Voyageurs by Keira Andrews (audiobook) – Narrated by Joel Leslie

voyageurs

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

Two men battle the wilderness – and desire.

It’s 1793, and Simon Cavendish needs to get to his station at Fort Charlotte, a fur-trading outpost in the untamed Canadian wild. The fort is only accessible by canoe, and there’s just one man daring enough to take him on the perilous, thousand-mile journey from Montreal this late in the summer.

Young Christian Smith, the son of an Ojibwe mother and absent English father, is desperate for money to strike out on his own, so he agrees to take clueless Simon deep into the wild. As they travel endless lakes and rivers, they butt heads.

Yet the attraction between Simon and Christian, two men from vastly different worlds, grows ever stronger. Locked in a battle against the wilderness and elements, how long can they fight their desire for each other?

Rating: Narration – A; Content – B-

I suppose saying “it was too short” is a form of praise – right? I recently reviewed another novella by Keira Andrews – Arctic Fire – and said exactly that; I enjoyed it and would have loved to have listened to a longer story featuring those characters. The same is true of Voyageurs, an historical romance which is more of a short story than a novella, coming in at just over ninety minutes in audio. I don’t often review ultra-short audiobooks like this one, but Keira Andrews has become a favourite author and with Joel Leslie narrating… Pfft. No brainer.

It’s July 1793, and Simon Cavendish, formerly of the East India Company, has arrived – a month late owing to bad weather and a ship in need of repairs – at the offices of the North West Company in Montréal, from where he is to travel to take up a post at Fort Charlotte, a thousand miles away. Simon is eager to take up his new position, but unfortunately, the delay in his arrival means that the party of voyageurs (young men hired to transport goods to trading posts) he was to have joined for the journey had to leave without him. Simon is disappointed to learn that he will have to wait until next spring to travel safely – and jumps on the idea of maybe travelling with just one or two voyageurs if they can be found and persuaded to make the trip.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

Arctic Fire by Keira Andrews (audiobook) – Narrated by Joel Leslie

arctic fire

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

When two strangers are trapped in a blizzard, heat rises.

Haunted by what he lost in Afghanistan, Captain Jack Turner is at a crossroads. While the last place he wants to go is the Arctic, at least the routine mission gets him out from behind his new desk. But he starts off on the wrong foot with the Canadian Ranger guiding him across the forbidding and dangerous land, and Jack would rather be anywhere than sharing a tent with Sergeant Kin Carsen.

The Arctic is in Kin’s blood, and he can’t seem to leave the tundra behind. He wishes he could live openly as a gay man, but the North isn’t as accepting as the rest of Canada. Although he’s lonely, he loves his responsibility as a Ranger, patrolling the vast land he knows so well. But he’s on unfamiliar ground with Jack, and when they’re stranded alone by a blizzard, unexpected desire begins to burn. Soon they’re in a struggle to survive, and all these strangers have is each other.

Rating: Narration – A; Content – B-

Keira Andrews’ Arctic Fire is a novella-length story (the audio clocks in at just under three hours) set in the Arctic Bay area of Nunavut (the northernmost territory of Canada). The author manages to pack in a surprising amount of character detail and a solid emotional punch for such a small page-count, and although the romance does happen quickly (over just a couple of days), it’s got the feel of a slow-burn. The descriptions of the desolate, starkly beautiful landscape and the intense cold are really evocative, making the setting stand out and almost feel like a character in itself.

Recently returned from Afghanistan, Captain Jack Turner is struggling to adjust to life stateside following the loss of someone close to him while on his last tour, as well as to deal with the burnout and nightmares that continue to haunt him after his experiences in the desert. His CO has noticed his general distraction and thinks it will be good for Jack to get back in the field, so he sends him on a five-day trip to the Arctic Tundra on a fact-finding mission relating to the Navy’s plans to establish a refuelling station around the now-abandoned former mining town of Nanisivik. Jack is not exactly thrilled at being sent to a small town in the back of beyond with nothing much to do, sub-zero temperatures… and no booze allowed. At least there’s no sand.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

My 2020 in Books & Audio

2020, huh? I don’t think I need to expound on that particular dumpster fire except to say that I feel lucky to be someone who has managed to read/listen to books pretty much as normal throughout it all. Books – and writing about them – have provided a much-needed escape from everything going on “out there”, and there have been times this past year when I don’t know what I’d have done without them.

So, what was I reading/listening to in 2020? Well, according to Goodreads (which shows an average rating of 4.1 stars overall), I read and listened to 269 books in total (which was 30 fewer than 2019) – although I suspect that number may be slightly higher as I sometimes forget to mark any re-listens I do. But just taking the new reads/listens, I listened to almost as many books as I read – 52.9% ebook and 47.1% audio, according to this new spreadsheet I’ve been using, and almost three-quarters of the total were review copies.

