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.

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.

Quickie Reviews #3

Another handful of Quickie Reviews – all audiobooks this time – of things I’ve listened to over the past few weeks but haven’t written full-length reviews for.


Fit to be Tied (Marshals #2) by Mary Calmes, narrated by Tristan James

Deputy US Marshals Miro Jones and Ian Doyle are now partners on and off the job: Miro’s calm professionalism provides an ideal balance to Ian’s passion and quick temper. In a job where one misstep can be the difference between life and death, trust means everything. But every relationship has growing pains, and sometimes Miro stews about where he stands with his fiery lover. Could the heartstrings that so recently tied them together be in danger of unraveling?
Those new bonds are constantly challenged by family intrusions, well-intentioned friends, their personal insecurities, and their dangerous careers—including a trial by fire when an old case of Miro’s comes back to haunt them. It might just be enough to make Ian rethink his decision to let himself be tied down, and Miro can only hope the links they’ve forged will be strong enough to hold.

Overall Grade: B- / 3.5 stars

A bit uneven storywise; the plotlines tend to be a bit choppy because of the nature of the job these guys do (they’re not detectives or FBI agents following a single case), which is fine, but things kinda just chug along until the second half when Miro and Ian are sent to Phoenix following the escape of a nut-job serial killer with a serious crush on Miro. There’s plenty of humour and snark between the leads, who are now an established couple, but things in the garden aren’t all bunnies and rainbows as Miro wants to get married and Ian isn’t keen on the idea, which causes some friction between them. All told, it’s an entertaining listen, although not as good as the first book, IMO. Tristan James is a good narrator and I like his voice, but he gets his character voices mixed up from time to time (so Miro will sound like Ian or vice versa) … if not for that and a few other niggles, I’d be rating the narration more highly.

Is it my imagination or is the author kinda hung up on describing Miro’s wardrobe? And how does a guy on a government salary afford Armani suits and an $800,000 house?


Dead Speak (Cold Case Psychic #1) by Pandora Pine, narrated by Michael Pauley

Demoted to the cold case squad after shooting a suspect in the line of duty, Detective Ronan O’Mara knows that his career with the Boston Police Department is hanging by a thread. His first assignment is the case of Michael Frye, a five-year-old boy who has been missing for seven years. With no new leads or witnesses to interview, Ronan has to start from scratch to solve this mystery. When he sees a handsome local psychic on television, Ronan figures he’s got nothing to lose in enlisting the man’s help to find Michael.

Psychic Tennyson Grimm is riding high after helping South Shore cops find a missing child. He’s even being courted by the Reality Show Network about a program showcasing his abilities. He has no idea that his midday appointment with a customer, who instead turns out to be a police detective, is going to change the course of his life and his career.

With the blessing of the BPD, which badly needs an image makeover, Ronan is allowed to bring Tennyson in to assist with the Frye case. Being thrown together in front of cameras is never easy, but add in an emotional missing-person investigation, a tight-lipped spirit, and a cop who’s a skeptic, and it definitely puts a strain on both men and their working relationship.

When the child’s body is found, the work to identify his killer begins. As Ronan and Tennyson get closer to solving the case, the initial attraction they feel for one another explodes into a passion neither man can contain.

Will working together to bring Michael’s killer to justice seal their fledgling bond, or will unexpected revelations in the case tear them apart forever?

Overall Grade: C- / 2.5 stars

There are other reviews (such as this one) that nicely sum up the shortcomings of this book, but here are my thoughts, in a nutshell.

The romance – such as it is – is completely based on insta-lust. We’re told the story takes place over a couple of months, but there’s no sense of this, or of time passing, so it just feels as though these two jumped into bed and got serious after a few hours.

The villain was straight out of Bad-Guys-R-Us – seriously, all he needed was a cape to swirl and a moustache to twirl and to utter “I’d have got away with it, too, if it hadn’t been for you pesky kids!”

Ronan’s ex. I hate books in which one of the main characters’ ex is shown to be a nasty piece of work, because it makes me question that person’s judgement. This guy – Josh – was a complete and utter arsehole. Yet Ronan MARRIED HIM. Why??

The idea of a dead body being preserved in a bin bag for seven years is ridiculous. They’re plastic – they heat up and no way would there have been any viable remains.

I’m no expert on police procedures on either side of the Pond, but even I could spot aspects of it here that are distinctly wonky.

