Criminal Intentions S1E2: Junk Shop Blues by Cole McCade (audiobook) – Narrated by Curt Bonnem

junk shop blues

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

A murdered night club mogul unlocks a web of infidelity and deceit. The most likely suspect? The daughter of the richest family in Baltimore, if only Detectives Malcolm Khalaji and Seong-Jae Yoon can piece the evidence together. The clues just aren’t lining up—but Malcolm can’t tell if he’s missing a piece of the puzzle or completely missing the mark. The McAllister case still haunts him. So many dead. So many he couldn’t save. It’s throwing him off his game.And the only one who really understands is his strange, coldly aloof partner.

A partner he can never see the same way, after a moment of intimacy that haunts him as much as the voices of the dead.

Seong-Jae Yoon is struggling in his own way. He can’t solve the case when he can’t trust Malcolm, and he can’t trust Malcolm when the grizzled old wolf is growing increasingly erratic, increasingly dangerous. What disturbs Seong-Jae is how much he needs to trust Malcolm. He doesn’t get that close. He doesn’t get that involved.

But he may have no choice, if they want to stop a powerful killer from slipping away.

Rating: Narration – B+; Content – B

I was completely hooked into Cole McCade’s long-running Criminal Intentions romantic suspense series by the time I’d reached the end of the first chapter of book one, so was chomping at the bit to get stuck into the next one! The Cardigans introduced listeners to two very different protagonists – detectives Malcolm Khalaji and Seong-Jae Yoon – and set up what looks set to be a very slow burn romance as well as telling a tense and exciting story of the investigation into the string of murders that brings them together.

Junk Shop Blues opens about a week since the pair started working with each other – and things aren’t going well. Neither of them is dealing well with the emotional fallout of the Macallister case, and neither of them is prepared to open up or attempt to process it with the person most able to really understand what they’re going through – each other. Malcolm is distracted and snappish and more irascible than usual, and Seong-Jae has no idea why – which, in turn, annoys him and makes him irritable, too. But the world – and crime – doesn’t stop just because they’re unaccountably pissed with each other, and they’re quickly assigned a new case – a murder at a luxury hotel.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

Thirst for You (Beyond the Cove #2) by Jaclyn Quinn (audiobook) – Narrated by Kirt Graves

thirst for you

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

Forty-year-old Zachariah Taylor owns a successful bar, Zach’s Bar and Grill, in the quiet town of Riverside Falls and loves the life he’s built for himself. But as his siblings move on and find their forever partners in life, he’s starting to feel less and less needed – not to mention old. Suddenly, he’s finding it even harder to ignore the younger man who has pursued him for years, but the 12 years separating them is something Zach can’t seem to overlook.

Twenty-eight-year-old Drew Belford has been in love with the stubborn Zach Taylor for seven years. Drew, however, is just as strong-minded and refuses to let Zach use their age difference as an excuse to disregard the attraction burning between them.

When Drew begins to get unsettling messages from an unknown person, Zach feels helpless in a way he’s never felt before. The thought of anyone hurting Drew unleashes years’ worth of pent-up desire Zach has had for the younger man. Is his thirst for Drew enough to protect him from the danger lurking in the shadows, or will the threat of the unknown be enough to douse the spark of love between them – and silence Drew forever?

Rating:  Narration – B+; Content – C+

Thirst for You is the second book in Jaclyn Quinn’s Beyond the Cove series, and my first book by this author; it’s an age-gap/best friend’s brother contemporary romance with a suspense sub-plot that is effectively threaded throughout the main storyline, and I didn’t feel I’d missed out on anything by not listening to the first book, so it works just fine as a standalone.

Forty-year-old Zach Taylor owns a successful bar in the quiet town of Riverside Falls where he’s built a life he loves amid family and friends. Over the past few years, however, he’s watched his siblings and his friends gradually coupling up, and can’t help thinking that maybe that part of life has passed him by. He’s had a few girlfriends and boyfriends over the years, but nothing has stuck; in fact, his previous girlfriend Lisa is now dating his best friend, Grant Belford, whose brother Drew works at the bar. Zach has known Drew for years, but now, he has to keep reminding himself not to notice that Drew has grown into a very attractive man – and that, as his best friend’s little brother, he’s firmly off limits.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

His Compass (His #2) by Con Riley (audiobook) – Narrated by Cornell Collins

his compass

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

Tom has one rule: Don’t sleep with the crew. A second chance with a younger, gorgeous deckhand tempts him to break it.