Of that total there are 77 5 star books, 152 4 star books – by far the biggest category – 36 3 star books and 6 2 star books. (Books sorted by rating.)

The 5 star bracket includes those titles I rate at 4.5 but round-up (which I equate to A-); the 4 star bracket (B) includes the 4.5 star grades I don’t round up (B+) and the 3.5 star ones I do round up (B-), the 3 stars are C+/C/C- and so on.  Of the 77 5 star ratings, only around 17 are straight A grades in terms of the story (in the case of audiobooks, sometimes a 4 star review will get bumped up because the narration is so fabulous), so the rest of that 77 are A minuses or audiobooks where A and B grades combined to rate a higher overall total. Looking back at my 2019 Books & Audio post, those numbers are fairly consistent, although I didn’t have any one stars or DNFs in 2020, which isn’t a bad thing!

The books that made my Best of 2020 list at All About Romance:

Reviews are linked in the text beneath each image.

As usually happens, I always have a few “also-rans”, books I could have included if I’d had the space:

If you follow my reviews, you’ll already know that in 2020, I awarded more top grades than ever to a single author, which isn’t something that’s ever happened before; sure, I give high grades to some authors consistently (Sherry Thomas, KJ Charles and Meredith Duran spring to mind) but those have been one every few months or per year – not nine in a single year! So, yes, 2020 is, in my head, the Year of Gregory Ashe 😉  I could have chosen any number of his books for these lists as they’re all so very good.

Sadly noticeable by its (near) absence on these lists – historical romance.  I said in my 2019 post that the amount of really good historical romance around had been declining for a while, and although there were some excellent  historicals around in 2020, they were fairly few and far between. Many of the best came from Harlequin Historical – Virginia Heath’s Redeeming the Reculsive Earl is a lovely, funny and warm grumpy-reclusive-hero-meets-breath-of-fresh-air-(and neuroatypical) heroine, while Mia Vincy continues to demonstrate her mastery of the genre with A Dangerous Kind of Lady, a sexy, vibrant, not-really friends-to-lovers story in which the leads embark on a difficult journey of self-discovery while coming to realise how badly they’ve misjudged each other. The “modern” historical is a term being coined for novels set in the more recent past, and Asher Glenn Gray’s Honeytrap, the love story between an FBI agent and Red Army office that spans thirty-five years, would proibably have made my Best of list had I read it in time.  Annabeth Albert is a big favourite of mine; Feel the Fire is book three in her Hotshots series, a second-chance romance that just hit the spot.

Audio

When I struggled to read something – which fortuantely, didn’t happen often – I could usually find something in audio that suited my mood, plus the fact that there are still back-catalogue titles coming out of books I haven’t got around to reading means that audio is always my preferred method of catching up!  I listened to a lot of pretty good stuff over the year, but for my 2020 Favourites for AudioGals, I stuck to titles to which I’d given at least ONE A grade (usually for the narration) and nothing lower than a B+.

So that was 2020 in books and audio.  I’m incredibly grateful to those authors and narrators who continued to provide me with such great reading/listening material through what has been an incredibly trying time for all of us;  I know some who have really struggled to get words on a page this year, and I just want to say that you’re worth waiting for and I’ll be here whenever you’re ready.

As for what I’m looking forward to in 2021… more of the same, really – lots of good books!  There are a number of titles I know are coming up in the first part of the year that I’m really excited about – the third Lamb and the Lion book from Gregory Ashe – The Same End – is out at the end of January, and I’m also eagerly awaiting new adventures with North and Shaw and Theo and Auggie. Then there’s book three in KJ Charles’ Will Darling Adventures, Subtle Blood, at least three (squee!) new books from Annabeth Albert, including the fourth Hotshots book; and a new instalment in Jordan Castillo Price’s long-running Psycop series (Other Half) due out in January, although I’ll be waiting for the audio because Gomez Pugh’s incredible turn as Victor Bayne is well worth waiting for.  (I really must catch up with JCP’s ABCs of Spellcraft books, in audio, too!).  There’s a new book in Hailey Turner’s  Soulbound series coming soon, a new instalment in Jay Hogan’s Southern Lights series, and later on, I’m hoping Josh Lanyon’s The Movie Town Murders will be out this year – I need more Sam and Jason! – and I’m looking forward to new books in her Secrets and Scrabble series.  I’m looking forward to more from Lucy Parker, Loreth Anne White, Garrett Leigh, Rachel Reid, Roan Parrish… There are new books slated from many of my favourite authors and narrators, and I’m looking forward to another year of great reading and listening.

