Bennet: Pride Before the Fall (Love, Austen #3) by Anyta Sunday

Bennet Pride Before the Fall

This title may be purchased from Amazon

“I want someone to want me for who I am. No changing my appearance or philosophies or principles. I need a partner to be proud of me—in public and beyond—and proud of themselves.”

“Think you’ll find it?”

~ ~ ~

Bennet had always dreamed of love. Of finding his Mr. Right.

Hell, he’d even settle for Mr. Righteous.

Who he won’t fall for, not ever? Mr. Downright Pride-less.

It’s Pride and Prejudice, complete with scumbaggery, anguished declaration of desire, meddling villagers, Karaoke, Scrabble, and Pride.

Rating: C-

Anyta Sunday is a popular author of m/m romances, but I haven’t read anything of hers so far, and I decided to dip my toe into the water with Bennet, Pride Before the Fall, book three in her Love, Austen series.  As you’ll probably glean from those titles, the series comprises queer re-workings/re-imaginings of Jane Austen’s novels (so they all stand alone) and this one is based on Pride and Prejudice.  It hits all the beats of the original, but it lacks depth and feels very episodic as it jumps from one plot point to another, seemingly trying to cram them all in while not developing characters or relationships – or, in fact, doing anything new other than making the two protagonists men who are a bit older than those in Austen’s beloved classic.

Bennet Keene is forty-five and works as a freelance editor of gay romance novels.  He’s out and proud, flirts for fun and likes no-strings sex occasionally, but ultimately, he’s searching for deep, meaningful love. Sadly, that hasn’t happened so far, and living in the small village of Cubworthy as he does, it doesn’t seem likely to.  His much younger brother Lyon lives with him, but their relationship is a bit strained; Lyon is fifteen and Bennet has been absent from his life since Lyon was a toddler, returning to Cobworthy only after the recent deaths of their parents.  Bennet wants to take care of Lyon, who, full of teenaged hormones and resentment, doesn’t think he needs looking after.

Bennet’s friend Charlie runs the local pub, and Bennet heads there one evening with the intention of having a chat with Caroline Bingley, the self-appointed Queen Bee of the village, who is every bit as snobbish and bitchy as the original Caroline. Bennet is planning to organise a Pride event in the village this year and plans to tap Caroline for some funding – but before he can approach her, he bumps into someone he’s seen only once before – while out riding that morning, in fact – an attractive man of around his own age whose dark eyes and commanding presence make Bennet feel slightly lightheaded.  He realises this must be the owner of the nearby Silverfield estate, Darcy Tilney – and Bennet immediately susses out that while the other man clearly liked what he saw when giving Bennet the once-over, he didn’t like that he liked it.  And a man who denies or takes no pride in who he is isn’t the man for Bennet.

It’s Karaoke Night, and when Bennet is talked into getting up on stage, Charlie’s dad invites Darcy to get up there with him (because Darcy’s son is bisexual… so that means he must want to sing with Bennet?  I’m not sure if that’s dumb or insulting.  Both, probably).  Of course, the very staid Darcy brusquely refuses to do so.  Honestly, I didn’t blame him; I’d probably have turned down a request  to get up and make an arse of myself in front of a crowd of people I didn’t know! It’s a very different thing from refusing to dance with someone because they’re not handsome enough to tempt you!

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

Up Close and Personal (Auckland Med #3) by Jay Hogan (audiobook) – Narrated by Gary Furlong

up close and personal

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

Detective Mark Knight has a serious problem – one that comes in the form of Auckland Med’s brand-new forensic pathologist. Six feet of delicious blond-haired, scary smart, stern, and disapproving hotness – Dr. Edward R. Newton.

The man is miles out of Mark’s league – completely opposite in almost every way and shockingly immune to Mark’s flirtations. Mark should just let him go. But the alluring doctor has taken residence in Mark’s brain and is messing with his life’s plan – in particular Mark’s determination to skirt attachments and all the self-absorbed drama that goes with them.

Mark has spent two years watching his friends drop like flies to the white picket virus, only to suddenly find himself hankering for a hammer and some white paint. Edward, however, doesn’t want a bar of Mark’s roguish charm.

