Trust With a Chaser (Rainbow Cove #1) by Annabeth Albert (audiobook) – Narrated by Marc Bachmann and Iggy Toma

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

One hot cop. One bar owner out for redemption. One smoking-hot summer fling destined to leave scorch marks…

Mason Hanks has returned to Rainbow Cove, Oregon with one goal in mind: turn the struggling coastal community into a thriving LGBTQ tourism destination. Step one is transforming an old bar and grill into a gay-friendly eatery. Step two? Don’t piss off Nash Flint, the very hot, very stern chief of police who’s not so sure he’s on board with Mason’s big plans.

Nash Flint just wants to keep his community safe and enjoy the occasional burger in peace. He’s not big on change nor is he a fan of Mason’s troublemaking family, especially his rowdy older brothers. But Mason slowly wins him over with fantastic cooking and the sort of friendship Nash has been starving for.

When their unlikely friendship takes a turn for the sexy, both men try to steer clear of trouble. Nash believes he’s too set in his ways for Mason, and Mason worries that his family’s reputation will ruin any future with Nash.

Burning up the sheets in secret is a surefire way to crash and burn, and discovery forces a heart-wrenching decision – is love worth the risk of losing everything?

Rating: Narration – B/A : Content – B+

Having really enjoyed Annabeth Albert’s recently concluded Out of Uniform series, I’ve been seeking out her backlist titles in audio (my preferred way of playing catch-up!), and decided to try Trust with a Chaser, the story of a guy who returns to his home town to set up a business, and his under-the-radar romance with the Mr. Grumpy-Pants local police chief. The fact that Iggy Toma – who has quickly become a firm favourite – is one of the narrators certainly factored into my decision, although I haven’t listened to Marc Bachmann before, so I wasn’t quite sure what to expect on that score. I did have a few niggles about his performance in the end, but it didn’t affect my overall enjoyment of what proved to be a tender, sexy romance with a May/December (or maybe June/October!) vibe.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

Rend (Riven #2) by Roan Parrish (audiobook) – Narrated by Greg Boudreaux

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

After a whirlwind romance, a man with a painful past learns to trust the musician who makes him believe in happy endings.

Matt Argento knows what it feels like to be alone. After a childhood of abandonment, he never imagined someone might love him – much less someone like Rhys Nyland, who has the voice of an angel, the looks of a god, and the worship of his fans.

Matt and Rhys come from different worlds, but when they meet, their chemistry is incendiary. Their romance is unexpected, intense, and forever – at least, that’s what their vows promise. Suddenly, Matt finds himself living a life he never thought possible: safe and secure in the arms of a man who feels like home. But when Rhys leaves to go on tour for his new album, Matt finds himself haunted by the ghosts of his past.

When Rhys returns, he finds Matt twisted by doubt. But Rhys loves Matt fiercely, and he’ll go to hell and back to triumph over Matt’s fears. After secrets are revealed and desires are confessed, Rhys and Matt must learn to trust each other if they’re going to make it. That means they have to fall in love all over again – and this time, it really will be forever.

Rating: Narration – A+ : Content – B+

Rend isn’t an easy book to read or listen to, but it’s one that well repays the time spent with it. It’s the tale of a marriage on the edge of collapse and a troubled young man who is dealing with some very real, very deep emotional issues – and I came away from it having experienced laughter and tears, moments of joy, moments of pain and everything in between. When an author can do that simply through the arrangement of words on a printed page… it’s powerful stuff. And when you then take those words and give them to a narrator of the calibre of Greg Boudreaux – who I knew would nail, absolutely and perfectly, every single emotion behind them – there was never a doubt that I was going to be reduced to a pile of emotional rubble by the end.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

Bad Influence (Bad Bachelors #3) by Stefanie London

This title may be purchased from Amazon.

Annie Maxwell had her whole life figured out…until her fiancé left her when his career took off. If that wasn’t bad enough, every society blog posted pictures of him escorting a woman wearing her wedding ring. To help the women of New York avoid men like her ex, she created the Bad Bachelors app. But try as she might, Annie just can’t forget him…

Outside his stellar career, CEO Joe Preston has made a lot of mistakes. None was worse than leaving the love of his life when she needed him most. Now, he’s ready for a second chance. He may still be one heck of a bad influence, but when Annie’s safety is threatened by a hacker, Joe is the only one who can save her—and he’ll do whatever it takes to win her back. But will their hard-won bond survive the revelation that Annie is the one pulling the strings behind Bad Bachelors?

