My 2019 in Books & Audio

Before I started writing this post, I took a look at the one I wrote for 2018 – My 2018 in Books & Audio – to see what I had to say about the books I read and listened to and about the things I was hoping for from 2019.  Sadly, my biggest wish – for more winners in historical romance – not only didn’t come true, but didn’t come true in spectactular fashion; I read and listened to considerably fewer historical romances in 2019 (around 60) and of those, only 15 garnered a B+ (4.5 stars) or higher (actually, that was 11 historical romances plus 4 historical mysteries), and only two made the Best of 2019 list I wrote for All About Romance.  Looking at the upcoming release lists for 2020, I can’t see that situation improving; very few of the book blurbs for upcoming HR make me want to read them.

So… what did I read and listen to instead?  My Goodreads stats show that I read and listened to 299 books and audiobooks in 2019, (that figure includes maybe a dozen or so audio re-listens), which is over 40 books more than my total for last year.

Of that total, 66 were 5 star reads/listens, 184 were 4 star reads/listens – by far the biggest category – 35 were 3 star reads/listens, and there were 9 2 stars, 1 1 star and 1 unrated DNF.

Of the 66 highest graded, around a dozen were actual A grades; I award an A- 4.5 stars but bump the star rating up to five.  (And in the case of audiobooks, sometimes a B grade story will get bumped up because of A grade narration). The 4 star ratings cover books/audios I’ve given B-, B or B+ grades, which is quite a large spectrum as it ranges from those books which are given qualified recommendations (B- is 3.5 rounded up to 4 stars) to those which are almost-but-not-quite DIKs (Desert Isle Keepers), the 4.5 stars (B+) I don’t round up.  I had around the same number of 3, 2 and 1 star ratings as last year, which is at least consistent!

The books that made my Best of 2019 list at AAR are these:

(although I cheated a bit and actually included the whole Not Dead Yet and Borealis Investivations series!)

You can read about them in more detail at All About Romance.

I had a list of “also rans” that I would have included had I had more space:

Charlie Adhara’s Thrown to the Wolves was – I believe – originally to have been the final book in her Big Bad Wolf series, but she’s since announced there will be a fourth (yay!).  In TttW, we finally get some backstory for the enigmatic werewolf Park when he takes Cooper home to meet the family, together with a clever mystery, complicated family dynamics and a well-deserved HEA that’s perfectly in character. Cordelia Kingsbridge’s A Chip and a Chair was one of my most anticipated books of the year and didn’t disappoint, bringing the rollercoaster ride that was the Seven of Spades series to a rolliking, satisfying close.  KJ Charles’ Gilded Cage was (I think?) her first m/f romance; a sequel to Any Old Diamonds, it features tough-as-nails lady detective Susan Lazarus and the other half of the Lilywhite Boys in an intriguing murder mystery with a superbly written and swoon-worthy second chance romance.  Sally Malcolm’s Twice Shy is a lovely feel-good romance between a young man struggling to bring up two young children left to his care following the deaths of his sister and brother-in-law, and a school teacher still dealing with the fallout of a failed marriage and career.  The romance is warm and tender and funny and simply thrumming with sexual tension and chemistry and is guaranteed to warm the heart and produce happy sighs.

Historical Romance made another really poor showing in 2019; of the authors I’ve previously counted on to deliver really good stories full of interesting and appealing characters, only a few actually managed to do it.  KJ Charles and Mia Vincy made my Best of 2019 list, but Lara Temple (The Rake’s Enticing Proposal), Virginia Heath (The Determined Lord Hadleigh), Janice Preston (Daring to Love the Duke’s Heir) and Marguerite Kaye (The Inconvenient Elmswood Marriage) all put out excellent books this year, and I enjoyed Evie Dunmore’s début, Bringing Down the Duke and am keen to read whatever she comes up with next.  I still haven’t got around to reading Julie Anne Long’s Angel in a Devil’s Arms, which has appeared on quite a few Best of lists, so I hope I’ll enjoy it when I get around to it!

