Home Work (Life Lessons #3) by Kaje Harper (audiobook) – Narrated by J.F. Harding

Home Work Audio2This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

Murder, trauma, and raising children—who said love was easy?

Mac and Tony thought the hard part was over. They’re together openly as a couple, sharing a home and building a life with their two kids. It’s what they dreamed of.

But daughter Anna struggles with the changes, Ben is haunted by old secrets, Mac’s job in Homicide still demands too much of his time, and Tony is caught in the middle. It’ll take everything these men can give to create a viable balance between home and work. Especially when life refuses to give them a break.

Rating: Narration – A; Content – A-

Home Work is the third book in Kaje Harper’s fabulous mystery/romance Life Lessons series, and as it’s a continuation of Tony and Mac’s story, is not a standalone. This is a series that should be listened to in order and there are spoilers for the story so far in this review.

In Breaking Cover, Tony and Mac were faced with a number of difficult choices after Tony became the legal guardian of six-year-old Ben, the boy to whom he’d been a father in all but name since his birth. With Tony, a single, gay man, under intense scrutiny due to the ensuing custody case and not wanting to lie about their relationship, Mac faced some incredibly difficult decisions, which culminated in his coming out at work, then moving in with Tony and Ben and bringing his five-year-old daughter, Anna, to live with them.

Now, the four of them are a family, although life is far from plain sailing. Anna is struggling to adjust from living with her (ultra-conservative) aunt, Ben is doing better but clearly holding back about something that’s bothering him, Mac is still letting his job run his life – and Tony is stuck in the middle, working full-time, running their home and doing the bulk of the childcare, and he’s frazzled. He’s never been one to hold back when something is important to him and he wishes Mac was around more often do his share of all those mundane tasks that go along with making a home and family – but Mac is having a tough time at work, dealing with the fall out of coming out and colleagues who, once friendly, are now openly hostile, and Tony doesn’t want to add to the stress Mac is already under by pressuring him to be home (or home on time) more. But Tony knows things can’t go on this way forever – the problem is finding the right time to address it. If, given how much of Mac’s identity and sense of self is tied up with his being a cop, there is ever going to be a right time.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

Unstable Connections (Valor & Doyle #3) by Nicky James

unstable connections

This title may be purchased from Amazon

Missing children are reappearing, and ties to a thirty-year-old cold case can’t be ignored.

Between his shaky, brand-new relationship with reformed office playboy Detective Aslan Doyle, his sister’s case going from cold to hot overnight, his father insisting on being involved, and his boss breathing down his neck, Detective Quaid Valor is on edge.

The stress of the case is impacting Quaid’s whole life. He isn’t eating or sleeping, and every time he and Aslan are together, he is overwhelmed by feelings of inadequacy, which threaten to ruin the one good thing he has. Aslan’s patience seems unending until something happens to turn his life upside down too.

Can their relationship survive the personal and professional pressures they’re facing, or will it crash and burn?

Between media rumors and unstable connections, Quaid and his team need to work quickly to piece together a complicated case before more children fall victim to their unknown serial kidnapper. Maybe once everything is solved, Aslan and Quaid will have time to work on their rocky relationship and find stable ground once again.

Rating: A

Wow – that was intense! This latest instalment in Nicky James’ Valor and Doyle series had me on the edge of my seat from start to finish; Unstable Connections is another compelling read that once again weaves together an absolutely gripping mystery plot with the continuing development of the relationship between the leads who, at the end of Elusive Relations, agreed they wanted more from each other than just sex, and are now a couple.

This series needs to be read in order so as to fully understand the relationship dynamics, and while each of the previous books has featured a self-contained mystery, certain overarching plotlines that have been bubbling along in the background reach a conclusion here, so this is not the place to jump in. Oh, and Spoilers Ahoy!

At the end of the previous book, the author dropped one helluva bombshell when eight-year-old Lili Vacari, who had been missing for four months, suddenly reappeared – and was carrying the backpack belonging to Quaid’s sister, who was abducted thirty years earlier. This news – naturally – hits Quaid incredibly hard, and sends him deep down a rabbit hole to the point of obsession; he’s not eating or sleeping well, he’s at his desk more often than not, and his colleagues are becoming concerned for him. It’s his partner, Eden, who finally calls in the big guns – Aslan – but while he’s just as concerned, he’s not sure how much more he can do. He knows Quaid and how much this case means to him, and is doing his absolute best to provide as much support as he can. He encourages Quaid to eat and sleep, offers the best type of distraction – sex – and someone to bounce ideas off… but he knows there are lines he can’t – and shouldn’t – cross. Quaid’s a grown man, Aslan isn’t his keeper, and he’s not about to torpedo their relationship by “taking a stance on Juniper”. He does, however, manage to drag Quaid away from the office on this particular Saturday – his birthday – long enough to get some sleep and get spruced up for dinner with his dad. Aslan is a bit nervous about meeting Abraham Valor in a social setting and as his son’s boyfriend; the two of them know each other by sight and reputation of course, but unfortunately for Aslan, his reputation as the department playboy means Valor Sr. sees him as someone else who might hurt Quaid. But after some initial frostiness, things settle and they begin to enjoy their meal – then a call from Quaid’s partner Eden throws another rock into the pond. Another missing little girl has just been found in the same location as Lily – and there’s no way this is a coincidence. Somehow the disappearances of these three little girls – Juniper, thirty years ago, Lily, and now Evelyn Rice – have to be connected, but how?

I’m not going to say any more, only that the author pulls it all together brilliantly as Aslan, Quaid and his colleagues in the MPU slowly begin to piece together the full picture by combining new information with everything Quaid has gained over years of painstaking research into his sister’s case. Juniper’s disappearance has been the framework for Quaid’s entire career; he followed his father’s footsteps into the police force and then became a detective in the Missing Persons Unit with the aim of preventing other families from going through what his did, and to be able to continue to investigate his sister’s disappearance with a view to getting some answers and closure for his dad.

Quaid’s tunnel vision has not only got him into hot water with his boss, who is close to pulling him off the case, it’s also causing problems in his fledgling relationship with Aslan. They’ve spent hardly any time together since deciding to give a relationship a try, but fortunately for Quaid, Aslan is a good guy who knows how much this case means to Quaid and is doing his absolute best to support him through it. Still, it’s hard to watch Quaid running himself into the ground – and to see what being so stressed out is doing to him psychologically. Aslan knows Quaid’s ex did a real number on him and seriously damaged his self-esteem, and knows that isn’t something that can be fixed overnight, but this case is also confirming just how many of Quaid’s insecurities and feelings of inadequacy can be traced back to Juni’s abduction when he was just six years old; how his fears of abandonment all stem from being pretty much forgotten in all the furore that surrounded it and then the breakdown of his family when his mother left a few months later. Aslan knows how much Quaid fears not being enough, that he believes that showing vulnerability is unattractive and that his neediness will drive Aslan away – but he’s prepared to wait out the storm because he’s recognised that what he has with Quaid – and the man himself – is worth it. But it’s not going to be easy.

