Eight Weeks in Paris by S.R. Lane

eight weeks in paris

This title can be purchased from Amazon

BREAKING: Lost novel of Bell Epoque Paris, The Throne, comes to the silver screen with an A-list cast. But will on-set drama doom the filming of this gay love story before it starts?

Nicholas Madden is one of the best actors of his generation. His personal life is consistently a shambles, but he’ll always have his art—and The Throne is going to be his legacy.

Then his costar walks off the runway and into rehearsal. The role of a lifetime is about to be sunk by a total amateur.

Chris Lavalle is out, gorgeous and totally green. He has thousands of Instagram followers, a string of gorgeous exes and more ad campaigns to his name than one can count. But he’s more than just a pretty face, and The Throne is his chance to prove it.

If only Nicholas wasn’t a belligerent jerk with a chip on his shoulder and a face carved by the gods.

Eight weeks of filming, eight weeks of 24/7 togetherness bring Nicholas and Chris closer than the producers had dared to dream. Chemistry? So very much not a problem. But as The Throne gets set to wrap and real life comes calling, they’ll have to rewrite the ending of another love story: their own.

Rating: C

The publisher’s blurb for this début romance from S.R. Lane drew me in immediately. Eight Weeks in Paris revolves around filming the big-screen adaptation of The Throne, a classic queer novel set in Paris during the Belle Époque, and it promised an enemies-to-lovers romance between the two stars – one a Hollywood bad boy, the other a model and influencer with little acting experience. It’s a great premise and I really wanted to love it. But I didn’t, for a number of reasons.

The Throne, thought lost and only re-discovered in the early 1990s, captured the imagination of movie star Nicholas Madden the moment he read it, and he’s been waiting for years for a movie to be made of it – and to star in it. Finally, his dream is coming to pass; a fantastic director has been hired and filming is about to begin, when he learns that the man cast to play the complex and pivotal role of Angelo, his character’s love interest, is a virtual newbie. To say he’s not pleased is an understatement; this project is very close to his heart and he’s furious at the thought of it being torpedoed by a complete amateur.

When Christian Lavalle – beautiful, charming, openly out-and-proud – arrives on set, Nicholas dislikes him immediately, but is told that the two of them are going to have dinner together that evening so they can get to know each other a little. Nicholas agrees very reluctantly – not that he has much choice – and is very surprised to see a certain quality in Christian that may well mean he’s not such a bad casting choice after all. He’s still not convinced Christian has the acting chops necessary to carry off such a difficult role, but he realises theman is not the “brainless, vapid airhead” he’d expected him to be.

I liked those opening scenes, and I liked the characters and the way Christian keeps overturning Nicholas’ expectations. The author sets up the animosity between them well and there’s the hint of some decent chemistry there – but somehow, I reached the end of the book and found myself wondering what I’d just read. There’s an HEA, but I honestly couldn’t tell you how Chris and Nicholas get from their initial dislike to falling in love, or even why they fall in love. The writing style is vague and, dare I say it? rather pretentious, and while I was totally on board for the idea of the two love stories – the one in the book and the one between Nicholas and Chris – running concurrently and mirroring each other – neither romance is particularly convincing, and the real life one is severely underdeveloped.

The characterisation is similarly obscure. When I started reading, I found both protagonists intriguing and looked forward to getting to know them better, but that never happened. I felt as though I was reading the book through a fog, where everything I was looking for – story, character and relationship development – was behind some sort of opaque veil and always just out of reach. It was really frustrating!

Where the book does score is in its exploration of the disadvantages of fame – how hard it is to have a private life when you’re forever in the public eye in this age of social media – and the ins and outs of filming and all the industry entails; the power plays, the on-set drama, the PR, the media, the deceptions (Nicholas is not out and his agent wants it to remain that way) and all the work that goes into film-making.

But as a romance it falls flat. Eight Weeks in Paris should have been a terrific read – a slow-burn, opposites-attract romance between two actors filming a classic queer love story in the world’s most romantic city – but unforunately, it’s none of those things.

The Last Mile (Blood Ties #2) by Kat Martin

the last mile

This title may be purchased from Amazon

When Abigail Holland awakes to the sound of a nighttime intruder in her rambling Denver Victorian, she knows exactly what the black shrouded figure is after—the map she recently inherited from her grandfather. Whoever he is, the man who grapples with her, then escapes, is willing to kill for the location of a treasure King Farrell hunted for more than ten years. The Devil’s Gold has claimed hundreds of lives, and it was her grandfather’s obsession.

With a killer pursuing her and her own family not to be trusted, Abby decides to take up the search herself. But she’ll need help to do it, and there’s no one better than renowned explorer and treasure hunter Gage Logan. Despite the instant chemistry between them, Gage is reluctant. Innocent people have been hurt on his watch before. But when Abby shows him a genuine gold ingot she found with the map, his curiosity is piqued. Before long they’re heading into the flash floods and brutal winds of the Superstition Mountains, straight into a passionate entanglement—and the dark heart of danger.

Rating: C

I know that Kat Martin is a veteran author of dozens of romantic suspense novels, but I haven’t read any of them, so I decided I’d jump in with The Last Mile, a story that promised to combine the excitement and danger of a hunt for lost treasure with a romance between an Indiana Jones-type seeker of lost artefacts and a young woman who has been left a treasure map by her late grandfather, also a famous treasure hunter. Well, the story delivered on the excitement and danger part and the plot is well put-together, if somewhat predictable. The romance, though? A total non-starter. There’s as much chemistry between the leads as between a pair of dead fish, and some of the pronouncements by the alpha male hero reminded me why I so rarely read m/f romance any more. And don’t get me started on the amount of mental lusting – it starts in the first chapter and Just Does Not Let Up. Ugh.

Abigail Holland is being targeted by someone out to gain possession of the map left her by her late grandfather – renowned explorer and treasure hunter King Farrell – that supposedly shows the location of two hundred million dollars’ worth of gold – Devil’s Gold – that King had spent the last ten years searching for. As it appears someone is willing to kill her to get hold of the map, Abby is more certain than ever that the gold actually exists, and has made the decision to finance an expedition to carry on King’s work and find it. To that end, she approaches Gage Logan, one of the founders of Treasure Hunter’s Anonymous, and asks him if he’ll take the job on. Gage is sceptical – most in the treasure hunting community had grown impatient with King Farrell’s obsession – but eventually signs up. He’s not keen on Abby going along for the ride – he doesn’t take his clients on jobs – but Abby tells him she’s going anyway, and that if he won’t take her, she’ll find someone else who will. Gage reluctantly agrees that she can accompany him.

