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

at attention

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

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

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

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

Rating: Narration – A-; Content – A-

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

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

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

Hope on the Rocks (Rainbow Cove #4) by Annabeth Albert (audiobook) – Narrated by Cooper North

hope on the rocks

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

One too many…

Doctor Quinn Strauss is beloved by his small-town patients. He almost never drinks, especially not alone on a weeknight. But he’s heartbroken over an unexpected reminder of exactly how much his bad breakup has cost him. And the sexy ginger bartender keeps making him special drinks that go down a little too easy.

Take a drunk doc home…

Bartender Adam Ringer can tell when someone’s hurting, and the heroic local doctor is practically radiating pain. Adam’s a natural caretaker and can’t help but spring to Quinn’s rescue. And when the drunk and rambling Quinn reveals a mutual sexy interest, Adam’s other instincts are intrigued. He can’t wait for Quinn to sober up.

All mixed up…

When Adam offers Quinn a chance to explore secret desires he’s long repressed, Quinn finds himself saying yes to a summer fling with the younger Daddy bear. Falling in love isn’t part of the plan, but amid all their steamy encounters and intimate exchanges, a deep, emotional bond is forged. Summer is nearly over. Real life pressures are mounting. Can they grow enough to find a way to forever?

Rating: Narration – A; Content – B

Hope on the Rocks is the final book in Annabeth Albert’s Rainbow Cove series about three friends who set up a queer-friendly restaurant in a small coastal town in Oregon. It’s a low-angst, very sexy and unexpectedly sweet character-driven romance between a pair of complex, likeable individuals, and although it’s the fourth in a series, it works perfectly well as a standalone.

Bartender Adam Ringer knows very well how to recognise the signs of someone who’s had a really bad day, and local doctor Quinn Strauss is giving off all those bad-day-vibes and then some. Being observant and a good listener go with the job, but Adam is also one of life’s natural caretakers, and he’s genuinely concerned and wants to help. But Quinn doesn’t seem to want to talk, so instead, Adam – who has noticed that Quinn doesn’t seem to like the rum and coke he ordered – offers to make him a drink he’ll actually like. He concocts a chocolate hazelnut martini that definitely does the job – but it’s only after the good doctor has downed two of them that Adam realises the man is much more of a lightweight than he’d thought. It’s nearly closing time, and Adam decides he’ll drive Quinn home rather than wait around for ages for a cab, but when Quinn passes out before he can give Adam his address, Adam has no alternative but to take him back to his place to sleep it off.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

Tough Luck (A-List Security #1) by Annabeth Albert

tough luck

This title may be purchased from Amazon

I’m a SEAL. Or rather, I was. Retired at the grand old age of thirty-eight, I’m at loose ends. My best friend wants me to join his security team. I’m not sure I’m bodyguard material, but he needs someone to protect his kid brother. How hard can spoiled brat duty be?

Somehow, I missed the part where former child star Danny Love went from dorky TV darling to all grown up and disturbingly attractive. All the gossip about his wild ways fails to mention that he’s trying hard to clean up his act. But now he’s got a stalker.

Hiding out together in a remote mountain cabin, alone, the temptation keeps building. I’m feeling things I never have before. Secrets I’ve kept even from myself bubble to the surface every time Danny looks my way with those puppy dog eyes.

I’m a SEAL. We leap into danger. So why is it so terrifying when that danger comes with the softest pair of lips I’ve ever known? At some point we’re going to have to return to Hollywood and our vastly different lives. Will Danny still want me around when he doesn’t need me for protection? Can I be brave enough to give him a reason to?

Rating: B-

The first in her new A-List Security series, Annabeth Albert’s Tough Luck contains many of the elements I enjoy about her stories – well-crafted principals with depth and charm, steamy, well-written sex scenes ,and wonderful communication – yet despite all those things, the book and I didn’t quite ‘click’.  It’s a quiet , low-angst story about two people figuring out who they are and who they want to be – and it’s superbly done –  but I think I’ve read so many low-angst books over the last couple of years that I’m starting to feel kinda ‘fluffed out’.  So YMMV.  I remain a big fan of the author’s, I enjoyed the book and will continue with the series, but it’s not one of my favourites.