While everything in Quaid’s life has been turned upside down, Aslan is also having a tough time balancing life and work as he and his partner Torin Fox find themselves juggling almost more cases than they can handle. I liked the realistic approach here; Aslan might want to drop everything to help Quaid, but he can’t because he has his own job to do, and to have it otherwise would have stretched my creduilty a bit too far. The pressure they’re both under is palpable and the author does a fantastic job of building the tension throughout this story; there’s little let up, and even when Quaid and Aslan do get some alone time, there’s a constant sense of unease, especially on Quaid’s part, as he allows his insecurities to start to get the better of him. And then, out of the blue, comes something with the potential to shatter Aslan’s world, too – no spoilers, but your heart will be in your throat and if you’ve got any nails left by this point, you won’t have many left after!

There are a number of other interesting relationships in the story, principally Quaid’s with his dad, which has so far seemed loving and solid, but is here revealed to have been built on some pretty shaky foundations. Abraham Valor’s guilt over what happened to his daughter is buried deep and has never been addressed – he and Quaid never talk about Juniper – and some of the effects of that guilt and its long denial are quite ugly.

I loved the way Quaid’s colleagues – his partner Eden and two other MPU detectives, Allison Bright (Torin’s crush – watching him flounder like a schoolboy trying to ask her on a date is so cute!) and Erik Travolta – rally round with support, and even Costa Ruiz, the IT specialist who, in the previous book, came across as a homophobic dickhead, turns out to be a good guy in the end; maybe he’s never going to go on a Pride march, but he and Quaid establish a good working relationship peppered with snarky banter, and there’s the sense that they might actually come to like each other one day.

Unstable Connections further cements the Valor and Doyle Mysteries as an all-time favourite series, and will undoubtedly be making an appearance on my Best of 2022 list. The plotting is tight, the pacing is swift and relentless and Nicky James does a fantastic job of wrapping up all the plotlines she’s seeded throughout. This events of this story really put Valor and Doyle’s romantic relationship to the test, and while they clearly still have a way to go, there’s every indication that they’ll get there. Plus, I’m a sucker for the player-falls-hard-and-forever trope, and Aslan shows himself to be boyfriend material of the highest calibre.

So it’s on to the DIK shelf for this one – and looking ahead to January 2023 and the release of book four, Inevitable Disclosure. It can’t come soon enough!

Trailer Park Trickster (Adam Binder #2) by David R. Slayton (audiobook) – Narrated by Michael David Axtell

trailer part trickster

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

They are my harvest, and I will reap them all.

Returning to Guthrie, Oklahoma, for the funeral of his mysterious and beloved aunt, Sue, Adam Binder once again finds himself in the path of deadly magic when a dark druid begins to prey on members of Adam’s family. It all seems linked to the death of Adam’s father many years ago – a man who may have somehow survived as a warlock.

Watched by the police, separated from the man who may be the love of his life, compelled to seek the truth about his connection to the druid, Adam learns more about his family and its troubled history than he ever bargained for, and finally comes face-to-face with the warlock he has vowed to stop.

Meanwhile, beyond the Veil of the mortal world, Argent the Queen of Swords and Vic the Reaper undertake a dangerous journey to a secret meeting of the Council of Races…where the sea elves are calling for the destruction of humanity.

Rating: Narration – A-; Content – B-

David R. Slayton’s White Trash Warlock introduced us to Adam Binder, a likeable, complex and damaged young man with magical abilities – but rather than making him the strongest warlock who ever warlocked, the author gave him frustratingly mediocre powers, and it was a refreshing change, in this genre, to have a lead character who is, well, pretty  ordinary.

In that book, Adam saved the life of a young cop – Vic – and in doing so, inadvertantly created a magical bond between them that means they’re able to feel each other’s emotions and sometimes even hear each other’s thoughts. Their relationship was turning romantic, Vic for the first time really accepting his bisexuality in the nature of his feelings for Adam, while at the same time realising that Adam wasn’t sure if those feelings were real or had been created along with the bond.

At the end of the book, Adam received the news that his great aunt Sue – who had taken care of him since he left the ‘school’ (read: asylum) to which he’d been committed – had died suddenly, and he went haring off back to Oklahoma without telling anyone – not his brother Bobby (with whom he’s finally starting to have a proper relationship) and not Vic who, at the beginning of the book, is understandably upset by this. He decides to follow Adam, but is waylaid by Argent (the sister of Silver, Adam’s (elven) first love) and they end up on a warped kind of road trip through the elf kingdoms and get caught up in some nasty political shenanigans. Meanwhile in Oklahoma, Adam is reunited with Sue’s daughter Noreen and his cousin Jody – who are both toxic; when an explosion kills Noreen, Adam’s investigation leads him to believe that to believe that someone – a powerful druid – is offing his relatives, and it’s up to him to work out exactly who it is and stop them.

I enjoyed Trailer Park Trickster, but wasn’t as completely captivated by it as I was by White Trash Warlock.  I like Adam and Vic as individuals and as a couple, and I liked Adam learning more about his family history, and seeing his growing maturity in the way he approaches the druid issue, but I didn’t really understand the significance of the Vic/Argent storyline at this point, other than as a device to keep Adam and Vic apart for almost the entire book.  They have only two scenes together – and one of those is of them having a row – and there is no development of their relationship here.  Given the way their bond was formed (and what it means!), Adam’s guilt about it and doubts about the nature of Vic’s feelings for him, and Vic’s determination to prove to Adam that what he feels for him is because of him, Adam, and not the bond, I’d have expected at least some further exploration of it – but there’s nothing. When Vic learns about one of the big secrets Adam has been keeping:

(spoiler – highlight to read)
that Bobby and their mother killed Binder Sr. because he was violent and likely to kill Adam, and he didn’t want Vic to know because Vic’s a cop and a straight-up guy who would need to do the right thing and arrest Bobby

he’s understandably upset (hence the row) – but they don’t really talk it through and instead, Vic decides to be okay with it after receiving a visit from

(spoiler – highlight to read)
his own father’s ghost.

