Out of Character (True Colors #2) by Annabeth Albert (audiobook) – Narrated by Joel Froomkin and Kirt Graves

out of character

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

Jasper Quigley is tired of being everyone’s favorite sidekick. He wants to become the hero of his own life, but that’s not going to happen if he agrees to help out Milo Lionetti, his former best friend turned king of the jocks. High school was miserable enough, thanks, and Jasper has no interest in dredging up painful memories of his old secret crush.

But Milo’s got nowhere else to go. His life is spiraling out of control, and he’s looking to turn things back around. Step one? Replace the rare Odyssey cards he lost in an idiotic bet. Step two? Tell his ex-best-friend exactly how he feels – how he’s always felt. Jasper may be reluctant to reopen old wounds, but he never could resist Milo.

There’s a catch though: If Milo wants his help, he’s going to have to pitch in to make the upcoming children’s hospital charity ball the best ever. But as the two don cosplay for the kids and hunt for rare cards, nostalgia for their lost friendship may turn into something even more lasting….

Rating:  Narration – A-; Content – B

In this charming frenemies-to-lovers romance, Annabeth Albert revisits the group of gamer friends we met in last year’s Conventionally Yours. If you read or listened to that book, you may recall Jasper Quigley, who had originally planned to join Alden and Conrad on their road trip, but who had to return home due to a family emergency after the first day. Out of Character opens a few months after that and finds Jasper who, in his last year of college, is still working part-time at the local game store and participating in the Gamer Grandpa vlog, wondering how on earth he’s going to find a replacement Prince Neptune for his cosplay group. Jasper and a few other Odyssey players – including his younger sister April – regularly visit the children’s ward at the local hospital to chat and play a game or two with some of the older kids on the ward, and Prince Neptune is probably the most popular character. But with the group’s regular Neptune away on vacation, Jasper is a man down, and with only a couple of days to go before their next visit has so far not managed to find anyone to take his place.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

Nothing But Good by Kess McKinley (audiobook) – Narrated by Kirt Graves

nothing but good

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

Special Agent Jefferson Haines puts the “order” in law and order. Meal kits. Gray suits. Consistent reps at the gym. But all his routines are thrown into chaos when he’s called in to catch a serial killer whose MO is the stuff of urban legend: the Smiley Face Killer.

Dripping paint. Wicked slashes for eyes. The taunting curl of a smiling mouth. After years evading capture, the serial killer is back again. As Jefferson races to stop the next attack, the investigation leads to the one man he thought he’d never see again, Fred “Finny” Ashley.

Finny has his own theories about the killer. And they’re pretty good. Maybe too good. Now, with his career on the line, Jefferson has to figure out if his onetime best friend is the culprit or the next victim.

Rating: Narration – B+; Content – B

Kess McKinley’s début novel Nothing but Good is a well-constructed and enjoyable mystery/procedural in which a tightly controlled, buttoned-up FBI agent investigating a number of serial murders encounters an unexpected complication in the form of the former best friend on whom he’d had a huge crush. I read this one when it came out back in May, and when I saw that Kirt Graves was narrating the audio version, I decided to revisit it.

Special Agent Jefferson Haynes and his partner, Special Agent Caroline Pelley, are called in when the body of a young man is pulled out of the water in Boston Harbour, another victim of the “Smiley Face Killer”, so-called because he leaves a very distinct calling card which, in this case, is a huge painted smiley face on the wall just by where the body was found. The SFK has killed a number of young men – all of them found in bodies of water – over the last decade, but has so far eluded capture.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

Featherbed (Vino and Veritas #1) by Annabeth Albert (audiobook) – Narrated by Kirt Graves and Alexander Cendese

featherbed

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

When a bookworm on borrowed time meets a younger free-spirited chicken farmer, sparks and feathers fly….

Harrison Phillip Fletcher III isn’t supposed to be here. Not in Burlington, Vermont, not running Vino & Veritas, a quaint inclusive bookstore and wine bar, and definitely not still alive, at 42. Also not supposed to be here? An unexpected delivery of chickens.

Finn Barnes knows chickens. The burly organic farmer knows all about rare breed poultry, but dealing with a hot older bookseller is an entirely different matter. City-slicker types like Harrison never end up staying in Vermont for the long-term.

They should steer clear of each other. But the flare of attraction is mutual. And somehow amid book discussions and farm tours, they discover plenty in common. Now they’re stealing kisses in Finn’s barn, sneaking out like teens, and burning up the sheets.