Thirty-eight-year-old former SEAL Cash Ewrin is at something of a loose end.  After twenty years in the service, he’s still finding his feet in Civvy Street and is temporarily staying with his best friend and former lieutenant Duncan Lubov while he works out what he wants to do next.  Cash is erring on the side of taking a long road-trip, although Duncan is trying to persuade him to work for A-List Security, the firm he founded with another buddy after leaving the military.

Duncan’s younger brother (half-brother) Danny Love is twenty-five and has spent most of his life in front of a camera in one way or another.  In his teens and early-twenties, he was the star of a hugely popular TV show, and the years under the spotlight and rigid control of his parents took their toll and saw him  eventually running with the wrong crowd and headlong into addiction.  Now though, he’s sober and working hard to stay that way; he’s given up acting and is taking some time to breathe and to figure out who he really is and what he wants to do with the rest of his life.

But fame is never all it’s cracked up to be, and despite his ‘retirement’, Danny is being stalked.   He’s  trying to play it down as just some daft superfan, but Duncan isn’t about to let it go; he’s off to Toronto on a job though, and asks Cash if he’ll keep an eye on Danny while he’s gone.  Of course, Cash agrees, although he makes it clear to Duncan that this doesn’t mean he’s ready to sign up for a regular gig as a bodyguard.

Cash arrives at Daniel’s house (to find him doing naked yoga in the back garden!) and is dismayed at the lack of security measures around the place.  He’s also dismayed – or maybe confused – at his reaction to his best friend’s little brother – who isn’t so little any more.  After finding a dead rat in a trap, with a note saying “Miss me?” on the front porch, Cash decides a trip to the home store to buy some basic home security equipment is a must – at least until Duncan’s guys can fix up something more state-of-the -art.  But on returning home, Danny receives a DM full of photos taken inside the house while they were out – and that’s it.  Cash needs to get Danny out of there while the police try to find whoever is responsible, so they make for the remote cabin belonging to Harley, another of Cash and Duncan’s SEAL buddies.

Spending time in close proximity gives Cash and Danny the opportunity to find out things about each other – and themselves – that they hadn’t known or had the chance to find out before.  Following a difficult childhood where he never felt safe enough to do anything other than survive from day to day, Cash went straight into the Navy, where he made a point of never thinking about his sexuality – too difficult and too risky.  But being around Danny 24/7 heightens the pull of attraction he’s been experiencing since they met, and Danny is only too pleased to help Cash to figure himself out; encouraging but giving him space when he needs it.

Even though Danny has always known he’s gay and has had plenty of sexual partners, being with Cash is new for him, too, that thing, that sense of connection he always felt was missing suddenly slotting into place when they’re together.  I liked that he finally gets to experience so many of the mundane things we all learn to do as we grow up – cooking, laundry,  learning to drive, going shopping;  growing up as a child actor meant Danny never got to do all the ‘regular stuff’ and it’s fun watching him learning to adult.  He’s only recently been diagnosed with ADHD and Cash struggles with insomnia; both of them work on finding healthy ways to deal with their conditions and the way they help and support each other – and especially how Cash helps Danny to see that he doesn’t need rescuing, that he’s strong enough on his own – is lovely.

One of the other things I always appreciate about Annabeth Albert’s books is that she often writes about characters who are discovering their sexuality at different times of life or adapting to significant life events and changes; couples who put in the effort to communicate and work out what intimacy means for them, and those elements of the story work very well.

But with all that said, I liked – but didn’t love – Tough Luck.  As I said at the beginning, I’m sure there are readers for whom this insightful and well-executed blend of bodyguard/best friend’s little brother romance will work really well – I was just hoping for something with a little more grit. But that’s on me; if you’re looking for a low-conflict romance that’s both sweet and sexy,  it’s worth checking out.

Sink or Swim (Shore Leave #2) by Annabeth Albert (audiobook) – Narrated by Greg Boudreaux & Joel leslie

sink or swim

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

Winning and losing are subject to sexy interpretation….

Navy Chief Calder Euler loves to win big. His latest score? A remote mountain cabin. Checking it out is supposed to be a quick trip, but Calder’s luck abruptly turns when a freak injury and a freakier snowstorm leave him stranded.

Oh, and the cabin isn’t empty. A silver fox caring for two young girls claims that the property is his, but Calder’s paperwork says otherwise.

Felix Sigurd is on a losing streak, and his ex-husband risking the cabin in a reckless bet is only the latest in a series of misfortunes. He’ll tolerate the handsome stranger for a couple nights – even care for his injuries – but that’s it.

