Triangulation (Borealis Investigations #2) by Gregory Ashe

This title may be purchased from 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: A-

Gregory Ashe has become one of my favourite authors over the last year or so, and I’ve been longing to dive into Triangulation, the second book in his Borealis Investigations series ever since I turned the last page on the first book, Orientation, earlier this year.  I’m addicted to the blend of well-constructed mystery, complex, dysfunctional characters and angsty, slow-burn romance I’ve found in his novels; the plotting is tight and full of twists and turns, the romantic chemistry is combustible and his writing is wonderfully assured, ranging from the vividly descriptive to the lyrical, from grin-inducing humour to the pointedly insightful.

Although the mystery central to Orientation (which should be read first) was wrapped up by the end, events contained therein continue to have repercussions throughout Triangulation, so there will be spoilers in this review.

Triangulation picks up a few months after the previous book ended, and sees Borealis Investigations on a much firmer footing than it was when we first met North and Shaw, thanks to an upturn in business following their recent success in apprehending a blackmailer and murderer.  But the Fennmore case threw a ticking time-bomb into the middle the long-standing friendship between the two men, and the resulting wounds are still raw.  Neither of them is ready to admit to the shift in their relationship or work out what it means, even Shaw, who normally loves to talk things through; and North… well he most definitely doesn’t want to go there.

So on the surface at least, things are pretty much back to normal.  North grumbles and snarks his way through the days and Shaw is as upbeat and endearingly enthusiastic as ever.  When their assistant, Pari, asks them to look into the disappearance of her girlfriend’s boss, an LGBTQ youth worker and prominent figure in the St. Louis gay community, North isn’t wild about taking the case, especially when he learns that the man in question, Shep Collins, used to administer conversion therapy to gay teenaged boys.  But Pari’s girlfriend Chuck is distraught, and insists that Collins is a completely different man now; he’s out and married, the kids he works with love him and he sees his work now as a way of atoning for what he did in the past.  North doesn’t want to take the case… but as a result of one of those typical North-and-Shaw roundabout not-conversations, ends up ungraciously agreeing to do so.

North and Shaw start digging for information, and from the outset, they’re confronted with differing accounts of who Collins was and conflicting stories about his last known movements.  Nobody is telling the truth, even Chuck, who was worried enough about the man’s disappearance to hire Borealis to find him in the first place.  But when Collins’ body is found in the trunk of her car, things escalate quickly and Chuck is arrested for murder.  Determined to find out the truth, North and Shaw’s investigation leads them into direct conflict with members of St. Louis P.D.’s LGBT task force, and specifically with two of its detectives, whose interest in the case seems more focused on North and Shaw than on actually finding out who killed Shep Collins.

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

Afraid to Fly (Anchor Point #2) by L.A. Witt (audiobook) – Narrated by Nick J. Russo

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

Once a fearless fighter pilot, Commander Travis Wilson is now confined to a desk. It’s been eight years since the near-fatal crash that grounded him, and it still rules his life thanks to relentless back pain.

Lieutenant Commander Clint Fraser almost drowned in a bottle after a highly classified catastrophe while piloting a drone. His downward spiral cost him his marriage and kids, but he’s sober now and getting his life back on track. He’s traded drones for a desk, and he’s determined to reconcile with his kids and navigate the choppy waters of PTSD.

Clint has been on Travis’s radar ever since he transferred to Anchor Point. When Clint comes out to his colleagues, it’s a disaster, but there’s a silver lining: now that Travis knows Clint is into men, the chemistry between them explodes.

It’s all fun and games until emotions get involved. Clint’s never been in love with a man before. Travis has, and a decade later, that tragic ending still haunts him. Clint needs to coax him past his fear of crashing and burning again, or their love will be grounded before takeoff.

Rating: Narration: A; Content: B

The second book in L.A. Witt’s Anchor Point series of military romances, Afraid to Fly features two protagonists in their forties who have so many issues to deal with between them that at times, I couldn’t help wondering if there were too many.  But the fact that both men are a bit older than the norm for romance novels, are long-term military and have both seen active service made it more plausible that they’d have as much baggage as they do.

We met former pilot Commander Travis Wilson in the first book, Just Drive, and learned that he lives with chronic pain due to a back injury sustained in a crash some eight years earlier.  He’s been divorced for well over a decade and has a daughter of twenty who lives with him; since his divorce, he’s mostly had casual and short-term relationships (with both men and women) – apart from one relationship (with a man) ten years earlier which ended badly and has left him extremely cautious about falling in love again.

