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.

A Ferry of Bones and Gold (Soulbound #1) by Hailey Turner (audiobook) – Narrated by Gary Furlong

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

When the gods come calling, you don’t get to say no.

Patrick Collins is three years into a career as a special agent for the Supernatural Operations Agency when the gods come calling to collect a soul debt he owes them. An immortal has gone missing in New York City and bodies are showing up in the wake of demon-led ritual killings that Patrick recognizes all too easily from his nightmares.

Unable to walk away, Patrick finds himself once again facing off against mercenary magic users belonging to the Dominion Sect. Standing his ground alone has never been a winning option in Patrick’s experience, but it’s been years since he’s had a partner he could trust.

Looking for allies in all the wrong places, Patrick discovers the Dominion Sect’s next target is the same werewolf the Fates themselves have thrown into his path. Patrick has been inexplicably attracted to the man from their first meeting, but desire has no place in war. That doesn’t stop Patrick from wanting what he shouldn’t have. Jonothon de Vere is gorgeous, dangerous, and nothing but trouble – to the case, to the fight against every hell, and ultimately, to Patrick’s heart and soul.

In the end, all debts must be paid, and Patrick can only do what he does best – cheat death.

Rating: Narration: B+; Content: B

I’ve been snapping up and enjoying the audiobooks in Hailey Turner’s military/sci-fi Metahumans series and was pleased to discover that last year, the author had begun a new Urban Fantasy series called Soulbound, set in and around a recognisably familiar New York City and featuring characters with magical and supernatural abilities. I added book one, A Ferry of Bones and Gold, to my TBR mountain but surprise, surprise, haven’t got to it yet, so I was delighted to see it come out in audiobook format with Gary Furlong – a narrator I enjoy listening to – at the helm.

Patrick Collins, a mage working for the Supernatural Operations Agency (which seems to be a kind of supernatural FBI), isn’t pleased when he gets a call from his boss cancelling his vacation and sending him instead to New York City, where a spate of ritualistic killings (the bodies are mutilated and have astrological symbols carved into their eyelids) seems to be ramping up as the Summer Solstice approaches. A former combat mage-turned-supernatural law enforcement agent, Patrick is assigned to investigate the most recent murders and immediately senses the presence of dark, demonic magic pointing to the involvement of the Dominion Sect, a cult set on stealing the godhood from one of the ancient gods and then transferring it to their leader.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

Salt Magic, Skin Magic by Lee Welch (audiobook) – Narrated by Joel Leslie

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon.

Lord Thornby has been trapped on his father’s isolated Yorkshire estate for a year. There are no bars or chains; he simply can’t leave. His sanity is starting to fray.

When industrial magician John Blake arrives to investigate a case of witchcraft, he finds the peculiar, arrogant Thornby as alarming as he is attractive. John soon finds himself caught up in a dark fairy tale, where all the rules of magic – and love – are changed.

To set Thornby free, both men must face life – changing truths – and John must accept that the brave, witty man who’s winning his heart may also be about to break it. Can they escape a web of magic that’s as perilous as love?

Rating: Narration – A- : Content – A-

This original and entertaining fantasy romance was one of my favourite books of 2018, so I was delighted when I learned I’d be able to experience it again in audio format performed by a narrator I’ve enjoyed listening to on several occasions; it’s always nice to know something you’re looking forward to is unlikely to be a huge disappointment! Salt Magic, Skin Magic is set in a Victorian era in which magic is known about and practiced, and author Lee Welch does a terrific job, right from the opening lines, of pulling the listener into the tale, creating an atmosphere of menace and uncertainty that immediately grabs the attention.

Soren Dezombrey, Viscount Thornby, was happily kicking up his heels living a life of luxury and dissolution in London until his father, the Marquess of Dalton, burst into his home one morning and forced him to return to Raskelf Hall, the family seat in Yorkshire. That happened eighteen months earlier, and Thornby has been unable to leave ever since. He’s not physically restrained in any way, but something stops him each time he gets near the estate boundary; he feels panicky, he’s assailed by all sorts of doubts and fears, his mind keeps telling him there’s something else he should be doing (like the Victorian equivalent of “have I left the iron on?”) – he literally CAN’T leave.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

 

Salt Magic, Skin Magic by Lee Welch

This title may be purchased from Amazon

Lord Thornby has been trapped on his father’s isolated Yorkshire estate for a year. There are no bars or chains; he simply can’t leave. His sanity is starting to fray. When industrial magician John Blake arrives to investigate a case of witchcraft, he finds the peculiar, arrogant Thornby as alarming as he is attractive. John soon finds himself caught up in a dark fairytale, where all the rules of magic—and love—are changed.

To set Thornby free, both men must face life-changing truths—and John must accept that the brave, witty man who’s winning his heart may also be about to break it. Can they escape a web of magic that’s as perilous as love?

Rating: A-

First of all – don’t let that horrible cover put you off!

Salt Magic, Skin Magic is a very impressive almost-début novel from Lee Welch – I say ‘almost’, because the author has previously published a novella – and I devoured it in two sittings.  I’m not widely-read in the fantasy genre, but the premise seemed quite unique, the world-building – in terms of the rules governing the use of magic – is well-thought out and explained, and the two central characters are engaging and strongly defined.

