Winter Dreams (Winter Magic #2) by Marie Sexton

winter dreams

This title may be purchased from Amazon

What happens when a player gets played?

Actor Dylan Frasier is known as one of the biggest playboys in Hollywood, infamous for seducing men and women alike. He’s also half in love with his two best friends. Unfortunately, Jason and Ben are madly in love with each other, leaving Dylan the odd man out. When Ben suggests an extended Christmas vacation at a resort modeled after his favorite 80s TV show, Dylan reluctantly agrees. Sure, his heart breaks a bit every time he sees them together, but it’s a vacation in the Bahamas. How bad can it be?

At first, the resort seems like any other. Dylan plans to work on his tan, get laid, and hunt for Hollywood’s most in-demand director – not necessarily in that order. Then he meets Connor, a tennis instructor still hurting from a bad breakup. Connor knows Dylan’s reputation and refuses to be seduced. Dylan sees Connor as just another conquest, but this tropical island isn’t as mundane as it appears. It has its own kind of magic, and it’s about to make things interesting.

Rating: A-

Back in 2020, I chose Marie Sexton’s Winter Oranges as my read for that year’s December prompt in the TBR Challenge, and really enjoyed it. It’s an unusual and charming story, a gorgeous slow-burn romance with a magical twist, and I was delighted to see that the author was writing a sequel. Often, sequels turn out to be disappointing, but I’m happy to report that Winter Dreams is even better than Winter Oranges. It’s a beautifully developed redemption story (and I’m a sucker for those!) combined with a touch of fantasy and another fabulous and emotionally satisfying slow-burn romance.

While it’s probably not essential to have read Winter Oranges before this, I strongly recommend doing so. For one thing, it’s a great read, and for another, you’ll get more detailed insight into the central relationships and character backgrounds. Please be aware that there are spoilers for that book in this review.

Actor Dylan Fraser has a reputation as one of Hollywood’s biggest playboys. Relationships aren’t for him and he’s never made a secret of that – even with the only lover he ever returned to, his best friend Jason Walker. Even though Dylan knew Jason was in love with him and no matter that he knew how cruel it was, Dylan couldn’t bring himself to stay away. But two years later, things are very different. Jason is now blisfully happy with Ben (Winter Oranges is their love story), and although Dylan adores them both – is even a little in love with both of them – and knows Ben is more right for Jason than he ever was, he can’t help feeling like the odd man out, or wondering about what might have been if he’d been capable of fidelity.

When the story opens, Dylan, Jason and Ben are en route to a luxury holiday island resort in the Bahamas called Fantasy Island, like the classic eighties TV show of the same name. It is, according to the brochure, a “place where all your fantasies come true.” Jason snidely suggests Dylan’s fantasy is to fuck his way through all the guests before the month is out; laughingly, Dylan agrees, although he knows that deep down, his fantasy would be to stop being himself and become Jason or Ben for the rest of his life, which would be so much better than being him. He ruthlessly suppresses the knowledge that he’s envious of what they’ve found in each other, and knowing it’s not something he’ll ever have, he figures he might as well not bother trying to find it and continues to live up to his flagrantly promiscuous reputation.

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

Prince of Flowers (Wild Hearts #1) by Nazri Noor (audiobook) – Narrated by Greg Boudreaux

prince of flowers

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

He captured a fae prince. But can he capture his heart?

Lochlann Wilde walks in the shadow of his father, a legendary summoner who commanded mythical beasts in battle. But Locke isn’t legendary. He’s barely a summoner, never passing his academy’s trial of the elements.

And then he accidentally summons a fae prince with a beautiful body and a bad attitude.

Sylvan is fiery and ferocious, stronger than anything Locke has ever encountered. And hotter, too. But time is running out. Locke must tame the prince’s wild heart. If he fails his trial, he’ll lose his inheritance and ruin his family’s name.

Without Sylvan, Locke could lose his chance to become a true summoner…along with his shot at true love.

Rating: Narration – A; Content – B-

I’m enjoying Nazri Noor’s Arcane Hearts fantasy/romance series – it’s fun and inventive with intriguing plotlines, strong worldbuilding, likeable characters, and excellent narration by Zachary Johnson. When the author announced that his new series – Wild Hearts (which is set in the same world as Arcane Hearts) – would be narrated by Greg Boudreaux, naturally I jumped at the chance to listen to and review the first book, Prince of Flowers.

