The Wolf at the Door (Big Bad Wolf #1) by Charlie Adhara (audiobook) – Narrated by Erik Bloomquist

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

Hunting for big bad wolves was never part of Agent Cooper Dayton’s plan, but a werewolf attack lands him in the carefully guarded Bureau of Special Investigations. A new case comes with a new partner: ruggedly sexy werewolf Oliver Park.

Park is an agent of The Trust, a werewolf oversight organization working to ease escalating tensions with the BSI. But as far as Cooper’s concerned, it’s failing. As they investigate a series of mysterious deaths unlike anything they’ve seen, every bone in Cooper’s body is suspicious of his new partner – even when Park proves himself as competent as he is utterly captivating.

When more people vanish, pressure to solve the case skyrockets. And though he’d resolved to keep things professional, Cooper’s friction with Park soon erupts…into a physical need that can’t be contained or controlled. But with a body count that’s rising by the day, werewolves and humans are in equal danger. If Cooper and Park don’t catch the killer soon, one – or both – of them could be the next to go.

Rating: Narration: C-; Content: A-

Charlie Adhara’s Big Bad Wolf series of romantic suspense novels with a paranormal twist was a surprise hit for me given I’m not usually a fan of shifter/werewolf stories. But I was persuaded to pick up the first book – The Wolf at the Door – last year by one of my fellow AAR reviewers, and was immediately hooked by the unique premise and the skilful way in which the author combined romance, mystery and paranormal elements into an exciting and entertaining procedural drama. I’d hoped that perhaps the series would make it into audio, and was really excited when I saw it pop up on a forthcoming release list… although that excitement was tempered slightly by the fact that the narrator was new-to-me and because Tantor doesn’t have the greatest track record when it comes to selecting the right narrator for the job.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

The Pros & Cons of Deception (Pros & Cons #2) by A.E. Wasp (audiobook) – Narrated by Tor Thom and Alexandre Steele

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

There’s nothing like being blackmailed by a dead man to really bring a group of cons together. The deal is simple, we do the jobs and Charlie’s lawyer wipes the slate clean for each of us, one at a time.

Job number two lands right in my lap. I’m Bond. Wesley Bond. (I can’t resist saying it that way. Blame my dad, if you can find him.) You could call me a hacker. I redistribute wealth – moving it from rich slimebags to poorer but infinitely more deserving people – and make a tidy profit as I do. My mission, should I choose to accept it, is to bring down some modern-day slave traders.

With the life of the one person in this world I love on the line, I can’t afford any screw-ups or distractions. Unfortunately, my biggest distraction is my biggest asset – Danny Monroe. Danny is a leftover complication from our first job. He’s a smart, funny, gorgeous ex-prostitute, who can’t seem to keep his clothes on. I can’t seem to keep my mouth shut around him. But I need a fake boyfriend, and Danny is the only option.

We don’t know who the bad guy is; we have no idea how to prove anything. If I’m going to do this, I’m going to need all the help I can get. Like it or not, we’re all in this together.

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

The Pros & Cons of Deception is the second book in the Pros & Cons series, and the synopsis for the series – a group of misfits is blackmailed into carrying out a series of missions left to them by a dead man – sounded like a mash-up of LeverageCharlie’s Angels and Ocean’s Eleven and as though it might be fun. Having finished this instalment, I not sure that “fun” is the word I’d use to describe it; in fact, it turned out to be rather silly, with a bunch of grown men acting and talking like hormonal, teenaged-boys, and a plot so thin as to be see-through.

Retriever of illicitly obtained information Charlie Bingham is dead, and in his will, he left instructions for his lawyer, Miranda Bosley (yes, really ;)) to bring together a disparate group of men – some of them criminals, some not – in order to carry out his last instructions in exchange for the destruction of the information Charlie held on each of them. In the previous book, The Pros & Cons of Vengeance, ex-Special Forces Close Protection specialist Steele Alvarez was instructed to take down a dirty Senator – and along with hacker Wesley Bond, grifter Carson Grieves, thief Ridge Pfeiffer and disgruntled FBI Agent Leo Shook – set about doing just that. Along the way, he and the team rescued two young ex-hookers – Breck and Danny – from a violent situation, and Steele fell for Breck (who happens to be Ridge’s brother). When this book opens, we find them all, together with the enigmatic housekeeper Josie (whom the author bills as an “International Woman of Mystery”), comfortably holed up in Charlie’s luxury home in Miami.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

King Slayer (Fog City #2) by Layla Reyne

This title may be purchased from Amazon.