But it’s not like Mark can avoid the sexy pathologist – death brings them together on a regular basis. So, when a string of murders threatens both their lives and sends them into hiding, something has to give.

Rating: Narration – B+; Content – C+

This third instalment in Jay Hogan’s Auckland Med series has a bit of a romantic suspense vibe going on, as the two leads – one a detective, one a pathologist – become embroiled in a murder investigation that poses a threat to their lives. I enjoyed Up Close and Personal when I read it on release in early 2020; the frenemies-to-lovers romance is a sexy slow-burn and the leads are likeable guys who actually *gasp* talk to each other about what’s happening between them, but I’m sorry to say there were things that just didn’t hold up this time around – mainly I think because I’m more apt to spot certain weaknesses in audio than I am in print.

When the story begins, Dr. Edward Newton, the (relatively) newly installed pathologist at Auckland Med., has arrived at a remote location where he’s tasked with inspecting a body that’s been washed ashore on a nearby beach. Because the weather is atrocious, the body is being temporarily housed in a tent on site – and Edward’s heart sinks when he enters to begin his examination and discovers that the lead detective on the investigation is Mark Knight, who, in all of the three months they’ve known each other, has never passed up an opportunity to flirt with him – and has made no secret of the fact that he’d like to do a lot more than flirt. As usual, Edward ignores or rebuffs the detective’s innuendo and gets on with the job at hand – while wondering why, given Mark is not his type by a long chalk, he is nonetheless attracted to him.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

Profiling a Killer (Behavioral Analysis Unit #1) by Nichole Severn

profiling a killer uk

This title may be purchased from Amazon

He knows killers. But can he protect her from one?

Special Agent Nicholas James knows serial killers. After all, he was practically raised by one and later became a Behavioural Analysis Unit Specialist to put them behind bars. But Dr Aubrey Flood’s sister’s murder is his highest stakes case yet. His professional history with the beautiful medical examiner is legendary. So is their attraction. But the clock is ticking if Nicholas is to stop Aubrey doesn’t become another victim.

Rating: C-

Nicole Severn’s Profiling a Killer is the first book in a new, multi-authored Romantic Suspense series featuring the characters who make up a BAU – Behavioural Analysis Unit – of the FBI based in Seattle.  It started well, but it wasn’t long before it became mired in cliché and dumb behaviour that made me question – repeatedly – the supposed intelligence of the characters.  The author attempts to give the two leads some interesting backstory, but the way this has affected them is told rather than shown (some of it so often it was like being hit over the head with it) and the identity of the killer was easy to work out.  Which all adds up to another not-great romantic suspense read.

Three years before this story begins, Nicholas James, Seattle BAU’s top profiler, helped to put away the serial killer known as the “X Marks the Spot Killer” because he would carve an X into the cheek of his victims and then leave clues as to the location of the body.  Cracking the case cemented Nicholas’ stellar reputation, but was devastating for him personally, as the murderer turned out to be someone he knew well and had grown up looking to as a father figure after his own father left when Nicholas was ten.  That discovery changed him, making him reluctant to trust and unable to take anyone at face value.

When Profiling a Killer opens, Nicholas has been called in to investigate the death of a young woman named Kara Flood, whose murder bears all the hallmarks of the X Marks the Spot killer. The victim was the sister of Dr. Aubrey Flood, the medical examiner who worked with Nicholas three years before and whose painstaking work on the autopsies of the killer’s final three victims finally brought to light the evidence needed to convict him.  Given the circumstances of her sister’s death, Aubrey specially requested Nicholas work the investigation;  and although she knows she can’t be officially involved, she needs to see that her sister gets justice and help that happen if she can.

It’s clear that there is a copycat out there – could the choice of victim somehow point to Aubrey being their real target?  Given her involvement with the previous investigation it seems likely – and Nicholas is determined to do everything he can to keep her safe while also tracking down the killer.

