Prince of Flowers (Wild Hearts #1) by Nazri Noor (audiobook) – Narrated by Greg Boudreaux

prince of flowers

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

He captured a fae prince. But can he capture his heart?

Lochlann Wilde walks in the shadow of his father, a legendary summoner who commanded mythical beasts in battle. But Locke isn’t legendary. He’s barely a summoner, never passing his academy’s trial of the elements.

And then he accidentally summons a fae prince with a beautiful body and a bad attitude.

Sylvan is fiery and ferocious, stronger than anything Locke has ever encountered. And hotter, too. But time is running out. Locke must tame the prince’s wild heart. If he fails his trial, he’ll lose his inheritance and ruin his family’s name.

Without Sylvan, Locke could lose his chance to become a true summoner…along with his shot at true love.

Rating: Narration – A; Content – B-

I’m enjoying Nazri Noor’s Arcane Hearts fantasy/romance series – it’s fun and inventive with intriguing plotlines, strong worldbuilding, likeable characters, and excellent narration by Zachary Johnson. When the author announced that his new series – Wild Hearts (which is set in the same world as Arcane Hearts) – would be narrated by Greg Boudreaux, naturally I jumped at the chance to listen to and review the first book, Prince of Flowers.

Lochlann – Locke – Wilde is the oldest student at the great and ancient Wispwood Academy, having yet to earn the Crest that will mark his ‘graduation’ as a summoner. In order to earn that – and to inherit his father’s fortune – he must summon and forge a pact with a great beast of legend, but all he’s managed so far are a flock of doves, an elderly wolf and a grubby cat – not exactly a resounding success for the son of the legendary Grand Summoner Baylor Wilde. He’s not exactly the most diligent of students, it’s true, but he’s persistent, so, armed with the grimoire inherited from his father, Locke has once again ventured into the forests of Wispwood, intent on gaining his summoner’s Crest by finding his eidolon (his ideal familiar), a creature of powerful magic with whom he can form a mutually beneficial bond.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

A Strange and Stubborn Endurance by Foz Meadows

a strange and stubborn endurance

This title may be purchased from Amazon

Velasin vin Aaro never planned to marry at all, let alone a girl from neighboring Tithena. When an ugly confrontation reveals his preference for men, Vel fears he’s ruined the diplomatic union before it can even begin. But while his family is ready to disown him, the Tithenai envoy has a different solution: for Vel to marry his former intended’s brother instead.

Caethari Aeduria always knew he might end up in a political marriage, but his sudden betrothal to a man from Ralia, where such relationships are forbidden, comes as a shock.

With an unknown faction willing to kill to end their new alliance, Vel and Cae have no choice but to trust each other. Survival is one thing, but love—as both will learn—is quite another.

Rating: B-

A Strange and Stubborn Endurance is an enjoyable fantasy romance novel in which an arranged marriage provides the spark for murder, intrigue and political shenanigans. The worldbuilding is solid, with well-developed and detailed societal customs and hierarchies, the protagonists are likeable and the central romance is tender and drips with lots of lovely UST. On the downside, the book is at least a hundred and fifty pages too long, the pacing is stodgy in places, and the mystery is too drawn out and easily resolved.

When the story begins, Velasin vin Aaro, a nobleman of Ralia, is on his way home in response to a summons from his father. He has no idea what it’s about, and hopes word has not reached home of his more… disreputable exploits; namely that he beds men rather than women, something Ralian society considers a degenerate perversion. Travelling with him is his best friend and valet Markel (who is mute); left behind is his former lover, Lord Killic vin Lato, whom Velasin dumped after discovering him cheating – again.

Not long after his arrival, Velasin discovers why he’s been brought home. His father has arranged a marriage for him with the daughter of the Tiern (Lord) of Qi-Katai in Tithenia – and Velasin knows he has no alternative but to agree to the match. The Tithenai envoy is to arrive the next day, but before Velasin can think much about what’s to come, he’s stunned and angry to hear that Killic has followed him and is asking to see him. He tries wheedling his way back into Vel’s good graces with pretty words – and when those don’t work, he resorts to sex, and won’t take no for an answer. Be warned, the assault happens on the page (it’s hard to read, but so much of what follows is built around it, it would be impossible to remove it) – and stops only when they’re seen by Velasin’s father and the Tithenian envoy, who has arrived early. Wretched, humiliated, sick to his stomach Velasin watches as Killic is run off while he is left alone in utter disgrace.