Never fall for a mark. Mission fail.

Christopher Perri—a.k.a. Dante Perry—infiltrated the Madigan organization with one goal: vengeance for his murdered partner. Falling for the assassin at the head of the table wasn’t part of the plan, but Hawes Madigan is not the cold, untouchable Prince of Killers Chris expected. Everything about the newly crowned king is hot, and every inch of him eminently touchable…and off-limits once Chris’s cover is blown.

Exposure couldn’t come at a worse time. Hawes’s throne is threatened, and Chris suspects the same person who killed his partner is behind the coup. Working with Hawes benefits them both, but Chris’s employer has other ideas. Dismantling criminal organizations is what Chris does best, and his boss expects the King Slayer to deliver.

But Hawes is taking the Madigans in a new direction, one Chris can get behind, and the two men form a shaky alliance strengthened by the irresistible attraction between them…until Chris learns who killed his partner. Once he knows the truth, the King Slayer is unleashed, and Chris will stop at nothing to destroy those who betrayed him, including the king who stole his heart.

Rating: C+

King Slayer is the second book in Layla Reyne’s current Fog City trilogy about the Madigans, a powerful family in the criminal underworld of San Francisco.  For the past three years, owing to a massive change of heart by Hawes Madigan, the family has been cleaning up its act and getting out of the shadier side of the business, and in this, he’s aided by his twin brother, Holt, and their sister, Helena.

In book one – told entirely from Hawes’ PoV – we met the Madigan siblings, their formidable grandmother and police chief, Braxton Kane – who served in the military with Holt – and learned that someone was out to take down the Madigans – principally Hawes – and that whoever it is could be someone from within the operation who is unhappy with the direction Hawes is taking the business.  Private investigator Dante Perry confronted Hawes with those suspicions and, in Prince of Killers, started working alongside the Madigans, trying to work out who was behind the attempts on Hawes’ life and at destabilising the company.  Over the course of about a week, lots of shit went down and Hawes and Dante quickly acted on the mutual attraction that sizzled between them right from their first meeting.  Hawes was surprised to find himself so quickly coming to rely on Dante in spite of his siblings’ urging him to caution, but something about Dante drew him like a moth to a flame – and ultimately to getting burned when it was revealed at the end of the novel that Dante, aka ATF agent Christopher Perri – was pursuing his own agenda; he’d infiltrated the business and got close to Hawes in order to find the truth about the death of his partner three years earlier.

This instalment of the story picks up immediately where book one finished and the PoV switches to Dante/Chris (I’m going to refer to him as Chris from now on).  At this point, readers know the reason behind Hawes’ decision to start pulling back from the less legitimate operations of MCS (the ones that involve killing people!) and who killed Chris’ partner, but Chris and Hawes still have secrets to reveal and uncover; and it becomes clear that someone is manipulating the Madigans, Chris and Kane, and that Chris and Hawes need to work together if they’re going to find out exactly who that is. But can Chris convince Hawes to trust him, even a little, after his betrayal?  And besides, with their mutual desire and need for one another showing no sign of abating – if anything it’s growing stronger – what sort of future can there possibly be for an (ex) assassin and a Fed?

There’s a bit less action in this book, which focuses more on developing Chris’ character, introducing his family members, and showing why he’s so determined to find out who was responsible for the death of his partner, who was there for him at an incredibly difficult time in his life and kept him on an even keel when he was in danger of going off the rails. We see less of the Madigans in action – although I found seeing Hawes through Chris’ eyes gave him the edginess that was missing in the first book – but there are some exciting plot developments, and once again, we end on one helluva cliffhanger that certainly whets the appetite for the next instalment.

Layla Reyne certainly knows how to tell a good yarn, but I still find myself wishing for more depth in the characterisation, romance rather than insta-lust, and side-eyeing some of the more implausible parts of the story (techies/hackers in Ms. Reyne’s books seem able to do pretty much everything at the touch of a key and in ten seconds flat, for instance).  But there’s usually something about her books that intrigues me enough to make me want to keep reading them.  Which means she must be doing something right, I suppose – and I’ll be back for book three in the series.

