Invitation to the Blues (Small Change #2) by Roan Parrish (audiobook) – Narrated by Greg Boudreaux

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

Eight months ago Jude Lucen fled his partner, his career, and a hospital in Boston after a suicide attempt. Now back in Philadelphia, he feels like a complete failure. Piano has always been his passion and his only escape. Without it, he has nothing. Well, nothing except a pathetic crush on the most gorgeous man he’s ever seen.

Faron Locklear came to Philly looking for a fresh start and has thrown himself into tattooing at Small Change. He’s only met Jude a few times, but something about the red-haired man with the haunted eyes calls to him. Faron is blown away by Jude’s talent. What he isn’t expecting is the electricity he feels the first time they kiss – and the way Jude’s needs in bed speak directly to his own deepest desires.

Jude and Faron fall fast and hard, but Jude has spent a lifetime learning that he can’t be what the people he loves need. So when the opportunity arises to renew his career in Boston, he thinks he has to choose: music, or Faron? Only by taking a huge risk – and finally believing he’s worthy of love just as he is – can he have the chance for both.

Rating: Narration: A+; Content: B+

I suppose it was a given that a book written by Roan Parrish and narrated by Greg Boudreaux was going to hit me squarely in the feels; the author’s beautiful, lyrical writing combined with the narrator’s ability to zero in on and convey every single bit of emotion in that writing is a match made in audiobook heaven. Invitation to the Blues is a gentle and moving love story featuring a musician living with depression and the artist whose love and understanding makes a huge difference in his life. It’s the second book in the author’s Small Change series, but although characters from the first book appear in this one, Invitation to the Blues works perfectly well as a standalone.

Following a suicide attempt, Jude Lucens simply up and left his manipulative boyfriend and his life as a successful musician in Boston to return to his home town in Philadelphia, feeling like a complete failure and unsure what happens next. He’s moved into his brother’s apartment (Chris has moved in with his girlfriend, Ginger – their story can be found in the previous book, Small Change) and has taken a job for which he’s extremely ill-suited at the coffee shop Chris owns. Knowing things aren’t going well, Jude needs to find other work, but the question is what? Music and playing the piano are his life and all he really knows how to do, so he decides to see if he can find work as a piano teacher.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

Rend (Riven #2) by Roan Parrish (audiobook) – Narrated by Greg Boudreaux

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

After a whirlwind romance, a man with a painful past learns to trust the musician who makes him believe in happy endings.

Matt Argento knows what it feels like to be alone. After a childhood of abandonment, he never imagined someone might love him – much less someone like Rhys Nyland, who has the voice of an angel, the looks of a god, and the worship of his fans.

Matt and Rhys come from different worlds, but when they meet, their chemistry is incendiary. Their romance is unexpected, intense, and forever – at least, that’s what their vows promise. Suddenly, Matt finds himself living a life he never thought possible: safe and secure in the arms of a man who feels like home. But when Rhys leaves to go on tour for his new album, Matt finds himself haunted by the ghosts of his past.

When Rhys returns, he finds Matt twisted by doubt. But Rhys loves Matt fiercely, and he’ll go to hell and back to triumph over Matt’s fears. After secrets are revealed and desires are confessed, Rhys and Matt must learn to trust each other if they’re going to make it. That means they have to fall in love all over again – and this time, it really will be forever.

Rating: Narration – A+ : Content – B+

Rend isn’t an easy book to read or listen to, but it’s one that well repays the time spent with it. It’s the tale of a marriage on the edge of collapse and a troubled young man who is dealing with some very real, very deep emotional issues – and I came away from it having experienced laughter and tears, moments of joy, moments of pain and everything in between. When an author can do that simply through the arrangement of words on a printed page… it’s powerful stuff. And when you then take those words and give them to a narrator of the calibre of Greg Boudreaux – who I knew would nail, absolutely and perfectly, every single emotion behind them – there was never a doubt that I was going to be reduced to a pile of emotional rubble by the end.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

Riven (Riven #1) by Roan Parrish (audiobook) – Narrated by Iggy Toma and Chris Chambers

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

Theo Decker might be the lead singer of Riven, but he hates being a rock star. The paparazzi, the endless tours, being recognized everywhere he goes – it all makes him squirm. The only thing he doesn’t hate is the music. Feeling an audience’s energy as they lose themselves in Riven’s music is a rush unlike anything else…until he meets Caleb Blake Whitman. Caleb is rough and damaged, yet his fingers on his guitar are pure poetry. And his hands on Theo? They’re all he can think about. But Caleb’s no groupie – and one night with him won’t be enough.

Just when Caleb is accepting his new life as a loner, Theo Decker slinks into it and turns his world upside down. Theo’s sexy and brilliant and addictively vulnerable, and all Caleb wants is another hit. And another. That’s how he knows Theo’s trouble. Caleb can’t even handle performing these days. How the hell is he going to survive an affair with a tabloid superstar? But after Caleb sees the man behind the rock star, he begins to wonder if Theo might be his chance at a future he thought he’d lost forever.

Rating: Narration – B+/B- : Content – B

I picked up Riven mostly because I’d recently read and loved its follow up, Rend, but also because I’d so enjoyed Iggy Toma’s performance in Heart of the Steal, which Ms. Parrish co-authored with Avon Gale, and was keen to listen to more of his work. Riven is a poignant, beautifully written story about two men drawn together by their love of music; and the way the author writes about music and how it works and what it means to both characters is vividly descriptive. The prose is often lyrical – very appropriately so given the subject matter – and while on the surface this might seem like a fairly simple love story, the themes running through it are anything but, as one character battles addiction and the other must leave behind a past filled with indifference and rejection and learn to live for himself if he’s to find true happiness.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

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

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

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

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

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

Rating: Narration – A : Content – B

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

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

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

Rend (Riven #2) by Roan Parrish

This title may be purchased from Amazon

Matt Argento knows what it feels like to be alone. After a childhood of abandonment, he never imagined someone might love him—much less someone like Rhys Nyland, who has the voice of an angel, the looks of a god, and the worship of his fans.

