The Shadows of London (Marwood & Lovett #6) by Andrew Taylor

the shadows of london

This title may be purchased from Amazon

London 1671

The damage caused by the Great Fire still overshadows the capital. When a man’s brutally disfigured body is discovered in the ruins of an ancient almshouse, architect Cat Hakesby is ordered to stop restoration work. It is obvious he has been murdered, and Whitehall secretary James Marwood is ordered to investigate.

It’s possible the victim could be one of two local men who have vanished – the first, a feckless French tutor connected to the almshouse’s owner;
the second, a possibly treacherous employee of the Council of Foreign Plantations.

The pressure on Marwood mounts as Charles II’s most influential courtiers, Lord Arlington and the Duke of Buckingham, show an interest in his activities – and Marwood soon begins to suspect the murder trail may lead right to the heart of government.

Meanwhile, a young, impoverished Frenchwoman has caught the eye of the king, a quiet affair that will have monumental consequences…

Rating: B+

The Shadows of London, book six in Andrew Taylor’s fabulous series of historical mysteries set in post-Restoration London, finds our protagonists, James Marwood and Cat Hakesby (née Lovett) once again embroiled in an intricate and cleverly constructed murder mystery. Like the earlier books in the series the mystery in this one stands alone, but I’d recommend reading them in order so as to gain a fuller understanding of the relationship between the two principals.

It’s been five years since the Great Fire that destroyed so much of London, and since the night Marwood and Cat first met. Reconstruction of the City continues, and Cat, who took over the running of her husband’s architectural firm after his death, has been awarded the contract to build a new almshouse and some new brick houses in Chard Lane, on the site of the ancient almshouse destroyed in the fire. But when a the body of a man is discovered partly buried beneath piles of rubble and old bricks, his face beaten so badly as to be unrecognisable, the work has to be halted. Frustrated at at the delay, which could mean severe financial loss, Cat reluctantly asks James Marwood if he can do anything to help.

Marwood is in the employ of Lord Arlington who, as Keeper of the Privy Purse, is the second most powerful man in England, answerable only to the King. Marwood, who is part clerk, part spy, has frequently been directed by Arlington to conduct murder investigations, and when ‘My Lord’ hears about the body in Chard Lane, he tells Marwood to find out everything he can about the murder – although he isn’t, at this stage, willing to intervene on Cat’s behalf.

The first thing to do is to identify the victim, and Cat and Marwood soon work out that there are two likely candidates. One is the young man who had been employed as French tutor to the daughter of Mr. Hadgraft – who is currently Cat’s employer as commissioner of the Chard Lane project – the other is a man named Iredale, who is employed as a clerk at the Council of Foreign Plantations. Both are nonentities, making the motivation for murder unclear, but when Cat and Marwood learn of the involvement of one of the Duke of Buckingham’s henchmen – a dangerous, violent man with whom they’ve had dealings before – they realise that there is much more at stake than it initially seemed. For Buckingham, who hates Marwood and takes every opportunity to denigrate him, to be taking an interest in the murder of a nobody is strange, to say the least, and as Cat and Marwood dig deeper, it becomes clear that whoever the victim was, this murder is somehow linked to those at the very heart of power at the English court.

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

A Tempest at Sea (Lady Sherlock #7) by Sherry Thomas

a tempest at sea uk

This title may be purchased from Amazon

After feigning her own death in Cornwall to escape from Moriarty’s perilous attention, Charlotte Holmes goes into hiding. But then she receives a tempting offer: Find a dossier the crown is desperately seeking to recover, and she might be able to go back to a normal life.

Her search leads her aboard the RMS Provence, sailing from Southampton for the eastern hemisphere. But on the night Charlotte makes her move to retrieve the dossier, in the midst of a terrifying storm in the Bay of Biscay, a brutal murder also takes place on the ship.

Instead of solving the crime, as she is accustomed to doing, Charlotte must take care not to be embroiled in this investigation, lest it become known to those who harbor ill intentions that Sherlock Holmes is still abroad and still very much alive.

Rating: B (B- overall)

I did a Pandora’s Box review with Dabney Grinnan over at AAR on this one; we had some similar (and some not so similar) views on the book.

