What Lies Beneath (Lancaster Falls #1) by R.J. Scott (audiobook) – Narrated by Sean Crisden


This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

In the hottest summer on record, Iron Lake reservoir is emptying, revealing secrets that were intended to stay hidden beneath the water.

Best-selling horror writer Chris Lassiter struggles for inspiration and he’s close to never writing again. His life has become an endless loop of nothing but empty pages, personal appearances, and a marketing machine that is systematically destroying his muse. In a desperate attempt to force Chris to complete unfinished manuscripts his agent buys a remote cabin. All Chris has to do is hide away and write, but he’s lost his muse, and not even he can make stories appear from thin air.

Sawyer Wiseman left town for Chicago, chasing the excitement and potential of being a big city cop, rising the ranks, and making his mark. A case gone horribly wrong draws him back to Lancaster Falls. Working for the tiny police department in the town he’d been running from, digging into cold cases and police corruption, he spends his day’s healing, and his nights hoping the nightmares of his last case leave him alone.

Rating: Narration – B+; Content – B

RJ Scott is a new-to-me author, but the synopsis for this first book in the Lancaster Falls trilogy intrigued me, and Sean Crisden is a narrator I enjoy listening to, so I decided to give What Lies Beneath a try. Set in a small Pennsylvania town during a heatwave, it’s a well-written tale of romantic suspense that kicks off when a newcomer to the area stumbles – almost literally – across a skull half-buried in the cracked mud of a dried-up lakebed.

Sawyer Wiseman left Lancaster Falls for Chicago more than a decade earlier and made a successful career as a big city cop, only to return to his hometown when a case gone horribly wrong almost cost him his life and sanity. Now a lieutenant with the local PD, he sometimes finds working in a small town rife with secrets and run by the old boys’ network just as difficult and frustrating as anything he came up against in Chicago. Sawyer’s boss, Captain Sandoval, doesn’t like him – Sawyer isn’t one to simply do as he’s told without question – and gives him the crappy jobs to do, which is how Sawyer ends up trekking out to the old Dwyer cabin in the mountains to check on the “out-of-towner” who moved in recently.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

The Secret She Keeps (Whitaker Island #2) by HelenKay Dimon

This title may be purchased from Amazon

No matter where you run to…

Connor Rye seeks solace on remote Whitaker Island. When his first quiet evening ends with a blow to the head, it’s clear that nothing—and no one—is as it seems. Still haunted by his sister’s murder, he’s buried himself in work while trying to hold his family together. Now, when he has a minute to breathe, he knows better than to get involved with a stranger, but it might be too late to keep his distance.

Desire will find you…

For years she’s pretended to be someone else, but Maddie Rhine is done living in the shadows. Old habits are hard to kick however, and when her past follows her to Whitaker she’s forced to hide once more. Except with Connor. Effortlessly sexy Connor makes it difficult to ignore him. He sees right through her…and senses her fear.

Someone is watching her. And waiting for the right moment to strike. This time Connor vows to be ready.

Rating: B

The Secret She Keeps is the second book in HelenKay Dimon’s new series of romantic suspense novels set on the small, privately owned Whitaker Island, located somewhere off the Washington coast.  It’s an entertaining, and intriguing read featuring a couple of appealing protagonists and a well-drawn secondary cast, and although I hadn’t read the previous book, I didn’t feel as though I’d missed anything, so this one works perfectly well as a standalone.

When Connor Rye’s family fell apart after his sister was murdered, it was Connor who picked up the pieces and held the family and their business together;  and in doing so, was deprived of the chance to grieve properly.  He threw himself into work and learned to wall off his emotions in order to get through each day; and he’s been doing that for so long that it’s become second nature to him. Now, two years later, Connor, who has been working himself so hard that it’s started to affect his health, has been pretty much ordered to take some vacation time by his family. He has borrowed the cabin belonging to his brother Hansen (hero of book one, Her Other Secret) and taken himself off to Whitaker Island for a few weeks.

Maddie Rhine has lived on the island for a couple of years and keeps a low profile.  She works as an answering service for the (until recently) one-man police department and other local business, and counts police officer Ben Clifford and hotel owner Sylvia Sussex as friends, but she doesn’t socialise and generally keeps herself to herself.  It becomes clear quickly that Maddie is in hiding – but from what or whom isn’t made clear right away – and that something from her past has come back to haunt her.