The storyline here falls into two parts, the first in which Abby, Gage and his team travel to Arizona following the map; the second takes them to greater danger in Mexico with its corrupt officials and drug cartels who all want a piece of the action (or all of it!). It feels like your standard Hollywood adventure movie with plenty of action and really creaky dialogue, but it’s entertaining enough. For some reason, Ms. Martin decides to include a third PoV (a cartel boss) late on, which is jarring and pointless, and the book as a whole is over-long, with a final section that really isn’t necessary where, completely our of the blue, the author turns a bland bit-character into a villain.

The Last Mile is an easy read, and I enjoyed the amount of detail the author provides as to the various locations Gage and Abby travel to, and to their thought-processes as they work through their ideas, the clues they’ve been given and the information they glean from various sources. It’s clear that this treasure-hunting lark is something that requires a lot of skill and attention. But oh, dear, the romance is dreadful and both leads have come straight out of central casting. Gage is your typical tall, dark and handsome commitmentphobe wracked by guilt over something that was in no way his fault and who therefore Will Not Love; Abby is a bit of a loner who has “never lusted for a man before”is determined to focus on finding the treasure and will Not Allow Herself To Be Distracted, so Gage – no matter his off-the-charts hotness – is off limits. Gage doesn’t sleep with clients and doesn’t get involved with anyone, ever. But Abby Is Not Like Other Women – and he decides that, okay, hands off while they’re out on the search, but once back in Denver, all bets are off:

“I’ve dreamed of having you naked and spread open beneath me, dreamed of being inside you. Now that I know that’s what you want too, I promise you it’s going to happen.”

because

“I’m what you need, and we both know it.”

Ugh. Surely I can’t be the only one rolling my eyes and banging my head on the desk reading that?

I’m sorry Ms. Martin, but ‘Me, Tarzan You, Jane’ pronouncements are no substitute for having actual chemistry between your principals and neither is being constantly bashed over the head with page after page filled with lustful thoughts. The physical attraction we’re constantly told exists between Gage and Abby is at the forefront of everything they say, think and do, but I finished the book having no idea why or how they fell in love.

In the end, The Last Mile is just about average. The predictablity of the plot together with two-dimensional characters and a boring romance that totally lacks sexual tension means I can’t recommend it.

Out of the Ashes (Ashes & Dust #3) by Jenn Burke

out of the ashed

This title may be purchased from Amazon

Some bonds weren’t meant to be broken.

Vampire PI Evan Fournier has dealt with his fair share of danger and heartache, but nothing prepares him for the pain of a broken bond with his mate—especially when his mate is the one who severed it. Bond or no, he still loves Colin—fiercely. Trust, however, is harder to come by. And when a demon starts terrorizing paranormals in Toronto, trust in one another is exactly what they’ll need.

Former firefighter turned crime-fighting phoenix Colin Zhang knows who Evan was—is—to him, but he doesn’t know if he can give him what he wants. He just needs a little time to figure things out. Unfortunately, bringing down a demon bent on mass murder leaves little time for anything else.

The only way they’ll destroy the demon is by teaming up with an unlikely partner to infiltrate a gang of terrorists. But the only way they’ll save themselves is by finding a path back into each other’s arms—and hearts—once again.

Rating: B

Out of the Ashes is the third and final book in Jenn Burke’s Ashes & Dust series of paranormal romances set in and around Toronto, featuring vampire investigator Evan Fournier, his lover Colin Zhang – a phoenix – and their extended family of werewolves, vampires, witches – and a god.  The author does include information about the previous instalments for readers new to the series, but I’d advise reading the books in order so as to fully understand the character backstories and the emotional impact of past events.

Please note that there are spoilers in this review.

At the end of House on Fire, Colin made the decision to break the bond that had accidentally formed between himself and Evan (in All Fired Up).  It was risky, but he’s come through it okay – mostly; while he’s retained his memories and knows who Evan is, he has no emotional attachment to those memories, and Evan can tell that every time Colin looks at him, he sees a virtual stranger.  Understanding why Colin did what he did makes it no less devastating, and Evan is trying desperately to cling to the hope given him by Colin’s confession of love and exhortation to fight for them in the letter he left before he underwent the spell.  But weeks later, and with no indication that anything is changing,  a heartbroken Evan is struggling to keep his depression at bay, wondering how long he’ll be able to keep alive the hope that Colin will come back to him.

At the same time as Evan is trying to come to terms with the fact that the man he loves may never again love him back, the Westerson-Rojas household is reeling from the murder of Hudson’s brother by a demon, and the disappearance of Hudson’s niece Priya, who fears she will be accused of the crime.  And they’re still no nearer to discovering who is responsible for the spate of attacks on members of the paranormal community over the past few months.

Out of the Ashes opens a few weeks after House on Fire ends, and finds Evan and Colin on a maybe-date, joining their friends for the evening at Alleys, their favourite hang-out.  The night has barely begun when the place is rocked by an explosion that kills several of the bar’s paranormal patrons and injures many more – including Colin, who discovered the hard way that using his phoenix powers to control fire isn’t as easy now he’s unbonded.

Amid the chaos, Evan is sure he recognises someone from a recent investigation, a shifter who works as bodyguard to Elijah Michelakis, the man believed to be behind the recent campaign to expose and discredit paranormals in the community.  It seems as though the anti-paranormal campaign has been stepped up, but when Michelakis is found dead – apparently by his own hand – it’s clear to Evan and the gang that there’s something – or someone – else pulling the strings.

In my review of the previous book, I said that it posed more questions than it afforded answers and that it moved swiftly without offering more than a cursory exploration of events.  As well as the main plotline about the threat to Toronto’s paranormal community, there was a subplot about Hudson’s brother and one about Colin’s former fiancée and his son, and there was so much going on that the romance between Evan and Colin just wasn’t gelling.  Even so, the breaking of their bond at the end was a real gut-punch, so I was looking forward to seeing them fall in love ‘properly’ in this book, but while the author does a good job of tying up all the loose ends, I still found the romance a bit lacking, and can’t help wishing Colin’s PoV had been included. Without it, he feels distanced and little more than two-dimensional.

Evan, on the other hand, is superbly characterised, likeable and sympathetic.  As has been the case throughout this and the previous series (Not Dead Yet) his “asshole brain” – aka, depression – is written realistically and sensitively, and I’ve really enjoyed watching his growing confidence as he comes into his own, still very much part of the family Wes and Hudson have built, but capable of standing on his own two feet and living on his own terms.

