American Fairytale (Dreamers #2) by Adriana Herrera (audiobook) – Narrated by Sean Crisden

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

Fairy-tale endings don’t just happen; they have to be fought for.

New York City social worker Camilo Santiago Briggs grew up surrounded by survivors who taught him to never rely on anything you didn’t earn yourself. He’s always dreamed of his own happily ever after, but he lives in the real world. Men who seem too good to be true…usually are. And Milo never ever mixes business with pleasure…until the mysterious man with whom he had an unforgettable hookup turns out to be the wealthy donor behind his agency’s new, next-level funding.

Thomas Hughes built a billion-dollar business from nothing: He knows what he wants and isn’t shy about going after it. When the enthralling stranger who blew his mind at a black-tie gala reappears, Tom’s more than ready to be his Prince Charming. Showering Milo with the very best of everything is how Tom shows his affection.

Trouble is, Milo’s not interested in any of it. The only thing Milo wants is Tom.

Fairy-tale endings take work as well as love. For Milo, that means learning to let someone take care of him for a change. And for Tom, it’s figuring out that real love is the one thing you can’t buy.

Rating: Narration: A-; Content: B+

American Fairytale is the second book in new-to-me author Adriana Hererra’s Dreamers series, which features four Afro-Latinx friends who live and work in and around New York. The story – a romance between a self-made billionaire and a social worker – definitely lives up to its fairytale moniker; it’s sexy and wonderfully romantic, the protagonists are compassionate, decent men, and while there are a couple of “uh-oh” moments, the author doesn’t overdo the angst, instead spending time on developing their relationship and showing us exactly why they’re so perfect for one another.

Social worker Camilo – Milo – Briggs is residential programs director at New Beginnings, an agency that works with disadvantaged people from all walks of life, and he’s passionate about helping to make life better for his clients. He meets handsome, charming and wealthy Thomas Hughes at a swanky charity benefit, and right from the start, they’re captivated by one another, the intense attraction that flares between them culminating in a swift but hot sexual encounter that leaves them both reeling. But afterward, Milo starts second-guessing himself, rattled because something that should have been just a bit of fun has started to feel like something much more intense – and he leaves the event without saying goodbye or expecting to see Thomas Hughes again.

(These guys clearly don’t read enough romance novels!)

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

A Deeper Blue (Rules of Possession #2) by S.E. Harmon (audiobook) – Narrated by Alexander Cendese and Sean Crisden

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

A year ago, Kelly Cannon couldn’t imagine he’d end up with his formerly straight best friend. It’s hard to believe he can finally kiss Blue anytime he wants…as long as they’re in private. And there’s the rub. Despite Kelly’s promise to wait until Blue is ready to come out, he’s tired of sneaking around. The cracks in their relationship are starting to show, and there might not be enough Spackle in the world to fix them.

Britton “Blue” Montgomery may not be the physics brainiac his boyfriend is, but he’s not stupid. He knows Kelly isn’t completely happy, but he’s not ready to be the poster boy for bisexuals and gays in the NFL. He just wants to keep his head down, play the game he loves, and go home to the man he adores. Is that too much to ask?

With the truth slowly coming to the surface, Blue must make a choice. If it means losing Kelly, there’s no decision to make. He has to find enough courage to face the music and hope they’ll survive the fallout.

Man. Happily ever afters may not be just for Disney princesses, but they sure are a lot of work.

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

Note: There will be spoilers for the previous book in the Rules of Possession series in this review.

A Deeper Blue is the sequel to The Blueprint, an enjoyable friends-to-lovers, gay/bi-for-you story about hip young physics professor Kelly Cannon and his dearest friend, NFL star player Britton (Blue) Montgomery. Kelly had been in love with Blue for years, but believed Blue was straight and they were destined only to be friends… until Blue sensed his friend trying to distance himself from him and realised that whatever he felt for Kelly, it was something way beyond friendship.

Working their way through various trials, tribulations and misunderstandings, Kelly and Blue are a couple by the end of The Blueprint, although the intensely homophobic culture that prevails in professional sports, plus the media circus certain to ensue whenever Blue comes out as bisexual and in a relationship with a guy causes Kelly to suggest that Blue doesn’t do it right away. Blue was already planning how to break the news – he’d have to tell his coach, his team, his agent, his publicist so they can control the narrative – but Kelly freaked a bit, hating the idea of stepping straight into the spotlight without their actually having time to adjust to being a couple first.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

My 2018 in Books & Audio

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

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

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

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

My Year in Books at Goodreads.

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

Historical Romance

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

Romantic Suspense

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

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

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

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

Audio

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

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

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

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


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

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

Better Not Pout by Annabeth Albert (audiobook) – Narrated by Sean Crisden

Better Not Pout by Annabeth Albert

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

One hard-nosed military police officer. One overly enthusiastic elf. One poorly timed snowstorm.

Is it a recipe for disaster? Or a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for holiday romance?

Teddy MacNally loves Christmas and everything that goes along with it. When he plays an elf for his charity’s events, he never expects to be paired with a Scrooge masquerading as Santa Claus. His new mission: make the holiday-hating soldier believe he was born to say ho ho ho.

Sergeant Major Nicholas Nowicki doesn’t do Santa, but he’s army to his blood. When his CO asks an unusual favor, Nick of course obliges. The elf to his Kris Kringle? Tempting. Too tempting – Nick’s only in town for another month, and Teddy’s too young, too cheerful, and too nice for a one-night stand.

