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.