Give Up the Ghost (Not Dead Yet #2) by Jenn Burke

This title may be purchased from Amazon

The bigger they are, the harder they maul.

Immortal not-ghost Wes Cooper and his vampire partner, Hudson Rojas, have it all—rewarding private investigation work, great friends and, most important, a love that’s endured. But ever since Wes sent a demon screaming back to the beyond, his abilities have grown overpowering and overwhelming. He’s hiding the fact that he’s losing control the best he can, but it’s hard to keep anything a secret for long when your partner’s a former cop…and especially when your partner’s a former cop who wants to move in together.

When all hell literally breaks loose in Toronto and superstrength ghosts are unleashed on Wes and his friends, he and Hudson are thrown into a case unlike any they’ve seen before. To save the city, Wes needs to harness his new power…and find some answers. But when he gets them, the solution to fix it all could mean losing everything.

Rating: A-

Jenn Burke’s Not Dead Yet earned a place on my keeper shelf earlier this year for many reasons, not least of which were the great storytelling, excellent worldbuilding, memorable characters, snappy dialogue and unusual premise.  Wes Cooper was murdered in 1933 by his lover Michael, but was resurrected by Michael’s sister – a witch.  Somehow, she overdid it, not only bringing Wes back to life, but making him immortal, which changed his life in many ways apart from the obvious one.  He’s made a living as a ‘retrieval specialist’, using his ability to slip between the living plane and the otherplane (which exists between the living and the dead), to sneak in and out of places others cannot access in order to recover items for interested parties.  Witnessing a murder while in the otherplane was the kicking off point for Not Dead Yet, which saw Wes reconnect with the love of his life, detective Hudson Rojas, and then work with him to solve the murder, making some truly disturbing discoveries along the way.  As Wes and his rag-taggle band of friends and allies fought together to prevent a powerful demon taking corporeal form, something even weirder than usual happened to him, and at the end of the story he realised that his (mostly low-level) magical powers had somehow been increased to a massive degree – and he’s not entirely sure if he’s strong enough to control them.

Give Up the Ghost opens some months after those events, and Wes still hasn’t told Hudson or his best friend, Lexi, what happened to him.  It’s not that he’s deliberately holding out on them, it’s just that, what with one thing and another – Hudson’s retirement from the Toronto PD, setting up their new PI agency, settling into being a couple again, Lexi needing to rest following the clean-up after their battle with the demon, and helping their friend, Evan, to come to terms with his part in it – basically, there just hasn’t been a good time.  And now, months later, it feels too weird to bring it up.  Plus, Wes is a master at avoidance and decides he’s better off not knowing exactly what the Crown of Osiris did to him, because that way he can hide from it.  But he’s struggling; not only to keep the secret, but to keep his powers under control and his fears at bay – and it’s taking its toll on him.

A bunch of “weird shit” happening at their local coffee shop is the first clue that something is badly wrong.  Wes, Lexi and Evan arrive to discover the place overrun by imps, who must be coming through some sort of crack or portal into the living plane – but from where?  Imps don’t exist in the otherplane, so they must be coming from Beyond, the place where spirits pass after death and where demons live – but in order to do that, the imps must have been summoned.  But by whom – and why?  Before Wes can contemplate that, however, he and the others must seal the breach – and not for the first time, he berates himself for not coming clean about his enhanced magic, as he instead of doing it himself, he has to channel some of his magic into Lexi so that she can close it.

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

Let There Be Light (Twin Hearts Duet #1) by A.M. Johnson (audiobook) – Narrated by Aaron Shedlock and Teddy Hamilton

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

His world was water and rhythm. Hard work and drive kept Royal O’Connell one step ahead of his competition. His spot on the swim team, keeping his scholarship, was the only plan that mattered.

His world was ebony and ivory. Natural talent and ambition set Camden Morgan apart from the other music majors. His dedication scored him a full ride.

Normally, their paths would have never crossed…but when Royal meets his best friend’s new roommate, his big plan and Camden’s controlled environment faces a variable that could destroy it all: attraction.

The world they live in had no room for error. That undeniable pull between them was dangerous, and neither one of them could’ve prepared for the choice they’d have to make.

Love isn’t always an easy road, and when everything they’ve worked for is on the line, they’ll have to decide if being together is worth the risk.

Rating: Narration: B/A-; Content: B-

Even though HimUs and The Understatement of the Year are all on my favourites shelf, romances featuring college-age protagonists aren’t ones I normally pick up. But in the case of Let There Be Light by new-to-me author A.M. Johnson, the draw was twofold – 1.) Teddy Hamilton and 2.) as a classically trained musician myself, I’m interested in stories featuring characters who are musicians. Let There Be Light features two scholarship students – one a champion swimmer, the other a virtuoso pianist – in a charming coming-of-age/coming-out story.