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

Flight (Texas Murder Files #2) by Laura Griffin (audiobook) – Narrated by Teri Clark Linden

flight

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

When former forensic photographer Miranda Rhoads moves to the seaside town of Lost Beach, she decides to make her living as a wildlife photographer, putting crime scenes behind her. But her plans are quickly upended when she comes across a couple sleeping in a canoe, entwined in an embrace. Looking closer, she realizes the man and woman aren’t asleep – they’ve been murdered.

Detective Joel Breda sets out to find answers – not only about the unidentified victims in the marshy death scene but also about the aloof and beautiful photographer who seems to know more about his investigation than he does.

As they begin to unravel the motivation of a merciless serial killer, Miranda and Joel must race against the clock to make an arrest before the killer finds them first.

Rating:  Narration – C+; Content – B-

Flight is book two in Laura Griffin’s Texas Murder Files series; I read book one, Hidden, when it came out last year but the two are only connected tangentially (the heroines are sisters) so Flight works perfectly well as a standalone. I’ve enjoyed a number of books by this author, but – and I had this issue with the previous book in the series as well – the balance between the two elements of the story is unequal and the plot is developed at the expense of the romance. Fortunately, the plot in Flight is interesting and well-developed enough to have held my interest, and as usual, Ms. Griffin provides lots of interesting background about forensics and police procedures.

Blaming herself when a mistake by one of her team led to the collapse of the case against a child-murderer, CSI Miranda Rhoads – a specialist in forensic photography – quit her job, took up a teaching position in San Antonio and moved to the Texas seaside town of Lost Beach hoping to regroup and centre herself again. She likes the slower pace and the quiet, and is (sort of) making a living as a nature photographer – which is why she’s out on the marshes at the crack of dawn waiting for the perfect shot when she finds a canoe tethered in the reeds… containing the dead bodies of a young couple, their arms entwined as though in sleep, a feather held in one of the young woman’s hands.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

Devilry (King University #2) by Marley Valentine (audiobook) – Narrated by Cooper North and Aiden Snow

devilry

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

Attending King University was at the top of my bucket list. Falling in love with my professor wasn’t. 

Earning a full scholarship to King University was my hard-earned ticket out of hell. I’m happy to be away from the small town I grew up in and all the equally small-minded people who live there.

King was going to be my safe haven. A place where I could leave the old me behind and finally grow into the young man my family had desperately tried to hide away.

Diving head first into new experiences, new friends, and parties, I didn’t expect to run straight into the one thing I wasn’t ready for.

His arms are welcoming, his body is addictive and his lips are heaven. Cole Huxley is everything I could fall in love with, except for one problem…I never wanted to fall for my professor.

Rating: Narration – B+; Content – C

Having enjoyed Marley Valentine’s Without You, I was pleased to learn another of her books would be making it into audio format, and seeing that Devilry also had two excellent narrators attached, I eagerly requested a review copy. Caveat Emptor, I suppose, because while Cooper North and Aiden Snow are great, I’m really struggling to remember much about the actual story. Which is, quite possibly, because there isn’t very much of it, and what there IS is stretched very thinly for an almost ten hour audiobook.

Elijah Williams comes from a small town in Texas filled with small-minded people – including his ultra conservative parents – and couldn’t get out of there fast enough. He’s been the subject of his father’s criticism all his life, but when, aged sixteen, Elijah was discovered making out with another boy, things went from bad to worse. His father – the local pastor – pretty much disowned him and hasn’t spoken to him since. Two years later, Elijah has earned a scholarship to the prestigious King University in Washington DC, and hopes at last to be able to live honestly and on his own terms.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals

Mine Till Midnight (Hathaways #1) by Lisa Kleypas (audiobook) – Narrated by Rosalyn Landor

mine till midnight

Their lives defy convention . . .

When an unexpected inheritance elevates her family to the ranks of the aristocracy, Amelia Hathaway discovers that tending to her younger sisters and wayward brother was easy compared to navigating the intricacies of the ton. Even more challenging: the attraction she feels for the tall, dark and dangerously handsome Cam Rohan.

Their desire consumes them both . . .

