Agent Cooper Dayton is going to meet his boyfriend’s werewolf family. Unarmed. On their turf.
And he’s bringing his cat.
When Agent Cooper Dayton agreed to attend the funeral for Oliver Park’s grandfather, he didn’t know what he was getting into. Turns out, the deceased was the alpha of the most powerful werewolf pack on the eastern seaboard. And his death is highly suspicious. Regardless, Cooper is determined to love and support Park the way Park has been there for him.
But Park left him woefully unprepared for the wolf pack politics and etiquette. Rival packs? A seating order at the dinner table? A mysterious figure named the Shepherd? The worst is that Park didn’t tell his family one key thing about Cooper. Cooper feels two steps behind, and reticent Park is no help.
There are plenty of pack members eager to open up about Park and why Cooper is wrong for him. Their stories make Cooper wonder if he’s holding Park back. But there’s no time to get into it…as lethal tranquilizer darts start to fly, Cooper needs to solve the mystery of the alpha’s death and fight for the man he loves—all before someone else dies.
Charlie Adhara’s Big Bad Wolf series has been something of a surprise hit for me. I’m not normally into stories about werewolves, but AAR’s review of The Wolf at the Door convinced me to read it, and I’ve been hooked ever since. Although each of the three books features a self-contained mystery that’s solved by the end, the romantic relationship between the human FBI agent Cooper Dayton and his werewolf partner, the enigmatic, coolly-collected Oliver Park, develops throughout the trilogy, so I wouldn’t recommend jumping into this one without having read the other two. And if you were waiting for the final book before starting the first, be warned that there are spoilers for The Wolf at the Doorand The Wolf at Bay in this review.
Cooper and Park have come a long way since they first teamed up in order to solve a case involving a string of vicious murders. Moving from suspicion and animosity to professional trust, personal friendship and more, they’ve struggled, at times, to admit to the truth of their feelings for one another and talk through their issues (just as you’d expect of two stubborn, alpha males!), but by the end of The Wolf at Bay they’re committed to each other and to their relationship, even though there are still a few bugs to be ironed out – not least of which is the fact that Cooper is sure there are things about himself Park is still keeping from him.
When Thrown to the Wolves opens, Cooper and Park are on their way to Nova Scotia in order to attend the funeral of Park’s grandfather Joseph, the alpha of the Park pack. Oliver has been on edge ever since receiving news of the man’s demise a day earlier, and although he is no longer a member of the pack (having turned his back on it when he learned they’d been concealing the truth about the deaths of his parents) he decides to return to the family estate to attend the funeral, and asks Cooper to go with him. Unlike Cooper, who wasn’t out to his family before the events of The Wolf at Bay, Park’s family knows he has a boyfriend and accepts his sexual orientation without a problem. But as soon as Cooper and Park arrive – following a life-threatening accident – Cooper realises something is off; and it doesn’t take him long to figure out what it is. The Parks may be fine with the fact that Oliver is gay – but the fact he’s in a relationship with a human? That, they’re not pleased about.
My Goodreads stats for 2018 reveal that I read 256 books in 2018 (I challenged myself to 240, so I just passed that goal!) – although 108 of those were audiobooks. I suspect, actually, that I listened to more than that, as I know I did a handful of re-listens, and I don’t tend to count those – I re-listen far more than I re-read (I don’t think I did any re-reads last year) – and I think that number of audiobooks is more than ever. Although I have fifty-six 5 star rated books showing on my stats page, the actual 5 star/A grades only number around a dozen or so; the majority are 4.5 star reads that I rounded up or audiobooks in which either story or narration (usually the narration) bumped the grade up into that bracket. I say this because, despite that number of fifty-six, when I came to make my list of what I thought were the Best Books of 2018 for All About Romance, I didn’t have too much trouble making my list, whereas normally, I’ll have fifteen to twenty I could include and have a tough job to whittle it down.
4 star ratings were my largest group (153) – and these include the 4.5 star ratings I don’t round up (B+ books) and the 3.5 star ratings I do round up (B- books), and then I had thirty-three books and audiobooks in the 3 star bracket, nine in the 2 star, one 1 star and one unrated DNF.
The titles that made my Best of 2018 list are these:
And here are a few more rambling thoughts about the books I read and the audiobooks I listened to last year.