I also enjoyed a few historical mysteries; Sherry Thomas (The Art of Theft), Andrea Penrose (Murder at Kensington Palace) and Anna Lee Huber (Penny for Your Secrets) released new instalments in their current series and Cat Sebastian (Hither, Page) began a new one set in an English village post WW2 that combined a cozy mystery with a simply lovely romance.

Audio

I did a very quick count the other day, and think that, for the first year ever, I actually listened to more books than I read (by a very small margin).  I counted around 150 audiobooks (and probably missed a few re-listens because I often forget to mark those at Goodreads) which is half my total of 299 reads/listens. And according to the spreadsheet I maintain of books and audios I’ve picked up for review, I had an equal number of books and audiobooks to review in 2019. I have definitely struggled, at times, to find books I want to review and have filled the gap with audiobooks.  So many are released each month, and I especially love it when backlist titles are made available for authors whose work I enjoy but stand no chance of actually getting to in print!

I chose the following as my Top Five audiobooks of the year at AudioGals:

I also cheated here by including the whole Not Dead Yet series! – which is actually the only title (titles) written in 2019; all the other books were written before last year, but didn’t come out in audio until 2019.  But that’s par for the course with audio; not all of them are released simultaneously with the print/digital versions.  The “also rans” for my audio Best of 2019 list were:

All boast top-notch performances and got at least an A- for narration, and the stories got at least a B+ each; and quite honestly, I could have substituted any of them for the list I actually posted at AudioGals; my favourites tend to change depending on how I feel from one day to the next!  Had I listened to Lily Morton’s Deal Maker before I complied my list, that would certainly have made the cut, too!

So that was 2019.  What am I hoping for in 2020?  I’d like historical romance to get back on track, but I don’t see that happening in a big way and expect to be reading even more selectively in the genre than I’ve done this year.  I’m hoping for more from Mia Vincy and will be checking out more from Evie Dunmore.  Right now, most of the good HR is coming from Harlequin Historical authors, so I’ll definitely be reading more from them. In contemporaries, I’m looking forward to two new series from Annabeth Albert (Hotshots and True Colors) as well as to catching up with her Perfect Harmony series in audio, and to making my way through Lily Morton’s backlist – I’m eagerly awaiting the release of the audio of Risk Taker (with Joel Leslie at the helm) and hope she’s planning more audio releases in 2020.  I’ll be snapping up the finale of L.J Hayward’s Death and the Devil series as soon as it comes out, nabbing more Victor Bayne (and Gomez Pugh!) in the next book(s) in Jordan Castillo Price’s PsyCop series, and inhaling more Hazard and Somerset from Gregory Ashe. KJ Charles promises some 1920s pulp mysteries, there’s another book to come in Charlie Adhara’s Big Bad Wolf series, so I’m looking pretty nicely set for the first part of 2020 in terms of reading and listening!

I’ll (hopefully) be back again this time next year to tell you now it all panned out!

The Rational Faculty (Hazard and Somerset: A Union of Swords #1) by Gregory Ashe

This title may be purchased from Amazon

Three months have passed since Emery Hazard and John-Henry Somerset faced a madman and lived to tell about it.

Three months have passed since Emery Hazard resigned from his job as a detective.

Three months can be too long and too short, all at the same time.

On Halloween, a professor at the local college is murdered in his apartment, in front of dozens of witnesses. Then the killer disappears. Somers is assigned the case—and a new partner.

While Somers investigates the murder, Hazard struggles to find purpose in his new freedom. Despite his decision to stay away, he finds himself drawn to the case. But he’s no longer police, and in the small town of Wahredua, not all of his former colleagues are happy to see him investigating another crime.

When the sheriff’s son and husband go missing, though, the case becomes more complicated than either Hazard or Somers had expected. And soon they learn that someone else is manipulating events in Wahredua.

Someone who is very interested in Emery Hazard.

