The Bridge of Silver Wings & This Other Country (More Heat Than the Sun #3&4) by John Wiltshie (audiobook) – Narrated by Gary Furlong

The Bridge of Silver Wings and This Other Country may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

The Bridge of Silver Wings

Nikolas and Ben discover that bonds aren’t forged with blood or scars, but in the hearts of men strong enough to love.
Siberia in winter isn’t a place for good men.
There is nothing Nikolas won’t do to keep Ben alive.
Nikolas has exorcised his demons, but when they end up stranded in Russia, the monster inside needs to be let loose. Ben discovers the truth of the adage, ‘be careful what you wish for’!

Nikolas then faces an enemy he can’t defeat: Ben Rider himself. Discovering a new family, Ben realizes he’s been living too long in the shadows cast by Nikolas’s all-consuming love. For the first time, life apart from Nikolas is possible.
Is Nikolas strong enough to let Ben go?

This Other Country

Nikolas is the sanest, straightest person Ben knows, so can anyone tell him why he is on a gay-therapy course?

Nikolas Mikkelsen could make a very long list of unpleasant things he’s endured in his life. Then order it from “nearly killed me” to “extremely horrific and don’t want to do again”. And what does it say about his 45 years, that being hit by a tsunami would be considerably way down on this list? But nothing – not torture, imprisonment, or starvation – has prepared him for what he now has to endure for Ben Rider’s sake – attendance on a residential gay-therapy course.

At least he has a new contender for the top spot on his “my awful life” list.

Rating: Narration – A+; Content – B+

The Bridge of Silver Wings and This Other Country are books three and four in John Wiltshire’s More Heat Than the Sun series of thriller/romantic suspense novels following the exploits of Ben Rider, a former SAS operative, and enigmatic (ex) diplomat Sir Nikolas Mikkelsen, two of the most stubborn Alpha Males who ever stubborned. The books are characterised by fast-paced, dramatic plots – there’s no such thing as ‘low-drama’ in Ben and Nik’s world – lots of humour, terrific dialogue and the continually evolving relationship between the two leads, a pair of complex, damaged and compelling individuals who aren’t always likeable but who always manage to be fascinating.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

Not What It Seems by Nicky James (audiobook) – Narrated by Nick J. Russo

not what it seems

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

They say I killed them. They say I’m sick. They’re wrong. Nothing is as it seems.

Renowned psychiatrist Dr. Cyrus Irvine takes his job and his life very seriously. He is well-respected in his field and has worked hard to get where he is.

But he’s lonely.

When called in to evaluate a murder suspect, the last person he expects to find is the man he slept with a few months ago. The man who ghosted him and wounded his fragile heart.

Ethically, he should turn around and walk away, but he doesn’t. For as much as Cyrus understands the human brain, he can’t understand the pull he feels toward the patient.

One session with River Jenkins and Cyrus is sure of three things: River and everything about his preliminary diagnosis is a lie, his feelings toward River haven’t gone away, and despite his professional code, he isn’t going anywhere.

Someone needs to get to the bottom of this.

Cyrus’ world is turned upside down as he and River team up to find the truth.

During their quest for answers, Cyrus discovers the hardest part of his decision isn’t the risk to his career, but the risk to his heart.

Rating: Narration – A; Content – B

Not What It Seems is a standalone romantic suspense story from Nicky James with a premise that drew me in from the moment I read the synopsis. The two protagonists are River Jenkins, a man in his late twenties accused of the murder of three women and Dr. Cyrus Irvine, a renowned psychiatrist in his mid-forties who is called in to assess River’s mental state after his arrest. It’s a difficult book to review – not just because it’s a mystery and I don’t want to give too much away, but also because it took quite a while for me to warm to the characters or invest in their relationship – although many of the reasons for that make perfect sense in the context of who these people are and the situations they find themselves in. I’m sure it takes considerable skill on the part of an author to be able to write hard-to-like characters and make their flaws feel realistic and well-founded, and then to pull them back from being completely unlikeable without giving them a personality transplant. Nicky James manages it here, although it was a close-run thing for a time!

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

Madison Square Murders (Momento Mori #1) by C.S. Poe (audiobook) – Narrated by Kale Williams

Madison Square Murders audio

Everett Larkin works for the Cold Case Squad: an elite – if understaffed and overworked – group of detectives who solve the forgotten deaths of New York City. Larkin is different from others, but his deduction skills are unmatched and his memory for minute details is unparalleled.

So when a spring thunderstorm uproots a tree in Madison Square Park, unearthing a crate with human remains inside, the best Cold Case detective is assigned the job. And when a death mask, like those prominent during the Victorian era, is found with the body, Larkin requests assistance from the Forensic Artists Unit and receives it in the form of Detective Ira Doyle, his polar opposite in every way.

Factual reasoning and facial reconstruction put Larkin and Doyle on a trail of old homicide cases and a murderer obsessed with casting his victims’ likeness in death. Include some unapologetic flirting from Doyle, and this case just may end up killing Everett Larkin.

