TBR Challenge: Tiny House, Big Love (Love Unscripted #2) by Olivia Dade

tiny house big love

This title may be purchsed from Amazon

On camera. Up close. In denial–but not for much longer…

After a relationship gone bad, Lucy Finch is leaving everything behind. Her old home, her old job, her old insecurities. Even Sebastián Castillo, her protective but intensely private friend of almost twenty years. Before she moves halfway across the country, though, she has one last request for Seb: She wants him to help her choose a tiny house on cable television. And maybe during the filming process, she can discover once and for all whether his feelings for her are more than platonic…

Sebastián would rather do anything than appear on HATV. But Lucy needs him, and he can’t say no. Not when she’s about to leave, taking his heart with her. Hiding how he feels with a television crew watching their every move will prove difficult, though–especially when that crew is doing their sneaky best to transform two longtime friends into a couple.

Tiny spaces. Hidden emotions. The heat generated by decades of desire and denial. A week spent on camera might just turn Lucy and Seb’s relationship from family-friendly to viewer discretion advised…

Rating: B+

Tiny House, Big Love is the second of Olivia Dade’s Love Unscripted books, both of which feature contestants taking part in different reality TV shows.  In this story, the show is Tiny House Trackers, in which the participants are looking to buy – you guessed it! – a Tiny House.  I have to stop here to confess that I had no idea a Tiny House was something other than “a very small house”, and had to look it up so I could understand what the heroine was actually looking for!  It’s a quick and entertaining read, the two leads are endearing and the mutual longing they feel for each other just leaps off the page, although the short page-count left me wanting to know about more of both their backstories.

Massage therapist Lucy Finch is about to take a promotion which will require her to move around the country a fair bit, and rather than finding temporary accommodation each time she moves, she’s decided to buy a Tiny Home that she can take with her wherever she goes.  Her friend, Allie, a real estate agent, encouraged her to apply to appear on the show and she’ll be the one finding Lucy three homes to view – with the expectation being that she’ll choose to buy one of them at the end of it.  Lucy asks her best friend of over twenty years, Sebastián Castillo, to be on the show, too, to help her make her choice.

It’s clear from the off that Sebastián and Lucy have long had feelings stronger than friendship for each other, but have never acknowledged the fact or acted on them.  They’ve been friends since high-school, when Sebastián, bullied because he was small for his age and because he was an immigrant, not only faced off his own bullies, but hers as well.  They kept in touch after Sebastián  moved away, exchanging loads of letters, postcards and emails; but now he’s back in Marysburg, Lucy is about to leave, and she’s wondering, somewhat wistfully, if they could ever have been more to each other than friends.

Sebastián would rather have teeth pulled without anaesthetic than appear on television, but he can’t refuse Lucy’s request for help, and agrees to appear with her on Tiny House Trackers.  He’s an intensely private person and years of bullying have left him scared to let himself be vulnerable and with a thick outer shell of implacability.  He keeps his emotions buried and under lock and key – but because he buries them doesn’t mean he doesn’t feel them deeply;  he’s determined not to give anything away in front of the cameras – or Lucy – as to the truth of his feelings for her, because he doesn’t want to influence her decision to move away – and because he doesn’t think he could handle rejection.  He’s the strong, silent type, but he shows his affection for Lucy in a hundred little ways and he’s a lovely hero – caring, protective and supportive with every bone in his body.

Lucy’s last boyfriend was a douchebag who knocked her confidence in her own judgement, and she’s still second-guessing herself more than she used to.  She’s strongly attracted to Sebastián, but his inscrutability gives her no clue as to whether he feels the same, and she doesn’t want to risk making a move and ruining the most important relationship in her life.  Sometimes she thinks he’s attracted to her, but then whatever she sees in his face is gone, leaving her wondering.

Lucy and Sebastián are likeable and endearing and make an adorable couple – although I admit I did sometimes want to shake some sense into Sebastián and tell him to wise up (but he more than makes up for his reticence in the end.)  They’re real people with real problems who struggle, but grow and learn how to make things work.  Their move from friends to lovers doesn’t feel rushed, and the aforementioned longing and UST is incredibly well done. The scenes they film for the show as they tour the houses on offer are a hoot –

The last thing she needed was either a deep-woods pot shack, a dick-festooned bus, or an Oregon Trail enthusiast’s fever dream.

– and I loved that we’re shown Lucy slowly re-learning to assert herself as she works through the selection process and reaches her decision.  I also liked the way the main story is framed with chapters from the PoVs of two of the production assistants (who really deserve their own story, because there are serious sparks there!)

Tiny House, Big Love is a delightful contemporary romance with lots of gentle humour and awesome friends-to-lovers pining.  It’s short, sweet, sexy and well worth a couple of hours of anyone’s time.

TBR Challenge: Marked by Fire by Mia West

marked by fireThis title may be purchased from Amazon

Eighteen-year-old Arthur burns for two things: a warrior’s ink, and Bedwyr, his older brother’s shieldmate.

Though the warlord’s son is beyond his reach, a Saxon incursion finally brings Arthur’s chance at the tattoo that will brand him a fighter.

But when he abandons his training in the heat of battle, his reckless ambition costs Bedwyr his sword hand.

Once, Bedwyr trusted in two things: he was a warrior, and the presumed heir of Uthyr.

Now, reeling from injury and sent away by his father, he’s lost everything. The last person he wants to see is the cub who ignited his disastrous instinct to protect.

Especially when he arrives with Bedwyr’s armor and a dangerously hopeful scheme to restore him to his rightful place.

Rating: B-

I really had to wrack my brains to recall if I already had a book that would fit this month’s prompt of “unusual”, and I was coming up with a big blank – until I found Mia West’s Marked by Fire, book one in her Sons of Britain series, and decided that an m/m romance set in sixth century Wales definitely fit the bill!

Ms. West has mined Arthurian legends and given them a new slant, so that while the characters are mostly familiar, they don’t always fit the roles we may be used to seeing them in – for instance, Arthur isn’t the son of Uther Pendragon (or Uthyr, the Pen y Ddraig) and Bedwyr, who is often related to the sidelines in the myths, has a central role – and given there are so many legends and so many variations on them, I had no problem with that.  This is certainly not the Camelot of chivalric legend and the Lady of the Lake; no, this is the Dark Ages, mere decades since the Romans departed Britain, and life is tough and brutal.  The author does an excellent job capturing the feel of the period – it’s dark and gritty and very real – and of setting up the network of relationships that will populate her version of the story.

