A Friend in the Dark (Auden & O’Callaghan Mysteries #1) by Gregory Ashe & C.S. Poe (audiobook) – Narrated by Garrett Kiesel

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

Rufus O’Callaghan has eked out a living on the streets of New York City by helping the police put away criminals as a confidential informant. But when Rufus shows up for an arranged meeting and finds his handler dead, his already-uncertain life is thrown into a tailspin. Now someone is trying to kill Rufus too, and he’s determined to find out why.

After leaving the Army under less than desirable circumstances, Sam Auden has drifted from town to town, hitching rides and catching Greyhounds, until he learns that a former Army buddy, now a police detective in New York City, has died by suicide. Sam knows that’s not right, and he immediately sets out to get answers.

As Rufus and Sam work together to learn the truth of their friend’s death, they find themselves entangled in a web of lies, cover-ups, and accelerating danger. And when they witness a suspect killed in cold blood, they realize they’re running out of time.

Rating: Narration – B-; Content – B+

A Friend in the Dark is book one (of four) in a new series of m/m romantic suspense novels co-authored by Gregory Ashe and C.S. Poe, and it’s a strong start, boasting a well-paced and interesting mystery and two quirky, engaging central characters I’m eager to spend more time with. Narrator Garret Kiesel is new-to-me and, it seems, quite new to audiobook narration in general; so far he has narrated a few non-fiction books with this as his sole venture into fiction. I’m always apprehensive when listening to a new narrator, especially one who is narrating a book I’ve enjoyed; thankfully however, Mr. Kiesel acquits himself reasonably well , but there’s a serious production issue that irritated me, especially during the latter half of the audiobook.

Rufus O’Callaghan has, for a number of years, acted as a CI (confidential informant) for Detective Jake Brower of the NYPD, and over that time, they’ve become friends of a sort. Jake looks out for Rufus – the only person in Rufus’ life ever to have done so – and Rufus feels safe with him, which means a lot to someone whose meagre means keep him barely off the streets. Rufus runs errands for Jake at times, and when the book opens, is on his way to meet with him to pick up a package. When Rufus arrives at the specified location though, there’s no sign of Jake, so he carefully makes his way through the abandoned offices – finding Jake’s body slumped in a shower room, a bullet hole in the centre of his forehead. Rufus barely has time to process this before he’s being shot at, too; he manages to escape and quickly makes his way to Jake’s apartment, to see if he can find any clue as to what was in the package he was supposed to pick up. Horrified, filled with grief and sadness at the loss of the only friend he’s ever really had, Rufus decides he owes it to Jake to find out what he can and take it to the NYPD to help find his murderer.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

A Lady’s Formula for Love (Secret Scientists of London #1) by Elizabeth Everett (audiobook) – Narrated by Elizabeth Jasicki

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

What is a Victorian lady’s formula for love? Mix one brilliant noblewoman and her enigmatic protection officer. Add in a measure of danger and attraction. Heat over the warmth of humor and friendship, and the result is more than simple chemistry – it’s elemental.

Lady Violet is keeping secrets. First, she founded a clandestine sanctuary for England’s most brilliant female scientists. Second, she is using her genius on a confidential mission for the Crown. But the biggest secret of all? Her feelings for protection officer Arthur Kneland.

Solitary and reserved, Arthur learned the hard way to put duty first. But the more time he spends in the company of Violet and the eccentric club members, the more his best intentions go up in flames. Literally.

When a shadowy threat infiltrates Violet’s laboratories, endangering her life and her work, scientist and bodyguard will find all their theories put to the test – and learn that the most important discoveries are those of the heart.

Rating: Narration – C+; Content – C

I’ve always loved historical romance, and although I’m finding it increasingly difficult to find historicals to enjoy (so much HR right now features twenty-first century people in costume) I still look out for new authors to try. Elizabeth Everett’s début romance, A Lady’s Formula for Love, was getting quite a bit of advance buzz, narrator Elizabeth Jasicki is experienced in the genre – although I don’t think I’ve listened to her before – so I decided to give this one a go, and… I really wish I could tell you it was great. But I can’t.

The widowed Violet Hughes, Lady Greycliff, is a brilliant chemist and the founder of Athena’s Retreat, ostensibly a social club for ladies, but really a place for them to indulge their passion for science and to undertake research, somewhere they can use their brains and display their intelligence freely without having their ideas belittled by men. But word has leaked out about the true purpose of the club, and Violet has received threats against her and the club that her stepson William, Viscount Greycliff (who is a government agent) suspects originate from a radical, anti-government group. Grey has to be away from London for a few weeks, so he engages Arthur Kneland, a former colleague and experienced protection officer, to act as bodyguard for Violet while he’s away.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

Starcrossed (Magic in Manhattan #2) by Allie Therin (audiobook) – Narrated by Erik Bloomquist

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When everything they’ve built is threatened, only their bond remains….

