Afraid to Fly (Anchor Point #2) by L.A. Witt (audiobook) – Narrated by Nick J. Russo

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

Once a fearless fighter pilot, Commander Travis Wilson is now confined to a desk. It’s been eight years since the near-fatal crash that grounded him, and it still rules his life thanks to relentless back pain.

Lieutenant Commander Clint Fraser almost drowned in a bottle after a highly classified catastrophe while piloting a drone. His downward spiral cost him his marriage and kids, but he’s sober now and getting his life back on track. He’s traded drones for a desk, and he’s determined to reconcile with his kids and navigate the choppy waters of PTSD.

Clint has been on Travis’s radar ever since he transferred to Anchor Point. When Clint comes out to his colleagues, it’s a disaster, but there’s a silver lining: now that Travis knows Clint is into men, the chemistry between them explodes.

It’s all fun and games until emotions get involved. Clint’s never been in love with a man before. Travis has, and a decade later, that tragic ending still haunts him. Clint needs to coax him past his fear of crashing and burning again, or their love will be grounded before takeoff.

Rating: Narration: A; Content: B

The second book in L.A. Witt’s Anchor Point series of military romances, Afraid to Fly features two protagonists in their forties who have so many issues to deal with between them that at times, I couldn’t help wondering if there were too many.  But the fact that both men are a bit older than the norm for romance novels, are long-term military and have both seen active service made it more plausible that they’d have as much baggage as they do.

We met former pilot Commander Travis Wilson in the first book, Just Drive, and learned that he lives with chronic pain due to a back injury sustained in a crash some eight years earlier.  He’s been divorced for well over a decade and has a daughter of twenty who lives with him; since his divorce, he’s mostly had casual and short-term relationships (with both men and women) – apart from one relationship (with a man) ten years earlier which ended badly and has left him extremely cautious about falling in love again.

A former RAP (Remote Aircraft Pilot), Lieutenant Commander Clint Fraser transferred to Adams Naval Base fairly recently.  Three years before, he was involved in a mission that left him badly traumatised and ultimately led to the breakdown of his marriage; he turned to drink and became violent (though not to his wife and kids) and unpredictable. His divorce was messy and his wife has custody of their three children, but he’s doing better and hopes that in the not too distant future he’ll be able to see his kids for more than the odd Skype chat and supervised visit.

Clint and Travis work in the same office (though in different departments) and both men have had a bit of a crush on each other for a while, even though neither has the faintest idea if the other is into men.  That changes on the night of the Navy Ball, when Clint arrives with his date – a guy – and when Travis, in casual conversation, mentions a somewhat disastrous date with an ex-Marine.

It’s clear early on that Travis and Clint have great chemistry, and not long after the ball, they start seeing each other.  The bulk of the story is thus taken up by their working out how to be together given their health and other issues as they grow closer emotionally and start to think in terms of a making a life together.  As I said before, they have a lot of problems to deal with, problems that are part of their everyday lives and have to be taken into account every step of the way. Travis’ chronic pain has caused the end of more than one relationship as his partners grew frustrated, bored or irritated (or all three) with the way his life had to revolve around his pain management and with the limitations imposed upon him by his condition when it came to sex.  Clint’s PTSD still gives him violent nightmares regularly, which makes him nervous of spending the night with anyone, and he’s also battling the guilt he feels every day for the hell he put his wife and kids through.  Bringing him down still further is that he feels almost as though he’s not ‘entitled’ to be traumatised seeing as he was sitting in an air-conditioned room, thousands of miles away from a war zone when the incident which ended his career as a RAP took place, but the real kicker is that the mission is still classified and he can’t talk about it to anyone, not even the chaplain or a therapist. (I have no idea if this actually happens – if it does, then it’s a disgrace.)  All these things make Travis and Clint cautious about revealing the true extent of their issues for fear of scaring each other off, but as they spend more time together, they start to open up and to realise that they may just have found the one person in the world who can understand what they are each going through and how they can support each other through it.

Nick J. Russo is rapidly becoming a favourite narrator – I can’t think why I haven’t listened to him before this year!  Once again, he delivers a strong performance all round, providing distinct vocal characterisations for the two principals and the handful of secondary characters in the story.  He’s very good at pinpointing the emotional heart of any given scene, and does an excellent job of communicating the ups and downs experienced by Travis and Clint as they each open up and start to merge their lives.

Afraid to Fly is an enjoyable story – which isn’t devoid of heat, even taking Travis’ difficulties into account – which addresses both men’s health conditions in a sympathetic way without sugar-coating them.  I have to say though, that there’s a false note struck fairly late on in the story which feels like an obvious contrivance just to throw in a bit of tension before the end.  Fortunately, that doesn’t disrupt things for too long, and although there are a few questions I’d have liked answered (such as – will Clint get to see his kids again?) I was left hopeful for the couple’s future.

