Conventionally Yours by Annabeth Albert

This title may be purchased from Amazon

When two “big name fans” go head-to-head at a convention, love isn’t the only thing at stake.

Charming, charismatic, and effortlessly popular, Conrad Stewart seems to have it all…but in reality, he’s scrambling to keep his life from tumbling out of control.

Brilliant, guarded, and endlessly driven, Alden Roth may as well be the poster boy for perfection…but even he can’t help but feel a little broken inside.

When these mortal enemies are stuck together on a cross-country road trip to the biggest fan convention of their lives, their infamous rivalry takes a backseat as an unexpected connection is forged. Yet each has a reason why they have to win the upcoming Odyssey gaming tournament and neither is willing to let emotion get in the way―even if it means giving up their one chance at something truly magical.

Rating: B

Annabeth Albert is one of the few authors whose books I’ll pick up without needing to know much about them, and I was keen to jump into Conventionally Yours, book one in her new True Colors series.  I enjoyed it and looked forward to picking it up again after I’d had to pause, but I can’t say that it completely worked for me.  I’m not sure if it’s a case of “it’s me, not you”; it reads more like a Young Adult (maybe New Adult?) book than anything else of Ms. Albert’s I’ve read, so maybe I’m not the target audience.  The fact that I know nothing about the world of gaming, didn’t put me off; I actually enjoyed the parts that dealt with the strategies and game-play, and I liked the central characters, but the pacing drags a bit in the middle, and the leads often felt younger than their stated ages twenty-one and twenty-three.

Conrad Stewart and Alden Roth are part of a small group of gamers who’ve met regularly to play Odyssey for the last few years.  The online vlog they contribute to, Gamer Grandpa, is run by a former maths professor, and is one of the most popular Odyssey vlogs;  as well as analysing their in-person play,  Professor Tuttle comments on the online version of the game and offers general game theory for the masses.  Of the four players, Conrad, Payton and Jasper are friends, but Alden is still something of an outsider, even after three years of playing together, and the adversarial relationship between Conrad and Alden – especially Conrad’s particular brand of cocky trash-talk – is something of a draw for their audience.  The two of them really don’t get on all that well; Conrad thinks Alden is a superior and stand-offish control-freak, while Alden finds Conrad’s casual attitude irritating, seeing him as a party-loving college drop-out who doesn’t really care about anything.

When the book opens, the Professor announces that he’s got them all complimentary tickets for Massive Odyssey Con West, the huge fan convention taking place in Las Vegas the following month.  Gamer Grandpa has impressed someone at Odyssey HQ, and he’s been invited to sit on some panels, and they’ve all been invited to play in the tournament – a huge event with prize money and a seat on the pro tour up for grabs.  Success in the tournament could be life-changing for both Conrad and Alden, but both of them are reluctant to commit at first.  Conrad can’t afford the air-fare, and is surprised when Alden says that he doesn’t fly;  but the Professor has it all worked out.  They’ll make a road-trip of it; they’ll share the driving, make stops and personal appearances at game stores on the way, play a few hands of Odyssey with the locals, see the sights… it’ll be fun.

Of course even the best-laid plans go awry, and an accident and family emergency leave Conrad and Alden on their own, on what looks set to be an uncomfortable journey.  Except that their enforced proximity soon engenders a surprising friendship and affords them the perfect opportunity to start to lower their defences and realise that they’ve completely mis-read each other for three years.

Conrad and Alden are engaging characters who are easy to root for, and their antagonists-to-lovers plotline is fun to read.  Conrad is the sort of guy who uses sarcasm and bravado to hide his inner vulnerabilities, and his story is a heart-breaking one – all the more so perhaps, because it’s not an uncommon one when young people come out to unsympathetic, conservative parents.  He perceives Alden as incredibly lucky on that score; Alden lives with his two moms, and his queerness has never been an issue, but as Conrad learns more about him, he starts to see that just because Alden never had to hide his sexuality from his family, his life is far from perfect.  Alden’s high-achieving moms have pretty much mapped out his life and are trying to force him to make decisions he’s not ready for; he’s socially awkward and has anxiety issues, and reading the part where he talks about his neurodiversity and explains how desperately his moms have tried to find a label to fit him – whether it be Autistic Spectrum Disorder, Personality Disorder or any other disorder – and how he never feels like they see him, was really affecting.  Even more affecting is Conrad’s complete acceptance of him:

“Neurodiverse or not… You’re just you.  Just Alden.  It’s who you are.  Changing any of it isn’t necessary.”

The gradual realisation that they’re actually attracted to one another (and have been for a while) is awkward and sweet, Alden’s inability to refer to sex as anything other than “that” is cute, and I liked the honesty and trust they showed to each other. They talk about things that are difficult for them to talk about, sharing their fears, their hopes and their dreams with someone else for the first time, and I also liked the way Ms. Albert has them incorporating the experiences and lessons learned from the trip into their game strategy.

Conventionally Yours is an easy, absorbing read, and Annabeth Albert clearly knows her stuff when it comes to the gaming portions of the story.  The writing and characterisation are strong, both protagonists are attractive and complex and I enjoyed getting to know them – but even so, something about this book didn’t work quite as well for me as I’d hoped.  The slow pacing in the middle does allow for the relationship to develop and for us to get to know Conrad and Alden as they get to know each other, but on the other hand it is slow, and while the romance is front and centre, and there’s no doubt about their mutual attraction, it all seems a bit low-key.  For anyone wondering about the sensuality rating, the sex scenes are pretty much fade-to-black (which works for the tone of the book) which is one of the reasons I wondered if this is YA (it’s not categorised as such at Amazon).  So I’m on the fence.  There are a lot of good things going on – the representation (Alden is Jewish as well as gay and neurodivergent, Payton is non-binary) is well-done, the gaming sections are interesting and, towards the end, surprisingly exciting! – and the romance is really sweet.  There’s definitely an audience out there for this book and others like it, but I’m just not sure it’s me.  So I’m offering a qualified recommendation; I suspect it won’t meet the expectations of some of the author’s fans, while others will love the change of pace.  I’m somewhere in the middle.

