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.

Rough Terrain (Out of Uniform #7) by Annabeth Albert (audiobook) – Narrated by Greg Boudreaux

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

The camping trip from hell may be the first stop on the road to happily-ever-after.

Navy SEAL Renzo Bianchi has a soft spot for Canaan Finley, and not only because the man makes a mean smoothie. He’s the first guy to get Renzo’s motor revving in a long time. But when he agrees to Canaan’s insane charade—one all-access fake boyfriend, coming right up—he never expects more than a fling.

Creating a hot Italian SEAL boyfriend to save face seemed like a good idea…until his friends called Canaan’s bluff. Now he’s setting off into the woods with the very man who inspired his deception, and Canaan is not the outdoorsy type. The sparks are already flying when a flash flood separates them from their group, leaving Renzo and Canaan very much trapped…very much alone in the wilderness.

Working together to come up with a plan for survival is sexier than either of them expects. But back in the real world, being a couple is bringing its own set of hazards…

Rating: Narration – A+ : Content – B+

Rough Terrain is the seventh and final book in Annabeth Albert’s consistently entertaining Out of Uniform series. It’s always hard to say goodbye to favourite characters and the worlds they inhabit, but it’s a series I revisit regularly in audio as all the books are excellently performed, making it well worth investing the extra time needed to listen as opposed to read them.

We met Renzo “Rooster” (he hates the stupid nickname!) Bianchi in earlier books in the series, and if you’ve read or listened to any of them, you’ll remember he makes fitness videos which have gained him a large online following. He’s good-looking, super fit (well, he’s a SEAL, so I suppose he’d have to be!) and comes from a large, close-knit Italian-American family he loves very much and misses a lot; to that end, he’s recently applied for a posting nearer home, but doesn’t really expect it to happen. His family members all accept his bisexuality, although he knows his mother secretly hopes that when he does eventually settle down it’ll be with a woman so he can get started on giving her (yet more) grandchildren.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

Better Not Pout by Annabeth Albert (audiobook) – Narrated by Sean Crisden

Better Not Pout by Annabeth Albert

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

One hard-nosed military police officer. One overly enthusiastic elf. One poorly timed snowstorm.

Is it a recipe for disaster? Or a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for holiday romance?

Teddy MacNally loves Christmas and everything that goes along with it. When he plays an elf for his charity’s events, he never expects to be paired with a Scrooge masquerading as Santa Claus. His new mission: make the holiday-hating soldier believe he was born to say ho ho ho.

Sergeant Major Nicholas Nowicki doesn’t do Santa, but he’s army to his blood. When his CO asks an unusual favor, Nick of course obliges. The elf to his Kris Kringle? Tempting. Too tempting – Nick’s only in town for another month, and Teddy’s too young, too cheerful, and too nice for a one-night stand.

The slow, sexy make-out sessions while Teddy and Nick are alone and snowbound, though, feel like anything but a quick hookup. As a stress-free holiday fling turns into Christmas all year round, Teddy can’t imagine his life without Nick. And Nick’s days on the base may be coming to a close, but he doesn’t plan on leaving anything, or anyone, behind.

Rating: Narration – B+ : Content – B+

Better Not Pout is a charming, sexy, May/December romance set during the holiday season, in which a hard-boiled military police officer playing Santa for charity gets stuck in a snowstorm with a too enthusiastic, far too temptingly attractive elf… and discovers that perhaps the best laid plans aren’t necessarily the best plans after all.

Sergeant Major Nicholas Nowicki has spent pretty much his entire adult life in the military, and after twenty-eight years of service, his retirement is fast approaching. He’s spending the final months of his service at the base at Fort End in upstate New York, and as he embarks on his last few weeks, he’s starting to feel somewhat superfluous to requirements; his duties are light and it’s painfully obvious just how easily life at Fort End will go on without him. He really doesn’t want to retire but staying on isn’t an option, so he’s decided to go into partnership with a friend and former colleague who now runs a small business chartering boat trips for tourists in Florida. Right from the off, it’s fairly clear Nick’s heart really isn’t in it – despite his enthusiasm for the warmer weather – but a promise is a promise and he’s never ever gone back on his word… and he has to do something after retirement, so it might as well be this.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

Better Not Pout by Annabeth Albert

This title may be purchased from Amazon

One hard-nosed military police officer.

