Never Have I Ever by Lauren Blakely (audiobook) – Narrated by Jason Clarke and Amanda Ronconi

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

Never Have I Ever been so infuriated by a man I wanted to kiss.

They say opposites attract, but I beg to differ. Combust is more like it. Because every single time I talk to Zach Nolan, I see red.

The too-good-looking, too-smart, too-effortlessly-charming single dad who works down the hall from me has turned getting under my skin into a sport. Call it the battle of wits between the wedding planner and the divorce attorney.

Trouble is, when we’re forced into closer quarters, planning an engagement party for our best friends, I start to see his other sides.

And I fear I’m falling for the enemy.

***

I’m not out to make friends. My goals are simple – fight till the end for my clients, and my family.

The last thing I need is a vibrant, outgoing, snarky, and surprisingly big-hearted wedding planner to spend my precious free time with…except, watching Piper bond with my daughter just might break down the cinder block walls I’ve built around my heart these last few years.

Second chances don’t come around for guys like me…or do they?

Rating: Narration: A-; Content: B-

Never Have I Ever is the latest Audible Original story from the powerhouse of contemporary romance, Lauren Blakely. It’s a charming, funny and sexy enemies-to-lovers tale that follows the development of the romance between a vivacious, successful wedding planner and a widowed hot-shot divorce lawyer. The principals are likeable, the story is low on drama but still packs an emotional punch here and there, and the narration is excellent, so fans of the author and audio rom-coms alike are sure to be delighted with this latest offering.

Around ten years before the story proper begins, fledgling wedding planner Piper Radcliffe is basking in the glow of a job well done – a wedding well planned – only to have that glow stomped on during the reception by Zach Nolan, who predicts the marriage won’t last. Piper and Zach don’t know each other all that well, even though they have a number of mutual friends and have known each other vaguely since college, and Piper is naturally pissed off by his message of doom and gloom. For the next decade or so, they avoid each other or behave coolly whenever they meet (which is as infrequently as they can manage) until they end up taking office space in the same building.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

Invitation to the Blues (Small Change #2) by Roan Parrish (audiobook) – Narrated by Greg Boudreaux

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

Eight months ago Jude Lucen fled his partner, his career, and a hospital in Boston after a suicide attempt. Now back in Philadelphia, he feels like a complete failure. Piano has always been his passion and his only escape. Without it, he has nothing. Well, nothing except a pathetic crush on the most gorgeous man he’s ever seen.

Faron Locklear came to Philly looking for a fresh start and has thrown himself into tattooing at Small Change. He’s only met Jude a few times, but something about the red-haired man with the haunted eyes calls to him. Faron is blown away by Jude’s talent. What he isn’t expecting is the electricity he feels the first time they kiss – and the way Jude’s needs in bed speak directly to his own deepest desires.

Jude and Faron fall fast and hard, but Jude has spent a lifetime learning that he can’t be what the people he loves need. So when the opportunity arises to renew his career in Boston, he thinks he has to choose: music, or Faron? Only by taking a huge risk – and finally believing he’s worthy of love just as he is – can he have the chance for both.

Rating: Narration: A+; Content: B+

I suppose it was a given that a book written by Roan Parrish and narrated by Greg Boudreaux was going to hit me squarely in the feels; the author’s beautiful, lyrical writing combined with the narrator’s ability to zero in on and convey every single bit of emotion in that writing is a match made in audiobook heaven. Invitation to the Blues is a gentle and moving love story featuring a musician living with depression and the artist whose love and understanding makes a huge difference in his life. It’s the second book in the author’s Small Change series, but although characters from the first book appear in this one, Invitation to the Blues works perfectly well as a standalone.

Following a suicide attempt, Jude Lucens simply up and left his manipulative boyfriend and his life as a successful musician in Boston to return to his home town in Philadelphia, feeling like a complete failure and unsure what happens next. He’s moved into his brother’s apartment (Chris has moved in with his girlfriend, Ginger – their story can be found in the previous book, Small Change) and has taken a job for which he’s extremely ill-suited at the coffee shop Chris owns. Knowing things aren’t going well, Jude needs to find other work, but the question is what? Music and playing the piano are his life and all he really knows how to do, so he decides to see if he can find work as a piano teacher.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

Forever Right Now by Emma Scott (audiobook) – Narrated by Caitlin Kelly and Greg Tremblay

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

Darlene Montgomery has been to hell and back…more than once. After a stint in jail for drug possession, she is finally clean and ready to start over. Yet another failed relationship is just the motivation she needs to move from New York to San Francisco with the hopes of resurrecting her dance career and discovering that she is more than the sum of her rap sheet. As Darlene struggles in her new city, the last thing she wants is to become entangled with her handsome – but cranky – neighbor and his adorable little girl….

