Unguarded (Vino & Veritas #10) by Jay Hogan (audiobook) – Narrated by Gary Furlong & Iggy Toma

unguarded

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

I fled Boston and my cheating jerk of an ex with $300 and a lip gloss in my pocket. Waking up the next day in Burlington, Vermont, with a crick in my back and a frozen ass wasn’t exactly in the plan. If there was one. Which there wasn’t. Story of my life.

Three hours later and I’ve been hired as temporary help in the local veterinary and grooming clinic, which is kind of impressive since I know zip about animals and even less about grooming. But one thing I do know – I’m crushing hard on the sexy, absentminded vet for whom I work.

My life is a hot mess. The last thing I need is another relationship. Emmett pushes all my buttons, but he isn’t out. He’s overwhelmed with a business to run and a son to look after and the kind of domestic life I never thought I wanted.

I should walk away.

But Emmett believes in me, and I might just be starting to believe in myself. As different as we are, is it possible we’re exactly what the other needs?

Rating: Narration – A/B; Content – A-

Unguarded is my favourite (and the best so far) of the Vino and Veritas series – a warm, sexy and emotionally satisfying romance between a small-town veterinary surgeon and a snarky ex-pat Kiwi in which Jay Hogan once again demonstrates her talent for creating complex, relatable characters and finding the right balance between light and dark elements in her stories. It’s only been a couple of months since I read the book, but having two of my all-time favourite narrators on board for the audio meant I wasn’t going to waste any time before experiencing it again.

The book opens with Tai Samuels freezing his butt off as he’s trying to sleep in his crappy car, when he’s seen by the local police and told to move on. After catching his long-term boyfriend cheating on him with a pair of twinks earlier that evening, Tai stormed out with nothing but the clothes on his back and a few hundred dollars in his wallet, and drove. It’s not the first time his ex has cheated on him – and Tai curses himself for his stupidity in having forgiven him – but enough is enough and he got in his car and left Boston behind as fast as he could. Which is how he’s ended up in Vermont in clothes more suitable for clubbing than a New England winter.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

Spotlight (Famous #2) by Eden Finley (audiobook) – Narrated by Iggy Toma

spotlight

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

Ryder

When I quit the biggest boy band on the planet, I was supposed to get my life back.

It’s not that I wanted to leave the spotlight. I felt like I had to for my daughter. Her picture shouldn’t be splashed all over the tabloids. I thought I could do this parenting thing on my own, but it’s obvious I need help. I just didn’t expect to find it in the form of a gorgeous guy I meet by chance. I can put my attraction aside for my daughter’s sake. I’ve put my whole life on hold for her.

If only he wasn’t so tempting.

Lyric

Working as a nanny is my backup to my backup plan. My first plan is fame, but something always holds me back. When I randomly run into Ryder Kennedy and end up becoming his daughter’s nanny, I figure it’ll be a short-term thing. But then Ryder finds out I can sing. He wasn’t ready to give up music, and now he’s found a new way to have it: through me. He wants to produce my demo and make me a star. He says I was born to be in the spotlight, but I think I was born to run from it.

It doesn’t help that each day I’m with him and his daughter, the deeper I fall into fantasies of being part of their family. And not just as the nanny.

Rating: Narration – A: Content – B+

Spotlight is the second book in Eden Finley’s Famous series, which tells the stories of the members of the world’s biggest Boy Band after it breaks up. The story has a number of things in common with book one, Pop Star – a closeted lead character, a realistic portrayal of the workings of the music business and the way so much of the media treats celebrities – but those similarities didn’t outweigh the rest of the story or make me feel as though I was listening to the same book all over again.

When Ryder Kennedy left Eleven, it wasn’t because of personality clashes or creative differences – it was because he wanted to be a proper father to his young daughter, Kaylee. Two years later, and with Kaylee now four-going-on-five, Ryder has his hands full working as a producer as well as being a single parent of the rather precocious child he’s trying desperately to keep well away from the public eye.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals

Guarding His Melody (Enhanced World #4) by Victoria Sue (audiobook) – Narrated by Iggy Toma

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon.

Deaf since childhood, Sebastian Armitage had a promising musical future until his dreams were shattered when he transformed at 12 years old.

In a world where enhanced humans are terrorized and imprisoned, his life shrinks around him even more as he suffers the torment of his father’s experimental research to enable him to hear.

