The Monuments Men Murders (The Art of Murder #4) by Josh Lanyon (audiobook) – Narrated by Kale Williams

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

Someone is watching. Someone is waiting.

Despite having attracted the attention of a dangerous stalker, Special Agent Jason West is doing his best to keep his mind on his job and off his own troubles.

But his latest case implicates one of the original Monuments Men in the theft and perhaps destruction of part of the world’s cultural heritage – a lost painting by Vermeer. Naval Reserve Lieutenant Commander Emerson Harley wasn’t just a World War 2 hero, he was the grandfather Jason grew up idolizing. In fact, Grandpa Harley was a large part of what inspired Jason to join the FBI’s Art Crime Team.

Learning that his legendary grandfather might have turned a blind eye to American GIs “liberating” priceless art treasures at the end of the war is more than disturbing. It’s devastating.

Jason is determined to clear his grandfather’s name, even if that means breaking a few rules and regulations himself – putting him on a collision course with romantic partner BAU Chief Sam Kennedy.

Meanwhile, someone in the shadows is biding his time…

Rating: Narration: B; Content: B+

Josh Lanyon’s The Art of Murder series has an overarching plotline and the central romance evolves over the course of the books, so it’s advisable to listen to them in order to so as to fully appreciate the progression of both. It also means there will be spoilers for the other titles in this review of The Monuments Men Murders, (book four), so proceed with caution if you haven’t yet read or listened to them.

In book one of the series, The Mermaid Murders, Special Agent Jason West of the FBI Art Crimes Team was temporarily partnered with Senior Special Agent Sam Kennedy – chief of the Behavioural Analysis Unit and something of a legend in the bureau – to work the case of a missing girl. The pair didn’t hit it off, Kennedy plainly unhappy at being partnered up at all, let alone with an art crimes specialist, Jason irritated and angry at Kennedy’s high-handed arrogance. Over the course of the book, the pair began to appreciate each other’s skills and to like each other – and even when they didn’t, they shared an undeniable and intense chemistry that led to a couple of passionate hook-ups. The book ended with their agreeing to get together again when they could which, given their jobs are in distant parts of the country, they knew was unlikely to be often. In the books since, they’ve fallen in love and are pursuing a long-distance relationship, which isn’t easy for a number of reasons, not least of which is the fact that Sam has always been something of a lone wolf; at forty-six he’s at the pinnacle of his career and is – and always has been – utterly dedicated to his job to the exclusion of pretty much all else. Falling for Jason has upset his carefully maintained balance, and he’s found it difficult to come to terms with the fact that he’s finally found something – someone – who means as much, if not more, to him as his job. Jason understands Sam’s commitment, and in fact shares it; he’s every bit as dedicated to his job as Sam is to his, and just as much in love, but he knows he’ll never really come first with Sam and seems continually waiting for him to call a halt to… whatever this thing is between them.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

His to Defend (NOLA Knights #1) by Rhenna Morgan

This title may be purchased from Amazon

His world. His rules. Her love.

Though his methods may be rough, when it comes to protecting what’s his, Russian vor Sergei Petrovyh’s heart is always in the right place. That’s never been more true than when the gorgeous Evette Labadie asks him for a job. He knows enough to keep his hands off someone as beloved by the locals as Evie, but there’s something about her that calls to him—no matter how badly he burns to make her his.

Don’t think Evie hasn’t noticed the powerful Russian mafia boss who makes her favorite diner a regular stop. How can she not? He’s as hot as his reputation is dangerous. But everyone in her struggling New Orleans neighborhood knows he’s the man to turn to. And right now she needs money to get her son out of trouble.

Her other needs—needs she knows damn well Sergei can more than satisfy—will have to wait.

Evie soon finds herself playing Cinderella to a man who, despite what people believe, is definitely more prince than villain. She can’t help falling deeper in love with each passing day. But when a turf war between Sergei and a rival brings violence to her doorstep, Evie must come to grips with loving a man who will do anything to defend her…or walk away from her best chance at a happily-ever-after of her very own.