The following morning, Velasin is summoned to his father’s presence and informed that the marriage is still to go ahead. He’s surprised to see that the envoy is “one of Tithena’s third-gender souls, called kemi…” whose existence “scandalised the Ralian court”, which is rigidly traditional about everything including gender roles and women’s rights (or lack thereof). Equally surprising is the envoy’s suggestion that instead of marrying the Tiern’s daughter, Velasin might marry his son without changing the terms of the contract. Velasin’s father is aghast at the idea of his son marrying a man, but agrees – then tells Vel he can never return home again.

Caethari Xai Aeduria is surprised to discover that he, rather than his sister, is to be married, but at least has a little time to get used to the idea while the Ralian convoy is en route to Qi-Katai. He’s curious about his future husband, but has been able to find out little about him, and really isn’t sure what he ought to feel or how he should act when they meet. That becomes of secondary importance once Velasin arrives, however; watching from the rooftop, Cae sees the convoy enter through the city gate, and then watches helplessly as someone in the crowd rushes at Velasin with a knife – which is deflected by Markel, who bears the brunt of the strike. Hurrying to the scene, Cae almost collides with a very dishevelled and worried Velasin, who is desperate to get to Markel’s side. It’s not exactly the way Cae had envisaged meeting his betrothed.

Even before Velasin arrived in Qi-Katai, there were signs of trouble when the caravan travelling from Ralia was attacked, leaving one guard dead and others injured. The attack at the city gate is followed by one on Cae’s father – all of them pointing to there being a deep-seated anti-Ralian sentiment at large and to someone intending to destabilise the already fragile relations between Ralia and Tithena.

I was looking forward to getting my teeth into a plot filled with conspiracies and court intrigue, but the mystery plot is fairly weak, little more than a series of events, one after the other, with no real escalation or building on what has gone before, and no real investigation. Vel and Cae ask questions, but are never given the time or opportunity to act on the answers as it seems that every time they come close to doing so, another character interrupts them and sends things off in a different direction or just continues the earlier conversation without reaching any conclusions. It’s too drawn out with little happening, and then, to add insult to injury, the reveal happens literally by accident when Velasin and Cae overhear the bad guys arguing and blaming each other for not doing things properly!

The romance is easily the best thing in the book, as Cae gently tries to help Velasin work through his trauma, offering friendship and understanding and not pushing for anything more. The way they move from being strangers to forging a tentative friendship, then from friendship to absolute trust and more is really well done, with great chemistry and lots of lingering touches and longing looks that build the romantic and sexual tension.

Grading A Strange and Stubborn Endurance was tough because while the plot leaves much to be desired, the romance is lovely, and there are many other things about the book that should be celebrated. I’ve mentioned the worldbuilding already – and within that, there’s excellent queer rep that includes prominent non-binary and trans characters and a welcoming society for all. Velasin’s bewilderment at becoming part of this society is well portrayed, too; having been brought up within the strict conventions of Ralia, he finds it hard to adjust to the fact that he no longer has to hide his sexuality or be surprised at the fact that people like him are treated with respect. He has no idea what is expected of him as Cae’s husband, and is struggling to un-learn many of the things he’s been brought up to believe. He’s a more well-developed character than Cae, who thinks of himself as a bluff soldier, good in combat, not so good when it comes to reading people and politicking. Fortunately, Cae proves to be very insightful and sensitive to the needs of others, intuiting almost at once that all is not well with Velasin and determining to help him however he can. I also liked watching him get turned on by his husband’s mind on those occasions where Velasin is able to cast off his self-doubt and desire for self-effacement, and reveal his true self – inquisitive, clever, observant, a charmer who is skilled at playing the courtier and navigating his way through layers of malice and misdirection. In fact, I wish we’d seen much more of that side of him, especially as part of his journey in this book is finding his way back to being the person he was before the assault and realising he doesn’t have to let it define him.

I really wish I could give A Strange and Stubborn Endurance a strong recommendation because of all the things it gets right, but the weakness of the plot really does drag it down and the slow pacing makes it difficult to invest in the outcome – especially when it seems that sometimes, even the characters themselves have forgotten about it! The final ten percent or so is terrific, and had the rest of the book been able to sustain that level of nail-biting tension, I’d be extolling its virtues. In the end, I’m going with a low B and qualified recommendation overall – a low C for the mystery and a high B for the romance, worldbuilding, characters and representation. I’d definitely read another fantasy romance from this author – here’s hoping for something tighter next time.

