Milo (Finding Home #2) by Lily Morton (audiobook) – Narrated by Joel Leslie

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon.

Once upon a time, a brave knight rescued a young man. Unfortunately, he then spent the next few years bossing the young man around and treating him like a child.  Milo has been burying himself at Chi an Mor, hiding from the wreckage of his once promising career and running from a bad relationship that destroyed what little confidence he had. Niall, his big brother’s best friend, has been there for him that entire time. An arrogant and funny man, Niall couldn’t be any more different from the shy and occasionally stuttering Milo, which has never stopped Milo from crushing wildly on the man who saved him.

However, just as Milo makes the decision to move on from his hopeless crush, he and Niall are thrown into close contact, and for the first time ever, Niall seems to be returning his interest. But it can never work. How can it when Milo always needs rescuing?

Rating: Narration – A; Content – B+

Milo is the second book in Lily Morton’s Finding Home series, and in it, listeners return to the gorgeous Cornwall setting of Chi an Mor, the country estate belonging to Silas, Earl of Ashworth. We met Milo Ramsey and Niall Fawcett first of all in the previous book, Oz, when Niall interviewed Oz Gallagher for the job of Collections Manager at the house, where Milo has worked as an art conservator for the past few years. He’s a decade or so younger than Niall, but the pair have known each other for most of their lives; Milo’s older brother Gideon is Niall’s best friend (they were at school together) and they’ve also been occasional fuck-buddies for years – a discovery that left a smitten, seventeen-year-old Milo heartbroken after he found them in bed together.

The novel opens with a prologue set five years before the story proper, with Milo in the kitchen of the flat he shares with his boyfriend Thomas. Milo has just dropped a bottle of wine and is terrified of Thomas’ reaction; with good reason it turns out, as the other man wastes no time in getting nasty, telling Milo how useless he is, criticising his appearance and making fun of the stammer he’s struggled with since childhood and which tends to worsen when he’s upset or nervous. In the midst of Thomas’ cruel tirade, another voice bursts in and furiously demands to know “What the fuck is going on in here?” It’s Niall – who immediately tells Milo to pack up his stuff and then whisks him away to Cornwall and Chi an Mor, where Milo gradually starts to recover, returning to physical health and gradually making new friendships and becoming comfortable in his new surroundings. Mentally, however, his ex really did a number on him; his self-confidence, which was never strong owing to his stammer, is still seriously dented.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

Oz (Finding Home #1) by Lily Morton (audiobook) – Narrated by Joel Leslie

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

What happens when temporary becomes forever?

Oz Gallagher does not do relationships well. Bored and jobless after another disastrous hook up, he decides to leave London for a temporary job in the wilds of Cornwall. Surely managing a stately home on a country estate will be easier than navigating the detritus of his relationships at home. Six months there will alleviate a bit of his wanderlust and then he can come back to London as footloose and fancy free as the day he left it.

However, when he gets there, he finds a house in danger of crumbling to the ground and a man who is completely unlike anyone he’s ever met. An earl belonging to a family whose roots go back hundreds of years, Silas is the living embodiment of duty and sacrifice. Two things that Oz has never wanted. He’s also warm and funny and he draws Oz to him like a magnet.

Oz banks on the fact that they’re from two very different worlds to stop himself falling for Silas. But what will he do when he realizes that these differences are actually part of the pull to one another? Will falling in love be enough to make him stop moving at last and realize that he’s finally home?

Rating: Narration – B+; Content – B-

Oz, the first book in Lily Morton’s Coming Home series, is loosely linked to her previous Mixed Messages trilogy but works perfectly well as a standalone.  If you’re familiar with the author’s work, you’ll find exactly the sort of thing you’ve come to expect; characters who could snark for England, plenty of steam, a wonderful ‘family’ of secondary characters and a lovely HEA.  I have to be honest, though.  While I enjoyed Oz, it’s far from my favourite of Ms. Morton’s books, and even though it’s got all the ingredients that made the Mixed Messages books real winners, something about it fell a bit flat.  The humour isn’t as funny, the wit isn’t as biting, the conflict is very slight and there’s ultimately not much of a story here.