A former RAP (Remote Aircraft Pilot), Lieutenant Commander Clint Fraser transferred to Adams Naval Base fairly recently.  Three years before, he was involved in a mission that left him badly traumatised and ultimately led to the breakdown of his marriage; he turned to drink and became violent (though not to his wife and kids) and unpredictable. His divorce was messy and his wife has custody of their three children, but he’s doing better and hopes that in the not too distant future he’ll be able to see his kids for more than the odd Skype chat and supervised visit.

Clint and Travis work in the same office (though in different departments) and both men have had a bit of a crush on each other for a while, even though neither has the faintest idea if the other is into men.  That changes on the night of the Navy Ball, when Clint arrives with his date – a guy – and when Travis, in casual conversation, mentions a somewhat disastrous date with an ex-Marine.

It’s clear early on that Travis and Clint have great chemistry, and not long after the ball, they start seeing each other.  The bulk of the story is thus taken up by their working out how to be together given their health and other issues as they grow closer emotionally and start to think in terms of a making a life together.  As I said before, they have a lot of problems to deal with, problems that are part of their everyday lives and have to be taken into account every step of the way. Travis’ chronic pain has caused the end of more than one relationship as his partners grew frustrated, bored or irritated (or all three) with the way his life had to revolve around his pain management and with the limitations imposed upon him by his condition when it came to sex.  Clint’s PTSD still gives him violent nightmares regularly, which makes him nervous of spending the night with anyone, and he’s also battling the guilt he feels every day for the hell he put his wife and kids through.  Bringing him down still further is that he feels almost as though he’s not ‘entitled’ to be traumatised seeing as he was sitting in an air-conditioned room, thousands of miles away from a war zone when the incident which ended his career as a RAP took place, but the real kicker is that the mission is still classified and he can’t talk about it to anyone, not even the chaplain or a therapist. (I have no idea if this actually happens – if it does, then it’s a disgrace.)  All these things make Travis and Clint cautious about revealing the true extent of their issues for fear of scaring each other off, but as they spend more time together, they start to open up and to realise that they may just have found the one person in the world who can understand what they are each going through and how they can support each other through it.

Nick J. Russo is rapidly becoming a favourite narrator – I can’t think why I haven’t listened to him before this year!  Once again, he delivers a strong performance all round, providing distinct vocal characterisations for the two principals and the handful of secondary characters in the story.  He’s very good at pinpointing the emotional heart of any given scene, and does an excellent job of communicating the ups and downs experienced by Travis and Clint as they each open up and start to merge their lives.

Afraid to Fly is an enjoyable story – which isn’t devoid of heat, even taking Travis’ difficulties into account – which addresses both men’s health conditions in a sympathetic way without sugar-coating them.  I have to say though, that there’s a false note struck fairly late on in the story which feels like an obvious contrivance just to throw in a bit of tension before the end.  Fortunately, that doesn’t disrupt things for too long, and although there are a few questions I’d have liked answered (such as – will Clint get to see his kids again?) I was left hopeful for the couple’s future.

Top Secret by Sarina Bowen and Elle Kennedy (audiobook) – Narrated by Christian Fox and Teddy Hamilton

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

LobsterShorts, 21. Jock. Secretly a science geek. Hot AF.

LobsterShorts: So. Here goes. For her birthday, my girlfriend wants…a threesome.

SinnerThree: Then you’ve come to the right hookup app.

LobsterShorts: Have you done this sort of thing before? With another guy?

SinnerThree: All the time. I’m an equal opportunity player. You?

LobsterShorts: [crickets!]

SinnerThree, 21. Finance major. Secretly a male dancer. Hot AF.

SinnerThree: Well, I’m down if you are. My life is kind of a mess right now. School, work, family stress. Oh, and I live next door to the most annoying dude in the world. I need the distraction. Are you sure you want this?

LobsterShorts: I might want it a little more than I’m willing to admit.

SinnerThree: Hey, nothing wrong with pushing your boundaries….

LobsterShorts: Tell that to my control-freak father. Anyway. What if this threesome is awkward?

SinnerThree: Then it’s awkward. It’s not like we’ll ever have to see each other again. Right? Just promise you won’t fall in love with me.

LobsterShorts: Now wouldn’t that be life-changing….

Rating: Narration: A; Content: B

Sarina Bowen and Elle Kennedy’s Him is one of the most beloved novels in the m/m genre so when the authors announced their first collaboration in three years, expectations were naturally very high. Reactions to the book have been mixed, but once I saw that Teddy Hamilton was on board for the audio, and had been paired once again with Christian Fox (they were excellent in Ms. Bowen’s The Understatement of the Year), I knew that whatever the story’s faults, the narration was bound to be superb. And it was.

