ARC Reviews | Squared Away & Level Up by Annabeth Albert

Squared Away by Annabeth Albert | Out of Uniform #5
Military/Contemporary Romance, LGBT
Publication Date | April 16th, 2018
ARC from Netgalley



Book Blurb:

In the wake of tragedy, SEAL Mark Whitley rushed stateside to act as guardian to his sister’s three young children. But a conflicting will could give custody to someone else—someone Mark remembers as a too young, too hot, wild party boy. Even after six years, Mark can’t shake the memory of his close encounter with Isaiah James, or face up to what it says about his own sexuality.

Isaiah’s totally over the crush that made him proposition Mark all those years ago. In fact, he’s done with crushing on the wrong men altogether. For now, he’s throwing himself into proving he’s the best person to care for his cousin’s kids. But there’s no denying there’s something sexy about a big, tough military man with a baby in his arms.

As the legal details get sorted out, their long-buried attraction resurfaces, leading to intimate evenings after the kids are tucked in. A forever future is within reach for all of them, if only Mark can find the courage he needs to trust Isaiah with his secrets—and his heart.

| Book Review |

It seems impossible to me that we are already five books deep into this series, because while the wait is excruciating between books, it also feels like it just started. Squared Away stands on its own, so you could start here. It’s my opinion, however, that this is not the strongest of the series. I’d go back to book one, start there and make your way up to this one. These men are brothers in arms so they do have close relationships and tend to show up in subsequent books. So like I said, while it’s definitely not necessary to read in order, I do think it enhances enjoyment of the series.

Mark and Isaiah met years ago when their two families joined at a wedding, but to say they’ve been carrying torches for each other would be an overstatement. In fact, when they meet up again after their family members have passed and someone needs to take care of the children, they’re both determined not to get involved. And I’ll be honest here. It got…old. And the sex was…meh. The highlights of this story were (but IMO, should not have been,) the children. They were the most entertaining part, but at the same time, they didn’t overwhelm the story; had I enjoyed it, it would have been a good balance. I also love that neither of the men wanted to split up the kids, and how much Isaiah adored them. I think, in them, Isaiah was looking for the family he never had, but he wasn’t just looking for something, he was also giving everything, and it made me love his character so much. Mark was a harder sell for me, because I was so over the back and forth with him and Isaiah, and Mark’s interest felt more like obligation than an actual desire. While I do understand this happens in real life, I don’t think you can run that motivation alongside Isaiah’s and expect readers to feel endearment towards Mark, especially if you don’t think that he alone is not in their best interest. Also, Mark made a decision in this book that was for the good of all of them, and had he presented it to Isaiah, it could have been fine. But because he didn’t and kept getting interrupted when he tried to, chaos ensued when Isaiah found out from someone else – thus causing him to question Mark when Mark hadn’t been up front about it, and I was totally on Isaiah’s side with this. It felt so contrived just to bring drama upon the characters, and it really lessened the credibility of the story. Lastly, and this really is just a pet peeve of mine, I am so over the ‘my person’ thing. It shows up in books and shows over and over and over and over again and…can we really not be more creative than this? I wish authors would stop piggybacking off Grey’s Anatomy for this. I can’t tell if this is a show of laziness or just no creativity.

In the grand scheme of this series, Squared Away was the weakest for me. But that doesn’t mean there weren’t good parts. It just means that as a whole, Isaiah and Mark didn’t feel like equal parts and the story suffered for it. If you’re interested in this series, do yourself a favor and start with book one, or my personal favorite book 4, Wheels Up. The author’s craft really shows through in that one. (Though I will say, I am reading book 6 now, and so far, it’s giving book 4 a run for its money!)

| Rating |

Series | Off Base

off-base at-attention 


Level Up by Annabeth Albert
Contemporary Romance, LGBT
Publication Date | May 17th, 2018
ARC from the author



Book Blurb:

Landon can’t believe he’s let himself get roped into participating in a charity calendar, let alone one that features tastefully photographed nudes. The genius physicist is hardly model material, and he’s dreading the nude part of the photoshoot. Amid his reluctance, the one bright spot is his emails back and forth with the photographer.

