Undue Influence by Jenny Holiday (audiobook) – Narrated by Michael Fell

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

Second chances only come around once.

Eight years ago, Adam Elliot made the biggest mistake of his life. Now that mistake is coming back to haunt him. His family’s beloved vineyard has gone into foreclosure, and the new owner is the sister of the only man he’s ever loved – the man he dumped under pressure from family and friends who thought the match was beneath him.

When Freddy Wentworth, aka the bad boy of Bishop’s Glen, left town with a broken heart, he vowed never to return. But a recently widowed friend needs his help, so here he is. He’s a rich and famous celebrity chef now, though, so everyone can just eff right off.

But some things are easier said than done. Despite their attempts to resist each other, old love rekindles – and old wounds reopen. If they want to make things work the second time around, they’ll have to learn to set aside their pride – and prejudice.

Rating: Narration: B-; Content: B

I read and enjoyed Jenny Holiday’s Undue Influence when it came out last year, and having also enjoyed Michael Fell’s performance in Infamous, I was looking forward to listening to their next collaboration. The novel is a contemporary reworking of Jane Austen’s Persuasion, set in the small town of Bishop’s Glen in upstate New York and in it, our parted lovers are Adam Elliot, the son of a wealthy family of winemakers, and town bad-boy Freddy Wentworth. Undue Influence can be enjoyed regardless of whether you’re familiar with the original; and if you are, you’ll enjoy spotting the key plot points and characters the author has carried over and how they’ve been adapted.

Adam Elliot is spending the evening at the family home on the Kellynch Estate for the final time. His father’s death five years earlier, followed by his mother and sister’s insistence on ignoring the worsening state of their finances and spending lavishly, has run their winery business into the ground, and now they’re broke and have been forced to sell up. But even now, the ladies continue to act as though nothing is wrong and are planning a prolonged stay with an old friend in the Hamptons. Adam, however, is perfectly happy to remain in Bishop’s Glen, even though leaving Kellynch is going to be a real wrench for him. He’s always had a strong affinity for the land, and that affinity is what’s kept him in Bishop’s Glen in spite of the constant nagging by his friend and mentor, Rusty Anderson, to leave town and make something of his life.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

Arctic Wild (Frozen Hearts #2) by Annabeth Albert

This title may be purchased from Amazon

Hotshot attorney Reuben Graham has finally agreed to take a vacation, when his plane suddenly plunges into the Alaskan wilderness.

Just his luck.

But his frustrations have only begun as he finds himself stranded with the injured, and superhot, pilot, a man who’s endearingly sociable—and much too young for Reuben to be wanting him this badly.

As the sole provider for his sisters and ailing father, Tobias Kooly is devastated to learn his injuries will prevent him from working or even making it back home. So when Reuben insists on giving him a place to recover, not even Toby’s pride can make him refuse. He’s never been tempted by a silver fox before, but something about Reuben is impossible to resist.

Recuperating in Reuben’s care is the last thing Toby expected, yet the closer they become, the more incredibly right it feels, prompting workaholic Reuben to question the life he’s been living. But when the pressure Toby’s under starts closing in, both men will have to decide if there’s room in their hearts for a love they never saw coming.

Rating: B+

Arctic Wild, book two in Annabeth Albert’s Frozen Hearts series, is a gently moving, slow-burn romance between two very different men who find themselves re-evaluating their lives following an almost fatal accident.  There are places where perhaps the pacing could have been a little faster and the focus a little sharper, but I really liked the way the romance developed and how the author explored the dynamics between the leads and the secondary characters/family members who also appear in the story.

Workaholic corporate lawyer Reuben Graham has been persuaded to take a long-overdue vacation with a couple of friends when a last minute change sees him heading off to Alaska on his own.  He’d much rather just have cancelled, but was pretty much guilted into going and anyway, he’s got plenty of work with him so when there’s no decent  internet connection he’ll just hunker down and read all that paperwork he’s got piled up.  With any luck, his guide will be some “grizzled old mountain man pilot”  who is disinclined to talk and will leave Reuben to work in peace.  But he’s out of luck in that department and is instead greeted by a gorgeously attractive, vivacious, younger (too young for him, anyway) man who definitely doesn’t seem as though he’s the strong silent type.

Pilot and tour guide Toby Kooly (whom we met briefly in the previous book, Arctic Sun) is very good at what he does. Personable, informative and fun, he genuinely enjoys making sure his clients are having a good time and doing whatever he can to help them make the most of what is generally a once-in-a-lifetime experience.   But on meeting Reuben Graham he instantly senses the man is going to prove something of a challenge; he obviously isn’t particularly enthusiastic about being there and seems resistant to enjoying himself.  And he presents another sort of challenge, too; older guys don’t normally do it for Toby, but something about this tall, distinguished silver fox – no, silver bear – with the broad shoulders and the commanding presence most definitely turns his crank. But hooking up with clients isn’t something he makes a habit of, so he pushes temptation aside and concentrates on doing his job, determined to win Reuben over and get him to enjoy himself.