Seaspray by Rick R. Reed

seasprayThis title may be purchased from Amazon

Winslow Birkel is a sweet young man in his first relationship. But his boyfriend, the charming and fiery Chad Loveless, has become increasingly abusive to the point where Winslow fears for his life.

Everything changes in a single night when Winslow, fleeing yet another epic fight, goes out to a local bar and finds a sympathetic ear in a new friend, Darryn Maxwell. But when he comes home, Chad’s waiting. He’s got it in for Winslow, whom he wrongly accuses of being unfaithful.

The stormy night sends Winslow off on a journey to escape. The last thing he recalls is skidding off the road and into the river. When he awakens, he’s mysteriously in the charming seaside town of Seaspray, where people are warm and welcoming, yet their appearances and disappearances are all too inexplicable.

Back home, Darryn wonders what’s happened to the new guy he met during his first outing to the local gay bar, the Q. Darryn knows Winslow’s been abused, but he also feels he’s quickly fallen in love with Winslow.

Can Winslow and Darryn decipher their respective mysteries? Is it possible for them to reunite? Is Chad still lurking and plotting to make sure Winslow never loves anyone else? The answers to these questions await you in Seaspray, where you may, or may not, ever leave.

Rating: C-

The main problem I had with Seaspray is that the blurb led me to expect the book to be something it is not. It describes a young man, Winslow Birkel, leaving his abusive boyfriend, running the car off the road and into the river and then waking up in a mysterious but friendly seaside town with little to no recollection of how he got there. I was intrigued by ithe description and eagerly jumped in – but after the first few chapters which describe Winslow’s arrival in Seaspray, how he’s befriended by Frankie, an older lady living in a big house by the sea, and some flashes of memory that come to him of the events prior to his arrival, it became a real slog.

The structure is a bit confusing, too, with some past events delineated by the use of italics, but others, such as the first meeting between Winston and his love interest, Darryn, in the same font as the rest of the book, which meant I didn’t immediately realise that I was reading something set in a different place and in a different timeline. I expected the following chapter to explain or continue their story, but instead it’s about a woman named Julie <spoiler> whose life has been ruined by an addiction to pain medication. We watch her find a stray dog, shoot up in a public toilet and – die? I think. </spoiler> I actually wondered if somehow this chapter had been transplanted from another book by mistake. (Later, there are chapters from the PoVs of other characters, too.)

But I persevered, by now getting an idea of exactly what and where Seaspray was and thinking that as it was a short book and I’d requested it for review, I might as well finish it. Things pick up a bit around the two-thirds mark when we finally learn the truth about Seaspray and Winston realises he has a decision to make – but while I liked the ideas here, I honestly couldn’t connect with the story or the characters. This is the first book by Rick R. Reed I’ve read, and it probably wasn’t a good place to start; the writing is solid, but there’s a lot of description – I’m sorry, but I skimmed a lot of it looking for story progression – and the romance is non-existent. Winslow meets Darryn on the night of Darryn’s very first visit to a gay bar, they hang out, they talk and enjoy each other’s company – but that’s pretty much the only time they spend together. There’s no relationship development whatsoever; they decide they love each other based on that one encounter.

Had I had different expectations going in, I might have enjoyed Seaspray more. It tackles some difficult themes – drug addiction, domestic abuse – and has some pertinent things to say about the power of love and how it provides strength and hope. But being brutally honest, it wasn’t the book I expected or wanted to be reading, and I while there were parts of it I liked, I can’t say I enjoyed it all that much overall.

Fractured Souls (Fallen Messengers #1) by Ava Marie Salinger (audiobook) – Narrated by Alex Kydd

fractured souls

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

When Cassius Black moves to San Francisco for a fresh start, the angel’s hopes of staying below the radar of the supernatural organizations that oversee the otherworldly and magic users in the city are dashed when he stumbles across a dead body in the sewers. His grim discovery soon puts him in the sights of the Argonaut Agency and Francis Strickland, the bureau director who knows his darkest secrets.

Morgan King and his team of Argonaut agents have been on the hunt all summer for the culprits behind a series of gruesome killings that have rocked the city. Killings that bear sinister hallmarks of human sacrificial rituals where the victims’ souls have been stolen. When Fate puts Cassius in Morgan’s path, he realizes the angel everyone likes to call The Devil may very well be the only person who can help them track down the murderers.

