In the Requiem (Metahuman Files #5) by Hailey Turner (audiobook) – Narrated by Greg Boudreaux

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

Never let go.

Weighed down by scandal, Captain Jamie Callahan must choose between saving his family’s reputation and his father’s political aspirations, or taking down the enemy once and for all. Choosing one over the other will have lasting repercussions he can’t escape. Whatever path Jamie ultimately picks, Staff Sergeant Kyle Brannigan will be right by his side to face the consequences. Kyle knows in a situation like this the only way out is through. Together they can make it to the other side, but surviving that journey will take everything they have.

One last chance.

Agent Sean Delaney is learning what it means to be part of Alpha Team through trial by fire. He wouldn’t change it for the world, nor would he give up the life he’s building with Staff Sergeant Alexei Dvorkin. But their time together is threatened by outside forces they can’t outrun. Having put the nightmare of Boston behind him, Alexei is focused on keeping his family safe, but he can’t have eyes on everyone. Alexei knows he can’t ignore the danger on the horizon, and when it strikes, he is unprepared for the tragedy it leaves in its wake.

Risking it all.

The odds are stacked ever higher against Alpha Team, and outmaneuvering a precog is a daunting, almost impossible task. Jamie knows something has to give, and when it does, it just might break him the way nothing else in his life ever could.

Rating: Narration – A+; Content A-

Oh. My. God. Hailey Turner pulls out all the stops in this, the final** instalment of her military/futuristic Metahumans Files series, bringing the overarching storyline to a thrilling, high-stakes close… but not without leaving a couple of unanswered questions that leave the door ajar for future stories. And it will come as no surprise when I say that Greg Boudreaux – who has done some truly incredible work throughout the series – makes it five for five with a barnstorming performance that had me smiling, sighing, blushing, fuming and sobbing into my dinner.

Besides being the culmination of a plot arc, In the Requiem also features a large number of recurring secondary characters, and while the author does include some backstory and background information about both plot and characters, I don’t think this story will make a great deal of sense if you haven’t read or listened to the books that precede it. I’m assuming that anyone who has made it to this point knows the story so far…

**At time of writing this was the final book, but book six has just been announced.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

A Madness of Sunshine by Nalini Singh (audiobook) – Narrated by Saskia Maarleveld

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

On the rugged West Coast of New Zealand, Golden Cove is more than just a town where people live. The adults are more than neighbours; the children, more than schoolmates.

That is until one fateful summer – and several vanished bodies – shatters the trust holding Golden Cove together. All that’s left are whispers behind closed doors, broken friendships, and a silent agreement not to look back. But they can’t run from the past forever.

Eight years later, a beautiful young woman disappears without a trace, and the residents of Golden Cove wonder if their home shelters something far more dangerous than an unforgiving landscape.

It’s not long before the dark past collides with the haunting present and deadly secrets come to light.

Rating: Narration – A; Content – B

I have a confession to make. This is only the second book by Nalini Singh I’ve ever read (the other being an old Harlequin that I remember enjoying over a decade ago!). I know she’s the author of a number of very successful series, including the hugely popular PsyChangeling books – but I just haven’t found the time to pick up any of them (one of these days…). So when I saw that she was branching out into the suspense genre with A Madness of Sunshine, a standalone title set in her homeland of New Zealand, I was intrigued; and seeing that the excellent Saskia Maarleveld had signed on to narrate it just cemented my decision to pick up the book in audio.

Anahera Rawiri returns to her hometown of Golden Cove on the coast of New Zealand’s South Island eight years after turning her back on it forever, or so she’d hoped at the time. Having pursued a glamorous career as a classical pianist, Anahera based herself in London, but decided to return to NZ following the death of her famous playwright husband, who – she’d discovered after his death – had not only cheated on her but left his mistress pregnant. Even though she’d worked hard to get away from Golden Cove, a small, provincial town that offered no prospects, something has called Anahera back there, and she decides to make her home in the remote cabin that she had lived in with her late mother.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

