrie, Oklahoma and is estranged from the rest of his family; his father left when he was young, his mother doesn’t seem to care and he hasn’t seen his brother Robert (now a doctor in Denver) since Robert had him committed to an institution at thirteen because Adam was hearing voices.  Adam got out as soon as he turned eighteen and now spends much of his time tracking down and destroying dangerous magical artefacts and trying to find their creator, a warlock he suspects may be his father.

Given their estrangement, Robert is the last person Adam expects to hear from – even less does he expect a request for help.  Robert’s wife Annie has begun behaving extremely erratically and Robert has seen things in her behaviour that suggest to him that whatever is wrong with her may be something supernatural.  He asks Adam to come to Denver to do what he can to help; Adam is reluctant but he goes.  Whatever is wrong, Annie doesn’t deserve it – and also, he has a lead that points to the artefacts he’s been searching for originating from somewhere in Denver.

The reunion between the brothers – and Adam and their mother – is uneasy at best, but when Adam sees Annie, he realises she’s possessed by some sort of spirit entity.  A visit to the hospital where Robert works reveals a connection between it and the spirit – while he’s looking around, the spirit tries to kill Adam, and when a couple of cops inadvertently get in the way and one of them is killed,  Adam manages to save the life of the other by giving him a strand of his own life-force, making it impossible for the Reaper to claim him and unwittingly creating a bond between himself and the young police officer.

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

A Touch of Fever (Arcane Hearts #1) by Nazri Noor (audiobook) – Narrated by Zachary Johnson

a touch of fever

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

Jackson Pryde was never great at wielding magic. Instead, he works as an artificer, crafting enchanted devices in the Black Market, a shadowy bazaar of wonders. But Xander Wright, the mouthy, pretentious mage next door, hates all the hammering in Jackson’s workshop.

When a chance assignment forces them to team up, they discover a terrifying predicament. Something is driving members of the magical community into murderous rages. Jackson and Xander must combine might and magic to find the source of the Fever and stop it. Can they put aside their differences long enough to end the Fever, or will they succumb to its bloodthirsty curse?

Rating: Narration – B+; Content – B

Nazri Noor has penned a number of urban fantasy series, but this is the first book of his to appear on my radar. I confess though, that the main draw was Zachary Johnson’s name listed as the narrator; I’ve only listened to him once before (in Emma Scott’s Someday, Someday, which he co-narrated with Greg Tremblay) but liked his work enough to want to listen to him again, and when this title was offered for review, I grabbed the opportunity.

A Touch of Fever is a fun romp through an interesting fantastical world inhabited by (among others) imps, merfolk, enchanters, dragons, sylphs, fae and a scene-stealing gryphon, combined with a murder mystery and a childhood friends-to-enemies-to-lovers romance between (says the blurb) a fast-talking artificer and a snarky sorcerer. Arcane Hearts is an ongoing series (book four is due for release at the end of January) and this story ends on a firm HFN; this is so far the only one of the set available in audio, but I hope the others will follow.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

Dearest Milton James by N.R. Walker (audiobook) – Narrated by Glen Lloyd

dearest milton james

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

Malachi Keogh finds himself in a job he neither wanted nor asked for when his father, boss of Sydney’s postal service, sends him to the end of the business line, a.k.a. the Dead Letter Office. Malachi expects it to be tedious and boring, but instead discovers a warehouse with a quirky bunch of misfit co-workers, including a stoic and nerdy boss, Julian Pollard.

Malachi’s intrigued by Julian at first, and he soon learns there’s more to the man than his boring clothes of beige, tan, and brown; a far cry from Malachi’s hot pink, lilac, and electric blue. Where Julian is calm and ordered, Malachi is chaos personified, but despite their outward differences, there’s an immediate chemistry between them that sends Malachi’s head – and heart – into a spin.

To keep his father happy, Malachi needs to keep this job. He also needs to solve the mystery of the pile of old letters that sits in Julian’s office and maybe get to the bottom of what makes Julian tick. Like everything that goes through the mail center, only time will tell if Malachi has found his intended destination or if he’ll find himself returned to sender.