Lochlann – Locke – Wilde is the oldest student at the great and ancient Wispwood Academy, having yet to earn the Crest that will mark his ‘graduation’ as a summoner. In order to earn that – and to inherit his father’s fortune – he must summon and forge a pact with a great beast of legend, but all he’s managed so far are a flock of doves, an elderly wolf and a grubby cat – not exactly a resounding success for the son of the legendary Grand Summoner Baylor Wilde. He’s not exactly the most diligent of students, it’s true, but he’s persistent, so, armed with the grimoire inherited from his father, Locke has once again ventured into the forests of Wispwood, intent on gaining his summoner’s Crest by finding his eidolon (his ideal familiar), a creature of powerful magic with whom he can form a mutually beneficial bond.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

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.

Imitate the Dawn (Whitethorn Security #3) by M.A. Grant

imitate the dawn

This title may be purchased from Amazon

Cristian Slava and Atlas Kincaid despise each other. At least, that’s what they need everyone to believe. In truth, the charismatic vampire and his fierce bodyguard are more in love than ever. But when a powerful political faction emerges and threatens Cristian’s family, the only way into their enemy’s inner circle is without each other by their side.

From Romania to New York and beyond, though apart, their blood-bond cannot be severed—but it can be used against them. When Cristian sacrifices his life to save his family and save Atlas from having his darkest secrets revealed, only faith in that bond will keep Atlas from utter despair.

And only by facing his past will Atlas be able to accept who he is and finally defeat their most powerful enemy yet…

Death itself.

Rating: B+

The action in Imitate the Dawn, book three in M.A. Grant’s Whitethorn Security series, moves from Romania back to the US, where Atlas Kincaid and Cristian Slava need to move fast to counter the threat to their home and to save the life of Cristian’s father, who has been arrested and is being investigated by the Vampire Council. Because the trilogy is, in effect, one story divided into three, it’s essential to have read the previous books in the series before starting this one. It also means there are spoilers in this review.

In book two, Crooked Shadows, Atlas and Cristian fled to Romania following a devastating strigoi attack at the family home in upstate New York, intent on finding out who is creating and controlling the gruesome creatures. In Romania, a bloody coup deposes the ruling vampire family – allies to Decebal Vladislavic (Cristian’s father) – and the he is now suspected by the Council of being responsible for the creation of the strigoi and the attacks which led to the coup. Christian and Atlas are sure that their arch-enemies, the Wharrams (Cristian’s late mother’s family) are involved somehow, and will have to race against time to prove Decebal’s innocence and prevent the Wharrams taking over the Council.

The romance between Atlas and Cristian developed into a lasting bond which has survived everything that has been thrown at them, including betrayal, lies and physical danger, and they’re stronger together than ever. Atlas realises the strigoi were responsible for the attack on his unit years ago from which he emerged as the sole survivor, and as the story progresses, begins to suspect the truth of what happened to him. At the end of a fast-paced and action-packed story where there was peril on all sides and Atlas and Cristian were not always sure who to trust, they were were blindsided by the discovery of a truly terrible betrayal by someone who had been part of Decebal’s inner circle and whom Cristian had regarded as a good friend.

When Imitate the Dawn opens, Cristian, Atlas and their friends Daria and Radu have survived another attack by the strigoi and learned of the overthrow and murder of the territory’s ruling family. Moves are being made to close the borders, so they have to get out quickly – but before they can leave, they’re contacted by the council’s lead investigator who informs them of Decebal’s arrest and of the accusations being made against him, intending to take them in, too. It’s only when, during the ensuing fight, she gets a taste of Cristian’s blood that she can see the truth and realises that she was an unwitting instrument in the council’s machinations and offers to help Cristian and Atlas to prove that the Wharrams are working against the council and everyone on it.

