The Last Kiss by Sally Malcolm

This title may be purchased from Amazon

A tender and triumphant story of forbidden love in the aftermath of war

When Captain Ashleigh Arthur Dalton went to war in 1914, he never expected to fall in love. Yet over three long years at the front, his dashing batman, Private West, became his reason for fighting—and his reason for living.

But Ash’s war ends in catastrophe. Gravely wounded, he’s evacuated home to his family’s country house in Highcliffe. Bereft of West, angry and alone, Ash struggles to re-join the genteel world he no longer understands.

For Harry West, an ostler from London’s East End, it was love at first sight when he met kind and complex Captain Dalton. Harry doubts their friendship can survive in the class-bound world back home, but he knows he’ll never forget his captain.

When the guns finally fall silent, Harry finds himself adrift in London. Unemployed and desperate, he swallows his pride and travels to Highcliffe in search of work and the man he loves. Under the nose of Ash’s overbearing father, the men’s intense wartime friendship deepens into a passionate, forbidden love affair.

But breaching the barriers of class and sexuality is dangerous and enemies lurk in Highcliffe’s rose-scented shadows.

After giving their all for their country, Harry and Ash face a terrible choice—defy family, society and the law to love as their hearts demand, or say goodbye forever…

Rating: B+

Sally Malcolm’s latest novel is something of a departure for anyone familiar with her excellent New Milton series. The Last Kiss is an historical romance set in England immediately after World War One, and it features two characters for whom the class divide is as insurmountable an obstacle to their love for each other as is their sexuality.  Ms. Malcolm is one of my favourite writers; her ability to delve deep into the thoughts and emotions of her characters is something that always impresses me, and here, she combines that with a sharply observed, unvarnished look at the problems faced by the men who were lucky enough to return from a war that forever changed them – to a world in which they no longer fit.

Captain Ashleigh Dalton and his batman Private Harry West met in 1914, and became close friends in spite of their difference in rank and backgrounds. Ash is the son of a baronet and worked in a bank and Harry was an ostler in Bethnal Green, but war is a great leveller; they’ve lived side-by-side and have been through hell together, and as time has worn on, their friendship – and deep mutual affection – is just about the only thing that has made life bearable for both of them.  The story begins in the early hours of a morning in October 1917 when Ash and his men are waiting for the final command to go over the top.  Ms. Malcom brilliantly evokes the overall feelings of trepidation and despair felt in the trenches and also does a fantastic job of showing readers the strength of the bond that exists between Ash and Harry – not with words, because they can’t possibly say any of the things they feel, but rather through the actions that communicate their obvious care for one another. When Ash is severely wounded, Harry’s world almost comes to a stop, and fearing the man he loves is dead, his first thought is to invite a German bullet to end it all. But seeing the men look to him for guidance and reassurance, he can’t do it.  Clinging to hope, Harry somehow finds the courage to carry on, and one month later, receives the news that Ash is alive, and is being sent home to England.

The fact that Ash lost part of one leg and is suffering from “nerve damage” (which we’d call PTSD today) are not the only things that have made it impossible for him to pick up the reins of his old life.  He misses Harry desperately, and he’s full of anger and frustration at the way that those around him – most notably his parents and others of their generation – seem to want to brush the war under the carpet and go on as though nothing has changed, and he can’t bear it.

“What was it for, if everything goes on the same?”

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

Quickie Reviews #5

I always mean to do these more regularly but… you know, life. Anyway, like many people right now, I’ve got a bit of extra time on my hands, so I’ve pulled together short reviews of a bunch of books and audiobooks I’ve read and listened to over the past few months but haven’t written full-length reviews for. If you’re looking for a read or listen to keep you company over the next few weeks, maybe you’ll find some inspiration here.


Two Man Station by Lisa Henry

Gio Valeri is a big-city police officer who’s been transferred to the small outback town of Richmond with his professional reputation in tatters. His transfer is a punishment, and Gio just wants to keep his head down and survive the next two years. No more mistakes. No more complications.

Except Gio isn’t counting on Jason Quinn.

Jason Quinn, officer in charge of Richmond Station, is a single dad struggling with balancing the demands of shift work with the challenges of raising his son. The last thing he needs is a new senior constable with a history of destroying other people’s careers. But, like it or not, Jason has to work with Gio.

In a remote two-man station hours away from the next town, Gio and Jason have to learn to trust and rely on each another. Close quarters and a growing attraction mean that the lines between professional and personal are blurring. And even in Richmond, being a copper can be dangerous enough without risking their hearts as well.