Eighteen-year-old Arthur ap Matthias is restless, hotheaded and eager to prove himself in battle and impress not only his leader, Uthyr, but also Uthyr’s son Bedwyr, who Arthur has watched and longed for from afar for years.  His chance comes when a small band of Saxons is spotted advancing into Cymru, but he fails to heed instructions and his recklessness has dire consequences – and in trying to defend him Bedwyr loses a hand.  His survival is in doubt, but Matthias – who is the village healer – is able to save him. (The author doesn’t sugarcoat the treatment he undergoes, so there are some scenes that might not be for the squeamish!). Arthur is distraught and desperate to beg Bedwyr’s forgiveness, but Bedwyr point blank refuses to see him.  Of course he’s furious with Arthur for costing him his sword hand, but he’s fearful, too – what use is a warrior who cannot fight?  Bedwyr’s worst fears come true when his father banishes him to a small shepherd’s hut outside the village.

Uthyr summons Arthur and makes it clear he expects Arthur to pay a price for causing Bedwyr’s injury.  Arthur at first thinks Uthyr is going to take his own right hand, and is shocked when Uthyr tells him to take his and Bedwyr’s armour to the hut and that he’s going to retrain Bedwyr to fight with his left hand – and that he must not, under any circumstances, tell Bedwyr that Uthyr sent him.  Relieved and pleased to have a chance to make amends, but worried Bedwyr will refuse to see him, Arthur nonetheless sets out for the hut, determined to do whatever it takes.

Bedwyr has pretty much given up and succumbed to self-pity when Arthur turns up, and he wants nothing to do with him.  But Arthur is stubborn and determined, and – begrudgingly – Bedwyr starts to acknowledge him and then to take an interest in what he’s come there to do.  A tentative friendship forms, and as the days pass, Bedwyr begins to pull himself out of his funk and to become the man – and warrior – he has always been meant to be, while Arthur’s remorse and desire to do right by Bedwyr engenders a new maturity and self-control.  And as Bedwyr comes to know Arthur as a man and not just as his best friend’s foolhardy younger brother, he takes his first step towards accepting the truth of his desires.  (Although the fact he has a bit of a crush on Matthias at the beginning of the book made his growing interest in Arthur a bit… ick?  I had to blank that out!)

Marked by Fire is a well-paced and enjoyable story with a strong setting and engaging, flawed characters who are both trying to learn from their mistakes and have undergone considerable growth by the end.  The romance between Arthur and Bedwyr is a slow-burn, and I enjoyed their progress from awkwardness to dawning friendship, playfulness and trust as their attraction to one another strengthens.  They have strong chemistry and the love scenes are nicely steamy, but I’d like there to have been a little more depth to their relationship overall.  That said, their story continues in book two (Bound by Blood); this one ends on an HFN (with a final scene that is a bit of a cliffhanger) so there is clearly more to come and I’m intrigued enough to want to know what happens next, so I’ll be reading that at some point.

TBR Challenge: The Murder Between Us (A Noah & Cole Thriller #1) by Tal Bauer

the murder between us

This title may be purchased from Amazon

It was just one night.
It was just one mistake.

FBI Agent Noah Downing had questions about his sexuality that a single night in Vegas should have answered. But dawn finds him on a plane back to Iowa, back on the trail of a vicious serial killer who disappeared six years ago and has suddenly resurfaced. There’s nothing like a murder investigation to escape an existential crisis.

FBI profiler Cole Kennedy is still reeling after finding a heart-stopping connection with a seemingly perfect man, only for him to vanish. When he’s sent to Iowa to profile the killer terrorizing America’s heartland, he finds more questions than answers – both about the murderer and about Noah, the last man he ever expected to see again.

A twisted secret stretches between Cole and Noah, tangled with questions they both have about each other. But now, thrown together, they’ll have to unravel the killer’s profile and follow his trail… back to the very beginning, to where everyone’s questions are answered once and for all.

Rating: B+

With a prompt like “Secrets and Lies”, my mind immediately flew to romantic suspense and a book I’ve wanted to read for a while but, as usual, haven’t managed to squeeze in yet.  Tal Bauer’s The Murder Between Us boasts a couple of well-drawn and engaging protagonists, an intriguing plot and provides the sort of balance between romance and plot I’ve been missing in so many of the m/f romantic suspense titles I’ve read recently.

Special Agent Noah Downing has been struggling with his sexual identity for many years.  He thinks he’s gay but has never felt able to explore that side of himself and has instead filled his life with work and, since his divorce, looking after his teenaged daughter Katie, who has recently come to live with him.  When the book opens, he’s decided it’s finally time to give himself permission to be himself, even if it’s just for one night;  he ventures to the bar of the hotel he’s staying in with a view to… well, he doesn’t really know what, and is about to leave when his eye is caught by an attractive blond man who makes his way over and offers to buy him a drink.  He introduces himself as Cole, they start chatting and Noah is surprised at how comfortable he feels and how much he enjoys Cole’s company.  There’s a lot of chemistry and a definite sense of connection between them right from the start, and after the best evening out Noah has had in a long time – maybe ever –  they spend a wonderful, passionate night together that answers all Noah’s questions about his sexuality.

They arrange to have dinner together the next night, but not long after Noah gets back to his room in the morning, he’s called back home to Des Moines and he leaves straight away – without stopping to call Cole and tell him why he can’t make their dinner date.

The reason for Noah’s abrupt departure is the brutal murder of the Sherrif of Boone County and his daughter by the same person believed responsible for the deaths of a number of bright, accomplished young female college and university students several years before.  Noah led the task force charged with apprehending the Coed Killer, but whoever it was took care to leave no clues and no forensics –  then disappeared without a trace and was never caught.  But it appears that after a gap of six years, the Coed Killer is back – and this time, not only is he targeting young female college students, he’s killing their fathers too.  Noah makes his way to the home of Bart Olsen and his daughter Jessie, where it appears Jessie was strangled and then her father was killed as he tried to intervene.  As if the murder of a fellow LEO isn’t bad enough, the Olsens aren’t the only victims of the newly returned serial killer.  Three months earlier, another young woman was strangled in her home, and although at the time, it was believed her obsessive boyfriend was responsible, Noah now believes her to have been another victim of the Coed Killer.  He knows the pressure to catch them is going to be intense – his boss instructs him to get a task force up and running and Noah asks him to request a profiler form the BAU – “the best profiler they’ve got.”

