The Cuckoo’s Call by Lily Morton

the cuckoo's call

This title may be purchased from Amazon

Can a summer romance last forever?

Wren Roberts thought he’d found his fairy tale when he met Mateo Rossi on holiday in Majorca. The wealthy and successful older man swept him off his feet, and before he knew it, he’d thrown caution to the wind and was living in Mateo’s waterside apartment in Venice. It’s a far cry from his harsh upbringing and crummy flat in London.

But as the summer turns to autumn, cracks begin to show. Mateo’s family aren’t welcoming, and there doesn’t seem to be a place for Wren in Mateo’s world. He could have coped with all of that, but Mateo himself seems like a different person away from the sunshine island.

Should Wren have been more cautious in riding off into the sunset when he wasn’t sure what lay over the horizon?

Rating: B+

Lily Morton’s The Cuckoo’s Call is a charming and heartfelt age-gap, opposites-attract romance that looks at what happens to a holiday romance after the holiday is over.  You generally know what you’re getting with a Morton book – steamy sexytimes, witty banter, engaging characters and a good helping of feels – which is exactly what’s on offer here, and if you’ve read at least some of Lily Morton’s other romances, you’ll recognise the character-types – the snarky, free-spirited one and the more world-weary one who falls completely under his spell but fights it all the way.  But tropes are tropes are tropes; as always, it’s what the author does with them that matters, and if the formula happens to work for you (as it did for me here) then you’ll likely enjoy the book.

Wren Roberts was looking forward to taking a holiday on the island of Majorca with his long-time friend, Owen, but didn’t know that they would be joined there by a group of Owen’s rich, snobby friends.  After a week of putting up with their not-so-veiled jibes at his non-designer clothes and being dragged to private beaches and expensive bars, he’s more than a little pissed off when Owen announces the group’s intention to finish their holiday in Madrid – the fare an expense Wren can’t afford.

Wren is giving Owen a piece of his mind in the hotel lobby when he notices their exchange being watched by a striking, dark-haired man at the reception desk who is trying to suppress a smile.

Although disappointing, Owen’s departure at least means Wren will be able to explore the island and do the things he wants to do.  Not so good though is the treatment he’s afforded by the hotel staff; now he’s on his own and not with a rich crowd, they’re less than polite towards him, and one of the waiters is in the process of turning Wren away from the restaurant when the man Wren had seen earlier announces that Wren is his dinner guest – and the waiter’s attitude immediately turns from dismissive to obsequious.  Wren isn’t sure what’s going on, but when the man – who introduces himself as Mateo – invites him to join him, Wren allows himself to be persuaded to stay.

Wren and Mateo share a meal and an enjoyable evening, but it’s not until Wren has, with typical self-deprecating humour, spoken about the rudeness of the staff that he realises exactly whom he’d had dinner with.  Mateo Rossi.  The owner of the hotel.

Oops.

When Wren answers the knock on his door the following morning, Mateo is the last person he expects to see standing there.  Far from being annoyed, however, the man is smiling and chatty, then asks Wren to tell him about the pros and cons of his room, listening carefully to what he has to say.  He then explains that he’s on Majorca in order to purchase two more hotels, and would like Wren to view them with him:

You have a very keen eye, and I find I need that this week… I find myself suffering a little ennui.  Everything looks the same to me at the moment.  I need a pair of fresh eyes.

Wren thinks he should probably turn down such an out-of-the-blue request… but he wants to do it, to go with this intriguing man and have something exciting happen, something he can remember when he’s back at his boring job in gloomy London.  He says yes.

Over the next few days, Mateo – who was born on Majorca and obviously adores the place – shows Wren more of the island, taking him to some of his favourite places in between their visits to the hotels he’s considering purchasing.  A genuine friendship springs up between this odd couple, and it’s the best week of Wren’s life, even though he knows he’s in danger of falling for the fascinating, older man.  Mateo isn’t looking for anything long-term – and even if he were, he’s way out of Wren’s league – but Wren decides the eventual heartbreak will be worth it for having had the chance to live life to the full for this one week and make lots of wonderful memories to take home with him.  And Wren’s captivating mix of honesty, warmth and humour make Mateo realise how weary and closed-off he’s been, and how long it is since he’s felt so unencumbered, so joyous and free.  On their final day together, Mateo suddenly realises he’s not ready to let Wren go – and asks him to go back to Venice with him (which is where his family and business are based) and stay for a month.