Oz Gallagher doesn’t exactly have a great track record – any track record, really – with relationships, but even so, finding his boyfriend balls-deep in another bloke in their bed is something he could have done without.  Over a drink in the local pub, Oz’s best mate Shaun shows him an ad for a House and Collections Manager at the Earl of Ashworth’s property in Cornwall and encourages Oz to apply – he’s got degrees in Fine Art, History of Art and nothing to lose, after all.  Oz is surprised, to say the least, to get an interview, and turns up at the swanky London hotel amid all the besuited posh types who are obviously after the job as well.  Feeling completely out of place and knowing he’s got no chance against all these chinless wonders, Oz thinks ‘fuck it’ and gives the worst interview ever:

“So, Oz, I see that you have a first class degree in Fine Art and History of Art… And can you say that you’ve used this in a productive manner?”

I shrug and smile earnestly. “It’s allowed me to work on Bernie’s Antique stall on Camden Market.”

And later:

 “The position you’re interviewing for is that of the house manager at Ashworth House. Can you tell me what you think that entails?”

I shrug and smile winsomely. “I imagine it’s like being a tour manager, but with less drugs and hookers.”

… and of course, he gets the job.

Silas, the Earl of Ashworth, was left with huge debts when his father died, but wants to see if he can turn things around before he thinks about offloading the place to the National Trust.  The house  – whose Cornish name is Chi an Mor – is his home, and even though his childhood wasn’t particularly happy (if you’ve read or listened to Risk Taker, you’ll already know what a complete and utter bastard his father was) –  the place is in Silas’ blood and he can’t envisage himself anywhere else.  His plan is to generate income by opening the house to visitors for part of the year, but it’s going to take a lot of hard work to get it ready to open on time. His thriving veterinary practice keeps him going financially on a personal level, but he can’t work there and oversee the renovations, and his former house manager – who had been sharing his bed – has recently quit.

Oz arrives to find the situation worse than he’d expected.  The car park is still a field, the visitors centre is an empty shell and the workmen…  are down the pub.  With gusto, gumption and grit worthy of Mary Poppins, Oz deals with the lazy builders, sorts out Silas’ staffing problems, gets everything running like clockwork and even faces off against Silas’ shitty ex for an encore.  He’s just that good.

Lily Morton builds a lovely friendship between Oz and Silas to start with, Oz caring for Silas in simple but important ways (like sitting up late to make sure he eats when he’s been out on calls all day), the two of them talking and getting to know each other.  Silas is bisexual and freely admits to having had a lot of relationships, but none has lasted very long; he loves Cornwall and doesn’t want to leave, and his previous partners haven’t wanted to be there long term.  He’s down-to-earth and lovely and lonely, and I loved watching him demolish every one of Oz’s preconceptions of what a member of the aristocracy would be like. There’s a strong pull of attraction between them from the start, but with both men having had bad experiences of boss/employee relationships, they agree that acting on that attraction would be a very bad idea… until, of course, it becomes impossible not to. 😉

Silas and Oz are good for each other in the best of ways, each finding something in the other they’d never thought to have.  The only real conflict in the story comes from the fact that Oz is convinced he’s not good enough; an Irish boy from a Tottenham council estate and an Earl don’t make sense and he can never really fit into Silas’ upper-crust life (impressions only reinforced by Silas’ bitchy mother). But Silas is clever enough to know exactly what Oz is thinking and is prepared to wait for the penny to drop – that penny being that he’s as in love with Silas as Silas is with him and that they’re each other’s person – each other’s home.

Oz is funny and sexy, with great secondary characters and wonderfully descriptive prose, but the story loses momentum after Oz and Silas become a couple.  There’s no real drama (and I’m not talking about over-the-top melodrama, just… something to propel the story forward) and no real tension as a result – and that’s fine; low-angst stories can be great, but I just wanted a bit more from this one.  And Oz the character… well, he’s witty, gorgeous, warm, capable and caring; he’s a good cook, he’s a brilliant manager, he’s got an answer for everyone and a plan for everything – in short, he’s more than a bit too good to be true, and that got to be wearing after a while.

