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: A Stitch in Time (Thorne Manor #1) by Kelley Armstrong

a stitch in time

This title may be purchased from Amazon

Thorne Manor has always been haunted…and it has always haunted Bronwyn Dale. As a young girl, Bronwyn could pass through a time slip in her great-aunt’s house, where she visited William Thorne, a boy her own age, born two centuries earlier. After a family tragedy, the house was shuttered and Bronwyn was convinced that William existed only in her imagination.
Now, twenty years later Bronwyn inherits Thorne Manor. And when she returns, William is waiting.

William Thorne is no longer the boy she remembers. He’s a difficult and tempestuous man, his own life marred by tragedy and a scandal that had him retreating to self-imposed exile in his beloved moors. He’s also none too pleased with Bronwyn for abandoning him all those years ago.

As their friendship rekindles and sparks into something more, Bronwyn must also deal with ghosts in the present version of the house. Soon she realizes they are linked to William and the secret scandal that drove him back to Thorne Manor. To build a future, Bronwyn must confront the past.

Rating: B

Kelley Armstrong is primarily known as a writer of thrillers and suspense novels, so a timeslip paranormal with a distinctly gothic-y feel about it is something of a departure for her.  A Stitch in Time set in and around an old manor house on the edge of the Yorkshire Moors, is an entertaining mash-up of time-travel and paranormal romance, and although I have a few reservations, they didn’t impact on my overall enjoyment of the story.

Thirty-eight-year-old Bronwyn Dale, a history professor at the University of Toronto, returns to England for the first time in twenty-three years in order to take possession of Thorne Manor, the house in which she spent many of her childhood summers, which has been bequeathed to her by her recently deceased aunt.  The house holds many happy memories for Bronwyn, but unfortunately, her final memory of it is a horrific one. Aged fifteen, she witnessed the tragic death of her beloved Uncle Stan, who fell to his death from a balcony, and was so deeply traumatised by it that she hasn’t set foot in the place since.

It’s clear from the beginning, however, that this is only the barest of bones of the story of Bronwyn’s association with Thorne Manor. Ever since she was a small child, she was somehow able to slip back in time, where she met William Thorne, a boy her own age, and the son of the house.  Every summer when Bronwyn visited, she spent as much time with William as she could, never thinking to conceal the truth of where she came from (as a young child it never occurred to her to do so), and William never questioning the truth of her assertion that she came from the future.  After her parents’ divorce, she wasn’t able to visit for a decade, but when she was fifteen, she did go back – and her friendship with William started to become something more.  But their burgeoning romance was shattered by the death of Bronwyn’s uncle who, she insisted, she had seen pushed to his death by a ghost – a veiled woman all in black.  When Bronwyn was found, crying and screaming by her uncle’s body, babbling about ghosts and a boy from the past, she was whisked her away and effectively committed to a mental health facility where the doctors explained her stories as the hallucinations of a vivid imagination, and the boy she’d fallen in love with as nothing more than the desperately needed imaginary friend of an only child who’d spent her summers in an isolated country house.

Bronwyn never forgot William, even though she now accepts he – and the ghosts – were all in her head. But being back at the Manor brings back so many memories of William and their time together that she starts to wonder if it any of it had been real – a question answered when she awakens one morning to find herself in an unfamiliar bed beside an unfamiliar man with a very familiar voice.

I don’t want to give away too much about the plot, so I’ll just say that the mystery revolves around the ghosts Bronwyn sees both inside the house and out on the moors.  The veiled woman appears to Bronwyn and lets her know that she wants her – Bronwyn – to find out who killed her – and with the help of the caretaker’s wife, who is something of an expert on local history and folklore, Bronwyn begins to untangle a one-hundred-and-seventy-year-old mystery about the deaths of two young women and a boy who disappeared on the moors.  Or did they?  And what, exactly, is William’s involvement in all this?  In the present day, stories and rumours abound about the “Mad Lord of the Moors”, who is reputed to have killed a number of young women – and even in William’s day, it seems there was unsavoury gossip about him.  Just how well does Bronwyn really know this man – once the the boy she’d loved, and now a man with secrets.

Ms. Armstrong does a great job of setting the scene in the first half of the book, and of giving us time to get to know Bronwyn and William and watch them falling in love all over again.  Their romance is nicely done; their connection is strong right from the start, and it’s easy to believe that they’ve never forgotten each other and that their rekindled feelings are genuine.

