Fractured Honor (Crimson Point #1) by Kaylea Cross (audiobook) – Narrated by Jeffrey Kafer

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

Weary from his years on the battlefield, Special Forces Captain Beckett Hollister has returned home to Crimson Point to take over the family business for his dying father. But adjusting to life outside the military is harder than he imagined, and being back home forces him to confront things he’d rather not face, including the one woman he shouldn’t want and can’t have – his best friend’s little sister.

Town vet Sierra Buchanan has known Beckett her entire life. She’s crushed on him for years, but because of his relationship with her family, the stubborn man refuses to see her as more than the girl he grew up with. As tragedy brings them together, neither of them realizes that the sins of Beckett’s past have come home to haunt him. When Sierra becomes the target of his unforeseen enemy, Beckett must vanquish his demons to save her.

Rating: Narration: B-; Content: C+

I’m listening to romantic suspense novels more and more often these days, and as I enjoyed Kaylea Cross’ Disavowed earlier this year, I decided to pick up Fractured Honor, the first in her recent Crimson Point series set in a small Oregon town and featuring four men who served together and are now making new lives for themselves outside the military. I confess I’d expected something more along the lines of Disavowed – a fairly fast-paced story with plenty of action and a high-stakes plot based mostly around one central couple – but Fractured Honor is more of a small town ensemble piece with just a dash of romance and a soupçon of suspense. So I had to adjust my expectations, and if you’re going into this thinking it’s straight-up romantic suspense you’ll probably need to do the same.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

Wicked Delights of a Bridal Bed (Byrons of Braebourne #4) by Tracy Anne Warren (audiobook) – Narrated by Rebecca de Leeuw

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

To her surprise, Lady Mallory Byron finds herself walking down the aisle with the last man she ever expected to ask for her hand….

Everyone knows the Byron brothers are “mad, bad, and dangerous.” Now their sister shockingly discovers she’s the newest talk of the Ton when she marries the scandalous Earl of Gresham. Faced with a tragic loss, she’d sought comfort from him as a family friend. But soon consolation turned to passion, scandal – and a wedding! In the bridal bed, she finds pleasure beyond her wildest dreams. But can nights of wicked delight change friendship into true love?

Charming rakehell Adam, Earl of Gresham, has secretly loved Mallory for years. He lost her once to another man, but now he has a second chance to win her love – and plans to do so by any means necessary. Will Mallory’s heart give him what he so dearly desires? Or is the past too much to overcome?

Rating: Narration: B; Content: C

Tracy Anne Warren’s Byrons of Braebourne series about the five Byron siblings (four male, one female) was originally published between 2009 and 2011, but was only released in audio format recently. Rebecca de Leeuw is the pseudonym of a narrator I’ve enjoyed listening to a couple of times before, so I decided to pick up one of the books for review. I chose book four, Wicked Delights of a Bridal Bed, because I enjoy friends-to-lovers stories and because according to the synopsis, the hero has been secretly in love with the heroine for years; I’ve got a bit of a soft spot for romances in which the hero is a total goner for his lady-love.

Mallory Byron has spent the last year mourning the death of her fiancé, Michael Hargreaves, who was killed in battle during the Napoleonic Wars. Her large, close-knit family is worried about her; it’s been over a year since Hargreaves was killed but Mallory continues to avoid social gatherings and family events and none of them is quite sure what to do or how to help her to start to put her grief aside and move on with her life. But there’s one person who might be able to get through to her and help her to start living again, Adam, Earl of Gresham, a family friend of long-standing who has always been especially close to her.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

Whisper (Skins #2) by Garrett Leigh (audiobook) – Narrated by Shaun Grindell

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

Lonely physiotherapist Harry Foster has the world at his feet. A full client list, a six-figure Instagram following, and a publishing deal for a book he doesn’t have time to write until his agent offers him a break – a retreat to the wild southwest coast.

Cornish horseman Joe Carter is lonely too. Rescuing horses and managing Whisper Farm takes up most of his days, and by night he plays chicken with the farm’s perilous bank accounts.

At his sister’s unwelcome suggestion, he rents his only bedroom to a bloke from the city, and when Harry arrives, he’s everything Joe isn’t – calm, patient, and gorgeous enough to be exactly the kind of distraction Joe doesn’t need.

Harry doesn’t have time for distractions either – even shirtless farmers riding bareback past his bedroom window – but his moody host proves impossible to ignore.

On paper, they have nothing in common, but Joe is beautiful . . . glorious, and when an accident puts his life in Harry’s healing hands, the whisper of true love is inevitable. If the trouble that put the farm on its knees in the first place doesn’t get in the way.

