In Step (Painted Bay #3) by Jay Hogan (audiobook) – Narrated by Gary Furlong

in step

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

Karma. You reap what you sow, and Kane Martin isn’t looking for forgiveness.

But the arrival of Abe Tyler in Painted Bay has Kane dreaming of the impossible. The sexy silver fox choreographer is determined to pull Kane out from the shadows, but Abe’s career isn’t about to shift to Painted Bay, and Kane’s life is in neat little boxes for a reason.

A past he isn’t proud of.

A family he’s walked away from.

A job he doesn’t deserve.

A secret he’s ashamed of.

But life’s dance can make for unexpected partners, and learning to trust and keep up with the footwork is the name of the game.

Two steps forward, one step back.

It takes two to tango.

Rating: Narration – A+; Content – A

Jay Hogan’s wonderful Painted Bay series comes to a close with In Step which is my favourite book of the set and probably my favourite book of of hers full stop. It’s a poignant, emotional romance combined with a superbly-crafted tale of redemption, forgiveness and finally coming into one’s own that is both heartfelt and heartbreaking; and the always excellent Gary Furlong’s narration is absolute perfection.

Note: There are spoilers for the other books in the series in this review.

We were first introduced to Kane Martin back in Off Balancebook one of the series. A loner who doesn’t really fit in, he lives quietly on the fringes of town, his bullying attack on Judah Madden back when they were at school still very much present in the memories of most of the locals. Then, in On Board, he came to work for Judah’s brother Leroy after Leroy’s mother discovered Kane sleeping in his car and immediately offered him a job. Leroy wasn’t best pleased; he’s only just begun to repair his fractured relationship with Judah, and made it a condition of Kane’s employment that Judah agreed to it.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

On Board (Painted Bay #2) by Jay Hogan (audiobook) – Narrated by Gary Furlong

on board

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

Leroy Madden is in trouble. Big, handsome Fox Carmody trouble.

Leroy has buried his attraction to the enigmatic fisherman in irritation and pointless bickering, keeping Fox at a safe distance. But with the troublesome man now living in Leroy’s house, it’s becoming impossible for Leroy to keep his true feelings hidden, or the fact that Leroy maybe isn’t so straight after all.

Leroy hungers for something different between them. He wants more. But Leroy’s business is struggling, his newly mended relationship with his brother is at risk, Fox doesn’t plan to stay, and their mothers are lovers.

Regardless of what Leroy’s heart so desperately wants, his entire world is at stake, and nothing about a relationship with Fox Carmody was ever going to be easy.

Rating: Narration – A-; Content – A-

In On Board, book two in Jay Hogan’s Painted Bay series, we return to the Northland homestead of the Madden family around a year after the events of Off Balance. Judah Madden and Morgan Wipene are happily married and settled into their lives together, and Judah and his brother Leroy are very slowly rebuilding their fractured relationship. Leroy behaved like a real prick in the previous book; Judah had returned home after losing the career he’d worked so long and hard for in spectacular fashion when he keeled over in the midst of a performance at the Boston Ballet, and Leroy had no sympathy or understanding to offer whatsoever. As the story progressed, the author revealed more about the reasons behind Leroy’s horrible behaviour – and in On Board, she redeems him in spectacular fashion. I’m a sucker for a good redemption story – and this is a very good one.

When Leroy met Fox Carmody at a family lunch a year earlier, he took an instant dislike to him. Shortly before this, his mother Cora and Fox’s mother Martha – who also works for the Madden family business – came out as a couple, bringing their families closer together. It didn’t help that Fox is handsome, charming and witty – everything the sharp, grouchy Leroy isn’t – or that Leroy found himself unexpectedly confronted by feelings he’s avoided thinking about for, basically, ever. Their few subsequent meetings didn’t go well either, but fortunately, Fox lives at the other end of the country, on a tiny island several miles off the South Island coast, so despite their changed family situation, they’re unlikely to have much to do with each other.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

Off Balance (Painted Bay #1) by Jay Hogan (audiobook) – Narrated by Gary Furlong

Off Balance

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

When Judah Madden flees his tiny suffocating home town in New Zealand for the dream of international ballet stardom, he never intends coming back. Not to Painted Bay. Not to his family’s struggling mussel farm. Not to his jerk of a brother. Not with his entire life plan in shreds. And certainly not into the tempting arms of Morgan Wipene, the older ruggedly handsome fisheries officer who seems determined to screw with Judah’s intention to wallow in peace.

