Stray Fears (DuPage Parrish Mysteries #1) by Gregory Ashe (audiobook) – Narrated by Declan Winters

stray fears

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

Elien Martel is a survivor, but surviving, he’s beginning to discover, isn’t the same thing as living. In the house he shares with his much older boyfriend, Elien spends his days trying to stay as far away from living as possible. Living, he has learned, means that sooner or later you’ll get hurt.

When a member of Elien’s support group dies under strange circumstances, though, Elien finds himself in a web of bizarre coincidences. The responding officer turns out to be another member of Elien’s support group—a man named Mason, who has made no effort to hide his dislike of Elien. Then, just a few days later, Mason tries to kill Elien in front of dozens of witnesses.

As violence ripples through Elien’s world, he begins to suspect that the coincidences are not coincidences at all. Something is at work behind the cascade of tragedies, something vicious and intelligent. Something that has wanted Elien for a long time.

To defeat it, Elien will have to do what he fears most and face the darkness in his own past. Worse, he’ll have to take the risk of trying to live again.

Rating: Narration – B; Content – A-

Gregory Ashe’s paranormal/horror novel Stray Fears is a spooky tale featuring two engaging, flawed characters and a clever mystery plotline which draws on Louisiana folklore for inspiration. I read and enjoyed it when it was published last year, and was pleased to see it coming to audio with Declan Winters narrating; I’ve enjoyed his work in C.S. Poe’s Magic & Steam series and was looking forward to a similarly strong performance here.

The story centres around a support group for people with PTSD, and when it begins, a meeting is in progress. Elien Martel is one of the attendees, a young man of twenty-two whose life was ripped apart a year earlier when his elder brother shot their parents and then himself. Mired in grief and guilt, Elien is a mess; volatile, sarcastic and filled with self-loathing, he lives with his much older boyfriend Richard – a psychiatrist and therapist – whose equanimity and refusal to rise to Elien’s frequent baiting and have a damn good row irritate Elien no end.

Quite honestly, Elien seems like a total dick much of the time, but his sharp tongue belies a genuine kindness and wit, and he’s surprisingly good with the other members of the group, showing them the sort of patience and compassion he doesn’t extend to himself. When the group leader – who is a colleague of Richard’s – asks Elien if he’ll check up on fellow group member Ray, who hasn’t been doing so well lately, Elien agrees without question.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

Don’t Look Now by Mary Burton (audiobook) – Narrated by Hillary Huber, Alan Carlson, Kirt Graves, Heather Firth, Zara Eden & Joyce Oben

don't look now

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

Austin homicide detective Jordan Poe is hunting a serial killer she fears is the same man who assaulted her sister, Avery, two years ago. The details line up: the victims are the same age, same type, dead by the same grim MO. Luckily Avery survived. But the terrible memories linger, making Jordan more determined than ever to stop this monster in his tracks.

Texas Ranger Carter Spencer isn’t one to poach on a detective’s territory. Yet no matter how resentful a capable lone wolf like Jordan is, when she is attacked at a third crime scene and suffers a trauma that leaves her with limited vision, it’s up to Carter to help Jordan navigate a world she no longer recognizes. He needs her instinct, her experience, and her fearless resolve to crack this case. A case that’s about to get even darker.

A stranger is watching. He’s closing in on his ultimate prey. And no one but the killer can see what’s coming.

Rating: Narration – B-; Content – B-

Mary Burton’s Don’t Look Now is a standalone suspense/police procedural novel in which a homicide detective has to confront the possibility that the serial killer she’s now trying to apprehend may be the same person who assaulted her younger sister a couple of years earlier. The book gets off to a bit of a slow start and I almost put it aside to return to later, but it picked up after a few chapters and became a lot more interesting.

We’re plunged right in to the deranged world of the serial killer in the prologue, which depicts the gruesome assault and death of their latest victim. It’s not blood-and-guts gory and I’m not squeamish, but I did find it made for uncomfortable listening. I’m sure that was the intention, but I’m starting to become tired of the way so many thrillers use sickening violence against women as a basic premise. That’s a different issue however and I’m not going to discuss it here; I chose to listen to Don’t Look Now knowing the storyline and I’m not going to diss it on account of a plot point I knew about in advance.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

Cold As Ice (Cold Justice – The Negotiators #5) by Toni Anderson (audiobook) – Narrated by Eric G. Dove

cold as ice Anderson

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

When Darby O’Roarke wakes up in a strange house with a dead man – with no memory of what happened – she knows who she has to call: FBI Supervisory Special Agent Eban Winters…the man she fell for, and who rejected her, last summer.