Rating: Narration – A; Content – A

C.S. Poe kicks off her latest series of m/m mysteries in grand style with Madison Square Murders, book one in her New York-set Momento Mori series. It’s a clever, tightly plotted mystery featuring one of the most unusual protagonists I’ve ever come across; I loved the story when I read it a few months back and enjoyed it all over again in audio – where there’s the added goodness of a wonderfully intelligent and switched-on performance from Kale Williams.

Detective Everett Larkin of the Cold Case Squad is called to Madison Square Park, where a storm has uprooted an old tree – beneath which lies a wooden crate containing human remains. These are obviously not new, and initial observations by the CSI on scene suggest the body is that of a male in his twenties; most unusual, however, is what has also been found in the crate – a bronze casting of a face. A death mask. There’s no way of telling, at this stage, if the face the mask was made from belongs to the same set of remains or if it’s completely unrelated – and the CSI suggests Larkin should contact Ira Doyle, a detective with the police department’s small Forensic Artist Unit, for some expert advice.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

Domestic Animals (Hazard and Somerset: Arrows in the Hand #3) by Gregory Ashe

domestic animals

This title may be purchased from Amazon

When a man hires Emery Hazard to track down a teenager who, he claims, robbed him, Hazard isn’t convinced. The story has holes in it, and the client seems eager—too eager—to keep the authorities from getting involved. But Hazard is willing to play along; he suspects something much darker is going on, and he wants to know what it is.

Then his husband, John-Henry Somerset, connects the boy in question to an ongoing suspicious death investigation, and both men realize they’ve stumbled upon something much more complicated. There are too many loose threads: missing money, stolen jewelry, a husband back from the dead, and a string of violent assaults on men paying for sex. And there are too many people with their own agendas.

After Hazard’s client turns up dead, though, the pressure is on. The killer isn’t done yet, and the closer Hazard and Somers come to unearthing the connection between the victims, the greater the danger. They find themselves in a race to uncover the truth before another victim is claimed—and, if Somers is really lucky, in time for him to plan the perfect Valentine’s Day.

Rating: A

Gregory Ashe does love to put his characters – and his readers – through the emotional wringer in his books, and while Custody Battles, the previous instalment in the Hazard and Somerset: Arrows in the Hand series, really twisted the knife, this latest episode in the messy – and often dangerous – lives of our favourite crime-fighting husbands, is a close second when it comes to the “ouch” factor. In Domestic Animals, Hazard and Somers are struggling – both individually and as a couple. and professionally and personally.  Hazard’s PI business is doing quite well, but Somers is finding it hard to make the leap from being a friend and colleague, from being one of the guys to being the boss, and suddenly becoming parents to an at-risk teen has rocked the boat of their personal lives so that neither of them is really able to give as much attention to their relationship as they should – something I think ANY parent can identify with; kids are wonderful but they can be exhausting and demanding as hell, too.

The mystery plot kicks off when someone arrives at Hazard’s office wanting to employ him to find a teenager he says stole from him.  Hazard is immediately suspicious (when isn’t he?!); it’s pretty clear to him that he’s being fed a load of bull and his suspicions are confirmed by the man’s obvious reluctance to involve the authorities.  He’s sure there’s something  iffy going on and determines to get to the bottom of it, so he takes the case, prepared to bide his time and do a little more digging on the side.

Meanwhile, Somers becomes involved in the investigation into the suspicious death of a woman found at the bottom of the stairs in her house.  Dulac and his new partner Palomo caught the case, but something doesn’t feel right to Dulac, and he calls Somers for help. Even though Somers knows that, as Chief of Police, it’s not his job to take cases any more, he decides to swing by and see what the problem is.  It quickly becomes clear that Dulac had good reason for his suspicion; something doesn’t add up, but Somers isn’t sure what – and, missing the sort of hands-on investigating he used to do (part of the job he liked and was actually good at) – and as a method of avoidance, he decides to stick with the case.

As always, the mystery is satisfyingly complex with lots of twists and turns, red herrings and suspects, as the author skilfully pulls together the two seemingly disparate plot threads after Somers connects the teen Hazard’s client is looking for with the murdered woman – and they suddenly find Colt right in the middle of it all. I can almost never see exactly how he’s going to connect cases that start out seeming completely independent of each other or work out quite how things are going to go – reason #5648739 why I love Gregory Ashe books!

