Trust With a Chaser (Rainbow Cove #1) by Annabeth Albert (audiobook) – Narrated by Marc Bachmann and Iggy Toma

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

One hot cop. One bar owner out for redemption. One smoking-hot summer fling destined to leave scorch marks…

Mason Hanks has returned to Rainbow Cove, Oregon with one goal in mind: turn the struggling coastal community into a thriving LGBTQ tourism destination. Step one is transforming an old bar and grill into a gay-friendly eatery. Step two? Don’t piss off Nash Flint, the very hot, very stern chief of police who’s not so sure he’s on board with Mason’s big plans.

Nash Flint just wants to keep his community safe and enjoy the occasional burger in peace. He’s not big on change nor is he a fan of Mason’s troublemaking family, especially his rowdy older brothers. But Mason slowly wins him over with fantastic cooking and the sort of friendship Nash has been starving for.

When their unlikely friendship takes a turn for the sexy, both men try to steer clear of trouble. Nash believes he’s too set in his ways for Mason, and Mason worries that his family’s reputation will ruin any future with Nash.

Burning up the sheets in secret is a surefire way to crash and burn, and discovery forces a heart-wrenching decision – is love worth the risk of losing everything?

Rating: Narration – B/A : Content – B+

Having really enjoyed Annabeth Albert’s recently concluded Out of Uniform series, I’ve been seeking out her backlist titles in audio (my preferred way of playing catch-up!), and decided to try Trust with a Chaser, the story of a guy who returns to his home town to set up a business, and his under-the-radar romance with the Mr. Grumpy-Pants local police chief. The fact that Iggy Toma – who has quickly become a firm favourite – is one of the narrators certainly factored into my decision, although I haven’t listened to Marc Bachmann before, so I wasn’t quite sure what to expect on that score. I did have a few niggles about his performance in the end, but it didn’t affect my overall enjoyment of what proved to be a tender, sexy romance with a May/December (or maybe June/October!) vibe.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

Rend (Riven #2) by Roan Parrish (audiobook) – Narrated by Greg Boudreaux

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

After a whirlwind romance, a man with a painful past learns to trust the musician who makes him believe in happy endings.

Matt Argento knows what it feels like to be alone. After a childhood of abandonment, he never imagined someone might love him – much less someone like Rhys Nyland, who has the voice of an angel, the looks of a god, and the worship of his fans.

Matt and Rhys come from different worlds, but when they meet, their chemistry is incendiary. Their romance is unexpected, intense, and forever – at least, that’s what their vows promise. Suddenly, Matt finds himself living a life he never thought possible: safe and secure in the arms of a man who feels like home. But when Rhys leaves to go on tour for his new album, Matt finds himself haunted by the ghosts of his past.

When Rhys returns, he finds Matt twisted by doubt. But Rhys loves Matt fiercely, and he’ll go to hell and back to triumph over Matt’s fears. After secrets are revealed and desires are confessed, Rhys and Matt must learn to trust each other if they’re going to make it. That means they have to fall in love all over again – and this time, it really will be forever.

Rating: Narration – A+ : Content – B+

Rend isn’t an easy book to read or listen to, but it’s one that well repays the time spent with it. It’s the tale of a marriage on the edge of collapse and a troubled young man who is dealing with some very real, very deep emotional issues – and I came away from it having experienced laughter and tears, moments of joy, moments of pain and everything in between. When an author can do that simply through the arrangement of words on a printed page… it’s powerful stuff. And when you then take those words and give them to a narrator of the calibre of Greg Boudreaux – who I knew would nail, absolutely and perfectly, every single emotion behind them – there was never a doubt that I was going to be reduced to a pile of emotional rubble by the end.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

A Chip and a Chair (Seven of Spades #5) by Cordelia Kingsbridge

This title may be purchased from Amazon

It’s time to lay all the cards on the table.