In Joel Leslie, Lily Morton has found the perfect narrator for her particular brand of sexy snark.  He’s an incredibly talented performer and it was obvious to me within the first five minutes of their very first collaboration, Rule Breaker, that I was listening to a narrator who completely ‘got’ his author and her characters. His comic timing is superb, he has a wide repertoire of character ‘voices’ and accents, and  isn’t afraid to go big in the more emotional moments – especially the sex scenes, which should probably come (!) with a bucket of ice.  All those things are true in Oz; timing, characterisation, differentiation and pacing, it’s all superb, but something about his performance here didn’t wow me as much the others he’s given so far in books by this author.  I’m not 100% sure why that was, but I suspect it’s because I wasn’t wild about the accent he adopts for Oz (To clarify, it’s not bad or inaccurate, I just… didn’t care for it). Mr. Leslie’s vocal characterisations are terrific and every character sounds different and is easy to identify; he set himself a huge challenge  in sustaining a completely different accent for the vast majority of the story, but towards the end, it starts to slip, especially when it ‘bleeds over’ into some of Silas’ dialogue, which makes him sound odd given he doesn’t have an accent earlier in the book.

BUT.  I suspect that for many (most?) listeners that won’t be an issue – it’s just that accents are ‘my thing’ and I tend to be pretty exacting about them.  Joel Leslie is one of my favourite narrators, and so my expectations are very high; and I suppose what I’m saying is that here, he’s merely very good as opposed to outstanding!

Oz it isn’t going to make my list of Lily Morton favourites, but it’s a sweet, hot, fun listen and Joel Leslie does a great job. If you’re in the market for minimal angst, hot sex and a dirty-talking earl, you need look no further!

Quickie Reviews #6

Another batch of shorter-than-usual book and audio reviews 🙂


Will & Patrick Wake Up Married Series by Leta Blake and Alice Griffiths

Narrated by John Solo

After a drunken night of hot sex in Vegas, strangers Will Patterson and Dr. Patrick McCloud wake up married. A quickie divorce is the most obvious way out—unless you’re the heir of a staunchly Catholic mafia boss with a draconian position on the sanctity of marriage. Throw their simmering attraction into the mix and all bets are off!

Rating: Narration – A-; Content – A-

I read the Wake Up Married series last year and picked up the audios when they were whispersynced. Once you get past the daft premise, this is an entertaining, often very funny and sometimes moving story with two strongly characterised, appealing leads. Patrick – with his complete lack of filter – is a hoot, but I liked that he was just “this is me – take it or leave it”, while Will lacks confidence in just about everything apart from his ability to do his job, which is incredibly important to him. Both of them have emotional baggage to deal with – Patrick has become extremely successful despite an awful childhood; Will can’t see that the relationship he was in for several years was emotionally abusive and only added to his already deep-seated insecurities about his personal attractiveness and self-worth. His blindness about his ex is irritating, but it also works to show just how far he’s been manipulated and how his self-doubt has been fostered.

John Solo’s narration doesn’t always work for me; he’s good, but he has this weird way of suddenly going into what I term “movie-trailer-announcer-mode” when his speech loses natural rhythms and he emphasises words oddly – it usually happens in sex scenes or when the characters are thinking about sex, and other times of heightened tension or emotion. I don’t know whether he didn’t do that as much here, or if I just didn’t notice it as much once I got used to it, but he delivers a really good performance in this and his interpretations of Will and Patrick are especially good and fit their characters perfectly. Will is softly spoken, Patrick is more abrasive and his dialogue has a harsher edge. The secondary characters are well-differentiated and if it weren’t for that odd quirk I mentioned, he’d be on my list of all-time favourite narrators.


Valor on the Move by Keira Andrews

Narrated by Iggy Toma

Growing up gay in the White House hasn’t been easy for Rafael Castillo. Codenamed “Valor” by the Secret Service, Rafa feels anything but brave as he hides in the closet and tries to stay below the radar in his last year of college. His father’s presidency is almost over, and he just needs to stick to his carefully crafted plan. Once his family’s out of the spotlight, he can be honest with his conservative parents about his sexuality and his dream of being a chef. 

It’s definitely not part of Rafa’s plan to get a new Secret Service agent who’s a walking wet dream, but he’s made it this long keeping his desires to himself. Besides, it’s not like Shane Kendrick would even look at him twice if it wasn’t his job. 

