Quickie Reviews #5

I always mean to do these more regularly but… you know, life. Anyway, like many people right now, I’ve got a bit of extra time on my hands, so I’ve pulled together short reviews of a bunch of books and audiobooks I’ve read and listened to over the past few months but haven’t written full-length reviews for. If you’re looking for a read or listen to keep you company over the next few weeks, maybe you’ll find some inspiration here.


Two Man Station by Lisa Henry

Gio Valeri is a big-city police officer who’s been transferred to the small outback town of Richmond with his professional reputation in tatters. His transfer is a punishment, and Gio just wants to keep his head down and survive the next two years. No more mistakes. No more complications.

Except Gio isn’t counting on Jason Quinn.

Jason Quinn, officer in charge of Richmond Station, is a single dad struggling with balancing the demands of shift work with the challenges of raising his son. The last thing he needs is a new senior constable with a history of destroying other people’s careers. But, like it or not, Jason has to work with Gio.

In a remote two-man station hours away from the next town, Gio and Jason have to learn to trust and rely on each another. Close quarters and a growing attraction mean that the lines between professional and personal are blurring. And even in Richmond, being a copper can be dangerous enough without risking their hearts as well.

Rating: B

With two cops as leads, I’d thought this might be more of a mystery/suspense story, but it isn’t; rather it’s a fish-out-of-water tale as a disgraced big city cop relocates to a small rural community and discovers that policing there is very different to the sort of thing he’s used to. Lisa Henry evokes the small town/back of beyond atmosphere really well – although this town isn’t at all small really; Jason and Gio’s “beat” covers a massive area, but it doesn’t boast all that many inhabitants.

Amid the series of vignettes as to the various disputes the pair are called upon to work through is the relationship that gradually grows between them. They get off to a rocky start because of what Jason has heard about Gio’s reason for relocating (that he was an informant who got another officer dismissed from his job), but as they work together and get to know each other, Jason starts to wonder if that’s the whole story. (Of course, it isn’t).

Jason is a widower with a ten-year-old son, and is only just realising that he really needs to make proper childcare arrangements. Before, his two neighbours – a young couple with kids of their own – would always pick up the slack and were happy to help out when Jason had to answer a call at night or worked long shifts – but now they’ve moved away, he’s struggling to reconcile the demands of the job with his job as a father.

The slower pacing works and I enjoyed the book overall, although I would have liked a stronger romance. There’s a definite attraction between Jason (who is bi) and Gio, but a few pages before the end, Jason tells Gio he’s still in love with his dead wife (and he’s still wearing his wedding ring), which was unexpected and seemed a really odd move; and although they’re still together six months down the line (shown in the epilogue) it felt to me as though there was more to be said about their relationship. There are no ILYs – which is fine when I feel that the characters are committed to each other – and I don’t necessarily need the mushy stuff, but their emotional connection wasn’t quite what I’d hoped for by the end.

Even so, I’m giving this four stars because I really did like the story and the characters. I’m going to pick up the next book soon.


Leaning into the Fall by Lane Hayes

Narrated by Nick J. Russo

Nick Jorgensen is a quirky genius. He’s made a fortune in the competitive high-tech field with his quick mind and attention to detail. He believes in hard work and trusting his gut. And he believes in karma. It’s the only thing that makes sense. People are difficult, but numbers never lie. In the disastrous wake of a broken engagement to an investor’s daughter, Nick is more certain than ever he isn’t relationship material.

Wes Conrad owns a thriving winery in Napa Valley. The relaxed atmosphere is a welcome departure from his former career as a high-rolling businessman. Wes’s laid-back nature is laced with a fierceness that appeals to Nick. In spite of his best intention to steer clear of complications, Nick can’t fight his growing attraction to the sexy older man who seems to understand him. Even the broken parts he doesn’t get himself.

However, when Wes’s past collides with Nick’s present, both men will have to have to decide if they’re ready to lean into the ultimate fall.