Rating: Narration: C; Content: B-

Whisper is the second book in Garrett Leigh’s Skins series, and in it, we move away from London and into the West Country – specifically to the farm and horse sanctuary run by Joe Carter and his family. It’s a gentler, less-angsty story than Dream (the first book in the series), but although it’s certainly not without drama and the characters aren’t without their problems and hang-ups, I wasn’t as invested in the story or characters as I was in Dream – and I’m not sure if that was due to the issues I had with the narration or because of the story itself.

Harry Foster is the brother of Rhys (who continues to have the occasional hook-up with Dylan and Angelo from Dream), and is a highly successful and sought-after physiotherapist. His blog – on which he’s dubbed himself “Holistic Harry”- has a six-figure following, he has a full roster of clients and has recently signed a book deal, but the trouble is that not only is he tired, he’s lonely, his deadline is looming and he’s way behind with his writing. His agent suggests he goes on a writer’s retreat; that he holes up somewhere quiet for the next couple of months and concentrates on his writing – and although he’s not completely sold on the idea, Harry agrees. Which is how he ends up driving to a horse farm just outside Newquay in Cornwall where he’s planning to stay for the next ten weeks.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

Prince of Killers (Fog City #1) by Layla Reyne

This title may be purchased from Amazon

No indiscriminate killing. No collateral damage. No unvetted targets.

These are the rules Hawes Madigan lives by. Rules that make being Fog City’s Prince of Killers bearable. Soon, he’ll be king–of an organization of assassins–and the crown has never felt heavier. Until the mysterious Dante Perry swaggers into his life.

Dante looks like a rock god and carries himself like one too, all loose-limbed and casually confident. He also carries a concealed weapon, a private investigator’s license, and a message for the prince. Someone inside Hawes’s organization is out to kill the future king.

In the chaos that follows the timely warning, Hawes comes to depend on Dante. On his skills as an investigator, on the steadiness he offers, and on their moments alone when Hawes lets Dante take control. As alliances are tested and traitors exposed, Hawes needs Dante at his back and in his bed. But if the PI ever learns Hawes’s darkest secret, Hawes is sure to get a knife to the heart – and a bullet to the brain – instead.

Rating: C+

Prince of Killers is the first in a new trilogy of romantic suspense novels from Layla Reyne. Set in and around San Francisco, and focuses on a family that made its name and fortune from organised crime but which, owing to a tragic incident a few years earlier, is changing direction and turning its hand towards legitimate business… and vigilante justice.

The novel is fairly short, clocking in at around 200 pages (according to Amazon) and it does a decent job of introducing the overarching plot that will run throughout the trilogy and the major players.  Hawes Madigan is the heir to the organised crime empire built and run by his terminally ill grandfather.  Together with his younger (by two minutes) twin brother Holt and their sister Helena, he has been running MCS (Madigan Cold Storage) for the past five years, and is now facing the prospect of fully stepping into his grandfather’s shoes, as the man doesn’t have long left to live.  A man in his position naturally has many enemies, which is why he’s sceptical when he receives information from enigmatic private investigator Dante Perry that someone is trying to kill him.  The difference is, however, that Dante believes it’s someone from within Hawes’ organisation.

Hawes quickly discovers that Dante’s information was accurate when two of his trusted lieutenants turn on him later that very day – and would quite possibly have succeeded in killing him had it not been for Dante turning up out of the shadows to save Hawes’ life.  From here on in, Hawes finds himself starting to… if not completely trust Dante, then coming to depend on him to have his back and provide the sort of stabilising influence Hawes so desperately needs at this point in his life.  Losing their parents fairly young, the Madigan siblings were brought up by their grandparents and, as the eldest, Hawes has been groomed to one day take over the ‘family firm’.  But something happened three years earlier that made him decide to get out of the business of indiscriminate killing and clearly there are those within the company who are not happy about this new direction.  So what with preparing to say goodbye to his grandfather, continuing with his plans to dismantle certain parts of the business, and his priority of protecting his family at all costs, Hawes carries a huge burden of responsibility, and the prospect of at last having someone who can help lift those burdens, even for a little while is an undeniably attractive one.

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

The Doctor’s Secret (Copper Point Medical #1) by Heidi Cullinan (audiobook) – Narrated by Iggy Toma

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

The brilliant but brooding new doctor encounters Copper Point’s sunny nurse next door…and nothing can stand in the way of this romance.

