Transactional Dynamics (Hazard and Somerset: A Union of Swords #3) by Gregory Ashe

This title may be purchased from Amazon

Emery Hazard is ready for Valentine’s Day. He’s made reservations months in advance, he’s ordered flowers, and he’s got a boyfriend he wants to treat right—even if John-Henry Somerset occasionally lets the dishes sit in the sink a little too long. They even have an extra reason to celebrate this year: Somers has received a special commendation for his police work.

Everything begins to go wrong, though, when Hazard’s ex-boyfriend shows up on their doorstep. Billy claims he just needs help getting away from an abusive partner, but Somers believes Billy has other motives, including designs on Hazard.

When men who have been hired to track Billy show up in Wahredua, Hazard agrees to help his ex elude them. But as Hazard prepares to sneak Billy out of town, a woman is murdered behind the local gay bar, and Somers’s investigation leads him towards Hazard’s ex.

As Hazard and Somers find themselves working together to find the killer, they both must confront a hard truth: everything comes at a cost—career success, healthy relationships, and even justice. The only question is if they’re willing to pay the price.

Rating: A

Transactional Dynamics, book three in the Hazard and Somerset: A Union of Swords series, is possibly my favourite book of this series and by this author; and that’s saying something considering I haven’t given anything of his I’ve read so far less than a B+ (and most have been DIKs).  As in the two previous books, there are standalone mysteries to be solved while the author keeps the overarching plotline around the serial killer dubbed the Keeper of Bees ticking over in the background.  Taking centre stage however is the complex and often frustrating relationship between the two leads, which Mr. Ashe continues to explore with his customary skill and insight.

Note: This book does not stand alone; there are plotlines continuing from previous books and the relationship between Hazard and Somerset really needs to be experienced from the beginning.  There are spoilers for earlier books in this review.

In Police Brutality, private investigator Emery Hazard and his boyfriend Detective John-Henry Somerset went through a rough patch, clashing professionally as well as personally as Hazard, still struggling with the PTSD and depression left over from the events of the previous summer, and with the guilt he feels over the murder of a young gay couple months before, had started to withdraw from Somers (again), leaving Somers feeling shut out and worried, both for the man he loves and their relationship.  Having worked through those problems, and with Hazard agreeing to try to be more open and communicative, things have been going well… but over the past few weeks, irritations and annoyances have begun to creep in, as Somers has started slipping back into some of his old ways of avoidance and drinking too much.  I think any couple – especially one with young children – will recognise this particular dynamic; Somers works a fairly rigid schedule and is also often called out unexpectedly; Hazard works for himself and can be more flexible with his hours; Somers wants to kick back and relax when he gets home from work; Hazard wants him to pull his weight around the house and with childcare… it’s a difficult balance to achieve and maintain, and both men’s resentment is building as they try to avoid a major row about who does the dishes and the laundry while continuing to care for their daughter and do demanding and stressful jobs.

But sadly – Hazard and Somers being, well, them – things are about to get much worse.  Completely out of the blue one evening, Hazard’s ex, Billy Rolker appears on their doorstep begging for help.  Not surprisingly, Hazard wants nothing to do with him and storms out, but avoiding Billy isn’t so easy when he turns up at Hazard’s office.  He tells Hazard he’s running from a guy who is physically abusive and who has sent a couple of goons to find him and beat him up, and then presents a tox screen report from the previous night that shows he had Rohypnol in his system.  His guess is the goons put the drug in his drink while he was at the Pretty Pretty, but he didn’t pass out and managed to get an Uber to the hospital.  Hazard tells Billy he should go to the police, but he just wants help to get away and promises that if Hazard will help him, he’ll disappear forever.

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

I Buried a Witch (Bedknobs and Broomsticks #2) by Josh Lanyon (audiobook) – Narrated by Kale Williams

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

Something old, something new, something borrowed…something blacker than the darkest night.

Cosmo Saville adores his new husband, but his little white lies and some very black magic are about to bring their fairy tale romance to an end. Someone is killing San Francisco’s spell casters, and the only person Cosmo can turn to – the man who so recently swore to love and cherish him – isn’t taking his phone calls.