What starts as a fling brings very real feelings for two lonely souls, but a future together seems as unlikely as chickens in a bookstore. Feathers may be flying, but learning to trust takes time neither may have. Can they take a leap of faith together before it’s too late?

Rating: Narration – B; Content – B-

The Vino and Veritas series is one of four new series of contemporary romances set in the world created by Sarina Bowen in her True North books. Each of the series is multi-authored, and the books are all standalones; although some characters do cross over between books, the stories in each are self-contained, so you can dip in and out without missing anything important. The V&V books are all queer romances – mostly m/m, but there are some f/f ones, too – and there’s a fabulous line-up of authors, some of whom are personal favourites. One of them – Annabeth Albert – kicks things off with Featherbed, a sweet, sexy, low-angst romance that, for all its cuteness and strong characterisation, needed a bit more oomph.

A former lawyer, Harrison Fletcher has left the bustle of New York and relocated to Burlington in Vermont where he’s about to open his new venture – a combined bookstore and wine bar he’s named Vino and Veritas. Part of his reason for moving is to because he wants to make mother happy; ever since she retired from her job as a librarian, she’s been at something of a loose end and he knows that owning a bookstore has long been a dream of hers. But he knows he needed a change, too, especially as he thinks he won’t have much more time to spend with her; both his father and his grandfather died before reaching the age of forty-three, and with his forty-second birthday approaching, Harrison can feel the ticking of the countdown clock. Still, even though it’s a move he wanted to make, it’s been something of a culture shock – something brought home even more strongly when one of the deliveries he’s expecting for the bookstore half of V and V turns out to be a box of chickens rather than a box of books.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

Spooky Business (The Spectral Files #3) by S.E. Harmon (audiobook) – Narrated by Kirt Graves

spooky business

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

Being insatiably curious is a good way to end up dead.

Rain Christiansen, cold-case detective and reluctant medium, is very aware of that fact. But when infamous serial killer Thomas Kane wants to meet, there’s no way Rain can say no. He also can’t refuse Kane’s offer – find his missing wife, Delilah, and he’ll reveal the location of his victim’s bodies.

Rain has never turned down a good quid pro quo, and he doesn’t intend to start.

The hunt for Kane’s wife leads to yet another cold case, three copycat murders, and an investigation where nothing is as it seems. Soon, Rain is dealing with a ghost unlike any he’s ever dealt with before…a ghost capable of doing things he shouldn’t be able to do. How can Rain control something he doesn’t even understand? And what will he do when the unknown threatens the safety of the most important person in his life?

Rain is starting to realize that he can only battle the supernatural with the supernatural, and that is spooky business indeed.

Rating: Narration – B; Content – B

This third book in S.E. Harmon’s Spectral Files finds psychic and former FBI agent-turned-cold-case-detective Rain Christiansen confronting a serial killer in order to try to find out where the bodies are buried. Literally. The spookiness factor seems to increase with each book, and Spooky Business is a bit darker in tone than the previous entry in the series – and that’s fine – but I have to say there was one thing near the end that really stretched my credulity, and it seemed to me that Danny (Rain’s boyfriend) spent most of the time on the periphery of the story.

When Rain is asked by his former boss at the FBI to meet with convicted serial killer Thomas Kane, Rain, who is terminally afflicted by insatiable curiosity, agrees to make the four-hour drive to the correctional facility at which he’s being held. It’s immediately clear that Kane has no intention of telling him where he disposed of the remains of his victims; instead he tells Rain that he didn’t kill his wife Delilah Rose and asks him to find out what happened to her after she left him back in the 80s. He also insists he wasn’t responsible for all the murders attributed to him and that four of the twelve were carried out by a copycat – and tells Rain he’s being haunted and wants him to stop it. If Rain does both those things, then he’ll fess up about the bodies.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

Trade Deadline (Hat Trick #3) by Avon Gale and Piper Vaughn (audiobook) – Narrated by Kirt Graves

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

Daniel “Bellzie” Bellamy should be on top of the world – a Stanley Cup is the perfect topper to his 14-year NHL career. But despite the post-win high, something’s missing. When the chance to play for his hometown team, the Miami Thunder, comes along, he’s open to it. And when he runs into an old friend from his past soon after he makes the move, he wonders if it might be kismet.

