Cask Strength (Agents Irish and Whiskey #2) by Layla Reyne

Professionally, the FBI team of Aidan “Irish” Talley and Jameson “Whiskey” Walker is as good as it gets, closing cases faster than any team at the Bureau. Personally, it’s a different story. Aidan’s feelings for Jamie scare the hell out of him: he won’t risk losing another love no matter how heart-tripping the intimacy between them. And loss is a grim reality with the terrorist Renaud still on their trail, leaving a pile of bodies in his wake.
Going undercover on a new case gets them out of town and off the killer’s radar. They’re assigned to investigate an identity theft ring involving a college basketball team in Jamie’s home state, where Jamie’s past makes him perfect for the role of coach. But returning to the court brings more than old memories.
As secrets and shocking betrayals abound, none may be more dangerous than the one Jamie’s been keeping: a secret about the death of Aidan’s husband that could blow his partner’s world apart and destroy forever the fragile bonds of trust and love building between them.

The plot thickens… Single Malt ended with quite a revelation – that Jamie promised not to share with Aidan. It also left Jamie in a very precarious position. He was getting closer to Aidan and secrets between lovers never ends well.

I gotta say, I’m loving this series and Cask Strength cemented that feeling. Even though these two characters broke my heart – more than once. Jamie was all in when it came to his feelings about Aidan. The only thing was that Aidan was only all in when he was physically with Jamie. Nothing’s ever exactly what it seems and things started getting really interesting when the agents went under cover.

I don’t want to give too much away, but both Jamie and Aidan thought they had reason to be jealous. Jamie seemed to be in his element when he got back on the court. Then lines started blurring when Aidan worked under cover way too well.

As things in the identity theft case started to wrap up, the case they left behind took another strange turn. The cliff hanger in Cask Strength wasn’t quite as crazy… well, not in the same way, anyway… as Single Malt. That doesn’t mean that I can’t wait to pick up Barrel Proof. Even though I’m pretty sure I’m not going to be ready to say goodbye to Jamie or Aidan, Cask Strength ended in a twist that I never saw coming and I’m kinda hoping that there’s a perfectly reasonable explanation, but…

Summer Stock by Vanessa North – Bout of Books 19 Review

Tabloid scandals have driven TV star Ryan Hertzog to North Carolina’s Outer Banks, where he’s hiding out doing summer stock at his cousin’s seaside theater. When a hookup with local handyman Trey Donovan results in Ryan being photographed butt naked, he vows to keep his pants on and his hands off Trey. How was he supposed to know Trey would turn out to be the summer stock set builder?
Trey isn’t looking for a relationship; he’s still recovering from the emotional fallout of an abusive marriage. But Ryan’s laughter draws him in again and again, and he’s not about to say no to fooling around.
As the summer heats up, the paparazzi catch Ryan in increasingly compromising situations. Ryan might be too much drama for a summer fling—and Trey might be just an intermission from Ryan’s Hollywood life. But if they take their cues from Shakespeare, all’s well that ends well.

Summer Stock was a lot more than I expected. The cover (although I NEVER judge a book by its cover 😉 ) promised a fun summer romp in the sun. Although it did deliver on that promise, even the supporting characters had a lot of extra baggage that they hid behind those playful smiles.

It was easy to spot the ghosts of Trey’s past. His ex did a real number on him, both physically and emotionally. He had a long way to go before he could even think about trusting someone. A Hollywood TV star was definitely not the type of person he was looking for. As transparent as Ryan’s life seemed, there was a lot that he kept hidden. Hiding behind the facade was easier than baring his soul, especially with a summer fling.

Things got complicated when all the people that were not only dealing with their own problems, tried to protect both Ryan from Trey and Trey from Ryan. It was compounded by the fact that part of Trey’s defense mechanism seemed to sabotage any hope they had at building a relationship and Ryan’s lack of self esteem made him an easy target. Despite all that, I was really hoping these two would make it. Readers could tell if they let themselves, they’d be really good for each other.