Rating: B

With two cops as leads, I’d thought this might be more of a mystery/suspense story, but it isn’t; rather it’s a fish-out-of-water tale as a disgraced big city cop relocates to a small rural community and discovers that policing there is very different to the sort of thing he’s used to. Lisa Henry evokes the small town/back of beyond atmosphere really well – although this town isn’t at all small really; Jason and Gio’s “beat” covers a massive area, but it doesn’t boast all that many inhabitants.

Amid the series of vignettes as to the various disputes the pair are called upon to work through is the relationship that gradually grows between them. They get off to a rocky start because of what Jason has heard about Gio’s reason for relocating (that he was an informant who got another officer dismissed from his job), but as they work together and get to know each other, Jason starts to wonder if that’s the whole story. (Of course, it isn’t).

Jason is a widower with a ten-year-old son, and is only just realising that he really needs to make proper childcare arrangements. Before, his two neighbours – a young couple with kids of their own – would always pick up the slack and were happy to help out when Jason had to answer a call at night or worked long shifts – but now they’ve moved away, he’s struggling to reconcile the demands of the job with his job as a father.

The slower pacing works and I enjoyed the book overall, although I would have liked a stronger romance. There’s a definite attraction between Jason (who is bi) and Gio, but a few pages before the end, Jason tells Gio he’s still in love with his dead wife (and he’s still wearing his wedding ring), which was unexpected and seemed a really odd move; and although they’re still together six months down the line (shown in the epilogue) it felt to me as though there was more to be said about their relationship. There are no ILYs – which is fine when I feel that the characters are committed to each other – and I don’t necessarily need the mushy stuff, but their emotional connection wasn’t quite what I’d hoped for by the end.

Even so, I’m giving this four stars because I really did like the story and the characters. I’m going to pick up the next book soon.


Leaning into the Fall by Lane Hayes

Narrated by Nick J. Russo

Nick Jorgensen is a quirky genius. He’s made a fortune in the competitive high-tech field with his quick mind and attention to detail. He believes in hard work and trusting his gut. And he believes in karma. It’s the only thing that makes sense. People are difficult, but numbers never lie. In the disastrous wake of a broken engagement to an investor’s daughter, Nick is more certain than ever he isn’t relationship material.

Wes Conrad owns a thriving winery in Napa Valley. The relaxed atmosphere is a welcome departure from his former career as a high-rolling businessman. Wes’s laid-back nature is laced with a fierceness that appeals to Nick. In spite of his best intention to steer clear of complications, Nick can’t fight his growing attraction to the sexy older man who seems to understand him. Even the broken parts he doesn’t get himself.

However, when Wes’s past collides with Nick’s present, both men will have to have to decide if they’re ready to lean into the ultimate fall.

Rating: Narration – B; Content – B

Nick is a tech genius who doesn’t do well in social situations and frequently comes across as an arsehole; Wes is more than a decade older and considerably more chilled than Nick, but seems to just ‘get’ him – even the parts of himself Nick doesn’t fully understand. I liked the way their relationship developed; laid-back Wes is a great foil for Nick, who is sometimes driven to the point of obsession and oblivious to everything around him. There’s plenty of hot sex, but there’s an emotional connection, too -Nick has never clicked with anyone the way he has with Wes, and realises that for the first time ever, he’s developing feelings for someone that go beyond work or friendship.

The conflict comes fairly late in the book and although it seems a little contrived, it does actually fit with Nick’s character – he gets worked up and anxious easily and does tend to blurt the first thing that comes into his head, and the ‘black moment’ works because of it.

Nick J. Russo narrates and does a great job!


Setting the Hook by Andrew Grey

Narrated by Greg Tremblay

William Westmoreland escapes his unfulfilling Rhode Island existence by traveling to Florida twice a year and chartering Mike Jansen’s fishing boat to take him out on the Gulf. The crystal-blue water and tropical scenery isn’t the only view William enjoys, but he’s never made his move. A vacation romance just isn’t on his horizon.

Mike started his Apalachicola charter fishing service as a way to care for his daughter and mother, putting their safety and security ahead of the needs of his own heart. Denying his attraction becomes harder with each of William’s visits.