Morgan and Cassius soon find themselves crossing paths with a mysterious warlock whose actions evoke disturbing echoes of an incident from Cassius’s past. Cassius and Morgan must work together to defeat their common enemy and save the city from destruction, all while fighting their growing attraction.

Rating: Narration – B-; Content – B

Fractured Soulsis the first book in Ava Marie Salinger’s Fallen Messengers urban fantasy series in which angels and demons fell to Earth some five hundred years ago. The world the author has created is fascinating, the worldbuilding is really good, and the plot is fast-paced and action packed, but the storytelling is hampered by the introduction of too many characters at once (making it hard to keep track of who is who and who they all work for), and the romance is underdeveloped.

Like all the Fallen, Cassius Black, the most feared angel of them all, has no idea of who he was before. For years, he’s been doing his best to live under the radar and avoid interaction with the various magical and supernatural organisations that have been nothing but trouble for him in the past. Recently re-located from London to San Francisco, Cassius has taken on the job of looking for a missing cat and finds much more than he bargained for when he stumbles across said cat – a demon cat – down in the sewers, hiding from a huge Lucifugous demon that’s snacking on some human remains. After dispatching the demon, Cassius is able to see the disturbing signs of some sort of black magic ritual involving the dead man – clearly the Lucifugous didn’t kill the human. But if he didn’t – who did?

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

Treasure (Greynox to the Sea #1) by Kim Fielding (audiobook) – Narrated by Joel Leslie

treasure

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

Julian Massey has always been sickly. When the young man’s parents send him to the seaside town of Urchin Cove to recuperate, he finds himself stranded in a tiny cabin with only the quirky local inhabitants for company. Then a storm blows through, and he finds an unexpected discovery washed up on the beach: an unconscious man.

After stealing a treasure, Kit Archer is taken prisoner by a ruthless pirate, Captain Booth. When a storm hits the pirate ship, Kit is able to escape, but not without serious injuries. Jules nurses him back to health, and friendship grows into desire. But Captain Booth is bound to come in search of his treasure and the man who stole it.

In a world with dragons, sprites, and wizards, it’s going to take more than a little magic for Jules and Kit to find lasting happiness together.

Rating: Narration – A; Content – B-

I so enjoyed listening to Kim Fielding’s Farview a few weeks ago that I decided to back-track and listen to the novella that preceded it, Treasure. It’s a little gem of a tale that introduces listeners to the magical world of Greynox and Croftwell with its imps and wizards and dragon-drawn carriages

Julian Massey – a quiet, bookish young man who has suffered from poor health all his life – is sent by his family to the seaside town of Urchin Cove in order to take advantage of the restorative effects of the fresh, sea air. When he arrives at the holiday cottage rented for him, Julian is at something of a loss; he’s never had to look after himself before, so has to learn how to do simple tasks very quickly (I have to say that I found it odd he was sent there alone given his family’s worries for his health). But he does learn, surprising himself with the sense of achievement he feels and enjoying his new-found freedom from his family’s constant and suffocating concern, his books and his occasional chat with the quirky inhabitants of the nearby village. It’s not long before Julian begins to feel the benefit of the change of environment and the exercise.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals

When I First Saw Red (Soldiers & Mercenaries #2) by Kasia Bacon (audiobook) – Narrated by Cornell Collins

when i first saw red

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

Red: Lázhien’s human. A common Imperial soldier. And my soulmate. How could fate get it so wrong? The demon in me craves this bond with every shred of his being. He pushes me to accept it. This time I won’t yield to his demands.

Lázhien: Red’s a lust demon, a whore and a stuck-up snob. The most beautiful man I’ve ever seen. Pain in the arse. And he hates my guts. I’d be an idiot to pursue him. Yet something about him compels me to make him mine.

When I First Saw Red is a complete and stand-alone short novel with an HEA ending, featuring a couple of reluctant fated soulmates – a demon and a human – trying and failing to defy destiny.

Rating:  Narration – B; Content – C+

Kasia Bacon’s When I First Saw Redis a sexy fantasy/fated-mates romance between a rough-and-ready soldier and a high-class courtesan, and although it’s the second book in her Soldiers and Mercenaries series, it stands alone and I had no trouble understanding the story without having read or listened to book one.

