You’re a Mean One, Matthew Prince by Timothy Janovsky

you're a mean one matthew prince

This title may be purchased from Amazon

BRING A LITTLE JOY TO THE WORLD? NOT TODAY, SANTA.

Matthew Prince is young, rich, and thoroughly spoiled. So what if his parents barely remember he exists and the press is totally obsessed with him? He’s on top of the world. But one major PR misstep later, and Matthew is cut off and shipped away to spend the holidays in his grandparents’ charming small town hellscape. Population: who cares?

It’s bad enough he’s stuck in some festive winter wonderland—it’s even worse that he has to share space with Hector Martinez, an obnoxiously attractive local who’s unimpressed with anything and everything Matthew does.

Just when it looks like the holiday season is bringing nothing but heated squabbles, the charity gala loses its coordinator and Matthew steps in as a saintly act to get home early on good behavior…with Hector as his maddening plus-one. But even a Grinch can’t resist the unexpected joy of found family, and in the end, the forced proximity and infectious holiday cheer might be enough to make a lonely Prince’s heart grow three sizes this year.

Rating: B-

Timothy Janovsky’s You’re a Mean One, Matthew Prince is one of those fish-out-of-water stories wherein a spoiled brat is sent away to some backwater they wouldn’t normally set one toe of their Louboutins in and finds meaning, purpose, and often, love as well. It’s a story we’re all read hundreds of times before (and as this one is set around the Christmas period, there are plenty of very obvious references to the most famous meanie-finds-humanity tale of all time), but while the story is decently executed and the characters are likeable, it doesn’t really have anything that sets it apart from the other gazillion stories that employ the same theme.

Twenty-one-year-old Matthew Prince has it all – good-looks, wealth and internet fame thanks to the regularity with which his antics end up on the gossip sites. His latest – the impulsive purchase of an island (yes, you read that right) following a recent break up has finally brought his parents to say enough is enough and put their collective foot down. To prevent a possible PR disaster, he’s sent to spend a month with his maternal grandparents at their cabin in Wind River in downright stifling, middle-of-nowhere western Massachusetts. And as if things aren’t bad enough, he learns he’s to be sharing a room – with bunk beds, no less – with Hector Martinez, a former student of his grandfather’s, to whom he offered temporary accommodation when it looked like Hector wasn’t going to be able to afford to finish college.

Matthew certainly appreciates the eye candy, but it becomes quickly apparent that the down-to-earth Hector is not the slightest bit impressed or awed by Matthew.

“For someone whose last name is Prince, you’re not very charming.”

He’s not used to being so easily dismissed, but then realises it doesn’t matter, because he’s already plotting ways to get back to NYC in time to throw his famous New Year’s Eve bash alongside his bestie, Bentley. But when his plan to sneak away is foiled – by Hector, no less – Matthew realises he’s stuck there until he does what his parents have sent him there to do – grow up and prove to them that he can behave like a responsible adult. The perfect opportunity to do just that presents itself when the organiser of the town’s annual charity gala is unable to undertake the job due to illness. When his grandmother suggests that perhaps Matthew should lend a hand, he just about manages to conceal his horror at the idea of becoming involved in what is undoubtedly the sort of thing he would never (normally) be seen dead at – until Hector subtly reminds him of something he’d rather his grandparents didn’t know about (his plan to go to spend his time in Wind River at the local hotel instead of staying with them.) Matthew decides he’ll pitch in and plan the gala – after all, planning parties is his ‘thing’ (he even copes with his anxiety attacks by planning events in his head) – but first, he’s got to switch gears and plan something that the people of the town will like, rather than something he thinks they should like.

Thankfully, Hector is on hand to point Matthew in the right direction and soon Matthew finds himself starting to enjoy making connections with the townsfolk and, for the first time in many years, enjoying the Christmas season. He’d always loved that time of year as a kid, but by the time he was thirteen, the joy had been sucked out of it, replaced by false sentiment and illusions of family togetherness – and expensive gifts that were somehow supposed to make up for the loss. It’s been a long time since he’s let himself feel anything approaching his youthful love for the season, but working on the gala with Hector alongside him – having a silly Christmas cookie baking competition and debating the merits of the various Christmas movies (the Muppets win every time!) – helps Matthew begin to find the comfort and joy he thought he’d lost. Along the way, he gets to know himself, too, learning who Matthew Prince is and what he could become away from the city, the wealth, the labels and the fair-weather friends.

Matthew is likeable despite his initial snobbishness, because the author does a good job of balancing the bratty attitude and behaviour with a good sense of humour and hints that behind the glitz, glamour and designer clothes, he’s struggling. His GAD (general anxiety disorder) is sensitively and realistically portrayed and the author skilfully explores what it’s like to be someone in the public eye and media spotlight simply because your parents are famous – and to be the child of parents who have little time for you – so that it’s easy to feel sympathy for Matthew and root for him to find his way through all the crap in his life to find happiness.

The festive, small town setting is well done, and the secondary characters are all nicely rounded – even Matthew’s parents, who are never demonised, instead coming across as flawed people who have made poor choices. That said, Matthew’s mother does something inexcusable in the last part of the story – and even though it’s clearly born of fear, it’s tough to get past.

Matthew’s romance with Hector is cute, and I liked how supportive Hector is once they get past that initial antagonistic phase, but the romance does play second fiddle to Matthew’s journey. Hector is a great guy – he’s funny, compassionate, sexy and sweet – but the story is more about Matthew growing up, learning to take responsibility for himself and his life and breaking out of the patterns he’s fallen into. (The couple of sex scenes barely require the ‘warm’ rating, by the way.)

I had a bit of trouble grading this one, mostly because I suspect I’m not really the target audience for a book like this, and so, while it has a lot going for it, for me, it hits that ‘just above average, but seen it all before’ area. The writing is strong, Matthew’s internal dialogue is a great mixture of poignant and funny, and his character growth is easy to follow, but the middle of the book is a bit slow and the Crisis Moment in the last section feels contrived and obvious.