Shane’s worked his way up through the Secret Service ranks, and while protecting the president’s shy, boring son isn’t his dream White House assignment, it’s an easy enough task since no one pays Rafa much attention. He discovers there’s a vibrant young man beneath the timid public shell, and while he knows Rafa has a crush on him, he assures himself it’s harmless. Shane’s never had room for romance in his life, and he’d certainly never cross that line with a protectee. Keeping Rafa safe at any cost is Shane’s mission. 

But as Rafa gets under his skin, will they both put their hearts on the line? 

Rating: Narration – A-; Content – C

Nothing new to see here, but an easy quick listen with Iggy Toma doing the honours in the narrators’ chair, and I’d listen to him read the phone book, so…

I generally enjoy May/December romances but in the best ones (like Annabeth Albert’s At Attention or N.R Walker’s The Thomas Elkin Series), the younger protagonist is generally more mature than their years and has a bit of life experience behind them. The problem here is that Rafa, at twenty-one, feels much younger. He’s lived in the White House for seven years (since he was fourteen) and has been pretty sheltered; some of that is undoubtedly due to the fact that he’s closeted and hasn’t wanted to draw the media spotlight by going out with guys, but he comes across as naive. I did like that he was appreciative of the people whose job it was to keep him safe though – so many of these types of bodyguard stories have the protectee trying to give their details the slip all the time and getting into danger as a result, and at least Rafa doesn’t do that. The coming out scene was pretty intense and the emotion – both in the author’s words and the performance – when Rafa was talking about the marriage bill his father had passed really shone through.

So 3 stars for the story, 4.5 for the narration. I might listen to the sequel at some point.


Spring Strings by Lily Morton

Malachi Booth is a supermodel. He’s used to moving about the world, sleeping with whoever takes his fancy and watching the money roll in. The last place he expects to find himself is on a run-down farm in Cornwall, but a bad bout of bronchitis means that he’s stuck there. The only compensation for this dismal state of affairs is that the farmer is very good looking, even if he’s the grumpiest person that Malachi has ever met.

Cadan Landry’s farm has been in his family for hundreds of years but that doesn’t make it any easier to make ends meet. As a consequence, Cadan could be called grumpy. Most men would consider a supermodel collapsing at their feet while dressed in the skimpiest pair of briefs ever made to be a sign of good fortune. Cadan just resents the fact that the young man is taking up space in his cow field.

These two men are from different worlds, but can they ever meet in the middle?

Rating: A-

Utterly delightful.

It’s the rare novella that can offer all the things this one does – off-the-charts chemistry, a well-developed romance, interesting backstories and strong secondary characters – so to find all that here was a very welcome surprise. (Although at 162 pages, this is more of a short novel; there are books billed as novels that come in at a similar page count!)

Spring Strings is an opposites-attract romance between a Cornish farmer and a supermodel, a pairing that absolutely Should Not Work. When beautiful Malachi Booth meets hunky but grumpy Cadan Landry, it’s snark-at-first sight (this is Lily Morton, queen of snark after all!) and sparks fly. When Malachi ends up staying at Cadan’s farm to recuperate following an illness, the pair gradually start to re-assess their preconceptions about each other and a cautious friendship develops, albeit a sexually-charged one.

Malachi is brilliantly written; he’s cynical and closed off and comes across as a total diva to start with, but the thing is that he knows he’s demanding and difficult and looks on it as part of his job, which makes it easy to like him in spite of it. Ms. Morton makes a number of very pertinent and serious observations about the world he moves in beneath the banter, and also gives him a backstory that completely explains the choices he’s made. And Cadan is a genuinely good man but is struggling and pretty much working himself into the ground because of a poor choice he made in the past (although that doesn’t make the situation he’s in his fault).

Watching the pair of them gradually letting down their guards and allowing the other to know him was just lovely, and I especially loved that Malachi had, at long last found somewhere and someone with whom he could really be himself.

Short, sweet and snarky, but with plenty of depth to make it more than a simple piece of fluff, and just the ticket if you’re looking for a pick-me-up in book form.

Risk Taker (Mixed Messages #3) by Lily Morton (audiobook) – Narrated by Joel Leslie

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

Being in love with your best friend is hard.

