Owl’s Slumber (Trials of Fear #1) by Nicky James (audiobook) – Narrated by Adam Gold

owl's slumber

This title can be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

Imagine what life would be like if panic ruled your world at the mere thought of going to bed at night. For as long as he can remember, Finnley Hollins has been crippled by his extreme phobia of sleep. Every night is a battle, and every morning isn’t without consequences. The root cause is something he’s ashamed to admit to anyone. It’s his war, and he will fight it alone.

When an unexpected turn of events lands the stunningly gorgeous Aven Woods at Finnley’s place of business, his life gets turned upside down.

All it would take is one night together for his secret to be exposed. Finnley wasn’t prepared to fall in love. More so, he wasn’t prepared for his phobia to completely consume his life. Not only is it affecting his job and his relationship, but now it’s affecting his health. What will it take for Finnley to finally admit he needs help?

Rating: Narration – A; Content – B+

A few months ago, I reviewed Cravings of the Heart, book six in Nicky James’ Trials of Fear series, and enjoyed both the story and the excellent narration by Adam Gold. As each book in the series works as a standalone (apart from the final one), they can be listened to in any order, and as I already had a couple of the others in my Audible library, I decided to skip back to the beginning and listen to Owl’s Slumber.

Each story features a protagonist with a very unusual phobia and explores the ways in which that phobia impacts on his life, usually in an extremely negative – and often dangerous – way, and how they find love with someone who offers the kind of loving support they’ve never had before. I’m no expert on phobias of any kind (unless you count having them about moths and spiders!) but it seems to me that Ms. James approaches them in a sympathetic yet realistic way, not shying away from the very real damage the characters are incurring while also presenting them as real people who are badly misunderstood and desperately need to be properly seen if they’re to stand a chance of being able to manage their fears.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

Silent Sin by E.J. Russell (audiobook) – Narrated by Greg Boudreaux

silent sin

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

When tailor Marvin Gottschalk abandoned New York City for the brash boom town of silent film-era Hollywood, he never imagined he’d end up on screen as Martin Brentwood, one of the fledgling film industry’s most popular actors. Five years later, a cynical Martin despairs of finding anything genuine in a town where truth is defined by studio politics and publicity. Then he meets Robbie Goodman.

Robbie fled Idaho after a run-in with the law. A chance encounter leads him to the film studio, where he lands a job as a chauffeur. But one look at Martin and he’s convinced he’s likely to run afoul of those same laws – laws that brand his desires indecent, deviant…sinful.

Martin and Robbie embark on a cautious relationship, cocooned in Hollywood’s clandestine gay fraternity, careful to hide from the studio boss, a rival actor, and reporters on the lookout for a juicy story. But when tragedy and scandal rock the town, igniting a morality-based witch hunt fueled by a remorseless press, the studio brass will sacrifice even the greatest careers to defend their endangered empire. Robbie and Martin stand no chance against the firestorm – unless they stand together.

Rating: Narration – A; Content – B+

E.J. Russell’s Silent Sin is a standalone historical romance set in the Hollywood of the 1920s featuring a movie star and the man who – through a fortunate circumstance – lands a job as his driver. The author has clearly done her homework when it comes to the background of this story – about the studio system and the influence it exerted over all aspects of the lives of its stars, about the relationship between the studios and the press – and that, together with the inclusion of a number of real-life figures and events, grounds the story very firmly in its time and place. I had a couple of niggles, but overall it’s a compelling story with fantastic narration by Greg Boudreaux, and I lapped it up.

