Book Review – Stronghold by Ana Ashley

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The last place Judson wants to be is back home in Burlington, living with his mother. Not so long ago he was a world-class chef with the lifestyle to prove it. Now he’s serving drinks and flying under the radar until he can get the hell out again. But when his childhood best friend reenters his life, looking finer than any entree at a Michelin five-star restaurant, he wonders if it’s time to update his menu of life choices.

Working through past wounds with Skyler won’t be easy, though–especially with a reality-show television camera following (not quite) their every move. When their loyalty is tested, will their newly built stronghold be sturdy enough to withstand the storm?

Stronghold is a sweet and sexy romance for childhood friends to lovers, with some creative use of maple syrup and a TV crew determined to keep appearing out of nowhere.


I’m loving this shared world series of stories. This story is a sweet former friends to lovers, and I enjoyed meeting Judson and Skyler, and also catching up with other characters who have their own stories within the series.

I liked both Skyler and Judson, and how they’re trying to move forward from incidents of misplaced trust in their pasts. I felt for Judson moving past his poor self-image and his horrible selfish ex. I loved the strong family vibe amongst their circle of friends, and also the role their families play in this story.

The supporting cast feels very real and fleshed out and it was easy to visualise the setting. Burlington has a very homely and welcoming vibe to it, and is a place I’d love to visit. After reading a few books set here, each new book is like meeting up with old friends and making new ones. I particularly liked Skyler’s and Judson’s mothers. I liked how Skyler’s mother still loves his dad despite everything that has happened, yet doesn’t accept his actions either.

The friends to lovers plotline is nicely written, an easy read, and one I didn’t want to put down. The world building is fabulous, and I love how it slots in with the rest of the shared world. I also learnt a lot about maple syrup!

I loved the way everything worked out and their HEA. A perfect ending for a lovely story. I’m going to miss this series.

5 out of 5 stars.


“If you’ve got your flirting game on, the new bartender is H.O.T.,” Wyatt says.

I look at Carter, who nods. “He has this sexy kind of European vibe going on.”

And now I know how their earlier conversation got started.

I scan the bar but don’t see anyone I don’t already know. Then again, it’s pretty busy out there.

Someone steps away from the bar area with a tray of drinks, and I immediately take their place. All the bartenders are busy, so I look around to inspect this evening’s crowd.

A glass breaks somewhere behind the bar, taking my attention from the crowd waiting to be served to the clumsy bartender on the far end from where I’m standing.

He must be the new guy because I know I’d recognize that ass if I’d seen it before. Scrap that. I’d have tapped it. My eyes scan the rest of him, taking the time to appreciate his slim body from behind.

His dark jeans hug his ass perfectly, and his thighs…damn, those thighs look strong and…fuck. My dick responds to the way he moves as he’s crouching to pick up the glass from the floor.

The dark button-down shirt is loose on him, and I wonder if it’s a standard V&V-issued shirt because a guy that wears those jeans wouldn’t possibly choose to wear anything but a fitted shirt.

He washes his hands after disposing of the glass and then runs them through his dark-blond hair. I wonder if, in the light of day, his hair is actually a lighter shade.

Turn around, baby. Let me see your face.

And as if the god of horny gay single men is listening to my prayers, the guy turns around. He looks flustered and annoyed.

There’s something about him I can’t put my finger on, but it doesn’t take me long to figure out what it is. Why he looks so familiar.

When he looks up, and his eyes meet mine, my body locks up in shock. I close my eyes and open them again because this isn’t happening. I must be dreaming while awake.

I smile, wanting to jump over the counter to touch him. It’s the only way to be sure, but he looks as though he’s seen a ghost.

One of the other bartenders bumps against him, making him jolt and take a side step.

I smile at him, and that’s when I see the very slight shake of his head as I call to him before he runs to the staff area behind the bar.


About Anne Barwell

Anne Barwell lives in Wellington, New Zealand. She shares her home with a cat with “tortitude” who is convinced that the house is run to suit her; this is an ongoing “discussion,” and to date, it appears as though Kaylee may be winning. In 2008, Anne completed her conjoint BA in English Literature and Music/Bachelor of Teaching. She has worked as a music teacher, a primary school teacher, and now works in a library. She is a member of the Upper Hutt Science Fiction Club and plays violin for Hutt Valley Orchestra. She is an avid reader across a wide range of genres and a watcher of far too many TV series and movies, although it can be argued that there is no such thing as “too many.” These, of course, are best enjoyed with a decent cup of tea and further the continuing argument that the concept of “spare time” is really just a myth. She also hosts and reviews for other authors, and writes monthly blog posts for Love Bytes. She is the co-founder of the New Zealand Rainbow Romance writers, and a member of RWNZ. Anne’s books have received honorable mentions five times, reached the finals four times—one of which was for best gay book—and been a runner up in the Rainbow Awards. She has also been nominated twice in the Goodreads M/M Romance Reader’s Choice Awards—once for Best Fantasy and once for Best Historical. Anne can be found at
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