Lázhien, a big, gruff drill-master in the Imperial Forces, is not normally one to frequent brothels, but this particular Freeday night, he’s bored, lonely and just wants to get out of the barracks. With most of his garrison heading off to the Cocks and Hens’ shag-all-you-can bargain night, he decides he might as well go along, if only to kick back and have a few drinks. He doesn’t plan on doing any more than that, until he lays eyes on the most beautiful man he’s ever seen, lean and long-limbed with luminous skin and a cascade of the reddest hair Lázhien has ever seen. The bolt of attraction that hits him stops him in his tracks and he can’t stop staring – until the man shoots him a condescending look and pointedly turns away, slamming the door to his room behind him. Lust-drunk and angry at being so cursorily dismissed, Lázhien offers the brothel owner an exorbitant fee for one night with him.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

Must Love Demons by Meghan Maslow (audiobook) – Narrated by Darcy Stark

must love demons

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

You’d think being magically tethered to the hottest warden in all Verona wouldn’t be a hardship. You’d be wrong. Incubus Nico Azertiran has his dream job as a cherub-in-training. It’s the perfect position for a lust demon who’s more interested in happily-ever-afters than one-night stands. Or it would be, if he didn’t keep screwing it up. When a new cherub gadget misfires, Nico is left trussed to Verona’s most eligible warden, the incredibly grumpy, Sir Flame.Flambeau Illume has a job to do. Someone’s murdering Verona’s rich and famous, and Sir Flame’s hot on the killer’s trail . . . until he has the misfortune to get magically lassoed to the most infuriating incubus he’s ever had the displeasure to meet. Except, maybe Nico isn’t so terribly awful. But how can he solve his case and keep Nico safe at the same time? Especially when the sweet demon seems to have a bullseye on his back. Together they need to solve the crime, stay alive, and—if their luck changes—maybe even fall in love. Easy, right?

Rating: Narration – A; Content – B+

Confession time. I had absolutely no idea what to expect when I began listening to Must Love Demons – I picked it principally because of Darcy Stark, whose narration in Eden Winter’s Diversion series has so impressed me that I’ll take any opportunity to listen to him! The synopsis promised a grumpy/sunshine romance between an incredibly sweet demon and an incredibly grouchy warden (investigator), with a bit of mystery and magic along the way – and I’m pleased to report that the audiobook delivered exactly that; a fun and sexy love story, a mystery that is intriguing but which doesn’t overshadow the romance and a pair of well-drawn, chalk-and-cheese protagonists who are perfect for each other. Oh – and the narration was awesome, too.

Incubus Nico Azertiran was kicked out of his Legion because his magic doesn’t work the way an incubus’ magic is supposed to – instead of spells that create lust and sexual desire, his magic causes people to fall in love with their soulmates. Luckily for him, he’s managed to land a job as a cherub-in-training, learning how to fire cupid’s arrow (literally) – but he’s not doing so well and keeps screwing up. It’s not entirely his fault though – a seven-foot incubus having to using bows and arrows designed for creatures half his size is bound to be awkward.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

White Trash Warlock (Adam Binder #1) by David R. Slayton (audiobook) – Narrated by Michael David Axtell

white trash warlock

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

Not all magicians go to schools of magic.

Adam Binder has the Sight. It’s a power that runs in his bloodline: the ability to see beyond this world and into another, a realm of magic populated by elves, gnomes, and spirits of every kind. But for much of Adam’s life, that power has been a curse, hindering friendships, worrying his backwoods family, and fueling his abusive father’s rage.

Years after his brother, Bobby, had him committed to a psych ward, Adam is ready to come to grips with who he is, to live his life on his terms, to find love, and maybe even use his magic to do some good. Hoping to track down his missing father, Adam follows a trail of cursed artifacts to Denver, only to discover that an ancient and horrifying spirit has taken possession of Bobby’s wife.

It isn’t long before Adam becomes the spirit’s next target. To survive the confrontation, save his sister-in-law, and learn the truth about his father, Adam will have to risk bargaining with very dangerous beings…including his first love.

Rating: Narration: B+; Content ; A-

David R. Slayton’s White Trash Warlock was recommended to me a while back (by Gregory Ashe, no less) so when I saw it in the Audible Plus catalogue, I pounced on it  – and I’m so glad I did, because I was completely glued to it for the entire nine-and-a-bit hours of its run-time.  The story is inventive, the central character is flawed, complex and captivating (just how I like ‘em!) and the narration is really good, so it was a win all round.