Henry’s the odd man out. All his friends are settling down, and his reputation as the hook-up king of London seems more like a curse than a blessing, these days. Especially when it keeps photojournalist Ivo, his best friend and the brilliant man he’s loved since they were 15, at arm’s length. But that’s where Ivo wants him, right? Putting aside his feelings, Henry decides to give up casual sex and look for the real deal.

After all, he has no chance with Ivo. Or, does he?

Henry is everything to Ivo. Best friend, soul mate, the one person who has never let him down. The one person he is loyal to above everything and everyone. But Henry’s in a box marked best friend, and that’s where Ivo’s kept him for nearly 20 years, despite steadily falling in love with the gentle man. And besides, why would Henry want to date Ivo? Burned out and injured, he’s the walking embodiment of damaged.

Distance has helped Henry and Ivo keep a lid on their attraction, but when they find themselves in the same city for a change -Ivo hurt and needing assistance and Henry more than willing to provide it – the two best friends grow closer than ever, forcing a realization and a decision.

Risk their friendship for their hearts? Or can they have both?

Rating: Narration – A; Content – B+

Risk Taker is book three in Lily Morton’s Mixed Messages series, and in it, the author turns her focus to Henry Ashworth, who is Gabe’s (Rule Breaker) former college roommate and closest friend. Handsome, witty, clever Henry has appeared in both the previous books, coming across as someone who’s got his shit together – although his ability to offer wryly insightful relationship advice when his friends need a little nudge in the right direction is rather at odds with his penchant for casual sex in nightclub toilets. For years, he’s been content with a series of NSA hook-ups, but has lately started to realise that lifestyle isn’t working for him anymore and, having watched his close friends fall in love and settle down, decides it’s time he started looking for something a bit more long-term.

I’m going to find someone who wants me: Henry, the family lawyer who loves his dog, works hard and sometimes comes home late and knackered. Someone who will embrace the life I yearn for. Monogamy and a true partnership that works because the couple love each other.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

The Mysterious and Amazing Blue Billings (Black & Blue #1) by Lily Morton

This title may be purchased from Amazon

Levi Black is at a crossroads. After suffering a loss and breaking up a long-term relationship, he’s looking for a change. When he receives the news he’s inherited a house in York, he seizes the opportunity to begin a new chapter in his life.

However, when he gets there, he finds a house that has never kept its occupants for very long. Either through death or disinclination, no one stays there, and after a few days of living in the place, Levi can understand why. Strange noises can be heard at all hours of the day and night, and disturbing and scary things begin to happen to him. He never believed in ghosts before, but when events take a sinister turn, he knows he must look for help. He finds it in the unlikely form of the blue-haired leader of a ghost tour.

Blue Billings is edgy, beautiful, and lost. Utterly lost. He conceals so many secrets that some days it’s a miracle he remembers his own name. He knows that he should ignore Levi because he threatens the tenuous grip Blue has on survival. But there’s something about the kind-eyed man that draws Blue to him. Something that demands he stay and fight for him when he would normally run in the opposite direction.

As the two men investigate the shocking truth behind Levi’s house, they also discover a deep connection that defies the short length of time they’ve known each other. But when events escalate and his life is on the line, Levi has to wonder if it was wise to trust the Mysterious and Amazing Blue Billings.

Rating: B+

In a departure from her usual m/m contemporary romance fare, Lily Morton has embarked upon a new series of paranormal romances featuring The Mysterious and Amazing Blue Billings, a psychic with a tragic past, dark secrets and a big heart he’s kept under wraps for years.  The book is part ghost story, part romance, and the author certainly knows how to bring the spooky – so you might want to make sure you’re reading it in a well-lit room! The things I so enjoy about her contemporary romances – complex, likeable characters, snark, tenderness, steamy sexytimes and authentic British-ness – are all here too, and it’s a winning combination.

Levi Black has relocated from London to York, where he has inherited a house in a prime location not far from the Minster.  He knows little about the house, other than it belonged to a cousin of some sort, and that it was bequeathed to his mother; and now his mother has passed away it belongs to him.  Eager to make a fresh start after breaking up with his partner of five-years (who cheated on him), Levi is determined to fix the house up (it’s not been lived in for years) and make it his home, in spite of some odd noises coming from upstairs and the rather nervous demeanour of the solicitor who meets him there to hand over the keys.  Levi had hoped to be able to stay in the house while the work is completed, but the place is in a worse state than he’d thought, so he moves into an hotel for the duration.