A Convenient Fiction (Parish Orphans of Devon #3) by Mimi Matthews (audiobook) – Narrated by Alex Wyndham

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She Needed a Husband…. It’s been three years since Laura Hayes’ father died, leaving her and her invalid brother to subsist on the income from the family’s failing perfume business. But time is swiftly running out. What she needs is a husband, and fast. A noble gentleman who can rescue them all from penury. When a mysterious stranger arrives in the village, he seems a perfect candidate. But Alex Archer is no hero. In fact, he just might be the opposite. He Wanted a Fortune…. Alex has no tolerance for sentiment. He’s returned to England for one reason only: to find a wealthy wife. A country-bred heiress in Surrey seems the perfect target. But somewhere between the village railway station and the manor house his mercenary plan begins to unravel. And it’s all the fault of Laura Hayes – a lady as unsuitable as she is enchanting. From the beaches of Margate to the lavender fields of Provence, a grudging friendship slowly blossoms into something more. But when scandal threatens, can a man who has spent his entire life playing the villain finally become a hero? Or will the lure of easy riches once again outweigh the demands of his heart?

Rating: Narration – B; Content – C+

A Convenient Fiction is book three in Mimi Matthews’ Parish Orphans of Devon series, and the first of the set I’ve listened to (I read the first book, A Matrimonial Advertisement), and I confess I picked it up for review principally because Alex Wyndham is the narrator (the earlier books in the series were narrated by someone I don’t care to listen to). The author has a reputation as someone who pays attention to historical detail and accuracy in her novels, and her characters speak and behave in a way that is very period-appropriate – which isn’t something I can say about a lot of the historical romances published recently. Her writing is smooth and engaging and she has the knack for creating nicely simmering romantic chemistry between her protagonists – but if you’re someone who likes a bit of on-page action between the sheets in your romances, then you won’t find that here, as Ms. Matthews closes the bedroom door very firmly once the characters make it that far!

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

Contracted as His Countess by Louise Allen

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From a recluse secluded in a castle…

…to his Countess!

Cloistered away in a castle since birth, Madelyn Aylmer must now fulfil her eccentric father’s dying request: wed nobleman Jack Ransome! She has what Jack needs – land – and so he accepts their marriage of convenience, and vows to introduce this sheltered innocent into Society. But what Madelyn hadn’t expected was the way her body reacts to Jack, especially to his promise of a union filled with unbridled passion!

Rating: C-

Louise Allen is an author whose work I’ve enjoyed many times in the past, and I always look forward to a new release from her.  Contracted as His Countess is a standalone historical romance that puts a slightly different spin on a familiar trope, and the very different backgrounds of the two protagonists make for some interesting situations and conflicts.  But somewhere around the half-way point, the story loses focus and never really regains it; the romance is not well developed and even thought the eleventh-hour black moment is actually set up earlier in the book, it nonetheless feels flimsy and awkward.

Madelyn Aylmer is the daughter of a rather eccentric gentleman whose fascination with the gothic period went far beyond that of many of the other nineteenth century gothic revivalists.  He lived as a medieval nobleman in his own castle, complete with moat, drawbridge and portcullis, dressed in medieval attire, eschewed modern conveniences and even wanted his servants to dress the part. He brought up his only daughter with medieval values and sensibilities; indeed Madelyn has had very little interaction with the outside world and is, indeed, much like the ivory-tower bound princess in a fairy tale.  Now her father is dead, and she is duty-bound to fulfil his last request, which is to marry a man with bloodlines that can be traced back to before the Conquest, a man of impeccable breeding.

That gentleman is Jack Ransome, Earl of Dersington, who is commonly known in society as Jack Lackland because his is an empty title.  In fact, he styles himself plain Mister Ransome,  seeing no point in calling himself an earl because without lands, retainers or wealth, he has no power and therefore, no function as an aristocrat.  His profligate father and elder brother left nothing, and he supports himself by working as an enquiry agent.  He arrives at Castle Beaupierre in response to the invitation from Miss Aylmer, and is surprised at his reaction to the statuesque young woman dressed in clothes of a bygone age who greets him.  Madelyn Aylmer is not pretty by the standards of the day, but she’s most certainly and unconventionally attractive in her poise and serenity.  Plain by modern standards, yet somehow lovely and utterly remote.

