Criminal Intentions S1E3 – The Man With the Glass Eye by Cole McCade (audiobook) – Narrated by Curt Bonnem

the man with the glass eye

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

Multiple execution-style murders hint at a mob hit, but when Malcolm and Seong-Jae follow the clues, the last thing they expect is a host of very familiar—and very dead—faces. They say dead men tell no tales, but if Malcolm and Seong-Jae can’t even trust the words of the living, they’ll never catch a hit man dead set on burying every trace of an underworld secret . . . along with a few more bodies.

But it’s not just the cold bodies on their minds when a little undercover work sends them to a nightclub once owned by none other than Marion Garvey. Forced to play at being lovers, neither man can ignore the distraction of the very warm body in his arms. To Malcolm, Seong-Jae remains as aloof as ever . . . but what’s really smoldering under that icy mask?

Rating:  Narration – A-; Content – B+

I listened to and reviewed the first two audiobooks in Cole McCade’s addictive Criminal Intentions series when they came out in 2022, but didn’t get around to reviewing the third for some reason – so I thought that with the rest of the series due to release in audio over the next few months, I’d rectify that! A quick recap; Criminal Intentions is a long running series featuring the same central couple (there are twenty-nine books so far with more to come), and is divided up into three ‘seasons’ of thirteen books each. In this first season, each book comprises one case for homicide detectives Malcolm Khalaji and Seong-Jae Yoon, but there’s also an overarching plot across the series, so I really would suggest starting with book one – The Cardigans – if you’re intrigued by this premise. The central romance, the characterisation and character exploration develop throughout, and the scope of the series as a whole means that the author has time to really delve deeply into what makes Malcolm and Seong-Jae tick, to explore how their backgrounds have made them into the people they are today, and also to develop the important recurring characters so that they, too, become people we care about and want to keep tabs on.

As the two leads are homicide detectives, it’s not surprising that there are some disturbing scenes to be found here, and these stories can go to some dark places when considering the motivations of the killers. The first chapter in each book usually depicts the murder to be solved from the PoV of the victim or killer; the author includes a list of warnings at the beginning of each book which can be read using the “Look Inside” feature at Amazon if you want to check anything out.

Okay, so on to the actual book.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

Inevitable Disclosure (Valor and Doyle #4) by Nicky James (audiobook) – Narrated by Nick J. Russo

inevitable disclosure

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

Quaid is adrift in MPU. With his partner on extended leave, he’s alone and unsure if he wants to continue working on missing persons cases now that his sister’s case is closed. When the missing teen he’s been seeking for a week turns up dead, it’s the icing on the cake.

Maybe it’s time to explore a different career path.

Aslan and his partner, Torin, take over Quaid’s case, but Quaid can’t help but get involved. He wants justice for the girl. Justice for her grieving family.

Is homicide the career change he’s been looking for?

The trio makes a solid team, and their banter takes the edge off a serious case. Working alongside Aslan again is fantastic. They have found a balance that works, but for as comfortable as they have become as a couple, for as inevitable as their future together seems, something’s missing.

Aslan is ready to take the next step in their relationship, but Quaid needs certain feelings to be disclosed first.

Do actions speak louder than words? Or is there magic in saying I love you?

Rating: Narration – A; Content – A

Note: This is a same-couple series in which the relationship development is ongoing, and there are references to events in earlier books in this review.

Nicky James hits it out of the park again with Inevitable Disclosure, book four in her superb series of romantic mysteries featuring detectives Aslan Doyle and Quaid Valor, who, in this story, end up working together to investigate the murder of a teenaged girl.

With his partner, Eden, on extended leave while she cares for her sick daughter, Quaid has been working solo on the case of seventeen-year-old Saphira Nottingham, who went missing from the parental home after a row with her boyfriend. Saphira has a history of storming off whenever she doesn’t get her own way and has always turned up within the next twenty-four hours or so, but she’s been missing for six days now, and Quaid is starting to think the worst. His suspicions are confirmed when he receives a call telling him that the body of a young woman has been found floating in the creek south of Centennial Park, and he suggests to Aslan that they should both take a ride out there. If the body is Saphira’s and her death wasn’t accidental, then chances are Aslan and his partner Torin Fox will begin a homicide investigation.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

To Love and Protect by Romeo Alexander

to love and protect

This title may be purchased from Amazon

Marcus Felps loves being a US Marshal. It suits the former military man perfectly. The predictability and logic help him try to bring order and justice to the world, which is just how he likes it. Even if he does come across as grumpy and more than a little tense.

