The Long Game (Game Changers #6) by Rachel Reid (audiobook) – Narrated by Cooper North

the long game

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

To the world they are rivals, but to each other they are everything.

Ten years.

That’s how long Shane Hollander and Ilya Rozanov have been seeing each other. How long they’ve been keeping their relationship a secret. From friends, from family…from the league. If Shane wants to stay at the top of his game, what he and Ilya share has to remain secret. He loves Ilya, but what if going public ruins everything?

Ilya is sick of secrets. Shane has gotten so good at hiding his feelings, sometimes Ilya questions if they even exist. The closeness, the intimacy, even the risk that would come with being open about their relationship…Ilya wants it all.

It’s time for them to decide what’s most important—hockey or love.

It’s time to make a call.

Rating: Narration – A; Content – A

The Long Game, the sixth intstalment in Rachel Reid’s Game Changers series of hockey romances is one of my most highly anticipated books of 2022 – and I’m delighted to say that not only did it meet all my expectations, it exceeded them. It’s the sequel to Heated Rivalry, the story that introduced us to top- flight players Shane Hollander and Ilya Rozunov who, despite their highly publicised reputation as intense rivals who hate each other’s guts, had in fact been carrying on a years-long affair in secret. By the end of that book, their relationship – which began as hook-ups when they were both in the same place at the same time – has evolved into a deep and abiding love, but they decide to continue to keep things under wraps for the foreseeable future – at least while they’re still playing hockey at the highest level. Coming out as queer is going to be difficult enough, but for two players whose professional rivalry is legendary to reveal that they’re in love with each other is going to need really careful handling when they decide to go public.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

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.

Temporary Partner (Valor & Doyle #1) by Nicky James

This title may be purchased from Amazon

Can two rivals work together to solve a case?

When an infant is taken from his carriage in broad daylight, missing persons detective, Quaid Valor, must race against the clock to find the child and bring him safely home to his family. Unfortunately, Quaid’s partner isn’t available, and his team is spread thin. Begrudgingly, Quaid must accept the help from his rival, homicide detective Aslan Doyle, if he wants to get the job done.

Aslan is Quaid’s opposite in every way. He’s bold, outspoken, arrogant, and the office playboy. And much to Quaid’s chagrin, Aslan seems to have set his sights on Quaid as his next conquest.

Quaid doesn’t have time to deal with Aslan’s flirty behavior when he’s trying to solve a case and juggle his cheating ex’s incessant interruptions.

It doesn’t matter how attractive Aslan is or the undeniable chemistry they seem to have. Getting involved with Aslan would be a huge mistake.

But as tension with the case builds, Quaid keeps forgetting he’s supposed to hate this new partner. Maybe Aslan is exactly the kind of distraction he needs.

Temporarily at least.

Right?

Rating: A-

Temporary Partner, the first book in a new series of romantic mysteries from Nicky James, features two rival detectives who team up to solve a missing persons case.  It’s a thoroughly entertaining read and I raced through it in a couple of sittings; it’s fast-paced, tightly-plotted and the sexual tension between the two leads is off-the-charts.

In the short prequel, Department Rivals (available through the author’s newsletter), we were introduced to detectives Quaid Valor of the Missing Persons Unit and Aslan Doyle (yes, his mother was a Narnia fan!) from Homicide.  There’s a long-standing and not at all friendly rivalry between Homicide and the MPU at the Toronto Police Service, and in that story, the higher-ups arrange a team-building exercise in which a detective from one division partners with a detective from the other in order to solve a case-like puzzle.  Of course, the department playboy – Doyle – is partnered with the standoffish, anally-retentive Valor, and while neither is impressed with the other, they’re rather annoyed to find they work surprisingly well together.  It’s not absolutely necessary to read that first, but it’s a quick read and a fun introduction to the characters.

Temporary Partner opens a few months later when Quaid is called in after a five-month-old baby goes missing, snatched from the back-yard of his very well-to-do family home.  Time is of the essence in these cases and Quaid needs to get the ball rolling quickly, but his regular partner is currently on leave dealing with a family situation and all the other detectives in the MPU are on assignment so Quaid’s boss requests help from other departments – which is how come Aslan Doyle ends up working the case. Quaid isn’t best pleased – but it’s Doyle or no-one if he wants to find little Matthieu and return him to his parents safe and sound.

