Rebel (415: Ink #1) by Rhys Ford (audiobook) – Narrated by Tristan James

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The hardest thing a rebel can do isn’t standing up for something – it’s standing up for himself.

Life takes delight in stabbing Gus Scott in the back when he least expects it. After Gus spends years running from his past, present, and the dismal future every social worker predicted for him, karma delivers the one thing Gus could never – would never – turn his back on: a son from a one-night stand he’d had after a devastating breakup a few years ago.

Returning to San Francisco and to 415 Ink, his family’s tattoo shop, gave him the perfect shelter to battle his personal demons and get himself together…until the firefighter who’d broken him walked back into Gus’s life.

For Rey Montenegro, tattoo artist Gus Scott was an elusive brass ring, a glittering prize he hadn’t the strength or flexibility to hold on to. Severing his relationship with the mercurial tattoo artist hurt, but Gus hadn’t wanted the kind of domestic life Rey craved, leaving Rey with an aching chasm in his soul.

When Gus’s life and world starts to unravel, Rey helps him pick up the pieces, and Gus wonders if that forever Rey wants is more than just a dream.

Rating: Narration – C+ : Content – C

I’ve listened to a number of Rhys Ford’s novels recently, and I’ve enjoyed Tristan James’ work in other books of hers, so I was pleased to pick up Rebel, the first book in her 415: Ink series, for review. Ms. Ford is a prolific author who writes in a variety of genres – fantasy, paranormal, romantic suspense, for instance – so Rebel, which is more of an ensemble family drama, is a bit of a departure from the other stories of hers I’ve listened to. And I have to confess that I wasn’t as drawn in by it as I’d hoped to be. The major characters are engaging, and their backgrounds are intriguing and skilfully incorporated into the story, but the central romance is lacklustre; there’s minimal conflict which is resolved rather easily, and I just wasn’t feeling the chemistry between the central couple. Add to that some odd quirks in the narration, and Rebel proved ultimately to be a bit of a let-down.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

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Dinner Most Deadly (John Pickett Mysteries #4) by Sheri Cobb South (audiobook) – Narrated by Joel Froomkin

dinner most deadly

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

When Julia, Lady Fieldhurst, returns from Scotland restless and out of sorts, her friend Emily Dunnington plans a select dinner party with half a dozen male guests from whom Julia may choose a lover.

But Emily’s dinner ends in disaster when one of her guests, Sir Reginald Montague, is shot dead.

When Bow Street Runner John Pickett is summoned to Emily’s house, he is faced with the awkward task of informing Lady Fieldhurst that their recent masquerade as a married couple (Family Plot) has resulted in their being legally wed.

Beset by distractions – including the humiliating annulment procedure and the flattering attentions of Lady Dunnington’s pretty young housemaid – Pickett must find the killer of a man whom everyone has reason to want dead.

Rating: Narration – A : Content – B+

Note: This review contains spoilers for earlier books in the series.

Sheri Cobb South’s series of historical mysteries featuring the charming young Bow Street Runner John Pickett continues apace with the fourth full-length novel in the series, Dinner Most Deadly. It’s another enjoyable mix of murder-mystery and romance, but here, the romantic angle is as much the focus as the mystery, as John and the love of his life, Lady Julia Fieldhurst, struggle to deal with the ramifications of their recent masquerade as Mr. and Mrs. Pickett in book three, Family Plot. This instalment is particularly angsty in terms of their continuing relationship; John has been in love with Julia since they met in book one, In Milady’s Chamber, and while it’s taken Julia longer to realise the truth of her feelings for the thoughtful, insightful and achingly sweet young man who is so devoted to her, she is finally starting to see them for what they really are. But… a viscountess and a thief-taker who earns the princely sum of twenty-five shillings a week? The social divide between them is too great to permit even the merest nodding acquaintance.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals

His Wicked Charm (Mad Morelands #6) by Candace Camp (audiobook) – Narrated by Will Thorne


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She’s too prim.

Lilah Holcutt dislikes Constantine Moreland from the moment she meets him. He may be handsome, but he’s frivolous, rash, impulsive and, worst of all, a flirt. Now that Con’s twin brother has married Lilah’s best friend, she’s seeing way more of Con than she’d like. And when Con’s sisters are inexplicably kidnapped, Lilah’s own curiosity and stubbornness get the better of her, and she finds herself swept into Con’s investigation.

He’s indifferent to propriety.

Con knows that Lilah hates him — he just wishes she weren’t so devastatingly beautiful, that he weren’t so attracted to her. Especially since they’re working closely together to solve the kidnapping, an adventure that leads them to Lilah’s peculiar childhood home, Barrow House, which sits atop an ancient fen and features an eerie maze on its grounds.

They’ll have to join together to conquer a sinister force.

The more Con and Lilah uncover, the more they’re convinced that the answers lie buried deep within Barrow House — answers to a mystery darker than either of them could ever have realized.

Rating: Narration – A : Content – B-

This is the sixth book in Candace Camp’s Mad Morelands series, which originally comprised four books, but which has been expanded to include stories for the two youngest Moreland siblings, twins Alex and Con. His Wicked Charm opens not long after His Sinful Touch ended; I wasn’t overly impressed with the storyline of that book (my content grade was C+) which I found clichéd and somewhat clumsily executed. His Wicked Charm is an improvement, mostly due to the fact that Con is a more engaging character than Alex – Con is lively and funny where Alex was quite dour – but even so, the story meanders and lacks focus, and the paranormal elements are rather corny and melodramatic.

Constantine Moreland and Lilah Holcutt disliked each other from the moment they met. She thinks he’s too impulsive and not serious enough, and he thinks she’s too proper and bound by convention, but now Con’s brother has married Lilah’s best friend, they have to play nice. Needless to say, they are rarely successful; Con delights in needling Lilah by flirting with her outrageously, and most of their interactions end up as arguments. So, it amazes both of them to find that when the situation calls for it, they can actually set those differences aside and work together to achieve a desired outcome – in this case the rescue of Con’s mother and sisters, who are abducted off the street during a demonstration in support of female emancipation. Lilah insists on accompanying Con when he sets off in pursuit, but it turns out that the ladies are on the verge of rescuing themselves when the couple arrives (as detailed in the short story included at the end of the audiobook, Their Unexpected Adventure), but they still have to work out who kidnapped them and why.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

The Mermaid Murders (The Art of Murder #1) by Josh Lanyon (audiobook) – Narrated by Kale Williams


This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

Special Agent Jason West is seconded from the FBI Art Crime Team to temporarily partner with disgraced, legendary “manhunter” Sam Kennedy when it appears that Kennedy’s most famous case, the capture and conviction of a serial killer known as The Huntsman, may actually have been a disastrous failure.

For The Huntsman is still out there… and the killing has begun again.

Rating: Narration – B : Content – B+

Note: I have no idea what’s with that cover. Fingers crossed the author/publisher can find a more appealing one someday.

The first book in the author’s The Art of Murder series, The Mermaid Murders pairs up hard-boiled Senior Special Agent Sam Kennedy of the FBI Behavioural Analysis Unit with one of the bureau’s rising stars, Jason West, who has been seconded from the Art Crimes Team and instructed to assist Kennedy with his latest case, ostensibly because Jason is familiar with the area in which the crime has been committed.  It’s not that simple however;  Sam Kennedy might be something of a legend in the bureau, but his often abrasive manner and single-minded focus hasn’t earned him many friends over the years, and following a very public disagreement with a state governor, he’s  in the dog-house and the higher-ups want someone keeping tabs on him.  So this new partnership is far from a match made in heaven; Kennedy doesn’t want a partner – especially one he doesn’t know or know if he can trust, and makes it clear from the off that he knows Jason has been assigned to babysit him.  But Jason isn’t easily cowed; he’s just as pissed that he’s been sent to ‘handle’ Kennedy and insists right back that he’s part of the investigation and isn’t going to be pushed aside.

“I’ve been asked to try and make sure you don’t step in it again, sure, but I’m not here to hold your cape, Batman.”

More than a decade earlier, Sam was responsible for the apprehension of a serial killer who preyed on teenaged girls in Kingsfield, a small town in Worcester County, New England.  At the time, it was a regular holiday destination for Jason’s family and he had actually been close friends with the first victim, Honey Corrigan.  But now, more than a decade later, it seems the killer has struck again; another girl dead, a small, carved mermaid charm found by the body.  Is this the work of a copycat?  Or did Sam get the wrong man all those years ago?  Given that he’s currently under a cloud, his superiors are twitchy in case the killer is still out there and the wrong man is in prison – but Sam knows that’s not the case.  The right guy is behind bars, but there’s no evidence to support the theory of a copycat or disciple either, which leaves the investigation… where?

The Mermaid Murders boasts an intriguing mystery with plenty of twists and turns, and the author  captures the somewhat insular and suspicious attitude of the local population very well, which lends the story a slight air of menace.  It also introduces a couple of compelling protagonists in Sam Kennedy and Jason West; Sam is large, imposing, taciturn and doesn’t suffer fools. He takes his job seriously, has an enviable record of solving cases and, in spite of the current snafu, is clearly very well respected.  Because the story is told entirely in Jason’s PoV, we never get into Sam’s head which means he remains somewhat frustratingly enigmatic, but it’s clear there’s a lot going on beneath that immovable exterior.  Jason is a dozen years younger (Sam’s mid-forties), he’s smart, he’s intuitive and loves his job in Art Crimes:

“It’s just that…people keep killing other people. That’s the worst of humanity. Art is the other side of the coin. It represents the best of humanity. And what I’m here for is to try and protect that…legacy.”

After a few days, Jason is surprised to discover that even though he doesn’t much like Sam Kennedy, he’s strongly attracted to him.  He has no idea about Kennedy’s sexual preferences but even if he did, Jason doesn’t make a habit of going to bed with people he doesn’t like, so it’s academic and utterly ridiculous. Until it isn’t.  When Sam makes a move, Jason is surprised by the intensity of his reactions to the man and can’t resist, no matter that he knows it’s a bad idea. As this story is setting up a series, the relationship between the pair is basically confined to a couple of explosive sexual encounters, but the author also subtly conveys the changing nature of Jason’s feelings towards Sam, and shows that while Sam is outwardly all about the job and compartmentalising his life, he’s capable of affection and tenderness, even though it’s brief and not overt.  When the book ends, Sam and Jason have agreed to keep in touch, and maybe go on an actual date… but whether they manage that remains to be seen.

Kale Williams is a new-to-me narrator, and I enjoyed his performance overall, although it took me a while to get used to his characterisation of Sam.  It’s not that it’s bad; actually it’s quite a good interpretation of the character, because he’s blunt and very rarely expresses emotion, so the somewhat monotonous (as in a same pitch, not boring!) delivery works.  It’s more that Mr. Williams adopts a kind of whisper/speech delivery for his dialogue in order to sustain the lower pitch (I’m guessing); as I said above, it’s not horrible, it just took me a chapter or two to get used to.  Otherwise it’s a very strong performance – the pacing is spot on and the character differentiation is good so there’s never any confusion as to who is speaking, and he does a good job with the action/set pieces, injecting the right degree of anticipation or fear or whatever else is required into his voice.  I’ll certainly be listening to more books in the series.

Squared Away (Out of Uniform #5) by Annabeth Albert (audiobook) – Narrated by Greg Boudreaux

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

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.

Rating: Narration – A+ : Content – B+

I wasn’t wild about the previous book in this series (Wheels Up) and wasn’t sure I was going to continue to read or listen to any more, but then I saw the blurb for Squared Away AND that Greg Boudreaux was narrating it, so I decided to give it a try.  And I’m glad I did, because it turned out to be a beautifully told story of love – romantic and familial – trust, and acceptance, featuring an unusual (in my reading/listening experience, that is) slow-burn romance as two men come to terms with a devastating event that changes their lives irrevocably.

Six years earlier, eighteen-year-old Isaiah James decided it was time to lose his v-card and knew exactly who he wanted to give it to.  He’s had a crush on his cousin Cal’s best friend for a while and decides it’s time to make his move on Navy SEAL medic Mark Whitley (who is the bride’s brother) at Cal and Danielle’s wedding.  Sadly for Isaiah, his evening didn’t turn out as expected and Mark turned him down; in the intervening six years, they’ve hardly seen each other and Isaiah suspects Mark has actually gone out of his way to avoid him.  But that can’t continue when Cal and Danielle are killed in an accident, leaving behind three young children.  Mark is deployed at an undisclosed location when the tragedy occurs, so by the time he gets the news and returns to the States, it’s to find Isaiah installed in the family home with the kids, clearly knowing what he’s doing.  This version of Isaiah is more mature, more confident than the one Mark remembers and he’s not quite sure what to make of him at first.  He certainly doesn’t like the way Isaiah seems to have taken control of everything, and Isaiah’s calm confidence with the kids unsettles Mark, who hardly knows them, and knows little about children in general.

Mark assumes that the kids will have been left to his care, as he’s their closest relative, so it’s a surprise to discover that both Cal and Danielle made wills and that things aren’t so cut and dried.  In one, Mark is named, and in the other, Isaiah; so they agree to continue as they are for the time being until such time as a legal decision can be made.  Mark knows that his job is probably not all that conducive to being granted custody of young children, as it takes him away from home for long periods of time, but that’s a surmountable obstacle – once he has the children in his care, he can hire a good nanny.  What surprises him, however, is the ferocity with which Isaiah makes clear his desire to gain custody of baby Liam and his two pre-school age sisters.  As far as he’s concerned, the kids are family, and he’s not prepared to hand them off to someone else to bring up.

I loved this story, and the author has done a terrific job of showing what it’s like to be the parents of three very young children; they’re hard work and don’t conveniently disappear when the plot demands they do.  Isaiah is great with them and clearly adores them, while Mark doesn’t have the first clue of how to handle them.  In fact, he comes across as a bit of a dickhead in the first part of story, assuming he’ll get custody of the kids but leaving all the heavy lifting to Isaiah, and then being persuaded into a course of action that he knows isn’t right and will cause a major issue further down the line, but doing it anyway.

One of the joys of the story, though, is seeing Mark gradually unbend and adapt to his new situation.  He loves the kids, too, but hasn’t any experience of being around them, and he’s got a lot to learn.  But to his credit, once he realises that he’s not pulling his weight around the house, he mans up and starts to integrate into this small and rather special family unit.

The romance is sensual and beautifully developed, the fact that Mark is demisexual (or maybe grey ace) meaning that it focuses more on the emotional connection that develops between the two men, especially in the early stages, than a sexual one.  While Isaiah is the younger of the two, Mark is the least experienced; his sexual experiences so far have not been positive ones and he came away from them feeling guilty for disappointing his partner and not reacting in an expected way.  He’s given up hoping to find someone to ‘put up with him’, so he’s astonished at the ease with which Isaiah accepts his sexuality and is prepared to let Mark set the pace.  Ms. Albert does a superb job of conveying the complexity of Mark’s emotions and the way his feelings for Isaiah change and develop.

Books 1-4 in this series had four different narrators, so I was a bit surprised to see Greg Boudreaux’s name on the cover of this one… or maybe I wasn’t because, let’s face it, once Greg’s narrated one of your books, you’re ruined for anyone else 😉 (That’s my theory and I’m sticking to it! And even better, he’s narrating the next book, too!)  Of course he does a fantastic job with the narration, expertly characterising the principals (Isaiah’s soft tones contrasting nicely with Mark’s gruff, prickly ones) and skilfully realising Mark’s insecurity and uncertainty about his sexuality and his new role as a parent.  The various secondary characters (including those from previous books) are all clearly differentiated and easy to tell apart, his female voices are excellent and he does an especially good job with the two little girls, who sound age appropriate without being too high-pitched or squeaky.

Squared Away is a fairly angsty story, but is generally a ‘quiet’ book, focusing on the characters and their emotional journeys. In this case it’s about processing grief and learning to adapt in order to move forward, learning to trust, support and grow as a person and part of a couple and family.  I really enjoyed the story, and with Greg Boudreaux delivering another wonderfully insightful, nuanced performance, it’s an audiobook I can recommend without reservation.

House of Cads (Ladies of Scandal #2) by Elizabeth Kingston (audiobook) – Narrated by Nicholas Boulton

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

Vivez la vie pleinement…Live life to the fullest.

That’s always been Marie-Anne de Vauteuil’s motto. As a Frenchwoman of highly questionable upbringing, she was shunned by genteel society. But then, an invitation to London on a mission of mercy from the very family who cast her aside lands Marie-Anne back in society – and into the arms of a man who can be nothing but trouble.

When life gives you lemons…Make petit fours. 

Wealthy American businessman Mason is a) accidentally engaged, b) desperate to get out of it, and c) neither wealthy nor a businessman. Marriage is the last thing on his mind. Money, however, is always of utmost importance. But when he meets the irresistible Marie-Anne, she makes him rethink his life as a fraud, and hoping for something he never believed possible: A proper life with a not-so-proper wife.

Rating: Narration – A+ : Content – B+

Elizabeth Kingston returns to the Regency world of A Fallen Lady to bring us House of Cads, a sequel to the earlier book which features as its heroine the lively, unconventional and somewhat scandalous Frenchwoman Marie-Anne de Vauteil, the dear friend of Helen, Lady Summerdale. The audiobook also marks the very welcome return of the fabulous Nicholas Boulton to the romance genre; needless to say, his performance is superb, and I found myself enjoying the story even more in audio than I did when I read it a couple of months back.

Helen’s recent marriage and move away from the cottage they shared in the small village of Bartle-on-the-Glen has left Marie-Anne feeling rather lonely. As the story opens, she is upset at the ending of her affair with the village shoemaker, who has broken up with her because he’s going to get married. She isn’t in love with him, and being honest, she admits she’s more disgruntled at the fact that he’s called a halt to their association rather than the other way around – which was always the case in the past. Fortified with baked goods, she opens a letter just arrived from London and is astonished to discover that it’s from Lady Shipley, the woman who had almost become her mother-in-law. Some years earlier, Marie-Anne had fallen deeply in love with the Shipley’s eldest son, Richard, and they were to have been married – but Richard fell ill and died just days before the wedding, leaving a devastated and pregnant Marie-Anne to the not-so-tender-mercies of his parents, who believed her to be nothing more than an opportunist whore. The shock of Richard’s death, together with the Shipleys’ cruelty in barring her from the funeral caused Marie-Anne to miscarry, and after that, she retired to the small village of Bartle where she met and befriended Helen.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

Forbidden Stranger (The Protector #3) by Megan Hart (audiobook) – Narrated by Saskia Maarleveld

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

Nina Bronson and Ewan Donahue have put their love to its limits. To Ewan, she’s the only woman he wants to be with for the rest of his life. To Nina, whose memories have been ripped out of her, Ewan is her kind and generous boss who’s helping her recover after an accident she also can’t remember. The more time they spend together, the more she begins to feel for him, but Ewan knows the truth – she loved him once.

As Ewan tries to do whatever it takes to get Nina back to herself without putting her in danger, the two of them have to build a brand-new relationship from the ground up. Sometimes, a lie isn’t a betrayal, it’s a lifesaver. Can Nina forgive Ewan for not telling her the truth about why she lost so much of her memories, or are they doomed to never be together again?

Rating: Narration – A- : Content – B-

Forbidden Stranger is the final instalment of Megan Hart’s futuristic Protector trilogy, in which the overarching storyline pairs a kick-ass female bodyguard with a wealthy billionaire industrialist. I loved the premise of the series, the author’s world-building is terrific, the narration is excellent, and the first book is gripping, but sadly, books two and three suffer from the same problems – too much filler, not enough action and final acts that are rushed. On reflection, this story would probably have worked better as a duology, with the events of book two stripped of the filler and combined with a pared-down book three.

Please note that there will be spoilers for books one and two – Dangerous Promise and Wicked Attraction – in this review.

In Dangerous Promise, listeners were introduced to the author’s vision of a near-future coloured by war, environmental damage and cyber-terrorism. Nina Bronson is one of fifteen former soldiers who were technologically enhanced during life-saving surgery, the nano-chips implanted in their brains enabling them to be stronger and faster than normal humans and to control their emotional and physical reactions. The chips also allow the enhanced to have their memories wiped and for them to be reset after sensitive assignments should their clients so wish. Nina is engaged by billionaire businessman Ewan Donahue, the most vocal opponent of enhancement technology, as his personal bodyguard after several failed attempts on his life.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.