Hazard and Somerset go through a lot – they always do – but somehow Mr. Ashe always finds a different angle each time so that we never feel as though we’re re-treading a path we’ve been down before.  He sets out certain themes and threads that will run throughout the series and then proceeds to follow and develop them in each book, but it never gets repetitive.  In Domestic Animals, he takes a look at burnout and how it can so easily creep up on someone like Somers, a man who, on the surface, has everything – good-looks, charm, a good (though stressful) job, and a husband and family he loves.  But he’s in a bad place right now, the pressures of his job – of having his father demanding special treatment for his mates, of some of his officers being openly disrespectful (and homophobic), the consequences of still not taking that final step from friend to boss, trying to get Hazard to step back from police investigations – and the pressures at home of trying to keep World War Three from breaking out between Hazard and Colt …  it’s all weighing him down and has become more than he can handle pretty much without his realising it. The quiet, aching misery Somers tries to bury while trying to pretend everything’s fine and just going through the motions is utterly excruciating to watch – it’s frighteningly easy to relate to and so well written – and I was on the edge of my seat as he comes dangerously close to resorting to his old coping mechanisms.  And because Hazard’s in a constant lather over Colt – and almost always on the verge of meltdown – he fails to see just how much his husband is struggling.  Or rather, he sees some of it, but doesn’t realise the full extent of it, and doesn’t usually react in a helpful way.  Mr. Ashe’s insight into what makes these two guys tick is, as ever, unfailing, and watching Somers slowly unravelling and unable to ask for help packed quite the emotional punch and was really hard to read.

Hazard is dealing with a lot, too; his relationship with Colt is a veritable rollercoaster at times, and he’s struggling not to view what’s going on with his foster son through the lens of his own adolescence and father/son relationship (or lack thereof), and they’re constantly at each others’ throats.  The storyline about the breakdown of Colt’s friendship with his bestie, Ash, adds an interesting extra  layer and deepens Colt’s characterisation as he’s dealing with the heartache of what might be first love and a first break-up.

Nico and Dulac are both having personal problems, although Nico seems a bit more on top of his than Dulac, who is spiralling downwards after a big fight with his boyfriend.  I thought Somers should have benched him sooner than he did, though – but then, that scenario is a perfect example of why it’s not possible to be both friend and boss.

But amid all the fights and all the stress and angst, there’s still room for  Mr. Ashe’s trademark humour and quickfire banter;  Hazard’s instructions to Theo and Auggie about coming round to help fit some carpet and description of them as “probationary friends” made me giggle (and makes me eager for the rest of the First Quarto books) – for some truly tender moments between Hazard and Somers, where the depth and strength of their love for each other leaps off the page, and for moments of quiet understanding and sympathy between Hazard and Colt, Somers and Colt and the three of them together.  The pay-offs for all the angst and anger and rows can be a long time coming, but they’re so very worth the wait,

Domestic Animals is a tough but enthralling read in which Gregory Ashe proves yet again that he’s writing some of the most compelling, multi-layered characters and stories in the genre.  Hazard and Somerset are their own worst enemies at times, but after fourteen books (and several shorts), I’m as captivated by them as ever and don’t think I’ll ever get tired of reading about them.  Highly recommended.

Subtle Blood (Will Darling Adventures #3) by KJ Charles (audiobook) – Narrated by Cornell Collins

subtle blood

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

Will Darling is all right. His business is doing well, and so is his illicit relationship with Kim Secretan – disgraced aristocrat, ex-spy, amateur book-dealer. It’s starting to feel like he’s got his life under control.

And then a brutal murder in a gentleman’s club plunges them back into the shadow world of crime, deception, and the power of privilege. Worse, it brings them up against Kim’s noble, hostile family, and his upper-class life where Will can never belong.

With old and new enemies against them, and secrets on every side, Will and Kim have to fight for each other harder than ever – or be torn apart for good.

Rating: Narration – B; Content – A

Note: Subtle Blood is the third instalment of a trilogy which has an overarching plotline; listeners are advised to listen to Slippery Creatures and The Sugared Game first. There are spoilers for those books in this review.

It’s been a few months since Will Darling and Kim Secretan uncovered the identity of the head of Zodiac, a dastardly, secret criminal organisation dedicated to destroying the structures of power – and Kim’s world fell apart. Effectively sacked from his job with the Private Bureau, he’s now helping out at Darling’s Used and Antiquarian, the bookshop Will inherited from his late uncle, but even though he’s turned out to be surprisingly suited to the work – organising the shop and acquiring some valuable collections – neither he nor Will is cut out for the quiet life, and both of them know it. But when Kim’s brother – and their father’s heir, Lord Chingford – is accused of murdering a fellow member of the Symposium Club, the peaceful life they’ve been building together is shattered. Could Chingford conceivably have done such a thing? Kim thinks so, yes. But did he? Chingford refuses point blank to offer any defence, believing that his station as the heir to a marquess means he’s untouchable and doesn’t have to explain his actions to anyone, even the police. Fighting against the current all the way, Kim and Will manage to find out that Chingford was heard having a blazing row with the victim earlier that day, and when Kim sees a small tattoo on the inside of the deceased’s wrist in the exact same place as those worn by the members of Zodiac, his blood runs cold. Could some of its members still be at large? And attempting to regroup?