Wealthy beyond most men’s dreams, Cam has tired of society’s petty restrictions and longs to return to his ‘uncivilized’ Gypsy roots. When the delectable Amelia appeals to him for help, he intends to offer only friendship – but intentions are no match for the desire that blindsides them both. Can a man who spurns tradition be tempted into that most time-honoured arrangement: marriage? Life in London society is about to get a whole lot hotter . . .

Rating: Narration – A; Content – C+

Mine Till Midnight is book one in Lisa Kleypas’s series about the Hathaway family; it was published in 2007 and an audio recording – with Rosalyn Landor at the microphone – was released in 2009. That version was never available worldwide however; only one or two of the series was actually available in the UK before now (the same is true of the earlier and perennially popular (pun intended!) Wallflower series.) Last year, I noticed first two or three titles in the Hathaways series appearing at Audible UK and immediately assumed that they were reissues of the 2009 recordings – but they’re not; they’re brand new recordings.

The five Hathaway siblings were not born to wealth and privilege. Instead, they were thrust into the upper echelons of society when Leo – the only male sibling – inherited a viscountcy from a distant relative, although unfortunately, the title comes with only a modest fortune. Leo has been in a downward spiral for the last year or so, since the death of the young woman he planned to marry, which is how come we first meet our heroine Amelia – the oldest of the four female Hathaways – as she is planning to drag Leo out of Jenner’s (the club owned by Sebastian St. Vincent). She’s accompanied by her adoptive brother Merripen – a Rom (here’s one change from the original – “Gypsy” has been changed to “Rom”) – and they pull up outside the club in time to witness an altercation between some obviously drunk patrons who are vying for the attentions of a prostitute. Before things can get nasty, the fight is broken up by another man – a younger one with dark hair, gleaming hazel eyes and the face of an angel who, for all he is dressed like a gentleman, obviously isn’t one. He’s Cam Rohan (also a Rom), the club’s manager – and just looking at him is enough to take Amelia’s breath away. But she quickly squashes the ripples of nerves and heat that run through her to focus on her reason for being there, irritated when Rohan waves off her concern for her brother as nothing to do with him. It’s only when Merripen speaks to him in their own language that he at last agrees to allow them inside to search for Leo, and on learning that Leo has left the club for a nearby brothel, and of Amelia’s intention to seek him out there, Cam arranges transportation and accompanies them to retrieve the errant viscount.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

Variable Onset by Layla Reyne (audiobook) – Narrated by Tristan James

variable onset

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

When the serial killer known as Dr. Fear seemingly reemerges after a cooling-off period, Special Agent Lincoln Monroe wants on the case. He knows his research on the calculating criminal, who targets couples and uses their worst fears to kill them, could prove invaluable. But nothing can prepare Lincoln for the agent waiting for him in Apex, Virginia: a brash and cocky former student. Carter Warren is everything Lincoln is not, and somehow everything he wants. And they’ll be going undercover. As newlyweds.

For Carter, seeing Lincoln again—and flustered to boot—pokes his raging bear of a crush something fierce. He thinks posing as lovers will provide the perfect bait for Dr. Fear. But pretending to be married forces them to confront fears of their own…like giving in to the very real chemistry between them.

With evidence pointing to the possibility of a copycat killer, Lincoln and Carter will have to race to separate truth from fiction. But when another couple goes missing, finding the killer will test every ounce of their training, skills and the strength of their bond like never before.

Rating – Narration: C+; Content – B+

I have a somewhat hot/cold relationship with Layla Reyne’s books. They can be a bit hit and miss for me, but I keep coming back to them because despite their flaws, they’re pretty entertaining. The author can create intensely likeable and compelling characters, and she’s great at constructing fast-paced action sequences and interesting plotlines, but at times those plots have been overly complicated and a bit frenetic, so much so that they’ve overshadowed the romance and left little space for character and relationship development. I loved her début Agents Irish and Whiskey series, but was less convinced by its spin-off, Trouble Brewing (even though I really liked the central characters) – so I was pleased when her standalone romantic suspense novel Variable Onset marked a welcome return to form.

