Christmas on Firefly Hill by Garrett Leigh

christmas on firefly hill

This title may be purchased from Amazon

Firefighter Logan Halliwell doesn’t have much time for romance. A relentless work-life-balance and an expensive divorce have sucked the festive cheer from his days. All he wants is to be a good dad. A fun dad. Especially at Christmas.

He doesn’t know how lonely he is until he meets Remy Collins, a gorgeous fire dancer at a sultry summer festival.

Their instant connection blows his mind, but their fleeting encounter is over before Logan can catch his breath. One kiss and they’re strangers again. That wicked brush of lips nothing but a dream.

Long months pass. Then fate brings them together again at the summit of Firefly Hill, and absence has only strengthened the current thrumming between them. The heat. The precious chance of true happiness they both so desperately need.

Only fear stands in their way.

And Logan’s dangerous job.

It takes a tough lesson and a dose of winter magic to learn that loving each other means Christmas all year round.

Rating: B-

Garrett Leigh’s Christmas on Firefly Hill is a fairly short, emotionally charged and low-angst read that, while not heavy on the turkey or the tinsel, still has enough festive cheer to warm the cockles. It’s a bit of a trope-fest, really: there’s an age-gap, a divorced dad struggling to parent young kids, and an insta-connection, with some hurt/comfort thrown in for good measure. I liked the two leads and the quirky feel to the location, and the kids in the story read like real kids with personalities of their own rather than plot-moppets. I enjoyed the story, but can’t say it knocked my socks off.

Firefighter Logan Halliwell is moonlighting as a fire marshall at a summer festival when he first sees Remy Collins, a lithe, vibrant poi/fire dancer who is, quite literally, the most beautiful man he’s ever seen. The intense connetion pulling them towards each other at the end of the dance is like nothing either of them has ever felt – it’s so strong it really leaps off the page – and they share a brief but passionate kiss. Before they can get as far as exchanging names (or numbers) though, Logan is called away. Neither of them expects to see the other again.

Not long after that meeting, Remy suffered a serious accident which broke some bones and left him unable to perform for the rest of the season. He’s unsettled and directionless, just about making ends meet while living out of the back of his clapped-out Transit van, and the cold weather isn’t doing the residual pain in his right hip and leg any favours. He’s pinned his hopes on renting a workshop for the winter where he can pursue his other business, making jewellery and other decorative items, and to this end, he’s just about got the old van up Firefly Hill to meet “Uncle Marr”, the eccentric old gent who owns the building – and to Remy’s surprise and relief, he agrees to rent the space to him on favourable terms and tells him “the boy” – his nephew – will be in to sort out the finances.

To say Logan is surprised to learn the identity of his uncle’s new tenant is an understatement. Not a day has gone by without his thinking about the gorgeous dancer and the single kiss they’d shared – and now, here he is, the man of Logan’s dreams standing right in front of him, a blinding grin on his face.

The connection that flared between them months earlier roars back to life, as strong now as it was then, bringing with it a chance for Logan and Remy to find out how – or if – they might make room for each other in their lives. Their mutual physical attraction is not in question, but they’re very different men with messy, complicated lives and baggage that will have to be dealt with if they’re going to make a go of it.

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

A Gathering Storm (Porthkennack #2) by Joanna Chambers (audiobook) – Narrated by Simon Goldhill

a gathering storm

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

When grief-stricken scientist Sir Edward Fitzwilliam provokes public scorn by defending a sham spiritualist, he’s forced to retreat to Porthkennack to lick his wounds. Ward’s reputation is in tatters, but he’s determined to continue the work he began after the death of his beloved brother. In Porthkennack, Ward meets Nicholas Hearn, land steward to the Roscarrock family. Ward becomes convinced that Nick, whose Romany mother was reportedly clairvoyant, is the perfect man to assist with his work. But Nick—who has reason to distrust the whims of wealthy men—is loath to agree.

Until Fate steps in to lend a hand. Despite Nick’s misgivings, he discovers that Ward is not the high-handed aristocrat he first thought. And when passion ignites between them, Nick learns there’s much more to love than the rushed, clandestine encounters he’s used to. Nevertheless, Nick’s sure that wealthy, educated Ward will never see him as an equal. A storm is gathering, but with Nick’s self-doubts and Ward’s growing obsession, the fragile bond between the two men may not be strong enough to withstand it.

Rating: Narration – B+; Content – B+

It’s taken a while for Joanna Chambers’ 2017 historical romance, A Gathering Storm, to make it into audio, but I remember enjoying the story back when I read it, so, despite the fact that the narrator is new-to-me, I decided to give the audiobook version a listen. The book is part of the multi-author Porthkennack series, all set in and around the Cornish seaside town of the same name, but it’s a standalone, so it’s not necessary to have read any of the other books in order to enjoy it.