William and Mike’s latest fishing excursion starts with a beautiful day, but a hurricane’s erratic course changes everything, stranding William. As the wind and rain rage outside, the passion the two men have been trying to resist for years crashes over them. In the storm’s wake, it leaves both men yearning to prolong what they have found. But real life pulls William back to his obligations. Can they find a way to reduce the distance between them and discover a place where their souls can meet? The journey will require rough sailing, but the bright future at the end might be worth the choppy seas.

Rating: Narration: A; Content B

Sweet character-driven romance between a workaholic businessman, groomed by his parents to take over the family engineering firm, and the owner of the boat he charters a couple of times a year to go fishing.

A bad storm following William’s latest fishing trip leaves him stranded in Florida for a few days; Mike invites him to stay with him (he lives with his mother and ten-year-old daughter) and the nacent attraction they’ve both been feeling for years now becomes impossible to ignore or resist.

They’re from very different worlds, but no matter how strong the emotions growing between them, Mike’s life is in Florida and William’s is in Rhode Island. Yet the months apart after William’s last visit only prove to both of them that there’s something between them worth exploring, and both men have to decide how much they’re prepared to sacrifice in order to be together.

It’s nto going to win any prizes for originality, but Setting the Hook is an enjoyable story featuring likeable characters, and of course, Greg Tremblay’s narration was flawless.


Red Dirt Heart by N.R. Walker

Charlie Sutton runs Sutton Station the only way he knows how; the way his father did before him. Determined to keep his head down and his heart in check, Charlie swears the red dirt that surrounds him – isolates him – runs through his veins.

American agronomy student Travis Craig arrives at Sutton Station to see how farmers make a living from one of the harshest environments on earth. But it’s not the barren, brutal and totally beautiful landscapes that capture him so completely.

It’s the man with the red dirt heart.

Rating: B

Lovely and just what I needed right now.

Charlie Sutton is just twenty-five but is now the owner of the 2.58 million acre Sutton Station in the Northern Territory, Australia. He loves what he does, even though he knows he’s likely to spend his life alone; he’s gay and closeted, his late father having insisted that “no fairy” was ever going to be able to run Sutton Station and that it needed a “real man”. Yes, his father was an arsehole, but those words struck so deep that Charlie – although he’s doing a terrific job – can’t seem to see beyond them.

Enter Travis Craig, an agronomy student from Texas who has come to Sutton to see how things are done as part of an exchange programme. Travis is handsome, confident and, as quickly becomes clear to Charlie and his staff, knows his way around horses and cattle; he settles in quickly, becoming part of the team and establishing friendships with the others, but Charlie tells himself he must keep his distance.

There’s not a lot of angst in this one (a bit of very plausible drama in the second half worked well to ramp up the tension) and it’s mostly the story of Charlie learning to let go of his father’s bigotry and be his own man, and finally allowing himself to believe it’s possible for him to live his life with a loving partner by his side.

There are some great secondary characters (I loved Ma, who rules the kitchen with a rod of iron… or spatula, whatever) and the author’s descriptions of the Outback setting, the “red dirt”, the night skies, the sunsets are fabulous.

If you’re looking for a simple, well-written story that will transport you somewhere else for a few hours, this could be just what you’re after.


The Prince and his Bedeviled Bodyguard by Charlie Cochet

Prince Owin

Being a fierce predator – not at all adorable, despite my graceful stature – the last thing I needed was a bodyguard. Especially a wolf shifter, whose presence alone was an insult to my princely principles. 

As prince of the Ocelot Shifters, I prided myself on my infallible feline instincts, uncompromising dignity, and flawless fashion sense. If having a canine follow me around at all times wasn’t bad enough, I now faced the most important moment of my entire life. 

The time had come to prove I was worthy of my crown. If only I could find a way to get rid of the pesky bodyguard…

Grimmwolf

When the king of All Shifters asked me to guard Prince Owin, I admit I had no idea what to expect. Cat shifters tend to be a little intense, not to mention kinda cranky. Owin was no exception, though he seemed crankier than most. 

Being his bodyguard was proving to be one of the greatest challenges of my life, but not nearly as great as convincing him there was something special between us. 

When Owin was tasked with a perilous quest to prove his worth, I was determined to keep him safe, even if the same couldn’t be said of my heart.

Rating: Narration: A; Content B-

I wanted something short and sweet and this definitely fit the bill. The prince of the ocelot shifters has to team up with his bodyguard, a wolf shifter, to fulfil a quest set him by the king of all shifters… of course, they spar like cat and dog (!) and shenanigans ensure.

It’s not deep and the worldbuilding is minimal, but it’s a helluva lot of fun, especially in audio where Greg Boudreaux demonstrates once again that he’s a master of comic timing (and just about everything else when it comes to narration!)

