Two Rogues Make a Right (Seducing the Sedwicks #3) by Cat Sebastian

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Will Sedgwick can’t believe that after months of searching for his oldest friend, Martin Easterbrook is found hiding in an attic like a gothic nightmare. Intent on nursing Martin back to health, Will kindly kidnaps him and takes him to the countryside to recover, well away from the world.

Martin doesn’t much care where he is or even how he got there. He’s much more concerned that the man he’s loved his entire life is currently waiting on him hand and foot, feeding him soup and making him tea. Martin knows he’s a lost cause, one he doesn’t want Will to waste his life on.

As a lifetime of love transforms into a tender passion both men always desired but neither expected, can they envision a life free from the restrictions of the past, a life with each other?

Rating: A-

The third Sedgwick brother, Will, has his story told in Two Rogues Make a Right (and look at that lovely cover!), the latest instalment in Cat Sebastian’s Seducing the Sedgwicks series.  It’s a charming, funny, friends-to-lovers romance that had me sighing happily, melting inwardly and thinking ‘awwww’ on several occasions as I read, one of those books that’s like a warm hug you just can’t help sinking into.   It’s not essential to have read the two preceding books in order to enjoy this one, but I’d recommend doing so as they contain background information that will be helpful in understanding the central characters and their relationship; please note that there are spoilers in this review.

Will Sedgwick and Martin Easterbrook were childhood friends who found companionship, comfort and a refuge from their difficult family lives in each other.  Will’s family was unusual and chaotic; his father had both wife and mistress living in the same house, and was far more concerned with the philosophical and esoteric than the basic necessities, while Martin’s father was dismissive of his only son because of his ‘delicate’ health, and thought him useless.  The two boys were inseparable, until the morning Martin’s father found them in bed together – completely innocently – and promptly arranged for Will to join the Navy.  Through the years of separation, they kept up a correspondence which continued after Will returned home – until without explanation, Martin stopped answering Will’s letters.  Will is worried – Martin would never not respond to him – and fears his friend may be seriously ill or worse, but Martin has disappeared and nobody has a clue where he is.

Martin Easterbrook was presented as something of a villain in the first book (It Takes Two to Tumble), where he was intent on squeezing every last penny out of his already impoverished tenants, and later, he started the vicious rumours about Hartley Sedgwick (A Gentleman Never Keeps Score) which saw Hartley shunned by the society of which he’d previously been a part.  But while most view Martin as selfish, stand-offish and arrogant, Will knows that’s not all he is, and that there’s a witty, warm and inviting man beneath the grouchy exterior.  He also knows that while Martin has certainly been acting like a total git, there are reasons which, while they don’t excuse his behaviour, do at least explain it.

When we caught up with Martin at the end of the previous book, he was suffering an attack of the consumption that had begun to affect him a couple of years earlier, and was in a pretty bad way. Wanting, for once in his life, to make his own choices, he was secretly living in the attic of the London townhouse his father had left to Hartley before giving in to the inevitable and going to live on the charity of his aunt, something Martin has been desperately trying to avoid.  With Hartley’s help, Will bundles the almost insensible man into a carriage and takes him to a cottage on one of Martin’s smaller properties in Sussex, hoping that a change of air will help, but secretly fearing he has taken him there to die. Will refuses to give up on him, and we suffer with both of them at the beginning of the book, Will watching fearfully over Martin night and day, Martin burning up with fever and struggling to catch his breath.  But miraculously, after a week or so of getting weaker and showing no improvement, Martin’s fever finally breaks and slowly, he starts to recover. Will knows he feels better when he starts to sound more like his normal self; waspish, annoying and ill-tempered.

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

Any Given Lifetime by Leta Blake (audiobook) – Narrated by John Solo

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

He’ll love him in any lifetime.

Neil isn’t a ghost, but he feels like one. Reincarnated with all his memories from his prior life, he spent 20 years trapped in a child’s body, wanting nothing more than to grow up and reclaim the love of his life.

As an adult, Neil finds there’s more than lost time separating them. Joshua has built a beautiful life since Neil’s death, and how exactly is Neil supposed to introduce himself? As Joshua’s long-dead lover in a new body? Heartbroken and hopeless, Neil takes refuge in his work, developing microscopic robots called nanites that can produce medical miracles.

When Joshua meets a young scientist working on a medical project, his soul senses something his rational mind can’t believe. Has Neil truly come back to him after 20 years? And if the impossible is real, can they be together at long last?

Rating: Narration – A-; Content – A

Leta Blake’s Any Given Lifetime has been on my radar for a while, and I even have the ebook – but I haven’t managed to read it yet, so I eagerly pounced on the new audio version. I knew, based on the synopsis, that it was likely to be an unusual and emotional listen, and it certainly was; it’s one of the most affecting and unique romances I’ve ever come across.