The only magic police commissioner John Joseph Galbraith believes in is true love. Discovering he’s married to a witch – one with something alarmingly like magical powers – is nearly as bad as discovering the man he loved tricked and deceived him.

John shoulders the pain of betrayal and packs his bags. But when he learns Cosmo is in the crosshairs of a mysterious and murderous plot, he knows he must do everything in in his mortal power to protect him.

Till death do them part. With their relationship on the rocks, Cosmo and Galbraith join forces to uncover the shadowy figure behind the deadly conspiracy.

Can the star-crossed couple bring down a killer before the dark threat extinguishes love’s flame?

Rating: Narration – B+; Content – B

I Buried a Witch is book two in Josh Lanyon’s Bedknobs and Broomsticks series, and it picks up just a couple of weeks after the events of book one, Mainly by Moonlight. Because all three books are linked by an overarching plot, it’s fairly safe to say that this one doesn’t really work as a standalone. The author does include a bit of backstory and information about book one, but I think listeners will be best served by listening to the books in order so as to get the full picture.

Mainly by Moonlight introduced us to Cosmo Saville, antiques dealer and witch, and his fiancé John Galbraith, the newly appointed Police Commissioner for San Francisco. The story kicks off when Cosmo finds a business rival dead at his shop and after that it’s an almost non-stop few days of mayhem when one of Cosmo’s friends is left in a coma following a hit-and-run, one of his oldest friends disappears, he learns of the existence of a secret society that threatens the existence of the Craft (as witches are known) – and to top it all, someone tries to kill him on his wedding day. Oh, and there’s just one other problem that could put paid to the life he’s looking forward to building with the man he loves. Cosmo hasn’t told John he’s a witch. Oops.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

Cross Her Heart (Bree Taggert #1) by Melinda Leigh

This title may be purchased from Amazon

For more than twenty-five years, Philadelphia homicide detective Bree Taggert has tucked away the nightmarish childhood memories of her parents’ murder-suicide… Until her younger sister, Erin, is killed in a crime that echoes that tragic night: innocent witnesses and a stormy marriage that ended in gunfire. There’s just one chilling difference. Erin’s husband, Justin, has vanished.

Bree knows how explosive the line between love and hate can be, yet the evidence against her troubled brother-in-law isn’t adding up. Teaming up with Justin’s old friend, former sheriff’s investigator and K-9 handler Matt Flynn, Bree vows to uncover the secrets of her sister’s life and death, as she promised Erin’s children. But as her investigation unfolds, the danger hits close to home. Once again, Bree’s family is caught in a death grip. And this time, it could be fatal for her.

Rating: B+

Bestselling author Melinda Leigh introduces readers to Detective Bree Taggert in Cross Her Heart, the first book in her new series of romantic suspense novels.  It’s an excellent start, a solid, intriguing and well-paced mystery that introduces and starts fleshing out the central characters and the relationships between them at the same time as it presents a mystery that is very personal for Bree, whose tragic past is brought abruptly back to her in the worst possible way.

The book opens on a harrowing scene taking place at eight-year-old Bree’s home in Grey’s Hollow in upstate New York.  She is desperate to protect her younger siblings – Erin and baby Adam – from their violent, abusive father, as he rages at and beats their mother. Bree has managed to call the police and to keep herself and her brother and sister safe, although when the police arrive, it’s too late for their mother – and their father then turns the gun he used to shoot her on himself.

While Adam and Erin were taken in and brought up by their grandmother, Bree, who was something of a handful, was brought up by a stern cousin in Philadelphia. Looking back, Bree can see that their childhood separation has had a negative effect on their adult relationship; they’re not close, and although Erin continues to live in Grey’s Hollow, Bree has rarely been able to get past her issues to visit there, so Erin and her two kids visit Philly once a year instead.  When we meet Bree again, she- now a homicide detective with the Philadelphia PD – and her soon-to-retire partner, Dana Romano,  have just chased down a suspect when Bree picks up a panicked message from Erin saying she’s in trouble, but when she calls back, only gets voicemail.  Worried because Erin is the head down, go to work, raise her kids sort who’s never in trouble, and still unable to contact her, Bree heads to Grey ‘s Hollow – and her fears for Erin only ratchet up when she arrives at her sister’s house to see two sheriff’s department vehicles parked outside.  Something is very, very wrong.