The book feels more cohesive than the previous one and the plot is well-paced and developed, but the identity of the Big Bad comes a bit out of left-field, and in the end, their motivations are not particularly compelling.  I can’t deny I was a bit disappointed with how certain aspects of the final showdown were handled, but ultimately, Out of the Ashes reaches a satisfying conclusion and is an enjoyable finale to Evan and Colin’s journey, with a firm HEA for them and the hint of a possible spin off/sequel series that will open out the paranormal world Jenn Burke has so strongly established.

If you’ve been following the Ashes & Dust series, then you’ll want to pick up Out of the Ashes to find out how everything turns out, and if not, there’s a lot to enjoy here.  If you’re in the market for a series of paranormal romances featuring strong world-building, likeable characters and intriguing plots, with a found-family vibe and plenty of warmth and humour, this one should definitely be on your radar.

Book Boyfriend by Kris Ripper

book boyfriend

This title may be purchased from Amazon

There are three things you need to know about Preston “PK” Harrington the third:

  1. He’s a writer, toiling in obscurity as an editorial assistant at a New York City publishing house.
  2. He is not a cliché. No, really.
  3. He’s been secretly in love with his best friend, Art, since they once drunkenly kissed in college.

When Art moves in with PK following a bad breakup, PK hopes this will be the moment when Art finally sees him as more than a friend. But Art seems to laugh off the very idea of them in a relationship, so PK returns to his writing roots—in fiction, he can say all the things he can’t say out loud.

In his book, PK can be the perfect boyfriend.

Before long, it seems like the whole world has a crush on the fictionalized version of him, including Art, who has no idea that the hot new book everyone’s talking about is PK’s story. But when his brilliant plan to win Art over backfires, PK might lose not just his fantasy book boyfriend, but his best friend.

Rating: C

After reading the blurb for Kris Ripper’s Book Boyfriend, I was looking forward to reading a slow-burn friends-to-lovers romance about a somewhat hapless writer who has been in love with his best friend forever, who ends up pouring out his feelings on paper because he’s too scared to say them out loud. Well, that last part is largely true – but the romance and the love interest character are basically relegated to the background while the PoV character stumbles his way through life and into becoming a best-selling author through lots of inner monologues which, while they can be very funny, are also chaotic and rambling.

PK Harrington (who works as an assistant editor at an unnamed publishing house) is called to the lobby of his apartment building one evening to find his best friend and former roomie Art standing there, bedraggled (it’s raining) and looking very upset. Art has just broken up with their boyfriend – about which PK is secretly delighted, thinking that maybe, finally, this is his chance with Art, who he’s been in love with ever since they shared a drunken kiss one time when they were at college. PK offers Art his spare room for as long as they need it (which he hopes will be forever), and before long, Art has properly moved back in.

PK is thrilled, obviously, but still terrified about telling Art he loves them, so instead, PK starts writing down a few ideas about how Art makes him feel – and soon those ideas have grown into an entire book based loosely around how he and Art met, the things they’ve done together and PK’s undying love for them. PK shows the manuscript to a friend at work, she loves it, takes it to her boss, who also loves it, and suddenly, he has a book deal. But he daren’t tell Art, because he’s sure Art will recognise that the book is basically about them and how PK feels about them, and starts to see it as the sort of grand romantic gesture Art professes to love and that happen in romance novels all the time – right?

Even though the book I read wasn’t the book I was expecting to read, I liked a lot about it. It’s funny and quirky, and very meta in the way it looks at how publishing works and the sorts of problems authors face. (And I totally agree on the author’s stance on the Grand Gesture!) I liked PK for the most part; he’s self-absorbed and clueless and basically needs to grow up (he’s, like, twenty-six but he reads, like, you know, much younger) but he’s endearing, and his stream of consciousness monologuing can be oddly relatable. On the other hand, it can be quite distracting; some of his inner ramblings are SO tangential and jumbled up that I found myself skimming them to get back to the point – and the story.

Art, as I’ve said, is really a secondary character, and we never get to know much about them other than their taste in nail-polish and books. Even though they move in with PK at the beginning of the book, the two of them have very little time together on the page, and they have zero chemistry; I had no idea why PK was so desperately in love with Art, and no idea of their feelings towards PK. There IS an HFN here, but it’s last-minute and unsatisfying.

I liked Wade, a childhood frenemy of PK’s – he’s snarky and really doesn’t give a shit; although I liked him less in the last third of the book when he lectures PK about what he’s done wrong, not only when he’s at a real low, but in a way that comes across as a bit preachy. And Art doesn’t exactly cover themself in glory, either, sometimes disparaing or belittling PK, and, at one point, ghosting him for weeks.

Being in PK’s head is both fun and exhausting, but I was please that, towards the end, he tries hard to understand what went wrong and works to put it right, learning to really listen and to talk meaningfully. Book Boyfriend isn’t a bad book by any means – but if you’re looking for a romance filled with chemistry and longing, you won’t find those things here, and that’s ultimately why I can’t quite give it a recommendation.

The Long Game (Game Changers #6) by Rachel Reid

the long game

This title may be purchased from Amazon

To the world they are rivals, but to each other they are everything.

Ten years.

That’s how long Shane Hollander and Ilya Rozanov have been seeing each other. How long they’ve been keeping their relationship a secret. From friends, from family…from the league. If Shane wants to stay at the top of his game, what he and Ilya share  has;to remain secret. He loves Ilya, but what if going public ruins everything?

Ilya is sick of secrets. Shane has gotten so good at hiding his feelings, sometimes Ilya questions if they even exist. The closeness, the intimacy, even the risk that would come with being open about their relationship…Ilya wants it all.

It’s time for them to decide what’s most important—hockey or love.

It’s time to make a call.

Rating: A

Note: As this book is both a sequel and the finale to a long-running series, there will be spoilers for earlier books in this review.

Rachel Reid’s The Long Game is the final book in her Game Changers series of romances set in the world of professional hockey – and, most importantly, the long and eagerly awaited conclusion of the epic love story between Shane Hollander and Ilya Rozanov begun in the second book, Heated Rivalry.  If you, like me, are a fan, you’re going to need no encouragement from me to rush to buy this one as soon as it’s available, so I suppose what you really want to know is – does The Long Game deliver everything we’ve been waiting for?  I’m pleased to be able to give an unequivocal “yes” in answer; Rachel Reid has done herself, her readers and these two much loved characters proud with a story that brings Shane and Ilya’s romance to a wonderfully romantic and emotionally satisfying conclusion while not shying away from showing that their journey has been far from easy and their HEA is hard won.