Top Secret starts out with a Shop Around the Corner vibe, as two people who dislike each other in real life start to fall for one another when they start chatting anonymously via a hook-up app. Keaton Hayworth III has it all – good looks, money and a hot girlfriend he’s been dating since high school. Life would be perfect if it wasn’t for the fact that his father, who runs a large pharmaceutical company, wants him to go into the family business after graduation, while Keaton – who is studying biology – wants to move into research and continue into post-graduate study, and is dreading the day when he’s going to have to tell his father the truth.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

In the Shadows (Metahuman Files #3) by Hailey Turner (audiobook) – Narrated by Greg Boudreaux

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

Take a chance.

Staff Sergeant Alexei Dvorkin doesn’t trust easily, and he most certainly doesn’t trust spies. He’ll work with them if ordered to, but that doesn’t mean he has to like it. Except Agent Sean Delaney is proving to be the exception to the rule. There’s something about Sean that gets under Alexei’s skin and won’t let go. Alexei would be lying if he said he wasn’t interested in what lay beneath the agent’s mask. When they’re assigned together for a mission, Alexei vows to keep Sean safe all while trying to coax the hot agent into his bed.

Hold onto hope.

Agent Sean Delaney has spent his entire adult life living a lie for his country. When the MDF tasks him with finding evidence of criminal wrong-doing against the owner of a private military company, Sean knows exactly how to play the game to get what he wants. He just doesn’t know how to handle Alexei’s advances, nor his own attraction to the younger soldier. Being a spy is lonely work, and Sean knows he should keep his distance, but saying no to Alexei is impossible from the moment they first kiss.

In a world of lies, the truth can be deadly.

When the mission takes a turn for the worse, the only thing left to do is run. In the wake of betrayal, and in the path of danger, can their fragile trust survive the battle?

Rating: Narration: A+; Content: B+

In the Shadows is book three in Hailey Turner’s Metahuman Files series of military/sci-fi/suspense novels which features an elite, tight-knit unit of men and women who acquired very unique powers following their exposure to Splice, a deadly chemical that kills almost all who come into contact with it. Those not killed by the chemical are changed at DNA level and become metahumans, each possessed of some sort of superpower that ranges from telepathy to telekenisis, from super strength to shape-shifting. There’s an overarching plotline running throughout the series which means it’s advisable to listen to the books in order – and there are spoilers for books one and two in this review.

The first book, In the Wreckage, introduced listeners to Captain Jamie Callahan and Alpha Team of the Metahuman Defence Force and set in motion the series’ main plotline – the hunt for a terrorist group known as the Sons of Adam who is trying to create metahumans of its own by conducting experiments on human subjects. In book two, In the Ruins, the action moved to London, and Alpha Team was joined by MDF Intelligence Agent Sean Delaney – formerly of the CIA – in an operation between the MDF and the UMG (its UK equivalent) to gather evidence about the Russian government’s involvement – via the Russian Mafia – in those experiments as part of its plan to create an army of metahumans. During the course of these novels, Jamie and Alpha Team’s sniper, Kyle Brannigan, became lovers and are now in a long-term relationship that has to remain a secret because of the MDF’s strict non-fraternisation rule. Keeping their relationship a secret is hard on both of them, and Jamie also has to deal with the pressure being put on him by his wealthy family to quit the military and go into politics like his father, who is likely to earn the Republican nomination for the upcoming Presidential election. Jamie has no intention of leaving the MDF, but agrees to a compromise; he’ll accompany his father on the campaign trail when he can, and by the time In the Shadows opens, he’s doing just that. With Jamie’s absence (for part of the story anyway), the focus of this novel shifts slightly and moves away from Jamie and Kyle as the main romantic couple – but never fear, all the other things that work so well about this series are still very much in evidence; skilful worldbuilding, sexy love scenes, superbly written action scenes and the terrific camaraderie between the members of Alpha Team, who all have very specific parts to play and are never just “window dressing”.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

Just Drive (Anchor Point #1) by L.A. Witt (audiobook) – Narrated by Nick J. Russo

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

For Sean Wright, driving a cab in the tiny Navy town of Anchor Point isn’t an exciting job…until he picks up just-dumped Paul Richards. A drive turns into a walk on the pier, which turns into the hottest hookup Sean’s had in ages.

After a long overdue breakup, Paul can’t believe his luck. Of all the drivers, he’s picked up by the gorgeous, gay, and very willing Sean. Younger guys aren’t usually his thing, but Paul can’t resist.

One taste and neither man can get enough…right up until they realize that Paul is Sean’s father’s commanding officer and the last man Sean should be involved with.