You can read the rest of this review at All About Romance.

The Cost of Honor (Black Ops Confidential #3) by Diana Muñoz Stewart

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He gave up everything to escape his family

The only male to be adopted into the notorious Parish family, Tony Parish always did right by his vigilante sisters. But when an attempt to protect one of them went horribly wrong, he had to fake his own death to escape his fanatical family. Tony set sail and ended up in Dominica—face to face with the woman of his dreams…

Now he must give up Honor to save her

After the death of her mother, Honor Silva moved to Dominica, where her family could help her heal and move on. But her activist mother left her more than money, she left her proof that could take down one of the richest and most powerful men in the world.

Tony gave up everything he thought he knew when he fled his family. But when a threat too dangerous for Tony and Honor to fight on their own closes in, he has no choice but to go to them for help. Problem is, they’ll demand something in return—something that could cost Tony not just Honor, but also the love that changed him forever.

Rating: D+

The Cost of Honor is book three in Diana Muñoz Stewart’s Black Ops Confidential series about a group of adoptive siblings (twenty-eight in total, all but two of them female) who were adopted by one of the world’s wealthiest women and trained in badassery to be warriors in her social justice crusade.  The story picks up after the end of the first book, I Am Justice, and focuses on one of the only male members of the Parrish ‘family’, Tony, who has got himself into hot water by going against orders so as to save his sister Justice from the possibly fatal consequences of her own rash actions.  Knowing the rest of the family will see this as a massive betrayal, he has only one way to keep body, soul and, most importantly, mind together; he fakes his own death to avoid being hauled back to the family HQ to have his memories altered.

Even though he’s managed to get away, Tony knows it’s just a matter of time before the family tracks him down, so he’s determined to keep moving.  Shortly after his escape, he travels to Dominica, where he (stupidly) goes kite boarding during a storm, gets wiped out and is saved by Honor Silva, a young woman who owns a cocoa farm where she manufactures high-grade, boutique chocolate and runs an island tour business on the side.

Having seen Lazarus Graves (as Tony has styled himself) is safe in hospital, Honor returns home to discover that someone has made an offer for the farm, hotel and tour business for an amount way in excess of what it’s actually worth, but she turns it down.  She has no desire to sell and besides, such an offer is extremely suspicious – why anyone would want to pay well over the odds for a business that is just about breaking even?  But when all but one of her regular tour guides fail to show for work and a number of ‘accidents’ start to occur on the tours,  it becomes clear that whoever made that offer is prepared to get their hands on the business by whatever means necessary.

You can read the rest of this review at All About Romance.

The Rational Faculty (Hazard and Somerset: A Union of Swords #1) by Gregory Ashe

This title may be purchased from Amazon

Three months have passed since Emery Hazard and John-Henry Somerset faced a madman and lived to tell about it.

Three months have passed since Emery Hazard resigned from his job as a detective.

Three months can be too long and too short, all at the same time.

On Halloween, a professor at the local college is murdered in his apartment, in front of dozens of witnesses. Then the killer disappears. Somers is assigned the case—and a new partner.

While Somers investigates the murder, Hazard struggles to find purpose in his new freedom. Despite his decision to stay away, he finds himself drawn to the case. But he’s no longer police, and in the small town of Wahredua, not all of his former colleagues are happy to see him investigating another crime.

When the sheriff’s son and husband go missing, though, the case becomes more complicated than either Hazard or Somers had expected. And soon they learn that someone else is manipulating events in Wahredua.

Someone who is very interested in Emery Hazard.

Rating: A

It’s no secret that Gregory Ashe has quickly become one of my favourite authors.  I first came to his Hazard and Somerset series in audio; I saw Pretty Pretty Boys in a “Coming Soon” list at Audible and requested a copy to review for AudioGals… and was completely hooked on the author’s style of gritty, twisty suspense – and even more hooked on the angsty, screwed-up relationship between the two leads and the gradual revelation of their complicated history.  I continued reading and listening to the series, which went from strength to strength as Hazard and Somers worked some difficult and dangerous cases, building trust and a friendship of sorts before finally facing up to the truth; that they’ve wanted each other since they were sixteen years old but a history like theirs is far from easy to overcome.