Rating: Narration – B; Content – B

Dearest Milton James is a charming and delightfully frothy contemporary romance in which the two leads fall in love while tracking down the author of a series of ‘lost’ letters written fifty years earlier. It’s an easy, undemanding listen, with a lot of humour and a lot of heart, and new-to-me narrator Glen Lloyd (a native Aussie, I believe) delivers an animated and engaging performance.

When the story begins, Malachi Keogh has been pretty much dragged by his father – the boss of Sydney’s postal service – into the office of Julian Pollard, head of the Mail Redistribution Centre, (which, despite being re-named a while back, is still colloquially known as “the Dead Letter Office”) – the place where all the city’s undeliverable mail ends up. Malachi has just been fired (again) – this time, because he stood up for a colleague who was being discriminated against – so his exasperated father pulls a few strings and gets Malachi this job with the warning that he’d better stick at it.

You can read the rest of this reveiw at AudioGals.

If You Love Something by Jayce Ellis

if you love something

This title may be purchased from Amazon

As executive chef at one of the hottest restaurants in DC, DeShawn Franklin has almost everything he’s ever wanted. He’s well-known, his restaurant is Michelin starred and he can write his own ticket anywhere he wants. Until his grandmother calls him home and drops two bombshells:

1) She has cancer and she’s not seeking treatment.

2) She’s willing half her estate to DeShawn’s ex-husband, Malik.

Make that three bombshells. 

3) That whole divorce thing? It didn’t quite go through. DeShawn and Malik are still married.

And when DeShawn’s shady uncle contests Grandma’s will, there’s only one path back to justice: play it like he and Malik have reconciled. They need to act like a married couple just long enough to dispense with the lawsuit.

Once DeShawn is back in Malik’s orbit, it’s not hard to remember why they parted. All the reasons he walked away remain—but so do all the reasons he fell in love in the first place.

Rating: B-

I’ve been meaning to read one of Jayce Ellis’ m/m romances for a while, so I was happy to pick up her latest – If You Love Something – for review. It’s an easy, sexy/sweet, low-angst read – nothing spectacular or outstanding, but the engaging writing and likeable characters kept me reading and were enough for me to be able to offer a recommendation.

Michelin-starred chef DeShawn Franklin is living his dream as Executive Chef at a trendy Washington DC restaurant.  He’s something of a local celebrity and is at the top of his profession, although the fact that as EC, he doesn’t get to cook all that often isn’t something he’d banked on, and nor are the continual requests (read: orders) from management for him to film TV segments and make public appearances.  It is what it is though, and he goes along with it with (mostly) good grace.  But a call from his beloved grandmother telling him she isn’t going to seek treatment for her cancer suddenly turns his world upside down.  He drops everything and rushes to her side – where she informs him that she’s leaving him her house – the home DeShawn grew up in – in her will, and all her liquid assets will go to Malik, DeShawn’s ex-husband.  DeShawn knows his grandmother was very fond of Malik and has stayed in touch with him, but those bequests mean she’s leaving nothing to her son, DeShawn’s uncle Robert – which Robert isn’t going to be pleased about.

As if all this news isn’t enough of a bombshell, there’s one more important thing DeShawn needs to know in order to be prepared for the trouble Robert will inevitably stir up.  Although he and Malik filed for divorce seven years before, there was a problem with the paperwork and the divorce never actually went through.  He and Malik are still married.

After the (not)divorce, Malik Franklin returned home to help run his struggling family restaurant alongside his brother James and sister Sheila.  He’s never told his family about his marriage to DeShawn, mostly because it was over before he came out to them as gay, and coming out was difficult enough, without having to explain his marriage – and why he wasn’t married any longer.  He’s never really got over DeShawn and tells himself that letting him go all those years ago was the right thing to do.  Back then, DeShawn was a talented sous chef with big ambitions and bigger dreams, and when things started to take off for him, Malik realised he could never be the husband DeShawn needed, especially as he wasn’t ready to come out.

“I couldn’t let him give up his future to deal with my present.  He deserved so much more.  And the only way I could give it to him was to let him go”.

