Elusive Relations (Valor & Doyle #2) by Nicky James (audiobook) – Narrated by Nick J. Russo

elusive relations

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

Life was easier when rival detectives Quaid Valor and Aslan Doyle kept to their own sides of the building. They could forget the one glorious night they’d shared and move on.

But when Aslan is called to a homicide and discovers one of the victims has a personal history with Quaid, he knows a confrontation is inevitable.

When news about the case spreads, Quaid can’t help but get involved. He wants answers; if not for himself, then for the families of the victims.

Joining Aslan and his partner, Quaid uncovers more than he bargained for—too many secrets and lies in a case that is dangerously personal.

Plus, the more time he spends with Aslan, the harder it is for Quaid to ignore his attraction to the playboy detective.

Aslan, who doesn’t believe in repeats, can’t seem to stop flirting with the grumpy MPU detective, and his rules go out the window as they’re drawn deeper into the case.

But what happens when one more night turns to two, and two turns into three?

Does Quaid want to risk his heart again?

Has Aslan developed feelings?

Can they put a stop to their fun and walk away?

Do they want to?

Rating: Narration – A; Content – A

Note: This is a direct sequel to Temporary Partner, which should be listened to first. There are spoilers for that book in this review.

I used to listen to and read a lot of the same books, but in recent years, I’ve found myself only doing that with books that a) I’ve absolutely loved in print and b) where I know the narration is going to be top-notch. Both those things are true in the case of Nicky James’ Elusive Relations, book two in her Valor and Doyle Mysteries series. So often the second book in a trilogy (I don’t know if there will be more than three books in the series, so I’m going with “trilogy” for now) is a bit of a disappointment, a filler that just ticks along after the introductions and expositions of book one and doesn’t advance the plot/relationship very much because the author is keeping their powder dry for book three. Well, that is absolutely NOT what Nicky James does here, combining a fascinating plot with some stellar character/relationship development as a a new case hits close to home and detectives Quaid Valor and Aslan Doyle try (and fail) to forget their spectacular night together and move on.

When Aslan and his partner Torin Fox are called to the scene of a particularly brutal murder, they find one man beaten viciously to death and learn that his bed-partner survived the attack and has been rushed to hospital. The detectives learn that he is the owner of the house, Jack Pilkey, and that, according to the neighbours, he brings home a different guy every night. The dead man’s wallet and driver’s licence identify him as a twenty-five-year-old student at the local university, and when Aslan sees the photograph of the other guy, his stomach drops. Jack Pilkey is Quaid’s cheating, douchebag ex-boyfriend.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

On Board (Painted Bay #2) by Jay Hogan (audiobook) – Narrated by Gary Furlong

on board

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

Leroy Madden is in trouble. Big, handsome Fox Carmody trouble.

Leroy has buried his attraction to the enigmatic fisherman in irritation and pointless bickering, keeping Fox at a safe distance. But with the troublesome man now living in Leroy’s house, it’s becoming impossible for Leroy to keep his true feelings hidden, or the fact that Leroy maybe isn’t so straight after all.

Leroy hungers for something different between them. He wants more. But Leroy’s business is struggling, his newly mended relationship with his brother is at risk, Fox doesn’t plan to stay, and their mothers are lovers.

Regardless of what Leroy’s heart so desperately wants, his entire world is at stake, and nothing about a relationship with Fox Carmody was ever going to be easy.

Rating: Narration – A-; Content – A-

In On Board, book two in Jay Hogan’s Painted Bay series, we return to the Northland homestead of the Madden family around a year after the events of Off Balance. Judah Madden and Morgan Wipene are happily married and settled into their lives together, and Judah and his brother Leroy are very slowly rebuilding their fractured relationship. Leroy behaved like a real prick in the previous book; Judah had returned home after losing the career he’d worked so long and hard for in spectacular fashion when he keeled over in the midst of a performance at the Boston Ballet, and Leroy had no sympathy or understanding to offer whatsoever. As the story progressed, the author revealed more about the reasons behind Leroy’s horrible behaviour – and in On Board, she redeems him in spectacular fashion. I’m a sucker for a good redemption story – and this is a very good one.