In the end, there’s nothing actually wrong with You’re a Mean One, Matthew Prince – it’s cute and fluffy and full of Christmas cheer (extra Brownie points for two characters bonding over a love of The Muppet Christmas Carol) but it didn’t wow me or have anything really new to offer. It’s a head/heart thing; I can see perfectly well that there’s a lot about the book that some people will absolutely love – but I wasn’t feeling it, which is why I’ve ended up giving it a B-. It might not be something I feel I can recommend to readers who have similar tastes to mine – but I’m sure there are plenty of people out there who will enjoy it more than I did.

Face Blind (Glastonbury Tales #1) by J.L. Merrow

face blind

This title may be purchased from Amazon

When even friends look like strangers, how will he ever find love?

Corin Ferriman was left face blind by the car crash that killed his ex. Even people he’s known for years are unrecognisable to him. Running from his guilt and new-found social anxiety, he’s moved to Glastonbury, where he knows no one—or does he? Repeated sightings of a mysterious figure leave him terrified that his ghosts have followed him.

Tattoo artist Adam Merchant left Glastonbury at sixteen, escaping from his emotionally distant mother to the father who’d left them seven years previously. Now, at twenty-five, he’s come home to bring his family back together. But in a cruel twist of fate, his mother dies before he can talk to her, leaving him haunted—perhaps literally—by her memory and his unanswered questions.

When Corin and Adam meet again after an eerie first encounter, Adam lays siege to the walls Corin’s built around himself, which start to crumble. But there are ghosts haunting them both, and while Adam longs for a connection beyond the veil, Corin’s guilt leaves him in angry denial that there could be anything after death. With the liminal festival of Samhain fast approaching, neither man is sure what’s real and what’s just a trick of the mind—or maybe something worse.

Rating: B

J.L. Merrow’s Face Blind is an atmospheric tale featuring two men who are trying to come to terms with and move on from traumatic events in their pasts. Add in family secrets, some gentle humour, a little bit of mystery and touch of the paranormal, and you’ve got an interesting and entertaining romance.

Adam Merchant left home when he was sixteen, leaving behind his much older sister and the mother who never seemed to care about him, and went to live with his dad in London. He only moved back to Glastonbury a month before the story opens, taking a job at a local tattoo parlor. He came back intending to try to build some bridges with his mum – even though she never seemed to want to see him on the rare occasions he visited anyway – but she’s recently passed away. Adam was surprised to learn that she’d left him her house – the one he’d grown up in – in the will, and can’t help but think maybe it was because of a guilty conscience. He’ll never know.

A serious car accident around six months earlier has left Corin Ferriman with prosopagnosia, a condition that means he is unable to recognise people’s faces. Struggling with survivor’s guilt (his ex, who was driving the car, was killed) as well as the disorienting effects of not even being able to recognise his own face in a mirror, Corin can’t face the alternately pitying and disbelieving reactions of his acquaintances and colleagues and decides he needs to make a fresh start somewhere nobody knows him. On his first night in his new place in Glastonbury, Corin decides to celebrate his move with a takeaway and, even though it’s drizzling, heads out for a walk on the famous Tor first.

He’s part-way to St. Michael’s Tower when he sees another man, bedraggled and wearing a leather jacket, his dark hair plastered to his head, on the path ahead of him. The man appears slightly panicked as he asks Corin if he’s seen the older woman in the dark coat; and then subsides as he mumbles something about his mind playing tricks and goes on his way.

Corin is walking in town a few days later and, as he passes one of the many tattoo studios in the high street, is struck by the idea of getting inked himself. Something small and discreet might be a good idea as it would provide a defining feature for him to latch on to when he’s looking at his reflection. He steps inside the nearest shop – and is introduced to one of the artists, a dark-haired young man who smiles at Corin and starts apologising to him. Something about his voice sounds vaguely familiar, and when the man – Adam – says that he doesn’t normally go around seeing ghosts, the penny drops. It’s the guy he met on the Tor.

Adam is just a bit disappointed at the thought he’s so unmemorable, but he lets it go and sets about talking through what Corin wants and what to expect, and makes an appointment for a couple of week’s time. Adam can’t help hoping that maybe they’ll bump into each other again sooner.

There’s a definite spark of attraction between Adam and Corin, but Corin can’t see how he can ever have a relationship when everyone looks like a stranger. At first, Adam just thinks Corin is a bit skittish because of how they first met – after all, he’d probably be a bit wary of someone who thought they’d seen a ghost! But when, the next time they meet – and the time after that – Corin looks at him like he’s never seen him before, Adam can’t help feeling a bit hurt.

Corin knows exactly what Adam must be feeling, but he can’t bring himself to explain. It’s still too raw and so difficult to get his own head around sometimes, that he just doesn’t want to get into it – or to watch Adam’s expression turn from one of interest to one of pity or dismissiveness. Fortunately, however, Adam is a bright bloke, and after the fourth or fifth time of Corin looking at him like he’s a total stranger, he starts to wonder if maybe he has some kind of visial impairment, and from then on, makes a point of greeting Corin by speaking to him and identifying himself by name. I really liked that about Adam, that he’s intuitive enough to realise that it’s not all about him and subtly figures out how to help without needing to be asked. And when Corin does tell him the truth, he takes it in his stride and listens rather than making assumptions.

I don’t have any experience of prosopagnosia or know anyone who has it, but it seems to me that the author has done a good job when it comes to describing the condition and the way it affects Corin, both physically and emotionally. What were previously simple, everyday things have become difficult or even daunting, whether it’s being unsure of who is on the other side of the front door after opening it, or keeping track of who is who in a film or TV show.

The romance between these two damaged men is sweet, if a little unevenly paced, and the storyline concerning Adam’s search for the truth about his past is intriguing. Without spelling it out, the author drops some very big hints as to the reasons for the estrangement between Adam and his mother – but of course, the reader knows only what Adam knows, so the twist comes as as much of a surprise to him as it does to us!