Caz: This installment in the Lady Sherlock series is very much like one of those mid-season stand-alones in a long-running TV series, when the story arc is mostly suspended in favour of a single, self-contained episode.  As it happens, that self-contained episode is an interesting “closed circle” mystery set aboard ship,  combined with some well-observed character interactions and insightful commentary.  It’s a welcome change from the previous book (Miss Moriarty, I Presume?) which I described (in our review) as “a culmination of all that has gone before”, a drawing together of all the puzzle pieces so far laid out that made, ultimately, for a pretty dense read.  A Tempest at Sea feels lighter in tone.  The threat to Charlotte is still very much in existence, but it’s less prominent here and the murder mystery takes centre stage.

Dabney: Um…. no. For me, this was an even less pleasant read than Miss Moriarty, I Presume? It took me months to finish this book. I found it both dull and confusing. As much as it pains me–and, honestly I can barely believe I’m writing this–if this is what Sherry Thomas is writing these days, I’m simply not interested.

Caz:  I admit, it takes quite a while to get going and I really struggled through the first forty percent or so until things picked up, and once that happened, I started to enjoy it.

Can we talk about the overarching plot?  Although I enjoyed this book a bit more than the last one, I’m finding it hard to remain invested (or interested, really) in the whole Holmes vs. Moriarty thing.  I feel like I’m being asked to take it as read that Moriarty is a threat to Charlotte simply because he’s Holmes’ accepted nemesis.  He’s pulling strings behind the scenes, but I’m not getting an overall sense of menace because I don’t really know what he wants – other than Charlotte out of the way, of course.

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

The Secret Lives of Country Gentlemen (The Doomsday Books #1) by K.J. Charles

the secret lives of country gentlemen

This title may be purchased from Amazon

Abandoned by his father, Gareth Inglis grew up lonely, prickly, and used to disappointment. Still, he longs for a connection. When he meets a charming stranger, he falls head over heels—until everything goes wrong and he’s left alone again.

Then Gareth’s father dies, turning the shabby London clerk into Sir Gareth, with a grand house on the remote Romney Marsh and a family he doesn’t know. The Marsh is another world, a strange, empty place notorious for its ruthless gangs of smugglers. And one of them is dangerously familiar…

Joss Doomsday has run the Doomsday smuggling clan since he was a boy. When the new baronet—his old lover—agrees to testify against Joss’s sister, Joss acts fast to stop him. Their reunion is anything but happy, yet after the dust settles, neither can stay away. Soon, all Joss and Gareth want is the chance to be together. But the bleak, bare Marsh holds deadly secrets. And when Gareth finds himself threatened from every side, the gentleman and the smuggler must trust one another not just with their hearts but also with their lives.

Rating: A-

I’ve yet to meet a book by K.J. Charles that I haven’t at the very least liked – or more usually, loved – and her latest title, The Secret Lives of Country Gentlemen is no exception. The story is set in and around Romney Marsh in Kent – a fairly desolate part of the country even today and one that from the seventeenth to the nineteenth centuries, was something of a smuggler’s paradise due to its topography, location and isolation. TSLoCG is a fabulous mix of frenemies-to-lovers romance and mystery boasting a wonderfully evoked setting, lots of interesting historical detail and plenty of the wry humour and sharp observation that I so enjoy about the author’s work.

After the death of his wife, Sir Hugo Inglis sent his six-year-old son Gareth to live in London with his uncle. It very much a case of out of sight, out of mind for Sir Hugo, who married again and ignored his son’s pleas to be brought home. Gareth grew up without love and affection, knowing he was unwanted from the moment Henry Inglis made it very clear to his bereaved, exiled nephew that he had taken him in on sufferance and because he was being paid to. Gareth eventually studied law and has worked as his uncle’s clerk for several years, when, completely out of the blue, Inglis dismisses him for no reason. Just two days later, Gareth learns that his father is dead and that he has inherited the baronetcy, his house in Romney Marsh in Kent and a fairly respectable sum of money.

Going through his father’s books and papers, Gareth finds himself intrigued by his collection of books on natural history, maps of the local area and the collection of notebooks in which Sir Hugo made copious notes about the local birds, wildlife, flora and fauna and his particular interest in insects. Gareth has always been interested in natural history and at first thinks that by reading the notebooks, he might learn something about his father… but there’s nothing by way of personal reflection or insight to be found. Still, his own interest is piqued and he begins to explore his surroundings, starting in his own garden and then going further afield and onto the marshes. Out late one night, he stumbles across a string of ponies laden with packs and barrels; realising immediately what this means, he steps back out of sight, but can’t help overhearing voices raised in argument and then seeing a man pull off the cloth covering his companion’s face. Gareth is surprised to recognise the young woman, but before he can think much about it, she barks a command and the train moves on. The next day, Gareth thoughtlessly mentions this in front of his half-sister Cecilia’s beau, a revenue officer; the young woman is arrested and brought for trial, and Gareth, despite not really wanting to rock any boats, is called to give evidence against her.