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

The Long Game (Game Changers #6) by Rachel Reid

the long game

This title may be purchased from Amazon

To the world they are rivals, but to each other they are everything.

Ten years.

That’s how long Shane Hollander and Ilya Rozanov have been seeing each other. How long they’ve been keeping their relationship a secret. From friends, from family…from the league. If Shane wants to stay at the top of his game, what he and Ilya share  has;to remain secret. He loves Ilya, but what if going public ruins everything?

Ilya is sick of secrets. Shane has gotten so good at hiding his feelings, sometimes Ilya questions if they even exist. The closeness, the intimacy, even the risk that would come with being open about their relationship…Ilya wants it all.

It’s time for them to decide what’s most important—hockey or love.

It’s time to make a call.

Rating: A

Note: As this book is both a sequel and the finale to a long-running series, there will be spoilers for earlier books in this review.

Rachel Reid’s The Long Game is the final book in her Game Changers series of romances set in the world of professional hockey – and, most importantly, the long and eagerly awaited conclusion of the epic love story between Shane Hollander and Ilya Rozanov begun in the second book, Heated Rivalry.  If you, like me, are a fan, you’re going to need no encouragement from me to rush to buy this one as soon as it’s available, so I suppose what you really want to know is – does The Long Game deliver everything we’ve been waiting for?  I’m pleased to be able to give an unequivocal “yes” in answer; Rachel Reid has done herself, her readers and these two much loved characters proud with a story that brings Shane and Ilya’s romance to a wonderfully romantic and emotionally satisfying conclusion while not shying away from showing that their journey has been far from easy and their HEA is hard won.

Heated Rivalry charted the progression of the relationship between rival hockey stars Shane Hollander and Ilya Rozanov, whose on-the-ice animosity translated into an explosive sexual attraction off of it.  Over the course of seven years, their relationship slowly morphed from one based on mutual lust and convenience, hooking up whenever they happened to be in the same place at the same time, to one based on deep affection, understanding and love.  At the end of the book, Shane and Ilya have decided to keep their relationship under wraps for the moment; coming out as queer is going to be difficult enough given the homophobia surrounding professional sports, but for two players whose intense rivalry has become legendary to own up to being in a relationship with each other… well, that’s going to need some really careful handling when they decide to go public.  As a way of trying to show that their animosity isn’t quite as strong as the media paints it, they start a mental health charity in memory of – and named after – Ilya’s mother, who suffered from depression and took her own life when Ilya was just twelve, and together, they run summer hockey camps for kids as one method of fundraising.  This at least means they get to spend a bit of time together each summer away from the media spotlight, even if they can’t be open about what they are to each other quite yet.  Also, Ilya decided to move from the top-flight team he was playing for in Boston to the Ottawa Centaurs, the least successful team in the NHL, to be nearer to Shane’s base in Montreal so they’d be able to spend a little time together during the gruelling hockey season.

By the time The Long Game opens, Shane and Ilya have been together for almost ten years (if you count the ‘hook-up’ years) – and Ilya is finding the hiding and secrecy and the loneliness of long periods apart increasingly hard to manage.  He and Shane are as deeply in love and committed to each other as ever, but with Shane at the top of his game and playing for the best team in the league, Ilya is beginning to fear that perhaps they’re going to have to wait another ten years before they can truly begin making a life together.  After all, they’re only twenty-nine, and realistically could be looking at another decade before retirement.  That’s not to say that Shane likes the situation either, and it’s absolutely clear that he loves Ilya with all his heart, but he’s in a very different place, both professionally and personally, and is able to face the prospect of ten more years of sneaking around more easily than Ilya is.  Except of course, they don’t really talk about it much because during the hockey season they get so little time together that neither of them wants to ‘spoil’ those stolen moments by bringing up the huge elephant in the room.

