Up All Night
Grade : B-

Up All Night is the first book in Annabeth Albert’s new series featuring first responders, which is set in the small (fictional) Oregon town of Mount Hope. The author is a long-time favourite whose books, even when they’re not stellar, are good, solid reads featuring protagonists who are easy to like and relate to, with well-established emotional connections, strongly realised settings and an engaging secondary cast, often with an enjoyable found family vibe.

While Up All Night does fall into the ‘not stellar’ category, it’s nonetheless an easy, low-angst read, and I applaud the author for once again writing a central couple who are a bit older than the norm for romance novels (and especially in m/m, where nine out of ten books seem to feature college-age leads). Firefighter Sean Murphy is a forty-three-year-old divorced father of two who has come back to Mount Hope to attend the funeral of an old friend. The sale of his former family home in Seattle has coincided with his stepping down as captain at his fire house, leaving Sean temporarily homeless and jobless, and his father – who is soon to retire as fire chief of Mount Hope - suggests that Sean take a short-term position with the local fire service. He can even have his old room in the family home back for as long as he wants it. Sean can’t deny being tempted at the thought of being back out in the field fighting fires rather than sitting at a desk doing admin, but if he comes back to Mount Hope, there’s no way he’s moving back into his childhood bedroom! Fortunately, a solution emerges from an unexpected source. Eric – it’s his husband’s funeral – is one of Sean’s oldest friends, and offers Sean room and board in exchange for his help with some renovations to his property.

Denver Rucker is the overnight cook at Honey’s Hotcake Hut, one of the few eateries in the area that’s open 24/7 and thus a regular haunt of the area’s first responders. The arrival of a new firefighter – who has been in a few times now - hasn’t escaped his notice and neither has the fact that the hot ginger is very easy on the eye. When, at the end of his shift, Denver walks out into the car park to find said hot ginger has managed to lock himself out of his truck, he offers him a lift home – it’s not out of his way as they live on the same street – and then finds himself inviting the man into his shower.

Sean has suspected for quite some time that he’s into guys, but he married young and was a faithful husband, so never really had any opportunity to experiment. Now, however, he’s recalling advice given to him very recently to have a fling while he works out his next move - and something about the sexy cook is pushing all the buttons he wasn’t even sure he had! He decides not to overthink things so he takes Denver up on his offer; the sex is fantastic and goes a long way to confirming Sean’s suspicions that he’s probably gay (or at the very least, bisexual) but when he indicates it was his first time with a man, Denver has a mini freak-out about not wanting to be an experiment and they part on uncertain terms. Sean would very much like a repeat but Denver is adamant it can only be a one-time thing; he’s not into relationships, he moves around a lot, and being badly burned in the past has made him unwilling to open himself up to hurt again.

But no matter that he knows getting involved with Sean is a bad idea, Denver just can’t help himself, and what was supposed to have been a one-time thing soon becomes more. He tries hard to tell himself that whatever is going on is just temporary, to ignore the deeper feelings he’s developing for Sean and not to be drawn any deeper into Sean’s life. But it’s proving every bit as impossible to resist Sean out of bed as it is to resist him in it – and Denver is going to have to decide whether to take a risk and go all in… or to risk losing something that could just be the best thing ever to have happened to him.

I liked Sean and his decision to go for what he wants after playing it safe for so many years. I enjoyed his friendships with Eric and their friend-group, and the way he naturally draws Denver into that, showing Denver what it’s like to have people around you who have your back. But while Up All Night is very readable, there are some things that feel rushed, not properly explored and/or glossed over. Sean hooking up with Denver so soon is fine, but he’s quick to decide that he wants more with Denver and trusts him given he doesn’t really know him. The light kink in the story - a little bit of power exchange with Sean happily giving up control to Denver in the bedroom - feels like it comes out of nowhere (and see above comment re. trust). I get that for someone like Sean, who has to make lots of important decisions all the time, being able to cede control in that way is an attractive prospect, but from the author’s descriptions, he’s essentially hitting sub-space, and there’s no discussion or experimentation beforehand. And for someone who has only just confirmed his sexual orientation to himself and is having sex with another man for the first time, it all feels way too much way too soon.

Denver isn’t as well-developed a character as Sean and he spends way too much time ignoring or just brushing off Sean’s willingness to commit because he was badly burned by a lover many years before. The ‘I will not love because I got my heart broken once before’ trope doesn’t work for me often, and sadly, it doesn’t here.

Grieving widower Eric and his four children (one at college, two older teens and a tween) – all of whom were fostered then adopted - are a fairly large part of the story, but the only one of them who appears to be grieving at all is Eric. The kids seem remarkably well-adjusted considering they’ve just lost a parent; I’d have expected a bit of drama as they deal with their grief but no, they mostly bounce around like happy campers and seem to be present only to provide a way for Denver to start becoming absorbed into the friendship/found family grouping.

And then, right near the end, we meet Sean’s son who *cue sound of screeching record scratch* acts like a homophobic arsehole one minute (“I guess we know why mom left…”) and the next is all ‘want a drink, Dad?’ - and wanders off never to be seen again. It feels as though he’s been shoe-horned in to the story for no real purpose.

Finally – and I know this is really nit-picky, but… Ms. Albert seems to have got into the habit of writing a chapter that leads into the next book at the end of the current one and calling it an epilogue. An epilogue is something added to the end of a book to act as a conclusion to the story; it is NOT the beginning of a new story. I have no objections to getting a sneak peek of the next book, but please stop calling it an epilogue!

That all sounds like a lot of criticism and it does pain me to heap it on to a book by an author whose work has brought me so much joy over the years – but it really isn’t all bad news, because I enjoyed reading it anyway. Up All Night might not be my favourite Annabeth Albert book, but even a not-stellar Annabeth Albert book is well worth a look, so I’m giving it a qualified recommendation.

Reviewed by Caz Owens
Grade : B-

Sensuality: Warm

Review Date : March 30, 2024

Publication Date: 03/2024

Recent Comments …

Caz Owens

I’m a musician, teacher and mother of two gorgeous young women who are without doubt, my finest achievement :)I’ve gravitated away from my first love – historical romance – over the last few years and now read mostly m/m romances in a variety of sub-genres. I’ve found many fantastic new authors to enjoy courtesy of audiobooks - I probably listen to as many books as I read these days – mostly through glomming favourite narrators and following them into different genres.And when I find books I LOVE, I want to shout about them from the (metaphorical) rooftops to help other readers and listeners to discover them, too.
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