Of course, life isn’t always neat and tidy.

Marcus’ world is turned upside down when he’s charged with the safety of Adrian Morgan, a reluctant addition to the government’s list of protected witnesses. Adrian is the only key witness the US government has to bring down a massive, international crime family.

However, Adrian seems designed to drive Marcus crazy. The man is flighty, impulsive, loud and way too cheerful. In fact, he’s everything Marcus is not. But he has a secret past hidden behind his wide grin and obnoxious jokes.

The two men have to find a way to live with one another while Marcus tries to keep Adrian alive against all the odds. However, the shaky peace cannot last, and Adrian and Marcus are thrown from frying pan to freezer and back into the pan again. Amid the bullets, car chases and betrayal, the two men have to face brutal mercenaries as well as the realization that there is more between them than just irritation and growing respect.

And if they live long enough, they might even find the best thing they’ve ever known in their lives…in each other.

Rating: B+

This is only the second book I’ve read by Romeo Alexander, and to be honest, the first one was just average, so I wasn’t expecting to enjoy To Love and Protect as much as I did. But I’m always on the look out for good romantic suspense so I decided to give it try, and I’m glad I did, because it turned out to be a great read; an entertaining, well-paced story featuring three-dimensional characters, a well-developed central relationship and some tense and exciting action scenes. At first, To Love and Protect seems like your common-or-garden bodyguard romance; a stoic US marshall is assigned to protect the fast-talking former lover of a mob boss who, in his five years as arm candy, has amassed enough information to bring down a high-profile crime family. It’s a familiar storyline, but what puts this story above the run-of-the-mill is the characterisation – of the protectee especially – and the way the romance is paced and developed.

Marshall Marcus Felps isn’t wildly impressed when he’s assigned to round-the-clock protection of Adrian Morgan, the ex-boyfriend of Oliver Vettic, heir to the Vettic criminal empire. He’s even less impressed when he finally meets Adrian, who seems determined to annoy him at all costs. He’s like a bratty, overgrown kid; he never stops talking, he’s too impulsive, too flippant, too flamboyant and just… too much, but it’s Marcus’ job to keep him safe, and he’s going to do it. To Adrian’s dismay, Marcus is exactly the sort of boring jobsworth he’d expected him to be and Adrian is everything Marcus had been dreading – an inveterate smart-arse who seems to take nothing seriously – but during the months they spend living in suburban Virginia, Marcus comes to realise that there’s much more to Adrian than he originally thought. Sure, the guy is incredibly annoying and seems to enjoy pushing Marcus’ buttons, but there’s a quick mind and ready wit behind the pretty face, together with something else that suggests certain shared experiences, and Marcus is surprised to find he’s slowly coming to actually like him.

The first quarter or so of the book is basically Marcus and Adrian living together and getting to know each other, and it’s nicely done. Marcus is your classic big, taciturn, doesn’t-do-emotions-or-relationships romantic suspense hero (plus, he’s straight), and Adrian is the total opposite. I admit I worried he’d be one of those curl-tossing, foot-stamping ‘You can’t tell me what to do!’ types who delights in giving their bodyguard the slip so often found in this genre, but happily, he isn’t. He does chafe at his confinement, but recognises it’s necessary for his own safety, and while he does sometimes push at his boundaries, he doesn’t actually step over them. He’s got an agenda, too, and isn’t going to do anything that could jepoardize it.

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

Radio Static by Nicky James (audiobook) – Narrated by Nick J. Russo

radio static

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

Two single dads. Two headstrong teenagers. One dead body.

A cabin in the middle of nowhere, nature all around, peace and serenity. It was supposed to be a vacation to help Nova reconnect with his son.