I’ll be back this time next year to see if my expectations were fulfilled!

The Christmas Deal by Keira Andrews (audiobook) – narrated by John Solo

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

Will fake boyfriends become the real deal this holiday?

It’s the most wonderful time of the year – except ex-Marine Logan is jobless and getting evicted. Worse, he’s a new single dad with a stepson who hates him. A kid needs stability – not to mention presents under the tree – and Logan’s desperate.

Then he meets lonely Seth and makes a deal.

Can Logan temporarily pretend to be live-in boyfriends to increase Seth’s chances at a promotion? If it provides a roof over their heads for the holidays, hell yeah. Logan considers himself straight – he doesn’t count occasional hookups with guys – but he can fake it. Besides, with his shy little smile, Seth is surprisingly sexy.

Make that damn sexy.

Shocked that Seth has only been with one man, Logan can’t resist sweetening their deal to teach him the joys of casual sex. No strings attached. No feelings. No kissing.

No falling for each other.

Easy, right?

Rating: Narration – B; Content – A-

I read Keira Andrews’ The Christmas Deal when it came out at the end of 2019 and really enjoyed it. I’d hoped maybe it would come to audio in time for the festive season this year and hey – look! Santa came early 😉 It’s a sweet and sexy fake-relationship romance with no overblown angst or drama (well, maybe a teeny bit of drama); a feel-good story featuring engaging characters, a well-deserved HEA and plenty of warm fuzzies.

Former Marine Logan Derwood is really struggling. Finding it hard to get work after a serious accident at work for which he was blamed and hung out to try, he’s facing eviction from his crappy bungalow and can see no option but to move in with his sister Jenna and her family, which he really doesn’t want to do. On top of this, the sudden death of his wife from an aneurysm some months earlier has left him sole guardian to her teenaged son, Connor, who is surly and confrontational, and for whom Logan can seem to do nothing right.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

Ends of the Earth by Keira Andrews (audiobook) – Narrated by Greg Boudreaux

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

Jason Kellerman’s life revolves around his eight-year-old daughter. Teenage curiosity with his best friend led to Maggie’s birth, and her mother tragically died soon after. Only 25 and a single dad, Jason hasn’t had time to even think about romance. Disowned by his wealthy family, he’s scrimped and saved to bring Maggie west for a camping vacation. The last thing Jason expects is to question his sexuality after meeting a sexy, older park ranger.

Ben Hettler’s stuck. He loves working in the wild under Montana’s big sky, but at 41, his love life is non-existent, his ex-boyfriend just married and adopted, and Ben’s own dream of fatherhood feels impossibly out of reach. He’s attracted to Jason, but what’s the point? Besides the age difference and Jason’s lack of experience, they live thousands of miles apart. Ben wants more than a meaningless fling.

Then a hunted criminal on the run takes Jason’s daughter hostage, throwing Jason and Ben together in a dangerous search through endless miles of mountain forest. They’ll go to the ends of the earth to rescue Maggie – but what comes next? Can they build a new family together and find a place to call home?

Rating: Narration – A; Content – C

I’ve enjoyed a number of books by Keira Andrews over the last year or so and have definitely become a fan of her writing, so seeing lots of her novels coming out in audio over the past few months has given me a great opportunity to catch up with some of the titles I’ve missed. I loved Semper FiThe Christmas Deal (recently released in audio with John Solo narrating) and Beyond the Sea – and I hoped to love Ends of the Earth which, from the sound of the blurb, promised a romantic suspense storyline. Sadly, however, I can’t report success with this one; the narration is stellar of course, but the story is weak and in places feels like it’s a cheesy made-for-TV movie.

Single dad Jason Kellerman has taken his eight-year-old daughter Maggie on the camping trip of her dreams, to the (fictional) Glacier National Park in Montana.  Jason isn’t really a fan of camping, but Maggie is the apple of his eye, and there isn’t anything he wouldn’t do for her.  It’s been just the two of them more or less since she was born; Amy, Jason’s best friend at high school, asked him to take her V-card and despite using protection something went wrong and she ended up pregnant.  Not long after Maggie was born, Amy and her parents were killed in a car accident, and Jason has raised his daughter alone, giving up his dreams of art college and becoming estranged from his (sort of) well-meaning but interfering parents.

On their first day at the campsite, Jason and Maggie are going on a tour led by one of the park rangers, Ben Hettler, who is friendly and informative and really good with Maggie, answering all her many questions along the route.  Jason can’t help being just a bit distracted by the handsome older man’s muscular physique, even as he tells himself the same thing he’s always told himself whenever he’s noticed a fit guy’s body – that it’s aesthetically pleasing to his artist’s eye.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

Three Fantasies by Leta Blake and Keira Andrews

three fantasies

This title may be purchased from Amazon

Note: The three novellas in this collection – two co-authored by Leta Blake and Keira Andrews, the third by Leta Blake, solo – have been previously published.