The book opens in January 2012, and we meet twenty-two year old Joshua Stouder who, just a month earlier, lost the man he loved when he was killed in a road accident. Joshua has just found out that Neil has left him a massive fortune and a position at the head of the board of the Neil Russell Foundation for Advanced Nanite Research, the company he’d requested be set up after his death to continue his research into new medical technology. Joshua had had no idea how wealthy Neil really was; they had been together for only nine months before Neil was killed and were very much in love, even though they hadn’t even had a physical relationship (something Joshua now bitterly regrets and blames on his conservative upbringing, terming himself a skittish country boy stewing in internalised homophobia).

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

Milo (Finding Home #2) by Lily Morton (audiobook) – Narrated by Joel Leslie

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon.

Once upon a time, a brave knight rescued a young man. Unfortunately, he then spent the next few years bossing the young man around and treating him like a child.  Milo has been burying himself at Chi an Mor, hiding from the wreckage of his once promising career and running from a bad relationship that destroyed what little confidence he had. Niall, his big brother’s best friend, has been there for him that entire time. An arrogant and funny man, Niall couldn’t be any more different from the shy and occasionally stuttering Milo, which has never stopped Milo from crushing wildly on the man who saved him.

However, just as Milo makes the decision to move on from his hopeless crush, he and Niall are thrown into close contact, and for the first time ever, Niall seems to be returning his interest. But it can never work. How can it when Milo always needs rescuing?

Rating: Narration – A; Content – B+

Milo is the second book in Lily Morton’s Finding Home series, and in it, listeners return to the gorgeous Cornwall setting of Chi an Mor, the country estate belonging to Silas, Earl of Ashworth. We met Milo Ramsey and Niall Fawcett first of all in the previous book, Oz, when Niall interviewed Oz Gallagher for the job of Collections Manager at the house, where Milo has worked as an art conservator for the past few years. He’s a decade or so younger than Niall, but the pair have known each other for most of their lives; Milo’s older brother Gideon is Niall’s best friend (they were at school together) and they’ve also been occasional fuck-buddies for years – a discovery that left a smitten, seventeen-year-old Milo heartbroken after he found them in bed together.

The novel opens with a prologue set five years before the story proper, with Milo in the kitchen of the flat he shares with his boyfriend Thomas. Milo has just dropped a bottle of wine and is terrified of Thomas’ reaction; with good reason it turns out, as the other man wastes no time in getting nasty, telling Milo how useless he is, criticising his appearance and making fun of the stammer he’s struggled with since childhood and which tends to worsen when he’s upset or nervous. In the midst of Thomas’ cruel tirade, another voice bursts in and furiously demands to know “What the fuck is going on in here?” It’s Niall – who immediately tells Milo to pack up his stuff and then whisks him away to Cornwall and Chi an Mor, where Milo gradually starts to recover, returning to physical health and gradually making new friendships and becoming comfortable in his new surroundings. Mentally, however, his ex really did a number on him; his self-confidence, which was never strong owing to his stammer, is still seriously dented.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

The Road Home by L.A. Witt (audiobook) – Narrated by Greg Boudreaux and Michael Ferraiuolo

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

David Coleman has made some mistakes, and he’ll be living with the consequences for the rest of his life. He’s made decisions that have left him estranged from his once tight-knit family. Even now, when David is clean and sober, working his way through medical school with a promising future ahead, his parents refuse to forgive or forget.

When he gets some grim news about his father, David realizes he’s running out of time to make amends. As he comes home for the holidays and his sister’s wedding, he knows it’s going to be tense, but he’s desperate to prove they’re wrong about him. And since they won’t take his word for it, he’s bringing reinforcements.

Hunter Scott will do anything for his childhood best friend, but he never thought that would include posing as his boyfriend. Except David’s family has always respected Hunter. Maybe if they see that David is good enough for Hunter to love, they’ll realize he’s good enough for them, too.

But as Hunter and David lean on each other through snowstorms, family drama, and visits from personal demons, maybe this relationship isn’t as much of a performance as it was meant to be.

Rating: Narration: A – Content: A-

Sometimes the ideal book pops into my head for TBR Challenge prompts, and sometimes… it doesn’t.  This was one of those times;  I had a few books on my list, but I wasn’t really feeling any of them.  Then, a few days after my last (unsuccessful) search for something suitable, I picked up a new audiobook without having let the title sink in or reading the synopsis  – I like the author’s work and the narrators are two of my all-time favourites – and realised it would fit!  This is the first time I’ve fulfilled a TBR prompt by listening to a book rather than reading it, but as I tend to read/listen 50:50 these days, I figured it would be allowed 😉

L.A. Witt’s The Road Home is a tender, poignant and sensual romance that combines a number of familiar tropes to produce a story that transcends all of them.  The author tackles some difficult issues – PTSD, addiction, living with chronic illness, the stigma of being HIV positive – incorporating them fully into the story and handling them in a respectful and sensitive manner, but never loses sight of the fact that this is, first and foremost, a romance.

