Dream (Skins #1) by Garrett Leigh (audiobook) – Narrated by Shaun Grindell

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon.

When unrequited love leaves Dylan Hart sleepless and nursing his wounds, instinct draws him to the one place he’s found mindless respite in the past – Lovato’s. It’s a place for every fantasy, where a night of insane NSA sex brings relief.

It should be a perfect escape, and for one magical night it seems that way, but then worlds collide, and reality bites when Dylan’s hookup desperately needs a friend. Surely Dylan can’t trust his instincts when friendship has bruised his heart so badly before?

The deck is stacked against former ballet dancer Angelo Giordano ever finding real love. At least visiting Lovato’s offers respite from a life defined by illness; a glimmer of light in the dull gray of his so-called life without dance. But then he encounters Dylan, who makes his heart pound once more with purpose.

Angelo’s mind is blown by this man, but the disease that ended his career won’t let him bask in new love. He’s drowning, and Dylan can’t save him while insecurities swamp them both. The only way to make it means confronting their demons. If Dylan can turn his back on the past, and Angelo can face his uncertain future, maybe they can chase their dreams together.

Rating: Narration: B-; Content: B

Garrett Leigh is another of those authors I’ve not managed to get around to reading yet, and once again I’m really pleased to see her novels being released in audio format so I can play catch up! Dream, the first book in the Skins series, is an angsty but deeply romantic story featuring two young men who are struggling to adapt to big changes in their lives – and not always dealing with them well.

Dylan Hart has been in love with his best friend Sam for years, even though he knows Sam isn’t into him “that way” – and he’s been (sort of) content to make a regular third in Sam’s relationship with his girlfriend, Eddie (their story is told in What Matters, although it’s not necessary to be familiar with it in order to enjoy this novel). As Dream opens, Dylan has finally admitted to himself that it isn’t enough for him, and that he needs to cut the ties if he’s to stand any chance of finding the sort of love they have.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

Orientation (Borealis Investigations #1) by Gregory Ashe

This title may be purchased from Amazon.

Shaw and North are best friends, private detectives, and in danger of losing their agency. A single bad case, followed by crippling lawsuits, has put them on the brink of closing shop. Until, that is, a client walks into their Benton Park office.

Matty Fennmore is young, blond, and beautiful, and he’s in danger. When he asks for Shaw and North’s help foiling a blackmail scheme, the detectives are quick to accept.

The conspiracy surrounding Matty runs deeper than Shaw and North expect. As they dig into the identity of Matty’s blackmailer, they are caught in a web that touches politicians, the local LGBT community, and the city’s police.

An attack on Matty drives home the rising stakes of the case, and Shaw and North must race to find the blackmailer before he can silence Matty. But a budding romance lays bare long-buried feelings between Shaw and North, and as their relationship splinters, solving the case may come at the cost of their friendship.

Rating: B+

Orientation is the first book in a new series of mysteries by Gregory Ashe, and in it, he introduces us to North McKinney and Kingsley Shaw Wilder Aldrich, who own and run a detective agency in St. Louis.  They’ve been friends – best friends – since college even though they couldn’t be more different.  North is from a blue collar family – his father was a construction worker and North himself worked on a fair few building sites before college – while Shaw was born with a whole set of silver spoons in his mouth, and dropped out of college after he was the victim of a hate crime that left him badly injured and killed his then (and first ever) boyfriend.  Even though the perpetrator was subsequently arrested and imprisoned, Shaw has never been sure the right man was convicted, and that – and his experience as a victim of crime – is one of the things that prompted him to become a private investigator.

The author very quickly establishes the nature and strength of the relationship between the two men.  North is gruff, down to earth and often treats Shaw with the kind of affectionate exasperation usually afforded to siblings, while Shaw is inquisitive, bright and enthusiastic with a kind of wide-eyed innocence about him unusual for a man in his mid-twenties.  They’ve got a bit of an odd-couple dynamic going on (Shaw is the ridiculously messy one while North likes things just so), and when they’re working or in a tight spot their banter is so smooth that they practically finish each other’s sentences.  They may be opposites in many ways, but they’re on the same mental wavelength and it’s clear that there’s nothing they wouldn’t do for one another.  It’s also clear they’ve got it pretty bad for each other and have spent years hiding it; North is married (not too happily as becomes apparent as the story progresses) and thinks Shaw only sees him as an obnoxious brother, while Shaw is still struggling, almost eight years after the attack, to trust a man enough to go out on a date with him; and even were that not the case, North is off-limits and doesn’t think of him that way anyway.

The firm they run together, Borealis Investigations, hit a rough patch a few months earlier following a case which saw North shooting a suspect in order to save Shaw’s life. Not only has North’s PI license has been suspended pending appeal, the suspect then dragged him into a costly lawsuit. They haven’t had a case in months, but things start to take an upturn when an attractive, nervous young man makes his way into the office looking for Shaw and asks for help.  North is immediately on his guard, and not just because he sees straight away that the guy has the sort of lost-puppy thing going on that will appeal to Shaw’s protective instincts – and doesn’t like it.  When Matty Fennmore haltingly explains he’s sought them out because he’s being blackmailed, North  – quite sensibly – doesn’t want to go near the case and suggests Matty should go to the police.  But when Matty goes into detail – telling them how he’s been so scared of coming out because of his ultra-religious family and how he can’t go to the police because that will make everything public and his parents will find out –  North knows he’s lost the battle.  Shaw is clearly smitten as well as outraged on Matty’s behalf and reminds North that they need clients and that people like Matty are why they started Borealis in the first place, to help people nobody else can or will help.  North is forced to admit that Shaw is right about one thing – they do need the work.  But he doesn’t have to like it.