Gray Darling – struggling with the scars left by his experience in Afghanistan – agrees to provide short-term personal protection when anonymous threats escalate into assault on those closest to Seb.

As the lines between protection and attraction blur, Gray and Seb can’t ignore the intense feelings drawing them together. But secrets and betrayals might prove deadly, unless Gray is willing to risk it all. And Seb must find the strength to make his own future and sing his own song…

Rating: Narration – B+; Content – B-

Victoria Sue’s Enhanced World series features a group of characters with special abilities known as (surprise, surprise!) the Enhanced. Most of the books in the series centre around a specially created Florida-based FBI unit that partners an Enhanced with a regular human, but Guarding His Melody (book four) is an offshoot of the main series which means it’s perfectly possible to listen to it as a standalone. The author does a good job of making it possible for new listeners to jump in here, giving all the necessary backstory without info-dumping, but for the purposes of this review, here’s a quick rundown. The Enhanced are humans who, in childhood or adolescence, suddenly develop special abilities, which range from super strength to the ability to become invisible, walk through walls, destroy metal, x-ray vision … it’s a long list and there’s no way of knowing beforehand who will transform, let alone what their powers might be. The only things all Enhanced have in common are 1) an identifying facial mark or scar which appears literally overnight when they undergo their transformation; 2) when they transform, their parents are given the choice to keep them in their households or send them away – a disturbing number take the latter option; 3) they are feared and viewed with suspicion, distrust and even hatred by the ‘normal’ public, and 4) they don’t have the same rights as everyone else.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

Burn Zone (Hotshots #1) by Annabeth Albert (audiobook) – Narrated by Iggy Toma


This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

Smokejumper Lincoln Reid is speechless to see Jacob Hartman among his squad’s new recruits. Linc had promised his late best friend he’d stay away from his little brother. And yet here Jacob is…and almost instantly, the same temptation Linc has always felt around him is causing way too many problems.

Jacob gets everyone’s concerns, but he’s waited years for his shot at joining the elite smokejumping team, hoping to honor his brother’s memory. He’s ready to tackle any challenge Linc throws his way, and senses the chemistry between them – chemistry Linc insists on ignoring – is still alive and kicking. This time, Jacob’s determined to get what he wants.

Close quarters and high stakes make it difficult for Linc to keep his resolve, nevermind do so while also making sure the rookie’s safe. But the closer they get, the more Linc’s plan to leave at the end of the season risks him breaking another promise: the one his heart wants to make to Jacob.

Rating: Narration – A-; Content – B+

Book one in Annabeth Albert’s Hotshots series about the members of the elite wildland firefighter crew based in central Oregon, Burn Zone is a sexy age-gap romance between two smoke jumpers (and I had to look up exactly what that job is!) – Lincoln Reid, who’s been on the job for a number of years, and rookie Jacob Hartman – who happens to be the younger brother of Linc’s best friend Wyatt.

When the book opens, we meet Linc and Wyatt as they’re finishing up with an end-of-season situation check. Wyatt is pissed because nineteen-year-old Jacob came out to the family at the Sunday dinner table, and although he doesn’t say it in so many words, he obviously thinks that Linc had something to do with it. Wyatt is one of the very few people in their small hometown – or at work – who knows Linc is gay, but even though his subtle and not-so-subtle homophobia has dented their lifelong friendship, the pair have remained friends, because Wyatt and the entire Hartman clan have been more Linc’s family than Linc’s own ever was. But Jacob hasn’t made much of a secret of his huge crush on Linc, and Wyatt angrily tells to Linc to keep his hands off – no matter that Linc has never planned to go there with Jacob, even though he’s cute and his youthful confidence and warm smile are very attractive.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

Pop Star (Famous #1) by Eden Finley (audiobook) – Narrated by Iggy Toma

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

Harley

What happens when the most successful boy band on the planet breaks up? How about 20,000 fans screaming my name. But the price of fame comes with an increased risk to my safety. I’ve been avoiding the dreaded B word for as long as I can, but after a close call with a rambunctious fan, I can’t do it anymore. It’s time to give in. I need to hire a full-time bodyguard. And when he shows up, he not only screams badass, he’s another B word I try to stay away from: boyfriend material.

Brix

Protecting people is not what my company usually does, but the boss knows I need money, and the pop star is offering an insane amount to live with him and make sure no more crazy fans break into his house. I’m doing it for the money and nothing else. He may be the prettiest man I’ve ever seen, and I may feel sorry for the celebrity life he’s been forced into since he was a teenager, but that doesn’t mean anything. Just because he fascinates me, that doesn’t mean I like him. It doesn’t.

