In the Requiem (Metahuman Files #5) by Hailey Turner (audiobook) – Narrated by Greg Boudreaux

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

Never let go.

Weighed down by scandal, Captain Jamie Callahan must choose between saving his family’s reputation and his father’s political aspirations, or taking down the enemy once and for all. Choosing one over the other will have lasting repercussions he can’t escape. Whatever path Jamie ultimately picks, Staff Sergeant Kyle Brannigan will be right by his side to face the consequences. Kyle knows in a situation like this the only way out is through. Together they can make it to the other side, but surviving that journey will take everything they have.

One last chance.

Agent Sean Delaney is learning what it means to be part of Alpha Team through trial by fire. He wouldn’t change it for the world, nor would he give up the life he’s building with Staff Sergeant Alexei Dvorkin. But their time together is threatened by outside forces they can’t outrun. Having put the nightmare of Boston behind him, Alexei is focused on keeping his family safe, but he can’t have eyes on everyone. Alexei knows he can’t ignore the danger on the horizon, and when it strikes, he is unprepared for the tragedy it leaves in its wake.

Risking it all.

The odds are stacked ever higher against Alpha Team, and outmaneuvering a precog is a daunting, almost impossible task. Jamie knows something has to give, and when it does, it just might break him the way nothing else in his life ever could.

Rating: Narration – A+; Content A-

Oh. My. God. Hailey Turner pulls out all the stops in this, the final** instalment of her military/futuristic Metahumans Files series, bringing the overarching storyline to a thrilling, high-stakes close… but not without leaving a couple of unanswered questions that leave the door ajar for future stories. And it will come as no surprise when I say that Greg Boudreaux – who has done some truly incredible work throughout the series – makes it five for five with a barnstorming performance that had me smiling, sighing, blushing, fuming and sobbing into my dinner.

Besides being the culmination of a plot arc, In the Requiem also features a large number of recurring secondary characters, and while the author does include some backstory and background information about both plot and characters, I don’t think this story will make a great deal of sense if you haven’t read or listened to the books that precede it. I’m assuming that anyone who has made it to this point knows the story so far…

**At time of writing this was the final book, but book six has just been announced.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

TBR Challenge: Loose Cannon (Woodbury Boys #1) by Sidney Bell

This title may be purchased from Amazon

Released after five years in the system for assault, streetwise Edgar-Allen Church is ready to leave the past behind and finally look to his future. In need of a place to crash, he’s leaning on Miller Quinn. A patient, solidly masculine pillar of strength and support, Miller has always been there for him—except in the one way Church has wanted the most.

With his staunchly conservative upbringing, Miller has been playing it straight his whole life. Now with Church so close again, it’s getting harder to keep his denial intact. As they fumble their way back to friendship after so many years apart, Miller struggles to find the courage to accept who he really is. What he has with Church could be more than desire—it could be love. But it could also mean trouble.

Church’s criminal connections are closing in on the both of them, and more than their hearts are at risk. This time, their very lives are on the line.

Rating: B+

With “friends” as the prompt for this month’s TBR Challenge read, my brain immediately leapt to “friends-to-lovers” – which is among my favourite tropes – and after a bit of digging around, I came up with Loose Cannon, the first book in Sidney Bell’s Woodbury Boys trilogy.  It fits the prompt in another way, too, because of the strong friendship that binds together the three characters whose stories are told in the three books in the series.

The central relationship in Loose Cannon spans several years, but when we first meet Edgar-Allen Church – who prefers to go by Church – it’s to witness him committing an act of extreme violence.  He’s only sixteen or seventeen years old when he beats a man so badly that he actually worries he might have killed him – and then, in a fit of remorse, calls 911 and waits for the authorities to arrive.  We next meet him as he’s being transferred from juvie to Woodbury Residential Treatment Center, a place where at-risk youth are offered the tools to make themselves new lives while still being held accountable for their actions.  Here, we witness his meetings with the two boys who are to become his closest friends – the sunny-natured, obviously well-to-do Tobias and later, the beautiful, enigmatic – and deadly – Ghost.