David Coleman and Hunter Scott have known each other for most of their lives, and were even high-school sweethearts at one point, but after a catastrophic break-up in college, ended up deciding they were better as friends.  That friendship has endured through Hunter’s deployments and the addiction that nearly took David’s life, and now, in their thirties, they both seem to have their lives on-track.  David has been clean for seven years and is in his second year of medical school, and Hunter is steadily climbing the ranks in the Navy.

David is practically estranged from his family, who lost all faith in him after he became addicted to meth.  His parents (begrudgingly) accept his sexuality, but his mother in particular rarely misses an opportunity to remind him of ‘everything he put them through’ when he was an addict, and David knows that his parents and brother are just waiting for him to relapse; the fact that he’s been through hell and emerged stronger, that he has the strength to remain sober, and that he got into one of the best medical schools in the country counts for nothing with them; all they see is a fuck-up who will never change.  And even worse, as far as his family is concerned, is the fact that David used to work in the porn industry –in front of the camera – and although he’s apologised profusely for disappointing them and scaring them over his addiction and the fact that he is HIV positive, the porn is something he refuses, point blank, to apologise for.  He’s not ashamed of it and sees no reason why he should be.  But when he receives the news that his father is terminally ill and that this Christmas may well be his last, David decides to have one last try at patching things up. His family doesn’t think much of him, but they do respect Hunter, so David asks Hunter if he’ll accompany him home for Christmas (and to his sister’s New Year wedding) – and pretend to be his boyfriend.  After all, if someone like Hunter thinks David is ‘good enough’, then surely his parents will… maybe not change their minds exactly, but ease off a bit and accept him back into the fold.

Hunter has been the best of friends to David, ready to help however he can and literally helping to save his life more than once.  Despite their breakup, he’s always been in love with David, but hasn’t pushed for anything more, believing it’s better to have David in his life as a friend than not to have him at all.  He knows how toxic David’s family is and privately thinks he’s probably better off without that kind of negativity in his life, but he also knows how important it is to David to at least try to end their estrangement, and he agrees to the plan.

For good reason, they decide to drive from Los Angeles to Washington, even though December is probably not the best time to be driving any distance in the Midwest.  Their plan to arrive the day before Christmas Eve is scuppered when the weather takes a turn for the worse and it becomes dangerous for them to proceed.  In true romance-novel fashion, There Is Only One Bed at the crappy motel they end up at, and one thing leads to another, which leads to … their agreeing it was a mistake that they should go back to how things were before. Which is, of course, impossible.

The Road Home is so much more than the sum of its tropes.  It’s a story about family being more than blood-ties and about learning when to hold on and when to let go.  David and Hunter are beautifully realised characters; they’re flawed and damaged, and their strength and willingness to fight every day to be who and what they want to be is admirable.  Their romance is sensual and passionate and is underpinned by an undeniable emotional connection and sizzling chemistry, a slow-burn which feels completely right for the tone of the story.

I definitely ran the gamut of emotions while listening to this.  The sheer awfulness of David’s family (apart from his sister) has to be read/listened to to be believed (seriously, they made me so angry!) but kudos to the author for making them into characters rather than caricatures.  This is a romance, so the story ends with an HEA for David and Hunter, but it’s also a bittersweet reminder that not everything in life is fixable and that sometimes, the thing you want isn’t always the thing you need.

Greg Boudreaux and Michael Ferraiuolo are, as I said earlier, two of my very favourite narrators, and are legends in the world of m/m romance narration, so having both of them working together again was a dream come true!  The story is narrated from both Hunter’s (Mr. Boudreaux) and David’s (Mr. Ferraiuolo) points of view in alternating chapters, so both narrators get to portray almost all the characters, and have achieved a remarkable consistency when it comes to the supporting cast. (A common complaint about dual narrations is that a character as performed by one narrator sounds too different to their portrayal by the other, but that isn’t the case here.) The same is true of the leads; in both performances, Hunter’s voice is pitched lower than David’s so the listener is never confused as to which character is speaking  regardless of who is narrating that particular portion of the story.  But the absolute best thing about these narrators is that not only are they both as technically accomplished as they come, they’re also incredibly good vocal actors – which, in a book like this, is vital. Their ability to perfectly judge every emotional nuance means that the listener is right there with the characters, experiencing their joy and sadness, passion and heartbreak alongside them.  Both performances are exceptionally good, elevating the author’s words to a new level and bringing the story and characters to full, vibrant life.