After a busy season as a charter-hire skipper, Tom yearns for some downtime. His lonely heart also aches for adventure with someone special, but paying his bills has to come first. A surprise sailing contract and huge bonus offer his first glimpse of freedom for years. There’s only one catch: he must crew with Nick, a deckhand who jumped ship once already.

Nick’s as young and untested as the new yacht they’re contracted to sail, and he’s just as gorgeous. Forced to spend a month as Nick’s captain, Tom discovers depths he hadn’t noticed. He’s captivated, and happier sailing with Nick than he’s been in forever. However, their voyage is finite, and both men keep soul-deep secrets.

As the contract draws to an end, they must get honest about what’s in their hearts if they want to share a life at sea, and love, forever.

Rating: Narration – B; Content – A-

Con Riley’s His trilogy continues with His Compass, a May/December, forced proximity romance between a forty-something charter-hire skipper and his younger crewmate. The characters are beautifully drawn and their romance is nuanced and emotional; I loved the book when I read it back in 2021 and was only too pleased to be able to experience it all over again in audio.

Tom Kershaw has spent most of his life at sea, and now works as a skipper on a luxury charter yacht. He appeared briefly in the previous book (His Horizon) when he made an unscheduled stop at Porthperrin in Cornwall in order to return his deckhand Jude home to deal with a family emergency. Tom thought highly of Jude and was fond of him, but sadly, Jude’s replacement was something of a disaster; lazy, messy and unreliable, Nick might have been sociable and great with the guests, but he never finished a task he was given and his claims of growing up around boats and crewing from a young age were clearly lies, as he couldn’t do any of the jobs Tom needed him to. Then one day, he just up and left without a word, leaving Tom in the lurch.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

Criminal Intentions S1E1: The Cardigans by Cole McCade (audiobook) – Narrated by Curt Bonnem

Criminal Intentions S1E1

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

When a string of young queer men turn up dead in grisly murders, all signs point to the ex-boyfriend – but what should be an open-and-shut case is fraught with tension when BPD homicide detective Malcolm Khalaji joins up with a partner he never wanted. Rigid, ice-cold, and a stickler for the rules, Seong-Jae Yoon is a watchful presence whose obstinacy and unpredictability constantly remind Malcolm why he prefers to work alone. Seong-Jae may be stunningly attractive, a man who moves like a graceful, lethal bird of prey…but he’s as impossible to decipher as this case.

And if Malcolm doesn’t find the key to unravel both in time, another vulnerable young victim may end up dead.

Rating: Narration – B+; Content – B+

For those unfamiliar with Cole McCade’s long-running Criminal Intentions series (and to explain the long-winded title!) the series was conceived as kind of a TV show in book format, with one book the equivalent of one episode in a twelve-thirteen episode season. There are currently two complete seasons and season three – the final one, I believe – is underway. The same two protagonists feature throughout; each book boasts a self-contained mystery, there are overarching elements that run through each season, and the central relationship evolves as the seasons progress. CI:The Cardigans, then, introduces those protagonists – homicide detectives Malcolm Khalaji and Seong-jae Yoon – and marks the start of their working relationship as they investigate the murder of a number of young gay men. This is very much a setting-the-stage book in terms of the characters – they’re very intriguing and I’m eager to find out more – and while there’s little more than a whiff of a potential romance (and it’s barely even that), I do know that it happens eventually and I enjoyed this book enough to be prepared to wait and see how it pans out.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

Off Limits (Secrets Kept #1) by Riley Hart (audiobook) – Narrated by Tim Paige

off limitsThis title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

It started out as a little fun. When there was a man in my building on a hookup app, why not message him?

Only we didn’t meet. We just texted – one night after the other, after the other.