Rating: C+

Levity (previously published as Earthly Desires) and Flight (previously published as Love’s Nest) were originally part of a three part series of Gay Fairy Tales, and are, respectively, retellings and reworkings of The Light Princess, a Scottish fairy tale published in 1864, and the more well-known The Twelve Dancing Princesses, as published by the Brothers Grimm in 1812.  The style of the storytelling in both works well to create the overall ‘feel’ of a fairy story, and there’s magic and true love and princes, princesses, fae and witches galore.  Oh, and lots more sex than is to be found in either of the originals!


Levity: A Gay Fairy Tale by Leta Blake and Keira Andrews (2012)

Cursed as an infant with a lack of physical and emotional gravity, Prince Efrosin can’t keep his feet on the ground or his head out of the clouds. Laughing his way through life, he’s never been weighed down by love and lust. When his tenuous tie to the earth is severed, he blows away on the wind. Rescued by Dmitri, an equally cursed woodsman, the two men are irresistibly drawn together. But Efrosin and Dmitri must fight free of their curses in order to find their fairy tale ending and live happily ever after.

Rating: C+

Prince Efrosin is cursed to a life devoid of physical or emotional gravity.  Always tethered, lest he float away and become lost forever, he floats – literally – through life without a care in the world, unable to experience any of the weighty emotions, or even to understand them, which often leads to his responding to such things in a completely inappropriate manner.  The only place he’s different is in the water, where his late mother’s magical gift prevents him from floating away and enables him to experience emotions more normally.

Carried away by the wind one day, he’s rescued from a tree by a handsome woodsman named Dmitri, who was cursed by a witch to be unable to ever leave the land in which he lives.  He’s bound to the earth and able only to imagine all the far off places he would love to see.  Thus Levity is the story of how the earth-bound woodsman and gravity-less prince find freedom and love.

It’s all quite silly – it’s a fairy tale! – but it’s entertaining and there’s plenty of hot sex if that’s what you’re here for (although the lubeless shagging on the riverbank… ouch?).  Like most fairy tales, there’s an evil witch putting a spanner in the works, a rescue to be performed and a sacrifice to be made before our heroes can reach their HEA, which – also like most fairy tales – is a sufficiently gruesome one (it put me in mind of Ashputtel’s sisters trying to get the slipper to fit!)  Levity is cute, sexy and imaginative, and, despite the title, not without some heavier themes.


Flight: A Gay Fairy Tale by Leta Blake and Keira Andrews (2013)

There’s no greater mystery in the kingdom than where Prince Mateo’s sisters disappear to each night. The king is determined to discover where they go and issues a challenge to all the nobles to help him learn their secret. Hoping to protect them, Mateo hides beneath a magic cloak and follows his sisters to an enchanted world of fairies and lusty delights.

Ópalo has waited years to finally meet his human lover. But while Mateo soon succumbs to the pleasures of the flesh, he refuses to surrender his heart so easily. As their worlds collide, Ópalo has to risk everything to win his man forever.

Rating: C

The longest of the three stories, Flight follows the storyline of The Twelve Dancing Princesses, although in this version, there are eleven princesses and one prince, who has not been included in the mysterious nightly excursions that ruin his sisters’ shoes!  When the King issues a decree that whoever can find out where his daughters are going at night can marry any of his children (including Mateo) Mateo is furious at the idea that he could be offered up as a reward and decides to find out what is going on himself.

Ópalo is the youngest of the twelve fae princes and princesses who await their human brides every night.  His bride has not so far arrived, but his patience is rewarded when, at last, Mateo appears.  For three days and nights (time works differently in fairy land!) Ópalo woos Mateo; unlike his brothers and sister, he warns Mateo not to eat anything while he’s there, as otherwise, he’ll be permanently bound to Ópalo.  Mateo is momentarily outraged at the thought that his sisters have been unwillingly enchanted, but Ópalo is quick to reassure him that they ate the fairy cakes they were offered completely of their own volition.  He knows Mateo is his fate, but wants him to want to be with him; and Mateo makes it clear early on that his heart and his love are his to give, and that he’s determined to make his own decision.

That was the most interesting aspect of the story, and it was kind of a double-edged sword.  I liked the emphasis that Mateo placed on making his own choices, but on the other, his refusal to admit that he and Ópalo are destined – and his insistence on not wanting to love anyone – caused Ópalo unnecessary hurt.  That didn’t stop them from having lots of energetic sex though 😉

There’s a dramatic denouement that sees Mateo forced to make a choice – but even then, he’s not all in with it – and the ending was something of an anticlimax; it just seemed to fizzle out and we never got to see Mateo actually commit.  Flight started well but got a bit repetitive around the middle and the ending was disappointing.