It’s a very low-drama tale that relies more on internal conflicts and issues to drive it forward, and I admit that had I read it, I may have decided it was too slow-moving and not for me. Fortunately, the excellent narration by Teddy Hamilton and new-to-me narrator Aaron Shedlock kept me engaged, although I can’t deny that things dragged a little around the middle and early in the second half.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

Rule Breaker (Mixed Messages #1) by Lily Morton (audiobook) – Narrated by Joel Leslie

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

Is it really wrong to want to murder your boss?

Dylan has worked for Gabe for two years. Two long years of sarcastic comments. Two long years of insults, and having to redo the coffee pot four times in the mornings to meet his exacting standards.

Not surprisingly he has devoted a lot of time to increasingly inventive ways to murder Gabe. From stabbing him with a cake fork, to garrotting him with his expensive tie, Dylan has thought of everything.

However, a chance encounter opens his eyes to the attraction that has always lain between them, concealed by the layers of antipathy. There are only two problems – Gabe is still a bastard, and he makes wedding planners look like hardened pessimists.

But what happens when Dylan starts to see the real Gabe? What happens when he starts to fall in love with the warm, wary man that he sees glimpses of as the days pass?

Because Gabe is still the same commitment shy, cold man that he’s always been, or is he? Has Dylan had the same effect on Gabe, and has his solid gold rule of no commitment finally been broken? With his heart taken Dylan desperately needs to know, but will he get hurt trying to find the answers?

Rating: Narration: A; Content: A

Sometimes, you listen to the first few minutes of an audiobook and know you’re going to love it – which is exactly what happened to me with Lily Morton’s Rule Breaker, the first book in her Mixed Messages series. It’s yet another of those books friends have been telling me for ages that I really must read, and once again, audio has proved the perfect way for me to catch up – and Joel Leslie’s fantastic performance only makes me even more thankful to have experienced the story in this format.

Rule Breaker charts the development of the opposites-attract romance between high-powered lawyer Gabe Foster and his assistant Dylan Mitchell; and as soon as I heard Dylan’s opening lines, I knew I was in for just the sort of fun-filled snark-fest that is right up my alley.

I want to kill my boss.

It has become an absolute truth that a small portion of my time every day, is now taken over with creating increasingly inventive ways to murder him slowly. Take today for instance. Today I’m debating whether to hang him out of the tenth-floor window tied to the conference table, or disembowel him with the cake knife from the tea trolley. This is all done while taking diligent notes at the meeting he’s forced me to sit on in. Never let it be said that men can’t multitask.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

Daily Grind (Takeover #4) by Anna Zabo (audiobook) – Narrated by Iggy Toma


This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

Brian Keppler, owner of Ground N’At, the coffee shop beneath SR Anderson Consulting, doesn’t have time for a relationship. His most recent girlfriend broke up with him because he’d become married to his shop, which is falling apart without his favorite barista, Justin. As he struggles to stay afloat, the arrival of handsome British high-tech whiz Robert Ancroft becomes another complication. Rob quickly becomes a fixture at the shop with his sharp wit and easy charm, and Brian soon finds himself looking forward more and more to Rob’s visits – to the point where his heart skips a beat when he walks in. But will Brian be able to come to terms with his previously unexplored sexual identity and find happiness now that he has a chance?

Rating: Narration: B+; Content: A-

Daily Grind, the fourth book in Anna Zabo’s Takeover series, is perhaps one of the more unusual romances I’ve listened to recently in that it takes a hard look at how the pressures of work – ones we often inflict upon ourselves – can make us lose sight of what’s really important, and the way such factors can affect our quality of life and relationships.

Brian Keppler owns the popular coffee shop Grounds N’at and is dedicated to providing the best tasting and best prepared coffee in Pittsburgh. Brian has owned the shop for almost a decade and he’s always been a bit of a workaholic – as can be affirmed by his small number of ex-girlfriends, all of whom cited Brian’s insistence on working all hours and putting his business before anything else as the reasons for their break-ups. Lately, however, things have been getting even more difficult; rising costs and staffing problems mean Brian is spending more time working than ever, and although he keeps telling himself it won’t always be like this, there’s no sign of a let up and things are looking bleak.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

Uncommon Ground (Aliens in New York #1) by Kelly Jensen

This title may be purchased from Amazon

Dillon Lee’s grandfather was a conspiracy theorist. Every summer he’d take Dillon on a tour of New York City while entertaining him with tales of aliens. Fifteen years later, after a phone call from a lawyer, Dillon is carrying his grandfather’s ashes from landmark to landmark, paying a sort of tribute, and trying to figure out what to do with his unexpected legacy. When someone tries to steal the ashes, a guy Dillon has barely met leaps to the rescue, saving the urn and the day.