I think it’s fair to say that Ilya Rozanov has probably become the series’ stand-out, most-beloved character, and while Heated Rivalry felt like it was (mostly) ‘Shane’s book’, The Long Game definitely feels like Ilya’s.  He’s larger-than-life, always ready with a snarky comeback and doesn’t much care what others think of him – he’s got a reputation as a bit of an arsehole, although those closest to him know he’s a truly good person underneath it all, that behind the smart mouth and sardonic attitude lies a man with a heart of gold who feels things very deeply.  He’s still the Ilya we know and love, but in this book, we get to see a much softer, more vulnerable side of him that we’ve only briefly glimpsed before, and it tugs at the heartstrings to watch him face up to the fact that he’s not doing so well, realising just how much he’s put into keeping the relationship going and wondering just how much he has left to give. Shane, too, is trying to do his best to balance the personal and the professional, but his fear of losing everything he’s worked so hard for blinds him to the toll the secrets and lies are taking on the man he loves.  In the end, both men will have to face some hard truths and make some serious adjustments if they’re going to make it in the long run.

If you’ve been following the series, then you’ll already know that the timeline of The Long Game overlaps somewhat with that of Role Model, so we get to see Ilya’s reaction to Troy’s arrival and a little of their developing friendship from Ilya’s PoV (and yes, The Plane Incident, too).  I also liked the way Ms. Reid contrasts the two teams – the Montreal Voyagers may be the best team in the league, but when it comes to management styles and interpersonal skills, they’re crap – dictatorial and overbearing –  while at Ottowa, the opposite is true; their manager is a decent guy who treats his players like human beings and fosters a sense of team spirit and camaraderie that, while it may not bring the big wins, nonetheless makes for a much more positive environment.

I don’t want to say much more and risk spoiling the book, so I’ll end by saying that the author does a wonderful job here with relationship and character development while also making sure that Shane and Ilya remain very much ‘them’ – Ilya, cocky yet endearing, Shane adorably modest and just a bit of a stickler – and in presenting the challenges they’re facing in a realistic way.  The Long Game is full of genuine poignancy and emotion – from the deepest love and affection to heartache, and everything in between – charming moments of domesticity, scorching sex scenes, and the humour, good-natured competitiveness and snarky banter we’ve all come to love.  It delivers everything I wanted for Shane and Ilya and more, and is an early contender for my Best of 2022 list.  Thanks, Rachel, for giving these boys the fantastic send-off they so richly deserve.

A Stroke of Brilliance (Arcane Hearts #2) by Nazri Noor (audiobook) – Narrated by Zachary Johnson

a stroke of brilliance

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

The fragrance of chaos. The flavor of terror. The color of madness.

Jackson Pryde and Xander Wright are loving a life of hunting and harvesting rare reagents wherever the Black Market travels. But a routine trip to visit Japanese tree spirits turns up something sinister: Two crystal shards, embedded in the bodies of wild animals. They’re familiar, glimmering, violet…like splinters of amethyst.

But that’s not all. Two rival guilds are in strife, Jack and Xander caught in a crossfire of spells and slander. SEER and its hundred eyes are still watching their every move. And then there’s the matter of meeting Xander’s parents, perhaps Jackson’s deadliest challenge to date.

The Chrysanthemyst’s return is the least of their problems.

Rating: Narration – A-; Content – B+

Nazri Noor’s Arcane Hearts series of snarky, sexy, action-packed urban fantasy novels continues with A Stroke of Brilliance, which picks up shortly after A Touch of Fever ends. In that book, the author did a great job of setting up and introducing listeners to the fascinating and imaginative universe of the Black Market – a dimension that travels from place to place, enabling its inhabitants to go through portals into ‘our’ world – of creating a couple of complex, likeable leads and of setting up an intriguing overarching plotline for the series.

Note: There are spoilers for AToF in this review.

The series’ PoV character is Jackson Pryde, a smart-talking artificer whose parents were killed in an explosion that also destroyed the entirety of the Artificer’s Guild. Artificers are born without much magical ability but with the talent for creating devices that amplify the little magic they have, and Jackson, who still feels his loss keenly but mostly covers it up with layers of wise-assery, is now working on something he hopes will restore his fortunes as well as a more widespread respect for the craft. For years, Jackson has been at loggerheads with his former best friend, Xander Wright, a mage destined for incandescence (a state achieved only by the most powerful); but after teaming up to solve several murders, Jackson and Xander rediscovered their friendship and finally admitted and acted on the frustrated attraction which had been simmering between them for so long.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

Flare (Style #1) by Jay Hogan

Flare

This title may be purchased from Amazon

My own fashion label. The shiny new sign above the door means everything. My dream. My life. Worth every gruelling hour I’ve spent making it happen. Nothing can stop me now. Not the fear. Not the nightmares. Not my sad excuse for a love life. And certainly not Beckett Northcott, the sexy English professor who wouldn’t know a fitted shirt if it slapped him in the face and who has flannel down to an art form.