GoodWithHisHands was the perfect escape from my life, where pressure was always on my shoulders: my father’s expectations, the worry about my sister, Maddy, getting sick again, and her ex-husband, Ryder Lynwood, suddenly back and volunteering at the same hospital as me.

It would have been smart to keep my distance from the man who came out as gay, tearing our close families apart and breaking Maddy’s heart. Except Ryder intrigues me. I like talking to him, the same way I enjoy chatting with GoodWithHisHands.

They weren’t supposed to be the same person.

I wasn’t supposed to fall for him. To want him. To need him. Maddy didn’t deserve to get hurt again, and I didn’t need another reason to feel like an outsider in my own family. Ryder was off-limits. I knew that. Still, I couldn’t make myself stay away.

Rating: Narration- B+; Content – C

Off Limits is the first in a new series by Riley Hart – Secrets Kept. Given the premise of this, and of the next book in the series (Pushing the Limits, I infer it will feature romances that are ‘forbidden’ for one reason or another. I admit that my track record with this author is somewhat patchy; I’ve loved some books and have been ambivalent about others, but I liked the sound of this one (guy falls for his ex wife’s brother) and Tim Paige is a reliably good narrator, so I decided to give Off Limits a try.

We meet all the major players in this story in the prologue, which takes place around five years before the story proper. At a family gathering, Ryder Lynwood and his wife Madison announce their intention to seek a divorce, something which will have lasting effects for their two families as well as for themselves. The Lynwood and Hutchinson families have always been close; they do business together, the families have taken holidays together, their children pretty much grew up together, and Ryder and Madison have been best friends forever. But Ryder has, over the last few years, begun to realise that while he loves Mads dearly, he’s never been IN love with her, that he mistook his feelings of deep friendship for something it wasn’t – and also that he’s not sexually attracted to women. A decent man, he tells Mads the truth (and he doesn’t cheat, in case anyone is wondering) and even though she is understandably shocked and heartbroken, they agree to divorce.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

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

when i first saw red

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

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

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

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

Rating:  Narration – B; Content – C+

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

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

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

A Marvellous Light (The Last Binding #1) by Freya Marske (audiobook) – Narrated by David Thorpe

a marvellous light

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

Young baronet Robin Blyth thought he was taking up a minor governmental post. However, he’s actually been appointed parliamentary liaison to a secret magical society. If it weren’t for this administrative error, he’d never have discovered the incredible magic underlying his world.

Cursed by mysterious attackers and plagued by visions, Robin becomes determined to drag answers from his missing predecessor – but he’ll need the help of Edwin Courcey, his hostile magical-society counterpart. Unwillingly thrown together, Robin and Edwin will discover a plot that threatens every magician in the British Isles.

Rating: Narration – B; Content – B+

Freya Marske’s debut novel A Marvellous Light is the first in a new historical/fantasy romance series set in Edwardian England. I read it back in December 2021 and enjoyed the clever blend of magic, humour, mystery and antagonists-to-lovers romance, so I decided I’d give it a go in audio as well.

Although he inherited his baronetcy upon the recent death of his father, Sir Robert (Robin) Blyth needs to continue to work in order to support himself and his younger sister; thanks to the excessive spending habits of their parents, their meagre inheritance isn’t enough for them to live on. Robin arrives at the Home Office to take up his new position of Assistant in the Office of Special Domestic Affairs and Complaints without a very clear idea of what the position actually entails; all he knows is that the previous incumbent – Reggie Gatling – disappeared suddenly a couple of weeks earlier, and he honestly suspects his appointment was a mistake. He’s barely taken his seat when a man enters his office and abruptly demands to know where Reggie is. When the man, who introduces himself as Edwin Courcey, liaison to the Chief Minister of the Magical Assembly, starts talking about magic and spells and imbuement, Robin is further baffled and even more convinced that someone is having a joke at his expense. Edwin, exasperated at having to work with someone so obviously clueless, insists it’s no joke, and proves to him that magic really does exist.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

Subtle Blood (Will Darling Adventures #3) by KJ Charles (audiobook) – Narrated by Cornell Collins

subtle blood

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

Will Darling is all right. His business is doing well, and so is his illicit relationship with Kim Secretan – disgraced aristocrat, ex-spy, amateur book-dealer. It’s starting to feel like he’s got his life under control.