When the book begins, we meet Robbie – Robinson Crusoe Goodman – as he arrives in a place called Hollywood. He’s disappointed; he’d hoped the farmer who’d given him a lift in his truck would have taken him a bit further along the road – plus in a town, he’s unlikely to find any work of the sort that could be done by a former potato farmer from Idaho whose meagre possessions amount to the very threadbare set of clothes on his back. After spending the night in an uninhabited shack at the edge of town, a tired, hungry and thirsty Robbie walks slowly back down main street, with no real idea of what to do next. He watches, surprised, as a cowboy – wondering just what a cowboy is doing in a town where there are no cows? – strolls along the street announcing he’s just got a part in a new picture. Robbie has no idea what the man is talking about, and just as he’s about to move along, is tapped on the shoulder and turns to find an older man wearing a uniform is speaking to him. For just a second or two, Robbie panics – uniforms mean authority and Robbie has been running from the authorities for six weeks now – but the man – who says that everyone calls him Pops – tells Robbie he’s done nothing wrong and then offers to buy him breakfast. Robbie can’t believe his luck, and as they eat, Pops tells Robbie that he works at Citadel Motion Pictures and, after ascertaining that Robbie knows how to drive, offers him a job.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

Heppel Ever After (Learning to Love #5) by Con Riley

heppel ever after

This title may be purchased from Amazon

Because every epic romance deserves an epic happy ending…

All Charles Heppel wants is a wedding. It’s not much to ask now that he’s set his playboy days aside for his almost-ordained fiancé. He can’t wait for a lovely, lazy beach honeymoon with His Holy Hotness to continue Hugo’s education in the bedroom.

Surely this third wedding date will be the charm and won’t get cancelled, will it? After all, Hugo’s followed his calling almost to the end of his path to ordination. Nothing should keep him from gaining his own parish with Charles as his husband.

Hugo’s calling thinks differently, demanding he leaves for the remote island of Kara-Enys without Charles.

That news should be shattering, but if Charles Heppel has one thing going for him, it’s that he’s relentlessly optimistic. And romantic. Most islands have beaches, don’t they? He’ll join Hugo to have the honeymoon first on their own version of Love Island. They can get married later!

All he needs to do is find him…

Rating: A-Charles, the first book in Con Riley’s Learning to Love series, I said that he seemed to be one of those characters who elbowed their way into an author’s brain and demanded their story be written. Vibrant, funny, larger-than-life and a complete scene-stealer Charles Heppel certainly lit up the pages whenever he appeared, and the book was one of my top reads of the year. Charles and his fiancé Hugo (aka His Holy Hotness) have made cameo appearances in the other books in the series, so I was pleased when the author announced that she was writing a series finale that would once again put Charles and Hugo centre stage and take a peek at them after their happy ever after.

Heppel Ever After is definitely best read as part of the series – after Charles (and maybe Luke) – and is the only book in the set that doesn’t really stand alone. Please be aware there may be spoilers for the rest of the series in this review.

Charles and Hugo have been engaged for a year, but something always gets in the way of their actually being able to set a wedding date. They’ve had to change it twice already because it’s been so difficult to fit in around Hugo’s duties as school padre and ‘stand-in’ vicar for the various local parishes. Hugo is still waiting to secure a permanent post, even though his experience as an army chaplain and at the school should have made it an easy next step, and Charles is convinced that he is the weak link. As a vicar’s spouse, Charles will be expected to play a key role in the community and so he, too, has to go through an interview process – and he (so he thinks) just can’t seem to get it right. When the book begins, they’re on their way to another interview, but Charles’ old insecurities about not being good enough have come roaring back, that small voice telling him that maybe Hugo would be better off with someone smarter, someone more sophisticated and better informed rather than someone who seems to cost him every job he’s interviewed for. Hugo, of course, believes nothing of the sort. He knows just what an asset Charles will be, wherever they end up, and is adamant that he isn’t prepared to accept a position anywhere that won’t also welcome Charles with open arms. Charles knows Hugo loves him and wants him to be as happy and fulfilled by their new life as Hugo hopes to be – but that little voice just won’t go away.

Sadly, the interview doesn’t go well – which is completely the fault of the bigoted old farts on the parish council who make clear their disapproval of Charles and Hugo’s living arrangements and belittle Charles’ profession. Hugo decides then and there that it isn’t the place for them and terminates the procedings, but Charles worries that they may have lost their last chance to find somewhere in Cornwall that’s close enough for Charles to be able to continue working at Glynn Harber school. Hugo, however, is very chipper about it, firmly believing that the inner voice that has guided him thus far will speak to him again and point him where he needs to go when the time is right.

