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.

In the Shadows (Metahuman Files #3) by Hailey Turner (audiobook) – Narrated by Greg Boudreaux

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

Take a chance.

Staff Sergeant Alexei Dvorkin doesn’t trust easily, and he most certainly doesn’t trust spies. He’ll work with them if ordered to, but that doesn’t mean he has to like it. Except Agent Sean Delaney is proving to be the exception to the rule. There’s something about Sean that gets under Alexei’s skin and won’t let go. Alexei would be lying if he said he wasn’t interested in what lay beneath the agent’s mask. When they’re assigned together for a mission, Alexei vows to keep Sean safe all while trying to coax the hot agent into his bed.

Hold onto hope.

Agent Sean Delaney has spent his entire adult life living a lie for his country. When the MDF tasks him with finding evidence of criminal wrong-doing against the owner of a private military company, Sean knows exactly how to play the game to get what he wants. He just doesn’t know how to handle Alexei’s advances, nor his own attraction to the younger soldier. Being a spy is lonely work, and Sean knows he should keep his distance, but saying no to Alexei is impossible from the moment they first kiss.

In a world of lies, the truth can be deadly.

When the mission takes a turn for the worse, the only thing left to do is run. In the wake of betrayal, and in the path of danger, can their fragile trust survive the battle?

Rating: Narration: A+; Content: B+

In the Shadows is book three in Hailey Turner’s Metahuman Files series of military/sci-fi/suspense novels which features an elite, tight-knit unit of men and women who acquired very unique powers following their exposure to Splice, a deadly chemical that kills almost all who come into contact with it. Those not killed by the chemical are changed at DNA level and become metahumans, each possessed of some sort of superpower that ranges from telepathy to telekenisis, from super strength to shape-shifting. There’s an overarching plotline running throughout the series which means it’s advisable to listen to the books in order – and there are spoilers for books one and two in this review.

The first book, In the Wreckage, introduced listeners to Captain Jamie Callahan and Alpha Team of the Metahuman Defence Force and set in motion the series’ main plotline – the hunt for a terrorist group known as the Sons of Adam who is trying to create metahumans of its own by conducting experiments on human subjects. In book two, In the Ruins, the action moved to London, and Alpha Team was joined by MDF Intelligence Agent Sean Delaney – formerly of the CIA – in an operation between the MDF and the UMG (its UK equivalent) to gather evidence about the Russian government’s involvement – via the Russian Mafia – in those experiments as part of its plan to create an army of metahumans. During the course of these novels, Jamie and Alpha Team’s sniper, Kyle Brannigan, became lovers and are now in a long-term relationship that has to remain a secret because of the MDF’s strict non-fraternisation rule. Keeping their relationship a secret is hard on both of them, and Jamie also has to deal with the pressure being put on him by his wealthy family to quit the military and go into politics like his father, who is likely to earn the Republican nomination for the upcoming Presidential election. Jamie has no intention of leaving the MDF, but agrees to a compromise; he’ll accompany his father on the campaign trail when he can, and by the time In the Shadows opens, he’s doing just that. With Jamie’s absence (for part of the story anyway), the focus of this novel shifts slightly and moves away from Jamie and Kyle as the main romantic couple – but never fear, all the other things that work so well about this series are still very much in evidence; skilful worldbuilding, sexy love scenes, superbly written action scenes and the terrific camaraderie between the members of Alpha Team, who all have very specific parts to play and are never just “window dressing”.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

Just Drive (Anchor Point #1) by L.A. Witt (audiobook) – Narrated by Nick J. Russo

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

For Sean Wright, driving a cab in the tiny Navy town of Anchor Point isn’t an exciting job…until he picks up just-dumped Paul Richards. A drive turns into a walk on the pier, which turns into the hottest hookup Sean’s had in ages.

After a long overdue breakup, Paul can’t believe his luck. Of all the drivers, he’s picked up by the gorgeous, gay, and very willing Sean. Younger guys aren’t usually his thing, but Paul can’t resist.

One taste and neither man can get enough…right up until they realize that Paul is Sean’s father’s commanding officer and the last man Sean should be involved with.

