The Secret Casebook of Simon Feximal by K.J. Charles (audiobook) – Narrated by Gary Furlong

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

A story too secret, too terrifying – and too shockingly intimate – for Victorian eyes.

Dear Henry,

I have been Simon Feximal’s companion, assistant, and chronicler for 20 years now, and during that time my Casebooks of Feximal the Ghost-Hunter have spread the reputation of this most accomplished of ghost-hunters far and wide.

You have asked me often for the tale of our first meeting, and how my association with Feximal came about. I have always declined, because it is a story too private to be truthfully recounted, and a memory too precious to be falsified. But none knows better than I that stories must be told.

So here is it, Henry, a full and accurate account of how I met Simon Feximal, which I shall leave with my solicitor to pass to you after my death.

I dare say it may not be quite what you expect.

Robert Caldwell
September 1914

Rating: Narration – A-: Content – A

K.J. Charles’ The Secret Casebook of Simon Feximal is a collection of wonderfully imaginative, well-written and downright spooky tales of ghostly goings on and supernatural shenanigans set in the late Victorian era featuring ghost-hunter extraordinaire, Simon Feximal, and his chronicler and long-term companion Robert Caldwell. The author draws on ancient legends and late Victorian sensation fiction for inspiration and has crafted a set of original and compelling creations while also charting the development of the relationship between her two protagonists, a lasting partnership built on a solid foundation of love and respect that endures through dark days and the direst of adversity.

When we first meet Robert Caldwell, he is a making a name for himself as a journalist for The Chronicle. He has recently inherited old, dilapidated Caldwell Place and decides to sell it rather than live there. The only problem is that it appears to be haunted – and when the walls start bleeding, Robert realises he’s got to do something about it before he can even think of putting the place up for sale. So, he calls in the renowned ghost-hunter Simon Feximal in the hope that he will be able to get rid of his unwanted, ghoulish guest, and is immediately struck by Simon’s imposing form and air of command. Feximal clearly knows what he’s doing – but both he and Robert have reckoned without the strength of a spirit long denied its desires, and a highly-charged, passionate encounter ensues which sends the mischievous spirit packing and sees our principals left to their own – most pleasurable – devices.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

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The Best of 2017 – My Favourite Books of Last Year.

It’s something of a tradition to put together a “favourite books of the year” list around Christmas and New Year – I’m a little late with mine this year, but here’s the Best of 2017 list I put together for All About Romance.  Did any of them make your Best Books of 2017 list?

I had to make some really tough choices – here are some of the books that also deserved a place on the list, but which I just couldn’t fit in!

Touch of Red (Tracers #12) by Laura Griffin (audiobook) – Narrated by Tavia Gilbert and George Newbern

This title may be downloaded from Audible

When crime scene investigator Brooke Porter arrives at the home of a murdered woman, the only thing more shocking than the carnage is the evidence that someone escaped the scene. But where is this witness now? A thorough search of the area yields more questions than answers, and before Brooke even packs up her evidence kit, she’s made it her goal to find the witness and get them out of harm’s way.

Homicide detective Sean Byrne has seen his share of bloody crime scenes, but this one is particularly disturbing, especially because Brooke Porter is smack in the middle of it. Sean has had his eye on the sexy CSI for months, and he’s determined to help her with her current case—even if it means putting his attraction on hold so he and Brooke can track down a murderer. But as the investigation—and their relationship—heats up, Sean realizes that keeping his work and his personal life separate is more complicated than he ever imagined; especially when the killer sets his sights on Brooke.

Rating: Narration – A: Content – B

Touch of Red is the twelfth book in Laura Griffin’s Tracers series of standalone romantic suspense novels, and is one of only four titles in the series available in audio (the others are books one, two and eight – I have no idea why those in particular). While that’s rather frustrating for anyone wanting to embark upon a long-running series, it could actually turn out to be a good thing, because if the publisher is planning on recording the other books, there’s the chance that they’ll use the same excellent dual narrator team of Tavia Gilbert and George Newbern to perform them.

Each book in the series boasts a self-contained suspense plot and a romance that reaches an HFN or HEA by the end, so there is no need to worry about cliffhangers; and although characters from earlier books do make an appearance – par for the course with series books – the author gives the listener enough information to explain how they relate to the current story and its characters, so it’s not strictly necessary to have listened to or read the previous books. Linking the books together is the Delphi Center, a high-end, high-tech forensics facility that is usually called in by the San Marcos PD to help with their biggest and most difficult cases.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

Think of England by K.J. Charles (audiobook) – Narrated by Tom Carter

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

Lie back and think of England…

England, 1904. Two years ago, Captain Archie Curtis lost his friends, fingers, and future to a terrible military accident. Alone, purposeless, and angry, Curtis is determined to discover if he and his comrades were the victims of fate, or of sabotage.