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

TBR Challenge – Pressure Head (Plumber’s Mate Mysteries #1) by J.L. Merrow

pressure head

This title may be purchased from Amazon

Some things are better left hidden….

Tom Paretski’s not just a plumber with a dodgy hip courtesy of a schoolboy accident. He also has a sixth sense for finding hidden things. Called in by the police to help locate a body near Brock’s Hollow, he’s staggered to encounter Phil Morrison, his old school crush—and the closeted bully whose actions contributed to Tom’s accident.

Phil’s all grown up now, and Tom’s unwilling attraction to him is back with a vengeance. Phil’s now openly gay—and what’s more, he’s interested in Tom’s personal charms as well as his psychic talents. As a private investigator called in by the dead woman’s parents, Phil is sceptical about Tom’s unusual gift, but nevertheless quick to spot its potential to aid him in his work.

The further they go with the investigation, the less they can ignore their shared past, and the more the pressure and the heat build between them. But Tom isn’t certain he wants to know the secrets he’s helping to uncover, while there’s a murderer on the loose who won’t hesitate to kill again—and this uneasy couple is moving right into his sights.

Rating: B+

I was pretty stumped by this month’s prompt – Animals – not because I don’t like animals, but because I’m not especially drawn to books in which they feature heavily. So my choice this month is kind of ‘animal adjacent’ – the main character has two cats named Arthur and Merlin, which is about as close as I could get!

J.L. Merrow’s Plumber’s Mate Mysteries series consists of six books written between 2012 and 2021 (and I don’t know if book six was the final one) and the PoV character is indeed a plumber, Tom Paretsky, who lives and works in a village near St. Albans in Hertfordshire. But he’s a plumber with a difference; he has some sort of sixth sense that enables him to find things – hidden things, usually, all the guilt and shame and sneakiness involved in the hiding acting as a kind of beacon that often tells him what the hidden thing is likely to be.

He was only six when he found a dead body for the first time.

When Pressure Head begins, Tom receives a call from Dave Southgate, a plain clothes copper who has become a mate, of sorts, asking him for help locating a young woman by the name of Melanie Porter, who has been reported missing. An anonymous tip has led the police to search the woodland near Melanie’s home – but before Tom can get started, he and Southgate are approached by a tall, blond, good-looking man Tom eventually recognises – with a sinking heart – as Phil Morrison, who, when they were at school, was one of the gang of bullies who made his life a misery. Seeing Phil again brings a lot of unpleasant memories back for Tom – not least of which is being hit by a car while he was running from the gang and landing in hospital with a broken pelvis. Southgate is pissed off as well – because Morrison is an ex-copper-turned-private-investigator who has been hired by the Porters to find their daughter, and he doesn’t want him interfering in a police investigation. Tom and Phil waste no time in sniping at each other before Southgate breaks it up and hauls Tom off into the woods – where he finds Melanie’s body.

Tom doesn’t expect to see Phil again – so he’s surprised when he turns up on his doorstep the next morning to tell Tom that Melanie’s parents have asked to meet him. Tom isn’t sure what good he can do – and tells Phil that – but having learned the day before that an old schoolmate is in the frame for the murder, and wanting to do right by him, he agrees to go anyway and to continue to help Phil out with the investigation.

The mystery here is not overly complex, but it’s engaging and kept me guessing along with Tom and Phil as they work their way towards finding out the truth. In many ways, it’s your typical English-country-village cozy mystery (think Midsomer Murders!) – except that the protagonist is a slightly psychic gay plumber with a dodgy hip and a nice line in snark – combined with a burgeoning romance and more than a hint of comedy.