Micah Kelly never thought he’d see his childhood crush – and first kiss – again. Danny Bellamy moved on to bigger and better things when they were teenagers, and the idea that Micah’s relationship with the professional hockey player could be anything more than one-sided Instagram thirst seems too good to be true.

Maybe too good to be true is the new reality, though. As the season goes on, Micah teaches Daniel to surf, and Daniel introduces Micah to his lovable pack of rescue dogs and the world of being a hockey boyfriend. Life is good. But when things on the ice don’t go as planned, they’ll have to decide if their rediscovered romance is built to last.

Rating: Narration – B+; Content – C+

Trade Deadline is the third book in the authors’ Hat Trick series of hockey-themed romances that features players from the Atlanta Venom, one of the top teams in the NHL. I enjoyed the previous books to differing degrees, although I have to say it’s been something of a gradually downward trend; I really liked the first, mostly liked the second and sort of liked some of the third. Trade Deadline does have some truly positive points – the maturity of the two leads and their honesty about where there relationship is going was a big plus – but on the other hand, it lacks conflict and the romance arrives almost fully-formed so there’s no real build-up or development. I very much appreciated the first thing. I wasn’t sold on the latter.

At just thirty-four, Daniel Bellamy, captain of the Venom, has been a professional player for fourteen years, and given hockey careers are notoriously short, is starting to think about what happens next. After enjoying years of playing the game he loves at the highest level, and having achieved his dream of winning the Stanley Cup the previous season, he decides not to renew his contract with the Venom and instead to take a one-year contract with the Miami Thunder, a team struggling at the bottom of the league. Besides meaning he can move back home to Miami (where his parents still live), he feels that joining the Thunder and maybe mentoring some of the players and sharing his skills will help them to improve and will also fulfil his own need to give something back while he continues to play out his career.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

Principles of Spookology (Spectral Files #2) by S.E. Harmon (audiobook) – Narrated by Kirt Graves

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

No one said being a medium would be easy.

Rain Christiansen, former FBI agent and current cold case detective, is starting to think it’s the hardest job he’s ever had – and the most important. He’s determined to accept all the changes in his formerly well-ordered life, but that means embracing a whole lot of weird. There’s no instruction manual for meshing his work with his medium duties, and he’s painfully aware that he’s flubbing the job. So are the ghosts, who are becoming increasingly impatient. And stronger.

To complicate matters, he’s not sure what these spooktacular developments mean for his relationship. It certainly seems like Daniel McKenna, his partner in work and life, is in it for the long haul. But Rain can’t help but wonder how long that patience will last…and what he’ll do if Danny decides the intrusive ghosts are just too much.

Rain thought accepting his supernatural gifts would be the solution to his troubles. But he’s starting to realize his problems are just getting started.

Rating: Narration – B; Content- B

When I reviewed the audiobook of S.E. Harmon’s P.S. I Spook You back in 2018, I think (but don’t quote me on it) it was a standalone title; Goodreads and Amazon show the publication date for the ebook edition of Principles of Spookology as March 2020, so I’m going to assume it was. When I saw the sequel was coming to audio, I recalled that I’d liked (rather than loved) P.S. I Spook You; I’d enjoyed the narration, the plotline and the banter (S.E. Harmon writes great snarky dialogue), and although I’d had some reservations about the romantic elements and plot holes in the story, I’d enjoyed the audio experience sufficiently enough to be interested in listening to another in the series. I wasn’t bothered by the change of narrator (from Noah Michael Levine to Kirt Graves) and decided to request a copy to review.

In the first book, FBI profiler Rain (Rainstorm, courtesy of his hippie parents) Christiansen had a run-in with his superiors and his BAU team when he tried to get a message from the spirit of a dead girl to her grieving parents. We learned that he’s been able to see ghosts for some time (one of my problems with the story was that this element of his character was really vague) and that he has tried to put his ability down to anxiety or stress, but that it’s become increasingly difficult for him to handle. His boss finally assigns him to cold cases – one of which is rooted in his hometown of Brickell Bay in Florida, which is what he decides to focus on. During the course of the story, Rain reconnects with the man he’d been in a relationship with for four years, Detective Daniel McKenna, whom Rain had abandoned three years earlier when he suddenly upped sticks and ran off to DC. (Another plot point I had issues with, because the reasons given were so flimsy.)

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

Risk Assessment (Cabrini Law #1) by Parker St. John (audiobook) – Narrated by Kirt Graves

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

All they have left is their pride.