Surrender of a Siren (Wanton Dairymaid #2) by Tessa Dare (audiobook) – Narrated by Gabrielle Baker

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon.

Desperate to escape a loveless marriage and society’s constraints, pampered heiress Sophia Hathaway jilts her groom, packs up her paints and sketchbook, and assumes a new identity, posing as a governess to secure passage on the Aphrodite. She wants a life of her own: unsheltered, unconventional, uninhibited. But it’s one thing to sketch all her wildest, most wanton fantasies, and quite another to face the dangerously handsome libertine who would steal both her virtue and her gold.

To any well-bred lady, Benedict “Gray” Grayson is trouble in snug-fitting boots. A conscienceless scoundrel who sails the seas for pleasure and profit, Gray lives for conquest—until Sophia’s perception and artistry stir his heart. Suddenly, he’ll brave sharks, fire, storm, and sea just to keep her at his side. She’s beautiful, refined, and ripe for seduction. Could this counterfeit governess be a rogue’s redemption? Or will the runaway heiress’s secrets destroy their only chance at love?

Rating: Narration: B; Content: C

Originally published in 2009, Surrender of a Siren is the second book in Tessa Dare’s Wanton Dairymaid trilogy, and is her second published novel. It was released in audiobook format earlier this year, and although I’ve never listened to narrator Gabrielle Baker before, I decided to pick it up for review. In fact, the narration turned out to be the best thing about the listening experience; Ms. Baker’s delivery and speech patterns reminded me very much of Mary Jane Wells (who is narrating Ms. Dare’s current Girl Meets Duke series), and although I had issues with certain aspects of her performance, I enjoyed listening to her and will definitely seek out more of her narrations. When it comes to the story, however… well, it’s an early work and it shows, especially in terms of the plot and the characterisation of the heroine, who annoyed me for something like ninety percent of the book.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

Marry in Secret (Marriage of Convenience #3) by Anne Gracie

This title may be purchased from Amazon

Lady Rose Rutherford—rebel, heiress, and exasperated target of the town’s hungry bachelors—has a plan to gain the freedom she so desperately desires: she will enter into a marriage of convenience with the biggest prize on the London marriage mart.

There’s just one problem: the fierce-looking man who crashes her wedding to the Duke of Everingham — Thomas Beresford, the young naval officer she fell in love with and secretly married when she was still a schoolgirl. Thought to have died four years ago he’s returned, a cold, hard stranger with one driving purpose—revenge.

Embittered by betrayal and hungry for vengeance, Thomas will stop at nothing to reclaim his rightful place, even if that means using Rose—and her fortune—to do it. But Rose never did follow the rules, and as she takes matters into her own unpredictable hands, Thomas finds himself in an unexpected and infuriating predicament: he’s falling in love with his wife….

Rating: C

I enjoyed the first two books in Anne Gracie’s Marriage of Convenience series – in fact, the first, Marry in Haste, was a DIK (Desert Isle Keeper) at AAR – but this third book proved to be something of a disappointment.  The premise – a young woman about to make an advantageous, but loveless, marriage is unexpectedly confronted by the man she married years before and believed dead – sounded as though it might make for a good read, but sadly, after the initial excitement of the opening chapters, things fizzled out.  The main characters were bland and didn’t grab my interest, and instead of a rekindling relationship, I got a couple who, after a bit of angsting over whether they wanted to be together, resumed their marriage and shagged a lot, and a story that revolved more around a rather weak whodunnit than a romance.

Twenty-year-old Lady Rose Rutheford is due to marry the Duke of Everingham in what has been hailed as the match of the year. Her sister Lily and cousin George (Georgiana) aren’t happy about the match; Everingham is handsome, wealthy and titled, for sure, but he’s a cold fish and they think Rose is making a huge mistake.  But Rose is adamant.  She doesn’t want a love match and she and the duke have reached an agreement – she will give him his heir and he will give her the freedom to live as she wants.  When, however, the ceremony is interrupted by a gaunt, dirty and dishevelled man insisting that Rose is already married – to him – the reasons for Rose’s choice become apparent.  When she was sixteen and still away at school she met and fell in love with Thomas Beresford, a young naval officer.  They married secretly just a couple of weeks before Thomas was was due to go to sea  – and just a few weeks later, Rose learned that his ship had been sunk and everyone aboard had died.  Numbed with grief, and concerned for her sister Lily, who was recovering from a serious illness, Rose doesn’t tell anyone about Thomas or their short-lived marriage, and the more time passes, the more she thinks there’s no point in saying anything.