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

Crash Site (Fiona Carver #2) by Rachel Grant

crash site

This title may be purchased from Amazon

Fiona Carver has landed a dream assignment: conducting an archaeological inventory of Ruby Island, a privately owned, pristine gem in the Caribbean. Two months in paradise exploring and mapping a lush rainforest, vast caves, and a seventeenth-century star fort and following up on legends of hidden Spanish gold. Add a simmering reunion with wildlife photographer Dean Slater and it’s enough to take Fiona’s breath away. But the sparkle fades when Dean’s arrival is met with sudden, terrifying danger.

Reunited and determined to see the project through, Fiona and Dean find themselves in a swirl of intrigue as they delve into the complex history of the unspoiled refuge, now a tropical haven for billionaires and their secrets. But the work isn’t easy, as someone appears determined to kill the project—by any means necessary.

As betrayal casts tropical storm clouds over Ruby Island and treasured friendships dissolve into distrust, one thing becomes clear: Fiona and Dean are trapped in a dangerous paradise.

Rating: B

The second in Rachel Grant’s Fiona Carver series, Crash Site is the sequel to 2021’s Dangerous Ground, and it picks up around nine months after the events of the first book.  Although the mystery/suspense plot here is self-contained, the central relationship between the two leads was left unresolved at the end of Dangerous Ground, so I’d advise anyone interested in this one to read that first.  And that being the case, there are spoilers for the previous book in this review.

Naval Archaeologist Fiona Carver has landed herself a dream job on the gorgeous, privately owned (and fictional) Ruby Island in the Caribbean where, together with two other archaeologists, she has been employed to conduct an archaeological inventory of the island and its seventeenth century fort –which comes complete with legends of hidden Spanish gold.  Fiona has known its wealthy owner Jude Reynolds (the island has been owned by his family for generations) for over a decade, from when they met as fellow students at archaeological field school – although they’re not exactly friends; she went on a date with him back then but he behaved like a complete tosser and she hasn’t seen him since.  But the Ruby Island job was just too good to pass up – especially as Jude’s wealth means there will be no budget worries, and he genuinely cares about the work.  He also seems to be working hard to convince Fiona that he’s not the same selfish, entitled brat he was back then – but Fiona isn’t sure how to feel about that.  Sure, Jude is handsome and rich, he’s interested in her and understands her work… but she’s hung-up on someone else.

Wildlife photographer Dean Slater had been on the remote Alaskan island of Chiksook trying to find out what happened to his missing brother Dylan when he and Fiona found themselves stranded in a hostile environment and forced to rely on each other in order to survive (Dangerous Ground). The adrenaline-fuelled days they spent together engendered a real trust and closeness between them, and fed the flames of the mutual attraction that had sparked between them from their first meeting – although a basic incompatibility in their approach to sex and relationships seemed destined to separate them.  Dean is unwilling to risk experiencing the hurt and devastation he felt on the death of his beloved wife from a brain tumor a decade earlier and made it very clear that he doesn’t do relationships, while Fiona has never been one for NSA sex or short-lived flings. It’s clear by the end of the book that they’re head-over-heels for one another, but Dean is adamant that he’s not about to break his no relationships rule and they part, both of them obviously unhappy and not expecting to see each other again.

It’s clear that neither has been able to forget the other over the nine months they’ve been apart, and when Fiona learns – at the very last minute – that Dean is due to arrive on the island at any moment, she’s both furious and suspicious. She’s sure that Dean wouldn’t be coming to the island had he known of her presence, and is almost certain this is a set-up.  The media interest surrounding them after what happened on Chiksook was pretty intense, and she believes Jude is trying to use her and Dean to generate publicity for his new venture – a new streaming channel focusing on travel and adventure.  Before she can decide what to do – should she yell at Jude, up and leave or both – the helicopter carrying Dean and a couple of other personnel explodes and crashes into the sea.

Thanks to the quick-thinking and skilful flying of the pilot Dean and everyone on board is able to escape before the helicopter pitches into the sea.  He initially puts down the sight of Fiona running towards him down to disorientation – he must’ve hit his head after he jumped – but just seconds later, she’s soft and warm in his arms, crying tears of relief.

Once the initial shock of the crash – and nearly losing Dean – has worn off, Fiona begins to wonder about it – was it an accident or sabotage?  If the latter, then who was the intended target?   It seems, however that she’s not going to find out – the day after the crash, every single piece of wreckage has disappeared, leaving nothing for the not-yet-arrived crash investigators to go on.  But the crash is only the beginning of a series of disasters as Fiona and Dean are thrown from one life-threatening situation to another… clearly there’s something about Ruby Island that someone is prepared to go to great lengths to conceal – and who has decided Fiona and Dean are surplus to requirements.

As in Dangerous Ground, the locations are vividly imagined and Ms. Grant does a great job of setting the scene, introducing and fleshing out the characters and setting in motion the wheels of her intriguing, complex plot. I always enjoy the way the author incorporates her impeccable research, experience and obvious knowledge and love for archaeology into her novels, and although the story is perhaps a little slow in places in the first half, things pick up considerably in the second, and the final chapters are a thrilling rollercoaster ride that had me glued to the pages.

