In my neck of the woods, it’s been cold enough to bring miserable rain, but no snow. The February blahs are setting in, and a getaway sounds like just the ticket. Since the TBR Challenge promised a getaway in book form, we found some contenders. Caz went for a big trip to Australia, and I picked up a modern-day Scottish Highlands destination wedding romance. Not sure Scotland in February would fix the winter doldrums, but since the book is set during the summer, one can pretend. So, where do you want to get away to?

Honeymoon For One by Keira Andrews

This month’s prompt – getaway – gave me the chance to read a book that’s been recommended to me a few times by an author whose work I generally enjoy, so I cracked open Keira Andrews’ Honeymoon for One in the expectation of a solidly entertaining, well-told story – and that was exactly what I got. It’s a slow-burn, hurt/comfort, age-gap romance between Ethan Robinson, who ends up, as the title indicates, going on his honeymoon alone and Clay Kelly, the driver/guide of the tour Ethan had booked for the holiday of a lifetime in Australia.

So… Ethan comes home early on the afternoon before his wedding to Michael, his partner of several years, to find his fiancé in bed with his best friend, Todd. Ethan is, quite naturally, utterly devastated – not only has he lost the man he loved and the life he’d looked forward to building with him, but he’s lost his best friend, too. Despite protestations of love from both of them – and Michael’s poorly timed suggestion that they should become a throuple because he’s realised monogamy is not for him – Ethan can’t get out of the apartment fast enough.

Numb with shock – and from the cold out on the street – Ethan unexpectedly bumps into Clara, Michael’s sister, and although he hadn’t planned it, tells her what’s happened. She’s sympathetic and supportive – and furious with her brother – and it’s she who encourages Ethan to continue with his plan to go to Australia. At first he’s unsure – but then the idea of spending a couple of weeks on the other side of the world starts to seem like a good idea and he makes up his mind to go. It’s a big step for him – not only because the life he knows has suddenly imploded, but also because he’s late-deafened (he lost his hearing as an adult), and the idea of travelling so far on his own, with no-one to fill in the blanks (my words) if and when he can’t hear things he needs to hear, is daunting. It’s taken him several years to really come to terms with his condition and to begin to properly learn to live with it, and it’s not been an easy journey. Losing his hearing as an adult means Ethan hasn’t grown up learning to sign so he’s reliant on hearing aids – that aren’t a perfect solution because they pick up so much background noise – and lip-reading, which, of course, he can’t do when people don’t look directly at him, so day-to-day life in the city is a constant challenge, and socialising is exhausting. Sadly, his experience – having to apologise for not listening when people aren’t actually making it possible for him to do so, having people talk to him like he’s stupid or a child, having people be impatient with him when he asks them to repeat something – rings very true.

Forty-four-year-old divorced father of two Clay Kelly left his home town in the Queensland outback after the divorce to live in Sydney with his adult daughter. He’s mostly content with his lot – he likes his job driving tour buses along Australia’s East Coast and loves watching cricket (preferably with a cold beer or two in hand) – and if he’s a bit lonely, well, life is better than it is for many and he can’t complain. On the first day of his next tour, he notices the quiet young man boarding the bus alone and overhears him explain to the tour guide that he’s hard of hearing and that he’s on the trip on his own, and, maybe subconsciously, decides to look out for him.

I really enjoyed this part of the story. The slow-burn attraction between Ethan and Clay is well done, and I liked watching them getting to know each other over the course of the tour. Ethan can sometimes get caught up in his head and preoccupied with his misery, but given the circumstances, he’s entitled – and the time he spends processing is important in that it allows him to begin to let go of his pain. I loved that Clay always does his best to make sure Ethan can hear him by speaking clearly and facing him when he speaks – and when he prints off the tour notes so Ethan can follow along more easily and goes out of his way to find some extra batteries for his hearing aids, it’s easy to understand why Ethan feels so seen and accepted – and why he can’t help but fall for Clay’s charm and genuine kindness (his rugged good looks don’t hurt either!). However, Clay takes longer to recognise his concern for Ethan for what it really is; he isn’t gay and isn’t attracted to men and this… whatever it is with Ethan is friendship and can’t possibly be anything else.