Calder doesn’t know a damn thing about kids, but making pancakes for Felix’s girls is a surprising delight. Trapped in the cabin, the four of them slip easily into the rhythms of a family. But when the ice melts, they’ll have to decide if a future together is in the cards.  

Rating: Narration – A-; Content – B+

Sink or Swim is the second in Annabeth Albert’s Shore Leave series, but you can easily jump in here without having read or listened to book one, Sailor Proof, as the stories are completely separate. The lead characters here are Naval Chief Calder Euler – brother of Arthur from the previous book – and a silver-fox doctor who is also a single parent to two little girls. It’s a fairly low-angst story featuring two attractive and strongly-characterised leads in which the conflict is low-key but organic, arising from who these two people are and their respective situations in life.

Calder is currently on desk duty at the base following a head injury which resulted in a concussion, and he’s itching to get back to active duty on his submarine. When we met him in Sailor Proof, he came across as overbearing, cocky and insensitive and, like almost everyone else in his large family, he’s highly competitive – which is how come, at the beginning of the book, he’s driving to Mount Rainier to check out the cabin he won from a guy in a poker game. A weekend getaway, somewhere to kick back with friends – and best of all, away from his accommodation in the barracks… yep, it could be an great “bro hangout”. He’s having a look around upstairs when he hears noises outside; he’s on the way down the stairs when the front door bursts open and he hears a scream just before he trips and falls the rest of the way down. The little girl in the doorway is quickly followed by a furious man:

“Who the hell are you and what are you doing in my cabin?”

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.


The Geek Who Saved Christmas by Annabeth Albert (audiobook) – Narrated by Tim Paige

the geek who saved christmas

His grumpy neighbor needs some holiday sunshine….

Gideon Holiday is the perfect neighbor. Need a cup of sugar? Spare folding chair? Extra batteries? He’s always ready to help. And he’s waited years for his hot, grumpy, silver-fox neighbor, Paul, to need him. For anything. But right now, Gideon would be happy if he could just get the Scrooge-like Paul on board with the neighborhood holiday lights fundraiser.

Paul Frost has no intention of decking his halls or blazing any Yule logs. Even if his spunky bowtie-clad neighbor does look perfect for unwrapping, Paul would prefer to hide away until December is done. But when his beloved younger brother announces an unexpected visit, Paul needs all the trimmings for a festive homecoming – and fast.

Luckily, Gideon is there with a color-coded plan to save Christmas. Soon Paul’s hanging lights, trimming trees, and rolling out cookies. And steaming up his new flannel sheets with Gideon. How did that happen?

It’ll take some winter magic to preserve their happiness and keep these rival neighbors together longer than one holiday season.

Rating: Narration – B+; Content – B

Annabeth Albert’s The Geek Who Saved Christmas is just the ticket if you’re looking for a sexy grumpy/sunshine romance with lots of festive spirit and Christmas cheer. I read it when it came out in November and enjoyed it – and when I saw Tim Paige was narrating the audiobook version, I decided to revisit the story and enjoy it all over again!

Gideon Holiday and Paul Frost have been next-door neighbours for a few years but have never really progressed beyond the ‘nodding acquaintances’ stage. Gideon certainly wouldn’t say no to getting to know the hot silver fox better, but Paul keeps himself to himself and Gideon is resigned to the fact that getting better acquainted isn’t likely to happen. Knowing Paul hasn’t put up so much as a single Christmas decoration in all the time he’s lived there means Gideon is surprised to see him in attendance at the neighbourhood community meeting about this year’s holiday decoration theme – Gideon loves co-ordinating their lights fundraiser every year, selecting the theme, organising the donations and planning various holiday-themed activities – and his presence means that Gideon will at last have the chance to suggest the plan that’s been forming in his mind for a while now, that Paul can contribute to the fundraising efforts by ‘loaning’ Gideon his house. He’ll set up lights on Paul’s house and put them all on timers, so Paul won’t have to do a thing.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals

The Geek Who Saved Christmas by Annabeth Albert

the geek who saved christmas

This title may be purchased from Amazon

Gideon Holiday is the perfect neighbor. Need a cup of sugar? Spare folding chair? Extra batteries? He’s always ready to help. And he’s waited years for his hot, grumpy, silver fox neighbor, Paul, to need him. For anything. But this December, Gideon would be happy if he could just get the Scrooge-like Paul on board with the neighborhood holiday lights fundraiser.