There are some wonderfully creepy moments throughout the book, but they’re used sparingly to start with, which makes them all the more spooky when they do occur.  Then in the last quarter of the book, the author turns everything upside down and makes us doubt – alongside Bronwyn – all the things we’ve worked out so far.  And I didn’t guess the identity of the villain of the piece until the very last moment before the reveal.

As to those quibbles I mentioned… well, we don’t ever know why Bronwyn is able to see ghosts and travel through time, she just IS; and the ‘rules’ that apply to the time travel are pretty flimsy.  For reasons that are never explained, it only goes one way and William isn’t able to travel to the twenty-first century.  I liked William as a hero a great deal – he’s charming and sweet and a bit shy – but he’s also just a bit too good to be true and feels too modern in his outlook, especially when it comes to his having no problem with the woman he loves needing to be away for weeks and months at a time to pursue her career.  The author does go some way to explaining William’s unconventionality, but it felt a bit contrived.  And the reasons given as to why William and Bronwyn can’t be together in the long term don’t make much sense; it seemed like they were negotiating a long-distance relationship rather than talking about how to be together ‘across time’ and I didn’t really buy that whole ‘I can’t move to another country to be with him’ thing that was Bronwyn’s stumbling block, especially as her late husband had done exactly that.

But those things aside, I did enjoy the ghost story and the romance, and would certainly recommend A Stitch in Time to anyone looking for a hauntingly atmospheric, sexy and spooky read this Halloween season!

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: Switched by N.R. Walker

switched

This title may be purchased from Amazon

Israel Ingham’s life has never been easy. He grew up in a house devoid of love and warmth. Nothing he ever did was good enough. The fact Israel is gay just added to the long list of his father’s disappointments.

Then a letter from Eastport Children’s Hospital changes everything. A discovery is made, one of gross human error. Twenty-six years ago two baby boys were switched at birth and sent home with the wrong families.

Sam, Israel’s best friend, has been his only source of love and support. With Sam beside him every step of the way, Israel decides to meet his birth mother and her son, the man who lived the life Israel should have.

Israel and Sam become closer than ever, amidst the tumultuous emotions of meeting his birth family, and Sam finds himself questioning his feelings toward his best friend. As Israel embraces new possibilities, he needs to dissect his painful relationship with his parents in order to salvage what’s left.

Because sometimes it takes proof you’re not actually family to become one.

Rating: B

The phrase “you must have been switched at birth!” is often said as a good-natured jibe between siblings, but that’s the exact premise of N.R. Walker’s Switched, the story of a young man who, at twenty-six, discovers he’s not his parents’ biological child due to a hospital mix up.  One could – perhaps – be excused for thinking that a premise like that would lead to an overly contrived or melodramatic story, but Switched is neither of those things.  It’s an emotional and angsty read that combines one man’s path to self-discovery with a heartfelt and sexy friends-to-lovers romance, and although there were a couple of things that didn’t quite work for me,  I enjoyed it a lot.

Coming out as gay in his teens was just one in a long string of disappointments Israel Ingham ‘inflicted’ on his parents.  Even now, when he’s doing what was always expected of him and working as junior executive manager in his father’s company – the position he’s long been groomed for – he’s well aware that nothing he does is – or will ever be – good enough for them.  It’s frustrating, but he’s kind of learned to live with it.  He’s good at his job, he has some great friends, plenty of sex when he wants it… his life is good and he’s learned not to wish for something he’ll never have – a normal and loving relationship with his parents.

When the book opens, Israel is irritated at having to take time out of his work day to attend what he assumes is some sort of fundraiser at Eastport Children’s Hospital in Sydney.  But that misapprehension is quickly corrected when he and his parents are met by a lawyer – who informs them that Israel is not their biological son.  He and another male child, born on the same day, were accidentally switched, and the mix-up has only recently come to light.  While his father is busy ranting and raving and his mother just sits there, expressionless,  Iz’s heart is racing and his mind is spinning.  Could this be the reason he’s never felt as though he truly belonged in his family?  Could he, at some deep, subconscious level, have understood that he wasn’t truly part of it?