One overly enthusiastic elf.

One poorly timed snowstorm.

Is it a recipe for disaster? Or a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for holiday romance?

Teddy MacNally loves Christmas and everything that goes along with it. When he plays an elf for his charity’s events, he never expects to be paired with a Scrooge masquerading as Santa Claus. His new mission: make the holiday-hating soldier believe he was born to say ho-ho-ho.

Sergeant Major Nicholas Nowicki doesn’t do Santa, but he’s army to his blood. When his CO asks an unusual favor, Nick of course obliges. The elf to his Kris Kringle? Tempting. Too tempting—Nick’s only in town for another month, and Teddy’s too young, too cheerful and too nice for a one-night stand.

The slow, sexy make-out sessions while Teddy and Nick are alone and snowbound, though, feel like anything but a quick hookup. As a stress-free holiday fling turns into Christmas all year round, Teddy can’t imagine his life without Nick. And Nick’s days on the base may be coming to a close, but he doesn’t plan on leaving anything, or anyone, behind.

Rating: B+

I’m one of those people who doesn’t start feeling Christmassy until a couple of weeks beforehand.  I hate the fact that the cards and decorations start appearing in the shops at the end of August; I won’t listen to a Christmas song until well into December if I can avoid it, and it’s not time for It’s a Wonderful Life, Scrooge or The Muppet Christmas Carol until at least the second week of the month. The same holds true for Christmas-themed books; I don’t tend to pick them up until well into December, but I made an exception for Annabeth Albert’s Better Not Pout because the premise sounded so damn cute – a hard-boiled military police officer playing Santa for charity gets stranded in a snowstorm with a too enthusiastic (and too attractive) elf and realises that perhaps his life needn’t be so regimented after all.

Sergeant Major Nicholas Nowicki has spent twenty-eight years as a military police officer, and now, aged forty-six, is a month short of his retirement.  Truth be told, he doesn’t want to retire – but he isn’t being given the choice.  The military has been his family and his life for the entirety of his adulthood and it suits him.  He likes the structure, he likes the work, the thought that he’s serving his fellow personnel and his country – and the prospect of no longer having all that is a daunting one.  After he leaves the military, he plans to join a friend and former colleague in Florida who now runs a small business chartering boat trips for tourists; it’s pretty clear from the outset that this is unlikely to be a particularly good fit for Nick, but he figures he has to something with the rest of his life – and it might as well be this, right?  He’s made a firm commitment to his friend, and Nick never reneges on his promises; as the clock ticks down to his last weeks and days in the service, he tries to find some enthusiasm for the future…  but his heart just isn’t in it.

He’s in something of a state of limbo as regards his job, too.  It’s his last month on the base at Fort End in upstate New York, but in many ways it seems everyone around him has already moved past his leaving and he feels as though he’s somewhat superfluous to requirements.  So he’s not in the best frame of mind when his commanding officer asks a favour of him.  The local small town of Mineral Springs has a thriving charity centre called the Helping Hand, and her husband usually dons a Santa suit around this time of year to support the drive to generate funds and gifts for families in need.  But he’s unwell and is unable to participate this year – and Nick is asked to take his place.  Nick is far from enthusiastic but doesn’t feel he can say no, so he heads off to the Helping Hand Resource Center – where he is greeted by an extremely chatty and almost sickeningly upbeat young man dressed as an elf, who turns out to be the director of the charity and the centre.

Born and bred in Mineral Springs, Teddy MacNally absolutely loves his job and is dedicated to helping those in need, and runs the centre with efficiency and good humour.  He takes one look at his grumpy Santa and is determined to at the very least make sure he has a good day, maybe even get him to raise a smile.  But Nick is guarded and stonewalls Teddy’s good-natured attempts at flirtation; clearly getting the guy to let down his guard is going to require a bit of effort on his part.  But that’s just fine by Teddy; after all, the things most worth having in life always take a little work.