Paul Frost has no intention of decking his halls or blazing any Yule logs. Even if his spunky bowtie-clad neighbor does look perfect for unwrapping, Paul would prefer to hide away until December is done. But when his beloved younger brother announces an unexpected visit, Paul needs all the trimmings for a festive homecoming—and fast.

Luckily, Gideon is there with a color-coded plan to save Christmas. Soon Paul’s hanging lights, trimming trees, and rolling out cookies. And steaming up his new flannel sheets with Gideon. How did that happen?

It’ll take some winter magic to preserve their happiness and keep these rival neighbors together longer than one holiday season.

Rating: B

Annabeth Albert’s The Geek Who Saved Christmas is a charming confection of seasonal goodness featuring a sweet and steamy grumpy/sunshine romance and lots of warm and fuzzy Christmas feels.  It’s a light-hearted, undemanding read, but the low-angst nature of the story don’t mean it lacks depth or a bit of bite;  even when she dials down the drama, Ms. Albert creates engaging characters with relatable problems and insecurities that arise naturally from their circumstances, so conflict feels organic rather than manufactured.  And with both leads in their forties, there’s plenty of baggage to be unpacked and learned behaviours to be unlearned before this Christmas Elf and his Grinch can arrive at a well-deserved HEA.

Bright and chirpy, Gideon Holiday (yes, really!) is the sort of guy who’s always ready to lend a hand. He enjoys helping people and making them happy – and he’s especially in his element when the holidays come around.  Every year, he co-ordinates the neighbourhood holiday lights fundraiser, selecting the theme, organising the donations and planning various holiday-themed activities – he loves doing it and when the book begins, it’s the night of the big reveal of this year’s scheme.  On his way into the community centre, Gideon bumps into his next-door neighbour, Paul Frost (yes, really!) and is rather surprised to see him as Paul is a bit of a grouch and community meetings aren’t really his thing.  The man may be a seriously hot silver fox, but Gideon doesn’t think he’s ever seen him smile, attend a single neighbourhood party or put up a single Christmas decoration.  But, ever the optimist, Gideon hopes that maybe Paul’s attendance at the meeting is a sign that might be about to change.

It isn’t – Paul is at the meeting for another reason entirely, but he can’t deny Gideon is fun to look at, with his impish grin and sparkling eyes as he gushes about lighting schemes and donation collection duties.  Paul doesn’t do Christmas and doesn’t see anything inherently magical about December – it’s just another month on the calendar and not worth all the fuss.  But then Gideon approaches him after the meeting and suggests that Paul can still contribute to the fundraising effort, but won’t have to do a single thing; Gideon can set up all the lights on Paul’s house and put them on timers.  Paul’s instinct is ‘hell, no’ – and he knows he’ll have to convince Gideon to leave him to have his seasonal funk in peace.

But fate, of course, has other plans.  A few days later, Paul’s younger brother Brandon – a genius scientist who lives on the West Coast – calls to tell Paul that he’s going to propose to his fiancée Elaine, and that he wants to bring her home for Christmas and then pop the question in front of the tree on Christmas morning.  As he listens to Brandon enthusing about a “real Christmas” with snow on the ground and a big tree in the living room, Paul’s heart sinks.  His house isn’t exactly ready for the perfect Christmas proposal, but there’s no way he’s going to tell Brandon not to come.

Luckily for Paul, a helping hand isn’t very far away – just next door in fact.  He’s far from thrilled at the idea that he needs help, but Brandon’s plans have stunned him into inaction and he doesn’t know what to do; he doesn’t intend to dump all his worries on Gideon, but somehow, they just come pouring out.  Gideon is only too pleased to come to the rescue – and of course, he Has A Plan.

Over the next few weeks, Gideon – with the aid of his many lists and spreadsheets (!) – slowly helps Paul to transform his somewhat spartan house into a warm and welcoming home.  The time they spend together shopping and decorating gives rise to a number of heartfelt conversations and insightful observations as they come to know each other better and begin to fall deeply in love.  Paul sees what nobody else does, that Gideon is lonely and works hard to keep himself busy, especially during the holidays; that he doesn’t really have anyone to spend them with but longs for closeness and connection.  And Gideon learns why Paul dislikes the season so much and tries to hibernate through it – but he’s  determined to make this a memorable Christmas for Paul and his brother.

