Spellbound (Magic in Manhattan #1) by Allie Therin

This title may be purchased from Amazon

To save Manhattan, they’ll have to save each other first…

1925

New York

Arthur Kenzie’s life’s work is protecting the world from the supernatural relics that could destroy it. When an amulet with the power to control the tides is shipped to New York, he must intercept it before it can be used to devastating effects. This time, in order to succeed, he needs a powerful psychometric…and the only one available has sworn off his abilities altogether.

Rory Brodigan’s gift comes with great risk. To protect himself, he’s become a recluse, redirecting his magic to find counterfeit antiques. But with the city’s fate hanging in the balance, he can’t force himself to say no.

Being with Arthur is dangerous, but Rory’s ever-growing attraction to him begins to make him brave. And as Arthur coaxes him out of seclusion, a magical and emotional bond begins to form. One that proves impossible to break—even when Arthur sacrifices himself to keep Rory safe and Rory must risk everything to save him.

To save Manhattan, they’ll have to save each other first…

Rating: B

The synopsis for Allie Therin’s début novel  Spellbound caught my attention immediately.  Supernatural relics, powerful psychics, romance, magic and an unusual setting -1920s Manhattan – it all looked like a recipe for a great read, and for the most part, it was.  The story pulled me in right away, I was impressed by the worldbuilding, the plot is intriguing, I liked the characters, and the setting is vividly described; pretty much everything about the book works, although I had a few issues with the central romance.

Twenty-year-old Rory Brodigan is a psychometrist, possessing a unique talent that allows him to touch an object and discover its history.  More accurately, the object pulls his mind into its history and there is often a very real possibility that it may never be able to return to the present.  Feeling himself to be something of a freak – and following a scrying that went badly wrong – he’s become something of a recluse and lives with his aunt, an antiques dealer in Hell’s Kitchen in New York City.  Thanks to Rory’s talent – which they are careful to keep secret – she has built a reputation for being able to distinguish real artefacts from fake ones, which is what brings congressmen’s son Arthur  Kenzie to her shop with a rush job he’s prepared to pay handsomely for.

A veteran of WW1, Arthur is the scion of an incredibly wealthy, well-connected, New York family.  He’s handsome, well-educated, sophisticated – and lonely, taking pains to keep his relationships casual, infrequent and usually outside the US.  During his wartime service, he learned of the existence of magic courtesy of two of his closest friends – both of whom he saw die horribly – and although he doesn’t possess a scrap of magic of his own, he’s dedicated himself to protecting the world from supernatural relics that could destroy it.  He’s received word that an extremely dangerous and powerful artefact is on its way to New York, possibly into the hands of a fearsome enemy; and with it due to arrive any day, he’s racing against time to find someone with the necessary talent to be able to help him and his small band of allies to find it.  Having heard of someone in Hell’s Kitchen who has been uncannily accurate in discerning the provenance of various items, he prepares a test – a set of skilfully forged letters that he says he needs authenticated straight away – and takes them to Mrs. Brodigan’s shop.

When – unimpressed – she meets with Arthur the next morning to give him the news – all the letters are fakes – he explains he wasn’t wasting her time, but was instead assessing her suitability for another, much bigger job.  He gives her a case containing a relic packed inside a secure, lead-lined box, a ring that has defeated his associates’ attempts to assess its power or purpose  – but before he can explain, he’s called away, and leaves her with instructions not to open the box until he arrives at the shop so they can discuss it further.   It’s this relic – a ring that can control the wind – that ultimately reveals the truth to Arthur and brings him and Rory together.  Unable to resist taking a look inside the case – wondering what the rich arsehole who brought them a bunch of fake letters could possibly want this time – Rory opens the ring box, touches the relic, and is immediately pulled into a vision from which he very nearly doesn’t make it back.  Livid, he telephones Arthur Kenzie to tell him where he can stick his ring, and Arthur, realising the ring box has been opened, rushes to the shop to find out what’s going on.  Realising eventually that Rory is the psychometric, Arthur and his closest friends and allies – Jade, a telekinetic and Zhang, an astral walker – band together to protect him and his unique gift from those who would abuse it.

Rory, however, doesn’t want anything to do with them.  He’s rude and abrasive and mistrustful; life has taught him that’s the only way to stay safe, and when we learn more of his past, it makes perfect sense that he would be slow to trust – and fortunately for him, Arthur and his friends aren’t going to give up on him that easily.  He pushes them away – or tries to – at almost every opportunity, even as his attraction to the handsome and urbane Arthur grows stronger.