The story begins on the night of a terrible electrical storm, when Sir Edward Fitzwilliam (known as ‘Ward’) is aboard ship, crossing the Irish Sea from Dublin to Anglesey. The storm is at its height when Ward experiences something very strange – he hears the voice of his twin brother George calling out to him and assuring him that all will be well. Realising later that this must have been the exact moment of George’s death and believing he’d received a communication from ‘beyond the veil’. Ward dedicates himself to recreating the conditions that allowed it to happen, in spite of the disapproval and dismissal of the wider scientific community of which he is – or had been – a respected member.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

Winter Dreams (Winter Magic #2) by Marie Sexton

winter dreams

This title may be purchased from Amazon

What happens when a player gets played?

Actor Dylan Frasier is known as one of the biggest playboys in Hollywood, infamous for seducing men and women alike. He’s also half in love with his two best friends. Unfortunately, Jason and Ben are madly in love with each other, leaving Dylan the odd man out. When Ben suggests an extended Christmas vacation at a resort modeled after his favorite 80s TV show, Dylan reluctantly agrees. Sure, his heart breaks a bit every time he sees them together, but it’s a vacation in the Bahamas. How bad can it be?

At first, the resort seems like any other. Dylan plans to work on his tan, get laid, and hunt for Hollywood’s most in-demand director – not necessarily in that order. Then he meets Connor, a tennis instructor still hurting from a bad breakup. Connor knows Dylan’s reputation and refuses to be seduced. Dylan sees Connor as just another conquest, but this tropical island isn’t as mundane as it appears. It has its own kind of magic, and it’s about to make things interesting.

Rating: A-

Back in 2020, I chose Marie Sexton’s Winter Oranges as my read for that year’s December prompt in the TBR Challenge, and really enjoyed it. It’s an unusual and charming story, a gorgeous slow-burn romance with a magical twist, and I was delighted to see that the author was writing a sequel. Often, sequels turn out to be disappointing, but I’m happy to report that Winter Dreams is even better than Winter Oranges. It’s a beautifully developed redemption story (and I’m a sucker for those!) combined with a touch of fantasy and another fabulous and emotionally satisfying slow-burn romance.

While it’s probably not essential to have read Winter Oranges before this, I strongly recommend doing so. For one thing, it’s a great read, and for another, you’ll get more detailed insight into the central relationships and character backgrounds. Please be aware that there are spoilers for that book in this review.

Actor Dylan Fraser has a reputation as one of Hollywood’s biggest playboys. Relationships aren’t for him and he’s never made a secret of that – even with the only lover he ever returned to, his best friend Jason Walker. Even though Dylan knew Jason was in love with him and no matter that he knew how cruel it was, Dylan couldn’t bring himself to stay away. But two years later, things are very different. Jason is now blisfully happy with Ben (Winter Oranges is their love story), and although Dylan adores them both – is even a little in love with both of them – and knows Ben is more right for Jason than he ever was, he can’t help feeling like the odd man out, or wondering about what might have been if he’d been capable of fidelity.

When the story opens, Dylan, Jason and Ben are en route to a luxury holiday island resort in the Bahamas called Fantasy Island, like the classic eighties TV show of the same name. It is, according to the brochure, a “place where all your fantasies come true.” Jason snidely suggests Dylan’s fantasy is to fuck his way through all the guests before the month is out; laughingly, Dylan agrees, although he knows that deep down, his fantasy would be to stop being himself and become Jason or Ben for the rest of his life, which would be so much better than being him. He ruthlessly suppresses the knowledge that he’s envious of what they’ve found in each other, and knowing it’s not something he’ll ever have, he figures he might as well not bother trying to find it and continues to live up to his flagrantly promiscuous reputation.

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

His Last Christmas in London by Con Riley

his last christmas in london

This title may be purchased from Amazon

Falling for his final client won’t make leaving London easy…

Ian ~ A talented, young photographer desperate to stay in London.

Guy ~ An older, fierce food critic, determined to keep him in his city.

Ian shouldn’t be attracted to a scathing food critic like Guy Parsons, not after the last time he fell for someone older, arrogant, and gorgeous. He knows better than to let dramatic good looks sway him since his last heartbreak. Besides, he’s accepted a new job at the far end of the country and won’t be staying in London.

Having one month left doesn’t seem enough now Ian’s fallen in love with the city. Working as Guy’s photographer for December might help him afford to stay for longer, even if he hates Guy’s brand of restaurant reviewing. When Guy turns out to be worlds away from the last man Ian fell for, shared meals soon result in shared secrets and feelings.