By the end of Summer Stock I even started to respect the characters that I wasn’t sure about in the beginning. I love it when that happens. Don’t avoid this one if you’re just looking for a fun summer read – not to mention a dog that steals the show more than once. It really does deliver on that end, there just happens to be a lot more to the story than you may be bargaining for, and that’s never a bad thing 😉

Believe in the Wish by Christi Snow – Bout of Books 19 Review

I buried my twin sister six months after she found out she had cancer. Her funeral was three months ago. Today is our birthday and it started with delivery of letters from her.
It seems she didn’t trust me to move on after her death. She knows me too well. But how can I go on when my other half is just…gone? That’s not something I can recover from with a snap of my fingers. But I also can’t ignore her instructions even though I’d be perfectly content to cuddle up with my buddy, Johnnie Walker, and call it a year.
She has a list of things for me to do and there are rules attached.
There’s one major problem besides the fact it’s been three months since I left the house. I have to do all these things with her jerk of an ex, Hawk Simmons. He abandoned her shortly after she found out she was sick. If that wasn’t enough to make this a really bad idea, the fact that he makes an appearance in all my nighttime fantasies probably does.
I don’t think I can do this, but I owe it to my sister’s memory to try.

Note to self: When an author tells readers that they cried every single time they did a read through of the book you’re about to read, PAY ATTENTION!

So yes, I obviously knew what I was getting myself into before I picked up Believe in the Wish and I read it anyway. Why, you might be asking yourself? That’s simple. Even though Christi Snow promised tears, I’ve read enough of her books to know that they would be worth it. Regardless of how much she puts her characters through, she manages to put them back together and most importantly, leaves both them and the readers who fell in love with them, with a sense of hope. I had to keep that in mind through almost every chapter of Believe in the Wish… consider yourselves warned.

Ethan was introduced to readers first and his grief was all consuming. He had no idea how to go on without Emma but thankfully, Emma knew expected that and found a really creative way to help him after she was gone. Ethan just couldn’t understand why she chose Hawk to be the one to help him through his grief.

To be honest, I was afraid in the beginning that Believe in the Wish would only be told by Ethan’s POV. That would have been okay, but I literally sighed with relief when the first chapter labeled ‘Hawk’ popped up. Things aren’t always what they seem and Hawk’s POV only revealed little by little what was really going on, but those glimpses made me fall in love with him. It also helped readers realize that he was almost as broken as Ethan.

Ethan’s grief wasn’t a quick fix and it shouldn’t have been. For every step forward he made, he seemed to stumble back at least two more. This book was an emotional roller coaster full of love, tears, tragedy, anger, grief, betrayal and hope… it took a while, but it’s important to know that they both finally got there, but not on their own. Which brings me to the supporting characters. I loved Miller, Katya, Dix and even Slade almost as much as Hawk and Ethan. (I may or may not be hinting to the author that one, if not all of these characters are begging to have their story told… 😉 ) One of the most amazing characters in Believe in the Wish was Emma. The love and devotion that she had for both Ethan and Hawk was inspiring.

So, pick up Believe in the Wish armed with plenty of tissues and an open heart and mind because those tears were really worth it in the end.

Wake Up Call (Porthkennack #1) by J.L. Merrow

South London mechanic Devan Thompson has gone to Porthkennack to track down someone he’s been waiting all his life to know. But Dev’s distracted from his quest by Kyle, a broodingly handsome local of only a few months, who’s already got a reputation as an alcoholic because of his strange behaviour—including a habit of collapsing in the street.
Kyle Anthony fled to Porthkennack to escape from the ruins of his life. Still raging against his diagnosis of narcolepsy—a condition that’s cost him his job as a barrister, his lover, and all chance of normality—the last thing he wants is another relationship that’s doomed to fail. But Dev’s easy-going acceptance and adaptability, not to mention his good looks, have Kyle breaking all his self-imposed rules.
When disaster strikes Dev’s adored little sister, Kyle steps up to the plate, and Dev sees a side of his lover he wasn’t prepared for: competent, professional—and way out of Dev’s league. With one man determined that they don’t have a future, and the other fearing it, life after Porthkennack is starting to look bleak for both of them.
 