Also enjoyable is the well-rounded secondary cast – Adam’s boss, Sasha, his brother Declan and best friend Scratchy; these people obviously care and look out for one another and their relationships with each other and the two leads are believable and a lot of fun.

The one thing that didn’t work so well for me was the supernatural aspect of the story. I suppose setting a book in Glastonbury in late October cries out for some paranormal shenanigans, but what with the romance, Corin still working on his coping strategies and struggling with his newly-emerged social anxiety, Adam repairing his relationship with his sister and trying to find the truth about his past, there’s already so much going on that the ghostly aspect is patchy and not well developed.

Those reservations aside however, Face Blind is one of the more unusual romances I’ve read recently, and I’d certainly recommend it to anyone looking for a love story that’s slightly out of the ordinary.

A Thief in the Night by KJ Charles (audiobook) – Narrated by James Joseph & Ryan Laughton

a thief in the night

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

Toby never meant to be a highway robber, but needs must. He didn’t plan to impersonate a top London valet either, but when the chance comes to present himself as the earl of Arvon’s new gentleman’s gentleman, he grabs it. Unfortunately, the earl is the man he seduced and robbed on the road to get here. Oops.

Miles, Lord Arvon, is not impressed. But he’s faced with a tumbledown home and lost family fortune, and desperate times call for desperate measures. Toby—shameless, practical, and definitely desperate—may be just the man he needs.

To steal back a priceless bracelet, that is. What else were you thinking?

Narration – A/B; Content – B+

In KJ Charles’ 2021 novel The Gentle Art of Fortune Hunting, we were introduced to Robin and Marianne, two siblings who conned their way into society with a view to their both making very advantageous marriages. Brief mention was made of the fact that they had grown up with an older half/step sibling named Toby who just up and left them one day and whom they haven’t seen since. In A Thief in the Night, we get to meet Toby, who, like his brother and sister, lives by his wits, with one eye (metaphorically) always looking over his shoulder, and the other always on the main chance.

The story opens at an inn where Toby, while waiting for the drink he’s ordered to arrive, is keeping an eye on the attractive man of military bearing sitting by the fire. His clothing is travel-stained, but looks to be that of a man of means, so Toby nonchalantly walks over and strikes up a conversation. After exchanging names (Toby doesn’t give his real one, of course), they get to talking, and Toby learns that his companion, Miles Carteret, has recently returned from fighting on the Penunsula and is on his way home. Toby is quick to recognise the signs of interest, and to make his own interest clear; before long, they’re out back, exchanging greedy touches and frantic kisses and Toby is on his knees. After putting themselves to rights, they had back inside where Miles dozes off – and Toby helps himself to his watch and pocket book and scarpers.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

When the River Rises (Wild Ones #5) by Rachel Ember

when the river rises

This title may be purchased from Amazon

Cam has always had a soft spot for dangerous guys. Not that he gets much action, dangerous or otherwise. He never managed to outgrow his baby fat, and the most interesting thing about him is his 4.0 GPA.

When Jake shows up, tall, brooding, and in leather, he seems to have stepped straight out of Cam’s fantasies. Except he’s not here to ask Cam out—he’s a bodyguard sent by Cam’s crime-boss aunt.

Her enemies don’t care that Cam has no interest in the family business, so Cam reluctantly agrees to go into hiding, not realizing Jake’s safe house is a thousand miles away on a remote Nebraska farm, where Jake sheds his leather jacket and handgun for a cowboy hat and a horse.

Maybe Cam has no choice but to trust Jake with his safety. But as the summer wears on in this strange land of wild mustangs, old grudges, and thunderstorms, does he dare trust Jake with his heart?

Rating: B

When the River Rises is the fifth book in Rachel Ember’s Wild Ones series, and it’s a sweet and sensual second-chance romance between the mysterious Jake Chase and Cameron Kosta, the young man Jake is charged with protecting. The events of this book take place in two different timelines – one in the present (in Jake’s PoV), the other two years earlier (in Cam’s) – and because there is a little bit over overlap with some of the events in book four (As the Tallgrass Grows), we get to see a couple of the scenes from that book from Jake’s perspective and learn how they fit into the bigger pitcure. Although Cam and Jake’s story is self-contained, I’d strongly advise reading the other books in the series so as to gain a better understanding of the complicated family dynamics and the unresolved plotlines that are concluded here.

Despite the fact that his aunt Edith is head of the local motorcycle gang. Cam Kosta lives a quiet, routine kind of life; he keeps out of Edith’s way and she keeps out of his and that’s the way Cam likes it. He has good friends, is enjoying training to be a teacher and although he’s yet to find a special someone, his life is pretty good. He’s out with friends one night when the bad boy of his dreams – dark haired, wiry, leather-clad, hot – saunters into the bar he’s at; taking his courage in both hands, Cam approaches him, they get talking and a bit flirty, and Cam thinks things are going well – until the guy suddenly brushes him off. Embarrassed, Cam beats a hasty retreat intending to go home, but before he can get to his car, he’s attacked by two men. Terrified, Cam tries to avoid the kicks and punches when they stop suddenly and he sees Jake is fighting with them. When one of them draws a gun, Jake brazens it out, and the guys run off at the sound of distant sirens. Jake hustles Cam away, explaining that Edith sent him to keep an eye on him.

Jake takes Cam to his dad’s remote, dilapidated trailer in Nebraska, where they can lie low until such time as it’s safe for them to go back to LA. Cam slowly begins to adjust to his new surroundings, doing what he needs to do in order to feel comfortable (he likes things clean and precise, and was teased for it a lot when he was younger) and starting to enjoy the slower, simpler pace of life. He and Jake spend a couple of months there together, the spark of mutual attraction that had lit between them back in the bar that first night growing into something more lasting as their enforced proximity promotes a closeness and understanding that grows into love. But Cam’s dreams of happy ever after are shattered when he wakes up one morning to find Jake gone.