Curtis’s search takes him to an isolated, ultra-modern country house, where he meets and instantly clashes with fellow guest Daniel da Silva. Effete, decadent, foreign, and all-too-obviously queer, the sophisticated poet is everything the straightforward British officer fears and distrusts.

As events unfold, Curtis realizes that Daniel has his own secret intentions. And there’s something else they share – a mounting sexual tension that leaves Curtis reeling.

As the house party’s elegant facade cracks to reveal treachery, blackmail, and murder, Curtis finds himself needing clever, dark-eyed Daniel as he has never needed a man before…

Rating: Narration – B: Content – A

I’ve been eagerly awaiting the release of Think of England ever since I learned that Audible Studios was going to be releasing a number of K.J. Charles’ backlist titles in audio. It’s one of my favourite books of hers (one of my favourite books, full-stop, actually) and while I admit to a bit of trepidation when I saw that an unknown narrator had been used, I’m pleased to be able to say that on the whole, Tom Carter does a pretty good job.

The story is set in 1904, and opens with former army captain Archie Curtis arriving at Peakholme, near Newcastle, for a house-party given by Sir Hubert Armstrong, a wealthy industrialist. Curtis was invalided out of the army after losing three fingers and sustaining a serious knee injury at Jacobsdal in South Africa, occasioned when a faulty batch of guns backfired and exploded, also maiming and killing a number of his men.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals

Tramps and Thieves (Murder and Mayhem #2) by Rhys Ford (audiobook) – Narrated by Greg Tremblay

This title is available to download from Audible via Amazon

Whoever said blood was thicker than water never stood in a pool of it.

Retiring from stealing priceless treasures seemed like a surefire way for Rook Stevens to stay on the right side of the law. The only cop in his life should have been his probably-boyfriend, Los Angeles Detective Dante Montoya, but that’s not how life – his life – is turning out. Instead, Rook ends up not only standing in a puddle of his cousin Harold’s blood but also being accused of Harold’s murder…and sleeping with Harold’s wife.

For Dante, loving the former thief means his once-normal life is now a sea of chaos, especially since Rook seems incapable of staying out of trouble – or keeping trouble from following him home. When Rook is tagged as a murder suspect by a narrow-focused West LA detective, Dante steps in to pull his lover out of the quagmire Rook’s landed in.

When the complicated investigation twists around on them, the dead begin to stack up, forcing the lovers to work together. Time isn’t on their side, and if they don’t find the killer before another murder, Dante will be visiting Rook in his prison cell – or at his grave.

Rating: Narration – A+: Content – B+

I so enjoyed Murder and Mayhem, the first book in Rhys Ford’s series about the cop and the (ex) cat burglar, that I was tempted to move straight on to book two, Tramps and Thieves immediately it came out. But then I told myself to be a good little reviewer and listen to some of the other things that were – admittedly – ahead of it on my TBL. So I did. But now here I am to tell you that, in spite of some similarities in the plotline (someone is Out To Get Rook), Tramps and Thieves is every bit as entertaining as Murder and Mayhem; Dante and Rook are every bit as engaging as they were before and Greg Tremblay’s narration is every bit as awesome.

At the end of Murder and Mayhem, L.A. detective Dante Montoya and Rook Stevens, the ex-thief who’d haunted Dante’s thoughts for years, were an established couple – although it was clear that things weren’t going to be plain sailing for the rather mis-matched duo. Falling in love with someone who spent most of his life on the wrong side of the law is something Dante never expected, and loving the acerbic, vulnerable and complicated Rook has turned his life upside down. But in a good way.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

Death Below Stairs (Kat Holloway #1) by Jennifer Ashley

This title may be purchased from Amazon

Highly sought-after young cook Kat Holloway takes a position in a Mayfair mansion and soon finds herself immersed in the odd household of Lord Rankin. Kat is unbothered by the family’s eccentricities as long as they stay away from her kitchen, but trouble finds its way below stairs when her young Irish assistant is murdered.