But he didn’t expect to fall for his neighbor in the cabin across the lake.

He didn’t expect an erratic and unusual broadcast on a radio station no longer in existence.

And he definitely didn’t expect a dead body in the water.

Mercy likes his mysteries to stay within the pages of his novels. When strange things start to happen at his summer cabin, he and his daughter team up with the man and his son on the other side of the lake to get to the bottom of it. A little amateur sleuthing won’t hurt anyone, right?

Someone out there knows the truth.
Who is the man on the radio?
What does he know?
Mercy and Nova are determined to solve the mystery, but are they willing to risk life and limb for answers? Because someone doesn’t want their secrets revealed.

Rating: Narration – A; Content – B

Nicky James has become one of my favourite authors over the past couple of years, her well-structured stories featuring complex, well-drawn characters and – usually – mid-to-high levels of angst – have made her a must read. Radio Static is a standalone romantic mystery (originally published in 2021) in which two single dads in their forties (together with their teenaged son and daughter) become embroiled in the mystery surrounding a decades-old disappearance. This is very much an amateur sleuth story in which the characters sometimes do things that made me facepalm, but which Jessica Fletcher and her ilk of cosy TV detectives would probably do without batting an eyelid! So it’s worth bearing that that in mind before jumping in – these guys aren’t Valor and Doyle with guns, badges and all their experience of detective work to call on.

Nova Charrette and his sixteen-year-old son, Cooper, are on their way to the remote cabin his family has owned for years by the lake near the small town of Drysdale. Nova hasn’t been there for around twenty-five years, since he was eighteen, but has decided that its remote location with its range of activities (swimming, fishing, hiking etc.) and lack of wifi and mobile connectivity is just the place for him to spend a bit of time reconnecting with Cooper – who lives with his mother – before it’s too late and Cooper heads off to college. Cooper isn’t impressed when Nova tells him there’s no wifi or 4g, and scoffs at the idea that a month without Spotify and Netflix is going to be “fun”. Trying to rally him, Nova suggests he try to find the local music station on the jeep’s radio, but all he can find is a bunch of static – until suddenly, the radio crackles to life and they hear a rough, gravelly voice rambling about the murder, thirty years before, of a young woman named Vivian Malone, and how it’s been covered up. Nova vaguely remembers hearing about Vivian’s disappearance when he was a teen, but nothing more – and wonders if what they’d heard was a talk show or a true crime podcast.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

Dealing in Death (Death and the Devil #2.5) by L.J. Hayward (audiobook) – Narrated by Rowan Scott


This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

This audiobook is narrated from the point of view of Ethan Blade—assassin extraordinaire, cold-blooded killer, heartless monster, and . . . retiree?

I’ve spent my whole life dealing in death, efficiently eliminating targets while fighting to preserve a sense of self and morality, to avoid becoming as detached and ruthless as my siblings. I thought I had succeeded. Then I met Jack Reardon—contrary, handsome, forgiving, and far too good for the likes of me—and my life was tipped upside down. When he asked me to move in with him, he didn’t specify that I had to quit my job, but I wanted to—for myself, not for him. I should have known it wouldn’t be that easy.

My old instincts—“Ethan Blade”—are soon tempted out of retirement by a job offer I can’t afford to refuse and by an old hook-up of Jack’s he’d be a fool to refuse. While falling prey to my own temptation, Jack struggles with his. Which is precisely when the true danger exposes itself—one of my siblings with no such sense of self or morality. Only pain. And he is prepared to rain it down on me and Jack, unless I can square the Ethan Blade I want to be with the one I need to be, in time to save us both.

Rating: Narration – A; Content – B+

The “extended novella” Dealing in Death revisits the events of Why the Devil Stalks Death from Ethan’s PoV, which means we get to see what he was doing while he was away from Jack, learn more about him as an individual and get his perspective on his feelings for Jack and their relationship. It’s impossible to say much about this book without reference to earlier books in the series, so please be aware there are spoilers in this review.