And then a brutal murder in a gentleman’s club plunges them back into the shadow world of crime, deception, and the power of privilege. Worse, it brings them up against Kim’s noble, hostile family, and his upper-class life where Will can never belong.

With old and new enemies against them, and secrets on every side, Will and Kim have to fight for each other harder than ever – or be torn apart for good.

Rating: Narration – B; Content – A

Note: Subtle Blood is the third instalment of a trilogy which has an overarching plotline; listeners are advised to listen to Slippery Creatures and The Sugared Game first. There are spoilers for those books in this review.

It’s been a few months since Will Darling and Kim Secretan uncovered the identity of the head of Zodiac, a dastardly, secret criminal organisation dedicated to destroying the structures of power – and Kim’s world fell apart. Effectively sacked from his job with the Private Bureau, he’s now helping out at Darling’s Used and Antiquarian, the bookshop Will inherited from his late uncle, but even though he’s turned out to be surprisingly suited to the work – organising the shop and acquiring some valuable collections – neither he nor Will is cut out for the quiet life, and both of them know it. But when Kim’s brother – and their father’s heir, Lord Chingford – is accused of murdering a fellow member of the Symposium Club, the peaceful life they’ve been building together is shattered. Could Chingford conceivably have done such a thing? Kim thinks so, yes. But did he? Chingford refuses point blank to offer any defence, believing that his station as the heir to a marquess means he’s untouchable and doesn’t have to explain his actions to anyone, even the police. Fighting against the current all the way, Kim and Will manage to find out that Chingford was heard having a blazing row with the victim earlier that day, and when Kim sees a small tattoo on the inside of the deceased’s wrist in the exact same place as those worn by the members of Zodiac, his blood runs cold. Could some of its members still be at large? And attempting to regroup?

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

Code Red (Atrous #1) by N.R. Walker (audiobook) – Narrated by Nick J. Russo

code red

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

Maddox Kershaw is the main vocalist of the world’s biggest boy band. He’s at the top of every music chart, every award show, every social media platform, and every sexiest-man-alive list. He’s the bad boy, the enigma, the man everyone on the planet wants a piece of.

He’s also burned out and exhausted, isolated and lonely. Not in a good headspace at the start of a tour.

Roscoe Hall is Maddox’s personal manager. His job is high-flying, high-demand, high-profile, and he loves it. Maddox has consumed his entire life for the past four years. Roscoe knows him. He sees the real Maddox no one else gets to see.

He’s also in love with him.

When the tour and stress become too much, when the world begins to close in, Roscoe becomes Maddox’s lifeline. But as Maddox knows already, and as Roscoe is about to learn, the brighter the spotlight, the darker the shadow.

Rating: Narration – B+; Content – C

I’ve been a fan of N.R. Walker since I listened to her fabulous Thomas Elkin series a few years back and I always look forward to reading or listening to her newest releases. Code Red is set in the music world and features a romance between the lead singer of the biggest boy band on the planet and his manager/handler. Nick J. Russo’s narration is as reliably good as ever, and I enjoyed certain aspects of the story, but unfortunately, I didn’t find the romance to be particularly compelling.

At twenty-three, Maddox Kershaw is the lead vocalist for Atrous, currently the most famous, most popular boy band in the world. He and his four band-mates – the closest thing he has to family – have spent the last seven years writing, recording, performing and touring; it’s fame and success beyond their wildest dreams, but for Maddox, it’s begun to turn into something of a nightmare. Their schedule is relentless; their current tour comes hot on the heels of recording a new album which followed hot on the heels of their previous tour and previous album; there’s been barely time to take a breath let alone a break. When this current tour begins, Maddox is already showing signs of burn-out, and with so many people relying on him (fans, employees, his fellow band members) he’s desperate to keep his issues a secret from everyone around him.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

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

white trash warlock

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

Not all magicians go to schools of magic.

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

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

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

Rating: Narration: B+; Content ; A-

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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