Rating: A

It’s no secret that Gregory Ashe has quickly become one of my favourite authors.  I first came to his Hazard and Somerset series in audio; I saw Pretty Pretty Boys in a “Coming Soon” list at Audible and requested a copy to review for AudioGals… and was completely hooked on the author’s style of gritty, twisty suspense – and even more hooked on the angsty, screwed-up relationship between the two leads and the gradual revelation of their complicated history.  I continued reading and listening to the series, which went from strength to strength as Hazard and Somers worked some difficult and dangerous cases, building trust and a friendship of sorts before finally facing up to the truth; that they’ve wanted each other since they were sixteen years old but a history like theirs is far from easy to overcome.

Criminal Past, book six in the series, brought a number of interlocking story arcs to a close and ended with Hazard and Somers – who had both been through hell – pretty banged up, but alive and finally feeling as though the past had been laid to rest and ready to move forward with their lives together.  Three months after those traumatic events however, things are far from perfect.  The guys have bought a house together, they share the parenting of three-year-old Evie with her mother, Somers’ ex-wife, and Hazard knows he should be happy. But he’s struggling with the fact that he’s no longer a detective – he sacrificed his own career in order to save Somers’ at the end of the last book – and is finding it difficult to deal with his unemployed status and with the PTSD he’s experiencing as a result of the events that went down in the summer with Mikey Grames.   Hazard’s deep seated insecurities about his attractiveness and self-worth – fostered by previous boyfriends who treated him like crap – only make things worse; he’s waiting for Somers to decide he’s not worth it and walk away.  He’s desperately trying to pretend everything is fine, although Somers – of course – knows exactly what Hazard is doing but is at a loss as to what to do to help him.  He feels guilty that he’s still got his job and Hazard doesn’t, and he’s also taking quite a ribbing from his colleagues, almost all of whom make jokes about the fact that Hazard was the brains of their partnership and that Somers is all but useless without him – and he’s keeping it to himself, not wanting to rock the boat at home or make Hazard feel worse than he already does. They’re treading on eggshells around each other, not wanting to say or do something to make things worse but not knowing how to make things better, and it’s heart-breaking, especially considering what they went through in finally finding their way to one another.  It’s also brilliantly and completely in character for the two of them; although they’ve got better at communicating about the things that matter, they’ve both fallen back on their old patterns and are hiding behind façades of “it’s fine”;  although their physical scars may have healed, the mental ones have not, and they’re floundering.

Somers has been back at work for a little while, and his latest case involves a murder at Wroxall College where the victim – a professor – was stabbed to death at a Halloween costume party.  For a crime that took place in a crowded place, there are surprisingly few witnesses,  there’s little evidence and  the perpetrator escaped easily.  And those witnesses with anything to offer are reticent, hostile and uncooperative by turns, so with nothing but dead-ends on the horizon, Somers – knowing that perhaps he shouldn’t – talks things through with Hazard, the best detective he knows. As Hazard’s mind begins to work along familiar lines, finding patterns and making connections, he finds himself engaged for the first time in months, a renewed sense of purpose energising him and helping him to, at least for a little while, keep his demons at bay.  He listens to Somers, offers advice, but then, acting on his own instinct, makes an important discovery  – one which complicates his relationship with Somers (giving rise to yet more ribbing and embarrassment) and with the Wahredua PD in general.  And when Hazard is approached by one of the witnesses in the case and asked to investigate the murder separately from the police, it complicates things between Hazard and Somers even more and further threatens their already fragile relationship.

Once again, Gregory Ashe has penned a wonderfully complex and gripping murder mystery with twists, turns and red-herrings a-plenty and has very cleverly found a way to keep Hazard and Somers working a case – and together for most of the book – despite their change in circumstances.   But as with the other books in the series, the whole thing – the novel, the investigation – pivots around the ups and downs of the central relationship, characterised by Mr. Ashe’s unerring ability to zero in on what makes these guys tick and to examine, with pinpoint – and sometimes painful – accuracy, their flaws and insecurities.  He has the most amazing ability to peel back layer after layer to reveal raw truths and hurts that feel so very real – and those moments when Hazard and Somers are finally able admit to those truths and hurts are among the very finest – and favourite – moments in the book.