Burn Zone (Hotshots #1) by Annabeth Albert

This title may be purchased from Amazon

Smoke jumper Lincoln Reid is speechless to see Jacob Hartman among his squad’s new recruits. Linc had promised his late best friend he’d stay away from his little brother. And yet here Jacob is…and almost instantly, the same temptation Linc has always felt around him is causing way too many problems.

Jacob gets everyone’s concerns, but he’s waited years for his shot at joining the elite smoke jumping team, hoping to honor his brother’s memory. He’s ready to tackle any challenge Linc throws his way, and senses the chemistry between them—chemistry Linc insists on ignoring—is still alive and kicking. This time, Jacob’s determined to get what he wants.

Close quarters and high stakes make it difficult for Linc to keep his resolve, never mind do so while also making sure the rookie’s safe. But the closer they get, the more Linc’s plan to leave at the end of the season risks him breaking another promise: the one his heart wants to make to Jacob.

Rating: B

I’m a big fan of Annabeth Albert’s and a new book from her is always a red letter day on my calendar! Burn Zone is book one in her new Hotshots series which features a group of guys who work as Smoke Jumpers in the fictional Painter’s Ridge in central Oregon – and I admit I had to look up Smoke Jumping as I’d never heard of it before! There are undoubtedly shades of the author’s excellent Out Of Uniform series here in terms of the camaraderie and close-knit relationships between team members, as well as the obvious fact that the characters from both series work in dangerous – potentially life-threatening – professions, but I enjoy the character types and sorts of through-thick-and-thin friendships Ms. Albert is skilled at creating, so those similarities worked for me.

Lincoln Reid has always been something of a loner. After the death of his mother when he was young, he was either ignored or knocked around by his drunken, abusive father, the one good thing in his life his best friend Wyatt Hartman and Wyatt’s family, who pretty much adopted Linc as one of their own. Linc and Wyatt always intended to become Smoke Jumpers together, and years later, have achieved that ambition and are still friends, even though Wyatt’s obvious bigotry when he found out Linc was gay made some dents in their friendship, and his tendency to make unpleasant comments about it mean they’re not as close as they once were. When the book opens, Wyatt is pissed because his nineteen-year-old brother Jacob has just come out, and he warns Linc to stay away from him. Linc tells Wyatt there’s no need to worry and tells him to mind his own business… although he can’t deny that he does enjoy Jacob’s company and finds his youthful confidence, his outgoing nature and most of all, the warmth of his smile, very appealing. But Jacob is ten years his junior and his best friend’s little brother. Firmly off limits.

Six years later, and nine months after Wyatt’s death in an accident, Linc is surprised – and not in a good way – when Jacob turns out to be one of their squad’s newest recruits. It’s bad enough that the Hartmans lost one son to the job, and Jacob must surely be aware what signing up for this could mean for his family – but worse, all the feelings of attraction Linc has steadfastly buried over the past six years come rushing back… and he’s not sure how long he’ll be able to keep them at bay.

At nineteen, Jacob had a massive crush on Linc, but has come to accept that nothing is ever going to happen between them  – or had, until the day of Wyatt’s funeral when, devastated with grief and unable to hold back any more, Linc kissed him and all Jacob’s buried – but never abandoned – hopes and wants came roaring back.  He knows he’s the last person Linc expects to see at the start of training, but he’s worked hard for his shot and isn’t going to let Linc’s obvious disapproval or his mother’s fears get in the way of fulfilling his dream.  And now that he knows that there is more than one-sided attraction between them, he’s also determined to show Linc that they deserve a chance at pursuing something more than friendship.

Even though Linc and Jacob embark on a sexual relationship early in the book – and yes, Ms. Albert trots out the old ‘one time to get it out of our systems’ trope but she tempers the corniness of it by having both guys realise it’ll never work even before they jump into bed – their romance is (befittingly) a slow burn as they go from secret booty calls to overnight stays to simply hanging out and enjoying each other’s company out of bed as much as in it. The relationship is lovely – for the first time in a very long time Linc realises he’s happy, and so is Jacob, who at long last has the man he’s wanted for so long by his side, both personally and professionally.  But the conflict in the romance – supplied by Linc’s doubts, his secrecy, his attempts to keep Jacob at arm’s length and his blow-hot-blow-cold attitude – go on for a little too long, and I started to dislike the way Jacob kept making allowances and accepting the crumbs of affection that were all Linc was prepared to offer.  Jacob’s a wonderful guy and at times I almost began to agree with Linc’s assessment that he deserved better!   I admired the understanding and patience Jacob displayed, but I wish he’d called Linc on his crap earlier.

Linc has a lot of baggage to work through, and his loneliness and sadness, the longing he feels for Jacob are so superbly rendered that they leap off the page.  I’ve never been a big fan of the best-friend’s-sibling trope with its invariable ‘stay away’ order from the bestie, but Annabeth Albert makes it work here because of the way she’s characterised Linc as a man so bound up in his perception of honour, of himself and what he owes to others that he feels he’s not entitled to put his own wants and needs before anyone else’s.  He has to learn to choose himself before he can choose to be with Jacob.

Ms. Albert has obviously done her research as regards the work of the Smoke Jumpers and all the other work they do throughout the season to try to prevent fires as well as the work they do when fighting them, which is interesting and adds a sense of authenticity to the story. She also creates a strong sense of camaraderie between the crew members, men and women who do an incredibly dangerous, highly skilled job they obviously love, but who work for a living to provide for their families and sometimes struggle to make ends meet.  There’s an extraordinary ordinariness (if you will) about these guys and their family lives and relationships, and I really liked the way that those two things balanced each other throughout the story.

Linc and Jacob are engaging, three-dimensional principals, plus there’s a strong secondary cast I’m sure we’re going to see more of in future books. The well-established setting, well-written relationships and a sexy, slow-burn romance combine to make Burn Zone a solid start to the Hotshotsseries and an enjoyable read overall.

Quickie Reviews #5

I always mean to do these more regularly but… you know, life. Anyway, like many people right now, I’ve got a bit of extra time on my hands, so I’ve pulled together short reviews of a bunch of books and audiobooks I’ve read and listened to over the past few months but haven’t written full-length reviews for. If you’re looking for a read or listen to keep you company over the next few weeks, maybe you’ll find some inspiration here.