Gideon and Paul both have things in their pasts that have affected them profoundly and continue to inform their choices, choices which probably aren’t right for them but which at least mean they can get on with their lives as best they can.  I think we can all relate to that.  They’re both decent, kind men who’ve lost their way somewhat, and who need a bit of help to get back onto the right path.  Gideon’s sense of self-worth has become tied up in how much use he can be to others, and he has to learn that he deserves to be loved for himself and not what he can provide, while Paul needs to realise that it’s past time he reclaimed the life he put on hold in order to take care of Brandon.  They have terrific chemistry and their journey from wariness to affection to love is really well done, with some nicely steamy moments along the way, and I enjoyed watching them offer each other the sort of care and understanding they’re both so badly in need of.  The secondary characters – Brandon and Elaine – are really well-written, and I loved the way they so easily and warmly accept Gideon into their family unit.

Warm, funny, sexy and poignant, The Geek Who Saved Christmas is sweet without being cloying, a delightful, low-angst romance full of festive cheer and genuine emotion.  It should definitely be on your radar if you’re looking for a feel-good, Christmassy love story to curl up with on a cold winter’s evening.

Out of Character (True Colors #2) by Annabeth Albert (audiobook) – Narrated by Joel Froomkin and Kirt Graves

out of character

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

Jasper Quigley is tired of being everyone’s favorite sidekick. He wants to become the hero of his own life, but that’s not going to happen if he agrees to help out Milo Lionetti, his former best friend turned king of the jocks. High school was miserable enough, thanks, and Jasper has no interest in dredging up painful memories of his old secret crush.

But Milo’s got nowhere else to go. His life is spiraling out of control, and he’s looking to turn things back around. Step one? Replace the rare Odyssey cards he lost in an idiotic bet. Step two? Tell his ex-best-friend exactly how he feels – how he’s always felt. Jasper may be reluctant to reopen old wounds, but he never could resist Milo.

There’s a catch though: If Milo wants his help, he’s going to have to pitch in to make the upcoming children’s hospital charity ball the best ever. But as the two don cosplay for the kids and hunt for rare cards, nostalgia for their lost friendship may turn into something even more lasting….

Rating:  Narration – A-; Content – B

In this charming frenemies-to-lovers romance, Annabeth Albert revisits the group of gamer friends we met in last year’s Conventionally Yours. If you read or listened to that book, you may recall Jasper Quigley, who had originally planned to join Alden and Conrad on their road trip, but who had to return home due to a family emergency after the first day. Out of Character opens a few months after that and finds Jasper who, in his last year of college, is still working part-time at the local game store and participating in the Gamer Grandpa vlog, wondering how on earth he’s going to find a replacement Prince Neptune for his cosplay group. Jasper and a few other Odyssey players – including his younger sister April – regularly visit the children’s ward at the local hospital to chat and play a game or two with some of the older kids on the ward, and Prince Neptune is probably the most popular character. But with the group’s regular Neptune away on vacation, Jasper is a man down, and with only a couple of days to go before their next visit has so far not managed to find anyone to take his place.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

Sailor Proof (Shore Leave #1) by Annabeth Albert

sailor proof
This title may be purchased from Amazon

The sexy Navy chief and his best friend’s adorkable little brother…

It’s petty, but Naval Chief Derrick Fox wishes he could exact a little revenge on his ex by showing off a rebound fling. His submarine is due to return to its Bremerton, Washington, home base soon and Derrick knows all too well there won’t be anyone waiting with a big, showy welcome.

Enter one ill-advised plan…

Arthur Euler is the guy you go to in a pinch—he’s excellent at out-of-the-box solutions. It’s what the genius music-slash-computer nerd is known for. So when he finds out Derrick needs a favor, he’s happy to help. He can muster the sort of welcome a Naval Chief deserves, no problem at all.

Except it is a problem. A very big problem.

When Arthur’s homecoming welcome is a little too convincing, when a video of their gangplank smooch goes enormously viral, they’re caught between a dock and a hard place. Neither of them ever expected a temporary fake relationship to look—or feel—so real. And Arthur certainly never considered he’d be fighting for a very much not-fake forever with a military man

Rating: B

Annabeth Albert kicks off her new Shore Leave series of military-themed contemporary romances with Sailor Proof, a cute, sexy, low-angst, veritable trope-fest of a love story.  We’ve got best friend’s little brother, only one bed, first times and a fake relationship, all thoroughly mixed and cooked to perfection to produce the equivalent of a soufflé in book form!