Rating: C-

I haven’t read a book by Rhenna Morgan before, so when I saw she was starting a new series, I decided that was as good a place as any to jump in and picked up His to Defend – first in her new NOLA Knights series – for review. The novel starts well, introducing and fleshing out the main characters quickly and smoothly, but the bulk of the story moves at a snail’s pace, and while the sex-scenes are steamy and well-written, the romance goes from zero to sixty so fast I was in danger of whiplash.

Single mother Evie Labadie has been dismissed from her cleaning job, and needs to find another job quickly if she’s going to be able to scrape together the money for her seven-year-old’s school fees. Entering the diner owned and run by her oldest friend (where her son Emerson waits for her after school), Evie notices – not for the first time – the large, charismatic and very handsome man sitting quietly in a booth at the back – and decides this might finally be the time to ask for his help.

Sergei Petrovyh is Russian Bratva and everyone around there knows it. Since moving to New Orleans, he’s been slowly helping the community, ridding the streets of the scum who prey on the locals, intent on earning their loyalty by protecting them when they can’t protect themselves – all with the aim of controlling the majority of the enterprise in the area and wiping out the competition. He’s known to be ruthless but fair, trading in favours and quid pro quo – and hasn’t missed the way Evie, the neighbourhood darling, always looks at him whenever she sees him at the diner. He likes the boldness of her unabashed perusals, the way her gaze challenges him – but has never pursued her, knowing the respect he is working to earn within the community would take a serious hit were he to mess around with her. He’s surprised – and pleased – when Evie approaches him to ask for his help getting a new job, and decides on the spot that helping her is the perfect way to further his plans to ingratiate himself with the community; everybody knows and loves Evie, so helping her helps him, too.

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

The Affair of the Mysterious Letter by Alexis Hall (audiobook) – Narrated by Nicholas Boulton

This audiobook may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

Upon returning to the city of Khelathra-Ven after five years fighting a war in another universe, Captain John Wyndham finds himself looking for somewhere to live, and expediency forces him to take lodgings at 221b Martyrs Walk. His new housemate is Miss Shaharazad Haas, a consulting sorceress of mercurial temperament and dark reputation.

When Miss Haas is enlisted to solve a case of blackmail against one of her former lovers, Miss Eirene Viola, Captain Wyndham finds himself drawn into a mystery that leads him from the salons of the literary set to the drowned back-alleys of Ven and even to a prison cell in lost Carcosa. Along the way he is beset by criminals, menaced by pirates, molested by vampires, almost devoured by mad gods, and called upon to punch a shark.

But the further the companions go in pursuit of the elusive blackmailer, the more impossible the case appears. Then again, in Khelathra-Ven reality is flexible, and the impossible is Miss Haas’ stock-in-trade.

Rating: Narration: A+; Content: B+

The Affair of the Mysterious Letter is one of those books that defies categorisation. Part sci-fi/fantasy, part paranormal, part mystery, it’s what might have resulted had Sir Arthur Conan Doyle got drunk one night in company with Douglas Adams and Terry Pratchett – slightly bonkers, devastatingly witty and wholly entertaining – and I was utterly captivated by all ten-and-a-half hours of it. Alexis Hall is a supremely talented wordsmith, and if I were to give examples of all the turns of phrase that had me grinning like an idiot – hand-curated whelks, anyone? – laughing out loud or simply marvelling at the elegance of the prose or the precision of the well-aimed barbs, I’d be here all day. So to spare you that, I’ll do my best to encapsulate this wonderfully weird story in a thousand words or thereabouts.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

TBR Challenge: Widdershins (Whyborne & Griffin #1) by Jordan L. Hawk

This title may be purchased from Amazon

A reclusive scholar. A private detective. And a book of spells that could destroy the world.

Love is dangerous. Ever since the tragic death of the friend he adored, Percival Endicott Whyborne has ruthlessly suppressed any desire for another man. Instead, he spends his days studying dead languages at the museum where he works. So when handsome ex-Pinkerton Griffin Flaherty approaches him to translate a mysterious book, Whyborne wants to finish the job and get rid of the detective as quickly as possible.

Griffin left the Pinkertons after the death of his partner. Now in business for himself, he must investigate the murder of a wealthy young man. His only clue: an encrypted book that once belonged to the victim.