Elliot Smith was once a hotshot attorney, but those days are long gone. A midlife crisis of conscience has left him with shattered confidence, abandoned by his former friends and scraping by at a legal aid clinic. When a smoking hot bad boy rescues him from the side of the road, Elliot is sure he doesn’t stand a chance.

After a misspent youth boosting cars, Lucas Kelly runs his own garage and is finally getting his life back on track. He isn’t about to risk everything by daring to hope for something more, especially not with a man so far above his pay grade.

The heat between them is enough to have them questioning everything they thought they knew about themselves. But is explosive chemistry enough to keep them together when Elliot’s career threatens to drive them apart?

Rating: Narration – B; Content – C

Risk Assessment is book one in new-to-me author Parker St. John’s Cabrini Law series, featuring members of the team who work for a legal aid clinic somewhere in Oregon. It’s relatively short, coming in at just over five and a half hours, and the story is nothing I haven’t heard or read before, but it was an undemanding listen and Kirt Graves’ accomplished narration made the time pass pleasantly enough.

Elliot Smith was a highly successful corporate lawyer with a salary and lifestyle to match until, on his fortieth birthday he realised he’d had enough of representing sleazy real-estate defrauders and feeling like he didn’t recognise himself anymore. So he pulled a Jerry Maguire, left his job and old life behind and went to work for a non-profit legal aid firm. He’s been with the Cabrini Law Clinic for around a year, and while he works long hours for a lot less pay, the work itself is generally much more rewarding. On the downside, he’s the wrong side of forty and still single, having split up with his boyfriend of five years (who was cheating on him) and has no social life or friends beyond the office.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

Goalie Interference (Hat Trick #2) by Avon Gale and Piper Vaughn (audiobook) – narrated by Kirt Graves

goalie interference

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

Ryu Mori has had a stellar season as goalie for the Atlanta Venom. So when he’s called into management’s office, he’s expecting to hear he’s the new starting goalie for the team, not that some new guy – an incredibly hot, annoyingly bratty rookie – is here to compete for his spot.

Not everyone gets to play in the best league in the world. Emmitt Armstrong knows that, and he’s not about to waste the opportunity after grinding his way from the bottom to the top. If the Venom are looking for a meek, mild-mannered pushover, they’ve got the wrong guy.

Ryu doesn’t want to admit the other goalie’s smart mouth turns him on. Beating Armstrong at practice feels good, sure, but there are other more fun ways to shut his rival up.

In this league, it’s winner takes all. But there’s more to life than winning, and if Emmitt and Ryu can get past their egos and competitive natures, they might just discover they work better as partners than they ever imagined possible.

Rating: Narration – B+; Content – B-

Although Goalie Interference is the second book in Avon Gale and Piper Vaughn’s Hat Trick series featuring the Atlanta Venom ice-hockey team, it can be listened to as a standalone without any problem. (The first book, Off the Ice is enjoyable (probably my favourite of the two) and well-narrated by Kirt Graves, so if you like the sound of this, chances are you’ll like that one as well!) Goalie Interference is an enemies-to-lovers story with a difference, in that both leads play for the Venom rather than opposing teams, so the dynamic is perhaps a little different, too. I enjoyed the story overall, although I did find myself asking questions about certain aspects of it (more later) and found the ending a little flat, but I’ll definitely be picking up the next book when it comes out.

After a few seasons as the Venom’s back-up goalie, Ryu Mori expects – quite reasonably – that after the team’s starting goalie is traded to another team, he will automatically step into that slot. He’s dedicated, works hard, knows his team and is a damn good goalie – so when he learns that he’s going to be sharing goal-keeping duties with rookie Emmitt Armstrong, Ryu is not exactly overjoyed.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

The Hunt by J.M. Dabney and Davidson King (audiobook) – Narrated by Kirt Graves and Tor Thom

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

Disgraced detective turned private investigator, Ray Clancy, left the force with a case unsolved. Finding the killer was no longer his problem, but it still haunted him. How long would he survive the frustration of not knowing before he gave into the compulsion of his nature to solve the crime?

Server Andrew Shay existed where he didn’t feel he belonged, living behind the guise of a costume. Yet it paid the bills, and he refused to complain about the little things in life. One night he returned home from work to find his roommate dead and the killer still there. Afraid and alone, his life spiraled, and he didn’t know what to do. Could a detective at his core and a scared young man join forces to bring down the killer in their midst?