The romance is so underdeveloped that the declarations that preceed the final showdown come out of nowhere and feel like they’ve been shoved in just for the sake of it. The lack of relationship development – and of character depth and development as a whole – made it difficult for me to become invested in the story. I’m aware this is an urban fantasy story with ‘romantic elements’ so I wasn’t expecting a full-blown romance, but I was hoping that the author would build upon what he’d started in book one, and he doesn’t. When the book description itself suggests that Vic may be the love of Adam’s life, I think we deserve a bit more than a blazing row and some awkward ILYs.

I found both storylines intriguing, but the stakes didn’t feel anywhere near as high as in the first book. I continue to like Adam, who is both relatable and heroic in his determination to get to the bottom of what is going on despite his fears, misgivings and insecurities, although I couldn’t help wondering how, if his magical ability is so slight – and given his powers seem to be mostly psychic in nature – he is able to defeat much stronger magic. The magical system that operates in this world lacks clarity, and Vic’s new status as a reaper, which only comes into play at the very end, is still largely unexplained.

The narration by Michael David Axtell is, again, excellent, and is mostly why I’ve bumped the rating up into the B range. His pacing and character differentiation are good, his vocal characterisations are nicely judged and the characters who appeared in book one are portrayed consistently. He does a really good job of conveying the various aspects of Adam’s character – his determination and his vulnerability – and his interpretation of Vic is good, too, with a firm steadiness to his tone that works really well to depict the confident young man he is. Mr. Axtell’s female voices are pretty good overall, and the harsh, accented delivery adopted for Noreen and Jody is a good fit for who these women are, spiteful, bigoted and all-round unpleasant.

I put off listening to this for so long because I knew it ended on a cliffhanger and decided to hold off until I could listen to book three (out in October). I’ll definitely be listening to Deadbeat Druid because, while I know I’ve said quite a few negative things in this review, I do like the characters and the stories and I really want to find out how things turn out. Fingers crossed that book will be as good as White Trash Warlock, and I’ll be able to put the disappointments of Trailer Park Trickster down to middle-book-itis.

Bad Bishop (Perfect Play #2) by Layla Reyne

bad bishop

This title may be purchased from Amazon

When a marriage of convenience becomes more than either husband bargained for…

Special Agent Levi Bishop needs to:
Keep his son and family safe.
Prove his boss was framed for a crime she didn’t commit.
Convince his selfless cowboy husband that his needs matter too.
Make a bold play before love slips through his fingers.

Special Agent Emmitt Marshall needs to:
Protect his husband and stepson.
End the nightmare that’s haunted him since his mentor’s murder.
Hack through layers of deception to identify the real threat.
Stop hoping someone will choose him.

Marsh is determined to go it alone, to guard his family and his heart.
But Levi’s life and heart are on the line too.
Cornered, Levi will chance any play to save the marriage and man he needs.
Rings were exchanged and promises made.
Marsh kept up his end of the bargain.
Now it’s Levi’s turn.

Rating: B

Bad Bishop is the second book in Layla Reyne’s Perfect Play trilogy, and if you haven’t read book one, Dead Draw, it won’t make a great deal of sense; this is a ‘same couple’ series with one overarching plotline, so the books need to be read in order.

Bad Bishop picks up just a few hours after Dead Draw ended, with Marsh and Levi realising that their enemies have upped the stakes of the game. The suddenness of all the upheaval has thrown a wrench in the middle of the couple’s burgeouning relationship; both men had begun to realise that their marriage of convenience was turning into something real, but any acknowledgement of that had to be put on the back burner when they were targeted by the traffickers they’re trying to bring down, Levi’s boss was framed for murder, and two of their colleagues were injured and ended up in hospital. With the help of Redemption Inc. (the company run by Brax (Silent Knight) and Mel (Whiskeyverse)) Levi, Marsh and David (Levi’s fourteen-year-old son) were able to get away under the radar, and when Bad Bishop begins, are en route to Marsh’s family ranch/compound in Texas.

Once settled, Marsh and Levi set about taking stock of where they are with the investigation and deciding on their next moves. It seems their most likely suspect has decamped to Europe, so it’s back to The Hague for Marsh (he was working there as a Legat at the beginning of Dead Draw) and then on to Vienna and Salzburg – but this time he won’t be alone. Confident of David’s safety at the ranch with Marsh’s moms, Holt, and Brax, Levi will be going with him, and then they’ll meet up with some of Marsh’s former colleagues and contacts to see what they know and start to plan the take-down. Meeting up with Sean (What We May Be), Marsh and Levi start picking their way through a complicated network of connections, progress made even tricker by the knowledge that someone Marsh and Sean have worked with may be in the traffickers’ pocket. There’s no way they’re getting away with everything they’re doing without someone high up covering for them and allowing them to operate unchecked throughout Europe. Marsh and Levi already know this is true of the operation in the US, where the gang has some pretty influential people on its payroll. While trying to work out how far the corruption extends, they’re also presented with some new – and uncomfortable – information about Sophie, the friend and mentor whose murder set Marsh onto the path which ultimately led him to Levi… and the web becomes even more tangled.

Ms. Reyne does a good job here of giving the romance space to breathe and embed without losing any of the momentum surrounding the suspense plot. There’s plenty going on – mostly gathering information and following leads rather than shoot ‘em up action – but the tension is mounting and the ending is a nail-biter. It’s probably no surprise that there’s a cliffhanger ending given that this is essentially part two of a single story being told in three instalments – but there is one and it’s one guaranteed to have you chomping at the bit for King Hunt (out early 2023).

On the relationship front, the tables are turned somewhat here as the events at the end of the previous book have spooked Marsh a little; he’s riddled with guilt over what he’s brought to Levi and David’s door and his deep-seated insecurities about not being enough have come flooding back. He’s one of those guys with a protective streak a mile wide and such a big heart that he wants desperately to look after those he loves and fails to do the same for himself. He needs someone who recognises that about him and who will do their best to show him that he IS enough – that he could be everything – and luckily for him, he’s found that person in the man he proposed to in order to get in on an op.

Although Levi wasn’t completely sure that marrying a stranger was a good idea, by the end of Dead Draw he had decided he needed Marsh in his life and was ready to trust him with his happiness and his son’s and make a new life with him. Knowing Marsh pretty well by now, he knows why his husband seems to be pulling back, and is determined to show Marsh that he absolutey, one-hundred percent, means what he says:

I will have your back, however I can do that, however you need me to, and I will give you a home and heart to return to. I promise I won’t leave you.