It’s not a spoiler (it’s in the blurb) to say that in Venice, things change.  Mateo’s mother and stepsister are hostile towards Wren, and even though Mateo wants to spend time with him, he is quickly sucked back in to the corporate world and consumed by his responsibilities.  Wren can’t deny he’s upset at not seeing much of Mateo, but he decides to make the most of his time in the city and enjoy it while he can.  But the longer he’s around the Rossi family, the more Wren is convinced there’s no place for him in Mateo’s world.

Wren is a complete and utter sweetheart.  An orphan brought up in foster care, he’s learned not to expect much and that the only person he can really depend on is himself, but despite his difficult upbringing, he’s also learned to make the most of what is available to him and has somehow managed to maintain an upbeat and optimistic outlook and to develop “a deep compassion that someone who grew up like him should surely not possess.”  His gentle humour has a softer edge than the rapier wit displayed by many of Lily Morton’s characters, but it fits Wren perfectly; he’s kind and generous, but he doesn’t suffer fools and doesn’t let anyone push him around.  I loved his honesty and self-awareness;  he doesn’t lie to himself about what he feels for Mateo, going into their relationship with his eyes open and knowing it’s got an end date, determined not to put any pressure on Mateo for anything he’s not able or prepared to give.  Mateo is a bit more of a romance stereotype; the workaholic businessman weighed down by responsibility who’s lost sight of the important things in life.  I liked the way the story is structured; it’s easy to understand why Wren would fall for the more carefree Mateo we see in the first part of the book, and seeing that man first makes his reversion to the duty-bound man of the second part even more painful to witness.

The story is told from both PoVs, although at least three-quarters of it is told from Wren’s perspective with the odd chapter told from Mateo’s, and of the small secondary cast, Mateo’s grandfather is the standout.  I also noticed a couple of characters who seem to be crying out for a book of their own!  And bonus points for the references to the gothic romances of yore – I got a definite Rebecca-ish vibe early on (although there’s no Mrs. Danvers, fortunately!) – and Wren’s love of Mills & Boon.

Wren and Mateo’s romance is passionate and tender and full of affectionate, gentle humour – and though the angst level is fairly low, the author still manages to pack quite the emotional punch. With its wonderfully described Mediterranean/Venetian settings and charming central characters, The Cuckoo’s Call is a lovely, feel-good read that will bring a smile to your face, a lump to your throat and warmth and sunshine to the grey days of winter.

Merry Measure by Lily Morton (audiobook) – Narrated by Joel Leslie

merry measure

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

Arlo Wright’s introduction to his sexuality came when he saw his older brother’s best friend, Jack Cooper, in his sweaty football kit. Unfortunately, he didn’t have long to enjoy the revelation because he promptly knocked himself out on a table.

Relations between them have never really moved on from that auspicious beginning. Arlo is still clumsy, and Jack is still as handsome and unobtainable as ever. However, things look like they’re starting to change when Arlo finds himself sharing a room with Jack while on holiday in Amsterdam at Christmas.

Will the festive spirit finally move them towards each other, or is Arlo just banging his head against a wall this time?

Rating: Narration – A; Content- B+

A sweet, fluffy and charming romance between an accident-prone primary school teacher and his brother’s best friend, Merry Measure was one of my favourite Christmassy romances of last year, so I was delighted to see it make its way into audio just in time for the festive season this year. Fans of the author will know what I mean when I say it’s typical Lily Morton: funny, snarky and sexy with endearing leads, fun secondary characters and well-written familial relationships and friendships. Coming in at somewhere under six hours, it’s a relatively short listen, but it nonetheless manages to provide just the right amount of feel-good vibes and festive cheer – and with the supremely talented Joel Leslie at the microphone, you know you can just kick back and enjoy the show!

Arlo Wright just about makes it to the airport in time to catch his flight to Amsterdam, where he’s to join his brother Tom, Tom’s boyfriend, Bee, and a couple of other friends for a pre-Christmas jaunt to the city to celebrate Tom and Bee’s engagement. Although Tom has yet to propose; he’s hoping for the perfect moment while they’re on the trip. Arlo hates flying, so he was extremely relieved when Tom’s best friend Jack Cooper (on whom Arlo once had a massive crush) offered to travel with him.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

Beautifully Unexpected by Lily Morton

beautifully unexpected

This title may be purchased from Amazon0

Sometimes love comes when you least expect or want it.