Oh, the ‘British’ is strong with this one. That’s not a bad thing, but it’s worth mentioning, mainly because the dialect takes a little getting used to – at least it did for me.

I like learning about new locations, even if they’re totally fictional. I also like getting to know characters dealing with things that I know little or nothing about. Of course I’d heard of narcolepsy, but I’ve never met or read about a character who dealt with it. Kyle was dealing with his diagnosis the only way he knew how, by shutting himself off from everyone. Not exactly healthy, but in his mind he had lost everything important to him. His former partner didn’t do anything to sway that opinion.

I have to admit, that Devan was my favorite between the two characters. Kyle eventually grew on me, but I liked Devan from the very beginning. The supporting characters were pretty great too, once readers got to know them better. Porthkennack may have been a tourist town, but some local residents weren’t exactly welcoming.

As much as I liked the story and the characters, except for the ones that I didn’t like at all (there were quite a few that were really easy to dislike) there were a few things about Wake Up Call that drove me nuts. One, maybe even two, misunderstanding are acceptable. Between Kyle and Devan though, it seemed like every other situation put them in another moment of doubt. There were times that I wanted to drag back the one (because both of them were guilty) that ran off in a huff and make them really listen to the other. This happened from the time they met and even though I understood, it was still a little annoying.

This is the first book in a series that promises to be interesting. It includes both contemporary and historical books, which is a unique approach. Each book is also written by a different author, so readers will be provided with a variety of perspectives. The next book in the Porthkennack series is A Gathering Storm by Joanna Chambers, which is historical. I haven’t decided if I’m going to pick that one up or not, but the next contemporary, Broke Deep by Charlie Cochrane is already on my TBR list. 😉

For a Good Time, Call… (Bluewater Bay #17) by Anne Tenino & E.J. Russell

Thirty-seven-year-old Nate Albano’s second relationship ever ended three years ago, and since he’s grace—gray asexual—he doesn’t anticipate beating the odds to find a third. Still, he’s got his dog, his hobbies, and his job as a special effects technician on Wolf’s Landing, so he can’t complain—much.
Seth Larson, umpteenth generation Bluewater Bay, is the quintessential good-time guy, content with tending bar and being his grandmother’s handyman. The night they meet, Seth’s looking for some recreational sex to escape family drama. But for Nate, romantic attraction comes before sexual attraction, so while Seth thinks they’re hooking up, Nate just wants to talk . . . genealogy?
Dude. Seriously?
So they declare a “just friends” truce. Then Seth asks for Nate’s help investigating a sinister Larson family secret, and their feelings start edging way beyond platonic. But Nate may want more than Seth can give him, and Seth may not be able to leave his good-time image behind. Unless they can find a way to merge carefree with commitment, they could miss out on true love—the best time of all.

For a Good Time, Call… was a great addition to the Bluewater Bay series, but I wanted more. *sigh* I know, that’s a somewhat frequent complaint I have of books that I really like. This time though, it’s more because so much was happening, so many little story lines were thrown into the mix and not all of them were fleshed out. It just seemed like there either needed to be more, or there needed to be a sequel.

That’s just my opinion though and despite that one minor flaw, I really enjoyed For a Good Time, Call… I liked the slow burn between the two characters and the vast difference in their approach to attraction. For Seth, it was a loose concept. He was up for ‘a Good Time’ pretty much 24/7. For Nate, it was a little more complicated. Their attraction to each other was a surprise for both of them. Nate’s past made him keep his distance regardless of what his heart and body were telling him. Seth just tried to keep himself in check because he didn’t want to risk the bond that was growing between them. 