As the investigation draws them closer, Griffin’s rakish charm threatens to shatter Whyborne’s iron control. But when they uncover evidence of a powerful cult determined to rule the world, Whyborne must choose: to remain safely alone, or to risk everything for the man he loves.

Rating: B

Like so many of the books I end up reading for the TBR Challenge each year, Jordan L. Hawk’s paranormal/romantic suspense Whyborne & Griffin series is one I’ve been meaning to read for AGES, so this prompt was just what I needed to galvanise me into reading book one, Widdershins.

Percival Endicott Whyborne comes from a very wealthy family – his father is a railroad baron – but didn’t want to go into the business (as his older brother did) and is thus somewhat estranged from his family.  His mother has been unwell for years and he doesn’t get on with his father, who disapproves of his choice to dedicate himself to comparative philology (Whyborne is fluent in thirteen languages and can read more,) scholarship and a job in the Department of Antiquities at the Ladysmith Museum in Widdershins, Massachusetts.  He keeps himself very much to himself, never really having got the hang of social interaction, and ruthlessly suppresses his attraction to men,  still haunted by thoughts of the first boy he ever loved and blaming himself for his tragic death.  He has only one real friend, Dr. Christine Putnam, a fiercely intelligent, independently minded archaeologist who won’t let him hide himself away all the time, and who, it must be said, has some of the best lines in the book:

“I will not surrender my profession simply because men throughout history have been unduly enamored of their penises!“

(this said in response to a male colleague seeking to prevent her looking at a papyrus fragment depicting a fellow “… in rather an excited state.” )

The appearance of ex-Pinkerton detective Griffin Flaherty at the museum upsets Whyborne’s carefully maintained equilibrium.  Flaherty been asked to investigate the death of Philip Rice, son of the museum’s director who, the day before he died, sent a small, leather-bound book to his father which Griffin has brought to the museum – specifically to Whyborne – to have translated in order to see if its contents have any bearing on Philip’s death.  Although Whyborne is supposed to be working on deciphering some ancient scrolls which are due to be displayed in an upcoming exhibition, he agrees, wanting nothing more than to get the translation done and get rid of the handsome, too-friendly detective who is far too tempting for his peace of mind.

Whyborne’s efforts quickly reveal the book to be an Arcanorum, a book of arcane spells and alchemical treatises which details many occult rituals, not least of which is one able to bring back the dead.  As strange things start happening – from grave robbing to the appearance of mysterious and terrifying beasts, to break-ins at the museum  and the discovery of a powerful and ancient cult – Whyborne and Griffin are drawn into an investigation that will test them both to the limit and force them both to confront some of their darkest fears.

I enjoyed the story, which is immensely readable and entertaining, and I really liked the two central characters, reclusive, gawky Whyborne, and the more outgoing Griffin, whose handsome, charming exterior hides insecurities and emotional damage of his own.  While the story is related entirely from Whyborne’s PoV, the author does a terrific job of showing us Griffin through his eyes, although of course, Whyborne fails to notice the other man’s interest in him because he’s become so used to believing himself to be dull, awkward and unattractive.  But Griffin is smitten from the start; he obviously finds Whyborne’s shyness endearing and is also able to see beyond the bumbling scholar to the courageous, brilliant man beneath, his feelings made clear by the way he treats Whyborne with the sort of courtesy and respect he has never received from anyone before.

Their relationship starts as a slow, smouldering burn, with lots of longing looks and glancing touches, but after that, it moves fairly quickly – perhaps just a little bit too quickly – from that initial frisson to emotional commitment.  As this is the first book in a long running series (the eleventh and final book has just been published), the author could have perhaps taken a little more time to get them to the the ILYs.  I liked them as a couple and liked the way they come to know each other and talk about their pasts; the romance is both sweet and sexy as Griffin gradually coaxes Whyborne from his shell and Whyborne starts to allow someone beyond the emotional walls he’s so carefully constructed.  I just would have liked there to have been a little more time spent building an emotional connection between that initial slow burn and the declarations.  Delayed gratification and all that 😉

The plot, with its Lovecraftian influences and overtones, is a mix of suspense and supernatural horror, full of scary monsters, spooky goings-on (and a fair few “eeew!” moments) and a charismatic though creepy AF villain. The story is well-paced, with plenty of action interspersed among the more intimate and introspective moments, and moves inexorably towards a high-stakes climax which, while perhaps a tad predictable is nonetheless exciting.