Heated Rivalry charted the progression of the relationship between rival hockey stars Shane Hollander and Ilya Rozanov, whose on-the-ice animosity translated into an explosive sexual attraction off of it.  Over the course of seven years, their relationship slowly morphed from one based on mutual lust and convenience, hooking up whenever they happened to be in the same place at the same time, to one based on deep affection, understanding and love.  At the end of the book, Shane and Ilya have decided to keep their relationship under wraps for the moment; coming out as queer is going to be difficult enough given the homophobia surrounding professional sports, but for two players whose intense rivalry has become legendary to own up to being in a relationship with each other… well, that’s going to need some really careful handling when they decide to go public.  As a way of trying to show that their animosity isn’t quite as strong as the media paints it, they start a mental health charity in memory of – and named after – Ilya’s mother, who suffered from depression and took her own life when Ilya was just twelve, and together, they run summer hockey camps for kids as one method of fundraising.  This at least means they get to spend a bit of time together each summer away from the media spotlight, even if they can’t be open about what they are to each other quite yet.  Also, Ilya decided to move from the top-flight team he was playing for in Boston to the Ottawa Centaurs, the least successful team in the NHL, to be nearer to Shane’s base in Montreal so they’d be able to spend a little time together during the gruelling hockey season.

By the time The Long Game opens, Shane and Ilya have been together for almost ten years (if you count the ‘hook-up’ years) – and Ilya is finding the hiding and secrecy and the loneliness of long periods apart increasingly hard to manage.  He and Shane are as deeply in love and committed to each other as ever, but with Shane at the top of his game and playing for the best team in the league, Ilya is beginning to fear that perhaps they’re going to have to wait another ten years before they can truly begin making a life together.  After all, they’re only twenty-nine, and realistically could be looking at another decade before retirement.  That’s not to say that Shane likes the situation either, and it’s absolutely clear that he loves Ilya with all his heart, but he’s in a very different place, both professionally and personally, and is able to face the prospect of ten more years of sneaking around more easily than Ilya is.  Except of course, they don’t really talk about it much because during the hockey season they get so little time together that neither of them wants to ‘spoil’ those stolen moments by bringing up the huge elephant in the room.

I think it’s fair to say that Ilya Rozanov has probably become the series’ stand-out, most-beloved character, and while Heated Rivalry felt like it was (mostly) ‘Shane’s book’, The Long Game definitely feels like Ilya’s.  He’s larger-than-life, always ready with a snarky comeback and doesn’t much care what others think of him – he’s got a reputation as a bit of an arsehole, although those closest to him know he’s a truly good person underneath it all, that behind the smart mouth and sardonic attitude lies a man with a heart of gold who feels things very deeply.  He’s still the Ilya we know and love, but in this book, we get to see a much softer, more vulnerable side of him that we’ve only briefly glimpsed before, and it tugs at the heartstrings to watch him face up to the fact that he’s not doing so well, realising just how much he’s put into keeping the relationship going and wondering just how much he has left to give. Shane, too, is trying to do his best to balance the personal and the professional, but his fear of losing everything he’s worked so hard for blinds him to the toll the secrets and lies are taking on the man he loves.  In the end, both men will have to face some hard truths and make some serious adjustments if they’re going to make it in the long run.

If you’ve been following the series, then you’ll already know that the timeline of The Long Game overlaps somewhat with that of Role Model, so we get to see Ilya’s reaction to Troy’s arrival and a little of their developing friendship from Ilya’s PoV (and yes, The Plane Incident, too).  I also liked the way Ms. Reid contrasts the two teams – the Montreal Voyagers may be the best team in the league, but when it comes to management styles and interpersonal skills, they’re crap – dictatorial and overbearing –  while at Ottowa, the opposite is true; their manager is a decent guy who treats his players like human beings and fosters a sense of team spirit and camaraderie that, while it may not bring the big wins, nonetheless makes for a much more positive environment.

I don’t want to say much more and risk spoiling the book, so I’ll end by saying that the author does a wonderful job here with relationship and character development while also making sure that Shane and Ilya remain very much ‘them’ – Ilya, cocky yet endearing, Shane adorably modest and just a bit of a stickler – and in presenting the challenges they’re facing in a realistic way.  The Long Game is full of genuine poignancy and emotion – from the deepest love and affection to heartache, and everything in between – charming moments of domesticity, scorching sex scenes, and the humour, good-natured competitiveness and snarky banter we’ve all come to love.  It delivers everything I wanted for Shane and Ilya and more, and is an early contender for my Best of 2022 list.  Thanks, Rachel, for giving these boys the fantastic send-off they so richly deserve.

Season’s Change (Trade Season #1) by Cait Nary

season's change

This title may be purchased from Amazon

Olly Järvinen has a long way to go. He’s got a fresh start playing for a new team, but getting his hockey career back on track is going to take more than a change of scenery. He’s got to shut his past out and focus. On the game, not on his rookie roommate and his annoyingly sunny disposition—and annoyingly distracting good looks.

All Benji Bryzinski ever wanted was to play in the big leagues, and he’s not going to waste one single second of his rookie season. Yoga, kale smoothies and guided meditation help keep his head in the game. But his roommate keeps knocking him off track. Maybe it’s just that Olly is a grumpy bastard. Or maybe it’s something else, something Benji doesn’t have a name for yet.

Olly and Benji spend all their time together—on the ice, in the locker room, in their apartment—and ignoring their unspoken feelings isn’t making them go away. Acting on attraction is one thing, but turning a season’s fling into forever would mean facing the past—and redefining the future.

Rating: B-

Season’s Change is the début novel from Cait Nary, a sports romance set in the world of professional hockey that follows veteran (at twenty-four!) player Olly Järvinen and rookie Benji Bryzinski through a hockey season as they go from roommates to friends to lovers.  It gets off to an incredibly strong start and I was utterly captivated by the characters and their UST-laden and slightly angsty slow-burn romance, but around the two-thirds mark, things began to slow down and became repetitive. Had the book ended as strongly as it began, it would have been an easy DIK, but as it is, I had to knock the grade down for a number of unresolved issues and most of all, the way what had been such a promising romance limps along to a not-completely-satisfying HFN.

When we meet him at the beginning of the book, Olly is a mess.  He’s been playing professional hockey for three years, and is just starting out with the Washington Eagles, but weeks of not sleeping and not eating properly on top of extreme anxiety and stress following an incident at his previous team in Minnesota mean he’s not in a good place physically or mentally.  He’s determined to push through it though, to make a fresh start and leave the past behind, to – as his Dad has so often said – toughen up, and focus on getting his career back on track.

Benjy is twenty-one and all he’s ever wanted to do is to play hockey.  He might be “just a dumbass from Duncannon, Pennsylvania”, but he’s bright, he’s keen and he’s determined to make the most of every minute of his rookie season.  He hits it off with his teammates straight away, although his new roommate Olly Järvinen takes a bit longer to warm up to him.