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

Something Wild and Wonderful by Anita Kelly

something wild and wonderful ukThis title may be purchased from Amazon

Alexei Lebedev’s journey on the Pacific Crest Trail begins with saving a hot stranger from a snake. Alexei was prepared for rattlesnakes, blisters, and months of solitude. What he wasn’t prepared for is outgoing and charistmatic Ben Caravalho, and yet they keep running into each other. It might be coincidence. Then again, maybe there’s a reason the trail keeps bringing them together . . .

Ben has made his fair share of bad decisions, and almost all of them involved beautiful men, but there’s something about the gorgeous and quietly nerdy Alexei that he can’t just walk away from.

There are worse things than falling in love during the biggest adventure of your life, but when their paths start to diverge, Ben and Alexei begin to wonder if it’s possible to hold on to something this wild and wonderful.

Rating: B+

Anita Kelly’s Something Wild and Wonderful is a charming character-driven romance that, while quiet and somewhat understated, nonetheless packs quite the emotional punch. It’s set mostly on the Pacific Crest Trail, one of the most unusual settings I’ve ever come across in a romance novel, and boasts two complex, likeable leads who each has his own reason for undertaking the punishing two-and-a-half-thousand-plus-mile hike.

Six months before the story begins, Alexei Lebedev came out as gay to his deeply religious parents, who very promptly and quietly disowned him for his “choice”. He’s still in contact with his sister, Alina, but feels the loss of his parents and ostracism from the community in which he grew up very keenly. He’s been planning his hike along the PCT for months, and he still feels a pinch in his chest when he remembers that he owes his love of nature, birding and hiking to his father – but he hopes that by the end of the trail, maybe he’ll have become used to that feeling, maybe so used to it that he won’t even notice it any more.

It was hard to imagine, truthfully. But he was hopeful anyway. Hope was why he was here.

He meets Ben Caravalho on his very first day, literally saving Ben’s life when he stops him walking into the path of a rattlesnake. Alexei can’t help noticing the deep brown of his eyes and the warmth of his smile, but when Ben invites Alexei to walk with him and his party, Alexei declines. He’s been looking forward to the solitude, wanting the chance to say goodbye to his old life and find a bit of peace before starting over.

Ben’s reasons for hiking the PCT are similar to Alexei’s in that he, too, is looking forward to starting afresh. After a string of bad decisions, messy relationships, dead-end jobs and missed obligations throughout his twenties, he’s finally got his act together. After qualifiying as a nurse, he’s ready to start his career –

and is taking a few months to excise his restlessness and prepare himself for his new, responsible life. One thing he’s determined to do is to break his habit of falling in love so easily – usually with the wrong guy – so he absolutely isn’t going to fall for the next gorgeous man he sees. Even if that man did save his life…

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

Stone Skin (The Gargoyles of Arrington #2) by Jenn Burke

stone skin

This title may be purchased from Amazon

Can he break his curse before time runs out?

Despite being cursed to sleep as a gargoyle for a hundred years, and awake for only twenty-five, Rian O’Reilly is an optimist. He knows he can find a way to break the curse through the tattooed runes he’s spent years mastering. No need to wait for this true love crap. But he hasn’t found the right combination of magic and his time is almost up. Rian isn’t ready to lose everyone and everything. Again.

Professor Logan Davis knows about loss. In the past year, he’s lost his mother, his twin, his werewolf pack, and he’s on the verge of losing his mind. So when he’s invited to Arrington to learn about a legend he’s never heard of, he jumps at the chance for a working vacation. He doesn’t expect to find a handsome gargoyle who needs his help to break a centuries-old curse—and he certainly doesn’t expect his grief to finally overwhelm him.

As Rian comforts Logan, he starts to wonder if there might be something to this true love crap after all. He’d give anything to help this gentle giant of a man, but Logan needs time to heal…and time is the one thing Rian doesn’t have.

Rating: B-

Jenn Burke’s Stone Skin is book two in her Gargoyles of Arrington series, featuring three brothers who were cursed five hundred years ago, and their search for a way to break the curse once and for all. This is a trilogy with each book featuring a different brother and love interest, but the overarching plot means it’s probably best to read all the books in order; the author does include the backstory here, but I don’t think it really works as a standalone.