The plot revolves around the hunt for an elusive serial killer known as Dr. Fear, who has been killing for many years but has so far evaded capture. Dr. Fear targets couples, kidnapping them and then torturing them by confronting them with their deepest fears until they beg for death – and acts in cycles, killing several victims and then going to ground for years before starting up again. When Variable Onset begins, they’ve just become active again – and for the first time ever, the FBI might just have a plausible lead as to their whereabouts.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

A Reluctant Boy Toy (Men of St. Nacho’s #3) by Z.A. Maxfield

a reluctant boy toy
This title may be purchased from Amazon
A physically scarred veteran. An emotionally scarred young actor. Can they let go of the past and find a future together?

Stone Wilder is happiest with his emotional support dog and the hybrid wolfdogs he rescues. They don’t react to his scars or call him queer because sex doesn’t interest him all that much. Maybe that’s why he doesn’t believe the rumors that paint gorgeous Sebastian Keye as an unprofessional “it boy.” To Stone, Sebastian is simply a nice kid who shares his interest in dogs.

Sebastian is drawn to Stone’s warmth and caring nature. With the help of his stalwart PA Molly, Sebastian and Stone begin a quiet friendship. But a video from Sebastian’s past suddenly goes viral, causing old hurts and humiliations to destroy his emotional stability and nearly cost him his life.

After Sebastian’s world falls apart, Stone wants to support him. But Stone has his own tortured past, and they can’t move forward unless he makes things right.

Will growing close to Sebastian lead Stone to a new understanding of who he is and what he wants?

Rating: C

I enjoyed the first two books in Z.A  Maxfield’s Men of St. Nacho’s series, so I was happy to pick up the third, A Reluctant Boy Toy for review.  I admit the title did give me pause for thought, but I like the author’s work so I pushed ahead, and for the first two-thirds or so of the book, thought I’d made a good decision.  But then it went completely off the rails, took a diversion into where-the-hell-did-that-come-from? town and crashed headlong into a rushed and unsatisfying ending.

But let’s start with the good stuff.  Thirty-nine-year-old military veteran Stone Wilder is an animal handler who is currently working with two wolf-hybrids on a location shoot for a popular teen-drama series.  He doesn’t normally do this sort of thing, but he’s stepped in to help out his sister Ariel, who is expecting her first baby any day.  He’s wrapped for the day and is about to take the hybrids back to the RV that is their temporary home when the assistant director tells Stone he’s going to have to move his rig – including all the training equipment and kennels  – from his spot, because their recently-arrived star, Sebastian Keye, demands  that nobody be within a half a mile radius of him; he needs “complete privacy” unless he’s on set.  The AD clearly doesn’t like Keye and thinks he’s a spoiled brat, and Stone isn’t best pleased either, but he can’t really do anything other than agree to the move.

Just as he’s finishing the conversation however, he gets his first sight of Sebastian Keye and starts to think that maybe his demand for privacy is more a need for self-preservation.  He’s an incredibly beautiful man and Stone can’t help but wonder if Keye – who makes his living in one of the most cutthroat businesses in the world – has learned the hard way that beauty such as his is a magnet for predators.   And if so, Stone really can’t fault his desire for distance.

Sebastian – Bast – is twenty-five and has spent almost his entire life in front of the camera, thanks to his pushy, manipulative mother who used him as a meal ticket.  He’s worked steadily, transitioning from child star to adult actor and making a solid name for himself – but a few years back, his reputation took a nose dive after some unpleasant accusations were levelled against him, and while they were proved untrue, mud sticks and he still has a name for being difficult to work with.  Bast has tried to move on and insists he doesn’t care what people say about him… but it’s clear he’s never really been able to completely get past what happened.

Stone hadn’t expected to have much to do with Sebastian Keye, so he’s surprised when the man shyly asks if he can introduce himself to the two hybrids and is obviously very impressed and a little in awe of them.  They get talking and it’s clear very quickly that Keye is nothing like the brattish diva the AD had described to Stone; he’s quiet and considered and very interested in the animals and the sanctuary in Colorado where they normally live, eagerly taking Stone up on the offer to visit as soon as his schedule permits.  Even more surprising is Sebastian’s invitation to have dinner with him; in Stone’s experience, the talent doesn’t mingle with lowly animal handlers, and beautiful people tend to avoid people like him, “as if my scars were contagious.”  But before he can think about it too hard, Stone accepts, and they arrange to meet the following evening for takeout at Stone’s RV.