Erin has been killed, and the chief deputy explains that their main suspect is her estranged husband, Justin, who is currently missing.  Erin’s body was found by Justin’s friend, Matt Flynn, a former sheriff’s investigator and K-9 handler, who was at the house to collect Justin to take him to his Narcotics Anonymous meeting.  Drugs were the cause of Justin and Erin’s split; he became addicted to pain meds following a car accident, and she didn’t want him around her kids while he was using.  But they were still seeing each other and intended to work things out, and Justin has been trying, with Matt’s help and support, to get clean.

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

Murder at Pirate’s Cove (Secrets & Scrabble #1) by Josh Lanyon

This title may be purchased from Amazon

Ellery Page, aspiring screenwriter, Scrabble champion and guy-with-worst-luck-in-the-world-when-it-comes-to-dating, is ready to make a change. So when he learns he’s inherited both a failing bookstore and a falling-down mansion in the quaint seaside village of Pirate’s Cove on Buck Island, Rhode Island, it’s full steam ahead!

Sure enough, the village is charming, its residents amusingly eccentric, and widowed police chief Jack Carson is decidedly yummy (though probably as straight as he is stern). However, the bookstore is failing, the mansion is falling down, and there’s that little drawback of finding rival bookseller–and head of the unwelcoming-committee–Trevor Maples dead during the annual Buccaneer Days celebration.

Still, it could be worse. And once Police Chief Carson learns Trevor was killed with the cutlass hanging over the door of Ellery’s bookstore, it is.

Rating: B

Murder at Pirate’s Cove is the first book in a new series of cozy mysteries by Josh Lanyon – a kind of Adrien English meets Jessica Fletcher if you will! All the ingredients of the genre are there – a small village community, eccentric characters, dastardly doings and an intrepid hero; in this case one who ends up at the wrong end of a murder investigation!

Screenwriter Ellery Page left New York and his cheating boyfriend for the small Rhode Island resort town of Pirate’s Cove when he inherited a bequest from his great-great-great aunt Eudora. That bequest consisted of the town’s mystery bookshop, Crow’s Nest, and a rambling (and ramshackle) late-Victorian era house just outside town, and Ellery, feeling the need to make a change, has thrown himself into running the shop and renovating the house. He likes Pirate’s Cove, although he’s still something of an outsider, and is determined to make a go of things there… although three months in, he’s not sure how much longer he’ll be able to afford to stay if business doesn’t start to pick up soon.

Walking back to the shop from the pub late one evening, Ellery is surprised to see the lights are on – and even more surprised to find a dead body – dressed in a pirate costume – lying on the floor. Trevor Maples – a local property developer who was pressuring Ellery to sell Crow’s Nest – was a nasty piece of work, and the fact that he and Ellery were overheard in an altercation on the day Maples died means things don’t look too good for our hero. When the chief of police, Jack Carson (a former LAPD Homicide detective) makes it clear that Ellery is currently the number one suspect, Ellery decides that if the police aren’t looking for the real killer, then he’ll have to find something to persuade them to look elsewhere – and maybe even prove his own innocence. As the body count rises, it becomes clear that someone is actively trying to frame Ellery for the murders – but who, and why?

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

The Spice King (Hope & Glory #1) by Elizabeth Camden (audiobook) – Narrated by Pilar Witherspoon

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

Gray Delacroix has dedicated his life to building his very successful global spice empire, but it has come at a cost. Resolved to salvage his family before it spirals out of control, he returns to his ancestral home to save his brother and sister before it’s too late.