Detective Levi Abrams and PI Dominic Russo are reunited and more committed to each other than ever, but they can’t truly move forward with their lives until the serial killer who’s been tormenting them is behind bars. When a secret burial site is discovered in the desert with the remains of the Seven of Spades’s earliest victims, that goal finally seems within reach.

But just as the net is tightening, the neo-Nazi militia Utopia launches their master plan with a devastating act of terror that changes the landscape of Las Vegas forever. As Levi and Dominic scramble to prevent the city’s destruction, they’re opposed by treacherous forces that propel them toward catastrophe. In the end, Levi’s fate may rest in the hands of the very killer he’s been hunting.

The race to save Sin City is on, and these players are going for broke. No matter how hopeless things seem, as long as they’re together and they’ve got a chip to play and a chair to sit in, they’re still in the game.

Rating: A

Cordelia Kingsbridge’s Seven of Spades series earned a place on my Best of 2018 list, and the penultimate book, One-Eyed Royals, was actually my pick for best book of the year.  I’ve shouted from the rooftops about this series for the last six months and to say I’ve been eager to get my hands on this final instalment is one hell of an understatement!  A Chip and a Chair is, I’m delighted to say, a supremely fitting end to what has been an incredible series – a tightly-plotted, utterly gripping story full of high-stakes action, emotional highs and lows, and boasting a wonderfully developed, sexy romance between a couple of complex, well-defined and compelling characters.

As is always the case when reviewing suspense novels, I’m not going to say too much about the plot so as to avoid spoilers, but there are spoilers for the earlier books in the series in this review.

For the better part of a year, Las Vegas has been the ‘home base’ for a particularly devious serial killer dubbed the Seven of Spades, because each of their victims has had a seven of spades playing card left on their body.  Right from the start, the killer cultivated a relationship – of sorts – with homicide detective Levi Abrams; he’s the one they contact, the one they’ve sometimes fed information to and the one they’ve gone to great lengths to protect.  As the books have progressed, the SoS’s partiality for Levi has led to increased suspicion among his colleagues and a growing sense of isolation from them; a man with anger management issues who struggles to keep himself under a tight rein at the best of times, Levi has been slowly unravelling and getting closer and closer to the edge of his control.

The love and support of his partner, PI Dominic Russo, has kept Levi grounded for the most part, although the couple hit a rocky patch at the end of book three, Cash Plays, after Dominic, a compulsive gambler, relapsed, his lies and manipulation driving a wedge between them.  Their break-up left both of them struggling through some of the blackest times of their lives alone, but by the end of One-Eyed Royals, they were back together, filled with a new determination to work things out between them – and at the beginning of A Chip and a Chair, they’re moving into a new apartment.  It’s been a month since the game-changing events at the end of One-Eyed Royals, and the Seven of Spades has been quiet since then – but Levi knows it’s only a matter of time before they strike again.

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

The Understatement of the Year (Ivy Years #3) by Sarina Bowen (audiobook) – Narrated by Teddy Hamilton and Christian Fox

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

What happened in high school stayed in high school. Until now.

Five years ago Michael Graham betrayed the only person who ever really knew him. Since then he’s made an art of hiding his sexual orientation from everyone. Including himself. So it’s a shock when his past strolls right into the Harkness College locker room, sporting a bag of hockey gear and the same slow smile that had always rendered Graham defenseless.

For Graham, there is only one possible reaction: total, debilitating panic. With one loose word, the team’s new left wing could destroy Graham’s life as he knows it.

John Rikker is stuck being the new guy. Again. And it’s worse than usual, because the media has latched on to the story of the only “out” player in Division One hockey. As the satellite trucks line the sidewalk outside the rink, his new teammates are not amused. And one player in particular looks sick every time he enters the room.

Rikker didn’t exactly expect a warm welcome from Graham. But the guy won’t even meet his eyes. From the looks of it, his former…best friend/boyfriend/whatever isn’t doing so well. He drinks too much and can’t focus during practice.

Either the two loneliest guys on the team will self-destruct from all the new pressures in their lives, or they can navigate the pain to find a way back to one another. To say that it won’t be easy is the understatement of the year.