Season’s Change is a friends-to-lovers story which, as I said at the beginning, starts extremely well.  Olly has some serious issues to deal with, which the author reveals gradually to have stemmed from a homophobic roommate and coach in Minnesota who bullied and assaulted him when they found out he was gay. By this point, he’s absolutely terrified of anyone else finding out about his sexuality, and he fervently believes he can’t be queer and be a hockey player, so he’s decided he’s got to put that part of himself on the back-burner until he retires.  It’s been fairly easy to do that; despite spending so much time around well-built attractive men, he’s never been tempted to hook up with any of them… until now.  Benjy is all sunshine to Olly’s gloom; he’s honest and good-natured and funny (and hot) and becomes a very good friend, someone Olly can turn to and lean on when he’s at his lowest.   But Benji is straight – and even if he wasn’t, he’s off limits.

The progression of Olly and Benji’s relationship in the first part of the book is very well done.  Their friendship is superbly written and their romance is a fantastic slow-burn with lots of longing and chemistry and sexual tension that leaps off the page.  I loved it.

But things start to fall apart in the last third of the book – which means it’s difficult to talk about specifics because we’re into spoiler territory, but I’ll do my best!  The biggest problem is that the romance, having been built up so beautifully in the first part of the story, stalls and doesn’t go anywhere until the very end.  There’s too much repetition and extraneous detail taking up word-count that should have been used to bring the romance to a satisfactory conclusion instead of the flimsy HFN it gets at pretty much the last minute.  In a book of almost 400 pages, there should have been plenty of time for the author to get the leads together and show us a happier Olly doing a better job of managing his mental health and realising he can have all the things he’s dreamed of having with Benjy.  We don’t get to see them navigating life as a couple and truly being themselves, and we don’t get the chance to relax and be happy for them before the book is over.  Given everything they go through, they don’t get the ending they deserve, and that’s a crying shame.

It bothered me that when Olly and Benji finally start a sexual relationship, Olly thinks it’s just a case of them ‘helping each other out’ and that Benji is straight and will eventually find a woman he wants to be with.  He never tells Benji he’s gay – in fact, they never talk about what they’re doing at all – and I found it hard to believe that Benjy never once wonders if Olly is queer.  And Benjy talks about having fooled around with guys before and having had threesomes with girls and guys, but it never occurs to him that he might be bisexual until the very end.

Highlight to read spoiler:

Speaking of threesomes… There’s one in the book, and it felt like a scene of dubious consent.  Benji brings home a woman and convinces a very sad, very drunk Olly to have a threesome (MFM – she blows Olly while Benjy fucks her.)  Olly has never been with a woman in his life and has never wanted to, and is so distressed  in the morning that he immediately throws up and spends days after avoiding Benji.  I didn’t see the point of it and it felt unnecessary cruel given everything Olly is going through.  It made me really uncomfortable.

Other smaller niggles. This is a sports romance, and I know that hockey fans will probably disagree with me, but there is too much hockey stuff in the last third of the book.  I freely admit I’m not into sports (and know next to nothing about ice hockey) BUT my issue isn’t so much with the inclusion of sports-related detail – I accept that a story built around hockey will have stuff about hockey in it! – it’s that it uses valuable word count that could instead have been spent building a proper HEA for Olly and Benjy.

Probably going along with the ‘hockey stuff’ is the ‘bro speak’; maybe it’s accurate, but I found it irritating (and sometimes incomprehensible!), and the same is true of Benjy’s tendency to, like, use the word “like” in every, like, sentence.

Assigning a final grade to Season’s Change was difficult.  The first two-thirds is DIK standard, the central characters are engaging and their romance – up until they start having sex – is gorgeous and frustrating and they have chemistry by the bucket-load . The author creates a wonderful team camaraderie, the writing is strong overall and Olly’s anxiety and fears are presented skilfully and sympathetically.  The complicated family dynamics are well done, too – Olly has one of those pushy ‘hockey dads’ who is always on at him to do more and do better, and Benjy’s sister is in a toxic relationship and can’t or won’t admit it. This plotline doesn’t reach a firm conclusion, but that feels realistic and I liked the way Ms. Nait handles this complex situation.

But while Season’s Change has a lot of really good things going for it, the final third and the ending drop down into C territory, so I’m going with a low-end B overall.  It’s worth checking out if you’re into hockey romances and looking for a new author to try, but I can’t recommend it without reservations.

His Fresh Start Cowboy (Woods Ranch #1) by A.M. Arthur

his fresh start cowboy

This title may be purchased from Amazon

Hugo Turner’s boots haven’t touched Texas soil in almost a decade, and he’s not sure they should now. Being in the state is complicated, but Hugo can’t resist going back for a job working with his teenage crush. His best friend’s hot older brother is now the ranch’s foreman, so he’ll be Hugo’s boss. Inappropriate? Probably. Will it stop Hugo? Probably not.

Brand Woods isn’t ready for the return of Hugo Turner. He decided long ago to keep his bisexuality private and to focus his life on running the ranch. Working next to the most dangerously tempting man he’s ever known stirs up questions Brand thought he’d put to rest.

The sparks that send their hearts galloping lead to a deeper passion than either man expects. But by giving in to the chemistry without taking a risk and committing to each other – or, more importantly, to themselves and living the lives they’ve always wanted – Brand and Hugo might lose their second chance at true love.

Rating: C+

The first books by A.M Arthur I read were from her Clean Slate Ranch series set on a dude ranch in California and telling the stories of the guys who stayed and/or worked there, the ‘magic’ of the place putting people in the right place at the right time to find new lives and loves. Those books were solid, B grade reads, so when I saw the author was embarking on a new series, I decided to give His Fresh Start Cowboy a read.  I hadn’t realised it’s actually a spin-off from the Clean Slate series – or at least, that this book starts there – so while readers coming to it without having read any of the others might need a little time to work out the family/friendship connections, it’s easy enough to do.

Hugo Taylor left his home in Texas some ten years earlier to get away from the constant bullying and physical abuse meted out to him by his stepbrother Buck.  Now twenty-seven, he’s been working at the Clean Slate Ranch for the last couple of years; he’s good with horses and he likes the work and the people, finding among them a sense of belonging and family he hasn’t experienced since his dad died and his mum remarried.  It wasn’t until he’d been there a while that one of the ranch hands, Colt Woods, actually realised who he was – that Hugo had been his younger brother Rem’s best friend at school.  Hugo knows, deep down, that Clean Slate was never meant to be his final destination, no matter how much he likes it there, so when he hears Colt talking about his father’s problem in hiring new hands, Hugo starts to wonder if maybe it’s time for him to go home.  Time to build bridges with his mother now Buck is out of the picture (he’s in prison) and maybe see if it’s possible to build anything with the man who gave him his first kiss and then promptly broke his heart a decade earlier – Brand Woods.