Fiona and Dean make a great team when they’re working together and I liked them as individuals.  Fiona is smart, compassionate and just a bit nerdy, and although Dean is still irritatingly stubborn about never wanting another relationship, he’s otherwise great hero material – protective, gorgeous and highly competent. They’re very intuitive as to the other’s thoughts and needs, and that part of their relationship works incredibly well, but their romance is less successful.  They’re obviously very much in love, but Dean refuses to acknowledge it or contemplate having a relationship with Fiona for almost the entire book, telling himself he isn’t capable of giving her what she deserves.  He’s completely honest about not wanting a relationship and the reasons for it, and those are clear and well-articulated, but Ms. Grant did such a good job of convincing me that Violet (his late wife) was the love of his life and that he really wasn’t ready to move on, that by the time he gets his head out of his arse as regards Fiona, I wasn’t completely convinced by his about-turn (and thought he should have grovelled a bit more!)  The fact that this happens on practically the last page doesn’t help with that – but if there are to be more books in this series, then perhaps we’ll get to see their relationship develop from the HFN we get here.

The suspense plot is tense, exciting and well put-together, and even though I’d have liked a little more certainty in the romance, I enjoyed Crash Site and would recommend it to fans of romantic suspense.

Crooked Shadows (Whitethorn Agency #2) by M.A. Grant

crooked shadows

This title may be purchased from Amazon

Everyone has secrets. Especially those who live in the shadows.

Cristian Slava doesn’t fear much. After he was betrayed by the man he called an uncle, leaving upstate New York for the Carpathian Mountains of his childhood is more a matter of practicality than fear. With him is Atlas Kinkaid, a former marine turned fierce bodyguard…and fierce lover, albeit a hell of a complicated one.

Cristian’s cunning is tested by the politics and intrigue of the vampire families of Romania, and the warm welcome he and Atlas were assured of quickly turns to ash as they race to unravel the mystery of an old friend’s disappearance. Searching for the missing vampire draws them into a web of betrayal and half-truths that reaches further than Cristian ever could have imagined, and they uncover a string of grisly murders that bear a striking similarity to the attack that changed Atlas’s life forever.

Stalked by the past and uncertain of the future, Cristian learns he does have something to fear after all…

Losing the man he loves.

Rating: A-

Crooked Shadows is the second intriguing and exciting instalment in M.A. Grant’s paranormal/urban fantasy Whitethorn Security series, and as it picks up immediately after the first book – Rare Vigilance – ended, I’d strongly advise reading that before jumping into this one or you’ll be a bit lost.

Note: There are spoilers for the previous book in this review.

Rare Vigilance ended with its two protagonists, Cristian Slava and Atlas Kincaid, about to go on the run following an attack by the strigoi – a terrifying creature that even vampires fear – at Cristian’s family home.  Barely escaping with their lives, they need to find whoever is controlling the strigoi, stop them, and in the process, prove that Cristian’s father isn’t responsible for their creation and prevent his overthrow by the ruling Council. They’re both convinced that the Wharrams – Cristian’s mother’s family – are behind the increased strigoi activity and the attack on Decebal Vladislavic’s nest, and they travel to Romania intending to find out more about the creatures and to seek help from Decebal’s allies there.

It’s apparent from the moment they arrive that neither of those things is going to be easy.  Cristian and Atlas have to navigate the complex and dangerous politics of the vampire world at every turn, never knowing who to trust and forever looking over their shoulders for the next betrayal.  The author does a fantastic job here of creating and sustaining an atmosphere of uncertainty and near-paranoia and conveying just how exhausting and knife-edged a situation the two men are facing.  Their first port of call is to meet with Voivode Mehai, a former associate of Decebal’s who, if not precisely a friend, should at least offer Cristian basic courtesy and safe passage through his territory.

But even more bad news awaits them.  Mehai’s son Radu – a friend of Cristian’s – disappeared while investigating a recent spate of attacks and killings in their territory, attacks which result in injuries which could only have been caused by strigoi – and now the Council is about to pay Mehai a visit not to help, but to attempt to assign blame for the current rise in violence to him and his leadership.  With the Council members – including Theo Wharram – due to arrive any day, it’s imperative that Atlas and Cristian leave as soon as possible. The timing of the Council’s visit and Radu’s disappearance can’t be coincidental; if Radu has learned something that could help Mehai prove his innocence to the Council, they’d want him out of the way.  Cristian tells Mehai that he and Atlas will search for Radu, hoping to bring him back in time for whatever information he’s found to be of use.

M.A. Grant really ramps up the action in this book; there’s danger on all sides and Atlas and Cristian are forced to confront some of their deepest fears and to rely on each other as never before.  The relationship they began to develop in Rare Vigilance is still on somewhat shaky ground emotionally – for a number of reasons – and everything they go through in this story really pushes at its boundaries and tests its limits.  This book is more action-focused than the previous one, but it does include some solid relationship development, with a deeper, stronger connection gradually forming between the two men as they face ordeal after ordeal together.