Matt and Rhys come from different worlds, but when they meet, their chemistry is incendiary. Their romance is unexpected, intense, and forever—at least, that’s what their vows promise. Suddenly, Matt finds himself living a life he never thought possible: safe and secure in the arms of a man who feels like home. But when Rhys leaves to go on tour for his new album, Matt finds himself haunted by the ghosts of his past.

When Rhys returns, he finds Matt twisted by doubt. But Rhys loves Matt fiercely, and he’ll go to hell and back to triumph over Matt’s fears. After secrets are revealed and desires are confessed, Rhys and Matt must learn to trust each other if they’re going to make it. That means they have to fall in love all over again—and this time, it really will be forever.

Rating: B+

I haven’t (yet) read Riven, the book that preceded Rend, but I gather than Rhys Nyland was introduced there as a secondary character who was very much in love and happily married.  Rend turns the lens in the opposite direction, focusing on Rhys and his husband Matt, telling the story of how they met and giving readers a glimpse into their lives for the eighteen months since then up until the time when Rhys – a musician, singer and songwriter – goes on tour… and Matt slowly begins to fall apart.

The author pulled me in immediately with the prologue, in which Matt, who is clearly a troubled young man, has gone into a bar hoping to get picked up for the night – to avoid sleeping on the lumpy sofa in the crowded apartment he shares as much as for the sex.  When a large, blond and really handsome guy plonks down next to him, Matt is completely on board with the idea of going home with him – but that’s not what happens.  Instead, the man – who introduces himself as Rhys – takes Matt to a diner and orders a mountain of food which they tuck into while they talk.  At the end of the night, both men have established a surprisingly intense connection and they exchange a passionate kiss, but that’s it – and it’s how things go between them for the next few weeks. They date, they kiss, but nothing more – and Matt starts to worry that perhaps Rhys just isn’t into him that way.  Finally, he gathers up his courage and texts Rhys to ask him if he wants to have sex with him – needless to say, the answer sends Matt rushing back to Rhys’ arms and bed.  After a passionate night, Matt sneaks out – only to have Rhys text him afterwards with one of the most beautiful fictional love letters I’ve ever read. From then on, they’re inseparable.

Then we skip ahead eighteen months to find Matt and Rhys happily married and living in Sleepy Hollow, New York.  Matt is working for a charity that helps young people coming out of the foster system – in which he himself grew up – he’s been growing more and more confident in his role there and he’s deeply in love with his husband… even though he still can’t quite believe that his happiness can possibly last.  Life has taught him not to expect it to.  But right now, the only cloud on the horizon is the fact that Rhys is about to go on tour to promote his first solo album, and although Matt’s rational mind knows Rhys is coming back, his animal brain is telling him the opposite.  Everyone he’s ever loved has left him eventually, and he can’t shake the fear building in him that Rhys is going to do the same.

Matt tries desperately to keep those fears from Rhys, not wishing to spoil what should be a time filled with success and happiness, but the longer Rhys is away, the harder Matt finds it to cope. Plagued by nightmares and dark thoughts that persist in telling him Rhys deserves someone better, Matt can’t sleep, he can’t eat and finds himself returning over and over to the only home he’d ever known, the one he lived in when his mother left him and the last one he’d known before he was shunted into the foster system.  Terrified that Rhys will reject him if he knows the truth about his past, Matt’s reticence to talk and vagueness about how he is and what’s going on communicates itself to Rhys in their phone conversations, leading to the creation of an emotional distance between them that’s never been there before.  Matt is locked in a downward spiral of fear, guilt and desperation – when the tour finishes and Rhys comes home.  But has he come home in time to save their marriage?

Rend is a gut-wrenching read, no question, heart-breaking and deeply emotional but it’s also uplifting, and quite, quite beautiful.  As we witness Matt’s physical and emotional breakdown, we are also given some rather lovely insight into their relationship after that initial meeting in the prologue, which works well as a way to break up the scenes of Matt’s gradual descent into darkness.  Rhys and Matt are total opposites in many ways, both physically – Rhys is a blond Viking where Matt is small and dark – and personality-wise; Rhys is like a blast of sunlight, optimistic, open-hearted and completely and utterly in love with Matt, and I loved that he wouldn’t let Matt give in to his fears and was willing to make it clear over and over that Matt was his and that neither of them were going anywhere. And Matt… well, Matt is sweet, quiet and oh, so broken.  Always looking over his shoulder waiting for life to pull the rug out from under his feet, he learned early on never to ask for anything for himself, and wants only to make Rhys happy.

The author doesn’t pull any punches when it comes to showing how profoundly Matt’s past has affected him, and he goes to some dark places as his fears begin to overwhelm him; his struggles are portrayed so vividly that it’s easy to understand why he feels and acts as he does.  The characterisation of both leads is excellent – they’re brilliantly drawn and the intensity of their love and longing for one another really does leap off the page. The one niggle I had was that sometimes the relationship seemed a little… unhealthy, with Matt being so dependent on Rhys for his happiness and, well, pretty much everything.

Rend is that rare romance – one that shows what happens after the HEA and that even the most meant-to-be-together of couples has to work at making a go of it. It’s a superbly crafted portrait of a marriage in trouble that encompasses incredible highs and incredible lows, but there’s no question that Matt and Rhys thoroughly deserve their hard-won happy ending.