Four years later, aged twenty-two, Church is eligible for parole, and one of the conditions he must fulfil is to live with someone who will be a “grounding influence”.  At the last minute, however the person who’d agreed to put him up lets him down, and Church doesn’t have anywhere else to go.  Unless…  There’s one person who is sure to help him, but after the way their friendship crashed and burned  – for which Church blames himself entirely – he’s reluctant to reach out.  But he’s caught between a rock and a hard place – and he makes the call.

That friendship began the night Miller Quinn found a scrawny, scruffy, fifteen-year-old kid trying to haul his antiquated TV set out the window.  Instead of calling the cops, Miller sees the kid is desperate and scared, and manages to persuade him to stick around for a meal and a conversation.  He disappears afterwards and Miller thinks that’s that – so he’s surprised a couple of weeks later when Church turns up during a storm, looking for somewhere to hole up until it passes.  This marks the start of an unlikely friendship during which Church turns up at Miller’s place two or three times a week and it lasts for a couple of years – until (as he thinks) Church screws it all up.

The author drip-feeds this backstory through the first part of the novel by means of a few well-executed flashbacks, and they, together with the characters’ thoughts and conversations, shed light on the events that led to Church being imprisoned.  After this, the story progresses in linear fashion as Miller and Church meet each other again for the first time in five years, and have to find a way to be around one another and rebuild their friendship.  But the elephant that caused the problems all those years ago is still in the room; Church is gay and is attracted to Miller – is even in love with him – and Miller is straight.

But Church – older and wiser now – knows that wanting what he can’t have is a futile exercise and it doesn’t take long for him and Miller to get their relationship back on an even keel and back to the sort of close, platonic friendship they had before, where they bantered back-and-forth constantly and shouted at hockey games on TV.  There’s still an undercurrent of something else, though, and no matter how hard he tries to tell himself it’s stupid to have fallen for the straight guy, Church is sufficiently honest with himself to own the truth of his feelings.  Miller, on the other hand, is a mass of total confusion.  Having Church back in his life is throwing up all sorts of complications he just wants to ignore; he’s always known Church is gay and made it clear he has absolutely no problem with it. But Miller is straight so why is he noticing Church’s lean, muscled body, how he’s grown into his features and become so striking, somehow poetic and tough all at once?

Both men are incredibly complex, well-rounded characters with a lot of baggage to unpack between them.  Miller is a kind, decent person, a man who genuinely wants to help others in any way he can, who deserves to live as he wants and love how he wants, but his highly conservative, Catholic upbringing – conditioning even – means he’s never considered questioning his sexuality (and if he has, he’s buried it deep and left it to rot). There’s absolutely no doubt that he’s in love with Church, but he refuses to admit it; that’s not who he’s supposed to be.  His struggle to find the courage to start questioning and then accept that what he’s believed for thirty years is wrong is brought to life in such an insightful, considered and realistic way – and my heart broke for him.

But the real star of the show is Church, who, despite a truly shitty childhood and time spent in prison still manages to be honest, insightful and incredibly generous, and one of the most compelling characters I’ve come across in fiction.  He did a terrible thing as a kid, but doesn’t allow it to define him and is determined to do better.  He’s no angel and is definitely a bit rough around the edges, but the inner strength he displays as he struggles to own and control his negative emotions is amazing, and I loved watching him learning about himself and transforming from that confused kid into someone who knows himself and how to make the right choices.

The slow-burn romance is wonderful, but I also loved the way the deep affection Church and Miller have for each other is so very clear in everything they say and do, even before their relationship takes a romantic turn.  They’re crazy about each other – even though it takes Miller ages to acknowledge the truth – but they’re good for each other, too, and we’re shown that over and over.

There’s an intriguing sub-plot which I think serves more as a set up for Ghost’s book (which is the third, Rough Trade), in which Church becomes unwittingly caught up with a group of Russian mobsters.  This introduces an element of peril and suspense to the novel, and it’s generally well done, although some parts of it dragged a bit.  I enjoyed the relationship between Church, Tobias and Ghost, and there’s a great supporting cast in Miller’s sister and niece as well.