The PoV in this book switches to Cristian (Rare Vigilance was told solely from Atlas’ perspective) which brings him into much sharper focus than before, when he was quite enigmatic for most of the story.  When I reviewed that book, I said that there were hints at a different man behind the cocky exterior, and those words are borne out here as we see a much more thoughtful, gentler side to Cristian.  He’s clearly head-over-heels for Atlas but fears Atlas doesn’t feel as deeply for him, and I loved seeing that vulnerable side of Cristian, and how he tries so hard to be patient and open with Atlas, and encourage a similar openness in him.  He worried that bringing Atlas back to the place he and his unit were attacked was bound to bring back horrific memories that would trigger Atlas’ PTSD, but he will do whatever is necessary to keep Atlas safe – from his nightmares and from whatever creatures are lurking in the woods.

I really enjoyed this instalment in the series, but there were a couple of things that didn’t quite work for me.  The first part is a little slow in places, and although I absolutely love stories that feature intrigue and political manouevering, I occasionally had trouble keeping track of who was who and how they related to each other.  And then there’s the sudden switch from Cristian’s to Atlas’ PoV at around the 90% mark.  For spoilery reasons I won’t go in to, there was no other way for the author to continue the story, but it was jarring nonetheless.

Crooked Shadows is otherwise a terrific follow-up to Rare Vigilance.  It’s thrilling and sexy, with plenty of high-stakes action as well as some lovely, tender moments between the two leads. Be warned, however, that it ends on a real humdinger of a cliffhanger, one that is sure to complicate our heroes’ lives still further and plunge them into yet more danger in book three.  I’ll definitely be here for that when it’s released in 2022.

The Same Place (The Lamb and the Lion #2) by Gregory Ashe (audiobook) – Narrated by J.F. Harding

the same place

This title maybe downloaded from Audible via Amazon

For what seems like the first time in Teancum Leon’s life, things are looking good: he’s put an end to the toxic relationship with his former sex buddy, work is going well, and Jem Berger has officially decided they are best friends—in spite of Tean’s objections. Things are looking good for Jem too, although he’s not thrilled that somehow Tean has talked him into getting a real job. Everything changes, though, when Tean’s friend Hannah asks for help: she’s being followed, she tells them, and she thinks she’s might be in danger.

After Jem and Tean spend a weekend tailing Hannah, trying to catch her stalker, they make two unpleasant discoveries. First, Hannah is right that she is being followed. Second, she isn’t being stalked. She’s being watched by the police, who are interested in Hannah’s connection to a missing person investigation. And the detective in charge is none other than Ammon Young, Tean’s former friend and ex-sex buddy.

Tean and Jem’s search for the missing woman leads them to a body. The cause of death is a mystery, but one thing is clear: someone wanted the remains destroyed. Tean believes it was homicide, and so do the police.

When Hannah is arrested for the murder, Tean and Jem must race to prove her innocence. But everyone seems to be lying, including Hannah, and she’s willing to take her secrets with her to prison—or to the grave. The answer may lie with the animal teeth marks on the victim’s remains. Good thing Jem knows a wildlife vet.

Rating: Narration – A; Content – A

Gregory Ashe’s Utah-set The Lamb and the Lion series continues with The Same Place, which takes place a few months after the events of The Same Breath. Wildlife vet Teancum Leon and con man Jem Berger have decided they’re better as friends than lovers (well, Tean’s decided, and Jem is mostly going along with it), and over the past few months have settled into a routine of sorts; Jem breaks into Tean’s apartment and makes himself at home whenever he feels like it and talks him into spending money he doesn’t have on clothes he doesn’t want, and Tean is teaching Jem to read and trying to help him settle into a ‘normal’ life, with a job, an apartment, and all the things Tean thinks Jem needs. Unfortunately however, Tean’s idea of normal isn’t really Jem’s – but, well, Jem loves Tean and likes to do things that make him happy. Although it would be easier to do that if Jem didn’t keep getting fired. On top of being fired from his latest job, Jem learns that his abusive former foster mother LouElla has committed identity theft, taken out a number of credit cards in his name and defaulted on the payments. He had hoped never to have anything more to do with the woman, but he isn’t about to stand by and let her ruin his life – again. However, confronting her doesn’t quite work out the way he’d hoped, and seeing her again stirs up memories and feelings he thought he’d buried for good.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

Custody Battles (Hazard and Somerset: Arrows in the Hand #2) by Gregory Ashe

custody battles

This title may be purchased from Amazon

Some parents would die for their children. Others will do a whole lot worse.

Emery Hazard and his husband, John-Henry Somerset, are settling into their new normal—at home, with the latest addition to their family, and at work, as Somers adapts to his new role and Hazard manages his expanding agency. The only thing Hazard is worried about is getting through dinner with his in-laws.

