Tough Guy (Game Changers #3) by Rachel Reid


This title may be purchased from Amazon

They have nothing in common—so why does Ryan feel most like himself whenever he’s with Fabian?

Pro hockey star Ryan Price may be an enforcer, but off the ice he struggles with anxiety. Recently traded to the Toronto Guardians, he’s determined to make a fresh start in the city’s dynamic LGBTQ Village. The last thing he expects to stumble upon in his new neighborhood is a blast from his past in the fabulous form of Fabian Salah.

Aspiring musician Fabian loathes hockey. But that doesn’t stop him from being attracted to a certain burly, ginger-bearded defenseman. He hasn’t forgotten the kiss they almost shared back in high school, and it’s clear the chemistry between them has only intensified.

Fabian is more than happy to be Ryan’s guide to the gay scene in Toronto. Between dance clubs and art exhibits—and the most amazing sex—Ryan’s starting to feel something he hasn’t experienced in a long time: joy. But playing the role of the heavy on the ice has taken its toll on his body and mind, and a future with Fabian may mean hanging up his skates for good.

Rating: B

Tough Guy is book three in Rachel Reid’s Game Changers series, set in the world of professional hockey. While I wasn’t as utterly caught up in the romance here as I was in the previous book (Heated Rivalry – which made my Best of 2019 list), I nonetheless enjoyed the novel, and appreciated the way the author flips the stereotype of the confident, ripped jock so often found in sports romances (both m/f and m/m) and creates instead an endearing, gentle-giant-type character with severe self-esteem issues who struggles to reconcile the person he truly is with the one he’s expected to be on the ice.

At six-feet-seven inches, with a build like a bulldozer, Ryan Price knows how to intimidate.  On the ice, he’s an enforcer, someone other players actually aspire to fight with – especially rookies, for whom “paying the Price” is something of a rite of passage.  But it’s an image and a job that Ryan wrestles with, and which has been weighing down on him more and more as the years have passed, because that’s not who he is at all.  When the story begins, Ryan has just been traded – yet again – this time to the Toronto Guardians, and is being urged – ordered, really – by his coach to be more of a team player both on and off the ice, and unsubtly quizzed about his mental health.  Anxiety, self-esteem issues and finding social situations hard to deal with mean Ryan has always found it difficult to connect personally and professionally, and a well-publicised “freak out” the previous season (a panic attack) has made him even more self-conscious. This is the ninth team Ryan has played for in almost as many years; he’s never played anywhere long enough to put down roots or make any real friends, but this time he’s determined to change that, and finds himself an apartment in the vibrant, LGBTQ part of town.  Ryan is openly – albeit quietly – gay but that’s never been an issue, partly, he suspects, because he’s moved too often for anyone to really notice or care, and with a few other players – notably Scott Hunter (Game Changer) – coming out recently, it hasn’t seemed necessary to hide it. Sex hasn’t often been a positive experience for him; he  hasn’t had many partners, and those he has had haven’t really been interested in him as a person, or been able to see past his size or their own preconceptions of what he should like and want.  He’s lonely, the medication he’s on is screwing up his libido and… it sucks.

When Ryan enters  a local pharmacy in order to get a prescription filled, he’s surprised to see Fabian Salah working there.  When Ryan was seventeen, he’d been billeted with the Salahs, a Lebanese family who lived and breathed hockey and whose daughter was a rising hockey star, but whose son, a hugely talented musician, seemed hardly to merit their notice.  Even then, Ryan thought Fabian was beautiful and had a mad crush on him – which he suppressed, having quickly learned that Fabian despised everything to do with hockey.  Over the year Ryan lived with Salahs, Fabian’s attitude changed and they became friends, but they haven’t seen each other since Ryan made the NHL.

You can read the rest of this review at All About Romance.

A Crown of Iron & Silver (Soulbound #3) by Hailey Turner (audiobook) – Narrated by Gary Furlong

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

Never promise a life that isn’t yours to give.