This first part of the story is absolutely captivating as these two completely different, damaged individuals get to know each other and come to recognise something of a kindred spirit in the other.  Sebastian is attracted to Stone right from the start.  He’s always been into older men, and Stone’s kindness, his gentle humour and the unconditional love he shows to his animals strike a chord deep within him.  Stone doesn’t recognise Bast’s attraction at first though; sexual attraction – and sex – have not happened very often for him and he thinks maybe there’s something wrong with him. When he didn’t join in when his army buddies lusted over women, they thought maybe Stone was gay – but he never looked at guys either.  He’s had one lover in his life – his ex-wife Serena, whom he loved wholeheartedly until his stubborn refusal to seek help for his PTSD tore their marriage and family apart.

It’s clear however, that what he’s starting to feel for Bast is something other than friendship, even if he doesn’t immediately recognise it for what it is.  The attraction builds slowly and I enjoyed the warmth and honestly of their burgeoning relationship, the gradual lowering of the walls and barriers they’ve erected to keep themselves safe.

Their evolving relationship is thrown into chaos however when something from Sebastian’s past comes back to haunt him in a truly devastating way.  In order for him to heal – from both physical (he breaks both arms in an accident) and mental injuries – Stone suggests that he takes him back to the sanctuary in Colorado which should keep him away from prying eyes.  It’s after this happens, just after the halfway point that the wheels start to fall off the wagon.

It’s hard to say much without spoilers, but after the slow burn and gradual build-up of the first half, the second is rushed, and all the interesting storylines the author sets up just don’t pay off.  We never learn the true extent of what happened to Bast as a young actor to blight his career, and the plotline is not fully resolved. Stone finally realises he needs to reconnect with his ex-wife and kids in order to apologise for what he put them through – and while he does meet with them and has a long talk with Serena nothing is resolved there, either.  And while the book blurb promises a happy ever after, what we’re left with is an HFN – and a fairly flimsy one at that.

I also expected Stone’s realisation that he’s probably demisexual to have been handled more deftly than it is.  He and Bast don’t even discuss it; Stone tells his brother he’s been looking it up (the sexual spectrum) online and that he thinks he’s demi and maybe bi.  The one thing that worked for me about it was Stone being able at last to realise that he isn’t “some weird, cold dude who couldn’t be bothered with sex.”

Finally, the where-the-hell-did-that-come-from? thing I mentioned at the beginning.

WARNING: SPOILER

With two broken arms, Bast is unable to do most normal, everyday things – like eating and dressing – for himself, and Stone is only too happy to help him.  But Bast is uncomfortable because Stone doesn’t realise what it means to him; he likes Stone feeding him and doing things for him for reasons he thinks Stone will be angry about:

“It’s foreplay for me, okay… I feel weird getting turned on by something you’re doing out of ignorance and kindness. It’s creepy. That’s why you’d be mad.”

And then the penny drops for Stone:

Sebastian liked older men. Check.

Sebastian thought of feeding as foreplay. Check.

Sebastian got a boner when I bathed him. Check.

Sebastian wanted a Daddy. Check, check, check.

My main problem with this is – how does someone like Stone who, by his own admission, has never had much interest in sex and has had just one sexual partner, even know what a Daddy is in that context?!

Bast thinks that because he was “raised by a wonderful, loving and kind father”, he naturally wants “a partner like Stone, who reminded me of all my father’s best qualities…”

And all I could think was –  Recipe For Disaster.

I was really engaged by the characters and the set-up, and had the second part of the book continued in the same vein as the first, I’d be giving A Reluctant Boy-Toy a much higher grade.  But while the story had great potential, there are too many plot-threads left unresolved and the romance takes such an odd turn before rushing to a really abrupt conclusion that I’m afraid I can’t recommend it.

Silent Knight (Fog City #5) by Layla Reyne

silent knight
This title may be purchased from Amazon

I won’t let anything happen to you.

