Fire and Granite (Carlisle Deputies #2) by Andrew Grey (audiobook) – Narrated by Greg Tremblay

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

The heat is growing from the inside, but danger is building on the outside.

Judge Andrew Phillips runs a tight ship in his courtroom. He’s tough, and when he hands down a sentence, he expects to be obeyed. So when a fugitive named Harper escapes and threatens his life, Andrew isn’t keen on 24/seven protection…especially not from Deputy Clay Brown. They have a past, one that could cause problems in their careers.

But with Clay assigned to Andrew and the two of them together every minute, there’s nowhere to hide from their attraction – or from the fact that there’s much more than chemistry blooming between them. As the threat intensifies, Clay knows he’ll do anything it takes to protect the people who are taking their places in his heart: Andrew and his young niece and nephew.

Rating: Narration: A+; Content: B-

I listened to Fire and Flint, the first book in Andrew Grey’s series featuring the sheriff’s deputies in Carlisle, PA, last year and enjoyed it sufficiently to want to listen to another book in the series. Fire and Granite is book two, and like its predecessor, it’s a fairly low-angst, low-drama listen with a tender and rather sweet romance at its centre.

Deputy Clay Brown is one of a team escorting a high-risk, dangerous criminal from prison to the courthouse when their vehicles are ambushed, and the prisoner – who by a weird quirk of fate happens to be Clay’s cousin Harper Grange – is sprung in what is clearly a well-planned operation. Clay is frustrated at being on the other end of the investigation rather than being out there looking for the escapee, so he’s not too pleased when he’s handed a different assignment. Judge Andrew Phillips was responsible for putting Grange behind bars, and less than an hour after the ambush, received a phone call threatening his life. Clay is assigned as his protection detail while Grange is at large – but as he doesn’t exactly get along with “Judge Moody and Superior” or like him very much, it’s going to be a difficult few days.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

TBR Challenge: To See the Sun by Kelly Jensen

This title may be purchased from Amazon

Survival is hard enough in the outer colonies — what chance does love have?

Life can be harsh and lonely in the outer colonies, but miner-turned-farmer Abraham Bauer is living his dream, cultivating crops that will one day turn the unforgiving world of Alkirak into paradise. He wants more, though. A companion — someone quiet like him. Someone to share his days, his bed, and his heart.

Gael Sonnen has never seen the sky, let alone the sun. He’s spent his whole life locked in the undercity beneath Zhemosen, running from one desperate situation to another. For a chance to get out, he’ll do just about anything — even travel to the far end of the galaxy as a mail-order husband. But no plan of Gael’s has ever gone smoothly, and his new start on Alkirak is no exception. Things go wrong from the moment he steps off the shuttle.

Although Gael arrives with unexpected complications, Abraham is prepared to make their relationship work—until Gael’s past catches up with them, threatening Abraham’s livelihood, the freedom Gael gave everything for, and the love neither man ever hoped to find.

Rating: B+

The last few times the “Something Different” prompt has come up in the TBR Challenge, I’ve found myself picking up a Science Fiction romance.  I don’t know why I don’t read many of them – I like the genre in TV and film – and I’ve enjoyed the few I’ve read, so this prompt is always a good opportunity to read another one!  I chose Kelly Jensen’s To See the Sun for a couple of reasons; firstly, I really enjoyed her recent This Time Forever series, a trilogy of novels in which a group of men in their late forties finally find their happy ever afters and was keen to read something else of hers, and secondly, my fellow reviewer Maria Rose put the book in her Best of 2018 list, so that was a strong recommendation. Plus, it’s a variation on the mail-order-bride trope, and I haven’t read many of those, so that also worked for this particular prompt.

To See the Sun is set on the remote colony of Alkirak, a terraformed planet on which humans carve out their homes from the rock in the crevasses which provide shelter from the largely inhospitable surface. Ex-miner Abraham Bauer is stretched pretty thin keeping everything going on his small farm, but least he’s working for something that’s his rather than risking his neck day in, day out in the mines.  It’s also a lonely life, and Bram longs to find someone to share his life and maybe even build a family with, but that seems almost impossible.  Finding someone to have sex with isn’t difficult, but Bram wants more than that, he wants connection and affection, maybe even love – and that’s much harder to come by.  When he hears about companies that arrange things called companion contracts, he doesn’t hold out much hope – after all, there are millions of people just like him out there, and who on earth would want to come and spend their life on a remote outpost with an unstable atmosphere for what little Bram has to offer? – but he signs up anyway… and on logging on to the site one evening is captivated by the video of a beautiful young man whose shy, considered manner and obvious sweetness strike a chord deep within Bram that is more than simple lust.  He dares to hope that he might just have found what he’s been searching for.