Two Man Station by Lisa Henry

Gio Valeri is a big-city police officer who’s been transferred to the small outback town of Richmond with his professional reputation in tatters. His transfer is a punishment, and Gio just wants to keep his head down and survive the next two years. No more mistakes. No more complications.

Except Gio isn’t counting on Jason Quinn.

Jason Quinn, officer in charge of Richmond Station, is a single dad struggling with balancing the demands of shift work with the challenges of raising his son. The last thing he needs is a new senior constable with a history of destroying other people’s careers. But, like it or not, Jason has to work with Gio.

In a remote two-man station hours away from the next town, Gio and Jason have to learn to trust and rely on each another. Close quarters and a growing attraction mean that the lines between professional and personal are blurring. And even in Richmond, being a copper can be dangerous enough without risking their hearts as well.

Rating: B

With two cops as leads, I’d thought this might be more of a mystery/suspense story, but it isn’t; rather it’s a fish-out-of-water tale as a disgraced big city cop relocates to a small rural community and discovers that policing there is very different to the sort of thing he’s used to. Lisa Henry evokes the small town/back of beyond atmosphere really well – although this town isn’t at all small really; Jason and Gio’s “beat” covers a massive area, but it doesn’t boast all that many inhabitants.

Amid the series of vignettes as to the various disputes the pair are called upon to work through is the relationship that gradually grows between them. They get off to a rocky start because of what Jason has heard about Gio’s reason for relocating (that he was an informant who got another officer dismissed from his job), but as they work together and get to know each other, Jason starts to wonder if that’s the whole story. (Of course, it isn’t).

Jason is a widower with a ten-year-old son, and is only just realising that he really needs to make proper childcare arrangements. Before, his two neighbours – a young couple with kids of their own – would always pick up the slack and were happy to help out when Jason had to answer a call at night or worked long shifts – but now they’ve moved away, he’s struggling to reconcile the demands of the job with his job as a father.

The slower pacing works and I enjoyed the book overall, although I would have liked a stronger romance. There’s a definite attraction between Jason (who is bi) and Gio, but a few pages before the end, Jason tells Gio he’s still in love with his dead wife (and he’s still wearing his wedding ring), which was unexpected and seemed a really odd move; and although they’re still together six months down the line (shown in the epilogue) it felt to me as though there was more to be said about their relationship. There are no ILYs – which is fine when I feel that the characters are committed to each other – and I don’t necessarily need the mushy stuff, but their emotional connection wasn’t quite what I’d hoped for by the end.

Even so, I’m giving this four stars because I really did like the story and the characters. I’m going to pick up the next book soon.

Leaning into the Fall by Lane Hayes

Narrated by Nick J. Russo

Nick Jorgensen is a quirky genius. He’s made a fortune in the competitive high-tech field with his quick mind and attention to detail. He believes in hard work and trusting his gut. And he believes in karma. It’s the only thing that makes sense. People are difficult, but numbers never lie. In the disastrous wake of a broken engagement to an investor’s daughter, Nick is more certain than ever he isn’t relationship material.

Wes Conrad owns a thriving winery in Napa Valley. The relaxed atmosphere is a welcome departure from his former career as a high-rolling businessman. Wes’s laid-back nature is laced with a fierceness that appeals to Nick. In spite of his best intention to steer clear of complications, Nick can’t fight his growing attraction to the sexy older man who seems to understand him. Even the broken parts he doesn’t get himself.

However, when Wes’s past collides with Nick’s present, both men will have to have to decide if they’re ready to lean into the ultimate fall.

Rating: Narration – B; Content – B

Nick is a tech genius who doesn’t do well in social situations and frequently comes across as an arsehole; Wes is more than a decade older and considerably more chilled than Nick, but seems to just ‘get’ him – even the parts of himself Nick doesn’t fully understand. I liked the way their relationship developed; laid-back Wes is a great foil for Nick, who is sometimes driven to the point of obsession and oblivious to everything around him. There’s plenty of hot sex, but there’s an emotional connection, too -Nick has never clicked with anyone the way he has with Wes, and realises that for the first time ever, he’s developing feelings for someone that go beyond work or friendship.

The conflict comes fairly late in the book and although it seems a little contrived, it does actually fit with Nick’s character – he gets worked up and anxious easily and does tend to blurt the first thing that comes into his head, and the ‘black moment’ works because of it.

Nick J. Russo narrates and does a great job!

Setting the Hook by Andrew Grey

Narrated by Greg Tremblay

William Westmoreland escapes his unfulfilling Rhode Island existence by traveling to Florida twice a year and chartering Mike Jansen’s fishing boat to take him out on the Gulf. The crystal-blue water and tropical scenery isn’t the only view William enjoys, but he’s never made his move. A vacation romance just isn’t on his horizon.

Mike started his Apalachicola charter fishing service as a way to care for his daughter and mother, putting their safety and security ahead of the needs of his own heart. Denying his attraction becomes harder with each of William’s visits.

William and Mike’s latest fishing excursion starts with a beautiful day, but a hurricane’s erratic course changes everything, stranding William. As the wind and rain rage outside, the passion the two men have been trying to resist for years crashes over them. In the storm’s wake, it leaves both men yearning to prolong what they have found. But real life pulls William back to his obligations. Can they find a way to reduce the distance between them and discover a place where their souls can meet? The journey will require rough sailing, but the bright future at the end might be worth the choppy seas.

Rating: Narration: A; Content B

Sweet character-driven romance between a workaholic businessman, groomed by his parents to take over the family engineering firm, and the owner of the boat he charters a couple of times a year to go fishing.

A bad storm following William’s latest fishing trip leaves him stranded in Florida for a few days; Mike invites him to stay with him (he lives with his mother and ten-year-old daughter) and the nacent attraction they’ve both been feeling for years now becomes impossible to ignore or resist.

They’re from very different worlds, but no matter how strong the emotions growing between them, Mike’s life is in Florida and William’s is in Rhode Island. Yet the months apart after William’s last visit only prove to both of them that there’s something between them worth exploring, and both men have to decide how much they’re prepared to sacrifice in order to be together.

It’s nto going to win any prizes for originality, but Setting the Hook is an enjoyable story featuring likeable characters, and of course, Greg Tremblay’s narration was flawless.

