A Crown of Iron & Silver (Soulbound #3) by Hailey Turner (audiobook) – Narrated by Gary Furlong

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

Never promise a life that isn’t yours to give.

New York City is decked out for the holidays, and Special Agent Patrick Collins is looking forward to a reunion with his old team when he gets assigned a new case. A human child is missing, and the changeling left in her place causes a prominent witch family to demand justice from the fae.

Meanwhile, continued harassment from the New York City god pack forces Jonothon de Vere to formally establish his own with Patrick. Doing so will mean a civil war within the werecreature community – a war they risk losing from the start without alliances. Making bargains with the fae is never wise, but Patrick and Jono have nothing to lose when a fae lord comes asking for their help.

The Summer Lady has been kidnapped from the Seelie Court, and if they can find her, Patrick and Jono will cement an alliance with the fae. But the clues to her disappearance are found in Tír na nÓg, and the Otherworld has never been kind to mortals.

Venturing past the veil, Patrick and Jono risk losing territory, time, and their very lives while searching for answers. Because the Queen of Air and Darkness knows they are coming – and the ruler of the Unseelie Court has an offer for them they can’t possibly refuse.

Rating: Narration – A-; Content – B+

I’m always a bit daunted when it comes to writing reviews for the books in Hailey Turner’s Soulbound series, because I want to give an accurate flavour of the story without giving too much away – and there’s always a lot going on. That’s not to say the stories are cluttered or overstuffed; Ms. Turner is a master plotter and handles the reins of her various storylines with great skill, but one does need to pay fairly close attention and it’s pretty much essential to have read or listened to the previous books in the series. (Be warned – this review contains spoilers for the previous books).

At the end of All Souls Near & Nigh, Special Agent Patrick Collins was asked by his former commander to join forces with members of his old Mage Corps Special Forces unit in order to retrieve the Morrígan’s Staff, a mysterious and ancient artefact that was stolen from Area 51 some three years earlier. Nobody knows who has it, or what it actually does – although legend has it that the staff has the ability to raise the dead – and it must be returned before it can fall into the wrong hands.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

I Buried a Witch (Bedknobs & Broomsticks #2) by Josh Lanyon

This title may be purchased from Amazon

Cosmo Saville adores his new husband but his little white lies—and some very black magic—are about to bring their fairytale romance to an end. Someone is killing San Francisco’s spellcasters—and the only person Cosmo can turn to—the man who so recently swore to love and cherish him—isn’t taking his phone calls..

The only magic Police Commissioner John Joseph Galbraith believes in is true love. Discovering he’s married to a witch—a witch with something alarmingly like magical powers—is nearly as bad as discovering the man he loved tricked and deceived him. John shoulders the pain of betrayal and packs his bags. But when he learns Cosmo is in the crosshairs of a mysterious and murderous plot, he knows he must do everything in in his mortal power to protect him.

Till Death do them Part. With their relationship on the rocks, Cosmo and Commissioner Galbraith join forces to uncover the shadowy figure behind the deadly conspiracy…

Can the star-crossed couple bring down a killer before the dark threat extinguishes love’s flame?

Rating: B-

I Buried a Witch is the middle book in Josh Lanyon’s Bedknobs and Broomsticks trilogy, a series of fantasy/mystery/romance novels set in and around San Francisco and featuring witch and antiques dealer Cosmo Saville and his husband, John Joseph Galbraith, the Commissioner of Police.

The books don’t really stand alone as there’s an overarching storyline, (and the previous book raised more questions than it answered!) so if you haven’t read book one, Mainly by Moonlight, then you’ll be a bit lost if you start here; and it also means there will be spoilers in this review.

Mainly by Moonlight introduced readers to the world of the Craft (as Cosmo and his fellow witches refer to themselves) and its hierarchy; Cosmo is pretty high up in the pecking order, being the son of the witch next in line to be Crone (chief witch!), the Duchesse d’Abracadantès.  Cosmo is preparing to marry the man he’s fallen head-over-heels in love with in just a few short weeks, and to say that the duchesse is not at all happy about her son’s decision to marry an ordinary mortal would be a massive understatement.  She drops a bombshell when she tells Cosmo that John is under a love-spell; Cosmo is furious and insists that the spell be lifted immediately, even if it does mean that there’s a chance he’ll lose the love of his life.