In spite of Teddy’s warnings about the worsening weather, Nick opts to return to base at the end of the day.  Teddy is altogether too attractive, too tempting – and, at twenty-eight, too young for him, but the weather – and the fates – are conspiring against Nick when he ends up getting lost and runs his truck into a snow-covered ditch.   Nick tramps back to the road, relieved to see a car making its way slowly towards him… and is not so relieved when he recognises the car as belonging to Teddy.

There’s nothing for it but to head back to Teddy’s place for the night, and they end up spending a surprisingly good evening together, chatting, playing board-games and generally hanging out. Teddy makes clear his interest in taking things further, but he leaves it up to Nick to make a move – and Nick can’t resist any longer.  Even though he thinks he’s too old for Teddy, and that Teddy deserves some hot young thing who can keep up with him, Nick decides to indulge himself – both of them – for the night.  After all, he’s leaving in a month and this isn’t the time to start anything – but it quickly becomes apparent to both men that one night isn’t enough, and they agree to a casual fling until Nick leaves for Florida.

The chemistry between the pair simply crackles, and the attraction that burns between them is palpable.  Teddy is completely adorable; funny, kind, and just brimming with life and vitality, and I loved the way he wormed his way under Nick’s skin and into his heart by simply being him.  They know their time together is finite and to that end are determined to make the most of it while also – somehow – avoiding becoming too deeply involved. (Heh – good luck with that, guys!)  Nick spends Thanksgiving with Teddy’s large, boisterous and loving family, who accept him (and almost adopt him!) and Teddy is Nick’s date to his retirement ceremony.  The bumps along the way to true love are fairly minimal, it’s true, consisting mostly of Nick’s unwillingness to break a promise to a friend and his inability to believe that he’s right for Teddy, simply because his last relationship was with someone younger than he was who eventually left him.  But Teddy’s risk-averse nature has a part to play, too. Unwilling to put pressure on Nick and ruin their short time together, Teddy fails to see that perhaps he needs to stop playing it safe and be more proactive instead of just sitting back and letting the best thing that’s ever happened to him just walk away.

Better Not Pout is a lovely, feel-good story about two people who are perfect for each other but need just a bit of Christmas magic to help them to see it. Maybe  grumpy-older-guy meets perky-younger-one is a bit of a cliché, but they’re such well-drawn characters, and I had such a great time with the story that I honestly didn’t care.  The relationship between Nick and Teddy is really well developed and the sex scenes are guaranteed to turn up the heat on the coldest winter evening ;). I teared up a bit near the end, and then closed the book with a happy sigh and a smile on my face, which is never a bad thing.

Tight Quarters (Out of Uniform #6) by Annabeth Albert (audiobook) – Narrated by Greg Boudreaux

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

Petty Officer Bacon, a Navy SEAL and ace sharpshooter, has been on the front lines of more than his fair share of dangerous ops. Yet when a minor injury relegates him to the beta team, he’s tasked with what may be his riskiest assignment yet: babysitting a silver fox journalist, who is the hottest, most charismatic man he’s ever encountered.

Award-winning journalist Spencer Bryant may have been named one of Pride magazine’s most eligible bachelors of the year, but he’s not looking to change his relationship status. He’s a consummate professional who won’t risk his ethics or impeccable reputation by getting involved with a source. Even a sexy-as-hell military man. But while Spencer can resist his physical attraction to Bacon, he has less control over his emotions – especially when the mission goes sideways and the two men are trapped alone.

Getting out of the jungle alive turns out to be easy compared to facing the truth about their feelings for one another back in the real world. And whether or not they can build a future is a different story altogether.

Rating: Narration – A+ : Content – A

Annabeth Albert’s Out of Uniform series has been a consistently enjoyable one in both print and audio, despite the odd blip. Tight Quarters is the sixth instalment, and I was glued to it from start to finish, zipping through it in two or three sittings. Yeah, yeah, I know – I’d listen to Greg Boudreaux read his shopping list, but fortunately, Annabeth Albert has provided him with something MUCH sexier and emotionally satisfying (although I don’t know – maybe his shopping lists are sexy and emotionally satisfying?) to get stuck into, in this tale of a journalist who embeds with a team of Navy SEALs looking for a story and finds something he really hadn’t bargained for.