Historical Romance is far and away my favourite genre, and for years, I read very little else. Sadly however, HR made a pretty poor showing in 2018 overall, and while there were a few that were excellent, they really were the exception. The vast majority of the newer authors – and I do try most of them at least once – can’t generally manage anything that deserves more than a C grade/3 stars (if that) and even some of the big-names just didn’t deliver. Elizabeth Hoyt’s new series got off to a terrible start with Not the Duke’s Darling, which was overstuffed, confusing and not very romantic with an irritating heroine of the worst kind (the sort who has to trample all over the hero in order to prove herself). Lorraine Heath’s When a Duke Loves a Woman – which I listened to rather than read (thank you Kate Reading, for the excellent narration!) – stretched the cross-class romance trope to breaking point and was sadly dull in places, and Kerrigan Byrne’s sixth Victorian Rebels book, The Duke With the Dragon Tattoo was a huge disappointment. On the plus side though, just before the end of the year, I read début author Mia Vincy’s A Wicked Kind of Husbandwhich was clever, witty, poignant and sexy, and is the first début I’ve raved about since 2016. Meredith Duran’s The Sins of Lord Lockwood was a triumph, and Caroline Linden’s two Wagers of Sin books – My Once and Future Dukeand An Earl Like You – were very good – intelligent, strongly characterised and deeply romantic. Of the two, I preferred An Earl Like You, a gorgeously romantic marriage of convenience story with a bit of a twist. Honourable mentions go to Joanna Shupe’s A Notorious Vow, the third in her Four Hundred series, Virginia Heath’s A Warriner to Seduce Her and Stella Riley’s Hazard, and my two favourite historical mystery series – Lady Sherlock and Sebastian St. Cyr (Sherry Thomas and C.S. Harris respectively) had wonderful new instalments out. K.J. Charles – who can’t seem to write a bad book! – published three titles – The Henchmen of Zenda, Unfit to Printand Band Sinister – all of which I loved and rated highly, and new author, Lee Welch gobsmacked me with her first full-length novel, an historical paranormal (queer) romance, Salt Magic, Skin Magic, a truly mystical, magical story with a sensual romance between opposites. Bec McMaster’s terrific London Steampunk: The Blue Blood Conspiracy continued with You Only Love Twice and To Catch a Rogue, which were wonderful; fast-paced, intelligent and witty, combining high-stakes plots and plenty of action with steamy, sensual romances.
I’ve turned most often to romantic suspense this year to fill the void left by the paucity of good historical romance – many of them in audio as I backtracked through audio catalogues and got hooked on some series that first appeared before 2018, notably Cut & Run and Psycop. In print, I was really impressed with Charlie Adhara’s first two novels in her Big Bad Wolf series, The Wolf at the Door and The Wolf at Bay. I’m not a big fan of shifters, but a friend convinced me to try the first book, and I’m really glad I did. There’s a great suspense plot, two fabulous leads with off-the-charts chemistry, and their relationship as they move from suspicion to admiration to more is really well done.
The final book in Rachel Grant’s Flashpoint trilogy – Firestorm – was a real humdinger and fantastic end to what’s been one of my favourite series over the past couple of years. Superbly written and researched, topical, fast-paced and featuring fabulously developed characters, Firestorm sees two characters who’ve been dancing around each other for two books having to team up to infiltrate a Russian arms dealing ring, and, when things go south, going on the run in one of the most dangerous places in the world. Ms. Grant is one of my favourite authors and her romantic suspense novels are hard to beat.
My big – and I mean BIG – discovery this year was Cordelia Kingsbridge’s Seven of Spades series which is simply brilliant – addictive. I’ve raved about it to everyone that will listen (sorry!) and will do so again. It’s a series of five books (four are out, the fifth is due in March) that tells one overarching story about the search for a clever, devious serial killer plaguing Las Vegas. Each book advances that plotline while also having another, self-contained storyline that eventually coalesces with the main plot; it’s incredibly well done and the plots themselves are filled with nail-biting tension. The two central characters – Levi Abrams, a tightly-wound, intense homicide detective – and Dominic Russo – a congenial, much more relaxed guy who has serious problems of his own – are wonderful; they’re complex, flawed and multi-faceted, and while they’re complete opposites in many ways, they’re no less perfect for each other because of it. Their relationship goes through terrific highs and terrible lows, but as we head into the last book, they’re stronger than ever – and I can’t wait for what promises to be an incredible series finale.
Contemporary Romance isn’t a genre I gravitate towards, but for what I think is the first time EVER, one made my Best of list – Sally Malcolm’s Between the Lines. I’ve really enjoyed the three books she’s set in New Milton (a fictional Long Island resort); in fact, her novella, Love Around the Corner could easily have made the list as well. She has a real gift for creating likeable but flawed characters and for writing emotion that sings without being over the top. And I have to give a shout-out to Kelly Jensen’s This Time Forever series, three books that feature older (late thirties-fifty) characters finding happiness and their forever afters – wonderful, distinct characters, each facing particular challenges and the need to sort out all the emotional baggage that comes with having been around the block a few times.