Two years pass and Cam doesn’t see Jake during all that time – not until the day he sees him being arrested and taken away in the back of a police car. In the intervening time, we learn (from Jake, in his PoV) that he’s working for the FBI as an informant or inside-man, and that he’s almost reached the end of his part of whatever bargain he’s made. While in custody, he receives the visit from Johnny Chase (his cousin) and Owen (his childhood best friend) we saw in  As the Tallgrass Grows. He’s surprised to see them considering he’s the black sheep of the family (sort of) and has been estranged from Bo and Dylan for some time, but is annoyed at the same time, worrying they might screw up the operation and cause him to have to spend more time doing the FBI’s dirty work.

After Jake is released, he’s surprised to get a text from Cam giving him a time and place to meet, and although knows it’s a bad idea, the pull Cam exerts is as strong as ever, and he can’t not go. Cam is clearly still pissed over Jake’s disappearing act two years before, but even so, he invites Jake to stay at his place until everything blows over. Jake knows he doesn’t deserve Cam’s generosity and ruthlessly squashes any hope that maybe Cam might still feel some affection for him – he doesn’t deserve that either and still can’t tell Cam why he left or what he’s doing now. Their second-chance romance gets off to a rocky start, but it’s immediately clear that they’re still both hung up on each other, no matter how much they wish they weren’t.

Rachel Ember’s writing is understated and thoughful, her characters are complex, likeable and well-drawn and she has a real gift for scene-setting in a way that brings both landscape and community to life. I enjoyed getting to know Cam and Jake and watching their slow-burn romance unfold (twice!), and was pleased to finally have answers to some of the questions posed in the earlier books. The downside to that, though, was that I had to go back to them in order to refresh my memory!

I liked the alternating timeline/PoV structure, which helps to build tension and anticipation, although I have to admit that sometimes I was frustrated by it because I wanted to know what happened next in one storyline before switching to the other. That only happened once or twice though, and on the whole the structure works very well. My only major criticisms of the book as a whole are that the issues between Jake and his family are wrapped up a little too quickly and mostly off page, and I’d have liked more clarity as to why Cam was targeted and by whom – his aunt being a gang-leader is thrown in and kind of glossed over which made it feel a bit contrived.

But in the end, the well-crafted characters, their obvious chemistry and personal growth, and the skillful interweaving of plotlines and complex family relationships mean that, despite the reservations I’ve expressed, When the River Rises merits a strong recommendation.

Trailer Park Trickster (Adam Binder #2) by David R. Slayton (audiobook) – Narrated by Michael David Axtell

trailer part trickster

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

They are my harvest, and I will reap them all.

Returning to Guthrie, Oklahoma, for the funeral of his mysterious and beloved aunt, Sue, Adam Binder once again finds himself in the path of deadly magic when a dark druid begins to prey on members of Adam’s family. It all seems linked to the death of Adam’s father many years ago – a man who may have somehow survived as a warlock.

Watched by the police, separated from the man who may be the love of his life, compelled to seek the truth about his connection to the druid, Adam learns more about his family and its troubled history than he ever bargained for, and finally comes face-to-face with the warlock he has vowed to stop.

Meanwhile, beyond the Veil of the mortal world, Argent the Queen of Swords and Vic the Reaper undertake a dangerous journey to a secret meeting of the Council of Races…where the sea elves are calling for the destruction of humanity.

Rating: Narration – A-; Content – B-

David R. Slayton’s White Trash Warlock introduced us to Adam Binder, a likeable, complex and damaged young man with magical abilities – but rather than making him the strongest warlock who ever warlocked, the author gave him frustratingly mediocre powers, and it was a refreshing change, in this genre, to have a lead character who is, well, pretty  ordinary.

In that book, Adam saved the life of a young cop – Vic – and in doing so, inadvertantly created a magical bond between them that means they’re able to feel each other’s emotions and sometimes even hear each other’s thoughts. Their relationship was turning romantic, Vic for the first time really accepting his bisexuality in the nature of his feelings for Adam, while at the same time realising that Adam wasn’t sure if those feelings were real or had been created along with the bond.

At the end of the book, Adam received the news that his great aunt Sue – who had taken care of him since he left the ‘school’ (read: asylum) to which he’d been committed – had died suddenly, and he went haring off back to Oklahoma without telling anyone – not his brother Bobby (with whom he’s finally starting to have a proper relationship) and not Vic who, at the beginning of the book, is understandably upset by this. He decides to follow Adam, but is waylaid by Argent (the sister of Silver, Adam’s (elven) first love) and they end up on a warped kind of road trip through the elf kingdoms and get caught up in some nasty political shenanigans. Meanwhile in Oklahoma, Adam is reunited with Sue’s daughter Noreen and his cousin Jody – who are both toxic; when an explosion kills Noreen, Adam’s investigation leads him to believe that to believe that someone – a powerful druid – is offing his relatives, and it’s up to him to work out exactly who it is and stop them.

I enjoyed Trailer Park Trickster, but wasn’t as completely captivated by it as I was by White Trash Warlock.  I like Adam and Vic as individuals and as a couple, and I liked Adam learning more about his family history, and seeing his growing maturity in the way he approaches the druid issue, but I didn’t really understand the significance of the Vic/Argent storyline at this point, other than as a device to keep Adam and Vic apart for almost the entire book.  They have only two scenes together – and one of those is of them having a row – and there is no development of their relationship here.  Given the way their bond was formed (and what it means!), Adam’s guilt about it and doubts about the nature of Vic’s feelings for him, and Vic’s determination to prove to Adam that what he feels for him is because of him, Adam, and not the bond, I’d have expected at least some further exploration of it – but there’s nothing. When Vic learns about one of the big secrets Adam has been keeping:

(spoiler – highlight to read)
that Bobby and their mother killed Binder Sr. because he was violent and likely to kill Adam, and he didn’t want Vic to know because Vic’s a cop and a straight-up guy who would need to do the right thing and arrest Bobby

he’s understandably upset (hence the row) – but they don’t really talk it through and instead, Vic decides to be okay with it after receiving a visit from

(spoiler – highlight to read)
his own father’s ghost.