Jack is even more surprised when she tells him the reason for her invitation.  Over the years, her father had searched out and acquired every scrap of the lost Dersington lands, and these will of course be returned to Jack upon their marriage.  He is stunned – and then angry at the idea that this young woman thinks she can buy him… but also feels an unexpected hope at the prospect of regaining his family’s property, and after thinking it over – and admitting to himself that his unaccountable attraction to Madelyn will at least make the act of begetting heirs a pleasant one – he agrees to the match.  But with the condition that Madelyn must live in the present and not the past, and that she will learn how to conduct herself appropriately in nineteenth century society.

The marriage of convenience for money is a common enough trope, but Madelyn’s unusual upbringing and Jack’s rejection of his title – and the widespread disapproval of his peers that incurrs – opened up the potential for some different sorts of conflicts to those usually found in this type of story, and I eagerly raced through the first few chapters.  Jack finds Madelyn someone to help her to learn all the rules that govern society and its interactions, from learning how to act as hostess to what clothes to wear.  Madelyn is determined to do her best to fit in, Jack’s intentions are good in providing her with someone to guide her, and so are those of her mentor, but those good intentions basically translate to Madelyn finding herself wearing unflattering clothes in colours that do not suit her and feeling as though she is being forced to give up her individuality.  I sympathised with her; she wanted to be a credit to Jack but was being pushed in directions that made her anything but, and I was pleased when she took a stand and decided to find a compromise that would work for her and for Jack.  I was very much on her side in this – until she did something silly as a way of demonstrating her ability to make sound judgments about how to behave, which was not only dumb but out of character.

The biggest problem with the book though, is the romance. Or rather, the lack thereof.  Ms. Allen is capable of creating terrific sexual tension between her heroes and heroines and is very skilled at developing a believable romance in the relatively short page count of a category romance.  Here, however… well, let’s just say she must’ve been having an off day (or several), because there’s no chemistry between Jack and Madelyn, and other than a few references to the fact that Jack is surprised he’s attracted to her because she’s not his type (and we’re reminded rather too often that she’s not conventionally attractive), and that Madelyn finds Jack very handsome, there’s very little in the way of attraction, and the kisses and single (rather tame) love scene are damp squibs rather than fireworks.

So I’m marking Contracted as His Countess down as one of those books that had a lot of potential that was ultimately not realised.  It’s a shame when an author whose work you normally enjoy lets you down, but it happens; and although I can’t recommend this, I hope to enjoy more of Ms. Allen’s books in the future.

Someone to Remember (Westcott #7) by Mary Balogh

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It’s never too late to fall in love . . .

Matilda Westcott has spent her life tending to the needs of her mother, the Dowager Countess of Riverdale, never questioning the web of solitude she has spun herself. To Matilda, who considers herself an aging spinster daughter, marriage is laughable – love is a game for the young, after all. But her quiet, ordered life unravels when a dashing gentleman from her past reappears, threatening to charm his way into her heart yet again.

Charles Sawyer, Viscount Dirkson, does not expect to face Matilda Westcott thirty-six years after their failed romance. Moreover, he does not expect decades-old feelings to emerge at the very sight of her. When encountering Matilda at a dinner hosted by the Earl of Riverdale, he finds himself as fascinated by her as he was the first day they met, and wonders whether, after all these years, they have a chance at happiness together. Charles is determined to crack the hard exterior Matilda has built up for more than three decades, or he will risk losing her once again . . .

Rating: B

Someone to Remember is the seventh (and penultimate?) instalment in Mary Balogh’s Westcott saga, which has followed the fortunes of the various members of the large and close-knit Westcott family after the discovery that the late Humphrey Westcott, Earl of Riverdale, had committed bigamy and that his second marriage was therefore invalid.  This discovery naturally had serious repercussions; his son and two daughters lost titles, fortunes and status; his widow couldn’t even claim to have been a wife, and the earldom diverted to a cousin who didn’t want it. Through six books, readers have followed the fortunes of various family members in the wake of these events, and now we come to Matilda, Humphrey’s older sister, a woman of mature years – fifty-six – who has appeared throughout the series as the dutiful spinster aunt who fusses over her mother because it’s something to do and has gradually faded into the background.