We learned a lot about Ethan’s past in the previous book – the existence of the Cabal, his relationships with his remaining ‘siblings’, how he was brutalised by Two (who is obsessed with him) and that he made his first kill when he was just fourteen – but there’s a lot more to the story than what we saw in WtDSD, and even though I already knew how things turned out, I still enjoyed the hell out of this ‘extra’. And of course, in audio format, there’s the extra bonus of getting to listen to a whole six-hours of Rowan Scott’s sexy AF Ethan voice 😉

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

My 2022 in Books and Audio

What was I listening to and reading in 2022?  My Goodreads stats show I managed 238 books overall (just over my Reading Challenge target of 225) which was split almost equally between print and audio – 52.2% ebook, 47.8% audio – and around two-thirds of my reading/listening last year was ARCs/ALCs.  (Returning to work as a teacher and continuing my freelance work as an audio proofer had a slight impact on my overall total, which is a little bit less than last year.)

Of that total there are 77 5 star books, 123 4 star books – by far the biggest category – 30 3 star books, 2 2 star books and 1 DNF.

The 5 star bracket includes those titles I rate at 4.5 but round-up (which I equate to A-); the 4 star bracket (B) includes the 4.5 star grades I don’t round up (B+) and the 3.5 star ones I do round up (B-), the 3 stars are C+/C/C- and so on.  Of the 77 5 star ratings, around 34-35 are straight A grades in terms of the story (in the case of audiobooks, sometimes a 4 star review will get bumped up because the narration is so fabulous), so the rest are A minuses or audiobooks where A and B grades combined to rate a higher overall total.

The books that made my Best of 2022 list at All About Romance:

Nicky James and C.S. Poe are at the top of their game right now; Rachel Reid gave Shane and Ilya the perfect send-off and I was really pleased to be able to include a début author (Jess Everlee) on the list, with her late-Victorian era queer romance. Jay Hogan has long been a must-read author, Charlie Adhara got her new Monster Hunt series off to a great start and of course no Best of the Year list of mine would be complete without at least one book by Gregory Ashe! (Although I really don’t like that cover…)

Some of favourite audiobooks of the year at AudioGals are the audio versions of some of the above titles:

The other titles I rated most highly are complete (or ongoing) series:

Another series I binged in 2022 was Cole McCade’s Criminal Intentions. Books 1-3 came out in audio (superbly narrated by Curt Bonnem- reviews of books 1& 2 HERE), and I was very quickly hooked to the fabulous combinations of dark, twisty mystery/procedurals and the super slow burn romance between the two leads. But with no sign of any more books being released in audio, I switched to print and steadily worked my way through the rest of Season One and am almost finished Season Two. I gather that the author decided to put the series on hiatus last year after some very ugly online bullying (honestly – have these people nothing better to do than to badger and berate an author because he’s not writing his books the way they want them written??) – but that he was planning to put out the remaining ten books this year. I don’t know for sure if that’s happening, but I really hope so; I love Mal and Seong-Jae and want to know how it all pans out for them.

From my didn’t-quite-make-it (the “also rans”) list:

In audio, these were the titles where I gave an A grade for narration and a B+ for the story:

I also had a lot of fun listening to Meghan Maslow’s Starfig Investigations series (narrated by the wonderful Greg Boudreaux) – a light-hearted adventure romp with a romance between a wizard and a dragon shifter, finishing up with Eden Winter’s excellent Diversion series and with the latest PsyCop story, Subtle Bodies in which Gomez Pugh continues to completely embody the character of Victor Bayne. Nazri Noor’s Fantasy/Urban Fantasy is a recent discovery – he has excellent narrators (I’ve listened to Greg Boudreaux and Zachary Johnson so far) and is very prolific, so I’ve got some catching up to do in 2023!

Other books I’m looking forward to – I’ve already read (and loved) KJ Charles’ The Secret Lives of Country Gentlemen (out in March) so I’m eager to read the second book in her Doomsday duology, which is out this autumn. With any luck, she’ll get stuck on whatever she’s writing next and will just write a different book while she gets unstuck! (Sorry, KJ – not that I’m wishing writer’s block on you!) There’s one more book (that I know of, maybe more) to come in Nicky James’ Valor and Doyle series plus C.S. Poe’s Broadway Butchery (May), which is absolutely one of my most anticipated books of the year. I’d love to get book four in the Magic & Steam series, too, but maybe I’m just being greedy…

Thanks for your company – here and at Goodreads (and AAR and AG) – over the past year, and for chatting about books and audiobooks with me! I’ll be back in this spot next year to see how 2023 went!