When his father-in-law requests that Hazard and Somers join him for a weekend deer hunting, it sounds simple enough: spend a night camping, give their foster son a chance to spend time with his friend, and—possibly—prevent a parental kidnapping. But nothing is ever as simple as it sounds. At deer camp, Hazard and Somers find themselves drawn into a toxic family feud between parents battling for custody.

After the husband is shot and killed deep in the forest, detectives from the Sheriff’s Department are convinced that the killer is a local extremist—a member of the neo-Nazi Ozark Volunteers. Hazard and Somers, though, aren’t so sure, and as they probe deeper into the killing, they find that many people had a reason to want the victim dead, and the killing itself might not be what it seems.

Then a drive-by shooting almost claims the lives of Hazard, Somers, and the victim’s wife. The killer’s work isn’t done, and Hazard and Somers must race to find the truth before the killer strikes again.

Rating: A

Note: This is the thirteenth full-length novel in the Hazard and Somerset series, so new readers are advised not to start here.  There are spoilers for the previous books in this review.

I think, if I had to write a one-word review of Gregory Ashe’s Custody Battles, it would be OUCH.  I spent most of the time reading it with my insides tied up in knots, and even when they were able to  unknot a little, I knew that wouldn’t be the end of it.

Things are already fraught when the book begins, as Hazard and Somers are getting ready to host dinner for friends and family – the family including Somers’ parents, neither of whom is shy about making known their disappointment in him.  Adding to Somers’ already heightened tension is the fact that Cole – the teen he and Hazard are now fostering (see Relative Justice) – absolutely hates him, for no reason that Somers can fathom.  Somers has been friendly and reasonable, but no matter what he says or does, Colt is completely hostile – and while Somers recognises that Colt has had a crappy time of it and that he’s a vulnerable kid, he can’t help feeling bewildered, hurt and, sometimes, resentful.  The quiet evenings watching TV and eating takeout with his husband he’d been looking forward to have gone out the window, and Somers can’t help but feel – at times – as though he’s being pushed aside.  He knows it’s ridiculous to feel that way – he’s a grown man and can be adult about the situation, but… those feelings are there nonetheless.

Things go from bad to worse later that evening, when Colt’s deadbeat dad Danny Ballantyne shows up and confronts Somers, threatening to petition to get get custody of Cole back unless Somers pays him to go away.  Somers knows – he knows – it’s dumb to think he’ll go and stay away – but on top of everything else – Colt’s hatred, his parents’ condescending disapproval, his feeling that things are slowly spinning out of control – Somers decides that here’s something he can do for Colt and for Hazard (he knows losing Colt would devastate him) and decides to handle it himself so as not to worry them.  He agrees to find the money to pay Ballantyne off, even though they really don’t have it – and not to tell Hazard what’s going on.

Okay, so at this point, I was mentally screaming – ‘Somers, you idiot, you know better than to keep this from Hazard!’ – but before that disaster is allowed to unfold, another looms in the form of Somers’ dad’s ‘invitation’ (insistence) that Hazard and Somers accompany him on an overnight hunting trip.  Neither is keen and both are suspicious; Somerset Sr. eventually tells them he’s heard rumours of a potential parental kidnapping and that he thinks Somers just being around will be enough to prevent it.  Reluctantly, Hazard and Somers agree to go, and when they arrive the next day, they find themselves in the middle of the most awful group of people imaginable, (quite honestly, I would have been quite happy had they ALL been bumped off!), which includes the couple they’d heard about, who are engaged in a very acrimonious divorce and fighting for custody of their completely obnoxious son.

When the husband is killed somewhere out in the forest, suspicion immediately falls on the Boone’s neighbour Dunkie Newcomb, a member of the right-wing extremist Ozark Volunteers, with whom the Boones have had frequent disputes about property boundaries, but Hazard and Somers aren’t convinced, and start to dig a little deeper.  The fact that the victim was a lying, violent, bullying piece of shit means there’s no shortage of people who would have liked to have seen the back of him, and the sudden appearance at Hazard’s office of Naomi Malsho – Somers’ former sister-in-law and someone with strong connections to the Volunteers – complicates matters still further.  She insists Newcomb has a cast-iron alibi, but that she can’t reveal it for fear of endangering others.  Hazard knows Naomi is clever and devious, and even though he’s extremely suspicious, he agrees to take the job she’s offering – to prove Newcomb innocent of the murder.