Criminal Past, book six in the series, brought a number of interlocking story arcs to a close and ended with Hazard and Somers – who had both been through hell – pretty banged up, but alive and finally feeling as though the past had been laid to rest and ready to move forward with their lives together.  Three months after those traumatic events however, things are far from perfect.  The guys have bought a house together, they share the parenting of three-year-old Evie with her mother, Somers’ ex-wife, and Hazard knows he should be happy. But he’s struggling with the fact that he’s no longer a detective – he sacrificed his own career in order to save Somers’ at the end of the last book – and is finding it difficult to deal with his unemployed status and with the PTSD he’s experiencing as a result of the events that went down in the summer with Mikey Grames.   Hazard’s deep seated insecurities about his attractiveness and self-worth – fostered by previous boyfriends who treated him like crap – only make things worse; he’s waiting for Somers to decide he’s not worth it and walk away.  He’s desperately trying to pretend everything is fine, although Somers – of course – knows exactly what Hazard is doing but is at a loss as to what to do to help him.  He feels guilty that he’s still got his job and Hazard doesn’t, and he’s also taking quite a ribbing from his colleagues, almost all of whom make jokes about the fact that Hazard was the brains of their partnership and that Somers is all but useless without him – and he’s keeping it to himself, not wanting to rock the boat at home or make Hazard feel worse than he already does. They’re treading on eggshells around each other, not wanting to say or do something to make things worse but not knowing how to make things better, and it’s heart-breaking, especially considering what they went through in finally finding their way to one another.  It’s also brilliantly and completely in character for the two of them; although they’ve got better at communicating about the things that matter, they’ve both fallen back on their old patterns and are hiding behind façades of “it’s fine”;  although their physical scars may have healed, the mental ones have not, and they’re floundering.

Somers has been back at work for a little while, and his latest case involves a murder at Wroxall College where the victim – a professor – was stabbed to death at a Halloween costume party.  For a crime that took place in a crowded place, there are surprisingly few witnesses,  there’s little evidence and  the perpetrator escaped easily.  And those witnesses with anything to offer are reticent, hostile and uncooperative by turns, so with nothing but dead-ends on the horizon, Somers – knowing that perhaps he shouldn’t – talks things through with Hazard, the best detective he knows. As Hazard’s mind begins to work along familiar lines, finding patterns and making connections, he finds himself engaged for the first time in months, a renewed sense of purpose energising him and helping him to, at least for a little while, keep his demons at bay.  He listens to Somers, offers advice, but then, acting on his own instinct, makes an important discovery  – one which complicates his relationship with Somers (giving rise to yet more ribbing and embarrassment) and with the Wahredua PD in general.  And when Hazard is approached by one of the witnesses in the case and asked to investigate the murder separately from the police, it complicates things between Hazard and Somers even more and further threatens their already fragile relationship.

Once again, Gregory Ashe has penned a wonderfully complex and gripping murder mystery with twists, turns and red-herrings a-plenty and has very cleverly found a way to keep Hazard and Somers working a case – and together for most of the book – despite their change in circumstances.   But as with the other books in the series, the whole thing – the novel, the investigation – pivots around the ups and downs of the central relationship, characterised by Mr. Ashe’s unerring ability to zero in on what makes these guys tick and to examine, with pinpoint – and sometimes painful – accuracy, their flaws and insecurities.  He has the most amazing ability to peel back layer after layer to reveal raw truths and hurts that feel so very real – and those moments when Hazard and Somers are finally able admit to those truths and hurts are among the very finest – and favourite – moments in the book.

I’ve said elsewhere that one of the things that has made the Hazard and Somerset books so refreshing to read is the fact that this is one of only a few series I can think of that doesn’t end once the central couple gets together.  Here, we’re shown what happens after the ILYs and how, in the case of this particular couple, there’s still a lot of work to do if they’re going to make it in the long term.  So I was relieved to discover that Mr. Ashe hasn’t resorted to breaking up Hazard and Somers in order to generate some romantic tension; instead he has them working through all the shit life is throwing at them individually and as a couple while they’re also working a complicated investigation, which is a much more realistic approach, and one I greatly appreciated.

