Salt Magic, Skin Magic by Lee Welch (audiobook) – Narrated by Joel Leslie

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon.

Lord Thornby has been trapped on his father’s isolated Yorkshire estate for a year. There are no bars or chains; he simply can’t leave. His sanity is starting to fray.

When industrial magician John Blake arrives to investigate a case of witchcraft, he finds the peculiar, arrogant Thornby as alarming as he is attractive. John soon finds himself caught up in a dark fairy tale, where all the rules of magic – and love – are changed.

To set Thornby free, both men must face life – changing truths – and John must accept that the brave, witty man who’s winning his heart may also be about to break it. Can they escape a web of magic that’s as perilous as love?

Rating: Narration – A- : Content – A-

This original and entertaining fantasy romance was one of my favourite books of 2018, so I was delighted when I learned I’d be able to experience it again in audio format performed by a narrator I’ve enjoyed listening to on several occasions; it’s always nice to know something you’re looking forward to is unlikely to be a huge disappointment! Salt Magic, Skin Magic is set in a Victorian era in which magic is known about and practiced, and author Lee Welch does a terrific job, right from the opening lines, of pulling the listener into the tale, creating an atmosphere of menace and uncertainty that immediately grabs the attention.

Soren Dezombrey, Viscount Thornby, was happily kicking up his heels living a life of luxury and dissolution in London until his father, the Marquess of Dalton, burst into his home one morning and forced him to return to Raskelf Hall, the family seat in Yorkshire. That happened eighteen months earlier, and Thornby has been unable to leave ever since. He’s not physically restrained in any way, but something stops him each time he gets near the estate boundary; he feels panicky, he’s assailed by all sorts of doubts and fears, his mind keeps telling him there’s something else he should be doing (like the Victorian equivalent of “have I left the iron on?”) – he literally CAN’T leave.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

 

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.

Someone to Trust (Westcott #5) by Mary Balogh (audiobook) – Narrated by Rosalyn Landor

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

During a rare white Christmas at Brambledean Court, the widow Elizabeth, Lady Overfield, defies convention by falling in love with a younger man in the latest novel in the Westcott series.

After her husband’s passing, Elizabeth Overfield decides she must enter into another suitable marriage. That, however, is the last thing on her mind when she meets Colin Handrich, Lord Hodges, at the Westcott Christmas house party. She simply enjoys his company as they listen to carolers on Christmas Eve, walk home from church together on Christmas morning, and engage in a spirited snowball fight in the afternoon.

Both are surprised when their sled topples them into a snowbank and they end up sharing an unexpected kiss. They know there is no question of any relationship between them, for she is nine years older than him.

They return to London the following Season, both committed to finding other more suitable matches. Still, they agree to share one waltz at each ball they attend. This innocuous agreement proves to be one that will topple their worlds, as each dance steadily ensnares them in a romance that forces the two to question what they are willing to sacrifice for love…

Rating: Narration – A : Content – B-

Someone to Trust is the fifth of Mary Balogh’s novels about the Westcott family, and it’s probably not the place to jump into the series. The author does undertake a “previously on The Westcotts” recap in the opening chapter (which is a bit clumsy and info-dumpy), but I’m not going to attempt it here and will assume that if you’re interested in listening to Someone to Trust, you’ve listened to at least one of the previous books and have a rough idea of who is who.

It’s Christmas and the Westcott family is gathered together at the family seat to celebrate the holiday and the marriage of Viola, the former Countess of Riverdale (as told in the previous book, Someone to Care). Lady Elizabeth Overfield, sister of Alex, the Earl of Riverdale, has been a widow for a few years, and seeing her large family, with its happy, recently married couples, brings home to her just how lonely she is. Her marriage was not a happy one (her husband was a drunkard who abused her emotionally and physically), but that doesn’t deter her from thinking that perhaps it’s time for her to remarry.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

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.