With two careers on the line, their only option is to back off. It’s not easy, though; the sex and the emotional connection are exactly what both men have been craving for a long time. But Paul has devoted 24 years to his career and his dream of making admiral. If he’s caught with Sean, that’s all over. He has to choose – stay the course, or trade it all for the man who drove off with his heart.

Rating: Narration: A; Content: B

This first book in L.A. Witt’s Anchor Point series is a fairly low angst May/December romance that begins when twenty-something cab driver Sean Wright  picks up a fare – an attractive, older guy – from a local hotel who, rather than offering a destination,  instructs him to “Just Drive”.  Paul Richards has just been dumped by his long-distance boyfriend, and his usual way of getting over a break up is to find someone else to fuck to take his mind off it.  After spending the best part of the evening together, he and Sean end up getting down ‘n’ dirty in the back seat of the car, and even though Paul tries to tell himself it was just a one off, he can’t forget Sean’s kindness and the way they just seemed to ‘click’ on more than just a sexual level.  Which is why Paul finds himself calling Sean again. And again. The pair continue to hook up on a regular basis after that (and it’s clear that whatever is between them is fast becoming more than just sex) – until both men suddenly realise that Paul is Sean’s father’s CO at Adams Naval Base and that any sort of relationship between them could have a disastrous effect on Paul’s and Sean’s father’s careers.

Paul has always known he’s gay, but had it drummed into him that anyone with ambitions to move up through the ranks could only get so far without the perfect wife and kids, so he married – twice – and did his damndest to be (or at least act) straight for the sake of his career.  Now in his early forties with two divorces behind him, he has a lot of regret for the way he treated both the women he married, but is openly out now and focused on his career goal of making Admiral.  The Navy has been just as much a part of Sean’s life as Paul’s but whereas Paul chose his path, Sean didn’t and now in his early twenties, resents the fact that the Navy is continuing to dictate the direction of his life.  Moving around so often meant he never formed long or lasting friendships or relationships, it caused the breakdown of his parents’ marriage – and falling for Paul and not being able to have him is yet one more reason for that resentment.

The story is perhaps a bit repetitive – Sean and Paul meet up and have lots of mind-blowing sex, then after the bombshell explodes, they tell themselves they should stay away from each other, fail miserably and have lots of mind-blowing sex… you get the picture.  But I liked both characters individually and as a couple, and even though there’s a twenty year age gap between them, it’s never an issue for them and it wasn’t for me because they just… fit.

There were some inconsistencies that had me scratching my head though. For instance, we’re never told how old Sean is and the details given in the book are a bit contradictory; and I thought it was a bit odd that Paul never asked what Sean is studying (and we’re not told either, although there’s one scene in which he’s having trouble concentrating on King Lear and A Midsummer Night’s Dream).  Those things aren’t desperately important, but it seemed odd they were never mentioned. It’s also a bit of a stretch to believe that neither Paul nor Sean enquired much about the other’s situation; Sean knew Paul was military but didn’t enquire further (and later thinks that perhaps he deliberately avoided doing so) and he didn’t talk much about his dad, so I suppose it’s possible, if slightly implausible.

Nick J. Russo does such a fantastic job with the narration that I honestly didn’t care about the inconsistencies or repetitiveness in the story.  He gives Paul a deep, slightly gravelly voice, and he captures Sean’s sunny personality and flirtatiousness brilliantly.  There aren’t many secondary characters in the story, but they’re well differentiated and easy to tell apart from the main roles.  There are, as I’ve said, quite a few sex scenes in the book, and Mr. Russo takes them in his stride, performing them confidently and getting into the swing of things without going over the top.

I enjoyed Just Drive in spite of the story’s flaws, and Nick J. Russo’s narration was definitely good enough to enable me to get past them.  I’ll certainly be listening to more in this series.

When Death Meets the Devil (Death and the Devil #1) by L.J. Hayward (audiobook) – Narrated by Rowan Scott

where death meets the devil

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon.

Jack Reardon, former SAS soldier and current Australian Meta-State asset, has seen some messy battles. But “messy” takes on a whole new meaning when he finds himself tied to a chair in a torture shack, his cover blown wide open, all thanks to notorious killer-for-hire Ethan Blade.

Blade is everything Jack doesn’t believe in: remorseless, detached, lawless. Yet, Jack’s only chance to survive is to strike a bargain with the devil and join forces with Blade. As they trek across a hostile desert, Jack learns that Blade is much more than a dead-eyed killer – and harder to resist than he should be.

A year later, Jack is home and finally getting his life on track. Then Ethan Blade reappears and throws it all into chaos once more. It’s impossible to trust the assassin, especially when his presence casts doubts on Jack’s loyalty to his country, but Jack cannot ignore what Blade’s return means: the mess that brought them together is far from over, and Ethan might just bring back the piece of Jack’s soul he thought he’d lost forever.