While Cosmo is looking for signs that John is falling out of love with him, he’s also dealing with a number of troubling incidents ranging from the murder of a business rival to the sudden disappearance of one of his oldest friends, to another close friend being put into a coma following a hit-and-run, and to top it all, discovers the existence of a secret organisation whose activities threaten the entire Craft.  As the day of the wedding draws closer, Cosmo is relieved to discover that John doesn’t want to call it off, even though Cosmo can’t ignore the subtle changes that have started to take place in their relationship.  He’s so deeply in love that he carelessly ignores the warning signs that perhaps entering into marriage without having told John the truth about himself is not the best idea.

At the beginning of I Buried a Witch, Cosmo and John return home from their honeymoon in Scotland and are starting to settle into their new home.  Sadly, however, it’s not long before things between the newlyweds become strained and Cosmo is forced to admit that he has no-one but himself to blame for the tension between them.  When he discovers that several members of the local Wiccan community have been murdered in various gruesome ways, Cosmo wants to be allowed to help with the investigation; his knowledge of Wiccan customs, together with his witchy insight and understanding of possible motives surely make him the person best placed to provide the sort of information the police will need, but John makes it clear, in no uncertain terms, that he doesn’t want Cosmo going anywhere near the investigation.  Cosmo, of course, is having none of it, and the shit hits the fan when, during an argument, he tells John the truth about himself.

John, utterly stunned and furious at the deception, packs his bags and leaves that night.

Cosmo is devastated but not ready to give up on his marriage quite yet, even though John refuses to see or speak to him. While he tries to find a way to repair the damage, Cosmo can’t help continuing to look for solutions to the various magical conundrums that surround him. Who is the so-called Witch Killer and how are they connected to the murder (in book one) of Seamus Reitherman? Who is responsible for the hit-and-run that almost killed his friend? And worse, who is trying to kill him? Combined with some of the questions left over from the first book, there’s a lot to unravel here, and clearly some of these questions won’t be answered until the final book in the series, Bell, Book and Scandal.

I continue to like Cosmo as a character; he’s made mistakes and doesn’t always listen to good advice, but he’s smart and funny and kind-hearted, and I really want him to get the HEA he wants and deserves. The trouble is that at the moment, I’m not convinced that John is the man for him. In my review of Mainly by Moonlight, I said I recognised hints that there was more to John than meets the eye; the fact that he seemed able to deflect much of Cosmo’s magic appeared to be important, and I was eager to find out why, but the reason given here – if it’s the real reason – is almost an afterthought and does nothing to shed light on John’s character. In fact, he continues to be overbearing and dismissive of Cosmo; the scene in which John expects Cosmo to deal with the contractors coming to build a pool at the back of their house when Cosmo has said, explicitly, that he’s terrified of water and doesn’t want a pool left me wondering (again) what on earth Cosmo sees in him. But then, John will do or say something that indicates he really does care a great deal for Cosmo, and I’m rooting for them to find their way back to one another. In fact, there’s something of an epiphany for Cosmo when he finally realises that theirs has never been a relationship between equals and that if they’re to have any chance at a future together, he must stop trying to be someone he’s not and start to assert himself – and most importantly, be himself.

I dithered a bit when it came to assigning a final grade for this book. I was caught up in the story and in spite of my reservations about John, I ended up really wanting him and Cosmo to work out their differences and make a fresh start. But then perhaps that’s a testament to the author’s skill; she’s created two very different characters in John and Cosmo, and in spite of the fact that one of them is much easier to like than the other – I usually find it difficult to enjoy a romance in which I feel one character doesn’t really deserve the other – has written them and their relationship in a way that has me wanting things to work out for them. I might not love John, but I believe, honestly and truly, that Cosmo does – and that makes me at least want to like him. So it’s a low-level recommendation from me for I Buried a Witch; I’m invested enough to want to see all the mystery elements brought to a conclusion and to see how John and Cosmo are able to come back from their separation and make their tentative reunion into something solid, so I’ll be picking up the final book in the trilogy when it’s released in the Spring.