I’ve said elsewhere that one of the things that has made the Hazard and Somerset books so refreshing to read is the fact that this is one of only a few series I can think of that doesn’t end once the central couple gets together.  Here, we’re shown what happens after the ILYs and how, in the case of this particular couple, there’s still a lot of work to do if they’re going to make it in the long term.  So I was relieved to discover that Mr. Ashe hasn’t resorted to breaking up Hazard and Somers in order to generate some romantic tension; instead he has them working through all the shit life is throwing at them individually and as a couple while they’re also working a complicated investigation, which is a much more realistic approach, and one I greatly appreciated.

As always, there’s a colourful secondary cast, some new, like Somers’ new partner Gray Dulac, a young, hip, gay detective who thrives on fist bumps and calls everyone “bro” – Hazard’s reactions to him are frequently hilarious – and some we’ve met before, such as the creepy and insidious Ozark Volunteers, whose presence never fail to make a shiver run up and down my spine.  And cleverly and carefully planted but largely hidden amid the chaos of the investigation and Hazard and Somers’  volatile relationship are the threads of the storyline which seems likely to be the overarching one of the series – and I can’t wait to find out more.

Utterly compelling and immensely satisfying, The Rational Faculty is a real tour de force and a superb start to this second set of Hazard and Somerset stories.  Gregory Ashe’s writing is sharp, focused and laced with humour despite the grittiness of the action and the difficulties being faced by our heroes, and he seamlessly blends together the different elements of the novel to create a truly un-put-downable read.

Note: There are some gruesome scenes later in the book which some may find upsetting.

Not Dead Yet (Not Dead Yet #1) by Jenn Burke (audiobook) – Narrated by Greg Boudreaux

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

Dying isn’t what it used to be.

Wes Cooper was dead. Then he wasn’t-though he’s not exactly alive, either. As an immortal not-ghost, he can transition between this world and the otherplane, which makes him the perfect thief for hire. For 70 years he’s made a “living” returning items to their rightful owners, seeing his fair share of the bizarre in the process. But he’s never witnessed murder. Until now.

His latest mission brings him more than he bargained for: a very-dead actor who is definitely going to stay that way. It’s just Wes’s luck that his ex-boyfriend, Detective Hudson Rojas, is assigned to the case. Hudson broke Wes’s heart years ago – and could again, given he’s rocking a hot silver-fox look that shouldn’t be legal.

As they work together to track down the murderer before anyone else gets hurt, it becomes clear Wes and Hudson have unfinished business. And when a secret Hudson’s been keeping threatens more than just their happiness, it might mean the end of their not-life together – permanently.

Rating: Narration: A+; Content: A-

I know some audio listeners who prefer not to listen to books they’ve already read in print, but I’m the opposite – if I enjoy reading something, I’m always up for experiencing it again, and as I don’t have much time for re-reading, audio is the perfect way for me to return to a favourite story. Of course, sometimes I don’t do that because there are some narrators I dislike listening to, but when a favourite book gets paired up with a favourite narrator – Bring. It. On! Jenn Burke’s Not Dead Yet is a funny, sexy and exciting paranormal romantic mystery with a unique premise; I loved it when I read it earlier this year, and loved it just as much in audio – which, given it’s narrated by the ever fabulous Greg Boudreaux – will come as a surprise to exactly no-one.

Wes Cooper is a ghost. Well, no, he’s not. But he’s not alive either. Back in 1933, he was shot and killed by his lover Michael (in a suicide pact gone wrong), but Michael’s sister was a witch who cast a spell to bring Wes back to life. The spell worked wonderfully – in fact, it worked TOO well, because not only did it bring Wes back, it made him immortal and left him with the ability to exist in both the living plane and the otherplane, the shadowy place between the living world and the world beyond, and to effortlessly slip between the two.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

When Death Meets the Devil (Death and the Devil #1) by L.J. Hayward (audiobook) – Narrated by Rowan Scott

where death meets the devil

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon.

Jack Reardon, former SAS soldier and current Australian Meta-State asset, has seen some messy battles. But “messy” takes on a whole new meaning when he finds himself tied to a chair in a torture shack, his cover blown wide open, all thanks to notorious killer-for-hire Ethan Blade.