Angel Undone: An Urban Fantasy by Leta Blake (2016)

The Archangel Michael is tired. He fought wars and shoved his brother Lucifer out of heaven all before the Dark Ages rolled around. His role as protector of Israel now encompasses all of humanity, and while he performs his job perfectly, there’s little personal joy in it.

Until one night in a bar when he meets Asher.

Michael isn’t sure what it is about the vulnerable, self-deprecating Asher that calls to him, but something about his restrained depths, gentle smiles, and encyclopedic knowledge of flowers tugs at Michael in a way that can’t be denied. Too bad romance isn’t part of his mission.

Rating: B-

This story by Leta Blake isn’t a fairytale retelling; rather, it’s a modern fable – sort of.  The Archangel Michael is frequently sent to Earth to help or protect humans, and on the night this story opens, he’s been instructed to connect with Asher Rosenthal, a depressed, lonely forty-year-old man who has lost his job and been rejected by his family after coming out.  He’s drinking heavily on the verge of making a decision that could cost him his life; Michael steps in and engages him in conversation, and very soon and finds himself in the grip of an intense attraction, the like of which he hasn’t felt in centuries.  He’s done his job and saved Asher… but for Michael, one night isn’t enough and even though he knows he shouldn’t, he arranges to see Asher the next night. And the next.  Even though he fears his Father’s wrath and being cast out, Michael can’t give Asher up.

Most of this story deals with Michael’s conflicting thoughts and desires, and while Asher is sweet (and there’s plenty of angelic sexytimes!) he’s not especially well-developed.  I enjoyed the scenes between Michael and Lucifer, who Michael asks about what it’s like to truly fall (if this was a movie, he’d have all the best lines (!) and steal every scene he was in). Lucifer never passes up a chance to provoke Michael into rebellion against their Father, but even though he’s supposed to be the bad guy, he does listen to Michael and try to help him out.

Angel Undone ended up being my favourite of the three, and I would have given it a higher rating had it not been for the sudden time-jump near the end.  I’m not sure what the author was trying to achieve – a last minute bit of conflict, perhaps? But whatever it was, it felt off, and I knocked half a grade point off because of it.  I found the premise an interesting one and would have liked it to have been more thoroughly explored, together with more development in terms of the romance and the characterisation of Asher.


I’ve read and listened to several books by Leta Blake and Keira Andrews over the last year or so and they’re both firmly on my radar as authors whose work I enjoy and will always look for. But these novellas, while well-written and imaginative, didn’t quite hit the spot.  I enjoyed reading them, but they’re not stories I’m likely to revisit.

Quickie Reviews #6

Another batch of shorter-than-usual book and audio reviews 🙂


Will & Patrick Wake Up Married Series by Leta Blake and Alice Griffiths

Narrated by John Solo

After a drunken night of hot sex in Vegas, strangers Will Patterson and Dr. Patrick McCloud wake up married. A quickie divorce is the most obvious way out—unless you’re the heir of a staunchly Catholic mafia boss with a draconian position on the sanctity of marriage. Throw their simmering attraction into the mix and all bets are off!

Rating: Narration – A-; Content – A-

I read the Wake Up Married series last year and picked up the audios when they were whispersynced. Once you get past the daft premise, this is an entertaining, often very funny and sometimes moving story with two strongly characterised, appealing leads. Patrick – with his complete lack of filter – is a hoot, but I liked that he was just “this is me – take it or leave it”, while Will lacks confidence in just about everything apart from his ability to do his job, which is incredibly important to him. Both of them have emotional baggage to deal with – Patrick has become extremely successful despite an awful childhood; Will can’t see that the relationship he was in for several years was emotionally abusive and only added to his already deep-seated insecurities about his personal attractiveness and self-worth. His blindness about his ex is irritating, but it also works to show just how far he’s been manipulated and how his self-doubt has been fostered.

John Solo’s narration doesn’t always work for me; he’s good, but he has this weird way of suddenly going into what I term “movie-trailer-announcer-mode” when his speech loses natural rhythms and he emphasises words oddly – it usually happens in sex scenes or when the characters are thinking about sex, and other times of heightened tension or emotion. I don’t know whether he didn’t do that as much here, or if I just didn’t notice it as much once I got used to it, but he delivers a really good performance in this and his interpretations of Will and Patrick are especially good and fit their characters perfectly. Will is softly spoken, Patrick is more abrasive and his dialogue has a harsher edge. The secondary characters are well-differentiated and if it weren’t for that odd quirk I mentioned, he’d be on my list of all-time favourite narrators.