Mainly by Moonlight (Bedknobs & Broomsticks #1) by Josh Lanyon (audiobook) – Narrated by Kale Williams

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

A gay high-society wedding. A stolen book of spells. A love-threatening lie.

Can a witch avoid a murder rap without revealing the supernatural truth? Cosmo Saville guiltily hides a paranormal secret from his soon-to-be husband. And if he can’t undo a powerful love spell, uncertainty threatens his nuptial magic. But when he’s arrested for allegedly killing a longtime rival, he could spend his honeymoon behind bars.

Police Commissioner John Joseph Galbraith never believed in love until Cosmo came along. Falling head over heels for the elegant antiques dealer is an enchantment he never wants to break. So, when all fingers point to Cosmo’s guilt, John races to prove his fiancée’s innocence before they take their vows.

As Cosmo searches for the real killer among the arcane aristocracy, John warns him to leave it to the police. But with an unseen enemy threatening to expose Cosmo’s true nature, the couple’s blissful future could shatter like a broken charm. Can Cosmo find the lost grimoire, clear his name, and keep John’s love alive, or will black magic “rune” their wedding bells?

Rating: Narration – B; Content – B

Josh Lanyon’s paranormal mystery/romance Bedknobs and Broomsticks series is a little bit different to her normal fare. Mainly by Moonlight, the first book (of three), is a fun and mostly light-hearted tale in which San Francisco antiques dealer Cosmo Saville – who also happens to be a witch – finds himself suspected of murder just a few days before his wedding to the city’s Police Commissioner, John Galbraith. In the course of the story, listeners are introduced to the magical society of the Craft and its hierarchy, and to an interesting principal and secondary cast; but please note that the book sets in motion a number of plot points that will run across all three instalments, so listeners will need to listen to all three books in order to experience the whole of the story.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

Promise of Darkness (Dark Court Rising #1) by Bec McMaster

promise of darkness

This title may be purchased from Amazon

Princess. Tribute. Sacrifice. Is she the one prophesied to unite two warring Fae courts? Or the one bound to destroy them?

In a realm ruled by magic, the ruthless Queen of Thorns is determined to destroy her nemesis, the cursed Prince of Evernight.

With war brewing between the bitter enemies, the prince forces Queen Adaia to uphold an ancient treaty: she will send one of her daughters to his court as a political hostage for three months.

The queen insists it’s the perfect opportunity for Princess Iskvien to end the war before it begins. But one look into Thiago’s smoldering eyes and Vi knows she’s no assassin.

The more secrets she uncovers about the prince and his court, the more she begins to question her mother’s motives.

Who is the true enemy? The dark prince who threatens her heart? Or the ruthless queen who will stop at nothing to destroy him?

And when the curse threatens to shatter both courts, is her heart strong enough to break it?

Rating: B+

I’m a big fan of Bec McMaster’s London Steampunk and Blue-Blood Conspiracy series, and was excited to read Promise of Darkness, the first book in her new fantasy series, Dark Court Rising.  Dabney Grinnan – publisher of All About Romance – is also a huge fan of Ms. McMaster’s work, so we both eagerly dove into this one, and then had a chat about what we thought of it.

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

Lord of the Last Heartbeat (The Sacred Dark #1) by May Peterson

This title may be purchased from Amazon

Stop me. Please.

Three words scrawled in bloodred wine. A note furtively passed into the hand of a handsome stranger. Only death can free Mio from his mother’s political schemes. He’s put his trust in the enigmatic Rhodry—an immortal moon soul with the power of the bear spirit—to put an end to it all.

But Rhodry cannot bring himself to kill Mio, whose spellbinding voice has the power to expose secrets from the darkest recesses of the heart and mind. Nor can he deny his attraction to the fair young sorcerer. So he spirits Mio away to his home, the only place he can keep him safe—if the curse that besieges the estate doesn’t destroy them both first.

In a world teeming with mages, ghosts and dark secrets, love blooms between the unlikely pair. But if they are to be strong enough to overcome the evil that draws ever nearer, Mio and Rhodry must first accept a happiness neither ever expected to find.