Finally – I’ve listened to and enjoyed some of Michael Pauley’s narrations in the past but here he was full-on Movie-Trailer-Announcer-Guy and it was really grating (and often, really funny, usually where it wasn’t meant to be.)

I don’t often return books to Audible… but yep, this one’s going back.



Shock & Awe (Sidewinder #1) by Abigail Roux, narrated by Brock Thompson

After barely surviving a shootout in New Orleans, Sidewinder medic Kelly Abbott has to suffer through a month of recovery before he can return home to Colorado. He’s not surprised when fellow Sidewinder Nick O’Flaherty stays with him in New Orleans. Nor is he surprised when Nick travels home with him to help him get back on his feet – after all, years on the same Marine Force Recon team bonded the men in ways that only bleeding for a brother can. He’s very surprised, though, when Nick humors his moment of curiosity and kisses him.

Nick knows all of Kelly’s quirks and caprices, so the kiss was a low-risk move on his part…or so he thought. But what should’ve been a simple moment unleashes a flood of confusing emotions and urges that neither man is prepared to address. Now, Kelly and Nick must figure out what they mean to each other – friends and brothers in arms or something even deeper – before the past can come back to ruin their tenuous future.

Overall Grade: B- / 3.5 stars

A quickie that fills in a couple of the gaps between Touch & Geaux and Ball & Chain in the Cut & Run series, and fills us in on how Nick and Kelly got together. After the events in New Orleans that left Kelly badly injured, he’s finally out of hospital and Nick takes him home to Colorado. Kelly admits to being curious about what it’s like to have sex with guys; Nick is all “not going there – you’re loopy on painkillers and lack of sleep” – until he isn’t. Kelly goes from being bi-curious to bisexual fairly quickly, but it helps that we already know these guys have history and that they’re already incredibly close.

I especially liked the scene at the airport where the Sidewinder guys say goodbye and have to leave Kelly and Zane behind; also included here is a short story Bait & Switch in which Zane receives an unexpected visit from Nick while he’s on a special pass from his deployment, and it was nice to see them getting along.

Narrator Brock Thompson does a good job, although I’m kinda used to J.F. Harding for these guys, so some of the different characterisations took getting used to.


In the Ruins (Metahuman Files #2) by Hailey Turner – Narrated by Greg Boudreaux

Truth and lies. 

Captain Jamie Callahan knows the Metahuman Defense Force frowns on fraternization. For once in his life, he’s breaking all the rules. Having Staff Sergeant Kyle Brannigan on his team and in his bed is worth the risk of being found out. When a mission comes down requiring Alpha Team to go undercover in order to infiltrate a criminal alliance, Jamie knows it won’t be easy. Putting his family’s name on the line is nothing compared to the role the MDF wants him to play—that of a billionaire’s son, discharged from the military, with a lover on his arm, looking to make his own shady business deals. 

Dirty little secret. 

Kyle knows the only way to be with Jamie is to hide their relationship from their superiors. Waking up to Jamie at home is more important than being together in public, or so Kyle thought, until he comes face to face with what he’s been missing. Pretending to be a couple on paper for the sake of the mission thrusts Kyle into a world of incredible wealth and a social status he’s not sure he belongs in, but he’ll do anything to stay by Jamie’s side. 

Play the game to win. 

Surrounded by the enemy, Jamie and Kyle need to trust each other now more than ever. Their covers—and the life they’re trying to build together—depend on it. 

Overall Grade: B+/4.5 stars

Another exciting instalment in this military/sci-fi series – the action shifts to London and I was pleased at the way the author incorporated it into the story (I’ve done a lot of walking backwards and forwards through those tunnels under Exhibition Road on the way to South Ken station!) The overarching plotline of the series – terrorist groups are out to create Metahumans of their own – really kicks into gear, and we get to meet Jamie’s friend, Liam – thirteenth in line to the British throne – and a new team-member, ex CIA agent, Sean Delaney. Hm. Alexei doesn’t like spooks. Although… he might like this spook…

I’m loving the storyline about Jamie and his family – he really is stuck between a rock and a hard place, caught between his desire to serve his country and his love for his family (and he does love them, no matter that they drive him up the wall) – and there’s more relationship development in this one. In In the Wreckage what was going on between Jamie and Kyle was more of a full-on shagfest, but now there’s the sense that what’s between them is more than that. There’s still some full-on shagfesting going on, but I was pleased by the relationship stuff as well 😉

Greg Boudreaux is excellent as ever – he sports a suitably posh English accent as Liam (and the few other English characters in the story), and although there are a lot of male characters in the main cast, they’re well differentiated so there’s no confusion as to who you’re listening to. My one niggle is that there’s a scene featuring an Irish character who sounds mostly Scottish. But that’s it – otherwise, it’s a strong performance that hits all the highs and lows and everywhere in-betweens.