When Leroy met Fox Carmody at a family lunch a year earlier, he took an instant dislike to him. Shortly before this, his mother Cora and Fox’s mother Martha – who also works for the Madden family business – came out as a couple, bringing their families closer together. It didn’t help that Fox is handsome, charming and witty – everything the sharp, grouchy Leroy isn’t – or that Leroy found himself unexpectedly confronted by feelings he’s avoided thinking about for, basically, ever. Their few subsequent meetings didn’t go well either, but fortunately, Fox lives at the other end of the country, on a tiny island several miles off the South Island coast, so despite their changed family situation, they’re unlikely to have much to do with each other.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

Owl’s Slumber (Trials of Fear #1) by Nicky James (audiobook) – Narrated by Adam Gold

owl's slumber

This title can be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

Imagine what life would be like if panic ruled your world at the mere thought of going to bed at night. For as long as he can remember, Finnley Hollins has been crippled by his extreme phobia of sleep. Every night is a battle, and every morning isn’t without consequences. The root cause is something he’s ashamed to admit to anyone. It’s his war, and he will fight it alone.

When an unexpected turn of events lands the stunningly gorgeous Aven Woods at Finnley’s place of business, his life gets turned upside down.

All it would take is one night together for his secret to be exposed. Finnley wasn’t prepared to fall in love. More so, he wasn’t prepared for his phobia to completely consume his life. Not only is it affecting his job and his relationship, but now it’s affecting his health. What will it take for Finnley to finally admit he needs help?

Rating: Narration – A; Content – B+

A few months ago, I reviewed Cravings of the Heart, book six in Nicky James’ Trials of Fear series, and enjoyed both the story and the excellent narration by Adam Gold. As each book in the series works as a standalone (apart from the final one), they can be listened to in any order, and as I already had a couple of the others in my Audible library, I decided to skip back to the beginning and listen to Owl’s Slumber.

Each story features a protagonist with a very unusual phobia and explores the ways in which that phobia impacts on his life, usually in an extremely negative – and often dangerous – way, and how they find love with someone who offers the kind of loving support they’ve never had before. I’m no expert on phobias of any kind (unless you count having them about moths and spiders!) but it seems to me that Ms. James approaches them in a sympathetic yet realistic way, not shying away from the very real damage the characters are incurring while also presenting them as real people who are badly misunderstood and desperately need to be properly seen if they’re to stand a chance of being able to manage their fears.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

Silent Sin by E.J. Russell (audiobook) – Narrated by Greg Boudreaux

silent sin

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

When tailor Marvin Gottschalk abandoned New York City for the brash boom town of silent film-era Hollywood, he never imagined he’d end up on screen as Martin Brentwood, one of the fledgling film industry’s most popular actors. Five years later, a cynical Martin despairs of finding anything genuine in a town where truth is defined by studio politics and publicity. Then he meets Robbie Goodman.

Robbie fled Idaho after a run-in with the law. A chance encounter leads him to the film studio, where he lands a job as a chauffeur. But one look at Martin and he’s convinced he’s likely to run afoul of those same laws – laws that brand his desires indecent, deviant…sinful.

Martin and Robbie embark on a cautious relationship, cocooned in Hollywood’s clandestine gay fraternity, careful to hide from the studio boss, a rival actor, and reporters on the lookout for a juicy story. But when tragedy and scandal rock the town, igniting a morality-based witch hunt fueled by a remorseless press, the studio brass will sacrifice even the greatest careers to defend their endangered empire. Robbie and Martin stand no chance against the firestorm – unless they stand together.

Rating: Narration – A; Content – B+

E.J. Russell’s Silent Sin is a standalone historical romance set in the Hollywood of the 1920s featuring a movie star and the man who – through a fortunate circumstance – lands a job as his driver. The author has clearly done her homework when it comes to the background of this story – about the studio system and the influence it exerted over all aspects of the lives of its stars, about the relationship between the studios and the press – and that, together with the inclusion of a number of real-life figures and events, grounds the story very firmly in its time and place. I had a couple of niggles, but overall it’s a compelling story with fantastic narration by Greg Boudreaux, and I lapped it up.

When the book begins, we meet Robbie – Robinson Crusoe Goodman – as he arrives in a place called Hollywood. He’s disappointed; he’d hoped the farmer who’d given him a lift in his truck would have taken him a bit further along the road – plus in a town, he’s unlikely to find any work of the sort that could be done by a former potato farmer from Idaho whose meagre possessions amount to the very threadbare set of clothes on his back. After spending the night in an uninhabited shack at the edge of town, a tired, hungry and thirsty Robbie walks slowly back down main street, with no real idea of what to do next. He watches, surprised, as a cowboy – wondering just what a cowboy is doing in a town where there are no cows? – strolls along the street announcing he’s just got a part in a new picture. Robbie has no idea what the man is talking about, and just as he’s about to move along, is tapped on the shoulder and turns to find an older man wearing a uniform is speaking to him. For just a second or two, Robbie panics – uniforms mean authority and Robbie has been running from the authorities for six weeks now – but the man – who says that everyone calls him Pops – tells Robbie he’s done nothing wrong and then offers to buy him breakfast. Robbie can’t believe his luck, and as they eat, Pops tells Robbie that he works at Citadel Motion Pictures and, after ascertaining that Robbie knows how to drive, offers him a job.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