Oh, what a tangled web…

As I said at the beginning, this is one of those books that will tie you up in knots.  As well as another clever, gripping and suspenseful mystery (including some seriously edge-of-your-seat moments!) Custody Battles takes a long, hard look at parenthood in all its various forms, both good and (very, very) bad – a look which includes Somers’ own parents, whose approval he still craves even though he knows it shouldn’t matter.  Although Hazard and Somers always get equal billing in these novels, this one is most definitely a’ Somers book’, focusing on his struggle to adapt to his new roles as Chief of Police and as parent of a difficult teenager – and it’s not going at all well.  He’s aware of his deep-seated need to be liked, but hasn’t yet realised he can’t continue to be everyone’s friend at work, and Colt’s open hostility is wearing him down even further and causing massive amounts of tension between him and Hazard, especially when they clash over discipline issues.  Wanting to find a way to get Colt to like him, Somers always steps in and tries to smooth things over when he thinks Hazard is being too hard on the boy, without recognising he’s doing precisely what his parents did whenever he screwed up; making excuses for his behaviour and trivialising whatever it was he did, telling him it wasn’t his fault and generally making it seem as though he could do no wrong.  It takes him a while to realise this, of course – although he – and we – are very clearly shown what’s at the end of that particular path through the character of Junior, a deeply, deeply unpleasant and damaged young man thanks to exactly that sort of behaviour on the part of his parents.

Custody Battles is absolutely brilliant in its focus and level of insight, and it packs one hell of an emotional punch, but it’s a tough read with several moments of uncompromising, brutal honesty along the way.  That Hazard and Somers love each other deeply is never in question, but knowing each other so very well means they each know exactly how to twist the knife – and when they do, it’s not pretty.  Yet for all the difficult discussions and arguments, there’s still plenty of humour to be had, as well as some lovely tender moments between our heroes – and that ending.  Gah!

The secondary characters are all superbly crafted; we’ve met many of them before, and of all of them, it’s Nico who really shines. (The way he deals with Naomi is priceless).   I’ve never been in the ‘I hate Nico’ camp (I know some H&S fans dislike him), and I’m really enjoying watching him grow as a character and into someone Hazard has come to call a friend (not that he’d ever admit as much!)

Custody Battles isn’t always an easy read, but it’s utterly compelling and completely un-put-down-able nonetheless.  The characterisation and relationship development are superb, the mystery is well-crafted and Hazard and Somers are as captivating now as they ever were – possibly moreso.  They love and they fight and they screw up, but they’re never any less than human as they navigate their way through work, life, marriage, and parenthood, making it up as they go along – just as we all have to, most of the time.

Fans of Hazard and Somers won’t be disappointed in this latest Arrows in the Hand book (although they might gnash their teeth and shout a bit!), and Gregory Ashe proves that thirteen isn’t always an unlucky number and chalks up yet another DIK.

Broken Falcon (Evidence #12) by Rachel Grant (audiobook) – Narrated by Greg Tremblay & Nicol Zanzarella

broken falcon

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

Chase Johnston is leading a double life. After two years of psychological torment, the quiet, highly skilled Raptor operative now has a darker side, and he’s hellbent on bringing human-traffickers to justice – using any means necessary. The only relief he finds for his troubled mind is a woman he’ll never meet in person.

Eden O’Keeffe is also leading a double life. By day she’s a grad student and barista, but at night she sits in front of a camera and provides companionship for those seeking entertainment, titillation, or simple conversation. She enjoys the freedom of being a siren online, but her secret career comes with risks that force her to hide her true identity at all costs.

When Chase walks into a coffee shop and comes face to face with the one person who makes him feel again, it seems his long nightmare may be coming to an end. But in entering Eden’s world, he’s bringing that nightmare – and the danger that comes with it – to her doorstep.

Rating: Narration – A; Content – B

I’ve been eagerly looking forward to Broken Falcon – book twelve in Rachel Grant’s terrific Evidence series – for months. Ms. Grant is my favourite author of romantic suspense, and I’m always impressed by her ability to craft tense and exciting stories with clever plots and interesting, engaging characters. Also, this book’s hero, Chase Johnston, was an important secondary character in Incriminating Evidence, one of my series favourites – if you haven’t read or listened to it, I’d recommend doing so before this, as Chase’s backstory is incredibly important to this story (note – there are spoilers in this review) and given his role in that book, I was especially keen to find out what happened to him ‘after’ and for him to find love and get his own HEA.

When we catch up with Chase at the beginning of the book, we find out that he’s devoting much of his free time to preventing runaway teens from being sucked into a sex-trafficking ring. Together with Isabel Dawson, the wife of Senator – and Raptor boss – Alec Ravissant, Chase helps the teens to get to a shelter set up specially to help prevent them being sent back to abusive family situations. He’s fairly sure the trafficking ring is linked to a legitimate business, a cam-girl site called Cam Dames – although he hasn’t yet been able to find any evidence to tie the two together. On this particular evening, Chase has cut things a bit fine; it takes longer than he’d expected to persuade the girl he’s ‘intercepting’ to go into the next-door coffee shop to meet with Isabel, and she has only just gone inside when a couple of goons show up looking for their quarry. Chase is Raptor’s expert in unarmed combat (having learned martial arts from a very young age, he’s got Mad Ninja Skillz!) and it doesn’t take him long to run them off.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.