Rating: Narration – A : Content – A-

The first sports romance I ever listened to was HIM, by Sarina Bowen and Elle Kennedy.  I’m not a fan of sports of any kind and I worried that perhaps the sporty stuff would both bore me and go completely over my head.  Well, that book proved me wrong in the sense that while the sporty stuff DID go over my head, it wasn’t prolonged enough to get boring, AND the narration by Teddy Hamilton and Jacob Morgan was so incredibly good that it enabled me to get through those parts without being tempted to fast-forward through them!

The premise of Sarina Bowen’s The Understatement of the Year bears more than a passing resemblance to HIM – one of her collaborations with Elle Kennedy – because it’s centred around ice-hockey, and the two leads – Michael Graham and John Rikker (voiced here by Christian Fox and Teddy Hamilton respectively) – are childhood friends whose friendship ends abruptly, for reasons one of them doesn’t understand.  But unlike Wes and Jamie in HIM, Rikker and Graham had already acknowledged their mutual attraction and begun to explore the physical side of it before things crashed and burned between them, and their friendship ended for very different reasons, which ultimately forced one of them so far back into the closet, it’s a wonder he didn’t end up in Narnia.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

Noble Hops (Trouble Brewing #3) by Layla Reyne

This title may be purchased from Amazon

Everything Dominic Price has worked hard to uphold is about to come crashing down on everything he holds dear.

So much for the quiet life. Just as assistant US attorney and brewery owner Dominic Price is settling into a comfy new chapter with his partner, FBI agent Cameron Byrne, the sudden death of Nic’s father puts their happily-ever-after in jeopardy. Nic immediately suspects foul play, his prime suspect a notorious gangster his father was indebted to—only now the loan shark is out for blood.

Cam has been longing for Nic to finally let him in on this very personal case. But when Nic’s belief that he’s the sole Price heir is upended, the line between personal and professional starts to blur, leaving Cam unsure of where he stands.

Nic is depending on Cam’s kidnap and rescue expertise to save his recently discovered family member before it’s too late. But with a dangerous threat closing in, the ghosts from Nic’s past cast long shadows. Any relationship could crack under the pressure, but for Nic, finding his family might mean losing the love of his life.

Rating: B-

Although I haven’t given as high grades to the books in Layla Reyne’s Trouble Brewing series as I did to some of those in her earlier Agents Irish and Whiskey one, for the most part, I’ve enjoyed the novels in spite of their weaknesses. This is primarily because I like the two principals – FBI agent Cameron Byrne and Assistant US Attorney Nic Price – and the sense of family and connections the author has created between them and the recurring secondary characters, most of whom appeared in the earlier series. These are quick, easy reads that are rather like TV shows or action movies in book form; the heroes are impossibly handsome, the ex-SEAL-turned-Lawyer gets to kick ass physically as well as in the courtroom, and the computer experts can hack pretty much everything in the world without breaking a sweat, or turn up all sorts of information in the five minutes it takes most laptops to simply boot up!

So. Taking a degree of suspension of disbelief as read, Noble Hops brings to a close the overarching plotline of the series, in which Nic discovered that his father Curtis Price, a wealthy businessman, was heavily in debt to Duncan Vaughn, a dangerous criminal and slippery character with a finger in many, many pies, that nobody has – as yet – been able to pin anything on. Vaughn tried threatening Nic and his business – the small craft brewery he co-owns with a former SEAL buddy – as a way to force Curtis to pay off his loans, and then to force Nic to pay them – and the fear of putting those he loves in harm’s way led Nic to try to conceal what was happening from Cam and those he’s closest to. Fortunately, by the end of book one, Nic was brought to see that he didn’t have to deal with the situation alone, and now, he and Cam are openly living together and obviously in it for the long haul. That’s not to say Nic isn’t still carrying around a large crate of worry and guilt over events in his past, but he’s at last adjusting to the fact that he has a family now – maybe not a family by blood, but one forged of strong bonds of friendship and loyalty – people who love him and he can trust to have his back.