The Road Home deals with some difficult issues and isn’t always an easy listen, but I enjoyed every minute of it.   Moving, intense, sad and passionate, it’s a wonderful story about true love and second chances – and the fantastic narration makes it a must for fans of romance audiobooks.

First Comes Scandal (Rokesby/Bridgerton #4) by Julia Quinn (audiobook) – Narrated by Rosalyn Landor

This title may be purchased from Amazon

She was given two choices . . .

Georgiana Bridgerton isn’t against the idea of marriage. She’d just thought she’d have some say in the matter. But with her reputation hanging by a thread after she’s abducted for her dowry, Georgie is given two options: live out her life as a spinster or marry the rogue who has ruined her life.

Enter Option #3

As the fourth son of an earl, Nicholas Rokesby is prepared to chart his own course. He has a life in Edinburgh, where he’s close to completing his medical studies, and he has no time – or interest – to find a wife. But when he discovers that Georgie Bridgerton – his literal girl-next-door – is facing ruin, he knows what he must do.

A Marriage of Convenience

It might not have been the most romantic of proposals, but Nicholas never thought she’d say no. Georgie doesn’t want to be anyone’s sacrifice, and besides, they could never think of each other as anything more than childhood friends . . . could they?

But as they embark upon their unorthodox courtship they discover a new twist to the age-old rhyme. First comes scandal, then comes marriage. But after that comes love . . .

Rating: Narration – A; Content – B-

Julia Quinn’s Rokesby-Bridgerton / Bridgerton Prequels series (honestly, the series name seems to change with each book published!) continues with book four, First Comes Scandal, a funny, sweet friends-to-lovers story in which the youngest Rokesby son, Nicholas, finds his HEA with the elder Bridgerton sister, Georgiana. The series has been a bit of a mixed bag; I liked the first two books, but the third, The Other Miss Bridgerton, was a bit of a disappointment, so I wasn’t quite sure what to expect with this one. After the first couple of chapters, I thought I’d be able to report that it was something of an improvement – until it got bogged down around the end of the first half and never regained its initial momentum.

Nicholas Rokesby, who is studying medicine in Edinburgh, is rather alarmed to receive a summons from his father Lord Manston asking him to return home immediately. Fearing tragedy and disaster, Nicholas embarks on the five day journey to Kent – only to find out that he’s travelled all that way, in the middle of the term and right before his exams, because Georgiana Bridgerton – who is his father’s goddaughter as well as one of Nicholas’ oldest friends – is in a fix and he wants Nicholas to get her out of it.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

Triangluation (Borealis Investigations #2) by Gregory Ashe (audiobook) – Narrated by Charlie David

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

After a recent case with a treacherous client, North and Shaw are ready to go back to work building Borealis Investigations. They’re also ready to go back to dodging their feelings for each other, with neither man ready to deal with the powerful emotions the Matty Fennmore case stirred up.

Everything is getting back to normal when their secretary asks for help: her girlfriend’s boss has gone missing. Shep Collins runs a halfway house for LGBTQ kids and is a prominent figure in St. Louis’s gay community. When he disappears, however, dark truths begin to emerge about Shep’s past: his string of failed relationships, a problem with disappearing money, and his work, years before, as one of the foremost proponents of conversion therapy.

When Shep’s body turns up at the halfway house, the search for a missing person becomes the search for a murderer. As North and Shaw probe for answers, they find that they are not the only ones who have come looking for the truth about Shep Collins.

Their investigation puts them at odds with the police who are working the same case, and in that conflict, North and Shaw find threads leading back to the West End Slasher – the serial killer who almost took Shaw’s life in an alley, seven years before.

As the web of an ancient conspiracy comes to light, Shaw is driven to find answers, and North faces what might be his last chance to tell Shaw how he really feels.

Rating: Narration – A-; Content – A-

Triangulation is book two in Gregory Ashe’s Borealis Investigations series featuring St. Louis based PIs North McKinney and Shaw Aldrich, two guys who have known each other since college and have secretly pined for each other for just as long. The story picks up a couple of months after the events of book one, Orientation, and I’d advise anyone thinking of picking up Triangulation go to back and listen to that first, as it provides context for the relationship between the two leads and kicks off the series’ overarching plotline concerning Shaw’s search for the serial killer dubbed the West End Slasher, who murdered his boyfriend and left him critically injured some eight years before.

(Note: There are spoilers for Orientation in this review.)