Professionalism. I’m gonna live it. Breathe it. Enforce it… Mostly.

Rating: Narration – A-; Content – B-

If you’ve read or listened to Hat Trick, the final book in Eden Finley’s Fake Boyfriend series, you’ve already met Harley Valentine, one of the two protagonists in Pop Star, book one in her new Famous series. Harley was a member of Eleven, the most successful, most famous boy-band on the planet, and he came across as a selfish, spoiled brat, especially when he (in effect) blackmailed his former lover Jet Jackson – one of the leads in Hat Trick – to re-join the worldwide tour Jet had quit through burnout and a need to separate himself from Harley because their relationship was so unhealthy. Harley is gay, but isn’t out and can’t come out – his contract has him nicely hamstrung on that score – and even though Jet had broken up with him several times, their proximity on tour meant that they often fell into bed again – and Jet had had enough of being Harley’s dirty little secret.

By the time Pop Star opens, Eleven has split and its five members have gone their separate ways. Harley has embarked on a – so far – successful solo career, and is as famous and widely-recognised as ever. It’s clear, however, that he’s not exactly happy; if he’s not touring or recording or doing PR for concerts and albums, he’s holed up writing in his LA home, where he lives with his fiancée Evah – although as was made clear in Hat Trick, their relationship was manufactured by the record label in order to squash any rumours that Harley might be gay. To anyone on the outside looking in, Harley has it all – a beautiful fiancée, a great career, public acclaim and more money than he knows what to do with… but from the inside, it’s a lonely life. Harley doesn’t have any real friends, he’s feeling stifled creatively and he can’t set a foot outside his home without being hounded by paparazzi. And then things take a turn for the worse when he returns home exhausted after a concert and meet-n-greet to discover a young man waiting in his kitchen – a young man he doesn’t know who is clearly fixated on him and who creeps him out. Things are – thankfully – safely resolved, but having turned down the idea of hiring a round-the-clock bodyguard on several occasions because he dislikes the idea of having a permanent shadow even in his personal space, Harley is now forced to concede that it’s probably a good idea after all.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals

Hat Trick (Fake Boyfriend #5) by Eden Finley (audiobook) – Narrated by Alexander Cendese and Iggy Toma

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

Soren

You know what’s not fun? Going on a Fiji vacation with four other couples. Especially when recently single. What’s even worse is when a past hook-up arrives unannounced. Not only do we have a history, but he’s 10 years younger and a famous rock star. Most importantly, he’s my friend’s little brother. Being trapped on an island with Jet Jackson is going to be sweet torture because all I want is another chance. I just don’t think he’s going to give it to me.

Jet

You know what’s not fun? Escaping one guy who broke my heart only to run into another. Being on the road for three years has left me exhausted. The last thing I want is for Caleb “Soren” Sorensen to try for round two. I can’t fight my draw to him. I’ve never been able to. I’m suddenly back to being the naïve kid who stupidly lusted after a hockey player. All I can think is if I let Soren get close, I’ll walk away from this vacation with a double broken heart.

Rating: Narration – B; Content – B-

Hat Trick is the fifth (and final) novel in Eden Finley’s Fake Boyfriend series, and it’s one I’ve been looking forward to ever since I found out who the central couple would be. As has been the case with the other books in the set, Hat Trick is a light-hearted, low-angst, sexy story with plenty of humour and sharp banter, a couple of likeable principals and engaging secondary cast (in this case, formed mostly of the couples from the previous books). Alexander Cendese and Iggy Toma return to narrate, and deliver their customary strong performances; they’re what drew me to this series in the first place, and although I might have had the odd niggle here and there, they haven’t disappointed.

Hockey player Caleb Sorenson – Soren to his friends – can’t think of anything worse than being stuck on a luxury vacation with your closest friends when those friends are ALL (sickeningly), happily coupled up, especially after breaking up with the long-term boyfriend he risked coming out for. But oh, wait – things could be worse, and rapidly become so when another guest arrives, Jet Jackson, younger brother of Matt (book two, Trick Play) who is now, at twenty-three, famous as the lead singer of up-and-coming band Radioactive… and the guy Soren hooked up with three years earlier without knowing he was his best friends’ little brother. So, um, yeah. Awkward.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

Quickie Reviews #6

Another batch of shorter-than-usual book and audio reviews 🙂


Will & Patrick Wake Up Married Series by Leta Blake and Alice Griffiths

Narrated by John Solo

After a drunken night of hot sex in Vegas, strangers Will Patterson and Dr. Patrick McCloud wake up married. A quickie divorce is the most obvious way out—unless you’re the heir of a staunchly Catholic mafia boss with a draconian position on the sanctity of marriage. Throw their simmering attraction into the mix and all bets are off!