Red Dirt Heart by N.R. Walker

Charlie Sutton runs Sutton Station the only way he knows how; the way his father did before him. Determined to keep his head down and his heart in check, Charlie swears the red dirt that surrounds him – isolates him – runs through his veins.

American agronomy student Travis Craig arrives at Sutton Station to see how farmers make a living from one of the harshest environments on earth. But it’s not the barren, brutal and totally beautiful landscapes that capture him so completely.

It’s the man with the red dirt heart.

Rating: B

Lovely and just what I needed right now.

Charlie Sutton is just twenty-five but is now the owner of the 2.58 million acre Sutton Station in the Northern Territory, Australia. He loves what he does, even though he knows he’s likely to spend his life alone; he’s gay and closeted, his late father having insisted that “no fairy” was ever going to be able to run Sutton Station and that it needed a “real man”. Yes, his father was an arsehole, but those words struck so deep that Charlie – although he’s doing a terrific job – can’t seem to see beyond them.

Enter Travis Craig, an agronomy student from Texas who has come to Sutton to see how things are done as part of an exchange programme. Travis is handsome, confident and, as quickly becomes clear to Charlie and his staff, knows his way around horses and cattle; he settles in quickly, becoming part of the team and establishing friendships with the others, but Charlie tells himself he must keep his distance.

There’s not a lot of angst in this one (a bit of very plausible drama in the second half worked well to ramp up the tension) and it’s mostly the story of Charlie learning to let go of his father’s bigotry and be his own man, and finally allowing himself to believe it’s possible for him to live his life with a loving partner by his side.

There are some great secondary characters (I loved Ma, who rules the kitchen with a rod of iron… or spatula, whatever) and the author’s descriptions of the Outback setting, the “red dirt”, the night skies, the sunsets are fabulous.

If you’re looking for a simple, well-written story that will transport you somewhere else for a few hours, this could be just what you’re after.

The Prince and his Bedeviled Bodyguard by Charlie Cochet

Prince Owin

Being a fierce predator – not at all adorable, despite my graceful stature – the last thing I needed was a bodyguard. Especially a wolf shifter, whose presence alone was an insult to my princely principles. 

As prince of the Ocelot Shifters, I prided myself on my infallible feline instincts, uncompromising dignity, and flawless fashion sense. If having a canine follow me around at all times wasn’t bad enough, I now faced the most important moment of my entire life. 

The time had come to prove I was worthy of my crown. If only I could find a way to get rid of the pesky bodyguard…


When the king of All Shifters asked me to guard Prince Owin, I admit I had no idea what to expect. Cat shifters tend to be a little intense, not to mention kinda cranky. Owin was no exception, though he seemed crankier than most. 

Being his bodyguard was proving to be one of the greatest challenges of my life, but not nearly as great as convincing him there was something special between us. 

When Owin was tasked with a perilous quest to prove his worth, I was determined to keep him safe, even if the same couldn’t be said of my heart.

Rating: Narration: A; Content B-

I wanted something short and sweet and this definitely fit the bill. The prince of the ocelot shifters has to team up with his bodyguard, a wolf shifter, to fulfil a quest set him by the king of all shifters… of course, they spar like cat and dog (!) and shenanigans ensure.

It’s not deep and the worldbuilding is minimal, but it’s a helluva lot of fun, especially in audio where Greg Boudreaux demonstrates once again that he’s a master of comic timing (and just about everything else when it comes to narration!)

Quick, fun and sexy – just what I was looking for, and I’ll probably pick up more audios in the series as they become available.

Sergeant Delicious by Annabeth Albert

Soon to be ex-marine Xavier has a bright future as a firefighter. But stationed far from home, he’s lonely and homesick for more than just his favorite foods. Thinking ahead to his homecoming, he responds to an ad seeking a date for a special gourmet dinner, but he doesn’t anticipate an immediate connection with the intriguing foodie who placed the ad.

Food writer Damien is looking for his big break, and reviewing an uber-exclusive secret restaurant may be exactly what he needs if he can score a date to go with him. He doesn’t expect to enjoy corresponding with Xavier quite so much, nor is he prepared for his powerful surge of lust for the hot marine.

However, Damien’s had more than his share of bad luck when it comes to romance, but Xavier is determined to win Damien over. Course-by-course, they fall deeper into like. When they finally give into their passion, sparks fly. But is it a flash in the pan or the recipe for lasting love?

Rating: B-

A sweet and sexy short story previously published in a charity anthology, Sergeant Delicious begins with soon-to-be demobbed Xavier answering an ad from “fun foodie guy” (a food writer) who wants someone to go with him to an upmarket dinner on Valentine’s day. The first part of this short story/novella shows the pair getting to know each other a bit via email, which makes the attraction they experience when they meet more believable. Both men are likeable and down-to-earth, and one of the things I really appreciate about novellas when they’re done well, is that the shorter page count doesn’t leave room for silly misunderstandings and other distracting plot points; and this is one of those that’s done well. The author doesn’t allow Damien’s hang-ups to get in the way (in fact, making good use of them! *wink*) and devotes all her page time to building the relationship between the leads.

A quick, fun (and did I mention sexy?) read.

Bitter Pill by Jordan Castillo Price

Narrated by Gomez Pugh

There’s a new drug on the streets called Kick. The side effects are so brutal, most folks only try it once…unless they’re psychic. Then they do it until it kills them.

Psychic medium Victor Bayne is well acquainted with pharmaceuticals, from the Auracel that blocks his ghosts to the Seconal that offers him a blissful nights’ sleep. But he’s managed to steer clear of street drugs…so far.

Jacob Marks has a medicine cabinet filled with every over-the-counter remedy known to man, but none of them are doing much for his mood—and his long, fruitless days of combing through records at The Clinic are taking a heavy toll.
But their lackluster investigation does have one silver lining: a front row seat at The Clinic when the first Kick overdose comes in. And as scary as the drug might be, if it truly does augment psychic ability, the appeal is not lost on Vic.

Because the very first hit never killed anyone.

Where did Kick come from? Why is it so addictive? And why is everyone at The Clinic acting so darn shady? That’s what Vic intends to find out. And if he’s lucky, he can also expose a shadowy figure from Camp Hell.