However, Bailey turns out to be not exactly what Landon expects, and their first meeting is decidedly awkward. Bailey’s persistent though, and gradually Landon warms to the burly photographer, and they discover they have a shared love of gamer culture.

A tentative friendship is born, but the road from friends to lovers isn’t easy. Landon’s battling past trauma and must decide how much of a risk he’s willing to take. A sexy connection may not be enough to keep them together unless both are willing to put their hearts on the line.

| Book Review |

This is going to be a short review for a short story – Level Up was a really good read. I was hooked from the very first page, and there was a lot of depth here for such a small word count. This book is part of the #Gaymers series, but you could jump into it without having read them, and you’d be just fine.

Landon and his reticence to be featured in a nude calendar was presented in such a way that made him endearing from the very beginning. It’s nothing he turns his nose up at; he is genuinely nervous about this. And Bailey’s easygoing nature and the way he slowly opened Landon up made me adore him as well. There is some drama here as events from Landon’s past have really shaped him and made him fear intimacy of any kind, but I like that instead of shying away from the hard conversations, he was up front with Bailey. There was no room for miscommunication here, and I loved that. Landon was also very specific about what he needed, and Bailey always gave it to him, no matter how much it hurt him to give it. He knew what Landon needed, and he wanted to be that for him. I also liked the friends that played prominently in this story. So often when friends are involved they can be over the top and too liberal with personal information about their buddies, but there was none of that here. Landon and Bailey’s BFFs were as kind and genuine as they were.This was a short story, and as I find with most of them, pacing was wonderful. With so few words it seems to be more concise storytelling, and here, like I mentioned, I think there were times when the author dove deep. The only thing that could have made this story any better was if it had been a full length novel. There was a side romance in this book that I think could have played out alongside Landon and Bailey’s and kept me just as captivated, but this is what we were given, and I do think Level Up was a wonderful story!

| Rating |

Series | #Gaymers


| about the author |

Annabeth Albert grew up sneaking romance novels under the bed covers. Now, she devours all subgenres of romance out in the open—no flashlights required! When she’s not adding to her keeper shelf, she’s a multi-published Pacific Northwest romance writer.  The #OutOfUniform series joins her critically acclaimed and fan-favorite LGBTQ  romance #Gaymers, #PortlandHeat and #PerfectHarmony series.

To find out what she’s working on next and other fun extras, check out her website: or connect with Annabeth on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and Spotify! Also, be sure to sign up for her newsletter for free ficlets, bonus reads, and contests. The fan group, Annabeth’s Angels, on Facebook is also a great place for bonus content and exclusive contests.

Emotionally complex, sexy, and funny stories are her favorites both to read and to write. Annabeth loves finding happy endings for a variety of pairings and is a passionate gay rights supporter.  In between searching out dark heroes to redeem, she works a rewarding day job and wrangles two active children.

| Connect with Annabeth |

Twitter | Facebook  | Facebook Group | Newsletter | Instagram | Website

8 thoughts on “ARC Reviews | Squared Away & Level Up by Annabeth Albert

Add yours

  1. I am so bad. I’ve been interested in both those series and haven’t started yet. Each one sounds good and even if there are issues that make them more average reads, I think I’d like the writing and general story enough not to enjoy something. I did read her one older book I had on my TBR pile so that’s a start. LOL

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Both series have books that I absolutely love! They are definitely worth the read. My favorite series of hers, though, is Rainbow Cove. I love that one so much!

      How could you get a taste and then not pick one up again? LOL I was so hooked.


  2. Oh, I love this author! I really need to check out Level Up. It’s a bummer it’s only a novella though. And I actually liked Squared Away for the most part – though I can see how their not talking to each other/miscommunications got annoying. I just really love the whole series though! Thanks for sharing your thoughts.


    Liked by 1 person

    1. I love the whole Out of Uniform series, too, even with this miss. I think there is something for everyone here.

      Yeah – more than a novella would have been great, but I was still sold on this one! 🙂


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