How to Fake it in Hollywood by Ava Wilder (audiobook) – Narrated by Thérèse Plummer & Andrew Eiden

how to fake it in hollywood

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

Grey Brooks is on a mission to keep her career afloat now that the end of her long-running teen TV show has her (unsuccessfully) pounding the pavement again. With a life-changing role on the line, she’s finally desperate enough to agree to her publicist’s scheme: Fake a love affair with a disgraced Hollywood heartthrob who needs the publicity, but for very different reasons.

Ethan Atkins just wants to be left alone. Between his high-profile divorce, struggles with drinking, and grief over the death of his longtime creative partner and best friend, Ethan has slowly let himself fade into the background. But if he ever wants to produce the last movie he and his partner wrote together, Ethan needs to clean up his reputation and step back into the spotlight. A gossip-inducing affair with a gorgeous actress might be just the ticket, even if it’s the last thing he wants to do.

Though their juicy public relationship is less than perfect behind the scenes, it doesn’t take long before Grey and Ethan’s sizzling chemistry starts to feel like more than just an act. But after decades in a ruthless industry that requires bulletproof emotional armor to survive, are they too used to faking it to open themselves up to the real thing?

Rating: Narration – A; Content – B

If you read my reviews regularly, you’ll know that m/f contemporary romance has never been something I gravitate towards, but the occasional one does catch my eye now and then, and Ava Wilder’s début romance, How to Fake it in Hollywood, is one of those. I picked it up on a whim  because I’d read a couple of reviews that intrigued me – and, okay, also because of Andrew Eiden.

On the surface, it’s your basic bad-boy meets good-girl story with a fake-dating trope thrown in, but there’s a bit more going on beneath, especially because both leads are carrying a lot of baggage which trips them up several times along the road to their eventual HFN. Grey Brooks – whose real name is Emily – is twenty-seven and has been working in front of the camera for two decades. The successful teen drama in which she’d played the lead ended eight months earlier, and although she’s done the odd bit part here and there, she’s yet to land another decent role. Together with her best friend Kamilah, Grey is drafting a script based on a best-selling novel and they’re planning to direct (Kamilah) and star (Grey) once they can get the project greenlit. Now, though, Grey is up for a role in a major fantasy franchise, but she’s been out of the spotlight for a while and profile counts in this business, so her publicist comes up with a way to increase her chances of getting the part and getting backing for the movie further down the road.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

At Attention (Out of Uniform #2) by Annabeth Albert (audiobook) – Narrated by Cooper North

at attention

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

Lieutenant Apollo Floros can ace tactical training missions, but being a single dad to his twin daughters is more than he can handle. He needs live-in help, and he’s lucky a friend’s younger brother needs a place to stay. He’s surprised to see Dylan all grown up, with a college degree…and a college athlete’s body. Apollo’s widowed heart may still be broken, but Dylan has his blood heating up.

It’s been eight years since the teenage Dylan followed Apollo around like a lovesick puppy, and it’s time he showed Lieutenant Hard-to-Please that he’s all man now – an adult who’s fully capable of choosing responsibility over lust. He can handle Apollo’s muscular sex appeal, but Apollo the caring father? Dylan can’t afford to fall for that guy. He’s determined to hold out for someone who’s able to love him back, not someone who sees him only as a kid brother.

Apollo is shocked by the intensity of his attraction to Dylan. Maybe some no-strings summer fun will bring this former SEAL back to life. But the combination of scorching desire and warm affection is more than he’d expected, and the emotion between them scares him senseless. No fling lasts forever, and Apollo will need to decide what’s more important – his past or his future – if he wants to keep Dylan in his life.

Rating: Narration – A-; Content – A-

At Attention is one of my favourite books in Annabeth Albert’s Out of Uniform series, and is a regular re-listen. For some reason though, I’ve never written a review of it, so, as I listened to it again recently and enjoyed it just as much as the first time (and other times) I decided to rectify that omission.