Rating: Narration: B+; Content: A

I’ve been looking for something to fill the Seven of Spades-shaped hole in my life, so I was delighted to discover L.J. Hayward’s Where Death Meets the Devil, book one in her Death and the Devil series. In it, a former SAS officer and a deadly assassin end up striking the devil’s own bargain when they’re forced to work together in order to survive a trek across the hostile Australian desert while evading a shit-ton of mercenaries in the pay of a dangerous mob boss.

Where Death Meets the Devil opens on probably the crappiest birthday ever for Jack Reardon, who, instead of partying, drinking of lots of beer and stuffing his face with cake, finds himself tied to a chair in a shack in the middle of the back of beyond. He’s an operative of the Office of Counterterrorism and Intelligence – known simply as The Office – run by the Meta-State, a top secret intelligence network stretching across Australia, New Zealand, Malaysia, Singapore and other Southeast Asian countries which share information and resources to combat national and international terrorism; and for the last fifteen months he’s been working undercover in the criminal organisation run by Samuel Valadian in an attempt to find proof of his association with terrorist groups around the world. But someone has alerted Valadian to the presence of a spy in their midst – hence Jack’s current predicament. He tries to brazen it out, but when Valadian calmly introduces his associate Ethan Blade – one of the world’s deadliest, most ruthless killers – Jack figures his luck has run out.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

The Determined Lord Hadleigh (King’s Elite #4) by Virginia Heath

This title may be purchased from Amazon.

He’s got iron control…

But she might be his undoing!

Part of The King’s Elite. Haunted by Penny Penhurst’s courage on the witness stand, meticulous barrister Lord Hadleigh offers her a housekeeper position at his estate. Despite trying to stay detached, Hadleigh is charmed by her small child and surprised by how much he yearns for this proud woman! Can this he break through his own – and Penny’s – barriers to prove he’s a man she can trust…and love?

Rating: A-

As there is an overarching plotline running through this series, there are spoilers for the earlier books in this review.

This final book in Virginia Heath’s enjoyable King’s Elite series shifts focus somewhat and concerns itself mostly with the aftermath of the unmasking and apprehension (in the previous book) of The Boss, the head of a widespread and dangerous smuggling ring that was channeling funds to Napoléon and his supporters with a view to restoring him to power. The Determined Lord Hadleigh rounds the series out nicely and follows a thoroughly engaging central couple on their sometimes rocky path to happiness.

The eponymous gentleman describes himself as an honorary member of the team of crack government spies knows as the King’s Elite, which is fair enough, as unlike them, he’s not an agent working for the Crown, but rather is the man whose job it is to prosecute and help convict those they apprehend. He’s a brilliant barrister, a fair and honourable man, and a friend of the other members of the group – and now it’s his turn to step into the limelight. Hadleigh appeared briefly in the other books in the series, and now it’s up to him to make sure the Crown’s case against the Boss is watertight. When the novel opens, he is in the midst of the trial of Viscount Penshurst, one of the Boss’ closest associates, and is questioning his current witness, the young Lady Penshurst, whose honesty and quiet dignity in the face of the nasty gossip and blatant scorn of the public impresses him and whose story strikes a chord deep inside him. Hadleigh sees many similarities between the life the viscountess describes and that endured by his mother, who was abused and then killed by his father a decade earlier – and he still carries the guilt that he didn’t do enough to protect her. That guilt engenders a protectiveness made all the stronger when he learns that the viscount’s title, wealth and estates have been transferred back to the crown, meaning his innocent wife and son will be left with nothing.

After the trial and her husband’s death in prison, Lady Penshurst changes her name and takes lodgings in Cheapside with her not-quite-two-year-old son, Freddie. Her closest friend Clarissa – who is married to Seb Leatham (The Mysterious Lord Millcroft) – has offered to house them both for as long as Penny wants, but Penny is insistent that she wants to stand on her own two feet. After three years trapped in an abusive marriage with a man who wanted to control her every move, she’s determined to slough off the easily cowed, powerless and subservient woman she became during those years and to find herself again, to take back control of her life. So when she discovers that someone has been helping her out behind the scenes, paying bills and rent, she’s furious. Her first thought is that Clarissa has gone behind her back and asked Seb to do it, but when Clarissa assures her that she values their friendship too much to go against her express wishes, Penny believes her. Worried that perhaps one of her late husband’s associates has done it as a way of intimidating her, Penny asks Clarissa to find out what she can about her mysterious benefactor.

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