In order to understand the relationship in Someone to Remember, it’s necessary to refer back to the previous book in the series, Someone to Honor, so please be aware that this review contains spoilers for that book. Lieutenant Colonel Gilbert Bennington returned from fighting at Waterloo to discover his late wife had left their four-year-old daughter in the care of her parents, who are now refusing to return her to his care. Although Gil was an officer, his illegitimacy and humble origins made him unacceptable to his in-laws; his father was a nobleman – Viscount Dirkson – but his mother was the daughter of a blacksmith who refused all offers of support from the viscount, and allowed Gil to believe that he had washed his hands of them.  When Gil joined the army, Dirkson purchased a commission for him, but after that Gil made it clear that he wanted nothing more to do with him.

But when Abigail Westcott married Gil, the entire Westcott clan naturally became interested in the situation; and when Matilda learned that Dirkson was Gil’s father, she took the unprecedented – and rather scandalous – step of paying a call upon the gentleman at his home in order to ask him to speak for Gil at the upcoming custody hearing.  It was clear from the moment Dirkson’s name was mentioned that he and Matilda had some shared history, and it’s soon revealed that they had once been in love and hoped to marry, but that Matilda’s parents had opposed the match and persuaded her to give him up.

When Someone to Remember opens, Alex, the Earl of Riverdale, announces that he has invited the viscount to dinner by way of thanks for his help and support in the custody case.  Matilda is profoundly unsettled by this turn of events, but puts a brave face on it, telling herself that she can manage to spend one evening in company with the man with whom she’d once been deeply in love.  She already knows he has aged well, that he’s still handsome and vital, whereas she herself has become somewhat drab and disregarded, especially by her mother, who almost never has a kind word to say to or about her.

Dirkson is hugely conflicted over seeing Matilda again.  On the one hand, he’s angry with her for stirring up emotions he’d thought long dead and buried, but on the other, he can’t seem to stay away from her.  But his anger soon turns from being directed towards Matilda to anger on her behalf when he realizes how invisible she has become to her family.  They don’t mistreat her or ignore her, but none of them really see her:

She was a person by God, even if she was past the age of fifty.  Even if she was a spinster.  She deserved a life.

Someone to Remember is a gentle, charming story of love lost and found.  There’s not a lot of plot, but Mary Balogh excels when it comes to exploring emotions, character and relationships, and she packs quite a lot of that into the short page-count as Matilda and Charles think back on their youthful relationship, ponder their mis-steps and how their choices have shaped their lives ever since.  The best thing about the story, though, is watching Matilda transform from a woman who had dwindled into a shadow of her former self into one revitalised by love and happiness. When we first met her earlier in the series, she came across as a rather stereotypical spinster aunt, somewhat fussy and always on the verge of reaching for the smelling salts, but as the series has progressed, she has been revealed to be a more complex character, one with a dry wit and sense of humour that is perhaps a little rusty from disuse, and a woman with a mind of her own who is compassionate and deeply loyal to her family and those she loves.  Fellow reviewer Janet Webb wrote an interesting piece on Matilda’s presence and influence throughout the series, and if you’ve read it, many of the pointers to the things that have brought Matilda to this point in life have been dotted throughout the series like a trail of breadcrumbs, and it’s been masterfully done.

Dirkson’s backstory isn’t one filled with sunshine and roses either.  After Matilda rejected him, he went off the rails a little (and had the affair that produced Gil) and earned himself a reputation as a rake of the first order.  His marriage was arranged and while not unhappy, was not one in which either party felt love or passion for the other (he was wayward and she had no real interest in men) but the connection he feels to Matilda has endured and starts coming back to life as he realises that he very much wants to take advantage of the second chance life is offering him.