More than attraction sparks between them as Christmas approaches. Intimate moments lead to intense passion, but is being well matched in the bedroom enough to stop the clock counting down to Ian leaving London, and Guy, for good?

Rating: A-

Romance novellas are very often hit-and-miss for me. Truth be told, the majority of them ‘miss’, usually because the characters and relationship are underdeveloped, so I generally approach with caution. But every so often, a novella or ‘shorter novel’ comes along that defies my expectations – and I’m pleased to say that Con Riley’s His Last Christmas in London did exactly that. It’s a lovely, poignant and sensual age-gap romance that hit me right in the feels and left me sighing happily when I finished it.

Twenty-four-year-old Ian Fisher has decided it’s time to give up on his dream of making a living as a freelance photographer in London and take a secure short-term job back home in Cornwall. It’s going to be a massive wrench; he loves the city and he loves his two flatmates, Seb and Patrick, but he’s making next to nothing thanks to his arsehole of a former boss – and former lover – who is holding out on giving him a reference after Ian realised the guy had been gaslighting him for ages and passing Ian’s work off as his own, and left both his employ and his bed. His confidence in his abilities has been severely shaken, and without the reference, it’s proving next to impossible for Ian to get any work, so he’s resorted to selling off some of his equipment just so he can afford his rent, even though Seb and Patrick have said they’ll spot him until he starts earning again. But Ian doesn’t want to be a drain on them, and decides it’s time to face facts, suck it up and take the six-month teaching contract he’s been offered while he works out what his next move should be.

Doing a favour for his ex is the last thing Ian wants to do, so when Lito Dixon – who is clearly partying – calls and asks Ian to “go and take some food shots” for a high-profile client, Ian’s first instinct is to say no. But realising Lito is desperate, Ian demands both his reference and three times his usual fee – it’ll keep him afloat for a little while longer – and when Lito begrudingly agrees, Ian takes the job.

Guy Parsons is a well-known restaurant critic whose reviews have often been labelled as “career-ending” and “business crushing”. Still smarting from just having to deal with one utter bastard, Ian is in little mood to deal with another, and arrives at the restaurant predisposed to dislike Parsons on sight. When he arrives, he can’t help noticing how very striking the man is – with his flow of dark hair and warm, dark eyes – and is even thrown by the hostess’ description of him as “lovely”, which Ian decides must be just a front he maintains before going in for the kill. He wastes no time in making his opinion of Guy perfectly clear when he arrives at the table, but the wind is taken out of his sails when Guy calmly (and somewhat mischievously) plays up to the hostess’ assumption that they’re a couple. Confused and surprised at the powerful attraction he’s feeling for the other man, Ian slowly lets go of his preconceptions as Guy proves himself to be funny, charming and insightful – anything but a bastard, in fact – insisting Ian joins him for dinner, giving helpful advice to the new proprietors of the restaurant, and showing genuine concern for Ian and a real appreciation for his talent.

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

In Step (Painted Bay #3) by Jay Hogan (audiobook) – Narrated by Gary Furlong

in step

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

Karma. You reap what you sow, and Kane Martin isn’t looking for forgiveness.

But the arrival of Abe Tyler in Painted Bay has Kane dreaming of the impossible. The sexy silver fox choreographer is determined to pull Kane out from the shadows, but Abe’s career isn’t about to shift to Painted Bay, and Kane’s life is in neat little boxes for a reason.

A past he isn’t proud of.

A family he’s walked away from.

A job he doesn’t deserve.

A secret he’s ashamed of.

But life’s dance can make for unexpected partners, and learning to trust and keep up with the footwork is the name of the game.

Two steps forward, one step back.

It takes two to tango.

Rating: Narration – A+; Content – A

Jay Hogan’s wonderful Painted Bay series comes to a close with In Step which is my favourite book of the set and probably my favourite book of of hers full stop. It’s a poignant, emotional romance combined with a superbly-crafted tale of redemption, forgiveness and finally coming into one’s own that is both heartfelt and heartbreaking; and the always excellent Gary Furlong’s narration is absolute perfection.

Note: There are spoilers for the other books in the series in this review.

We were first introduced to Kane Martin back in Off Balancebook one of the series. A loner who doesn’t really fit in, he lives quietly on the fringes of town, his bullying attack on Judah Madden back when they were at school still very much present in the memories of most of the locals. Then, in On Board, he came to work for Judah’s brother Leroy after Leroy’s mother discovered Kane sleeping in his car and immediately offered him a job. Leroy wasn’t best pleased; he’s only just begun to repair his fractured relationship with Judah, and made it a condition of Kane’s employment that Judah agreed to it.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

TBR Challenge: When Love is Blind (Warrender Saga #3) by Mary Burchell

when love is blind

This title may be purchased from Amazon

Dreams have been dashed…

Antoinette Burney, a more than promising music student, is disappointed and furious when the famous concert pianist Lewis Freemont fails her in an exam.