New York, 1925

Psychometric Rory Brodigan’s life hasn’t been the same since the day he met Arthur Kenzie. Arthur’s continued quest to contain supernatural relics that pose a threat to the world has captured Rory’s imagination – and his heart. But Arthur’s upper-class upbringing still leaves Rory worried that he’ll never measure up, especially when Arthur’s aristocratic ex arrives in New York.

For Arthur, there’s only Rory. But keeping the man he’s fallen for safe is another matter altogether. When a group of ruthless paranormals throws the city into chaos, the two men’s strained relationship leaves Rory vulnerable to a monster from Arthur’s past.

With dark forces determined to tear them apart, Rory and Arthur will have to draw on every last bit of magic up their sleeves. And in the end, it’s the connection they’ve formed without magic that will be tested like never before.

Rating: Narration – C; Content – B

Allie Therin’s engaging Magic in Manhattan series sets an intriguing combination of supernatural relics, powerful psychics, romance and magic amid prohibition era New York. Starcrossed is the second book, and you really do need to have read or listened to book one, Spellbound, in order to get to grips with it. I read and reviewed it in print when it came out in May 2020, and even though I HAD read book one, I found myself a bit lost to start with because there’s hardly any recapping and I wished I’d done a re-read to refresh my memory. But once I’d skimmed a few sections in Spellbound, I was up to speed and able to enjoy the story in Starcrossed.

There are spoilers for Spellbound in this review.

It’s Manhattan in 1925, and twenty-year-old psychometric Rory Brodigan works as an antiques appraiser in his aunt’s shop, earning the place a reputation as the place to go to sort out the fake from the real thing. This is because Rory’s paranormal ability means he’s able to touch an object and be transported into its history (which can also be incredibly dangerous as it’s possible he could end up trapped in that history in his mind) – and he’s something of a recluse, staying very much in the background and taking care not to reveal his ability to anyone. In Spellbound, handsome, wealthy congressman’s son Arthur Kenzie brought some letters to Mrs. Brodigan’s shop for appraisal, and through the course of the story Rory met other paranormals (Jade, a telekinetic, and Zhang, who can walk on the Astral Plane), and learned that that while Arthur has no magic himself, he’s dedicated to protecting the world from supernatural relics that could destroy it. He and Arthur also commenced a romantic relationship – although that’s not the strongest part of the story.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

You Only Love Twice (London Steampunk: Blue Blood Conspiracy #3) by Bec McMaster (audiobook) – Narrated by Sienna Frances

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

First rule of espionage: Don’t ever fall in love with your target.

Five years ago, Gemma Townsend learned the hard way what happens when you break this rule. She lost everything. Her mentor’s trust. The man she loved. And almost her life. Love is a weakness she can never afford again.

When offered a chance at redemption, the seductive spy is determined to complete her assigned task: to track down a dangerous assassin known as the Chameleon, a mysterious killer sent after the queen, whose identity seems to constantly change.

But as her investigation leads Gemma into a trap, she’s rescued by a shadowy figure she thought was dead – the double agent who once stole her heart.

A man with few memories, all Obsidian knows is Gemma betrayed him, and he wants revenge. But one kiss ignites the unextinguished passion between them, and he can’t bring himself to kill her.

Can Obsidian ever trust her again? Or is history doomed to repeat itself? Because it soon becomes clear the Chameleon might be closer than either of them realized…and this time Gemma is in the line of fire.

Rating: Narration – C+; Content – A-

The books that comprise Bec McMaster’s London Steampunk and Blue Blood Conspiracy series are, to my mind, the best books to have appeared in the genre in recent years. The world-building is meticulous, the characters are all complex and well-rounded, the plotting is tight and the romances are wonderfully steamy, with lots of delicious sexual tension along the way. Her heroes are sex-on-a-stick and her heroines are kickass women who never need to remind readers how unconventional or badass they are; the author shows us everything we need to know. I’ve read all the books (bar one) in the series, and thoroughly enjoyed them all; I’d rate the series as a whole as a keeper, and haven’t awarded any of the books anything lower than a B+. In audio, however? Well, that’s a different story. The two series have different narrators; Alison Larkin narrates the London Steampunk series, and Sienna Frances – who is new-to-me – the Blue Blood Conspiracy books including You Only Love Twice, and while both are accomplished and talented performers, neither is particularly well-suited to the material or able to elevate the stories into must-listens or listen-instead-of-read books. Personally, I think a series like this – where there are more male characters than female ones – needs a male narrator. YMMV of course – Em gave high praise to Ms. Frances’ performance in her review of Mission Improper, but Ms. Frances didn’t work as well for me.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

