The Gift (Love in O’Leary #2) by May Archer (audiobook) – Narrated by Iggy Toma and Alexander Cendese

This title may be downloaded from Audible by Amazon

Daniel: I suck at relationships and don’t trust anyone, but there are reasons for that. For one thing, every person I’ve ever cared about has let me down. The only recent exception: O’Leary’s town veterinarian…my new best friend.

I came to O’Leary for a fresh start. To pare things down to essentials. To forget about the failures in my past. The last thing I need is complications, and most definitely not a boyfriend.

Julian: I’ve lived in O’Leary my entire life and learned to fly under the radar a long time ago. I do what’s expected, say what’s expected, and keep to myself as much as possible. It’s a hell of a lot simpler spending my time working with animals than trying to interact with actual people. The one unlikely exception: the gorgeous guy who moved to a cabin just outside of town and somehow became my best friend.

But friendships are complicated, and one morning I find myself accidentally telling the whole town the biggest lie of my life. Which is how Daniel Michaelson, my very straight, very hot best friend becomes my fake boyfriend, even though he’s most definitely not my lover.

Rating: Narration: B+; Content:C+

May Archer’s The Gift – the second book in her Love in O’Leary series – is a cute, low-drama, fake-relationship/GFY romance set in a small town in upstate New York where everyone seems to know everyone else and has their nose in everyone else’s business. That intrinsic busybody-ness is part of what sets this particular story in motion, when one member of the community, thinking to spare a friend from the gossip-mongers, basically announces to everyone in town that he (who is gay) and said friend (who is not) are romantically involved.

Daniel Michaelson moved to a small house in the woods outside O’Leary some months earlier after his big city life imploded and his career went tits-up. Wanting to get away from everything – his friends, his family and, most of all, reminders of his failure – he keeps himself to himself, travelling into O’Leary rarely and, unbeknownst to him, gaining himself a reputation as a bit of an oddball. Towards the end of the previous book in the series, that reputation caused the O’Learyans to become suspicious of him, the rumour mill even going so far as to suggest that he may have been involved with the recent disappearances of a couple of hikers – and it’s this suspicion that causes the town vet, Julian Ross, to give Daniel an alibi by telling everyone they’re a couple.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

Quickie Reviews #4

Another batch of shorter-than-usual reviews of a few things I read/listened to over the past couple of months or so.


Fake Out (Fake Boyfriend #1) by Eden Finley, narrated by Alexander Cendese and Iggy Toma

Maddox – The reason I rarely go home is three simple words: I’m a liar. 

When the pressure to marry my childhood sweetheart became too much, I told her I was gay and then fled to New York like my ass was on fire. 

Now, five years later and after a drunken encounter, I find myself invited to her wedding. And I have to bring my boyfriend-the boyfriend who doesn’t exist because I’m straight. 

At least, I think I am. Meeting the guy I’m bribing to be my boyfriend for the weekend makes me question everything about myself. 

Damon – When my sister asks me to pretend to be some straight guy’s boyfriend, my automatic response is to say no. It’s because of guys like him people don’t believe me when I tell them I’m gay. 

But Maddox has something I need. 

After an injury that cost me my baseball career, I’m trying to leave my playing days behind and focus on being the best sports agent I can be. Forty-eight hours with my sister’s best friend in exchange for a meeting with a possible client. I can do this. 

I just wish he wasn’t so hot. Or that he didn’t kiss like he means it. 

Wait… why is the straight guy kissing me? 

Overall Grade: B+ / 4.5 stars

I needed a palate cleanser after my last, very boring, listen and this fit the bill perfectly. I like the fake-relationship trope, and this was a low-angst, funny and sexy little story about a guy who told his high-school girlfriend he was gay because she was suffocating him and he couldn’t think of a way to dump her without hurting her feelings. Um… okay, yeah, so that was a dick move.

Coming from a very small town, that news spread like wildfire, but Maddox isn’t too bothered by it – he lives and works in New York now anyway, and doesn’t go home often so it’s no biggie as far as he’s concerned. Until one evening that ex-walks into the same bar he’s in, and promptly invites him to her upcoming wedding. Oh, and he should bring his boyfriend…

It’s daft, but it kick-starts the story, which is generally light-hearted, even though both Maddox and his fake-boyfriend, Damon, have some issues to deal with. Maddox, while not at all freaked at the fact that his attraction to Damon means he must be bi, is a commitment-phobe, while a bad experience with a lifelong friend who came on to Damon and then accused him of manipulating him has made Damon very wary of bi-curious guys.

The two narrators fit their assigned characters well; Alexander Cendese is good at playing the lively, slightly dickhead-y, clueless jock with a heart of gold (although Maddox isn’t a jock here) and Iggy Toma’s portrayal of Damon, who is more considered and – as Maddox says, has his shit together – is a nice contrast. Cendese’s female voices aren’t great, but they actually add comedic value here.