To make matters worse, he tells her forthrightly that she will never make the grade as a professional pianist

Her hopes and dreams of success and notoriety are all destroyed in a single blow.

She doesn’t think she’ll ever be able to forgive him.

But it would seem that fate has other ideas and the tables are quickly turned, making Antoinette the innocent cause of the accident that, in destroying Lewis Freemont’s sight, destroys his career as well.

Subdued by his debilitating condition and the knowledge that he will never play the piano again, Lewis quickly becomes a shell of his former self.

Horrified and remorseful, when Antoinette gets a chance to make some sort of amends — by becoming Lewis’s secretary — she seizes it with both hands.

Just when she thought life couldn’t get any more complicated, Antoinette soon finds herself falling in love with the man that only a few weeks ago, she despised.

But what will Lewis do when, as inevitably he must, he discovers who she really is?

Full of hope and broken dreams, When Love is Blind is a heartfelt tale about never giving up.

Rating: B-

I’ve read a couple of the books in Mary Burchell’s Warrender Saga for the TBR Challenge, and picked up another one – the third – for this month’s prompt – “Lies”. The thing that keeps me coming back to this series is the way the author writes about music, musicians and the world of the professional performer, but the romances are tame by today’s standards, and, as I’ve remarked before, the heroes can feel like secondary characters because the stories are all about the heroine’s journey and are written from her PoV. And even though some of the language and attitudes are outdated now, reading them is oddly comforting; they play out in my head like old black-and-white films from the 1940s or 1950s, with their stiff-upper-lips and portrayals of glamourous lifestyles (okay, so this book dates from 1967, but it could easily have been set a decade or two earlier; there’s no real sign it’s the “swinging sixties”!)

The heroine of When Love is Blind is twenty-year-old aspiring concert pianist Antoinette Burnley. Having shown a prodgious talent at a young age, she’s spent pretty much all her young life making music, but all her dreams come crashing down around her ears when her idol (and long-time crush), Lewis Fremont, fails her in an exam, saying her performance is akin to that of “a clever automaton without glimmer of the divine spark.”

Deep down, Antoinette knows he’s right – somewhere along the line, she lost her connection to the heart and soul of the music and focused entirely on developing an outstanding technique – but even so, she’s deeply hurt and can’t now conceive of making a musical career. She decides to make a drastic change, and enrolls on a secretarial course.

Several months later on a day out, Antoinette finds herself in Lewis Fremont’s neck of the woods; she’s crossing the road opposite his hose when a car comes racing around the bend towards her, swerves to avoid her and spins out of control. She’d already recognised the car as that belonging to Fremont – rushing over to see if she can help, finds him alive, but unable to see and then goes to get help. Feeling scared, guilty and completely overwhelmed, she watches from afar as Fremont is carried from the wreckage, but doesn’t return to the wreckage

A few days later, Antoinette’s is offered a job as Lewis Fremont’s secretary. Her immediate response is to refuse – but then she thinks that perhaps working for Fremont and helping him in whatever way she can will atone, in some small way, for the accident, which she regards as her fault.

On her first day, Antoinette is shaken to find Fremont so subdued, so miserable and helpless, although perhaps it’s not surprising considering his life has been completely turned upside-down. He’s adamant that he doesn’t want to play for an audience ever again, his pride stinging at the idea of having to be led to the piano, “fumbling” to find his place at the keyboard. Antoinette shocks herself by immediately tells him not to be so arrogant and self-pitying – and to her surprise, Fremont actually takes her rebuke in (mostly) good part. Later, Fremont’s manager Gordon Everleigh suggests to Antoinette that she should do whatever she can to encourage him to remain positive, to excite his interest and participation – they’re united in their aim to get him back on to the concert platform

The turning point comes when Antoinette finally agrees to play for Fremont. She’d turned him down the first time he asked, but this time, she sees a way that might provide exactly the encouragement Everleigh was talking about; she agrees to play the slow movement of a Beethoven sonata but then says he’ll have to play the third, because she isn’t up to it. And sure enough, playing for her brings everything back and sets Fremont on the path back to re-entering the musical world.

The book fits the prompt because, of course, Fremont has no idea that his “Toni” as she asks him to call her, is the same girl who inadvertently caused his accident. He recalls her vaguely – he’d seen her standing in the road – and recognised her then as the student he’d failed and who had subsequently appeared at the front of the audience at several of his concerts. He believes her to have been stalking him and planning some kind of revenge, and is absolulely determined to find her, so of course, and as all liars do, Antoinette finds herself having to propogate more falsehoods in order to keep her identity a secret.