Rating: Narration – B; Content – B

Nick is a tech genius who doesn’t do well in social situations and frequently comes across as an arsehole; Wes is more than a decade older and considerably more chilled than Nick, but seems to just ‘get’ him – even the parts of himself Nick doesn’t fully understand. I liked the way their relationship developed; laid-back Wes is a great foil for Nick, who is sometimes driven to the point of obsession and oblivious to everything around him. There’s plenty of hot sex, but there’s an emotional connection, too -Nick has never clicked with anyone the way he has with Wes, and realises that for the first time ever, he’s developing feelings for someone that go beyond work or friendship.

The conflict comes fairly late in the book and although it seems a little contrived, it does actually fit with Nick’s character – he gets worked up and anxious easily and does tend to blurt the first thing that comes into his head, and the ‘black moment’ works because of it.

Nick J. Russo narrates and does a great job!


Setting the Hook by Andrew Grey

Narrated by Greg Tremblay

William Westmoreland escapes his unfulfilling Rhode Island existence by traveling to Florida twice a year and chartering Mike Jansen’s fishing boat to take him out on the Gulf. The crystal-blue water and tropical scenery isn’t the only view William enjoys, but he’s never made his move. A vacation romance just isn’t on his horizon.

Mike started his Apalachicola charter fishing service as a way to care for his daughter and mother, putting their safety and security ahead of the needs of his own heart. Denying his attraction becomes harder with each of William’s visits.

William and Mike’s latest fishing excursion starts with a beautiful day, but a hurricane’s erratic course changes everything, stranding William. As the wind and rain rage outside, the passion the two men have been trying to resist for years crashes over them. In the storm’s wake, it leaves both men yearning to prolong what they have found. But real life pulls William back to his obligations. Can they find a way to reduce the distance between them and discover a place where their souls can meet? The journey will require rough sailing, but the bright future at the end might be worth the choppy seas.

Rating: Narration: A; Content B

Sweet character-driven romance between a workaholic businessman, groomed by his parents to take over the family engineering firm, and the owner of the boat he charters a couple of times a year to go fishing.

A bad storm following William’s latest fishing trip leaves him stranded in Florida for a few days; Mike invites him to stay with him (he lives with his mother and ten-year-old daughter) and the nacent attraction they’ve both been feeling for years now becomes impossible to ignore or resist.

They’re from very different worlds, but no matter how strong the emotions growing between them, Mike’s life is in Florida and William’s is in Rhode Island. Yet the months apart after William’s last visit only prove to both of them that there’s something between them worth exploring, and both men have to decide how much they’re prepared to sacrifice in order to be together.

It’s nto going to win any prizes for originality, but Setting the Hook is an enjoyable story featuring likeable characters, and of course, Greg Tremblay’s narration was flawless.


Red Dirt Heart by N.R. Walker

Charlie Sutton runs Sutton Station the only way he knows how; the way his father did before him. Determined to keep his head down and his heart in check, Charlie swears the red dirt that surrounds him – isolates him – runs through his veins.

American agronomy student Travis Craig arrives at Sutton Station to see how farmers make a living from one of the harshest environments on earth. But it’s not the barren, brutal and totally beautiful landscapes that capture him so completely.

It’s the man with the red dirt heart.

Rating: B

Lovely and just what I needed right now.

Charlie Sutton is just twenty-five but is now the owner of the 2.58 million acre Sutton Station in the Northern Territory, Australia. He loves what he does, even though he knows he’s likely to spend his life alone; he’s gay and closeted, his late father having insisted that “no fairy” was ever going to be able to run Sutton Station and that it needed a “real man”. Yes, his father was an arsehole, but those words struck so deep that Charlie – although he’s doing a terrific job – can’t seem to see beyond them.

Enter Travis Craig, an agronomy student from Texas who has come to Sutton to see how things are done as part of an exchange programme. Travis is handsome, confident and, as quickly becomes clear to Charlie and his staff, knows his way around horses and cattle; he settles in quickly, becoming part of the team and establishing friendships with the others, but Charlie tells himself he must keep his distance.

There’s not a lot of angst in this one (a bit of very plausible drama in the second half worked well to ramp up the tension) and it’s mostly the story of Charlie learning to let go of his father’s bigotry and be his own man, and finally allowing himself to believe it’s possible for him to live his life with a loving partner by his side.

There are some great secondary characters (I loved Ma, who rules the kitchen with a rod of iron… or spatula, whatever) and the author’s descriptions of the Outback setting, the “red dirt”, the night skies, the sunsets are fabulous.