Rating: B

Bad Influence is the third and final book in the trilogy of stories involving the controversial website/app called Bad Bachelors, a means for women to honestly rate the men they date.  It’s a sexy, second-chance romance between the site’s creator, Annie Maxwell, and Joseph Preston, the man she loved and had planned a future with until circumstances forced them apart three years earlier.  I haven’t read the other two books, but there’s enough background detail here for the newbie to be able to read this instalment without feeling lost.

On the eve of their leaving the US and moving to Singapore, where Joseph had accepted a highly prestigious banking job, Annie learned her mother had breast cancer.  Instead of talking to Joseph about it, she shut him out of the decision-making process and decided she needed to stay at home to support her family and be with her mum.  It’s a decision that anyone would make in a similar situation and Joseph understood that – he was close to Annie’s family, too – but what hurt him so badly was that Annie made her choice without even consulting him.

Annie barely kept herself together after Joseph left, but it wasn’t until a year later – when she saw a photo of him with a glamorous woman on his arm in a gossip magazine that proclaimed the couple’s engagement – that Annie decided to channel her anger and hurt into something that might help other women to avoid similar heartbreak.  So Bad Bachelors was born.

Speculation is rife as to who is behind the site, and Annie has become used to the volume of mail she receives – both thanking her for creating it and calling her every kind of hateful bitch under the sun.  Some threats are worse than others, but Annie has not, so far, reported them to anyone, not wishing to compromise her anonymity.  Now though, one particular angry commenter has taken things a step further; when Annie receives a photo in the mail that was clearly taken by her own laptop camera, she realises that someone is actively stalking her, and that whoever it is has somehow managed to hack into her computer.  Which makes her wonder – what other aspects of her life has this person gained access to? And what are they planning to do?  Blackmail?  Worse?

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

The Military Wife (Heart of a Hero #1) by Laura Trentham

This title may be purchased from Amazon

Harper Lee Wilcox has been marking time in her hometown of Kitty Hawk, North Carolina since her husband, Noah Wilcox’s death, nearly five years earlier. With her son Ben turning five and living at home with her mother, Harper fights a growing restlessness, worried that moving on means leaving the memory of her husband behind.

Her best friend, Allison Teague, is dealing with struggles of her own. Her husband, a former SEAL that served with Noah, was injured while deployed and has come home physically healed but fighting PTSD. With three children underfoot and unable to help her husband, Allison is at her wit’s end.

In an effort to reenergize her own life, Harper sees an opportunity to help not only Allison but a network of other military wives eager to support her idea of starting a string of coffee houses close to military bases around the country.

In her pursuit of her dream, Harper crosses paths with Bennett Caldwell, Noah’s best friend and SEAL brother. A man who has a promise to keep, entangling their lives in ways neither of them can foresee. As her business grows so does an unexpected relationship with Bennett. Can Harper let go of her grief and build a future with Bennett even as the man they both loved haunts their pasts?

Rating: B

Laura Trentham’s The Military Wife is a poignant, gently moving story that explores the various facets of military life as faced by the families of servicemen and women, who have to deal with challenges just as complex and difficult as their enlisted loved ones. It’s an entertaining and informative story in which the author examines serious issues such as depression and PTSD, and looks as well at the difficulty of putting down roots, holding down jobs and maintaining continuity when your partner could be transferred to another location at any time.

Harper Lee Wilcox lost her husband Noah when he was killed while on active service overseas five years earlier.  Her son Ben was conceived just before that last deployment so he has never known his father, and although Harper sometimes worries about his lack of a father figure, he’s a bright, happy, well-adjusted little boy who is the light of her life.  After Noah’s death, Harper and Ben moved in with Harper’s mother, who suggests that maybe it’s time for Harper to break out of the rather dull routine her life has become, doing books and taxes for a handful of local businesses and living really for Ben rather than for herself.  Harper graduated from university with degrees in business and marketing, and right now she’s not using either of them; but with Ben now in school full-time, perhaps it is time for her to move forward in terms of her career and her personal life.

Harper is concerned about one of her dearest friends, Allison Teague, whose normally chatty, exuberant nature has seemed to dim of late, so Harper decides to pay her a short visit to see if there’s anything she can do to help. When she arrives, she finds the normally well put-together, upbeat Allison is a complete mess.  She’s lost weight and carries an air of exhaustion around with her; her husband Darren is withdrawn, and short-tempered and hasn’t been the same since he returned from his last mission.  Both women suspect he may be depressed or suffering from PTSD, but whenever Allison tries to broach the subject of getting help, he shuts her down.

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

The Understatement of the Year (Ivy Years #3) by Sarina Bowen (audiobook) – Narrated by Teddy Hamilton and Christian Fox

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

What happened in high school stayed in high school. Until now.