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

To See the Sun by Kelly Jensen (audiobook) – Narrated by TJ Clark

This title may be downloaded from Audible via 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: Narration: B+; Content: B+

I’ve become a big fan of Kelly Jensen’s over the past few months and was delighted to be able to snap up a copy of To See the Sun for review. By one of those odd flukes, I read the book a few weeks ago, before I had any idea it was coming out in audio, but that didn’t stop me from wanting to enjoy it again.

The story takes place at some unspecified time in the future when the human race and civilisation has finally moved beyond Earth and has spread through distant galaxies. At the edge of one of those galaxies is the garden planet Zhemosen, a reputed paradise of blue skies, bright sunshine and lush greenery… if you can afford it. The rich enjoy life in the fresh, open air, while those less fortunate live in the undercity, a place where “water tastes like sweat”, the air is bitter, and the streets are dark and dangerous. It’s here that Gael Sonnen just about manages to eke out an existence, but when he fails to carry out an assassination ordered by the powerful family he works for (and is practically enslaved to) he has no alternative but to run – and run as far as possible. But with no money, it looks as though his only option will be to sign up for a long indenture which he’ll likely never get out of – until a friend suggests an alternative. There are plenty of people living in the outer colonies at the far-flung edges of the galaxy who are looking for companions, be it for friends or lovers, and there are companies who specialise in arranging companion contracts. If Gael were to sign up with one of them, his youth and good-looks will surely garner him plenty of replies, and as many of the contracts are initially for only a year, it will at least buy him some breathing space.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

Give Up the Ghost (Not Dead Yet #2) by Jenn Burke

This title may be purchased from Amazon

The bigger they are, the harder they maul.

Immortal not-ghost Wes Cooper and his vampire partner, Hudson Rojas, have it all—rewarding private investigation work, great friends and, most important, a love that’s endured. But ever since Wes sent a demon screaming back to the beyond, his abilities have grown overpowering and overwhelming. He’s hiding the fact that he’s losing control the best he can, but it’s hard to keep anything a secret for long when your partner’s a former cop…and especially when your partner’s a former cop who wants to move in together.

When all hell literally breaks loose in Toronto and superstrength ghosts are unleashed on Wes and his friends, he and Hudson are thrown into a case unlike any they’ve seen before. To save the city, Wes needs to harness his new power…and find some answers. But when he gets them, the solution to fix it all could mean losing everything.

Rating: A-

Jenn Burke’s Not Dead Yet earned a place on my keeper shelf earlier this year for many reasons, not least of which were the great storytelling, excellent worldbuilding, memorable characters, snappy dialogue and unusual premise.  Wes Cooper was murdered in 1933 by his lover Michael, but was resurrected by Michael’s sister – a witch.  Somehow, she overdid it, not only bringing Wes back to life, but making him immortal, which changed his life in many ways apart from the obvious one.  He’s made a living as a ‘retrieval specialist’, using his ability to slip between the living plane and the otherplane (which exists between the living and the dead), to sneak in and out of places others cannot access in order to recover items for interested parties.  Witnessing a murder while in the otherplane was the kicking off point for Not Dead Yet, which saw Wes reconnect with the love of his life, detective Hudson Rojas, and then work with him to solve the murder, making some truly disturbing discoveries along the way.  As Wes and his rag-taggle band of friends and allies fought together to prevent a powerful demon taking corporeal form, something even weirder than usual happened to him, and at the end of the story he realised that his (mostly low-level) magical powers had somehow been increased to a massive degree – and he’s not entirely sure if he’s strong enough to control them.

Give Up the Ghost opens some months after those events, and Wes still hasn’t told Hudson or his best friend, Lexi, what happened to him.  It’s not that he’s deliberately holding out on them, it’s just that, what with one thing and another – Hudson’s retirement from the Toronto PD, setting up their new PI agency, settling into being a couple again, Lexi needing to rest following the clean-up after their battle with the demon, and helping their friend, Evan, to come to terms with his part in it – basically, there just hasn’t been a good time.  And now, months later, it feels too weird to bring it up.  Plus, Wes is a master at avoidance and decides he’s better off not knowing exactly what the Crown of Osiris did to him, because that way he can hide from it.  But he’s struggling; not only to keep the secret, but to keep his powers under control and his fears at bay – and it’s taking its toll on him.