When a ship comes home to port, it’s tradition for the crew to vie for the privilege of being the first to disembark and greet their loved ones.  Naval Chief Derrick Fox has seen more than one marriage proposal come as a result of the First Kiss, and usually, he’s happy for whoever wins that honour. This time however, he’s more than a little bit pissed off that one of the junior officers has won the raffle and is taking great delight in taunting Derrick about the fact that he will be disembarking first and getting to plant one on his new squeeze – who happens to be Derrick’s cheating ex.  Derrick’s best friend Calder suggests that what Derrick needs is a hottie in the crowd he can make a beeline for and kiss the hell out of in full view of his ex – but unlike Calder, whose large, loving family is bound to be waiting for him, Derrick doesn’t have anyone.  He’s not opposed to the idea in principle, but being deployed on the sub for another two weeks isn’t exactly conducive to meeting said hottie and fixing a dockside smooching session.

But logistics expert Calder isn’t about to let a problem go unsolved.  His brother Arthur owes him a favour and he’d be up for being the kissee – but Derrick doesn’t see how kissing Calder’s red-haired, spindly, “too nerdy for band camp” little brother is going to make anyone jealous.

Arthur Euler is the only member of his family who isn’t involved with public service in some way.  He’s a super talented musician and award-winning composer who makes his living writing scores for video games, and has always felt somewhat out of step with everyone around him, who seem to think that music is just a phase and that he’ll settle to a real job one day soon. He loves his family dearly, but is tired of never quite being enough in their eyes, of feeling like he’s a disappointment, no matter his achievements.  Seeing the toll taken on his mother and their family by his father’s deployments, Arthur has a strict rule against dating anyone in the military – but he really does owe Calder and has no problem with his plan to help Derrick out. After all, Derrick is all but part of the family; he’s Calder’s best friend and they’ve all known each other for years, so it’s no biggie.

Except… when Derrick and Arthur – who haven’t seen each other for a good few years – finally meet up again, sparks fly.  Derrick realises Calder was right when he said his little brother wasn’t so little any more and Arthur, who even as a teen knew better than to develop a crush on a military man, can’t believe he’d forgotten how gorgeous Derrick is. Their kiss is electric, leaving them both slightly befuddled – but before either of them can bring the charade to an end, Arthur’s mother Jane arrives on the scene and, delighted to see Derrick and Arthur together, immediately invites Derrick to join them for a family dinner.  Reluctantly, Derrick accepts – Jane was like a mother to him when he was growing up and he doesn’t want to disappoint her – and is trying to come up with a way to make a quiet exit when she invites him to join them for their regular week-long family get-together; Arthur will be going so it makes sense for his boyfriend to come along, too, right?   Put on the spot, Arthur and Derrick find themselves agreeing to be fake-boyfriends for the duration, but the more time they spend together and get to know each other, they more they realise that they don’t want to be ‘fake’ boyfriends any more.  But Derrick knows Arthur’s stance on dating guys in the military – is there any way they can be together without his career coming between them?

Sailor Proof is an easy, light-hearted read featuring likeable characters, a strong secondary cast and a cute, sexy romance that is mostly drama-free.  If you’re in the mood for well-written fluff that isn’t going to put you into a sugar coma, then this is your book; the tropes are well integrated and the characters have enough depth that the low-level conflicts that do arise make sense in context. I loved the way Derrick and Arthur decide to make the best of an awkward situation, and do it with so much humour, affection and mutual respect.  I really liked their ease with one another and how they so quickly begin to look out for each other, how Arthur is comfortable enough to open up to Derrick about his family’s competitiveness and how it makes him feel, and how he begins to remind Derrick it’s not all about work and that he needs to get out and ‘people’ now and again.

These two balance each other out really well and Ms. Albert does a great job building a genuine emotional connection alongside the physical attraction that hums between them from the start.  Their romance does develop quickly, but she makes it work.

The military angle really only comes into play in a big way towards the end of the book, but the ups and downs, the waiting and the uncertainty experienced by so many military families is expertly captured, and it adds a subtle element of realism to the story.