New York City is decked out for the holidays, and Special Agent Patrick Collins is looking forward to a reunion with his old team when he gets assigned a new case. A human child is missing, and the changeling left in her place causes a prominent witch family to demand justice from the fae.

Meanwhile, continued harassment from the New York City god pack forces Jonothon de Vere to formally establish his own with Patrick. Doing so will mean a civil war within the werecreature community – a war they risk losing from the start without alliances. Making bargains with the fae is never wise, but Patrick and Jono have nothing to lose when a fae lord comes asking for their help.

The Summer Lady has been kidnapped from the Seelie Court, and if they can find her, Patrick and Jono will cement an alliance with the fae. But the clues to her disappearance are found in Tír na nÓg, and the Otherworld has never been kind to mortals.

Venturing past the veil, Patrick and Jono risk losing territory, time, and their very lives while searching for answers. Because the Queen of Air and Darkness knows they are coming – and the ruler of the Unseelie Court has an offer for them they can’t possibly refuse.

Rating: Narration – A-; Content – B+

I’m always a bit daunted when it comes to writing reviews for the books in Hailey Turner’s Soulbound series, because I want to give an accurate flavour of the story without giving too much away – and there’s always a lot going on. That’s not to say the stories are cluttered or overstuffed; Ms. Turner is a master plotter and handles the reins of her various storylines with great skill, but one does need to pay fairly close attention and it’s pretty much essential to have read or listened to the previous books in the series. (Be warned – this review contains spoilers for the previous books).

At the end of All Souls Near & Nigh, Special Agent Patrick Collins was asked by his former commander to join forces with members of his old Mage Corps Special Forces unit in order to retrieve the Morrígan’s Staff, a mysterious and ancient artefact that was stolen from Area 51 some three years earlier. Nobody knows who has it, or what it actually does – although legend has it that the staff has the ability to raise the dead – and it must be returned before it can fall into the wrong hands.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

What Lies Beneath (Lancaster Falls #1) by R.J. Scott (audiobook) – Narrated by Sean Crisden


This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

In the hottest summer on record, Iron Lake reservoir is emptying, revealing secrets that were intended to stay hidden beneath the water.

Best-selling horror writer Chris Lassiter struggles for inspiration and he’s close to never writing again. His life has become an endless loop of nothing but empty pages, personal appearances, and a marketing machine that is systematically destroying his muse. In a desperate attempt to force Chris to complete unfinished manuscripts his agent buys a remote cabin. All Chris has to do is hide away and write, but he’s lost his muse, and not even he can make stories appear from thin air.

Sawyer Wiseman left town for Chicago, chasing the excitement and potential of being a big city cop, rising the ranks, and making his mark. A case gone horribly wrong draws him back to Lancaster Falls. Working for the tiny police department in the town he’d been running from, digging into cold cases and police corruption, he spends his day’s healing, and his nights hoping the nightmares of his last case leave him alone.

Rating: Narration – B+; Content – B

RJ Scott is a new-to-me author, but the synopsis for this first book in the Lancaster Falls trilogy intrigued me, and Sean Crisden is a narrator I enjoy listening to, so I decided to give What Lies Beneath a try. Set in a small Pennsylvania town during a heatwave, it’s a well-written tale of romantic suspense that kicks off when a newcomer to the area stumbles – almost literally – across a skull half-buried in the cracked mud of a dried-up lakebed.

Sawyer Wiseman left Lancaster Falls for Chicago more than a decade earlier and made a successful career as a big city cop, only to return to his hometown when a case gone horribly wrong almost cost him his life and sanity. Now a lieutenant with the local PD, he sometimes finds working in a small town rife with secrets and run by the old boys’ network just as difficult and frustrating as anything he came up against in Chicago. Sawyer’s boss, Captain Sandoval, doesn’t like him – Sawyer isn’t one to simply do as he’s told without question – and gives him the crappy jobs to do, which is how Sawyer ends up trekking out to the old Dwyer cabin in the mountains to check on the “out-of-towner” who moved in recently.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