Rating: Narration – A-; Content – A-

I read the Wake Up Married series last year and picked up the audios when they were whispersynced. Once you get past the daft premise, this is an entertaining, often very funny and sometimes moving story with two strongly characterised, appealing leads. Patrick – with his complete lack of filter – is a hoot, but I liked that he was just “this is me – take it or leave it”, while Will lacks confidence in just about everything apart from his ability to do his job, which is incredibly important to him. Both of them have emotional baggage to deal with – Patrick has become extremely successful despite an awful childhood; Will can’t see that the relationship he was in for several years was emotionally abusive and only added to his already deep-seated insecurities about his personal attractiveness and self-worth. His blindness about his ex is irritating, but it also works to show just how far he’s been manipulated and how his self-doubt has been fostered.

John Solo’s narration doesn’t always work for me; he’s good, but he has this weird way of suddenly going into what I term “movie-trailer-announcer-mode” when his speech loses natural rhythms and he emphasises words oddly – it usually happens in sex scenes or when the characters are thinking about sex, and other times of heightened tension or emotion. I don’t know whether he didn’t do that as much here, or if I just didn’t notice it as much once I got used to it, but he delivers a really good performance in this and his interpretations of Will and Patrick are especially good and fit their characters perfectly. Will is softly spoken, Patrick is more abrasive and his dialogue has a harsher edge. The secondary characters are well-differentiated and if it weren’t for that odd quirk I mentioned, he’d be on my list of all-time favourite narrators.


Valor on the Move by Keira Andrews

Narrated by Iggy Toma

Growing up gay in the White House hasn’t been easy for Rafael Castillo. Codenamed “Valor” by the Secret Service, Rafa feels anything but brave as he hides in the closet and tries to stay below the radar in his last year of college. His father’s presidency is almost over, and he just needs to stick to his carefully crafted plan. Once his family’s out of the spotlight, he can be honest with his conservative parents about his sexuality and his dream of being a chef. 

It’s definitely not part of Rafa’s plan to get a new Secret Service agent who’s a walking wet dream, but he’s made it this long keeping his desires to himself. Besides, it’s not like Shane Kendrick would even look at him twice if it wasn’t his job. 

Shane’s worked his way up through the Secret Service ranks, and while protecting the president’s shy, boring son isn’t his dream White House assignment, it’s an easy enough task since no one pays Rafa much attention. He discovers there’s a vibrant young man beneath the timid public shell, and while he knows Rafa has a crush on him, he assures himself it’s harmless. Shane’s never had room for romance in his life, and he’d certainly never cross that line with a protectee. Keeping Rafa safe at any cost is Shane’s mission. 

But as Rafa gets under his skin, will they both put their hearts on the line? 

Rating: Narration – A-; Content – C

Nothing new to see here, but an easy quick listen with Iggy Toma doing the honours in the narrators’ chair, and I’d listen to him read the phone book, so…

I generally enjoy May/December romances but in the best ones (like Annabeth Albert’s At Attention or N.R Walker’s The Thomas Elkin Series), the younger protagonist is generally more mature than their years and has a bit of life experience behind them. The problem here is that Rafa, at twenty-one, feels much younger. He’s lived in the White House for seven years (since he was fourteen) and has been pretty sheltered; some of that is undoubtedly due to the fact that he’s closeted and hasn’t wanted to draw the media spotlight by going out with guys, but he comes across as naive. I did like that he was appreciative of the people whose job it was to keep him safe though – so many of these types of bodyguard stories have the protectee trying to give their details the slip all the time and getting into danger as a result, and at least Rafa doesn’t do that. The coming out scene was pretty intense and the emotion – both in the author’s words and the performance – when Rafa was talking about the marriage bill his father had passed really shone through.

So 3 stars for the story, 4.5 for the narration. I might listen to the sequel at some point.