I likened this book to a soufflé at the beginning of this review, and while that’s a delicious thing, it can also be a fairly insubstantial one – and that’s my main criticism of this story.  And it’s not really a criticism as such, it’s more of one of those things about which YMMV – this is well-written fluff of the highest order, but I generally prefer something with a bit more heft to it.

That isn’t going to stop me from recommending Sailor Proof however, because it’s a charming and extremely well-crafted character-driven story told with a great deal of warmth and humour, and I had a lot of fun reading it.

All Note Long (Perfect Harmony #3) by Annabeth Albert (audiobook) – Narrated by Brad King

all note long

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

Giving true love a spin…

Michelin Moses is a country music star on the rise. With a hit single under his Texas-sized belt buckle and a sold-out concert tour underway, his childhood dreams of making it big are finally coming true. But there’s one thing missing – a promise to his dying mother that he’d find it – him – when the time was right. With a little luck, he won’t have to wait too long….

Lucky Ramirez is a hunky boy toy who dances at The Broom Closet, one of West Hollywood’s hottest gay bars. He loves what he does, and he’s good at it – almost as good as he is at playing dumb when he spots Michelin Moses at the bar. What happens next is off the charts – and keeps Michelin coming back for more. He’s just not sure it’s the right move for his career. But if Lucky gets his way, Michelin will get Lucky – and no matter how the media spins it, neither of them will be faking it….

Rating: Narration – B+; Content – B+

Another deep dive into my Audible library to find titles I own but haven’t yet listened to turned up All Note Long, the third and final book in Annabeth Albert’s Perfect Harmony series, which is centred around characters involved with a TV singing/talent show. I reviewed book one, Treble Maker, when it came out in audio a couple of years back; I enjoyed it and picked up the other two books in the series, but unlike those – which feature characters who were contestants on the show – All Note Long focuses on country music star Michelin Moses, who was one of the judges and mentors.

Michelin (and right from that start, I had trouble with the name – I kept thinking of tyres!) was a pop star before he changed tack and moved into country music. Being gay in the country scene is a no-no, and he’s deeply in the closet, convinced coming out will mean the end of his career. When the story begins, he’s at a birthday celebration for one of his mentees, even though he knows his publicist and label would have kittens if they knew he’d met up with them at a gay bar. It’s a new experience for him, and he finds himself completely fascinated by one of the go-go dancers, a beautiful young Latinx guy who goes by Lucky. Michelin can’t help looking – even though he knows he shouldn’t – and decides to leave quietly soon afterwards, but he mistakes the way to the exit and ends up wandering the corridors backstage, where he bumps into Lucky, who notices he’s rather flustered and offers to get him some water.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals

Out of Character (True Colours #2) by Annabeth Albert

out of character

This title may be purchased from Amazon

Jasper Quigley is tired of being everyone’s favorite sidekick. He wants to become the hero of his own life, but that’s not going to happen if he agrees to help out his former best friend turned king of the jocks, Milo Lionetti. High school was miserable enough, thanks, and Jasper has no interest in dredging up painful memories of his old secret crush.

But Milo’s got nowhere else to go. His life is spiraling out of control and he’s looking to turn things back around. Step one? Replace the rare Odyssey cards he lost in an idiotic bet. Step two? Tell his ex-best-friend exactly how he feels—how he’s always felt.

Jasper may be reluctant to reopen old wounds, but he never could resist Milo. There’s a catch, though: if Milo wants his help, he’s going to have to pitch in to make the upcoming children’s hospital charity ball the best ever. But as the two don cosplay for the kids and hunt for rare cards, nostalgia for their lost friendship may turn into something even more lasting…

Rating: B

Annabeth Albert’s  Out of Character, the follow up to last year’s Conventionally Yours, features two guys who were firm friends until high-school, when expectations and peer pressure ended their friendship.  It’s a cute, (former) friends-to-lovers romance featuring two likeable characters who have a lot to learn – and re-learn – about each other as they reconnect through a quest to track down some rare Odyssey game cards.