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

Crash Site (Fiona Carver #2) by Rachel Grant

crash site

This title may be purchased from Amazon

Fiona Carver has landed a dream assignment: conducting an archaeological inventory of Ruby Island, a privately owned, pristine gem in the Caribbean. Two months in paradise exploring and mapping a lush rainforest, vast caves, and a seventeenth-century star fort and following up on legends of hidden Spanish gold. Add a simmering reunion with wildlife photographer Dean Slater and it’s enough to take Fiona’s breath away. But the sparkle fades when Dean’s arrival is met with sudden, terrifying danger.

Reunited and determined to see the project through, Fiona and Dean find themselves in a swirl of intrigue as they delve into the complex history of the unspoiled refuge, now a tropical haven for billionaires and their secrets. But the work isn’t easy, as someone appears determined to kill the project—by any means necessary.

As betrayal casts tropical storm clouds over Ruby Island and treasured friendships dissolve into distrust, one thing becomes clear: Fiona and Dean are trapped in a dangerous paradise.

Rating: B

The second in Rachel Grant’s Fiona Carver series, Crash Site is the sequel to 2021’s Dangerous Ground, and it picks up around nine months after the events of the first book.  Although the mystery/suspense plot here is self-contained, the central relationship between the two leads was left unresolved at the end of Dangerous Ground, so I’d advise anyone interested in this one to read that first.  And that being the case, there are spoilers for the previous book in this review.

Naval Archaeologist Fiona Carver has landed herself a dream job on the gorgeous, privately owned (and fictional) Ruby Island in the Caribbean where, together with two other archaeologists, she has been employed to conduct an archaeological inventory of the island and its seventeenth century fort –which comes complete with legends of hidden Spanish gold.  Fiona has known its wealthy owner Jude Reynolds (the island has been owned by his family for generations) for over a decade, from when they met as fellow students at archaeological field school – although they’re not exactly friends; she went on a date with him back then but he behaved like a complete tosser and she hasn’t seen him since.  But the Ruby Island job was just too good to pass up – especially as Jude’s wealth means there will be no budget worries, and he genuinely cares about the work.  He also seems to be working hard to convince Fiona that he’s not the same selfish, entitled brat he was back then – but Fiona isn’t sure how to feel about that.  Sure, Jude is handsome and rich, he’s interested in her and understands her work… but she’s hung-up on someone else.

Wildlife photographer Dean Slater had been on the remote Alaskan island of Chiksook trying to find out what happened to his missing brother Dylan when he and Fiona found themselves stranded in a hostile environment and forced to rely on each other in order to survive (Dangerous Ground). The adrenaline-fuelled days they spent together engendered a real trust and closeness between them, and fed the flames of the mutual attraction that had sparked between them from their first meeting – although a basic incompatibility in their approach to sex and relationships seemed destined to separate them.  Dean is unwilling to risk experiencing the hurt and devastation he felt on the death of his beloved wife from a brain tumor a decade earlier and made it very clear that he doesn’t do relationships, while Fiona has never been one for NSA sex or short-lived flings. It’s clear by the end of the book that they’re head-over-heels for one another, but Dean is adamant that he’s not about to break his no relationships rule and they part, both of them obviously unhappy and not expecting to see each other again.

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

When First I Met My King/The Dragon’s Tale (The Arthur Quartet 1&2) by Harper Fox (audiobook) – Narrated by Gary Furlong

These titles may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon:

Book 1Book 2

When First I Met My King:

Once upon a time, there was a winter that wouldn’t end. And all that stands between the people of White Meadows and starvation is a young man called Lance.

Lance is 16 years old, and for all his courage and hunting skills, he’s running out of fight. His family has been wiped out in a border raid, and he’s drowning in loneliness. When strangers arrive at White Meadows, all Lance can think of is using his last strength to drive them away. But these men have come in peace, not to burn and destroy. Among them is a hot-headed, utterly charming prince-in-training named Arthur.