Dr. Cole Kennedy is still smarting over Noah’s non-appearance the day after their fantastic night together, and is starting to think that maybe the intensity of the desire he’d seen in Noah’s eyes had been more for the experience Cole offered him than for Cole himself.  It’s been quite some time since a guy has got so under his skin so quickly and he’d really wanted the chance to explore their connection further – even if it had been just dinner and no more.  But Noah made his feelings quite clear by blowing him off so rudely, and Cole has to forget him.  Which only makes the irony of his being headed to join a task force in Noah’s home state that much richer.

Well, yes, we all knew where this was going, but the ‘oh, shit’ moment is nicely done.

Both men have to work to hide their shock when Cole walks into the conference room where Noah’s team is assembled.  Noah is obviously scared of being outed and does everything he can to keep Cole at a distance, and while Cole realises why Noah is being so stand-offish,  he’s also angry at the way Noah treated him, and wants answers – and I can’t say that I blamed him.

Fortunately however, this stalemate doesn’t last for too long, and the men manage to find the opportunity to talk about what happened.  Noah doesn’t have a great reason for not calling Cole the day he left, but they talk it out, and decide they’d like to try to see more of each other while Cole is in town, but they’ll take it slow and maybe Cole can help Noah through coming out if that’s what he wants to do.

I liked the fact that the book focuses on the relationship before the suspense plot comes into play, as it really helps the reader to get a handle on Noah’s character in particular. His yearning to be able to live as his true self is palpable, but the reasons hemming him in aren’t easily dealt with, from his concern that he could lose custody of his daughter to worry about how his colleagues would treat him if they knew he was gay.  He’s a bag of nerves and a bit highly-strung at times (!), but thankfully Cole is there to ground him; he knows who he is and is secure in himself both personally and professionally, he’s kind and perceptive and it’s clear from the start that he really cares about Noah and wants him to be happy.  If I have a criticism about the romance it’s that it’s a bit reliant on insta-love in the way these two fall head-over-heels for each other so quickly, but somehow the author makes it work.

The suspense plot is tense and well-paced, with plenty of twists and turns and a bit of gruesome detail here and there (no worse than you’ll find in most novels of this type, though).  As with the romance, I had a niggle or two – at one point I did have to wonder if Cole really was “the best profiler” the FBI had because he missed something I thought was obvious (and I’m rubbish at working out whodunit!) – but even so, I was completely hooked by the story as a whole and couldn’t put the book down, so I’m inclined to be forgiving 😉

The Murder Between Us delivered pretty much everything I want in a romantic suspense novel; an  interesting mystery, strongly characterised protagonists and a romance with plenty of sparks and sexual chemistry.  Yes, there were a couple of things that didn’t quite work for me, but overall, it was a compelling read, and I’m really looking forward to getting stuck into the sequel, The Grave Between Us, as soon as I can.

TBR Challenge – Whiteout (Seasons of Love #1) by Elyse Springer

whiteout springer

This title may be purchased from Amazon

Noah Landers wakes up one day with a headache and no memory of where — or who — he is. Jason, the man taking care of him, tries to fill in some of the blanks: they’re in a cabin in Colorado on vacation, and Noah slipped on ice and hit his head. But even with amnesia, Noah knows Jason is leaving out something important.

Jason O’Reilly is sexy as hell, treats Noah like he’s precious, and seems determined to make this the romantic getaway they’d apparently dreamed of together. But Noah’s more concerned that he’s trapped alone with Jason in the middle of a blizzard while his slowly returning memories bring hints of secrets and betrayal.

Noah’s not sure what’s the truth and what’s a lie. But as he learns who he is — and who Jason is to him — he’s forced to reevaluate everything he believes about himself, about loyalty . . . and about love.

Rating: B

My One Word Title read is very much a book of two halves, one of which I enjoyed considerably more than the other.  The first half of Whiteout revolves around an amnesia plot, and the second around the resulting fallout; the first half is tense and terrific, but the second loses momentum and the principals are separated for most of it.  I understand why, but having your leads apart for almost half a book isn’t a great idea in a romance.

When the book opens, Noah Landers is waking up with one helluva headache – and no idea of where –or who – he is.  There’s a man speaking to him – a man who clearly knows him and has been taking care of him – who explains that they’re a couple, they’re holidaying at a cabin in the Colorado mountains for Christmas, and that Noah slipped on the ice and hit his head. Noah doesn’t recognise the man – Jason O’Reilly – although he does recognise that Jason is uneasy and holding something back – and that although he doesn’t know who he is, the name Noah feels… wrong somehow.  Jason explains that because of the remoteness of the cabin and the bad weather conditions, it hasn’t been possible to get Noah to a hospital, but he’s speaking with a doctor regularly on the phone, and their advice about the amnesia has been not to tell Noah too much about himself and to let his memories return in their own time.

Over the next few days, Jason shows himself to be a kind and compassionate person; he’s clearly terribly upset at what happened to Noah and does everything he possibly can to ensure his comfort and aid his recovery.  He’s very affectionate and loving, too, wearing his feelings for Noah on his sleeve and taking every opportunity to touch him – a hand at his elbow or his back, a touch to his face – but as random memories start to trickle back, Noah starts to see small things about the other man’s behaviour that don’t quite make sense.  He begins to doubt what Jason is telling him about the doctor, and when Noah finds his cellphone buried under a pile of clothes in a drawer and listens to the messages that call him by a different name, he starts to think that something is very, very  wrong.

We only get Noah’s PoV in this book, and the author uses the limited perspective brilliantly, creating a strong sense of menace and uncertainty and conveying Noah’s palpable fear and growing paranoia in a way that cleverly plays with our expectations.   Unfortunately, however, the single PoV isn’t so effective in the second half – which it’s difficult to talk about without revealing too much, but here goes.

Jason and Noah leave Colorado separately, and the story follows Noah as he returns to his life and career in NYC.  But he can’t forget Jason or what happened between them, and this part of the story focuses on Noah’s desire to win Jason back as well as on his personal growth as he learns to properly examine his motivations for his actions and then works out what he wants and how to go for it.  For the most part, I continued to be fully invested in the story; Noah’s longing for Jason is palpable and permeates the pages, although I can’t deny that some of my raison d’être for reading so quickly was because I was eager to reach the reconciliation!  There are definitely some emotional moments here as Noah is knocked back and perseveres, but this part of the story would perhaps have worked better had it included Jason’s PoV.  He’s not all that well fleshed out even when he’s a presence on the page; we know he’s handsome, rich and successful and that his long-term partner died and he was devastated.  It’s clear that this relationship has a bearing on the one he forms with Noah, but it only gets some brief mentions and is never really addressed. And other than his professions of love for Noah, we know nothing further about his feelings.  I can’t help feeling that a different king of structure  – maybe interspersing the story of how Noah pursues Jason with flashbacks telling the story of how they got to that point – might have been a better way to maintain a consistent level of tension and interest.