Fake Out was an enjoyable listen overall – the narration definitely enhanced the story and it proved to be a great pick-me-up.


In Her Sights by Katie Ruggle

Bounty hunter Molly Pax fought hard for everything she has, turning the bail recovery business she shares with her sisters into an unqualified success. So when their sticky-fingered mother jumps bail and puts the childhood home up as collateral, Molly’s horrified. To make matters worse, every two-bit criminal in the Rockies now sees her family’s misfortune as their next big break.

She needs help, stat.

Enter rival bounty hunter John Carmondy: six feet of pure trouble, with a cocky grin to match. John’s the most cheerfully, annoyingly gorgeous frenemy Molly’s ever had the pleasure of defeating…and he may be her only hope of making it out of this mess alive.

Grade: C / 3 stars

I’ve not read anything by this author before, so I was pleased to be able to jump into a new series. The Rocky Mountain Bounty Hunters are a group of five sisters, the eldest of whom, Molly, has been as much of a mother as a sister to her siblings owing to the irresponsible nature of their actual mother, Jane. All the sisters work as bail enforcement agents – bounty hunters – and In Her Sights opens as Molly Pax – the eldest – is interrupted in her surveillance of her current target by the unexpected and unwanted presence of the ridiculously pretty and ridiculously annoying John Carmondy, a fellow bounty hunter who wants Molly and her sisters to come and work for him.

John is always bright and breezy, his flirtatious grins and quips stirring the attraction Molly feels for him but ruthlessly keeps a lid on; the problem here is that she keeps a lid on it for rather too long, because there’s no real progression in the romance until over three-quarters of the way through the book – John and Molly don’t even kiss until the 80% mark, and the sex scene that follows was strangely flat.

The plot concerning the Pax ladies’ struggle to extricate themselves from their mother’s mess – she puts their home up as collateral and then skips bail – is entertaining, but is not concluded here, so I guess it’s going to run through the series. I liked the relationship between the sisters, but the plot whereby Molly and John chase down a bail-jumper was fairly run-of-the-mill and not all that suspenseful. John isn’t a particularly well-drawn character; he’s funny and he’s cute, but we don’t get to know much more about him other than that he’s a goner for Molly and everyone can see that but her; and Jane is a one-note villain.

I enjoy romantic suspense, so I might give this author another try, but I think I’ll find something from her backlist, because if the rest of this series runs along the same lines as this one, I don’t think it’s for me.


Bonfires by Amy Lane, narrated by Nick J. Russo

Ten years ago Sheriff’s Deputy Aaron George lost his wife and moved to Colton, hoping growing up in a small town would be better for his children. He’s gotten to know his community, including Mr. Larkin, the bouncy, funny science teacher. But when Larx is dragged unwillingly into administration, he stops coaching the track team and starts running alone. Aaron—who thought life began and ended with his kids—is distracted by a glistening chest and a principal running on a dangerous road.

Larx has been living for his kids too—and for his students at Colton High. He’s not ready to be charmed by Aaron, but when they start running together, he comes to appreciate the deputy’s steadiness, humor, and complete understanding of Larx’s priorities. Children first, job second, his own interests a sad last.

It only takes one kiss for two men approaching fifty to start acting like teenagers in love, even amid all the responsibilities they shoulder. Then an act of violence puts their burgeoning relationship on hold. The adult responsibilities they’ve embraced are now instrumental in keeping their town from exploding. When things come to a head, they realize their newly forged family might be what keeps the world from spinning out of control.

Overall Grade: B+ / 4.5 stars

A lovely story about two men in their late forties finding love after years spent alone, one because his wife was killed in an accident, the other because of an acrimonious divorce. The relationship between sherrif’s deputy Aaron George and school principal Larkin (who goes by Larx) is superbly developed, and I really liked the “found family” aspect of the story. Both men have been single parents for a number of years and I liked that the romance played out realistically against the backdrop of their jobs and family lives. These are two mature characters with responsibilities that didn’t magically disappear when they wanted “together time”.

Running alongside the romance is the plotline concerning an attack on one of Larx’s pupils, a young man who had, only hours before, come out (along with his boyfriend, another pupil at the school). There’s little doubt this was a hate crime, and the suspect is a fellow pupil, the spoiled daughter of one of the town’s most influential families who is well known for bullying and making trouble for her peers. Aaron is also dealing with the investigation into what looks like the murder of a man whose body was found floating in a nearby lake – while Larx finds himself hauled up before the school-board, which is trying to get the school’s GSA (Gay-Straight Alliance) group disbanded. He’s not out publicly – his kids know he’s bisexual as do some of his colleagues and friends – but it’s not widely known, and given the way his career was almost ended years earlier around the time of his divorce, he’s wary of giving the officials yet another stick to beat him with.