If you’re looking for a simple, well-written story that will transport you somewhere else for a few hours, this could be just what you’re after.


The Prince and his Bedeviled Bodyguard by Charlie Cochet

Prince Owin

Being a fierce predator – not at all adorable, despite my graceful stature – the last thing I needed was a bodyguard. Especially a wolf shifter, whose presence alone was an insult to my princely principles. 

As prince of the Ocelot Shifters, I prided myself on my infallible feline instincts, uncompromising dignity, and flawless fashion sense. If having a canine follow me around at all times wasn’t bad enough, I now faced the most important moment of my entire life. 

The time had come to prove I was worthy of my crown. If only I could find a way to get rid of the pesky bodyguard…

Grimmwolf

When the king of All Shifters asked me to guard Prince Owin, I admit I had no idea what to expect. Cat shifters tend to be a little intense, not to mention kinda cranky. Owin was no exception, though he seemed crankier than most. 

Being his bodyguard was proving to be one of the greatest challenges of my life, but not nearly as great as convincing him there was something special between us. 

When Owin was tasked with a perilous quest to prove his worth, I was determined to keep him safe, even if the same couldn’t be said of my heart.

Rating: Narration: A; Content B-

I wanted something short and sweet and this definitely fit the bill. The prince of the ocelot shifters has to team up with his bodyguard, a wolf shifter, to fulfil a quest set him by the king of all shifters… of course, they spar like cat and dog (!) and shenanigans ensure.

It’s not deep and the worldbuilding is minimal, but it’s a helluva lot of fun, especially in audio where Greg Boudreaux demonstrates once again that he’s a master of comic timing (and just about everything else when it comes to narration!)

Quick, fun and sexy – just what I was looking for, and I’ll probably pick up more audios in the series as they become available.


Sergeant Delicious by Annabeth Albert

Soon to be ex-marine Xavier has a bright future as a firefighter. But stationed far from home, he’s lonely and homesick for more than just his favorite foods. Thinking ahead to his homecoming, he responds to an ad seeking a date for a special gourmet dinner, but he doesn’t anticipate an immediate connection with the intriguing foodie who placed the ad.

Food writer Damien is looking for his big break, and reviewing an uber-exclusive secret restaurant may be exactly what he needs if he can score a date to go with him. He doesn’t expect to enjoy corresponding with Xavier quite so much, nor is he prepared for his powerful surge of lust for the hot marine.

However, Damien’s had more than his share of bad luck when it comes to romance, but Xavier is determined to win Damien over. Course-by-course, they fall deeper into like. When they finally give into their passion, sparks fly. But is it a flash in the pan or the recipe for lasting love?

Rating: B-

A sweet and sexy short story previously published in a charity anthology, Sergeant Delicious begins with soon-to-be demobbed Xavier answering an ad from “fun foodie guy” (a food writer) who wants someone to go with him to an upmarket dinner on Valentine’s day. The first part of this short story/novella shows the pair getting to know each other a bit via email, which makes the attraction they experience when they meet more believable. Both men are likeable and down-to-earth, and one of the things I really appreciate about novellas when they’re done well, is that the shorter page count doesn’t leave room for silly misunderstandings and other distracting plot points; and this is one of those that’s done well. The author doesn’t allow Damien’s hang-ups to get in the way (in fact, making good use of them! *wink*) and devotes all her page time to building the relationship between the leads.

A quick, fun (and did I mention sexy?) read.


Bitter Pill by Jordan Castillo Price

Narrated by Gomez Pugh

There’s a new drug on the streets called Kick. The side effects are so brutal, most folks only try it once…unless they’re psychic. Then they do it until it kills them.

Psychic medium Victor Bayne is well acquainted with pharmaceuticals, from the Auracel that blocks his ghosts to the Seconal that offers him a blissful nights’ sleep. But he’s managed to steer clear of street drugs…so far.

Jacob Marks has a medicine cabinet filled with every over-the-counter remedy known to man, but none of them are doing much for his mood—and his long, fruitless days of combing through records at The Clinic are taking a heavy toll.
But their lackluster investigation does have one silver lining: a front row seat at The Clinic when the first Kick overdose comes in. And as scary as the drug might be, if it truly does augment psychic ability, the appeal is not lost on Vic.