Six months later, Levi is finally able to move in and quickly makes himself at home – although he’s at a loss to explain the pervasive scent of lily of the valley, and the sudden banging of the open doors and windows that he’s sure he’s closed and latched.  Later that evening, he’s surprised to discover his house on the route of one of York’s many ghost tours – surprised and embarrassed when he wanders downstairs naked to find a group of people staring at him through the kitchen window! – and to hear it referred to as the ‘Murder House’ by the tour guide, a strikingly attractive young man with vivid blue hair whom Levi has seen around town a few times.

Waking up the next morning to a freezing cold house – all the windows have been thrown open and the boiler has been switched off – Levi decides he needs to find out more about the history of his new home, so that night, he waits for the tour to pass by and tags along, intending to question the guide at the end. Over a drink, the guide – Blue – tells Levi the gruesome story behind the Murder House, but becomes quickly withdrawn when Levi expresses his scepticism about ghosts and the spirit world.

But as more inexplicable things start to happen and an inexorable aura of darkness and dread descends on the house, Blue realises that Levi needs help of the sort only he can provide.  He’s a psychic and is able to see the spirits that move among the living of the city, many of whom seem intent on communicating with him. The problem is that he has never really worked out how to hear as well as see them; he has never honed his talent and for the first time, finds himself regretting that, as it leaves him unable to help Levi as much as he would like.

The romance between Levi and Blue is a lovely slow-burn and I really liked both central characters, who are very, very different, but who just click together to make a perfect fit.  Blue has had a tough life, ending up in care and then homeless at thirteen and doing what he had to in order to survive on the streets.  He’s prickly and defensive, scared of emotional attachments because they never last; but when he finally lets his guard down around Levi he’s revealed to have a huge capacity for love.  Levi is an absolute sweetie; honest and caring, he’s fascinated by Blue and wildly attracted to him, but doesn’t think someone so gorgeous and unusual could possibly be interested in someone as ordinary as he is, while Blue, of course, thinks a guy like Levi is way out of his league and is surprised at his impulse to protect and help him.  There’s a definite spark of attraction between them from the moment they meet, but their relationship develops slowly, as a genuine friendship first and then evolving into something more.

Levi is grieving the death of his mother around six months earlier, and Ms. Morton handles the subject with a great deal of sensitivity; the scene in which Blue takes Levi to see a stained glass window in one of York’s oldest churches is just so lovely:

“I think this is what grief is really like. After we lose someone, we’re like this window. We’re broken in pieces. Eventually we put ourselves back together, but it’s never the same as the original us. Instead, we’re a jumbled-up version with funny angles and new faces to show the world.” He turns to face the window. “Still beautiful and still whole. But just in a new way.”

I loved crotchety Tom, the owner of the bookshop where Blue has spent many hours – Levi isn’t wrong when he says he’s what Blue will probably be in his sixties! – I hope we’ll see more of him and Blue’s friend Will in future books.  And York itself feels like character in the story given the author’s wonderfully vivid descriptions of the city and its history; it’s a beautiful place full of wonderful old buildings and bursting at the seams with character and it’s easy to picture the old bookshop tucked away in sight of the Minster and the narrow cobbled streets.

I enjoyed the book a great deal, but near the end both Levi and Blue veer rather close to TSTL territory, which caused me to knock off half a grade-point.  It’s hard to explain without venturing into spoiler territory; let’s just say that maybe Levi’s Scooby-Doo references weren’t too far off the mark!

That said however, I’m still giving The Mysterious and Amazing Blue Billings a strong recommendation.  The characters are likeable, the romance is sweet and sexy, and the banter is spot on; and although the mystery is perhaps a tad predictable, the ghost story is well done and the spooky parts are downright creepy!

I’m looking forward to reading more about Black & Blue.

TBR Challenge: The Summer of Us by Lily Morton

This title may be purchased from Amazon

It’s going to be a long hot summer…

John is an exceptionally good lawyer. He’s driven, arrogant and hides a warm heart underneath a façade of cool politeness. He’s used to people disliking him but for some reason when meeting Matt in London the other man’s open dislike of him bothers him. He’s therefore surprised to find himself offering Matt a place to stay in his villa in the South of France while he’s working nearby. He’s surprised because he’d actually planned to spend the summer working on his book and plotting to get his ex-wife back.