Iz is – unsurprisingly – completely thrown by this revelation.  He’s angry and scared and confused, he feels he doesn’t know who he is any more, doesn’t know how to feel or what to do about… well, pretty much anything.  Luckily for him, his best friend Sam is there for him, just as he’s always been, and makes it clear that no way is he letting Iz go through this alone.  He drops everything to be with him and to be whatever he needs – someone to pull him out of his funks, someone to make him laugh, someone to forcibly ‘kidnap’ him for the weekend to provide a distraction … Whatever Iz needs, Sam is there.  They’ve been friends since their schooldays and are obviously very close;  it’s also obvious – to the reader, if not to Israel (who has no clue) – that Sam feels a lot more for him than friendship.

The author does a good job weaving together the three central relationships in the story – Iz and Sam’s romance, Iz’s burgeoning relationship with his biological family, and his ongoing relationship with his parents.  His anger and frustration, his confusion over his identity, his feelings of validation almost, as he realises that there’s a reason he never felt as though he belonged, his need to work out who he is and where he belongs now, all are very well conveyed and I really felt for Iz as he flounders while trying to process it all, and slowly – with Sam’s continued support – starts to make sense of it.

One of the things I like about friends-to-lovers romances is that moment when one person starts seeing the other in a new light, and watching Iz slowly starting to see Sam as an attractive man and not just as his best mate was one of my favourite things about this story.  Their romance is a bit of a slow burn in that respect – and there’s some frustrating miscommunication along the way as Iz starts to think he’s too dependent on Sam (which he is, really) and that maybe if he puts some distance between them the attraction he’s begun to feel will fizzle out. (Good luck with that!)  Fortunately, this isn’t allowed to go on for too long, and Iz does get his head out of his arse before too long.  Unfortunately,  however, it’s as the result of what I term the ‘third-party-nudge’, and I’m not a great fan of stories where it takes an observation by someone else to galvanise one of the protagonists into action.

That’s my main quibble about the romance though – otherwise, it’s sweet and hot, and Sam and Iz are obviously perfect for one another. The UST is delicious; even though the story is told entirely in Iz’s PoV, Sam’s longing for something more with his friend is palpable – and the evident affection, trust and understanding between them is just lovely to see.

Also lovely – Israel finally getting his wish for a real family, one that loves and accepts him unconditionally.  Donna, Nick and his other siblings (a brother and sister) are warm, welcoming, genuine people and I really enjoyed their interactions.  Iz’s other family is not neglected in the story, and we see him working out how he wants to relate to them in future.  Despite their lack of attention and affection and everything else his parents put him through, he makes it clear that he’s willing to try to work things out rather than completely cutting ties with them – and by the end of the book it appears that they are willing to make the effort, too.  It’s clear that they’re unlikely ever to have a close, touchy-feely relationship, but there’s a sense of hope that they can build something better than before.

Switched is a well-written story that examines the nature of family and belonging in a poignant and thought-provoking way, and the romance between Israel and Sam is nicely done.  Despite a few reservations I enjoyed the story and the characters, and would certainly recommend it to anyone looking for a romance with an unusual storyline.

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 Duke of Diamonds by Emily Windsor


This title may be purchased from Amazon.

In the coldest flint, there is fire…
Casper Brook, the eighth Duke of Rothwell, has forever spurned frivolous pleasures, his restless emotions remaining buried beneath duty and command.
Yet when a titian-haired minx perches upon his ducal desk and claims to know the whereabouts of his one burning obsession, a game of wits and passion erupts…

Fire ignites from a spark…
Miss Evelyn Pearce possesses naught but a frail young sister and an ebony-black cat. Left destitute by her baronet father’s spendthrift ways, fate and talent hand her the opportunity to seek escape from the dangerous alleys of London town.
The cold Duke of Diamonds holds the key, and all Evelyn must do is resist his not-so-cold kiss…

A dance of flaming desire…
A passion forged on secrets can never be satisfied, but as guises fall and plots unravel, will the duke’s controlled façade shatter to reveal his searching heart within?

Rating: B-

Emily Windsor may be new-to-me, but she’s not a “new” author, having already published over half-a-dozen or so historical romances over the last few years.  The Duke of Diamonds is the first book in her The Games of Gentlemen series, and while it’s nothing I haven’t read before, the writing is deft, the characters are engaging and the wryly observational humour is nicely done.