Tom is the sole narrator and I loved his voice. He’s endearingly self-deprecating and funny with a nice turn of descriptive phrase:

By six o’clock the butterflies in my stomach had mutated into flying elephants all flapping around like Dumbo drunk on champagne.

He’s a great character with a strong moral compass and an air of innocence about him despite a bit of a world-weary exterior. He’s angry at discovering that Phil – who had coined the nickname “Poofski at school and been one of his leading tormentors – is queer himself and that the intervening years haven’t done quite enough to enable Tom to forget the stupid crush he had on Phil back then, or prevent it from coming back. We don’t get into Phil’s head, which makes him harder to get to know, but the author does a great job of telling us what we need to know through what she shows us of him through Tom’s eyes, that he’s tightly wound and carrying a fair bit of baggage – and that he is equally smitten with Tom. They have great chemistry and their romance is very much a slow-burn, which makes perfect sense given they’ve got a lot to work through, and I appreciated that even when they start getting on better, the hurt and the bitterness and resentment don’t simply disappear. They’ll be getting along fine when something will trip them up and they lash out, which felt realistic under the circumstances. Healing is a slow process.

Tom and Phil are both complex, flawed individuals, and although Tom is the easier to like of the two, Phil’s character development is really well done. There’s a small but well-drawn secondary cast, too; I enjoyed Tom’s friendship with Southgate, and Tom’s best friend Gary – a campanologist – and his new boyfriend Julian, a dwarf ex-porn star with attitude for miles – are a hoot.

Pressure Head is a lot of fun, and ends with the mystery solved and a firm HFN for Tom and Phil. I definitely plan to continue with the series.

Sundays With Oliver (Hearts & Crafts #1) by Kelly Jensen

sundays with oliver

This title may be purchased from Amazon

Two empty-nesters. Two bruised hearts. One chance to make things right.

Oliver expected to miss his daughter when she left for college, but he’s surprised by the size of the hole she leaves. Or maybe he hadn’t expected to spend his days watching grass grow and making sad cookies. Or to lose his job. Meeting Nick—the uncle of his daughter’s roommate—is a bright spot in an otherwise gloomy forecast. Nick is focused, talented, and as beautiful as the dollhouses he builds. Being near him might bring light and purpose to Oliver’s life.

Nick expected to miss his niece when she left for college, but he’s still figuring out how to cope with her absence, when his brother reappears after twelve years, complicating the emotional puzzle. Then there’s Oliver, the sweet, calm, and competent man who looks at Nick like no one ever has. Spending Sundays in Oliver’s company is the balm he needs, though Nick is waiting for Oliver to decide their relationship is too much work.

But just as Nick begins to get comfortable, Oliver’s need to provide for of the people he loves threatens to pull them apart. If their relationship is to survive, they will have to learn to let go. For Oliver, this means asking himself what he really wants, this time around. For Nick, it means letting himself grieve the people who can’t come back and love the people who always will.

Rating: B+

Kelly Jensen’s new Hearts & Craft series kicks off with Sundays With Oliver, a gently moving character-driven romance featuring two men in their forties (well, one is thirty-nine, but still…) who have to deal with significant life changes, prompted, in large part, by their becoming empty-nesters.

Oliver Jurić is a wholesome kind of guy; good-humoured, self-deprecating and one of life’s caretakers. When the story begins, it’s just days before Oliver is due to take his daughter Dani to her new home in NYC where she’s going to college. It’s a huge change in both their lives, and while Oliver is excited for Dani to be going out into the world to make a life of her own, he’s sad, too, knowing her absence will leave a hole in his life he’s not sure how he’s going to fill. But that’s not the only major change on the horizon; just before moving day, Oliver loses his job and, feeling slightly ashamed and not wanting to disappoint anyone, he doesn’t say anything and allows his family to believe nothing has changed, intending to get to work on applying for other jobs once Dani is settled in her new place.