The romance is so underdeveloped that the declarations that preceed the final showdown come out of nowhere and feel like they’ve been shoved in just for the sake of it. The lack of relationship development – and of character depth and development as a whole – made it difficult for me to become invested in the story. I’m aware this is an urban fantasy story with ‘romantic elements’ so I wasn’t expecting a full-blown romance, but I was hoping that the author would build upon what he’d started in book one, and he doesn’t. When the book description itself suggests that Vic may be the love of Adam’s life, I think we deserve a bit more than a blazing row and some awkward ILYs.

I found both storylines intriguing, but the stakes didn’t feel anywhere near as high as in the first book. I continue to like Adam, who is both relatable and heroic in his determination to get to the bottom of what is going on despite his fears, misgivings and insecurities, although I couldn’t help wondering how, if his magical ability is so slight – and given his powers seem to be mostly psychic in nature – he is able to defeat much stronger magic. The magical system that operates in this world lacks clarity, and Vic’s new status as a reaper, which only comes into play at the very end, is still largely unexplained.

The narration by Michael David Axtell is, again, excellent, and is mostly why I’ve bumped the rating up into the B range. His pacing and character differentiation are good, his vocal characterisations are nicely judged and the characters who appeared in book one are portrayed consistently. He does a really good job of conveying the various aspects of Adam’s character – his determination and his vulnerability – and his interpretation of Vic is good, too, with a firm steadiness to his tone that works really well to depict the confident young man he is. Mr. Axtell’s female voices are pretty good overall, and the harsh, accented delivery adopted for Noreen and Jody is a good fit for who these women are, spiteful, bigoted and all-round unpleasant.

I put off listening to this for so long because I knew it ended on a cliffhanger and decided to hold off until I could listen to book three (out in October). I’ll definitely be listening to Deadbeat Druid because, while I know I’ve said quite a few negative things in this review, I do like the characters and the stories and I really want to find out how things turn out. Fingers crossed that book will be as good as White Trash Warlock, and I’ll be able to put the disappointments of Trailer Park Trickster down to middle-book-itis.

Bad Bishop (Perfect Play #2) by Layla Reyne

bad bishop

This title may be purchased from Amazon

When a marriage of convenience becomes more than either husband bargained for…

Special Agent Levi Bishop needs to:
Keep his son and family safe.
Prove his boss was framed for a crime she didn’t commit.
Convince his selfless cowboy husband that his needs matter too.
Make a bold play before love slips through his fingers.

Special Agent Emmitt Marshall needs to:
Protect his husband and stepson.
End the nightmare that’s haunted him since his mentor’s murder.
Hack through layers of deception to identify the real threat.
Stop hoping someone will choose him.

Marsh is determined to go it alone, to guard his family and his heart.
But Levi’s life and heart are on the line too.
Cornered, Levi will chance any play to save the marriage and man he needs.
Rings were exchanged and promises made.
Marsh kept up his end of the bargain.
Now it’s Levi’s turn.

Rating: B

Bad Bishop is the second book in Layla Reyne’s Perfect Play trilogy, and if you haven’t read book one, Dead Draw, it won’t make a great deal of sense; this is a ‘same couple’ series with one overarching plotline, so the books need to be read in order.

Bad Bishop picks up just a few hours after Dead Draw ended, with Marsh and Levi realising that their enemies have upped the stakes of the game. The suddenness of all the upheaval has thrown a wrench in the middle of the couple’s burgeouning relationship; both men had begun to realise that their marriage of convenience was turning into something real, but any acknowledgement of that had to be put on the back burner when they were targeted by the traffickers they’re trying to bring down, Levi’s boss was framed for murder, and two of their colleagues were injured and ended up in hospital. With the help of Redemption Inc. (the company run by Brax (Silent Knight) and Mel (Whiskeyverse)) Levi, Marsh and David (Levi’s fourteen-year-old son) were able to get away under the radar, and when Bad Bishop begins, are en route to Marsh’s family ranch/compound in Texas.

Once settled, Marsh and Levi set about taking stock of where they are with the investigation and deciding on their next moves. It seems their most likely suspect has decamped to Europe, so it’s back to The Hague for Marsh (he was working there as a Legat at the beginning of Dead Draw) and then on to Vienna and Salzburg – but this time he won’t be alone. Confident of David’s safety at the ranch with Marsh’s moms, Holt, and Brax, Levi will be going with him, and then they’ll meet up with some of Marsh’s former colleagues and contacts to see what they know and start to plan the take-down. Meeting up with Sean (What We May Be), Marsh and Levi start picking their way through a complicated network of connections, progress made even tricker by the knowledge that someone Marsh and Sean have worked with may be in the traffickers’ pocket. There’s no way they’re getting away with everything they’re doing without someone high up covering for them and allowing them to operate unchecked throughout Europe. Marsh and Levi already know this is true of the operation in the US, where the gang has some pretty influential people on its payroll. While trying to work out how far the corruption extends, they’re also presented with some new – and uncomfortable – information about Sophie, the friend and mentor whose murder set Marsh onto the path which ultimately led him to Levi… and the web becomes even more tangled.

Ms. Reyne does a good job here of giving the romance space to breathe and embed without losing any of the momentum surrounding the suspense plot. There’s plenty going on – mostly gathering information and following leads rather than shoot ‘em up action – but the tension is mounting and the ending is a nail-biter. It’s probably no surprise that there’s a cliffhanger ending given that this is essentially part two of a single story being told in three instalments – but there is one and it’s one guaranteed to have you chomping at the bit for King Hunt (out early 2023).

On the relationship front, the tables are turned somewhat here as the events at the end of the previous book have spooked Marsh a little; he’s riddled with guilt over what he’s brought to Levi and David’s door and his deep-seated insecurities about not being enough have come flooding back. He’s one of those guys with a protective streak a mile wide and such a big heart that he wants desperately to look after those he loves and fails to do the same for himself. He needs someone who recognises that about him and who will do their best to show him that he IS enough – that he could be everything – and luckily for him, he’s found that person in the man he proposed to in order to get in on an op.