With two careers on the line, their only option is to back off. It’s not easy, though; the sex and the emotional connection are exactly what both men have been craving for a long time. But Paul has devoted 24 years to his career and his dream of making admiral. If he’s caught with Sean, that’s all over. He has to choose – stay the course, or trade it all for the man who drove off with his heart.

Rating: Narration: A; Content: B

This first book in L.A. Witt’s Anchor Point series is a fairly low angst May/December romance that begins when twenty-something cab driver Sean Wright  picks up a fare – an attractive, older guy – from a local hotel who, rather than offering a destination,  instructs him to “Just Drive”.  Paul Richards has just been dumped by his long-distance boyfriend, and his usual way of getting over a break up is to find someone else to fuck to take his mind off it.  After spending the best part of the evening together, he and Sean end up getting down ‘n’ dirty in the back seat of the car, and even though Paul tries to tell himself it was just a one off, he can’t forget Sean’s kindness and the way they just seemed to ‘click’ on more than just a sexual level.  Which is why Paul finds himself calling Sean again. And again. The pair continue to hook up on a regular basis after that (and it’s clear that whatever is between them is fast becoming more than just sex) – until both men suddenly realise that Paul is Sean’s father’s CO at Adams Naval Base and that any sort of relationship between them could have a disastrous effect on Paul’s and Sean’s father’s careers.

Paul has always known he’s gay, but had it drummed into him that anyone with ambitions to move up through the ranks could only get so far without the perfect wife and kids, so he married – twice – and did his damndest to be (or at least act) straight for the sake of his career.  Now in his early forties with two divorces behind him, he has a lot of regret for the way he treated both the women he married, but is openly out now and focused on his career goal of making Admiral.  The Navy has been just as much a part of Sean’s life as Paul’s but whereas Paul chose his path, Sean didn’t and now in his early twenties, resents the fact that the Navy is continuing to dictate the direction of his life.  Moving around so often meant he never formed long or lasting friendships or relationships, it caused the breakdown of his parents’ marriage – and falling for Paul and not being able to have him is yet one more reason for that resentment.

The story is perhaps a bit repetitive – Sean and Paul meet up and have lots of mind-blowing sex, then after the bombshell explodes, they tell themselves they should stay away from each other, fail miserably and have lots of mind-blowing sex… you get the picture.  But I liked both characters individually and as a couple, and even though there’s a twenty year age gap between them, it’s never an issue for them and it wasn’t for me because they just… fit.

There were some inconsistencies that had me scratching my head though. For instance, we’re never told how old Sean is and the details given in the book are a bit contradictory; and I thought it was a bit odd that Paul never asked what Sean is studying (and we’re not told either, although there’s one scene in which he’s having trouble concentrating on King Lear and A Midsummer Night’s Dream).  Those things aren’t desperately important, but it seemed odd they were never mentioned. It’s also a bit of a stretch to believe that neither Paul nor Sean enquired much about the other’s situation; Sean knew Paul was military but didn’t enquire further (and later thinks that perhaps he deliberately avoided doing so) and he didn’t talk much about his dad, so I suppose it’s possible, if slightly implausible.

Nick J. Russo does such a fantastic job with the narration that I honestly didn’t care about the inconsistencies or repetitiveness in the story.  He gives Paul a deep, slightly gravelly voice, and he captures Sean’s sunny personality and flirtatiousness brilliantly.  There aren’t many secondary characters in the story, but they’re well differentiated and easy to tell apart from the main roles.  There are, as I’ve said, quite a few sex scenes in the book, and Mr. Russo takes them in his stride, performing them confidently and getting into the swing of things without going over the top.

I enjoyed Just Drive in spite of the story’s flaws, and Nick J. Russo’s narration was definitely good enough to enable me to get past them.  I’ll certainly be listening to more in this series.

When Death Meets the Devil (Death and the Devil #1) by L.J. Hayward (audiobook) – Narrated by Rowan Scott

where death meets the devil

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon.

Jack Reardon, former SAS soldier and current Australian Meta-State asset, has seen some messy battles. But “messy” takes on a whole new meaning when he finds himself tied to a chair in a torture shack, his cover blown wide open, all thanks to notorious killer-for-hire Ethan Blade.

