The Monuments Men Murders (The Art of Murder #4) by Josh Lanyon (audiobook) – Narrated by Kale Williams

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

Someone is watching. Someone is waiting.

Despite having attracted the attention of a dangerous stalker, Special Agent Jason West is doing his best to keep his mind on his job and off his own troubles.

But his latest case implicates one of the original Monuments Men in the theft and perhaps destruction of part of the world’s cultural heritage – a lost painting by Vermeer. Naval Reserve Lieutenant Commander Emerson Harley wasn’t just a World War 2 hero, he was the grandfather Jason grew up idolizing. In fact, Grandpa Harley was a large part of what inspired Jason to join the FBI’s Art Crime Team.

Learning that his legendary grandfather might have turned a blind eye to American GIs “liberating” priceless art treasures at the end of the war is more than disturbing. It’s devastating.

Jason is determined to clear his grandfather’s name, even if that means breaking a few rules and regulations himself – putting him on a collision course with romantic partner BAU Chief Sam Kennedy.

Meanwhile, someone in the shadows is biding his time…

Rating: Narration: B; Content: B+

Josh Lanyon’s The Art of Murder series has an overarching plotline and the central romance evolves over the course of the books, so it’s advisable to listen to them in order to so as to fully appreciate the progression of both. It also means there will be spoilers for the other titles in this review of The Monuments Men Murders, (book four), so proceed with caution if you haven’t yet read or listened to them.

In book one of the series, The Mermaid Murders, Special Agent Jason West of the FBI Art Crimes Team was temporarily partnered with Senior Special Agent Sam Kennedy – chief of the Behavioural Analysis Unit and something of a legend in the bureau – to work the case of a missing girl. The pair didn’t hit it off, Kennedy plainly unhappy at being partnered up at all, let alone with an art crimes specialist, Jason irritated and angry at Kennedy’s high-handed arrogance. Over the course of the book, the pair began to appreciate each other’s skills and to like each other – and even when they didn’t, they shared an undeniable and intense chemistry that led to a couple of passionate hook-ups. The book ended with their agreeing to get together again when they could which, given their jobs are in distant parts of the country, they knew was unlikely to be often. In the books since, they’ve fallen in love and are pursuing a long-distance relationship, which isn’t easy for a number of reasons, not least of which is the fact that Sam has always been something of a lone wolf; at forty-six he’s at the pinnacle of his career and is – and always has been – utterly dedicated to his job to the exclusion of pretty much all else. Falling for Jason has upset his carefully maintained balance, and he’s found it difficult to come to terms with the fact that he’s finally found something – someone – who means as much, if not more, to him as his job. Jason understands Sam’s commitment, and in fact shares it; he’s every bit as dedicated to his job as Sam is to his, and just as much in love, but he knows he’ll never really come first with Sam and seems continually waiting for him to call a halt to… whatever this thing is between them.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

The Affair of the Mysterious Letter by Alexis Hall (audiobook) – Narrated by Nicholas Boulton

This audiobook may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

Upon returning to the city of Khelathra-Ven after five years fighting a war in another universe, Captain John Wyndham finds himself looking for somewhere to live, and expediency forces him to take lodgings at 221b Martyrs Walk. His new housemate is Miss Shaharazad Haas, a consulting sorceress of mercurial temperament and dark reputation.

When Miss Haas is enlisted to solve a case of blackmail against one of her former lovers, Miss Eirene Viola, Captain Wyndham finds himself drawn into a mystery that leads him from the salons of the literary set to the drowned back-alleys of Ven and even to a prison cell in lost Carcosa. Along the way he is beset by criminals, menaced by pirates, molested by vampires, almost devoured by mad gods, and called upon to punch a shark.

But the further the companions go in pursuit of the elusive blackmailer, the more impossible the case appears. Then again, in Khelathra-Ven reality is flexible, and the impossible is Miss Haas’ stock-in-trade.

Rating: Narration: A+; Content: B+

The Affair of the Mysterious Letter is one of those books that defies categorisation. Part sci-fi/fantasy, part paranormal, part mystery, it’s what might have resulted had Sir Arthur Conan Doyle got drunk one night in company with Douglas Adams and Terry Pratchett – slightly bonkers, devastatingly witty and wholly entertaining – and I was utterly captivated by all ten-and-a-half hours of it. Alexis Hall is a supremely talented wordsmith, and if I were to give examples of all the turns of phrase that had me grinning like an idiot – hand-curated whelks, anyone? – laughing out loud or simply marvelling at the elegance of the prose or the precision of the well-aimed barbs, I’d be here all day. So to spare you that, I’ll do my best to encapsulate this wonderfully weird story in a thousand words or thereabouts.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

TBR Challenge: Widdershins (Whyborne & Griffin #1) by Jordan L. Hawk

This title may be purchased from Amazon

A reclusive scholar. A private detective. And a book of spells that could destroy the world.