In spite of my reservations about the romance and some aspects of the plot, I enjoyed Widdershins and am looking forward to reading the rest of the series.

Declination (Borealis Investigations #3) by Gregory Ashe

This title may be purchased from Amazon

Shaw and North are together. Finally. After eight years of knowing each other and loving each other and slipping past each other, they’ve finally told each other how they feel. Borealis Investigations is growing, and they have a major prospective client on the line. Everything is finally moving the way it should.

Until the night Shaw receives a phone call telling him that Detective Jadon Reck, his former boyfriend, has been attacked.

At the request of Jadon’s partner, Shaw and North begin an investigation into the attack. But nothing is at it seems. City police are working to cover up evidence faster than Shaw and North can find it, and the motive for the attack seems impossible to unravel.

When a conspiracy of dirty cops takes action against Shaw and North, the two detectives realize they are running out of time. They have to get answers about the attack on Jadon before they lose their own lives. But Shaw knows there are things worse than death. And one of them has come back for him, to finish what he started seven years before.

The West End Slasher has returned.

Rating: A-

Note: This is a series featuring overarching plotlines so there will be spoilers for the previous books in this review.

I’ve been eagerly awaiting the release of Declination, the third book in Gregory Ashe’s terrific Borealis Investigations series featuring private investigators North McKinney and Shaw Aldrich. While these stories are predominantly mysteries, there’s a strong romantic thread running through them, too; and although the main mystery plots in each of the previous books has been tied up by the end, there are overarching storylines running throughout all three novels in the set which mean that they really should be read in order so as to fully understand the nature of the relationship between the two leads and the important backstory which underpins the plot.

North and Shaw are best friends as well as business partners, and they share a complicated and troubled history.  We’ve watched them yearn for each other, burn up the pages with unresolved sexual tension and deliberately avoid talking about their feelings for one another for two books, but that changed at the end of the last one, and when Declination opens, North and Shaw are – at last – a couple.  Things are far from ideal however, as Shaw continues to suffer the anxiety and panic attacks during sex which started following his involvement with a duplicitous client who tried to kill him.  Shaw has wanted North so badly for so long that he fears losing him should the other man ever work out just how messed up he is, so Shaw is trying to deal with his issues on his own while desperately trying to prevent North from finding out the truth.

The main plot thread that has run through the series concerns the identity of the West End Slasher, the serial killer who, eight years earlier, killed Shaw’s boyfriend in a vicious attack that also left Shaw critically injured.  Shaw has long been convinced that the wrong man was imprisoned for the Slasher’s crimes, and at the end of Orientation (book one), he came into possession of a video clip that gave him his first real lead in tracking down the actual murderer. When the supposed Slasher was killed in prison the day before Shaw was due to visit him, and when, during their last investigation, he and North kept running up against members of the St. Louis PD’s LGBT task force who were obviously hiding something and wanted to get North and Shaw out of the way, Shaw became even more convinced of the existence of a police cover-up.  And at the end of Triangulation, North and Shaw were sent a message that was an unmistakable threat.  Detective Jadon Reck, Shaw’s ex, arrived on their doorstep, beaten and bloody, with a photograph of North pinned to his jacket and the words “he’s next” carved into his chest.

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

The Art of Theft (Lady Sherlock #4) by Sherry Thomas

This title may be purchased from Amazon.

As “Sherlock Holmes, consulting detective,” Charlotte Holmes has solved murders and found missing individuals. But she has never stolen a priceless artwork—or rather, made away with the secrets hidden behind a much-coveted canvas.

But Mrs. Watson is desperate to help her old friend recover those secrets and Charlotte finds herself involved in a fever-paced scheme to infiltrate a glamorous Yuletide ball where the painting is one handshake away from being sold and the secrets a bare breath from exposure.