In Stone Wings we met Teague, Drew and Rian, the surviving three O’Reilly brothers who were turned to stone by a witch and cursed to live out their days as gargoyles. Thanks to a counter-curse by their aunt – also a witch – they are able to return to their human forms once every century and live as human for twenty-five years after which they return to their sleep in stone. The only way to break the curse is for them to find true love – which has now happened for two of them; the eldest brother, Finnian, found his love in 1899 and, sadly, lived his life without his brothers at his side – and Drew, who fell in love with their ‘caretaker’ and assistant, Josh in Stone Wings. With less than two years to go before their next ‘sleep’ the chances of Rian and Teague finding love and returning to their human forms is becoming less and less likely.

In the previous book, we learned that Rian has been scouring the internet for information on folklore, myths and curses – basically, anything that might help them find a way to break the curse before he and Teague return to stone once more, which is due to happen in less than two years time. And he suspects that he may not even have all of that time to keep trying; recently, he’s begun sleeping for longer periods than normal, sometimes for days at a time, and is worried this is a warning that his time may be up sooner than anticipated.

Professor of Anthropolgy at the University of Victoria, Dr. Logan Davis is a world-renowned expert on folklore and legend, and has driven to Arrington in order to find out more about the Irish legend brought to the US by the O’Reilly family. He suspects the tale is probably one he’s heard before, but he hasn’t heard this family’s spin on it – and honestly, he just wanted to get away from Victoria and the sad memories that have been dragging at him since the deaths of his mother (from cancer) and younger brother (in a motorcycle accident), both within the last six months. His car breaking down on the outskirts of Arrington – where there’s no phone signal – really shouldn’t have surprised him; his frustration is just one more thing pushing him closer and closer to the edge of falling into all those unwanted emotions he’s been squashing down for so long.

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

Liar City (Sugar & Vice #1) by Allie Therin

liar cityThis title may be purchased from Amazon

A murder has Seattle on edge, and it falls to a pacifist empath—and a notorious empath hunter—to find the killer before it’s too late.

It’s the middle of the night when part-time police consultant and full-time empath Reece gets an anonymous call warning him that his detective sister needs his help. At an out-of-the-way Seattle marina, he discovers that three people have been butchered—including the author of the country’s strictest anti-empathy bill, which is just days from being passed into law.

Soon, Reece’s caller arrives: a shadowy government agent known as The Dead Man, who is rumored to deal exclusively in cases involving empathy. He immediately takes over the investigation, locking out both local PD and the FBI, but, strangely, keeps Reece by his side.

As the two track an ever-growing trail of violence and destruction across Seattle, Reece must navigate a scared and angry city, an irritating attraction to his mysterious agent companion, and a rising fear that perhaps empaths like him aren’t all flight and no fight after all…

Rating: A-

Allie Therin moves from East to West and from the 1920s to the present day for her new Sugar & Spice series of paranormals set in an AU Seattle. Her début series – Magic in Manhattan – is a clever and imaginative combination of romance and magical adventure set in prohibition-era New York, and I enjoyed it a lot, even though I felt the overarching plot took a while to really hit its stride. But Ms. Therin’s latest release, Liar City, comes strong out of the gate and had me hooked right from the start. The story is an intriguing, fast-paced murder mystery where nothing is quite as it seems, the lines between good and evil are blurred and you’ll find yourself thinking about who the real monsters are and who the victims. It’s a strong start to what promises to be a compelling series, but one thing I have to say right now is don’t go into this book expecting an HEA or HFN, because there isn’t one. Even though it’s published by Carina Adores (an LGBTQ+ romance publisher) and is very clearly labelled as a romance on Amazon, it is NOT a romance in the generally accepted sense. (The two leads don’t even touch deliberately – their one accidental touch knocks one of them unconscious!) That said, this is only the first book in a series and it’s clear the author is setting up a very slooooow-burn.

Reece Davis is one of only two empaths in Seattle. Empaths can read other people’s emotions, but are subject to very strict regulations – such as having to wear special gloves whenever they are out in public, which not only identify them but also prevent them from reading people should they accidentally touch them. Empaths are avowed pacifists who are incredibly sensitive to acts of violence and would allow themselves to be hurt rather than hurt someone else – but despite that they are feared and mistrusted by many, who believe they are a threat to democracy, and this has given rise to conspiracy-theorist lobby groups and think-tanks, companies like Stone Solutions (which develops and manufactures anti-empathy devices), and to a new anti-empath bill designed to strip empaths of basic civil rights.