I listened to more audiobooks than ever this year – partly, I think, because I was trying to fill the gap in my reading because so much HR was just not measuring up, and partly because the fact that I tend to genre-hop more in audio has introduced me to a number of new (to me) narrators that I’ve begun to seek out more. (Plus, I’ve had some long commutes lately!) My favourites are still my favourites: Rosalyn Landor, Kate Reading, Mary Jane Wells, Alex Wyndham and Nicholas Boulton are unbeatable when it comes to historical romances; Andi Arndt reigns supreme when it comes to American contemps, Steve West could read me cereal packets and Greg Tremblay/Boudreaux is my hero. But my list of narrators to trust has grown to include J.F. Harding, Sean Crisden, Joe Arden, Carly Robbins, Saskia Maarleveld and Will Damron.
I’ve become hooked on m/m romantic suspense this year, and have been catching up with two long-running series – Cut & Run by Abigail Roux and Madeline Urban and Psycop by Jordan Castillo Price. The Cut & Run books are fast-paced hokum, the sort of thing you see in a lot of procedurals and action films – enjoyable, but frequently full of holes. But the series is made by its two central characters – Special Agents Ty Grady and Zane Garrett – who strike sparks off each other from the get go and fight, snark and fuck their way through nine books I enjoyed to differing degrees. Unusually, the series has three narrators; the first one (Sawyer Allerde) wasn’t so great, but Sean Crisden and J.F. Harding do fabulous work in books 3-9, and while I know there’s a lot of mixed feeling out there over the later books, I’d still recommend them and the series in audio.
I’ve also been drawn to a number of books that feature psychics in some way or another – I have no idea why – and again, some were more successful than others. I enjoyed Z.A. Maxfield’s The Long Way Home– which is excellently narrated by J.F Harding – and I’m working my way through Jordan Castillo Price’s hugely entertaining Psycop series (I’ve listened to 6 books so far) narrated by Gomez Pugh who doesn’t just portray, but completely inhabits the character of Victor Bayne, the endearingly shambolic protagonist of the series. I plan to listen to the final three books very soon.
Contemporary Romance is a genre I rarely read and don’t listen to often, as it doesn’t do much for me in general. Nonetheless, I’ve listened to a few great contemporary audios in 2018, several of them in Annabeth Albert’s Out of Uniform series, notably Squared Away and Tight Quarters, the latter being one of my favourites. Greg Boudreaux’s narration was the big draw for me in picking up this series on audio (although books 1-3 use different narrators) and he continues to be one of the best – if not THE best – male romance narrators around. The praise heaped on Kate Clayborn’s début, Beginner’s Luck prompted me to pick it up in audio, although I confess that Will Damron’s name attached to it factored into that decision as well. Helen Hoang’s début, The Kiss Quotient was another contemp that generated a huge buzz, which again, prompted me to listen – and the fact that I’d enjoyed Carly Robins’ performance in Beginner’s Luck once again proved the power of the narrator when it comes to my decisions as to what I want to listen to.
As for what I’m looking forward to in 2019? First of all, I’d like a few more winners from my favourite historical romance writers, please! Although to be honest, it’s looking a bit bleak, with Meredith Duran on hiatus, and only one – I think? – book due from Caroline Linden this year. I am, however, looking forward to reading more from Mia Vincy, who has three more books in her series to come, and I’ve already read a fantastic book by K.J. Charles – I believe there’s a sequel on the way, which I’m sure will be equally fabulous. I can’t wait for the finale in the Seven of Spades series – and for whatever Cordelia Kingsbridge comes up with next, and the same is true of Charlie Adhara, whose final Big Bad Wolf book is due out in April. There are new books in their respective series coming from Sherry Thomas and C.S. Harris, so I’ll be there for those, and I’m looking forward to Deanna Raybourn’s next Veronica Speedwell book. Audio often lags behind print, so many of the audiobooks I’m eagerly awaiting are books I read in print this year, such as Amy Lane’s A Few Good Fish (which I read in August) with Greg Tremblay once again doing the honours, and Lee Welch’s Salt Magic, Skin Magic, performed by Joel Leslie, who I’m sure is going to be terrific. I’m also looking forward to the final book in Kate Clayborn’s Chance of a Lifetime Trilogy, Best of Luck, again narrated by Will Damron and Carly Robbins.
Hopefully, I’ll be back this time next year to let you all know how things have panned out!