Triangulation opens with Pari – North and Shaw’s office assistant (who seems to spend all her time haranguing them and never appears to do a stroke of work) – attempting to persuade them to look into the disappearance of Shep Collins, an LGBTQ youth worker and prominent figure in the St. Louis gay community. Pari’s girlfriend Chuck works with Collins at the local halfway house, and is concerned because he hasn’t been seen for a few days. North isn’t keen on the idea, especially after he learns that Collins used to administer conversion therapy to gay teenaged boys – but Chuck is really worried, and insists that Collins is a changed man; he’s out and married, the kids he works with love him and he sees his work with them as a way of atoning for what he did in the past. North still doesn’t want to take the case, but Shaw does, and after one of those typically North and Shaw circuitous not-conversations, they tell Chuck and Pari they’ll take the case.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

Blue on Blue (Bitter Legacy #3) by Dal Maclean (audiobook) – Narrated by Gary Furlong

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After three years working as a private investigator, newly reinstated Detective Inspector Will Foster still holds himself responsible for the death of an officer under his command. But he’s returned to the Met bent on redeeming himself and that means bringing down gangland boss Joey Clarkson.

Will’s prepared to put in long hours and make sacrifices for his work, even if it comes at a cost to his nascent romance with international model, Tom Gray. After all, Tom has a history of wandering but crime is a constant in London. And Will has committed himself to the Met.

But when a murder in a Soho walkup leads Will into the world of corruption, he finds himself forced to investigate his own friends and colleagues. Now the place he turned for redemption seems to be built upon lies and betrayal. And someone is more than willing to resort to murder to keep it that way.

Rating: Narration – A; Content – A

Sometimes you read or listen to a book you intend to review and then sit staring at the screen wondering how the hell you can possibly encapsulate what you just experienced in a review and do the book justice. This is one of those times, because Blue on Blue, the third instalment in Dal Maclean’s incredible Bitter Legacy trilogy just… blew me away. In fact, every book in this series of complex, gripping, superbly written and expertly narrated romantic mystery/procedural/suspense novels has done that, and the series as a whole is easily one of the very finest of its kind.

Note: Blue on Blue is the third book in a trilogy and doesn’t really work as a standalone. There are spoilers for the earlier books in this review.

Newly returned to the Metropolitan Police, Detective Inspector Will Foster is doing the job he loves and has, for the past nine months, been living with the love of his life, Tom Grey, postgraduate student and part-time model. (Their story leading up to this point is told, from Tom’s PoV, in Object of Desire). Blue on Blue, which is told from Will’s PoV, opens with Will and his colleagues attending the funeral of an officer who was shot in the line of duty and then, somewhat incongruously, moving on to the party being held to celebrate the engagement of DI James Henderson to Ben Morgan (Bitter Legacy). He’s on his own – Tom is in LA on a modelling job and Will is finding their separation a bit tough, especially as he’s started to receive anonymous texts containing photographs of Tom with another man – obviously another model – in moments of relaxed intimacy. On edge at the party, Will is almost relieved to get a shout – a young woman has been found dead in a Soho walk-up, and the South Kensington MIT (Murder Inverstigation Team) is still on rotation so it’s Will’s case.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

Wayward (Hazard and Somerset: A Union of Swords #4) by Gregory Ashe

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Emery Hazard is trying to plan his wedding, even though his fiancé, John-Henry Somerset, isn’t exactly making things easy for him. To be fair, Somers has been distracted lately; his father is running for mayor in a hotly contested election, and their hometown is splintering under the weight of divisive politics.

In a matter of hours, those poisonous politics invade Hazard’s life in a way he couldn’t have imagined. Glenn Somerset, Somers’s father, shows up on their doorstep, and he wants two things: first, for Hazard to neutralize a blackmail threat; and second, for Somers temporarily to move out of the house he shares with Hazard, part of public relations stunt to win the election. To Hazard’s shock, Somers agrees.

Determined to lose himself in his work, Hazard takes on a missing person’s case, but his investigation only leads him deeper into the tangled web of small-town politics. To find the truth, he must face off with the viciously rich who rule Wahredua—and with the poor, desperate, and marginalized, who fight just as viciously in their own way.

When Hazard’s investigation uncovers a murder, he is forced to work with Somers to bring the killer to justice, despite their fractured relationship. But the sudden news that Hazard’s father is failing fast threatens to put an untimely end to the case—and, in doing so, jeopardize Somers’s last-ditch effort to repair his relationship with his own father.