I don’t date for a very good reason, and yet Beck makes me want to break every damn one of my rules. But with my debut at Fashion Week looming, my business in trouble, and Beckett Northcott peeling open my terrified heart to a future I’ve never imagined, the threads of my carefully woven life are unravelling at the seams.

I could walk away. Or I could take a chance that Beck and I might just have what it takes to fashion a new life, together. A fresh design from a new cloth.

Rating: A-

Jay Hogan marks the beginning of her new Style series with Flare, a story set in the world of high fashion  featuring talented up-and-coming designer Rhys Hellier and Beckett Northcott, an English professor who wouldn’t recognise haute couture if it asked him out for a drink and then got up and danced on the bar.  It’s an odd-couple pairing but it works brilliantly, the author’s trademark mixture of warmth, humour and heartfelt emotion combining to create an immensely satisfying romance between two people with a lot of baggage to unpack.

Rhys is thirty-four and has worked hard to make a name for himself on the New Zealand fashion scene.  After learning his craft working for a prestigious label, he’s going it alone with his own boutique – Flare – and label of the same name.  Running a business, designing, establishing himself and getting ready for the upcoming Fashion Week leaves little room in his life for anything else, but he loves what he does and is absolutely committed to making Flare a success.

One afternoon, Rhys returns from a coffee run to discover that his assistant Kip has caught a teenaged boy attempting to steal some jewellery from the shop.  The police officer called in tells Rhys the boy’s uncle – whom he lives with – is on the way, and also that she believes the lad – Jack – when he says he’s never done anything like this before.  While they wait for Jack’s uncle to arrive, Rhys suggests that, as this is a first offence, perhaps it would be better to have Jack make amends by working in the shop for a few hours a week after school than charge him with theft and put him into the system.  Rhys has just put the idea to Jack when his uncle arrives – and Rhys is rendered temporarily speechless.  Beckett Northcott is absolutely not the sort of guy Rhys usually goes for, but something about this big, broad-shouldered man with the scruffy beard, nondescript, ill-fitting clothes and the beautiful eyes  completely captivates him – and It’s been a long, long time since Rhys has felt such a strong pull of attraction to anyone.

Beck, an English professor at the local university, has recently become guardian to his sixteen-year-old nephew following his sister’s imprisonment for stealing thousands of pounds from her employer.   Jack is understandably a mess of emotions, full of anger and resentment towards his mother for caring so little about him that she’d do something so stupid, angry at himself for still loving her, and he’s acting out, the attempt at shoplifting just one way of trying to work through his feelings.  Beck sees all this and recognises it – he’s just as furious at his sister’s selfishness as Jack is – but is trying to do the best for Jack in difficult circumstances.  He agrees to the idea of Jack working at Flare after school, and can’t deny that the chance to see the store’s gorgeous owner again won’t exactly be a hardship.

Rhys and Beck are likeable, well-rounded characters who are complex, flawed and very real.  Rhys is a survivor of sexual assault (see note below), who has refused to let it hold him back; he’s tough, resilient and determined to succeed, but has never really processed what happened to him, instead locking it away and acquiring a variety of coping mechanisms that enable him to compartmentalise and control his life – but which can’t keep the bad memories at bay all the time.  One of those mechanisms has been a no-relationship rule; casual sex and one night stands are things he can control, and the one time he did try something more, it blew up in his face, his partner eventually becoming fed up with Rhys’ unpredictability and unwilling to give him the time and space he needed to feel comfortable with different ways of sexual interaction.

Rhys has vowed never to get involved with anyone again, but something about Beck tempts him to break all his self-imposed rules.  Beck’s quiet strength, his gentleness and understanding make Rhys feel safe in ways he’s never experienced before – but is letting him in worth the risk of heartache when Beck decides Rhys has too much baggage and just isn’t worth the trouble?  That Rhys and ‘normal’ aren’t words that belong in the same sentence?