But dreams are fickle things. Shatter them, and it’s hard to pick up the pieces. Hard to believe. Hard to start again.

And the hardest thing of all? Finding the courage to trust in love and build a new dream where you least expected to find it.

Rating: Narration – A; Content – A-

The first book in Jay Hogan’s Painted Bay trilogy, Off Balance is a beautifully written and deeply emotional story about two very different men helping each other to put their lives back together following tragedy and heartbreak. The story is infused with plenty of the author’s characteristic humour despite the sometimes heavy subject matter, the two leads are likeable, complex and superbly drawn, and the narration by Gary Furlong is excellent. If you’ve never listened to anything by this author before, this would be a great place to start, as this series contains some of her very best work so far.

When he was a kid, Judah Madden was too gay, too flamboyant and too unwilling to be anything other than who he was to ever fit into a small town like Painted Bay. A talented dancer, he got out as soon as he possibly could and now, almost ten years later, he’s a rising star in the ballet world, a principal dancer at the age of twenty-five. It’s the kind of success he’s always dreamed of, and it’s all he’s ever wanted. But his life takes a devastating turn when he has a dizzy spell in the middle of a performance, which causes him to fall and pass out – and is later diagnosed with Menière’s Disease, a chronic condition which affects the inner ear, causing (among other things) vertigo, tinnitus and potentially, hearing loss. It’s a condition for which there is no cure – and just like that, Judah’s career is over.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

The Bruise-Black Sky & Death’s Ink-Black Shadow (More Heat Than the Sun 5&6) by John Wiltshire (audiobook) – Narrated by Gary Furlong

The Bruise-Black Sky and Death’s Ink-Black Shadow may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

The Bruise-Black Sky

It’s either a brave or a stupid person who threatens anything Nikolas Mikkelsen loves.

Ben usually overlooks Nikolas’ occasionally jarring dissonance. Not this time. A deep rift, a terrible lie, separates them. Eleven thousand miles from Nikolas, in New Zealand, it’s bitter winter as Ben films the tragic story of a post-apocalyptic gladiator, a victim of his own personal darkness. But on receiving a death threat, Ben suspects the truth of actor Oliver Whitestone’s suicide. Someone doesn’t want this movie made. It’s fortunate for Ben, therefore, that dissonance is a state of unrest, a longing for completion. As if Nikolas would stay at home in disgrace while Ben Rider-Mikkelsen becomes the target of a crazed stalker….

Death’s Ink-Black Shadow

“Learn to love death’s ink-black shadow as much as you love the light of dawn.”

Yeah? Well, Nikolas doesn’t do early mornings.

It takes a certain kind of courage to live as if favoured by the Gods, ignoring the ever-present ghosts of your past – or perhaps not bravery, but arrogance. And maybe not even that. Ben genuinely believes that the past is behind them – that they deserve to enjoy the life they have created. So it’s not hubris that leads him to overlook the signs that Nikolas does not share his faith, it’s love. But Nikolas knows something is coming. He can’t stop it; he can only decide how he will choose to face it. And without Ben’s support, he is entirely alone.

Rating: Narration – A+;  Content – B (B-/B+)

Following on from being stranded in Siberia and family betrayal (The Bridge of Silver Wings), and the undercover and amnesia storylines of This Other Country, the plot of this fifth More Heat Than the Sun book is a bit tame by comparison. As always, the real meat of these novels is found in the relationship between Nik and Ben, but the plot used to frame it this time round (in book five) – a murder/mystery – isn’t very interesting and the reveal is both confusing and unsatisfactory.

Note: This is an ongoing series in which the central relationship develops from book to book; as such, this is not the place to start, and there will be spoilers for earlier books in this review.

You can read the rest of this (dual) review at AudioGals.

Turnabout (Vino and Veritas #9) by Laurel Greer (audiobook) – Narrated by Gary Furlong

turnabout

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

I don’t have time for an unplanned visit home to help out in my father’s struggling letterpress shop. My stint in Vermont will have to be short, for a couple of reasons:

One, I’m a busy executive trying to climb the corporate ladder.

Two, my ex is still my dad’s right-hand man in the shop. And I am not over him.