The story is well conceived and well executed, and the author does a fabulous job of integrating the prohibition era setting and the details of her secret magical world into it.  I enjoyed learning about the existence of relics and their power, of the use of magic for good and evil and of the prejudices facing supernatural beings in the society in which they live.  The main secondary characters are easily as interesting as the leads; Arthur’s principal allies Jade and Zhang are well-developed characters whose presence is integral to the suspense plot.  The first part of the book was a five-star read, easily, and I flew through it, eagerly immersing myself in the world Ms. Therin has created.  But somehow, the second half of the book didn’t quite live up to the first.  The plot – in which Arthur faces a devastating betrayal at the same time as he, Rory, and their allies must race to save Manhattan from spectacular destruction – is tense and exciting, but the villains were somewhat underdeveloped.  I also had a problem with the romance, because try as I might, I found it difficult to see what the gorgeous, sophisticated and world-weary Arthur saw in Rory who, while only eight years younger than him (Arthur is twenty-eight) often acts more like someone in his mid-teens than a young man of twenty.  I understood Rory’s prickly nature – his backstory is heartbreaking – and I understood Arthur’s natural instinct to protect; they do have chemistry, but Rory’s brattish behaviour goes on too long, and when he does eventually drop it, the couple goes from zero-to-sixty in the blink of an eye.  This is a series, so there was no real need for things to progress quite so quickly – and the book’s single sex scene is all build-up and then fades to black, which is a missed opportunity for relationship development.  When done properly, intimate scenes are an excellent way of showing the connection between characters, something which was sorely needed here given Rory’s trust issues and the way he treats Arthur for the first part of the book.

Despite those reservations however, Spellbound was an impressive début and a truly enjoyable read.  I liked the found-family quality of Arthur’s relationships with Jade and Zhang, and Rory’s with Mrs. Brodigan (who turns out to be a bit of a badass in her own right!), and the diversity of the cast, which felt right for the location and time period, was another big plus.  The book ends with a firm HFN for Arthur and Rory, and a clear indication that there’s more to come, so I’ll definitely be picking up book two when it comes out next year.

Proper English by K.J. Charles

This title may be purchased from Amazon

A shooting party at the Earl of Witton’s remote country house is a high treat for champion shot Patricia Merton—until unexpected guests turn the social atmosphere dangerously sour.

That’s not Pat’s biggest problem. She’s visiting her old friend, the Earl’s heir Jimmy Yoxall—but she wants to spend a lot more time with Jimmy’s fiancée. The irrepressible Miss Fenella Carruth, with her laughing eyes and lush curves, is the most glorious woman Pat’s ever met, and it quickly becomes impossible to remember why she needs to stay at arm’s length.

But while the women’s attraction grows, the tensions at Rodington Court get worse. Affairs, secrets, betrayals, and blackmail come to light. And when a body is discovered with a knife between the shoulderblades, it’s going to take Pat and Fen’s combined talents to prevent the murderer destroying all their lives.

Rating: B+

K.J. Charles’ latest book is a companion piece to Think of England, in which readers were first introduced to Pat Morton and Fenella (Fen) Carruth, a pair of formidable ladies who seem already to be rather adept at solving mysteries. Proper English takes place a couple of years before those events, and is their origin story, if you will.  It’s a witty, sharply observed, sweetly romantic and clever country house murder-mystery; in short, everything you’d expect from K.J. Charles (including the dead body.  Maybe especially the dead body!)

Patricia Merton is at a bit of a crossroads in her life.  The youngest of five children – with four older brothers – her father never subscribed to the idea that girls couldn’t and shouldn’t do the things boys did, and he’s grown up to be a confident, competent young woman who knows who she is and makes no apologies for being different to the average eyelash-fluttering, simpering miss.  She’s spent much of her adult life running her older brother’s household, but he’s recently married, and Pat knows continuing to live under the same roof would be a recipe for disaster.  So she’s taking some time to think about what she wants to do next, and is travelling to attend a small shooting party in the north of England, looking forward to spending time with her brother Bill, her old friend, Jimmy, and a few other gentlemen.  She’s a champion shot –the All England Ladies’ Champion in fact – and is pleased to be spending a few days where she can be as mannish as she likes and nobody will care.