Quick, fun and sexy – just what I was looking for, and I’ll probably pick up more audios in the series as they become available.


Sergeant Delicious by Annabeth Albert

Soon to be ex-marine Xavier has a bright future as a firefighter. But stationed far from home, he’s lonely and homesick for more than just his favorite foods. Thinking ahead to his homecoming, he responds to an ad seeking a date for a special gourmet dinner, but he doesn’t anticipate an immediate connection with the intriguing foodie who placed the ad.

Food writer Damien is looking for his big break, and reviewing an uber-exclusive secret restaurant may be exactly what he needs if he can score a date to go with him. He doesn’t expect to enjoy corresponding with Xavier quite so much, nor is he prepared for his powerful surge of lust for the hot marine.

However, Damien’s had more than his share of bad luck when it comes to romance, but Xavier is determined to win Damien over. Course-by-course, they fall deeper into like. When they finally give into their passion, sparks fly. But is it a flash in the pan or the recipe for lasting love?

Rating: B-

A sweet and sexy short story previously published in a charity anthology, Sergeant Delicious begins with soon-to-be demobbed Xavier answering an ad from “fun foodie guy” (a food writer) who wants someone to go with him to an upmarket dinner on Valentine’s day. The first part of this short story/novella shows the pair getting to know each other a bit via email, which makes the attraction they experience when they meet more believable. Both men are likeable and down-to-earth, and one of the things I really appreciate about novellas when they’re done well, is that the shorter page count doesn’t leave room for silly misunderstandings and other distracting plot points; and this is one of those that’s done well. The author doesn’t allow Damien’s hang-ups to get in the way (in fact, making good use of them! *wink*) and devotes all her page time to building the relationship between the leads.

A quick, fun (and did I mention sexy?) read.


Bitter Pill by Jordan Castillo Price

Narrated by Gomez Pugh

There’s a new drug on the streets called Kick. The side effects are so brutal, most folks only try it once…unless they’re psychic. Then they do it until it kills them.

Psychic medium Victor Bayne is well acquainted with pharmaceuticals, from the Auracel that blocks his ghosts to the Seconal that offers him a blissful nights’ sleep. But he’s managed to steer clear of street drugs…so far.

Jacob Marks has a medicine cabinet filled with every over-the-counter remedy known to man, but none of them are doing much for his mood—and his long, fruitless days of combing through records at The Clinic are taking a heavy toll.
But their lackluster investigation does have one silver lining: a front row seat at The Clinic when the first Kick overdose comes in. And as scary as the drug might be, if it truly does augment psychic ability, the appeal is not lost on Vic.

Because the very first hit never killed anyone.

Where did Kick come from? Why is it so addictive? And why is everyone at The Clinic acting so darn shady? That’s what Vic intends to find out. And if he’s lucky, he can also expose a shadowy figure from Camp Hell.

Unfortunately, the demons of his pill addiction might prove just as deadly as his long-buried history. He thought he’d managed to ditch that pernicious habit. But what if it was only lurking in the shadows, waiting for the best time to rear its ugly head?

Rating: Narration: A; Content A-

Gah, I love this series so much, and it seems to get better and better! So much going on here besides the actual plot, about the investigation into a deadly psyactive drug (Kick) that is killing psychics. I’m loving Vic’s character growth, especially over the last few books as he’s finally realising what it’s like to work with people who respect him and is really gaining in confidence as a result. He still can’t quite believe it, and is still as endearingly self-deprecatingly shambolic as ever, but we – and Jacob of course – see it and appreciate it. And I like that we get to see Jacob’s more vulnerable side; he’s one of those people who, by virtue of his good looks, imposing physique, intelligence and charisma has come up against little in his life that he hasn’t been able to deal with, but that’s changing, and although he’s still very much the Jacob we all know and love, that extra dimension to him is great to see.

Vic and Jacob’s relationship continues to grow and their love for each other to deepen; they get to work with Zig and Carolyn again, and we get some closure for one of the characters who’s been around since book one; Jackie, the ghost who spasmodically haunted Vic’s old appartment. Her story is a tragic one, and the author does an amazing job in the scenes where Vic and Jacob find out the truth of what happened to her and then help her to move on – they’re incredibly poignant and Gomez Pugh is simply brilliant in them and captures every single drop of emotion.