Unfortunately, the demons of his pill addiction might prove just as deadly as his long-buried history. He thought he’d managed to ditch that pernicious habit. But what if it was only lurking in the shadows, waiting for the best time to rear its ugly head?

Rating: Narration: A; Content A-

Gah, I love this series so much, and it seems to get better and better! So much going on here besides the actual plot, about the investigation into a deadly psyactive drug (Kick) that is killing psychics. I’m loving Vic’s character growth, especially over the last few books as he’s finally realising what it’s like to work with people who respect him and is really gaining in confidence as a result. He still can’t quite believe it, and is still as endearingly self-deprecatingly shambolic as ever, but we – and Jacob of course – see it and appreciate it. And I like that we get to see Jacob’s more vulnerable side; he’s one of those people who, by virtue of his good looks, imposing physique, intelligence and charisma has come up against little in his life that he hasn’t been able to deal with, but that’s changing, and although he’s still very much the Jacob we all know and love, that extra dimension to him is great to see.

Vic and Jacob’s relationship continues to grow and their love for each other to deepen; they get to work with Zig and Carolyn again, and we get some closure for one of the characters who’s been around since book one; Jackie, the ghost who spasmodically haunted Vic’s old appartment. Her story is a tragic one, and the author does an amazing job in the scenes where Vic and Jacob find out the truth of what happened to her and then help her to move on – they’re incredibly poignant and Gomez Pugh is simply brilliant in them and captures every single drop of emotion.

On the subject of Mr. Pugh – his portrayal of Vic is so absolutely perfect that it’s easy to forget sometimes just how good he is at the rest of it. He can produce an amazing variety of character voices for what is, after eleven books, a large secondary cast, many of whom have appeared in several books throughout the series, and his inventiveness (and consistency) is remarkable.

And – whoa, that ending! When’s the next book out?!

Treble Maker (Perfect Harmony #1) by Annabeth Albert (audiobook) – Narrated by Brad King

This title may be purchased from Audible via Amazon

Cody Rivers is determined to be a rock star, but couch-surfing between bar shows gets old fast. Joining an a cappella group for a new singing competition show could be his last chance at real fame – unless the college boy from the heart of the country messes it up for him. Lucas Norwood is everything gothy, glittery Cody is not-conservative, clean-cut, and virginal. But when a twist in the show forces them together, even the sweetest songs get steamy as the attraction between them lights up the stage. Lucas wants to take it slow, but Cody’s singing a different tune – and this time it may be a love song….

Rating: Narration – B+; Content – B

Annabeth Albert is one of my favourite authors, so when I saw one of her backlist series, Perfect Harmonywas coming to audio, I was quick to request a copy of book one, Treble Maker, for review. Narrator Brad King is new-to-me – and I’m always a little nervous about listening to new narrators – but although he took a little while to really settle in, he delivers a strong performance overall, and I definitely intend to check out the rest of the series as the books are released.

Perfect Harmony is the title of a reality TV singing competition for a cappella (unaccompanied) singing groups (think Pentatonix), and when the book opens, there are thirteen hopeful groups competing for ten places in the next round. Embellish, consisting of two women and three men, is one of the smaller groups, and its members haven’t been performing together all that long; in fact, their lead singer, Cody Rivers, isn’t much used to ensemble or a cappella singing having spent his career so far as a lead or solo singer. Talented and ambitious, Cody is set on making it as a rock star, but living out of his clapped-out van or couch-surfing with friends is getting old, so he’s entered the show in what could very well be his last chance at a big break. He’s been on his own since he was sixteen, when his grandmother rejected him after he came out; he knows who he is and isn’t shy about doing whatever he needs to in order to gain advantages and make opportunities for himself.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

Mr. Right Now by Annabeth Albert

This title may be purchased from Amazon

He’s Mr. Right Now, but for how long?

When Russ suffers a Thanksgiving disaster, his gorgeous neighbor Esteban is there to save the day. And after an innocent mix-up leads to the former Hollywood hottie playing the role of Russ’s date, Russ thinks scoring Esteban as his fake boyfriend is a huge win. The newly discharged marine is healing inside and out and could use some holiday cheer.

For his part, Esteban is intrigued by his big, bad neighbor. He likes how his matchmaking cat brings out an unexpected caring side of Russ. Desire flares as the reasons to continue their ruse pile up for both men.

And pretending feels so good. From chocolaty kisses to late night cuddles, their burgeoning friendship is getting cozier and cozier. But as the end date for their little deception looms, all the real feelings they’ve tried to ignore come tumbling in. Each must decide whether they have what it takes to ring in the New Year as a couple.

Rating: B

Mr. Right Now is a sweet, sexy novella featuring neighbours – a former marine and actor-turned-event planner – that takes place between Thanksgiving and Christmas. I’m not the biggest fan of novellas as I often find them rushed and lacking in characterisation and relationship development, but fortunately, that isn’t the case here, and Annabeth Albert has penned a charming and convincing romance that will certainly warm anyone’s cockles!

Russ has been thrown in at the deep end in the worst possible way. He and his boyfriend were supposed to be preparing Thanksgiving dinner together for Russ’ immediate family, but said boyfriend dumped him the night before leaving Russ – who isn’t very experienced in the kitchen – holding the turkey.

As it were.

A disastrous attempt at sautéing some onions for the stuffing sees him going outside to throw the charred remains of both vegetable and pan into the trash, when his neighbour Esteban stops to ask him what’s wrong and then offers to help. Surprised but very grateful, Russ accepts, and over the next few hours, finds himself enjoying the cooking lessons and demonstrations from the gorgeous, charming and confident Esteban, and enjoying the man’s conversation and company just as much.

With everything prepared, Esteban is getting ready to leave Russ to it when the doorbell rings earlier than expected – which leads to Russ’ family assuming that Esteban must be the boyfriend he’s told them about. After an awkward moment of unspoken communication, the pair decides to play along for the time being – and agrees to announce their break up a few days later.

The trouble is that things keep happening that cause the break up to be put off.  A charity fundraiser, a shopping trip, and a work party, along with evenings spent together and shared meals… and suddenly the fake-relationship that was supposed to last for just a few days has stretched into weeks – and maybe ending it isn’t what either man really wants or needs.