Love is dangerous. Ever since the tragic death of the friend he adored, Percival Endicott Whyborne has ruthlessly suppressed any desire for another man. Instead, he spends his days studying dead languages at the museum where he works. So when handsome ex-Pinkerton Griffin Flaherty approaches him to translate a mysterious book, Whyborne wants to finish the job and get rid of the detective as quickly as possible.

Griffin left the Pinkertons after the death of his partner. Now in business for himself, he must investigate the murder of a wealthy young man. His only clue: an encrypted book that once belonged to the victim.

As the investigation draws them closer, Griffin’s rakish charm threatens to shatter Whyborne’s iron control. But when they uncover evidence of a powerful cult determined to rule the world, Whyborne must choose: to remain safely alone, or to risk everything for the man he loves.

Rating: B

Like so many of the books I end up reading for the TBR Challenge each year, Jordan L. Hawk’s paranormal/romantic suspense Whyborne & Griffin series is one I’ve been meaning to read for AGES, so this prompt was just what I needed to galvanise me into reading book one, Widdershins.

Percival Endicott Whyborne comes from a very wealthy family – his father is a railroad baron – but didn’t want to go into the business (as his older brother did) and is thus somewhat estranged from his family.  His mother has been unwell for years and he doesn’t get on with his father, who disapproves of his choice to dedicate himself to comparative philology (Whyborne is fluent in thirteen languages and can read more,) scholarship and a job in the Department of Antiquities at the Ladysmith Museum in Widdershins, Massachusetts.  He keeps himself very much to himself, never really having got the hang of social interaction, and ruthlessly suppresses his attraction to men,  still haunted by thoughts of the first boy he ever loved and blaming himself for his tragic death.  He has only one real friend, Dr. Christine Putnam, a fiercely intelligent, independently minded archaeologist who won’t let him hide himself away all the time, and who, it must be said, has some of the best lines in the book:

“I will not surrender my profession simply because men throughout history have been unduly enamored of their penises!“

(this said in response to a male colleague seeking to prevent her looking at a papyrus fragment depicting a fellow “… in rather an excited state.” )

The appearance of ex-Pinkerton detective Griffin Flaherty at the museum upsets Whyborne’s carefully maintained equilibrium.  Flaherty been asked to investigate the death of Philip Rice, son of the museum’s director who, the day before he died, sent a small, leather-bound book to his father which Griffin has brought to the museum – specifically to Whyborne – to have translated in order to see if its contents have any bearing on Philip’s death.  Although Whyborne is supposed to be working on deciphering some ancient scrolls which are due to be displayed in an upcoming exhibition, he agrees, wanting nothing more than to get the translation done and get rid of the handsome, too-friendly detective who is far too tempting for his peace of mind.

Whyborne’s efforts quickly reveal the book to be an Arcanorum, a book of arcane spells and alchemical treatises which details many occult rituals, not least of which is one able to bring back the dead.  As strange things start happening – from grave robbing to the appearance of mysterious and terrifying beasts, to break-ins at the museum  and the discovery of a powerful and ancient cult – Whyborne and Griffin are drawn into an investigation that will test them both to the limit and force them both to confront some of their darkest fears.

I enjoyed the story, which is immensely readable and entertaining, and I really liked the two central characters, reclusive, gawky Whyborne, and the more outgoing Griffin, whose handsome, charming exterior hides insecurities and emotional damage of his own.  While the story is related entirely from Whyborne’s PoV, the author does a terrific job of showing us Griffin through his eyes, although of course, Whyborne fails to notice the other man’s interest in him because he’s become so used to believing himself to be dull, awkward and unattractive.  But Griffin is smitten from the start; he obviously finds Whyborne’s shyness endearing and is also able to see beyond the bumbling scholar to the courageous, brilliant man beneath, his feelings made clear by the way he treats Whyborne with the sort of courtesy and respect he has never received from anyone before.