Fingers crossed the rest of the series will come out in audio soon.

My 2018 in Books & Audio

My Goodreads stats for 2018 reveal that I read 256 books in 2018 (I challenged myself to 240, so I just passed that goal!) – although 108 of those were audiobooks.  I suspect, actually, that I listened to more than that, as I know I did a handful of re-listens, and I don’t tend to count those – I re-listen far more than I re-read (I don’t think I did any re-reads last year) – and I think that number of audiobooks is more than ever.  Although I have fifty-six 5 star rated books showing on my stats page, the actual 5 star/A grades only number around a dozen or so; the majority are 4.5 star reads that I rounded up or audiobooks in which either  story or narration (usually the narration) bumped the grade up into that bracket.  I say this because, despite that number of fifty-six, when I came to make my list of what I thought were the Best Books of 2018 for All About Romance, I didn’t have too much trouble making my list, whereas normally, I’ll have fifteen to twenty I could include and have a tough job to whittle it down.

4 star ratings were my largest group (153) – and these include the 4.5 star ratings I don’t round up (B+ books) and the 3.5 star ratings I do round up (B- books), and then I had thirty-three books and audiobooks in the 3 star bracket, nine in the 2 star, one 1 star and one unrated DNF.

The titles that made my Best of 2018 list are these:

You can read about them in more detail at All About Romance.

My Year in Books at Goodreads.

And here are a few more rambling thoughts about the books I read and the audiobooks I listened to last year.

Historical Romance

Historical Romance is far and away my favourite genre, and for years, I read very little else.  Sadly however, HR made a pretty poor showing in 2018 overall, and while there were a few that were excellent, they really were the exception.  The vast majority of the newer authors – and I do try most of them  at least once – can’t generally manage anything that deserves more than a C grade/3 stars (if that) and even some of the big-names just didn’t deliver.  Elizabeth Hoyt’s new series got off to a terrible start with Not the Duke’s Darling, which was overstuffed, confusing and not very romantic with an irritating heroine of the worst kind (the sort who has to trample all over the hero in order to prove herself).  Lorraine Heath’s When a Duke Loves a Womanwhich I listened to rather than read (thank you Kate Reading, for the excellent narration!) – stretched the cross-class romance trope to breaking point and was sadly dull in places, and Kerrigan Byrne’s sixth Victorian Rebels book, The Duke With the Dragon Tattoo was a huge disappointment.  On the plus side though, just before the end of the year, I read début author Mia Vincy’s A Wicked Kind of Husband which was clever, witty, poignant and sexy, and is the first début I’ve raved about since 2016.  Meredith Duran’s The Sins of Lord Lockwood was a triumph, and Caroline Linden’s two Wagers of Sin books – My Once and Future Duke and An Earl Like You – were very good – intelligent, strongly characterised and deeply romantic.  Of the two, I preferred An Earl Like You, a gorgeously romantic marriage of convenience story with a bit of a twist.  Honourable mentions go to Joanna Shupe’s A Notorious Vow, the third in her Four Hundred series, Virginia Heath’s A Warriner to Seduce Her and Stella Riley’s Hazard, and my two favourite historical mystery series – Lady Sherlock and Sebastian St. Cyr (Sherry Thomas and C.S. Harris respectively) had wonderful new instalments out.  K.J. Charles – who can’t seem to write a bad book! – published three titles – The Henchmen of Zenda, Unfit to Print and Band Sinister – all of which I loved and rated highly, and new author, Lee Welch gobsmacked me with her first full-length novel, an historical paranormal (queer) romance, Salt Magic, Skin Magic, a truly mystical, magical story with a sensual romance between opposites.   Bec McMaster’s terrific London Steampunk: The Blue Blood Conspiracy continued with You Only Love Twice and To Catch a Rogue, which were wonderful; fast-paced, intelligent and witty, combining high-stakes plots and plenty of action with steamy, sensual romances.