The first quarter or so of the story captured my interest.  Rose, shocked beyond belief, doesn’t know how to feel or what to do while her brother Cal and her snooty Aunt Agatha insist Thomas is nothing but a liar and schemer out to get his hands on Rose’s fortune.  When Rose fails to acknowledge him – to be fair, she doesn’t deny him either – Thomas is hurt and angry, and is determined to stand his ground and claim his wife.  But after Rose says she doesn’t want the marriage annulled and that she will honour her marriage vows, he starts to see that perhaps he’s wrong and that staying married to him – especially give how much he’s changed over the past four years – isn’t the best thing for Rose. After this, Thomas tries to discourage Rose from her determination to remain his wife while Rose – who has miraculously turned back into the lively, headstrong and flirtatious young woman he met four years earlier (and whom her family believed had disappeared) – seems to grow only more intent on remaining by his side (and getting him into her bed!)

While Thomas continues to be torn over his relationship with Rose, we learn something of what happened to him in the years he was gone.  He and a number of his crewmates were captured by Barbary pirates and sold as slaves after Thomas’ plea to his uncle for ransom was denied.  It took him years to escape, but now he has, he’s determined to find the men who were captured with him and free them – and to find out why his uncle denied him.  When Thomas visits his bank in London and discovers a number of irregularities in his finances, he realises that something underhand is going on; someone is stealing from him and it’s obviously been going on for some time.  But who?  And why?

Thus, what could have been a second chance romance about two people who married impulsively  getting to know each other after their enforced separation and really learning to love each other turned out to be a not-very-mysterious mystery with no romantic or character development whatsoever.  Thomas indulges in a lot of hand-wringing of the I-do-not-wish-to-sully-your-purity-with-my-degradation sort, while Rose is relentlessly cheerful and pretty much bulldozes her way through everything he says.  Thomas’ experiences as a captive and slave have obviously affected the way he treats servants and others who are regarded by those of his class as beneath them, and he clearly feels shame about what happened to him, but there’s not much depth to his character or Rose’s; neither is especially memorable or engaging and I didn’t connect with either of them.  I liked the relationship between Cal and Ned (heroes of the previous books) and the one that was developing between them and Thomas, but the ladies were thinly sketched and the identity of the wrong-doer was obvious.

Marry in Secret is an exercise in wasted potential in just about every way.  The romance is non-existent, the mystery is weak and the characterisation is uninspired.  I may pick up the next (and final) book in the series because I’m intrigued at the prospect of the pairing of the cold fish duke with the I’m-never-getting-married-and-handing-over-control-of-my-life Lady Georgiana, but I really can’t recommend this instalment.

The Hunt by J.M. Dabney and Davidson King (audiobook) – Narrated by Kirt Graves and Tor Thom

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

Disgraced detective turned private investigator, Ray Clancy, left the force with a case unsolved. Finding the killer was no longer his problem, but it still haunted him. How long would he survive the frustration of not knowing before he gave into the compulsion of his nature to solve the crime?

Server Andrew Shay existed where he didn’t feel he belonged, living behind the guise of a costume. Yet it paid the bills, and he refused to complain about the little things in life. One night he returned home from work to find his roommate dead and the killer still there. Afraid and alone, his life spiraled, and he didn’t know what to do. Could a detective at his core and a scared young man join forces to bring down the killer in their midst?

Rating: Narration:B/D+ ; Content: C-

Both J.M. Dabney and Davidson King are new-to-me authors, and I confess I picked up their latest collaboration, The Hunt, mostly because Kirt Graves is one of the narrators. The other, Tor Thom, is a name I’ve seen cropping up more and more frequently of late, and I wanted to try something of his – but the jury’s still out. My initial impression, from the first few minutes, was not at all favourable owing to a lot of audible breathing and Mr. Thom’s low-pitched almost-whisper; and had I not been reviewing this audiobook, I may well have set it aside never to return. But I persevered, and was able to at least make it to the end without ripping out my earphones and stomping on them.