Evelyn Pearce and her younger sister Artemisia have come down in the world since the death of their father, a famed portraitist and artist who left them nothing but crushing debts.  During those three years, they’ve moved from their comfortable home to a series of increasingly less salubrious lodgings, and Evelyn has barely kept their heads above water with the money she earns from her job as a scenery painter at a local theatre.  But Artemisia is in poor health, and living in damp and dirty conditions and not being able to afford decent food is only making it worse; and the extra cost of medicine for her means they’re now in debt to an unscrupulous moneylender, who is threatening to put them to work on their backs if Evelyn can’t pay up.  In desperation, she comes up with an audacious – and potentially dangerous – plan.  She knows that one of her father’s paintings – The Fall of Innocence – was purchased by the Duke of Rothwell for one hundred pounds, and rumour has it, it’s his most prized possession.   Her father made sketches for a companion piece, but never actually painted it – so Evelyn, who learned to paint as his knee and knows she will be able to replicate his style exactly, paints the work with the intention of getting the duke to purchase it.  It’s an intensely risky plan – she could be charged with forgery should she be found out – but it’s either that or prostitution (and likely death for her sister) and with no other option, she decides it’s worth the risk.

Casper Brook, eighth Duke of Rothwell inherited his title at seventeen from his profligate father, who had run his estates into the ground and left his family practically destitute.  In the decade or so since, Casper has worked tirelessly to turn things around, and in doing so, has earned himself a reputation for being rigid, cold and ruthless. His uncle and brother are no help; Uncle Virgil is rather eccentric and his younger brother Ernest is rather wild, spending most of his time womanising, gambling and drinking – and Casper is forever trying to rein him in, worried he is following in their father’s footsteps.

Evelyn decides that a direct approach will be best, and contacts the duke’s man of business requesting an appointment.  Her first sight of Rothwell (lean, impeccably dressed and handsome as Apollo) almost buckles her knees, but this is no time to let a girlish infatuation (or unrequited lust) divert her from her purpose.  Realising that the demure persona she’d planned to adopt won’t work with someone so extremely haughty and aloof, she gathers her courage and instead tries a hint of challenge and flirtation as she tells him about the painting and invites him to view it.

Rothwell is intensely suspicious of “Mrs Swift”, but probably the one indulgence he allows himself in his life of rigid responsibility and dutiful hard work is his love and appreciation for art, and he can’t help being intrigued by the idea of the existence of a companion piece to his most treasured painting.  Half of him thinks it must be a forgery; the other half really hopes it isn’t;  finding himself –  reluctantly – as intrigued by the messenger as he is by the message, he agrees to attend the viewing some days hence.

As I said at the beginning, there’s not a lot new here, but it’s a well-paced and entertaining story, the characters are engaging and well-rounded, and the sexual tension and chemistry between Evelyn and Rothwell is intense and delicious.

To start with, Rothwell seems to be one of those rather stereotypical starchy heroes who needs a metaphorical kick up the arse to get him to live a little, but  as the story progresses and we get to know him better, we see the man beneath, the man with a kind heart who locked his emotions away in order to deal with the enormous burden he had to shoulder and who has, even though he no longer needs to be that man, caged his true self away for so long that he’s forgotten to allow himself to enjoy his life. I loved his eccentric Uncle Virgil – who steals the few scenes he’s in! – and the way Rothwell is brought to see the error of his ways with Ernest (even though that does happen a bit quickly) and to understand that by trying to exert control over his brother, he’s in danger of losing him altogether.

Evelyn is an admirable heroine who only resorts to deception when she’s out of options.  Their battle of wits is full of wit, charm and, at times, blunt honesty; one of my favourite exchanges is the one where Evelyn angrily accuses Rothwell of being a typically lazy aristocrat and he parries by telling her exactly how hard he works for everyone who depends on him (not a response I’ve seen all that often in HR.)

I did have a few issues with the story, however, the main one being the wobbly premise.  Evelyn could have sold her painting to anyone in order to get the money she needed to enable her and Artemisia to leave town – there were other people interested besides the duke.  The other thing that really bugged me was the cursing; not because I’m a prude (we Brits swear a lot and I can swear like a trooper!) but because it was just so… silly.  The phrasing may well be authentic, and some was undoubtedly funny, but it was just too much and quickly became annoying, and I also found it difficult to buy that Evelyn, who was brought up as a lady, would so far forget herself as to use slang/swearwords to a duke.  Ms. Windsor’s style is readable and breezy, although I couldn’t help feeling as though something was missing – I just can’t put my finger on what.

Ultimately, The Duke of Diamonds was an enjoyable read with an interesting plot, likeable characters and a good dose of humour and sensuality.  I’m on the fence as to whether I’ll read Ms. Windsor again, but this book was a good way to pass a few hours on a grey afternoon.

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.