Aside from the romance, the history and ancestral angle was really interesting. I loved the bond between Seth and his grandmother (who, by the way, was one of my favorite characters.) I liked the fact that this story pulled readers into the Bluewater Bay community and history – its roots, but there was still a strong story line within the Wolf’s Landing cast and crew. There was also an interesting twist that I’m really hoping gets explored more because that story line is just too intriguing to be left hanging. There were also a couple of other loose ends that I want to know more about, but we’ve already discussed this, right?

So yes, For a Good Time, Call… had a few bumps and wrinkles, but I still liked it and I’d still recommend reading this along with all the stories in the series. They’re written by different authors, some I’ve enjoyed more than others and they can pretty much all be read as stand alones. However, there’s enough of a common thread, regardless of how thin, that I think readers would get more out of any of them if they experienced most of the Wolf’s Landing/Bluewater Bay world.

Home Fires (Common Law #4) by Kate Sherwood

Trouble comes to Mosely, Montana, from the outside world. When the residents of Mosely are left on their own, they can make things work. Sure, there’s always been a militia operating up in the hills, but they were small-scale—just survivalists doing their thing—until organizers came in from out of state. Now Jericho Crewe and the rest of the sheriff’s department are facing down a heavily armed band of fanatics, and the feds are busy elsewhere.
The odds are hopeless, but Jericho swore an oath to serve and protect the citizens of Mosely. He won’t walk away from that, even if Wade Granger’s begging him to run away somewhere and finally be together the way they always should have been.
But this time, it’s Jericho who refuses to leave Mosely, even if staying kills him.

Well, if things had to end… okay, so I’m still not happy about this series being over, but Kate Sherwood did an amazing job of wrapping things up for Wade and Jericho.

Jericho was so close to quitting, so close. Then things got even crazier in Mosely. So crazy that even Wade was ready to pack it up and move on, but Jericho couldn’t do it. Not when people he cared about were too close to getting caught in the cross fire, literally. There’s not a whole lot more to say than what you see in the description, except Wade blew me away in Home Fires. I honestly thought he was ready to call it quits, but then… yeah, you’ve gotta read this one to get the whole ‘Wade’ affect.

Common Law is the only series by Kate Sherwood that I’ve read. Actually, I’ve only read one other book by her and Mark of Cain kind of left me reeling. This series did the same in a whole different way. It also made me realize that I really need to add more books by this author to my TBR list. As I said in the beginning, I’m sad to say good-bye to these characters. There were a few that I wanted to get to know a little better and even more that I would have liked to ‘check in on’ to make sure they weathered through all the craziness that happened in Home Fires. They were all left in a pretty good place in the end though, so saying goodbye wasn’t quite as hard as I thought it was going to be. 😉

Loose Cannon (The Woodbury Boys #1) by Sidney Bell

Released after five years in the system for assault, streetwise Edgar-Allen Church is ready to leave the past behind and finally look to his future. In need of a place to crash, he’s leaning on Miller Quinn. A patient, solidly masculine pillar of strength and support, Miller has always been there for him—except in the one way Church has wanted the most.
With his staunchly conservative upbringing, Miller has been playing it straight his whole life. Now with Church so close again, it’s getting harder to keep his denial intact. As they fumble their way back to friendship after so many years apart, Miller struggles to find the courage to accept who he really is. What he has with Church could be more than desire—it could be love. But it could also mean trouble.
Church’s criminal connections are closing in on the both of them, and more than their hearts are at risk. This time, their very lives are on the line.

I almost skipped this one. Thank goodness another author/blogger/reader that I trust suggested that I pick up Loose Cannon, otherwise I would have missed an amazing story. 😉

I’m a huge believer in not judging someone from mistakes made in the past, especially those made when you’re young… within reason. First, they have to own up to those mistakes and not make excuses. Second, they have to want to make a better life for themselves. Church was that kind of person. He knew he screwed up and he was honestly ashamed of the actions that caused him to eventually end up at Woodbury. He was determined to make up for what he put Miller through and prove to himself that he was a better person… and not his father. Fate had different plans and there was literally no way that Church could have avoided the situation he ended up in.