There’s an engaging secondary cast consisting of the younger generation of Westcotts, I enjoyed watching Matilda’s mother admit to having made a mistake when she talked her daughter out of marrying Dirkson -and for anyone wondering about the state of Gil’s relationship with his father, there’s more on that, too.  Someone to Remember is a quiet story but a satisfying one that shows it’s never too late to find – or rekindle – love.

Note: The Amazon listing says this is 272 pages (and it’s priced accordingly), but Someone to Remember is a novella of around 110 pages; the rest of the page count is taken up with sample chapters of other books in the series.

Penny for Your Secrets (Verity Kent #3) by Anna Lee Huber

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The Great War may be over, but for many, there are still obstacles on the home front. Reconciling with her estranged husband makes Verity sympathetic to her friend Ada’s marital difficulties. Bourgeois-bred Ada, recently married to the Marquess of Rockham, is overwhelmed trying to navigate the ways of the aristocracy. And when Lord Rockham is discovered shot through the heart with a bullet from Ada’s revolver, Verity fears her friend has made a fatal blunder.

While striving to prove Ada’s innocence, Verity is called upon for another favor. The sister of a former Secret Service colleague has been killed in what authorities believe was a home invasion gone wrong. The victim’s war work—censoring letters sent by soldiers from the front—exposed her to sensitive, disturbing material. Verity begins to suspect these two unlikely cases may be linked. But as the connections deepen, the consequences—not just for Verity, but for Britain—grow more menacing than she could have imagined.

Rating: B

Note: This title is part of an ongoing series featuring the same characters, so there will be spoilers for the previous books in this review.

This third book in Anna Lee Huber’s series of mysteries featuring the intrepid Verity Kent sees our eponymous heroine and her recently returned husband Sidney investigating not one but two murders.  Penny for Your Secrets takes place just a few months following the events of book two, Treacherous is the Night, and although Verity and Sidney are on more of an even keel now than they were in that book, it’s clear that things between them are still delicately balanced . Neither of them is the same person who got married in 1914 after a whirlwind courtship, and the murder mystery storyline is underscored by the continuing exploration of Verity and Sidney’s marriage as they relearn each other and get to know they people they have become.  But their progress is impeded somewhat by the fact that both of them are still struggling to adapt to the world post-war as individuals;  Sidney with survivor’s guilt and PTSD while he tries to find his place in the world he’s come back to; Verity because she’s without a sense of purpose for the first time in years and because she’s still keeping secrets about the missions she undertook for the Secret Service.

The book opens with Verity and Sidney attending a dinner party hosted by the Marquess and Marchioness of Rockham, at which it is quickly obvious that all is not well between the couple.  Ada (the marchioness) – a friend of Verity’s – is Rockham’s second wife and was previously his mistress; they were in love when they married, but now things have soured. Rockham is rumoured to have another mistress and Ada makes no secret of her affair with Lord Ardmore, whom Verity believes holds some sort of hush-hush position within Naval Intelligence and whom Sidney pronounces “a bounder.”

After an uncomfortable dinner – at which Ada makes a very distasteful joke about shooting her husband – Verity and Sidney excuse themselves as soon as it’s polite to do so and make their way home, only to be woken in the early hours of the morning by a telephone call from an almost hysterical Ada, who tells them that Rockham is dead from a shot to the temple. The police are already on the scene and are clearly looking at Ada as their prime suspect, and while Verity believes her friend to have been guilty of poor judgment in her behaviour of late, she can’t believe her to be capable of murder, so she agrees to Ada’s request for help proving her innocence.

Just a day or so later, Verity is surprised by a visit from Irene Shaw, a former MI5 employee whom she met during the war.  Irene is desperate to find out more about the death of her half-sister Esther, who was killed during what seemed to be a burglary-gone-wrong a couple of weeks earlier.  But despite the fact that Esther’s room had been tossed, nothing was taken, which makes Irene suspect that perhaps the killer had an ulterior motive related to Esther’s wartime job in the censorship department of the Royal Mail.