A bunch of “weird shit” happening at their local coffee shop is the first clue that something is badly wrong.  Wes, Lexi and Evan arrive to discover the place overrun by imps, who must be coming through some sort of crack or portal into the living plane – but from where?  Imps don’t exist in the otherplane, so they must be coming from Beyond, the place where spirits pass after death and where demons live – but in order to do that, the imps must have been summoned.  But by whom – and why?  Before Wes can contemplate that, however, he and the others must seal the breach – and not for the first time, he berates himself for not coming clean about his enhanced magic, as he instead of doing it himself, he has to channel some of his magic into Lexi so that she can close it.

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

A Matter of Time Vol.1 by Mary Calmes (audiobook) – Narrated by Paul Morey

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

Jory Keyes leads a normal life as an architect’s assistant until he is witness to a brutal murder. Though initially saved by police Detective Sam Kage, Jory refuses protective custody – he has a life he loves that he won’t give up no matter who is after him. But Jory’s life is in real jeopardy, especially after he agrees to testify about what he saw.

While dealing with attempts on his life, well-meaning friends who want to see him happy, an overly protective boss, and a slowly unfolding mystery that is much more sinister than he could ever imagine, the young gay man finds himself getting involved with Sam, the conflicted and closeted detective. And though Jory may survive the danger, he may not survive a broken heart.

Rating: Narration: B-; Content: B-

Architect’s assistant Jory Keyes is young, gay, free, single and gorgeous – as we’re repeatedly reminded. You could probably make a drinking game out of it; how often Jory is called beautiful (by both men and women) and how many men are falling over themselves to sleep with him or have a relationship with him.

Anyway. When he witnesses a murder, Jory refuses to go into witness protection (is that actually allowed?) and then becomes involved with the gruff, hot detective assigned to the case – Sam Kage, who is strongly attracted to Jory from the get-go, but tries to ignore it because he’s straight (or so he thinks).

Matter of Time Vol. 1 was originally published as two books, and neither ends particularly happily for Jory and Sam. By the end of the second book, Sam has admitted he’s gay and has come out to his family and colleagues and is set for a future with Jory, until a last minute attempt on their lives railroads everything, leaves Jory seriously injured and Sam being assigned to an undercover task force to root out the bad guys. (Although to be fair, he chooses the assignment – and to leave Jory – to go undercover because he can’t afford to say no; after his partner was discovered to be on the take, Sam is under scrutiny and should it become known he was in a relationship with a witness, it would ruin his career. He also thinks it’s the best way to keep Jory safe – and although his mother calls him out on it, Sam nonetheless puts his career first). So to get the whole story of their on-again/off-again relationship, you need to pick up the second volume (books 3 & 4).

I enjoyed the story for the most part, once I’d got past that whole everyone-wants-Jory thing. He’s actually a great character; he’s compassionate and kind and funny, and wants to make the people around him happy – and yes, he doesn’t always act rationally and sometimes goes against good advice, but I sort of got where he was coming from. He’s young – just 22 when the story starts – and it was obvious he wanted to be his own person and live life on his own terms rather than be pushed around and pulled in all the directions people wanted him to go, even if they were doing it nicely. So yeah, he was annoying at times, but he’s such a compelling character that I ended up being completely charmed by him as much as it seems almost everyone else who’s ever read the book has been!

As for Sam. Having recently finished listening to the fabulous Adrien English series, I was prepared for another assholic, closeted cop who couldn’t admit he was in love with a guy, whose words and actions practically SHOUTED he was in love with the guy, who kept trying to keep the guy at a distance but at the same time couldn’t stay away from him. Sam’s a hot mess of sexy, growly and possessive; he manhandles Jory a lot (kept giving him fireman’s lifts and grabbing him by the neck – what was with all the neck-grabbing?) but there’s no doubt he really does care for Jory. It just takes him a while to work out what he truly wants and he hurts Jory while he does it.

But here’s one of the things that makes Jory such a great character; when he realises, in the first book/half, that he’s only a minor detour on the path Sam’s mapped out for himself and that Sam (like Jake Riordan before him) is set on doing the wife and family thing, Jory gets out. He isn’t going to hang around to be used or to be someone’s experiment; it kills him, but he’s got too much self-respect to just hang around and wait for whatever scraps Sam’s prepared to give him. Yes, he should probably have told Sam he was going, but Sam made it pretty clear to Jory where he stood, so I don’t blame him for getting out when he did and then getting on with his life.

Overall, the story meanders a lot and could really have done with some serious tightening up. There are lots of secondary characters and random people dropping in and out (mostly to marvel at Jory’s awesomeness) and the plotline that brings Jory and Sam together is largely absent until near the end. It’s referenced, but it’s very much in the background with little to no urgency about it until the final chapters, and honestly, a lot of the flab should have been cut out of the story, because some of the non-Jory-and-Sam stuff dragged quite a bit.