Adam Binder has low-level psychic and magical abilities that are often more of a burden than a gift.  Aged just twenty, he lives with his Great-Aunt Sue in Guthrie, Oklahoma and is estranged from the rest of his family; his father left when he was young, his mother doesn’t seem to care and he hasn’t seen his brother Robert (now a doctor in Denver) since Robert had him committed to an institution at thirteen because Adam was hearing voices.  Adam got out as soon as he turned eighteen and now spends much of his time tracking down and destroying dangerous magical artefacts and trying to find their creator, a warlock he suspects may be his father.

Given their estrangement, Robert is the last person Adam expects to hear from – even less does he expect a request for help.  Robert’s wife Annie has begun behaving extremely erratically and Robert has seen things in her behaviour that suggest to him that whatever is wrong with her may be something supernatural.  He asks Adam to come to Denver to do what he can to help; Adam is reluctant but he goes.  Whatever is wrong, Annie doesn’t deserve it – and also, he has a lead that points to the artefacts he’s been searching for originating from somewhere in Denver.

The reunion between the brothers – and Adam and their mother – is uneasy at best, but when Adam sees Annie, he realises she’s possessed by some sort of spirit entity.  A visit to the hospital where Robert works reveals a connection between it and the spirit – while he’s looking around, the spirit tries to kill Adam, and when a couple of cops inadvertently get in the way and one of them is killed,  Adam manages to save the life of the other by giving him a strand of his own life-force, making it impossible for the Reaper to claim him and unwittingly creating a bond between himself and the young police officer.

It doesn’t take Adam long to discover that whatever is going on, it’s affecting more than just Annie – the entire magical community in Denver has been affected and its magicians are all dead.  As Adam investigates further, he finds some unexpected allies, learns more about his past and finds himself at the centre of a long-game being played by immortals – who want the spirit dealt with but want someone else to do their dirty work.

White Trask Warlock is a superb piece of storytelling featuring an intriguing and well-constructed mystery plot, strong worldbuilding, a burgeoning romance and a compelling, engaging and relatable protagonist.  When he was young, Adam was wronged by the very people who should have been looking out for him and he feels like he’s broken – but somehow, he has retained his kindness and compassion, and the fact that he’s ‘ordinary’ – he isn’t well-educated, doesn’t have a real job, and his magic isn’t particularly powerful – is quite refreshing.  The bulk of the story is told from his perspective, although there are a handful of chapters told from Robert’s PoV; I thought that was an odd decision when I first looked at the list of contents, but then realised that it was a good way of integrating elements of Adam’s backstory as there were things Robert knew that Adam didn’t or couldn’t know.

There’s a romance in the story although it’s not the main focus – and that works perfectly well in context.  This is a series featuring the same characters, so there’s time for it to develop and I’m quite looking forward to seeing where the author goes with it.

Mr. Slayton skilfully integrates his fantastical world with the ‘real’ one, has devised an interesting magic system and paces the story extremely well, gradually ramping up the tension and the stakes until we’re racing towards a thrilling and exciting climax.

Michael David Axtell – a new-to-me narrator – delivers an excellent performance all round, assigning distinct, recognisable character voices to a fairly large cast, and he differentiates effectively between all of them by using a variety of tone, timbre and accent.  I enjoyed his interpretation of the elven princess Argent, her posh accent, slight drawl and haughty demeanour perfectly conveying her confidence and status, and I liked the way he voices Adam’s love interest, Vic Martinez , who is sweet, grounded and fun.  Mr Axtell’s portrayal of Adam is the real high point though; he perfectly captures every aspect of his personality – his kindness, his humour, his insecurities – and brings him vividly to life.

Full of magic, supernatural creatures and likeable characters, White Trash Warlock is an enthralling mix of mystery and fantasy with a slight horror vibe that gets this inventive urban fantasy series off to an exciting start.  I already have book two, Trailer Park Trickster, in my Audible library, but I gather it ends on a big cliffhanger so I’m waiting for news of book three before I listen to it! (Patience has never been my strong suit, however.)  In the meantime, White Trash Warlock earns a strong recommendation and a place on my keeper shelf.

When First I Met My King/The Dragon’s Tale (The Arthur Quartet 1&2) by Harper Fox (audiobook) – Narrated by Gary Furlong

These titles may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon:

Book 1Book 2

When First I Met My King:

Once upon a time, there was a winter that wouldn’t end. And all that stands between the people of White Meadows and starvation is a young man called Lance.