Sawyer Haas is weeks away from finishing law school, but exhaustion, dwindling finances, and the pressure to provide for himself and his daughter, Olivia, are wearing him down. A federal clerkship – a job he desperately needs – awaits him after graduation, but only if he passes the bar exam. Sawyer doesn’t have the time or patience for the capricious – if beautiful – dancer who moves into the apartment above his. But Darlene’s easy laugh and cheerful spirit seep into the cracks of his hardened heart, and slowly break down the walls he’s resurrected to keep from being betrayed ever again.

When the parents of Olivia’s absentee mother come to fight for custody, Sawyer could lose everything. To have any chance at happiness, he must trust Darlene, the woman who has somehow found her way past his brittle barbs, and Darlene must decide how much of her own bruised heart she is willing to give to Sawyer and Olivia, especially when the ghosts of her troubled past refuse to stay buried.

Rating: Narration: A; Content: B

Sawyer Haas is a law student in his early twenties who works hard and plays hard.  In the middle of a party at the place he shares with a few other guys, he is literally left holding the baby when a woman he hooked-up with a few months earlier turns up on his doorstep, presents him with a warm bundle she says is his daughter and then leaves.  Sawyer may be young, and bringing up a child alone was certainly not something he’d ever envisaged doing, but it’s pretty much love at first sight, and after a few days with Olivia, he realises he can’t do anything else.  He makes huge changes to his life; he moves out of the shared house and devotes his life to his studies and his daughter.  For ten months, he juggles those two things, focused on his goal of having his name added to Olivia’s birth certificate so that she’s legally his, something he can petition for after she’s been with him for a year and there’s no sign of her mother coming back for her (which is his deepest fear).  He’s a devoted father and Olivia is well and happy when Darlene comes into their lives like a breath of fresh air.

Darlene Montgomery has moved to San Francisco from New York intent on making a fresh start.  Three years earlier, she had overdosed, and later, served three months in prison for drug possession.  She’s cleaned up her act, but has found it hard to shake off the past in a place where everyone she knows is aware of what happened and always looks at her as though they’re expecting her to go off the rails again.  Darlene wants to get out from under the weight of those negative expectations, to put the past behind her and doesn’t want any reminders of the woman she was then to impinge on the new life she wants to create for herself.

Darlene and Sawyer don’t hit it off at first.  She’s open and friendly, but Sawyer is reserved and tightly wound as well as naturally cautious about strangers around Olivia.  But living in the same building it’s impossible to avoid one another completely, and gradually they get to know one another and start falling for each other.  For Sawyer, Darlene is everything light and carefree he’s missing in his life of responsibility, and Darlene is completely smitten with the caring, passionate man she occasionally glimpses behind Sawyer’s stoic, but exhausted exterior.  The chemistry between the pair is electric, and the author builds the romantic tension between them extremely well; their first kisses are hot and sweet and intense, and we’re left in no doubt that these two very different people care deeply for one another.

Both characters are likeable but flawed, and while it’s easy to see the Black Moment coming a mile off, it’s also easy to understand why Darlene is so eager to keep the details of her past screw-ups from Sawyer.  The trouble is, she’s so focused on her fresh start that she fails to take into account the importance of owning her mistakes and remembering them so as to learn from them and not make them again.  And Sawyer, whose eidetic memory is undoubtedly an asset given the pressures he’s under, is someone who sees things very much in black and white; he’s brilliant, but he struggles to see the grey areas, to account for human frailty when it comes to the law – and that inability could threaten not only his career, but the life he’s making with Olivia… and the one he’d hoped to make for the both of them with Darlene.