I enjoyed the story and, as I’ve said, the focus on music and the way the author writes about it work really well for me, so the main reason for the middling grade on this one is that the romance is very rushed. The growing friendship between Antoinette and Fremont has a solid foundation in their mutual love of music, and of his appreciation for her good sense and willingness to challenge him and stand her ground, but the declaration (his) comes out of the blue around half way through and was one of those ‘wait – what?’ moments where I had to backtrack and check I hadn’t missed a couple of chapters.

Speaking of the things that didn’t work for me, the ending is also rushed, and the writing during the ‘accident’ scene at the beginning is really clunky; I get that it’s exposition, but it was hard to take it seriously. The same is true of the scene near the end in which

(highlight to read) he regains his sight

and from then on it’s a mad rush to the end.

I did like the two leads, though. Antoinette is a believable twenty, with all the uncertainty, self-consciousness and self-absorption that come with being young, and I was really rooting for her as she re-discovers the inner musicality she’d lost sight of, the ability to play from the heart rather from the head, and how her finding her way back to it mirrors her growth as a character. Fremont is your musical genius in the Warrender mould, a true artist at the top of his profession with the arrogance and artistic temperment to go with it – and yet he’s a fair man (he could have phrased his comment in Antoinette’s exam better, but what he said was the truth) he’s fairly down-to-earth and while he can be a but snappish at times, he’s not intentionally cruel – and I liked that Antoinette doesn’t take any crap from him. She may have started out as Fremont’s secretary, but she slowly becomes his support and his beacon of hope as he works to get back to performing.

I can’t say When Love is Blind was a resounding success, but it was worth reading.

Heart Unseen (Hearts Entwined #1) by Andrew Grey (audiobook) – Narrated by Greg Tremblay

heart unseen

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

As a stunningly attractive man and the owner of a successful chain of auto repair garages, Trevor is used to attention, adoration, and getting what he wants. What he wants tends to be passionate, no-strings-attached flings with men he meets in clubs. He doesn’t expect anything different when he sets his sights on James. Imagine his surprise when the charm that normally brings men to their knees fails to impress. Trevor will need to drop the routine and connect with James on a meaningful level. He starts by offering to take James home instead of James riding home with his intoxicated friend.

For James, losing his sight at a young age meant limited opportunities for social interaction. Spending most of his time working at a school for the blind has left him unfamiliar with Trevor’s world, but James has fought hard for his independence, and he knows what he wants. Right now, that means stepping outside his comfort zone and into Trevor’s heart.

Trevor is also open to exploring real love and commitment for a change, but before he can be the man James needs him to be, he’ll have to deal with the pain of his past.

Rating:  Narration – A; Content – B

It’s no secret around here that my reading/listening preferences generally tend towards the plotty and angsty, with complex, edgy characters. That’s not to say I haven’t enjoyed stories that veer towards the low-drama end of the scale, and Andrew Grey’s Heart Unseen turned out to be one of those quieter, more character-driven tales that unexpectedly charmed me. Published in 2017, it’s part of a series featuring characters with disabilities; in this story, one of the leads is blind, and although I can’t say if the representation of what it’s like to live without being able to see is accurate, the author does seem to have taken care to address the issue respectfully.

Trevor Michaelson has a great life. He’s a successful businessman, he has a good relationship with his dad, good friends he likes spending time with and enjoys playing the field, his handsome face and toned body meaning he has the pick of guys at the clubs he and his friends frequent. When the book opens, Trevor and his two besties, Brent and Dean, are out at one of their favourite haunts to celebrate the end of Dean’s relationship with his manipulative ex, and be there as moral support as he gets back out there. While sitting with Brent, Trevor’s attention is caught by a stunningly beautiful man a few tables over – and he can’t take his eyes off him.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

Five Night Stand (Snowed Inn) by H.L Day

five night stand

This title may be purchased from Amazon

The advantage of a one-night stand is being able to walk away. Except, Nathan can’t.

Workaholic Nathan Nicholls hasn’t had the easiest time of late. Still reeling from his publisher’s rejection of his latest book, he seeks refuge in a remote hotel. When he’s propositioned by the sinfully sexy CJ, a man who knows exactly what he wants and isn’t afraid to go for it, why shouldn’t Nathan throw caution to the winds for once and have a bit of fun? After all, he’s leaving the next day.