Going home digs up bad memories, so it’s something Bureau of Special Investigations agent Cooper Dayton tries to avoid. When he’s guilted into a visit, Cooper brings along Oliver Park, his hot new werewolf partner, in the hopes the trip will help clarify their status as a couple…or not.
When Park’s keen shifter nose uncovers a body in the yard and Cooper’s father is the prime suspect, Cooper knows they’re on their own. Familial involvement means no sanctioned investigation. They’ll need to go rogue and solve the mystery quietly or risk seeing Cooper’s dad put behind bars.
The case may be cold, but Park and Cooper’s relationship heats up as they work. And yet if Cooper can’t figure out what’s going on between them outside of the bedroom, he’ll lose someone he… Well, he can’t quite put into words how he feels about Park. He knows one thing for sure: he’s not ready to say goodbye, though with the real killer inching ever closer…he may not have a choice.
Charlie Adhara’s début novel, The Wolf at the Door, was a hugely entertaining combination of paranormal romance and romantic suspense. Set in a world in which werewolves exist and have recently made themselves known to world governments, readers were introduced to the BSI (Bureau of Special Investigation) which is the division of the FBI specifically tasked with investigating werewolf-related crimes. Special Agent Cooper Dayton was seriously wounded in a werewolf attack around a year before the book opened, and once recovered, was offered the opportunity to join the BSI, where he has been partnered with Oliver Park, a handsome, somewhat enigmatic werewolf and former college professor. Given the way Cooper was injured, and the way his former partner had drummed the necessity for suspicion into him, it wasn’t surprising he wasn’t pleased at being part of what, according to his ex-partner, was a PR exercise designed to pander to the werewolf population; but as the book progressed, it became clear to Cooper – and to the reader – that not everything he’d been told was the truth, and that Park was charming, intuitive, droll and trustworthy – absolutely nothing like Cooper had expected.
By the end of the book, Cooper and Park have moved beyond the professional and become lovers, their physical intimacy evolving naturally out of the strong working relationship they develop during the story. By the time The Wolf at Bay opens, they’ve been together for four months, although of course, it’s not something they can be open about if they want to remain as work-partners. They spend a lot of time together, enjoy each other’s company (and the sex) but Cooper isn’t willing to think beyond that, or about what they’re really doing – things firmly on the long list of things he and Park Don’t Talk About.
Following a shake-down that doesn’t go according to plan, Cooper and Park are on their way back to DC when a call from Cooper’s dad, former Sheriff Ed Dayton, sees them making a detour to Jagger Valley in Maryland in order to attend the engagement party being held for Cooper’s brother Dean – which Cooper had completely forgotten about. Cooper’s relationship with his father is an uneasy one, and he rarely visits his childhood home; he’s always felt the Sheriff never thought he was good enough, and Cooper has never told his father or his brother how dangerous his job really is and lets them believe he’s a glorified pen-pusher, which gives rise to some disparaging comments and not so subtle ribbing from his dad. He’s not out to them either, and on top of all that, there’s an uncomfortable tension between him and Park he’s aware is mostly his fault because he’s deliberately holding back from him. On impulse, Cooper asks Park to go to Jagger Valley with him, hoping that perhaps some time away from the professional arena will allow them to just be a couple and maybe to figure out exactly what they are to each other; and Park, being Park, says he’d be honoured to meet Cooper’s family.
The first part of the book does get a little bogged down in Cooper’s insecurities, his reluctance to admit to himself how he really feels about Park and his inability to actually talk to him about their… whatever is going on between them. Fears of rejection, of being hurt and thirty years of emotional repression all conspire to keep holding him back, and while he does want to talk to Park about where they stand, he simultaneously keeps finding ways to put it off. And when a decades old dead body is found buried in the back garden of the Dayton family home, Cooper grabs the opportunity to put it off yet again with both hands.
Once this discovery is made, the pace picks up, and the revelations concerning the dead man – who lived in the house next door but was believed to have upped and left twenty-five years earlier – come thick and fast and Cooper learns some things about his family history that shock and unnerve him. Even though he’s not there in any official capacity – and is warned off becoming involved – when his father falls under suspicion, Cooper is even more determined to discover the truth about the man’s death.
The mystery plot is extremely well done, but the thing that has really stuck with me about this book is the astonishing amount of character and relationship development Ms. Adhara packs into it, and how skilfully she juggles her different plotlines. Through Cooper’s investigations into the murder, readers learn more about his past, his familial relationships and how they have informed his character; and even though he and Park are on shaky ground for part of the book, the discoveries they make about each other only serve to strengthen the bond developing between them. It’s apparent right away that their relationship is about more than ‘just sex’ for both of them; they hang out together, they watch movies, talk about books and enjoy being together, but Cooper is terribly insecure and fearful that eventually Park will just stop showing up at his place, and those anxieties communicate themselves to his lover and send mixed signals.
