Well Met (Well Met #1) by Jen DeLuca (audiobook) – Narrated by Brittany Pressley

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

Emily knew there would be strings attached when she relocated to the small town of Willow Creek, Maryland, for the summer to help her sister recover from an accident, but who could anticipate getting roped into volunteering for the local Renaissance Faire alongside her teenaged niece? Or that the irritating and inscrutable schoolteacher in charge of the volunteers would be so annoying that she finds it impossible to stop thinking about him?

The faire is Simon’s family legacy and from the start he makes clear he doesn’t have time for Emily’s lighthearted approach to life, her oddball Shakespeare conspiracy theories, or her endless suggestions for new acts to shake things up. Yet on the faire grounds he becomes a different person, flirting freely with Emily when she’s in her revealing wench’s costume. But is this attraction real, or just part of the characters they’re portraying?

This summer was only ever supposed to be a pit stop on the way to somewhere else for Emily, but soon she can’t seem to shake the fantasy of establishing something more with Simon or a permanent home of her own in Willow Creek.

Rating: Narration – B+; Content – C+

There was quite a bit of pre-publication buzz about Jen Deluca’s Well Met, and positive reviews together with the fact that I’ve enjoyed Brittany Pressley’s work in the past suggested it would be an audiobook I’d enjoy, so I requested a copy for review. The final verdict? Mixed feelings. The narration is excellent, but the story and characters felt somewhat underdeveloped. I also missed the dual PoV that’s common in so many contemporary romances. There’s a reason we don’t get the hero’s perspective, but the lack of it does make him seem rather two-dimensional, which, for a hero-centric reader/listener like me, wasn’t ideal.

After losing her job and breaking up with her long-term boyfriend, Emily has temporarily relocated to the small Maryland town of Willow Creek to be with her older sister, who is recuperating from a car accident. She figures it’s as good a place as any to lick her wounds and figure out where she goes from here. Emily has also assumed the role of ‘Adult in Charge’ when it comes to her niece, Caitlin, and when the story opens has driven her to the local high school on a Saturday morning so that Caitlin can sign up to take part in the town’s annual Renaissance Faire. Cait is very excited about joining the faire for the first time – but Emily isn’t so enthusiastic when she’s informed that because her niece is only fourteen, she won’t be able to ‘do Faire’ unless she’s accompanied by an adult. Gah! But what can Emily do? Cait is so excited and would be SO disappointed not to be able to take part so Emily agrees… although her first glimpse of the gorgeous Mitch – “Tall, blond, muscled, with a great head of hair and a tight T-shirt. Gaston crossed with Captain America with a generic yet mesmerising handsomeness” is what really tips the balance.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

This Earl of Mine (Bow Street Bachelors #1) by Kate Bateman

This title may be purchased from Amazon

WILL A FALSE MARRIAGE

Shipping heiress Georgiana Caversteed is done with men who covet her purse more than her person. Even worse than the ton’s lecherous fortune hunters, however, is the cruel cousin determined to force Georgie into marriage. If only she could find a way to be . . . widowed? Georgie hatches a madcap scheme to wed a condemned criminal before he’s set to be executed. All she has to do is find an eligible bachelor in prison to marry her, and she’ll be free. What could possibly go wrong?

LEAD TO TRUE AND LASTING LOVE?

Benedict William Henry Wylde, scapegrace second son of the late Earl of Morcott and well-known rake, is in Newgate prison undercover, working for Bow Street. Georgie doesn’t realize who he is when she marries him—and she most certainly never expects to bump into her very-much-alive, and very handsome, husband of convenience at a society gathering weeks later. Soon Wylde finds himself courting his own wife, hoping to win her heart since he already has her hand. But how can this seductive rogue convince brazen, beautiful Georgie that he wants to be together… until actual death do they part?