Steilang Skovgaard is a reclusive billionaire—and not human. He’s been living in Manhattan for over twenty years, working on a long-term plan to establish a safe haven for his people. For seven years, his reports have gone unanswered, however, and he is the only surviving member of his interstellar team. The connection he forms with Dillon soon after meeting him is something he’s missed, something he craves.

But after someone keeps trying to steal the ashes, it looks as though Dillon’s grandfather was involved in more than theories—and might not have been exactly who everyone thought he was. Steilang doesn’t know how close he can get to the truth without revealing himself, and Dillon is running out of people to trust. Can these two work out what’s going on before the thieves set their sights higher?

Rating: A-

Kelly Jensen’s Uncommon Ground is book one in her Aliens in New York duology, a story that combines mystery, science fiction and a bit of action with a tender and poignant romance between two people who don’t really fit anywhere – until they find each other.

Dillon Lee has always felt like an outsider.  He’s gay, he feels disconnected from his Korean heritage and his unusual looks have always marked him as a bit odd.  He doesn’t let any of that get him down though, and embraces his “oddness”; he dyes his hair purple and has facial piercings, which always get him a few funny looks wherever he goes – but that’s who he is and stuff anyone who has a problem with it.  He’s returned to New York City for the first time in fifteen years following the death of his conspiracy-theorist grandfather – with whom he used to spend his summers when he was a kid, but hasn’t seen since he was fifteen – to meet with lawyers about his grandfather’s will, but also to take his ashes on a sentimental journey around the city’s landmarks to say goodbye.  Dillon has stopped in at a coffee shop after an unsuccessful attempt to visit the top of the Empire State Building, when he notices a very well-dressed, attractive man staring at him from the queue.  At first Dillon thinks it’s the usual – someone eyeing him because he’s weird-looking – but then realises it’s not that at all when the guy takes a seat behind him and seems about to start a conversation.  But before they can exchange more than a few words, someone moves between them, grabs Dillon’s backpack (containing the urn and ashes) and runs off with it – and Dillon immediately gives chase.

When Steilang Skovgaard  – Lang – sees the guy with the purple hair sitting in the coffee shop he has to remind himself to stop staring.  But he can’t help it.  The lanky build, the large, wide-set eyes and distinctive facial features… he’s  gorgeous and there’s something about the colour of his hair that reminds Lang unaccountably of home.   When Dillon rushes off after his stolen backpack, Lang goes too and eventually manages to cut off the thief and retrieve the bag, injuring himself quite badly in the process.  Given he’s not human (not a spoiler – it’s in the synopsis) Lang doesn’t want to go to a hospital, so despite the injuries he’s sustained – which should start healing soon courtesy of the repair cells in his body – he sneaks away from the scene, only for Dillon to catch up with him. He insists on taking Lang up to his apartment – the one his grandfather left him – to help him to clean up a bit before making his way home.  In a lot of pain (his repair cells aren’t working as quickly as they should), Lang takes Dillon up on his offer.  And gets another shock when he gets a good look at the urn he saved and sees it engraved with a symbol he recognises as belonging to the Wren, one of the three clans from his home planet of Jord.  Clearly, Dillon’s eccentric grandfather wasn’t what or who Dillon believed him to be – but how can Lang find out the truth without revealing exactly who and what he is?

I thoroughly enjoyed this story, which focuses strongly on the romance between Dillon and Lang while skilfully combining it with the mystery surrounding Dillon’s grandfather and the alien/sci-fi elements. These are fairly light, but are nonetheless expertly constructed, giving readers a feel for Lang’s home planet, details of his mission on Earth and about how his society works without large info-dumps or interrupting the flow of the story.  As I said about the author’s To See the Sun, which I read recently, we may be reading about an alien civilisation, but the things Lang’s people are facing all sound very familiar, from unfair hierarchical structures to interplanetary strife and environmental crises.

The instantaneous mutual attraction that sparks between Dillon and Lang progresses quickly, but when they tumble into bed at their next meeting, it’s very clear that they care for each other and they both know there’s something more going on than just sex.  I loved watching them get to know each other and realise they’ve found something special in one another.  Dillon is like a burst of light into Lang’s life – he’s good-humoured and cheerful and not afraid to be who he is, and while he may have always felt like an outsider, to Lang, he’s beautiful, utterly charming and completely irresistible;  Lang’s complete and unconditional acceptance of him is simply lovely.  Lang has spent twenty-five years on Earth in order to find a sanctuary for his clan, has amassed a fortune and built a hugely successful technology company, but he’s a shy, loveable dork with a fetish for kitchen gadgets (!) and The author subtly underpins the way Lang has adapted and begun to assimilate and adore so much about his adopted home.  When we meet one of his people, the contrast between them really highlights the fact that he’s come a long way from the duty-bound, singly-focussed individual typical of his clan he was when he first arrived.  Like Dillon, he’s lonely – the moment when he discovers just how truly alone he is is quite heart-breaking – but together they fit, their relationship growing stronger and deeper as the story develops.