Paul Morey does a really good job with his vocal characterisations of both Sam and Jory, and handles the large cast of secondary characters really well; Sam has a suitably gravelly tone while Jory’s is lighter, and the essense of both their personalities comes through. His female voices are pretty good (just a softened tone without any massive variations in pitch) and the main supporting roles of Dane and Nick are easy to recognise. My one big issue with his narration was with the pacing, which was a bit on the slow side – but most of all, with his tendency to take long pauses between phrases and sentences, which was incredibly annoying. We’re talking pauses of two or three seconds; long enough to make you wonder if your player has suddenly shut off or run out of battery! I did get used to it eventually, and it hasn’t put me off picking up the next in the series, but the audio experience would have been nigh on perfection (like Jory!) without all the long pauses.

Let There Be Light (Twin Hearts Duet #1) by A.M. Johnson (audiobook) – Narrated by Aaron Shedlock and Teddy Hamilton

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

His world was water and rhythm. Hard work and drive kept Royal O’Connell one step ahead of his competition. His spot on the swim team, keeping his scholarship, was the only plan that mattered.

His world was ebony and ivory. Natural talent and ambition set Camden Morgan apart from the other music majors. His dedication scored him a full ride.

Normally, their paths would have never crossed…but when Royal meets his best friend’s new roommate, his big plan and Camden’s controlled environment faces a variable that could destroy it all: attraction.

The world they live in had no room for error. That undeniable pull between them was dangerous, and neither one of them could’ve prepared for the choice they’d have to make.

Love isn’t always an easy road, and when everything they’ve worked for is on the line, they’ll have to decide if being together is worth the risk.

Rating: Narration: B/A-; Content: B-

Even though HimUs and The Understatement of the Year are all on my favourites shelf, romances featuring college-age protagonists aren’t ones I normally pick up. But in the case of Let There Be Light by new-to-me author A.M. Johnson, the draw was twofold – 1.) Teddy Hamilton and 2.) as a classically trained musician myself, I’m interested in stories featuring characters who are musicians. Let There Be Light features two scholarship students – one a champion swimmer, the other a virtuoso pianist – in a charming coming-of-age/coming-out story.

It’s a very low-drama tale that relies more on internal conflicts and issues to drive it forward, and I admit that had I read it, I may have decided it was too slow-moving and not for me. Fortunately, the excellent narration by Teddy Hamilton and new-to-me narrator Aaron Shedlock kept me engaged, although I can’t deny that things dragged a little around the middle and early in the second half.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

Rule Breaker (Mixed Messages #1) by Lily Morton (audiobook) – Narrated by Joel Leslie

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

Is it really wrong to want to murder your boss?

Dylan has worked for Gabe for two years. Two long years of sarcastic comments. Two long years of insults, and having to redo the coffee pot four times in the mornings to meet his exacting standards.

Not surprisingly he has devoted a lot of time to increasingly inventive ways to murder Gabe. From stabbing him with a cake fork, to garrotting him with his expensive tie, Dylan has thought of everything.

However, a chance encounter opens his eyes to the attraction that has always lain between them, concealed by the layers of antipathy. There are only two problems – Gabe is still a bastard, and he makes wedding planners look like hardened pessimists.

But what happens when Dylan starts to see the real Gabe? What happens when he starts to fall in love with the warm, wary man that he sees glimpses of as the days pass?

Because Gabe is still the same commitment shy, cold man that he’s always been, or is he? Has Dylan had the same effect on Gabe, and has his solid gold rule of no commitment finally been broken? With his heart taken Dylan desperately needs to know, but will he get hurt trying to find the answers?

Rating: Narration: A; Content: A

Sometimes, you listen to the first few minutes of an audiobook and know you’re going to love it – which is exactly what happened to me with Lily Morton’s Rule Breaker, the first book in her Mixed Messages series. It’s yet another of those books friends have been telling me for ages that I really must read, and once again, audio has proved the perfect way for me to catch up – and Joel Leslie’s fantastic performance only makes me even more thankful to have experienced the story in this format.

Rule Breaker charts the development of the opposites-attract romance between high-powered lawyer Gabe Foster and his assistant Dylan Mitchell; and as soon as I heard Dylan’s opening lines, I knew I was in for just the sort of fun-filled snark-fest that is right up my alley.

I want to kill my boss.

It has become an absolute truth that a small portion of my time every day, is now taken over with creating increasingly inventive ways to murder him slowly. Take today for instance. Today I’m debating whether to hang him out of the tenth-floor window tied to the conference table, or disembowel him with the cake knife from the tea trolley. This is all done while taking diligent notes at the meeting he’s forced me to sit on in. Never let it be said that men can’t multitask.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.