We met Petty Officer Bacon in the previous book in the series, Squared Away, and at the beginning of his one, he’s more than a little bit pissed off because the finger he dislocated on a training exercise has him sidelined and unable to take his regular place on Team Alpha. His annoyance is further compounded when he is directed to be the liaison officer for a reporter who is going to embed with Bacon’s unit during their next mission. The team’s recent shake up following the departure of its XO (executive officer) and explosives expert (Wes and Dustin from Wheels Up) coupled with the rumours that the pair are now an item and began their relationship while working together despite the strict non-fraternization policy, make Bacon – a friend of both men – very hostile to the idea of a journalist poking around for a story and he resents being demoted to the role of babysitter. Even worse – the reporter is Spencer Bryant, a heavyweight, multi-award-winning journalist and author who is openly gay… and is one seriously hot silver fox. Under any other circumstances, Bacon would have so gone there – but he’s got to keep Bryant at a distance and away from anything that could potentially embarrass his team or the Navy in general.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

Wheels Up (Out of Uniform #4) by Annabeth Albert (audiobook) – Narrated by Greg Boudreaux


This title may be downloaded from Audible by Amazon.

Their love is forbidden, but their hearts aren’t listening to rules and regulations….

Lieutenant Dustin Strauss is a reformed man. No longer a 20-something hell-raiser, he’s his SEAL team’s new XO – and a man with a secret. Or seven. He’s kept his bisexual identity under wraps for years, along with his kinky side and a fondness for the military-themed semi-anonymous hookup website Joe4Joe. His latest chat buddy is more than a sexy online distraction – they’re taking their very not-safe-for-work relationship into real time.

Petty Officer Wes Lowe has a smart mouth, a take-charge attitude, and an uncanny ability for making things go boom. The life of an enlisted man isn’t always enough to satisfy him, but one wild, no-questions-asked weekend with his online love comes close. When a transfer order comes in, Wes feels ready and centered. He’ll make a good impression on his new SEAL team and keep his growing feelings for Dustin on the down low.

But as they log more time online and some very real emotions surface, Dustin and Wes struggle to pretend they’re just a harmless fling. And when his commander introduces Dustin to his team’s newest member, they’re in for the shock of a lifetime…and a crushing disappointment: their difference in ranks means even a friendship without sexual contact could end their navy careers for good.

With their hearts on the line, Dustin and Wes may not survive their next mission, let alone find a way toward a future together.

Rating: Narration – A: Content – C+

I’ve heard good things about Annabeth Albert’s Out of Uniform series of m/m romances featuring characters in different branches of the military. As usual, I’m coming late to the party, so audiobooks are my gateway into the series in which, unusually, each instalment uses a different narrator (the majority of series books tend to use the same one for each book). The fourth book, Wheels Up, caught my eye because it’s performed by my narrator-du-jour, Greg Boudreaux (aka Greg Tremblay), so it seemed a good place to jump in; it’s a standalone, although a couple of characters from the previous book (one of them the brother of one of the principals) make cameo appearances.

On a flight from San Diego to Washington, Lieutenant Dustin Strauss inadvertently lets slip his destination in a text message to the online chat/cyber-sex buddy he knows only as Saucer-Man. When Saucer-Man – whom Dustin suspects works in security – suggests they meet face-to-face, Dustin is nervous. He and Saucer-Man have been chatting regularly for the last six months or so and getting to know each other on Joe4Joe, a military-themed hook-up app, and Dustin is perfectly happy with the way things are. The relative anonymity of the app allows him the freedom to indulge his need to submit unreservedly with his sexual partner; he’s enjoyed months of no strings, slightly kinky cyber-sex and isn’t sure meeting up is a good idea for a number of reasons, not least of which is the fact that he’s bisexual but still closeted when it comes to his attraction to men. In spite of the fact that his brother (from the previous book, At Attention) is gay, Dustin has never told his family of his sexual orientation, and lately, he has found it harder and harder to suppress that side of himself, and the strength of the connection he feels to Saucer-Man – which is not just about sex for him – is making him question his decision to quash that side of himself.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.