The Hunt opens with Detective Ray Clancy arriving at the gruesome scene of the murder of a young man who was mutilated post mortem. This is the third such killing he’s seen and the Medical Examiner at the scene privately agrees with Ray that they’ve got a serial killer on their hands that, for some reason, the higher ups don’t want to acknowledge. But before Ray can get started on an investigation, his captain sends him back to the precinct – to a meeting with Internal Affairs… and his suspension. Accused of taking bribes and with no way of proving otherwise, Ray eventually quits the force and sets up as a PI.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

One Night of Temptation (Wicked Dukes Club #6) by Darcy Burke

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Faced with a marriage she can’t abide, Lady Penelope Wakefield takes drastic measures to preserve her freedom. Her brilliant plan is foolproof until a sexy but imperious rector “rescues” her.

Rector Hugh Tarleton has no patience for the Society philanthropists who seek to bestow their pity—and not much else—on his oppressed flock in one of London’s worst neighborhoods. When the daughter of a marquess is kidnapped and brought to the rookery, he vows to protect her, but the temptation to surrender to their mutual desire will certainly ruin them both.

Rating: C-

I’ve enjoyed a number of Darcy Burke’s historical romances in the past and have reviewed a number of them favourably, but I’m afraid I can’t do that for her latest release, One Night of Temptation.  The book is the sixth in the Wicked Dukes Club series which Ms. Burke has co-authored with Erica Ridley (they have written alternate books with Ms. Ridley penning the odd numbered ones and Ms. Burke the even) – featuring a group of friends, not all of whom are dukes, who meet regularly at their favourite watering hole in St. Giles – The Wicked Duke.  I haven’t read any of the other books in the series, but they’re designed to work as standalones, so potential readers can jump in anywhere and not have to worry about feeling lost.

What they do need to worry about with this book, however, is its utter flimsiness.  One Night of Temptation is short for a novel, coming in at under two hundred pages, but there’s not even enough plot to fill that short a page count.  The romance is basically love at first sight, the principals are bland and there’s little to no chemistry between them, and the whole story is wrapped up in about a week.

Lady Penelope Wakefield, daughter of the Marquess of Bramber is fleeing an unwanted marriage to an unpleasant lecher old enough to be her grandfather.  She’s hatched a plan together with a young woman she met and befriended on a charitable errand at a church in St. Giles; Penelope is going to be abducted (but not really) and spend a night away from home which, when word gets out, will be enough to ruin her reputation, and the old goat won’t want to marry her after that.  But it turns out that poor naïve Pen was duped, and the woman she thought of as a friend had made plans for a real kidnap and ransom.  Fortunately for Pen, the men trying to hustle her away are prevented from doing so by the timely intervention of Hugh Tarleton, Rector of the parish of St. Giles who, learning of her situation, takes her to a decent inn he knows and arranges for them both to spend the night there (in separate rooms of course).  But while the inn is decent, the area is rough and after a fight breaks out downstairs, Hugh decides it would be safest if they shared a room – Pen taking the bed, he in the chair by her side, naturally.  They work out a plan by which Pen can be returned to home and safety now that she’s been publicly ruined, and even though her father will be furious and will probably send her to the family’s remote estate in Lancashire, that’s better than being married to the obnoxious Earl of Findon. During the course of the evening, however, she becomes aware that an even better alternative would be marriage to Hugh… but of course, that’s impossible.  She’d never be allowed to marry so far beneath her, even if Hugh were interested.

About half the book is taken up with the Night of Temptation that Pen and Hugh spend holed up at the inn.  They talk and get to know each other a bit, and Pen realises she’s experiencing attraction for the first time.  Hugh is good looking, yes, but he’s also kind, strong and exudes confidence – and he’s unlike any man she’s ever met.   Hugh is smitten as well and longs to protect Pen from her unfeeling parents, but knows he can’t possibly aspire to the hand of the daughter of a marquess.

One Night of Temptation was a quick read, but a dull one.  Caring, stalwart Hugh (who, incidentally, is described in the blurb as “imperious” but is nothing of the sort) had the potential to be a lovely hero, but Pen was almost a blank slate; all we knew about her was that her parents were shits, she was afraid of her father and she liked embroidery and cream cheese.  She seems to have no relationships outside her immediate family and to have led a very sheltered life – yet of course she has the instincts of a temptress.

Ultimately, I’m afraid I was bored, and the only temptation I experienced while reading was to put the book down and not pick it up again.