Blade is everything Jack doesn’t believe in: remorseless, detached, lawless. Yet, Jack’s only chance to survive is to strike a bargain with the devil and join forces with Blade. As they trek across a hostile desert, Jack learns that Blade is much more than a dead-eyed killer – and harder to resist than he should be.

A year later, Jack is home and finally getting his life on track. Then Ethan Blade reappears and throws it all into chaos once more. It’s impossible to trust the assassin, especially when his presence casts doubts on Jack’s loyalty to his country, but Jack cannot ignore what Blade’s return means: the mess that brought them together is far from over, and Ethan might just bring back the piece of Jack’s soul he thought he’d lost forever.

Rating: Narration: B+; Content: A

I’ve been looking for something to fill the Seven of Spades-shaped hole in my life, so I was delighted to discover L.J. Hayward’s Where Death Meets the Devil, book one in her Death and the Devil series. In it, a former SAS officer and a deadly assassin end up striking the devil’s own bargain when they’re forced to work together in order to survive a trek across the hostile Australian desert while evading a shit-ton of mercenaries in the pay of a dangerous mob boss.

Where Death Meets the Devil opens on probably the crappiest birthday ever for Jack Reardon, who, instead of partying, drinking of lots of beer and stuffing his face with cake, finds himself tied to a chair in a shack in the middle of the back of beyond. He’s an operative of the Office of Counterterrorism and Intelligence – known simply as The Office – run by the Meta-State, a top secret intelligence network stretching across Australia, New Zealand, Malaysia, Singapore and other Southeast Asian countries which share information and resources to combat national and international terrorism; and for the last fifteen months he’s been working undercover in the criminal organisation run by Samuel Valadian in an attempt to find proof of his association with terrorist groups around the world. But someone has alerted Valadian to the presence of a spy in their midst – hence Jack’s current predicament. He tries to brazen it out, but when Valadian calmly introduces his associate Ethan Blade – one of the world’s deadliest, most ruthless killers – Jack figures his luck has run out.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

Rule Breaker (Mixed Messages #1) by Lily Morton (audiobook) – Narrated by Joel Leslie

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

Is it really wrong to want to murder your boss?

Dylan has worked for Gabe for two years. Two long years of sarcastic comments. Two long years of insults, and having to redo the coffee pot four times in the mornings to meet his exacting standards.

Not surprisingly he has devoted a lot of time to increasingly inventive ways to murder Gabe. From stabbing him with a cake fork, to garrotting him with his expensive tie, Dylan has thought of everything.

However, a chance encounter opens his eyes to the attraction that has always lain between them, concealed by the layers of antipathy. There are only two problems – Gabe is still a bastard, and he makes wedding planners look like hardened pessimists.

But what happens when Dylan starts to see the real Gabe? What happens when he starts to fall in love with the warm, wary man that he sees glimpses of as the days pass?

Because Gabe is still the same commitment shy, cold man that he’s always been, or is he? Has Dylan had the same effect on Gabe, and has his solid gold rule of no commitment finally been broken? With his heart taken Dylan desperately needs to know, but will he get hurt trying to find the answers?

Rating: Narration: A; Content: A

Sometimes, you listen to the first few minutes of an audiobook and know you’re going to love it – which is exactly what happened to me with Lily Morton’s Rule Breaker, the first book in her Mixed Messages series. It’s yet another of those books friends have been telling me for ages that I really must read, and once again, audio has proved the perfect way for me to catch up – and Joel Leslie’s fantastic performance only makes me even more thankful to have experienced the story in this format.

Rule Breaker charts the development of the opposites-attract romance between high-powered lawyer Gabe Foster and his assistant Dylan Mitchell; and as soon as I heard Dylan’s opening lines, I knew I was in for just the sort of fun-filled snark-fest that is right up my alley.

I want to kill my boss.