So… while I would still recommend Whiteout, my final grade is a compromise.  The first half is DIK-worthy while the second is… not.  It isn’t horrible by any means, but I can’t deny it was something of an anti-climax coming after such a fantastic beginning.

TBR Challenge – Briarley by Aster Glenn Gray

briarley

This title may be purchased from Amazon

During a chance summer shower, an English country parson takes refuge in a country house. The house seems deserted, yet the table is laid with a sumptuous banquet such as the parson has not seen since before war rationing.

Unnerved by the uncanny house, he flees, but stops to pluck a single perfect rose from the garden for his daughter – only for the master of the house to appear, breathing fire with rage. Literally.

At first, the parson can’t stand this dragon-man. But slowly, he begins to feel the injustice of the curse that holds the dragon captive. What can break this vengeful curse?

Grade: B+

I’m not a big fan of fairytale retellings, so I struggled a to come up with something for this month’s Challenge prompt and was almost at the point of just picking up a random book instead.  But then I remembered Aster Glenn Gray’s Briarley – an m/m version of  Beauty and the Beast – that I’d come across at the end of last year after enjoying Honeytrap. Problem solved!

This version of the story is set in the English countryside during World War II, and the exquisite writing and the author’s gift for language and tone sucked me in from the very first page:

There once was a country parson with a game leg from the Somme, who lived in a honey-colored parsonage with his daughter, the most beautiful girl in the world.

Others might have quibbled that Rose was not the most beautiful girl in the world, or even the prettiest girl in the village of Lesser Innsley. But to the parson she was all loveliness, all the more so because his wife died when their Rose was still very young, and so Rose was all he had left to love in this world.

Rose is home on leave from her work as a nurse, and when the parson (as he is usually called) has to go to a meeting in town regarding the evacuation of London’s children, she reminds him to bring her back a rose, something he’s done habitually whenever he returned from a trip away from home.  As he’s cycling back, he somehow takes a wrong turn, and with his bad leg aching and the weather worsening, he decides to take refuge in a grand, seemingly abandoned house, hoping perhaps to use the phone to get a message to Rose that he’s been delayed.  His knocks go unanswered, so he tries pushing the door… and is surprised when it opens.  Inside, he finds a dining room with a crackling fire and a sumptuous feast laid out – one that must have put an incredible strain on the owner’s ration books! – but an eerie chill, despite the fire, will not leave him and he makes his way outside intending to continue his journey home.  The house is surrounded by plentiful rose bushes and, remembering his promise to take one home, he cuts one using his penknife, and is about to leave when a booming voice yells “Thief!”  from somewhere overhead – and a creature with wings and a large, scaly snout drops from the sky, gathers him in its arms and flies up into the air and onto the roof of the mansion.

The terrified parson tries to apologise to the dragon-man for stealing his rose, but the dragon will not hear his apology and says he will let him go – if he will send his daughter to take his place.

The author preserves the basic elements of the tale, but from here on in, she makes a number of significant changes while still very much preserving the spirit of the original.  The parson’s refusal to bring his daughter to the house flips the story on its head, and his response to the dragon’s somewhat petulant reaction to his refusal:

“If the Luftwaffe gets you, it will be the only good work they ever did,”

Sets the tone for the gently adversarial relationship that develops between them.

And it’s clear this is going to be a very different sort of retelling when, in response to learning of the dragon’s dilemma, the parson suggests he should get a dog:

“The curse says you must learn to love and be loved, does it not? Those are the only conditions?” The dragon nodded, his head still buried in his hands. The parson broke a piece off a roll and buttered it. “Then I suggest you get a puppy,” he said.

At first glance it seems dismissive, but he then goes on to explain how he’s seen shell-shocked soldiers make huge progress when put in charge of a dog’s welfare – showing he’s already got a good read on the situation and is genuinely trying to find a practical solution to undoing the curse.

Briarley is fairly short (novella-length), but where so many shorter romances fall into the insta-love trap, this doesn’t and actually feels like a slow-burn as the parson and the dragon (as they’re usually called) start spending time together while the parson muses on the nature of love and its many forms and the dragon starts to let down his guard and become… more human.

The characters are well drawn – the dragon haughty, impulsive and entitled, the parson insightful with a nice sense of irony –  and the author does an excellent job of showing their antagonistic relationship developing into a true friendship, and then taking a more romantic turn.  The parson’s deep affection for the dragon permeates the pages as the story progresses, as does his understanding and compassion for the thoughtless young man he’d once been.

The setting of rural wartime England is superbly and subtly evoked; the location in the enchanted house spares the characters most of the real hardships endured by so many, but the war is never far away; it’s in the talk of rationing, of children being evacuated from the cities, of young people being called up to fight and watching the raids by the Lutfwaffe and the aerial dogfights between them and the RAF.

My only complaint – which is kind of a big one for a book labelled a romance – is that the love story is under-developed and could have used a few more pages/chapters to be more fully fleshed-out.  The deep affection and the friendship between the parson and the dragon are strongly present and thoroughly convincing, but not so much the romantic love, which is disappointing.  But even so, Briarley is funny and thought-provoking, the dialogue is clever, the writing is superb and the whole thing is utterly charming.  In spite of the low-key romance, it’s still well worth reading and if you’re a fan of fairytale retellings, it should be on your radar.

TBR Challenge: Served Hot (Portland Heat #1) by Annabeth Albert

This title may be purchased from Amazon.

In Portland, Oregon, the only thing hotter than the coffee shops, restaurants, and bakeries are the hard-working men who serve it up—hot, fresh, and ready to go—with no reservations… Robby is a self-employed barista with a busy coffee cart, a warm smile, and a major crush on one of his customers. David is a handsome finance director who works nearby, eats lunch by himself, and expects nothing but “the usual”—small vanilla latte—from the cute guy in the cart. But when David shows up for his first Portland Pride festival, Robby works up the nerve to take their slow-brewing relationship to the next level. David, however, is newly out and single, still grieving the loss of his longtime lover, and unsure if he’s ready to date again. Yet with every fresh latte, sweet exchange—and near hook-up—David and Robby go from simmering to steaming to piping hot. The question is: Will someone get burned?