In Flare, Jay Hogan has created a wonderful, sexy, slow-burn romance with chemistry so strong it leaps off the page, as, after a couple of false starts, Rhys acknowledges that he doesn’t want to spend the rest of his life letting his past trauma interfere with his chance to be loved, and decides to take a leap of faith and go for it with Beck.  It’s not plain sailing – and Rhys’ blow hot/blow cold attitude is somewhat frustrating – but Beck, the big marshmallow with a love of flannel and romantic poetry, is there for him all the way, ready to catch him if he falls and to provide a safe space for him to begin to face and deal with his issues.  As is always the case in books by this author, the romance is beautifully written and developed, full of humour, insight and poignancy, and it’s clear that she’s taken great care to treat Rhys’ situation with sensitivity and respect.

The vibrant supporting characters add depth and richness to the story; I suspect sassy Kip and Rhys’ long-time friend, photographer Hunter, will feature in their own stories later in the series, and I really hope we’ll see more of Jack and his friend Drew, a young trans man for whom Rhys provides the safe and non-judgmental space he doesn’t have at home.

There’s an interesting secondary plotline running through the story that begins when Rhys discovers that someone has stolen one of his most successful designs and is now producing cheap copies.  I liked the insight into the workings of the fashion industry this provides and it certainly amps up the tension and intrigue in the story – but there’s an event near the end that felt like overkill; Rhys and Beck have a lot to overcome (Beck has his demons, too) and their emotional journey provides plenty of tension and drama on its own, which made this particular event feel a little redundant.

That’s my only criticism however, and it didn’t in any way detract from my overall enjoyment.  Flare is another terrific story from the pen of this talented author; a compelling tale of love and healing featuring well-developed characters , a close-knit family of blood and of the heart, and plenty of sass, humour and feels.  I thoroughly enjoyed it and am eagerly looking forward to the next in the series.

Note:  The prologue describes the lead up to a sexual assault, which, while not graphic, is distressing to read;  the assault is referred to throughout the novel. There are also instances of homophobic and transphobic language.

His Compass (His #2) by Con Riley (audiobook) – Narrated by Cornell Collins

his compass

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

Tom has one rule: Don’t sleep with the crew. A second chance with a younger, gorgeous deckhand tempts him to break it.

After a busy season as a charter-hire skipper, Tom yearns for some downtime. His lonely heart also aches for adventure with someone special, but paying his bills has to come first. A surprise sailing contract and huge bonus offer his first glimpse of freedom for years. There’s only one catch: he must crew with Nick, a deckhand who jumped ship once already.

Nick’s as young and untested as the new yacht they’re contracted to sail, and he’s just as gorgeous. Forced to spend a month as Nick’s captain, Tom discovers depths he hadn’t noticed. He’s captivated, and happier sailing with Nick than he’s been in forever. However, their voyage is finite, and both men keep soul-deep secrets.

As the contract draws to an end, they must get honest about what’s in their hearts if they want to share a life at sea, and love, forever.

Rating: Narration – B; Content – A-

Con Riley’s His trilogy continues with His Compass, a May/December, forced proximity romance between a forty-something charter-hire skipper and his younger crewmate. The characters are beautifully drawn and their romance is nuanced and emotional; I loved the book when I read it back in 2021 and was only too pleased to be able to experience it all over again in audio.

Tom Kershaw has spent most of his life at sea, and now works as a skipper on a luxury charter yacht. He appeared briefly in the previous book (His Horizon) when he made an unscheduled stop at Porthperrin in Cornwall in order to return his deckhand Jude home to deal with a family emergency. Tom thought highly of Jude and was fond of him, but sadly, Jude’s replacement was something of a disaster; lazy, messy and unreliable, Nick might have been sociable and great with the guests, but he never finished a task he was given and his claims of growing up around boats and crewing from a young age were clearly lies, as he couldn’t do any of the jobs Tom needed him to. Then one day, he just up and left without a word, leaving Tom in the lurch.

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.

Father Complex (Hazard and Somerset: Arrows in the Hand #4) by Gregory Ashe

father complex

This title may be purchased from Amazon

Having a father can be hard. Being a good one might be even harder.