It has become an absolute truth that a small portion of my time every day, is now taken over with creating increasingly inventive ways to murder him slowly. Take today for instance. Today I’m debating whether to hang him out of the tenth-floor window tied to the conference table, or disembowel him with the cake knife from the tea trolley. This is all done while taking diligent notes at the meeting he’s forced me to sit on in. Never let it be said that men can’t multitask.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

Band Sinister by K.J. Charles (audiobook) – Narrated by Cornell Collins

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

Sir Philip Rookwood is the disgrace of the county. He’s a rake and an atheist, and the rumors about his hellfire club, the Murder, can only be spoken in whispers. (Orgies. It’s orgies.)

Guy Frisby and his sister, Amanda, live in rural seclusion after a family scandal. But when Amanda breaks her leg in a riding accident, she’s forced to recuperate at Rookwood Hall, where Sir Philip is hosting the Murder.

Guy rushes to protect her, but the Murder aren’t what he expects. They’re educated, fascinating people, and the notorious Sir Philip turns out to be charming, kind – and dangerously attractive.

In this private space where anything goes, the longings Guy has stifled all his life are impossible to resist…and so is Philip. But all too soon, the rural rumor mill threatens both Guy and Amanda. The innocent country gentleman has lost his heart to the bastard baronet – but does he dare lose his reputation too?

Rating: Narration – A- : Content – A

Another 2018 favourite lately come to audio, K.J. Charles’ Band Sinister is, quite simply, a total delight. The author made no secret of the fact that it’s an homage to the works of Georgette Heyer, who practically invented the ‘modern’ Regency Romance single-handed, or that she employed a number of favourite tropes in terms of the characterisation and plot – and yet in spite of all that, there is no doubt whatsoever that this is a K.J. Charles book, through and through. On the surface, it’s the story of the country innocent seduced by the wicked lord, but in reality, it’s so much more than that, conveying important ideas about the nature of love and friendship, social responsibility and the importance of being true to oneself and of living as one’s conscience dictates.

Guy and Amanda Frisby were born into the landed gentry but have come down in the world. When their mother ran off with her much younger lover, their father took to heavy gambling and heavy drinking and died leaving them with nothing but scandal to their name. When the story opens, Guy is reading – somewhat apprehensively – the gothic novel Amanda has written and sent to a publisher, and in which she has modelled her villains on their near-neighbour, Sir Philip Rookwood (whose older brother was the man with whom their mother ran away), and his close friend, the devilish Lord Corvin, a man with quite possibly the blackest reputation in England.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

A Chip and a Chair (Seven of Spades #5) by Cordelia Kingsbridge

This title may be purchased from Amazon

It’s time to lay all the cards on the table.

Detective Levi Abrams and PI Dominic Russo are reunited and more committed to each other than ever, but they can’t truly move forward with their lives until the serial killer who’s been tormenting them is behind bars. When a secret burial site is discovered in the desert with the remains of the Seven of Spades’s earliest victims, that goal finally seems within reach.

But just as the net is tightening, the neo-Nazi militia Utopia launches their master plan with a devastating act of terror that changes the landscape of Las Vegas forever. As Levi and Dominic scramble to prevent the city’s destruction, they’re opposed by treacherous forces that propel them toward catastrophe. In the end, Levi’s fate may rest in the hands of the very killer he’s been hunting.

The race to save Sin City is on, and these players are going for broke. No matter how hopeless things seem, as long as they’re together and they’ve got a chip to play and a chair to sit in, they’re still in the game.

Rating: A

Cordelia Kingsbridge’s Seven of Spades series earned a place on my Best of 2018 list, and the penultimate book, One-Eyed Royals, was actually my pick for best book of the year.  I’ve shouted from the rooftops about this series for the last six months and to say I’ve been eager to get my hands on this final instalment is one hell of an understatement!  A Chip and a Chair is, I’m delighted to say, a supremely fitting end to what has been an incredible series – a tightly-plotted, utterly gripping story full of high-stakes action, emotional highs and lows, and boasting a wonderfully developed, sexy romance between a couple of complex, well-defined and compelling characters.

As is always the case when reviewing suspense novels, I’m not going to say too much about the plot so as to avoid spoilers, but there are spoilers for the earlier books in the series in this review.