I like Levi and Marsh both individually and as a couple – they have terrific chemistry and I love the relationship Marsh is continuing to build with David – I like the way their romance is playing out, and I’m intrigued by the plot, so I enjoyed a lot about the book as a whole. But once again, I’m knocking off grade points for over-complication, because the first section is bursting at the seams with cameo appearances, and it was hard to keep track of who was who and who did what – and I’ve read almost all Ms. Reyne’s romantic suspense titles! Sure, it’s fun to see familiar faces again, but at the same time, it’s over-egging the pudding when no less than seven characters (Helena, Brax and Holt from Fog City, Cam Byrne from Trouble Brewing, Sean, Trevor and Charlotte from What We May Be) all drop in alongside the secondary characters from this series. (One scene features around a dozen speaking characters on a big video/conference call.) Sean and, to a lesser extent, Holt and Brax, do have larger roles to play in the wider story, and I’m completely behind the concept of ‘why create a new character to do X when I can use one that already exists?’ – but even so, I couldn’t help wondering if the story really needed ALL of them. There are also half-a-dozen villains and at least three more new characters introduced once the story moves to Europe – it’s a lot to keep track of.

That criticism aside however, once past those early chapters and with the action moving to Europe, the story kicks up a gear and the twists and turns come thick and fast. Slick, sexy, suspenseful and entertaiing, Bad Bishop is a strong follow-up to Dead Draw, and I’ll be back next year to watch Levi and Marsh bring down the bad guys and get their well-deserved HEA.

Elusive Relations (Valor & Doyle #2) by Nicky James (audiobook) – Narrated by Nick J. Russo

elusive relations

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

Life was easier when rival detectives Quaid Valor and Aslan Doyle kept to their own sides of the building. They could forget the one glorious night they’d shared and move on.

But when Aslan is called to a homicide and discovers one of the victims has a personal history with Quaid, he knows a confrontation is inevitable.

When news about the case spreads, Quaid can’t help but get involved. He wants answers; if not for himself, then for the families of the victims.

Joining Aslan and his partner, Quaid uncovers more than he bargained for—too many secrets and lies in a case that is dangerously personal.

Plus, the more time he spends with Aslan, the harder it is for Quaid to ignore his attraction to the playboy detective.

Aslan, who doesn’t believe in repeats, can’t seem to stop flirting with the grumpy MPU detective, and his rules go out the window as they’re drawn deeper into the case.

But what happens when one more night turns to two, and two turns into three?

Does Quaid want to risk his heart again?

Has Aslan developed feelings?

Can they put a stop to their fun and walk away?

Do they want to?

Rating: Narration – A; Content – A

Note: This is a direct sequel to Temporary Partner, which should be listened to first. There are spoilers for that book in this review.

I used to listen to and read a lot of the same books, but in recent years, I’ve found myself only doing that with books that a) I’ve absolutely loved in print and b) where I know the narration is going to be top-notch. Both those things are true in the case of Nicky James’ Elusive Relations, book two in her Valor and Doyle Mysteries series. So often the second book in a trilogy (I don’t know if there will be more than three books in the series, so I’m going with “trilogy” for now) is a bit of a disappointment, a filler that just ticks along after the introductions and expositions of book one and doesn’t advance the plot/relationship very much because the author is keeping their powder dry for book three. Well, that is absolutely NOT what Nicky James does here, combining a fascinating plot with some stellar character/relationship development as a a new case hits close to home and detectives Quaid Valor and Aslan Doyle try (and fail) to forget their spectacular night together and move on.

When Aslan and his partner Torin Fox are called to the scene of a particularly brutal murder, they find one man beaten viciously to death and learn that his bed-partner survived the attack and has been rushed to hospital. The detectives learn that he is the owner of the house, Jack Pilkey, and that, according to the neighbours, he brings home a different guy every night. The dead man’s wallet and driver’s licence identify him as a twenty-five-year-old student at the local university, and when Aslan sees the photograph of the other guy, his stomach drops. Jack Pilkey is Quaid’s cheating, douchebag ex-boyfriend.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

The Stubborn Accomplice (13 Kingdoms #2) by H.L. Day

the stubborn accomplice

This title may be purchased from Amazon

A missing artifact. A kingdom of secrets. Two men versus a multitude of magical beasts.

Jack and Sebastian are on the move once more. This time, to the frozen mountains of Askophai in search of a kingdom’s missing artifact. The journey alone would be perilous enough, but how are they supposed to find something that no one can describe? And what does the mysterious man who can make himself invisible have to do with any of it?

Jack has enough of Sebastian’s secrets to deal with, without taking on a whole kingdom’s. He and Sebastian might be together, but Jack still has his doubts about their long-term future. Assuming they have one that is, given Sebastian’s penchant for walking them headlong into danger at every opportunity.

One thing’s for certain, they’re going to need an awful lot of luck to succeed in this mission and return home safely.

Rating: B+

H.L. Day’s The Reluctant Companion was a lot of fun, one of those easy, breezy reads that charmed and intrigued me while its two opposites-attract protagonists stumbled their way into fulfilling a quest and bickered their way into something that might just be love. Book two, The Stubborn Accomplice takes readers back to the world of the 13 Kingdoms and headlong into another magical adventure for quarrelsome lovers, Jack and Sebastian, who are tasked with the retrival of a mysterious artefact. Like the first book in the series, it’s a light-hearted fantasy romp filled with danger, action and snark and – also like the first book – I had a lot of fun reading it.

When we rejoin them, Jack and Sebastian are on their way to the kingdom of Ozagesia, to the city of Chastershire where they will be given further details about the item they have been charged with finding and equipped for the journey into the frozen montains of Askophai. They’re barely a few days into their journey when they’re pursued by a massive griffin, a creature that is all but extinct – and find themselves running for their lives and taking refuge in a tiny, tumbledown shack. It’s not the best shelter – especially when Jack and Sebastian see the hole in the roof! – but they should be safe in the cellar for the night, or until the creature gets fed up and goes away.

Unfortunately for them, however, with the morning comes the realisation that the griffin hasn’t gone away, but has managed to get inside, leaving them with nowhere to go except into the small tunnel leading from the cellar to… well, they don’t know where, but anywhere would be preferable to being crunched to death by a hangry beast. Jack is surprised to realise the normally gung-ho, reckless Sebastian isn’t happy about venturing into such a small, enclosed space, but they don’t have any other option, and their luck turns when they eventually emerge into lush greenery by a river.