Brand has a lot on his plate.  As the second Woods son, he was never meant to take over running the family business, but when Colt up and left, Brand set aside his own dreams to take over as foreman at the ranch.  Now, with his father semi-retired, Brand is in charge – although some days, he can’t help wondering if his dad completely trusts him with the business and whether he’d still be as hands-on if Colt had stayed.  When his father tells him he’s hired Hugo Taylor, Brand is thrown off balance.  He’d known of sixteen-year-old Hugo’s crush on him for some time and had tried to ignore it until the night Hugo kissed him – the night everything Brand had thought he knew about himself had been upended.   Hugo is one of the only people who knows that Brand is bisexual and he can’t help being apprehensive about seeing him again.  Although Brant’s family was supportive when Colt came out as gay, Brand has never told them about himself; not because he fears their reaction (although he does think his father will be disappointed if Brand doesn’t have a son to pass the ranch on to), but because it fears it could damage the business if some in their conservative community refuse to do business with someone who’s queer.  Brand doesn’t plan on coming out – and in any case, as an employee, Hugo is off limits.

Hugo and Brand are complex, likeable characters with very real problems and issues to contend with, but their chemistry is lukewarm at best and Brand’s move from being determined to keep his distance from Hugo to deciding to disregard his own rule is really sudden and comes from nowhere.  It seemed I was expected to accept he and Hugo were attracted to each other because of Hugo’s old crush – and when Hugo admitted to having loved Brand since he was sixteen, I just couldn’t buy it because I’d seen very little to back it up.  They don’t spend enough time together on the page, Brand’s blow hot/blow cold attitude towards Hugo became very frustrating very quickly, and I didn’t like that he was prepared to talk to other people about his relationship with Hugo rather than talking about it with Hugo himself.  Plus, stories where one protagonist has to be clued-in to the way the other protagonist feels about them by a third party are a personal pet peeve.

But I did like a lot of other things about the book. The setting is well-realised, the characterisation is strong throughout, and I liked Hugo’s determination to face his past and try to reconnect with his mother; so often characters running from their past are forced to face it, but Hugo chooses to and I appreciated his courage in doing that.  Of all the characters in the story, Hugo is the most sympathetic and well-written, and the author conveys his complicated family situation, his insecurities and heartbreak very well.  I liked that, despite his on/off attitude towards Hugo, Brand is there for him when Hugo really needs him, and I appreciated the way the Woods family so quickly accepts him into the fold.

Ultimately however, I read this for the romance, and although there are a lot of things about the book that work, the romance isn’t really one of them.  I may pick up the next in the series, as there are characters in this one I’d be interested in reading more about, but I can’t quite offer His Fresh Start Cowboy a recommendation.

Something Fabulous by Alexis Hall

something fabulous

This title may be purchased from Amazon

Valentine Layton, the Duke of Malvern, has twin problems: literally.

It was always his father’s hope that Valentine would marry Miss Arabella Tarleton. But, unfortunately, too many novels at an impressionable age have caused her to grow up…romantic. So romantic that a marriage of convenience will not do and after Valentine’s proposal she flees into the night determined never to set eyes on him again.

Arabella’s twin brother, Mr. Bonaventure “Bonny” Tarleton, has also grown up…romantic. And fully expects Valentine to ride out after Arabella and prove to her that he’s not the cold-hearted cad he seems to be.

Despite copious misgivings, Valentine finds himself on a pell-mell chase to Dover with Bonny by his side. Bonny is unreasonable, overdramatic, annoying, and…beautiful? And being with him makes Valentine question everything he thought he knew. About himself. About love. Even about which Tarleton he should be pursuing.

Rating: B+

If you’re looking for an historical romance with a complex plot, serious characters and a bucket-load of angst, then move right along, because Alexis Hall’s Something Fabulous isn’t it.  If, however, you’re up for a frivolous romp through Regency England bubbling with wit and brilliant comic timing that, for all its ridiculous trope-y-ness, contains an achingly tender story of self-discovery, then dive right in.
The book opens with a delightfully – although somewhat more barbed – Heyer-esque proposal-gone-wrong in which Valentine Layton, Duke of Malvern, has decided it’s time to honour his late father’s wishes and become formally betrothed to Miss Arabella Tarleton, who has been intended for him since birth.  Miss Tarleton, however, has no intention of accepting Valentine’s proposal and makes that clear in no uncertain terms:

“There is no fashion, Your Grace, in which you could propose that would render it anything other than profoundly repugnant to me.”

Valentine is both astonished and affronted.  A refusal is something he had never remotely considered – after all, what impoverished young woman wouldn’t want to secure her future and that of her family by marrying a wealthy, young and handsome duke?

Later that night – or rather, in the early hours of the morning – Valentine (having made liberal use of the brandy bottle) is awoken by Arabella’s twin brother, Bonaventure – Bonny for short – who informs him that Arabella has run away and that they should go after her so Valentine can save her from ruin and propose again.  And that he’d better make a good job of it this time.  Valentine is not keen; it’s not that he doesn’t want to retrieve his wayward intended, he just doesn’t want to go without due thought or preparation. Or his valet.  Bonny, however, is something of a force of nature, and won’t take no for an answer, so before long, Valentine is being hurried along and into a curricle wearing a coat borrowed from the assistant gardener and a hastily tied – courtesy of Bonny – cravat.

That’s the set up for the fluffiest, silliest and most outrageously charming road-trip / grumpy-sunshine romance I’ve read in quite some time. (Or ever.) It doesn’t take itself seriously – even though it does have some serious points to make – and focuses entirely on the relationship between Valentine and Bonny, and on Valentine’s journey towards reaching a deeper self-awareness, understanding  how attraction works for him and that being seen and loved for who he is as a person is not impossible.

The writing is deft and insightful with plenty of clever nods to the genre, the dialogue sparkles and the two leads are superbly characterised.  Valentine, the repressed, dutiful duke has no idea of his own privilege but is somehow endearing in his cluelessness;  he’s deeply lonely but doesn’t realise it, and he has very little experience of sexual attraction until Bonny, and the sudden wealth of feelings that assail him when Bonny is around completely blindside him. Watching Valentine slowly learn that he is allowed to have feelings, that he can feel attraction and affection – and the way Bonny accepts him exactly as he is and without question – is simply lovely.  As for Bonny, well, he’s just adorable; free-spirited,  vibrant, charming and kind, he’s not ashamed of who he is and what he wants, and isn’t willing to settle for anything less than to be loved in the way he loves – with his whole heart and soul.