Once back in the US, Atlas and Cristian have to come up with a plan to locate and destroy any remaining strigoi nests before the creatures can be used against them, and find a way to save Decebal. Their one advantage is that Helias Casimir doesn’t know that they know he’s the traitor and what he’s been doing – and they decide the first step is to return to the house to see where things stand. Knowing Helias will be suspicious, Atlas and Cristian are going to act as though they’re at each other’s throats in order to distract him and prevent him questioning their motives for returning; he’ll want to separate Cristian and Atlas and the fact they’re fighting will give him the opportunity to do it. Neither of them is happy with the idea – Cristian especially, knowing he’s going to have to be hurtful and cruel if he’s going to be at all convincing – but Atlas reassures him, reminding how much of a pain in the arse Cristian was when they first met, and how he wasn’t able to run him off despite it. The deception works. Helias moves quickly to get Atlas out of the way and to enact his plan to dispose of Cristian; Atlas and Cristian have already agreed on what’s going to happen next, and they know pretending not to suspect Helias is incredibly risky, but it’s their only chance to find out what he is really up to.

I’ve really enjoyed the tight plotting, the worldbuilding and the vividly written action scenes in this series. Once again, the author does a great job of keeping the forward momemtum going, ramping up the tension as we barrel towards a nail-biting climax that pits our heroes against family, against the Council, and into a final showdown with the strigoi. The love story has been excellent, too, as Atlas and Cristian’s chemistry-laden slow-burn romance moves from wariness and distrust to understanding, affection and love, so that by the beginning of Imitate the Dawn, they’re a solid couple, secure in their relationship and have each other’s backs without question. But because the focus of this story is on saving Decebal and preventing mass murder by the strigoi, their romance is perhaps less prominent – although their love for each other permeates the novel. The bond they already share is strengthened here, so even when they’re physically distant they’re never really apart, and there are some moments towards the end in the aftermath of the battle which really tug at the heartstrings.

The biggest problem I had with this book is that I found it difficult to get into because it’s been nine months or so since I read Crooked Shadows. As I said earlier, the series is essentially one story broken up into three parts, which makes it essential to be able to recall a lot of detail about the other instalments – and I struggled for the first three or four chapters. I accept (to an extent) that’s on me – I don’t typically have time to re-read previous books in series – but it also shows there’s a danger when you’re essentially splitting up one story into smaller parts, of your audience losing track.

In the end, though, once I got into the story I really got into it and found it a hard book to put aside. Imitate the Dawn brings the Whitethorn Security to a thrilling close and although I can’t quite push grade  for this one higher than a B+  the entire series has a place on my DIK shelf.

A Strange and Stubborn Endurance by Foz Meadows

a strange and stubborn endurance

This title may be purchased from Amazon

Velasin vin Aaro never planned to marry at all, let alone a girl from neighboring Tithena. When an ugly confrontation reveals his preference for men, Vel fears he’s ruined the diplomatic union before it can even begin. But while his family is ready to disown him, the Tithenai envoy has a different solution: for Vel to marry his former intended’s brother instead.

Caethari Aeduria always knew he might end up in a political marriage, but his sudden betrothal to a man from Ralia, where such relationships are forbidden, comes as a shock.

With an unknown faction willing to kill to end their new alliance, Vel and Cae have no choice but to trust each other. Survival is one thing, but love—as both will learn—is quite another.

Rating: B-

A Strange and Stubborn Endurance is an enjoyable fantasy romance novel in which an arranged marriage provides the spark for murder, intrigue and political shenanigans. The worldbuilding is solid, with well-developed and detailed societal customs and hierarchies, the protagonists are likeable and the central romance is tender and drips with lots of lovely UST. On the downside, the book is at least a hundred and fifty pages too long, the pacing is stodgy in places, and the mystery is too drawn out and easily resolved.

When the story begins, Velasin vin Aaro, a nobleman of Ralia, is on his way home in response to a summons from his father. He has no idea what it’s about, and hopes word has not reached home of his more… disreputable exploits; namely that he beds men rather than women, something Ralian society considers a degenerate perversion. Travelling with him is his best friend and valet Markel (who is mute); left behind is his former lover, Lord Killic vin Lato, whom Velasin dumped after discovering him cheating – again.