Rating: C+

Kate Bateman – or K.C. Bateman as she was known then – made her début as an author of historical romance in 2016 and To Steal a Heart impressed me to such a degree that I counted her as one of the “finds” of the year.  To date, she’s published four historical romances and I’ve rated them all fairly highly, so I was really pleased to learn she was writing a new series – Bow Street Bachelors – and snapped up a review copy of the first book as soon as I could get my hands on one.  This Earl of Mine is very well-written, Ms. Bateman keeps the sexual tension bubbling nicely and I’m always up for a marriage-of-convenience plotline, but ultimately, this book lacks the spark and energy of her earlier ones. The leads are likeable but unmemorable, the same is true of the plot – and if I never again read a historical heroine in her early twenties who  learned the family business at her father’s knee and who has inherited it from him but never seems to do much by way of actually running it, it’ll be too soon.

The set-up, though, is cute, if rather implausible.  Twenty-four-year-old Georgina Caversteed, who now runs the shipping empire built by her late father, is desperate to avoid being trapped into marriage by her odious cousin Josiah, and decides upon an equally desperate course of action.  He can’t trap her if she’s already married; but having a husband will automatically mean losing control of the business, so she instead decides to find herself a convict who is due for execution and marry him.  After all, as a widow she’ll have more freedom than she would as a wife.  Her faithful servant, Pieter, has found the perfect candidate in Newgate – except that the man dies before the ceremony can be performed, and with no other felons sentenced to death available (!), Georgie is forced to make the best of a bad lot and instead ends up marrying a sailor sentenced to transportation.  She won’t be a widow, but her husband will be on the other side of the world, which is the next best thing.

Benedict Wylde, brother of the Earl of Morcott, served with Wellington’s army and following Napoléon’s defeat at Waterloo, is now working for the government trying to root out a group of smugglers who are plotting to rescue the deposed emperor from his prison on St. Helena.  He infiltrated the gang and was arrested and imprisoned with them in hopes of discovering more about their plans, but has so far found out little. He thinks the young woman who arrives at the prison offering him five hundred pounds to marry her must have taken leave of her senses, but has no way of evading the marriage without blowing his cover or getting a serious beating from the well-bribed gaoler. Ben doesn’t want to get married, but goes along with it, sure he’ll be able to find a way out of it later on.

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

Wicked Lies Boys Tell by K. Webster (audiobook) – Narrated by Teddy Hamilton and Jacob Morgan

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon.

I’m in love with my best friend.

Lie.

I’m in love with my enemy.

Truth.

But they’re the same.

They. Are. The. Same.

Lines in my world are blurry between fantasy and reality. Truth and lies. Love and hate.

Copeland Justice is my enemy. My once best friend. The sadist in my heart plucking and pulling at every thread of who I am until I’m unraveled at his feet.

His mouth says he hates me. His eyes burn with animosity for me. His heart beats for someone else.

But Copeland Justice is the best liar of us all.

Rating: Narration – A; Content – C-

That right there, those names listed in the “narrated by” part of the header tell you precisely why I picked up Wicked Lies Boys Tell. And as expected, Teddy Hamilton and Jacob Morgan aced the narration in this New Adult GFY story about two long-term friends who fall out and then fall in love, their terrific performances helping to paper over the cracks in the story – of which there are quite a few; tempering the predictability and softening the sharp edges of some of the more obvious stereotyping.

Penn McAlister and Copeland (Cope) Justice have lived next-door to each other all their lives and have been best friends ever since they can remember. But that all changed one night when they were sixteen and Penn, who had known for quite some time that he liked boys and not girls, and liked his best friend the best of all, kissed Cope and Cope punched him in the face.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

His to Defend (NOLA Knights #1) by Rhenna Morgan

This title may be purchased from Amazon

His world. His rules. Her love.

Though his methods may be rough, when it comes to protecting what’s his, Russian vor Sergei Petrovyh’s heart is always in the right place. That’s never been more true than when the gorgeous Evette Labadie asks him for a job. He knows enough to keep his hands off someone as beloved by the locals as Evie, but there’s something about her that calls to him—no matter how badly he burns to make her his.