Rating: A

Having written over a dozen reviews of Gregory Ashe’s books over the last couple of years, I really am running out of ways to express just how damn good they are!  So forgive me for repeating myself when I say that Wayward, book four in the second Hazard and Somerset series, A Union of Swords is another fantastic combination of tightly-plotted, twisty mystery and complex and compelling romantic relationship which Mr. Ashe continues to examine with laser-sharp insight.  The wry observation, humour, snarky dialogue and fantastic storytelling readers have come to expect from this author are all present and correct in this penultimate instalment of the series, as our two favourite dysfunctional detectives – now an engaged couple – struggle with many of the same day-to-day relationship issues as the rest of us while working hard to clean up the streets of Wahredua. *grin*

The last book, Transactional Dymanics, really put Hazard and Somers’ relationship to the test, with the re-appearance of Hazard’s abusive ex and the resurgence of Somers’ tendency to retreat into a bottle as an avoidance tactic.  It’s always hard to read them when they’re at odds and hurting each other as they work through their issues, but there’s always the sense that they’re bound together by a  bedrock of love and committment that keeps them firmly anchored to each other.  By the end of that book, they’re back on an even keel and as much in love as ever.  But this is Gregory Ashe, and if you’ve got this far, you’ll know all too well that that tends to signal the calm before the storm 😉

Wayward begins a few weeks after Transactional Dynamics and Hazard is grumbling about wedding plans as he and Somers spend a relaxed evening with their neighbours Noah and Rebecca, and their friendship group – Dulac and Darnell, Wesley (the local pastor) and his girlfriend, Mitchell Martin – who narrowly escaped the Keeper of Bees in The Rational Faculty – and even Nico, who I was really pleased to see growing up and acting like a proper friend in this book.  But we’re not allowed to bask in their domesticity for too long; a day later, after an exhausting day during which he and Dulac were asked to handle an upsetting custody exchange, Somers’ father shows up to throw several cats in among the pigeons.

Glennworth Somerset is front-runner in the upcoming mayoral elections (the lesser of two evils – it’s him or Naomi Malsho!) and wants to hire Hazard to find out who is behind the blackmail threats he’s begun to get recently.  Hazard is reluctant, but Somerset Snr. reminds him of a deal they struck a while back – and he’s calling in the debt.  But that’s not the only debt he’s collecting.  With the election just two weeks away, he reminds John of an agreement they reached (most likely over the loan to start Hazard’s business) and asks Somers to  temporarily move out of the house he shares with Hazard in an attempt to sway undecided voters who don’t like the idea of having a mayor with a queer son.  Knowing how many times Somers has raised the figurative finger to his parents, or told his father to plain fuck off, Hazard waits to hear it this time.  And waits.  But what he’s forgotten to take into account is that Somers, while having spent most of his life rebelling against his father, nonetheless craves his approval – and Somers, knowing it’s just a stunt and that nothing about it is real, misreads the situation and doesn’t say no.  Furious, hurt and utterly disgusted, Hazard storms out in an attempt to calm down – and returns home to find Somers already gone.

The day after Somers moves out, a young woman enters Hazard’s office saying she wants to hire him to find her missing sister.  Something about Courtney Vega is familiar, and Hazard realises that the sister she wants to find – Donna May Plenge – is none other than the antifa activist who disrupted the tree-lighting ceremony last Christmas and assaulted and threatened to kill a police officer (Police Brutality).  Donna has a history of sudden disappearances but she has always – so far – returned to Wahredua, and this last time, she made it clear she intended to stay for good, because she was going to stick around for her four-year-old daughter, Dolores, and possibly get back together with Dolores’ father, Josh Dobbs, the son of a local well-to-do family.  Dolores had, until recently been living with Donna’s parents, and is the little girl Somers and Dulac had to escort from her grandparent’s home the day before.  But Donna has disappeared again, and Courtney doesn’t believe she’s simply run off this time.

The mystery is complicated and of course nothing is as it seems.  None of the leads Courtney gives Hazard pan out; Donna isn’t at any of her local haunts, the last people to see her are all telling similar but not-quite-the-same stories, and it quickly becomes apparent that he’s been sent on a wild goose chase.  When a hunch leads him to find Donna’s body hidden in the boathouse on the grounds of the Dobbs’ residence, it’s time to call the cops.

The involvement of Somers (and Dulac) in the murder investigation sees Hazard and Somers having to find a way to work together, which isn’t easy, given that Hazard is still furious at Somers and hardly speaking to him.  At the same time, Hazard is working on the job he agreed to do for Somers’ father, and when his enquiries lead him to a bit of late night B&E, Somers insists on tagging along. This leads to one of the best scenes in the book, when the two of them slip effortlessly into their old patterns of working together.  It’s glorious and silly and funny and perfect; they’re feeling the old, familiar rhythm between them, and it’s the best either of them has felt in days.