[One of the things that struck me hard as I was listening was a fundamental difference between the school as depicted in the book and the ones I work in. I can only speak with experience of state schools, but in the UK, a teacher would face disciplinary action for NOT acting to protect the rights of LGBT kids rather than the other way around; the fact that Larx had to stand up and defend his actions in front of the school board or whatever was just mind-boggling to me. I had to check the publication date of the book to make sure it wasn’t something from the 1990s (it’s not – it came out in 2017).]

Nick J. Russo does a great job with the narration, providing distinct vocal characterisations for all the characters and really capturing the essence of the two principals. Aaron is a bit gruff and quite deliberate, whereas Larx is mercurial; passionate about his job and those he cares for, funny and flirtatious – and all of those qualities come through perfectly in the performance.

I’m looking forward to the next book, which I plan to pick up soon.

 

Arctic Wild (Frozen Hearts #2) by Annabeth Albert (audiobook) – Narrated by Iggy Toma

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

When a plane crashes in the Alaskan wilderness, the best place to land is in the arms of a younger man…

Hotshot attorney Reuben Graham has finally agreed to take a vacation, when his plane suddenly plunges into the Alaskan wilderness.

Just his luck.

But his frustrations have only begun as he finds himself stranded with the injured, and superhot, pilot, a man who’s endearingly sociable – and much too young for Reuben to be wanting him this badly.

As the sole provider for his sisters and ailing father, Tobias Kooly is devastated to learn his injuries will prevent him from working or even making it back home. So when Reuben insists on giving him a place to recover, not even Toby’s pride can make him refuse. He’s never been tempted by a silver fox before, but something about Reuben is impossible to resist.

Recuperating in Reuben’s care is the last thing Toby expected, yet the closer they become, the more incredibly right it feels, prompting workaholic Reuben to question the life he’s been living. But when the pressure Toby’s under starts closing in, both men will have to decide if there’s room in their hearts for a love they never saw coming.

Rating: Narration: A; Content: B+

This second book in Annabeth Albert’s Frozen Hearts series is an opposites-attract, May/December romance in which the protagonists find themselves making a major reassessment of their lives and goals in the wake of a life-threatening accident. It’s no secret I’m a big fan of this author and narrator, so I had high hopes – and I’m pleased to report that Arctic Wild more than lived up to my expectations.

Corporate lawyer Reuben Graham and a couple of friends are due to fly to Alaska for an exclusive one-week wilderness experience when a last minute change sees him heading off on his own. He’d honestly prefer to have cancelled, but when his friend implies that Reuben isn’t the outdoorsy type (he isn’t) and might not cope easily with the challenges the trip is likely to present, Reuben finds he dislikes the insinuation and decides to prove him wrong. As he heads to catch his flight, he just hopes that his tour guide is a grizzled – and most importantly, taciturn – mountain man-type who is likely to leave him mostly alone and won’t notice or worry if Reuben spends a lot of the trip buried in the work he’s brought along.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

The Doctor’s Secret (Copper Point Medical #1) by Heidi Cullinan (audiobook) – Narrated by Iggy Toma

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

The brilliant but brooding new doctor encounters Copper Point’s sunny nurse next door…and nothing can stand in the way of this romance.

Dr. Hong-Wei Wu has come to Copper Point, Wisconsin, after the pressures of a high-powered residency burned him out of his career before he started. Ashamed of letting his family down after all they’ve done for him, he plans to live a quiet life as a simple surgeon in this tiny Northern town. His plans, however, don’t include his outgoing, kind, and attractive surgical nurse, Simon Lane.

Simon wasn’t ready for the new surgeon to be a handsome charmer who keeps asking him for help getting settled and who woos him with amazing Taiwanese dishes. There’s no question – Dr. Wu is flirting with him, and Simon is flirting back. The problem is, St. Ann’s has a strict no-dating policy between staff, which means their romance is off the table…unless they bend the rules.

But a romance that keeps them – literally – in the closet can’t lead to happy ever after. Simon doesn’t want to stay a secret, and Hong-Wei doesn’t want to keep himself removed from life, not anymore. To secure their happiness, they’ll have to change the administration’s mind. But what other secrets will they uncover along the way about Copper Point…and about each other?

Rating: Narration: B+; Content: C+

I’ve enjoyed several of the audio collaborations by the author/narrator team of Heidi Cullinan and Iggy Toma, and was pleased to learn that the pair would be joining forces again for Ms. Cullinan’s new series of small-town medical romances. While I generally enjoy medical dramas on TV and I cut my romance-reading teeth on medical romances, I haven’t really read any for years, so I was looking forward to The Doctor’s Secret, in which we meet brilliant young surgeon Hong-Wei Wu as he boards the plane on the last leg of his journey from his home in Houston to a new life and job in the small town of Copper Point in northern Wisconsin.