The call-out for the double homicide, when it comes, is a strange one: two men gunned down in a motel room, no witnesses, no real clues. Even stranger, the men were enemies, and no one seems to know why they were in that motel room together. And stranger still, people won’t stop calling John-Henry Somerset, telling him he needs to find some answers—preferably nice, easy ones—fast.

Hazard and Somers set out to learn what happened, but they quickly find themselves mired in shifting factions: the ultraconservative political machine of the Ozark Volunteers; a liberal activist group protesting the local gun show; a reclusive fundamentalist church; even a hint of Mexican drug cartels. The further they press their investigation, the clearer it becomes that the killer—or killers—wants something, and they’ll stop at nothing to get it.

As Hazard and Somers struggle to find the truth, they face trouble at home as well. Their foster-son, Colt, has received a letter from his estranged father, the same man who attacked Colt and Somers in their home. Worse, Colt seems open to more communication, which leaves Hazard grappling with his fears for Colt and his helplessness against a world that seems to be conspiring to take his foster-son away.

But when a pair of gunmen come after Hazard at home, two things are crystal clear: he’s going to get to the bottom of these murders, and he’ll do anything to keep his family together.

Rating: A

Note:  This book is part of a long-running series which really needs to be read in order; there are spoilers for earlier books in this review.

With Father Complex, we’re heading into the home straight of this third Hazard and Somerset series, Hazard and Somerset: Arrows in the Hand.  The guys have been through a significant number of major life changes since we first met them; the original series saw them uneasily reconnecting after more than a decade, starting to work through the various issues between them and – eventually – falling in love.  In A Union of Swords, they’re adjusting to life as a couple with all its ups and downs,  learning how to be in a relationship and then getting married; and in Arrows in the Hand they return from their honeymoon to find themselves becoming ‘insta-parents’ to a troubled teen and working – not always successfully – to redefine and remake their family unit.  There are never any easy answers – these are complex, flawed, very human characters with individual baggage that often has a very real impact on their relationship and family dynamics, from Somers’ need to be liked and his desire to prove himself to his father (regardless of the fact that Glennworth Somerset is an arsehole), to Hazard’s PTSD and the anger issues that have been surfacing more and more frequently in his relationship with their foster son Colt, many of them arising as the result of his complicated relationship with his own – now deceased – father.

But through it all, there’s never been any doubt that these two love each other deeply; they get each other like nobody else ever has (or will) and best of all, they Put In The Work; it’s not easy and often it’s not pretty (they really do know how to push each other’s buttons) but every victory is all the sweeter for being hard won, and one of the many highlights of the series is the way Hazard and Somers are continuing to change and grow while remaining recognisably the same guys we met in Pretty Pretty Boys.

The mystery in Father Complex kicks off when Somers receives the news of a double homicide at a run-down motel, two men shot and killed, no witnesses and no real clues.  After the events of the previous book, Somers is taking on board the fact that his role as Chief of Police means trusting his team to do what they’re supposed to and that he can’t become personally involved in every investigation, so when Dulac asks him to come to the motel to take a look around, Somers initially refuses.  However, learning that one of the victims was engaged to Naomi Malsho – Somers’ former sister-in-law and one of the leaders of the ultra-right wing Ozark Volunteers (and a perennial thorn in his and Hazard’s sides) – and that the other was a liberal activist and son of a family deeply involved in local politics starts the alarm bells ringing.  Sure enough, it’s not long before his father is on the phone demanding he ‘handle’ it, and fast.

Somers brings Hazard in to help with the investigation, and they’ve really got their work cut out trying to figure out why two men with such strongly opposed views were even in the same room to begin with, and then following a winding trail down some dangerous paths and into confrontations with participants at the local gun show, the members of a fundamentalist church/cult and the Ozark Volunteers (Gregory Ashe is a master at writing seriously fucked-up and creepy characters who really make your skin crawl!),  as connections slowly begin to emerge and weave themselves together into an ever expanding web of lies and deceit – with Naomi somehow in the middle of it. It’s an incredibly complex but incredibly well-executed plot as the significance of each seemingly unconnected and confusing clue is revealed and the full picture slowly comes into view.  Watching Hazard and Somers work together so intuitively and seamlessly is always a delight, and I thoroughly appreciate the way they can do that even when they’re at odds off the job.