Frustrated at the slow progress she and Sidney are making with their enquiries into Ada’s situation – some of that due to Ada herself, who, Verity senses, is not being entirely truthful – Verity agrees to look into Esther’s death, much to Ada’s annoyance; she thinks Verity should be focusing on her and not diverting her attention elsewhere.

As Verity and Sidney investigate the two murders, they start to realise that the crimes may be connected – they just have to figure out how.  Their investigation draws the attention of Lord Ardmore, who is very clearly a man to be reckoned with, and it sees them travelling back to France, and then to the Isle of Wight and the estate of Max, the Earl of Ryde, Sidney’s former commanding officer and the man to whom Verity had experienced a strong attraction when she’d still believed herself to be a widow.  Anna Lee Huber pulls her seemingly disparate plot threads together with great skill as Verity, Sidney – and eventually Max – uncover a complicated web of deceit and betrayal.

One of the things the author does very well in this series is to shine a light on the lives of the young people who survived the First World War, showing how their world has changed – and how, in some ways it has not – and how difficult it is for the young women who were drafted into taking on men’s roles and jobs during the war to go back to the way things were.  Verity is one of those women reluctant to relinquish the greater freedom and autonomy she gained, but is also uncertain about where she goes from here.  In the previous book, much of the time spent on the relationship between her and Sidney was to do with her wondering how much she should tell him about her work with the Secret Service and how much it would affect his opinion of her; in this one, there are still things she’s not telling him, but the focus shifts more to Sidney, who is obviously struggling with survivor’s guilt but refuses to talk to Verity about it and repeatedly shuts her out.  The author handles this aspect of their relationship very well; Verity’s frustration and fears for her husband are palpable, but one downside to this is that I still haven’t got much of a handle on Sidney’s personality.  He’s a decent man, no question, but he’s defined mostly in terms of anger and guilt, and because the stories are narrated entirely in Verity’s PoV, we’re not getting to know him in any real detail.

I also confess that I found the mystery in this book a bit harder to get into than previous ones, and didn’t really become fully engaged with it until well into the second half when things were starting to coalesce.  I’m not completely sure why that was; the writing is strong, the research is meticulous and while I wasn’t as invested in Ada’s plotline as I was in Esther’s, the story is very well put together – but I didn’t warm to either Verity or Sidney in this book; they were both a little too distanced and I felt there was a fair bit of repetition in terms of the issues that are still lying between them.

With that said, Penny for Your Secrets is a solidly good read and fans of historical mysteries should definitely give the Verity Kent series a try.  The books can work as standalones but I think readers will be best served by starting at the beginning with This Side of Murder.

One Dark Wish (Deep Desires #2) by Sharon Wray (audiobook) – Narrated by Kevin T. Collins and Savannah Peachwood

one dark wish

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon.

Her life must be forfeit for his to be redeemed

Historian Sarah Munro is not used to being shot at, but that’s just what happens while she’s poking around cemeteries on Georgia’s Isle of Grace, searching for the key to a centuries-old cipher. Her quest has unwittingly drawn the attention of two deadly enemies intent on destroying each other – and anyone who gets in their way.

Ex-Green Beret Major Nate Walker is on a mission of his own: to restore the honor of his men. To do that, he is required to stop Sarah – or one of his own men will die. Caught in the middle of a deadly rivalry, Nate can’t afford to trust the woman standing in his way. But his heart says he can’t afford not to…

Rating: Narration; B – Content: DNF

In the eight or nine years I’ve been reviewing books and audiobooks, I can count the number of times I’ve DNF’d a review copy on the fingers of one hand. I’ve slogged through some atrocious stories and horrific narrations to the bitter end, so I can at least feel that by being able to warn others away from such duds, the time I spent reading or listening to them wasn’t completely wasted.

So DNF-ing is a rare occurrence for me, but I had to admit defeat and give up just after the halfway mark of Sharon Wray’s One Dark Wish, the second book in her Deadly Force series. I’m not familiar with the author and haven’t read or listened to anything of hers before, but the synopsis sounded appealing.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.