When an avalanche puts paid to Nathan’s quick exit, he finds himself stuck there for Christmas. Stuck with CJ. What should be awkward, quickly becomes something else. The snow might be cold, but the time they spend together is far from it, and Nathan finds his heart warming. If only their passion and laughter didn’t have a shelf life, doomed to come to an end once the road is cleared.

Nathan Nicholls doesn’t do one-night-stands. But maybe, just maybe, if he makes a Christmas wish, this could be something more.

Rating: B

It’s that time of year when our TBR piles see an influx of Christmas-themed romances, and while I’m usually not ready to start getting festive until well into December, I do usually pick up a few of them for review each year, and I’m kicking off 2022’s batch with a short but sexy/sweet story from H.L. Day. Five Night Stand is part of the multi-author Snowed Inn series set at a holiday lodge in Colorado that is cut off when an avalanche closes the surrounding roads for a few days rendering its guests unable to leave. The books all feature different couples and can be read in any order, so you can dip in and out as the fancy takes you.

A couple of weeks before Christmas, author Nathan Nicholls is anxiously awaiting a meeting at his publisher’s. He’s written three pretty successful books and hopes the meeting is to offer him a new contract, or at the very least an offer to publish his latest one, but alas for him, it’s not. He’s told they’re going to pass on it – or at least, that they don’t want to publish the book in its present state because the characters are flat and and underdeveloped. If he makes some substantial changes, then maybe they can revisit it, but for now… it’s thanks but no thanks.

Frustrated and dispirited, Nathan decides to bite the bullet and make the necessary revisions. He sweated blood for eight months over that book, locking himself away and having no life while he made sure to meet his deadline, so he’s loath to chuck it out completely. He’s due to fly to Colorado to spend Christmas with his dad and stepmum and, hoping that maybe a change of scenery might help his creative juices start to flow, he decides to fly out a bit earlier and stay at a hotel for a few days before heading to his dad’s place.

Unfortunately, the different scenery, while beautiful, isn’t having the desired effect, and Nathan’s laptop screen has remained annoyingly blank. On his last day at The Retreat, he suddenly feels the need to be somewhere other than his cabin, somewhere there are other people, even if he doesn’t really feel like talking to anyone. Mooching around the hotel building, he peeks into the room where a speed dating event is going on and almost regrets not signing up for it – the guys look like they’re having fun, which is something Nathan hasn’t had a lot of recently. But he’s leaving the next day and flying home a few days later, so there wasn’t really any point… although when he locks eyes with the gorgeous guy with the generous smile and the camera slung around his neck, he thinks maybe he made the wrong decision.

Realising he’s just standing in the doorway like an idiot, Nathan quickly makes his way to the bar and is surprised when camera-guy shows up not long afterwards and brings him over another beer. He’s a fellow Brit and introduces himself as CJ – and he doesn’t waste any time in inviting Nathan back to his cabin. Nathan is startled. He’s never been one for casual sex and almost says so, but then thinks – why not? It’s not like they’ll ever see each other again, and maybe one night being something “other than a writer who had apparently forgotten how to write” is exactly what he needs.

The sex is fantastic and CJ is surprisingly intuitive, immediately sensing Nathan’s tendency to overthink and helping him to overcome his inhibitions with effortless ease. He asks Nathan not to leave without saying goodbye in the morning – but when it comes to it, all Nathan’s habitual awkwardness comes roaring back and he leaves quietly, returning to his own cabin – right next door – to shower and pack before heading to reception to check out.

But… he can’t. An avalanche hit late the previous night and the roads are impassable. It looks like he’ll be seeing CJ again after all.

Five Night Stand is a fun, steamy and surprisingly fresh take on a couple of well-worn tropes, and I enjoyed it a lot. It’s a quick and very engaging read featuring two likeable, three dimensional characters with chemistry that leaps off the page, and although Nathan’s is the sole PoV, the author does such a wonderful job of presenting CJ through his eyes, I didn’t once feel I was missing anything by not having CJ’s take on things. They’re your classic grumpy/sunshine pairing; Nathan is a bit of an introvert who works hard and doesn’t play very much, while CJ is charming, fun and larger-than-life, open to opportunity and ready to grab the next one with both hands. Spending the days together – as well as the nights – enables them to go to know each other, talking about their jobs and their hopes and dreams, and the affection between them is palpable. Nathan tells CJ about the problems with his book and CJ shares his love of wildlife photography and his dream of one day having a shot accepted by National Geographic. CJ’s love of life, his positivity and his ebullience are infectious, and I loved the way he encourages Nathan to come out of his shell and start to live a little; watching Nathan doing just that, opening up and finding real happiness for the first time in a long while is really satisfying. It’s not all one-sided though. CJ has never really had anyone in his life who understands his love for what he does and supports him in it – his family sees his photography as a hobby, and past boyfriends have been annoyed because he travels a lot – but Nathan gets it. He knows what it’s like to feel passionately about something and is genuinely interested and impressed with CJ’s talent.