Tensions are running high at home, especially after Colt receives a letter from his deadbeat dad that pushes Hazard’s curiosity and protective instincts through the roof, and the pair are butting heads even more than usual. I’m sure anyone who has parented a teen will recognise many of the arguments and thought-processes at work here, and it’s tough to watch these two people who so badly want to love and be loved continually hurt each other.  Colt’s a teenager doing what teenagers do, but also, he’s a kid who has never been able to rely on anyone but himself, and who is, deep down, terrified that eventually Hazard will leave him, just as every other adult in his life has done – so he keeps on challenging him and pushing boundaries, which is his mixed-up way of checking that Hazard cares enough about him to keep loving him regardless.  And Hazard, well, sometimes he behaves every bit as badly as Colt does, rising to the bait every time even as he tells himself to be the adult, doing or saying exactly the wrong thing even though he knows it – and doing it anyway.  Unfortunately, this tendency is spilling over into his relationship with Somers, too – especially professionally, where he screws up the investigation or endangers them on several occasions because he can’t keep his mouth shut or his temper under control.  (I really hope he’s going to get some help with his anger issues soon!  If he carries on like this he’s heading for a meltdown of epic proportions.)

After the heartache of watching Somers floundering so badly in the previous book, I was delighted to see him finally starting to get to grips with his new role and moving towards finding a proper work/life balance in this one.  I don’t envy his role as referee in the ongoing Emery-Colt battles, but he’s on much more of an even keel here and is on hand to provide support and a badly needed voice of reason.

The cast of regulars is augmented by North and Shaw, who show up as the unlikeliest cavalry ever – and who inject some quite ridiculous (but needed) light-heartedness into the story.  All is clearly not well with Dulac and Darnell, despite their outward show of having patched things up, and I’m still worried about Nico, who seems to be swinging from one end of the emotional spectrum to the other.  With only one more book in the series to go, it might be a bit much to hope there’s room for those issues to be resolved alongside what (from the preview chapter I read) looks set to be an explosive finale… but if anyone can do it, Gregory Ashe can.

Father Complex is another gripping and unputdownable read from a writer at the top of his game, a tough, complex mystery with a rollercoaster ride of breathless emotion on the side.

Farview (Greynox by the Sea #2) by Kim Fielding (audiobook) – Narrated by Joel Leslie

farview

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

Ravaged by a horrific experience, Oliver Webb flees the smog-bound city of Greynox for a quiet seaside village and the inheritance he’s never seen: a cottage called Farview. He discovers clear skies, friendly imps, and a charming storyteller named Felix Corbyn.

With help from Felix’s tales, Oliver learns surprising secrets about his family history and discovers what home really means. But, with Felix cursed, Oliver growing deathly ill, and an obligation in Greynox hanging heavy around his neck, it seems that not even wizards can save the day.

Still, as Felix knows, stories are the best truths and the most powerful magic. Perhaps the right words might yet conjure a chance for happiness.

Rating: Narration – A; Content – B+

You know how, sometimes, you finish a book, sit back with a sigh and think “what a lovely story!”? I did just that after listening to Kim Fielding’s Farview (book two in her Greynox to the Sea series), a charming, whimsical romance set in a kind of fantasy/AU Victorian England where dragons pull carriages, imps, chatty ghosts, and winged people live side-by side and magic is a part of everyday life. Although it’s the second book in the series, it works perfectly well as a standalone – and I liked it sufficiently to want to backtrack and listen to book one, Treasure.

When the story begins, Oliver Webb has left the colourless, grime-filled streets of the city of Greynox, where he’s lived his entire life, to settle in the small fishing village of Croftwell , planning to live at Farview Cottage, a property that’s been in his family for generations and which he’s inherited from the mother who died when he was a child. Tired from the long journey, he ventures into one of the village taverns, The Merman, for a drink and a meal, and is somewhat surprised – and maybe a teeny bit irritated – at the friendliness of the locals; he’s not in Croftwell to make friends and he just wants to be left to his own devices. But not long after he sits down, he’s approached by a cheerful (and very attractive) young man called Felix who offers to tell him a story in return for a pint. Intrigued despite himself, Oliver agrees, and Felix tells him the ages old tale of Farview Cottage and the legendary Lyra Moon. Oliver finds himself completely caught up in the story and maybe just a little bit captivated by the storyteller.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.