Rating: B-

May Peterson’s début novel, Lord of the Last Heartbeat, is an intricately constructed gothic fantasy with an intriguing storyline, set in a world that reminded me somewhat of eighteenth century Italy where dark secrets lurk behind the scenes, political backstabbing is rife and influential families jostle for power.  Adding to that particular vibe is the fact that one of the main characters is an opera singer, and I loved the way his vocal talent is incorporated into the fabric of the world the author has created.  In fact, I liked almost all the different elements that went to make up the novel – the worldbuilding, the characters, the plot – but ‘almost’ is the key word there, because there are two fairly major problems I couldn’t overlook.  Firstly, Ms. Peterson’s writing style just didn’t work for me – which I recognise is entirely subjective – and secondly, the romance isn’t well-developed; it springs almost fully formed out of nowhere and there isn’t a great deal of chemistry between the leads.

Mio is the son of Serafina Gianbellici, a powerful witch whose ambition is to control the government of the city of Vermagna, which she does by learning the secrets of its members and using that knowledge to keep them in line. In this world, a mage’s magical power lies in a specific part of the body, and Mio’s lies in his beautiful voice, which he can use to enter someone’s mind and soul to uncover their deepest, darkest secrets – which his mother then uses against them. Mio hates doing what amounts to mind-rape, and hates himself for helping Serafina, but he does it nonetheless, partly because he fears her power and partly because, well… she’s his mother.  On the night the story opens, Mio is pretending to be a footman at the house of Pater Donatelli, Serafina’s latest target, waiting until she calls him inside to sing, when he is accosted by a drunken guest (who mistakes him for a pretty girl) who tries to drag him away.  Mio has barely begun to try to free himself when the man is pulled off him and dunked into a nearby fountain by a large, dark gentleman Mio quickly realises must be a moon-soul, someone brought back from the dead and invested with the spirit of a noble beast (in this case a bear).  Once upon a time, these shape-changing elite had been numerous but now, they are very small in number and coming across one is rare. Feeling unexpectedly comfortable in the man’s presence, Mio decides to take a chance to escape his mother’s machinations once and for all.  Before he is summoned inside, he presses a note into the man’s hand which says just three words: Stop me. Please.

From that intriguing beginning unfolds a story of mystery and magic that builds slowly and kept me guessing as it moved towards a shattering climax.  When Mio finally breaks free of his mother’s control, he runs to the one person ever to make him feel safe  – Rhodry, the moon-soul, who bears a terrible curse he can never escape.  Twists and turns abound as Mio and Rhodry gradually begin to understand the nature of the curse and the dark forces at work in Rhodry’s home; it’s an engrossing story and unlike anything else I’ve read recently.  I liked Mio’s strength and determination – even in the face of his greatest fears – and Rhodry’s dry (sometimes naughty) sense of humour.  I even liked (well, liked to hate!) Mio’s mother, a complex character intent on dominating a world set against her kind who is prepared to use her children while also loving them quite fiercely.

As I said at the beginning of this review, the book has a lot going for it.  The worldbuilding, (even though it’s a bit shaky in some areas) the plot, the characters, and the inclusion of a non-binary, femme character in a main role and Rhodry’s unconditional acceptance of Mio for the person he is. But I had problems with the prose, which was overly flowery for my taste; so much so that it often got in the way of the story and the storytelling.  And…er… then there was this:

He fondled my chest, as if feeling the shape of my muscles. Maybe it was good to be so firm. Speaking of firm—he jumped slightly as I took a liberty. Heavens, did he have a bouncy little plum. Sweet cleft, muscle tensing under my grasp—damn, I could hold on to that forever.

bouncy little plum?!  (I’m sorry, but once an author has made me laugh (and not in the good way), during a love scene, they’ve lost me.)  Not only is it ridiculous, it’s so out of character for Rhodry; he’s a big, dark, brooding presence who knocks back whisky like it’s water and swears like a trooper… and he takes “a liberty” and thinks “Heavens!” ?  But it’s also an illustration of the point I was making about language getting in the way and obscuring meaning.  What exactly is Rhodry grasping?  Is the bouncy little plum in question Mio’s arse?  Mio’s cock? A nearby  fruit bowl?