Nick Zimmermann has a successful business making bespoke dollhouses – some original designs, some intricate miniature replicas of actual buildings – and every tiny item of furniture and décor inside. He’s intense and focused; he loves the work and is incredibly good at it, but he’s a very solitary person and he thrives on precision and routine. It’s clear from early on that Nick is neuroatypical, although his differences are never really labelled (ASD is mentioned once, but only in passing), and instead, the author shows us how his fascination with numbers and time, his need for rigid routine and his difficulty making eye contact contribute to his being – in his own words – “different” and “difficult to live with”. Like Oliver, Nick is facing the prospect of a lonely house once his niece Emma, his late sister’s daughter, has left for college in New York, but while Nick knows, rationally, that he’s going to miss her, he has yet to fully process the emotions that go along with missing someone.

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

Imitate the Dawn (Whitethorn Security #3) by M.A. Grant

imitate the dawn

This title may be purchased from Amazon

Cristian Slava and Atlas Kincaid despise each other. At least, that’s what they need everyone to believe. In truth, the charismatic vampire and his fierce bodyguard are more in love than ever. But when a powerful political faction emerges and threatens Cristian’s family, the only way into their enemy’s inner circle is without each other by their side.

From Romania to New York and beyond, though apart, their blood-bond cannot be severed—but it can be used against them. When Cristian sacrifices his life to save his family and save Atlas from having his darkest secrets revealed, only faith in that bond will keep Atlas from utter despair.

And only by facing his past will Atlas be able to accept who he is and finally defeat their most powerful enemy yet…

Death itself.

Rating: B+

The action in Imitate the Dawn, book three in M.A. Grant’s Whitethorn Security series, moves from Romania back to the US, where Atlas Kincaid and Cristian Slava need to move fast to counter the threat to their home and to save the life of Cristian’s father, who has been arrested and is being investigated by the Vampire Council. Because the trilogy is, in effect, one story divided into three, it’s essential to have read the previous books in the series before starting this one. It also means there are spoilers in this review.

In book two, Crooked Shadows, Atlas and Cristian fled to Romania following a devastating strigoi attack at the family home in upstate New York, intent on finding out who is creating and controlling the gruesome creatures. In Romania, a bloody coup deposes the ruling vampire family – allies to Decebal Vladislavic (Cristian’s father) – and the he is now suspected by the Council of being responsible for the creation of the strigoi and the attacks which led to the coup. Christian and Atlas are sure that their arch-enemies, the Wharrams (Cristian’s late mother’s family) are involved somehow, and will have to race against time to prove Decebal’s innocence and prevent the Wharrams taking over the Council.

The romance between Atlas and Cristian developed into a lasting bond which has survived everything that has been thrown at them, including betrayal, lies and physical danger, and they’re stronger together than ever. Atlas realises the strigoi were responsible for the attack on his unit years ago from which he emerged as the sole survivor, and as the story progresses, begins to suspect the truth of what happened to him. At the end of a fast-paced and action-packed story where there was peril on all sides and Atlas and Cristian were not always sure who to trust, they were were blindsided by the discovery of a truly terrible betrayal by someone who had been part of Decebal’s inner circle and whom Cristian had regarded as a good friend.

When Imitate the Dawn opens, Cristian, Atlas and their friends Daria and Radu have survived another attack by the strigoi and learned of the overthrow and murder of the territory’s ruling family. Moves are being made to close the borders, so they have to get out quickly – but before they can leave, they’re contacted by the council’s lead investigator who informs them of Decebal’s arrest and of the accusations being made against him, intending to take them in, too. It’s only when, during the ensuing fight, she gets a taste of Cristian’s blood that she can see the truth and realises that she was an unwitting instrument in the council’s machinations and offers to help Cristian and Atlas to prove that the Wharrams are working against the council and everyone on it.

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

How to Fake it in Hollywood by Ava Wilder (audiobook) – Narrated by Thérèse Plummer & Andrew Eiden

how to fake it in hollywood

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

Grey Brooks is on a mission to keep her career afloat now that the end of her long-running teen TV show has her (unsuccessfully) pounding the pavement again. With a life-changing role on the line, she’s finally desperate enough to agree to her publicist’s scheme: Fake a love affair with a disgraced Hollywood heartthrob who needs the publicity, but for very different reasons.