Soren Dezombrey, Lord Thornby, lives a life devoted to pleasure in London, as is usual for many heirs-in-waiting.  He is estranged from his father, the Marquess of Dalton, whom he hasn’t seen for twenty years, so is naturally surprised when the marquess visits him in town and insists that Soren returns to the family’s Yorkshire estate of Raskelf Hall so that he can marry one of two heiresses selected for him.  In fact, the marquess does more than insist; his servants overpower Soren and force him into the carriage, and Soren is now a prisoner in his own home.  For the past eighteen months, he’s been at Raskelf – and he can’t leave.  Literally.  He isn’t bound or locked in; he can go wherever he pleases within the estate boundary, but whenever he gets close to it, he starts to panic, think the nineteenth century equivalent of “damn, I’ve left the oven on!” and immediately turns back and returns to the hall.

John Blake is a down-to-earth industrial magician, an exponent of inanimate magic, which is regarded in magical circles as lesser, more common magic than that practiced by Theurgists, who summon demons to do their magic for them and so don’t get their hands dirty.  His normal line of work is in factories and other industrial buildings, where he is employed to ward against things like fires, injuries or accidents, so the request to visit the home of a nobleman is a very unusual one.  But a friend – who happens to be Lady Dalton’s cousin – tells him that the lady is terrified that her stepson is using magic with intent to harm her, and he asks John to visit Raskelf as a favour.  John reluctantly agrees to go, and immediately senses that there’s something not right.  The house is literally drenched In ancient magic, curses and things John doesn’t understand, and even odder is the fact that Thornby seems to be completely immune to his magic.  John’s curiosity is aroused – as are other things, because Thornby, while the epitome of the arrogant, disdainful nobleman, is quite the most beautiful man John has ever seen.

At first, what he sees would seem to support the idea that Thornby is indeed a malevolent force within the household, and he takes little heed of the latter’s insistence that he holds no ill-will towards Lady Dalton and that he is unable to leave the estate.  It’s only when he witnesses first-hand – by marching Thornby forcibly across the estate boundary – the other man’s struggles to return and then watches as horrible wounds appear on his face that he at last comes to realise that there’s something truly sinister at work at Raskelf and to believe that Thornby is an unwitting pawn in a dangerous game… but what exactly is going on and who is pulling the strings?

Lee Welch has created an original, riveting magical fantasy in Salt Magic, Skin Magic, which combines an intriguing, tightly-constructed and high-stakes plot laden with mysticism, magic and suspense with a warm, tender romance between two men at opposite ends of the social spectrum who should, by rights, never have met.  The chemistry between Soren and John is intense right from the start, although neither is happy about the degree to which they’re drawn to the other man; and I loved the evolution of their relationship as it progressed from antagonism and suspicion to trust, affection and soul-deep belief in each other. Their interactions are flirty, funny and tender, and the romance develops in a wholly believable, organic way.

Salt Magic, Skin Magic is unquestionably one of the most original, compelling books I’ve read this year, and I’m eager to see what Ms. Welch comes up with next.

Iron and Magic (Iron Covenant #1) by Ilona Andrews (audiobook) – Narrated by Steve West

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

No day is ordinary in a world where technology and magic compete for supremacy…. But no matter which force is winning, in the apocalypse, a sword will always work.

Hugh d’Ambray, Preceptor of the Iron Dogs, Warlord of the Builder of Towers, served only one man. Now his immortal, nearly omnipotent master has cast him aside. Hugh is a shadow of the warrior he was, but when he learns that the Iron Dogs, soldiers who would follow him anywhere, are being hunted down and murdered, he must make a choice: to fade away or to be the leader he was born to be. Hugh knows he must carve a new place for himself and his people, but they have no money, no shelter, and no food, and the necromancers are coming. Fast.

Elara Harper is a creature who should not exist. Her enemies call her Abomination; her people call her White Lady. Tasked with their protection, she’s trapped between the magical heavyweights about to collide and plunge the state of Kentucky into a war that humans have no power to stop. Desperate to shield her people and their simple way of life, she would accept help from the devil himself – and Hugh d’Ambray might qualify.

Hugh needs a base; Elara needs soldiers. Both are infamous for betraying their allies, so how can they create a believable alliance to meet the challenge of their enemies?

As the prophet says, “It is better to marry than to burn”.

Hugh and Elara may do both.

Rating: Narration – A : Content – B+

With the popular and long-running Kate Daniels series drawing to a close, Ilona Andrews has begun a new series set in the same world, featuring one of the major secondary characters from those books. Iron and Magic is the first in the Iron Covenant series, and takes, as one of its principal characters, Hugh d’Ambray, the villain from the Kate Daniels series. When I picked up a review copy of the book several weeks ago, I hadn’t realised it was a spinoff, and when I found out, was worried I might not be able to follow the story. Fortunately, however, those concerns were unwarranted; I asked a friend for a bit of background, but otherwise, this book works fairly well as a standalone, and there is enough information and backstory given for the newbie not to feel lost.

Hugh d’Ambray had, for almost his entire life, enjoyed a position of peculiar privilege as the right-hand-man of Roland, the god-like being who rules the magical world. As the Preceptor of the Iron Dogs, Hugh was warlord, assassin and enforcer; but when we meet him at the beginning of Iron and Magic, his life has been turned upside down. Cast out by Roland, the life he’d known has been ripped away, and he’s in a downward spiral of despair and hopelessness. Deprived of his sense of self, no longer certain of his place in the world and no longer immortal, Hugh is not even trying to adapt to his change in circumstances; he’s down for the count and seemingly intent on living at the bottom of a bottle.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.