A negotiator isn’t supposed to get involved with kidnap victims, and Eban has been trying to avoid the temptation that is Darby O’Roarke ever since they met. One frantic phone call has him racing to Alaska to uncover the truth, but he faces stubborn opposition from the local police, and a growing media frenzy.

Getting Darby released from jail and keeping her safe is his first priority. When another woman is brutally slain, evidence emerges that suggests Darby is being framed, and that the culprit is a vicious serial killer who has eluded the FBI for more than a decade…and, now, the killer has Darby in their sights.

Rating: Narration – B; Content – B

In this fifth instalment of Toni Anderson’s Cold Justice: The Negotiators series, we catch up with a couple of the secondary characters from a previous book in the series. In book two, (Colder Than Sin) CNU (Crisis Negotiation Unit) operative Eban Winters had been part of the team sent to effect the rescue of Darby O’Roarke, an American Ph.D student in Indonesia who was kidnapped and held hostage by an extremist group and subjected to violence and sexual abuse. (Note: this story references Darby’s experiences several times, although there is nothing graphic on the page). Since surviving her ordeal, Darby has, with the help of extensive therapy, been putting her life back together and has resumed her studies (she’s a volcanologist) at the University of Alaska Fairbanks.

When Cold as Ice begins, Darby is waking up in strange surroundings, her mind a bit foggy, and it takes her a while to work out where she is. She remembers being at a party with colleagues the previous evening, and is and lying on a sofa in someone’s living room, relieved to find herself fully dressed. Darby then recognises the room as belonging to a fellow grad student, Martin Carstairs, and recalls dancing with him and a group of friends at the party and generally having fun – but she doesn’t have any recollection of much after that, and has no idea how she got to Martin’s place. Maybe she had too much to drink and he was looking out for her? Trying to get her mind straight, she tidies up a little and then makes her way cautiously upstairs to see if Martin is in the house. He is. On his bed. With a hunting knife sticking out of his chest.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

A Friend in the Fire (Auden & O’Callaghan Mysteries #2) by Gregory Ashe & C.S. Poe (audiobook) – Narrated by Garrett Kiesel

a friend in the fire

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

After solving the mystery behind the death of his former friend in July, ex-Army Sam Auden has been aimlessly wandering the country. Everything had gone sideways in New York City, so when his phone rings three months later, the caller is the last person Sam expected to be asking for help.

Confidential informant Rufus O’Callaghan has been struggling. His NYPD contact was murdered over the summer, and the man Rufus is head over heels for was driven away by his own undiagnosed trauma. But when he receives an anonymous letter that promises information on his mother, life goes from dark to dangerous in the blink of an eye.

Sam and Rufus must dig into Rufus’s rough and turbulent past in order to solve a series of contemporary murders connected to his mother. And if the two can’t expose who the killer is in time, they will most certainly become his next targets.

Rating: Narration – B-; Content- B+

When we last saw Rufus O’Callaghan and Sam Auden at the end of Gregory Ashe and C.S Poe’s A Friend in the Dark, they had a blazing row which ended with Sam walking out of Rufus’ apartment and his life. Well, as A Friend in the Fire is book two in the Auden and O’Callaghan series, it will come as no surprise that they’re destined to meet again, but after a bitter argument and three months apart, it’s going to take a while for them to trust each other again.

After Sam left, he went back to his somewhat nomadic lifestyle, and when we catch up with him, he’s pitched up in a back-of-beyond town with an impossible-to-pronounce name (!) in deepest Missouri. He hasn’t heard from Rufus once in the past three months (Rufus never gave Sam his number, so Sam can’t reach out) – so the last thing Sam expects is a call from a panicked-sounding Rufus asking for help.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

A Gentleman Tutor by Harper Fox (audiobook) – Narrated by Callum Hale

a gentleman tutor

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

For Frank Harte, impoverished schoolteacher, January in London means a yearly fight to survive. A former soldier, his injuries have barred him from all but the lowest paid posts, and the cold incapacitates him still more.