However, his perfect plans take a blow as the long hot summer progresses and the two men get closer, and John starts to nurse an unexpected attraction to his houseguest from hell.

Matt is John’s polar opposite. He’s warm, funny, sociable and scruffy. He loves people and they love him back. However, to his consternation he hates John more than he hates Marmite, and Marmite makes him vomit. He hates his arrogance, his public school voice and the air of superiority that he carries around. The idea of staying in his home with just him for company sounds torturous and not in a good way.
However, as the hot, lazy days slip by he’s forced to realise that maybe he’s not such a good judge of character after all, because underneath that arrogance is a warm, funny, vulnerable man who’s incredibly sexy. The only problem is that while Matt is gay John is completely straight and Matt now wants him more than he’s ever wanted anything in his life.

See what happens when two men who think that they have nothing in common apart from a past mutual hatred find out that they might actually be each other’s future.

Rating: B+

Unlike the historicals prompt, where I always have lots of books to choose from, the contemporaries one usually sees me scrabbling around to find something to read because I like to choose my TBR Challenge reads from books I already own – and contemps aren’t really my thing so I don’t buy many.  I did, however, find a handful on my Kindle and, having recently enjoyed Lily Morton’s Rule Breaker in audio, (seriously, it’s fantastic) I decided to read one of the author’s earlier books, The Summer of Us, which is a spin-off title from her Beggar’s Choice series about a world-famous rock band.

Matt Dalton has been friends with the members of Beggar’s Choice for years; the bassist, Bram, is like a brother to him, and even though Matt runs a highly successful and elite staffing agency he also works as Bram’s PA. He’s charming, funny, outgoing and the sort of guy who gets on with everybody.  Everybody that is, except John Harrington, the band’s lawyer.  Matt disliked John from their first meeting, and that opinion has never changed in spite of the fact that everyone else in the band likes him and regards him as ‘one of them’.  But as far as Matt’s concerned, John is bossy, abrasive, arrogant… and it doesn’t help that he’s been very inconveniently attracted to him from the moment he first laid eyes on him.

John is rich and successful, but doesn’t have much of a life outside of his work.  The face he presents to the world is cool and self-contained, but it’s a façade behind which lies a gentle dreamer with a soft heart and a longing – one even he hardly recognises – to make a real connection with someone he can share his life with.  John knows Matt doesn’t like him but isn’t sure why… or why it bothers him so much.  So it’s as much a surprise to him as to anyone when he finds himself offering to put Matt up at his villa in the South of France when Charlie, the band’s lead singer, tells John that Matt has agreed to oversee the renovations on a property he’s just purchased near the one John owns.

What starts out seeming as though it’s going to be an enemies-to-lovers story quickly morphs into something else when Matt arrives at the villa and immediately jumps head-first into an apology for making snap judgements and then suggests they start afresh:

“I didn’t really give you a chance, which was a shitty thing to do, so I’d like to give us a second chance to become friends.  After all, we’re going to be spending a lot of time together and it would be a lot easier if it’s not in conditions that would have made Stalin uncomfortable.”

John is only too pleased to agree, and it doesn’t take long for both men to realise that they like each other a great deal, and to discover that, while on the surface they’re chalk and cheese, they actually have a lot more in common than they could ever have imagined.  From this new start, comes a deep friendship, a sense of true kinship and, for John, the confusion that comes with the realisation that he’s strongly attracted to Matt despite never having been attracted to men before.  Matt, who has been struggling with the fact that he’s only grown more attracted to John the more he’s got to know him, believes John is straight – hell, Bram told him that John was trying to get back with his ex-wife – and he isn’t prepared to be anyone’s experiment.  He’s realised that in past relationships, he was always the one to make sacrifices and to give while the other person took and now he’s decided he’s never going to settle again. He wants someone who is going to put him – Matt – first, and John surely can’t be that guy.  Can he?