As always, there’s a colourful secondary cast, some new, like Somers’ new partner Gray Dulac, a young, hip, gay detective who thrives on fist bumps and calls everyone “bro” – Hazard’s reactions to him are frequently hilarious – and some we’ve met before, such as the creepy and insidious Ozark Volunteers, whose presence never fail to make a shiver run up and down my spine.  And cleverly and carefully planted but largely hidden amid the chaos of the investigation and Hazard and Somers’  volatile relationship are the threads of the storyline which seems likely to be the overarching one of the series – and I can’t wait to find out more.

Utterly compelling and immensely satisfying, The Rational Faculty is a real tour de force and a superb start to this second set of Hazard and Somerset stories.  Gregory Ashe’s writing is sharp, focused and laced with humour despite the grittiness of the action and the difficulties being faced by our heroes, and he seamlessly blends together the different elements of the novel to create a truly un-put-downable read.

Note: There are some gruesome scenes later in the book which some may find upsetting.

Orientation (Borealis Investigations #1) by Gregory Ashe (audiobook) – Narrated by Charlie David

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

Shaw and North are best friends, private detectives, and in danger of losing their agency. A single bad case, followed by crippling lawsuits, has put them on the brink of closing shop. Until, that is, a client walks into their Benton Park office.

Matty Fennmore is young, blond, and beautiful, and he’s in danger. When he asks for Shaw and North’s help foiling a blackmail scheme, the detectives are quick to accept.

The conspiracy surrounding Matty runs deeper than Shaw and North expect. As they dig into the identity of Matty’s blackmailer, they are caught in a web that touches politicians, the local LGBT community, and the city’s police.

An attack on Matty drives home the rising stakes of the case, and Shaw and North must race to find the blackmailer before he can silence Matty. But a budding romance lays bare long-buried feelings between Shaw and North, and as their relationship splinters, solving the case may come at the cost of their friendship.

Rating: Narration – A-; Content – A-

Orientation is the first book in Gregory Ashe’s latest series of romantic suspense novels, and it features two long-standing friends who run a detective agency in St. Louis. Mr. Ashe has rapidly become one of my favourite authors; he writes incredibly well-constructed, twisty mysteries and combines them with brilliantly written, superbly developed and complex relationships between his principal characters that just ooze sexual tension and make you want to bang their heads together at the same time as you’re rooting for them to see what’s in front of their noses and just kiss already!

North McKinney and Kingsley Shaw Wilder Aldrich met in their freshman year of college and have been pretty much inseparable ever since. They’re like chalk and cheese – North comes from a blue-collar family of construction workers, while Shaw was born into wealth; North comes across as a hardened cynic whereas Shaw is all wide-eyed innocence… yet something about them just clicked eight years earlier and they’ve been best friends ever since. North was also there for Shaw during the worst time of Shaw’s life; at the end of freshman year, Shaw and his boyfriend Carl were attacked by the West End Slasher, a crazed serial killer who was murdering young gay men across the city. Carl was killed and Shaw was critically injured, but although Shaw recovered physically, the mental scars took much longer to heal, and if it hadn’t been for North’s refusal to let his friend sink into depression and despair, he might not have made it.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

Fallen (Deep Ops #2) by Rebecca Zanetti (audiobook) – Narrated by Roger Wayne

This title may be downloaded from Audible

Too quiet. A talented hacker who got caught; Brigid Banaghan is now forced to work with a secret deep ops unit. But she won’t reveal any more to these renegade feds than she has to. Especially not to Raider Tanaka, her control freak of a bodyguard and handler. It’s enough that his body is tensed for action and his heated gaze is always on her….

Too sharp. Raider knows there’s more to his new assignment than he’s been told. Why send a deadly agent of his experience to guard a computer genius – even a gorgeous, unpredictable, undisciplined one? But when Brigid’s estranged father is named in an investigation into Boston’s organized crime, Raider’s mind switches onto high alert, just like his senses…

Too close. To clear her father’s name, Brigid needs Raider’s help. The unit’s idea that she bring a straight-laced fed in as her “fiance” won’t fly, though-not unless Raider can release his inner bad boy and become the rebel Brigid can’t resist…