Don’t think Evie hasn’t noticed the powerful Russian mafia boss who makes her favorite diner a regular stop. How can she not? He’s as hot as his reputation is dangerous. But everyone in her struggling New Orleans neighborhood knows he’s the man to turn to. And right now she needs money to get her son out of trouble.

Her other needs—needs she knows damn well Sergei can more than satisfy—will have to wait.

Evie soon finds herself playing Cinderella to a man who, despite what people believe, is definitely more prince than villain. She can’t help falling deeper in love with each passing day. But when a turf war between Sergei and a rival brings violence to her doorstep, Evie must come to grips with loving a man who will do anything to defend her…or walk away from her best chance at a happily-ever-after of her very own.

Rating: C-

I haven’t read a book by Rhenna Morgan before, so when I saw she was starting a new series, I decided that was as good a place as any to jump in and picked up His to Defend – first in her new NOLA Knights series – for review. The novel starts well, introducing and fleshing out the main characters quickly and smoothly, but the bulk of the story moves at a snail’s pace, and while the sex-scenes are steamy and well-written, the romance goes from zero to sixty so fast I was in danger of whiplash.

Single mother Evie Labadie has been dismissed from her cleaning job, and needs to find another job quickly if she’s going to be able to scrape together the money for her seven-year-old’s school fees. Entering the diner owned and run by her oldest friend (where her son Emerson waits for her after school), Evie notices – not for the first time – the large, charismatic and very handsome man sitting quietly in a booth at the back – and decides this might finally be the time to ask for his help.

Sergei Petrovyh is Russian Bratva and everyone around there knows it. Since moving to New Orleans, he’s been slowly helping the community, ridding the streets of the scum who prey on the locals, intent on earning their loyalty by protecting them when they can’t protect themselves – all with the aim of controlling the majority of the enterprise in the area and wiping out the competition. He’s known to be ruthless but fair, trading in favours and quid pro quo – and hasn’t missed the way Evie, the neighbourhood darling, always looks at him whenever she sees him at the diner. He likes the boldness of her unabashed perusals, the way her gaze challenges him – but has never pursued her, knowing the respect he is working to earn within the community would take a serious hit were he to mess around with her. He’s surprised – and pleased – when Evie approaches him to ask for his help getting a new job, and decides on the spot that helping her is the perfect way to further his plans to ingratiate himself with the community; everybody knows and loves Evie, so helping her helps him, too.

Evie had no idea that when Sergei told her to turn up at a gorgeous, plantation style house in the Garden District on Monday morning that she was going to be working for him – and living in – managing his house and estate, and no idea that bringing her into his personal space was a statement of intent on his part.  The attraction Evie already feels for Sergei  only grows more powerful  the more she witnesses his kindness towards Emerson and his obvious respect and consideration for her;  and Sergei is determined to make her his, no matter his belief that he’s undeserving of the “touch of someone so light and good” because “the darkness in him was too thick.”

I realised, as I was reading this, that I haven’t read a romance in which the hero is a mobster before.  But now I have read one, I confess that I’m somewhat ambivalent.  In this story Sergei is a great guy and perfect romantic hero material (if you’re into alpha males with a capital ‘A’.)  The author makes it clear what he does for a living – and there’s a scene towards the end of the book that reinforces that – he never lies to Evie, never tries to sugarcoat the truth of what he does and she goes into the relationship with her eyes open, knowing where Sergei’s money comes from and accepting the possible dangers that come with being in a relationship with a man like him.  We’re told that Sergei and his crew have cleaned up the streets of the district, and that he’s working to make life better for those in the area – he’s an ‘enlightened’ mobster if you will – but I still couldn’t quite ignore the ‘mobster’ part of that phrase.  I know the crime boss with a heart of gold is a popular trope… I’m just not sure it’s one for me.