Treble Maker (Perfect Harmony #1) by Annabeth Albert (audiobook) – Narrated by Brad King


This title may be purchased from Audible via Amazon

Cody Rivers is determined to be a rock star, but couch-surfing between bar shows gets old fast. Joining an a cappella group for a new singing competition show could be his last chance at real fame – unless the college boy from the heart of the country messes it up for him. Lucas Norwood is everything gothy, glittery Cody is not-conservative, clean-cut, and virginal. But when a twist in the show forces them together, even the sweetest songs get steamy as the attraction between them lights up the stage. Lucas wants to take it slow, but Cody’s singing a different tune – and this time it may be a love song….

Rating: Narration – B+; Content – B

Annabeth Albert is one of my favourite authors, so when I saw one of her backlist series, Perfect Harmonywas coming to audio, I was quick to request a copy of book one, Treble Maker, for review. Narrator Brad King is new-to-me – and I’m always a little nervous about listening to new narrators – but although he took a little while to really settle in, he delivers a strong performance overall, and I definitely intend to check out the rest of the series as the books are released.

Perfect Harmony is the title of a reality TV singing competition for a cappella (unaccompanied) singing groups (think Pentatonix), and when the book opens, there are thirteen hopeful groups competing for ten places in the next round. Embellish, consisting of two women and three men, is one of the smaller groups, and its members haven’t been performing together all that long; in fact, their lead singer, Cody Rivers, isn’t much used to ensemble or a cappella singing having spent his career so far as a lead or solo singer. Talented and ambitious, Cody is set on making it as a rock star, but living out of his clapped-out van or couch-surfing with friends is getting old, so he’s entered the show in what could very well be his last chance at a big break. He’s been on his own since he was sixteen, when his grandmother rejected him after he came out; he knows who he is and isn’t shy about doing whatever he needs to in order to gain advantages and make opportunities for himself.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

I Buried a Witch (Bedknobs & Broomsticks #2) by Josh Lanyon

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Cosmo Saville adores his new husband but his little white lies—and some very black magic—are about to bring their fairytale romance to an end. Someone is killing San Francisco’s spellcasters—and the only person Cosmo can turn to—the man who so recently swore to love and cherish him—isn’t taking his phone calls..

The only magic Police Commissioner John Joseph Galbraith believes in is true love. Discovering he’s married to a witch—a witch with something alarmingly like magical powers—is nearly as bad as discovering the man he loved tricked and deceived him. John shoulders the pain of betrayal and packs his bags. But when he learns Cosmo is in the crosshairs of a mysterious and murderous plot, he knows he must do everything in in his mortal power to protect him.

Till Death do them Part. With their relationship on the rocks, Cosmo and Commissioner Galbraith join forces to uncover the shadowy figure behind the deadly conspiracy…

Can the star-crossed couple bring down a killer before the dark threat extinguishes love’s flame?

Rating: B-

I Buried a Witch is the middle book in Josh Lanyon’s Bedknobs and Broomsticks trilogy, a series of fantasy/mystery/romance novels set in and around San Francisco and featuring witch and antiques dealer Cosmo Saville and his husband, John Joseph Galbraith, the Commissioner of Police.

The books don’t really stand alone as there’s an overarching storyline, (and the previous book raised more questions than it answered!) so if you haven’t read book one, Mainly by Moonlight, then you’ll be a bit lost if you start here; and it also means there will be spoilers in this review.

Mainly by Moonlight introduced readers to the world of the Craft (as Cosmo and his fellow witches refer to themselves) and its hierarchy; Cosmo is pretty high up in the pecking order, being the son of the witch next in line to be Crone (chief witch!), the Duchesse d’Abracadantès.  Cosmo is preparing to marry the man he’s fallen head-over-heels in love with in just a few short weeks, and to say that the duchesse is not at all happy about her son’s decision to marry an ordinary mortal would be a massive understatement.  She drops a bombshell when she tells Cosmo that John is under a love-spell; Cosmo is furious and insists that the spell be lifted immediately, even if it does mean that there’s a chance he’ll lose the love of his life.