On the subject of Mr. Pugh – his portrayal of Vic is so absolutely perfect that it’s easy to forget sometimes just how good he is at the rest of it. He can produce an amazing variety of character voices for what is, after eleven books, a large secondary cast, many of whom have appeared in several books throughout the series, and his inventiveness (and consistency) is remarkable.

And – whoa, that ending! When’s the next book out?!

And Then He Kissed Her (Girl Bachelors #1) by Laura Lee Guhrke (audiobook) – Narrated by Zara Hampton-Brown

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

Supremely sensible Emmaline Dove wishes to share her etiquette expertise with London’s readers, and as secretary to Viscount Marlowe, Emma knows she’s in the perfect position to make her dream come true. Marlowe might be a rake with a preference for can-can dancers and an aversion to matrimony, but he is also the city’s leading publisher, and Emma is convinced he’s her best chance to see her work in print…until she discovers the lying scoundrel has been rejecting her manuscripts without ever reading a single page!

As a publisher, Harry finds reading etiquette books akin to slow, painful torture. Besides, he can’t believe his proper secretary has the passion to write anything worth reading. Then she has the nerve to call him a liar, and even resigns without notice, leaving his business in an uproar and his honor in question. Harry decides it’s time to teach Miss Dove a few things that aren’t proper. But when he kisses her, he discovers that his former secretary has more passion and fire than he’d ever imagined, for one luscious taste of her lips only leaves him hungry for more.

Rating: Narration- B; Content – B

And Then He Kissed Her, book one in Laura Lee Guhrke’s Girl Bachelors series, is one of those books that’s often cited as a favourite by historical romance fans. Originally published in 2007, this is the first time it’s been available in audio, and it’s good to see some old favourites finally making it into the format.

Set in the late Victorian era, And Then he Kissed Her tells the story of the romance between Harry, Viscount Marlowe – who, although an aristocrat, works for a living and owns a successful publishing house – and Miss Emmaline Dove (Emma), who has been his secretary for five years but is certainly not desperately in love with him and, knowing him to be a rake of the first order, is glad not to be so. When the book opens, Emma is being forced to listen to a ‘woe is me’ speech from Marlowe’s latest mistress – to whom he has just given her congé – and has no patience with any of it, relieved (sort of) that she’s not at all the sort of woman who would attract the attention of a such a man. Aged thirty, Emma has kind of accepted she’s likely to remain a confirmed spinster, and in any case, her ambitions lie in a different direction. She hopes one day to become a published author, and has in fact written a number of books on etiquette for young women; she has not so far been able to persuade Marlowe to publish any of them, but continues to write, undaunted.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

TBR Challenge: Autumn Bride by Melinda Hammond

This title may be purchased from Amazon

When Major Lagallan suggests to Miss Caroline Hetton that she should marry his young brother, she can hardly believe her good fortune, and at first sight Vivyan Lagallan seems to be the perfect bridegroom; young, charming and exceedingly handsome. Yet upon closer acquaintance, Caroline is disturbed by his wild, restless spirit and discovers that he has a taste for excitement that eventually endangers not only his life, but hers, too.

Rating: C+

I went the obvious route to fulfil March’s TBR Challenge prompt of “seasons” by choosing a book with one in the title!  Autumn Bride is a Traditional Regency originally published in 1983, and Melinda Hammond is a pseudonym used by Sarah Mallory, one of my favourite Harlequin Historical authors, so I picked it up in hopes of an enjoyable read.

The story is a simple one.  Miss Caroline Hetton had to become a governess after her father lost everything at the gaming tables, and is currently employed by the Seymour family. The children’s mother is critical of practically everything Caroline does, and Caroline (who is just twenty) is well aware that a life of drudgery and constant criticism lies ahead of her.

She is most surprised to receive a visit from Major Philip Lagallan, the son of a former neighbour, and even more surprised to learn the reason for his visit.  While he was away at war and his younger brother Vivyan was away at school, Caroline’s mother had formed a friendship with Mrs. Lagallan (the Major’s step-mother) who became an invalid following the death of her husband.  When the lady died, she willed money and property to Vivyan, but recognising his volatile, impetuous nature and high spirits, stipulated that he could not come into his inheritance until he is twenty-five OR married to a suitable bride.  Caroline is incredulous when the Major asks if she will marry his brother; in fact, his mother even went so far as to name Caroline in her will:

She proposed that Vivyan should not take early possession of his inheritance except in the event of his marriage to Miss Caroline Heston or another young lady, deemed suitable by both trustees.