Romantic Suspense

I’ve turned most often to romantic suspense this year to fill the void left by the paucity of good historical romance – many of them in audio as I backtracked through audio catalogues and got hooked on some series that first appeared before 2018, notably Cut & Run and Psycop.  In print, I was really impressed with Charlie Adhara’s first two novels in her Big Bad Wolf series, The Wolf at the Door and The Wolf at Bay. I’m not a big fan of shifters, but a friend convinced me to try the first book, and I’m really glad I did.  There’s a great suspense plot, two fabulous leads with off-the-charts chemistry, and their relationship as they move from suspicion to admiration to more is really well done.

The final book in Rachel Grant’s Flashpoint trilogy – Firestorm – was a real humdinger and fantastic end to what’s been one of my favourite series over the past couple of years.  Superbly written and researched, topical, fast-paced and featuring fabulously developed characters, Firestorm sees two characters who’ve been dancing around each other for two books having to team up to infiltrate a Russian arms dealing ring, and, when things go south, going on the run in one of the most dangerous places in the world. Ms. Grant is one of my favourite authors and her romantic suspense novels are hard to beat.

My big – and I mean BIG – discovery this year was Cordelia Kingsbridge’s Seven of Spades series which is simply brilliant – addictive.  I’ve raved about it to everyone that will listen (sorry!) and will do so again.  It’s a series of five books (four are out, the fifth is due in March) that tells one overarching story about the search for a clever, devious serial killer plaguing Las Vegas.  Each book advances that plotline while also having another, self-contained storyline that eventually coalesces with the main plot; it’s incredibly well done and the plots themselves are filled with nail-biting tension.  The two central characters – Levi Abrams, a tightly-wound, intense homicide detective – and Dominic Russo – a congenial, much more relaxed guy who has serious problems of his own – are wonderful;  they’re complex, flawed and multi-faceted, and while they’re complete opposites in many ways, they’re no less perfect for each other because of it.  Their relationship goes through terrific  highs and terrible lows, but as we head into the last book, they’re stronger than ever – and I can’t wait for what promises to be an incredible series finale.

Contemporary Romance isn’t a genre I gravitate towards, but for what I think is the first time EVER,  one made my Best of list – Sally Malcolm’s Between the Lines.  I’ve really enjoyed the three books she’s set in New Milton (a fictional Long Island resort); in fact, her novella, Love Around the Corner could easily have made the list as well.  She has a real gift for creating likeable but flawed characters and for writing emotion that sings without being over the top.  And I have to give a shout-out to Kelly Jensen’s This Time Forever series, three books that feature older (late thirties-fifty) characters finding happiness and their forever afters – wonderful, distinct characters, each facing particular challenges and the need to sort out all the emotional baggage that comes with having been around the block a few times.

Audio

I listened to more audiobooks than ever this year – partly, I think, because I was trying to fill the gap in my reading because so much HR was just not measuring up, and partly because the fact that I tend to genre-hop more in audio has introduced me to a number of new (to me) narrators that I’ve begun to seek out more. (Plus, I’ve had some long commutes lately!)  My favourites are still my favourites: Rosalyn Landor, Kate Reading, Mary Jane Wells, Alex Wyndham and Nicholas Boulton are unbeatable when it comes to historical romances; Andi Arndt reigns supreme when it comes to American contemps, Steve West could read me cereal packets and Greg Tremblay/Boudreaux is my hero. But my list of narrators to trust has grown to include J.F. Harding, Sean Crisden, Joe Arden, Carly Robbins, Saskia Maarleveld and Will Damron.

I’ve become hooked on m/m romantic suspense this year, and have been catching up with two long-running series – Cut & Run by Abigail Roux and Madeline Urban and Psycop by Jordan Castillo Price. The Cut & Run books are fast-paced hokum, the sort of thing you see in a lot of procedurals and action films – enjoyable, but frequently full of holes.  But the series is made by its two central characters – Special Agents Ty Grady and Zane Garrett – who strike sparks off each other from the get go and fight, snark and fuck their way through nine books I enjoyed to differing degrees.  Unusually, the series has three narrators; the first one (Sawyer Allerde) wasn’t so great, but Sean Crisden and J.F. Harding do fabulous work in books 3-9, and while I know there’s a lot of mixed feeling out there over the later books, I’d still recommend them and the series in audio.