Magnus Carlsen is determined to grow old disgracefully. At fifty-two, he doesn’t believe in keeping anything. Men, sofas, books—everything gets jettisoned, eventually. He’s divided his life into happy compartments. A successful trial lawyer, he spends his days lecturing jurors, exasperating judges, and striding arrogantly around courtrooms. He fills his nights with a parade of handsome young men who want to make him happy. Why date someone his own age to discuss back pain, retirement-planning, and corns, when he can date men who don’t care to discuss anything at all?

However, when one of these sunny young men shows an inclination for dramatic scenes, Magnus meets his new neighbour. And his whole world implodes.

Laurie Gentry is nearly the same age as Magnus, but that’s where the similarity ends. He’s messy and creative and nosy and mysterious. He’s everything that Magnus has spent a lifetime avoiding. So, why can’t he get Laurie out of his head?

Luckily, Laurie is only in London for the summer. Magnus can uncover Laurie’s mysteries and indulge their annoyingly hot attraction, and Laurie will be gone before complications arise. A few months isn’t long enough to lose his heart. Is it?

Rating: B+

Beautifully Unexpected is typical Lily Morton – and I mean that in a good way.  It’s well-written, warm, funny and sexy, boasting two intensely likeable leads with terrific chemistry, plenty of her trademark snark – and a real punch in the feels towards the end.

Magnus Carlsen QC is one of the most successful barristers in the country – and is well aware of that fact; modesty isn’t one of his defining qualities.  He’s the sort of man who commands attention whether he’s in a courtroom or a dining room; he’s attractive, intelligent and supremely confident, likes his life ‘just so’, his men young and the sex casual.

The book opens as Magnus is going through his morning routine – pleased to discover that last night’s bed partner has had the good manners to take himself off – and answers the door only to discover said bedmate clearly hadn’t got the message that the night before was a one off.  Worse, he’s standing naked on the doorstep insisting they’re in a relationship, wearing only a blue bow tied around his tackle.  As Magnus irritatedly attempts to put him straight, he notices a man getting out of the lift pulling a suitcase and watches as he stops outside the apartment opposite and seems to be looking for his keys.  Magnus doesn’t recognise the man, but he certainly seems to be quietly amused by the drama unfolding on Magnus’ doorstep.  The beribboned twink flounces off just as the other man manages to unlock his door and with a Parthian shot worthy of Magnus himself, goes inside.

Following a morning in court – and having chalked up another win – Magnus is at lunch with a colleague when he sees his new neighbour at another table, and goes over to introduce himself properly.  He’s surprised when the man tells him he’s having dinner with Judge Bannister– the very Judge whose courtroom Magnus had been in that morning – and Magnus commiserates with him over having lunch with such a frightful bore.  And then falls – metaphorically – flat on his face when the man tells him the judge is his stepfather.  Oops.

Renowned artist Laurie Gentry is around the same age as Magnus (he’s forty-eight to Magnus’ fifty-two), but that’s about the only thing they seem to have in common.  Laurie is creative, messy, witty, irreverent, something of a free spirit and just a little bit mysterious – and he’s absolutely not Magnus’ type.

And yet.

Well, it’s a romance novel, so we know where it’s going, but the getting there is a lot of fun!  I enjoyed reading these two characters who believe themselves to be completely set in their ways circling each other, working out that maybe a no-strings fling is in order, and then falling hard for each other, no matter that that’s not what they intended at all.  I loved how Laurie is completely up to Mags’ (he insists on calling him Mags) weight and won’t let him get away with any crap; he knows how to burst his bubble when he’s being a bit too arrogant and he’s overflowing with the sort of warmth and laughter Mags’ somewhat sterile life and environment has long been missing.  Watching Mags open up and let him in was just lovely; but what really shines through is the way these two come to truly know, understand and care for one another, and how they take care of one another, working out what the other needs and providing it. Their romance unfolds at a perfect pace; it’s tender and funny and sexy, and the depth of their affection for each other is palpable. These two really do bring out the best in each other as they come to realise how much better life can be when you have someone to share it with.