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.

 

Just Drive (Anchor Point #1) by L.A. Witt (audiobook) – Narrated by Nick J. Russo

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

For Sean Wright, driving a cab in the tiny Navy town of Anchor Point isn’t an exciting job…until he picks up just-dumped Paul Richards. A drive turns into a walk on the pier, which turns into the hottest hookup Sean’s had in ages.

After a long overdue breakup, Paul can’t believe his luck. Of all the drivers, he’s picked up by the gorgeous, gay, and very willing Sean. Younger guys aren’t usually his thing, but Paul can’t resist.

One taste and neither man can get enough…right up until they realize that Paul is Sean’s father’s commanding officer and the last man Sean should be involved with.

With two careers on the line, their only option is to back off. It’s not easy, though; the sex and the emotional connection are exactly what both men have been craving for a long time. But Paul has devoted 24 years to his career and his dream of making admiral. If he’s caught with Sean, that’s all over. He has to choose – stay the course, or trade it all for the man who drove off with his heart.

Rating: Narration: A; Content: B

This first book in L.A. Witt’s Anchor Point series is a fairly low angst May/December romance that begins when twenty-something cab driver Sean Wright  picks up a fare – an attractive, older guy – from a local hotel who, rather than offering a destination,  instructs him to “Just Drive”.  Paul Richards has just been dumped by his long-distance boyfriend, and his usual way of getting over a break up is to find someone else to fuck to take his mind off it.  After spending the best part of the evening together, he and Sean end up getting down ‘n’ dirty in the back seat of the car, and even though Paul tries to tell himself it was just a one off, he can’t forget Sean’s kindness and the way they just seemed to ‘click’ on more than just a sexual level.  Which is why Paul finds himself calling Sean again. And again. The pair continue to hook up on a regular basis after that (and it’s clear that whatever is between them is fast becoming more than just sex) – until both men suddenly realise that Paul is Sean’s father’s CO at Adams Naval Base and that any sort of relationship between them could have a disastrous effect on Paul’s and Sean’s father’s careers.

Paul has always known he’s gay, but had it drummed into him that anyone with ambitions to move up through the ranks could only get so far without the perfect wife and kids, so he married – twice – and did his damndest to be (or at least act) straight for the sake of his career.  Now in his early forties with two divorces behind him, he has a lot of regret for the way he treated both the women he married, but is openly out now and focused on his career goal of making Admiral.  The Navy has been just as much a part of Sean’s life as Paul’s but whereas Paul chose his path, Sean didn’t and now in his early twenties, resents the fact that the Navy is continuing to dictate the direction of his life.  Moving around so often meant he never formed long or lasting friendships or relationships, it caused the breakdown of his parents’ marriage – and falling for Paul and not being able to have him is yet one more reason for that resentment.

The story is perhaps a bit repetitive – Sean and Paul meet up and have lots of mind-blowing sex, then after the bombshell explodes, they tell themselves they should stay away from each other, fail miserably and have lots of mind-blowing sex… you get the picture.  But I liked both characters individually and as a couple, and even though there’s a twenty year age gap between them, it’s never an issue for them and it wasn’t for me because they just… fit.

There were some inconsistencies that had me scratching my head though. For instance, we’re never told how old Sean is and the details given in the book are a bit contradictory; and I thought it was a bit odd that Paul never asked what Sean is studying (and we’re not told either, although there’s one scene in which he’s having trouble concentrating on King Lear and A Midsummer Night’s Dream).  Those things aren’t desperately important, but it seemed odd they were never mentioned. It’s also a bit of a stretch to believe that neither Paul nor Sean enquired much about the other’s situation; Sean knew Paul was military but didn’t enquire further (and later thinks that perhaps he deliberately avoided doing so) and he didn’t talk much about his dad, so I suppose it’s possible, if slightly implausible.

Nick J. Russo does such a fantastic job with the narration that I honestly didn’t care about the inconsistencies or repetitiveness in the story.  He gives Paul a deep, slightly gravelly voice, and he captures Sean’s sunny personality and flirtatiousness brilliantly.  There aren’t many secondary characters in the story, but they’re well differentiated and easy to tell apart from the main roles.  There are, as I’ve said, quite a few sex scenes in the book, and Mr. Russo takes them in his stride, performing them confidently and getting into the swing of things without going over the top.

I enjoyed Just Drive in spite of the story’s flaws, and Nick J. Russo’s narration was definitely good enough to enable me to get past them.  I’ll certainly be listening to more in this series.