Arrived at the inn where they’ve arranged to meet with Frederick, the envoy from Chastershire who had initially requested their help (at the end of The Reluctant Companion). They both sense that there’s something he’s not telling them, but agree not to worry about what it might be for the next couple of days while they take time to eat, sleep, relax and – well, let’s just say Jack discovers a new and very interesting use for Sebastian’s magic 😉

Once they’ve reached the castle, it doesn’t take them long to find out what Frederick’s evasion meant. While the missing artefact is something of great religious significance to the people of Osagezia, and an essential part of any official function – nobody knows what it actually IS. It’s kept in a locked chest at all times – and nobody has a key because the chest is never opened. Mildly amused (Sebastian) and extremely irritated (Jack), the two men prepare for their journey into the frozen wastes in search of something nobody has ever seen that could have been stolen by absolutely anybody in the palace. Great.

The storyline in The Stubborn Accomplice picks up immediately after the end of The Reluctant Companion, but although there’s more than enough information here to enable someone new to the series to pick up the story easily enough, I really would encourage potential readers to read the previous book first. It’s a fun read, but most importantly, it sets up the romance between Jack and Sebastian and provides valuable information about the characters and their backgrounds necessary to understanding and appreciating the way things develop here.

The chemistry between Jack and Sebastian sizzles, their banter is sharp and funny and they share some lovely tender moments, too. Jack is prickly, brave and no-nonsense, where Sebastian is gregarious, charming, and quick to act first and think later, which of course, lands them in hot water on several occasions. The author has a deft touch with the snarky banter that flies between them, which is funny and frequently to the point, but both men are struggling a bit to communicate honestly with each other and using their verbal sparring – and, often, sex – as an avoidance tactic whenever it seems their feelings for each other may be hovering too close to the surface for comfort. Sebastian may be a bit self-centred, but he’s very attuned to Jack and the way he thinks, even if he doesn’t quite understand why Jack is so miffed when his old flames want to greet him with enthusiastic lip-locks. After all, he’s Jack’s now and intends it to stay that way, so there’s no need for him to worry, is there? He fails to take into account Jack’s insecurities about his own attractiveness, his worries that someone as spectactular-looking as Sebastian will probably become bored and want to move on from a mere farm-boy when he can have – and has had – his pick of lovers from all walks of life. But Jack is so focused on what he sees as his inadequacies when compared to the other men Sebastian has been with that he fails to notice the little things that show how far gone Sebastian is for him; he knows Sebastian likes needling him, but doesn’t realise it’s because Sebastian likes that Jack challenges him and doesn’t let him get away with anything. Sebastian is similarly blind to the signals Jack gives off that he feels more for Sebastian than friendship and pleasure in the fantastic sex they have – although to be fair, Jack works hard to hide it, fearing Sebastian will reject him if he shows signs of wanting something more than casual between them. Thankfully, however, they do manage to own up to the truth of how they feel about each other… although they don’t get to bask in love’s warm glow for long when Jack unexpectedly finds out exactly why Sebastian has been so cagey about his past.

So yes, there’s a ‘relationship’ cliffhanger at the end of the book (although the artefact plot is concluded), but the good news is that book three is out in early 2023, so there’s not too long to wait to find out what happens next. The Stubborn Accomplice is a thoroughly entertaining read featuring two engaging leads, plenty of action, feats of derring-do, a lovelorn orc, a wizardly ex and a troll who lives under (or on) a bridge. I really enjoyed it and am happy to recommend it to anyone looking for a funny, well-written and light-hearted adventure yarn.

TBR Challenge – Pressure Head (Plumber’s Mate Mysteries #1) by J.L. Merrow

pressure head

This title may be purchased from Amazon

Some things are better left hidden….

Tom Paretski’s not just a plumber with a dodgy hip courtesy of a schoolboy accident. He also has a sixth sense for finding hidden things. Called in by the police to help locate a body near Brock’s Hollow, he’s staggered to encounter Phil Morrison, his old school crush—and the closeted bully whose actions contributed to Tom’s accident.

Phil’s all grown up now, and Tom’s unwilling attraction to him is back with a vengeance. Phil’s now openly gay—and what’s more, he’s interested in Tom’s personal charms as well as his psychic talents. As a private investigator called in by the dead woman’s parents, Phil is sceptical about Tom’s unusual gift, but nevertheless quick to spot its potential to aid him in his work.

The further they go with the investigation, the less they can ignore their shared past, and the more the pressure and the heat build between them. But Tom isn’t certain he wants to know the secrets he’s helping to uncover, while there’s a murderer on the loose who won’t hesitate to kill again—and this uneasy couple is moving right into his sights.

Rating: B+

I was pretty stumped by this month’s prompt – Animals – not because I don’t like animals, but because I’m not especially drawn to books in which they feature heavily. So my choice this month is kind of ‘animal adjacent’ – the main character has two cats named Arthur and Merlin, which is about as close as I could get!

J.L. Merrow’s Plumber’s Mate Mysteries series consists of six books written between 2012 and 2021 (and I don’t know if book six was the final one) and the PoV character is indeed a plumber, Tom Paretsky, who lives and works in a village near St. Albans in Hertfordshire. But he’s a plumber with a difference; he has some sort of sixth sense that enables him to find things – hidden things, usually, all the guilt and shame and sneakiness involved in the hiding acting as a kind of beacon that often tells him what the hidden thing is likely to be.

He was only six when he found a dead body for the first time.

When Pressure Head begins, Tom receives a call from Dave Southgate, a plain clothes copper who has become a mate, of sorts, asking him for help locating a young woman by the name of Melanie Porter, who has been reported missing. An anonymous tip has led the police to search the woodland near Melanie’s home – but before Tom can get started, he and Southgate are approached by a tall, blond, good-looking man Tom eventually recognises – with a sinking heart – as Phil Morrison, who, when they were at school, was one of the gang of bullies who made his life a misery. Seeing Phil again brings a lot of unpleasant memories back for Tom – not least of which is being hit by a car while he was running from the gang and landing in hospital with a broken pelvis. Southgate is pissed off as well – because Morrison is an ex-copper-turned-private-investigator who has been hired by the Porters to find their daughter, and he doesn’t want him interfering in a police investigation. Tom and Phil waste no time in sniping at each other before Southgate breaks it up and hauls Tom off into the woods – where he finds Melanie’s body.

Tom doesn’t expect to see Phil again – so he’s surprised when he turns up on his doorstep the next morning to tell Tom that Melanie’s parents have asked to meet him. Tom isn’t sure what good he can do – and tells Phil that – but having learned the day before that an old schoolmate is in the frame for the murder, and wanting to do right by him, he agrees to go anyway and to continue to help Phil out with the investigation.