Ethan Atkins just wants to be left alone. Between his high-profile divorce, struggles with drinking, and grief over the death of his longtime creative partner and best friend, Ethan has slowly let himself fade into the background. But if he ever wants to produce the last movie he and his partner wrote together, Ethan needs to clean up his reputation and step back into the spotlight. A gossip-inducing affair with a gorgeous actress might be just the ticket, even if it’s the last thing he wants to do.

Though their juicy public relationship is less than perfect behind the scenes, it doesn’t take long before Grey and Ethan’s sizzling chemistry starts to feel like more than just an act. But after decades in a ruthless industry that requires bulletproof emotional armor to survive, are they too used to faking it to open themselves up to the real thing?

Rating: Narration – A; Content – B

If you read my reviews regularly, you’ll know that m/f contemporary romance has never been something I gravitate towards, but the occasional one does catch my eye now and then, and Ava Wilder’s début romance, How to Fake it in Hollywood, is one of those. I picked it up on a whim  because I’d read a couple of reviews that intrigued me – and, okay, also because of Andrew Eiden.

On the surface, it’s your basic bad-boy meets good-girl story with a fake-dating trope thrown in, but there’s a bit more going on beneath, especially because both leads are carrying a lot of baggage which trips them up several times along the road to their eventual HFN. Grey Brooks – whose real name is Emily – is twenty-seven and has been working in front of the camera for two decades. The successful teen drama in which she’d played the lead ended eight months earlier, and although she’s done the odd bit part here and there, she’s yet to land another decent role. Together with her best friend Kamilah, Grey is drafting a script based on a best-selling novel and they’re planning to direct (Kamilah) and star (Grey) once they can get the project greenlit. Now, though, Grey is up for a role in a major fantasy franchise, but she’s been out of the spotlight for a while and profile counts in this business, so her publicist comes up with a way to increase her chances of getting the part and getting backing for the movie further down the road.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

At Attention (Out of Uniform #2) by Annabeth Albert (audiobook) – Narrated by Cooper North

at attention

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

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 sees him only 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.

Rating: Narration – A-; Content – A-

At Attention is one of my favourite books in Annabeth Albert’s Out of Uniform series, and is a regular re-listen. For some reason though, I’ve never written a review of it, so, as I listened to it again recently and enjoyed it just as much as the first time (and other times) I decided to rectify that omission.

Lieutenant Apollo Floros has been a widower and single dad to his young daughters Chloe and Sophia since the sudden death of his beloved husband Neal. In the two years since it happened, Apollo has closed himself off to anything that doesn’t relate to his girls or his job, running his life – and his home – with military precision, planning each week’s meals and activities in advance and generally creating a well-established routine to ensure everything runs smoothly with as few deviations as possible. He adores his girls, he enjoys his job as part of the SEAL tactical training team; his mother and in-laws help with childcare, and he’s… fine. He’s not interested in falling in love again (in fact, it seems like he’s determined not to) – unwilling to risk his heart or open it up to the agony of grief again.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

Contract Season (Trade Season #2) by Cait Nary

contract season

This title may be purchased from Amazon

Brody Kellerman has a plan. First, become the best defenseman in professional hockey. Second, get over his ex-boyfriend so he can focus on his game. Hooking up with the singer at his buddy’s wedding was the perfect solution, but it was never meant to be more than a one-night stand.

Seamus Murry has never planned a thing in his life, including hooking up with a smoking-hot hockey player. Being ghosted sucks, but at least one good thing came from it—the breakout hit song of the summer. Now he’s one of country music’s brightest stars, but one slipup—or in this case, video—might cost him his career.