Lance is 16 years old, and for all his courage and hunting skills, he’s running out of fight. His family has been wiped out in a border raid, and he’s drowning in loneliness. When strangers arrive at White Meadows, all Lance can think of is using his last strength to drive them away. But these men have come in peace, not to burn and destroy. Among them is a hot-headed, utterly charming prince-in-training named Arthur.

For Lance, Arthur’s arrival is like the return of the sun. The prince has everything – learning, battle skills, a splendid destiny. But as the days unfold in the remote northern settlement in the shadow of Hadrian’s Wall, it soon becomes clear that Arthur needs Lance, too.

The Dragon’s Tale:

Lance has finally gained his freedom to join his beloved king. It is the depth of a northern winter, but his heart and his blood are warm with joy as he sets off to the fort of Din Guardi on the coast, where Arthur is locked in negotiation with the ancient powers of the realm – warlords who could help him defend the whole country against the Saxon invaders, if only he can unite them. But Lance knows such unity may not be possible – or even for the ultimate good of the kingdom. And although his delight at being with Art is boundless, there are other, darker forces at work in the wild dune lands.

A deep and delicate balance has been disturbed, and the fort is under siege by a creature out of legend, a monster that ravages villages and leaves a trail of bodies and burned fields in its wake. The darkest nights of winter are approaching. Arthur, with unendurable weights to bear on shoulders too young for them, only has Lance to befriend him and shield him from the bitterness of battlefield experience and loss. As their bond grows, Lance must find a way to heal the breach between the old world and the new before it devours the man he loves.

Rating: Narration – A; Content – B+

Harper Fox sets her re-imagining of the Arthurian legends – The Arthur Quartet – firmly in Dark Ages Britain, in a divided land slowly emerging from centuries of Roman occupation, one in which the ‘new religion’ of Christianity is challenging the old ways and polytheistic traditions of the Druids and the Celts. She places Lancelot – Lance – at the centre of the tale, relating most events from his perspective and skilfully weaving together his backstory with the familiar elements of the legend – Excalibur, Camelot, Merlin, the Round Table, knights, dragons, magic – and laying the foundations of (what I hope will be) an epic romance between him and Arthur.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

Proper Scoundrels by Allie Therin

proper scoundrels

This title may be purchased from Amazon

London, 1925

Sebastian de Leon is adjusting to life after three years spent enthralled by blood magic. The atrocities he committed under its control still weigh heavily on his conscience, but when he’s asked to investigate a series of mysterious murders, it feels like an opportunity to make amends. Until he realizes the killer’s next likely target is a man who witnessed Sebastian at his worst—the Viscount Fine.

Lord Fine—known as Wesley to his friends, if he had any—is haunted by ghosts of his own after serving as a British army captain during the Great War. Jaded and untrusting, he’s tempted to turn Sebastian in, but there’s something undeniably captivating about the reformed paranormal, and after Sebastian risks his own life to save Wesley’s, they find common ground.

Seeking sanctuary together at Wesley’s country estate in Yorkshire, the unlikely pair begins to unravel a mystery steeped in legend and folklore, the close quarters emboldening them to see past the other’s trauma to the person worth loving beneath. But with growing targets on their backs, they’ll have to move quickly if they want to catch a killer—and discover whether two wounded souls can help each other heal.

Rating: A-

Allie Therin’s Magic and Manhattan series concluded earlier this year with Wonderstruck, leaving Rory and Arthur in a good place, disposing of the evil Baron Zeppler and nicely tying up the major plotlines.  Despite a few quibbles, I enjoyed all three books, so I was pleased to learn the author was writing another novel set in the same universe, but featuring different lead characters and a different setting.  In Proper Scoundrels the action switches from New York to London (and Yorkshire), and we catch up with Lord Wesley Fine – Arthur Kenzie’s former lover – and Sebastian de Leon,  a powerful paranormal whose particular abilities made him a valuable asset to the bad guys – both of whom had major parts to play in Wonderstruck.  Although Proper Scoundrels is a standalone novel, I would strongly advise anyone thinking about picking it up to read the Magic in Manhattan series first in order to understand the character backstories and magical systems and world the author has created.