The mystery is solved and the blackmailer is found  by the end, but as always in this series, Hazard and Somers and their complicated, angsty relationship are the big draw, and wow, is Gregory Ashe delivering an amazing story there.  I admit that when I read the synopsis for Wayward I worried I was going to end up disliking Somers (much as I love Hazard, Somers is my boy!) but that never happened, because Mr. Ashe does a superb job of not taking sides, showing that they’re both wrong and both right.  Somers doesn’t immediately see why what he’s agreed to is a big deal – he and Hazard are going to spend the rest of their lives together, so in the grand scheme of things, living apart for two weeks isn’t a long time.  It doesn’t take Somers long to realise he’s made a serious error of judgement, but Hazard’s refusal to communicate or engage makes it impossible for any attempt at hashing everything out.  The rumours about their ‘break-up’ being permanent which quickly start to circulate don’t help the situation, and only add to Hazard’s already big pile of insecurities.  Hazard sees Somers’ willingness to do as his father asks as a personal rejection and betrayal of everything they’ve built together, and on top of the hurt and fear and low self-esteem that’s been fostered by scumbags like Billy Rolker, the events of the previous summer and his continued refusal to admit to or get treatment for his PTSD, are making it harder and harder for Hazard to control his temper and his emotions. It’s like trying to keep a faulty lid on a pressure cooker; steam is leaking out around the edges and it’s only a matter of time until it blows.  And right now, that’s Emery Hazard.  His tendency to retreat inside himself and shut everyone out when his emotions start to get the better of him is increasing, in spite of his promise to try to be more open, so here, he just shuts down and shuts John out – and watching him spiralling out of control and getting so dangerously close to the edge in this book was a heart-breaking punch to the gut (please, Mr. Ashe, let him get some therapy soon!).

This is probably the closest the couple has come to a real split, and there are times it’s really difficult to see how they’re ever going to be able to pull back from the brink.  Yet scenes like the one I mentioned earlier really do help both of them to remember why they’re so good together, and a slow but solid rapprochement begins.

The other thread running through the story is one about father/son relationships.  Readers got some insight into Somers’ family dynamic in Paternity Case; he was something of a rebel, marrying Cora against his parents’ wishes, becoming a police officer instead of going to law school; he thumbed his nose at his parents every way he could, and yet it was also clear that he desperately wanted validation from his father.  In Reasonable Doubt, we met Frank Hazard, who is dying from cancer, and while the Hazard men’s relationship is different, the underlying theme of wanting a father’s approval isn’t too dissimilar.

And in the end, it’s family and those fraught relationships that finally seal the cracks in Hazard and Somers’ bruised hearts and battered relationship.  A family emergency forces some soul-searching and re-evaluation of what it means to be a family, and by the end of the novel – and in a lovely and somewhat whimsical final scene – Hazard and Somers recommit to each other all over again.

On top of all this, Darnell and Dulac are still on-off, Somers makes an unsettling discovery and the Keeper of Bees is still out there, just waiting to strike again.  Hazard is no closer to working out their identity (and neither are we) and I’m sure that by now, we’re all scrutinising the actions of every other character in each book and wondering if it could be them! (I have no idea, but I’m notoriously bad at working out whodunit!)

Wayward has plenty of the humour and snarky banter that are the hallmarks of the series – and the author’s work in general – but Emery and John spend a lot of the book on the outs, and it’s hard to read them hurting and wounding each other so badly.  But – and I know I’ve said this before – Gregory Ashe’s ability to focus in on what makes both men and their relationship tick is incredible, and the fact that he can pull off a story like this and make it so relatable and convincing is testament to his skill as an author.  If you’ve come this far with Ree and John, then you won’t want to miss this instalment in the Union of Swords series; just prepare yourself for a bumpy ride.

Redeeming the Reclusive Earl by Virginia Heath

This title may be purchased from Amazon

His heart is a fortress.

And she’s trespassing!

After losing all he holds dear in a horrific fire, Max Aldersley, Earl of Rivenhall, shuns the world – until he catches Effie Nithercott digging holes on his estate! He banishes the intrepid archaeologist and the unsettled feelings she rouses within him. But she returns even more determined and infuriatingly desirable than before! He wonders just how deep she is prepared to dig – so far she’ll reach the man beneath his scars…?

Rating: A-

Another winner from Virginia Heath in the form of this lovely, funny, warm and sexy grumpy-reclusive-hero-meets-breath-of-fresh-air-heroine story that is easily one of the best historical romances I’ve read in a while.

Badly injured in a ship-board fire he barely survived, and then unceremoniously dumped by his beautiful but shallow fiancée, Max Aldersley, Earl of Rivenhall, has holed up on his Cambridgeshire estate, and intends to remain there, licking his wounds (metaphorically) for… well, ever, if he has his own way.  The last thing he wants is to find himself distracted from his wallowing by a breeches-wearing, challenging and rather lovely female who insists on digging up bits of his land in the name of archaeology – and he tells his irritating trespasser so in no uncertain terms.

Miss Effie Nithercott has dedicated her life to the study of antiquities, and is dismayed at the prospect of having to discontinue her work.  She’s nearly thirty and unmarried – the man she had planned to marry was killed in the war – and she has resigned herself to spinsterhood and a life spent in academic pursuits.  Her dream is to have one of her papers published by the Society of Antiquities, but they will not even look at her work because she’s a woman; even so, she continues to write and send them… and to receive them back unopened.