And then there’s the underdeveloped romance. There’s no doubt that by the time Mio and Rhodry are on the same page romantically they care for each other deeply and that they’re both prepared to make extreme sacrifices – their lives if need be – in order to keep the other safe.  But the movement from initial attraction to full-blown love was weak; it’s pretty much insta-lust/love and there was no real build-up of romantic and sexual tension.

Writing this review and grading this novel has been difficult.  Lord of the Last Heartbeat has a lot to offer, and I fully admit that the problem I had with the prose is very subjective.  Ultimately, however,  I can’t quite bring myself to wholeheartedly and honestly recommend a book in which the writing so often gets in the way of the story – although I’m sure there are many readers for whom Ms. Peterson’s writing style will work better than it did for me.

All Souls Near and Nigh (Soulbound #2) by Hailey Turner (audiobook) – Narrated by Gary Furlong

all souls near and nigh

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

You can’t bargain with death if you’ve already sold your soul.

Special agent Patrick Collins has been reassigned by the supernatural operations agency to New York City. Navigating his new relationship with Jonothon de Vere, the werewolf he’s now soulbound to, is nothing compared to dealing with territorial disputes between the vampires and werecreatures who call the five boroughs home. But the delicate treaties that have kept the preternatural world in check are fraying at the edges, and the fallout is spilling into the mundane world.

Manhattan’s club scene is overrun with the vampire drug known as shine and the subways have become a dumping ground for bodies. When the dead are revealed as missing werecreatures, Patrick and Jono find themselves entangled in pack politics twisted by vampire machinations.

Learning to trust each other comes with problems for both of them, and the gods with a stake in Patrick’s soul debt aren’t finished with him yet. Bound by promises they can’t break, Patrick and Jono must find a way to survive a threat that takes no prisoners and is stalking them relentlessly through the city streets.

Old and new betrayals are coming home to roost but the truth – buried in blood – is more poisonous than the lies being spun. Trying to outrun death is a nightmare – one Patrick may never wake up from.

Rating: Narration: B+; Content: B+

Note: As this is a series where the books need to be listened to in order, there will be spoilers for the previous instalment in this review.

All Souls Near and Nigh is the second book in Hailey Turner’s inventive Soulbound series, which takes place in a world very similar to our own where supernatural creatures and mythical beings exist alongside humans and the gods continue to interfere with the actions of mere mortals. And of one mere mortal in particular.

Combat mage turned federal agent Patrick Collins owes a soul debt to the goddess Persephone, who rescued him from death at the hands of his crazed father when Patrick was just eight years old. At the time he was too young to know what he was doing when she offered him escape in return for his soul, but now he’s paying that debt whenever the gods want something done in the human world and don’t want to get their hands dirty.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

Mainly by Moonlight (Bedknobs and Broomsticks #1) by Josh Lanyon

This title may be purchased from Amazon

Can a witch avoid a murder rap without revealing the supernatural truth?

Cosmo Saville guiltily hides a paranormal secret from his soon-to-be husband. And if he can’t undo a powerful love spell, uncertainty threatens his nuptial magic. But when he’s arrested for allegedly killing a longtime rival, he could spend his honeymoon behind bars…

Police Commissioner John Joseph Galbraith never believed in love until Cosmo came along. Falling head over heels for the elegant antiques dealer is an enchantment he never wants to break. So when all fingers point to Cosmo’s guilt, John struggles to believe what his heart is telling him.

As Cosmo searches for the real killer among the arcane aristocracy, John warns him to leave it to the police. But with an unseen enemy threatening to expose Cosmo’s true nature, the couple’s blissful future could shatter like a broken charm.

Can Cosmo find the lost grimoire, clear his name and keep John’s love alive, or will black magic “rune” their wedding bells?

Rating: B

Josh Lanyon’s latest novel is kind of Adrien English meets Bewitched as the owner of an antique store (who also happens to be a witch) finds himself suspected of murder just a few days before his wedding to the city’s Police Commissioner.  Mainly by Moonlight is an enjoyable romp that’s perhaps a little more light-hearted than some of the author’s other novels – and as it’s the first in a trilogy, it sets up more questions than it answers, so don’t pick it up expecting everything to be cut and dried by the time you get to the last page.