Five years ago Michael Graham betrayed the only person who ever really knew him. Since then he’s made an art of hiding his sexual orientation from everyone. Including himself. So it’s a shock when his past strolls right into the Harkness College locker room, sporting a bag of hockey gear and the same slow smile that had always rendered Graham defenseless.

For Graham, there is only one possible reaction: total, debilitating panic. With one loose word, the team’s new left wing could destroy Graham’s life as he knows it.

John Rikker is stuck being the new guy. Again. And it’s worse than usual, because the media has latched on to the story of the only “out” player in Division One hockey. As the satellite trucks line the sidewalk outside the rink, his new teammates are not amused. And one player in particular looks sick every time he enters the room.

Rikker didn’t exactly expect a warm welcome from Graham. But the guy won’t even meet his eyes. From the looks of it, his former…best friend/boyfriend/whatever isn’t doing so well. He drinks too much and can’t focus during practice.

Either the two loneliest guys on the team will self-destruct from all the new pressures in their lives, or they can navigate the pain to find a way back to one another. To say that it won’t be easy is the understatement of the year.

Rating: Narration – A : Content – A-

The first sports romance I ever listened to was HIM, by Sarina Bowen and Elle Kennedy.  I’m not a fan of sports of any kind and I worried that perhaps the sporty stuff would both bore me and go completely over my head.  Well, that book proved me wrong in the sense that while the sporty stuff DID go over my head, it wasn’t prolonged enough to get boring, AND the narration by Teddy Hamilton and Jacob Morgan was so incredibly good that it enabled me to get through those parts without being tempted to fast-forward through them!

The premise of Sarina Bowen’s The Understatement of the Year bears more than a passing resemblance to HIM – one of her collaborations with Elle Kennedy – because it’s centred around ice-hockey, and the two leads – Michael Graham and John Rikker (voiced here by Christian Fox and Teddy Hamilton respectively) – are childhood friends whose friendship ends abruptly, for reasons one of them doesn’t understand.  But unlike Wes and Jamie in HIM, Rikker and Graham had already acknowledged their mutual attraction and begun to explore the physical side of it before things crashed and burned between them, and their friendship ended for very different reasons, which ultimately forced one of them so far back into the closet, it’s a wonder he didn’t end up in Narnia.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

International Player by Louise Bay (audiobook) – Narrated by Saskia Maarleveld and Shane East

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

Being labelled a player never stopped me from being successful with women. Until I met Truly Harbury. Truly was the first girl who ever turned me down. The first female friend I ever had. And she might just be the first woman with whom I ever fall in love.

When an emergency means she needs my help running her family’s charity, I’m happy to introduce her to the glitz and glamour of the London business world – taking her to dinners, coaching her through speeches, zipping up the sexy evening gown I helped her pick out. The more time we spend together, the more I want to convince her I’m not a man to avoid, that we’re not as unsuited as she believes.

She sees herself as the book-reading, science-loving introvert while I’m the dangerous, outgoing charmer. She thinks I love parties and people whereas she prefers pajamas and takeout. What she doesn’t realize is that I like everything about her – the way her smile lights up a room, how her curves light up my imagination, and especially the way her lips taste when coated with tequila.

She’s the first woman with whom I ever fell in love. I just need to know if she could ever love me, too.

Rating: Narration – B+ : Content – D

*sigh* International Player is another of those books that reminded me why I don’t read or listen to all that many contemporary romances.  The plot is pretty much a repeat of all the books by this and similar authors (you know the ones); predictable, clichéd and revolving around the fact that the leads NEVER HAVE A FUCKING CONVERSATION ABOUT THEIR RELATIONSHIP.  I only picked it up because the narrators are excellent – and they’re the only reason I finished it.

Truly Harbury has had a crush on her brother-in-law’s best friend Noah for years.  They were good mates before he left London to work in New York, but haven’t really kept in touch (which is weird, if they were such great friends) and she doesn’t know he’s back in England until her twin sister Abigail – with whom Truly runs the family’s charitable foundation – tells her.

Noah is, of course, sex-on-a-stick, and Truly keeps telling herself not to let her crush become a ‘thing’. Noah is a player and not at all the settling-down type – but when Abigail has pregnancy complications which mean she’s going to be confined to bed for the next five months, Noah is the ideal solution to the problem of how Truly is going to do all the schmoozing necessary to keep the donations rolling in at the foundation.  She’s very much a back-room girl while Abigail has been the one to do all the presentations and attend all the glitzy parties – Truly is an introvert who has panic attacks at the mere thought of all that.

