Another batch of shorter-than-usual reviews of a few things I read/listened to over the past couple of months or so.
Fake Out (Fake Boyfriend #1) by Eden Finley, narrated by Alexander Cendese and Iggy Toma
Maddox – The reason I rarely go home is three simple words: I’m a liar.
When the pressure to marry my childhood sweetheart became too much, I told her I was gay and then fled to New York like my ass was on fire.
Now, five years later and after a drunken encounter, I find myself invited to her wedding. And I have to bring my boyfriend-the boyfriend who doesn’t exist because I’m straight.
At least, I think I am. Meeting the guy I’m bribing to be my boyfriend for the weekend makes me question everything about myself.
Damon – When my sister asks me to pretend to be some straight guy’s boyfriend, my automatic response is to say no. It’s because of guys like him people don’t believe me when I tell them I’m gay.
But Maddox has something I need.
After an injury that cost me my baseball career, I’m trying to leave my playing days behind and focus on being the best sports agent I can be. Forty-eight hours with my sister’s best friend in exchange for a meeting with a possible client. I can do this.
I just wish he wasn’t so hot. Or that he didn’t kiss like he means it.
Wait… why is the straight guy kissing me?
Overall Grade: B+ / 4.5 stars
I needed a palate cleanser after my last, very boring, listen and this fit the bill perfectly. I like the fake-relationship trope, and this was a low-angst, funny and sexy little story about a guy who told his high-school girlfriend he was gay because she was suffocating him and he couldn’t think of a way to dump her without hurting her feelings. Um… okay, yeah, so that was a dick move.
Coming from a very small town, that news spread like wildfire, but Maddox isn’t too bothered by it – he lives and works in New York now anyway, and doesn’t go home often so it’s no biggie as far as he’s concerned. Until one evening that ex-walks into the same bar he’s in, and promptly invites him to her upcoming wedding. Oh, and he should bring his boyfriend…
It’s daft, but it kick-starts the story, which is generally light-hearted, even though both Maddox and his fake-boyfriend, Damon, have some issues to deal with. Maddox, while not at all freaked at the fact that his attraction to Damon means he must be bi, is a commitment-phobe, while a bad experience with a lifelong friend who came on to Damon and then accused him of manipulating him has made Damon very wary of bi-curious guys.
The two narrators fit their assigned characters well; Alexander Cendese is good at playing the lively, slightly dickhead-y, clueless jock with a heart of gold (although Maddox isn’t a jock here) and Iggy Toma’s portrayal of Damon, who is more considered and – as Maddox says, has his shit together – is a nice contrast. Cendese’s female voices aren’t great, but they actually add comedic value here.
Fake Out was an enjoyable listen overall – the narration definitely enhanced the story and it proved to be a great pick-me-up.
In Her Sights by Katie Ruggle
Bounty hunter Molly Pax fought hard for everything she has, turning the bail recovery business she shares with her sisters into an unqualified success. So when their sticky-fingered mother jumps bail and puts the childhood home up as collateral, Molly’s horrified. To make matters worse, every two-bit criminal in the Rockies now sees her family’s misfortune as their next big break.
She needs help, stat.
Enter rival bounty hunter John Carmondy: six feet of pure trouble, with a cocky grin to match. John’s the most cheerfully, annoyingly gorgeous frenemy Molly’s ever had the pleasure of defeating…and he may be her only hope of making it out of this mess alive.
Grade: C / 3 stars
I’ve not read anything by this author before, so I was pleased to be able to jump into a new series. The Rocky Mountain Bounty Hunters are a group of five sisters, the eldest of whom, Molly, has been as much of a mother as a sister to her siblings owing to the irresponsible nature of their actual mother, Jane. All the sisters work as bail enforcement agents – bounty hunters – and In Her Sights opens as Molly Pax – the eldest – is interrupted in her surveillance of her current target by the unexpected and unwanted presence of the ridiculously pretty and ridiculously annoying John Carmondy, a fellow bounty hunter who wants Molly and her sisters to come and work for him.