I didn’t expect to get quite so sucked in to this story, but the characters, plot and narration were so appealing that I found myself listening at every opportunity.  Greg Tremblay is an incredibly talented narrator and one I listen to frequently, but Caitlin Kelly is new-to-me, so I admit to a little trepidation before I started listening.  I needn’t have worried however, because she delivers a really strong performance that more than holds its own.  Both narrators differentiate clearly between the various characters and both are able to voice characters of the opposite sex convincingly and consistently throughout.  Their vocal acting is superb and they don’t hold back when it comes to the heightened emotion of some of the later chapters; I was on the verge of tears when it seemed Sawyer’s world was about to come tumbling down and could feel Darlene’s heart breaking when she thought she’d lost everything she ever wanted.

Forever Right Now is an emotionally charged story that tugs at the heartstrings in the best way.  The relationships – especially Sawyer’s with Olivia – are really well written, and the romance is just the right amount of sexy and sweet.  The superb narration is a real bonus; if you’re into audio, that’s definitely the way to go for this one.

Forget I Told You by Tanya Chris

This title may be purchased from Amazon (and is available in KU)

Jay has a nice wife and a nice life with a nice house and a nice job in the very nice city of Seattle. Except he’s beginning to suspect that none of that is true. If he has a wife, why can’t he remember marrying her? And why does trying to remember make his head hurt?

Deron knows he shouldn’t be in Seattle. Giving into his need to check on the man who once belonged to him could put a complicated cross-agency investigation at risk. All he wants is one little peek. He didn’t expect Jay to recognize him or for the two of them to get shot at on the streets of Seattle.

Jay’s suffering from a case of amnesia only he can cure and is at the heart of a mystery only he can solve. Too bad he doesn’t know any of that. But there’s one thing he does know: Deron. His memory may have been removed, but his soul will never forget its mate.

Can he remember everything else in time to save both their lives and possibly an entire country?

Rating: B-

Forget I Told You is a standalone mystery/romantic suspense novel with an intriguing premise that, while it has a number of flaws, is a fast-paced and suspenseful story that kept me guessing and eagerly turning the pages.  It does require a fairly large suspension of disbelief, but no more than that needed for many of today’s films and TV shows.

Therapist Jay Burgess has, as the book synopsis says, “a nice wife and a nice life with a nice house and a nice job in the very nice city of Seattle.” So why is it that he’s starting to feel that no matter how “nice” his life is… it’s not his life at all?  He’s married to a lovely woman he’s not the slightest bit attracted to, and not only that, he can’t remember their wedding, or the proposal or indeed anything about his life other than a series of facts and figures he’s started to think of as “recordings”.  He knows his parents are dead but can’t remember how he felt when they died; he knows the date of his wedding, but not how he felt on his wedding day… nothing about his life makes sense until he sees the man with the snake tattoo in the coffee shop.  Over the past few months, Jay has come to the realisation that he’s almost certainly gay –  he and his wife have been discussing divorce – and now, more than ever, he’s convinced of it. On this particular day, he’s drawn to the guy in the coffee shop in a way he can’t remember being drawn to anyone; it makes no sense, but Jay has to talk to him and follows him outside hoping to get his number and maybe go for a drink together.  But the guy – who gives his name as Deron – shuts him down and walks away, telling Jay he should go back to his wife.

Deron Jackson knows he shouldn’t be in Seattle but he can’t resist the opportunity to see the man he loves.  He hadn’t intended for Jay to see him, much less speak to him – and clearly Jay is starting to remember things he shouldn’t, things which, if he remembers them fully, could put him in serious danger.  Another chance encounter a few days later sees them end up in bed in Deron’s hotel room – a seriously bad move which Deron tries to play down by being dismissive and sending Jay on his way as soon as possible.  Jay is persistent and tries to persuade Deron that they deserve a chance to explore this thing between them; he doesn’t understand what Deron tells him about it not being safe for them to know each other – until they’re shot at.

This is an entertaining story with a fairly unusual premise based around memory tampering (it reminded me a bit of Total Recall in that respect!).  The author does a good job of conveying Jay’s uncertainty and his suspicions of those around him as bits of his actual memory begin to bleed through the false ones that have been implanted.  I was glued to the pages wanting to know who had messed with Jay’s memory and why; the answer is unexpected and the author skilfully builds the suspense throughout the first part of the novel leading up to that reveal.  It’s all pretty implausible, but I enjoyed the political thriller aspect of the story (despite its being a little underdeveloped) and liked the extra twist the author throws in at the end when Jay becomes unsure who he can really trust.