Gael Sonnen ekes out an existence on Zhemozen, a beautiful planet at the opposite end of the galaxy that’s a paradise – if you’ve got money.  But Gael and the millions like him who are poor, live hand-to-mouth in the crowded, squalid undercity, a place with “dark streets, bitter air, and water that tasted like sweat.”  When he falls foul of a powerful criminal family, Gael’s only option is to run – and the farther away the better.  With no money, it seems his only option will be life as an indentured servant, until a friend suggests another possibility.  Good-looking as he is, Gael will have no trouble getting a companion contract somewhere far away from Zhemosen;  and a year’s contract as companion – or more – to a lonely farmer at the other end of the galaxy seems as good a way to escape as any.

Bram and Gael are decent, likeable characters, ordinary men who just want to make a quiet life with  someone with the same wants, needs and outlook.  Bram is in his late forties and used to being alone, which has probably made him a bit set in his ways;  while Gael is younger (twenty-nine) and has had a tough life, didn’t know either of his parents, and struggled to bring up his younger brother, who was neuroatypical and for whose death Gael blames himself.  He’s a good man and is determined that Bram won’t regret his decision to make the contract – although an unexpected event may have scuppered Gael’s chances before he can even get settled.

But he wants very much to help Bram and not to take advantage of his generosity. Gael is a natural caretaker, and I loved the small ways he starts to make a place for himself in Bram’s life, whether it’s cooking a meal, helping on the farm or just sitting quietly, listening to Bram talk or watching a video with him at the end of the day.  Their relationship is incredibly touching and really well developed as they learn about each other, work alongside one another and start to fall in love.

There are a few dramatic events along the way to keep things moving, (although the last act ‘black moment’ kind of comes out of nowhere and is resolved very quickly), but ultimately, this is a character driven, sweet story about things we can all identify with; wanting to make a personal connection with someone, or escape a hopeless situation, or make a family and being prepared to fight hard to keep it.

Ms. Jensen’s worldbuilding is superb.  She incorporates details about Alkirak and Zhemosen seamlessly into the narrative in such a way as to enable the reader to build clear pictures in the mind’s eye – of the dark, underground city on Zhemosen and of the austere, hostile surface of Alkirak, the acid mists, violent storms, and most of all, the dangerous but beautiful sun that so fascinates Gael and makes the clouds glow and colours the sky and the horizon.  The dangers of daily life in such a place are brilliantly contrasted with everyday things like eating a meal or watching TV, and the slow-burn romance between Bram and Gael is beautifully done.

To See the Sun may be set on a distant planet at some unspecified time in the future, but at its heart, it’s a story about two lonely people finding something in each other they’ve been missing and yearning for.  It’s sweet and gorgeously romantic and I enjoyed every bit of it.

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

just business

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

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

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

Rating: Narration – A: Content – B

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

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

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

Band Sinister by K.J. Charles (audiobook) – Narrated by Cornell Collins

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

Sir Philip Rookwood is the disgrace of the county. He’s a rake and an atheist, and the rumors about his hellfire club, the Murder, can only be spoken in whispers. (Orgies. It’s orgies.)

Guy Frisby and his sister, Amanda, live in rural seclusion after a family scandal. But when Amanda breaks her leg in a riding accident, she’s forced to recuperate at Rookwood Hall, where Sir Philip is hosting the Murder.

Guy rushes to protect her, but the Murder aren’t what he expects. They’re educated, fascinating people, and the notorious Sir Philip turns out to be charming, kind – and dangerously attractive.

In this private space where anything goes, the longings Guy has stifled all his life are impossible to resist…and so is Philip. But all too soon, the rural rumor mill threatens both Guy and Amanda. The innocent country gentleman has lost his heart to the bastard baronet – but does he dare lose his reputation too?

Rating: Narration – A- : Content – A

Another 2018 favourite lately come to audio, K.J. Charles’ Band Sinister is, quite simply, a total delight. The author made no secret of the fact that it’s an homage to the works of Georgette Heyer, who practically invented the ‘modern’ Regency Romance single-handed, or that she employed a number of favourite tropes in terms of the characterisation and plot – and yet in spite of all that, there is no doubt whatsoever that this is a K.J. Charles book, through and through. On the surface, it’s the story of the country innocent seduced by the wicked lord, but in reality, it’s so much more than that, conveying important ideas about the nature of love and friendship, social responsibility and the importance of being true to oneself and of living as one’s conscience dictates.

Guy and Amanda Frisby were born into the landed gentry but have come down in the world. When their mother ran off with her much younger lover, their father took to heavy gambling and heavy drinking and died leaving them with nothing but scandal to their name. When the story opens, Guy is reading – somewhat apprehensively – the gothic novel Amanda has written and sent to a publisher, and in which she has modelled her villains on their near-neighbour, Sir Philip Rookwood (whose older brother was the man with whom their mother ran away), and his close friend, the devilish Lord Corvin, a man with quite possibly the blackest reputation in England.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

Strip Me by Margay Leah Justice (audiobook) – Narrated by Sebastian York and Kale Williams

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

Sam Richmond is a workaholic in danger of becoming the very man he despises – his father. Stressed and sick with worry, he’s desperate to shake off the shackles that bind him to his current path and embark on a life lived only for himself.