Reece is battling yet another bout of insomnia when he gets a phone call from an unknown number telling him that his sister, who is a detective with the Seattle PD, has just landed the biggest case of her career and needs his help. When asked, the caller says he’s Evan Grayson – which means nothing to Reece – but if there’s even a chance that Jamey needs him, Reece is going to be there. Detective Briony St. James has been called to the small Orca’s Gate Marina where three people – including a US senator, the originator of the new anti-empathy bill – have been brutally murdered aboard the yacht belonging to Cedric Stone (CEO of Stone Solutions). When Reece arrives, he can see Jamey is more than a bit rattled, and when he tells her who called him, she becomes even moreso, practically marching him towards one of their makeshift tents and instructing him firmly to stay put. The name Evan Grayson clearly means something to her, but she refuses to discuss it, saying only that she’s worried he’s going to show up.

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

The Strangest Forms (The Adventures of Holloway Holmes #1) by Gregory Ashe

the strangest forms

This title may be purchased from Amazon

Watson is dead. Holmes is alone. And Jack is desperate.

Sixteen-year-old Jack Moreno is managing to hold his life together. Barely. After a terrible car accident leaves his father unable to work, Jack makes ends meet by dropping out of school and covering his dad’s custodial shifts at a school for troubled teens, high in the Wasatch Mountains. Everything is going all right until the night Jack finds Sarah Watson—yes, descendant of that Watson—dead.

When the icy but intriguing Holloway Holmes—yes, descendant of that Holmes—learns of Watson’s death, he is determined to discover the killer on his own. But Jack and his father are the prime suspects in the official investigation, and Jack refuses to sit by and wait.

In an uneasy alliance with Holmes, Jack must hurry to learn what really happened to Sarah Watson, which means facing down a Moriarty, unearthing secrets and blackmail, and trying to solve the other murder at the Walker School, one that happened more than twenty years before. Working together is the only way Jack and Holmes might find the killer before he catches up with them, but both boys are keeping secrets of their own—secrets that threaten the fragile trust they’ve managed to build between them.

Rating: A-

Having a number of established and ongoing series on the go for the last couple of years means it’s been a while since we’ve had any new characters and situations from Gregory Ashe, but he’s starting 2023 with a bang and a new mystery series featuring a descendant of literature’s most famous detective. The Strangest Forms, book one of The Adventures of Holloway Holmes, is angsty, it’s funny, it’s poignant, it’s clever and it’s compelling – and despite the age of its protagonists, it’s a Gregory Ashe novel in every respect, featuring complex, flawed characters with trauma in their pasts and messy, difficult lives, and an intriguing, twisty mystery that doesn’t pull any punches.

Jack Moreno’s life was upended just over a year earlier, when a terrible car accident killed his mother and left his father with a TBI (traumatic brain injury) which causes mobility and memory issues, migranes and seizures. With his dad often unable to work, Jack dropped out of school so he could cover his custodial shifts at the Walker School for “troubled teens” in the Wasach Mountains of Utah, basically somewhere the wealthy elite dump their rebellious kids and then pretty much forget about them. With bills continually mounting up – a custodian’s salary doesn’t go far – Jack very quickly learned that there’s money to be made by someone who knows how to procure things, from booze, drugs and condoms to manga and gum – and when the book begins, he’s waiting for Sarah Watson to show so he can hand over the five hundred bucks worth of Xanax he’s sourced for her – on credit – and get paid, which is the most important thing if he wants to remain in one piece. Jack’s night goes downhill really fast when he finds Watson’s dead body laid out on top of the black garbage bags in a dumpster.

Jack’s thoughts are a mess – worrying about how he’s going to pay his dealer is, he realises, a shitty thing to do given the dead girl in front of him – but self-preservation is understandably high on Jack’s agenda; he extracts the money she owes him from Watson’s purse, reasoning that he needs it more than she does now. While doing this, Watson’s phone rings and the initials MM light up on the screen, but Jack doesn’t have much time to think about that; making sure he’s left no traces, he makes his way to the custodial office and calls the police.

That may not have been the best idea, it turns out, because the lead detective seems to have it in for Jack, big time. Realising – with shock and a sense of inevitability – that he and his dad are their prime suspects, Jack realises the only way to prove them innocent is to find out who really killed Watson, and for that, he’s going to need help.