Her dear friend Lord Ingram, her sister Livia, Livia’s admirer Stephen Marbleton—everyone pitches in to help and everyone has a grand time. But nothing about this adventure is what it seems and disaster is biding time on the grounds of a glittering French chateau, waiting only for Charlotte to make a single mistake…

Rating: A-

The Art of Theft is the eagerly awaited fourth book in Sherry Thomas’ superb series of historical mysteries starring Charlotte Holmes, a most unusual young woman whose keen, logical mind and incredible deductive skills would have been completely disregarded in Victorian England had she not invented the infirm but brilliant brother Sherlock who is – in name only of course – the greatest detective the nation has ever seen.  While each book in the series has a central mystery that is solved by the end, there are a number of overarching plot-threads and recurring characters which mean it’s probably not the best idea to pick up The Art of Theft without having read the other novels in the series; readers will get much more out of the wonderfully intricate characterisation and the various relationships between the characters by starting at the beginning with book one, A Study in Scarlet Women.   Because of the way the books are interlinked, there will be spoilers for the rest of the series in this review.

The aftermath of the tumultuous events of The Hollow of Fear sees Lord Ingram Ashburton in the country looking after his children, Mrs. Watson in Paris with her niece, Miss Olivia Holmes nearing the completion of her Sherlock Holmes story, and Miss Charlotte Holmes helping to settle her eldest sister, Bernadette, whom she removed from a home, into her new surroundings.  It’s a brief period of quiet that is broken when Charlotte receives a request for help from someone identifying  themselves only as A Traveler from Distant Lands.

Deciding she needs a distraction – from caring for her sister and from pondering the shifting nature of her relationship with her long-time friend (and now, former lover) Lord Ingram – Charlotte arranges to meet this traveler, correctly assuming the request for help to have come from a woman in need.  Her visitor proves to be none other than an Indian maharani, who also turns out to be the first client ever to decline to use Sherlock Holmes’ services.  Charlotte immediately deduces that this is because the maharani needs someone who is able to do more than investigate; and her supposition is borne out not long afterwards when she and Mrs. Watson – who has confessed to Charlotte that she and the maharani had been lovers once upon a time – visit the maharani at her hotel to offer their assistance.

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

It Takes Two to Tumble (Seducing the Sedgwicks #1) by Cat Sebastian (audiobook) – Narrated by Joel Leslie

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon.

Some of Ben Sedgwick’s favorite things:

  • Helping his poor parishioners
  • Baby animals
  • Shamelessly flirting with the handsome Captain Phillip Dacre

After an unconventional upbringing, Ben is perfectly content with the quiet, predictable life of a country vicar, free of strife or turmoil. When he’s asked to look after an absent naval captain’s three wild children, he reluctantly agrees, but instantly falls for the hellions. And when their stern but gloriously handsome father arrives, Ben is tempted in ways that make him doubt everything.

Some of Phillip Dacre’s favorite things:

  • His ship
  • People doing precisely as they’re told
  • Touching the irresistible vicar at every opportunity

Phillip can’t wait to leave England’s shores and be back on his ship, away from the grief that haunts him. But his children have driven off a succession of governesses and tutors and he must set things right. The unexpected presence of the cheerful, adorable vicar sets his world on its head and now he can’t seem to live without Ben’s winning smiles or devastating kisses.

In the midst of runaway children, a plot to blackmail Ben’s family, and torturous nights of pleasure, Ben and Phillip must decide if a safe life is worth losing the one thing that makes them come alive.

Rating: Narration: A-; Content: B

I enjoyed reading Cat Sebastian’s It Takes Two to Tumble when it was published back in 2017, so naturally, I was pleased to see it make its way into audio with the always reliable Joel Leslie at the helm. It’s the first book in the Seducing the Sedgwicks series about a group of siblings who had a very unconventional upbringing in a household comprising their father – a poet and advocate of free love – his wife and his mistress and various hangers-on. Things were fairly chaotic; the Sedgwick offspring had mostly to fend for themselves and as they grew to adulthood, the eldest, Benedict, shouldered the responsibility for looking out for his brothers. It’s an engaging story in which the parallels with The Sound of Music are impossible to miss (country-vicar-meets-grouchy-sea-captain-with-unruly-children) in spite of the absence of Dame Julie Andrews and ‘Do, Re, Mi’!

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.