Top Secret by Sarina Bowen and Elle Kennedy (audiobook) – Narrated by Christian Fox and Teddy Hamilton

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

LobsterShorts, 21. Jock. Secretly a science geek. Hot AF.

LobsterShorts: So. Here goes. For her birthday, my girlfriend wants…a threesome.

SinnerThree: Then you’ve come to the right hookup app.

LobsterShorts: Have you done this sort of thing before? With another guy?

SinnerThree: All the time. I’m an equal opportunity player. You?

LobsterShorts: [crickets!]

SinnerThree, 21. Finance major. Secretly a male dancer. Hot AF.

SinnerThree: Well, I’m down if you are. My life is kind of a mess right now. School, work, family stress. Oh, and I live next door to the most annoying dude in the world. I need the distraction. Are you sure you want this?

LobsterShorts: I might want it a little more than I’m willing to admit.

SinnerThree: Hey, nothing wrong with pushing your boundaries….

LobsterShorts: Tell that to my control-freak father. Anyway. What if this threesome is awkward?

SinnerThree: Then it’s awkward. It’s not like we’ll ever have to see each other again. Right? Just promise you won’t fall in love with me.

LobsterShorts: Now wouldn’t that be life-changing….

Rating: Narration: A; Content: B

Sarina Bowen and Elle Kennedy’s Him is one of the most beloved novels in the m/m genre so when the authors announced their first collaboration in three years, expectations were naturally very high. Reactions to the book have been mixed, but once I saw that Teddy Hamilton was on board for the audio, and had been paired once again with Christian Fox (they were excellent in Ms. Bowen’s The Understatement of the Year), I knew that whatever the story’s faults, the narration was bound to be superb. And it was.

Top Secret starts out with a Shop Around the Corner vibe, as two people who dislike each other in real life start to fall for one another when they start chatting anonymously via a hook-up app. Keaton Hayworth III has it all – good looks, money and a hot girlfriend he’s been dating since high school. Life would be perfect if it wasn’t for the fact that his father, who runs a large pharmaceutical company, wants him to go into the family business after graduation, while Keaton – who is studying biology – wants to move into research and continue into post-graduate study, and is dreading the day when he’s going to have to tell his father the truth.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

Arctic Wild (Frozen Hearts #2) by Annabeth Albert (audiobook) – Narrated by Iggy Toma

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

When a plane crashes in the Alaskan wilderness, the best place to land is in the arms of a younger man…

Hotshot attorney Reuben Graham has finally agreed to take a vacation, when his plane suddenly plunges into the Alaskan wilderness.

Just his luck.

But his frustrations have only begun as he finds himself stranded with the injured, and superhot, pilot, a man who’s endearingly sociable – and much too young for Reuben to be wanting him this badly.

As the sole provider for his sisters and ailing father, Tobias Kooly is devastated to learn his injuries will prevent him from working or even making it back home. So when Reuben insists on giving him a place to recover, not even Toby’s pride can make him refuse. He’s never been tempted by a silver fox before, but something about Reuben is impossible to resist.

Recuperating in Reuben’s care is the last thing Toby expected, yet the closer they become, the more incredibly right it feels, prompting workaholic Reuben to question the life he’s been living. But when the pressure Toby’s under starts closing in, both men will have to decide if there’s room in their hearts for a love they never saw coming.

Rating: Narration: A; Content: B+

This second book in Annabeth Albert’s Frozen Hearts series is an opposites-attract, May/December romance in which the protagonists find themselves making a major reassessment of their lives and goals in the wake of a life-threatening accident. It’s no secret I’m a big fan of this author and narrator, so I had high hopes – and I’m pleased to report that Arctic Wild more than lived up to my expectations.

Corporate lawyer Reuben Graham and a couple of friends are due to fly to Alaska for an exclusive one-week wilderness experience when a last minute change sees him heading off on his own. He’d honestly prefer to have cancelled, but when his friend implies that Reuben isn’t the outdoorsy type (he isn’t) and might not cope easily with the challenges the trip is likely to present, Reuben finds he dislikes the insinuation and decides to prove him wrong. As he heads to catch his flight, he just hopes that his tour guide is a grizzled – and most importantly, taciturn – mountain man-type who is likely to leave him mostly alone and won’t notice or worry if Reuben spends a lot of the trip buried in the work he’s brought along.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

TBR Challenge: The Summer of Us by Lily Morton

This title may be purchased from Amazon

It’s going to be a long hot summer…

John is an exceptionally good lawyer. He’s driven, arrogant and hides a warm heart underneath a façade of cool politeness. He’s used to people disliking him but for some reason when meeting Matt in London the other man’s open dislike of him bothers him. He’s therefore surprised to find himself offering Matt a place to stay in his villa in the South of France while he’s working nearby. He’s surprised because he’d actually planned to spend the summer working on his book and plotting to get his ex-wife back.