Stunned she may be by this, Caroline is a sensible young woman not stupid enough to dismiss such an arrangement out of hand.  To be treated with kindness and respect and to be mistress of a comfortable home are considerable inducements compared to the prospect of spending her life at “the beck and call of others and at the end of it, to eke out an existence with whatever one has managed to save”, and she agrees to think about it.  The Major proposes that she should visit the Lagallan House for a month in order to become properly acquainted with Vivyan – to which Caroline agrees.

She is welcomed by all – including the housekeeper Mrs. Hollister (who is a cousin of the Major’s and clearly has a status above that of housekeeper as she dines with the family, but that’s how she’s referred to) and Vivyan, who quickly assures Caroline that he will do his best to be a good husband and make her happy – if she will marry him as soon as possible!  The house his mother left him is currently occupied by his uncle Jonas (his mother’s brother and other trustee) whom he dislikes intensely and wants to send packing.  When Jonas comes to visit, Caroline can see why Vivyan dislikes the man so much. He’s condescending and makes every attempt to insult and provoke his nephew’s quick temper… and worse, he seems intent on making sure Vivyan isn’t going to be able to claim his inheritance.

Autumn Bride is a quick and enjoyable read, although I can attribute that enjoyment to the writing – which is concise, clear and really engaging  – and the engaging, well-written characters, rather than to the romance, which is almost non-existent.  This has been something of an issue with many of the Trads. I’ve read over the years, especially older ones; they are almost always told from the heroine’s PoV and the hero is practically a secondary character; in this one, Caroline and the Major spend little  time together on the page, and although the author does try to indicate a growing connection between them when they do, the attempt is not particularly successful.  Their first kiss comes pretty much out of the blue, and Caroline’s confession of her reciprocal feelings comes similarly out of left field.

But while the book doesn’t work all that well as a romance, there was something about it that kept me reading.  I appreciated that Vivyan wasn’t some petulant, nasty brat who is clearly being pushed in a direction he doesn’t want to go.  He’s somewhat spoiled, yes, but he’s handsome, charming and outgoing, and perfectly on board with his brother’s plan to find a wife to steady him.  That said, it’s also clear that he isn’t prepared to put himself out for anybody, and that if Caroline were to end up married to him, her life would be pretty lonely while he went off and did his own thing.

Caroline is a likeable heroine; she’s young but she’s got a good head on her shoulders, she’s sensible and keeps her wits about her in difficult situations, and rather than finding her mercenary for considering marriage to a man she doesn’t love, I found her clear-sighted practicality refreshing.  Vivyan is a charming rogue, but makes more of an impression than Philip which pushes the romance even more into the background, and it’s easy to see where the sub-plot about the local highwayman is going.

I enjoyed Autumn Bride in spite of my criticisms, but my grade reflects the fact that I tend to prefer more interaction and chemistry between the leads in the romances I read.  However, I suspect it’s a book that fans of the Traditional Regency will enjoy.

The Backup Boyfriend (Boyfriend Chronicles #1) by River Jaymes

This title may be purchased from Amazon

Professionally, Dr. Alec Johnson has almost reached his goals. As this year’s recipient of a humanitarian award with his ex, Dr. Tyler Hall, Alec’s work with the homeless is about to be recognized. Unfortunately, his personal life sucks because now he has to attend several events alongside Tyler—with his ex’s new boyfriend in tow. In an attempt to lift his mood and break out of his rut, Alec purchases a motorcycle he has no idea how to start.

Dylan Booth doesn’t have time for Dr. Clueless and his fickle 1964 Harley, but the cocky mechanic can’t say no to the request for help. Having spent his teen years on the streets, and losing his best friend to HIV, Dylan decides teaching the do-gooder how to ride is the least he can do. But watching Alec flounder in his ex’s company throws Dylan into protector mode, and the confirmed hetero introduces himself as Alec’s new boyfriend.

The ex suspects Dylan is lying.

Alec claims Dylan’s plan is insane.

And Dylan’s not sure he can fake being gay.

But he’s a master bullshitter, and the phony PDA soon turns ultra-hot. Alec can’t afford to get attached, and Dylan’s learned everyone eventually leaves. Unfortunately, playing the backup boyfriend is starting to feel way too real…

Rating: B+

I went into The Backup Boyfriend expecting the sort of GFY story I’ve read before, where the gay character would fall for the (supposedly) straight one and the straight one would be in denial for a while and then struggling over the fact that he like-liked another guy – but The Backup Boyfriend  doesn’t really do that.  Instead, River Jaymes takes a couple of tropes out for a spin and turns them into something refreshingly different and heart-meltingly sweet.