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

TBR Challenge: Paternity Case (Hazard and Somerset #3) by Gregory Ashe

This title may be purchased from Amazon.

It’s almost Christmas, and Emery Hazard finds himself face to face with his own personal nightmare: going on a double date with his partner—and boyhood crush—John-Henry Somerset. Hazard brings his boyfriend; Somers brings his estranged wife. Things aren’t going to end well.

When a strange call interrupts dinner, however, Hazard and his partner become witnesses to a shooting. The victims: Somers’s father, and the daughter of a high school friend. The crime is inexplicable. There is no apparent motive, no connection between the victims, and no explanation for how the shooter reached his targets.

Determined to get answers, Hazard and Somers move forward with their investigation in spite of mounting pressure to stop. Their search for the truth draws them into a dark web of conspiracy and into an even darker tangle of twisted love and illicit desire. And as the two men come face to face with the passions and madness behind the crime, they must confront their own feelings for each other—and the hard truths that neither man is ready to accept.

Rating: A

Paternity Case is the third in Gregory Ashe’s series of novels featuring two detectives based in the small Missouri town of Wahredua, Emery Hazard and John-Henry Somerset.  These are gritty, complex stories that are practically impossible to put down once started; the mysteries are twisty and really well-conceived but at the heart of each book – and the series – is the complicated, fucked-up relationship between the two principals, a pair of stubborn, emotionally constipated individuals with a dark and  painful shared history that stretches back twenty years.

While each of the six books in the series boasts a self-contained mystery, there is also an overarching storyline that runs throughout, so I’d strongly recommend starting at the beginning with book one, Pretty Pretty Boys.  There’s probably enough backstory in this book for a newcomer, but if you do jump in here, you’ll miss out on a lot of relationship development and exploration of Hazard and Somerset’s history – which is absolutely integral to the series as a whole.  Gregory Ashe knows how to create sexual tension so thick it can be cut with a knife; this is slow-burn romance at its finest – and possibly most frustrating! – so don’t go into this series expecting a quick HFN/HEA.

A little bit of background. Detective Emery Hazard moves back to his small home town of Wahredua after being fired from his job in St. Louis (for reasons we don’t yet know).  The town doesn’t hold many good memories for him; the only openly gay kid at school, he didn’t have many friends and was badly bullied by three boys who made his life a misery for years.  Of these, one is now dead, another is a broken down mess, and the third… Hazard doesn’t know what happened to him, the charming, popular, movie-star handsome John-Henry Somerset, son of one of the town’s wealthiest families – until he turns up at his new station and meets his new partner.

Yep.

The first book sees Hazard and Somerset – who now goes by Somers – starting to work though the issues that lie between them, although it’s going to take more than an apology and the new, grudging, respect Hazard slowly develops for his new partner’s ability as a detective, and Somers’ admiration for Hazard’s intellect and his ability to work his way through complicated puzzles and construct solutions, to fix things between them.  Somers is almost desperate to prove to Hazard that he’s changed – and he really has – since they were in college, but Hazard is cautious and doesn’t want to have anything to do with him that isn’t work-related.  Somers is garrulous and quick to tease the much more serious Hazard, and on the surface they’ve got a bit of an ‘odd couple’ thing going on; but underneath, it’s all much darker and more complicated as the feelings that sparked between them twenty years earlier come roaring back to life.

For two books, readers have watched them struggle to adjust to their working partnership and ignore the intense mutual attraction that neither wants to acknowledge.  They’ve had their heated moments, but are both in deep denial; Somers has been trying (unsuccessfully) to work things out with his estranged wife (with whom he has a two-year-old daughter), while Hazard has embarked on a relationship with a gorgeous (and much younger) grad-student, Nico Flores. Both men are involved with someone who just doesn’t ‘get’ them or understand their dedication to their job or loyalty to each other, especially Nico, who can’t understand how Hazard can bear to work with Somers considering their history.