However, his perfect plans take a blow as the long hot summer progresses and the two men get closer, and John starts to nurse an unexpected attraction to his houseguest from hell.

Matt is John’s polar opposite. He’s warm, funny, sociable and scruffy. He loves people and they love him back. However, to his consternation he hates John more than he hates Marmite, and Marmite makes him vomit. He hates his arrogance, his public school voice and the air of superiority that he carries around. The idea of staying in his home with just him for company sounds torturous and not in a good way.
However, as the hot, lazy days slip by he’s forced to realise that maybe he’s not such a good judge of character after all, because underneath that arrogance is a warm, funny, vulnerable man who’s incredibly sexy. The only problem is that while Matt is gay John is completely straight and Matt now wants him more than he’s ever wanted anything in his life.

See what happens when two men who think that they have nothing in common apart from a past mutual hatred find out that they might actually be each other’s future.

Rating: B+

Unlike the historicals prompt, where I always have lots of books to choose from, the contemporaries one usually sees me scrabbling around to find something to read because I like to choose my TBR Challenge reads from books I already own – and contemps aren’t really my thing so I don’t buy many.  I did, however, find a handful on my Kindle and, having recently enjoyed Lily Morton’s Rule Breaker in audio, (seriously, it’s fantastic) I decided to read one of the author’s earlier books, The Summer of Us, which is a spin-off title from her Beggar’s Choice series about a world-famous rock band.

Matt Dalton has been friends with the members of Beggar’s Choice for years; the bassist, Bram, is like a brother to him, and even though Matt runs a highly successful and elite staffing agency he also works as Bram’s PA. He’s charming, funny, outgoing and the sort of guy who gets on with everybody.  Everybody that is, except John Harrington, the band’s lawyer.  Matt disliked John from their first meeting, and that opinion has never changed in spite of the fact that everyone else in the band likes him and regards him as ‘one of them’.  But as far as Matt’s concerned, John is bossy, abrasive, arrogant… and it doesn’t help that he’s been very inconveniently attracted to him from the moment he first laid eyes on him.

John is rich and successful, but doesn’t have much of a life outside of his work.  The face he presents to the world is cool and self-contained, but it’s a façade behind which lies a gentle dreamer with a soft heart and a longing – one even he hardly recognises – to make a real connection with someone he can share his life with.  John knows Matt doesn’t like him but isn’t sure why… or why it bothers him so much.  So it’s as much a surprise to him as to anyone when he finds himself offering to put Matt up at his villa in the South of France when Charlie, the band’s lead singer, tells John that Matt has agreed to oversee the renovations on a property he’s just purchased near the one John owns.

What starts out seeming as though it’s going to be an enemies-to-lovers story quickly morphs into something else when Matt arrives at the villa and immediately jumps head-first into an apology for making snap judgements and then suggests they start afresh:

“I didn’t really give you a chance, which was a shitty thing to do, so I’d like to give us a second chance to become friends.  After all, we’re going to be spending a lot of time together and it would be a lot easier if it’s not in conditions that would have made Stalin uncomfortable.”

John is only too pleased to agree, and it doesn’t take long for both men to realise that they like each other a great deal, and to discover that, while on the surface they’re chalk and cheese, they actually have a lot more in common than they could ever have imagined.  From this new start, comes a deep friendship, a sense of true kinship and, for John, the confusion that comes with the realisation that he’s strongly attracted to Matt despite never having been attracted to men before.  Matt, who has been struggling with the fact that he’s only grown more attracted to John the more he’s got to know him, believes John is straight – hell, Bram told him that John was trying to get back with his ex-wife – and he isn’t prepared to be anyone’s experiment.  He’s realised that in past relationships, he was always the one to make sacrifices and to give while the other person took and now he’s decided he’s never going to settle again. He wants someone who is going to put him – Matt – first, and John surely can’t be that guy.  Can he?

I really enjoyed the way the central relationship developed, with the two men moving from antagonism to friendship and eventually to lovers.  They’re three-dimensional characters with baggage that continues to inform their attitudes and relationships; John’s aristocratic parents never really gave a shit about him, so he’s grown up reluctant to form connections for fear he’s not good enough, while Matt’s religious parents threw him out at fifteen when he came out, and he’s still carrying a shedload of guilt about a past relationship that went very badly wrong.  Ms. Morton’s wonderfully snarky (and wonderfully British) humour is very much in evidence, and although the appearances of the dreadful ex-boyfriend and equally dreadful ex-wife are somewhat clichéd, they nonetheless help to move things along a little by highlighting the contrasts between the men’s  past and present relationships.  John’s lack of angsting over and acceptance of his sexuality and his feelings for Matt feel right for his character; he says early on in the story that he’s never been one for strong emotions, and it’s obvious that his desire to get back with his ex-wife was motivated more by hurt pride than anything else, so the idea that it was finding the right person that made the difference made sense.  I liked that he wasn’t freaked out or in denial about his attraction to Matt, or interested in labels –

“I don’t know whether I’ve just discovered that I’m gay so much or just that I’ve discovered you… You’re my person and I think that I was just waiting for you. Man or woman, it doesn’t matter to me. The only thing that matters is that you are mine and I am yours.”