Rating: B

I was a bit pushed for reading time this month (too many new releases to review!) and I was actively looking for a fairly short read to fulfil this month’s prompt, so I was pleased when I came across Served Hot on my Kindle. I’m a big fan of Annabeth Albert’s books, but I’m still playing catch-up with her backlist; Served Hot dates from 2015 and is the first book in her six-part  Portland Heat series of novella-length stories featuring guys who work in the restaurants, coffee shops, bakeries and bars of the city.  It’s short, sweet and sexy and the author packs a decent amount of character and relationship development and a lot of heart into the limited page count.

Self-employed barista Robby Edwards enjoys working his busy coffee cart in the Old Emerson building in Portland, and the highlight of his day is the arrival of David Gregory, an attractive, well-dressed guy who always buys a vanilla latte and sits at one of the nearby tables to eat his (obviously home-made) lunch, alone.  They don’t do much more than exchange pleasantries or talk about the weather, and even though Robby doesn’t know if David is gay, he has a major crush – but no idea how to go about striking up an actual conversation and maybe even flirting a little bit.

When Robby decides to go for it and mentions he’s going to Portland Pride that weekend, he can’t help being a bit disappointed when David doesn’t react and seems to withdraw a little. He wonders if he’d have been better not to have said anything at all.  So he’s absolutely delighted when David shows up after all and makes it clear he’s there for Robby.  They spend a little time talking and share a sweet (but not quite chaste) kiss before they part having arranged to see each other again soon.

The next time we see David and Robby, they’ve been dating for about six weeks… and Robby is starting to get a little frustrated.  Not just sexually (although he’s that, too) but because he’s falling hard for David and isn’t sure where he stands with him.  He’s wary of pushing too hard and scaring him off – while David is clearly not quite sure how to be in an openly out relationship.  He’s not closeted – not any more – and when we learn his backstory, his inability to move forward is easy to understand, although that doesn’t excuse the fact that he doesn’t always treat Robby fairly.

Despite that however, David is a very sympathetic character and it’s easy to root for him to be able to get past his issues so that he can be with Robby, because there’s no question these two belong together.  Robby is smart and funny and a bit insecure, and I liked that he recognises his flaws and owns them.  He’s very well fleshed-out considering this is such a short book and I enjoyed spending time in his head.  And although we don’t get David’s perspective, Ms. Albert does a terrific job of bringing him to life through Robby’s eyes; he’s shy and endearing, and his backstory is heartbreakingly realistic.  And in fact, I loved how real this story was –  Robby and David aren’t stunningly handsome billionaries; they have normal jobs, and they talk about normal things like money and food and friends and family.

The story is told in four sections that take place over just under a year, so there are time jumps, but the format works. One criticism I often make of novellas is that the romance is rushed, but that’s not the case here as we get to see the different stages of Robby and David’s relationship as they both navigate unfamiliar waters and learn – together – what a healthy relationship looks like and how to deal with fears and problems just like every couple has to.

Served Hot is a charming read, a warm, feel-good story with just the right amount of angst (and steam!) featuring two likeable characters, and I’m looking forward to reading more in the Portland Heat series.

TBR Challenge: The Rake’s Retreat by Nancy Butler

This title may be purchased from Amazon

While sketching in a wooded grove, Lady Jemima Vale encounters a young actress who witnessed a murder in the grove . . . and her rescuer, the notorious libertine Beecham Bryce. When he insists young Lovelace Wellesley take shelter at his nearby home, Lady Jemima offers to act as chaperon, not realizing her maidenly reserve will soon be shattered by her devilish host.

Rating: A-

I generally think of a comfort read as something I’ve already read, but because I try to choose my TBR Challenge reads from books I haven’t read, I decided to go for one by an author whose work I’ve enjoyed and want to read more of.  Nancy Butler’s The Rake’s Retreat got my 2021 TBR Challenge off to a great start; it makes excellent use of the trope of the-rake-who-falls-hard-for-a -spinster-ish-heroine, and it contains some of the best verbal sparring I’ve ever come across.  The romance is wonderful; the chemistry between the leads is off the charts and their relationship is superbly written, with lots of insight, tenderness and mutual understanding on display amid the banter and the delicious sexual tension.

The Rake’s Retreat opens when seventeen-year-old travelling player Lovelace Wellesley, leading lady of Wellesley’s Wandering Minstrels, witnesses a murder in the Kentish countryside.  Unfortunately for her, the murderer sees her, and she flees in fear of her life – but in the way of all heroines-in-peril  – she falls and turns her ankle.  Fortunately for her, she is rescued by the local landowner, Beecham Bryce, who is obviously sceptical of her story of murder, but who decides to accompany her to the (supposed) scene of the crime so that, if nothing else, he can convince her that she is in no danger.

Lady Jemima Vale is visiting Kent with her brother Lord Troy, London’s premier playwright, and is spending the afternoon sketching while she waits for him to return to the inn at which they are staying.  Her solitude is interrupted when she is approached by a starkly attractive gentleman who asks if she’s seen anyone in the woods.  Oddly unsettled by the stranger, whose easy grace, aura of danger and sudden, surprisingly engaging smile do odd things to her knees, Jemima replies that she has not seen anyone – and he explains that his young companion claims to have witnessed a murder in the woods just half an hour before.  He looks around for a while and finds nothing – but when Jemima gets to her feet shortly afterwards, he notices the blood-stains on her dress and realises she must have been sitting in the very spot the murder took place.  Lovelace may well be in danger after all, and Jemima is all for going back to the inn and returning her to her family – but the Minstrels have departed, mistakenly believing Lovelace to have been asleep in one of their carts.  Bryce suggests she should stay at his home while he arranges for someone to find her parents, but Jemima is horrified at the suggestion; leave a lovely young woman alone with a notorious rake?  Unthinkable!  Bryce – who has taken quite a shine to the tall, long-limbed brunette who challenges him at every turn and responds to his flirtatious teasing with a haughtily raised brow and a sharp retort – sees his chance, and suggests that Jemima should avail herself of his hospitality as well… to act as chaperone to Lovelace of course.