For Lance, Arthur’s arrival is like the return of the sun. The prince has everything – learning, battle skills, a splendid destiny. But as the days unfold in the remote northern settlement in the shadow of Hadrian’s Wall, it soon becomes clear that Arthur needs Lance, too.

The Dragon’s Tale:

Lance has finally gained his freedom to join his beloved king. It is the depth of a northern winter, but his heart and his blood are warm with joy as he sets off to the fort of Din Guardi on the coast, where Arthur is locked in negotiation with the ancient powers of the realm – warlords who could help him defend the whole country against the Saxon invaders, if only he can unite them. But Lance knows such unity may not be possible – or even for the ultimate good of the kingdom. And although his delight at being with Art is boundless, there are other, darker forces at work in the wild dune lands.

A deep and delicate balance has been disturbed, and the fort is under siege by a creature out of legend, a monster that ravages villages and leaves a trail of bodies and burned fields in its wake. The darkest nights of winter are approaching. Arthur, with unendurable weights to bear on shoulders too young for them, only has Lance to befriend him and shield him from the bitterness of battlefield experience and loss. As their bond grows, Lance must find a way to heal the breach between the old world and the new before it devours the man he loves.

Rating: Narration – A; Content – B+

Harper Fox sets her re-imagining of the Arthurian legends – The Arthur Quartet – firmly in Dark Ages Britain, in a divided land slowly emerging from centuries of Roman occupation, one in which the ‘new religion’ of Christianity is challenging the old ways and polytheistic traditions of the Druids and the Celts. She places Lancelot – Lance – at the centre of the tale, relating most events from his perspective and skilfully weaving together his backstory with the familiar elements of the legend – Excalibur, Camelot, Merlin, the Round Table, knights, dragons, magic – and laying the foundations of (what I hope will be) an epic romance between him and Arthur.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

Burning Season (Wild Ones #3) by Rachel Ember

burning season

This title may be purchased from Amazon

The year is 1972. Dylan Chase is nineteen, and most days he’s lucky enough to ride a tough bronc, have a beer with his friends, and maybe even sleep under the stars on his family’s third-generation cattle ranch.

Dylan’s life would be perfect if it weren’t for his forbidden itch. An itch he’s only scratched once… with Bo, a hitchhiker he never thought he’d see again. When Bo shows up as the new hire at a neighboring ranch, Dylan is sure his almost-perfect life is about to implode.

After the calves are driven out to the spring pastures, Bo will move on to California. Dylan just has to hold it together until then… if he can.

But Bo can soothe a restless horse with a touch and keeps a battered book of poems in his saddle bag. And the more Dylan learns about him, the more he wants Bo—and the less he wants Bo to go, damn the risk.

Rating: B

I’ve categorised Rachel Ember’s Burning Season as an historical romance – although it feels utterly weird to use the word ‘historical’ to describe a story that takes place during my lifetime!  Set in 1972 (when I was eight!) it’s the third published book in the author’s Wild Ones series, but is the first chronologically; I believe the two leads appear as secondary characters in the first two books (which I have yet to read)  but it works perfectly well as a standalone.  Burning Season is a quiet, uplifting story about being brave and being yourself, with a sweet and sensual romance of at its centre.

Bronc rider Dylan Chase is nineteen and while he’s pretty sure he’s queer, he hasn’t ever had the chance to explore his sexuality.  While away from home on a trip to Texas to take part in the rodeo, he decides to visit a club he’s heard about, a club for men who ‘like’ men – but he gets part of the way there and loses his nerve.  On the drive back to his motel, he picks up a hitchhiker, Bo Bailey, who is headed to the rodeo to try to find a job.  There’s an immediate frisson of attraction between them, which leads to some steamy, stolen moments that bring both revelation and sorrow.  Dylan has never been with a guy, but the connection he feels with Bo – and the sex – is like nothing he’d imagined.  But they’re unlikely to ever meet again.