But when Bill meets her at the station, she’s disappointed to discover that her plans for a few days shooting with the chaps have been upended because Jimmy’s new fiancée, Miss Fenella Caruth (daughter of a wealthy industrialist) is present, as are Jimmy’s sister and her loathesome husband, his parents, the Earl and Countess of Witton and a handful of other guests. Pat’s enthusiasm for the houseparty wanes; until later that evening she makes the acquaintance of Jimmy’s fiancée, who is quite the loveliest woman Pat has ever seen.

At first, she appears to be just the sort of fluffy, frivolous young woman Pat usually avoids at all cost, but when, the next day, they get to spend a bit of time together (Pat is teaching her to shoot), Pat begins to realise that Fen is more than she appears, and that beneath the polished exterior is a woman who longs to be taken seriously and seen for more than her pretty face (and enormous fortune).

It’s not long before Pat and Fen realise there’s something more than friendship growing between them, but their delight at having found, in each other, someone who really sees them for who they are, has to be put on hold when one of the party is found dead, an ornamental knife buried in his back, and a dreadful storm both confines them all to the house and prevents the immediate attendance of the local police.

Proper English is a proper English romp of a story that combines a Christie-esque country house murder mystery, a tender, sensual romance and a healthy dose of social comment that’s never dry or overdone.

Pat and Fen are opposites in many ways; Pat is pragmatic, no-nonsense and outdoorsy, shrewd, self-possessed and non-judgmental, while Fen has been brought up to be little more than an ornament to a man.  There’s a wonderful moment in the book when she expresses her frustration at the way young women like her are brought up to act helpless and brainless while being simultaneously mocked and despised for displaying the very qualities thought so important in a young lady who wants to attract a husband.  Fen is a natural care-taker and will go out of her way to make other people feel comfortable, even when that effort isn’t reciprocated, while Pat is less inclined to care what people think of her, but is sufficiently intuitive that she doesn’t stomp all over other people’s feelings while going her own way. She and Fen fit together so beautifully, both of them yearning for someone with whom they can really be themselves, and the way they discover each other and the true women behind their facades is superbly done and wonderful to read.

The mystery plot – while not as high-stakes as the one in Think of England – is nonetheless well thought-out, as we learn, along with Pat, that Bill is investigating some financial irregularities that seem to point the finger at the Earl. Ms. Charles keeps this happily bubbling along in the background until she’s ready to bring it front and centre, and it’s classic stuff; a group of disparate individuals with secrets to hide, agendas to pursue, and oodles of mounting tension, a truly nasty villain (who of course gets his just desserts) and our wily, amateur sleuths.

Pat and Fen are great characters – I liked them in Think of England, and liked them even more here – their romance is lovely, the secondary cast is nicely fleshed-out, and it will come as no surprise to anyone familiar with the author when I say that the sense of time and place she instils into the story is impeccable.  Proper English is a delight from start to finish and highly recommended.

 

The Glass Ocean by Beatriz Williams, Lauren Willig & Karen White (audiobook) – Narrated by Brittany Pressley, Vanessa Johansson & Saskia Maarleveld

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon.

May 2013

Her finances are in dire straits, and best-selling author Sarah Blake is struggling to find a big idea for her next book. Desperate, she breaks the one promise she made to her Alzheimer’s-stricken mother and opens an old chest that belonged to her great-grandfather, who died when the RMS Lusitania was sunk by a German U-boat in 1915. What she discovers there could change history.

Sarah embarks on an ambitious journey to England to enlist the help of John Langford, a recently disgraced member of parliament whose family archives might contain the only key to the long-ago catastrophe….

April 1915

Southern belle Caroline Telfair Hochstetter’s marriage is in crisis. Her formerly attentive industrialist husband, Gilbert, has become remote, preoccupied with business…and something else on which she can’t quite put a finger. She’s hoping a trip to London in Lusitania’s lavish first-class accommodations will help them reconnect – but she can’t ignore the spark she feels for her old friend, Robert Langford, who turns out to be on the same voyage. Feeling restless and longing for a different existence, Caroline is determined to stop being a bystander and take charge of her own life….

Tessa Fairweather is traveling second-class on the Lusitania, returning home to Devon. Or at least, that’s her story. Tessa has never left the US, and her English accent is a hasty fake. She’s really Tennessee Schaff, the daughter of a roving con man, and she can steal and forge just about anything. But she’s had enough. Her partner has promised that if they can pull off this one last heist aboard the Lusitania, they’ll finally leave the game behind. Tess desperately wants to believe that, but Tess has the uneasy feeling there’s something about this job that isn’t as it seems….