I was also very much NOT impressed in the scene in which Sergei and Evie get carried away and, in the heat of the moment, have unprotected sex.  When Evie expresses her dismay afterwards, Sergei’s response is to say that Emerson will make a great big brother and then:  “… we will not be using condoms again. I will not have anything between me and my bride.”

He’s magnanimous enough to say that she can use other contraception (my words), but honestly, I wished she’d just kneed him in the balls and stormed off.

Evie is an engaging heroine. Life hasn’t dealt her the best of hands – her parents are dead and the only relative she has left is a scumbag uncle she avoids – but she’s clever, resourceful and independent, she’s a good mother and Emerson is her main priority – and I appreciated that the author doesn’t send her down the TSTL path when the opportunity opens up.  Emerson is a cute kid, but Ms. Morgan keeps on telling us how serious he is for a seven-year-old and that he’s old for his years, so that it eventually starts to sound like an excuse: ‘hey, I know he sounds like a teenager, but I couldn’t make him that old without putting Evie into her mid-thirties!’

I had a problem with the pacing of the romance as well.  When Evie first approaches Sergei in the diner, he doesn’t intend to make a move – mostly because he’s so bad and she’s so good (eyeroll).  But within a couple of chapters, he’s done an about-face and is actively pursuing her, and after not much longer is making it clear he wants something permanent with her.  It’s too fast and without much foundation; sure Evie’s a great person – funny, sexy, compassionate and a good mother, but Sergei goes from ‘she’s too good for me’ to ‘Mine!Mine!Mine!’ so fast I thought I’d skipped a few chapters.  The overall pacing was pretty slow, too, with large chunks of not much happening in the middle and then a bit of a suspense plot introduced near the end.

There are plenty of four and five star reviews of His to Defend on Goodreads that seem to put my opinions in a minority. On the plus side, the writing is strong, the central characters are likeable and I enjoyed the suspense element introduced in the last part of the story, but maybe this author – or this trope – just isn’t for me.

Her Steadfast Hero/Her Devoted Hero (Black Dawn #1 & #2) by Caitlyn O’Leary (audiobook) – Narrated by Aiden Snow

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

Her Steadfast Hero (Book 1)

When the hospital is overrun by the most brutal of convicts that escaped during the earthquake, and an American doctor is held for ransom, the Navy SEAL unit Black Dawn is called in. Can David Sloane and Black Dawn rescue Dr. Carys Adams before it is too late? Through all the turmoil will David and Sarah realize that their time has finally come, and they were meant to be together?

Her Devoted Hero (Book 2)

When one of her co-workers is murdered and it looks like Kenna might be the next one in the killer’s crosshairs, Dex is determined to keep her safe. But with a target on her back, it’s really hard to keep a shield over her heart.

Rating: Narration: B; Content: D/C

This audiobook consists of instalments one and two in Caitlyn O’Leary’s Black Dawn series of romantic suspense stories featuring the Black Dawn Navy SEAL team. I’m a fan of the genre and am always on the lookout for new titles to listen to, plus Aiden Snow is a very experienced narrator, so I thought I’d give these stories a try. In the end, I found Her Devoted Hero to be the more enjoyable of the two; the story was more interesting and the romance a little better developed, while Her Steadfast Hero suffered from what I call “novella-itis” in that it felt rushed and everything – plot, characterisation and romance –were very superficial.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

The Duchess in His Bed (Sins for All Seasons #4) by Lorraine Heath (audiobook) – Narrated by Kate Reading

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

For a duchess with practical desires, falling in love is an inconceivable part of her plan…

As owner of the Elysium Club which caters to women’s fantasies, Aiden Trewlove is accustomed to introducing adventurous ladies to sin and vice. But he is uncharacteristically intrigued by the mysterious beauty who visits his club one night, yearning to indulge in the forbidden – with him. Drawn to her indomitable spirit, he breaks his rule of never becoming personally involved with his clientele and is determined to fully awaken her desires.

