Winning the lottery is the biggest ticket to freedom Greer Hawthorne’s ever had. Until her best friend’s brother comes to town….
Greer Hawthorne’s winning lottery ticket doesn’t just bring her wealth, it also means her chance at a long-postponed education. She’s finally on the cusp of proving to her big, overprotective family that she’s independent – until a careless mistake jeopardizes her plan to graduate. Lucky for her, there’s someone in town who may be able to help….
Alex Averin plans to show up for his sister’s wedding, then quickly get back to his job as a world-renowned photojournalist. But when gorgeous, good-hearted Greer needs an assist with a photography project, he’s powerless to say no. Showing Greer his professional passion ignites a new one, and rouses instincts in Alex he thought he’d long set aside.
Can a ceaseless wanderer find a stopping place alongside a woman determined to set out on her own…or are Alex and Greer both pushing their luck too far?
Rating: Narration – B+ : Content – B+
Best of Luck is book three in Kate Clayborn’s A Chance of a Lifetime series, which features three best friends who win the lottery and then follows each of them as they adjust to the win and fall in love along the way. It’s a poignant, gently moving story involving two people whose lives have been far from easy and who are still struggling – to an extent – to come to terms with how their pasts have shaped them and learn how to move beyond it and shape their futures.
For Greer Hawthorne, the lottery win represented freedom. The freedom to finish her education and finally to prove to her family – and herself – that she could strike out on her own. A chronic illness that manifested in her teenage years meant she was unable to attend school, but now she’s able to live a normal life – with a few provisos. The trouble is, her mother continues to be incredibly over-protective, and nobody in her family – though they love her dearly – seems to think she can do or achieve anything on her own. Greer understands her mother’s concern for her health, but can’t help feeling irritated; she’s a grown woman and wants to move forward rather than keep looking back.
You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.
Stella Lane thinks math is the only thing that unites the universe. She comes up with algorithms to predict customer purchases – a job that has given her more money than she knows what to do with as well as way less experience in the dating department than the average 30-year-old. It doesn’t help that she has Asperger’s and that French kissing reminds her of a shark getting its teeth cleaned by pilot fish. She decides that she needs lots of practice – with a professional – which is why she hires escort Michael Phan.
The Vietnamese-Swedish stunner can’t afford to turn down Stella’s offer, and he agrees to help her check off all the boxes on her lesson plan – from foreplay to more-than-missionary position… Before long, Stella not only learns to appreciate his kisses but also to crave all of the other things he’s making her feel. Their no-nonsense partnership starts making a strange kind of sense. And the pattern that emerges convinces Stella that love is the best kind of logic…
Rating: Narration – B+ : Content – B
Helen Hoang’s début contemporary romance, The Kiss Quotient, has been on my radar ever since it came out last summer, but it’s showing up on so many “Best Books of 2018” lists that I decided I really should get around to listening to it! It’s a very accomplished piece of work – sexy, funny and moving, it’s an enjoyable story that pulled me in from the start and kept me engaged thanks, in part, to the strong characterisations and excellent narration by Carly Robins.
Stella Lane is a genius. She’s a brilliant econometrist who is completely dedicated to her job and comes from a very well-off family; at thirty, she’s settled and secure, although she wishes her mother would stop trying to set her up on blind dates and stop dropping anvil-sized hints about grandchildren. Stella has generally found dating to be a demoralising and disappointing experience; her autism means she doesn’t function well in social situations and her dislike of being touched only makes the prospect of intimacy that much more daunting.
You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.
My Goodreads stats for 2018 reveal that I read 256 books in 2018 (I challenged myself to 240, so I just passed that goal!) – although 108 of those were audiobooks. I suspect, actually, that I listened to more than that, as I know I did a handful of re-listens, and I don’t tend to count those – I re-listen far more than I re-read (I don’t think I did any re-reads last year) – and I think that number of audiobooks is more than ever. Although I have fifty-six 5 star rated books showing on my stats page, the actual 5 star/A grades only number around a dozen or so; the majority are 4.5 star reads that I rounded up or audiobooks in which either story or narration (usually the narration) bumped the grade up into that bracket. I say this because, despite that number of fifty-six, when I came to make my list of what I thought were the Best Books of 2018 for All About Romance, I didn’t have too much trouble making my list, whereas normally, I’ll have fifteen to twenty I could include and have a tough job to whittle it down.