Fourteen years ago, Braxton Kane’s feelings were forbidden.
As an officer, he couldn’t fall for an enlisted… no matter how much he longed for Holt Madigan.
Now—as a police chief in love with a digital assassin—his promise to always protect Holt is becoming harder to keep.

I’ll protect you.

Holt doesn’t understand why his best friend has been pushing him away for months.
But when Brax’s life and career are threatened, Holt refuses to allow the distance any longer.
The Madigans protect their own, and Brax is family, whether he believes it or not.

I won’t let anything happen to you either.

Forced together, Holt realizes his feelings for his best friend have changed.
His desire to explore the promise their single night together held is undeniable.
His resolve to protect the man who has always protected him is unshakable.
But if Holt wants a future with Brax, he’ll have to search and destroy the person who attacked him—before Brax activates the kill switch and sacrifices himself.

Rating: C

NOTE: This review contains spoilers for the previous books in the series.

Layla Reyne’s Fog City series was originally a trilogy – or perhaps more accurately, one story in three parts – that featured the three Madigan siblings, the heirs to one of the most powerful organised crime families in the Bay Area of San Francisco. When the family patriarch and head of the business – their grandfather – dies after a long illness, Hawes Madigan – the eldest – steps into the role he’s been groomed for, but his decisions to turn away from some of the more illegal aspects of their work and towards more legitimate business interests aren’t popular, and the trilogy deals with uncovering and foiling the plot to bring him down. On the way, Hawes falls in love with Chris Perri (formerly an undercover ATF agent), and we’re introduced to a typically large secondary cast, which includes Hawes’ twin Holt, their sister Helena and various other operatives and villains. Among that cast is the character of Braxton Kane, Chief of SFPD, who was in the army with Holt over a decade earlier – and although Holt is married with a young daughter, it was very clear throughout the trilogy that there was something bubbling along between them that was considerably more than friendship. (And no, there’s no cheating involved.)

The relationship between Holt and Brax intrigued me (I do love me some yearning and UST) and I had hopes that maybe Ms. Reyne would write a story for them; and she did. Silent Knight is it.

It’s a book of two halves. The first, in Brax’s PoV, tells the story of how he and Holt met in the army and follows them in a series of vignettes (eight in total) over a period of some fourteen years, and then we get Holt’s PoV in the present day suspense storyline.

I was pleased to get their backstory, but OMG, it contains probably the worst case of Love at First Sight I’ve ever read, when Holt steps off the transport plane in Afghanistan and Brax – his captain – takes one look at the young, redheaded, fucking beautiful – and so off fucking limits – man and vows never to let anything happen to him:

He’d do whatever it took to make sure this soldier walked back up that ramp and made it home when his tour was over.

– before he’s so much as spoken to him. I mean – seriously? Holt could have been a complete dickhead for all he knew – or straight, or both. We do get to see some relationship development across the years (although not much, as each vignette is basically a snapshot of a single day) but I just couldn’t get past a thirty-six year-old career soldier thinking like a teenaged girl. (With apologies to teenaged girls everywhere.)

We follow the two men through Holt returning home after his tour, Brax completing his twenty years and going to take up a post with Boston PD, Holt falling in love (with a woman) and getting married, and Brax finally moving to SF a few years later to become assistant Chief of Police. It’s here that he finally learns the truth about Holt’s family – and even though he’s horribly torn, he still stands by his determination never to let anything bad happen to Holt if he can help it. (If you’ve read the Fog City series, you’ll know that Brax walks a fine line, but never falls on the wrong side of it.)

When the narrative switches to Holt’s PoV, we’re in the present day, a few months after the plot to oust (and kill) Hawes was foiled, and for reasons Holt can’t fathom, Brax is trying to put some distance between them; reasons which become apparent when it emerges that someone is out to discredit Brax and strike at the family through him.  With IA called in to investigate the allegations, Brax wants to keep Holt as far away from him as possible, so as not to put him and his daughter in any danger.  Of course, Holt is having none of it – Brax is family, and the Madigans look after their own.  Helena and Hawes (and their partners) are on board, too – they all know how Brax feels about Holt and how Holt feels about Brax even if Holt hasn’t quite worked it out yet.