Over the next few days, Bryce and Jemima find themselves spending a lot of time together, sometimes in easy companionship, sometimes shooting verbal arrows at each other, both of them clearly having the other’s measure, both of them at something of a crossroads in life.  Jemima is firmly on the shelf and approaching her thirtieth birthday; she is starting to take stock of her life – most of which she has spent at her brother’s beck and call – and realising that she’s missed out on having a life of her own.  The artistic and literary salons she hosts in London may have provided intellectual stimulation, but she has neglected her emotional life and longs for something different.  Bryce is a swoonworthy hero; witty, sexy and insightful, he’s a man of intelligence and compassion hiding behind a mask of ennui and innuendo, and has returned to the family home in Kent in order to take care of it while his father – with whom he doesn’t get on –  is on a six-month long visit to warmer climes for his health.  Bryce is a womaniser and a libertine and makes no apologies for it, but he’s also quick to see and understand Jemima’s frustrations and to encourage her to step out from her brother’s shadow.  He sees Jemima for who she truly is, and he falls hard, although he does end up torn between wanting her and wanting what (he thinks) is best for her, which means his behaviour is sometimes a little hurtful as he tries to push her away ‘for her own good.’

But there is never any doubt in the reader’s mind that they’re perfect for one another.  The author shows over and over again, through their words and actions, through the sparkling dialogue and verbal sparring, that they’re a match in wit and intellect, and that they belong together.

The mystery is interesting, although it’s fairly easy to guess where it’s going, but it’s nicely done all the same; and Lovelace makes for an engaging secondary character who, while she starts off being rather self-obsessed and a bit whiny, exhibits substantial character growth throughout the story.  There’s another character who provides considerable insight into Bryce’s character, showing him to be a deeply caring, loving person (and who has an important part to play in the story) but I can’t reveal more without spoilers.

When AAR reviewed this title back in 1999, it was awarded DIK status, and I’d say it’s worn pretty well and still deserves that grade (A-).  It’s not a straight A because I wasn’t wild about the way Jemima so easily distrusted Bryce towards the end, and some behaviour that veered a bit too close to TSTL territory – but those are minor irritants when set against all the things this book does so incredibly well, which is pretty much everything else.

The Rake’s Retreat is a fabulous, witty and charming romance that has definitely stood the test of time. I highly recommend it.

TBR Challenge: Winter Oranges by Marie Sexton

This title may be purchased from Amazon

Jason Walker is a child star turned teen heartthrob turned reluctant B-movie regular who’s sick of his failing career. So he gives up Hollywood for northern Idaho, far away from the press, the drama of LA, and the best friend he’s secretly been in love with for years.

There’s only one problem with his new life: a strange young man only he can see is haunting his guesthouse. Except Benjamin Ward isn’t a ghost. He’s a man caught out of time, trapped since the Civil War in a magical prison where he can only watch the lives of those around him. He’s also sweet, funny, and cute as hell, with an affinity for cheesy ’80s TV shows. And he’s thrilled to finally have someone to talk to.

But Jason quickly discovers that spending all his time with a man nobody else can see or hear isn’t without its problems—especially when the tabloids find him again and make him front-page news. The local sheriff thinks he’s on drugs, and his best friend thinks he’s crazy. But Jason knows he hasn’t lost his mind. Too bad he can’t say the same thing about his heart.

Rating: B+

Marie Sexton is one of those authors who’s been on my radar for a while but whose books I haven’t yet read, so I was pleased when I found something on my Kindle that would fit this month’s TBR Challenge prompt.  Winter Oranges is an emotional but impossible love story that kept me guessing – right up to the end – as to how on earth the author was going to give this star-crossed couple a believable HEA.

Former child star turned teen heart-throb turned B-list movie actor Jason Walker is at something of a crossroads.  Tired of only being offered crappy parts, of the unrequited love he feels for his best  friend and fuckbuddy Dylan, and of continually dodging the attention he still gets from the media (especially after being forcibly outed eight months earlier) he leaves Hollywood and buys a house in a remote location in Idaho, looking forward to a bit of privacy and seclusion.

On his first night in the house, Jason is shocked when he sees a face at the window of the apartment above the garage.  When Jason looks again, the face is gone, but the next day it appears again, and now he can see it belongs to a young man with pale skin and a shock of dark hair; a young man who seems to be delighted to see him, his lips moving and hands waving excitedly.  Jason rushes back inside and immediately calls the local sheriff – but when she arrives and goes into the apartment to investigate, she finds nothing and no-one there.

Still spooked, Jason realises he has to accept that either he’s hallucinating… or his house is haunted.

After trying to ignore his ‘ghost’ for two days,  Jason gives in and goes up to the apartment himself – and there he is, the man he’d seen at the window, dressed in old-fashioned, baggy clothes and old boots… and he’s translucent.  As Jason recovers from the shock of seeing an actual ghost, he  realises that although the man is talking rapidly,  he can’t hear him – and on saying so, the other man immediately deflates, crestfallen.

Communicating through a mixture of lip reading and gestures, Jason learns that the man – Ben – was born in 1840 and that he lives IN the old snow globe he directs Jason to find on the shelf, and that what Jason is seeing is not his spirit but a kind of ‘projection’.   Jason struggles to take it all in – but after a few days (during which he’s seen no sign of Ben)  he returns to the apartment and takes the globe with him into the house.  When Ben appears, they still can’t communicate easily – until Jason realises the globe is a music box, winds it, and discovers he can actually hear Ben, who is overjoyed and immediately bombards Jason with questions (I had to laugh when one of the first things he asked was “Who killed J.R?”).  He tells Jason how his sister Sarah had somehow “put” him into the snow globe back in 1861 in order to stop him going off to join the Confederate Army, but that she’d never given him any instructions as to how to get out as she hadn’t intended him to be there for long.  Unfortunately though, the globe was stolen and has changed hands many times over the years until it eventually ended up in the garage apartment.

After this, Jason and Ben spend every day together.  Ben’s enthusiasm for and enjoyment of everything around him is infectious – and incredibly endearing – and Jason can’t help getting swept up in it, realising he feels happy for the first time in ages.  A genuine and loving friendship develops between the pair, and as the weeks pass, that friendship becomes underpinned by a slowly building attraction, their connection growing deeper and turning into something much more.   Watching these two lonely men falling for each other was captivating and sigh-worthy…  and heartbreaking at the same time, their inability to touch each other ramping up the tension and frustration, the longing between them so palpable it leaps off the page.

Of course, this being a romance novel, obstacles are overcome – although not easily or without cost, and the HEA is delightful and well-deserved.