Intent on discovering who killed the helpless kitchen maid, Kat turns to the ever-capable Daniel McAdam, who is certainly much more than the charming delivery man he pretends to be. Along with the assistance of Lord Rankin’s unconventional sister-in-law and a mathematical genius, Kat and Daniel discover that the household murder was the barest tip of a plot rife with danger and treason—one that’s a threat to Queen Victoria herself.

Rating: B-

Jennifer Ashley is the author of a number of very popular historical romances about the various members of the MacKenzie family as well as of the Captain Lacey series of historical mysteries, which she publishes as Ashley Gardner.  I confess that I haven’t read any of the Captain’s regency-set adventures, but as I enjoy historical mysteries, I was intrigued to see that Ms. Ashley is launching a new series set in Victorian England and that her heroine is a no-nonsense, twenty-nine year-old cook who is employed in some of London’s grandest households.

Death Below Stairs is actually the second book to feature Kat Holloway, as the author published a prequel novella (A Soupçon of Poison) a couple of years ago which introduces Kat and her friend/love-interest,  the mysterious Daniel McAdam, who helps Kat out of a potentially deadly situation and assists her in her sleuthing efforts. It’s not absolutely necessary to read this story, as its storyline is completely separate from this novel, BUT it is a very useful introduction to the characters – to Daniel, especially – who is not at all what he seems.  The novella also establishes the relationships between Kat, Daniel and his son, James, and some early reviews (of this book) have indicated that readers disliked the fact that these had been cemented in a prequel novella when this title is billed as the first in  series.  Because of such comments, I decided to read the novella before tackling Death Below Stairs, and would say I found it helpful to have done so.

Kat Holloway has just taken a new position as cook in the Mayfair home of Lord Rankin.  It’s a small household, consisting of his lordship, his somewhat lethargical wife, Lady Emily, and her older sister Lady Cynthia who dresses in mens’ suits, smokes cheroots and chafes at the fact she is stuck under her unpleasant brother-in-law’s roof.  Kat very quickly assumes command of the kitchen and just as quickly sums up her colleagues who include Mr. Davies, the butler (affable but a bit lazy), Mrs. Barton, the housekeeper (very proper, runs a tight ship) and the maid assigned as cook’s assistant, Sinead, who is a bright girl and a fast learner whom Kat believes will do very well.

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

Poison Evidence (Evidence #7) by Rachel Grant (audiobook) – Narrated by Nicol Zanzarella

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

It was supposed to be paradise….

Ivy MacLeod has the perfect opportunity to test her advanced remote sensing technology: mapping a World War II battle site in the islands of Palau. The project is more than an all-expenses-paid trip to paradise. It’s also an opportunity to distance her reputation from her traitorous ex-husband.

But foreign intelligence agencies will kill to possess her invention, and paradise turns deadly when her ex-husband’s vicious allies attack. In desperation, she turns to Air Force pilot Jack Keaton. But is he the bigger threat? Jack might be protecting her as he claims…or he could be a foreign agent. Her compass is skewed by his magnetic pull and further thrown off when she learns her own government has betrayed her.

Stranded on a tropical island with a man whose motives remain a mystery, Ivy must decide who is the spy, who is the protector, and who is the ultimate villain. She longs to trust the man who rescued her, but she’s risking more than her heart. Choose right, and she saves her country’s secrets – and her life. Choose wrong – and she risks nothing short of all-out war.

Rating: Narration – B+: Content – A-

Note: In my review of Cold Evidence, I mentioned that there was a teeny bit of a cliffhanger at the end, which would play out in the next book. Because the two stories are linked by this plot point and a few recurring characters, there will be some small spoilers for Cold Evidence in this review.

Rachel Grant is – in case it’s not obvious by now – my go-to author for romantic suspense. She’s got the knack of getting the balance between romance and plot just right; the pacing in her books is spot on, just the right mix of fast-paced action and calmer periods of reflection or love scenes, and her characters are strong, likeable and easy to root for. In this series, she’s drawn strongly on her background as an historian and archaeologist, and many of her characters work in those professions, as marine archaeologists, military historians and the like, all of which I find fascinating. In Poison Evidence, the seventh book in the Evidence series, we meet Ivy MacLeod, a highly intelligent, self-confessed tech-geek with a passion for geological and geographical archaeology, who works for NHHC (Naval History and Heritage Command) and whose latest invention – a complex computerised mapping system using infrared and Lidar she nicknames CAM – is about to undergo its first field test in the small Pacific island nation of Palau.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.