The slow, sexy make-out sessions while Teddy and Nick are alone and snowbound, though, feel like anything but a quick hookup. As a stress-free holiday fling turns into Christmas all year round, Teddy can’t imagine his life without Nick. And Nick’s days on the base may be coming to a close, but he doesn’t plan on leaving anything, or anyone, behind.

Rating: Narration – B+ : Content – B+

Better Not Pout is a charming, sexy, May/December romance set during the holiday season, in which a hard-boiled military police officer playing Santa for charity gets stuck in a snowstorm with a too enthusiastic, far too temptingly attractive elf… and discovers that perhaps the best laid plans aren’t necessarily the best plans after all.

Sergeant Major Nicholas Nowicki has spent pretty much his entire adult life in the military, and after twenty-eight years of service, his retirement is fast approaching. He’s spending the final months of his service at the base at Fort End in upstate New York, and as he embarks on his last few weeks, he’s starting to feel somewhat superfluous to requirements; his duties are light and it’s painfully obvious just how easily life at Fort End will go on without him. He really doesn’t want to retire but staying on isn’t an option, so he’s decided to go into partnership with a friend and former colleague who now runs a small business chartering boat trips for tourists in Florida. Right from the off, it’s fairly clear Nick’s heart really isn’t in it – despite his enthusiasm for the warmer weather – but a promise is a promise and he’s never ever gone back on his word… and he has to do something after retirement, so it might as well be this.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

Fish & Chips (Cut & Run #3) by Madeleine Urban and Abigail Roux (audiobook) – Narrated by Sean Crisden

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

Special Agents Ty Grady and Zane Garrett are back on the job, settled into a personal and professional relationship built on fierce protectiveness and blistering passion. Now they’re assigned to impersonate two members of an international smuggling ring-an out-and-proud married couple-on a Christmas cruise in the Caribbean. As their boss says, surely they’d rather kiss each other than be shot at, and he has no idea how right he is. Portraying the wealthy criminals requires a particular change in attitude from Ty and Zane while dealing with the frustrating waiting game that is their assignment. As it begins to affect how they treat each other in private, they realize there’s more to being partners than watching each other’s backs, and when the case takes an unexpected turn and threatens Ty’s life, he and Zane will have to navigate seas of white lies and stormy secrets, including some of their own.

Rating: Narration – B+ : Content – B

The books in the Cut & Run series I’ve listened to so far have been a lot of fun. They’re fast-paced, and the plotlines are frequently implausible, but then no more so than those found in the myriad of police procedural/FBI/CIA/CSI and other alphabet soup TV shows that abound, so I can generally just roll my eyes when things get a little bit too daft and move on. And what makes that so easy to do is the fact that the two central characters are just so damn addictive. FBI agents Ty Grady and Zane Garrett are a couple of big, tough, alpha males who drive each other nuts, up the wall and to blows almost as frequently as they end up screwing each other’s brains out; they’ve both been around the block more than a few times and are carrying shedloads of emotional baggage (Ty from his time in the marines, Zane as the result of a past filled with tragedy and addiction); they’re intelligent, funny, sexy, perfect for each other – and brilliant at evasion and not saying what they mean, especially when it comes to the nature of their growing feelings for one another.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals

The Blueprint by S.E. Harmon (audiobook) – Narrated by Alexander Cendese and Sean Crisden

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon.

Kelly Cannon is satisfied with his life. He has friends, a wonderful family, and a great job. But his love life has reached a new level of pitiful. Why? Well, his heart decided to break all the rules. Don’t fall in love with a straight guy. And definitely don’t fall in love with your best friend.

NFL standout Britton “Blue” Montgomery has pressure coming at him from all sides: from his father, who’s only interested in Blue’s football career; from his coaches, who just want him to play without getting injured again; from the fans; from his agent; and from his mother, who has popped up on the radar after leaving his family years before. And now his relationship with Kelly is on shaky ground, and that frightens Blue more than anything.

When Kelly admits he’s in love with Blue, bonds are tested, and Blue has to decide what’s really important. He doesn’t want to lose the number-one person in his life, but the cost to keep Kelly close might be more than he’s willing to pay. It’s a good thing his nickname is the Blueprint – it’s time to draft a new set of plans.

Rating: Narration – A- : Content – B

I’m not a fan of sports of any kind (my idea of exercise is opening a good book!) so I’ve tended to steer clear of sports romances because I had the feeling that the parts of the story dealing with the sport in question would probably bore me to tears. But I was encouraged to dip my toe into the genre a little while back, and liked what I heard (in, among others, Serena Bowen and Elle Kennedy’s Him and its follow-up, Us) – and quite honestly, seeing as I’ve as little idea about Football, Cricket and Rugby as I have about American Football, Baseball and Ice Hockey, I realised the type of sport doesn’t matter as long as I’ve got a couple of characters I can root for and a good story in my ears.

I admit, though, that what attracted me to The Blueprint were the narrators. I’ve listened to both Alexander Cendese and Sean Crisden before (in different audiobooks) and really enjoyed their performances, so the idea of listening to them narrating the same book was an attractive one – and one that really paid off. The storyline, while enjoyable, isn’t particularly original, but the narration really elevated the story and enabled me to get past the creakier moments without too much trouble.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.