Although Levi wasn’t completely sure that marrying a stranger was a good idea, by the end of Dead Draw he had decided he needed Marsh in his life and was ready to trust him with his happiness and his son’s and make a new life with him. Knowing Marsh pretty well by now, he knows why his husband seems to be pulling back, and is determined to show Marsh that he absolutey, one-hundred percent, means what he says:

I will have your back, however I can do that, however you need me to, and I will give you a home and heart to return to. I promise I won’t leave you.

I like Levi and Marsh both individually and as a couple – they have terrific chemistry and I love the relationship Marsh is continuing to build with David – I like the way their romance is playing out, and I’m intrigued by the plot, so I enjoyed a lot about the book as a whole. But once again, I’m knocking off grade points for over-complication, because the first section is bursting at the seams with cameo appearances, and it was hard to keep track of who was who and who did what – and I’ve read almost all Ms. Reyne’s romantic suspense titles! Sure, it’s fun to see familiar faces again, but at the same time, it’s over-egging the pudding when no less than seven characters (Helena, Brax and Holt from Fog City, Cam Byrne from Trouble Brewing, Sean, Trevor and Charlotte from What We May Be) all drop in alongside the secondary characters from this series. (One scene features around a dozen speaking characters on a big video/conference call.) Sean and, to a lesser extent, Holt and Brax, do have larger roles to play in the wider story, and I’m completely behind the concept of ‘why create a new character to do X when I can use one that already exists?’ – but even so, I couldn’t help wondering if the story really needed ALL of them. There are also half-a-dozen villains and at least three more new characters introduced once the story moves to Europe – it’s a lot to keep track of.

That criticism aside however, once past those early chapters and with the action moving to Europe, the story kicks up a gear and the twists and turns come thick and fast. Slick, sexy, suspenseful and entertaiing, Bad Bishop is a strong follow-up to Dead Draw, and I’ll be back next year to watch Levi and Marsh bring down the bad guys and get their well-deserved HEA.

The Stubborn Accomplice (13 Kingdoms #2) by H.L. Day

the stubborn accomplice

This title may be purchased from Amazon

A missing artifact. A kingdom of secrets. Two men versus a multitude of magical beasts.

Jack and Sebastian are on the move once more. This time, to the frozen mountains of Askophai in search of a kingdom’s missing artifact. The journey alone would be perilous enough, but how are they supposed to find something that no one can describe? And what does the mysterious man who can make himself invisible have to do with any of it?

Jack has enough of Sebastian’s secrets to deal with, without taking on a whole kingdom’s. He and Sebastian might be together, but Jack still has his doubts about their long-term future. Assuming they have one that is, given Sebastian’s penchant for walking them headlong into danger at every opportunity.

One thing’s for certain, they’re going to need an awful lot of luck to succeed in this mission and return home safely.

Rating: B+

H.L. Day’s The Reluctant Companion was a lot of fun, one of those easy, breezy reads that charmed and intrigued me while its two opposites-attract protagonists stumbled their way into fulfilling a quest and bickered their way into something that might just be love. Book two, The Stubborn Accomplice takes readers back to the world of the 13 Kingdoms and headlong into another magical adventure for quarrelsome lovers, Jack and Sebastian, who are tasked with the retrival of a mysterious artefact. Like the first book in the series, it’s a light-hearted fantasy romp filled with danger, action and snark and – also like the first book – I had a lot of fun reading it.

When we rejoin them, Jack and Sebastian are on their way to the kingdom of Ozagesia, to the city of Chastershire where they will be given further details about the item they have been charged with finding and equipped for the journey into the frozen montains of Askophai. They’re barely a few days into their journey when they’re pursued by a massive griffin, a creature that is all but extinct – and find themselves running for their lives and taking refuge in a tiny, tumbledown shack. It’s not the best shelter – especially when Jack and Sebastian see the hole in the roof! – but they should be safe in the cellar for the night, or until the creature gets fed up and goes away.

Unfortunately for them, however, with the morning comes the realisation that the griffin hasn’t gone away, but has managed to get inside, leaving them with nowhere to go except into the small tunnel leading from the cellar to… well, they don’t know where, but anywhere would be preferable to being crunched to death by a hangry beast. Jack is surprised to realise the normally gung-ho, reckless Sebastian isn’t happy about venturing into such a small, enclosed space, but they don’t have any other option, and their luck turns when they eventually emerge into lush greenery by a river.

Arrived at the inn where they’ve arranged to meet with Frederick, the envoy from Chastershire who had initially requested their help (at the end of The Reluctant Companion). They both sense that there’s something he’s not telling them, but agree not to worry about what it might be for the next couple of days while they take time to eat, sleep, relax and – well, let’s just say Jack discovers a new and very interesting use for Sebastian’s magic 😉

Once they’ve reached the castle, it doesn’t take them long to find out what Frederick’s evasion meant. While the missing artefact is something of great religious significance to the people of Osagezia, and an essential part of any official function – nobody knows what it actually IS. It’s kept in a locked chest at all times – and nobody has a key because the chest is never opened. Mildly amused (Sebastian) and extremely irritated (Jack), the two men prepare for their journey into the frozen wastes in search of something nobody has ever seen that could have been stolen by absolutely anybody in the palace. Great.

The storyline in The Stubborn Accomplice picks up immediately after the end of The Reluctant Companion, but although there’s more than enough information here to enable someone new to the series to pick up the story easily enough, I really would encourage potential readers to read the previous book first. It’s a fun read, but most importantly, it sets up the romance between Jack and Sebastian and provides valuable information about the characters and their backgrounds necessary to understanding and appreciating the way things develop here.