Nothing has changed at the Burlington shop. Auden still has his infuriatingly sexy Scottish accent. He’s still hot, and still stubborn. Between operating the antique press with his shirtsleeves rolled up, and moonlighting at Burlington’s hottest inclusive wine bar, he pushes every one of my attraction buttons.

My falling-in-love-again buttons, too. Except I’m his polar opposite. I love change, and taking chances. Everything he avoids in life.

So why am I trying to convince him to reach for more than we’ve ever dreamed of-the possibility of forever?

Rating: Narration – A-; Content – C

The Vino and Veritas series has been something of a mixed bag overall. I’ve loved one or two of the books, liked a few and found several to be distinctly ‘meh’. It’s introduced me to some new authors, although I have to say that the books I’ve enjoyed the most have been those by authors whose work I’m already familiar with (Garrett Leigh, Jay Hogan, L.A. Witt etc.). I admit that I picked up Laurel Greer’s Turnabout because Gary Furlong is the narrator; I always enjoy listening to him, and given that the two leads in this book are an American and a Scot, I knew I wouldn’t be wincing at any horrible accent!fails.

The story is built around your typical city-big-shot-returns-to-small-home-town-and-rekindles-youthful-romance trope, and features Carter Prescott, who left Burlington and his father’s small artisanal print shop to work for a hugely successful office supplies company based in Montreal and Auden Macarthur, who left his home in Scotland to attend college in Vermont (where he met Carter) and who stayed in Burlington when Carter left. Carter is very happily climbing the corporate ladder and has recently been appointed VP of OfficeMart – the youngest ever – when he gets a phone call from his dad Francis telling him that his mother has left him, citing the fact that he’s always put the business first and never has any time for her. His dad is flying out to Paris to try to work things out with her and wants Carter to drop everything and come home to help out for a few days while he’s gone.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

The Bridge of Silver Wings & This Other Country (More Heat Than the Sun #3&4) by John Wiltshire (audiobook) – Narrated by Gary Furlong

The Bridge of Silver Wings and This Other Country may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

The Bridge of Silver Wings

Nikolas and Ben discover that bonds aren’t forged with blood or scars, but in the hearts of men strong enough to love.
Siberia in winter isn’t a place for good men.
There is nothing Nikolas won’t do to keep Ben alive.
Nikolas has exorcised his demons, but when they end up stranded in Russia, the monster inside needs to be let loose. Ben discovers the truth of the adage, ‘be careful what you wish for’!

Nikolas then faces an enemy he can’t defeat: Ben Rider himself. Discovering a new family, Ben realizes he’s been living too long in the shadows cast by Nikolas’s all-consuming love. For the first time, life apart from Nikolas is possible.
Is Nikolas strong enough to let Ben go?

This Other Country

Nikolas is the sanest, straightest person Ben knows, so can anyone tell him why he is on a gay-therapy course?

Nikolas Mikkelsen could make a very long list of unpleasant things he’s endured in his life. Then order it from “nearly killed me” to “extremely horrific and don’t want to do again”. And what does it say about his 45 years, that being hit by a tsunami would be considerably way down on this list? But nothing – not torture, imprisonment, or starvation – has prepared him for what he now has to endure for Ben Rider’s sake – attendance on a residential gay-therapy course.

At least he has a new contender for the top spot on his “my awful life” list.

Rating: Narration – A+; Content – B+

The Bridge of Silver Wings and This Other Country are books three and four in John Wiltshire’s More Heat Than the Sun series of thriller/romantic suspense novels following the exploits of Ben Rider, a former SAS operative, and enigmatic (ex) diplomat Sir Nikolas Mikkelsen, two of the most stubborn Alpha Males who ever stubborned. The books are characterised by fast-paced, dramatic plots – there’s no such thing as ‘low-drama’ in Ben and Nik’s world – lots of humour, terrific dialogue and the continually evolving relationship between the two leads, a pair of complex, damaged and compelling individuals who aren’t always likeable but who always manage to be fascinating.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

An Unexpected Kind of Love (When Snow Falls #1) by Hayden Stone (audiobook) – Narrated by Gary Furlong

an unexpected kind of love

This title maybe downloaded from Audible via Amazon

Bookstore owner Aubrey Barnes likes his quiet, orderly London life, thank you very much. His shop may be struggling, his only employee is a menace, and his plumbing is one creaky pipe away from disaster, but he can handle it. Maybe. He cannot, however, handle the film company that’s thrown his Soho street into chaos.