Loose Cannon is clever, angsty, poignant and beautiful, a compelling read featuring a pair of engaging leads whose flaws make them seem that much more real and whose HEA is hard won and very well deserved.  It’s highly recommended and I’m definitely going to be picking up the other two books as soon as I can.

Hard Pursuit (Delta Force Brotherhood #3) by Sheryl Nantus (audiobook) – Narrated by Rock Engle

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

Trey Pierce has spent years helping the Brotherhood, using his computer skills to dig out secrets and help deliver justice. But there’s one mission he’s yet to finish – finding out who killed his best friend. A chance meeting with Ally Sheldon gives him a new lead, one that comes with some baggage.

Executive Ally Sheldon has to find her wayward brother if she wants to save her company. Pretending like nothing is wrong is getting to her. But when the sexy Trey is assigned to her to help her case, focusing on what’s most important is difficult.

Never in his life has Trey been more attracted to a woman, but she’s hiding something. And that something may just destroy them.

Rating: Narration: B-; Content: C+

Hard Pursuit is book three in the Delta Force Brotherhood series of romantic suspense novels by new-to-me author Sheryl Nantus, and although I haven’t read or listened to the other books, I was perfectly able to follow the story here, so it worked fine as a standalone. However, the series title, the cover, the book blurb, the ex-special forces hero – all of that led me to expect a romantic suspense novel complete with heart-pounding, fast moving action scenes and an intense romance developing under pressure… but that isn’t what I got. Rather, Hard Pursuit is the story of a young woman finally learning to step out of the shadows and start to live for herself, and a man driven by revenge learning to let it go and move on with his life. Neither of those are bad things – it’s just not what I was expecting – and the romantic chemistry between them is lukewarm at best.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

Bishop’s Endgame (Endgame Trilogy #3) by Katie Reus

This title may be purchased from Amazon

He kidnapped a princess to exact revenge.

Set up for a crime he didn’t commit, Ellis Bishop takes the law into his own hands to exact justice and clear his name. Unfortunately, that means he has to kidnap a crime boss’s daughter—a perfect mafia princess, set to become queen of a dirty empire. What he didn’t count on was falling for his mortal enemy’s daughter.

He wasn’t supposed to fall for her.

Arianna hates the man who kidnapped her, but soon she realizes that things aren’t what they seem. Ellis was framed by her stepfather and is trying to clear his name. If she helps him, it means betraying her family. But how can she turn her back on him when he’s innocent… when her stepfather turns out to be a monster she never really knew at all?

Rating: B-

After the rather disappointing Bishop’s Queen, the middle instalment of Katie Reus’ Endgame Trilogy, I confess I was on the fence as to whether I was going to finish the series.  But in the end, I decided to read Bishop’s Endgame because I was still interested in finding out what happened to the third Bishop sibling Ellis, a former DEA agent who went on the run after he was accused of murdering his partner.  The plot is suspenseful and the two leads are engaging and easy to root for, although the romance does move really quickly – which seems par for the course with a lot of romantic suspense these days – but at least the chemistry between them is evident, even if the ILYs feel rushed.

Bishop’s Endgame opens with Ellis witnessing the murder of his friend and colleague at the hands of Vitaly Rodin, a mid-level crime boss in Miami who has set his sights on making his way up to the higher echelons by taking out his boss and taking over his operation.  When Ellis meets with his DEA boss, he shows him the video he took of the murder  – only for his boss to take the phone and try to have him arrested.  Ellis bolts and manages to get away and into hiding; intent on clearing his name, he falls off the grid while he works out what his next step should be…  and who, if anyone, he can trust.