The mystery surrounding Dillon’s grandfather is very well done, and there’s a suitably dramatic, high-stakes finale that really shows what Dillon and Lang have come to mean to one another.  Uncommon Ground is a little gem of a book; the author squeezes some large concepts – loneliness, love, loss, identity – into a small page-count, but does it so skilfully that nothing feels out of place.  The novel can be read as a standalone – it ends with a solid HFN – but the story is continued in the soon-to-be-released sequel, Purple Haze, and I’m really looking forward to spending some more time with Dillon, Lang and the world Ms. Jensen has created.

An Earl Like You (Wagers of Sin #2) by Caroline Linden (audiobook) – Narrated by Beverley A. Crick

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

When you gamble at love…

When Hugh Deveraux discovers his newly inherited earldom is bankrupt, he sets about rebuilding the family fortune – in the gaming hells of London. But the most daring wager he takes isn’t at cards. A wealthy tradesman makes a tantalizing offer: marry the man’s spinster daughter and Hugh’s debts will be paid and his fortune made. The only catch is that she must never know about their agreement….

You risk losing your heart…

Heiress Eliza Cross has given up hope of marriage until she meets the impossibly handsome Earl of Hastings, her father’s new business partner. The earl is everything a gentleman should be, and is boldly attentive to her. It doesn’t take long for Eliza to lose her heart and marry him.

But when Eliza discovers that there is more to the man she loves – and to her marriage – her trust is shattered. And it will take all of Hugh’s power to prove that now his words of love are real….

Rating: Narration: A-; Content: A-

Caroline Linden’s An Earl Like You was one of my favourite books of 2018, and was actually one of the very few historical romances that really hit the spot for me last year.  If you’re a regular visitor to AudioGals and read my reviews (thank you for that!) you’ll probably know that historical romance has always been my favourite sub-genre – and you may have noticed I’ve been reviewing fewer and fewer of them over the past year or two.  Why? Well, good historicals have been very thin on the ground lately, and not all of the good ones have made it into audio; and many of those that  have  made it have been assigned narrators I don’t care for (and/or who I knew wouldn’t do the book justice).  That’s one of the reasons I delayed listening to An Earl Like You for so long (it came out in August 2018) – I loved the story and knew that Beverley A. Crick would do a good job with the narration, and I wanted to wait and savour it.

When Hugh Devereux became the Earl of Hastings he hadn’t expected to inherit an enormous pile of debt along with the title.  The previous earl had been a wonderful man – a loving husband and father, a good friend to many and well-thought of by everyone who knew him – yet he’d died leaving his son in total ignorance of the true state of the family finances and having spent both Hugh’s sisters’ dowries AND the money that was supposed to have provided a widow’s jointure for their mother.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

Fire and Granite (Carlisle Deputies #2) by Andrew Grey (audiobook) – Narrated by Greg Tremblay

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

The heat is growing from the inside, but danger is building on the outside.

Judge Andrew Phillips runs a tight ship in his courtroom. He’s tough, and when he hands down a sentence, he expects to be obeyed. So when a fugitive named Harper escapes and threatens his life, Andrew isn’t keen on 24/seven protection…especially not from Deputy Clay Brown. They have a past, one that could cause problems in their careers.

But with Clay assigned to Andrew and the two of them together every minute, there’s nowhere to hide from their attraction – or from the fact that there’s much more than chemistry blooming between them. As the threat intensifies, Clay knows he’ll do anything it takes to protect the people who are taking their places in his heart: Andrew and his young niece and nephew.

Rating: Narration: A+; Content: B-

I listened to Fire and Flint, the first book in Andrew Grey’s series featuring the sheriff’s deputies in Carlisle, PA, last year and enjoyed it sufficiently to want to listen to another book in the series. Fire and Granite is book two, and like its predecessor, it’s a fairly low-angst, low-drama listen with a tender and rather sweet romance at its centre.

Deputy Clay Brown is one of a team escorting a high-risk, dangerous criminal from prison to the courthouse when their vehicles are ambushed, and the prisoner – who by a weird quirk of fate happens to be Clay’s cousin Harper Grange – is sprung in what is clearly a well-planned operation. Clay is frustrated at being on the other end of the investigation rather than being out there looking for the escapee, so he’s not too pleased when he’s handed a different assignment. Judge Andrew Phillips was responsible for putting Grange behind bars, and less than an hour after the ambush, received a phone call threatening his life. Clay is assigned as his protection detail while Grange is at large – but as he doesn’t exactly get along with “Judge Moody and Superior” or like him very much, it’s going to be a difficult few days.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.