And he definitely can’t handle the charismatic American actor Blake Sinclair.

Which is why he’s extremely reluctant to lease out his shop as a set for Blake’s film, but it’s his one opportunity to save his business. Now he can’t get away from the distractingly hot actor.

Then Aubrey finds himself alone with Blake in a trailer, and what happens next turns London’s heat wave into an inferno that leaves him breathless.

Aubrey is not cut out for the high-profile life of dating a celebrity, especially an American actor who’s not even out yet. Good thing their tryst is absolutely not going anywhere.

Of course, when you expect nothing, that’s exactly when it starts to mean everything.

Rating:  Narration -A; Content – C-

When I mentioned Hayden Stone’s début novel, An Unexpected Kind of Love, in our February Picks, I wrote that the romance plotline bears a similarity to that of the movie Notting Hill – a film star and London bookseller fall in love. That much is true – but the situation is a little different here; it’s not a travel bookshop (and it’s in Soho rather than Notting Hill) and the actor is an up-and-comer rather than an established star. It’s a light-hearted listen that benefits considerably from a fantastic performance by Gary Furlong, but the single PoV doesn’t do the story any favours, and the eleventh-hour conflict is not only unconvincing, it doesn’t really go anywhere. I liked the overall tone of the story; the author’s bio says he’s lived in the UK and it shows, because there’s a distinctly British feel to much of the dialogue, but in the end, the book was a disappointment.

Twenty-three-year-old Aubrey Barnes has taken over the running of the small Soho bookshop owned by his mother after ill-health forced her into early retirement. He loves her dearly and is desperate not to let her down, but the place is struggling and the prospect of failure is a continual looming presence. So he’s not too pleased when a guy comes into the shop in order to return a book of poetry he bought a few days ago because, he says, the author’s social media activity has revealed him to be a total dick. The fact that said guy is hotter than the July heatwave – and that Aubrey is strongly attracted to him – just adds to Aubrey’s frustration.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

Against the Grain (Auckland Med. #4) by Jay Hogan (audiobook) – Narrated by Gary Furlong

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

I don’t like labels and I’m happy that way, but it’s taken a long time to get here. A jerk of a father, too many bullies to name, and a string of dipshit boyfriends whose interest in me rarely made it past the skirts I sometimes wear. Suffice to say, my faith in men runs a little thin.

The last thing I need is a gruff, opinionated, fiery, closeted, Paralympian jock messing with my hard-won peace. Miller Harrison is a wrinkle in my life I could definitely do without. I have a job that I love at Auckland Med, a boss who understands me, and a group of friends who accept me as I am.

I should walk away.

But Miller knows a thing or two about living life against the grain, and that hope I thought I’d buried a long time ago is threatening to surface.

Grade: Narration – A; Content – A-

Book four in Jay Hogan’s Auckland Med series, Against the Grain features a wonderful, ‘grown-up’ romance between two very different men whose willingness to communicate and work at their relationship is so refreshing in a genre that is often fraught with misunderstandings and miscommunication (or no communication at all!) Add in a touch of drama, a coming out story and a look at some important issues around disability and gender, and you’ve got a compelling and thoroughly enjoyable story that is my favourite book in the series so far.

Sassy pathologist’s assistant Sandy Williams (whom we first met in the previous book, Up Close and Personal) has spent his whole life (it seems) fighting to just be himself. He’s unapologetically out and proud, but beyond the fact that he’s attracted to men, he’s not interested in labels and doesn’t see why he should have to fit into any one box. He wears whatever reflects the way he feels on a particular day, be it skirts or jeans, heels or trainers, and anyone who doesn’t like it can just fuck off. It’s taken him a long time to get to this stage and he’s overcome a lot – from the kids who bullied him at school, to boyfriends who only wanted him for the novelty value and never really understood him, to the arsehole father who walked out the day after Sandy came out – and he’s emerged from it all as as someone who knows who he is and is comfortable in his own skin, despite the prejudice he still faces.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

When First I Met My King/The Dragon’s Tale (The Arthur Quartet 1&2) by Harper Fox (audiobook) – Narrated by Gary Furlong

These titles may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon:

Book 1Book 2

When First I Met My King:

Once upon a time, there was a winter that wouldn’t end. And all that stands between the people of White Meadows and starvation is a young man called Lance.