Dr. Hong-Wei Wu has come to Copper Point, Wisconsin, after the pressures of a high-powered residency burned him out of his career before he started. Ashamed of letting his family down after all they’ve done for him, he plans to live a quiet life as a simple surgeon in this tiny Northern town. His plans, however, don’t include his outgoing, kind, and attractive surgical nurse, Simon Lane.

Simon wasn’t ready for the new surgeon to be a handsome charmer who keeps asking him for help getting settled and who woos him with amazing Taiwanese dishes. There’s no question – Dr. Wu is flirting with him, and Simon is flirting back. The problem is, St. Ann’s has a strict no-dating policy between staff, which means their romance is off the table…unless they bend the rules.

But a romance that keeps them – literally – in the closet can’t lead to happy ever after. Simon doesn’t want to stay a secret, and Hong-Wei doesn’t want to keep himself removed from life, not anymore. To secure their happiness, they’ll have to change the administration’s mind. But what other secrets will they uncover along the way about Copper Point…and about each other?

Rating: Narration: B+; Content: C+

I’ve enjoyed several of the audio collaborations by the author/narrator team of Heidi Cullinan and Iggy Toma, and was pleased to learn that the pair would be joining forces again for Ms. Cullinan’s new series of small-town medical romances. While I generally enjoy medical dramas on TV and I cut my romance-reading teeth on medical romances, I haven’t really read any for years, so I was looking forward to The Doctor’s Secret, in which we meet brilliant young surgeon Hong-Wei Wu as he boards the plane on the last leg of his journey from his home in Houston to a new life and job in the small town of Copper Point in northern Wisconsin.

Burdened with guilt at not meeting his family’s high expectations, and more than a little burnt out by the pressures of his residency at the prestigious Baylor MC, Hong-Wei – who could have had his pick of any number of high-profile positions at the best hospitals in the country – has opted to join the staff at a small hospital in the back of beyond in an attempt to get his life back on track and make a fresh start. He’s expecting to be met at the airport by some of the bigwigs from St. Ann’s Medical Center, so is somewhat surprised to discover that instead, he has a welcoming committee of one, an attractive young man who introduces himself as Simon Lane, the hospital’s surgical nurse.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

The Brooding Duke of Danforth by Christine Merrill

This title may be purchased from Amazon

Stranded at a house party…

…with the mysterious Duke…

When a storm hits, outspoken Abigail Prescott is trapped at a house party with Benedict Moore, the Duke of Danforth—the very man she was once betrothed to! Wishing to know the man she’s to marry, Abigail had called off their sudden engagement. But reunited once more, Benedict seems determined to win her back and make her his Duchess. His method: irresistible seduction…

Rating: C-

You know that feeling when, after finishing a book, you sit and wonder what on earth you just read?  That’s me after finishing Christine Merrill’s The Brooding Duke of Danforth.  It had the potential to be an engaging second-chance romance/courtship story played out against a look at the way gossip and rumour affected the relationship between the two principals; he, a wealthy duke who, by virtue of his gender and title is practically bullet proof, she the product of a union between drunkard and a social–climbing cit who has to care about what people think and say.  The trouble is that the book is… well, a bit of a mess.  There’s a Big Mis that could (and should) have been cleared up before the story even started but which isn’t really tackled until almost the half-way point and even then, isn’t completely cleared up until the second half; the romance is almost non-existent, the heroine’s willingness to jump into bed with the hero is out of character and even when the pair talk out their differences, they still manage to screw things up at the eleventh hour.

In the book’s prologue, we’re introduced to Benedict Moore, Duke of Danforth, and his long-standing friend, Lenore, the widowed Lady Beverly.  Benedict has decided it’s time he married and is thus attending Almack’s Assembly Rooms with the intention of looking about him for a suitable bride.  His attention is captured by a lovely and poised young woman who is accompanied by her loud, obnoxious father and overdressed mother.  Danforth immediately determines to rescue her from her father’s obvious tirade by dancing with her, but is impressed when he realises she doesn’t need rescuing at all, handling her father’s anger with coolly controlled aplomb.

Chapter one opens three months later, and we find Abigail Prescott and her mother taking refuge from a broken-down carriage and some terrible weather at Comstock Manor, home of the Earl and Countess of Comstock.  It turns out that Abigail did indeed receive – and accept – a proposal of marriage from the Duke of Danforth, but that she jilted him on their wedding day, realising she couldn’t marry a man who hadn’t spoken to her since he asked for her hand, and had shown no signs of being interested in her or of wanting to get to know her.  Sadly, the weather and carriage problems aren’t the only bad news Abigail is destined to receive that day – Danforth is one of the Comstocks’ guests, and meeting him again is going to be unavoidable.