Inevitable Disclosure (Valor & Doyle Mysteries #4) by Nicky James

inevitable disclosure

This title may be purchased from Amazon

Quaid is adrift in MPU. With his partner on extended leave, he’s alone and unsure if he wants to continue working on missing persons cases now that his sister’s case is closed. When the missing teen he’s been seeking for a week turns up dead, it’s the icing on the cake.
Maybe it’s time to explore a different career path.

Aslan and his partner, Torin, take over Quaid’s case, but Quaid can’t help but get involved. He wants justice for the girl. Justice for her grieving family.
Is homicide the career change he’s been looking for?

The trio makes a solid team, and their banter takes the edge off a serious case. Working alongside Aslan again is fantastic. They have found a balance that works, but for as comfortable as they have become as a couple, for as inevitable as their future together seems, something’s missing.
Aslan is ready to take the next step in their relationship, but Quaid needs certain feelings to be disclosed first.

Do actions speak louder than words? Or is there magic in saying I love you?

Rating: A

Note: This is an ongoing series featuring the same couple; it’s advisable to read the previous instalments before this one, and there are likely to be spoilers in this review.

Nicky James’ fabulous series of romantic suspense novels featuring detectives Quaid Valor and Aslan Doyle continues with Inevitable Disclosure, another expertly crafted combination of clever mystery and romance, in which Quaid and Aslan, now more settled in their relationship and moving forward as a couple, both end up working on the investigation into the murder of a teenaged girl. I admit, I did wonder how the author was going to keep the series momentum going now that the major story arc about Quaid’s missing sister has been resolved, but any doubts I might have had were soon dispelled, because Inevitable Disclosure very quickly proved to be every bit as un-put-down-able as the previous instalments in the series.

In the couple of months since the end of Unstable Connections, Quaid has begun to feel a lot more secure in his relationship with Aslan and more settled in himself, too, although professionally, he’s at something of a crossroads. His raison d’ être for becoming a detective in the Missing Person’s Unit – wanting to find out the truth about his sister’s disappearance thirty years earlier – is no longer anchoring him as it once did and he’s starting to wonder if it’s time for a change of direction. The fact that Eden, his partner of nine-years, is on long-term leave to care for her sick daughter only makes Quaid feel more apprehensive about his future; he knows his reputation, knows he’s widely regarded as cold, arrogant and hard to get along with, but over the years, Eden has come to know and understand him in a way few in the department do and he’s not sure he’s up for starting from scratch with a new partner.

His other partnership, with homicide detective Aslan Doyle, is going really well, however. They spend almost every night together and have fallen into comfortable routines – they’re in a committed relationship… although Aslan has yet to repeat the “I love you” he sang for everyone to hear when he was drugged after being kidnapped at the end of Unstable Connections. Quaid knows it shouldn’t bother him; deep down, he knows how Aslan feels about him, but it’s impossible to prevent his old insecurities from gnawing at him and holding him back from taking the next step he so badly wants to take.

Following the disciplinary action taken against him at the end of the last book, Aslan’s life has calmed down, too. He’s in an actual relationship and he’s happer than he’s ever been – something he knows the Aslan of a year or two back would be astonished about. But Quaid is it for him and although he knows his boyfriend still has a way to go to process the emotional abuse inflicted on him by his ex, Aslan is sure he’ll get there – and does his damndest to show Quaid how much he means to him every day. Okay, so he hasn’t said those three little words again, but Aslan is a ‘little things’ rather than a ‘grand gesture’ guy; for him, actions speak louder than words, so surely Quaid must know how he feels about him?

For someone who knows Quaid as well as Aslan so obviously does, it takes quite a while for him to see that yes, maybe love is saying the words because the man you love needs to hear them. Similarly, Quaid has to realise that maybe he’s put too much emphasis on words and that …in essence, Aslan told me in his own way every single day. But I hadn’t been listening.