Their relationship starts as a slow, smouldering burn, with lots of longing looks and glancing touches, but after that, it moves fairly quickly – perhaps just a little bit too quickly – from that initial frisson to emotional commitment.  As this is the first book in a long running series (the eleventh and final book has just been published), the author could have perhaps taken a little more time to get them to the the ILYs.  I liked them as a couple and liked the way they come to know each other and talk about their pasts; the romance is both sweet and sexy as Griffin gradually coaxes Whyborne from his shell and Whyborne starts to allow someone beyond the emotional walls he’s so carefully constructed.  I just would have liked there to have been a little more time spent building an emotional connection between that initial slow burn and the declarations.  Delayed gratification and all that 😉

The plot, with its Lovecraftian influences and overtones, is a mix of suspense and supernatural horror, full of scary monsters, spooky goings-on (and a fair few “eeew!” moments) and a charismatic though creepy AF villain. The story is well-paced, with plenty of action interspersed among the more intimate and introspective moments, and moves inexorably towards a high-stakes climax which, while perhaps a tad predictable is nonetheless exciting.

In spite of my reservations about the romance and some aspects of the plot, I enjoyed Widdershins and am looking forward to reading the rest of the series.

It Takes Two to Tumble (Seducing the Sedgwicks #1) by Cat Sebastian (audiobook) – Narrated by Joel Leslie

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon.

Some of Ben Sedgwick’s favorite things:

  • Helping his poor parishioners
  • Baby animals
  • Shamelessly flirting with the handsome Captain Phillip Dacre

After an unconventional upbringing, Ben is perfectly content with the quiet, predictable life of a country vicar, free of strife or turmoil. When he’s asked to look after an absent naval captain’s three wild children, he reluctantly agrees, but instantly falls for the hellions. And when their stern but gloriously handsome father arrives, Ben is tempted in ways that make him doubt everything.

Some of Phillip Dacre’s favorite things:

  • His ship
  • People doing precisely as they’re told
  • Touching the irresistible vicar at every opportunity

Phillip can’t wait to leave England’s shores and be back on his ship, away from the grief that haunts him. But his children have driven off a succession of governesses and tutors and he must set things right. The unexpected presence of the cheerful, adorable vicar sets his world on its head and now he can’t seem to live without Ben’s winning smiles or devastating kisses.

In the midst of runaway children, a plot to blackmail Ben’s family, and torturous nights of pleasure, Ben and Phillip must decide if a safe life is worth losing the one thing that makes them come alive.

Rating: Narration: A-; Content: B

I enjoyed reading Cat Sebastian’s It Takes Two to Tumble when it was published back in 2017, so naturally, I was pleased to see it make its way into audio with the always reliable Joel Leslie at the helm. It’s the first book in the Seducing the Sedgwicks series about a group of siblings who had a very unconventional upbringing in a household comprising their father – a poet and advocate of free love – his wife and his mistress and various hangers-on. Things were fairly chaotic; the Sedgwick offspring had mostly to fend for themselves and as they grew to adulthood, the eldest, Benedict, shouldered the responsibility for looking out for his brothers. It’s an engaging story in which the parallels with The Sound of Music are impossible to miss (country-vicar-meets-grouchy-sea-captain-with-unruly-children) in spite of the absence of Dame Julie Andrews and ‘Do, Re, Mi’!

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

Her Steadfast Hero/Her Devoted Hero (Black Dawn #1 & #2) by Caitlyn O’Leary (audiobook) – Narrated by Aiden Snow

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

Her Steadfast Hero (Book 1)

When the hospital is overrun by the most brutal of convicts that escaped during the earthquake, and an American doctor is held for ransom, the Navy SEAL unit Black Dawn is called in. Can David Sloane and Black Dawn rescue Dr. Carys Adams before it is too late? Through all the turmoil will David and Sarah realize that their time has finally come, and they were meant to be together?

Her Devoted Hero (Book 2)

When one of her co-workers is murdered and it looks like Kenna might be the next one in the killer’s crosshairs, Dex is determined to keep her safe. But with a target on her back, it’s really hard to keep a shield over her heart.

Rating: Narration: B; Content: D/C

This audiobook consists of instalments one and two in Caitlyn O’Leary’s Black Dawn series of romantic suspense stories featuring the Black Dawn Navy SEAL team. I’m a fan of the genre and am always on the lookout for new titles to listen to, plus Aiden Snow is a very experienced narrator, so I thought I’d give these stories a try. In the end, I found Her Devoted Hero to be the more enjoyable of the two; the story was more interesting and the romance a little better developed, while Her Steadfast Hero suffered from what I call “novella-itis” in that it felt rushed and everything – plot, characterisation and romance –were very superficial.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

How to Love a Duke in Ten Days (The Devil You Know #1) by Kerrigan Byrne (audiobook) – Narrated by Derek Perkins

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

Famed and brilliant, Lady Alexandra Lane has always known how to look out for to herself. But nobody would ever expect that she has darkness in her past – one that she pays a blackmailer to keep buried. Now, with her family nearing bankruptcy, Alexandra strikes upon a solution: Get married to one of the empire’s most wealthy eligible bachelors. Even if he does have the reputation of a devil.