The action picks up shortly after the end of Wonderstruck, where we find Sebastian living in London, where he’s retreated to lick his wounds after spending three years enslaved by the blood magic practiced by Baron Keppler.  He’s weighed down by guilt for the things he was forced to do while under the Baron’s control and is desperate to find ways to atone.  He’s damaged, scared and alone, having deliberately distanced himself from friends and family because he believes himself unworthy of affection, happiness or redemption.

Wesley, Lord Fine, is also back in London and is at something of a loose end. Like Sebastian, he feels like an outsider, his experiences of war putting him forever out of step with those around him.   He’s a self-confessed scoundrel; jaded, cynical, arrogant and often deliberately rude, he despises nearly everyone and everything.  Despite his involvement with the events of Wonderstruck, he has no idea of the existence of magic and the paranormal world – and no inkling that his Kensington home is under magical protection or that Sebastian regularly passes by to make sure that Arthur’s aristocratic friend [isn’t] in any danger owing to his association with Arthur and Rory.

One evening, Sebastian receives a note from Jade Robbins containing a list of the dates of three recent unexplained murders and asking him to meet her.  He grasps the implications immediately – whoever is committing these murders is a paranormal; his conversation with Jade and her partner, Zhang, confirms this and also suggests the perpetrator may be the man responsible for the theft of a number of valuable and dangerous magical artefacts belonging to Sebastian’s family, the Earl of Blanshard.  And among the guests at the last party the earl held at his Yorkshire estate was Wesley, Viscount Fine.  Could he be the paranormal murderer’s next target?

Proper Scoundrels is superbly plotted and perfectly paced, and there’s what I can only describe as an overall air of confidence to the writing and storytelling that wasn’t quite there in the author’s previous work. The romance is given the time to develop and the attraction between Wesley and Sebastian made a lot more sense right off the bat than the romance between Rory and Arthur, who felt so very mis-matched until quite late in their series.  Wesley and Sebastian may be polar opposites, but  their relationship doesn’t suffer from the same feeling of inequality; the push-pull of their attraction, their individual trauma and coping mechanisms, and the amount of growth they go through as characters makes their romance – across one single title – very believable and deeply satisfying.

Wesley and Sebastian are as compelling as individuals as they are as a couple and I liked both of them very much – although it’s Wesley who really stole the show for me.  I loved his sharp and very distinctive narrative voice; he’s under no illusions about himself – unless it’s about his hard-heartedness and inability to love – and his irritation with himself over his attraction to Sebastian is funny and leaps off the page.  He’s every bit the arrogant, rude, snarky, cantankerous arsehole he was in the previous books, but there’s a depth and vulnerability to him that he’d never admit to, and he’s brave, open-minded, witty and generous to those few he truly cares about.  I enjoyed watching him decide that maybe caring for someone – and allowing someone to care for him – might be worth it after all.  Sebastian has been through a lot and is suffering from what we’d recognise as PTSD as a result, but he isn’t prepared to cut himself any slack and blames himself for all the things he did while in thrall to Baron Keppler, even though he had absolutely no choice in the matter.    He’s unfailingly kind and considerate – Jade is spot on when she calls him a “dangerous marshmallow” – and will fight to the death to protect those around him – especially sharp-tongued, non-magical viscounts  – but he’s no pushover.  I just loved watching these two lonely, damaged men slowly growing closer and allowing the other to see things about themselves they allow no-one else to see. Their chemistry is off-the-charts and they light up the pages when they’re together, Wesley’s acerbity the perfect counterpoint to Sebastian’s sweetness.

Having bemoaned the fade-to-black sex scenes in the Magic in Manhattan books because I felt the author missed an opportunity to add depth to the romance, I was pleased at the inclusion of on-page scenes of sexual intimacy here.  These moments between Wesley and Sebastian feel absolutely appropriate for the relationship and the characters and definitely add depth to their emotional connection.

While Arthur and Rory are namechecked a few times, they don’t actually appear on the page – which I think was the right decision, as this story belongs entirely to Wesley and Sebastian – I was delighted to see Jade and Zhang again; they’re terrific characters and I enjoyed their interactions with the two leads and seeing them playing important roles in the story.

Proper Scoundrels is my favourite of Ms. Therin’s books so far and I raced through it in a couple of sittings.  The two leads are compelling, well-developed characters who grab the attention right from the start, the mystery plot is well-executed and overall, it feels as though the author has taken all the really good things from the first three books and made them even stronger.  It’s my final DIK of 2021, and I have no hesitation in wholeheartedly recommending it.