For the better part of a year, Las Vegas has been the ‘home base’ for a particularly devious serial killer dubbed the Seven of Spades, because each of their victims has had a seven of spades playing card left on their body.  Right from the start, the killer cultivated a relationship – of sorts – with homicide detective Levi Abrams; he’s the one they contact, the one they’ve sometimes fed information to and the one they’ve gone to great lengths to protect.  As the books have progressed, the SoS’s partiality for Levi has led to increased suspicion among his colleagues and a growing sense of isolation from them; a man with anger management issues who struggles to keep himself under a tight rein at the best of times, Levi has been slowly unravelling and getting closer and closer to the edge of his control.

The love and support of his partner, PI Dominic Russo, has kept Levi grounded for the most part, although the couple hit a rocky patch at the end of book three, Cash Plays, after Dominic, a compulsive gambler, relapsed, his lies and manipulation driving a wedge between them.  Their break-up left both of them struggling through some of the blackest times of their lives alone, but by the end of One-Eyed Royals, they were back together, filled with a new determination to work things out between them – and at the beginning of A Chip and a Chair, they’re moving into a new apartment.  It’s been a month since the game-changing events at the end of One-Eyed Royals, and the Seven of Spades has been quiet since then – but Levi knows it’s only a matter of time before they strike again.

When a construction crew working in the desert unearths a number of bodies in various stages of decomposition, Levi and his work-partner Martine are convinced they’ve found the Seven of Spades’ first victims. Examination and testing is going to take time, but a long overdue piece of luck leads Levi to a real breakthrough in the case – just as the LVMPD is forced to turn its attention to the threat posed by the far-right neo-Nazi gang, Utopia, which has been stepping up its activities in recent weeks, instigating a string of violent hate crimes across the Las Vegas valley and causing panic among the local population. When credible evidence is found that they’re planning to mount a series of terrorist attacks, the city is thrown into chaos. Worse still, Utopia is intent on challenging the Seven of Spades – and on using Levi to get to them.

As to the rest… well, you’ll have to find out for yourself because my lips are sealed! Yes, we do find out the identity of the Seven of Spades and yes, it’s a shocker; the author cleverly presented several candidates, none of whom was more or less likely than any of the others, and I know people who have been speculating about their identity since book one. But odd as it may seem, I was so invested in the relationship between Levi and Dominic, and the way they and their circle were affected by the Seven of Spades’ actions, that learning the killer’s actual identity wasn’t my main focus; all of the possibles were people close to Levi in some way, so that whoever it turned out to be, it was going to be an incredibly harsh betrayal – and it was knowing that was coming that I found to be one of the most compelling elements of the story.

I devoured A Chip and a Chair in one sitting, and if I’d been any closer to the edge of my seat, I’d have been sitting on the floor! I was right there with Levi and Dominic as they got closer and closer to discovering the truth, my pulse racing during the spectacular, mid-book action sequence and then again as Levi, Dominic and their small band of allies – including Rebel, Dominic’s specially trained personal protection dog! – race to find the man behind Utopia’s reign of terror and prevent an atrocity the like of which Las Vegas has never seen.

And in the middle of all of it are Levi and Dominic, closer, stronger and more in love than ever, still battling their demons but thoroughly committed to working through them together and being completely open and honest with one another. I’ve said in previous reviews that I’ve been really impressed with the author’s depiction of Dominic’s addiction and that continues here; she hasn’t glossed over it just because the guys are back together and makes it clear that Dominic is still struggling and will probably continue to do so, but that he’s working hard, every day, to fight it. And there are big self-revelations for Levi, too, as he finally faces up to some long-buried truths about himself – and the final scene *sigh* – gave me All The Feels.

Cordelia Kingsbridge delivered everything I wanted – and more – in A Chip and a Chair. Nail-biting tension, fantastic, vividly-written set-pieces, a complex plot, a brilliant central dichotomy that was so audacious it made me smile and moments that reduced me to tears. I’m not going to forget Levi and Dominic – or this series – in a hurry, and if you haven’t started it yet, prepare to lock yourself away for a few days, because I guarantee that once started, you won’t be able to stop reading until the very end.