Finding Joy by Adriana Herrera (audiobook) – narrated by Braeden Sinclair

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

As his 26th birthday approaches, Desta Joy Walker finds himself in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, the one place he’s been actively avoiding most of his life. For Desta, the East African capital encompasses some of the happiest and saddest parts of his life – his first home and the place where his father died. When an unavoidable work obligation lands him there for 12 weeks, he may finally have a chance for the closure he so desperately needs. What Desta never expected was to catch a glimpse of his future as he reconnects with the beautiful country and his family’s past.

Elias Fikru has never met an opportunity he hasn’t seized. Except, of course, for the life-changing one he’s stubbornly ignored for the past nine months. He’d be a fool not to accept the chance to pursue his doctoral studies in the US, but saying yes means leaving his homeland, and Elias isn’t ready to make that commitment.

Meeting Desta, the Dominican-American emergency relief worker with the easy smile and sad eyes, makes Elias want things he’s never envisioned for himself. Rediscovering his country through Desta’s eyes emboldens Elias to reach for a future where he can be open about every part of himself. But when something threatens the future that’s within their grasp, Elias and Desta must put it all on the line for love.

Rating: Narration – C-; Content – B-

Adriana Herrera’s Finding Joy has been recommended to me a few times, so I eagerly snapped up an audio review copy when it became available. I loved the author’s Dreamers series, which features a group of Afro-Latinx friends living and working in New York; they’re gorgeous, sensual romances that don’t shy away from exploring some very relevant and sensitive topics, but which are a wonderful celebration of diversity and an exploration of the immigrant experience. In Finding Joy, an ex-pat aid worker returns to the land of his birth and discovers a love for the country – and for a handsome colleague.

Twenty-six-year-old Desta Joy Walker is returning to the Ethiopia for the first time since leaving it when he was just three. He’s travelled in Africa quite extensively for his work with Aid USA, but has always avoided being sent to Ethiopia, being scared, deep down, of how it would feel to be back there, especially as his father – also an aid worker – died there while Desta was in high school in the US. But after a messy break-up, Desta decides to take a last-minute assignment which will see him spending eight weeks in Ethiopia; as well as getting out of DC and away from his ex, he hopes it will also give him the time and space he needs to make some important decisions about the direction his life is taking. He has pretty much decided that aid work isn’t what he wants to do going forward and he’s started to realise that fulfilling his father’s legacy is preventing him from following his own dreams. He’s been accepted into NYU’s MSW (Master’s in Social Work) program, but hasn’t yet told his mother – to whom he’s very close – because he fears his decision to no longer follow in his father’s footsteps will break her heart.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

All That Remains (Lancaster Falls #3) by R.J. Scott (audiobook) – Narrated by Sean Crisden


This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

Federal Agent Lucas Beaumont has an agenda – get himself assigned to the case of the apparent serial murders at Lancaster Falls, find out who the murderer is, and then lay the ghosts that haunt his grandfather to rest. In the midst of a horrific murder investigation, the only peace he gets is from simple moments in a warm kitchen, talking to hotel owner, Josh. Attraction to the easygoing man is something he didn’t expect; in doing so, he opens himself to hurt, but at the same time, he begins to fall in love.

Josh is struggling to keep the Falls Hotel, even with every cent he has invested in its upkeep. The one thing keeping him above water is the not entirely legal work he does on the side – a steady income that not even his son knows about. When the FBI takes over his hotel for the duration of the Hell’s Gate serial killer case, Josh is faced with the real possibility that Lucas will not only discover his secret but also steal his heart.

When tragedy hits Josh and his son, and when it seems all hope is lost, can Lucas rescue them both?

Rating: Narration – B-; Content – C-

All That Remains is the third and final book in RJ Scott’s series of romantic suspense novels set in the small Pennsylvania town of Lancaster Falls, and it neatly wraps up the overarching mystery storyline begun in What Lies Beneath and continued through Without a TraceEven though I was disappointed with both the story and narration in the latter book, I decided to listen to All That Remains in hopes that Without a Trace had been suffering from middle-book-itis, and that the series finale would be a stronger listen. Plus, I wanted to find out whodunit!