As with the previous book, the story is told entirely from Cooper’s point of view, but once again the author does wonderful job of showing the truth of Park’s feelings through his words, actions and expressions. Cooper might not be able to read the signs properly, but the reader can, and it’s crystal clear that Park is very much in love, but is trying to give Cooper whatever he needs while he figures things out. Unfortunately, Cooper reads his willingness to give him space as aloofness; but thankfully, he does eventually come to realise that his unwillingness to let himself be vulnerable is what is most likely to drive Park away, and after a particularly steamy sexual encounter decides it’s time to man up and be honest with the man he loves.
The mystery is wrapped up neatly by the end and Cooper and Park have at last admitted how they feel about one another, but a plot-thread left hanging for book three suggests that not everything in the garden of love will continue to be rosy. Although The Wolf at Bay gets a little bogged down in the first part, it’s still an excellent read and one I’m recommending very strongly. I’m thoroughly enjoying this series, and can’t wait to read book three next Spring.
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.
An excellent début form Charlie Adhara, Wolf at the Door combines romance, mystery and paranormal elements and weaves them skilfully together into a procedural drama that provides a thoroughly entertaining and gripping read.
FBI Cooper Dayton narrowly survived a werewolf attack around a year before the story begins. At the time, he had no idea what had caused his injuries; as far as he knew, he was chasing down a murder suspect. Given the choice between finding out what really happened, and continuing in ignorance, he opts for the former – and is inducted into the Bureau of Special Investigations with the FBI, a small unit that has been created specially to deal with “monsters”. (No, it’s not quite the X-Files!) Cooper is one of a very small number of people to know that werewolves actually exist and live freely among the general population, and that five years previously, their leadership group – the Trust – had decided to reveal the truth to governments around the world in an attempt to help werewolves to continue to live peaceably in the modern world.
That’s the background to an intriguing suspense novel that sees Cooper paired with a Trust agent – Oliver Park – as an experiment to foster werewolf/human co-operation. They are assigned to investigate the deaths of two – possibly three – hikers in the White Mountain National Forest in Maine, who are believed to have been killed by werewolves. When a fourth victim is found alive, it seems at first to be an unrelated case of kidnap and assault – but is it? Cooper and Park have to navigate their way through small-town politics as well as the wider political canvas of human/werewolf relations – not to mention risk their lives – if they’re going to find out the truth.
The mystery element of the story is well executed, and I wasn’t sure of the identity of the villain until it was finally revealed, which is always a good thing. The author creates a suitably menacing small-town atmosphere for the fictional town where much of the story takes place as Cooper and Park gradually pull together the disparate threads and clues they uncover.
They’ve got a kind of Odd Couple thing going on; Park is always smartly dressed and exudes confidence while Cooper is a bit of a shambles most of the time; he’s very shrewd and observant (as Park notices) but he sometimes lacks the courage of his own convictions and tends to second guess himself. Given his experience with werewolves, it’s to be expected that Cooper isn’t best pleased at having one for a partner, plus his more experienced BSI partner has drummed it into him to be suspicious of all wolves; which makes his instinct to trust Park that much more confusing.
While he’s trying – not too hard at first – to get used to having a werewolf around, he tends to be snippy and displays an inordinate talent for putting his foot in his mouth, but Park is calm and unflappable; he gives Cooper the space to work things out and his quiet confidence that Cooper will make the right calls goes a long way towards helping him to come into his own over the course of the story. The author does a great job of creating a strong rapport between them; you gotta love a couple who can quote movie references in perilous situations – which makes the physical relationship they embark upon later in the book feel like a natural extension of their working one.
I knocked off half a grade point mostly because I wanted to know a bit more about Park. The story is told entirely through Cooper’s PoV, and for most of the story Park is coolly aloof and completely professional; he’s hard to read until Cooper starts to get to know him and to recognise his subtle non-verbal signals, and that means he’s pretty much an enigma for the reader, too. Most of the things we learn about him – he’s from an old and very much venerated pack, but doesn’t live with them any more – just pose more questions, which I hope will be answered in later books in the series.
Ms. Adhara gets the balance between the romance and the suspense just about right here, and does a tremendous job of paralleling the development of the relationships – personal and professional – between her two principals. I wolfed down (!) The Wolf at the Door in a couple of sittings and would definitely recommend it to fans of the genre.