As the Lusitania steams toward its fate, three women work against time to unravel a plot that will change the course of their own lives…and history itself.

Rating: Narration – B+ : Content – B

Three authors, three main characters, three narrators; The Glass Ocean is a dual timeline story from the pens of the 3Ws – Williams, Willig and White – that weaves together interconnecting stories featuring three very different woman in two different time-periods almost a century apart. I have no idea which author penned which character – and apparently it’s a very closely guarded secret – but the narration is clearly assigned, with Vanessa Johansson reading the chapters told by Sarah Blake, and Brittany Pressley and Saska Maarleveld reading those from the points of view of Caroline Hochstetter and Tess Schaff respectively.

Five years earlier, Sarah Blake wrote a very successful book about the mid-nineteenth century Irish Potato Famine. For a year she was feted, interviewed, sought after for book signings and events… but when inspiration for a follow-up book failed to arrive, she more or less fell off the radar, and now, even her agent hardly ever calls her. She’s struggling – both creatively and financially – and in desperation, turns to an old family heirloom, breaking her promise to her Alzheimer-stricken mother and opening the chest that belonged to her great-grandfather, who died when the RMS Lusitania was torpedoed by a German U-Boat in 1915. What she finds there leads her to travel to England to request access to the archives of the Langford family in the hope that the documents contained within it will help her to find answers to the questions raised by her great-grandfather’s papers. The problem is that getting permission to view the Langford family’s documents is going to be difficult. John Langford MP has recently become unwillingly entangled in a scandal involving his ex-wife and is lying low in an attempt to dodge the paparazzi stalking him, so Sarah is going to have to approach him carefully – and probably using subterfuge – if she’s to stand any chance of getting him to agree to her request.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

Spectred Isle (Green Men #1) by K.J. Charles (audiobook) – Narrated by Ruairi Carter

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

Archaeologist Saul Lazenby has been all but unemployable since his disgrace during the War. Now he scrapes a living working for a rich eccentric who believes in magic. Saul knows it’s a lot of nonsense…except that he begins to find himself in increasingly strange and frightening situations. And at every turn he runs into the sardonic, mysterious Randolph Glyde.

Randolph is the last of an ancient line of arcanists, commanding deep secrets and extraordinary powers as he struggles to fulfill his family duties in a war-torn world. He knows there’s something odd going on with the haunted-looking man who keeps turning up in all the wrong places. The only question for Randolph is whether Saul is victim or villain.

Saul hasn’t trusted anyone in a long time. But as the supernatural threat grows, along with the desire between them, he’ll need to believe in evasive, enraging, devastatingly attractive Randolph. Because he may be the only man who can save Saul’s life – or his soul.

Rating: Narration – B- : Content – A-

Spectred Isle was one of my favourite books of 2017 and I’ve been eagerly looking forward to experiencing it again in audio format. The story is a captivating romantic adventure yarn set in England in 1923, wherein a small group of arcanists and ghost-hunters are England’s last line of defence against supernatural threat. Ms. Charles’ makes wonderful use of folklore, ancient myth and magical rites as she sets about pulling readers and listeners into the world she has created, one in which a war as terrible as the one being fought between 1914 and 1918 by men and machines was fought concurrently by forces of the occult.

The War Beneath, as that war is known amongst those who took part in it, was every bit as savage as the one going on in the trenches of Northern France, possibly moreso, as the opposing governments recruited as many occultists and arcanists as they could and set them to unleashing their very specialised form of warfare on the enemy. With both sides fairly evenly matched, the veil between the supernatural and the human worlds was irrevocably damaged; and with so many of the combatants dead, it now falls to just a handful of men and women to track down and repel the various creatures and malignant entities that are passing through the veil with increasing frequency.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

Treacherous is the Night (Verity Kent #2) by Anna Lee Huber

This title may be purchased from Amazon

It’s not that Verity Kent doesn’t sympathize with those eager to make contact with lost loved ones. After all, she once believed herself a war widow. But now that she’s discovered Sidney is very much alive, Verity is having enough trouble connecting with her estranged husband, never mind the dead. Still, at a friend’s behest, Verity attends a séance, where she encounters the man who still looms between her and Sidney—and a medium who channels a woman Verity once worked with in the Secret Service. Refusing to believe her former fellow spy is dead, Verity is determined to uncover the source of the spiritualist’s top secret revelation.