For years, witch and antiques dealer Cosmo Saville has been trying to locate the Grimorium Primus, the first and most powerful of the Five Grimoires and an important family heirloom. When he receives a message from business rival Seamus Reitherman telling him he has the Grimorium in his possession, Cosmo goes to meet him at his store late one evening – only to find the man lying dead in a pool of blood. Panicked, Cosmo doesn’t have time to do much more than register that Seamus has been murdered (there’s a double-edged knife sticking out of his back) and notice the beginnings of a sacred symbol on the floor in yellow chalk above Seamus’ head before flashing lights and sirens herald the arrival of the police.  He’s immediately arrested – and then recognised as the police commissioner’s fiancé.  He’s taken to the police station where series of phone-calls eventually leads to the arrival of Commissioner John Joseph Galbraith (who has no idea that he’s engaged to a witch!), and to Cosmo’s release, although it’s clear that’s not the end of the matter.

As soon as he can, Cosmo goes to see his mother Estelle, Duchesse d’Abracadantès and next in line to be Crone – or Queen of the Witches – to tell her about the events of the previous night, only to have another bombshell dropped on him.  Like most of Cosmo’s friends, Estelle is not pleased about his plans to marry John, and when Cosmo expresses doubts as to whether the wedding will go ahead seeing as he’s a murder suspect and John is the commissioner of police, Estelle points out that John can’t change his mind because he’s under the power of a love spell – one which Estelle assumed Cosmo must have cast himself.

But he didn’t.  Furious at this discovery, Cosmo confronts his best friend Andi who confesses that she put the spell on John as payback for the fact that John behaved like a dickhead towards Cosmo the first time they met.  She didn’t expect John would actively seek Cosmo out or that they’d meet again, but he did and they did – and just over two weeks later, they’re engaged, and are due to marry in two days’ time.  Cosmo and John might not have known each other very long, but Cosmo has fallen head-over-heels in love for real, and he is horrified at the prospect of marrying John under false pretences.  And even moreso at the prospect of losing him forever.  But getting the spell removed is the right thing to do, even though Cosmo knows the effects will take time to wear off and that it will likely be excruciating for him as he watches the man he loves gradually fall out of love with him.  All he can do is hope that John’s feelings for him aren’t completely due to the spell and that maybe he really does love him… although Cosmo starts noticing a subtle shift in their interactions as soon as it’s removed, which doesn’t give him much hope.

I liked a lot about the story – the pop-culture references, the worldbuilding in terms of the witchy hierarchy and magic (although I wanted to know more about the world of the Craft) and Cosmo, who while maybe a tad neurotic, is a smart, good-natured guy with a dry sense of humour and a big heart.  I also liked the set-up for the romance; I had to do a double-take at the fact that Cosmo and John had only known each other for two weeks when they decided to get married, but the rest of it –  the removal of the spell and Cosmo’s fears that John was going to call off the wedding and break up with him – worked and I’m eager to find out how things between them develop.  I did, however, have a problem with John’s character here.  In other books I’ve read by this author where she tells the story through a single PoV, she always does a great job of presenting the other protagonist to the reader through the eyes of the PoV character, but here, that doesn’t happen. John comes across as rather cold and calculating and is very removed from the reader, so it was difficult to get a handle on him or understand what Cosmo saw in him that made him fall so hard so fast.  BUT – given that many of the other secondary characters are more fully drawn, and there are hints dropped that there’s more to John than meets the eye, I’m guessing this distance is deliberate and that we’ll find out more as the story progresses in the next two books.

The plotline concerning the murder and the grimoire is concluded in this book, but with the discovery of the existence of a secret society whose activities threaten the entire Craft, there are many threads left hanging to be answered in the following instalments, not least of which who is trying to kill Cosmo?… and what happens when John at last finds out Cosmo has been keeping a massive secret from him?

In spite of the reservations I’ve expressed, I’m nonetheless giving Mainly by Moonlight a recommendation, because I enjoyed it overall and I suspect some of the issues I had will be addressed in future books.  I’m looking forward to finding out more about the Craft, seeing Cosmo and John develop as characters and to the conclusion of the various plotlines; and if you’re someone who prefers to wait until series like this are concluded before diving in, the author’s website indicates that book two is due out in October with book three following early 2020, so you won’t have too long a wait.