I admit, I enjoyed the first half of the book a bit more than the second, which is the kind of gay-awakening story I’ve read several times before. That said though, the author does pack quite a punch when she reveals the reason behind Clay’s life-long internalised homophobiaand his ruthless suppression of his true self as a form of self-preservation that he’s only now starting to come to terms with.

My only real criticism of the book is the… what I can only describe as ‘teaching moments’, of which there are several, and for which I felt like the author had stepped out from behind the words, as it were, to deliver a few short lessons about the terminology around deafness and the reclaiming of words like ‘queer’. I have no objection to learning new things when I read, and the author has, in this very book, taught me things I didn’t know and was pleased to learn about the deaf community, but those authorial inserts are incredibly jarring and made me feel like I was expected to sit up and take notes for a test later.

Keira Andrews has done an excellent job when it comes to her setting, because all the tour locations are so vividly described as to put the reader right in the middle of them, and while the Aussie slang is perhaps a bit overdone, she does get it right! Ethan and Clay are likeable, relatable individuals who, apart from a couple of small hiccups, communicate well and honestly, and while their romance does develop over a short period of time, they fit so well together and their emotional connection is so well realised that it’s easy to buy into and doesn’t feel rushed. Teaching moments aside, I enjoyed Honeymoon for One and would certainly recommend it.

Rating: B            Sensuality: Warm

~ Caz Owens

Buy it at: Amazon

What Happpens in the Highlands by Kelsey McKnight

This time of year, I could certainly use a getaway. I can’t escape work at this point, but at least I can live vicariously through my reading. What Happens in the Highlands is a fun escape to Scotland and while a lot of it is pure escapist fantasy, it’s very fun escapist fantasy.

Tightly wound Rose Hensel arrives in Scotland to be in her best friend’s wedding and it’s the first vacation she’s had in ages. She wants to let loose while she’s there and figures a no-strings-attached one night stand wouldn’t be out of order. While out for her friend Katie’s hen night, she ends up spending the night with the very hot best man, Lachlan Calder-Mackinnon. The best way to sum up the aftermath is that it’s awkward – until finally, it’s not.

Rose isn’t particularly looking for a relationship and it seems that Lachlan isn’t either, but one seems to have found them. This is a fairly familiar romance plotline, but it’s well done here. We do get hints of Rose and Lachlan’s pasts, but I wish there had been a little more. I find those details help deepen the characterization a bit and let readers really get to know the leads apart from how they are in their relationship with each other. Even so, Lachlan and Rose work as a couple and I enjoyed watching them bond over the course of Rose’s trip to Scotland.

While Rose and Lachlan are the focus of the story, I loved the glimpses into Rose’s friendship with Katie as well. It’s easy to see why these two are friends, and I enjoyed the dynamic between them. Some of the story’s touches, such as normal Jersey girls Katie and Rose somehow finding their way into the lives of the wealthy Scottish elite, seem a bit improbable, but the author writes with a light touch and the story is quite fun to read.

If you liked early 2000s ‘chick lit’, you might like this romance; the banter between the friends in this book has a similar feel. The author’s tongue in cheek way of playing into ‘hot guys in kilts’ fantasies gives the story a light, humorous touch as well.

The author throws in a villain at the end that seems a tad unnecessary, but otherwise I enjoyed myself. What Happens in the Highlands is a fun romantic comedy that stands well on its own without the additional villain drama, so I wished the author had simply let her leads keep being goofy and romantic with each other. However, it all turns out well in the end and this book ended up being a happy little getaway.

Rating:       B          Sensuality: Warm

~ Lynn Spencer

Buy it at Amazon

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I enjoy spending as much time as I can between the covers of a book, traveling through time and around the world. When I'm not having adventures with fictional characters, I'm an attorney in Virginia and I love just hanging out with my husband, little man, and the cat who rules our house.