I’ve also been drawn to a number of books that feature psychics in some way or another – I have no idea why – and again, some were more successful than others.  I enjoyed Z.A. Maxfield’s The Long Way Home – which is excellently narrated by J.F Harding – and I’m working my way through Jordan Castillo Price’s hugely entertaining Psycop series (I’ve listened to 6 books so far) narrated by Gomez Pugh who doesn’t just portray, but completely inhabits the character of Victor Bayne, the endearingly shambolic protagonist of the series. I plan to listen to the final three books very soon.

Contemporary Romance is a genre I rarely read and don’t listen to often, as it doesn’t do much for me in general.  Nonetheless, I’ve listened to a few great contemporary audios in 2018, several of them in Annabeth Albert’s Out of Uniform series, notably Squared Away and Tight Quarters, the latter being one of my favourites. Greg Boudreaux’s narration was the big draw for me in picking up this series on audio (although books 1-3 use different narrators) and he continues to be one of the best – if not THE best – male romance narrators around. The praise heaped on Kate Clayborn’s début, Beginner’s Luck prompted me to pick it up in audio, although I confess that Will Damron’s name attached to it factored into that decision as well.  Helen Hoang’s début, The Kiss Quotient was another contemp that generated a huge buzz, which again, prompted me to listen – and the fact that I’d enjoyed Carly Robins’ performance in Beginner’s Luck once again proved the power of the narrator when it comes to my decisions as to what I want to listen to.


As for what I’m looking forward to in 2019?  First of all, I’d like a few more winners from my favourite historical romance writers, please!  Although to be honest, it’s looking a bit bleak, with Meredith Duran on hiatus, and only one – I think? – book due from Caroline Linden this year.  I am, however, looking forward to reading more from Mia Vincy, who has three more books in her series to come, and I’ve already read a fantastic book by K.J. Charles – I believe there’s a sequel on the way, which I’m sure will be equally fabulous.  I can’t wait for the finale in the Seven of Spades series – and for whatever Cordelia Kingsbridge comes up with next, and the same is true of Charlie Adhara, whose final Big Bad Wolf book is due out in April.  There are new books in their respective series coming from Sherry Thomas and C.S. Harris, so I’ll be there for those, and I’m looking forward to Deanna Raybourn’s next Veronica Speedwell book.  Audio often lags behind print, so many of the audiobooks I’m eagerly awaiting are books I read in print this year, such as Amy Lane’s A Few Good Fish (which I read in August) with Greg Tremblay once again doing the honours, and Lee Welch’s Salt Magic, Skin Magic, performed by Joel Leslie, who I’m sure is going to be terrific.  I’m also looking forward to the final book in Kate Clayborn’s Chance of a Lifetime Trilogy, Best of Luck, again narrated by Will Damron and Carly Robbins.

Hopefully, I’ll be back this time next year to let you all know how things have panned out!

Insight (The Comminity #1) by Santino Hassell (audiobook) – Narrated by Greg Boudreaux

Growing up the outcast in an infamous family of psychics, Nate Black never learned how to control his empath abilities. Then after five years without contact, his estranged twin turns up dead in New York City. The claim of suicide doesn’t ring true, especially when a mysterious vision tells Nate it was murder. Now his long-hated gift is his only tool to investigate.

Hitching from his tiny Texas town, Nate is picked up by Trent, a gorgeous engineer who thrives on sarcasm and skepticism. The heat that sparks between them is instant and intense, and Nate ends up trusting Trent with his secrets—something he’s never done before. But once they arrive in the city, the secrets multiply when Nate discovers an underground supernatural community, more missing psychics, and frightening information about his own talent.

Nate is left questioning his connection with Trent. Are their feelings real, or are they being propelled by abilities Nate didn’t realize he had? His fear of his power grows, but Nate must overcome it to find his brother’s killer and trust himself with Trent’s heart.

I listened to this audiobook back in February 2018 and wrote this review – but before it could be posted at AudioGals, the author crashed and burned in a very spectacular way, and given the unethical nature of his actions and everything that ensued, we decided not to publish the review.

I’ve sat on it all year and have decided to post it  here, basically because this is home to ALL my reviews – plus I’m having a computer clear out, and keep tripping over this review and wondering what to do with it.