Then the medium is murdered—and Verity’s investigation is suddenly thwarted. Even Secret Service agents she once trusted turn their backs on her. Undaunted, Verity heads to war-torn Belgium, with Sidney by her side. But as they draw ever closer to the danger, Verity wonders if she’s about to learn the true meaning of till death do us part . . .

Rating: B+

Treacherous is the Night is the second book in Anna Lee Huber’s latest series of post-WW1 historical mysteries featuring former secret service agent Verity Kent.  The events of this story unfold just a few weeks after those of the previous book, This Side of Murder, and if you’ve not read that, look away now, because there is a massive spoiler for the twist in that story in the next paragraph of this review.

For fifteen months, Verity believed herself to be a widow, the husband she’d married on the eve of the war having been killed in action in 1918. But during her investigation into the murders of some of Sidney’s former comrades, she made a game-changing discovery; namely that Sidney wasn’t dead at all, but had allowed everyone to believe him to be while he pursued an investigation of his own to uncover the identity of the traitor among the officers of his battalion.

After Sidney finally revealed the truth, Verity was – and still is – is a mass of conflicting emotions; relief that he isn’t dead; fury that he’d allowed her to mourn for so many months; guilt at some of things she’d kept from him during their brief reunions during the war –and their relationship is still in a state of flux when we rejoin them at the beginning of Treacherous is the Night.  They have decided to work at their marriage to see if they can make a go of it, but it’s not going to be easy for either of them.

The story opens when Verity’s good friend and former War Office colleague, Daphne Merrick, asks Verity to attend a séance with her.  Spiritualism saw a huge increase in popularity after the First World War as devastated relatives and friends of the fallen sought comfort in the idea of being able to speak to their loved ones one last time.  Verity is sceptical of the whole thing – even more so after a cruel trick that was played on her at the house party she attended in the previous book – but she knows Daphne is desperate to contact her brother, Gil, who lost his life in the early days of the war, and reluctantly agrees to accompany Daphne to the session at Madame Zozza’s.

When they arrive, Verity is surprised to see Max Westfield, the Earl of Ryde also in attendance.  They exchange friendly greetings during which Verity recalls their unexplored – interrupted – burgeoning attraction, and then Max goes on to explain that he has accompanied his aunt, Lady Swaffham to the séance.  When the proceedings get underway, things go mostly as Verity had expected – until the medium greets Verity – “ma compatriote, where are you?”- and tells her that she is the spirit of Emilie, a spy and courier with whom Verity had worked on several occasions on her various missions into France and Belgium during the war.

 

Verity is flabbergasted and furious at the medium’s audacity at using both Emilie and her own past as part of a cheap trick, but is determined to find out exactly why the woman should have pretended to channel Emilie in order to deliver a cryptic message – “Beware the man hiding behind the mask.”  But Madame Zozza’s assistant whisks her away before Verity can approach her, so Verity determines to pay the woman a visit the following morning to find out what she knows.  But that proves impossible; she and Sidney arrive in time to witness her house going up in flames, and learn that Madame Zozza perished in the fire.

There’s nothing for it now but for Verity to look into the matter herself – and she can’t deny that she’s been looking for a way to avoid having to think too hard about the state of her marriage and the ways in which both she and Sidney have become different people – people who might no longer be capable of sustaining a relationship. She needs to find Emilie and answers to the numerous questions the medium’s ‘summoning’ has posed, and in order to do that, she must return to Flanders and track down the members of La Dame Blanche, the network of intelligence gatherers and couriers of which Emilie was a member.

Ms. Huber very skilfully balances the novel’s plot – the uncovering of a deadly scheme for revenge as Verity and Sidney search for Emilie – with the gradual peeling away of the various layers of self-protection that Verity and Sidney have erected around their emotions and the exploration and development of their relationship . They’re different people now, they’ve experienced hardship, danger and the horrors of war in different ways, and they’re cagy and reluctant to reveal the extent of their sorrow, anger, doubt and broken-ness to one another.  Verity is keeping a particularly guilty secret (which has been alluded to before) and is also unsure of how her husband will react when he learns the true extent of her work as an agent for the secret service.  Will he be appalled that his little wife wasn’t home sitting quietly by the fire knitting socks?  Will he ever be able to accept that she’s no longer the starry-eyed young woman he married?