Valor on the Move by Keira Andrews

Narrated by Iggy Toma

Growing up gay in the White House hasn’t been easy for Rafael Castillo. Codenamed “Valor” by the Secret Service, Rafa feels anything but brave as he hides in the closet and tries to stay below the radar in his last year of college. His father’s presidency is almost over, and he just needs to stick to his carefully crafted plan. Once his family’s out of the spotlight, he can be honest with his conservative parents about his sexuality and his dream of being a chef. 

It’s definitely not part of Rafa’s plan to get a new Secret Service agent who’s a walking wet dream, but he’s made it this long keeping his desires to himself. Besides, it’s not like Shane Kendrick would even look at him twice if it wasn’t his job. 

Shane’s worked his way up through the Secret Service ranks, and while protecting the president’s shy, boring son isn’t his dream White House assignment, it’s an easy enough task since no one pays Rafa much attention. He discovers there’s a vibrant young man beneath the timid public shell, and while he knows Rafa has a crush on him, he assures himself it’s harmless. Shane’s never had room for romance in his life, and he’d certainly never cross that line with a protectee. Keeping Rafa safe at any cost is Shane’s mission. 

But as Rafa gets under his skin, will they both put their hearts on the line? 

Rating: Narration – A-; Content – C

Nothing new to see here, but an easy quick listen with Iggy Toma doing the honours in the narrators’ chair, and I’d listen to him read the phone book, so…

I generally enjoy May/December romances but in the best ones (like Annabeth Albert’s At Attention or N.R Walker’s The Thomas Elkin Series), the younger protagonist is generally more mature than their years and has a bit of life experience behind them. The problem here is that Rafa, at twenty-one, feels much younger. He’s lived in the White House for seven years (since he was fourteen) and has been pretty sheltered; some of that is undoubtedly due to the fact that he’s closeted and hasn’t wanted to draw the media spotlight by going out with guys, but he comes across as naive. I did like that he was appreciative of the people whose job it was to keep him safe though – so many of these types of bodyguard stories have the protectee trying to give their details the slip all the time and getting into danger as a result, and at least Rafa doesn’t do that. The coming out scene was pretty intense and the emotion – both in the author’s words and the performance – when Rafa was talking about the marriage bill his father had passed really shone through.

So 3 stars for the story, 4.5 for the narration. I might listen to the sequel at some point.


Spring Strings by Lily Morton

Malachi Booth is a supermodel. He’s used to moving about the world, sleeping with whoever takes his fancy and watching the money roll in. The last place he expects to find himself is on a run-down farm in Cornwall, but a bad bout of bronchitis means that he’s stuck there. The only compensation for this dismal state of affairs is that the farmer is very good looking, even if he’s the grumpiest person that Malachi has ever met.

Cadan Landry’s farm has been in his family for hundreds of years but that doesn’t make it any easier to make ends meet. As a consequence, Cadan could be called grumpy. Most men would consider a supermodel collapsing at their feet while dressed in the skimpiest pair of briefs ever made to be a sign of good fortune. Cadan just resents the fact that the young man is taking up space in his cow field.

These two men are from different worlds, but can they ever meet in the middle?

Rating: A-

Utterly delightful.

It’s the rare novella that can offer all the things this one does – off-the-charts chemistry, a well-developed romance, interesting backstories and strong secondary characters – so to find all that here was a very welcome surprise. (Although at 162 pages, this is more of a short novel; there are books billed as novels that come in at a similar page count!)

Spring Strings is an opposites-attract romance between a Cornish farmer and a supermodel, a pairing that absolutely Should Not Work. When beautiful Malachi Booth meets hunky but grumpy Cadan Landry, it’s snark-at-first sight (this is Lily Morton, queen of snark after all!) and sparks fly. When Malachi ends up staying at Cadan’s farm to recuperate following an illness, the pair gradually start to re-assess their preconceptions about each other and a cautious friendship develops, albeit a sexually-charged one.

Malachi is brilliantly written; he’s cynical and closed off and comes across as a total diva to start with, but the thing is that he knows he’s demanding and difficult and looks on it as part of his job, which makes it easy to like him in spite of it. Ms. Morton makes a number of very pertinent and serious observations about the world he moves in beneath the banter, and also gives him a backstory that completely explains the choices he’s made. And Cadan is a genuinely good man but is struggling and pretty much working himself into the ground because of a poor choice he made in the past (although that doesn’t make the situation he’s in his fault).

Watching the pair of them gradually letting down their guards and allowing the other to know him was just lovely, and I especially loved that Malachi had, at long last found somewhere and someone with whom he could really be himself.