The chance to work as tutor to Viscount Gracewater, son of the famous big-game hunting Earl, comes as a lifeline to Frank. The Earl’s Knightsbridge mansion is huge, elegant – and, most temptingly, kept warm from basement to attics. Viscount “Scapegrace” Gracie, used to foreign climes, is delicate. He’s also wild, charming, and only five years younger than Frank himself. His innocence and feckless good nature soon endear him to the quiet, reserved tutor. But the Earl’s house is a dark one beneath its bright veneer, and the Viscount is in the thrall of unscrupulous Arthur Dickson, a handsome, brutal parasite who’ll stop at nothing to retain his power over Gracie’s heart and soul.

Edwardian secrets burgeon as Frank begins a battle to free his student, confronting along the way the knowledge that he’s losing his own heart to this brilliant and beautiful young man.

Rating: Narration – B; Content – C

Harper Fox’s A Gentleman Tutor is a standalone historical romance with a gothic tinge; a poor tutor goes to work at a grand house (although this one is in Kensington and not on the wild and windy moors!) and is caught up in a battle for the heart and soul of his tutee. I have it in print but – (you guessed it!) – haven’t got around to reading it yet, so I jumped at the chance to listen to and review the audio version. Narrator Callum Hale is new to me, and although it took me a little while to get used to him, he acquits himself well and I’d certainly listen to him again.

Impoverished schoolteacher Frank Harte is facing a cold and difficult winter. A leg wound sustained during military service in India has left him with a severe limp (and other problems) and proves a bar to finding a better-paid position, so he works two jobs, teaching at a boys’ school in Shoreditch during the day and teaching dockhands to read and write three nights a week. He is barely keeping body and soul together, having to make continual trade-offs as to what essentials he can afford. Until recently, his long-time best friend Cyril was in similar circumstances, but he inherited a fortune on the recent death of his father, money that is now allowing him to move in higher circles than previously, and when the book opens, he’s sought Frank out to tell him that he’s recommended his services to the Earl of Gracewater, who is looking for a tutor to prepare his twenty-one-year-old son for Cambridge.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

Aftermath (Vino and Veritas #6) by L.A. Witt (audiobook) – Narrated by Greg Boudreaux & John Solo

aftermath witt

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

Brent Weyland was the life of the party until an injury ended his hockey career. Now he’s retreated alone to a lakefront house, trying to make sense of a life and body that doesn’t feel like his anymore.

Jon Norquist was happily married right up until he wasn’t. Now a single father in his 40s, he’s trying to figure out what comes next. In the meantime, he pours his heartache and regret into the lyrics he sings for the wine bar crowd a couple of nights a week.

When a friend coaxes Brent out for a night of wine and music, he puts Brent and Jon on a collision course. Their chemistry is instantaneous. Jon gives Brent’s battered body a much-needed remedial lesson in pleasure. And Brent gives Jon a reason to smile again.

Multiple reasons, actually. Neither man wants anything serious, but love has a habit of showing up whether it’s welcome or not. No matter how hard they try, the two can’t help having feelings for each other, even as life continues to throw them curveballs.

But they’ve both got baggage to unpack and hurt to move past, and if they can’t leave their pasts in the past, they might just miss out on an amazing future.

Rating – Narration – A/B; Content – B

Aftermath – the fifth book in the Vino and Veritas series – features a young hockey player whose career came to an abrupt end when he was seriously injured in a car accident, falling for a single dad in his early forties who was – or thought he was – happily married until his wife asked for a divorce. It’s a sweet and sexy romance between two men whose lives have been upended in different ways and who are both struggling to work through their grief for the lives they thought they were going to have while at the same time, going through a period of adjustment into whatever their new normal is going to be.

Brent Wayland was at the peak of his professional hockey career when the car he was driving was hit by a drunk driver. Brent was seriously injured and it’s a miracle he survived the accident, let alone that he can walk again. It’s been a long, hard and painful road to recovery and even a year later, he’s not there yet. Intense physical therapy hurts like hell and tires him out, his dad keeps going on and on about how other hockey players have come back from worse injuries and telling Brent he needs to snap out of it and get back on the ice, his body is never going to be the same, things are probably not going to get a great deal better than they are now, and he has no idea what he’s going to do with the rest of his life. It’s a lot to cope with – and truth be told, he hasn’t really been coping. Ever since he came home, he’s been more or less a recluse, venturing out only to attend his appointments and for weekly weekend lunches at his parents’ place. But at the urging of his best friend – mostly just to shut him up – Brent agrees to go out for a drink at the new-ish wine bar in town. He can have one drink then make an excuse to leave after an hour. It’ll be fine.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

Nothing But Good by Kess McKinley (audiobook) – Narrated by Kirt Graves

nothing but good

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

Special Agent Jefferson Haines puts the “order” in law and order. Meal kits. Gray suits. Consistent reps at the gym. But all his routines are thrown into chaos when he’s called in to catch a serial killer whose MO is the stuff of urban legend: the Smiley Face Killer.