Also important in the story is the setting, which is described so vividly that I was able to picture it – the villa in the hills above Cannes with the amazing view of the sea – and imagine the heady scents of the flowers and herbs; the perfect backdrop to allow this intense, sexy romance to develop in that space out of time away from the constraints of everyday life. But there were a few things that kept this book from DIK status.  The aforementioned evil exes were a bit OTT, and sometimes, the dialogue between Matt and John is a bit too-good-to-be-true and overly sappy.  I also wasn’t wild about the continual use of “Matty” and “Johnny”, which felt a bit juvenile.  I know they were meant to be pet names, but I still found it a bit irritating.

Otherwise, though, The Summer of Us is a funny, charming, sexy and wonderfully romantic read and I enjoyed it a lot in spite of its flaws.

Fractured Honor (Crimson Point #1) by Kaylea Cross (audiobook) – Narrated by Jeffrey Kafer

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

Weary from his years on the battlefield, Special Forces Captain Beckett Hollister has returned home to Crimson Point to take over the family business for his dying father. But adjusting to life outside the military is harder than he imagined, and being back home forces him to confront things he’d rather not face, including the one woman he shouldn’t want and can’t have – his best friend’s little sister.

Town vet Sierra Buchanan has known Beckett her entire life. She’s crushed on him for years, but because of his relationship with her family, the stubborn man refuses to see her as more than the girl he grew up with. As tragedy brings them together, neither of them realizes that the sins of Beckett’s past have come home to haunt him. When Sierra becomes the target of his unforeseen enemy, Beckett must vanquish his demons to save her.

Rating: Narration: B-; Content: C+

I’m listening to romantic suspense novels more and more often these days, and as I enjoyed Kaylea Cross’ Disavowed earlier this year, I decided to pick up Fractured Honor, the first in her recent Crimson Point series set in a small Oregon town and featuring four men who served together and are now making new lives for themselves outside the military. I confess I’d expected something more along the lines of Disavowed – a fairly fast-paced story with plenty of action and a high-stakes plot based mostly around one central couple – but Fractured Honor is more of a small town ensemble piece with just a dash of romance and a soupçon of suspense. So I had to adjust my expectations, and if you’re going into this thinking it’s straight-up romantic suspense you’ll probably need to do the same.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

Whisper (Skins #2) by Garrett Leigh (audiobook) – Narrated by Shaun Grindell

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

Lonely physiotherapist Harry Foster has the world at his feet. A full client list, a six-figure Instagram following, and a publishing deal for a book he doesn’t have time to write until his agent offers him a break – a retreat to the wild southwest coast.

Cornish horseman Joe Carter is lonely too. Rescuing horses and managing Whisper Farm takes up most of his days, and by night he plays chicken with the farm’s perilous bank accounts.

At his sister’s unwelcome suggestion, he rents his only bedroom to a bloke from the city, and when Harry arrives, he’s everything Joe isn’t – calm, patient, and gorgeous enough to be exactly the kind of distraction Joe doesn’t need.

Harry doesn’t have time for distractions either – even shirtless farmers riding bareback past his bedroom window – but his moody host proves impossible to ignore.

On paper, they have nothing in common, but Joe is beautiful . . . glorious, and when an accident puts his life in Harry’s healing hands, the whisper of true love is inevitable. If the trouble that put the farm on its knees in the first place doesn’t get in the way.

Rating: Narration: C; Content: B-

Whisper is the second book in Garrett Leigh’s Skins series, and in it, we move away from London and into the West Country – specifically to the farm and horse sanctuary run by Joe Carter and his family. It’s a gentler, less-angsty story than Dream (the first book in the series), but although it’s certainly not without drama and the characters aren’t without their problems and hang-ups, I wasn’t as invested in the story or characters as I was in Dream – and I’m not sure if that was due to the issues I had with the narration or because of the story itself.

Harry Foster is the brother of Rhys (who continues to have the occasional hook-up with Dylan and Angelo from Dream), and is a highly successful and sought-after physiotherapist. His blog – on which he’s dubbed himself “Holistic Harry”- has a six-figure following, he has a full roster of clients and has recently signed a book deal, but the trouble is that not only is he tired, he’s lonely, his deadline is looming and he’s way behind with his writing. His agent suggests he goes on a writer’s retreat; that he holes up somewhere quiet for the next couple of months and concentrates on his writing – and although he’s not completely sold on the idea, Harry agrees. Which is how he ends up driving to a horse farm just outside Newquay in Cornwall where he’s planning to stay for the next ten weeks.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

The Doctor’s Secret (Copper Point Medical #1) by Heidi Cullinan (audiobook) – Narrated by Iggy Toma

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

The brilliant but brooding new doctor encounters Copper Point’s sunny nurse next door…and nothing can stand in the way of this romance.