His friends are determined to pull him out of his funk and decide to drag him to a strip club that caters to both men and women. Sam is shocked when he develops an attraction to the show’s male headliner: Rico McIntyre. The two men end up in a backroom for a private lap dance that ends up being a game changer for them.

Because despite the fact they both identify themselves as heterosexual, they decide to explore their strange attraction for one another – if only for one night. But one night quickly becomes another and then another, until a misunderstanding tears the two apart. Both men attempt to forget about the other, only for life to unexpectedly reunite them.

Can Sam and Rico embark on a relationship and come to terms with their new understandings of themselves and who they love? Or are they doomed from the start?

Rating: Narration – B+ : Content – C-

I’m far more likely to take a chance on a new or new-to-me author in audio than I am in print, especially if their book is performed by someone I enjoy listening to. So, when Margay Leah Justice’s Strip Me came up for review with two very familiar names attached, I decided to give it a try. Kale Williams is an experienced narrator I’ve enjoyed listening to on several occasions and Sebastian York is… well, Sebastian York! If nothing else, the narration should be good, right? And it is.

But the story? There are a couple of good ideas here, but overall, it’s a bit of a mess, the characterisation is fairly superficial, and the writing is distinctly amateurish in places. Gay-For-You stories are tricky to do well at the best of times and I’ve read and listened to far better examples of the trope than this one.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

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

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

Love will grow through the cracks you leave open.

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

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

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

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

Rating: Narration – A : Content – A-

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

The opening line just about says it all:

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

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

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

Thrown to the Wolves (Big Bad Wolf #3) by Charlie Adhara

This title may be purchased from Amazon

Agent Cooper Dayton is going to meet his boyfriend’s werewolf family. Unarmed. On their turf.

And he’s bringing his cat.

When Agent Cooper Dayton agreed to attend the funeral for Oliver Park’s grandfather, he didn’t know what he was getting into. Turns out, the deceased was the alpha of the most powerful werewolf pack on the eastern seaboard. And his death is highly suspicious. Regardless, Cooper is determined to love and support Park the way Park has been there for him.

But Park left him woefully unprepared for the wolf pack politics and etiquette. Rival packs? A seating order at the dinner table? A mysterious figure named the Shepherd? The worst is that Park didn’t tell his family one key thing about Cooper. Cooper feels two steps behind, and reticent Park is no help.

There are plenty of pack members eager to open up about Park and why Cooper is wrong for him. Their stories make Cooper wonder if he’s holding Park back. But there’s no time to get into it…as lethal tranquilizer darts start to fly, Cooper needs to solve the mystery of the alpha’s death and fight for the man he loves—all before someone else dies.

Rating: A-

Charlie Adhara’s Big Bad Wolf series has been something of a surprise hit for me.  I’m not normally into stories about werewolves, but AAR’s review of The Wolf at the Door convinced me to read it, and I’ve been hooked ever since.  Although each of the three books features a self-contained mystery that’s solved by the end, the romantic relationship between the human FBI agent Cooper Dayton and his werewolf partner, the enigmatic, coolly-collected Oliver Park, develops throughout the trilogy, so I wouldn’t recommend jumping into this one without having read the other two.  And if you were waiting for the final book before starting the first, be warned that there are spoilers for The Wolf at the Door and The Wolf at Bay in this review.

Cooper and Park have come a long way since they first teamed up in order to solve a case involving a string of vicious murders.  Moving from suspicion and animosity to professional trust, personal friendship and more, they’ve struggled, at times, to admit to the truth of their feelings for one another and talk through their issues (just as you’d expect of two stubborn, alpha males!), but by the end of The Wolf at Bay they’re committed to each other and to their relationship, even though there are still a few bugs to be ironed out – not least of which is the fact that Cooper is sure there are things about himself Park is still keeping from him.

When Thrown to the Wolves opens, Cooper and Park are on their way to Nova Scotia in order to attend the funeral of Park’s grandfather Joseph, the alpha of the Park pack. Oliver has been on edge ever since receiving news of the man’s demise a day earlier, and although he is no longer a member of the pack (having turned his back on it when he learned they’d been concealing the truth about the deaths of his parents) he decides to return to the family estate to attend the funeral, and asks Cooper to go with him.  Unlike Cooper, who wasn’t out to his family before the events of The Wolf at Bay, Park’s family knows he has a boyfriend and accepts his sexual orientation without a problem.  But as soon as Cooper and Park arrive – following a life-threatening accident – Cooper realises something is off; and it doesn’t take him long to figure out what it is.  The Parks may be fine with the fact that Oliver is gay – but the fact he’s in a relationship with a human?  That, they’re not pleased about.

You can read the rest of this review at All About Romance.