Rating: Narration:B/D+ ; Content: C-

Both J.M. Dabney and Davidson King are new-to-me authors, and I confess I picked up their latest collaboration, The Hunt, mostly because Kirt Graves is one of the narrators. The other, Tor Thom, is a name I’ve seen cropping up more and more frequently of late, and I wanted to try something of his – but the jury’s still out. My initial impression, from the first few minutes, was not at all favourable owing to a lot of audible breathing and Mr. Thom’s low-pitched almost-whisper; and had I not been reviewing this audiobook, I may well have set it aside never to return. But I persevered, and was able to at least make it to the end without ripping out my earphones and stomping on them.

The Hunt opens with Detective Ray Clancy arriving at the gruesome scene of the murder of a young man who was mutilated post mortem. This is the third such killing he’s seen and the Medical Examiner at the scene privately agrees with Ray that they’ve got a serial killer on their hands that, for some reason, the higher ups don’t want to acknowledge. But before Ray can get started on an investigation, his captain sends him back to the precinct – to a meeting with Internal Affairs… and his suspension. Accused of taking bribes and with no way of proving otherwise, Ray eventually quits the force and sets up as a PI.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

The Heart of the Steal by Avon Gale and Roan Parrish (audiobook) – Narrated by Kirt Graves and Iggy Toma

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

Responsible, disciplined William Fox channeled his love for art and his faith in the rules into being an FBI Art Crimes agent. Right and wrong, justice and injustice – the differences are clear, and Will has spent his career drawing a line between them. Maybe his convictions have cost him relationships, but he’s not willing to compromise what he knows is right. Until the night he meets Amory Vaughn.

As the head of his family’s philanthropic foundation, Vaughn knows very well that being rich and powerful can get him almost anything he wants. And when he meets endearingly grumpy and slightly awkward William Fox, he wants him more than he’s wanted anything. Vaughn is used to being desired for his name and his money, but Will doesn’t care about either.

When Vaughn falls back on old habits and attempts to impress Will by stealing a painting Will admires, their nascent bond blows up in his face. But Vaughn isn’t willing to give up on the glimpse of passion he saw the night he took Will apart. Before Will knows it, he’s falling for the man he should have arrested, and Vaughn has to realize that some things can’t be bought or stolen. Love has to be given freely. But can a man who lives by the rules, and a man who thinks the rules don’t apply to him, ever see eye to eye?

Rating: Narration – A : Content – B

Heart of the Steal is the first (and so far, only) collaboration between popular m/m romance authors Avon Gale and Roan Parrish. I confess that I haven’t yet read or listened to anything by either author, but this sounded interesting, and when it popped up at Audible with the names of two experienced narrators attached, I decided to give it a whirl. The synopsis led me to think the story would be some sort of light-hearted cat-and-mouse caper featuring a billionaire philanthropist who succumbs to the occasional instance of light fingers, and a starchy FBI art crimes specialist. But while that dichotomy is the catalyst for the romance, the bulk of the novel consists basically of a well-put together love story between opposites, two men from very different worlds and social backgrounds who struggle to work out how – and even if – they can fit into each other’s lives. Maybe if I’d read the book I might have been a little disappointed, but Kirt Graves and Iggy Toma deliver such fabulously engaging performances that I was happy to just go with the flow and let them take me wherever they – and the story – wanted me to go!

Will Fox isn’t exactly overjoyed at being dragged to a party by his twin sister, Charlotte. It’s the end of a long week, he’s tired, and making small talk with the super-rich isn’t his idea of a fun evening, but Charlotte’s event planning company has catered the party so he goes along to support her. Part way through the evening, she points out new arrival Amory Vaughn, one of the wealthiest men in the country and head of the Vaughn Foundation, a philanthropic organisation that administers and contributes to a number of charities. Vaughn is gorgeous – striking, well-dressed, urbanely charming, with a southern drawl that was pure old money – and Will can’t take his eyes off him, embarrassed when he’s caught staring and completely unable to return the flirtatious wink Vaughn sends his way. When Vaughn starts making his way towards him, Will bolts; he’s terrible at flirting and has no wish to make an idiot of himself, so he heads downstairs to take in the host’s art collection – but isn’t alone for long. Vaughn makes clear his interest very quickly, and Will is helpless to resist the pull of the attraction that’s been zinging between them ever since they made eye-contact. It’s the hottest sexual encounter of his life – and likely to be the only one they’ll ever share.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.