Burdened with guilt at not meeting his family’s high expectations, and more than a little burnt out by the pressures of his residency at the prestigious Baylor MC, Hong-Wei – who could have had his pick of any number of high-profile positions at the best hospitals in the country – has opted to join the staff at a small hospital in the back of beyond in an attempt to get his life back on track and make a fresh start. He’s expecting to be met at the airport by some of the bigwigs from St. Ann’s Medical Center, so is somewhat surprised to discover that instead, he has a welcoming committee of one, an attractive young man who introduces himself as Simon Lane, the hospital’s surgical nurse.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

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


This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

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

Rating: Narration: B+; Content: A-

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

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

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

Just Business (Takeover #2) by Anna Zabo (audiobook) – Narrated by Iggy Toma

just business

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

Justin White may not look like an up-and-coming corporate superstar, but his new boss knows that he has the smarts, grit, and determination to succeed. Now he just has to convince his company’s CFO, Eli Ovadia. Unfortunately, Justin can’t seem to keep his cool around the domineering Eli, and soon he finds himself taking their heat from the boardroom into the bedroom.

Still haunted by a tragic accident that left him with a wounded leg and broken heart, Eli has a need to be in control. But his desire for Justin makes him want to lose that control and push them both far beyond their limits. Will his need to dominate Justin drive him away, or will Eli find a way to be the man he needs for both of them?

Rating: Narration – A: Content – B

Anna Zabo is a new-to-me author, and I picked up Just Business (book two in the Takeover series) because I’m on a narrator glom (and it was in the Audible Romance Package). It’s a steamy, BDSM-themed romance, and to be honest, isn’t something I’d likely have chosen to read or listen to had it not been for the fact that I’d happily listen to Iggy Toma announcing arrivals and departures at Waterloo station.

Justin White is a clever, ambitious young man studying for his MBA and working as a barista in order to make ends meet. One of his regular customers is Sam Anderson, the CEO of a small but dynamic consulting firm – and Justin has overheard him talking with his friend and colleague, Eli Ovadia, about the fact that he needs to hire a new assistant. Justin is barely keeping his head above water financially, between helping his family, his tuition and living expenses, and he really wants the job; he has the right education and experience and knows he could do a lot worse than learn how to run a business from Sam Anderson – so he gathers his courage and hands Sam the application he’s prepared. He’s invited for an interview and gets the job.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

Nowhere Ranch by Heidi Cullinan (audiobook) – Narrated by Iggy Toma

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

Love will grow through the cracks you leave open.

Ranch hand Roe Davis absolutely never mixes business with pleasure – until he runs into his boss, Travis Loving, at the only gay bar within 200 miles.

Getting involved with the ranch owner is a bad idea, but Roe’s and Travis’s bedroom kinks line up against one another like a pair of custom-cut rails. As long as they’re both clear this is sex on the side, no relationship, no interfering with the job, they could make it work.

Shut out by his family years ago, Roe survived by steadfastly refusing to settle into so much as a post office box. As his affair with Travis grows into more than just sex, Roe’s past catches up with him, threatening the thin ray of happiness he’s found, reminding him it’s well past time he went on his way.

Even a loner gets lonely, and at this point, there’s nowhere left to run. The shame and sorrow of what he’s lost will stay with Roe wherever he goes – until he’s ready to let love lead him home.

Rating: Narration – A : Content – A-

I’ve been on another narrator glom recently, and as Iggy Toma has recorded a number of books by Heidi Cullinan, I’ve been on a bit of an author glom, too! Originally published in 2015, Nowhere Ranch is a standalone romance featuring a strong element of BDSM that, I admit, isn’t normally my cup of tea; but I’ve come to trust this author and this narrator and so I decided to pick it up. While there were a couple of things that pushed me just a bit outside my comfort zone, I’m glad I listened to it, because at heart, this is an intense, deeply romantic and poignant love story about two lonely men who find something fundamental to their happiness in one another.

The opening line just about says it all:

My name is Monroe Davis, and this is the story of how I found home.

Roe grew up on the family farm in Algona, Iowa, but left after his mother found his stash of gay porn and his conservative, religious family wanted him to get counselling from the local pastor, date girls and… basically stop being gay. After that, Roe ran around town for a while getting into trouble and ended up doing a few months behind bars. After he got out of prison, he left Algona and has drifted around, finding work here and there on a few ranches throughout the Midwest, finally making his way to the aptly named Nowhere Ranch in north western Nebraska, a small ‘hobby’ ranch the size of a large farm that’s owned by divorced former mathematics professor Travis Loving.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.