Arianna Stavish, a third-grade teacher, is Vitaly’s stepdaughter, although she has had very little to do with him since the deaths of her mother and stepbrother Max, who died of a drug overdose some years earlier.  Traumatic events in her past drove her to drink, but now, aged twenty-five, she’s been sober for three years and is committed to staying that way.  She’s in her car, about to drive home from an AA meeting one evening when a gun is pressed to her neck and a deep voice orders her to drive – but she’d rather be shot than endure another assault and tries to run.  Her attacker subdues her with chloroform and the next thing she knows she’s waking up in her own bedroom.

Ellis’ investigations into Vitaly have led him to the conclusion that Arianna may be the key to getting the information he wants in order to bring the man down.  He’s discovered a number of offshore bank accounts in Arianna’s name with millions of dollars in them and wants to use her – and the money – to get Vitaly’s attention.  He’s also discovered Vitaly’s plans to release several new – lethal – designer drugs across Miami, and is determined not to let that happen.

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

Love Lettering by Kate Clayborn (audiobook) – Narrated by Nicol Zanzarella

This title may be downloaded from Audible.

Meg Mackworth’s hand-lettering skill has made her famous as the Planner of Park Slope, designing custom journals for her New York City clientele. She has another skill too: reading signs that other people miss. Knowing the upcoming marriage of Reid Sutherland and his gorgeous fiancee was doomed to fail is one thing, but weaving a secret word of warning into their wedding program is another. Meg may have thought no one would spot it, but she hadn’t counted on sharp-eyed, pattern-obsessed Reid….

A year later, Reid has tracked Meg down to find out how she knew that his meticulously planned future was about to implode. But with a looming deadline and a bad case of creative block, Meg doesn’t have time for Reid’s questions – unless he can help her find her missing inspiration. As they gradually open up to each other, both try to ignore a deepening connection between them. But the signs are there – irresistible, indisputable, urging Meg to heed the messages Reid is sending her, before it’s too late….

Rating: Narration – A-; Content: B+

Kate Clayborn arrived on the contemporary romance scene a couple of years ago and made a big splash with her Chance of a Lifetime trilogy which featured three friends who won the lottery. She’s followed up that success with Love Lettering, a gorgeous slow-burn romance featuring a pair of truly likeable characters who, while complete opposites nonetheless complement each other perfectly.

Meg Mackworth has made a name for herself as a calligrapher and hand-letterer, producing beautiful custom-made journals, planners and stationery for the small, boutique paperie owned and run by a friend. But recently, her work has gained a wider audience and she has become something of an internet celebrity; her Instagram “how to” videos get hundreds of thousands of hits, she’s more in demand than ever, and she’s about to move her business to the next level by pitching a new range of designs to a company that will produce and distribute her work far more widely. So things are going well and life is good. Except… it isn’t.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

Parental Guidance (Ice Knights #1) by Avery Flynn (audiobook) – Narrated by Tim Paige

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

It wasn’t me.
It was my team.
But as almost co-captain I raised my hand to fix it.
Never imagined they’d arrange a PR stunt to make me look like Mr. Right to someone my mom picks out on some new dating app.
Then my salvation walks into the restaurant.

Zara Ambrose.

The five-foot-nothing redhead with more freckles than inches that I convinced to go on five dates with me for all the world to see.
She’s got her own reasons for our set up–and her own rules.
But somewhere between the couples’ obstacle course, wrestling matches with her Great Dane, and fights over mashed potatoes, Zara went from means-to-an-end to something so much more.
What happens when you start to fall for the one girl you can’t have…on live TV?

Rating: Narration – B; Content – B-

Having enjoyed Avery Flynn’s Tomboy last year, I wanted to try something else of hers so I picked up Parental Guidance, the first book in her Ice Knights series. We were introduced to the hockey team in Tomboy – that book’s hero, Zach Blackwood, was an Ice Knights’ defenceman – and here, we meet Caleb Stuckey, another Ice Knights player who needs to rehabilitate his public image. A video in which he’s seen NOT shutting down his team-mates when they start talking like a bunch of misogynistic arseholes goes viral, resulting in a chewing out from his coach, the team’s PR manager AND his mother (a famous junior hockey coach) – which is how he ends up agreeing to do something “…to change the narrative and give everyone something else to talk about besides what dickheads you all are. “

That something is a publicity stunt involving the Bramble dating app. The deal? He has to go on five dates with a woman his mum picks out for him; afterwards, he and his mum film a little post-date chat, his date and her mum do the same, and Bramble can use the videos in their publicity. After all, if, after the disastrous video, they can make Caleb dateable, they’ll be able to do the same for anyone. Right?

