Cowboy Seeks Husband by Leta Blake & Indra Vaughn (audiobook) – Narrated by John Solo

cowboy seeks husband

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

Walker Reed’s Louisiana cattle ranch is in debt after costly repairs from hurricane damage. To get the money, his family schemes to make Walker the star of a new bachelor reality series: Queer Seeks Spouse. How hard can it be to fake interest in a dozen handsome men for a few weeks in exchange for enough money to solve all of their problems?

Roan Carmichael never got his master’s degree after his mother was diagnosed with cancer. With medical bills piling up, and a costly experimental treatment available, Roan signs on to be a suitor on Queer Seeks Spouse. While he hates having to leave his sick mother long enough to win the cash for her treatment, he’s willing to do whatever it takes.

Can two men who are just in it for the money fake their way into real and lasting love?

Rating: Narration – B; Content – B-

Cowboy Seeks Husband is a standalone romance set on a Louisiana cattle ranch which is also being used as the location for filming of the first series of Queer Seeks Spouse, the a Bachelor-esque reality show which is the first of its kind to feature contestants from the LGBTQ+ community. It’s a simple, low angst story (and despite the attempts of the show’s producers to make it otherwise, it’s fairly low drama, too!) and while I had a few nitpicks about the narration, John Solo does a good job overall.

Walker Reed was “voluntold” into being a candidate for Queer Seeks Spouse by his stepmother and friend/ranch foreman, mostly because they really need an injection of cash to make repairs and improvements to the ranch, but also because they know how lonely Walker has been since his last relationship ended some years before. He signs the application, not for one moment expecting to be chosen for the show – and no-one is more surprised than he is when he gets the call telling him he’s going to be the star of their inaugural series. Once the film crew and contestants arrive however, he begins to regret his decision; everywhere he looks there’s a camera or microphone in his face, and he’s being told what he can and can’t do; he tries to resign himself to having practically his every waking moment recorded for the next six weeks with the thoughts of the money he’s earning… and the idea that maybe – and no matter how unlikely – he might meet someone special.

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!

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.

Any Given Lifetime by Leta Blake (audiobook) – Narrated by John Solo

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

He’ll love him in any lifetime.

Neil isn’t a ghost, but he feels like one. Reincarnated with all his memories from his prior life, he spent 20 years trapped in a child’s body, wanting nothing more than to grow up and reclaim the love of his life.

As an adult, Neil finds there’s more than lost time separating them. Joshua has built a beautiful life since Neil’s death, and how exactly is Neil supposed to introduce himself? As Joshua’s long-dead lover in a new body? Heartbroken and hopeless, Neil takes refuge in his work, developing microscopic robots called nanites that can produce medical miracles.

When Joshua meets a young scientist working on a medical project, his soul senses something his rational mind can’t believe. Has Neil truly come back to him after 20 years? And if the impossible is real, can they be together at long last?

Rating: Narration – A-; Content – A

Leta Blake’s Any Given Lifetime has been on my radar for a while, and I even have the ebook – but I haven’t managed to read it yet, so I eagerly pounced on the new audio version. I knew, based on the synopsis, that it was likely to be an unusual and emotional listen, and it certainly was; it’s one of the most affecting and unique romances I’ve ever come across.

The book opens in January 2012, and we meet twenty-two year old Joshua Stouder who, just a month earlier, lost the man he loved when he was killed in a road accident. Joshua has just found out that Neil has left him a massive fortune and a position at the head of the board of the Neil Russell Foundation for Advanced Nanite Research, the company he’d requested be set up after his death to continue his research into new medical technology. Joshua had had no idea how wealthy Neil really was; they had been together for only nine months before Neil was killed and were very much in love, even though they hadn’t even had a physical relationship (something Joshua now bitterly regrets and blames on his conservative upbringing, terming himself a skittish country boy stewing in internalised homophobia).

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.