I really enjoyed the way the central relationship developed, with the two men moving from antagonism to friendship and eventually to lovers.  They’re three-dimensional characters with baggage that continues to inform their attitudes and relationships; John’s aristocratic parents never really gave a shit about him, so he’s grown up reluctant to form connections for fear he’s not good enough, while Matt’s religious parents threw him out at fifteen when he came out, and he’s still carrying a shedload of guilt about a past relationship that went very badly wrong.  Ms. Morton’s wonderfully snarky (and wonderfully British) humour is very much in evidence, and although the appearances of the dreadful ex-boyfriend and equally dreadful ex-wife are somewhat clichéd, they nonetheless help to move things along a little by highlighting the contrasts between the men’s  past and present relationships.  John’s lack of angsting over and acceptance of his sexuality and his feelings for Matt feel right for his character; he says early on in the story that he’s never been one for strong emotions, and it’s obvious that his desire to get back with his ex-wife was motivated more by hurt pride than anything else, so the idea that it was finding the right person that made the difference made sense.  I liked that he wasn’t freaked out or in denial about his attraction to Matt, or interested in labels –

“I don’t know whether I’ve just discovered that I’m gay so much or just that I’ve discovered you… You’re my person and I think that I was just waiting for you. Man or woman, it doesn’t matter to me. The only thing that matters is that you are mine and I am yours.”

Also important in the story is the setting, which is described so vividly that I was able to picture it – the villa in the hills above Cannes with the amazing view of the sea – and imagine the heady scents of the flowers and herbs; the perfect backdrop to allow this intense, sexy romance to develop in that space out of time away from the constraints of everyday life. But there were a few things that kept this book from DIK status.  The aforementioned evil exes were a bit OTT, and sometimes, the dialogue between Matt and John is a bit too-good-to-be-true and overly sappy.  I also wasn’t wild about the continual use of “Matty” and “Johnny”, which felt a bit juvenile.  I know they were meant to be pet names, but I still found it a bit irritating.

Otherwise, though, The Summer of Us is a funny, charming, sexy and wonderfully romantic read and I enjoyed it a lot in spite of its flaws.

Rule Breaker (Mixed Messages #1) by Lily Morton (audiobook) – Narrated by Joel Leslie

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

Is it really wrong to want to murder your boss?

Dylan has worked for Gabe for two years. Two long years of sarcastic comments. Two long years of insults, and having to redo the coffee pot four times in the mornings to meet his exacting standards.

Not surprisingly he has devoted a lot of time to increasingly inventive ways to murder Gabe. From stabbing him with a cake fork, to garrotting him with his expensive tie, Dylan has thought of everything.

However, a chance encounter opens his eyes to the attraction that has always lain between them, concealed by the layers of antipathy. There are only two problems – Gabe is still a bastard, and he makes wedding planners look like hardened pessimists.

But what happens when Dylan starts to see the real Gabe? What happens when he starts to fall in love with the warm, wary man that he sees glimpses of as the days pass?

Because Gabe is still the same commitment shy, cold man that he’s always been, or is he? Has Dylan had the same effect on Gabe, and has his solid gold rule of no commitment finally been broken? With his heart taken Dylan desperately needs to know, but will he get hurt trying to find the answers?

Rating: Narration: A; Content: A

Sometimes, you listen to the first few minutes of an audiobook and know you’re going to love it – which is exactly what happened to me with Lily Morton’s Rule Breaker, the first book in her Mixed Messages series. It’s yet another of those books friends have been telling me for ages that I really must read, and once again, audio has proved the perfect way for me to catch up – and Joel Leslie’s fantastic performance only makes me even more thankful to have experienced the story in this format.

Rule Breaker charts the development of the opposites-attract romance between high-powered lawyer Gabe Foster and his assistant Dylan Mitchell; and as soon as I heard Dylan’s opening lines, I knew I was in for just the sort of fun-filled snark-fest that is right up my alley.

I want to kill my boss.

It has become an absolute truth that a small portion of my time every day, is now taken over with creating increasingly inventive ways to murder him slowly. Take today for instance. Today I’m debating whether to hang him out of the tenth-floor window tied to the conference table, or disembowel him with the cake knife from the tea trolley. This is all done while taking diligent notes at the meeting he’s forced me to sit on in. Never let it be said that men can’t multitask.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.