Because the very first hit never killed anyone.

Where did Kick come from? Why is it so addictive? And why is everyone at The Clinic acting so darn shady? That’s what Vic intends to find out. And if he’s lucky, he can also expose a shadowy figure from Camp Hell.

Unfortunately, the demons of his pill addiction might prove just as deadly as his long-buried history. He thought he’d managed to ditch that pernicious habit. But what if it was only lurking in the shadows, waiting for the best time to rear its ugly head?

Rating: Narration: A; Content A-

Gah, I love this series so much, and it seems to get better and better! So much going on here besides the actual plot, about the investigation into a deadly psyactive drug (Kick) that is killing psychics. I’m loving Vic’s character growth, especially over the last few books as he’s finally realising what it’s like to work with people who respect him and is really gaining in confidence as a result. He still can’t quite believe it, and is still as endearingly self-deprecatingly shambolic as ever, but we – and Jacob of course – see it and appreciate it. And I like that we get to see Jacob’s more vulnerable side; he’s one of those people who, by virtue of his good looks, imposing physique, intelligence and charisma has come up against little in his life that he hasn’t been able to deal with, but that’s changing, and although he’s still very much the Jacob we all know and love, that extra dimension to him is great to see.

Vic and Jacob’s relationship continues to grow and their love for each other to deepen; they get to work with Zig and Carolyn again, and we get some closure for one of the characters who’s been around since book one; Jackie, the ghost who spasmodically haunted Vic’s old appartment. Her story is a tragic one, and the author does an amazing job in the scenes where Vic and Jacob find out the truth of what happened to her and then help her to move on – they’re incredibly poignant and Gomez Pugh is simply brilliant in them and captures every single drop of emotion.

On the subject of Mr. Pugh – his portrayal of Vic is so absolutely perfect that it’s easy to forget sometimes just how good he is at the rest of it. He can produce an amazing variety of character voices for what is, after eleven books, a large secondary cast, many of whom have appeared in several books throughout the series, and his inventiveness (and consistency) is remarkable.

And – whoa, that ending! When’s the next book out?!

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.

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.

Static by L.A. Witt (audiobook) – Narrated by Michael Ferraiuolo

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

After two years together, Alex has been dreading the inevitable moment when Damon learns the truth: Alex is a shifter, part of a small percentage of the population able to switch genders at will. Thanks to a forced implant, though, Alex is suddenly static – unable to shift – and male. Overnight, he’s out to a world that neither understands nor tolerates shifters…and to his heterosexual boyfriend.

Damon is stunned to discover his girlfriend is a shifter and scared to death of the dangers the implant poses to Alex’s health. He refuses to abandon Alex, but what about their relationship? Damon is straight, and with the implant both costly and dangerous to remove, Alex is stuck as a man.

Stripped of half his identity and facing serious physical and social ramifications, Alex needs Damon more than ever, but he doesn’t see how they can get through this.

Especially if he’s static forever.

Rating: Narration: A; Content: A-

I think it’s safe to say that the premise of L.A. Witt’s Static is one of the most original I’ve come across. It’s set in a world very like our own with one major difference – shifters are known to exist, but instead of being able to assume animal shapes, these shifters are able to change gender at will. Some are straight, some are not; some are happy to spend their lives as one gender, some gravitate towards one but do shift sometimes, and others – like Alex in this story – are non-binary which, in Alex’s case, means spending roughly half the time as male and half as female. But while the existence of shifters isn’t a secret, many of them choose to keep their ability under wraps due to the overwhelmingly negative perceptions of them by the “static” public, and the amount of prejudice they encounter.

Damon and his girlfriend have been in a relationship for a couple of years now, and although it’s not been without its ups and downs (Alex can be very moody and sometimes drinks heavily) they love each other and Damon would like them to get married – although Alex keeps dodging the issue. When she doesn’t answer his calls one morning, Damon is immediately worried about her; she went to visit her parents the night before, and he knows she finds those visits incredibly difficult – so he heads over to her house to check on her, and is astonished when a young man opens the door.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.