The chemistry between Jack and Sebastian sizzles, their banter is sharp and funny and they share some lovely tender moments, too. Jack is prickly, brave and no-nonsense, where Sebastian is gregarious, charming, and quick to act first and think later, which of course, lands them in hot water on several occasions. The author has a deft touch with the snarky banter that flies between them, which is funny and frequently to the point, but both men are struggling a bit to communicate honestly with each other and using their verbal sparring – and, often, sex – as an avoidance tactic whenever it seems their feelings for each other may be hovering too close to the surface for comfort. Sebastian may be a bit self-centred, but he’s very attuned to Jack and the way he thinks, even if he doesn’t quite understand why Jack is so miffed when his old flames want to greet him with enthusiastic lip-locks. After all, he’s Jack’s now and intends it to stay that way, so there’s no need for him to worry, is there? He fails to take into account Jack’s insecurities about his own attractiveness, his worries that someone as spectactular-looking as Sebastian will probably become bored and want to move on from a mere farm-boy when he can have – and has had – his pick of lovers from all walks of life. But Jack is so focused on what he sees as his inadequacies when compared to the other men Sebastian has been with that he fails to notice the little things that show how far gone Sebastian is for him; he knows Sebastian likes needling him, but doesn’t realise it’s because Sebastian likes that Jack challenges him and doesn’t let him get away with anything. Sebastian is similarly blind to the signals Jack gives off that he feels more for Sebastian than friendship and pleasure in the fantastic sex they have – although to be fair, Jack works hard to hide it, fearing Sebastian will reject him if he shows signs of wanting something more than casual between them. Thankfully, however, they do manage to own up to the truth of how they feel about each other… although they don’t get to bask in love’s warm glow for long when Jack unexpectedly finds out exactly why Sebastian has been so cagey about his past.

So yes, there’s a ‘relationship’ cliffhanger at the end of the book (although the artefact plot is concluded), but the good news is that book three is out in early 2023, so there’s not too long to wait to find out what happens next. The Stubborn Accomplice is a thoroughly entertaining read featuring two engaging leads, plenty of action, feats of derring-do, a lovelorn orc, a wizardly ex and a troll who lives under (or on) a bridge. I really enjoyed it and am happy to recommend it to anyone looking for a funny, well-written and light-hearted adventure yarn.

Sailor’s Delight by Rose Lerner

sailor's delight

This title may be purchased from Amazon

Self-effacing, overworked bookkeeper Elie Benezet doesn’t have time to be in love. Too bad he already is—with his favorite client, Augustus Brine. The Royal Navy sailing master is kind, handsome, and breathtakingly competent. He’s also engaged to his childhood sweetheart. And now that his prize money is coming in after years of delay, he can afford to marry her…once Elie submits the final prize paperwork.

When Augustus comes home, determined to marry by the end of his brief leave, Elie does his best to set his broken heart aside and make it happen. But he’s interrupted by one thing after another: other clients, the high holidays, his family’s relentless efforts to marry him off. Augustus isn’t helping by renting a room down the hall, shaving shirtless with his door open, and inviting Elie to the public baths. If Elie didn’t know better, he’d think Augustus didn’t want to get married.

To cap it all off, Augustus’s fiancée arrives in town, senses that Elie has a secret, and promptly accuses him of embezzling. Has Elie’s doom been sealed…or is there still time to change his fate?

Rating: B-

I’ve read and positively reviewed several of Rose Lerner’s historical romances here, so I was excited when I saw that she had a new m/m historical coming out and eagerly snapped up a review copy. Sailor’s Delight is loosely linked by character to The Woman in the Attic, but it doesn’t share any storylines, so can absolutely be read as a standalone.

Eleazar Benezet is a Navy Agent – a job which involves looking after the financial and legal affairs of naval men and officers while they’re away at sea. Among his numerous clients is sailing master Augustus Brine, whom Elie has known for more than a decade… and been sweet on for just as long. When the book opens, Elie is surprised and delighted to learn that Brine’s ship has docked a couple of weeks early and that he will be coming ashore for the first time in two years; Elie is eager to see him, but also dreads it, because he knows that Brine is planning to marry the young woman to whom he’s been engaged for several years during this period of shore leave. The wedding will take place as soon as Brine can afford it, which will be once he receives his share of the prize money from the Vliegende Draeck, a Dutch merchant ship captured in 1809, but which, thanks to various court appeals, has yet to be paid. Now, however, the court cases are over and it’s simply a matter of finalising the accounts – which Elie has been putting off doing for weeks.

Elie knows he should have finished by now and that it shouldn’t have taken him this long, but… Brine’s marriage will likely mean the end of their close friendship, and Elie can’t deny that part of the reason for the delay is simply his own selfishness at wanting to have Brine as his client and friend for a bit longer, and to continue to dream about the possibility of something he knows is never going to happen. But he is going to procrastinate no longer. Rosh Hashanah is over and the Days of Awe are beginning, so it’s the perfect time to make amends for the wrong he has done Brine in failing to move the matter forward in a more expeditious manner.

Elie and Brine are tw of the nicest men you could ever meet – they’re sweet but totally clueless! Elie is the sole PoV character, so we only see Brine through his eyes, and the author does a good job of showing the reader lots of little things that Elie doesn’t see that make it clear that Brine is equally smitten (such as the fact he’s clearly studied the customs of and pays attention to the observances of Elie’s Jewish faith). Despite that, however, I never really connected with Brine as I did with Elie.

This book has a lot going for it. The detail of Elie’s job is fascinating and the elements of Jewish culture are deeply and skilfully embedded into the story; I liked the way the passing of time is marked by the use of the Gregorian and Jewish calendars, and by the various wardroom toasts at the head of each chapter. I enjoyed spending time with Elie’s large and loving family, and I was impressed with the subtle but impactful way in which the author tackles the issue of the anti-semitism Elie faces. But the romance is a bit lacklustre, mostly because the mutual pining and Elie’s obliviousness about Brine’s true feelings (and vice versa) goes on for too long, and so much of the story is concerned with Elie’s guilt over procrastinating about the prize money and his determination to make amends.