Short, sweet and snarky, but with plenty of depth to make it more than a simple piece of fluff, and just the ticket if you’re looking for a pick-me-up in book form.

Semper Fi by Keira Andrews (audiobook) – Narrated by John Solo

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

The war is over. The battle for love has just begun.

As Marines, Cal and Jim depended on each other to survive bloodshed and despair in the Pacific. Relieved to put the horrors of war behind him, Jim went home to his apple orchard and a quiet life with his wife and children. Knowing Jim could never return his forbidden feelings, Cal hoped time and an ocean between them would dull the yearning for his best friend.

But when Jim’s wife dies, Cal returns to help. He doesn’t know a thing about apple farming – or children – but he’s determined to be there for Jim, even as the painful torch he carries blazes back to life. Jim is grateful for his friend’s support as he struggles with buried emotions and dark wartime memories. Then Jim begins to see Cal in a new light, and their relationship deepens in ways neither expected. Can they build a life together as a family and find happiness in a world that would condemn them?

Rating: Narration – B; Content – A-

Semper Fi is an historical romance set in the 1940s, which tells the story of two guys who become close friends during their time with the marines in WW2 and of how they make a life together afterwards. The romance is a gently moving slow burn, and the author has clearly done extensive research into the locations and military operations she describes, and also does a really good job of creating a strong sense of camaraderie among the characters and portraying the “hurry up and wait” nature of military life. (In her author’s note in the print edition of the book, she credits her late father and his extensive collection of books about WW2 for their help in her endeavours.) This is one of those stories that begins slowly and gradually draws you in via a combination of interesting background, engaging characters and poignant love story so that it becomes impossible to put down after a while; it’s not a short audiobook, clocking in at just under twelve hours, but it was well worth the time I spent with it.

It’s 1942, and recruits Jim Bennett and Cal Cunningham meet on the train as they, and hundreds of other men, are travelling to start basic training in the Marine Corps. Cal is instantly struck by the blonde, blue-eyed and wholesome farm-boy from upstate New York and they strike up a conversation, during which Jim tells Cal he’s married with a young daughter, Sophie, back home on the family apple orchard with his wife, Ann. Cal, who is queer, has joined the marines mostly to get away from his privileged, pushy family, and while can’t deny he’s a bit disappointed at that news, he pushes those feelings aside and over the following weeks and months, the two men become firm friends. Their friendship unfolds gradually, each chapter beginning with a foray into the past, showing them as they get through their training – their drill instructor decides Cal is to be his latest whipping-boy, but Cal is tough and stubborn, and never allows the man to break his spirit – and taking us with them and their unit when they’re deployed to the Pacific Islands. The conditions are horrible, they watch their friends and comrades die around them, but through it all, maintain a deep and abiding friendship which is, on Cal’s part at least, tinged with longing and the sadness that he’s fallen for a man who can never feel the same way.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

TBR Challenge: The Christmas Deal by Keira Andrews

This title may be purchased from Amazon.

Will fake boyfriends become the real deal this holiday?

It’s the most wonderful time of the year—except ex-Marine Logan is jobless and getting evicted. Worse, he’s a new single dad with a stepson who hates him. A kid needs stability—not to mention presents under the tree—and Logan’s desperate.

Then he meets lonely Seth and makes a deal.

Can Logan temporarily pretend to be live-in boyfriends to increase Seth’s chances at a promotion? If it provides a roof over their heads for the holidays, hell yeah. Logan considers himself straight—he doesn’t count occasional hookups with guys—but he can fake it. Besides, with his shy little smile, Seth is surprisingly sexy.

Make that damn sexy.

Shocked that Seth has only been with one man, Logan can’t resist sweetening their deal to teach him the joys of casual sex. No strings attached. No feelings. No kissing.

No falling for each other.

Easy, right?

Rating: A-

Usually, when I’m choosing a book to read for the TBR Challenge, I pick one I already own that’s at least a year old.  I can’t remember if that’s a stipulation of the challenge or if it’s one I’ve imposed on myself – after all, the point is to read something from my ever-expanding TBR!  But when I looked through the Christmas-themed romances I have on my Kindle (and I don’t have many) none of them appealed to me, so I ended up reading a newly published title instead.  Keira Andrews is an author who’s been on my radar for a while, but I haven’t yet read anything of hers so I picked up The Christmas Deal, as the fake-relationship trope is one of my favourites.  It proved to be a good decision, as I devoured it in a couple of sittings on the same day, always a good sign!