But the romantic angle of the story works less well, principally because most of the relationship building takes place off screen before the book starts, so once Jay and Deron get together most of their time together is spent with Deron worrying about Jay remembering too much and trying to protect him. Oh, and their having lots of sex, of course 😉 Perhaps it would have worked better had the author incorporated some flashbacks of their lives before, so readers had a real feel for what the couple had lost, but as it is, there’s a lot of telling rather than showing.  The concept of a love so strong it can’t be suppressed and the idea that the heart will always recognise its mate are extremely romantic of course, but there wasn’t a lot of romantic tension or, I have to say, chemistry between the couple.  Plus I absolutely hated Deron’s pet name for Jay – Jay-Bae – which was really infantile.

I really liked the premise of the novel, even though things fell down somewhat in the execution, so I’d give Forget I Told You a recommendation with caveats.

Tomboy (The Hartigans #3) by Avery Flynn (audiobook) – Narrated by Savannah Peachwood and Brian Pallino

This title may be downloaded by Audible via Amazon

How exactly has one good deed landed me in the penalty box?

Ice Knights defenseman Zach Blackburn has come down with the flu, and my BFF – his PR manager – begs me to put my nursing degree to use and get him back to health. Of course she would call in a favor for the most hated man in Harbor City.

But when he’s finally on the mend and I’m sneaking out of his place, everything goes sideways. Paparazzi spot me and pictures, plus accusations that I slept with him, fly faster than a hockey puck.

At first, all of Harbor City wants my blood – or to give me a girlie-girl makeover. But then…the team finally wins a game. And now this fickle town wants me with the big jerk twenty-four seven.

Argh. I never slept with him the first time! But no one will listen. Then the grumpy bastard goes and promises to break his no-fan-appearances rule to help raise money for a free health clinic – but only if I’m rink-side at every game. That’s not a deal I can turn down.

But when the team keeps winning, and I realize there’s more to him than his bad reputation, suddenly remembering to keep my real hands off my fake date gets harder and harder to do.

Rating: Narration: A-; Content: B

Avery Flynn’s Tomboy is an engaging romantic comedy with a few darker edges that charts the development of the romance between a no-nonsense ER nurse and a seriously grumpy hockey player. It’s predictable fare, but I enjoyed the story and the characters, and also really appreciated the author’s insight into the harmful bitchery encouraged by the anonymity of social media.

Fallon Hartigan knows she’s going to regret agreeing to help out her friend Lucy when the latter asks her for a huge favour. Lucy’s biggest client, Zach Blackwood – defenceman for the Ice Knights hockey team and a PR nightmare – is sick and Lucy is out of town with her boyfriend, Fallon’s brother (whom Fallon knows plans to propose that weekend), so she all but begs Fallon to look in on Zach and make sure he’s okay. Fresh off a long shift in the ER, all Fallon wants to do is go home and sleep, but no way is she going to ruin her brother’s plans and besides, Lucy is a good friend whom Fallon knows would do anything for her – so she agrees.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

Mainly by Moonlight (Bedknobs and Broomsticks #1) by Josh Lanyon

This title may be purchased from Amazon

Can a witch avoid a murder rap without revealing the supernatural truth?

Cosmo Saville guiltily hides a paranormal secret from his soon-to-be husband. And if he can’t undo a powerful love spell, uncertainty threatens his nuptial magic. But when he’s arrested for allegedly killing a longtime rival, he could spend his honeymoon behind bars…

Police Commissioner John Joseph Galbraith never believed in love until Cosmo came along. Falling head over heels for the elegant antiques dealer is an enchantment he never wants to break. So when all fingers point to Cosmo’s guilt, John struggles to believe what his heart is telling him.

As Cosmo searches for the real killer among the arcane aristocracy, John warns him to leave it to the police. But with an unseen enemy threatening to expose Cosmo’s true nature, the couple’s blissful future could shatter like a broken charm.