But readable though it is, Silent Knight is plagued by the same problems and inconsistencies that have beset a number of Ms. Reyne’s recent books, and indeed, the other books in this series.  I like the characters and the relationships between them; the Madigans are a close-knit family and there’s no question there’s nothing they wouldn’t do for one another.  Ms. Reyne is also very skilled at creating a slick, fast-paced, action-filled story that feels like an action movie in book format; they’re filled with super hawt, super clever characters who are incredibly good at what they do, and things move at a dizzying speed.  But there’s a serious over-reliance on technology – each of her series/books has one or more genius hacker characters who can do pretty much ANYTHING with just a few keystrokes – and that started feeling like a major cop-out a few books ago. (The exception to this is her recent standalone Variable Onset, which is one of her best books to date.)

When it comes to inconsistencies – apart from the Love at First Sight thing, I just couldn’t get my head around the fact that Amelia – Holt’s ex-wife who is in prison for her part in the plot against the family  – is able to help out by doing a bit of complicated hacking FROM THE COMPUTERS IN THE PRISON.  I mean – what?!  Most of the hacking stuff goes right over my head and I kind of zone out until it’s finished, but that?  Made no sense to me.

The romance is… well, Brax has been in love with Holt for years, but it seems Holt hasn’t recognised his feelings for what they are (and have always been),  so really there’s not a great deal of romantic development as these two have been in love for ages.  And, as has also been the case in previous books, the dialogue in the sex scenes strays dangerously close to the line between hot and funny-for-the-wrong-reasons.  The author is going for intensity but some of the things these characters say to each other makes me want to cringe.  The prose might not quite be purple, but the overblown nature of the sentiment certainly is.

I keep thinking that maybe it’s time I called it quits and stopped reading Layla Reyne’s books – and then she comes out with something as good as Variable Onset and I’m sucked back in, hoping for something else of that calibre from her.

To sum up – if you enjoyed the other Fog City books, chances are you’ll enjoy this one, but if, like me you like a coherent plot that doesn’t rely too heavily on technological deus ex machina and a romance that doesn’t make you want to roll your eyes so hard they hurt, then maybe this won’t be the book for you.  Bonus points for cameos from characters from the Whiskeyverse aren’t really enough for me to be able to rate this one above the average.

Prairie Bride (Dodge City Brides #1) by Julianne Maclean (audiobook) – Narrated by Charlotte North

Prairie Bride

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon.

A loveless marriage of convenience on the Kansas prairie turns out to be far more than she bargained for….

He’s part of the west 

Briggs Brigman has been burned once before, and the last thing he needs is a beautiful wife who will spend hours in front of the mirror, primping herself. He knows how hard the prairie can be on a woman, and all he wants is a stalwart bride who won’t complain about hauling water from the creek….

She’s a city girl with no idea what she’s in for….

All Sarah MacFarland wants is to escape her fearful life in Boston and start fresh with a new identity. Answering an advertisement for a mail order bride seems like the perfect solution, until she meets her soon-to-be husband – a ruggedly handsome, strapping farmer who leaves her breathless on their wedding night. But is it possible that two tormented souls can find happiness, when all they know is betrayal, and when trust is the only way out of a tumultuous past that simply won’t stay buried? 

Rating: Narration – B+; Content – C

The mail order bride trope is a common one in Western Historical Romance, but up until now, I haven’t actually read or listened to one. When Julianne Maclean’s Prairie Bride – book one in her Dodge City Brides series – showed up with the excellent Charlotte North listed as the narrator, I decided it was time to give one a go.

Even though I have no direct experience with this trope, I’ve been around Romancelandia long enough to have been able to make a reasonable guess as to what the story would be about – and I was pretty much spot on. A young woman running from her past travels from the city to the back of beyond to marry a man she’s never seen, doesn’t expect quite the primitive standard of her new home but decides to make the best of it, falls for her husband (who is, fortunately, hot as hell) her past catches up with her, drama ensues – The End.

If by that you infer that the story is predictable – then you’re inferring correctly.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.