Dr. Hong-Wei Wu has come to Copper Point, Wisconsin, after the pressures of a high-powered residency burned him out of his career before he started. Ashamed of letting his family down after all they’ve done for him, he plans to live a quiet life as a simple surgeon in this tiny Northern town. His plans, however, don’t include his outgoing, kind, and attractive surgical nurse, Simon Lane.

Simon wasn’t ready for the new surgeon to be a handsome charmer who keeps asking him for help getting settled and who woos him with amazing Taiwanese dishes. There’s no question – Dr. Wu is flirting with him, and Simon is flirting back. The problem is, St. Ann’s has a strict no-dating policy between staff, which means their romance is off the table…unless they bend the rules.

But a romance that keeps them – literally – in the closet can’t lead to happy ever after. Simon doesn’t want to stay a secret, and Hong-Wei doesn’t want to keep himself removed from life, not anymore. To secure their happiness, they’ll have to change the administration’s mind. But what other secrets will they uncover along the way about Copper Point…and about each other?

Rating: Narration: B+; Content: C+

I’ve enjoyed several of the audio collaborations by the author/narrator team of Heidi Cullinan and Iggy Toma, and was pleased to learn that the pair would be joining forces again for Ms. Cullinan’s new series of small-town medical romances. While I generally enjoy medical dramas on TV and I cut my romance-reading teeth on medical romances, I haven’t really read any for years, so I was looking forward to The Doctor’s Secret, in which we meet brilliant young surgeon Hong-Wei Wu as he boards the plane on the last leg of his journey from his home in Houston to a new life and job in the small town of Copper Point in northern Wisconsin.

Burdened with guilt at not meeting his family’s high expectations, and more than a little burnt out by the pressures of his residency at the prestigious Baylor MC, Hong-Wei – who could have had his pick of any number of high-profile positions at the best hospitals in the country – has opted to join the staff at a small hospital in the back of beyond in an attempt to get his life back on track and make a fresh start. He’s expecting to be met at the airport by some of the bigwigs from St. Ann’s Medical Center, so is somewhat surprised to discover that instead, he has a welcoming committee of one, an attractive young man who introduces himself as Simon Lane, the hospital’s surgical nurse.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

Undue Influence by Jenny Holiday (audiobook) – Narrated by Michael Fell

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

Second chances only come around once.

Eight years ago, Adam Elliot made the biggest mistake of his life. Now that mistake is coming back to haunt him. His family’s beloved vineyard has gone into foreclosure, and the new owner is the sister of the only man he’s ever loved – the man he dumped under pressure from family and friends who thought the match was beneath him.

When Freddy Wentworth, aka the bad boy of Bishop’s Glen, left town with a broken heart, he vowed never to return. But a recently widowed friend needs his help, so here he is. He’s a rich and famous celebrity chef now, though, so everyone can just eff right off.

But some things are easier said than done. Despite their attempts to resist each other, old love rekindles – and old wounds reopen. If they want to make things work the second time around, they’ll have to learn to set aside their pride – and prejudice.

Rating: Narration: B-; Content: B

I read and enjoyed Jenny Holiday’s Undue Influence when it came out last year, and having also enjoyed Michael Fell’s performance in Infamous, I was looking forward to listening to their next collaboration. The novel is a contemporary reworking of Jane Austen’s Persuasion, set in the small town of Bishop’s Glen in upstate New York and in it, our parted lovers are Adam Elliot, the son of a wealthy family of winemakers, and town bad-boy Freddy Wentworth. Undue Influence can be enjoyed regardless of whether you’re familiar with the original; and if you are, you’ll enjoy spotting the key plot points and characters the author has carried over and how they’ve been adapted.

Adam Elliot is spending the evening at the family home on the Kellynch Estate for the final time. His father’s death five years earlier, followed by his mother and sister’s insistence on ignoring the worsening state of their finances and spending lavishly, has run their winery business into the ground, and now they’re broke and have been forced to sell up. But even now, the ladies continue to act as though nothing is wrong and are planning a prolonged stay with an old friend in the Hamptons. Adam, however, is perfectly happy to remain in Bishop’s Glen, even though leaving Kellynch is going to be a real wrench for him. He’s always had a strong affinity for the land, and that affinity is what’s kept him in Bishop’s Glen in spite of the constant nagging by his friend and mentor, Rusty Anderson, to leave town and make something of his life.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.