We met Jasper Quigley in the previous book, in which he was due to accompany his friends and fellow gamers Alden and Conrad to Odyssey Con West, a massive fan convention in Las Vegas.  Unfortunately, Jasper had to pull out at the last minute because his younger sister April – who suffers from a rare immune system disorder – became seriously ill and he had to return home.  Several months later finds Jasper, who is in his final year of college, still working at a local game shop, making regular appearances on the Gamer Grandpa vlog, and also spending time volunteering in the children’s ward at the local hospital, where he and a group of friends cosplay various Odyssey characters and play games with some of the kids there.   When the book opens though, he’s down a prince for the next visit – Prince Neptune to be specific – one of the most popular (if not the most popular) characters in the game and with the kids, and he’s running out of time to come up with a suitable replacement.

Fortunately, however, Jasper’s prince does, indeed, come.  Unfortunately, it’s in the form of someone he’d hoped never to have to have much to do with again, his former best friend, Milo Lionetti.  Milo’s Italianate good looks make him a perfect prince – on paper at least, because his long ago behaviour towards Jasper wasn’t at all princely.

Jasper and Milo grew up together and were practically inseparable, but that changed when they went to high school and Milo got picked for the soccer team.  Wanting a place at the cool kids’ table – and not wanting to be singled out for his choice of a nerdy gay boy as his best friend – Milo turned his back on Jasper and watched from the sidelines, saying nothing as the Jock crowd dished out insults to Jasper and anyone else who dared to be smart, nerdy or anything other than a vapid clone.  Jasper made new friends and moved on, although he hasn’t forgotten what Milo did, or forgiven him for it.  So Milo is the last person Jasper expects to be coming to him for help.

A few nights earlier, Milo had a bit too much to drink and ended up losing four of his older brother Bruno’s Odyssey cards, four cards which happen to be incredibly rare and worth thousands of dollars.  Bruno is in the military and is currently stationed overseas; Milo can’t bear to have to own up to yet another screw up – he’s already caused his mother and brother enough worry over the last few years – and wants to replace the cards before Bruno’s next leave, which is a matter of weeks away.   Jasper doesn’t have a great deal of sympathy for him and at first, he wonders if he’s being pranked, but he soon realises that Milo is serious, and that his distress is real.  So he offers Milo a deal.  In return for Jasper’s help in tracking down the cards, Milo has to be Prince Neptune on their next cosplay session at the hospital.  With absolutely no other option open to him, Milo agrees.

That’s the set up for what opens out into a charming and heart-warming story of two young men whose lives went in different directions finding their way back to each other.  After the cosplay session, Jasper starts looking for the cards Milo needs, and the two of them end up searching various sites and online markets, solving puzzles, doing a treasure hunt and going to an Odyssey tournament together.  To his surprise, Milo starts to enjoy the cosplaying and the visits to the hospital as well, and all the time he and Jasper spend together give them the opportunity to talk about what happened to their friendship and to get to know  each other as the people they are now.

Jasper is an absolute sweetheart; intelligent, up-beat and generous of spirit, he loves helping people and is always on hand to crack a joke or offer support.  But he chafes a bit at being the ‘sidekick’ – the dependable one who isn’t ‘the best’ at anything, and longs to be someone’s hero.  Milo has had a tough few years; he went off the rails a bit after his father died and now sees himself as a screw-up who can do nothing right and is going nowhere.  But although Jasper is initially suspicious of Milo’s motives, he quickly realises that Milo wants to change and do better, and I loved how his support and belief in Milo spur him on and help him to see that he’s capable of more than he’d believed.   Milo grows an awful lot throughout the novel, and his redemption as a character and as a friend is very well done.  I liked the neat bit of role-reversal here, too, with Jasper being the confident, outgoing one and Milo the quiet, artistic one who has, despite being a member of the ‘in-crowd’ been more alone than Jasper ever has.

The chemistry that hums between them is palpable, and their romance is sweet and full of genuine affection as Jasper helps Milo navigate his way through the newness of a relationship (with a lovely, subtle emphasis on consent) and there’s a real sense of give and take as they talk and listen and work through their issues together – and Jasper becomes Milo’s hero and Milo embraces his true self and learns to forgive himself.

As I said in my review of the previous book, I know nothing about gaming and it’s not something that has ever really interested me, but Annabeth Albert writes about it here with such affection and authority that she made me care about it because the characters care about it so much.

Milo and Jasper are well-rounded characters, and Milo, in particular, undergoes a tremendous amount of well-written and organic personal growth throughout the story.  Out of Character is a low-angst, feel-good romance about second chances, being brave and being true to yourself and others, and I’m happy to recommend it.