The mystery here is not overly complex, but it’s engaging and kept me guessing along with Tom and Phil as they work their way towards finding out the truth. In many ways, it’s your typical English-country-village cozy mystery (think Midsomer Murders!) – except that the protagonist is a slightly psychic gay plumber with a dodgy hip and a nice line in snark – combined with a burgeoning romance and more than a hint of comedy.

Tom is the sole narrator and I loved his voice. He’s endearingly self-deprecating and funny with a nice turn of descriptive phrase:

By six o’clock the butterflies in my stomach had mutated into flying elephants all flapping around like Dumbo drunk on champagne.

He’s a great character with a strong moral compass and an air of innocence about him despite a bit of a world-weary exterior. He’s angry at discovering that Phil – who had coined the nickname “Poofski at school and been one of his leading tormentors – is queer himself and that the intervening years haven’t done quite enough to enable Tom to forget the stupid crush he had on Phil back then, or prevent it from coming back. We don’t get into Phil’s head, which makes him harder to get to know, but the author does a great job of telling us what we need to know through what she shows us of him through Tom’s eyes, that he’s tightly wound and carrying a fair bit of baggage – and that he is equally smitten with Tom. They have great chemistry and their romance is very much a slow-burn, which makes perfect sense given they’ve got a lot to work through, and I appreciated that even when they start getting on better, the hurt and the bitterness and resentment don’t simply disappear. They’ll be getting along fine when something will trip them up and they lash out, which felt realistic under the circumstances. Healing is a slow process.

Tom and Phil are both complex, flawed individuals, and although Tom is the easier to like of the two, Phil’s character development is really well done. There’s a small but well-drawn secondary cast, too; I enjoyed Tom’s friendship with Southgate, and Tom’s best friend Gary – a campanologist – and his new boyfriend Julian, a dwarf ex-porn star with attitude for miles – are a hoot.

Pressure Head is a lot of fun, and ends with the mystery solved and a firm HFN for Tom and Phil. I definitely plan to continue with the series.

Imitate the Dawn (Whitethorn Security #3) by M.A. Grant

imitate the dawn

This title may be purchased from Amazon

Cristian Slava and Atlas Kincaid despise each other. At least, that’s what they need everyone to believe. In truth, the charismatic vampire and his fierce bodyguard are more in love than ever. But when a powerful political faction emerges and threatens Cristian’s family, the only way into their enemy’s inner circle is without each other by their side.

From Romania to New York and beyond, though apart, their blood-bond cannot be severed—but it can be used against them. When Cristian sacrifices his life to save his family and save Atlas from having his darkest secrets revealed, only faith in that bond will keep Atlas from utter despair.

And only by facing his past will Atlas be able to accept who he is and finally defeat their most powerful enemy yet…

Death itself.

Rating: B+

The action in Imitate the Dawn, book three in M.A. Grant’s Whitethorn Security series, moves from Romania back to the US, where Atlas Kincaid and Cristian Slava need to move fast to counter the threat to their home and to save the life of Cristian’s father, who has been arrested and is being investigated by the Vampire Council. Because the trilogy is, in effect, one story divided into three, it’s essential to have read the previous books in the series before starting this one. It also means there are spoilers in this review.

In book two, Crooked Shadows, Atlas and Cristian fled to Romania following a devastating strigoi attack at the family home in upstate New York, intent on finding out who is creating and controlling the gruesome creatures. In Romania, a bloody coup deposes the ruling vampire family – allies to Decebal Vladislavic (Cristian’s father) – and the he is now suspected by the Council of being responsible for the creation of the strigoi and the attacks which led to the coup. Christian and Atlas are sure that their arch-enemies, the Wharrams (Cristian’s late mother’s family) are involved somehow, and will have to race against time to prove Decebal’s innocence and prevent the Wharrams taking over the Council.

The romance between Atlas and Cristian developed into a lasting bond which has survived everything that has been thrown at them, including betrayal, lies and physical danger, and they’re stronger together than ever. Atlas realises the strigoi were responsible for the attack on his unit years ago from which he emerged as the sole survivor, and as the story progresses, begins to suspect the truth of what happened to him. At the end of a fast-paced and action-packed story where there was peril on all sides and Atlas and Cristian were not always sure who to trust, they were were blindsided by the discovery of a truly terrible betrayal by someone who had been part of Decebal’s inner circle and whom Cristian had regarded as a good friend.

When Imitate the Dawn opens, Cristian, Atlas and their friends Daria and Radu have survived another attack by the strigoi and learned of the overthrow and murder of the territory’s ruling family. Moves are being made to close the borders, so they have to get out quickly – but before they can leave, they’re contacted by the council’s lead investigator who informs them of Decebal’s arrest and of the accusations being made against him, intending to take them in, too. It’s only when, during the ensuing fight, she gets a taste of Cristian’s blood that she can see the truth and realises that she was an unwitting instrument in the council’s machinations and offers to help Cristian and Atlas to prove that the Wharrams are working against the council and everyone on it.

Once back in the US, Atlas and Cristian have to come up with a plan to locate and destroy any remaining strigoi nests before the creatures can be used against them, and find a way to save Decebal. Their one advantage is that Helias Casimir doesn’t know that they know he’s the traitor and what he’s been doing – and they decide the first step is to return to the house to see where things stand. Knowing Helias will be suspicious, Atlas and Cristian are going to act as though they’re at each other’s throats in order to distract him and prevent him questioning their motives for returning; he’ll want to separate Cristian and Atlas and the fact they’re fighting will give him the opportunity to do it. Neither of them is happy with the idea – Cristian especially, knowing he’s going to have to be hurtful and cruel if he’s going to be at all convincing – but Atlas reassures him, reminding how much of a pain in the arse Cristian was when they first met, and how he wasn’t able to run him off despite it. The deception works. Helias moves quickly to get Atlas out of the way and to enact his plan to dispose of Cristian; Atlas and Cristian have already agreed on what’s going to happen next, and they know pretending not to suspect Helias is incredibly risky, but it’s their only chance to find out what he is really up to.