Rating: Narration – B; Content – B-

I had a few reservations about the love story in Hidden, the first book in Rebecca Zanetti’s Deep Ops romantic suspense series, but I enjoyed Roger Wayne’s narration sufficiently enough to want to give the series another try. There’s a novella –Taken – that comes between Hidden and Fallen (the second book), but I didn’t feel as though I’d missed anything by not reading or listening to it; in fact, Fallen works pretty well as a standalone.
In Hidden, the author introduced listeners to a small and out-on-a-limb branch of the Homeland Defense Department headed up by FBI agent Angus Force, a charismatic but obviously damaged individual whose personal mission – to find the serial killer he supposedly shot and killed five years earlier – turned into an obsession that pretty much derailed his career. He’s been sidelined and tasked with setting up this small unit which is going to end up doing the jobs the bureau doesn’t want to dirty its hands over. The rag-taggle group of agents he’s assembled includes former cop and undercover specialist Malcolm West, hacker Brigid Banaghan, FBI agent Raider Tanaka, former Navy SEAL Clarence Wolfe and department shrink Nari Zhang. Oh, and let’s not forget Force’s booze-loving German Shepherd, Roscoe. They’re a quirky, engaging bunch, and the author has developed strong relationships between them that clearly go beyond the professional; they like and respect each other even if they don’t always show it, and their banter and snark is well done.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

Fish on a Bicycle (Fish Out of Water #5) by Amy Lane

This title may be purchased from Amazon

Jackson Rivers has always bucked the rules—and bucking the rules of recovery is no exception. Now that he and Ellery are starting their own law firm, there’s no reason he can’t rush into trouble and take the same risks as always, right?

Maybe not. Their first case is a doozy, involving porn stars, drug empires, and daddy issues, and their client, Henry Worrall, wants to be an active participant in his own defense. As Henry and Jackson fight the bad guys and each other to find out who dumped the porn star in the trash can, Jackson must reexamine his assumptions that four months of rest and a few good conversations have made him all better inside.

Jackson keeps crashing his bicycle of self-care and a successful relationship, and Ellery wonders what’s going to give out first—Jackson’s health or Ellery’s patience. Jackson’s body hasn’t forgiven him for past crimes. Can Ellery forgive him for his current sins? And can they keep Henry from going to jail for sleeping with the wrong guy at the wrong time?

Being a fish out of water is tough—but if you give a fish a bicycle, how’s he going to swim?

Rating: B+

Jackson Rivers and Ellery Cramer are back – perhaps a little the worse for wear – in this fifth instalment of Amy Lane’s Fish Out of Water series, and they’re starting a new chapter of their lives. After being shot, stabbed and almost poisoned to death during their pursuit of Carl Lacey, the man responsible for turning trained assassins into serial killers, Jackson and Ellery have spent several months recovering from their injuries, and are, when Fish on a Bicycle opens, gearing up for the opening of their new law firm. But some injuries take longer to heal than others, and Jackson, already carrying a shedload of emotional scars that are barely scabbed over, seems only to have acquired more in the wake of the events that went down in the desert.

A Few Good Fish saw Jackson and Ellery teaming up with Ace and Sonny from the author’s Racing for the Sun and also served as the introduction to Lee Burton, a military assassin, and Ernie, his ‘witchy’ boyfriend who, besides being an awesome baker, is more than a little bit psychic. (Their story can be found in Hiding the Moon.) Fish on a Bicycle is something of a crossover story, too, in that it features Henry Worrall, brother of Dex from the author’s Johnnies series about a group of young men who work in the porn industry. I haven’t read any of those stories (although I have some on the TBR pile of dooooom!) and a number of the characters have cameo roles in this novel, but I didn’t feel I’d missed out by not having read any of their stories yet.

Henry shows up at the soon-to-be open offices of Ellery Cramer, Attorney at Law, and is clearly not happy at being there. With him is Galen Henderson, a very attractive and personable young man who explains that Henry is very likely going to be accused – wrongfully – of murder, and asks Jackson and Ellery if they’ll take on his case. Henry served almost a decade in the military but was recently railroaded out with a dishonourable discharge, and this, together with the fact that his brother runs an extremely successful (and legitimate) porn business, lessens Henry’s chances of a fair hearing. Cases like his – where prejudice is likely to prevent justice being done – are exactly the reason Ellery and Jackson have branched out on their own, and even though Henry behaves like a total dick, it’s obvious to both of them that he’s hiding something big and that beneath all the bluster, he’s pretty scared.

You can read the rest of this review at All About Romance.