Jason and Ben are likeable, well-drawn characters who find, in each other, someone to fill the voids in their lives.  When the story opens, Jason is feeling hopeless and disillusioned with just about everything in his life, but Ben, with his enthusiasm for the simplest things, brings back the light and joy Jason has lost and teaches him to appreciate the simple things, too.  And Ben, who has been deprived of human contact for a hundred and fifty years, is just so grateful to be able to interact and experience the world around him in a way he hasn’t been able to for so long, that he completely charms Jason – and us – with his childlike innocence and zest for every new experience.

With a touch of magic, a lot of romance, and a lovely wintry setting, Winter Oranges is a charming, poignant and heartbreaking  slow-burn love story that made me sad, made me smile and gave me all the feels.  If you’re looking for a seasonal tale with depth and emotion that’s just a little bit different, this one should definitely be on your radar.

My Lady Quicksilver (London Steampunk #3) by Bec McMaster


This title may be purchased from Amazon

Determined to destroy the Echelon she despises, Rosalind Fairchild is on seemingly easy mission. Get in. Uncover the secrets of her brother’s disappearance. And get out.

In order to infiltrate the Nighthawks and find their leader, Blue Blooded Sir Jasper Lynch, Rosalind will pose as their secretary. A dangerous mission, but Rosalind is also the elusive Mercury, a leader in the humanist movement.

But she doesn’t count on Lynch being such a dangerously charismatic man, challenging her at every turn, forcing her to re-evaluate everything she knows about the enemy. He could be her most dangerous nemesis-or the ally she never dreamed existed.

Rating: A-

Somehow, I read Of Silk and Steam, the final book in Bec McMaster’s fabulous London Steampunk series first, then moved onto the Blue Blood Conspiracy series, so thanks to the TBR Challenge, I’ve been slowly catching up with the books I missed.  My Lady Quicksilver is book three and is every bit as good as those that preceded it, boasting a tightly-written story with plenty of intrigue and high-stakes action, a steamy antagonists-to-lovers romance, excellent world-building and a strongly drawn set of central and secondary characters.

While each book could be read as a standalone (the central storyline and romance are concluded in each book), there’s an overarching plotline that runs throughout the series, so I’d advise starting at the beginning with Kiss of Steel.  There will be spoilers for the previous books in this review.

Sir Jasper Lynch, Master of the Nighthawks – London’s (sort of) police force, which is made up of rogue blue bloods (those not of the nobility who became accidentally infected with the craving virus) – has been given just three weeks to track down and arrest the mysterious Mercury, the leader of the humanist movement believed responsible for the recent bombing of the Ivory Tower, the seat of the Echelon’s power.  With two weeks left until the deadline – and knowing that the price of failure to deliver will be his life – Lynch has very little to go on, until he connects rumours of a smuggling operation with the humanist movement, and makes plans to intercept the next shipment.  On a dank, foggy night down by the river, he and his team await their moment to strike – but they’re spotted and all hell breaks loose.  During the fight, Lynch almost captures Mercury – who escapes into the enclaves beyond the city walls.  The enclaves are dangerous places – especially for a blue blood – but he follows anyway and quickly corners his quarry and makes a startling discovery.  Mercury is a woman.  A woman who attracts him and repels him in equal measure.  They circle each other metaphorically, testing each other’s mettle with the thrust and parry of their conversation until, after sharing a heated kiss, Mercury sticks Lynch with a hemlock dart and disappears.

Rosalind Fairchild took on the mantle of the humanist cause espoused by her late husband after his death some eight years previously and her secret identity is known only to a select few.  She was not, in fact, responsible for the bombing at the Ivory Tower;  a breakaway faction of mechs planned and executed it and Rosa tried to prevent it, to no avail.  Her main concern now, though, is her younger brother Jeremy, who was duped by Mordecai, the mechs’ leader, into delivering the bomb.  Rosa doesn’t know if Jeremy is dead or alive and is desperate to find out – and she decides the best way to get the information she needs is by taking a position as secretary to Sir Jasper Lynch at the HQ of the Nighthawks.  She presents herself at Lynch’s office as Mrs. Marberry and talks her way into the job – her no nonsense manner, her gumption and her ability to look him in the eye (not to mention her pretty face and soft curves) convincing him to give her the position on a trial basis.

Searching for Mercury isn’t Lynch’s only priority. The recent gruesome murders of two blueblood families – by a family member seemingly gone beserk – are mystifying and completely random, and Lynch has no real clues to go on.

The plot is engaging and well-executed as is the romance between Lynch and Rosa which is full of the sizzling sexual tension Bec McMaster writes so well.  Lynch is another of her swoonworthy heroes; handsome (of course!), honourable, intelligent and tightly controlled, he comes across as somewhat cold at first, but is gradually revealed to have a dry sense of humour and a vulnerability he keeps ruthlessly hidden.  Rosa’s backstory is heartbreaking; she and her brothers lived on the streets for a while after their mother (a thrall) died, until she was taken in and trained as an assassin and spy by her father, the evil Lord Balfour.  In the eight years since the death of her husband, Rosa has never looked at another man – she just hasn’t been interested – and her attraction to Lynch infuriates her.  She hates blue bloods and he, as the Master of the Nighthawks, answerable to the  even more hated Prince Consort, is the worst of the lot. But as she works alongside Lynch as Mrs Marberry, Rosa begins to see a different side to him and to see him as a man of compassion, with emotions he works hard to keep at bay.  She realises that she’s been wrong in tarring all blue bloods with the same brush and that some of them are actually capable and desirous of doing good.

The author sets up the conflict early on, and then drip-feeds information about the characters and their backstories, slowly revealing the truth about these two flawed and damaged characters, their loneliness, their guilt and their determination to do what they believe to be right.  The sparks fly between Lynch and Rosa right from the start; it’s an attraction neither of them wants or can afford, but it won’t go away, no matter how hard they try to ignore it.  The staid and principled Lynch is very much in lust with Mercury, but is also falling for Mrs Mayberry; he struggles with the fact he’s attracted to two women, while Rosa is unable to resist him, even though she knows she’s heading for trouble.

My Lady Quicksilver is another gripping read in what is one of the best series of paranormal romances of recent years. Lynch and Rosa are fully-formed, three-dimensional individuals with flaws and insecurities who, despite their difficult pasts, have grown into strong, determined individuals who will do whatever they must in pursuit of their goals.  The sexual chemistry between them burns up the pages, the banter is excellent and the romance is both tender and sexy as hell (chess, anyone?! Phew!)