When Danforth sees Abigail again, it’s with mixed emotions – anger that she left him at the altar without explanation, but admiration and attraction, too.  Realising he still wants to marry her, he determines to court her properly while they’re stuck at the mercy of the weather, and I settled in for a story of courtship and re-awakening love. But what could have been a cute and enjoyable romance took that wrong turn at Alburquerque and became a series of episodes that simply jumped from one to the next rather than giving the feel of cohesive and organic development.  The characters are poorly developed and not very interesting; all we really learn about them is tied up in how they react to being gossiped about. Danforth’s famous implacability is something he’s cultivated since a young age; having grown up with a father who was constantly berating and yelling at him, he learned that the best way to do with it was simply not to react.  Thus, he learned not to care what people said of him, while for Abigail, it’s the opposite; her father’s frequent drunken rages push her “to megrims and nausea” and although, like Danforth, she’s learned not to show any reaction, she detests gossip and has done everything she can to avoid it.

The other big stumbling block in the story surrounds the Big Mis I mentioned at the beginning. Early on in the story, we learn that one of the reasons Abigail jilted Danforth was because of his relationship with Lenore, who is widely presumed to be his mistress.  Abigail couldn’t face the prospect of being dogged by gossip or finding herself an object of pity because her husband’s affections lay elsewhere. But – and this isn’t a spoiler because it, too, is made clear early on – Lenore isn’t Danforth’s mistress and never has been, but the pair of them encourage that perception because Danforth doesn’t care about gossip and is content for Lenore to use him as a cover for the affairs she really does have.  While this was actually quite interesting, it’s problematic for a number of reasons.  Firstly, Danforth and Lenore allow Abigail to continue under this misconception for almost half the book – and even when they do tell her the truth, they do it so obliquely that she still isn’t sure what to believe until well into the second half.  And secondly, neither of them seems to understand (or care) that their continuing to act as they have in the past will still be a problem for Abigail if she marries Danforth;  that even though Lenore isn’t Danforth’s lover, the appearance of it will still cause the sort of gossip Abigail jilted him to avoid in the first place.   I thoroughly disliked both of them for being so completely wrapped up in their own concerns; when Abigail actually asks “When, precisely, will my needs take priority over hers?” Danforth still can’t see the problem and actually proves the truth of what Abigail has said by arguing with her about the need to end the charade!

There are some nice moments between Abigail and Danforth earlier in the book where they do actually talk and he’s able to show Abigail that he was never indifferent to her and begins to win her over – so well, in fact, that while her reservations about marrying Danforth don’t disappear immediately, she’s happy to have sex with him.  For one thing, I couldn’t believe that a young woman so careful of her reputation would do that, and for another, there’s no real relationship development and little to no chemistry between them.

Ultimately, the bland characters, inconsistencies in the story and the sadly underdeveloped romance in The Brooding Duke of Danforth combine to make it a below average read and I can’t recommend it.

End Transmission (Galactic Cold War #3) by Robyn Bachar

This title may be purchased from Amazon

Maria Watson defied her family to join the Mombasa as Chief Engineer, finding her place among a ragtag fleet of pirates and privateers. Their latest mission left her with a price on her head and a scar on her heart. When a surprise attack separates her from her ship, stranding her in hostile space with a stolen Soviet weapon, she’ll do whatever it takes to uncover that weapon’s secrets—even sacrifice herself.

Broken by the war, Combat Medic Tomas Nyota spent years drowning his sorrows in the bottom of a bottle. Sober, he found a new purpose as the Mombasa’s Chief Medical Officer. His job is to keep the crew alive, even the brilliant but contrary Chief Engineer with whom he’s constantly at odds.

Trapped together in a stolen ship, running from both the Alliance and the Soviets, they must work together to survive. But when the weapon’s horrific purpose is uncovered, their quest becomes a race against time. They must expose the truth and destroy the weapon—before it’s too late.

Rating: C

I enjoyed Relaunch Mission, the first book in Robyn Bachar’s Galactic Cold War series, set in a future in which the Cold War never ended and which follows the adventures of the members of the crew of the privateer ship Mombasa.  I somehow missed the second book, Contingency Plan, but decided to pick up this third instalment anyway;  although I would probably have benefited from reading the previous book, the author includes enough information about what happened there for me not to have felt too lost.

Because this is the third in a series with an overarching plotline, there will be spoilers for the earlier books in this review.