*sigh* What a pair of knuckleheads. But I love them.

While Quaid is thinking about what he might want to do next and about whether he should stop prevaricating and just move in with Aslan, he has been assigned the case of a missing seventeen-year-old girl named Saphira Nottingham who has a history of storming off whenever she doesn’t get her own way. She’s always turned up before, usually within twenty-four hours, but this time, she’s been missing for six days and Quaid is beginning to have doubts that she’s simply run away. His worst fears are confirmed when he gets a call to say that the body of a teenaged girl has been found floating in the creek south of Centennial Park; he suggests to Aslan that as Aslan is likely to catch the case now it’s a possible homicide, they should go to the location together to find out what they can.

Aslan and his partner, Torin Fox, do indeed catch the case, and Quaid asks for permission to continue his involvement. He’s also told his boss that he’s thinking of moving to a different department – there are openings in Homicide and Intelligence currently – and is allowed the, opportnity to explore the possibilities within both areas, by being part of Aslan and Torin’s investigation into Saphira’s death and by spending some time in the Intelligence division to see which might be the best fit for him.

The case seems fairly routine to begin with, but it’s not long before the guys find themselves in the middle of a twisted and intricate web of lies which becomes more perplexing at every turn. The ‘friends’ who were with Saphira on the evening she disappeared are an unpleasant bunch, stubborn, disdainful, argumentative and mouthy with attitude for miles and wildly differing agendas, and their conflicting, shifting perspectives and willingness to throw each other under the bus creates layer upon layer of confusion and obfuscation.

The trio of Quaid, Aslan and Torin make a great team, and I enjoyed watching them working together again. Torin’s attitude towards Quaid has changed a lot since the beginning – not just because Quaid and Aslan are a couple, but because he’s now seen that Quaid is a really good investigator and not at all the standoffish prig he thought he was – and Quaid is an excellent addition to their existing dynamic, bringing another perspective and skillset when needed. I also liked the continued growth of the rapport between Quaid and Ruiz, the department’s very overworked IT specialist. There’s plenty of good-natured teasing and banter going on in these groupings and relationships, which provides some lighter moments amid the overall sombre tone of the investigation.

Nicky James weaves a twisty, intricate story, taking a deceptively sraightfoward and (sadly) ‘ordinary’ starting point and gradually revealing there to have been something entirely extraordinary happening instead. It’s a feat of misdirection that lulls the reader into believing there’s an easy solution while she’s steadily and inexorably building the tension and leading us towards a thrilling – but disturbing – climax. (That climax is quite the shocker, and I imagine its aftermath will play an important role in the next book.)

Inevitable Disclosure is another fantastic outing for Valor and Doyle. They’ve come such a long way together and I love their quiet moments of domesticity or quasi-arguments about food choices or Quaid’s love of rom coms and romance novels every bit as much as the steamy moments (oh, the supply closet!) The mystery is gripping and the denouement will have you on the edge of your seat; in short, it’s another winner in this must-read romantic suspense series, and I’m eagerly awaiting the release of the next book sometime this Spring.

Why the Devil Stalks Death (Death and the Devil #2) by L.J. Hayward (audiobook) – Narrated by Rowan Scott

Why the Devil Stalks Death CORRECTED300

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

Jack Reardon uncovers secrets for a living, and the Meta-State spy is pretty good at it. Or rather he thought so until he met Ethan Blade—assassin, warrior, enigma. The unlikely pair have decided to give living together a shot, but Jack’s not entirely certain what he’s gotten himself into—or exactly who he’s in it with. Jack’s worries are compounded when he’s assigned to a police strike force hunting a serial killer. With each new puzzle piece, Jack considers the true nature of a serial killer—and how similar it is to an assassin…one particular assassin who’s having trouble adjusting to retirement. Jack’s unsure how to help Ethan; or if he even can.