Not long after his arrival, Velasin discovers why he’s been brought home. His father has arranged a marriage for him with the daughter of the Tiern (Lord) of Qi-Katai in Tithenia – and Velasin knows he has no alternative but to agree to the match. The Tithenai envoy is to arrive the next day, but before Velasin can think much about what’s to come, he’s stunned and angry to hear that Killic has followed him and is asking to see him. He tries wheedling his way back into Vel’s good graces with pretty words – and when those don’t work, he resorts to sex, and won’t take no for an answer. Be warned, the assault happens on the page (it’s hard to read, but so much of what follows is built around it, it would be impossible to remove it) – and stops only when they’re seen by Velasin’s father and the Tithenian envoy, who has arrived early. Wretched, humiliated, sick to his stomach Velasin watches as Killic is run off while he is left alone in utter disgrace.

The following morning, Velasin is summoned to his father’s presence and informed that the marriage is still to go ahead. He’s surprised to see that the envoy is “one of Tithena’s third-gender souls, called kemi…” whose existence “scandalised the Ralian court”, which is rigidly traditional about everything including gender roles and women’s rights (or lack thereof). Equally surprising is the envoy’s suggestion that instead of marrying the Tiern’s daughter, Velasin might marry his son without changing the terms of the contract. Velasin’s father is aghast at the idea of his son marrying a man, but agrees – then tells Vel he can never return home again.

Caethari Xai Aeduria is surprised to discover that he, rather than his sister, is to be married, but at least has a little time to get used to the idea while the Ralian convoy is en route to Qi-Katai. He’s curious about his future husband, but has been able to find out little about him, and really isn’t sure what he ought to feel or how he should act when they meet. That becomes of secondary importance once Velasin arrives, however; watching from the rooftop, Cae sees the convoy enter through the city gate, and then watches helplessly as someone in the crowd rushes at Velasin with a knife – which is deflected by Markel, who bears the brunt of the strike. Hurrying to the scene, Cae almost collides with a very dishevelled and worried Velasin, who is desperate to get to Markel’s side. It’s not exactly the way Cae had envisaged meeting his betrothed.

Even before Velasin arrived in Qi-Katai, there were signs of trouble when the caravan travelling from Ralia was attacked, leaving one guard dead and others injured. The attack at the city gate is followed by one on Cae’s father – all of them pointing to there being a deep-seated anti-Ralian sentiment at large and to someone intending to destabilise the already fragile relations between Ralia and Tithena.

I was looking forward to getting my teeth into a plot filled with conspiracies and court intrigue, but the mystery plot is fairly weak, little more than a series of events, one after the other, with no real escalation or building on what has gone before, and no real investigation. Vel and Cae ask questions, but are never given the time or opportunity to act on the answers as it seems that every time they come close to doing so, another character interrupts them and sends things off in a different direction or just continues the earlier conversation without reaching any conclusions. It’s too drawn out with little happening, and then, to add insult to injury, the reveal happens literally by accident when Velasin and Cae overhear the bad guys arguing and blaming each other for not doing things properly!

The romance is easily the best thing in the book, as Cae gently tries to help Velasin work through his trauma, offering friendship and understanding and not pushing for anything more. The way they move from being strangers to forging a tentative friendship, then from friendship to absolute trust and more is really well done, with great chemistry and lots of lingering touches and longing looks that build the romantic and sexual tension.

Grading A Strange and Stubborn Endurance was tough because while the plot leaves much to be desired, the romance is lovely, and there are many other things about the book that should be celebrated. I’ve mentioned the worldbuilding already – and within that, there’s excellent queer rep that includes prominent non-binary and trans characters and a welcoming society for all. Velasin’s bewilderment at becoming part of this society is well portrayed, too; having been brought up within the strict conventions of Ralia, he finds it hard to adjust to the fact that he no longer has to hide his sexuality or be surprised at the fact that people like him are treated with respect. He has no idea what is expected of him as Cae’s husband, and is struggling to un-learn many of the things he’s been brought up to believe. He’s a more well-developed character than Cae, who thinks of himself as a bluff soldier, good in combat, not so good when it comes to reading people and politicking. Fortunately, Cae proves to be very insightful and sensitive to the needs of others, intuiting almost at once that all is not well with Velasin and determining to help him however he can. I also liked watching him get turned on by his husband’s mind on those occasions where Velasin is able to cast off his self-doubt and desire for self-effacement, and reveal his true self – inquisitive, clever, observant, a charmer who is skilled at playing the courtier and navigating his way through layers of malice and misdirection. In fact, I wish we’d seen much more of that side of him, especially as part of his journey in this book is finding his way back to being the person he was before the assault and realising he doesn’t have to let it define him.