Dripping paint. Wicked slashes for eyes. The taunting curl of a smiling mouth. After years evading capture, the serial killer is back again. As Jefferson races to stop the next attack, the investigation leads to the one man he thought he’d never see again, Fred “Finny” Ashley.

Finny has his own theories about the killer. And they’re pretty good. Maybe too good. Now, with his career on the line, Jefferson has to figure out if his onetime best friend is the culprit or the next victim.

Rating: Narration – B+; Content – B

Kess McKinley’s début novel Nothing but Good is a well-constructed and enjoyable mystery/procedural in which a tightly controlled, buttoned-up FBI agent investigating a number of serial murders encounters an unexpected complication in the form of the former best friend on whom he’d had a huge crush. I read this one when it came out back in May, and when I saw that Kirt Graves was narrating the audio version, I decided to revisit it.

Special Agent Jefferson Haynes and his partner, Special Agent Caroline Pelley, are called in when the body of a young man is pulled out of the water in Boston Harbour, another victim of the “Smiley Face Killer”, so-called because he leaves a very distinct calling card which, in this case, is a huge painted smiley face on the wall just by where the body was found. The SFK has killed a number of young men – all of them found in bodies of water – over the last decade, but has so far eluded capture.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

All Note Long (Perfect Harmony #3) by Annabeth Albert (audiobook) – Narrated by Brad King

all note long

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

Giving true love a spin…

Michelin Moses is a country music star on the rise. With a hit single under his Texas-sized belt buckle and a sold-out concert tour underway, his childhood dreams of making it big are finally coming true. But there’s one thing missing – a promise to his dying mother that he’d find it – him – when the time was right. With a little luck, he won’t have to wait too long….

Lucky Ramirez is a hunky boy toy who dances at The Broom Closet, one of West Hollywood’s hottest gay bars. He loves what he does, and he’s good at it – almost as good as he is at playing dumb when he spots Michelin Moses at the bar. What happens next is off the charts – and keeps Michelin coming back for more. He’s just not sure it’s the right move for his career. But if Lucky gets his way, Michelin will get Lucky – and no matter how the media spins it, neither of them will be faking it….

Rating: Narration – B+; Content – B+

Another deep dive into my Audible library to find titles I own but haven’t yet listened to turned up All Note Long, the third and final book in Annabeth Albert’s Perfect Harmony series, which is centred around characters involved with a TV singing/talent show. I reviewed book one, Treble Maker, when it came out in audio a couple of years back; I enjoyed it and picked up the other two books in the series, but unlike those – which feature characters who were contestants on the show – All Note Long focuses on country music star Michelin Moses, who was one of the judges and mentors.

Michelin (and right from that start, I had trouble with the name – I kept thinking of tyres!) was a pop star before he changed tack and moved into country music. Being gay in the country scene is a no-no, and he’s deeply in the closet, convinced coming out will mean the end of his career. When the story begins, he’s at a birthday celebration for one of his mentees, even though he knows his publicist and label would have kittens if they knew he’d met up with them at a gay bar. It’s a new experience for him, and he finds himself completely fascinated by one of the go-go dancers, a beautiful young Latinx guy who goes by Lucky. Michelin can’t help looking – even though he knows he shouldn’t – and decides to leave quietly soon afterwards, but he mistakes the way to the exit and ends up wandering the corridors backstage, where he bumps into Lucky, who notices he’s rather flustered and offers to get him some water.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals

Cop Out (Toronto Tales #1) by KC Burn (audiobook) – Narrated by Tristan James

cop out

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

Detective Kurt O’Donnell is used to digging up other people’s secrets, but when he discovers his slain partner was married to another man, it shakes him. Determined to do the right thing, Kurt offers the mourning Davy his assistance. Helping Davy through his grief helps Kurt deal with the guilt that his partner didn’t trust him enough to tell him the truth, and somewhere along the way Davy stops being an obligation and becomes a friend, the closest friend Kurt has ever had.