I really liked Miller, but he frustrated me. Yet, ass frustrated as I got with Miller and his denial, I understood where he was coming from. That denial was engrained in him by his father and religion. There were times that I felt that Church deserved better, but so did Miller. His relationship with Church wasn’t the only thing that he was denying himself though. His fear of loosing everything kept him from seeing what he needed most and kept him from being truly happy. He almost lost it all.

The supporting characters in Loose Cannon were pretty amazing. There were very blurry lines between right and wrong and a lot of the characters fell into that gray area. I’m still not sure how I feel about a couple of them, which is just one of the many reasons why I can’t wait for the next book in the series. I’m pretty sure Tobias’ story is next, which is good. He was such a great, supportive, upbeat character. And then there was Ghost… it stands to reason that Sidney Bell would make readers wait to get to know him better, but I have a feeling that that wait is going to be torture.

At Attention (Out of Uniform #2) by Annabeth Albert

Lieutenant Apollo Floros can ace tactical training missions, but being a single dad to his twin daughters is more than he can handle. He needs live-in help, and he’s lucky a friend’s younger brother needs a place to stay. He’s surprised to see Dylan all grown up with a college degree…and a college athlete’s body. Apollo’s widowed heart may still be broken, but Dylan has his blood heating up.
It’s been eight years since the teenage Dylan followed Apollo around like a lovesick puppy, and it’s time he showed Lieutenant Hard-to-Please that he’s all man now—an adult who’s fully capable of choosing responsibility over lust. He can handle Apollo’s muscular sex appeal, but Apollo the caring father? Dylan can’t afford to fall for that guy. He’s determined to hold out for someone who’s able to love him back, not someone who only sees him as a kid brother.
Apollo is shocked by the intensity of his attraction to Dylan. Maybe some no-strings summer fun will bring this former SEAL back to life. But the combination of scorching desire and warm affection is more than he’d expected, and the emotion between them scares him senseless. No fling lasts forever, and Apollo will need to decide what’s more important—his past or his future—if he wants to keep Dylan in his life.
 

Saying At Attention was packed with emotion would be a huge understatement. Readers were introduced to Apollo in Off Base, the first book in Albert’s Out of Uniform series. He didn’t have a huge role in the first book, but from just that little page time, I knew I wanted to get to know him better. Be careful what you ask for? Not really, but I did get more frustrated with him in At Attention than I expected.

Dylan, on the other hand, I loved from the moment he was introduced. He was younger than Apollo, but not by too much. He had a firm grasp on what he wanted to do with his life and had definite goals. That aspect of his personality lessened the age gap between them even more. I loved his determination to keep things professional, but it was a losing battle for both of them.

As much as I liked Apollo, the way he treated Dylan was what frustrated me. His grief over what he had lost was understandable, as well as his fear of losing again. That’s the only thing that allowed me to forgive him for almost breaking Dylan’s heart. There were a lot of emotional twists and turns, some great supporting characters and a couple of adorable kids who didn’t take over the story, but added to it. The perfect mix.

There’s more to come in the Out of Uniform series and On Point should prove to be interesting. I can’t wait to see what Annabeth Albert has in store for Maddox and Ben.

Strays (Urban Souls #2) by Garrett Leigh

Work, sleep, work, repeat. Nero’s lonely life suits him just fine until his best friend, Cass, asks him to take on a new apprentice—a beautiful young man who’s never set foot in a professional kitchen. Despite his irritation and his lifelong ability to shut the world out, Nero is mesmerised by the vibrant stray, especially when he learns what drove him to seek sanctuary on Nero’s battered old couch.
Lenny Mitchell is living under a cloud of fear. Pursued by a stalker, he has nowhere left to run until Nero offers him a port in a storm—a job at the hottest restaurant in Shepherd’s Bush. Kitchen life proves heady and addictive, and it’s not long before he finds himself falling hard and fast for the man who has taken him in.
Fast-forward a month and a neither man can imagine life without the other, but one thing stands in their way: a lifetime of horrors Nero can’t bring himself to share with Lenny. Or can he? For the first time ever, happiness is there for the taking, and Nero must learn to embrace it before fate steps in and rips it away.