Lieutenant Apollo Floros has been a widower and single dad to his young daughters Chloe and Sophia since the sudden death of his beloved husband Neal. In the two years since it happened, Apollo has closed himself off to anything that doesn’t relate to his girls or his job, running his life – and his home – with military precision, planning each week’s meals and activities in advance and generally creating a well-established routine to ensure everything runs smoothly with as few deviations as possible. He adores his girls, he enjoys his job as part of the SEAL tactical training team; his mother and in-laws help with childcare, and he’s… fine. He’s not interested in falling in love again (in fact, it seems like he’s determined not to) – unwilling to risk his heart or open it up to the agony of grief again.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

Off Balance (Painted Bay #1) by Jay Hogan (audiobook) – Narrated by Gary Furlong

Off Balance

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

When Judah Madden flees his tiny suffocating home town in New Zealand for the dream of international ballet stardom, he never intends coming back. Not to Painted Bay. Not to his family’s struggling mussel farm. Not to his jerk of a brother. Not with his entire life plan in shreds. And certainly not into the tempting arms of Morgan Wipene, the older ruggedly handsome fisheries officer who seems determined to screw with Judah’s intention to wallow in peace.

But dreams are fickle things. Shatter them, and it’s hard to pick up the pieces. Hard to believe. Hard to start again.

And the hardest thing of all? Finding the courage to trust in love and build a new dream where you least expected to find it.

Rating: Narration – A; Content – A-

The first book in Jay Hogan’s Painted Bay trilogy, Off Balance is a beautifully written and deeply emotional story about two very different men helping each other to put their lives back together following tragedy and heartbreak. The story is infused with plenty of the author’s characteristic humour despite the sometimes heavy subject matter, the two leads are likeable, complex and superbly drawn, and the narration by Gary Furlong is excellent. If you’ve never listened to anything by this author before, this would be a great place to start, as this series contains some of her very best work so far.

When he was a kid, Judah Madden was too gay, too flamboyant and too unwilling to be anything other than who he was to ever fit into a small town like Painted Bay. A talented dancer, he got out as soon as he possibly could and now, almost ten years later, he’s a rising star in the ballet world, a principal dancer at the age of twenty-five. It’s the kind of success he’s always dreamed of, and it’s all he’s ever wanted. But his life takes a devastating turn when he has a dizzy spell in the middle of a performance, which causes him to fall and pass out – and is later diagnosed with Menière’s Disease, a chronic condition which affects the inner ear, causing (among other things) vertigo, tinnitus and potentially, hearing loss. It’s a condition for which there is no cure – and just like that, Judah’s career is over.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

Dead Serious (Crawshanks Guide to the Recently Departed #1) by Vawn Cassidy (audiobook)- Narrated by Joel Leslie

dead serious

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

In the business of unfinished business…

Tristan Everett has always preferred the company of the dead because they usually don’t talk back. Being a somewhat awkward introvert working as a pathologist at the Hackney Public Mortuary suits him just fine. That is, until a freak accident with a rogue ice cube and suddenly he can see ghosts. No longer content to just lie on the table and let him figure out how they died, they’re now peering over his shoulder critiquing his work and confessing their most lascivious sins before skipping off merrily into the afterlife.

Just when he thought his life couldn’t get any weirder, sassy drag queen, Dusty Le Frey, is wheeled in with a toe tag and she’s not prepared to go quietly into the light. Not only is she furious at the prospect of spending eternity in last season’s gold lame, she’s determined that he help her solve her murder.

Suddenly Tristan finds himself thrown into a world of sequins and fake eyelashes, and worse still, he may have developed a bit of a crush on Scotland Yard’s brand new drool-worthy detective, Inspector Danny Hayes, who’s been assigned to Dusty’s murder. Oh, and as the icing on top of a really crappy cake, the killer now wants him dead too…

All he ever wanted was a simple life but suddenly he’s juggling work, a deliciously sexy detective, a stubborn ghost and a relentless murderer… and things have just gotten dead serious…

Rating: Narration  – B+; Content – D+

I was intrigued by the blurb for Dead Serious, which promised a mystery featuring a socially awkward pathologist trying to find a murderer and a romance between said pathologist and the gorgeous detective assigned to the case. The twist in the story is that the pathologist can see ghosts and is being haunted by the spirit of the murder victim, a sassy drag-queen by the name of Dusty Le Frey; it sounded like fun, and with Joel Leslie narrating, I knew I was in a safe pair of hands, so to speak.