Thus is Jack’s uneasy alliance with the icy and aloof Holloway Holmes born. Jack has never had anything to do with Holmes – he knows he’s gorgeous as a Greek statue and scary as hell, and that’s about it – but he hadn’t expected to find him quite so intriguing, and, in spite of himself, wanting to get to know him better.

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

The Best Man’s Problem (The Navarros #2) by Sera Taíno

the best man's problem

This title may be purchased from Amazon

Is the best man

the best man for him?

His sister’s wedding isn’t the ideal place for Rafael to reunite with the man he kissed in a moment of passion. But it’s impossible to avoid best man Étienne! The gorgeous Haitian photographer hasn’t forgotten their kiss, even if Rafi is the most maddening person he’s ever met. Will the two prove that opposites not only attract—but can fall in love?

Rating: B

Sera Taíno’s The Best Man’s Problem is an enemies-to-lovers slow-burn romance between two guys who are to undertake best man duties at the wedding of their sister and best friend respectively – Val and Philip, protagonists of the first Navarros book, A Delicious Dilemma.  I haven’t read that one, but The Best Man’s Problem works perfectly well as a standalone, and I enjoyed it, in spite of a bit of a rocky start.

Rafael Navarro and Étienne Galois shared a passionate kiss the previous summer, but immediately after, Rafi decided it was a mistake and walked away, leaving Étienne stunned at the intensity of the connection he’d felt and disappointed at Rafi’s rejection. That was several months ago, and Rafi has ghosted Étienne ever since, determined to fall back on his preferred strategy when looking back on a rare poor decision – to pretend it never happened. When the book opens, it’s the evening of Val and Philip’s engagement party and Rafi is having to try really hard to employ his strategy and not think about the fact that Étienne will also be at the party. He’s still berating himself for instigating That Kiss – it’s the worst decision he’s made in a long time, and the last thing he needs is someone as chaotic as Étienne trampling all over his nicely organised life.

Étienne has thought of Rafi often since that night, unable to forget the feel of him under his hands, the taste of his skin – or his annoyance that someone who knows him so little should turn out to be so judgmental. He berates himself for wanting Rafi and for wanting him to like him, but those desires just won’t go away. As Philip’s best friend, Étienne was naturally his first choice for best man for his wedding to Rafi’s sister – but his job as a photographer means he’s often out of the country, so Val and Philip suggest that Rafi should work with him to plan the bachelor party and on the other best man duties. Both men think it’s a terrible idea… but they can’t say no.

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

The God Prince (Earthborn #2) by Marian Perera

This title may be purchased from Amazon

Ranjit Blake, captain of the guard, protects his people by killing whoever threatens them. Even if the danger is Prince Sheruke, a half-human earth elemental. Sheruke can’t be harmed when he becomes a landslide or a lava flow, but Ranj tricks him into taking his human form. And at point-blank range, Ranj shoots him in the head.

Ranj immediately wishes he’d saved the bullet for himself, because Sheruke has a secret—he’s invulnerable in either form. That leaves Ranj no choice but to surrender and offer to serve Sheruke. In any capacity he desires.

Sheruke may have stone eyes and disfiguring scars, but his power and charisma make up for those—and there’s never been a human he couldn’t tame. Not even Ranj. But as the reckless gunslinger gives in to temptation, Sheruke wants even more of him. And the danger level is off the charts. Because if Ranj ever discovers Sheruke’s other secret, the one which could destroy even a Prince, Ranj will have to choose between the safety of his people and the life of the Prince who has fallen for him.

Rating: B

The God Prince is the second book in the Earthborn series. I haven’t read book one, and would say that there’s enough information contained in this book for the story to make sense. BUT. I see from reading reviews of the previous book, that not reading it means I’ve missed out on some details about the background to the world in which the book is set (one hundred years ago, a cruise ship from our world was lost in fog and went through a portal to another realm and the survivors settled there) so if that would bother you, then perhaps you would be better off going back to read The Beast Prince first.

Some thirty years before this story begins, the murderously insane Queen Beneath the Earth gave birth to a number of sons, who immediately clawed their way out of the earth in order to escape her and then scattered in various directions, to both get as far away from her as possible and to avoid each other. These Earthborn Princes now rule over the various townships of Avalon – some of them more ably and fairly than others – and are jealously possessive of what they regard as theirs. They spend most of their time in human form, but can also become mud, lava, sand, rock, anything that is ‘of the earth’ in the blink of an eye – and in their earth forms they’re invincible.