You can read the rest of this review at All About Romance.

Daily Grind (Takeover #4) by Anna Zabo (audiobook) – Narrated by Iggy Toma


This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

Brian Keppler, owner of Ground N’At, the coffee shop beneath SR Anderson Consulting, doesn’t have time for a relationship. His most recent girlfriend broke up with him because he’d become married to his shop, which is falling apart without his favorite barista, Justin. As he struggles to stay afloat, the arrival of handsome British high-tech whiz Robert Ancroft becomes another complication. Rob quickly becomes a fixture at the shop with his sharp wit and easy charm, and Brian soon finds himself looking forward more and more to Rob’s visits – to the point where his heart skips a beat when he walks in. But will Brian be able to come to terms with his previously unexplored sexual identity and find happiness now that he has a chance?

Rating: Narration: B+; Content: A-

Daily Grind, the fourth book in Anna Zabo’s Takeover series, is perhaps one of the more unusual romances I’ve listened to recently in that it takes a hard look at how the pressures of work – ones we often inflict upon ourselves – can make us lose sight of what’s really important, and the way such factors can affect our quality of life and relationships.

Brian Keppler owns the popular coffee shop Grounds N’at and is dedicated to providing the best tasting and best prepared coffee in Pittsburgh. Brian has owned the shop for almost a decade and he’s always been a bit of a workaholic – as can be affirmed by his small number of ex-girlfriends, all of whom cited Brian’s insistence on working all hours and putting his business before anything else as the reasons for their break-ups. Lately, however, things have been getting even more difficult; rising costs and staffing problems mean Brian is spending more time working than ever, and although he keeps telling himself it won’t always be like this, there’s no sign of a let up and things are looking bleak.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

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

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

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

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

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

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

Rating: Narration: B+; Content: B

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Trick Roller (Seven of Spades #2) by Cordelia Kingsbridge (audiobook) – Narrated by Wyatt Baker

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

It’s the height of summer in Las Vegas. Everyone believes the serial killer Seven of Spades is dead – except Levi Abrams and Dominic Russo – and it’s back to business as usual. For Levi, that means investigating a suspicious overdose at the Mirage that looks like the work of a high-class call girl, while Dominic pursues a tough internship with a local private investigator. The one bright spot for both of them is their blossoming relationship.

But things aren’t so simple. Soon, Levi is sucked into a dangerous web of secrets and lies, even as his obsession with the Seven of Spades intensifies. Dominic knows that Levi isn’t crazy. He knows the Seven of Spades is still out there, and he’ll do anything to prove it. But Dominic has his own demons to battle, and he may be fighting a losing war.

One thing is certain: the Seven of Spades holds all the cards. It won’t be long before they show their hand.

Rating: Narration: B-; Content: B+

Note: The Seven of Spades series has an overarching plotline, and all the books need to be listened to in order so as to get the most out of the story as a whole; there will be spoilers for book one, Kill Game, in this review.

Trick Roller is book two in Cordelia Kingsbridge’s gripping Seven of Spades series, which follows the hunt for a devious and enigmatic serial killer exacting vigilante justice in Las Vegas. At the end of Kill Game, the killer was apprehended, committed suicide in custody – and the case was closed. Homicide detective Levi Abrams is convinced that they got the wrong guy, but his boss refuses to listen to his protestations and has warned Levi not to attempt any further investigation; the Seven of Spades is dead and that’s an end of it.

Three months later, life goes on much as usual and Levi and his work-partner, Martine, are investigating the murder of a doctor who was in Vegas in order to attend a major medical conference. Given that the man was known to use escort services, their initial thoughts are that he was probably the victim of a trick roller, a prostitute who drugged and then stole from him. But when Levi and Martine track down the woman whose ‘company’ he’d paid for that night, that scenario begins to seem unlikely; she works through a very high-end escort agency that pays well, and certainly wouldn’t have needed to steal from a client. Once they’ve completed their interview, the detectives are sure the woman is innocent – until a stash of Rohypnol is discovered in her house, and even though she swears it doesn’t belong to her, Levi and Martine have to arrest her for the murder.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

Uncommon Ground (Aliens in New York #1) by Kelly Jensen

This title may be purchased from Amazon

Dillon Lee’s grandfather was a conspiracy theorist. Every summer he’d take Dillon on a tour of New York City while entertaining him with tales of aliens. Fifteen years later, after a phone call from a lawyer, Dillon is carrying his grandfather’s ashes from landmark to landmark, paying a sort of tribute, and trying to figure out what to do with his unexpected legacy. When someone tries to steal the ashes, a guy Dillon has barely met leaps to the rescue, saving the urn and the day.