Love takes no prisoners.

Piers Gedrick Atherton, the Duke of Redmayne, is seeking revenge and the first step is securing a bride. Winning a lady’s hand is not so easy, however, for a man known as the Terror of Torcliff. Then, Alexandra enters his life like a bolt of lightning. When she proposes marriage, Piers knows that, like him, trouble haunts her footsteps. But her gentleness, sharp wit, independent nature, and incredible beauty awakens every fierce desire within him. He will do whatever it takes to keep her safe in his arms.

Rating: Narration: A-; Content: B

The first thing I’m going to say about How to Love a Duke in Ten Days, the first book in Kerrigan Byrne’s new Devil You Know series is this: don’t let the cutesy title fool you. Unlike most of the romances out there with dumb movie or song rip-off titles, this isn’t a light-hearted, fluffy historical rom-com. Ms. Byrne has become known for writing fairly dark stories featuring damaged characters with troubled pasts, filled with purple-tinged prose and melodrama, and this is no different. The book opens with what’s become one of the author’s trademarks – an impactful yet disturbing prologue set some years in the past that details a traumatic event in the life of one of the leads. In this case, there’s a scene of sexual assault and murder, and listeners should be aware that the assault and its effects on the heroine in terms of how she views men and relationships are mentioned throughout. And while it’s possible to avoid listening to the event itself, skipping the prologue in its entirety will mean missing out on meeting Alexandra’s friends (and future heroines) and the events that bind them together.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

Scandalous (The Outcasts #3) by Minerva Spencer

This title may be purchased from Amazon

“Have you no decency?”

Straight-laced missionary Sarah Fisher has never met a man like Captain Martin Bouchard. He is the most beautiful person—male or female—she’s ever seen. Overwhelmingly masculine, elegantly attired despite months at sea, he is in complete command of everyone and everything around him: everyone, that is, except Sarah. But that’s about to change, because Sarah has bought Bouchard’s mercy with the only thing she has to sell: her body.

“None at all…”

In spite of her outrageous offer, Martin has no doubt Sarah is a virgin, and a most delectable one at that. But instead of bedding her, he finds himself staring down the muzzle of his own pistol. Clearly, the longer she stays on his ship, the greater the chances that she’ll end up its damned captain! Most infuriating of all, she looks past his perfect exterior to the wounded man inside. Can Martin outrun his scandalous past in time to have a future with the first woman to find and capture his heart?

Rating: B-

Scandalous is the third book in Minerva Spencer’s series The Outcasts, and it takes as its hero Martín Etienne Bouchard, the beautiful , enigmatic and seductive privateer who was introduced in the previous book, BarbarousMs. Spencer’s sophisticated, precise prose continues to impress, as does her ability to tell a compelling story and create complex characters, but something about the principals and romance in Scandalous didn’t quite gel for me.  The heroine is determined and independent of spirit in a way that feels perfectly right for the story and the period, but the hero, while he has a truly traumatising backstory, spends much of the novel behaving like an emotionally stunted adolescent. The author skilfully makes the reader aware that there are good reasons for Martín’s behaviour and actually manages (sometimes) to make him into a fairly sympathetic character – even before we find out the true extent of what he went through (which doesn’t happen until fairly near the end) – but there were still times I came perilously close to losing patience with him.

Martín Bouchard is a former slave who is now a wealthy privateer who has built himself a fearsome reputation as a cold, hard killer who was more concerned with his cravat than his life. Not surprisingly, Martín hates those who buy and sell slaves with a passion, so he has little sympathy for the crew of the Blue Bird, a Dutch Ship with a hold full of slaves, when he captures it off Africa’s Gold Coast.

The daughter of missionaries, Sarah Fisher was born in Africa – in the village of N’Goe – where she’s lived all her life.  Her parents died after contracting a sickness that killed many in the village, and since their deaths some two years earlier, Sarah has acted as the village’s healer.  When the slavers arrived in N’Goe and captured all its inhabitants, Sarah went with them, which is how she comes to be aboard the Blue Bird when it is attacked by the Golden Scythe, a British privateer, at the same time as the crew is on the verge of mutiny.

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