Fate, however, has other ideas.  Dylan and his friend Glen are about to depart to head back to Nebraska and home when Glen realises he’s lost his wallet and decides to go back to the rodeo grounds to see if anyone has found it.  Waiting for Glen in the truck, Dylan dozes off, only to awaken once they start moving again – and to discover they’ve picked up a familiar passenger.  It turns out Bo found Glen’s wallet and was already asking around to find who it belonged to so he could return it; he and Glen got chatting and Glen offered Bo some temporary work on his dad’s ranch, which borders the one owned by Dylan’s family.

The thought of being able to spend time with Bo produces a mixture of fear and elation in Dylan.  Being gay in 1972 isn’t illegal, but in the sort of conservative, close-knit community Dylan comes from, it’s not acceptable and coming out would certainly make life difficult and could even put him at risk.  Dylan doesn’t want anyone to know the truth about him – and Bo makes it clear he has no intention of saying anything to anyone – but Dylan also can’t help being excited at the thought of being around Bo for longer and maybe getting to do … more of what they’d done the night they met.

The romance between Dylan and Bo is a sweet slow-burn with lots of well-written longing and sexual tension, and I enjoyed watching the pair get to know each other and their relationship transition from heady infatuation and sexual exploration to love over the following weeks.   Bo is, perhaps, wise beyond his years, but I liked his combination of calm and fierceness; he’s very laid back in many ways, but is no pushover and firmly believes that there’s nothing at all unnatural in his attraction to men (this is 1972, remember) and in his desire to do whatever is best for Dylan – even if it means not being able to be with him openly.  There’s a strong emotional connection and plenty of chemistry between them, although as the story is told almost entirely through Dylan’s PoV*, Bo does remain somewhat enigmatic throughout.  But this is really Dylan’s story and the author does a great job presenting him as a complex, rounded character who is torn between loyalty to his family and the life he’s always believed he’d have (and resigned himself to) and the sudden and new prospect of living a different, more honest and open one with someone he loves at his side.

The family dynamics are well-done, too, the loving, tight-knit, multi-generational family unit containing the sorts of fault-lines and conflicts that we can all relate to, and the author’s gift for evocative description shines through as she paints a detailed picture of the landscapes and the day-to-day life of the folks on a ranch.  In fact the only part of the setting I can fault is the chronological one;  apart from the absence of mobile phones and computers, there’s nothing that really screams “1972” to me – although I freely admit that, as a non-American, and someone completely unfamiliar with how ranchers and cowboys live, there may well have been indicators I missed.

The secondary cast, from Dylan’s dictatorial grandfather (whose machinations and manipulations are a large reason for those conflicts and fault-lines I mentioned) to his exasperated and grouchy brother Rob and best friend Glen, is well-drawn and adds richness to the story, and while there is period-appropriate homophobia, it’ mostly implied, which makes it more impactful when it happens (briefly) on the page.

The epilogue set fifty years in the future (i.e, now) is cute, as we check in with a much older Bo and Dylan, and also acts as a teaser for the next book in the series, so there’s a little bit of a cliffie, but it’s not one that will affect your enjoyment of the story.

This isn’t Rachel Ember’s first published book, but she’s a new-to-me author and definitely one whose work I intend to read more of.  Burning Season is a beautifully written, charming and poignant love story featuring engaging, well-drawn characters and a skilfully realised setting.  I’m happy to recommend it.

* The prologue – which details the initial meeting between Bo and Dylan -is told from Bo’s perspective and was originally released as the novella Sweat, Leather and Lipstick.

Not So Silent Night by H.L. Day

not so silent night

This title may be purchased from Amazon

One grumpy patient. One unconventional nurse. Twenty-two reindeer later.

Things aren’t great for Xander Cole. It’s Christmas, he’s fractured his pelvis on a skiing trip he never wanted to go on, and his on/off boyfriend is most definitely off. No wonder he’s not exactly full of festive cheer.

Ferris Night isn’t having much luck either. His plan to take a break from work before starting a new job has been wrecked by a flooded flat. With nowhere to stay, he grabs the opportunity for a job as a live-in nurse with both hands. After all, how hard can it be?