She refuses to give up her dig without a fight, and in the face of yet another refusal, starts digging alone in the dark – and Max eventually gives in, citing the threat to her personal safety as the reason, and allows her to continue with her excavations in the daylight. Not long afterwards, she finds herself entertaining a lordly guest who just happens to come by “accidentally” every day to share her lunch, listen to her talk about her discoveries and whom she manages to persuade to wield a pick-axe on occasion.

Virginia Heath has penned a lovely, slow-burn romance full of chemistry, affection, tenderness and teasing between two people who have found themselves on the outside through no fault of their own. Effie is neuroatypical;  her mind is always on the go, she has a huge thirst and capacity for knowledge and she’s possessed of an eidetic memory.  She’s known she was ‘odd’ all her life; men have been attracted to her, but have been intimidated by the intelligence she’s unable to hide.  She can’t simper and flirt as other women do, she’s too much herself to try to be anything she is not and she speaks her mind, often without thinking first; none of these qualities men look for in a wife.

Max, however, is fascinated by Effie’s mind and the way it works.  He’s physically attracted to her, too, but her inquisitiveness and amazing capacity for joy in her work delight him.  He’s reluctant to let her in, to tell her about and let her see all the ways the fire he survived damaged him inside and out; but as he begins to see and understand the obstacles she has faced – and continues to face – he slowly starts to let her in.  I cheered at the moment when Effie calls Max on his wallowing, and reminds him that he has far more choices in life than she does – and again later, when he finally understands what she’s been telling him:

The world was made for men and brutally unfair to a woman as brilliant as her.

One of the things I really enjoyed about the book is the way the author imbues it with a feminist message without hitting readers over the head with it.  Effie is unusual and rather eccentric, but her quirkiness is a properly established character trait, and not just a way for her to go around telling everyone how unconventional she is.  Another is that Effie absolutely refuses to pity Max for his scars or for what caused them and what happened after.  She understands a terrible thing happened to him, and helps him to see that:

“We all have a choice, Max. We can either fact it fighting or let it beat us and win.”

I was also pleased at the way Max’s sister, Eleanor is portrayed.  Often, a character such as she is interfering and annoying,  but here, it’s very clear that Eleanor (and okay, so she is one for interfering!) loves her brother very much – she leaves her own family for weeks at a time because she’s worried about him – and wants him to be happy.  I liked her kindness and sense of humour, and the friendship that developed between her and Effie.

Redeeming the Reclusive Earl is a gorgeously romantic, sensual love story featuring two lonely souls who are perfect one another.

Syncopation (Twisted Wishes #1) by Anna Zabo (audiobook) – Narrated by Greg Boudreaux

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

Twisted Wishes front man Ray Van Zeller is in one hell of a tight spot. After a heated confrontation with his bandmate goes viral, Ray is hit with a PR nightmare the fledgling band so doesn’t need. But his problems only multiply when they snag a talented new drummer – insufferably sexy Zavier Demos, the high school crush Ray barely survived.

Zavier’s kept a casual eye on Twisted Wishes for years, and lately, he likes what he sees. What he doesn’t like is how out of control Ray seems – something Zavier’s aching to correct after their first pulse-pounding encounter. If Ray’s up for the challenge.

Despite the prospect of a glorious sexual encore, Ray is reluctant to trust Zavier with his band – or his heart. And Zavier has always had big dreams; this gig was supposed to be temporary. But touring together has opened their eyes to new passions and new possibilities, making them rethink their commitments, both to the band and to each other.

Rating: Narration – A+; Content: B+

Anna Zabo’s Twisted Wishes series centres around the four-person rock group of the same name which, in this first book, is poised to make the big-time. Book one, Syncopation, is a really enjoyable, very sexy story; the band members are all interesting and clearly drawn, and the author does a great job of describing the claustrophobic atmosphere of life on the road, the thrills and utter exhilaration of live performance (and the exhaustion that follows) and the dedication and hard work that have got Twisted Wishes to this point in its career.

When the book opens, however, the band has hit a rather large snag. Their drummer has just quit following a public row between him and front man Ray Van Zeller, and a video – together with screaming headlines like DRUNKEN VAN ZELLER ATTACKS SCHMIDT AS TWISTED WISHES IMPLODES – has just hit the media sites. The band’s manager, Carl (who it’s clear from the outset, has it in for Ray for some reason), wants Ray to take the fall and blame the fight on an alcohol problem he doesn’t have, but Kevin’s departure leaves the band with a far more pressing problem. Just weeks away from going on tour as a support act to a major band, they’re without a drummer – and need to find one asap.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.