When their video goes viral, Brody and Seamus agree to fake a relationship. But soon it’s impossible to remember what is real and what’s pretend, and although Brody has no intention of falling for freewheeling Seamus’s charm…life doesn’t always go according to plan.

Rating: C

Although Contract Season is book two in Cait Nary’s Trade Season series, it can be read as a standalone; the principals from book one, Season’s Change, make a brief cameo appearance, but you don’t need to have read their story to understand this one. Like that book, this one gets off to a good start and I was quickly pulled into the story, but infortunately, and also like that book, things become repetitive, important issues are not dealt with and the pacing is wildly off because (once again) the HEA isn’t given time to embed; there’s so much build up and so little pay-off that it makes for a very disappointing ending.

Defenceman Brody Kellerman is known for his professionalism, his incredibly strong work ethic, his attention to detail and his intense focus. At the beginning of Contract Season, he’s recently ended a three-year relationship after his boyfriend finally got tired of hiding in the closet from all but Brody’s closest family and friends, and Brody blames his poor performance in that year’s playoffs on being distracted because of the breakup.

Seamus Murray is an up-and-coming country music star who arrived on the scene as a teenager when he appeared on an Pop Idol type TV show. Having been an awkward, gangly kid with zits and a face that took him a while to grow into, he struggles with the gap between his self image (of someone who was never particularly noticeable) and people’s expectations of him – which are based on his looks (at twenty-three, he’s seriously hot), his talent, his charm and the confidence he projects. He’s never had a relationship and he’s deeply embarrassed by his lack of sexual experience, believing he’s missed the window where it’s okay to be bad at sex and exploring. And as country music is “the one segment of the North American entertainment industry that was less queer-friendly than the Big Four sports”, Seamus – whose name is very annoyingly shortened to “Sea” – isn’t out to anyone other than his sister.

Brody and Sea meet at the wedding of two mutual friends. There’s an immediate and intense spark of attraction between them; they hook up later that night and exchange numbers before they part – but Brody, who is determined to avoid any distractions that might affect his performance on the ice, decides not to use it and ghosts Sea for months.

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

Off Balance (Painted Bay #1) by Jay Hogan (audiobook) – Narrated by Gary Furlong

Off Balance

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

When Judah Madden flees his tiny suffocating home town in New Zealand for the dream of international ballet stardom, he never intends coming back. Not to Painted Bay. Not to his family’s struggling mussel farm. Not to his jerk of a brother. Not with his entire life plan in shreds. And certainly not into the tempting arms of Morgan Wipene, the older ruggedly handsome fisheries officer who seems determined to screw with Judah’s intention to wallow in peace.

But dreams are fickle things. Shatter them, and it’s hard to pick up the pieces. Hard to believe. Hard to start again.

And the hardest thing of all? Finding the courage to trust in love and build a new dream where you least expected to find it.

Rating: Narration – A; Content – A-

The first book in Jay Hogan’s Painted Bay trilogy, Off Balance is a beautifully written and deeply emotional story about two very different men helping each other to put their lives back together following tragedy and heartbreak. The story is infused with plenty of the author’s characteristic humour despite the sometimes heavy subject matter, the two leads are likeable, complex and superbly drawn, and the narration by Gary Furlong is excellent. If you’ve never listened to anything by this author before, this would be a great place to start, as this series contains some of her very best work so far.

When he was a kid, Judah Madden was too gay, too flamboyant and too unwilling to be anything other than who he was to ever fit into a small town like Painted Bay. A talented dancer, he got out as soon as he possibly could and now, almost ten years later, he’s a rising star in the ballet world, a principal dancer at the age of twenty-five. It’s the kind of success he’s always dreamed of, and it’s all he’s ever wanted. But his life takes a devastating turn when he has a dizzy spell in the middle of a performance, which causes him to fall and pass out – and is later diagnosed with Menière’s Disease, a chronic condition which affects the inner ear, causing (among other things) vertigo, tinnitus and potentially, hearing loss. It’s a condition for which there is no cure – and just like that, Judah’s career is over.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.