Former marine Logan Derwood is at an all-time low.  After a work-related accident which left him badly injured, the company he worked for blamed him and hung him out to dry and as a result he’s finding it incredibly hard to find another job.  On top of this, the sudden death of his wife has left him sole guardian of her teenaged son, and Logan is struggling to parent the boy, who is permanently angry and for whom Logan can seem to do nothing right.  And to make things even worse, he’s about to be evicted from his ratty bungalow.

Seth Marston relocated to Albany on the promise of a promotion which hasn’t yet materialised.  His boyfriend moved with him but left him not long afterwards, and now, more than a year later, Seth is still single and still living in the mess of his partly remodelled house, not having either the time or the inclination to date or to finish the work.  But at least the promotion is back on the table; although news that the company’s new CEO is very family oriented and all her new hires/promotions have gone to people with families (to her credit, she’s not prejudiced against same sex couples), could put a spoke in that particular wheel.  When Angela Barker arrives at the office, Seth’s friend and colleague Jenna decides to help him along a bit and sneaks a framed photo of her brother Logan and his stepson onto Seth’s desk and, when Angela notices it, tells her it’s a photo of Seth’s fiancé and their son.  Seth is completely stunned and doesn’t really know what to do so just goes along with it – but things get complicated when Logan arrives at the office to see his sister, Angela recognises him from the photo, and promptly invites herself over for dinner.

Just as confused as Seth (whom he doesn’t really know), Logan plays along until Angela leaves and Jenna explains what she did and why she did it. Logan is too weighed down with other problems to really care very much, until Seth mentions the fact that Angela is expecting to come to ‘their’ home for dinner and that his kitchen is still in pieces.  Which gives Jenna another idea.  Logan needs a place to stay – temporarily – Seth needs his remodelling finished.  Couldn’t they help each other out?

The set-up is a bit bonkers it’s true, but the author makes it work and turns this particular Christmas Deal into a sweet, sexy and charming fake-relationship romance, crafting a convincing emotional connection between two very different men who find, in each other, something they never thought they’d want or be able to have.  Logan has always identified as straight, even though he’s hooked up with guys in the past, but in his mind, that was just sex. Relationships, kissing, physical closeness, they’re all things that happen with women; with guys it’s about getting off and nothing else.  But he can’t ignore the fact that he’s starting to want something other than ‘just sex’ with another man, and it confuses the hell out of him.  His gradually-dawning awareness of his bisexuality is very well done; it’s not that he’s suddenly gay for Seth (this isn’t really a GFY story), it’s that for the first time, he’s experiencing romantic feelings for a man, a desire for intimacy he’d thought reserved for his relationships with women.

Seth comes from an ultra-conservative, highly-religious family who threw him out when he told them he was gay.  That was twelve years ago, but Seth is still grieving for their loss (even though they’re plainly a bunch of arseholes who don’t deserve him!), and this part of his backstory is truly heartbreaking (and made me want to break something!).  He’s a lovely guy with a lot to give, but deep down, can’t quite believe he deserves good things.  His ex was his first and only sexual partner, and even though Seth knows he should get out there and date (and maybe hook up) he dislikes the idea of casual sex, finding it hard to throw off the ideas drummed into him as part of his upbringing.

But things change one night when, after learning that Seth has only ever been with one partner, Logan realises that while he might not be able to offer much, he can at least offer Seth the chance to experience casual, no strings sex and maybe help him get past his hang ups about it. Seth is surprised, to say the least, but decides he needs to stop over-thinking everything and just go for it. The attraction between the pair that has sparked and crackled from their first meeting – and that they’ve tried to suppress – roars to life, and it quickly becomes very clear to each of them that whatever this thing is between them, it’s far from casual.  But owning to wanting something more crosses every boundary they’ve set, and both men are understandably wary of risking their hearts.

The Christmas Deal has quite a lot going on within its pages, but I never felt as though anything was glossed over or rushed.  The characterisation of the two leads is excellent, and there’s a really well-drawn secondary cast including Jenna and Logan’s dad; and even Angela, who could easily have been an unpleasant character, is written with a degree of charm and heart that makes it hard to dislike her.  And then there’s Connor, a grieving, angry thirteen-year-old who is confused and hurting and lashes out whenever and however he can.  Logan really wants to do the right thing for Connor, but he’s finding his way, too, and the two of them clash horribly almost all the time – and I loved that Logan was prepared to listen to advice – from Seth, and even from Angela – as to how he might build bridges with Connor and get things between them on more of an even keel.

I really enjoyed The Christmas Deal and would definitely recommend it to anyone looking for a heart-warming – but not cheesy or overly sweet – love story with depth and charm.  It’s an emotionally satisfying read laden with plenty of Christmassy goodness, warmth, humour and a swoon-worthy romance with enough heat to keep anyone warm in the depths of winter!