While Cosmo is looking for signs that John is falling out of love with him, he’s also dealing with a number of troubling incidents ranging from the murder of a business rival to the sudden disappearance of one of his oldest friends, to another close friend being put into a coma following a hit-and-run, and to top it all, discovers the existence of a secret organisation whose activities threaten the entire Craft.  As the day of the wedding draws closer, Cosmo is relieved to discover that John doesn’t want to call it off, even though Cosmo can’t ignore the subtle changes that have started to take place in their relationship.  He’s so deeply in love that he carelessly ignores the warning signs that perhaps entering into marriage without having told John the truth about himself is not the best idea.

At the beginning of I Buried a Witch, Cosmo and John return home from their honeymoon in Scotland and are starting to settle into their new home.  Sadly, however, it’s not long before things between the newlyweds become strained and Cosmo is forced to admit that he has no-one but himself to blame for the tension between them.  When he discovers that several members of the local Wiccan community have been murdered in various gruesome ways, Cosmo wants to be allowed to help with the investigation; his knowledge of Wiccan customs, together with his witchy insight and understanding of possible motives surely make him the person best placed to provide the sort of information the police will need, but John makes it clear, in no uncertain terms, that he doesn’t want Cosmo going anywhere near the investigation.  Cosmo, of course, is having none of it, and the shit hits the fan when, during an argument, he tells John the truth about himself.

John, utterly stunned and furious at the deception, packs his bags and leaves that night.

You can read the rest of this review at All About Romance

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

This title may be purchased from Amazon

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

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

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

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

Rating: B+

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

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

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

You can read the rest of this review at All About Romance.

Blindsided (Fake Boyfriend #4) by Eden Finley (audiobook) – Narrated by Alexander Cendese and Iggy Toma

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

Miller:

When Talon left to play pro ball six years ago, the hole in my chest confused me. I focused my heartache into making my own NFL dreams come true, and by the time I was drafted, the longing I had for my best friend was buried deep. Now, he wants everything to be like it was in college, but we can’t have threesomes and be reckless like we once were. The media storm would be enough to break both our careers. That’s not my biggest concern, though. The torch I had for him burns brighter after so long apart, and there’s nothing I can do about it. Marcus Talon is straight. I need to stay away from him.

Talon:

Years ago, Miller and I made a pact that we’d win a Super Bowl together. When I’m offered a position on his team in Chicago, I don’t hesitate. I move across the country to chase a dream that’s a decade old. Only, now that I’m here, he’s avoiding me every chance he gets. If he was anyone else, I’d cut my losses. But this is Shane Miller – the guy who makes everything better just by existing in my universe. The guy I’d do anything for. The guy who’s more to me than a brother, a friend, or even a teammate. I’m not going to let him get away.

Rating: Narration – B+ ; Content – B-

I’ve been having fun listening to Eden Finley’s Fake Boyfriend series. The books are funny, sexy and light-hearted although not without their deeper, more serious moments, and as per the series title, each book features a fake relationship. Blindsided is book four and the only one in the set NOT to feature the fake boyfriend trope (the author is upfront about this and it’s in the blurb); the two leads were secondary characters in earlier books who were crying out for a story, and this is it.

Marcus Talon and Shane Miller have known each other since college, where they became great friends on and off the football field, and also in and out of the bedroom, where they frequently indulged in threesomes with a woman in the middle, never touching each other and keeping their focus firmly on their female partner. When their college days come to an end, they both make the draft for the NFL and are signed to different teams, so they go their separate ways and interact only over social media until around six years later when Talon – by now one of the sport’s biggest names – signs up with Miller’s team, the Chicago Warriors. It’s not long before Miller and Talon end up in bed again – with two women between them – but this time Miller realises he’s made a huge mistake and makes it clear he doesn’t want to go there again.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.