There’s a small, but well-drawn secondary cast. I particularly liked Peggy, Arabella’s best friend and some-time lover who is a welcome voice of reason in contrast to Arabella’s frequent and overblown histrionics, and Sir Horley, the rakish older gentleman with an eye on Bonny and a heart of gold.  As one would expect from an Alexis Hall book, the queer rep is varied and excellent;  Peggy is genderfluid, Sir Horley is gay,  I got the impression Arabella is aromantic, and there are two delightful ladies who are married in all but name.

Sadly, the book’s biggest flaw is Arabella.  I understood her frustration and where she was coming from – no legal rights, no right to an opinion, no rights over her own body, even – but rather than making the attempt to explain herself or just talk to Valentine, she screams and throws tantrums and melodramatic fits, she makes ridiculous and unfounded accusations and generally behaves like a spoilt brat.  If she’d been the heroine of a book, it would have hit the wall before the end of the first chapter!  It’s rare for me to have such a visceral reaction to a character in a book, but I honestly couldn’t stand her and felt sorry for Bonny having to put up with her all his life.  And this leads to my other issue with the story, which is that the catch-up-with-her/she’s-run-away-again is a bit repetitive – although I fully accept this may be because I so disliked Arabella that I just wanted her to run away and stay gone!

Other than that, however, Something Fabulous certainly lives up to its name.  It’s funny, sexy, daft and just a bit over the top, but it’s all done with obvious love and affection and I thoroughly enjoyed it.

If You Love Something by Jayce Ellis

if you love something

This title may be purchased from Amazon

As executive chef at one of the hottest restaurants in DC, DeShawn Franklin has almost everything he’s ever wanted. He’s well-known, his restaurant is Michelin starred and he can write his own ticket anywhere he wants. Until his grandmother calls him home and drops two bombshells:

1) She has cancer and she’s not seeking treatment.

2) She’s willing half her estate to DeShawn’s ex-husband, Malik.

Make that three bombshells. 

3) That whole divorce thing? It didn’t quite go through. DeShawn and Malik are still married.

And when DeShawn’s shady uncle contests Grandma’s will, there’s only one path back to justice: play it like he and Malik have reconciled. They need to act like a married couple just long enough to dispense with the lawsuit.

Once DeShawn is back in Malik’s orbit, it’s not hard to remember why they parted. All the reasons he walked away remain—but so do all the reasons he fell in love in the first place.

Rating: B-

I’ve been meaning to read one of Jayce Ellis’ m/m romances for a while, so I was happy to pick up her latest – If You Love Something – for review. It’s an easy, sexy/sweet, low-angst read – nothing spectacular or outstanding, but the engaging writing and likeable characters kept me reading and were enough for me to be able to offer a recommendation.

Michelin-starred chef DeShawn Franklin is living his dream as Executive Chef at a trendy Washington DC restaurant.  He’s something of a local celebrity and is at the top of his profession, although the fact that as EC, he doesn’t get to cook all that often isn’t something he’d banked on, and nor are the continual requests (read: orders) from management for him to film TV segments and make public appearances.  It is what it is though, and he goes along with it with (mostly) good grace.  But a call from his beloved grandmother telling him she isn’t going to seek treatment for her cancer suddenly turns his world upside down.  He drops everything and rushes to her side – where she informs him that she’s leaving him her house – the home DeShawn grew up in – in her will, and all her liquid assets will go to Malik, DeShawn’s ex-husband.  DeShawn knows his grandmother was very fond of Malik and has stayed in touch with him, but those bequests mean she’s leaving nothing to her son, DeShawn’s uncle Robert – which Robert isn’t going to be pleased about.

As if all this news isn’t enough of a bombshell, there’s one more important thing DeShawn needs to know in order to be prepared for the trouble Robert will inevitably stir up.  Although he and Malik filed for divorce seven years before, there was a problem with the paperwork and the divorce never actually went through.  He and Malik are still married.

After the (not)divorce, Malik Franklin returned home to help run his struggling family restaurant alongside his brother James and sister Sheila.  He’s never told his family about his marriage to DeShawn, mostly because it was over before he came out to them as gay, and coming out was difficult enough, without having to explain his marriage – and why he wasn’t married any longer.  He’s never really got over DeShawn and tells himself that letting him go all those years ago was the right thing to do.  Back then, DeShawn was a talented sous chef with big ambitions and bigger dreams, and when things started to take off for him, Malik realised he could never be the husband DeShawn needed, especially as he wasn’t ready to come out.

“I couldn’t let him give up his future to deal with my present.  He deserved so much more.  And the only way I could give it to him was to let him go”.

DeShawn and Malik haven’t seen each other since they split, but now, if they’re going to honour the terms of Grandma’s will, they’re going to have to work together to fight Robert’s legal challenge.  He’s claiming that Grandma is of unsound mind and that Malik has exerted undue influence on her to get her to get her to put him in the will.  The two men are going to have to resume their marriage and behave like a couple in order to present a united front and strengthen their defence against Robert’s claims.

It’s clear from the start that DeShawn and Malik never really fell out of love with each other.  DeShawn wants to make the best of the chance they’ve been given to spend time together and hopes to win Malik back, while Malik is determined to hold himself apart, believing he and DeShawn still want different things from life and that if he lets him in, he’s in for another world of hurt when DeShawn leaves to go back to his big city life.  But their intense attraction to one another has never gone away, and slowly but surely, they reconnect as they begin to get to know the people they are now, and rediscover just how good a fit they are.

There are many things about this story that work really well, not least of which is the strong chemistry between the leads, and the fact that they act and think like adults and – after a bit of a rocky start – approach their problems in a mature and considered manner.  I appreciated the way the author shows so clearly how they’ve grown into themselves during the time they’ve been apart, leaving the reader with the impression that they were always meant to be together, but met each other before they were ready to be what they needed to be for one another.  The family dynamics are well done; the love between the two men and Grandma is just lovely and the relationships between Malik and his siblings is well-portrayed.

With that said, however, I had some issues.  Firstly, a personal bugbear; I really dislike that whole I’m-not-worthy-so-I’m-letting-you-go storyline, and it rarely – if ever – works for me as the reason for a failed relationship because it’s so one-sided, and is tantamount to one partner telling the other that they don’t know their own mind.  I’m also taking at face value the reasons given for the fact that the divorce didn’t go through; I’m not a legal expert and these things are different on my side of the Pond… but I can’t deny I gave it the side-eye.  The pacing flags a bit here and there, and then there’s the role in the story played by the media – the tabloids, paparazzi and TV news – and the way they’re so completely preoccupied with DeShawn and Malik and their marriage.  DeShawn is a celebrity chef, not an A list actor or rock star, and the level of scrutiny afforded the couple is over the top and unbelievable.