I’ve really enjoyed the tight plotting, the worldbuilding and the vividly written action scenes in this series. Once again, the author does a great job of keeping the forward momemtum going, ramping up the tension as we barrel towards a nail-biting climax that pits our heroes against family, against the Council, and into a final showdown with the strigoi. The love story has been excellent, too, as Atlas and Cristian’s chemistry-laden slow-burn romance moves from wariness and distrust to understanding, affection and love, so that by the beginning of Imitate the Dawn, they’re a solid couple, secure in their relationship and have each other’s backs without question. But because the focus of this story is on saving Decebal and preventing mass murder by the strigoi, their romance is perhaps less prominent – although their love for each other permeates the novel. The bond they already share is strengthened here, so even when they’re physically distant they’re never really apart, and there are some moments towards the end in the aftermath of the battle which really tug at the heartstrings.

The biggest problem I had with this book is that I found it difficult to get into because it’s been nine months or so since I read Crooked Shadows. As I said earlier, the series is essentially one story broken up into three parts, which makes it essential to be able to recall a lot of detail about the other instalments – and I struggled for the first three or four chapters. I accept (to an extent) that’s on me – I don’t typically have time to re-read previous books in series – but it also shows there’s a danger when you’re essentially splitting up one story into smaller parts, of your audience losing track.

In the end, though, once I got into the story I really got into it and found it a hard book to put aside. Imitate the Dawn brings the Whitethorn Security to a thrilling close and although I can’t quite push grade  for this one higher than a B+  the entire series has a place on my DIK shelf.

The Fairest Show (First Quarto #3) by Gregory Ashe

the fairest show

This title may be purchased from Amazon

A murdered coach. His missing daughter. A sadistic killer.

After a summer apart, Theo and Auggie reunite at the beginning of another school year, determined to make a relationship work in spite of their age difference—and other obstacles. When Wroxall College’s athletic director strongarms Theo into tracking down the school’s missing football coach, though, Theo is determined to keep Auggie safe no matter how much Auggie hates it; Theo has lost too much already.

Everywhere Theo and Auggie go, someone seems set on stopping their search. First, a masked man attacks them and steals important financial paperwork. Then a small-town cop tries to run them off. Even the football players seem determined to keep their silence. And the deeper Theo and Auggie dig, the more they suspect that something much darker is taking place.

An attack on Auggie’s roommate raises a terrifying possibility—that the killer has targeted Auggie as his next victim. Theo and Auggie must hurry to uncover the truth before the killer can silence them, but even if they succeed, the pressure of the investigation and the danger to Auggie’s life may shatter the fragile bond they are building.

Rating: A

Auggie Lopez and Theo Stratford made a few cameo appearances in the most recent Hazard and Somerset series (Arrows in the Hand), but it’s been a while since we’ve read about them in their own series, (to be fair, Mr. Ashe has published a dozen other books in the gap!) so I was delighted to learn that The First Quarto series would be completed this year.

Note: There are spoilers for the previous books in the series in this review.

The Fairest Show opens in the same way as the other books in the series, with Auggie arriving in Wahredua for the start of a new academic year. This year, though, things are different. Not only is he living off campus (he’s renting an appartment with friends) but he and Theo are… sort of together now. After spending most of Yet a Stranger trying to convince themselves they weren’t in love with each other and trying to make relationships work with other people (in Auggie’s case, with an abusive arsehole), Theo finally told Auggie he loves him, and although things were left open-ended, there was – at last – an understanding that they were going to try to move forward together. Readers already know theirs isn’t going to be an easy road to happiness, though. Theo had been bingeing on booze and painkillers in the attempt to numb himself to the guilt he carries over not being able to protect/save the people he loves – his brother Luke, his late husband, his daughter – and Auggie, who ended up in hospital during their last investigation. He’s got a lot of work to do on himself – on his addiction and his PTSD – and by the beginning of The Fairest Show, he’s attending NA meetings, but he’s still ignoring the unaddressed trauma that lies deep within, focused instead on keeping Auggie from being dragged down by all his baggage and determined to keep him safe at all costs.

No sooner has Theo sat at his desk on his first day back than he receives a visit from the college’s assistant athletics director, Maria Maldonado who, having heard how Theo has previously had success in finding missing people, wants him to find the school’s missing football coach Harvey Gilmore. Behind her veneer of jolly bonhomie, Maldonado is forceful and intimidating, but Theo tells her ‘no’ anyway. Unfortuantely, however, she has anticipated this, and in a totally unethical move basically threatens to put obstacles in the way of Theo finishing his PhD unless he does what she wants. Accepting defeat, Theo agrees to do what he can. But his biggest problem now is this: how is he going to do that while keeping Auggie out of it and out of harm’s way?

Well, of course, he can’t because Auggie’s bullshit-o-meter is finely tuned and he instantly knows something is up when Theo starts avoiding him. Hurt and angry, Auggie calls Theo on his behaviour and Theo reluctantly fills him in, at the same time telling Auggie he’s going it alone because he can’t handle the idea of something bad happening to Auggie again. But Auggie isn’t going to be wrapped up and put in a box and insists on helping to find Gilmore – and of course, it’s not long before our intrepid duo find, once again, that they’ve become tangled up in something far more complex and dangerous than they’d bargained for. Someone isn’t happy they’re asking questions about Gilmore, which leads them into a violent confrontation with a local sheriff, and later, as the hunt for a missing man becomes a hunt for a murderer, and with Auggie a possible target, they uncover a truly vile web of depravity and corruption (Mr. Ashe is so good at creating horrible, believable villains) that threatens to destroy everything they’ve been building between them. If, of course, they survive at all.

If you’ve got this far in the series, then you’re likely not new to the author’s work, so it will come as no surprise when I say that he doesn’t pull his punches. Theo and Auggie never walk away from an investigation unscathed – physically or mentally – and there are some violent and unsettling scenes here as the twists and turns of the case take them down some very dark paths.

The investigation and the further development of the central relationship in Mr. Ashe’s books tend to be so inextricably bound together that neither element would work on its own, and that’s especially true in The Fairest Show, where the main conflict in the relationship is based around Theo’s obsessive need to protect Auggie – from danger, and even from himself – and Auggie’s very reasonable position that he’s an adult and capable of making his own decisions.  The investigation puts their fledgling relationship under even more strain than it was already under (a result of Theo’s attempt to protect himself from getting hurt again by not letting Auggie all the way into his life), but even when they’re fighting, there’s never any doubt about their love for each other; it’s just a case of whether they can be good for each other, be what the other needs.

On the other hand, when they’re being ‘them’, Theo and Auggie, goofing around, bouncing ideas off each other, bantering, joking, perfectly attuned and working together, it’s like the sun coming out from behind a cloud. This is where their absolute right-ness for each other absolutely hits home; we can see how well they understand each other even when they’re at odds, but these more carefree moments of affection and humour show them at their best and serve to remind us that yes, they really are perfect together.