Tristan Everett is a pathologist at the Hackney Public Mortuary in East London, and while cutting open dead bodies is probably not everyone’s idea of a good time, he likes his job and is good at it. Being a bit of an introvert, Tristan kind of prefers the company of the dead anyway – at least he doesn’t have to make idle conversation with them. He’s been persuaded to go to a leaving do at a local pub, where he catches sight of the hottest guy he’s ever seen – but before they can do much more than nod and smile at each other, Tristan somehow manages to get an ice cube lodged in his throat and, unable to breathe, chokes and passes out. When he comes to, he’s on the floor of the pub with Mr. Hottie crouching over him; feeling like an idiot, Tristan is duly wheeled away by the attending paramedics, and doesn’t think he’ll ever see his dream guy again.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

Crossing Borders (Blackbridge Security #10) by Marie James (audiobool) – Narrated by Jacob Morgan & Teddy Hamilton

crossing borders

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

Although I take my job very seriously—being the resident charmer, the man responsible for helping clients with security, all the while making it look like I’m the newest love interest of insanely gorgeous women—it looks like it’s all fun and games. I’m getting paid to go on dates to some of the most glamourous places all around the world after all, but at the end of the day, it’s still work.

When the assignment is over, I walk away—usually with a smile and another notch in my bedpost, but who am I to turn down the perks?

This new assignment should be no different. I can play any role handed to me. Hell, I love a new challenge. Only Archer Bremen is different…and not just for the obvious reasons.

His British accent hits me in a way I never expected. The scowl on his face makes me think of a million things I could do to make it fade. His smile tells me that this new assignment is going to change everything….

Rating:  Narration – A-; Content – C

I really wish North American authors would learn that there is NO SUCH THING as a British accent, and would stop using it when they really mean an (RP) ENGLISH accent.  Calling it a British accent is like me saying that someone from Brazil has an American accent – because they’re from America! 

Crossing Borders is the tenth and final (and only m/m) book in Marie James’ Blackbridge Security series; no prizes for guessing why I’d skip over the first nine to pick this one up. It’s perfectly possible to listen to it, as I did, as a complete newbie to the series because while characters from the other books make cameos and references are made to past/concurrent events, there’s only one event that has a real impact on this story (and is dealt with in this story), so provided you don’t mind hearing from characters you haven’t met before, it’s all fine. The other good news is that – of course – the narration is excellent – the bad is that these two fabulous performers have yet to find new material that is the best use of their considerable talent.

That said, Crossing Borders is at least a step up from the last book they narrated that I tried to listen to (I gave up at 25% because I was so BORED) and on the last book they narrated that I reviewed; in fact it started really well, so that for the first half I thought I’d be looking at a solid B grade for the story. But, alas, the second half rehashes the same misunderstandings over and over again, includes a totally ridiculous plot point, and generally loses its way, ignoring some of the interesting things I thought were being set up to show character insight and growth.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

Temporary Partner (Valor and Doyle #1) by Nicky James (audiobook) – Narrated by Nick J. Russo

temporary partner

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

Can two rivals work together to solve a case?

When an infant is taken from his carriage in broad daylight, missing persons detective Quaid Valor must race against the clock to find the child and bring him safely home to his family. Unfortunately, Quaid’s partner isn’t available, and his team is spread thin. Begrudgingly, Quaid must accept the help from his rival, homicide detective Aslan Doyle, if he wants to get the job done.

Aslan is Quaid’s opposite in every way. He’s bold, outspoken, arrogant, and the office playboy. And much to Quaid’s chagrin, Aslan seems to have set his sights on Quaid as his next conquest.

Quaid doesn’t have time to deal with Aslan’s flirty behavior when he’s trying to solve a case and juggle his cheating ex’s incessant interruptions.

It doesn’t matter how attractive Aslan is or the undeniable chemistry they seem to have. Getting involved with Aslan would be a huge mistake.

But as tension with the case builds, Quaid keeps forgetting he’s supposed to hate this new partner. Maybe Aslan is exactly the kind of distraction he needs.

Temporarily, at least.

Right?

Rating: Narration – A-; Content – A-

Nicky James kicks off a new romantic suspense/mystery series with Temporary Partner, a tightly-plotted mystery that will keep you guessing until the last minute coupled with a fantastic will-they/won’t-they partnership between two detectives from rival divisions of the Toronto PD.

In the prequel novella (not available in audio) Department Rivals, we meet Detective Quaid Valor of the Missing Persons Unit and Detective Aslan Doyle of Homicide when they’re partnered up for a team-building exercise designed to foster co-operation between the two departments. MPU and Homicide don’t mix and their animosity is legendary. Valor and Doyle know each other only by reputation; Valor is by-the-book with a stick up his arse and a permanent scowl on his face; Doyle is laid-back and do-what-it-takes with a reputation as a manwhore (his words) and a revolving door of lovers of both sexes. Neither is pleased about being partnered with the other, and are surprised (and maybe a bit annoyed) to discover they work well together. It’s not essential to have read this one first, but it’s a fun introduction to the characters, and some of its events are referenced in this story.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals