Why the Devil Stalks Death (Death and the Devil #2) by L.J. Hayward (audiobook) – Narrated by Rowan Scott

Why the Devil Stalks Death CORRECTED300

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Jack Reardon uncovers secrets for a living, and the Meta-State spy is pretty good at it. Or rather he thought so until he met Ethan Blade—assassin, warrior, enigma. The unlikely pair have decided to give living together a shot, but Jack’s not entirely certain what he’s gotten himself into—or exactly who he’s in it with. Jack’s worries are compounded when he’s assigned to a police strike force hunting a serial killer. With each new puzzle piece, Jack considers the true nature of a serial killer—and how similar it is to an assassin…one particular assassin who’s having trouble adjusting to retirement. Jack’s unsure how to help Ethan; or if he even can.

When the killer strikes close to home, Jack must race against the clock to stop another murder, despite the price someone has put on his head. Could the matters be connected? Is a certain assassin at the center of both? Surrounded by killers, the only one Jack wants near disappears, leaving Jack drowning in secrets. He’ll have to do what he does best—unravel the secrets, including Ethan’s—to stop the killer and save the life he and Ethan have only just begun to build.

Rating: Narration – A;  Content – A

Note: The books in this series need to be listened to in order; there are spoilers for the previous books in this review.

Why the Devil Stalks Death, the second full-length book in L.J. Hayward’s Death and the Devil series picks up the story of Metastate “asset” (spy) Jack Reardon and assassin Ethan Blade some months since the events of Death Takes a Holiday (found in the novella Devil in the Details). Before they were attacked by a group of mercenaries and all hell broke loose, Jack and Ethan finally managed to have “the talk” and agreed that what they’ve been doing for the past few months – hooking up whenever they’re both in the same vicinity – was no longer enough for either of them. Before they parted, Jack asked Ethan to move in with him; Ethan agreed, telling Jack he’d see him soon, after sorting out the clean-up.

But clearly, Ethan’s definition of “soon” is different to Jack’s. Four months go by with no contact from him, and Jack is beginning to think that maybe Ethan has changed his mind. The strain of keeping their relationship under wraps and of all the doubts creeping in the longer Ethan’s silence goes on isn’t going unnoticed by his friends and colleagues; Jack is on a short fuse and will be more than pleased to get back to Sydney when his current undercover operation – to deliver a terrorist known as The Messiah into government custody – is over.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

The Happy List (Better With You #1) by Briar Prescott (audiobook) – Narrated by Kirt Graves & Joel Leslie

the happy list

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Gray: There are some things I excel at: Exercising rigid control over every aspect of my life. Making sensible decisions at every turn. Being organized, predictable, and responsible.

In short, I’m boring as hell and in desperate need of a change. Luckily I have my best friend by my side and a newly written to-do list to guide my way through the murky waters of finding happiness. It’s all very promising at first, but as weeks pass, I start to realize that the best part of my day has always been Kai. And when I see him out on a date with some guy? Let’s just say I’m definitely not happy about it.

Kai: I’m back in Boston after ten years of traveling, and I’ve fulfilled all my goals: See the world. Figure out what to do with my life. Get over my impossible crush on Gray. Check, check, and check.

Life’s good until I accidentally find Gray’s happy list, which contains some very interesting things that friends never ever do with each other. And as weeks pass, it becomes clear those not-so-innocent parts are the ones Gray is determined to explore with me. I can’t resist him, and pretty soon I’m forced to admit that I’m not as done with my crush as I thought I was . . .

Rating: Narration – A-; Content – B

Briar Prescott’s The Happy List is book one in her Better With You series that centres on a group of friends who live and work in Boston. I read it back in March 2022 and enjoyed it, so I was pleased to see it getting an audio version, especially with two such experienced narrators at the helm. It’s a warm and funny friends-to-lovers / opposites-attract romance between Grayson – Gray – Quinn, a meticulous planner and workaholic, and his life-long best friend Kai Morgan, who is more of a go-with-the-flow kinda guy.

When the book begins, Gray is reeling from the fact that his girlfriend of two years has just proposed to him in front of a dinner table-full of their friends and family. Astonished and more than slightly horrified, it’s a wake-up call for Gray, as he realises that while he does love Cee, he’s not IN love with her and that they clearly want different things from life. Forced to turn her down in public, Gray flees the table, and knowing he can’t possibly return to the restaurant to face everyone, decides to escape by crawling through the bathroom window. It’s a bit of a squeeze but he manages it, and as he walks through the back street to the main road, he bumps into Kai, who was about to go inside. Gray is overjoyed to see him – Kai has spent the last few years travelling with only sporadic visits home – and they immediately fall into their usual pattern of affectionate teasing and trash-talk. Gray can’t help comparing their easy camaraderie with his relationships with just about everyone else in his life; with Kai there’s no pressure or expectations, Gray can just be himself.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

Unstable Connections (Valor and Doyle Mysteries #3) by Nicky James (audiobook) – Narrated by Nick J. Russo

Unstable Connections

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Missing children are reappearing, and the ties to a 30-year-old cold case can’t be ignored.

Detective Quaid Valor has too much on his plate. Between his shaky, brand-new relationship with reformed office playboy Detective Aslan Doyle, his sister’s case going from cold to hot overnight, his father insisting on being involved, and his boss breathing down his neck, Quaid is on edge.

The stress of the case is impacting Quaid’s whole life. He isn’t eating or sleeping, and every time he and Aslan are together, he is overwhelmed by feelings of inadequacy which threaten to ruin the one good thing he has. Aslan’s patience seems unending until something happens to turn his life upside down too.

Can their relationship survive the personal and professional pressures they’re facing, or will it crash and burn?

Between media rumors and unstable connections, Quaid and his team need to hustle and piece together a complicated case before more children fall victim to their unknown serial kidnapper. Maybe once everything is solved, Aslan and Quaid will have time to work on their rocky relationship and find stable ground once again.

Rating: Narration – A; Content – A

Nicky James’ Valor and Doyle Mysteries series has got better and better with each book, a trend continued by the latest – Unstable Connections – which is saying something considering the high quality of the first two books in the series! The stories revolve around the opposites-attract relationship between two Toronto-based detectives, Quaid Valor of the Missing Persons Unit and Aslan Doyle who works Homicide. Over the course of two books, we’ve watched them argue, flirt, and generally get under each others’ skin, the unwanted pull of mutual attraction between them slowly morphing from an itch to be (almost begrudgingly) scratched into a genuine connection that, by the end of Elusive Relations has become impossible to ignore or deny.

As this is a same-couple series in which the development of the central relationship is ongoing, there are spoilers for the earlier books in this review.

At the end of Elusive Relations, Quaid and Aslan had agreed to stop trying to pretend that simply hooking-up every so often was enough for them, and that they’d give an actual relationship a try. They know it’s not going to be easy, especially as Quaid’s ex did a number on him, severely trashing his self-confidence and making it hard for him to allow himself to be vulnerable and emotionally open. He fears being seen as clingy and needy, traits which are bound to drive Aslan away, and is clearly just waiting for it to happen. Aslan knows this about him, knows that deep down, Quaid is searching for the kind of closeness and security he’s never experienced in his own family life, and is determined to show him, in every way possible, that he’s in it for the long haul and that he believes Quaid is absolutely worth whatever it takes to convince him of that.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

Undone (Vino and Veritas #18) by Leslie McAdam (audiobook) – Narrated by Tim Paige & Iggy Toma

undione

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My new roommate has the worst taste in men. I mean, Murph’s special. He’s funny and flamboyant and full of life.

While I’m straight, even I can tell these guys aren’t good enough for him. I had to yell at one date, toss another one out the door, and throw a beer in another’s face.

Kind of embarrassing, really. I don’t know what’s gotten into me.

I ask my sister what’s wrong with me and she says I’m jealous. Jealous? Please. Me? Come on.

Only thing is, I hate the thought of Murph kissing any guy. Ever.

Except, maybe . . . me?

Rating: Narration – B+; Content – C

Leslie McAdam is a new-to-me author, so as has been the case with many of the audiobooks in the Vino and Veritas series, it was the names of the narrators that caught my eye. Tim Paige and Iggy Toma are both accomplished performers with a strong track-record in m/m romance, so I decided to take a chance on Undone, a bi-awakening roomies-to-lovers romance between a self-declared fabulous, sparkly princess and the sweet, nerdy insurance salesman he moves in with. It’s based on a story originally posted on Reddit in which a guy was worried he was being homophobic towards his gay roommate only to realise he’d fallen in love with him!

Jason Falkner is a nice guy. He’s kind and sweet, but he’s tended to just coast through his life, going along with what other people want and letting others make decisions for him. He works for his dad’s insurance firm but doesn’t enjoy it – and doesn’t have an alternative he feels passionately enough about to be prepared to rock the boat with his dad. When we meet him, Jason is about to meet the new roommate his sister has found for him who turns out to be… not exactly what he’d expected. Not that he’d had any expectations really, but if he had, they didn’t include a cheeky, flamboyant and vivacious gay guy with fantastic hair, glossed-lips and a propensity to talk at a mile a minute. David Murphy – known to all simply as Murph – is a funny, flirty force of nature, his outgoing personality a complete contrast to Jason’s quieter, more thoughtful one, but they hit it off straight away, and start to bond over a love of cooking and old movies.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

Death and the Devil: The Novellas (Death and the Devil #1.2, #1.4, #1.6, #1.8) by L.J. Hayward (audiobook) – Narrated by Rowan Scott

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Meta-State spy Jack Reardon believes that after the showdown, everything has been taken care of. He has a verbal agreement with his boss to keep Blade happy, and Jack is more than willing to do his best in that regard. He also has his bargain with Ethan to keep seeing each other.

Small victories, interspersed with exploding bombs, smashed cars, and miffed co-workers, all while consorting with an international assassin. Contract killer Ethan Blade values his security, and with Jack, it’s the first time he’s found safety with another person. Wiring a warehouse or an outback shelter for security, no problem. Keeping safe a prickly ex-soldier-turned-spy who’s a magnet for trouble, not so easy.

Instead of faceless, nameless jobs, Ethan keeps poking his fingers into Jack’s cases—a car bomb gone awry, a Hen party gone wild; much to Jack’s mounting dismay. They have a deal and neither one of them can seem to stick to it. It’s Jack versus Ethan as the two men learn to navigate their ever-evolving not-a-relationship without losing the benefit of the bargain.

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

Work-life balance for a spy may be an oxymoron, but Jack Reardon likes a good challenge, and he’s almost bested this one! He’s settled into his Meta-State promotion as a field leader and into his new team with a second he can trust. Shop in order, Jack can take a day or two off when Ethan blows into town, their bargain finally starting to pay off.

Assassin Ethan Blade has few pleasures in his life—a decent cup of tea, a job well done, racing his fleet of supercars, and Jack. With plans to combine the last two into one thrilling weekend, Ethan’s attempt at having a normal, happy life may deliver everything he’s ever desired; or backfire spectacularly. Jack and Ethan made a bargain, but the deal is thrown into jeopardy when the expectations and identities of the dealmakers shift; stoking the fires of doubt and jealousy. Not to mention a contract killer out for revenge and an illness that threatens to reveal closely guarded secrets.

Rewards are on the table for both men, maybe bigger than they even realize, if only they can renegotiate and survive.

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

If there’s one thing assassin Ethan Blade knows, it’s how to plan a job. How to study a target, find the weak spot, and strike. He keeps his guns clean, his knives sharp, and his heart sealed away behind more locks than his precious cars. Alone but safe.

Until Jack Reardon burrowed his way into Ethan’s life, his car, and his heart. This may just be the deadliest mess he can’t plan his way out of. Jack wasn’t sure he’d see Ethan again; not after the less-than-stellar ends to their previous hookups. Even finding the assassin skulking about his apartment isn’t as reassuring as it should be, especially when he works out Ethan’s motive for being there might not be personal. That said, Jack will take any chance he can to salvage their relationship, assuming he survives whatever plan Ethan is cooking up. Ethan and Jack had a bargain, but the parameters changed and neither is certain how to move forward; together or apart.

But before they can start to renegotiate, lives, trust, and hearts are endangered by ghosts from the past. Even if they dodge their enemies; bullets, there’s a risk of friendly fire, and when you let someone get too close, even small knives can cut deep.

Rating: Narration – A-; Content – A-

Novellas are generally hit and miss for me. So often they’re a bit flimsy, the shorter page count/run time contributing to a feeling that the story and/or characters are underdeveloped, and that there isn’t enough of a story to sustain a full-length novel. There are exceptions to that rule, however, and the novellas that span the gap between books one and two of L.J. Hayward’s fabulous Death and the Devil series are three of them. Unlike many novellas in series, however, you can’t skip them, because if you do you’ll miss out on a lot of really important relationship and character development that takes Jack and Ethan’s relationship to a very different place at the beginning of book two (Why the Devil Stalks Death) to where it was when we left them at the end of Where Death Meets the Devil. Taken all together, the novellas are a mini-series of action-packed ‘episodes’ boasting interesting, fast-paced plots that form a single story arc (linked back to that of WDMtD) which also start to peel away the layers of these two complex characters and show them forging an even deeper connection.

Note: The books in this series must be listened to in order, so if you haven’t listened to Where Death Meets the Devil first, you’ll probably be a bit lost. There are spoilers for that book in this review.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

Learning Curve (Life Lessons #4) by Kaje Harper (audiobook) – Narrated by J.F. Harding

Learning CurveThis title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

Mac is afraid he won’t recover enough to go back to being a cop; Tony’s afraid that he will.

Three months after being injured, Detective Jared MacLean is healing, but he’s afraid it may not be enough to go back on the job. He won’t give up, though. Being a cop is written deep in Mac’s bones, and he’ll do whatever it takes to carry his badge again.

Tony used to wish he could have Mac safely home, but watching his strong husband battle disabilities is far from Tony’s dream come true. When Mac is asked to consult on a case involving one of Tony’s students, both men will have to face old demons and new fears to find a way to move forward together.

Rating: Narration – A; Content – A-

Note: There are spoilers for the previous books in the series in this review.

It’s always sad when it comes time to say goodbye to characters you’ve come to know and love over the course of a series, and now it’s time to wave Mac and Tony off into the sunset as Kaje Harper’s excellent Life Lessons series reaches it conclusion with Learning Curve. Like the other books in the series, the author melds together an interesting procedural/ investigation plotline with the continuing development of the relationship between her two leads, although given the way we left them at the end of Home Work, the focus here is more on the domestic as Mac is still not quite ready to go back to work after his injury and Tony is struggling to come to terms with the fact that Mac is absolutely determined to go back to the job he so loves, but which almost took him away from Tony and their kids.

It’s been three months or so since Mac was shot and left with a condition called Broca’s Aphasia, which affects the speech and language regions of the brain. He’s been working really hard on getting into shape physically, and his comprehension has not been affected – but his ability to find the right words at the right time is not yet sufficiently recovered for him to be able to return to duty, and the loss of the ability to inflect his speech with any degree of expressiveness (so he can sound somewhat robotic) has affected his ability to interact as positively with witnesses as he used to. When Learning Curve begins, he’s having another assessment to see if he’s fit to return to work – and although reluctantly, he has to agree with the doctor’s assessment that he’s not quite there yet.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

The Christmas Leap (Festive Fakes #2) by Keira Andrews (audiobook) – Narrated by Greg Boudreaux

the christmas leap

This title may be downloaded from Audile via Amazon

Fake romance shouldn’t feel this real….<
Will: I’ve never been with a man.

Sure, I’ve thought about it. Wondered. Daydreamed. Imagined. But I wasn’t ready to take the leap.

I have a reputation as a “ladies’ man”. No one has any idea how curious I am about men—not even my openly bi best friend. Make that former best friend. Michael ghosted me, and I have no idea why.

Michael: The man I love is straight.

It hurt like hell when I had to distance myself from Will. I’ve tried desperately to grow up and get over him, but my carefully constructed life just fell apart—and Will rushes to my rescue.

Now we’re pretending to be a couple to impress his boss at a holiday retreat. We’re holding hands and hugging.

We’re sharing a bed.

And Will just kissed me.

Is my best friend falling in love with me after all?

Rating: Narration – B; Content – C+

I can take or leave Christmas-themed romances but I do pick up a few each year, especially if they’re by favourite authors. Keira Andrews’ The Christmas Deal from 2019 is a sweet, sexy fake-relationship story with engaging characters, lots of warm fuzzies and a well-deserved HEA; I enjoyed it very much and was quick to pick it up in audio the following year. I was really pleased when I learned the author would be returning to that world – now entitled Festive Fakes – for a follow-up story, also a romance that starts out with a fake relationship, although this time the leads are two long-time friends who have drifted apart.

At the beginning of The Christmas Leap, Michael Davis returns home with what he thinks is the perfect Christmas tree for the home he shares with his boyfriend Jared, only to overhear a phone conversation between Jared and his sister in which he says he’s been planning to break up with Michael for months – that he should never have let their relationship go on for as long as it has, in fact – but that he’s not going to do it until after Christmas because he knows how much Michael is looking forward to it. Deeply hurt, angry and confused, Michael walks; he gets into his car with nothing but the clothes on his back and drives without any destination in mind. All he knows is he has to get away. And as if life hasn’t thrown enough crap at him, his car breaks down on a snowy, deserted road and it’s going to be hours before the breakdown service can get there. Cold, lonely and miserable, there’s only one person Michael wants to call – his former best friend Will, the man he’s crushed on since college – and who, in a desperate attempt to get over him, Michael has ghosted for two years.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

A Very Merry Bromance (Bromance Book Club #5) by Lyssa Kay Adams (audiobook) – Narrated by Andrew Eiden

a very merry bromance

This title may be downloaded from Audible 

Country music’s golden boy Colton Wheeler felt the most perfect harmony when he was with Gretchen Winthrop. But for her, it was a love-him-and-leave-him situation. A year later, Colton is struggling to push his music forward in a new direction. If it weren’t about to be the most magical time of year and the support of the Bromance Book Club, he’d be wallowing in self-pity.

It’s hard for immigration attorney Gretchen not to feel a little Scrooge-ish about the excess of Christmas when her clients are scrambling to afford their rent. So when her estranged, wealthy family reaches out with an offer that will allow her to better serve the community, she’s unable to say no. She just needs to convince Colton to be the new face of her family’s whiskey brand. No big deal….

Colton agrees to consider Gretchen’s offer in exchange for three dates before Christmas. With the help of the Bromance Book Club, Colton throws himself into the task of proving to her there’s a spark between them. But Gretchen and Colton will both need to overcome the ghosts of Christmas past to build a future together.

Rating: Narration – A; Content – B

The guys of the Bromance Book Club take us into the festive season with A Very Merry Bromance, book five in the series, and the romance between country music star Colton Wheeler and prickly lawyer Gretchen Winthrop, a grumpy/sunshine pairing with a bit of Scrooge-y Bah! Humbug! thrown in for good measure.

Gretchen was born into one of Tennessee’s wealthiest families, but growing up in the lap of luxury was no substitute for having a family who loved and cared about her. Her father was always buried in work, her mother was more concerned with how things looked than being a good mother and her brother was… well, the less said about him, the better. She was expected to join the family business, but instead, set up her own immigration law practice – something her family still regards as a fad, even though she’s been running it for over a decade. Christmas was always a big disappointment – her mother hired people to decorate the house and install a tree and gifts were purchased by flunkeys – and after so many years of enduring something fake and cold, she decided not to bother with it. She’s estranged from her family, doesn’t have many friends and dislikes the over the top consumerism of the holiday period, preferring to keep working to help those who are far more disadvantaged than herself.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

The Gilded Scarab (Lancaster’s Luck #1) by Anna Butler (audiobook) – Narrated by Gary Furlong

the gilded scarab

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When Captain Rafe Lancaster is invalided out of the Britannic Imperium’s Aero Corps after crashing his aerofighter during the Second Boer War, his eyesight is damaged permanently, and his career as a fighter pilot is over. Returning to London in late November 1899, he’s lost the skies he loved, has no place in a society ruled by an elite oligarchy of powerful Houses, and is hard up, homeless, and in desperate need of a new direction in life.