A recent widow, Selena Sheffield, Duchess of Lushing, has never known passion, not until Aiden’s slow, sensual seduction leads her on a journey of discovery and incredible pleasure. But her reasons for visiting the notorious club are not all that they seem.

As Selena’s motives become complicated by love, she finds herself with a most unexpected choice: forge ahead with a secret plan that could secure her future – or follow her heart which could prove ruinous.

Rating: Narration: A; Content: C+

I’ve said before that I’m a fan of Lorraine Heath’s and it’s no secret that Kate Reading is one of my all-time favourite narrators. But The Duchess in His Bed, book four in the Sins for All Seasons series was a real slog and I had difficulty getting through it. The plot is fairly simple, albeit one that presented certain ethical dilemmas, but there was so much padding that I zoned out for periods of time, and found that so little had happened during those periods that I didn’t need to rewind to catch up with what was going on.

Her Grace, Selena, Duchess of Lushing, has been recently widowed. Hers was an arranged marriage, but her husband was a good man and while she wasn’t in love with him, she did love him and is genuinely grieving for him. Or she would be, if she had the time to grieve, but she doesn’t, due to another pressing concern. She and Lushing have no children and he came from a family that was not only short-lived, but also not prolific when it came to procreation. Thus, there are no male heirs to his title or the wealth that goes with it and everything will pass to the crown, leaving Selena with a comfortable income, but not one comfortable enough to enable her to ensure her sisters make good matches. Her brother, the Earl of Camberley, spends most of his time and money gaming and living the high life, despite the parlous state of the family finances, so there will be no help for her sisters coming from that quarter. But Camberley comes up with an incredibly risky plan. If Selena can bear a child within ten months of her husband’s death, he or she will be recognised as Lushing’s legitimate heir. If the baby is a boy, he’ll become the next duke, it it’s a girl, the title will pass into escheat, but the entailment is constructed in such a way as to allow a female to inherit the wealth and lands of the dukedom and will thus retain an elevated position in society.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

The Wolf at the Door (Big Bad Wolf #1) by Charlie Adhara (audiobook) – Narrated by Erik Bloomquist

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

Hunting for big bad wolves was never part of Agent Cooper Dayton’s plan, but a werewolf attack lands him in the carefully guarded Bureau of Special Investigations. A new case comes with a new partner: ruggedly sexy werewolf Oliver Park.

Park is an agent of The Trust, a werewolf oversight organization working to ease escalating tensions with the BSI. But as far as Cooper’s concerned, it’s failing. As they investigate a series of mysterious deaths unlike anything they’ve seen, every bone in Cooper’s body is suspicious of his new partner – even when Park proves himself as competent as he is utterly captivating.

When more people vanish, pressure to solve the case skyrockets. And though he’d resolved to keep things professional, Cooper’s friction with Park soon erupts…into a physical need that can’t be contained or controlled. But with a body count that’s rising by the day, werewolves and humans are in equal danger. If Cooper and Park don’t catch the killer soon, one – or both – of them could be the next to go.

Rating: Narration: C-; Content: A-

Charlie Adhara’s Big Bad Wolf series of romantic suspense novels with a paranormal twist was a surprise hit for me given I’m not usually a fan of shifter/werewolf stories. But I was persuaded to pick up the first book – The Wolf at the Door – last year by one of my fellow AAR reviewers, and was immediately hooked by the unique premise and the skilful way in which the author combined romance, mystery and paranormal elements into an exciting and entertaining procedural drama. I’d hoped that perhaps the series would make it into audio, and was really excited when I saw it pop up on a forthcoming release list… although that excitement was tempered slightly by the fact that the narrator was new-to-me and because Tantor doesn’t have the greatest track record when it comes to selecting the right narrator for the job.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.