I really wish I could give A Strange and Stubborn Endurance a strong recommendation because of all the things it gets right, but the weakness of the plot really does drag it down and the slow pacing makes it difficult to invest in the outcome – especially when it seems that sometimes, even the characters themselves have forgotten about it! The final ten percent or so is terrific, and had the rest of the book been able to sustain that level of nail-biting tension, I’d be extolling its virtues. In the end, I’m going with a low B and qualified recommendation overall – a low C for the mystery and a high B for the romance, worldbuilding, characters and representation. I’d definitely read another fantasy romance from this author – here’s hoping for something tighter next time.

Seducing the Sorcerer by Lee Welch (audiobook) – Narrated by Joel Leslie

seducing the sorcerer

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

Homeless and jobless, Fenn Todd has nearly run out of hope. All he has left are his longing for horses and the strength of his own two hands. But when he’s cheated into accepting a very ugly sackcloth horse, he’s catapulted into a world of magic, politics, and desire.

Fenn’s invited to stay at the black tower, home of the most terrifying man in the realm: Morgrim, the court sorcerer. Morgrim has a reputation as a scheming villain, but he seems surprisingly charming—and sexy—and Fenn falls hard for him.

However, nothing is as it seems, and everyone at the tower is lying about something. Beset by evil hexes, violent political intrigue, and a horse that eats eiderdowns, Fenn must make the hardest choices of his life.

Can a plain man like Fenn ever find true love with a scheming sorcerer?

Rating: Narration – A-; Content – B

Lee Welch’s Seducing the Sorcerer is a quirky, sweet and inventive fantasy that combines an opposites-attract, slow-burn romance between two men in their forties (yay for older protagonists!) with magic, mystery and political intrigue. I enjoyed the book when I read it last year and have been looking forward to experiencing it again in audio, especially with the always entertaining Joel Leslie at the microphone.

Forty-six-year-old Fenn Todd, a down on his luck itinerant labourer, finds a day’s work on a farm where he’s offered coin and a meal as payment. He’s about to get to work when a younger man – the farmer’s nephew – offers him a horse instead of the money, and even though Fenn suspects he’s being played, he can’t squash the hope he feels. A horse of his own, even if it’s one bound for the knacker’s yard, even if he only gets to take care of it for a short while… he agrees, in spite of his misgivings.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

Treasure (Greynox to the Sea #1) by Kim Fielding (audiobook) – Narrated by Joel Leslie

treasure

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

Julian Massey has always been sickly. When the young man’s parents send him to the seaside town of Urchin Cove to recuperate, he finds himself stranded in a tiny cabin with only the quirky local inhabitants for company. Then a storm blows through, and he finds an unexpected discovery washed up on the beach: an unconscious man.

After stealing a treasure, Kit Archer is taken prisoner by a ruthless pirate, Captain Booth. When a storm hits the pirate ship, Kit is able to escape, but not without serious injuries. Jules nurses him back to health, and friendship grows into desire. But Captain Booth is bound to come in search of his treasure and the man who stole it.

In a world with dragons, sprites, and wizards, it’s going to take more than a little magic for Jules and Kit to find lasting happiness together.

Rating: Narration – A; Content – B-

I so enjoyed listening to Kim Fielding’s Farview a few weeks ago that I decided to back-track and listen to the novella that preceded it, Treasure. It’s a little gem of a tale that introduces listeners to the magical world of Greynox and Croftwell with its imps and wizards and dragon-drawn carriages

Julian Massey – a quiet, bookish young man who has suffered from poor health all his life – is sent by his family to the seaside town of Urchin Cove in order to take advantage of the restorative effects of the fresh, sea air. When he arrives at the holiday cottage rented for him, Julian is at something of a loss; he’s never had to look after himself before, so has to learn how to do simple tasks very quickly (I have to say that I found it odd he was sent there alone given his family’s worries for his health). But he does learn, surprising himself with the sense of achievement he feels and enjoying his new-found freedom from his family’s constant and suffocating concern, his books and his occasional chat with the quirky inhabitants of the nearby village. It’s not long before Julian begins to feel the benefit of the change of environment and the exercise.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals

The Reluctant Companion (13 Kingdoms #1) by H.L. Day

This title may be purchased from Amazon

Sebastian might have the power to summon animals, but winning Jack over? Far more difficult.