Because the story is told through Verity’s eyes, we never get inside Sidney’s head, but Ms. Huber does a pretty good job of showing readers his feelings and reactions through his dialogue and what Verity observes of his facial expressions and body language.  We see him coming to understand, appreciate and admire the determined, independent woman Verity has become, and experience his gradually reawakening trust as he allows himself to reveal more of his own fears and insecurities just as Verity reveals hers.  Their internal struggles feel very real, and their rapprochement is gradual and not always easy, but it’s superbly done and I became fully invested in their relationship and was rooting for them long before the end.

If you’ve read This Side of Murder, you may be wondering about Max, who was clearly set up as a potential love interest for Verity in that story – which obviously couldn’t go anywhere once Sidney was revealed to be alive after all.  Max makes a couple of brief appearances in this story, and has an important role to play in the finale; there is still a frisson of attraction between him and Verity, and Sidney is obviously jealous of their friendship, but with Verity’s commitment to making her marriage work, the attempt to create some sort of uncertainty falls flat, and I’m not quite sure why it was included.

Ms. Huber’s eye for historical detail is excellent, and she makes some shrewd social observations with a light touch, about the about the glamourisation of war, the treatment of its veterans and how the women who had taken men’s roles during it were suddenly expected to go back into their ‘womanly’ boxes and act as if they’d never had that taste of independence and freedom.

Treacherous is the Night is entertaining, well-researched and well-written, and I enjoyed it very much.  I was as caught up in the exploration of the Kents’ troubled marriage as I was intrigued by the mystery plot, and would definitely encourage fans of well-written historical mysteries to consider giving this series a try.

Echo Moon (Ghost Gifts #3) by Laura Spinella

This title may be purchased from Amazon

A past life, a past war, and a past love. Peter St John can’t foresee a future until he confronts his past sins.

When photojournalist Peter St John returns home after a two-year absence, the life he’s been running from catches up. For years his mother’s presence, coupled with Pete’s own psychic gift, has triggered visits to 1917. There, he relives battles of the Great War, captures the heyday of Coney Island on canvas, and falls in love with an enchanting and enigmatic songstress named Esme. Present-day Pete still pines for Esme, and his love endures…but so does his vivid memory of killing her.

When he discovers family heirlooms that serve as proof of his crimes, Pete will have to finally confront his former life. He also meets a young woman—who is more than what she seems—with a curious connection to his family. As century-old secrets unravel, can Pete reconcile a murder from his past before it destroys his future?

Rating: B+

The first two books in Laura Spinella’s Ghost Gifts trilogy of paranormal mysteries introduces readers to Aubrey Ellis, a woman who has been able to communicate with the dead since she was a child.  These novels centre around Aubrey and her husband, a hard-nosed investigative reporter, but in Echo Moon, the final book in the set, the focus shifts to Aubrey and Levi’s son, Pete, a talented photojournalist who spends his life reporting from some of the world’s most dangerous places.  It’s an intriguing story that, after a slow start, becomes a compelling one, as the author skilfully weaves together two interconnected stories – one, the story of a young singer in the early part of the twentieth century, and the other concerning Pete’s search for the truth about a shattering event that took place shortly after the end of the First World War.

Aubrey Ellis’ psychic gifts – or her curse – have been passed to her son, who has, for as long as he can remember, been aware that he has lived a past life.  He has memories and/or visions of events from the early part of the last century and remembers fighting, and then documenting events as a war photographer, in World War One.  Pete also lives with a massive burden of guilt, knowing that he killed the woman he loved – whom he knows only as Esme – in that past life, and that weight is so heavy that it often threatens to consume him utterly.  The images of war that haunt him day after day and night after night are so disturbing that he can’t bear the idea of spending more time with his memories and trying to find out the truth about Esme; and the violent outbursts that inevitably follow his visions make him even more determined to leave his past in the past.  Being around his mother seems to intensify his ‘gift’ and increase the number and vividness of his recollections; and when Echo Moon opens, Pete has just returned home after two years spent embedded with troops in the Middle-East and other war-torn places. He spends his life searching for numbness by way of twenty-first century wars, running from his past life by throwing himself into untold dangers in this one.