For the life of me, I can’t figure out why I’ve only read 3 books by Garrett Leigh because every single one I’ve picked up has blown me away. Even though it’s been almost exactly 2 years since I read Misfits, the first book in Leigh’s Urban Souls series, it didn’t take me long to remember exactly why I liked it so much. It also didn’t stop me from wanting to pick it up for a reread. Those 3 books have also proven that this author has a talent for taking broken characters and putting them back together, only to rip them apart again. *sigh*

Nero liked spreading himself thin. He floated from job to job within the Urban Souls brand with little or no down time. He also considered himself straight, but curious maybe? His attraction to Lenny made him reevaluate a lot about himself. Lenny was the polar opposite of Nero as far as personalities go. He was friendly and normally outgoing, until his stalker kept him constantly looking over his shoulder. Pairing him with Nero was a crazy idea, but evidently Cass knew what he was doing.

Speaking of Cass, one of my favorite parts of Strays was the time readers got to spend with him as well as Jake and Tom. I loved those guys, which is one of the reasons why I’m seriously thinking about a re-read of Misfits. The other is the way that they take care of their own, whether the recipients want it or think they need it. I’m not sure if there are any other books in the future for Urban Souls, but I do know that there are quite a few other Garrett Leigh books that need to be added to my TBR pile. Stay tuned. 😉

Growing Pains (Toronto Connections #3) by Cass Lennox

Gigi Rosenberg is living his best life: performances in the big city, side gigs at a dance company, a successful drag act, and the boy of his childhood dreams who now adores him. Even if the boyfriend part isn’t the sparkly ride of passion he expected it to be, life is sweet. So when his sister’s wedding calls him back to his hometown, he sees an opportunity to show the hicks from his past how wrong they were about him. Only, his boyfriend isn’t quite on board.
Brock Stubbs left their hometown and his parents behind for a reason, and the prospect of facing them again is terrifying. He swore he’d never go back, but Gigi has made it clear refusal isn’t an option, and Brock will do nearly anything for him. There’s just one deal-breaker of a problem: Brock promised Gigi he was out to everyone, including his parents. He lied.
It’s magical to run into the sunset together, but staying the course takes work. For Gigi and Brock, going home feels like the finale of a long, disappointing year. Sometimes love isn’t all you need.
 

If you’re paying attention, you may have noticed that I read the first book in the Toronto Connections (Blank Spaces) series, but not the second (Finding Your Feet) and now I’m reviewing the third. It’s not my usual squirrel brain hard at work, this time I skipped one on purpose. Not sure why, but Finding Your Feet just didn’t grab me, but Growing Pains did. In case you’re curious, I’ll probably skip The Wrong Woman too, but you never know…

Anyway, for what it’s worth, I’m really glad that I decided to read Growing Pains. I really liked Brock and Gigi’s story… for a lot of reasons. I’m kind of a sucker for a story that brings out the ‘momma bear’ in me and Brock did just that. It would have been easy to sympathize with Gigi in Growing Pains, and I did… kind of.

You’ll have to read the story to understand, but one of the reasons why I loved Gigi’s family so much was because they loved him, supported him and they were everything that Brock’s family wasn’t. What made me really respect them was the fact that they saw his faults and weren’t afraid to call him out on them. To Gigi’s credit, he may have complained a little, but he loved them for it. They weren’t perfect, but not many families are. The point is, I loved the honesty as much as I loved the unconditional love. On the flip side, I walked away from Growing Pains with absolutely no respect for Brock’s parents at all.

I may find myself going back to pick up the two books I skipped, but right now I’m fine with the taste of Toronto Connections I decided to read. You’ll have to let me know if I missed anything if you decide to read the whole series. 😉