One of the things I often criticise shorter romance novels and novellas for is that the relationship development can feel rushed – but that isn’t the case here. Nathan and CJ form an entirely believable connection during their short time together, and I have to give the author kudos for the little nod back to Nathan’s assertion early on, that the characters in his book can’t be expected to change all that much in just five days – when he realises that he has, in fact, fallen in love in just that timeframe.

Five Night Stand is the perfect way to brighten up a grey, wintry afternoon; a tender, funny and spicy love story that’s nicely romantic without being sappy. Recommended.

Prince of Flowers (Wild Hearts #1) by Nazri Noor (audiobook) – Narrated by Greg Boudreaux

prince of flowers

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

He captured a fae prince. But can he capture his heart?

Lochlann Wilde walks in the shadow of his father, a legendary summoner who commanded mythical beasts in battle. But Locke isn’t legendary. He’s barely a summoner, never passing his academy’s trial of the elements.

And then he accidentally summons a fae prince with a beautiful body and a bad attitude.

Sylvan is fiery and ferocious, stronger than anything Locke has ever encountered. And hotter, too. But time is running out. Locke must tame the prince’s wild heart. If he fails his trial, he’ll lose his inheritance and ruin his family’s name.

Without Sylvan, Locke could lose his chance to become a true summoner…along with his shot at true love.

Rating: Narration – A; Content – B-

I’m enjoying Nazri Noor’s Arcane Hearts fantasy/romance series – it’s fun and inventive with intriguing plotlines, strong worldbuilding, likeable characters, and excellent narration by Zachary Johnson. When the author announced that his new series – Wild Hearts (which is set in the same world as Arcane Hearts) – would be narrated by Greg Boudreaux, naturally I jumped at the chance to listen to and review the first book, Prince of Flowers.

Lochlann – Locke – Wilde is the oldest student at the great and ancient Wispwood Academy, having yet to earn the Crest that will mark his ‘graduation’ as a summoner. In order to earn that – and to inherit his father’s fortune – he must summon and forge a pact with a great beast of legend, but all he’s managed so far are a flock of doves, an elderly wolf and a grubby cat – not exactly a resounding success for the son of the legendary Grand Summoner Baylor Wilde. He’s not exactly the most diligent of students, it’s true, but he’s persistent, so, armed with the grimoire inherited from his father, Locke has once again ventured into the forests of Wispwood, intent on gaining his summoner’s Crest by finding his eidolon (his ideal familiar), a creature of powerful magic with whom he can form a mutually beneficial bond.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

Sass (Style #3) by Jay Hogan

sass

This title may be purchased from Amazon

For two years I’ve kept Leon Steadman at a safe distance, ever since the night he turned me down flatter than a pancake with a side order of syrupy disapproval. His loss. The world is full of sexy men. One and done is simply good math and efficient use of my time. Or it would be if I hadn’t been lusting after the irritating, judgemental, gorgeous, mountain of a man, ever since.

The less I see of Leon, the better. Bad enough that his tattoo business sits next to Flare, the fashion store I manage, and that he’s friendly with my boss. But now he’s apartment-sitting above the shop, as well. Every time I turn around, Leon is there. In my store. In my space. Messing with my head. Being all nice and charming and acting like maybe he’s not the biggest jerk to walk the earth, after all.

Well, I don’t want or need Leon’s apologies, but maybe if I can have him, just once, it might put an end to this ridiculous hunger that sparks every time I lay eyes on him.

Yeah, I’ll get back to you on that.

Rating: B+

Jay Hogan concludes her Style series with Sass, a warm, snarky and sexy age-gap/opposites-attract romance between the fabulous Kip Grantham, the sassy, fierce and super-capable manager of Rhys Hellier’s high-fashion store, Flare, and Leon Steadman, the gorgeous hunk who owns the tattoo parlour next door. There was a definite spark between them the minute they stepped on the page in the first book, and although it was tempered by a distinct air of frostiness on Kip’s part, it was an intensely combustible kind of spark that would have led to some serious sheet-burning had the pair of them actually made it as far as a bed. As it turns out however, they’ve never acted on their mutual attraction, spending the two years of their acquaintance barely on civil, one-word-acknowledgement terms.