John is always bright and breezy, his flirtatious grins and quips stirring the attraction Molly feels for him but ruthlessly keeps a lid on; the problem here is that she keeps a lid on it for rather too long, because there’s no real progression in the romance until over three-quarters of the way through the book – John and Molly don’t even kiss until the 80% mark, and the sex scene that follows was strangely flat.
The plot concerning the Pax ladies’ struggle to extricate themselves from their mother’s mess – she puts their home up as collateral and then skips bail – is entertaining, but is not concluded here, so I guess it’s going to run through the series. I liked the relationship between the sisters, but the plot whereby Molly and John chase down a bail-jumper was fairly run-of-the-mill and not all that suspenseful. John isn’t a particularly well-drawn character; he’s funny and he’s cute, but we don’t get to know much more about him other than that he’s a goner for Molly and everyone can see that but her; and Jane is a one-note villain.
I enjoy romantic suspense, so I might give this author another try, but I think I’ll find something from her backlist, because if the rest of this series runs along the same lines as this one, I don’t think it’s for me.
Bonfires by Amy Lane, narrated by Nick J. Russo
Ten years ago Sheriff’s Deputy Aaron George lost his wife and moved to Colton, hoping growing up in a small town would be better for his children. He’s gotten to know his community, including Mr. Larkin, the bouncy, funny science teacher. But when Larx is dragged unwillingly into administration, he stops coaching the track team and starts running alone. Aaron—who thought life began and ended with his kids—is distracted by a glistening chest and a principal running on a dangerous road.
Larx has been living for his kids too—and for his students at Colton High. He’s not ready to be charmed by Aaron, but when they start running together, he comes to appreciate the deputy’s steadiness, humor, and complete understanding of Larx’s priorities. Children first, job second, his own interests a sad last.
It only takes one kiss for two men approaching fifty to start acting like teenagers in love, even amid all the responsibilities they shoulder. Then an act of violence puts their burgeoning relationship on hold. The adult responsibilities they’ve embraced are now instrumental in keeping their town from exploding. When things come to a head, they realize their newly forged family might be what keeps the world from spinning out of control.
Overall Grade: B+ / 4.5 stars
A lovely story about two men in their late forties finding love after years spent alone, one because his wife was killed in an accident, the other because of an acrimonious divorce. The relationship between sherrif’s deputy Aaron George and school principal Larkin (who goes by Larx) is superbly developed, and I really liked the “found family” aspect of the story. Both men have been single parents for a number of years and I liked that the romance played out realistically against the backdrop of their jobs and family lives. These are two mature characters with responsibilities that didn’t magically disappear when they wanted “together time”.
Running alongside the romance is the plotline concerning an attack on one of Larx’s pupils, a young man who had, only hours before, come out (along with his boyfriend, another pupil at the school). There’s little doubt this was a hate crime, and the suspect is a fellow pupil, the spoiled daughter of one of the town’s most influential families who is well known for bullying and making trouble for her peers. Aaron is also dealing with the investigation into what looks like the murder of a man whose body was found floating in a nearby lake – while Larx finds himself hauled up before the school-board, which is trying to get the school’s GSA (Gay-Straight Alliance) group disbanded. He’s not out publicly – his kids know he’s bisexual as do some of his colleagues and friends – but it’s not widely known, and given the way his career was almost ended years earlier around the time of his divorce, he’s wary of giving the officials yet another stick to beat him with.
[One of the things that struck me hard as I was listening was a fundamental difference between the school as depicted in the book and the ones I work in. I can only speak with experience of state schools, but in the UK, a teacher would face disciplinary action for NOT acting to protect the rights of LGBT kids rather than the other way around; the fact that Larx had to stand up and defend his actions in front of the school board or whatever was just mind-boggling to me. I had to check the publication date of the book to make sure it wasn’t something from the 1990s (it’s not – it came out in 2017).]
Nick J. Russo does a great job with the narration, providing distinct vocal characterisations for all the characters and really capturing the essence of the two principals. Aaron is a bit gruff and quite deliberate, whereas Larx is mercurial; passionate about his job and those he cares for, funny and flirtatious – and all of those qualities come through perfectly in the performance.
I’m looking forward to the next book, which I plan to pick up soon.