If you haven’t read this series yet, then do yourself a favour and get started.  You can thank me later 😉

TBR Challenge: Zero at the Bone by Jane Seville

This title may be purchased from Amazon.

After witnessing a mob hit, surgeon Jack Francisco is put into protective custody to keep him safe until he can testify.

A hitman known only as D is blackmailed into killing Jack, but when he tracks him down, his weary conscience won’t allow him to murder an innocent man.

Finding in each other an unlikely ally, Jack and D are soon on the run from shadowy enemies. Forced to work together to survive, the two men forge a bond that ripens into unexpected passion. Jack sees the wounded soul beneath D’s cold, detached exterior, and D finds in Jack the person who can help him reclaim the man he once was.

As the day of Jack’s testimony approaches, he and D find themselves not only fighting for their lives… but also fighting for their future. A future together.

Rating: B

Jane Seville’s Zero to the Bone (2009) combines a complex and intriguing plot that wouldn’t be out of place in an action movie with an intense, angsty romance between a hitman and his would-be victim.  It’s a gripping read for around the first three-quarters of the book but after that it starts to meander a bit and while I enjoyed it, it’s a bit overlong and could probably have done with a bit of judicious editorial pruning to tighten up some areas of the plotting and writing.

Maxillofacial surgeon Jack Francisco’s life is turned upside down and inside out after he witnesses a mob hit and agrees to give evidence at trial.  He has to leave his Baltimore home and the job that’s been his life’s work behind when he’s taken into protective custody and relocated thousands of miles away in Nevada while he waits for the trial to begin.

The hitman known only as D is one of the best in the business, but is known to have some odd quirks when it comes to which tickets he picks up.  Rapists, child molesters and murderers are fair game, but he won’t touch cheating spouses, kids who want to dispose of elderly relatives to get their hands on their money – or witnesses.  His handler knows this and isn’t surprised when D passes on the contract from the Dominguez brothers to take out a witness – but they aren’t going to take no for an answer.  They blackmail D into picking up the ticket on Jack Francisco, which is why Jack enters the supposedly secure apartment where the Marshals have squirrelled him away, to find a man sitting calmly in an armchair with a gun in his lap.

D knows that if he can get to Jack, then so can anyone else, and although it’s one of the worst ideas he’s ever had, he decides to get Jack out of there and that he’ll protect the man himself until the trial.  He knows he’ll have a price on his head within seconds of the news getting out, but he’s the only one who can protect Jack from the scumbags who are after him… and he also suspects that there’s something more going on than someone being pissed at him for refusing a ticket.  After all, there are plenty of others out there who would have taken the job without a qualm, so why did the Dominguez brothers go to the trouble of blackmailing him?

The author does a great job of building the suspense as Jack and D go on the run, gradually peeling away the different layers of the plot as it becomes clear that D’s suspicions are correct and someone is targeting him through Jack – and that there is a lot more going on than it at first seemed.  The story is intricate and fast-paced, and there are a number of vivid, edge-of-the-seat action scenes and near misses that really ratchet up the tension and keep the reader on their toes.  As we move from one heart-pounding scene to another, Jack and D are starting to get a bit of handle on one another, well, insofar as Jack is able to find out anything from the very tight-lipped and closed-off D other than that he’s… well, tight-lipped, closed-off and deeply damaged.

A break in the action allows the author to develop the relationship between the two leads, who are as different as chalk and cheese.  Jack is the light to D’s dark; he’s a highly respected surgeon and thoroughly decent man with a generally optimistic disposition, while D is a man tormented by the tragic past that has driven him to become what he is.  Weighed down by grief and guilt, he’s spent so much time suppressing his emotions and natural reactions that when we first meet him, he’s starting to wonder if he’s actually a human being any more.  But something about Jack gradually starts to make its way under his skin, and D doesn’t at first know how to handle that.  He’s drawn to Jack and wants to trust him – but for a man who’s lived by his wits and trusted only one other person (the mysterious X, who is something of a guardian angel at times) for the past decade, trust isn’t given easily.  Jack is equally smitten and wants to know the man behind the emotional walls D has constructed, and slowly, the two men forge an incredibly strong bond that develops into a deep and passionate love that is absolutely unshakeable.  The relationship is very well done and contains some beautifully written moments of vulnerability and intimacy; and while the sex scenes are not all that explicit, their mutual attraction, longing and need for each other is visceral and really leaps off the page.

[Note: there’s no mention of prep or lube in the first sex scene (ouch!) and no mention – or use – of condoms at all.]

I got just over half way through the book confidently expecting to give it a fairly high rating – maybe even a DIK – but as I headed into the final quarter, it started to run out of steam and the excitement and tension that had made it such a compelling read were dissipating.  I’m not sure why that was;  there was plenty of plot still to go, but it felt overly dragged out and in the end, went on for too long.  Reading the epilogue, I got the feeling Zero at the Bone was supposed to have been the first in a series (checking the author’s website later, I found this to be the case), but no sequel has so far appeared 😦

Other weaknesses I noted were the lack of background and depth of characterisation of Jack.  We’re told early on that he was married to a woman, and later that he’s had a few relationships with men since; he’s very comfortable with his sexuality, but his marriage and divorce are not explained at all and I couldn’t help wondering why, if he knew he was gay, he married a woman in the first place.  (It’s never suggested he might be bisexual.)  There’s also a real lack of character description;  we don’t even know that Jack is dark-haired until really late in the book, for instance, and I found it very hard to picture him or D.

I really liked the author’s writing style, and she has a real talent for describing locations and action sequences so vividly that the reader is right there with the characters. However,  I wasn’t wild about her decision to write out D’s dialogue in a way to reflect some kind of accent – we’re never told where he comes from, but it’s “ya” for “you” and “fer” for “for” and “caint” for “can’t”.  It’s not as intrusive as some written-out dialects I’ve come across, but it was distracting nonetheless.  Also, some of the internal monologuing could have used a trim; there’s a tendency for a character to have a long-winded conversation with himself in the middle of an action scene or when he has to make a split-second decision, and it disrupts the flow.

Fortunately however, the balance between action, suspense and angsty romance is just about right, the good outweighs the not-so-good, and I enjoyed Zero to the Bone in spite of my reservations.

NOTE:  It has come to my attention that since I purchased this book, the rights have reverted to the author, who has revised and republished it.  One of the things she has changed is the way D’s accent is conveyed; I haven’t got the newer version so I can’t comment on how successful (or otherwise) it is; I just wanted to point out the change.