So Truly and Noah do the Pygmalion thing as he helps her with her presentations and her wardrobe, and it’s all fine until she comes to the conclusion that the only way to tamp down her crush and get Noah out of her system is to – you guessed it – have lots of no-strings sex with him.  Yeah,  because that always works out SO well.  Even though she comes up with a list of rules like “I don’t want to hear about your other women” (he doesn’t have any) and “we only shag by appointment”, which Noah thinks are a bit weird, he’s thinking with his small brain by this point and completely prepared to go with the flow.

But as this goes on, he realises that the friendship side of their relationship – which he’d valued highly – has disappeared, and he can’t work out what’s going on and why Truly is so reluctant to spend any time with him out of bed.  Of course, they don’t TALK about any of this and things come to a head when Truly decides she has to end things because the whole casual sex thing hasn’t worked (what a surprise) and she has to get out before she falls any more deeply in love with him.

I found myself actively disliking her by this point.  She knows Noah has never been one for serious relationships in the past and judges him completely based on that, choosing to ignore the fact that he’s a decent guy with his heart in the right place who obviously cares about her and wants her for more than what happens between them in bed.  She ends things without giving him any say in the matter simply because she’s convinced he’ll get tired of her soon.  Because it’s all about her and her need to protect her heart and sod the guy who’s propped her up for the last five months and who she used to think of as her best friend.

I know International Player isn’t typical of all contemporary romances, but it’s typical of a huge and incredibly popular chunk of the market at the moment.  I have nothing against the sort of fluff this aspires to be, but even fluff needs to be well-written, the characters need to be likeable and their motivations need to make sense – and this just isn’t the case here.  I liked Noah well enough, but Truly was immature and selfish and I just wanted her to go away and for Noah to find someone who could appreciate him.

Thankfully, because this audio is part of the Audible Romance Package, I didn’t buy or use a credit on it – if I had, it would be going straight back.  Saskia Maarleveld and Shane East are terrific performers, but even they can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear like this one, and I cringed at some of the dialogue they had to utter.  Kudos to them for being able to do it and not sound as though they had their tongues in their cheeks, but that’s their job and they do it very well.  All the things you’d expect from such experienced performers – pacing, enunciation, characterisation and differentiation – are good, they inject the right amount of expression into their performances, and the love scenes are delivered unselfconsciously and with conviction, but that’s not enough to make for a good listen when those performances are tied to such a weak and uninspiring story.

There are better examples of this type of book out there. Unless you absolutely HAVE to listen to every single thing Shane East and/or Saskia Maarleveld has ever recorded, go and find one of those instead.

 

Rough Terrain (Out of Uniform #7) by Annabeth Albert (audiobook) – Narrated by Greg Boudreaux

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

The camping trip from hell may be the first stop on the road to happily-ever-after.

Navy SEAL Renzo Bianchi has a soft spot for Canaan Finley, and not only because the man makes a mean smoothie. He’s the first guy to get Renzo’s motor revving in a long time. But when he agrees to Canaan’s insane charade—one all-access fake boyfriend, coming right up—he never expects more than a fling.

Creating a hot Italian SEAL boyfriend to save face seemed like a good idea…until his friends called Canaan’s bluff. Now he’s setting off into the woods with the very man who inspired his deception, and Canaan is not the outdoorsy type. The sparks are already flying when a flash flood separates them from their group, leaving Renzo and Canaan very much trapped…very much alone in the wilderness.

Working together to come up with a plan for survival is sexier than either of them expects. But back in the real world, being a couple is bringing its own set of hazards…

Rating: Narration – A+ : Content – B+

Rough Terrain is the seventh and final book in Annabeth Albert’s consistently entertaining Out of Uniform series. It’s always hard to say goodbye to favourite characters and the worlds they inhabit, but it’s a series I revisit regularly in audio as all the books are excellently performed, making it well worth investing the extra time needed to listen as opposed to read them.

We met Renzo “Rooster” (he hates the stupid nickname!) Bianchi in earlier books in the series, and if you’ve read or listened to any of them, you’ll remember he makes fitness videos which have gained him a large online following. He’s good-looking, super fit (well, he’s a SEAL, so I suppose he’d have to be!) and comes from a large, close-knit Italian-American family he loves very much and misses a lot; to that end, he’s recently applied for a posting nearer home, but doesn’t really expect it to happen. His family members all accept his bisexuality, although he knows his mother secretly hopes that when he does eventually settle down it’ll be with a woman so he can get started on giving her (yet more) grandchildren.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.