I appreciated the way Ms. Lerner counters stereotypes in the characterisation of Brine’s fiancée, Sarah Turner. Her arrival in Portsmouth certainly complicates matters and causes an even greater degree of misunderstanding between Elie and Brine, but I liked her; she’s a no-nonsense, independent woman who clearly has Brine’s best interests at heart – and has known for a while that those interests do not lie with her. Yet Elie and Brine are continually at cross-purposes and can’t seem to have a proper conversation about her. Brine feels duty-bound to marry Sarah because she looked after his parents before they died; Elie is sure Brine wants to marry Sarah and tries hard to assure her of that fact, even as it kills him to do so. It takes so long for Elie and Brine to have an honest conversation that I was beginning to wonder whether it would happen at all; this is a long-ish novella, coming in at around two hundred pages, but the confessions of love don’t come until the final chapter, and it’s rushed and doesn’t deliver the kind of emotional satisfaction I want from an HEA.

If you’re looking for a low-angst, incredibly well-researched historical romance featuring an engaging, realistic principal character and lots and lots of pining, Sailor’s Delight could well be the book for you. But for me, even though I thoroughly appreciated the informative and well-crafted historical backdrop and the way the story is so firmly grounded in Jewish customs and culture, it was a little bit too low-key.

Owl’s Slumber (Trials of Fear #1) by Nicky James (audiobook) – Narrated by Adam Gold

owl's slumber

This title can be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

Imagine what life would be like if panic ruled your world at the mere thought of going to bed at night. For as long as he can remember, Finnley Hollins has been crippled by his extreme phobia of sleep. Every night is a battle, and every morning isn’t without consequences. The root cause is something he’s ashamed to admit to anyone. It’s his war, and he will fight it alone.

When an unexpected turn of events lands the stunningly gorgeous Aven Woods at Finnley’s place of business, his life gets turned upside down.

All it would take is one night together for his secret to be exposed. Finnley wasn’t prepared to fall in love. More so, he wasn’t prepared for his phobia to completely consume his life. Not only is it affecting his job and his relationship, but now it’s affecting his health. What will it take for Finnley to finally admit he needs help?

Rating: Narration – A; Content – B+

A few months ago, I reviewed Cravings of the Heart, book six in Nicky James’ Trials of Fear series, and enjoyed both the story and the excellent narration by Adam Gold. As each book in the series works as a standalone (apart from the final one), they can be listened to in any order, and as I already had a couple of the others in my Audible library, I decided to skip back to the beginning and listen to Owl’s Slumber.

Each story features a protagonist with a very unusual phobia and explores the ways in which that phobia impacts on his life, usually in an extremely negative – and often dangerous – way, and how they find love with someone who offers the kind of loving support they’ve never had before. I’m no expert on phobias of any kind (unless you count having them about moths and spiders!) but it seems to me that Ms. James approaches them in a sympathetic yet realistic way, not shying away from the very real damage the characters are incurring while also presenting them as real people who are badly misunderstood and desperately need to be properly seen if they’re to stand a chance of being able to manage their fears.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

Silent Sin by E.J. Russell (audiobook) – Narrated by Greg Boudreaux

silent sin

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

When tailor Marvin Gottschalk abandoned New York City for the brash boom town of silent film-era Hollywood, he never imagined he’d end up on screen as Martin Brentwood, one of the fledgling film industry’s most popular actors. Five years later, a cynical Martin despairs of finding anything genuine in a town where truth is defined by studio politics and publicity. Then he meets Robbie Goodman.

Robbie fled Idaho after a run-in with the law. A chance encounter leads him to the film studio, where he lands a job as a chauffeur. But one look at Martin and he’s convinced he’s likely to run afoul of those same laws – laws that brand his desires indecent, deviant…sinful.

Martin and Robbie embark on a cautious relationship, cocooned in Hollywood’s clandestine gay fraternity, careful to hide from the studio boss, a rival actor, and reporters on the lookout for a juicy story. But when tragedy and scandal rock the town, igniting a morality-based witch hunt fueled by a remorseless press, the studio brass will sacrifice even the greatest careers to defend their endangered empire. Robbie and Martin stand no chance against the firestorm – unless they stand together.

Rating: Narration – A; Content – B+

E.J. Russell’s Silent Sin is a standalone historical romance set in the Hollywood of the 1920s featuring a movie star and the man who – through a fortunate circumstance – lands a job as his driver. The author has clearly done her homework when it comes to the background of this story – about the studio system and the influence it exerted over all aspects of the lives of its stars, about the relationship between the studios and the press – and that, together with the inclusion of a number of real-life figures and events, grounds the story very firmly in its time and place. I had a couple of niggles, but overall it’s a compelling story with fantastic narration by Greg Boudreaux, and I lapped it up.

When the book begins, we meet Robbie – Robinson Crusoe Goodman – as he arrives in a place called Hollywood. He’s disappointed; he’d hoped the farmer who’d given him a lift in his truck would have taken him a bit further along the road – plus in a town, he’s unlikely to find any work of the sort that could be done by a former potato farmer from Idaho whose meagre possessions amount to the very threadbare set of clothes on his back. After spending the night in an uninhabited shack at the edge of town, a tired, hungry and thirsty Robbie walks slowly back down main street, with no real idea of what to do next. He watches, surprised, as a cowboy – wondering just what a cowboy is doing in a town where there are no cows? – strolls along the street announcing he’s just got a part in a new picture. Robbie has no idea what the man is talking about, and just as he’s about to move along, is tapped on the shoulder and turns to find an older man wearing a uniform is speaking to him. For just a second or two, Robbie panics – uniforms mean authority and Robbie has been running from the authorities for six weeks now – but the man – who says that everyone calls him Pops – tells Robbie he’s done nothing wrong and then offers to buy him breakfast. Robbie can’t believe his luck, and as they eat, Pops tells Robbie that he works at Citadel Motion Pictures and, after ascertaining that Robbie knows how to drive, offers him a job.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.