Ranjit Blake, Captain of the Guard in Solstice Harbor, has come to New Canton to visit his sister Sobha, and is surprised, on arrival, to see a number of townsfolk hard at work repairing damage to the town walls. Given that the town’s patron is an Earthborn Prince who is capable of making such repairs thanks to his ability to manipulate rock and stone, they shouldn’t have to do this themselves. His sister tells him that Prince Sheruke left town a few days earlier and that he was so angry when he did, that he smashed through the wall after someone had angered him, and that they’re still waiting for him to return. Then Sobha, somewhat reluctantly, tells him the identity of the human who had angered Sheruke so greatly – Peter, Ranj’s friend and former lover. Ranj immediately goes to see Peter, who doesn’t know what he did wrong to make Sheruke – never before known to raise a hand in anger – beat him and then storm off, but given that he angered their Prince, the denizens of New Canton want nothing to do with him and he’s become a pariah. Ranj is furious when he finds out what’s happened to his friend and is determined to do something about it. He decides to kill the Prince and he hatches a plan whereby he and Peter will find Sheruke and ensure he’s in his human form so that Ranj can shoot him. But his hastily conceived and ill thought-out plan goes awry when even a bullet to Sheruke’s head doesn’t do the trick. Fully expecting the Prince to kill him for the attempt on his life, Ranj braces himself for a killing blow – but it doesn’t come. Sheruke spares his life – on condition that Ranj serves him in whatever capacity he desires.

Prince Sheruke prides himself on being an enlightened and benevolent ruler. Unlike some of his brothers, who rule their people with fear and a rod of iron, he believes the people should be allowed to govern themselves and suggested the creation of a Council, which is now responsible for running New Canton. Sheruke continues to accept the town’s tribute to him as its protector, but doesn’t interfere in the day to day business of running it. But he’s keeping a secret, one that unnerves him greatly. Not only is he now invincible in his human form as well as in his earth one, his powers are increasing – and he’s started to notice other changes, too. He can’t remember lashing out at Peter and smashing through the wall or why he did it, food has lost all its taste, and he’s begun to dislike the fine clothes he’s often given as part of the town tribute. Then Ranj starts to notice certain inconsistencies as well, words and figures of speech which sound out of place and which Sheruke denies saying, actions he cannot remember… could the Prince be going mad? And if he is, who will be able stop him should he turn his anger on the people of New Canton?

I enjoyed The God Prince despite a few reservations. The author carefully ekes out the information about what is happening to Sheruke to create an intriguing mystery, but while the world building is pretty good, and the big showdown at the end is very well done, the romance between Sheruke and Ranjit is underdeveloped. Even though the author clearly knows how to build sexual tension – there are a couple of scenes where the sizzling heat between the pair could have melted my Kindle! – I never felt there was much of an emotional connection there. They spend plenty of on-page time together, they talk and banter and Ranj, although he’s effectively a servant, doesn’t take any crap while also knowing when not to push things too far. I liked that aspect of their relationship and could see an unlikely friendship developing between them, but I never really understood why Ranj fell for Sheruke and vice versa. There’s attraction there, for sure;  Sheruke quickly recognises that he’s attracted to Ranj, but doesn’t, to Ranj’s surprise, push for sex despite their status as master and servant.  In fact, he holds back, partly because Ranj is so clearly not interested and partly becuase he’s conscious of the scars running down one side of his body (inflicted by the Queen during his escape.)  The author does a good job of showing Sheruke’s feelings for Ranj growing and changing, but Ranj spends a lot of time in denial and even once the relationship has turned sexual, continues to deny there are any feelings there on his part.  There just isn’t enough real progression from ‘I’m attracted to you and want to jump your bones’ to ‘I love you’.

Still, The God Prince is an entertaining and well-written fantasy tale, even if the romance isn’t quite what I’d hoped for. I’m not sure if there will be more m/m entries in the series, but I’d certainly read them if there are.

Back in the Saddle by B.A. Tortuga

back in the saddle

This title may be purchased from Amazon

When David Garcia’s family suffers a loss, he comes back to New Mexico to help, leaving his life in Austin behind. He knows he has to make the best of it, so he uses his skills as a teacher to set up a daycare business on his parents’ ranch and start helping out local friends and family who need a babysitter now and then. It’s the perfect job for someone who also needs to run the small family ranch and make money to keep it afloat.