The series has an overarching plot, so if you still like the sound of it after reading my reviews (!) then this isn’t the place to start. There are spoilers for the previous books in this review.

The discovery of several sets of human remains in a sink hole in Lancaster Falls leads to speculation that one of the bodies is that of Casey McGuire, a young man who went missing a decade earlier, and whose disappearance is still felt keenly by all in the community. The previous book (Without a Trace) focused on the investigation as to whether or not Casey was one of the murder victims and who might have killed him; All That Remains picks up the story shortly after the events of that book, when an FBI team headed by Special Agent Lucas Beaumont arrives in the town to work the investigation into what looks like a string of serial murders of young women.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

Burn You Twice by Mary Burton (audiobook) – Narrated by Melissa Moran

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

Ten years ago as an undergrad, Joan Mason escaped an arsonist’s fire. Shaken, she fled the small collegiate Montana town, leaving behind friends and not looking back. Now a Philadelphia homicide detective, Joan’s trying to put her traumas to rest. It’s not easy. Elijah Weston, the classmate who torched her house, is out of prison and returning to Missoula. Gut instinct tells Joan he’ll strike again. To stop him, she must return to the past as well. To face not only the man she fears but Detective Gideon Bailey, too. The man she loved and left behind.

When a local woman dies tragically in another fire, it can’t be a coincidence. Can it be Elijah? He has a solid alibi for the night of the blaze. Reunited by the tragedy, Joan and Gideon have their doubts. So does Gideon’s sister, Ann – Joan’s old college roommate.

The investigation draws Joan and Gideon together, but it also sends them down a dangerous path – into a troubling history that Joan, Elijah, and Ann all share. As more lives go up in flames in Missoula, this town’s secrets are just beginning to rise from the ashes.

Rating: Narration – C+; Content – B

I’ve read and listened to a number of Mary Burton’s romantic suspense titles, and have enjoyed their well-constructed plots, engaging characters and atmospheric writing. Burn You Twice is a standalone story, a gripping mystery with a bit of psychological suspense thrown in as listeners follow detective Joan Mason as she tries to find out the truth behind the arson attack that almost killed her and her best friend a decade earlier.

Not long after the fire, Joan left the small town in Montana where she grew up and went to live and work in Philadelphia. Now a homicide detective, she’s been put on a temporary suspension because she made an… unfortunate … arrest (her prime suspect was the daughter of a judge) while working an arson case, and decides to use that time go back to Missoula to see if she can finally get some answers to the questions about the night of the college fire that have continued to plague her over the intervening years.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

Without a Trace (Lancaster Falls #2) by R.J. Scott (audiobook) – Narrated by Sean Crisden

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

Losing his brother has shaped Drew to become the man he is today – heartbroken, alone, but determined to make a difference in the world. Joining the military, fighting battles in places that he’s never even heard of, is his attempt to make amends for telling his brother to go to hell. After his brother disappeared, he’d clung to the hope Casey was out there living his life. Of course, he’d be furious at Drew, and probably hate his brother, but at least in Drew’s head, Casey was safe.

One call changes everything. Coming home to Lancaster Falls to bury his brother is a nightmare made real, and Drew has nowhere to run from the pain.

Logan has made a home in Lancaster Falls. As a police officer, he plays by the rules, and he would never think of working off-the-grid. All that changes when an anonymous tip crosses his desk, and he is thrust headlong into solving a 100-year mystery that could be connected with the modern day death of Casey McGuire. Fighting an attraction to Casey’s brother is hard enough, but the infuriating man is there at Logan’s every turn, interfering with the case, breaking the rules, and demanding that Casey’s story be heard.

Rating: Narration – C; Content – C-

Each book in RJ Scott’s Lancaster Falls trilogy features a different central couple, but the suspense plot – which kicks off when a skull and other human remains are found half-buried in a dried-up lakebed – is ongoing. I listened to book one, What Lies Beneath, towards the end of last year and enjoyed it, and I eagerly snapped up Without a Trace so I could continue with the story. I looked back at my review of book one to remind myself of events, and noted I’d mentioned excellent chemistry between the two leads, a really good and sometimes claustrophobic small-town vibe and had given good grades for both story and narration, so I had high hopes for book two.