Everything changes when he buys a coffeehouse near the Britannic Imperium Museum in Bloomsbury, the haunt of Aegyptologists. For the first time in years, Rafe is free to be himself. In a city powered by luminiferous aether and phlogiston, and where powerful men use House assassins to target their rivals, Rafe must navigate dangerous politics, deal with a jealous and possessive ex-lover, learn to make the best coffee in Londinium, and fend off murder and kidnap attempts before he can find happiness with the man he loves.

Rating: Narration – A; Content – B+

Sad to say, but Anna Butler’s name wasn’t even on my radar when I saw The Gilded Scarab crop up at Audible, but Gary Furlong’s name on the cover together with a quick peek at the reviews on Goodreads convinced me to take a punt – and I’m glad I did. It’s the first book in a trilogy with a steampunk-y vibe set in an AU Victorian era and it’s full of excellent period detail (many of the historical events of the time are referenced), strong worldbuilding, and boasts a fully three-dimensional and thoroughly engaging lead character.

In this world, the Britannic Imperium is ruled, under the monarch, by eight Convocation Houses which hold all the political power. They divide government departments between them and staff them with members of their own Houses or of the Minor Houses allied to them. Captain Rafe Lancaster is a minor scion of one of those Minor Houses, who, instead of becoming an equally minor government official, decided to join the Aero Corps, much to the annoyance of his family. He’s become one of the Corps’ best – if not THE best – aeronauts; he’s well-liked and a bit of a dare-devil (sometimes a troublemaker) but when push comes to shove, he’s the man for whatever job the Corps wants to throw at him. When the book opens, he’s fighting in South Africa (in the equivalent of what we know as the Boer War) when the famous ‘Lancaster’s Luck’ finally runs out, and his aerofighter is shot down while on a mission. Rafe survives the crash with mostly cuts and bruises, but the head injury he sustains damages his optic nerve which means his vision is no longer fit for military service, and he is medically discharged.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

A Gathering Storm (Porthkennack #2) by Joanna Chambers (audiobook) – Narrated by Simon Goldhill

a gathering storm

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

When grief-stricken scientist Sir Edward Fitzwilliam provokes public scorn by defending a sham spiritualist, he’s forced to retreat to Porthkennack to lick his wounds. Ward’s reputation is in tatters, but he’s determined to continue the work he began after the death of his beloved brother. In Porthkennack, Ward meets Nicholas Hearn, land steward to the Roscarrock family. Ward becomes convinced that Nick, whose Romany mother was reportedly clairvoyant, is the perfect man to assist with his work. But Nick—who has reason to distrust the whims of wealthy men—is loath to agree.

Until Fate steps in to lend a hand. Despite Nick’s misgivings, he discovers that Ward is not the high-handed aristocrat he first thought. And when passion ignites between them, Nick learns there’s much more to love than the rushed, clandestine encounters he’s used to. Nevertheless, Nick’s sure that wealthy, educated Ward will never see him as an equal. A storm is gathering, but with Nick’s self-doubts and Ward’s growing obsession, the fragile bond between the two men may not be strong enough to withstand it.

Rating: Narration – B+; Content – B+

It’s taken a while for Joanna Chambers’ 2017 historical romance, A Gathering Storm, to make it into audio, but I remember enjoying the story back when I read it, so, despite the fact that the narrator is new-to-me, I decided to give the audiobook version a listen. The book is part of the multi-author Porthkennack series, all set in and around the Cornish seaside town of the same name, but it’s a standalone, so it’s not necessary to have read any of the other books in order to enjoy it.

The story begins on the night of a terrible electrical storm, when Sir Edward Fitzwilliam (known as ‘Ward’) is aboard ship, crossing the Irish Sea from Dublin to Anglesey. The storm is at its height when Ward experiences something very strange – he hears the voice of his twin brother George calling out to him and assuring him that all will be well. Realising later that this must have been the exact moment of George’s death and believing he’d received a communication from ‘beyond the veil’. Ward dedicates himself to recreating the conditions that allowed it to happen, in spite of the disapproval and dismissal of the wider scientific community of which he is – or had been – a respected member.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.