4 star ratings were my largest group (153) – and these include the 4.5 star ratings I don’t round up (B+ books) and the 3.5 star ratings I do round up (B- books), and then I had thirty-three books and audiobooks in the 3 star bracket, nine in the 2 star, one 1 star and one unrated DNF.
The titles that made my Best of 2018 list are these:
And here are a few more rambling thoughts about the books I read and the audiobooks I listened to last year.
Historical Romance is far and away my favourite genre, and for years, I read very little else. Sadly however, HR made a pretty poor showing in 2018 overall, and while there were a few that were excellent, they really were the exception. The vast majority of the newer authors – and I do try most of them at least once – can’t generally manage anything that deserves more than a C grade/3 stars (if that) and even some of the big-names just didn’t deliver. Elizabeth Hoyt’s new series got off to a terrible start with Not the Duke’s Darling, which was overstuffed, confusing and not very romantic with an irritating heroine of the worst kind (the sort who has to trample all over the hero in order to prove herself). Lorraine Heath’s When a Duke Loves a Woman – which I listened to rather than read (thank you Kate Reading, for the excellent narration!) – stretched the cross-class romance trope to breaking point and was sadly dull in places, and Kerrigan Byrne’s sixth Victorian Rebels book, The Duke With the Dragon Tattoo was a huge disappointment. On the plus side though, just before the end of the year, I read début author Mia Vincy’s A Wicked Kind of Husbandwhich was clever, witty, poignant and sexy, and is the first début I’ve raved about since 2016. Meredith Duran’s The Sins of Lord Lockwood was a triumph, and Caroline Linden’s two Wagers of Sin books – My Once and Future Dukeand An Earl Like You – were very good – intelligent, strongly characterised and deeply romantic. Of the two, I preferred An Earl Like You, a gorgeously romantic marriage of convenience story with a bit of a twist. Honourable mentions go to Joanna Shupe’s A Notorious Vow, the third in her Four Hundred series, Virginia Heath’s A Warriner to Seduce Her and Stella Riley’s Hazard, and my two favourite historical mystery series – Lady Sherlock and Sebastian St. Cyr (Sherry Thomas and C.S. Harris respectively) had wonderful new instalments out. K.J. Charles – who can’t seem to write a bad book! – published three titles – The Henchmen of Zenda, Unfit to Printand Band Sinister – all of which I loved and rated highly, and new author, Lee Welch gobsmacked me with her first full-length novel, an historical paranormal (queer) romance, Salt Magic, Skin Magic, a truly mystical, magical story with a sensual romance between opposites. Bec McMaster’s terrific London Steampunk: The Blue Blood Conspiracy continued with You Only Love Twice and To Catch a Rogue, which were wonderful; fast-paced, intelligent and witty, combining high-stakes plots and plenty of action with steamy, sensual romances.
I’ve turned most often to romantic suspense this year to fill the void left by the paucity of good historical romance – many of them in audio as I backtracked through audio catalogues and got hooked on some series that first appeared before 2018, notably Cut & Run and Psycop. In print, I was really impressed with Charlie Adhara’s first two novels in her Big Bad Wolf series, The Wolf at the Door and The Wolf at Bay. I’m not a big fan of shifters, but a friend convinced me to try the first book, and I’m really glad I did. There’s a great suspense plot, two fabulous leads with off-the-charts chemistry, and their relationship as they move from suspicion to admiration to more is really well done.
The final book in Rachel Grant’s Flashpoint trilogy – Firestorm – was a real humdinger and fantastic end to what’s been one of my favourite series over the past couple of years. Superbly written and researched, topical, fast-paced and featuring fabulously developed characters, Firestorm sees two characters who’ve been dancing around each other for two books having to team up to infiltrate a Russian arms dealing ring, and, when things go south, going on the run in one of the most dangerous places in the world. Ms. Grant is one of my favourite authors and her romantic suspense novels are hard to beat.