What Lies Beneath centred on the story of Casey McGuire, whose sudden disappearance several years earlier devastated his family and the local community. The discovery of the skull, followed by the discovery of more human remains fuels speculation that the missing teen has finally been found, and Without a Trace opens pretty much where the previous book left off, with Casey’s younger brother Drew – who joined the military not long after his brother vanished and hasn’t been back since – bursting into the office of newly-minted police chief Sawyer Wiseman and demanding answers. News of the discovery of the bones has spread and he’s taken leave from his unit (it’s never actually specified what branch of the military he works for) to come home to Lancaster Falls to find out the truth once and for all. He has no faith in the police department whatsoever, remembering the days of former Captain Sandoval – who never made waves or went out of his way to investigate Casey’s disappearance when it happened – and he’s clearly distraught and seething with anger.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

When Harry Met Harry by Sydney Smyth (audiobook) – Narrated by Teddy Hamilton and Malcolm Young

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

Ever since their chance encounter as seatmates on the plane ride from hell, Harry “Harrison” Fields and Harry “Henry” Lee have had a love-hate relationship. But every time their paths have crossed over the years, they’ve grown to like each other more and more, even developing an unlikely friendship.

Now, Harrison is a fun-loving music teacher who wears his heart on his sleeve, and Henry is a hard-driving business man who’s still striving to get out of his father’s shadow.

As they go through life’s inevitable heartaches and losses, their friendship only deepens. Sure, there’s always been a simmering attraction between them, but nothing worth threatening their friendship over…until one of them takes things too far. But when a valuable friendship hangs in the balance, is a chance at romance worth the price?

Rating: Narration – B+/D+ ; Content – C

Before I get into this review, I have to say this.

PLEASE, FOR THE LOVE OF GOD, JUST STOP PUTTING SNIPPETS OF MUSIC BETWEEN CHAPTERS. IT’S NOT CUTE, IT’S NOT SOOTHING – IT’S ANNOYING AS HELL!

Right. So.

I stumbled across When Harry Met Harry a few weeks ago when I was looking through the Coming Soon titles at Audible, and the obvious reference in the title to what is probably my favourite Rom-Com ever immediately caught my eye. Plus – Teddy Hamilton.

Harrison Fields and Henry Lee meet for the first time at an airport in Singapore when aspiring actor Harrison is going back to the US after spending a few months travelling the world, and workaholic Henry is going to the US to pursue a business opportunity he hopes will enable him to break out from beneath his real estate magnate father’s shadow. A mix up with tickets means that Henry ends up sitting next to Harrison for the whole of the eighteen-hour flight and neither is particularly impressed with the other. Harrison thinks Henry is starchy and cynical; Henry thinks Harrison is overly optimistic and tends to overshare. At some point in the few conversations they have, Henry says he doesn’t believe in love, and also states his conviction that gay men can never be friends because the sex thing always gets in the way. After arriving, they say polite goodbyes and go their separate ways.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

The Edge of the World by Garrett Leigh (audiobook) – Narrated by Dan Calley

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

Shay Maloney is living his dream – on tour with his pirate/folk-rock band. But you can’t know where you’re going until you know where you’re from, and that’s where moody filmmaker and researcher Ollie Pietruska comes in.

The band’s management persuades Shay to let a television company film a documentary about his roots beyond his adoptive Irish family, and Ollie comes into his life knowing more about Shay than Shay’s ever known about himself.

But while Ollie holds the key to Shay’s past, he’s also hiding deep scars. Even as the hardships of the tour bring them closer, Ollie’s demons threaten the blossoming romance. They might both reach the breaking point before Ollie realizes he’s been standing on the edge of the world for too long, and it’s Shay who holds the key to his future.

Rating: Narration – B-; Content – B

I’ve enjoyed the handful of books I’ve read and listened to by Garrett Leigh, who one of those authors I keep promising myself I’m going to read/listen to more of. Her latest novel, The Edge of the World, is a beautifully written slow-burn romance between two flawed but likeable characters who are drawn together when one of them embarks upon a journey into his past while the other is trying desperately to forget something of his.

Shay Maloney and his pirate/folk-rock band Smuggler’s Beat have begun to make a name for themselves and when the book opens, are playing to packed houses and large crowds on their UK tour. Shay has always known he was adopted as a toddler, and before the tour began was asked by the band’s manager to take part in a kind of Who Do You Think You Are? genealogy-tracing documentary being made for the Sky Arts channel. At a low ebb following the death of his mother, Shay agreed and then promptly forgot about it, so when he’s told that filmmaker and researcher Ollie Pietruska will be joining the band on the last leg of the tour, he’s not sure what to think – especially when he discovers he had mistakenly expected the documentary to be about his adoptive family and not the actual family he knows nothing about.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.