Blade is everything Jack doesn’t believe in: remorseless, detached, lawless. Yet, Jack’s only chance to survive is to strike a bargain with the devil and join forces with Blade. As they trek across a hostile desert, Jack learns that Blade is much more than a dead-eyed killer – and harder to resist than he should be.

A year later, Jack is home and finally getting his life on track. Then Ethan Blade reappears and throws it all into chaos once more. It’s impossible to trust the assassin, especially when his presence casts doubts on Jack’s loyalty to his country, but Jack cannot ignore what Blade’s return means: the mess that brought them together is far from over, and Ethan might just bring back the piece of Jack’s soul he thought he’d lost forever.

Rating: Narration: B+; Content: A

I’ve been looking for something to fill the Seven of Spades-shaped hole in my life, so I was delighted to discover L.J. Hayward’s Where Death Meets the Devil, book one in her Death and the Devil series. In it, a former SAS officer and a deadly assassin end up striking the devil’s own bargain when they’re forced to work together in order to survive a trek across the hostile Australian desert while evading a shit-ton of mercenaries in the pay of a dangerous mob boss.

Where Death Meets the Devil opens on probably the crappiest birthday ever for Jack Reardon, who, instead of partying, drinking of lots of beer and stuffing his face with cake, finds himself tied to a chair in a shack in the middle of the back of beyond. He’s an operative of the Office of Counterterrorism and Intelligence – known simply as The Office – run by the Meta-State, a top secret intelligence network stretching across Australia, New Zealand, Malaysia, Singapore and other Southeast Asian countries which share information and resources to combat national and international terrorism; and for the last fifteen months he’s been working undercover in the criminal organisation run by Samuel Valadian in an attempt to find proof of his association with terrorist groups around the world. But someone has alerted Valadian to the presence of a spy in their midst – hence Jack’s current predicament. He tries to brazen it out, but when Valadian calmly introduces his associate Ethan Blade – one of the world’s deadliest, most ruthless killers – Jack figures his luck has run out.

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.

American Fairytale (Dreamers #2) by Adriana Herrera (audiobook) – Narrated by Sean Crisden

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

Fairy-tale endings don’t just happen; they have to be fought for.

New York City social worker Camilo Santiago Briggs grew up surrounded by survivors who taught him to never rely on anything you didn’t earn yourself. He’s always dreamed of his own happily ever after, but he lives in the real world. Men who seem too good to be true…usually are. And Milo never ever mixes business with pleasure…until the mysterious man with whom he had an unforgettable hookup turns out to be the wealthy donor behind his agency’s new, next-level funding.

Thomas Hughes built a billion-dollar business from nothing: He knows what he wants and isn’t shy about going after it. When the enthralling stranger who blew his mind at a black-tie gala reappears, Tom’s more than ready to be his Prince Charming. Showering Milo with the very best of everything is how Tom shows his affection.

Trouble is, Milo’s not interested in any of it. The only thing Milo wants is Tom.

Fairy-tale endings take work as well as love. For Milo, that means learning to let someone take care of him for a change. And for Tom, it’s figuring out that real love is the one thing you can’t buy.

Rating: Narration: A-; Content: B+

American Fairytale is the second book in new-to-me author Adriana Hererra’s Dreamers series, which features four Afro-Latinx friends who live and work in and around New York. The story – a romance between a self-made billionaire and a social worker – definitely lives up to its fairytale moniker; it’s sexy and wonderfully romantic, the protagonists are compassionate, decent men, and while there are a couple of “uh-oh” moments, the author doesn’t overdo the angst, instead spending time on developing their relationship and showing us exactly why they’re so perfect for one another.

Social worker Camilo – Milo – Briggs is residential programs director at New Beginnings, an agency that works with disadvantaged people from all walks of life, and he’s passionate about helping to make life better for his clients. He meets handsome, charming and wealthy Thomas Hughes at a swanky charity benefit, and right from the start, they’re captivated by one another, the intense attraction that flares between them culminating in a swift but hot sexual encounter that leaves them both reeling. But afterward, Milo starts second-guessing himself, rattled because something that should have been just a bit of fun has started to feel like something much more intense – and he leaves the event without saying goodbye or expecting to see Thomas Hughes again.

(These guys clearly don’t read enough romance novels!)

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.