When rodeo cowboy Wiley Marquart decides to start a family, he sure doesn’t expect the barrel racer he made a deal with to up and leave him high and dry in New Mexico with both of his girls and nothing but a check once a month. He loves his kids, but starting a ranch from the ground up is tough, and he needs someone to watch the girls when he has to work the back forty or deliver a trained horse. So when he meets David, the relief if immediate. And it doesn’t hurt that after a false start or two, he likes the guy.

Between navigating family pitfalls, work disasters, and two ranches, David and Wiley start to forge a friendship, and then a lot more. But can they find a way to mesh their lives without dropping any of the balls they’re juggling, or are they destined for disaster?

Rating: C-

B.A. Tortuga is a prolific author of contemporary m/m romance, but I’ve never read anything of hers before, so when Back in the Saddle came up for review, I decided it was time to give her a try. I mean, hot cowboys, single dads… what’s not to love? Unfortunately, quite a bit.

The plot, such as it is, is a simple one. Teacher David Garcia leaves his life in Austin to go home to the family ranch in New Mexico after his brother Andy is killed in the line of duty and his father has a heart attack. He loves his job teaching at a school for kids on the autistic spectrum and his life there, but doesn’t think twice about heading home – temporarily, he thinks – to help out.

Former rodeo rider Wiley Marquart is left – almost literally – holding the baby when his ex-wife dumps their three-year-old twin girls on him without notice and heads off on the road with her country-singer girlfriend. He adores Liberty and Sierra, but being abruptly left with sole custody isn’t what he and Ash agreed; they were friends who acted as each other’s beards on the conservative rodeo circuit, and as they both wanted kids, Wiley wanted to settle down on a ranch, so they decided to get married and co-parent. But now Ash has upended his life – how is he supposed to do everything that needs doing around the ranch while being good father to two kids under five?

As luck would have it, Wiley’s nearest neighbour has started up a daycare facility from his parents’ ranch, and he comes highly recommended, so Wiley decides to give it a try the next time he needs to be kid-free to run some errands. The girls take to David right away and Wiley is not long behind; friendship and mutual attraction blossom, David is the bestest most dedicated childcarer to ever childcare (he’s practically perfect in every way!) Wiley and his girls are soon spending more time at the Garcia place than their own and… it’s a romance, you know where it’s going.

The story is pleasant enough but it doesn’t bring anything new to the table. Wiley and David are bland and barely two-dimensional, and everybody is so very earnest – every scene is described down to the last detail, whether it’s making breakfast or making the bed; the dialogue feels completely unnatural and everything is explained in great detail, and the repetition of phrases like “You rock!” whenever someone does something good and “Yum” whenever food is discussed stick out like sore thumbs. I don’t know anyone – let alone two grown men – who would say “Yum” about food unless they were taking the piss. And as for the “yummy” when one of them is looking at the cock he’s about to suck for the first time… I just about stopped myself from snorting tea out of my nose.

And then there is the kids’ dialogue. This is a lesson in how not to write three-year-olds talking, from the “pweeeeease” to the “mitter(mister), using “her” instead of “she” (“her coming? “Her said…) to ridiculous phrasing like “You am happy”, “Mitter luffs you!” Ugh. They sound like no three-year-old I’ve ever encountered.

The one or two potentially interesting things about the plot are never developed. David’s grief over his brother’s death is not explored and nor is his sense that his parents would have preferred Andy over him, because Andy was the (straight) one with kids who was always intended to inherit the ranch and keep it in the family. David’s parents clearly love him and they’re close, but when they decide, pretty much on the spur of the moment, to buy an RV and go travelling because they want to escape the painful memories (about Andy) associated with the house, ON THE VERY DAY THAT DAVID HAS AN ACCIDENT AND BREAKS HIS ARM, I was appalled at their selfishness. They just bugger off, leaving him to run his daycare business and the ranch on his own when he’s injured and on pain medication! WTF?? What sort of caring person does that? Okay, so Wiley is on hand to help out, but he’s working his own place as well, and basically ends up doing the work of two, and I couldn’t believe they didn’t even consider delaying their departure, or at least offer to wait until David was feeling better. And then, towards the end, they declare they’re giving up the ranch for good and leaving it to David with the proviso that they can stay there when they need to, and not once do they ever ask David what he wants. Again – WTF? Lucky for them David has fallen for Wiley and they’ve decided they want to make a home and family there, but they didn’t know that was on the cards when they made their plans.

Back in the Saddle was disappointing to say the least. There’s no romantic chemistry between David and Wiley, all the characters are unmemorable, the kids are unbelievably twee and the whole thing is dull and overwritten. I don’t think I’ll be rushing to read anything else by this author.