My big – and I mean BIG – discovery this year was Cordelia Kingsbridge’s Seven of Spades series which is simply brilliant – addictive. I’ve raved about it to everyone that will listen (sorry!) and will do so again. It’s a series of five books (four are out, the fifth is due in March) that tells one overarching story about the search for a clever, devious serial killer plaguing Las Vegas. Each book advances that plotline while also having another, self-contained storyline that eventually coalesces with the main plot; it’s incredibly well done and the plots themselves are filled with nail-biting tension. The two central characters – Levi Abrams, a tightly-wound, intense homicide detective – and Dominic Russo – a congenial, much more relaxed guy who has serious problems of his own – are wonderful; they’re complex, flawed and multi-faceted, and while they’re complete opposites in many ways, they’re no less perfect for each other because of it. Their relationship goes through terrific highs and terrible lows, but as we head into the last book, they’re stronger than ever – and I can’t wait for what promises to be an incredible series finale.
Contemporary Romance isn’t a genre I gravitate towards, but for what I think is the first time EVER, one made my Best of list – Sally Malcolm’s Between the Lines. I’ve really enjoyed the three books she’s set in New Milton (a fictional Long Island resort); in fact, her novella, Love Around the Corner could easily have made the list as well. She has a real gift for creating likeable but flawed characters and for writing emotion that sings without being over the top. And I have to give a shout-out to Kelly Jensen’s This Time Forever series, three books that feature older (late thirties-fifty) characters finding happiness and their forever afters – wonderful, distinct characters, each facing particular challenges and the need to sort out all the emotional baggage that comes with having been around the block a few times.
I listened to more audiobooks than ever this year – partly, I think, because I was trying to fill the gap in my reading because so much HR was just not measuring up, and partly because the fact that I tend to genre-hop more in audio has introduced me to a number of new (to me) narrators that I’ve begun to seek out more. (Plus, I’ve had some long commutes lately!) My favourites are still my favourites: Rosalyn Landor, Kate Reading, Mary Jane Wells, Alex Wyndham and Nicholas Boulton are unbeatable when it comes to historical romances; Andi Arndt reigns supreme when it comes to American contemps, Steve West could read me cereal packets and Greg Tremblay/Boudreaux is my hero. But my list of narrators to trust has grown to include J.F. Harding, Sean Crisden, Joe Arden, Carly Robbins, Saskia Maarleveld and Will Damron.
I’ve become hooked on m/m romantic suspense this year, and have been catching up with two long-running series – Cut & Run by Abigail Roux and Madeline Urban and Psycop by Jordan Castillo Price. The Cut & Run books are fast-paced hokum, the sort of thing you see in a lot of procedurals and action films – enjoyable, but frequently full of holes. But the series is made by its two central characters – Special Agents Ty Grady and Zane Garrett – who strike sparks off each other from the get go and fight, snark and fuck their way through nine books I enjoyed to differing degrees. Unusually, the series has three narrators; the first one (Sawyer Allerde) wasn’t so great, but Sean Crisden and J.F. Harding do fabulous work in books 3-9, and while I know there’s a lot of mixed feeling out there over the later books, I’d still recommend them and the series in audio.
I’ve also been drawn to a number of books that feature psychics in some way or another – I have no idea why – and again, some were more successful than others. I enjoyed Z.A. Maxfield’s The Long Way Home– which is excellently narrated by J.F Harding – and I’m working my way through Jordan Castillo Price’s hugely entertaining Psycop series (I’ve listened to 6 books so far) narrated by Gomez Pugh who doesn’t just portray, but completely inhabits the character of Victor Bayne, the endearingly shambolic protagonist of the series. I plan to listen to the final three books very soon.