The one incongruous note in the book is the dog.  Laurie decides Mags should get a dog (“You don’t have to have a good personality for a dog to love you. Just a pulse.”) and for some strange reason Mags, a man who values order and tidiness, lives in a beautiful apartment with, no doubt, expensive furniture and fittings, chooses a dog who will almost certainly chew all of it to bits.  For one thing, I was surprised that an exclusive apartment block would actually allow animals, and for another, his decision was so completely out of character that it threw me out of the story.  If it was supposed to show me that Mags was unbending due to Laurie’s influence – it didn’t.  It just felt off.

And my other niggle is the overuse of the phrase “Ack!” by Magnus.  Maybe a Danish thing (Magnus is Danish but has lived most of his life in the UK), but it appears a lot and I found it rather irritating.

The fact that Magnus and Laurie are in mid-life kind of permeates the book insofar as these are men who’ve been around the block a few times, have plenty of life experience under their belts and know who they are, and that confidence and knowledge is present on the page.  That’s not to say things are smooth sailing; there is clearly something worrying Laurie, while Magnus is struggling to reconcile his previously uncomplicated existence with his emerging feelings – and I really appreciated that by the time we reach the end, they’re essentially the same men they always were – they’re just better together than they were apart.

The deadpan humour is spot on, the steam factor is just right and the moments of poignancy are superbly judged – I don’t think I’ve ever teared up reading a Lily Morton book before, but this one had me sniffling.  Despite my criticisms, I enjoyed Beautifully Unexpected very much and definitely recommend it to fans of the author’s or anyone looking for a heartfelt, superbly developed romance between a mature couple.

The Quiet House (Black & Blue #2) by Lily Morton

The Quiet House

This title may be purchased from Amazon

Levi Black has mostly recovered from the events of a year ago. The only lingering effects are that he’s much more well known in York than he’d like to be, and he’s a lot more cautious about walking around his house naked. However, those events brought him the capricious and fascinating Blue, so he’s not complaining. On the contrary, he’s happy, in love, and looking forward to Blue finally moving in with him. And if sometimes he wonders what Blue sees in a boring cartoonist, he keeps that to himself.

Blue Billings is finally ready to throw off the memories of his past and move in with the person who means the most in the world to him. His psychic abilities have grown in the last year to his mentor Tom’s consternation, but Blue is determined to look on the bright side. He’s also focused on ignoring all the warning signs that he’s received lately.

However, even deeply buried secrets have a way of rising to the surface. And when a surprise from Blue’s past turns up and draws them away to a lonely house on the Yorkshire moors, Levi and Blue must fight for their survival once again.

Rating: B

Lily Morton’s The Mysterious and Amazing Blue Billings introduced readers to the eponymous quirky and snarky York-based ghost-tour guide, and Levi Black, a cartoonist from London who, after the death of his mother and a bad break-up, moves to York after inheriting a house near the Minster from a distant relative.  It’s a fun mix of romance and ghost story, with likeable characters, some lovely moments of poignancy and lots of the author’s trademark witty banter, and I – like many of Ms. Morton’s fans – have been eagerly awaiting the next book in the series.  The Quiet House is that book, and once again the author has penned an intriguing story and peopled it with some great characters – some we’ve met before, some who are new – and shown she’s more than able to bring the spooky when called for.

The Quiet House takes place around a year after Blue and Levi were nearly killed ridding Levi’s house of a particularly dangerous and malevolent ghost.  The intervening year has seen a number of changes in their lives – good changes – with Blue working to understand and control his abilities and he and Levi becoming closer and finding their way forward as a couple.  Blue still leads his ghost tour once a week, and when the story begins, Blue notices an old man dressed all in black standing quietly at the back of his tour group. He’s far too solid-looking to be a spirit, and Blue believes he’s just a late arrival – and a stingy one at that, when he disappears without paying the fee.  Not until a day or so later does he learn what he’s seen, when his friend, employer and mentor in all things psychic, crotchety bookshop-owner Tom Pattison, explains that what he saw was a spirit – or more correctly a “crow” – a warning that trouble is on the way.

And it arrives when Levi opens the door one evening to a stranger asking to see Blue – a stranger who looks oddly familiar.  With good reason.  The man is Declan Shaw.  Blue’s absentee father.