I kept well away from the row when all this blew up and didn’t get into the nitty gritty of it – I know basics and that’s all I want to know.  At the time it was all going on, someone said to me that if we had to throw out everything that had been created by people who were shit-bags, then we’d be throwing out work by people like Hemmingway, Wagner, Byron, Flaubert, Cellini, Hemmingway, Picasso… and a long list of famous artists who were sexist, mysoginist, antisemitic, fascist, murderers or just plain bonkers.

I’m not condoning or sympathetic to anything he did – people were hurt, and that’s not acceptable in any way.  But this is my blog, and I’m posting this review because when all’s said and done, I enjoyed the story and the excellent performance in this audiobook.  It’s no longer available for sale at the time I’m writing this (December 2018) and perhaps has disappeared forever.  But like I said, I’m posting this purely because this is my place for keeping track of what I read, listen to and write. I take time over writing reviews to get them right and to make sure I’m saying what I want to say so and I wasn’t going to just throw it out.

Rating: Narration – A+ : Content – A-

I’ve come to the books of Santino Hassell fairly recently, and positive reviews pointed me in the direction of his Community series of paranormal romances – although it will come as no surprise to anyone who’s been reading my reviews over the last year or so that my decision to pick up Insight – the first book– was a no-brainer because it’s narrated by the fabulous Greg Boudreaux.

The series consists of three books which tell an overarching story through the PoVs of three romantic couples, so each contains a romance which reaches its HEA or HFN in that book.  As the first in the series, Insight has quite a lot of work to do in terms of the set-up, introducing listeners not only to the protagonists of the story, but also to secondary characters who will feature throughout, and to the concept of the Community itself, a cult-like, secret society whose aims – to protect psychics and help them to develop their talents in a sympathetic environment – while at first seemingly benign, is gradually revealed to have other, darker purposes.  The author strikes just about the right balance between romance and plot, and I raced through this audiobook in two sittings because I was so gripped by the whole thing that I couldn’t bear to put it down.

Nate Black comes from a family that would have been screwed up even its members hadn’t all been possessed of psychic abilities.  He and his twin brother, Theo, never really got on and haven’t seen or spoken to each other for several years, and their mother – a powerful psychic – ran away to New York when Nate and Theo were boys;  when she returned, it was as though she’d become a completely different woman and she committed suicide shortly after.  His overbearing aunt is paranoid that nobody outside the family should ever know what they can do, and her brother – to whom Nate used to be close – drinks to excess to keep his visions at bay. Nate has always been an outsider – bullied at school for being openly gay and for being just plain weird, he’s lonely and isolated, knowing he’s different because of his ‘gift’ – he’s an empath –  which means that even the most accidental of touches can give him strong impressions and visions.  Even without touching, he can still sense what the people around him are feeling if their emotions are strong enough.  With no knowledge of how to control his ability, Nate’s reactions to these impressions and visions can put him completely off balance and can make him physically ill… so he tends to keep to himself and sees nothing but an empty, loveless future ahead of him.

Nate’s life is hitting an all-time low; he’s lost his job and is about to be evicted from his apartment when he has a sudden vision of Theo or, more to the point, Theo’s death.  When the news arrives officially, the family is told that Theo – who had lived in NYC for the past few years – committed suicide by jumping into the Hudson, but Nate knows that isn’t true.  The vision he received was like nothing he’d ever experienced; it was as if HE was in Theo’s body at the time of his death, and Nate is convinced, beyond a doubt, that Theo was murdered and is determined to find out why and by whom.

Impulsively, he decides to hitch-hike to New York – his car was stolen and he doesn’t have the money to travel any other way – and is surprised when he’s offered a lift by the guy he’d met a couple of days earlier in the liquor store he used to work in.  He’s not forgotten the feelings of warmth and safety he’d picked up from their single, brief touch that day (or how attractive the man was) and, albeit a little nervously, Nate settles in for the long journey from Texas to NYC.

Trent Castille is an engineer, on his way from grad school in California to his home in New York.  The story is told entirely from Nate’s PoV, so we never get into Trent’s head, but it’s clear from the start that he’s a good guy.  He notices straight away that Nate is skittish and secretive, but he’s drawn to him and starts looking out for him in small and subtle ways.  During their long road-trip, their simmering attraction heats up but also, Nate comes to realise that Trent is someone he can trust; and when he eventually tells Trent the truth about his abilities and why he believes Theo was murdered, Trent knows Nate well enough to believe him, no matter that what Nate tells him is weird and fantastical.