As first encounters go, Jack and Sebastian’s isn’t ideal, leaving Jack nursing a grudge he’s not about to let go of in a hurry. Yet, if Jack is to find his missing sister, and Sebastian is to rescue his captured prince, they’ll need to set their differences aside and work as a team.

Jack is stubborn and somewhat volatile. Sebastian is vain and clearly in love with himself. But as the unlikely companions face all manner of dangers together, they grow closer. Rescuing the prince should be easy. Rescuing him from an impenetrable tower guarded by dragon-shifting knights? Okay, that part is harder.

But once the adventure is over, letting Sebastian go might be the hardest thing Jack has ever had to do.

Rating: B+

The first book in a new series by H.L. Day, The Reluctant Companion is a light-hearted fantasy adventure featuring an opposites-attract romance between a snarky farm boy and a handsome charmer who team up – reluctantly, as the title suggests – to undertake a quest, and fall for each other along the way. It’s a lot of fun with plenty of action and adventure, a nicely evoked faux-medieval setting and two engaging leads; it’s a great start to the series and I really enjoyed it.

Jack Straw is twenty-six and has lived pretty much his entire life in his small village on his family farm. But when we meet him, he’s sitting somewhat forlornly in a tavern miles from home wondering whether to continue the search for his missing sister, Annabelle, or if his dwindling resources mean he will have to return home without finding any news of her. His musings are interrupted when a small monkey drops onto the table and starts chittering angrily at him before jumping down and disappearing out the door. It’s only then that Jack notices his purse has also disappeared.

Dashing out into the street, Jack is in time to see the monkey making its way along the street at roof-level and follows, his eyes fixed on the animal until he bumps into a large, shirtless man whose good looks (and very tight trousers) are so utterly mesmerising that it’s a second or two before Jack notices the monkey sitting on his shoulder. Angry now, Jack demands the return of his money – only for the monkey to vanish in a shower of golden sparks. It figures. Not only is this guy gorgeous – and thoroughly aware of it – he’s been blessed with magic, too.

Sebastian – Bast to his friends – is rather delighted by the sharp-tongued and furious young man in front of him – being berated is such a refreshing change from being fawned over! He listens to Jack’s torrent of insults with good humour and then proposes a compromise. He needs the money to use as a stake in a gaming tournament the next day, and when he wins, he’ll be able to pay Jack way more money than was in the purse. Jack begrudgingly agrees, and the next day sees them heading off towards the town of Clearwater and the tournament – on what will turn out to be the first of many adventures.

Jack and Sebastian are a wonderful odd-couple.  Jack may be sheltered and a bit naïve, but he’s courageous and doesn’t take any crap, and where Sebastian seems like a bit of a self-centred himbo, he is gradually revealed to be far more shrewd and far more generous of spirit than he at first appears.

I’m a sucker for well-written snark, and H.L. Day’s brand of it definitely works for me.  The banter and quips flow quickly between these two, Sebastian capably fielding Jack’s sarcastic comments and giving as good as he gets.  Attraction sparks between them from their first meeting, but Jack makes it very clear he’s not going to be just another notch on Sebastian’s bedpost; men like him are too accustomed to getting what they want and Jack recognises the potential for heartbreak.  But as he gets to know Sebastian and to realise that there’s more to him than sex appeal and arrogance, Jack begins to wonder if having a bit of fun before they go their separate ways would be such a bad thing.

Jack and Sebastian have great chemistry and I enjoyed their slow burn romance, even though I’d have liked to feel a bit more of an emotional connection between them. That said, the book ends on a very firm HFN, and as it’s the first in a series, there’s clearly more to come.  I’m intrigued by the hints at a mystery surrounding Sebastian – he’s clearly hiding something – and am eager to know more.  The book is fast-paced, as Jack and Sebastian rush from one dangerous situation to another, and it’s nicely done, always on the move without being chaotic or too busy. On the negative side, I was a bit surprised at the ease with which Jack gives up the search for his sister –  I’m guessing that perhaps that storyline will be picked up in a future instalment, so I’m not dinging the book for it – and something happens towards the end (after Jack has returned home) that didn’t make a lot of sense to me.