Blue has never even met his dad seeing as how he legged it before Blue was born; he recognises him from an old photo his mother kept with her at all times.  Declan’s sudden appearance evokes mixed emotions in Blue – anger for sure, but curiosity, too; maybe Declan can fill in some of the blanks for Blue, tell him some of the things about his mother he longs to know.  But Declan shows no sign of wanting to build anything with his son; he’s there to offer Blue a lucrative job at the home of his eccentric employer, Viscount Ingram, whose massive country house on the Yorkshire Moors is reputed to be the most haunted house in England.  Ingram wants to open the house to the public as a hotel of the macabre – and he needs a psychic to tell him about the spirits he can see, to interact with them and tell him their stories.

Much to Levi’s dismay, Blue is intrigued and seriously considering the proposition.  He’s worried that Declan will hurt Blue, but when Tom reveals the house in question has a terrible reputation and that it’s haunted by some very violent sprits, it seems that there is a great deal more to worry about than Blue’s relationship with his father.  Tom and Levi know Blue is going to need all the help he can get, and together, the three of them make their way to the grand estate, where right from the off, Blue and Tom are affected by the overwhelming sense of evil that permeates the place.

And of course things go from bad to worse once they arrive.  It turns out Blue and Tom aren’t the only psychics to have been invited to unlock the secrets of this particular haunted house, and that over the past year or so, Ingram has extended the same invitation to many psychic guests  – and now it seems the spirits are seriously pissed off and that something truly powerful and evil has been awakened.  And not only that, but Blue’s worst nightmare seems to be coming true. Something is targeting Levi.

Lily Morton is known for writing funny, sexy contemporary romances with plenty of snark and plenty of steam, but in this series, she shows she’s able to turn her hand to something different.  The steam and humour are still present (albeit a little toned down), but the paranormal element of the story is the main focus, and she creates a real sense of menace and disquiet that slowly pervades the book, becoming stronger and stronger until we reach the novel’s dramatic climax.

I was delighted to see Tom get a bigger role in this story; he’s a curmudgeon with a heart of gold and a real soft spot for Blue, and I love his deadpan sense of humour.  The other secondary characters –  an eccentric viscount, a TV psychic and a couple of nasty blasts from Blue’s past – are vividly drawn, and I hope Jem, the cameraman who would rather be photographing penguins than poltergeists, will make that trip to York and meet up with Blue’s friend Will again.

The romance in this book is more low-key than before, but even though Blue and Levi have been together for a year, they have some lovely, tender moments together, and I was really pleased to see how far Blue has come since the last book, when he was skittish and insecure, used to keeping himself apart and waiting for rejection.  He’s the same whimsical, smart-mouthed so-and-so he always was, but there’s a sense of stability and equanimity in him that weren’t there before.  And Levi – sweet, caring, loveable Levi – is his anchor, the person who keeps him grounded and tethered to reality.  Their devotion to one another shines through, even in moments of insecurity and doubt.

The Quiet House is an entertaining read that boasts a winning combination of snarky psychic, lonely viscount, ghostly monks, satanic rituals and the grumpiest mentor ever.  It’s a nicely balanced mix of funny, sexy and spooky, and I enjoyed my return to the world of Black & Blue.

Merry Measure by Lily Morton

This title may be purchased from Amazon

Arlo Wright’s introduction to his sexuality came when he saw his older brother’s best friend, Jack Cooper, in his sweaty football kit. Unfortunately, he didn’t have long to enjoy the revelation because he promptly knocked himself out on a table.

Relations between them have never really moved on from that auspicious beginning. Arlo is still clumsy, and Jack is still as handsome and unobtainable as ever.

However, things look like they’re starting to change when Arlo finds himself sharing a room with Jack while on holiday in Amsterdam at Christmas. Will the festive spirit finally move them towards each other, or is Arlo just banging his head against a wall this time?

Rating: B+

Lily Morton is one of my go-to authors whenever I’m looking for a sexy, funny, low-angst read, and in Merry Measure – a standalone Christmas romance – she delivers all those things and more.  It’s a charming friends-to-lovers story that’s full of warmth, humour and Christmas spirit (the bottled kind as well as the other!), featuring two wonderfully endearing leads and a marvellous supporting cast.  Fans of Ms. Morton’s will need no urging to pounce on this one – and if you haven’t read her yet and are in the mood for some festive sweetness and snark, then here is as good a place to start as any.

Primary school teacher Arlo Wright is flying to Amsterdam for Christmas, where he’s joining his brother Tom and a few other close friends in order to celebrate Tom’s engagement to his boyfriend Bee… as soon as Tom does the actual proposing.  Arlo is terrified of flying, so he’s glad to be travelling with his brother’s best friend Jack Cooper, upon whom he once had a massive teenage crush, and who is now as much Arlo’s friend as he is Tom’s.