The chemistry between Nate and Trent is electric, and Mr. Hassell builds their relationship slowly and believably.  Both men are in uncharted waters; Nate has given up on love and sex, while Trent hasn’t been with a guy before – although he’s definitely thought about it and doesn’t let his inexperience stop him from acting on the strong attraction he feels towards Nate.  Nate’s empathic abilities lead to some pretty steamy love scenes, too, as he’s able to feel both his own and Trent’s arousal and reactions.

In the later stages, the book becomes as much about the Community and the mystery surrounding Theo’s death as it is about the romance, and as I said at the beginning, this element of the plot is just as well-handled and compelling as the love story.  Nate tracks his brother’s former colleagues – Theo  was in a band – to the club they often performed at, Evolution, a place frequented predominantly  by queer psychics, which is where he meets Holden Payne the handsome, charismatic owner of the club and the son of the Community’s founder (Holden’s story is next up, in Oversight).  Here, for the first time in his life, Nate finds acceptance and a sense of belonging – but even those things – things  he’s longed for all his life – can’t blind him to the fact that the Community isn’t the altruistic, benevolent organisation it seems to be, a suspicion confirmed when he learns Theo isn’t the only psychic to have gone missing or died recently.

I thoroughly enjoyed Insight and can’t wait to jump into the next book.  Nate and Trent are likeable characters and I loved Trent’s frequently sarcastic pronouncements – his confidence and pragmatism are the perfect foils to Nate’s introversion and uncertainty, and if I have a criticism of the book overall, it’s that I’d have liked to have spent more time with him.  Nate is a fabulously developed character; he’s young (early twenties) but life has been tough and frankly, he’s a bit of a mess.  But he’s loyal and loving, and no matter that Theo wasn’t a great brother to him, he was his brother and Nate is determined to get to the truth about what happened to him.

Greg Boudreaux’s narration is utter perfection.  Seriously.  I honestly can’t think of a single thing about his performance that doesn’t work, or that I can say was maybe a teensy bit ‘off’ – because it’s flawless.  Pacing, diction, characterisation, differentiation – it’s all spot on, and his portrayals of the two principles capture them both to a T.  Nate sounds appropriately youthful, his voice pitched at a higher level than Trent’s as well as being subtly and consistently (to my British ears!) accented, while Mr. Boudreaux’s interpretation of Trent brings out every facet of his sharply ironic, smart-mouthed personality.  The scorching chemistry between Nate and Trent that’s so evident in the book is brilliantly amplified in audio; the strength of the attraction and longing that pulls the pair together is palpable and Mr. Boudreaux gets right into the swing of things in the love scenes, making the most of that sizzling tension but without going over the top.  All the secondary characters are expertly realised using a variety of accent and timbre… and I’ll stop waffling and just say don’t walk, RUN to Audible or whichever is your preferred audiobook vendor and pick up Insight immediately. I don’t need to be psychic to know you won’t regret it.

In the Wreckage (Metahuman Files #1) by Hailey Turner (audiobook) – Narrated by Greg Boudreaux

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

A Marine with honor.

After surviving a horrific chemical attack that turned him into a metahuman, Captain Jamie Callahan got a second lease on life. For three years he’s been working for the Metahuman Defense Force and leading Alpha Team – all against the wishes of his family. The job requires his full dedication, so it’s no surprise Jamie doesn’t have time for a relationship. An enticing one-night stand with a gorgeous stranger is all it takes to show Jamie exactly what he’s been missing. When a mission to take down a terrorist cell brings that same stranger back into his world, Jamie’s life gets complicated.

A soldier with secrets.

Staff Sergeant Kyle Brannigan was only looking to relieve some stress after a long mission. He didn’t know the hot guy he picked up at a bar was the leader of the MDF’s top field team. When Kyle and his partner get seconded to Alpha Team to help fight a terrorist threat, he has to balance his desire for Jamie against his duty to keep his secrets safe. That gets harder and harder to do amidst regulations both are tempted to break.

Two men trying to survive.

Giving into passion could cost both their careers. Abiding by the rules will only result in heartache. An attack on MDF headquarters brings with it a choice Jamie and Kyle can’t escape – duty, or love?