Contemporary Romance is a genre I rarely read and don’t listen to often, as it doesn’t do much for me in general. Nonetheless, I’ve listened to a few great contemporary audios in 2018, several of them in Annabeth Albert’s Out of Uniform series, notably Squared Away and Tight Quarters, the latter being one of my favourites. Greg Boudreaux’s narration was the big draw for me in picking up this series on audio (although books 1-3 use different narrators) and he continues to be one of the best – if not THE best – male romance narrators around. The praise heaped on Kate Clayborn’s début, Beginner’s Luck prompted me to pick it up in audio, although I confess that Will Damron’s name attached to it factored into that decision as well. Helen Hoang’s début, The Kiss Quotient was another contemp that generated a huge buzz, which again, prompted me to listen – and the fact that I’d enjoyed Carly Robins’ performance in Beginner’s Luck once again proved the power of the narrator when it comes to my decisions as to what I want to listen to.
As for what I’m looking forward to in 2019? First of all, I’d like a few more winners from my favourite historical romance writers, please! Although to be honest, it’s looking a bit bleak, with Meredith Duran on hiatus, and only one – I think? – book due from Caroline Linden this year. I am, however, looking forward to reading more from Mia Vincy, who has three more books in her series to come, and I’ve already read a fantastic book by K.J. Charles – I believe there’s a sequel on the way, which I’m sure will be equally fabulous. I can’t wait for the finale in the Seven of Spades series – and for whatever Cordelia Kingsbridge comes up with next, and the same is true of Charlie Adhara, whose final Big Bad Wolf book is due out in April. There are new books in their respective series coming from Sherry Thomas and C.S. Harris, so I’ll be there for those, and I’m looking forward to Deanna Raybourn’s next Veronica Speedwell book. Audio often lags behind print, so many of the audiobooks I’m eagerly awaiting are books I read in print this year, such as Amy Lane’s A Few Good Fish (which I read in August) with Greg Tremblay once again doing the honours, and Lee Welch’s Salt Magic, Skin Magic, performed by Joel Leslie, who I’m sure is going to be terrific. I’m also looking forward to the final book in Kate Clayborn’s Chance of a Lifetime Trilogy, Best of Luck, again narrated by Will Damron and Carly Robbins.
Hopefully, I’ll be back this time next year to let you all know how things have panned out!
Kit Averin is anything but a gambler. A scientist with a quiet, steady job at a university, Kit’s focus has always been maintaining the acceptable status quo. Being a sudden millionaire doesn’t change that, with one exception: the fixer-upper she plans to buy, her first and only real home. It’s more than enough to keep her busy, until an unsettlingly handsome, charming, and determined corporate recruiter shows up in her lab – and manages to work his way into her heart….
Ben Tucker is surprised to find that the scientist he wants for Beaumont Materials is a young woman – and a beautiful, sharp-witted one at that. Talking her into a big-money position with his firm is harder than he expects, but he’s willing to put in the time, especially when sticking around for the summer gives him a chance to reconnect with his dad. But the longer he stays, the more questions he has about his own future – and who might be in it.
What begins as a chilly rebuff soon heats up into an attraction neither Kit nor Ben can deny – and finding themselves lucky in love might just be priceless…
Rating: Narration – B+: Content – B+
Kate Clayborn’s Chance of a Lifetime series is a trilogy about three friends who, on impulse, buy a lottery ticket and end up winning the jackpot. The books published so far – Beginner’s Luck and Luck of the Draw (the final book, Best of Luck, will be released in November) – have been highly recommended, and that, together with the combined appeal of two experienced narrators who have both received praise at AudioGals decided me on giving this one a try. I’m glad I did; Beginner’s Luck is an enjoyable, sexy romance between complex, well-defined characters who grow as individuals throughout the story; there’s a small but fully-rounded secondary cast and the various relationships – friendship and familial – are skilfully drawn.
Ekaterina – Kit – Averin is pretty happy with her life. She has a job she enjoys at the local university, good friends she loves… and although she wishes she was able to see a bit more of her older brother Alex, a globe-trotting photographer, life is good. After the lottery win, she decides to use some of her money to obtain something she’s always desperately wanted, but never really had – a home. Her mother left when Kit was a baby and her father was – is – addicted to alcohol and gambling, so her childhood wasn’t particularly stable. Alex, who is her half-brother, was only five at the time her mother left, but he took on the responsibility of caring for Kit and pretty much raised her. Now, Kit craves stability and wants to make herself a home; she falls in love with an old house in need of a lot of TLC and refurbishment and buys it.
You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.