Flight (Texas Murder Files #2) by Laura Griffin (audiobook) – Narrated by Teri Clark Linden

flight

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

When former forensic photographer Miranda Rhoads moves to the seaside town of Lost Beach, she decides to make her living as a wildlife photographer, putting crime scenes behind her. But her plans are quickly upended when she comes across a couple sleeping in a canoe, entwined in an embrace. Looking closer, she realizes the man and woman aren’t asleep – they’ve been murdered.

Detective Joel Breda sets out to find answers – not only about the unidentified victims in the marshy death scene but also about the aloof and beautiful photographer who seems to know more about his investigation than he does.

As they begin to unravel the motivation of a merciless serial killer, Miranda and Joel must race against the clock to make an arrest before the killer finds them first.

Rating:  Narration – C+; Content – B-

Flight is book two in Laura Griffin’s Texas Murder Files series; I read book one, Hidden, when it came out last year but the two are only connected tangentially (the heroines are sisters) so Flight works perfectly well as a standalone. I’ve enjoyed a number of books by this author, but – and I had this issue with the previous book in the series as well – the balance between the two elements of the story is unequal and the plot is developed at the expense of the romance. Fortunately, the plot in Flight is interesting and well-developed enough to have held my interest, and as usual, Ms. Griffin provides lots of interesting background about forensics and police procedures.

Blaming herself when a mistake by one of her team led to the collapse of the case against a child-murderer, CSI Miranda Rhoads – a specialist in forensic photography – quit her job, took up a teaching position in San Antonio and moved to the Texas seaside town of Lost Beach hoping to regroup and centre herself again. She likes the slower pace and the quiet, and is (sort of) making a living as a nature photographer – which is why she’s out on the marshes at the crack of dawn waiting for the perfect shot when she finds a canoe tethered in the reeds… containing the dead bodies of a young couple, their arms entwined as though in sleep, a feather held in one of the young woman’s hands.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

Near You by Mary Burton (audiobook) – Narrated by Melissa Moran

near you

This title may be dowloaded from Audible via Amazon

Forensic psychologist and single mother Ann Bailey has joined forces with Montana Highway Patrol officer Bryce McCabe. An expert in untangling the motives of depraved minds, Ann is tasked to help solve the mystery of two murdered women doused with gasoline and set aflame.

It’s not hard for Ann to be reminded of the charismatic Elijah Weston, who served a decade in prison for arson – a crime that nearly cost Ann her life. Elijah may have been exonerated, but the connection to these rage killings is impossible for Ann to ignore. One of the victims has been identified as an obsessed Elijah groupie. Elijah has obsessions, too. Ever since Ann returned to town, he can’t take his eyes off her. And as a mother with a secret, she’s the perfect victim for an infatuated psychopath.

The deeper Ann and Bryce’s investigation goes, the nearer they get to each other and to danger. After another murder hits close to home, Ann fears a clue is hidden in her own past. Only one thing terrifies her more than the reveal of her long-held secret. It’s that the secret itself has put Ann into a killer’s line of fire.

Rating: Narration – B-; Content – B

Mary Burton’s Near You is the sequel to last year’s Burn You Twice, and it continues the story of two women who were best friends in college and who survived an arson attack that almost killed them both. The previous book focused on Joan Mason, who moved away from Missoula and became a detective in Philly; in Near You, the focus switches to her friend Ann Bailey, who remained in Montana, married her college boyfriend, and continued to live there with her husband and their son – until the devastating events of Burn You Twice ripped her family apart.

There are spoilers for Burn You Twice in this review.

Sergeant Bryce McCabe of the Montana Highway Patrol is enjoying a rare day off at home at his ranch when he receives a call from the local sheriff asking for his help investigating a particularly gruesome homicide. He arrives at the scene to find the charred remains of a woman who is later revealed to have been stabbed several times before having the skin of her face removed, and then doused with gasoline and set alight – exactly as in the case of the victim of an identical murder around a month earlier. Shortly after Bryce’s arrival, Joan Mason – who has taken the position of death investigator for the medical examiner – arrives and makes the same connection; it’s she who suggests they involve Dr. Ann Bailey, a professor of forensic psychology at the University of Montana, whose expertise in the field could be invaluable in getting into the mind of the killer. In the absence of much by way of physical evidence, Bryce is inclined to agree.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

Variable Onset by Layla Reyne (audiobook) – Narrated by Tristan James

variable onset

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

When the serial killer known as Dr. Fear seemingly reemerges after a cooling-off period, Special Agent Lincoln Monroe wants on the case. He knows his research on the calculating criminal, who targets couples and uses their worst fears to kill them, could prove invaluable. But nothing can prepare Lincoln for the agent waiting for him in Apex, Virginia: a brash and cocky former student. Carter Warren is everything Lincoln is not, and somehow everything he wants. And they’ll be going undercover. As newlyweds.

For Carter, seeing Lincoln again—and flustered to boot—pokes his raging bear of a crush something fierce. He thinks posing as lovers will provide the perfect bait for Dr. Fear. But pretending to be married forces them to confront fears of their own…like giving in to the very real chemistry between them.

With evidence pointing to the possibility of a copycat killer, Lincoln and Carter will have to race to separate truth from fiction. But when another couple goes missing, finding the killer will test every ounce of their training, skills and the strength of their bond like never before.

Rating – Narration: C+; Content – B+

I have a somewhat hot/cold relationship with Layla Reyne’s books. They can be a bit hit and miss for me, but I keep coming back to them because despite their flaws, they’re pretty entertaining. The author can create intensely likeable and compelling characters, and she’s great at constructing fast-paced action sequences and interesting plotlines, but at times those plots have been overly complicated and a bit frenetic, so much so that they’ve overshadowed the romance and left little space for character and relationship development. I loved her début Agents Irish and Whiskey series, but was less convinced by its spin-off, Trouble Brewing (even though I really liked the central characters) – so I was pleased when her standalone romantic suspense novel Variable Onset marked a welcome return to form.

The plot revolves around the hunt for an elusive serial killer known as Dr. Fear, who has been killing for many years but has so far evaded capture. Dr. Fear targets couples, kidnapping them and then torturing them by confronting them with their deepest fears until they beg for death – and acts in cycles, killing several victims and then going to ground for years before starting up again. When Variable Onset begins, they’ve just become active again – and for the first time ever, the FBI might just have a plausible lead as to their whereabouts.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

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

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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

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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

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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.