Overall though, I’m happy to recommend The Reluctant Companion to anyone looking for a light-hearted, magical adventure romp with plenty of action, a lot of laughs and a well-drawn central couple who express affection through snark.

Farview (Greynox by the Sea #2) by Kim Fielding (audiobook) – Narrated by Joel Leslie

farview

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

Ravaged by a horrific experience, Oliver Webb flees the smog-bound city of Greynox for a quiet seaside village and the inheritance he’s never seen: a cottage called Farview. He discovers clear skies, friendly imps, and a charming storyteller named Felix Corbyn.

With help from Felix’s tales, Oliver learns surprising secrets about his family history and discovers what home really means. But, with Felix cursed, Oliver growing deathly ill, and an obligation in Greynox hanging heavy around his neck, it seems that not even wizards can save the day.

Still, as Felix knows, stories are the best truths and the most powerful magic. Perhaps the right words might yet conjure a chance for happiness.

Rating: Narration – A; Content – B+

You know how, sometimes, you finish a book, sit back with a sigh and think “what a lovely story!”? I did just that after listening to Kim Fielding’s Farview (book two in her Greynox to the Sea series), a charming, whimsical romance set in a kind of fantasy/AU Victorian England where dragons pull carriages, imps, chatty ghosts, and winged people live side-by side and magic is a part of everyday life. Although it’s the second book in the series, it works perfectly well as a standalone – and I liked it sufficiently to want to backtrack and listen to book one, Treasure.

When the story begins, Oliver Webb has left the colourless, grime-filled streets of the city of Greynox, where he’s lived his entire life, to settle in the small fishing village of Croftwell , planning to live at Farview Cottage, a property that’s been in his family for generations and which he’s inherited from the mother who died when he was a child. Tired from the long journey, he ventures into one of the village taverns, The Merman, for a drink and a meal, and is somewhat surprised – and maybe a teeny bit irritated – at the friendliness of the locals; he’s not in Croftwell to make friends and he just wants to be left to his own devices. But not long after he sits down, he’s approached by a cheerful (and very attractive) young man called Felix who offers to tell him a story in return for a pint. Intrigued despite himself, Oliver agrees, and Felix tells him the ages old tale of Farview Cottage and the legendary Lyra Moon. Oliver finds himself completely caught up in the story and maybe just a little bit captivated by the storyteller.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

When I First Saw Red (Soldiers & Mercenaries #2) by Kasia Bacon (audiobook) – Narrated by Cornell Collins

when i first saw red

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

Red: Lázhien’s human. A common Imperial soldier. And my soulmate. How could fate get it so wrong? The demon in me craves this bond with every shred of his being. He pushes me to accept it. This time I won’t yield to his demands.

Lázhien: Red’s a lust demon, a whore and a stuck-up snob. The most beautiful man I’ve ever seen. Pain in the arse. And he hates my guts. I’d be an idiot to pursue him. Yet something about him compels me to make him mine.

When I First Saw Red is a complete and stand-alone short novel with an HEA ending, featuring a couple of reluctant fated soulmates – a demon and a human – trying and failing to defy destiny.

Rating:  Narration – B; Content – C+

Kasia Bacon’s When I First Saw Redis a sexy fantasy/fated-mates romance between a rough-and-ready soldier and a high-class courtesan, and although it’s the second book in her Soldiers and Mercenaries series, it stands alone and I had no trouble understanding the story without having read or listened to book one.

Lázhien, a big, gruff drill-master in the Imperial Forces, is not normally one to frequent brothels, but this particular Freeday night, he’s bored, lonely and just wants to get out of the barracks. With most of his garrison heading off to the Cocks and Hens’ shag-all-you-can bargain night, he decides he might as well go along, if only to kick back and have a few drinks. He doesn’t plan on doing any more than that, until he lays eyes on the most beautiful man he’s ever seen, lean and long-limbed with luminous skin and a cascade of the reddest hair Lázhien has ever seen. The bolt of attraction that hits him stops him in his tracks and he can’t stop staring – until the man shoots him a condescending look and pointedly turns away, slamming the door to his room behind him. Lust-drunk and angry at being so cursorily dismissed, Lázhien offers the brothel owner an exorbitant fee for one night with him.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.