Rating: Narration – A+ : Content – B

I know what you’re thinking. “Huh? A military-themed, dystopian sci-fi novel about humans with superpowers set 250 years in the future? That’s not Caz’s normal cup of tea is it?” Well… no. And yes. I like sci-fi in movies and on TV, although I don’t read (or listen to) much of it; but I picked up In the Wreckage mostly because I’m on a narrator glom – and because I’m on a bit of a m/m military romance/romantic suspense kick, so this sounded like a good fit.

Set around 250 years in the future, In the Wreckage is the first book in the Metahuman Files, and plunges listeners straight in to the thick of things, introducing the central characters and the concept of metahumans in the course of an action-packed battle scene. In this version of the future, a deadly chemical agent called Splice – which kills 95% of the people it infects – has led to the creation of a small number of metahumans (the other 5%), changing their DNA and giving them enhanced powers. When recon marine captain Jamie Callahan was exposed to it three years earlier, almost his entire unit was wiped out, leaving him one of only five survivors; and now he leads the Alpha Team of the MDF (Metahuman Defense Force), the deadliest, most badass (and most efficient) team on the force. The powers exhibited by metahumans are diverse; telepathy, telekinesis, pyrokinesis, precognition and teleportation to name just a few, but they’re random and it’s impossible to tell what powers someone will have until after infection. Jamie – whose enhanced power is incredible physical strength and endurance – chose to continue to serve after he became a metahuman, in spite of the disapproval of his wealthy and influential family. His father is a powerful senator with presidential ambitions who wants Jamie to quit the MDF and be part of his campaign, but Jamie isn’t interested. He is dedicated to serving his country and his team is his family – and he’s not going to abandon them.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

Tight Quarters (Out of Uniform #6) by Annabeth Albert (audiobook) – Narrated by Greg Boudreaux

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

Petty Officer Bacon, a Navy SEAL and ace sharpshooter, has been on the front lines of more than his fair share of dangerous ops. Yet when a minor injury relegates him to the beta team, he’s tasked with what may be his riskiest assignment yet: babysitting a silver fox journalist, who is the hottest, most charismatic man he’s ever encountered.

Award-winning journalist Spencer Bryant may have been named one of Pride magazine’s most eligible bachelors of the year, but he’s not looking to change his relationship status. He’s a consummate professional who won’t risk his ethics or impeccable reputation by getting involved with a source. Even a sexy-as-hell military man. But while Spencer can resist his physical attraction to Bacon, he has less control over his emotions – especially when the mission goes sideways and the two men are trapped alone.

Getting out of the jungle alive turns out to be easy compared to facing the truth about their feelings for one another back in the real world. And whether or not they can build a future is a different story altogether.

Rating: Narration – A+ : Content – A

Annabeth Albert’s Out of Uniform series has been a consistently enjoyable one in both print and audio, despite the odd blip. Tight Quarters is the sixth instalment, and I was glued to it from start to finish, zipping through it in two or three sittings. Yeah, yeah, I know – I’d listen to Greg Boudreaux read his shopping list, but fortunately, Annabeth Albert has provided him with something MUCH sexier and emotionally satisfying (although I don’t know – maybe his shopping lists are sexy and emotionally satisfying?) to get stuck into, in this tale of a journalist who embeds with a team of Navy SEALs looking for a story and finds something he really hadn’t bargained for.

We met Petty Officer Bacon in the previous book in the series, Squared Away, and at the beginning of his one, he’s more than a little bit pissed off because the finger he dislocated on a training exercise has him sidelined and unable to take his regular place on Team Alpha. His annoyance is further compounded when he is directed to be the liaison officer for a reporter who is going to embed with Bacon’s unit during their next mission. The team’s recent shake up following the departure of its XO (executive officer) and explosives expert (Wes and Dustin from Wheels Up) coupled with the rumours that the pair are now an item and began their relationship while working together despite the strict non-fraternization policy, make Bacon – a friend of both men – very hostile to the idea of a journalist poking around for a story and he resents being demoted to the role of babysitter. Even worse – the reporter is Spencer Bryant, a heavyweight, multi-award-winning journalist and author who is openly gay… and is one seriously hot silver fox. Under any other circumstances, Bacon would have so gone there – but he’s got to keep Bryant at a distance and away from anything that could potentially embarrass his team or the Navy in general.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.