Genius, doctor and humanitarian-award-winner  Alec Johnson is still reeling from his recent split from the man he’d thought he was going to spend the rest of his life with – and finding out his ex has shacked up with someone else less than two months after their break-up does nothing to help matters.  Hurt and miserable, Alec decides to buy himself a motorbike as a bit of a confidence booster and a kind of ‘getting-a-life-and-moving-on’ present to himself, but his new Harley is a bit temperamental, which is how come he ends up taking it to the garage run by friend-of-a-friend, Dylan Booth.

Dylan had actually advised “Dr. Clueless” against buying a vintage Harley and doesn’t really have the time to spare to work on it – but in the end he can’t turn down Alec’s request for help and ends up offering to spend a bit of time after work the following week showing him the basics.  The two men couldn’t be more different – Alec is highly educated but socially awkward; Dylan has lived on the streets and is super confident;  Alec is a one-man guy, and Dylan rarely hooks up with the same girl twice.  A friendship between them shouldn’t work… yet it does.  Dylan helps Alec with the bike, they take some long rides out together, and they start hanging out at home, too, enjoying each other’s company and surprised at how comfortable they are around one another.

The trouble starts when Alec’s ex, Tyler, turns up one day to collect the last of his stuff – with his new man in tow.  Dylan, who has a protective streak a mile wide, hates to see Alec upset and floundering and blurts out (to Alec’s horror) that he and Alec are sleeping together and having lots of fantastically adventurous sex. Tyler obviously doesn’t buy it, but asks if Alec will be bringing Dylan to the party their friend Noah (who is also good friends with Dylan on account of Dylan having been Noah’s late boyfriend’s best friend) is holding for them to celebrate their winning a prestigious humanitarian award for their work with the homeless at the clinic they set up and continue to run together.  Alec is cringing inside, but Dylan keeps the pretence going and says he’ll be there;  he can be the backup boyfriend – a convenient substitute for display purposes only –  no problem.

But that changes when a tipsy Alec makes a move on Dylan, who is surprised to find himself responding more than enthusiastically.  He’s never really thought much about his sexuality; he’s only ever had sex with women, but he’s not into labels and really doesn’t care – gay, bi, straight and every shade in between, he’s just himself… and certainly isn’t averse to hot, mind-blowing sex with someone he likes and feels comfortable with just because he’s a guy.

I’m a sucker for fake relationship stories and I really enjoyed this one.  The author develops the friendship between Dylan and Alec very well and shows how deeply they come to care for each other in a fairly short space of time.  Alec recognises he’s falling for Dylan, but Dylan steadfastly refuses to admit that he has feelings for Alec beyond friendship, so the conflict in this story isn’t Dylan freaking out when he realises he’s attracted to –and enjoys having sex with – another man, it’s that Dylan doesn’t do relationships and Alec is very much a relationship kinda guy.

Both characters are immensely likeable and the chemistry between them sizzles right from the start, but they’re both carrying emotional baggage they have to work through before they can start to really find their way as a couple.  Alec has spent much of his adult life trying to please his mother because he feels he owes it to her for the amount of support she’s given him over the years, so part of his journey is making it clear that she has to step back and let him make his own choices.  Dylan’s backstory is incredibly poignant and is uncovered slowly, each piece that’s revealed going a little further to explain his aversion to strong emotion and relationships.

The secondary characters are nicely rounded-out, and I appreciated that the author didn’t paint Tyler as a total git, even though he was the one who called a halt to his and Alec’s relationship.  Their snarky mutual friend Noah is frequently hilarious, even though there were times I wanted to tell him to back off and mind his own business, and Alec’s relationship with his mother is depicted really well.

River Jaymes strikes just the right balance in this story between the darker undertones and lighter moments.  The love scenes are steamy and really show the developing connection between the leads, and there’s plenty of humour and a great deal of warmth to be found here as well.  Funny, touching, sexy and sweet, The Backup Boyfriend  is a great read and one I’d recommend to anyone wanting a story with a bit of heft that doesn’t get bogged down in too much angst.

The Broken One (Corisi Billionaires #1) by Ruth Cardello (audiobook) – Narrated by Summer Morton and Brian Pallino

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon.