When the killer strikes close to home, Jack must race against the clock to stop another murder, despite the price someone has put on his head. Could the matters be connected? Is a certain assassin at the center of both? Surrounded by killers, the only one Jack wants near disappears, leaving Jack drowning in secrets. He’ll have to do what he does best—unravel the secrets, including Ethan’s—to stop the killer and save the life he and Ethan have only just begun to build.

Rating: Narration – A;  Content – A

Note: The books in this series need to be listened to in order; there are spoilers for the previous books in this review.

Why the Devil Stalks Death, the second full-length book in L.J. Hayward’s Death and the Devil series picks up the story of Metastate “asset” (spy) Jack Reardon and assassin Ethan Blade some months since the events of Death Takes a Holiday (found in the novella Devil in the Details). Before they were attacked by a group of mercenaries and all hell broke loose, Jack and Ethan finally managed to have “the talk” and agreed that what they’ve been doing for the past few months – hooking up whenever they’re both in the same vicinity – was no longer enough for either of them. Before they parted, Jack asked Ethan to move in with him; Ethan agreed, telling Jack he’d see him soon, after sorting out the clean-up.

But clearly, Ethan’s definition of “soon” is different to Jack’s. Four months go by with no contact from him, and Jack is beginning to think that maybe Ethan has changed his mind. The strain of keeping their relationship under wraps and of all the doubts creeping in the longer Ethan’s silence goes on isn’t going unnoticed by his friends and colleagues; Jack is on a short fuse and will be more than pleased to get back to Sydney when his current undercover operation – to deliver a terrorist known as The Messiah into government custody – is over.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

Unstable Connections (Valor and Doyle Mysteries #3) by Nicky James (audiobook) – Narrated by Nick J. Russo

Unstable Connections

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

Missing children are reappearing, and the ties to a 30-year-old cold case can’t be ignored.

Detective Quaid Valor has too much on his plate. Between his shaky, brand-new relationship with reformed office playboy Detective Aslan Doyle, his sister’s case going from cold to hot overnight, his father insisting on being involved, and his boss breathing down his neck, Quaid is on edge.

The stress of the case is impacting Quaid’s whole life. He isn’t eating or sleeping, and every time he and Aslan are together, he is overwhelmed by feelings of inadequacy which threaten to ruin the one good thing he has. Aslan’s patience seems unending until something happens to turn his life upside down too.

Can their relationship survive the personal and professional pressures they’re facing, or will it crash and burn?

Between media rumors and unstable connections, Quaid and his team need to hustle and piece together a complicated case before more children fall victim to their unknown serial kidnapper. Maybe once everything is solved, Aslan and Quaid will have time to work on their rocky relationship and find stable ground once again.

Rating: Narration – A; Content – A

Nicky James’ Valor and Doyle Mysteries series has got better and better with each book, a trend continued by the latest – Unstable Connections – which is saying something considering the high quality of the first two books in the series! The stories revolve around the opposites-attract relationship between two Toronto-based detectives, Quaid Valor of the Missing Persons Unit and Aslan Doyle who works Homicide. Over the course of two books, we’ve watched them argue, flirt, and generally get under each others’ skin, the unwanted pull of mutual attraction between them slowly morphing from an itch to be (almost begrudgingly) scratched into a genuine connection that, by the end of Elusive Relations has become impossible to ignore or deny.

As this is a same-couple series in which the development of the central relationship is ongoing, there are spoilers for the earlier books in this review.

At the end of Elusive Relations, Quaid and Aslan had agreed to stop trying to pretend that simply hooking-up every so often was enough for them, and that they’d give an actual relationship a try. They know it’s not going to be easy, especially as Quaid’s ex did a number on him, severely trashing his self-confidence and making it hard for him to allow himself to be vulnerable and emotionally open. He fears being seen as clingy and needy, traits which are bound to drive Aslan away, and is clearly just waiting for it to happen. Aslan knows this about him, knows that deep down, Quaid is searching for the kind of closeness and security he’s never experienced in his own family life, and is determined to show him, in every way possible, that he’s in it for the long haul and that he believes Quaid is absolutely worth whatever it takes to convince him of that.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

Death and the Devil: The Novellas (Death and the Devil #1.2, #1.4, #1.6, #1.8) by L.J. Hayward (audiobook) – Narrated by Rowan Scott

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

Meta-State spy Jack Reardon believes that after the showdown, everything has been taken care of. He has a verbal agreement with his boss to keep Blade happy, and Jack is more than willing to do his best in that regard. He also has his bargain with Ethan to keep seeing each other.