Annabeth Albert packs a lot into the shorter format without anything feeling skimped or rushed.  The chemistry between Russ and Esteban positively crackles right from the start, but even though they’re attracted to each other they have reasons for being cautious about starting anything new – Esteban was badly burned by an ex who left him to go back to his ex and Russ is on the rebound – but it’s clear they’re falling pretty hard for one another and I loved that they’re so open and communicative about what they’re looking for and how they feel.  There’s a nice slow-burn going on, and when the relationship turns physical, it feels like a natural extension of the non-physical one they’ve already established.

There’s some backstory tucked in there for Russ, a military vet who was invalided out and has been struggling to adapt to civilian life.  Kind, considerate and maybe just a teeny bit shy, he’s a total sweetie, and when he decides to convince Esteban to become his actual boyfriend, well, let’s just say Esteban doesn’t have a chance 😉

Mr. Right Now is one of those rare novellas that feels fully-rounded and complete.  There’s no manufactured drama, no overblown angst and no question that Russ and Esteban are perfect for each other.  If you’re looking for a quick, emotionally satisfying festive read with a nice side of steam that will leave you with a smile on your face, you need look no further.

Arctic Heat (Frozen Hearts #3) by Annabeth Albert

This title may be purchased from Amazon

Owen Han has a fresh lease on life—he’s kicked cancer’s ass and is roaring through his bucket list. The former investment banker hopes to find his next challenge in Alaska, volunteering alongside park rangers and fulfilling his childhood dreams of snowy winters and rustic life. Of course, those dreams did tend to feature big strapping mountain men in vivid detail…

Ranger Quilleran Ramsey would like to be anywhere other than dealing with newbie volunteers. And really, the only thing he needs less than a green volunteer “partner” is the flirty attentions of a buff city boy who doesn’t look ready to last a week, let alone an Alaskan winter. They’re all wrong for each other, even if Quill’s traitorous body enjoys the flirting more than it should.

As the weeks pass, the two snowbound men give in to temptation. But can their seasonal romance last until spring? For them to have a future together, each will have to trust the other…while hoping that the harsh elements and omnipresent dangers don’t destroy what happiness they’ve found in the moment.

Rating: B

Arctic Heat is the third and final book in Annabeth Albert’s Frozen Hearts trilogy of romances set in and around the spectacular landscapes of Alaska, and in it, we meet winter state park volunteer, Owen Han, an energetic, outgoing guy who has recently survived testicular cancer, and the reserved and closeted ranger, Quilleran Ramsey, who is just about as different from Owen as it’s possible to be.  It’s a relationship that probably shouldn’t work – yet somehow it does, although of course for two such different men, the road to forever isn’t going to be an easy one.

Having, as the synopsis puts it “kicked cancer’s ass”, Owen Han has put his career as an investment banker on hold and is taking time out to work his way through his bucket list.  Next up is something he’s been dreaming of doing for a long time – since childhood – spending the winter in Alaska as a state park volunteer assisting the rangers and other park employees.  He’s waiting with the other volunteers for their training to begin, trying hard not to stare at the ranger porn, the uniformed rangers who “make drag green and khaki downright sexy with their broad shoulders, and generous muscles and rugged jawlines.”  One particular ranger catches his eye though, a frisson of anticipation Owen had feared might be gone for good running through him at the sight of the man’s tall, well-built frame, handsome face and steely blue eyes.  He thinks the guy might be stealing glances at him, too and makes a beeline for the seat next to him just as the presentations are about to begin.

Quill Ramsey immediately pegs the chatty newbie as the high maintenance type who’ll never be able to handle the hard, often gruelling work of winter park management.  Even though he has the – surprisingly muscular – build that means he might be able to keep up, Owen Han is, thankfully, not going to be his responsibility; Quill appreciates a positive attitude but has never understood why some people feel the need to fill a perfectly good silence with questions and small talk. But Owen is dangerously distracting – smart, funny and possessed of killer dimples – and there’s no room in Quill’s life for anything besides his job.

Later that night after dinner, Owen and Quill are on the way back to the hotel when Owen takes the opportunity to kiss a very willing but still guarded Quill.  The kiss is like nothing Quill has ever experienced – hot, sweet and almost overwhelming – but he firmly rebuffs Owen’s further advances.  Owen is disappointed but doesn’t make a thing out of it; he’s already worked out that Quill is repressed and deeply closeted and they go their separate ways.  But of course, that’s not going to be the end of it.  The next day, when Quill learns his assigned volunteer is unable to make it and that Owen is to be spending the winter with him instead, he’s not best pleased.  However, he’s too professional to insist on a change, and tells himself it’ll be fine.  He’ll focus on his job, make sure Owen knows what needs to be done and keep his distance; there’s no need for them to spend much (if any) time together and there will certainly not be anything… extra going on.

Owen on the other hand, isn’t giving up hope.  He’s certainly not going to pester Quill or make him uncomfortable, but the Alaskan winter is seven long months and given the combustible chemistry between them – as shown by that single kiss – he likes his chances of getting more of them.  Or of their at least becoming friends.

Annabeth Albert does slow-burn, opposites-attract romance so well, and Arctic Heat is another terrific example.  Owen and Quill are nothing alike, and yet somehow they fit together perfectly; in spite of his determination to remain aloof, Quill slowly begins to respond to Owen’s genuineness, warmth and sunny disposition.  But it’s not easy for him.  He’s plagued by years of repression and insecurities born of a dysfunctional family whose difficult dynamics have given him a horror of any form of  relationship ‘drama’ together with an unfortunate relationship with someone who clearly wanted Quill to be someone else.  Owen isn’t without his own problems though; he has some lingering physical issues as a result of his treatment and has begun to question his place in the world. He realises he badly wants to belong to someone, to have that forever kind of connection, and believes he’s found it in Quill – but will Quill ever be able to overcome his natural reluctance to commit to loving Owen openly?

This is a quiet, character driven story that focuses firmly on the central romance while at the same time providing readers with considerable insight into the work of the park rangers and the awesome beauty and potential dangers of the region in which it the book is set.  It’s clear Ms. Albert has done her homework when it comes to Alaska and I once again enjoyed the vivid descriptions of the climate and locations.