Single mom Heather Ellis would do anything for her adopted daughter, Ava. Even post an online reward for anyone who found the girl’s lost stuffed animal. Who’d have guessed it’d be returned by a drop-dead-sexy man with such sadness in his eyes that she had to reach out to him? To Ava, he’s a hero. To Heather, he’s a fantasy that puts at risk the happy life she’s made for herself.

It’s been five years since billionaire developer Sebastian Romano lost his wife and unborn child in a tragic accident. Now he’s all business. No room for emotion. Until he stumbles across that damn stuffed wolf and the beautiful single mother looking for it. Is he ready to give love a second chance?

But there’s more to Sebastian, his family, and his past than Heather knows. More than even Sebastian knows. Will the life they’re building together be challenged when the truth is finally revealed?

Rating: Narration – B+; Content – C-

The Broken One is the first in Ruth Cardello’s Corisi Billionaires series, and I chose to listen to it mostly because I’d enjoyed listening to Brian Pallino in Avery Flynn’s Tomboy and wanted to listen to him again. Reviews of the book were mixed, but I’m pretty much all about the narrator, so I decided to give it a go; in the end, while the narration is excellent, the story was distinctly ‘meh’.

Having read the synopsis, I was surprised to see that none of the characters featured in the story were named “Corisi”. Which seemed odd, as that’s the series title. I was even more confused when I started listening, because the entire first chapter is about a little girl called Judy who has been told she has to re-do her school project – a family tree. According to the blurb, the main characters in this novel are called Sebastian, Heather and Ava; Judy talks to her Aunt Alethea and mentions Uncle Alessandro… but there’s no mention of anyone called Sebastian, Heather or Ava. I thought I’d requested the wrong book, or been sent a copy that had been marked with the wrong title! (It’s happened before). As the chapters progressed (Judy turns up again in the middle and then right at the end) it became clear that there’s an overarching plot that seems to do with Judy’s desire to find out her family’s secrets, but the framing device just didn’t work. Maybe it worked better in print, where it’s easier to flip pages or jump to the next chapter, but in audio it’s not so easy to do that; I didn’t know if, by skipping to the next chapter, I’d miss anything important (I wouldn’t have, as it turned out), so I had to stick with it until the story “proper” began in the next chapter.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

The Tempting of the Governess (Cinderella Spinsters #2) by Julia Justiss

This title may be purchased from Amazon

His new Governess…

Is getting under his skin!

Infuriating, impertinent…just some of the words Colonel Hugh Glendenning could use to describe Miss Olivia Overton! She’s insisting he spend time with his orphaned wards – which has forced him to admit he’s been keeping the world at arms’ length since losing his wife and baby son. That’s not all that’s disturbing him. It’s the new temptation Olivia’s sparking in Hugh to live again – with her!

Rating:B

I’ve got a bit of a soft spot for master/governess romances – probably a result of my long-time love for Jane Eyre – so the synopsis of Julia Justiss’ The Temptation of the Governess caught my eye. It proved to be a charming, character-driven romance featuring two likeable characters forced by circumstances to make big changes in their lives.

The first Cinderella Spinsters book, The Awakening of Miss Henley, introduced the three heroines of the series, young ladies who had decided never to marry and instead to set up house together and pursue charitable endeavours and the political causes close to their hearts.  This story opens as Miss Olivia Overton’s plans for her life are turned upside down when she learns that the inheritance she had planned to use to support herself has been lost in a series of unsuccessful speculations made by those who were supposed to have been looking out for her best interests.  Unwilling to live as a dependent relative upon her cousin, Olivia instead decides she can follow only one of two paths in order to earn a living; she can become a lady’s companion or – her preferred option – a governess.

Widower Colonel Hugh Glendenning returned from India eighteen months earlier, following the death of his elder brother, to find the family estate of Somers Abbey in Yorkshire had been run almost into the ground.  He has spent his every waking moment ever since working hard to repair the damage, and at last is starting to see the fruits of his labours.  Money is still tight and the Abbey boasts only a skeleton staff, but Hugh believes that the next few months should see things easing up a bit.  When a couple of travellers arrive at the Abbey with two young girls in tow and explain that the girls, Elizabeth (eight) and Sophie (six) are his wards, the daughters of his recently deceased cousin, Hugh is taken aback.  He had agreed to stand as guardian, yes, but had thought he would be responsible at a distance, expecting them to remain at their home on St. Kitts in the Caribbean while he managed their affairs from England.  There’s nothing to be done but to ask his female relatives if one of them is able to take the girls, and in the meantime he must find a governess for them.

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