Kip was attracted to Leon the moment he came through the door of Flare, a week after Kip started working there. He was the hottest thing Kip has ever seen and provided more than enough fuel for his fantasies right up until around a month later when they met at a party, and Leon rejected his invitation to do more than just chat. Kip has never made a secret of the fact that he’s not into relationships; he enjoys men, he enjoys sex and isn’t about to feel bad or apologise for it to anyone. He knows when a guy is interested in him, and Leon was definitely interested – so his rebuff was a bit of a surprise; and not only did Leon turn Kip down, he did it in a really shitty, condescending way that more than implied a disapproval of Kip’s lifestyle. Kip was – quite rightly – furious and put Leon firmly in his place before storming off.

Kip couldn’t possibly know how hard it was for Leon to say no that night. Leon had recently decided it’s time to give up what his sister-in-law calls his “whoring ways” and he’s planning to settle down. He wants the whole package, the white picket fence, kids, a dog… it’s time to focus on finding someone he can make a life with and when he meets Kip, it’s the first big test of his resolve. He’s utterly smitten with the vivacious, beautiful younger man and previously, would not have thought twice about taking him up on his offer – but even on such short acquaintance, Leon recognises the potential danger to his heart Kip represents, and sticks to his guns. He just does it in a really unpleasant way.

That was two years earlier, and Kip and Leon have maintained an uneasy détente ever since. Leon has tried repeatedly to apologise for being such a dick, but Kip isn’t interested, despite the fact that Leon is the only man who has ever taken up real estate in his brain.

When Sass opens, Rhys and his partner Beck are about to leave for New York – for work, and then for a short break – leaving Kip in charge of Flare. While they’re away, the space above Leon’s shop (which he rents from Rhys) is going to be converted into a proper studio for Rhys, and Leon, who has been camping there while his house purchase is completed, is going to have to go to stay with his parents for a few weeks. He gets on well with his family, but still isn’t looking forward to it; but when Alec and Hunter (Strut) hear about it, they offer Leon the use of their apartment (above Flare), as they, too, are going to be away for a few weeks.

Kip is… well, ‘ugh’ might best describe his reaction to that news. It’s bad enough that he has to see Leon and deflect his attempts at conversation every now and then, but having him living upstairs and walking through the shop to get there… he’s not wild about the idea.

The chemistry between Kip and Leon is electric from the start, and Jay Hogan does a terrific job with building their slow-burn romance, which starts out with small, thoughtful gestures on Leon’s part, such as bringing Kip coffee or his favourite pastries when he knows he hasn’t been able to find time to eat, and builds into a friendship in which the two men come to feel comfortable enough around each other to talk about things they’ve never really spoken about with anyone else and most importantly, about the things that have lain between them for the last couple of years. Both have suffered trauma and loss; seven years before, Leon’s twin sister was killed in a car accident and he’s struggled, ever since, to really come to terms with it, while Kip has been estranged from his family for a decade because they disapprove of his lifestyle and for reasons the author reveals gradually as the story progresses.

I’ve said this before, but one of the things you can rely on in a Jay Hogan romance is that the characters speak and act like adults, they support each other and, for the most part, they communicate. There are no silly misunderstandings or contrived drama; the conflict in the romance arises organically and as a result of who these characters are, and while Sass is, perhaps, a less angsty read than the other books in the series, it’s far from lightweight and the author nonetheless tackles some difficult issues with her customary sensitivity and understanding.

Both leads are likeable, but this is Kip’s show. Vibrant, funny and blisteringly snarky, he made an impact the moment he stepped onto the page in Flare, and his force-of-nature personality has made him a series favourite. The author does a good job of showing why Kip eschews relationships, his deeply rooted fear of abandonment telling him it’s easier to just avoid setting himself up for it. And despite being a spitfire and having a natural talent for organisation and innovation, deep down, he’s insecure about taking the formal managerial role that Rhys is urging him towards. He’s doing the job already while Rhys focuses on his designing, but while on the one hand he knows he’s damn good at what he does, on the other, he doesn’t quite believe he can handle it, worrying secretly that being “mouthy as shit with a dangerous dose of charm” is no compensation for his lack of education or qualifications. Watching Leon gently bolster him and boost his confidence is lovely; he’s wonderfully supportive, helping Kip to think problems through and to find and own his belief in himself, but that support doesn’t only go one way. Kip stands beside Leon, too, helping him to better understand his family’s concern for him and untangle a complicated and sensitive family situation.

I have to make mention here of the character of Drew, the young trans man we first met in Flare; now nineteen, he’s really growing into himself and shows signs of becoming a force to be reckoned with. His friendship with Kip is superbly written; their snarky back-and-forth provides some of the book’s funniest moments, and their obvious affinity and genuine care for one another is lovely to see.

Sass is a terrific character-driven romance and a great series finale, and although it didn’t quite hit DIK level for me (I would have liked a bit more grit overall), I really enjoyed it and am more than happy to give it a strong recommendation.