Xander doesn’t need a nurse. Especially one who’s far too flirty, far too attractive, far too into Christmas, and far too good at getting his own way. But Ferris has never faced a challenge that couldn’t be overcome with a bit of charm and perseverance. It doesn’t matter how attractive Xander might be. He’s immune. Maybe.

As banter and sparring between the two men turn into more, a nurse might not be needed, but both men could be in for a fresh start to the new year.

Rating: B

Looking for a cute, frothy and fun Christmassy love story with a grumpy/sunshine pairing, lots of humour, a gazillion pink and purple reindeer and an Avengers/Star Wars Nativity set?  You are?  Good!  Look no further than H.L Day’s Not So Silent Night, a delightfully witty and charming  romance that is just the thing for whiling away a few hours on a dark, winter evening.

Model Xander Cole never wanted to go on a ski-ing trip to the Swiss Alps – he’d rather have been on a beach in Acapulco working on his tan and drinking cocktails – and only agreed to go because he couldn’t face the amount of sulking his on/off boyfriend Harvey would have subjected him to otherwise. It turns out Xander should have stuck to his guns; an accident on the slopes sees him land in hospital with a fractured pelvis.  His brother Miles escorts Xander back to England, and offers to spend Christmas with him; but Xander refuses, knowing how much Miles wants to see his kids, who live with their mother in Spain.  He hasn’t seen Harvey since he made a whirlwind visit to his hospital room on the way to his next booking, so Xander is looking forward to a pretty lonely Christmas.

Ferris Night, a nurse at St. Thomas’ Hospital in London, gets back to his flat after finishing his last ever shift at St. Thomas’  (he’s moving to a new job in January) to find the place flooded as the result of a leak upstairs.  His new place won’t be ready for him to move into for a few weeks, and he’s reluctant to stay with his mum, whose sleazy boyfriend has made it clear on numerous occasions that he wouldn’t mind shagging both mother AND son.  Ferris resigns himself to a few nights couch-surfing with friends, not a particularly enticing prospect so close to Christmas.  But then a phone call from a friend of a friend of a friend (etc.) offers a solution to his problem – this friend urgently needs a live-in nurse for his brother, who has fractured his pelvis.  Ferris is surprised when he meets Miles – he’d expected someone a lot older – and more surprised when he learns Xander is something of a celebrity.  Not that it bothers him.  It’s a job and, more importantly, a roof over his head.

That’s the set up for this thoroughly entertaining and sometimes laugh-out-loud romance – and while it’s certainly nothing I haven’t read before, the author has a wonderfully deft touch with the characters and the humour, and it was exactly what I needed at the end of a hectic day.  Ferris is almost relentlessly cheerful as he ‘bullies’ Xander into doing his physical therapy exercises, and quickly realises that winding him up is the best way to pull Xander out the funk of grumpiness he’s fallen into.  I loved watching him catching Xander off-guard and plotting ways to startle and cajole him into laughter or enjoyment; the author keeps him just the right side of irritating, because it’s so obvious that Xander really needs someone to remind him that he’s allowed to be himself, that he doesn’t have to be perfect all the time – and that ‘himself’ is worthy of being loved.

The scenes where Xander realises Ferris is decorating-by-stealth for Christmas are a hoot, and while the teasing and snarky banter between the couple is terrific, the quieter moment of tenderness, affection and insight are really well-done, too.  Even though the story takes place over just a couple of weeks, the fact that the two men spend pretty much every waking moment together throughout that time helps make their falling in love so quickly that much more believable.  There’s very little conflict – and what there is, is visible a mile off – but it doesn’t drag on too long and gives both characters the chance to realise just how strong their feelings for one another have become.

Not So Silent Night is cute, light-hearted and fun from start to finish, one of those books that will make you giggle and leave you with a smile on your face.  The characters are likeable, the dialogue is clever and genuinely funny, and there’s plenty of festive spirit to warm the cockles!  If you’re a fan of Lily Morton’s books, I think you’ll enjoy this – as will anyone looking for a sweet but sexy story full of Christmas cheer.

Note: This is an expanded/extended version of the novella of the same name that was originally published as part of the Winter Wonderland giveaway at the beginning of 2021.