This is probably the steamiest novel Gregory Ashe has produced yet. He’s brilliant at creating sexual tension and stretching it so tautly that you’re on the edge of your seat waiting for it to snap, and the sex scenes in his books are always there because they’re an important part of the story and/or relationship development. Here, they’re very much tied into Theo and Auggie’s growing understanding of how they are as a couple, combined with an awareness of self that having sex brings to them individually. Auggie doesn’t have a lot of experience, and most of what he does have is unfortunately tainted because of his relationship with an emotionally abusive tosser who tried to rape him (Yet a Stranger). He’s trying to come to terms with that, but he’s also got certain – unuhelpful – preconceived ideas that trip him up. Theo is very mindful of what Auggie has been through and takes great care of him (he’s totally Auggie’s “sex professor”!), taking cues from him, realising what Auggie needs before Auggie does a lot of the time and helping him to understand there’s no right or wrong way in their bedroom. He’s exactly what Auggie needs in that way, but he’s still in the mindset that’s telling him he has to hold back, that he can’t afford to get in too deep with Auggie because one day soon, Auggie will wake up and realise he shouldn’t be wasting his life on a broken fuck-up ten years his senior.

Oh, Theo. So clever, yet so dumb…

An intricate, skilfully executed mystery combined with some fantastic relationship development, moments of heartbreak (oh, so much heartbreak!) amazing insight, humour, tenderness and affection all add up to another compelling must-read from Gregory Ashe and a very welcome return for Theo and Auggie (or, as Ashe fans have labelled them, #Thuggie). While the book ends on a solid HFN, they clearly still have a way to go and a lot to sort out between them, and I’ll be back to see how it all works out in the final instalment in the series (A Fault Against the Dead) when it’s released later this year.

Note: This story includes use of date-rape drugs, references to incest and non-consensual sex, and a scene of sexual assault.

Stone Wings (Gargoyles of Arrington #1) by Jenn Burke

stone wings

This title may be purchased from Amazon

His curse can only be lifted with true love, but can true love come from a fake date?

Being the personal assistant to a trio of cursed gargoyle brothers who sleep for a hundred years and wake up for twenty-five wasn’t a career proposed by Josh’s high school guidance counselor, but it’s a job that he’s eminently suited for. Not to mention a job his family has been doing for generations. The brothers are truly excellent bosses, but Josh is surprised when Drew offers to pretend to be his date for his high school reunion. And even more surprised by a supposedly fake kiss that feels as real as a kiss can get

Drew and his brothers owe Josh and his family for watching over them each time they turn to stone for a hundred years, and for helping them reintegrate into the world when they wake up. The least he can do is pose as Josh’s boyfriend for a night. Even though true love can break his curse, he knows he won’t find it with Josh. Nothing that real can come from a lie. Or can it?

When the fake boyfriend situation stretches into two nights, and then more, Josh and Drew can’t fight the attraction blazing between them. There’s no harm in exploring it, right? No expectations. But when paranormal danger comes to Arrington, Josh and Drew are going to have to battle for every moment of peace…and maybe a real happily ever after too.

Rating: C+

Stone Wings is the first book in Jenn Burke’s new series of paranormal romances, The Gargoyles of Arrington, and introduces readers to the three O’Reilly brothers – Teague, Drew and Rian – who, thanks to a centuries-old witch’s curse – are condemned to live ‘in flesh’ for only twenty-five years at a time, after which they return to stone for a hundred years, until they re-awaken and go through the cycle all over again. There is only one way to break the curse, which is – in the best romantic tradition – to find true love; their eldest brother Finnian managed to break his curse at the end of their last lifetime (in 1899), but with only two years to go until their next sleep, the remaining three brothers are not too sanguine about their chances.

I really liked the premise of this story, which also features a suspense plot that begins when a new pride of mountain lion shifters arrives in the area and immediately lays claim to the O’Reilly’s territory, and while there’s an HEA for the book’s central couple, that plotline is clearly going to continue throughout the series. That, together with Rian’s search for a way to break the curse is the most compelling part of the story, because the romance is, sadly, a bit lacklustre, and the two leads are a bit bland.

After the O’Reillys saved Josh Pallesen’s great-great-great-ad-infinutum grandparents from a sinking ship, members of the Pallesen family have acted as the gargoyles’ caretakers and guardians, watching over them while they’re in their stone form and on hand to help them when they’re awake. Josh took over that job from his father and acts as a kind of personal assitant and general factorum to them all, looking after their home and helping with their businesses. In this ‘lifetime’, Teague is a cop, Rian is a tattoo artist, and Drew is a mechanic, running a successful business restoring and servicing classic cars. When the story begins, Josh has just received an invitation to his ten-year high school reunion, and is debating whether or not he wants to go. High school wasn’t a great time for him, and was made even worse when his long-term boyfriend Brandon dumped him on Prom night after telling Josh he wasn’t ambitious enough. So part of him wants to opt out and part of him wants to show that he’s doing well and stick it to all the assholes he’d grown up with. When he tells Drew about the invite and his reservations, Drew offers to be his date for the evening.

On the night itself, things are going fairly well when Josh’s prick of an ex- turns up – with a husband in tow. The husband – Arie – turns out to be lovely, the prick… well, he’s still a prick, just an even bigger one. Drew and Josh’s one fake date turns into two when Arie invites them to dinner with him and Brandon – who gets very drunk and comes on to Josh. Needless to say, Drew is not amused. When Josh’s mother finds out Josh and Drew are ‘dating’, to Josh’s surprise, she encourages their relationship. He’d expected a lecture about not letting himself get hurt; instead she says that even if Josh isn’t The One for Drew (neither of them believes he is), and as it’s going to hurt, regardless of their relationship status when the time comes for Drew to return to stone, perhaps they should simply enjoy spending time together while they can. Josh and Drew are quick to see the wisdom of those words.

Fake dating turns immediately to friends-with-benefits, but too little time is spent on developing the romance or the characters; Josh and Drew are pretty colourless and there’s little romantic or sexual chemistry between them. In the Plus column, the overall concept behind the series is inventive and the plot involving the witch and the shifter gang is intriguing – it’s this aspect of the story that I found most compelling and is likely to encourage me to continue with the series.

Stone Wings is an easy, fast read and I enjoyed it, even though the romance was disappointing. I liked enough about the plot and storytelling to continue with the series – the final chapter of this book sets up Rian’s story and I have my suspicious as to whom Teague is going to end up with – but on the basis of this one, I’ll be lowering my expectations for those romances a bit and focusing on the plot.