But despite those reservations, I enjoyed If You Love Something and would recommend it to anyone looking for a warm and heartfelt second-chance romance.

Crash Site (Fiona Carver #2) by Rachel Grant

crash site

This title may be purchased from Amazon

Fiona Carver has landed a dream assignment: conducting an archaeological inventory of Ruby Island, a privately owned, pristine gem in the Caribbean. Two months in paradise exploring and mapping a lush rainforest, vast caves, and a seventeenth-century star fort and following up on legends of hidden Spanish gold. Add a simmering reunion with wildlife photographer Dean Slater and it’s enough to take Fiona’s breath away. But the sparkle fades when Dean’s arrival is met with sudden, terrifying danger.

Reunited and determined to see the project through, Fiona and Dean find themselves in a swirl of intrigue as they delve into the complex history of the unspoiled refuge, now a tropical haven for billionaires and their secrets. But the work isn’t easy, as someone appears determined to kill the project—by any means necessary.

As betrayal casts tropical storm clouds over Ruby Island and treasured friendships dissolve into distrust, one thing becomes clear: Fiona and Dean are trapped in a dangerous paradise.

Rating: B

The second in Rachel Grant’s Fiona Carver series, Crash Site is the sequel to 2021’s Dangerous Ground, and it picks up around nine months after the events of the first book.  Although the mystery/suspense plot here is self-contained, the central relationship between the two leads was left unresolved at the end of Dangerous Ground, so I’d advise anyone interested in this one to read that first.  And that being the case, there are spoilers for the previous book in this review.

Naval Archaeologist Fiona Carver has landed herself a dream job on the gorgeous, privately owned (and fictional) Ruby Island in the Caribbean where, together with two other archaeologists, she has been employed to conduct an archaeological inventory of the island and its seventeenth century fort –which comes complete with legends of hidden Spanish gold.  Fiona has known its wealthy owner Jude Reynolds (the island has been owned by his family for generations) for over a decade, from when they met as fellow students at archaeological field school – although they’re not exactly friends; she went on a date with him back then but he behaved like a complete tosser and she hasn’t seen him since.  But the Ruby Island job was just too good to pass up – especially as Jude’s wealth means there will be no budget worries, and he genuinely cares about the work.  He also seems to be working hard to convince Fiona that he’s not the same selfish, entitled brat he was back then – but Fiona isn’t sure how to feel about that.  Sure, Jude is handsome and rich, he’s interested in her and understands her work… but she’s hung-up on someone else.

Wildlife photographer Dean Slater had been on the remote Alaskan island of Chiksook trying to find out what happened to his missing brother Dylan when he and Fiona found themselves stranded in a hostile environment and forced to rely on each other in order to survive (Dangerous Ground). The adrenaline-fuelled days they spent together engendered a real trust and closeness between them, and fed the flames of the mutual attraction that had sparked between them from their first meeting – although a basic incompatibility in their approach to sex and relationships seemed destined to separate them.  Dean is unwilling to risk experiencing the hurt and devastation he felt on the death of his beloved wife from a brain tumor a decade earlier and made it very clear that he doesn’t do relationships, while Fiona has never been one for NSA sex or short-lived flings. It’s clear by the end of the book that they’re head-over-heels for one another, but Dean is adamant that he’s not about to break his no relationships rule and they part, both of them obviously unhappy and not expecting to see each other again.

It’s clear that neither has been able to forget the other over the nine months they’ve been apart, and when Fiona learns – at the very last minute – that Dean is due to arrive on the island at any moment, she’s both furious and suspicious. She’s sure that Dean wouldn’t be coming to the island had he known of her presence, and is almost certain this is a set-up.  The media interest surrounding them after what happened on Chiksook was pretty intense, and she believes Jude is trying to use her and Dean to generate publicity for his new venture – a new streaming channel focusing on travel and adventure.  Before she can decide what to do – should she yell at Jude, up and leave or both – the helicopter carrying Dean and a couple of other personnel explodes and crashes into the sea.

Thanks to the quick-thinking and skilful flying of the pilot Dean and everyone on board is able to escape before the helicopter pitches into the sea.  He initially puts down the sight of Fiona running towards him down to disorientation – he must’ve hit his head after he jumped – but just seconds later, she’s soft and warm in his arms, crying tears of relief.

Once the initial shock of the crash – and nearly losing Dean – has worn off, Fiona begins to wonder about it – was it an accident or sabotage?  If the latter, then who was the intended target?   It seems, however that she’s not going to find out – the day after the crash, every single piece of wreckage has disappeared, leaving nothing for the not-yet-arrived crash investigators to go on.  But the crash is only the beginning of a series of disasters as Fiona and Dean are thrown from one life-threatening situation to another… clearly there’s something about Ruby Island that someone is prepared to go to great lengths to conceal – and who has decided Fiona and Dean are surplus to requirements.

As in Dangerous Ground, the locations are vividly imagined and Ms. Grant does a great job of setting the scene, introducing and fleshing out the characters and setting in motion the wheels of her intriguing, complex plot. I always enjoy the way the author incorporates her impeccable research, experience and obvious knowledge and love for archaeology into her novels, and although the story is perhaps a little slow in places in the first half, things pick up considerably in the second, and the final chapters are a thrilling rollercoaster ride that had me glued to the pages.

Fiona and Dean make a great team when they’re working together and I liked them as individuals.  Fiona is smart, compassionate and just a bit nerdy, and although Dean is still irritatingly stubborn about never wanting another relationship, he’s otherwise great hero material – protective, gorgeous and highly competent. They’re very intuitive as to the other’s thoughts and needs, and that part of their relationship works incredibly well, but their romance is less successful.  They’re obviously very much in love, but Dean refuses to acknowledge it or contemplate having a relationship with Fiona for almost the entire book, telling himself he isn’t capable of giving her what she deserves.  He’s completely honest about not wanting a relationship and the reasons for it, and those are clear and well-articulated, but Ms. Grant did such a good job of convincing me that Violet (his late wife) was the love of his life and that he really wasn’t ready to move on, that by the time he gets his head out of his arse as regards Fiona, I wasn’t completely convinced by his about-turn (and thought he should have grovelled a bit more!)  The fact that this happens on practically the last page doesn’t help with that – but if there are to be more books in this series, then perhaps we’ll get to see their relationship develop from the HFN we get here.

The suspense plot is tense, exciting and well put-together, and even though I’d have liked a little more certainty in the romance, I enjoyed Crash Site and would recommend it to fans of romantic suspense.