Spring Strings by Lily Morton

Malachi Booth is a supermodel. He’s used to moving about the world, sleeping with whoever takes his fancy and watching the money roll in. The last place he expects to find himself is on a run-down farm in Cornwall, but a bad bout of bronchitis means that he’s stuck there. The only compensation for this dismal state of affairs is that the farmer is very good looking, even if he’s the grumpiest person that Malachi has ever met.

Cadan Landry’s farm has been in his family for hundreds of years but that doesn’t make it any easier to make ends meet. As a consequence, Cadan could be called grumpy. Most men would consider a supermodel collapsing at their feet while dressed in the skimpiest pair of briefs ever made to be a sign of good fortune. Cadan just resents the fact that the young man is taking up space in his cow field.

These two men are from different worlds, but can they ever meet in the middle?

Rating: A-

Utterly delightful.

It’s the rare novella that can offer all the things this one does – off-the-charts chemistry, a well-developed romance, interesting backstories and strong secondary characters – so to find all that here was a very welcome surprise. (Although at 162 pages, this is more of a short novel; there are books billed as novels that come in at a similar page count!)

Spring Strings is an opposites-attract romance between a Cornish farmer and a supermodel, a pairing that absolutely Should Not Work. When beautiful Malachi Booth meets hunky but grumpy Cadan Landry, it’s snark-at-first sight (this is Lily Morton, queen of snark after all!) and sparks fly. When Malachi ends up staying at Cadan’s farm to recuperate following an illness, the pair gradually start to re-assess their preconceptions about each other and a cautious friendship develops, albeit a sexually-charged one.

Malachi is brilliantly written; he’s cynical and closed off and comes across as a total diva to start with, but the thing is that he knows he’s demanding and difficult and looks on it as part of his job, which makes it easy to like him in spite of it. Ms. Morton makes a number of very pertinent and serious observations about the world he moves in beneath the banter, and also gives him a backstory that completely explains the choices he’s made. And Cadan is a genuinely good man but is struggling and pretty much working himself into the ground because of a poor choice he made in the past (although that doesn’t make the situation he’s in his fault).

Watching the pair of them gradually letting down their guards and allowing the other to know him was just lovely, and I especially loved that Malachi had, at long last found somewhere and someone with whom he could really be himself.

Short, sweet and snarky, but with plenty of depth to make it more than a simple piece of fluff, and just the ticket if you’re looking for a pick-me-up in book form.

Blindsided (Fake Boyfriend #4) by Eden Finley (audiobook) – Narrated by Alexander Cendese and Iggy Toma

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

Miller:

When Talon left to play pro ball six years ago, the hole in my chest confused me. I focused my heartache into making my own NFL dreams come true, and by the time I was drafted, the longing I had for my best friend was buried deep. Now, he wants everything to be like it was in college, but we can’t have threesomes and be reckless like we once were. The media storm would be enough to break both our careers. That’s not my biggest concern, though. The torch I had for him burns brighter after so long apart, and there’s nothing I can do about it. Marcus Talon is straight. I need to stay away from him.

Talon:

Years ago, Miller and I made a pact that we’d win a Super Bowl together. When I’m offered a position on his team in Chicago, I don’t hesitate. I move across the country to chase a dream that’s a decade old. Only, now that I’m here, he’s avoiding me every chance he gets. If he was anyone else, I’d cut my losses. But this is Shane Miller – the guy who makes everything better just by existing in my universe. The guy I’d do anything for. The guy who’s more to me than a brother, a friend, or even a teammate. I’m not going to let him get away.

Rating: Narration – B+ ; Content – B-

I’ve been having fun listening to Eden Finley’s Fake Boyfriend series. The books are funny, sexy and light-hearted although not without their deeper, more serious moments, and as per the series title, each book features a fake relationship. Blindsided is book four and the only one in the set NOT to feature the fake boyfriend trope (the author is upfront about this and it’s in the blurb); the two leads were secondary characters in earlier books who were crying out for a story, and this is it.

Marcus Talon and Shane Miller have known each other since college, where they became great friends on and off the football field, and also in and out of the bedroom, where they frequently indulged in threesomes with a woman in the middle, never touching each other and keeping their focus firmly on their female partner. When their college days come to an end, they both make the draft for the NFL and are signed to different teams, so they go their separate ways and interact only over social media until around six years later when Talon – by now one of the sport’s biggest names – signs up with Miller’s team, the Chicago Warriors. It’s not long before Miller and Talon end up in bed again – with two women between them – but this time Miller realises he’s made a huge mistake and makes it clear he doesn’t want to go there again.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

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.