Small victories, interspersed with exploding bombs, smashed cars, and miffed co-workers, all while consorting with an international assassin. Contract killer Ethan Blade values his security, and with Jack, it’s the first time he’s found safety with another person. Wiring a warehouse or an outback shelter for security, no problem. Keeping safe a prickly ex-soldier-turned-spy who’s a magnet for trouble, not so easy.

Instead of faceless, nameless jobs, Ethan keeps poking his fingers into Jack’s cases—a car bomb gone awry, a Hen party gone wild; much to Jack’s mounting dismay. They have a deal and neither one of them can seem to stick to it. It’s Jack versus Ethan as the two men learn to navigate their ever-evolving not-a-relationship without losing the benefit of the bargain.

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

Work-life balance for a spy may be an oxymoron, but Jack Reardon likes a good challenge, and he’s almost bested this one! He’s settled into his Meta-State promotion as a field leader and into his new team with a second he can trust. Shop in order, Jack can take a day or two off when Ethan blows into town, their bargain finally starting to pay off.

Assassin Ethan Blade has few pleasures in his life—a decent cup of tea, a job well done, racing his fleet of supercars, and Jack. With plans to combine the last two into one thrilling weekend, Ethan’s attempt at having a normal, happy life may deliver everything he’s ever desired; or backfire spectacularly. Jack and Ethan made a bargain, but the deal is thrown into jeopardy when the expectations and identities of the dealmakers shift; stoking the fires of doubt and jealousy. Not to mention a contract killer out for revenge and an illness that threatens to reveal closely guarded secrets.

Rewards are on the table for both men, maybe bigger than they even realize, if only they can renegotiate and survive.

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

If there’s one thing assassin Ethan Blade knows, it’s how to plan a job. How to study a target, find the weak spot, and strike. He keeps his guns clean, his knives sharp, and his heart sealed away behind more locks than his precious cars. Alone but safe.

Until Jack Reardon burrowed his way into Ethan’s life, his car, and his heart. This may just be the deadliest mess he can’t plan his way out of. Jack wasn’t sure he’d see Ethan again; not after the less-than-stellar ends to their previous hookups. Even finding the assassin skulking about his apartment isn’t as reassuring as it should be, especially when he works out Ethan’s motive for being there might not be personal. That said, Jack will take any chance he can to salvage their relationship, assuming he survives whatever plan Ethan is cooking up. Ethan and Jack had a bargain, but the parameters changed and neither is certain how to move forward; together or apart.

But before they can start to renegotiate, lives, trust, and hearts are endangered by ghosts from the past. Even if they dodge their enemies; bullets, there’s a risk of friendly fire, and when you let someone get too close, even small knives can cut deep.

Rating: Narration – A-; Content – A-

Novellas are generally hit and miss for me. So often they’re a bit flimsy, the shorter page count/run time contributing to a feeling that the story and/or characters are underdeveloped, and that there isn’t enough of a story to sustain a full-length novel. There are exceptions to that rule, however, and the novellas that span the gap between books one and two of L.J. Hayward’s fabulous Death and the Devil series are three of them. Unlike many novellas in series, however, you can’t skip them, because if you do you’ll miss out on a lot of really important relationship and character development that takes Jack and Ethan’s relationship to a very different place at the beginning of book two (Why the Devil Stalks Death) to where it was when we left them at the end of Where Death Meets the Devil. Taken all together, the novellas are a mini-series of action-packed ‘episodes’ boasting interesting, fast-paced plots that form a single story arc (linked back to that of WDMtD) which also start to peel away the layers of these two complex characters and show them forging an even deeper connection.

Note: The books in this series must be listened to in order, so if you haven’t listened to Where Death Meets the Devil first, you’ll probably be a bit lost. There are spoilers for that book in this review.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.