Quill is reserved and steadfast, but his stoic exterior conceals a well of hurt and his deep loneliness is poignant and well-portrayed.  Owen, with his almost relentless optimism and innate confidence, could, in the hands of a lesser author, have turned out to be pushy and annoying, but thankfully, he’s nothing of the kind.  He takes his second chance at life seriously and doesn’t take anything for granted; he’s even-tempered, friendly and polite, slow to anger and even when he is mad he doesn’t stay that way for long.  They are engaging, well-rounded characters and the chemistry between them sizzles right from the start.  The sex scenes enhance the romance, helping to show Quill’s growing trust in Owen and how he comes to learn that sex can be wild and messy and fun and that the only rules are the ones he and his partner choose to make.  If I have a criticism, it’s that Quill’s late-book turnaround on being with Owen openly happens rather quickly, but it works, and I applauded his courage in finally deciding it was time to stop caring about what others thought and to focus on what was truly important to him – his love for Owen and their future.

Tender, sexy and emotionally satisfying, Arctic Heat rounds out the Frozen Hearts trilogy nicely.

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.

Arctic Wild (Frozen Hearts #2) by Annabeth Albert

This title may be purchased from Amazon

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: B+

Arctic Wild, book two in Annabeth Albert’s Frozen Hearts series, is a gently moving, slow-burn romance between two very different men who find themselves re-evaluating their lives following an almost fatal accident.  There are places where perhaps the pacing could have been a little faster and the focus a little sharper, but I really liked the way the romance developed and how the author explored the dynamics between the leads and the secondary characters/family members who also appear in the story.

Workaholic corporate lawyer Reuben Graham has been persuaded to take a long-overdue vacation with a couple of friends when a last minute change sees him heading off to Alaska on his own.  He’d much rather just have cancelled, but was pretty much guilted into going and anyway, he’s got plenty of work with him so when there’s no decent  internet connection he’ll just hunker down and read all that paperwork he’s got piled up.  With any luck, his guide will be some “grizzled old mountain man pilot”  who is disinclined to talk and will leave Reuben to work in peace.  But he’s out of luck in that department and is instead greeted by a gorgeously attractive, vivacious, younger (too young for him, anyway) man who definitely doesn’t seem as though he’s the strong silent type.

Pilot and tour guide Toby Kooly (whom we met briefly in the previous book, Arctic Sun) is very good at what he does. Personable, informative and fun, he genuinely enjoys making sure his clients are having a good time and doing whatever he can to help them make the most of what is generally a once-in-a-lifetime experience.   But on meeting Reuben Graham he instantly senses the man is going to prove something of a challenge; he obviously isn’t particularly enthusiastic about being there and seems resistant to enjoying himself.  And he presents another sort of challenge, too; older guys don’t normally do it for Toby, but something about this tall, distinguished silver fox – no, silver bear – with the broad shoulders and the commanding presence most definitely turns his crank. But hooking up with clients isn’t something he makes a habit of, so he pushes temptation aside and concentrates on doing his job, determined to win Reuben over and get him to enjoy himself.

And over their first couple of days and tour stops Reuben does gradually start to unwind and even finds himself opening up a little about himself, chatting casually with Toby in a way he can’t remember really doing with anyone, especially not someone he’s known for so short a time.  Both men are aware of the hum of an attraction between them, but before they can do anything about it, the trip takes a swift turn into hell when a freak storm blows in while they’re in the air and despite Toby’s best efforts, the plane crashes. Having sustained some serious injuries, Toby is pretty helpless and it’s down to Reuben to get them to safety while they wait for the rescue team to arrive.

This near death experience has big ramifications for both men, who find themselves having to make some major reassessments and adjustments in their lives.  Toby, who has been the main provider for his family (an invalid father and two sisters at college) for over a decade, is unable to work due to a broken arm and broken leg, and is immediately swamped by money worries, while the event gives Reuben the push he needs to start rethinking his life.  At forty-eight, he’s too young to retire, but his firm is restructuring and has offered him a buyout package, which he hasn’t really had the time and inclination to think about so far.  Now, however, he realises he’s been given an opportunity to make the sorts of changes he hadn’t realised he needed to make, which includes spending more time with his fourteen-year-old daughter, Amelia.  He’s missed out on a lot of her life and is determined to do better by her, and when he discovers the extent of Toby’s injuries (and knowing that he can’t possibly afford rehabilitative care) Reuben offers to rent a place that Toby can share with him and Amelia, who is coming to spend the Summer with him.

[On a side note, reading about how much Toby worries about his medical bills makes me so thankful for the NHS!]

The principal conflict in the story arises because Toby doesn’t find it easy to ask for and accept help.  As Reuben falls in love with Alaska, and the two men fall in love with each other, Toby’s stubbornness on that point and his deep-seated fear of dependence threaten to derail things between them.  He’s convinced that Reuben deserves someone as rich and sophisticated as he is and that whatever is happening with them can only be a short-lived thing – which isn’t helped by his father’s obvious disapproval of Reuben (he’s too old and too rich) and his constant insistence that a man must take care of his own shit and not rely on anyone else.  It’s a mantra that Toby has been brought up with, and it’s hard for him to shake so many years of conditioning and admit to himself that he likes being taken care of for a change. Reuben freely admits that he enjoys taking care of others, but that gives rise to other doubts.  Is Toby just some sort of ‘project’ to fulfil Reuben’s desire to feel useful and needed ?  And given the feelings he’s no longer able to deny he has for Reuben, how will he cope when summer ends and they go back to their old lives?

While I admit that Toby’s reluctance to ask for and accept help did perhaps go on a little too long, and I had a few issues with how easily he was able to get around with a broken arm and leg (I’ve been wheelchair-bound and the kitchen counters were just about eye-level, so no way would I have been able to cook like Toby does!), I enjoyed everything else about the story very much.  I could easily understand Reuben’s desire to make big changes in his life and I loved the slow-burning but sizzling attraction between the two men, which eventually culminates in some sensual love scenes.  Ms. Albert takes her time developing their romance and she does it beautifully, showing them growing closer and their connection deepening as they spend more time talking and enjoying each other’s company.