His growing attraction to Davy complicates matters, leaving Kurt struggling to reevaluate his sexuality. Then a sensual encounter neither man is ready for confuses them further. To be with Davy, Kurt must face the prospect of coming out, but his job and his relationship with his Catholic family are on the line. Can he risk destroying his life for the uncertain possibility of a relationship with a newly widowed man?

Rating:  Narration – B-; Content – B

I’ve had this audiobook in my Audible library for a while; I’m making a concerted effort to listen to titles I bought a while back and haven’t got around to listening to yet!

K.C. Burn’s Cop Out (book one in her Toronto Tales series) is a fairly well done gay awakening/coming out story featuring detective Kurt O’Donnell, whose work-partner Ben is killed in the line at the beginning of the book. Kurt is injured, too, although not too badly, and when he attends Ben’s funeral he begins to learn that he hadn’t know the man he’d worked with for three years at all. Kurt had no idea Ben was gay and had been living with his partner for years; he has no problem with it, he’s just surprised and a more than a little upset that Ben had never told him. Hurting himself, and struggling to deal with survivor’s guilt, Kurt goes to pay his respects to Ben’s partner Davy, and is shocked to discover that the man is in a pretty bad way, so overwhelmed by grief that he’s not taking care of himself at all.

Kurt learns that Davy has no one – no friends or family other than a sister going through a high-risk pregnancy – who can be there for him and he decides to do whatever he can to help. He quickly realises that Ben being so far in the closet has deeply affected the way Davy thinks and acts in some of the simplest situations – such as when he assumes Kurt will worry over the delivery guy thinking they’re a couple. Kurt gets into the habit of going over to Davy’s every day until they both go back to work, but even then, they see each other a few times a week.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

The Gangster (Magic & Steam #2) by C.S. Poe (audiobook) – Narrated by Declan Winters

The Gangster

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

1881 – Special Agent Gillian Hamilton, magic caster for the Federal Bureau of Magic and Steam, has recovered from injuries obtained while in Shallow Grave, Arizona. Now back in New York City, Gillian makes an arrest on New Year’s Eve that leads to information on a gangster, known only as Tick Tock, who’s perfected utilizing elemental magic ammunition. This report complicates Gillian’s holiday plans, specifically those with infamous outlaw, Gunner the Deadly, who promised they’d ring in 1882 together.

The two men stand on the cusp of a romance that needs to be explored intimately and privately. But when Gillian’s residence is broken into by a magical mechanical man who tries to murder him on behalf of Tick Tock, he and Gunner must immediately investigate the city’s ruthless street gangs before the illegal magic becomes a threat that cannot be contained.

This might be their most wild adventure yet, but criminal undergrounds can’t compare to the dangers of the heart. Gillian must balance his career in law enforcement with his love for a vigilante, or lose both entirely.

Rating: Narration – B+; Content – A-

I read The Gangster, book two in C.S Poe’s Magic & Steam series earlier this year and really enjoyed it, so I decided to experience it again in audio format. I’d already listened to the first book – The Engineer – and enjoyed the narration by Declan Winters, so I was pretty sure of a good listen.

Because The Gangster is a direct sequel, I’d strongly recommend starting the series with The Engineer; it’s novella-length (just over two-and-a-half hours) and provides an excellent introduction to the alternate vision of 1880s New York the author has created, and the central characters of the series, Special Agent Gillian Hamilton of the Federal Bureau of Magic and Steam, and Gunner the Deadly, the legendary outlaw Gillian meets while on assignment in Arizona. The story is fast-paced and exciting with plenty of sizzling chemistry between Gillian and Gunner – who agree to a temporary truce and join forces in order to defeat a bonkers mad-scientist type. The Engineer ends on a strong HFN, with the promise of more to come, and C.S. Poe certainly delivers on that promise in The Gangster, with a full- length story that continues to develop the romance between these two very unlikely men while also telling an action-packed, well-paced story and keeping listeners guessing about… nope, not telling. But be prepared – the book ends on one helluva cliffhanger. I believe book three is due later this year, but at time of writing, there’s no date set.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.