Steilang Skovgaard is a reclusive billionaire—and not human. He’s been living in Manhattan for over twenty years, working on a long-term plan to establish a safe haven for his people. For seven years, his reports have gone unanswered, however, and he is the only surviving member of his interstellar team. The connection he forms with Dillon soon after meeting him is something he’s missed, something he craves.

But after someone keeps trying to steal the ashes, it looks as though Dillon’s grandfather was involved in more than theories—and might not have been exactly who everyone thought he was. Steilang doesn’t know how close he can get to the truth without revealing himself, and Dillon is running out of people to trust. Can these two work out what’s going on before the thieves set their sights higher?

Rating: A-

Kelly Jensen’s Uncommon Ground is book one in her Aliens in New York duology, a story that combines mystery, science fiction and a bit of action with a tender and poignant romance between two people who don’t really fit anywhere – until they find each other.

Dillon Lee has always felt like an outsider.  He’s gay, he feels disconnected from his Korean heritage and his unusual looks have always marked him as a bit odd.  He doesn’t let any of that get him down though, and embraces his “oddness”; he dyes his hair purple and has facial piercings, which always get him a few funny looks wherever he goes – but that’s who he is and stuff anyone who has a problem with it.  He’s returned to New York City for the first time in fifteen years following the death of his conspiracy-theorist grandfather – with whom he used to spend his summers when he was a kid, but hasn’t seen since he was fifteen – to meet with lawyers about his grandfather’s will, but also to take his ashes on a sentimental journey around the city’s landmarks to say goodbye.  Dillon has stopped in at a coffee shop after an unsuccessful attempt to visit the top of the Empire State Building, when he notices a very well-dressed, attractive man staring at him from the queue.  At first Dillon thinks it’s the usual – someone eyeing him because he’s weird-looking – but then realises it’s not that at all when the guy takes a seat behind him and seems about to start a conversation.  But before they can exchange more than a few words, someone moves between them, grabs Dillon’s backpack (containing the urn and ashes) and runs off with it – and Dillon immediately gives chase.

When Steilang Skovgaard  – Lang – sees the guy with the purple hair sitting in the coffee shop he has to remind himself to stop staring.  But he can’t help it.  The lanky build, the large, wide-set eyes and distinctive facial features… he’s  gorgeous and there’s something about the colour of his hair that reminds Lang unaccountably of home.   When Dillon rushes off after his stolen backpack, Lang goes too and eventually manages to cut off the thief and retrieve the bag, injuring himself quite badly in the process.  Given he’s not human (not a spoiler – it’s in the synopsis) Lang doesn’t want to go to a hospital, so despite the injuries he’s sustained – which should start healing soon courtesy of the repair cells in his body – he sneaks away from the scene, only for Dillon to catch up with him. He insists on taking Lang up to his apartment – the one his grandfather left him – to help him to clean up a bit before making his way home.  In a lot of pain (his repair cells aren’t working as quickly as they should), Lang takes Dillon up on his offer.  And gets another shock when he gets a good look at the urn he saved and sees it engraved with a symbol he recognises as belonging to the Wren, one of the three clans from his home planet of Jord.  Clearly, Dillon’s eccentric grandfather wasn’t what or who Dillon believed him to be – but how can Lang find out the truth without revealing exactly who and what he is?

You can read the rest of this review at All About Romance.

Badlands (Badlands #1) by Morgan Brice (audiobook) – Narrated by Kale Williams

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

Medium and clairvoyant Simon Kincaide owns a Myrtle Beach boardwalk shop where he runs ghost tours, holds seances, and offers private psychic readings, making a fresh start after his abilities cost him his lover and his job as a folklore professor.

Jaded cop Vic D’Amato saw something supernatural he couldn’t explain during a shootout several years ago in Pittsburgh and relocated to Myrtle Beach to leave the past behind, still skeptical about the paranormal. But when the search for a serial killer hits a dead end, Vic battles his skepticism to ask Simon for help.

As the body count rises, Simon’s involvement makes him a target and a suspect. But Simon can’t say no, even if it costs him his life and heart.

Rating: Narration: B; Content: C+

Morgan Brice’s Badlands is the first book in a series featuring medium and clairvoyant Sebastian (Simon) Kincaide – a former university professor and expert in mythology and folklore – and Lt. Vic D’Amato, a homicide detective whose one brush with the supernatural a couple of years before the story opens almost cost him his career. It’s a murder mystery with a paranormal twist, but although the premise was intriguing, the execution left a bit to be desired, both in terms of the romance and the mystery.

Sebastian now goes by Simon (which I think is his middle name?) and has done since he moved to Myrtle Beach in South Carolina following his dismissal from his university post some three years earlier. His courses on myths and folklore were popular, but when the crazy fundamentalist father of one of his students – who was also a member of the university board – took issue with the course content and then discovered reports online of Simon’s clairvoyance, his department was forced to dismiss him. Simon now owns a thriving business in the resort of Myrtle Beach – Grand Stand Ghost Tours – and makes his living from holding seances, running tours, and giving talks and classes.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.