Paternity Case opens as Hazard and Somers are getting ready to go out – on a double-date, of all things; Hazard and Nico, Somers and his almost-ex-wife, Cora.  The reader already knows this is one of the worst ideas in history and a train-wreck in waiting, but before things can get too uncomfortable, Somers receives a phone call from his father, who practically orders him to the family home during the Somerset’s annual pre-Christmas party.  It’s not a case, but Somers insists Hazard accompanies him anyway, and they arrive to find a very drunk – or stoned – old guy wearing nothing but a Santa hat in the middle of the Somerset’s living room.  As Somers and Hazard try to find out what on earth is going on, the lights go out and shots are fired, one killing a young woman and five of the others landing in Glenn Somerset’s chest but somehow not killing him.

Naked-Santa is deemed to be responsible and is taken into custody, but both Hazard and Somers are immediately seeing things that don’t add up. And when they arrive at the hospital to discover that the suspect has been shot and killed by another detective, it ratchets up suspicions they’ve held for a while now that one of their colleagues is on the take.  The hints of political corruption and intrigue that have appeared in the earlier books now become something more solid, and when Hazard and Somers are ordered to drop their investigation they smell more than just one rat.  Their boss insists there’s nothing to investigate, but neither man buys that; for Somers this is personal – he might not get along with Glenn Somerset, but the man is still his father – and Hazard isn’t about to sit idly by and watch his partner self-destruct or put himself in danger without someone to watch his back.

While both characters get equal billing in the series title, the previous two books have focused a little more on Hazard as the main protagonist. Here, that focus shifts to Somers, and as he starts to unravel, readers are shown more of what lies beneath that gorgeous, wise-cracking exterior – a man who doesn’t like himself much and who is weighed down by the guilt of a terrible betrayal he wrought years ago.  Mr. Ashe very deftly delineates Somers’ toxic family situation, and his insight into the power dynamics that existed when Hazard and Somerset were kids is completely on the nose.  We see a different side to the normally personable, laid-back detective as the author peels away the layers to reveal  the loneliness lying at his core as he is forced to face up to some painful and unwelcome truths about his long-buried feelings, and to reach some significant conclusions as a result.

Both men are guarded and not easy to understand. They talk a lot – well, Somers does – but rarely – if ever – say what they mean, and right from the start, their conversations have been as much about what they don’t say as what they do. They’re both excellent detectives; Hazard is precise and logical while Somers has the kind of emotional intelligence that makes him a really good ‘people person’ – and yet they’re both blind when it comes to each other.  While the investigation is the focus of the plot, the intensity of the underlying love story permeates the book; these two are stupid in love but certain the other doesn’t feel the same, and the emotional punch the author delivers at the end is simply masterful.

The secondary cast is strongly-drawn, the plot is cleverly constructed and Gregory Ashe’s writing ranges from the vividly descriptive  –

At this time of year, when darkness came early, Warhedua looked like the last place of light and warmth in a burned-out world. Ahead of them, the sodium lights dropped away until the only thing illuminating the asphalt was the Interceptor’s headlights, bluish-white, the color of fresh snow if it had somehow transformed into light.

to the lyrical…

Love isn’t a choice. Love is collision. Love is catastrophe. Somers had thought he’d understood. He thought he’d known how dangerous those words were, he thought he’d sensed how deeply Emery Hazard had upset his life.

But he’d had no idea.

There are moments of observation and insight so sharp it’s almost painful, and the circumlocutory conversations that characterise Hazard and Somers’ interactions are both completely absorbing and a masterclass in how to say something without ever actually uttering the words.

I’ve rambled on long enough, so I’ll close by saying that if you’re a fan of m/m mysteries and romantic suspense, then you’re going to want to start on the Hazard and Somerset series right away.  I promise you’ll thank me later 😉

 

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

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

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

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

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

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

Rating: Narration – A+ : Content – B+

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

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

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.