Reuben’s daughter appears in a large chunk of the book, and comes across as a typical fourteen-year-old, wanting to be ‘grown up’ but isn’t quite yet.  Ms. Albert captures that aspect of her character really well, and skilfully shows her gradually reconnecting with Reuben and recapturing some of the optimism and youthful enthusiasm she’d lost.  The other secondary characters – Toby’s dad and sister, Nell (who befriends Amelia) – are well-drawn, and as in Arctic Sun, the Alaskan landscapes are vividly and tantalisingly described.

Arctic Wild earns a strong recommendation in spite of my few reservations, and I’ll definitely be picking up the next in the series, Arctic Heat, when it comes out later this year.

Arctic Sun (Frozen Hearts #1) by Annabeth Albert (audiobook) – Narrated by Cooper North

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

He’s built a quiet life for himself in Alaska. But it doesn’t stand a chance against the unrelenting pull of a man who’s everything he shouldn’t want.

Ex-military mountain man Griffin Barrett likes his solitude. It keeps him from falling back into old habits. Bad habits. He’s fought too hard for his sobriety to lose control now. However, his gig as a wildlife guide presents a new kind of temptation in super-hot supermodel River Vale. Nothing the Alaskan wilderness has to offer has ever called to Griffin so badly. That can only lead to trouble….

River has his own methods for coping. Chasing adventure means always moving forward. Nobody’s ever made him want to stand still – until Griffin. The rugged bush pilot is the very best kind of distraction, but the emotions he stirs up in River feel anything but casual, and he’s in no position to stay put.

With temptation lurking in close quarters, keeping even a shred of distance is a challenge neither’s willing to meet. And the closer Griffin gets to River, the easier it is to ignore every last reason he should run.

Rating: Narration: B+; Content: B

Annabeth Albert’s Out of Uniform series put her on my “must read/listen” list, and I’ve picked up several of her backlist titles in audio over the past few weeks while I waited for the first in her new Frozen Hearts series, set in the wilds of Alaska, to come out.  Arctic Sun is that book, and it tells the story of Griffin Barrett, who, after leaving the military, returned home to Alaska in search of peace, quiet and somewhere to put his past mistakes behind him, and River Vale, a former supermodel who has authored a hugely successful travel book, and who is now researching his next project.

Griffin works for his family’s photography/ tour-guiding business, but not usually as an actual guide; he’s not naturally outgoing and finds it difficult being the centre of attention, but when his uncle, who usually handles the tour groups, has to go into hospital, Griffin’s mother asks him to step in at the last minute to take charge of a group of five – two married couples and one solo traveller – and while his first instinct is to refuse, his family needs him and he can’t let them down.

Learning one of the group is – or was –  a supermodel, Griffin immediately jumps to conclusions, expecting a superficial, flamboyant individual with cotton-wool for brains.  Instead, River Vale confounds those expectations, clearly being an experienced traveller and a talented photographer – and while Griffin had expected him to be good-looking, he’s completely unprepared for the reality of the funny, charming and easy-going man behind the beautiful face.  It’s been a long time since Griffin has been so strongly attracted to anyone – in fact, he doesn’t even know how he really feels about sex seeing as most of the time he had it when he was wasted – but he certainly isn’t about to hook-up with a client, and very definitely rebuffs the other man’s attempts to flirt with and charm him.

But River won’t take no for an answer and continues to pursue Griffin – and I have to admit I wasn’t quite comfortable with his you’ll-give-in-eventually attitude: Oh, he was going to get Griffin in bed before the end of the trip, and that was just a fact. But when he did, Griff would come willingly, and it wouldn’t be because River had made a pest of himself. Pushy wasn’t part of River’s MO. And I’d have to say that River IS rather pushy, even though he’s right about Griffin’s interest in him.

Anyway.  It’s not a spoiler to say that the guys do eventually hook up (this is a romance after all!), and although they’re opposites and their relationship progresses quickly, I nonetheless felt that the author did a good job of exploring the things they had in common, and that they had potential as a couple in spite of their differences.  But after the trip ends, those differences become more pronounced as each man returns to his normal life and milieu.  They agree that neither of them is ready to say goodbye and that they’ll see each other again when and where they can, which results in a return visit to Alaska for River, and a trip to Vancouver for Griff… which doesn’t go particularly well, thanks to some crass behaviour from River’s rather insensitive and unsupportive friends.

Both men are battling their own demons every day.  Griff is a recovering alcoholic, who, while sober and doing fairly well, mostly deals with his addiction by completely avoiding temptation rather than learning how to live with it.  His reclusive lifestyle provides him the ideal opportunity to do this, even though he’s lonely at times, but he has no desire to live anywhere else.  River has spent a good proportion of his life being looked at and every single imperfection noticed and criticised; he has a difficult and complicated relationship with food and is recovering from an eating disorder – and his coping mechanism is the complete opposite of Griff’s – he keeps moving and doesn’t even have has his own place any longer, instead staying with friends whenever he’s not off travelling and researching for his next book.

Having never suffered either of those things, I claim no expertise whatsoever, but it seemed to me that Ms. Albert handled both of these issues very well, especially River’s eating disorder.  He’s clearly not quite as far along the road to recovery as he thinks he is, although by the end of the book, he’s taken some very positive steps – as has Griff – so I came away from the story hopeful for their future.  Griff and River are complex characters who still have a lot to work out individually and as a couple, but I liked them together, and in particular, the way they felt able to open up to one another about their problems and be vulnerable with each other.

A lot of the reviews I’ve seen have talked about the pacing of the book being too slow, but I have to say I didn’t feel that way at all, which  I suspect  may have something to do with the fact that I listened to the audiobook version  rather than reading the book.  Cooper North’s narration is very good indeed and kept me engaged from start to finish; all the characters are clearly differentiated and the different pitches and timbres he adopts to portray the principals work really well to delineate them as characters and as distinct from one another.  His pacing is good, his enunciation clear and he does a good job with the female voices and different accents (one of the couples on the trip is a lesbian couple from the Netherlands); in addition Mr. North injects the more emotional moments with just the right degree of expression and performs the love scenes confidently and without going over the top.

I can’t end this review without mentioning the other character in the book, which is Alaska itself.  The descriptions of the scenery and the wildlife are superb and incredibly vivid, and as I can’t see myself ever getting to go there, I’ll have to live vicariously through them!  I enjoyed both the story and narration in Arctic Sun and am looking forward to the rest of the series.

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.