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

Police Brutality (Hazard and Somerset: A Union of Swords #2) by Gregory Ashe

This title may be purchased from Amazon

For the first time in a long while, Emery Hazard’s life is good. His new business as a private detective is taking off. Things are good at home. He loves his boyfriend, John-Henry Somerset; he loves their daughter. He might even love the new friends they’ve found. There’s only one problem: Somers has been talking about marriage.

When a former colleague, Walter Hoffmeister, comes to Hazard and hires him to look into a series of anonymous death threats, Hazard eagerly jumps on the distraction. Hoffmeister might be a jerk, but he’s a paying jerk, and Hazard isn’t convinced the threats are serious.

Until, that is, Hoffmeister is almost gunned down on Hazard’s doorstep. As Hazard investigates more deeply, he learns that more than one person in Wahredua has a reason to wish Hoffmeister dead. His search takes him to the Ozark Volunteers, reincarnated as the Bright Lights movement, but it also leads him into a sanctuary of radical Christianity. Meanwhile, an antifa activist has arrived in town, calling for Hoffmeister’s death and threatening total war with the Bright Lights.

As Hazard continues to look for answers, he becomes a target too—and not just because he’s helping Hoffmeister. The Keeper of Bees is still at large, and the killer hasn’t lost interest in Emery Hazard. Not yet. Not, Hazard begins to suspect, until the Keeper has taken everything Hazard holds dear.

Rating: A-

I chose The Rational Faculty – the fabulous and compelling first book in Gregory Ashe’s second series of novels featuring detectives Emery Hazard and John-Henry Somerset – as my favourite book of 2019.  I’ve become addicted to the author’s brand of gritty, complex mystery combined with angsty, equally complex romance, and have been eagerly awaiting the next instalment in the Union of Swords series. The events of Police Brutality take place a couple of months after those of the previous book, and as it opens, we find Hazard and Somers a little more settled than they were and enjoying a night in with friends.

In general, things are going well. Hazard and Somers are deeply in love and firmly committed to one another, and they seem to have got past at least some of the bumps that threatened to derail things between them when Hazard became unofficially involved in a case Somers was working, which resulted in a lot of complications for Somers and put a strain on their relationship.  Now, Hazard is getting to grips with opening his own PI firm and Somers is getting used to his new partner – but as is always the case with these two, nothing is plain sailing. Hazard is still struggling to deal with his depression and the PTSD that followed the attack on him and Somers some months earlier, and this, together with the guilt he feels over the recent, gruesome murders of the sheriff’s son and his husband, and his growing suspicion that the killer is – for some as yet unknown reason – targeting him and those around him, is weighing heavily on his mind.  And this being Emery Hazard, ‘weighing heavily’ means ‘obssessing and over-thinking’.

While Somers is assigned to work the case of a trio of young female college students who have been the victims of sexual assault, Hazard is surprised to receive a visit from a former colleague, Walter Hoffmeister, who wants to hire him to find out who is behind the weird and unpleasant things that have been happening to him lately.  Shit in the mail, someone messing around in his house and car, someone following him – and finally a threatening note; his boss, police chief Cravens, isn’t taking any of this seriously, and Hoffmeister is clearly pissed off and pretty freaked out.  Privately, Hazard isn’t sure he believes the threats are serious either – Hoffmeister is brusque, loud-mouthed and obnoxious, and has recently been suspended from duty pending an investigation into an accusation of assault and battery on a suspect, so it’s not surprising he has enemies – but a job is a job, and Hazard agrees to take it on and see what he can find out.

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