Can Cosmo find the lost grimoire, clear his name and keep John’s love alive, or will black magic “rune” their wedding bells?

Rating: B

Josh Lanyon’s latest novel is kind of Adrien English meets Bewitched as the owner of an antique store (who also happens to be a witch) finds himself suspected of murder just a few days before his wedding to the city’s Police Commissioner.  Mainly by Moonlight is an enjoyable romp that’s perhaps a little more light-hearted than some of the author’s other novels – and as it’s the first in a trilogy, it sets up more questions than it answers, so don’t pick it up expecting everything to be cut and dried by the time you get to the last page.

For years, witch and antiques dealer Cosmo Saville has been trying to locate the Grimorium Primus, the first and most powerful of the Five Grimoires and an important family heirloom. When he receives a message from business rival Seamus Reitherman telling him he has the Grimorium in his possession, Cosmo goes to meet him at his store late one evening – only to find the man lying dead in a pool of blood. Panicked, Cosmo doesn’t have time to do much more than register that Seamus has been murdered (there’s a double-edged knife sticking out of his back) and notice the beginnings of a sacred symbol on the floor in yellow chalk above Seamus’ head before flashing lights and sirens herald the arrival of the police.  He’s immediately arrested – and then recognised as the police commissioner’s fiancé.  He’s taken to the police station where series of phone-calls eventually leads to the arrival of Commissioner John Joseph Galbraith (who has no idea that he’s engaged to a witch!), and to Cosmo’s release, although it’s clear that’s not the end of the matter.

As soon as he can, Cosmo goes to see his mother Estelle, Duchesse d’Abracadantès and next in line to be Crone – or Queen of the Witches – to tell her about the events of the previous night, only to have another bombshell dropped on him.  Like most of Cosmo’s friends, Estelle is not pleased about his plans to marry John, and when Cosmo expresses doubts as to whether the wedding will go ahead seeing as he’s a murder suspect and John is the commissioner of police, Estelle points out that John can’t change his mind because he’s under the power of a love spell – one which Estelle assumed Cosmo must have cast himself.

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

The Gift (Love in O’Leary #2) by May Archer (audiobook) – Narrated by Iggy Toma and Alexander Cendese

This title may be downloaded from Audible by Amazon

Daniel: I suck at relationships and don’t trust anyone, but there are reasons for that. For one thing, every person I’ve ever cared about has let me down. The only recent exception: O’Leary’s town veterinarian…my new best friend.

I came to O’Leary for a fresh start. To pare things down to essentials. To forget about the failures in my past. The last thing I need is complications, and most definitely not a boyfriend.

Julian: I’ve lived in O’Leary my entire life and learned to fly under the radar a long time ago. I do what’s expected, say what’s expected, and keep to myself as much as possible. It’s a hell of a lot simpler spending my time working with animals than trying to interact with actual people. The one unlikely exception: the gorgeous guy who moved to a cabin just outside of town and somehow became my best friend.

But friendships are complicated, and one morning I find myself accidentally telling the whole town the biggest lie of my life. Which is how Daniel Michaelson, my very straight, very hot best friend becomes my fake boyfriend, even though he’s most definitely not my lover.

Rating: Narration: B+; Content:C+

May Archer’s The Gift – the second book in her Love in O’Leary series – is a cute, low-drama, fake-relationship/GFY romance set in a small town in upstate New York where everyone seems to know everyone else and has their nose in everyone else’s business. That intrinsic busybody-ness is part of what sets this particular story in motion, when one member of the community, thinking to spare a friend from the gossip-mongers, basically announces to everyone in town that he (who is gay) and said friend (who is not) are romantically involved.

Daniel Michaelson moved to a small house in the woods outside O’Leary some months earlier after his big city life imploded and his career went tits-up. Wanting to get away from everything – his friends, his family and, most of all, reminders of his failure – he keeps himself to himself, travelling into O’Leary rarely and, unbeknownst to him, gaining himself a reputation as a bit of an oddball. Towards the end of the previous book in the series, that reputation caused the O’Learyans to become suspicious of him, the rumour mill even going so far as to suggest that he may have been involved with the recent disappearances of a couple of hikers – and it’s this suspicion that causes the town vet, Julian Ross, to give Daniel an alibi by telling everyone they’re a couple.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.