Lance is 16 years old, and for all his courage and hunting skills, he’s running out of fight. His family has been wiped out in a border raid, and he’s drowning in loneliness. When strangers arrive at White Meadows, all Lance can think of is using his last strength to drive them away. But these men have come in peace, not to burn and destroy. Among them is a hot-headed, utterly charming prince-in-training named Arthur.

For Lance, Arthur’s arrival is like the return of the sun. The prince has everything – learning, battle skills, a splendid destiny. But as the days unfold in the remote northern settlement in the shadow of Hadrian’s Wall, it soon becomes clear that Arthur needs Lance, too.

The Dragon’s Tale:

Lance has finally gained his freedom to join his beloved king. It is the depth of a northern winter, but his heart and his blood are warm with joy as he sets off to the fort of Din Guardi on the coast, where Arthur is locked in negotiation with the ancient powers of the realm – warlords who could help him defend the whole country against the Saxon invaders, if only he can unite them. But Lance knows such unity may not be possible – or even for the ultimate good of the kingdom. And although his delight at being with Art is boundless, there are other, darker forces at work in the wild dune lands.

A deep and delicate balance has been disturbed, and the fort is under siege by a creature out of legend, a monster that ravages villages and leaves a trail of bodies and burned fields in its wake. The darkest nights of winter are approaching. Arthur, with unendurable weights to bear on shoulders too young for them, only has Lance to befriend him and shield him from the bitterness of battlefield experience and loss. As their bond grows, Lance must find a way to heal the breach between the old world and the new before it devours the man he loves.

Rating: Narration – A; Content – B+

Harper Fox sets her re-imagining of the Arthurian legends – The Arthur Quartet – firmly in Dark Ages Britain, in a divided land slowly emerging from centuries of Roman occupation, one in which the ‘new religion’ of Christianity is challenging the old ways and polytheistic traditions of the Druids and the Celts. She places Lancelot – Lance – at the centre of the tale, relating most events from his perspective and skilfully weaving together his backstory with the familiar elements of the legend – Excalibur, Camelot, Merlin, the Round Table, knights, dragons, magic – and laying the foundations of (what I hope will be) an epic romance between him and Arthur.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

A Veiled and Hallowed Eve (Soulbound #7) by Hailey Turner (audiobook) – Narrated by Gary Furlong

a veiled and hallowed eve

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

Death is the last lover you will ever know.

SOA Special Agent Patrick Collins has lived a life full of lies, and it has finally caught up with him. There’s no denying his past any longer, not after giving up the truth to save himself from a murder charge. But truth alone can’t set Patrick free, and time is running out to stop the Dominion Sect from turning his father into a god.

Jonothon de Vere knows survival isn’t a guarantee, but he’s desperate to keep Patrick safe, even as hope slips through his fingers. With the future unknown, Jono will follow Patrick wherever he goes, even to Salem, where a family reunion reveals a bitter secret that was never going to stay buried.

With New York City under control of their god pack, Patrick and Jono must fall back on every alliance they’ve brokered to fill the front lines of a war coming directly to the city streets. The veil is always thinnest on Samhain, and what awaits them on the other side is the stuff of nightmares. For when it tears, all hell will break loose, and the gods will be summoned to face a reckoning the world isn’t ready for.

The stakes have never been higher, failure has never been so deadly, and the Fates have never been kind to heroes. Patrick knows that better than anyone—because everything has a price, every debt always comes due, and it’s finally time for Patrick to pay his.

Rating: Narration – A; Content – A-

It’s always sad when a long-running series comes to an end, so listening to A Veiled and Hallowed Eve, the seventh and final instalment in Hailey Turner’s Soulbound series was a bittersweet experience. I’ve been looking forward to the conclusion of this inventive and epic story, the big showdown between our heroes and their mortal enemies, but reaching The End also means saying goodbye to Patrick, Jono, Wade and all the other characters who’ve been with them on their amazing journey. It’s hard to think there will be no more books about them – but I have seven superb stories and audiobooks to re-listen to, thanks to this talented author/narrator duo.

I’ve said this before but it probably bears repeating: the books in this series need to be listened to in order so as to fully understand the complex storylines and the development of the various characters and their relationships, so if you’ve not been following the series, then this review will likely make very little sense to you. It’s also impossible to review this book without some reference to the previous ones, so there are spoilers ahead.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.