When End Transmission opens, we find Mombasa’s chief engineer Maria Watson and ship’s surgeon (and the captain’s brother) Tomas Nyota at a small lab at an ex-mining facility attempting to analyse the tiny Project Compliance prototype they managed to get hold of at the end of book two, a mind control device developed by the Soviets that they plan to implant (secretly) among the population.   The task is proving frustratingly difficult; there’s to be no way to open it up and it’s resistant to scans – and as it’s the only one they have, they can’t do anything that might risk destroying it.  While Tomas and Maria are arguing about different approaches, alarms start blaring out and on contacting the Mombasa are told to get back fast – there’s a fleet of ships from the Soviet Navy about to arrive.  Before Maria and Tomas can make a move, there’s an explosion at the facility that sees Tomas injured by falling debris and cuts off their route to the Mombasa.  Their only option now is to escape aboard the Tiger Shark, a small ship (formerly property of the Soviets) docked at the opposite end at the base.

Having patched Tomas up as well as she can, the pair make their way to the ship and have to fight their way through enemy ships and a minefield in an edge-of-the-seat sequence that sees them finally get away by the skin of their teeth, but not without damage to the ship.  The Tiger Shark needs repairs and for that, they need to find a safe port where they can get what they need and lie-low while Maria fixes the ship as best she can.  On the run from the Soviets and the Alliance – which has labelled the Mombasa crew as wanted terrorists – Maria and Tomas have only each other to depend on as they race against time to find out more about Project Compliance and make their way to their rendezvous with the Mombasa.

End Transmission is fast-paced and action packed, and as I’ve said before, has the feel of a TV show with its fast edits and non-stop action. There’s no doubt the author knows how to keep things moving and how to write an action sequence, but the trouble is here that there’s just too much going on.  I lost count of the times Maria and Tomas were shot at, blown up, beat up, drugged and had to get themselves out of really tight corners in the first half of the novel alone – and in practically every case, they were saved thanks to Maria’s trusty tablet, Tabby, who, it seemed, was programmed to do everything from analyse a toxin and prepare and administer an antidote to setting off explosions, car alarms and connecting with pretty much any security, navigation, communication, power and other computer network imaginable.  Tabby really is a deus ex machina, a device that can do practically anything when our heroes are backed into a corner or need important information.

Reading through our review of Contingency Plan, I note the same issues with the romance as I had in the first book – and I’m going to say the same thing about this one, which is that the romance is very much secondary to the plot and is sadly underdeveloped. Maria and Tomas spend the first two thirds of the story getting on each other’s nerves, and although there’s an undercurrent of attraction between them, it’s fairly slight.  Then when they finally get back to the Mombassa, they go from ‘you’re hot but you annoy the crap outta me’ to ‘let’s have sex and get it out of our systems’.  It’s a common trope to be sure, but not generally one I like all that much, because of course it never works and I often feel it’s just a way for authors to shoe-horn in some sex scenes their characters aren’t otherwise ready for; they haven’t really built a relationship and can’t (for some reason) say, ‘hey, I like you so let’s shag’ so there has to be all this ‘I want you but can’t admit it, so let’s shag and then I can walk away’ nonsense.

While there’s an attempt at character development at a deeper level, we’re told rather than shown what makes these two tick.  Maria comes from a very traditional background and her family thinks she should be getting married and having babies rather than working as an engineer, and Tomas suffers PTSD as a result of horrific wartime experiences and is a recovering addict who screwed up his marriage and still battles his saviour complex.  Once they’ve both admitted these hang-ups to each other, they agree to try to do better – or ‘reprogram’ their behaviours as Tomas suggests wryly – but it’s all quite superficial and actually, the vibe they give off is more that of affectionately  exasperated siblings than a couple who are romantically involved.

End Transmission ties up the overarching plot of the series – the search for the mind-control weapon and its destruction – neatly, and delivers a quick (if not especially believable) HEA for Tomas and Maria.  It’s a fast, easy read, and I liked the worldbuilding and political background to the story but I never got caught up in it or became invested in the characters.  The lack of depth I mentioned in my review of Relaunch Mission was more of an issue for me here,  I suspect because the characters were pushed from one perilous situation to another so quickly that I didn’t have time to take in what had just happened before the next thing went wrong.  I was also annoyed by the frequent use of Tabby the get-out-of-jail-free tablet and had to raise an eyebrow near the end, when a character is critically injured one minute, and able to run, shoot a gun and then man a weapons system aboard ship the next.

If you’ve been following the series and want to know how it all works out then you may want to pick up End Transmission for the sake of completeness, but I can’t really recommend it otherwise.