Aubrey is naturally concerned for her son, and can see the toll his way of life is taking on him.  She knows he is haunted by the belief he was a murderer in his past life, and wants him to seek help in the form of regression therapy, but Pete is dead set against it.  But when, for the first time ever, he feels Esme’s spirit reaching for him in his present life, he starts to realise that something is changing, as his past and present lives have never intersected before.  When he offers to go to Long Island to check out a property that Aubrey has recently inherited from her grandmother, Pete is staggered to discover yet more connections between his family and his past life.

With the help of Ailish Montague – a young actress who is the niece of Zeke Dublin (an important character in the previous book, Foretold) – Pete begins to make connections between seemingly random objects he finds in the house, his previous life and Esme – but it’s not until he is brought to the stark reality that he stands to lose those most dear to him if he continues to avoid facing up to the past that he finally decides it’s time to stop running and start putting the pieces together.  Only once he’s done that will he be free to live his own life, free from his horrific memories and the burden of guilt.

Laura Spinella pulls her disparate storylines together very cleverly and together, they make for a captivating read.  Sections set in 1917 follow Esme as she falls in love with Phin Seaborn, a young artist and photographer, while those set in the present follow Pete’s discoveries as his past life is gradually revealed and its connections to his present one prove to be stronger than he could ever have imagined.  The author does a great job in depicting the difficult family dynamics in the Ellis/St. John household; both Aubrey and Levi are desperately worried about Pete and don’t quite know how to help him, while Pete is distancing himself from the parents he loves, knowing he’s hurting them but with no idea what to do for the best.

My one criticism – which may well be more to do with me than with the book – is that I found it a little difficult to get into at first, and wondered if not having read the previous novels had placed me at something of a disadvantage.  Fortunately, Ms. Spinella’s writing is confident and engaging; she brings the past vividly to life and creates satisfying emotional connections between her principal characters, so it didn’t take long for me to become invested, and I’m happy to say that Echo Moon works fairly well as a standalone, so potential readers needn’t worry about picking it up on its own.  In fact, I enjoyed its terrific blend of mystery, suspense and paranormal (with a bit of historical fiction and romance thrown in for good measure), so much that I intend to go back to read the other books in the series.

Seven Summer Nights by Harper Fox (audiobook) – Narrated by Chris Clog

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

It’s 1946, and the dust of World War Two has just begun to settle. When famous archaeologist Rufus Denby returns to London, his life and reputation are as devastated as the city around him. He’s used to the most glamorous of excavations, but can’t turn down the offer of a job in rural Sussex. It’s a refuge, and the only means left to him of scraping a living. With nothing but his satchel and a mongrel dog he’s rescued from a bomb site, he sets out to investigate an ancient church in the sleepy village of Droyton Parva.

It’s an ordinary task, but Droyton is in the hands of a most extraordinary vicar. The Reverend Archie Thorne has tasted action too, as a motorcycle-riding army chaplain, and is struggling to readjust to the little world around him. He’s a lonely man, and Rufus’s arrival soon sparks off in him a lifetime of repressed desires.

Rufus is a combat case, amnesiac and shellshocked. As he and Archie begin to unfold the archaeological mystery of Droyton, their growing friendship makes Rufus believe he might one day recapture his lost memories of the war, and find his way back from the edge of insanity to love.

It’s summer on the South Downs, the air full of sunshine and enchantment. And Rufus and Archie’s seven summer nights have just begun…

Rating: Narration – A: Content – A

Harper Fox’s Seven Summer Nights is a book that’s been recommended to me on several occasions, so when I saw it had been released in audio, I picked it up straight away as audio is my preferred method of ‘getting around to’ books I can’t find time to read in print. I admit to being a little wary given that narrator Chris Clog is not someone I’m familiar with, but it was obvious after the first few minutes of the listen that I was in very safe hands; he’s an excellent performer and I enjoyed every moment of this sixteen-plus-hours audiobook in terms of the story and the narration.

The story is a fabulous mix of romance and mystery with a touch of the supernatural thrown in for good measure that takes place around a year after the end of World War Two in a typically bucolic English village in Sussex. Well-known archaeologist Dr. Rufus Denby has been struggling to keep himself together in both body and mind since the end of the war, in which he’d served as a captain in the army and been decorated for his bravery. Haunted by terrible events he can no longer remember, Rufus is subject to sudden and uncontrollable outbursts of violence he can never recall afterwards; and he is at his first dig since the end of the war when something triggers an episode and he attacks one of his colleagues.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.