Arlo and Jack arrive at the hotel to discover there’s been a mix-up with the rooms – and Arlo discovers that maybe his crush on Jack isn’t quite as dead as he’d thought it was.  Jack had originally intended to travel with his boyfriend, but they’ve recently broken up; Jack contacted the hotel to cancel his double occupancy, but instead, they’ve cancelled his room – and this close to Christmas, it’s going to be nigh on impossible for him to find anywhere else to stay in the city.  He’s about to start looking anyway when Bee suggests that Jack share Arlo’s room – it’s got two beds after all – and after a couple of moments of awkwardness, Arlo agrees.  After all, what could possibly go wrong?

Okay, so it’s all a bit predictable, but Ms. Morton transcends the tropes and puts her own stamp on them.  Arlo and Jack are totally adorable, both individually and as a couple.  Arlo is a complete dork in the best way; he’s scatty and warm and funny, his brain-to-mouth filter doesn’t always work and he’s vibrant and full of life. Jack is equally lovely; quieter and more reserved, he’s the “measure” to Arlo’s “merry”, a bit of a perfectionist whose predilection for tidiness and detail and planning comes out more strongly when he’s anxious. He knows Arlo had a crush on him when they were younger (he thought it was sweet) and knows he’s grown out of it, which is probably for the best.  But the previous Christmas something shifted and Jack experienced a real coup de foudre, suddenly seeing Arlo in a completely different light, the pull of attraction hitting him completely unexpectedly. But not only is Arlo is his best friend’s little brother, the Wrights have been more like family to Jack than his own has ever been, and he doesn’t want to screw that up. He hopes he’ll be able to go back to seeing Arlo the way he did before – but that hasn’t happened, and Jack doesn’t think it’s going to happen any time soon.

Jack and Arlo have chemistry by the bucketload, and their transition from friends to lovers is perfectly believable because of the way their relationship is set up; this is a short-ish novel, but the romance doesn’t feel rushed or forced because they’ve been known each other for so long and have always held a special place in each other’s lives.  They speak and act like adults – which I loved – and although Arlo does jump to a couple of conclusions born of his own insecurities, the author doesn’t allow them to fester or become ridiculously overblown. These guys talk to each other openly and honestly, those small moments of trust and intimacy showing just as strongly as the snarky banter or the love scenes, why they are such a good fit.

One of the hallmarks of Ms. Morton’s books is the way she writes close friendships and familial relationships. Most of her series centre around a particular friendship or family group, and in much the same way, this story features a terrific supporting cast of close-knit friends and family who tease each other mercilessly but who obviously love and care for each other deeply.  And while I’m not generally a fan of the ‘evil ex’ trope, there are times when watching such characters get their just desserts is so thoroughly delicious that I set aside my reservations and just enjoy it – which is exactly what I did here when Jack’s obnoxious ex turns up at a very inauspicious moment.

Merry Measure is a fun, sexy, feel-good read that’s peppered with laugh-out-loud moments and full of festive cheer. The Amsterdam locations are gorgeous and vividly described, the characters are warm and funny, and the romance is delightful.  It’s just the thing to while away a few hours on a chilly winter’s evening.

The Mysterious and Amazing Blue Billings (Black & Blue #1) by Lily Morton (audiobook) – Narrated by Joel Leslie

This title may be downloaded from Audible via 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: Narration – A; Content – B+

Author Lily Morton branches out into paranormal romance with The Mysterious and Amazing Blue Billings, a ghost story set in York, which is often called one of the most haunted towns in Britain. The author’s trademark humour and snark are very much in evidence, the central romance features two engaging characters who come to share a strong emotional connection, and Ms. Morton knows how to bring the spooky, so maybe this isn’t a book to listen to in the dark!

Following the death of his mother and his breakup with his partner of five years, Levi Black relocates from London to York, where he has inherited a house from a distant relative. It’s a beautiful old building in a prime location not far from the Minster, and he falls in love with it straight away (despite the rather odd noises coming from upstairs), determining to fix it up, turn it into a proper home and make a fresh start. His plans to move in have to be put on hold however, because the house is in a worse state than he’d realised, so he moves into a hotel for the six months while the workmen make the house habitable again.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

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.