As a junior botanist for the Smithsonian, Annabelle Larkin has been charged with the impossible task of gaining access to the notoriously private Delacroix plant collection. If she fails, she will be out of a job and the family farm in Kansas will go under. She has no idea that in gaining entrance to the Delacroix world, she will unwittingly step into a web of dangerous political intrigue far beyond her experience. Unable to deny her attraction to the reclusive business tycoon, Annabelle will be forced to choose between her heart and loyalty to her country. Can Gray and Annabelle find a way through the storm of scandal without destroying the family Gray is fighting to save?

Rating: Narration – C+; Content: B

I haven’t read or listened to anything by Elizabeth Camden before, but one of my fellow reviewers at All About Romance is a big fan of her work, and after reading the synopsis of the author’s latest release, The Spice King, I decided to give it a try. It proved to be an entertaining listen; the writing is smooth and flows beautifully, the story has obviously been very well-researched, and the characters are engaging and three-dimensional.

Gray Delacroix has spent much of his life abroad in service to his family’s business, Delacroix Global Spice, finding new and unique flavours to excite the palate and building on the work done by his late father in restoring the family fortunes after the Civil War. But his success hasn’t come without a price. He’s tired, he suffers regular bouts of ill-health due to malaria, and he feels he has neglected his younger half-siblings, who, he feels, have been overindulged during his absences and have become rather spoiled and aimless as a result. He has also decided that, at forty, it’s time for him to settle down and have a family – and life – of his own.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

Tallowwood by N.R. Walker

This title may be purchased from Amazon and is also available in KU.

Cold cases, murder, lies, and an unimaginable truth.

Sydney Detective August Shaw has spent the last decade of work solving cold cases. Since the death of his boyfriend eight years ago, August works alone, lives alone, is alone–and that’s exactly how he likes it. His work is his entire life, and he’s convinced a string of unsolved cold-case suicides are linked to what could be Australia’s worst ever serial killer. Problem is, no one believes him.

Senior Constable Jacob Porter loves his life in the small town of Tallowwood in the middle of the rainforests in northern New South Wales. He runs summer camps for the local Indigenous kids, plays rugby with his mates, has a close family, and he’s the local LGBTQIA+ Liaison and the Indigenous Liaison Officer.

When human remains are found in the camping grounds at Tallowwood Reserve, Jake’s new case turns out to be linked to August’s cold cases, and Jake agrees they’re not suicides at all. With Jacob now firmly in August’s corner, they face one hurdle after another. Even when more remains are found, they can’t seem to gain ground.
But when the body of a fellow police officer turns up under the same MO, it can’t be ignored anymore. August and Jake must trace the untraceable before the killer takes his next victim or before he stops one of them, permanently.

Rating: A-

N.R. Walker’s Tallowwood is a darkly atmospheric and expertly crafted police procedural/romantic suspense novel in which a Sydney-based detective who specialises in cold cases is suddenly confronted with startling new evidence which may enable him to at long last bring to justice the person responsible for a string of murders of young gay men – one of them his own boyfriend.  The story takes place over a fairly short period of time, yet nothing feels rushed; the author builds the suspense superbly, especially in the last third or so, and at the same time develops a credible romantic relationship between the two leads which is touching and full of understated sensuality.

For the past eight years, Detective August Shaw has been trying to get someone to take seriously his belief that a serial killer is responsible for a number of unsolved murders of young gay men.  Each of the victims was posed to look as though their deaths were the result of suicide, and each was found with a piece of paper bearing a line from a Robert Frost poem and a small silver cross on or near the body.  It’s frustrating that nobody he works with is able or willing to make the connection, but he continues to work the case – alongside all the other cold cases that cross his desk – in the hope that one day, he’ll be able to get justice for these sons, brothers and friends, and to bring some sort of peace to their families.  He sees this as something he owes to every cold case victim; they’re not merely names on a piece of paper, they were people, loved ones who deserve to have their stories told. As someone who has suffered a similar tragic loss, he knows only too well the pain and sorrow of such an open wound on the soul.

When August is contacted by Senior Constable Jacob Porter of Tallowwood, a small town in the middle of the rainforests in northern New South Wales, August is prepared to turn down his request for help – until Porter tells him they have found human remains up there that may be related to one of August’s cases. The victim was gay, the death was made to look like a suicide – and there was a note and a silver cross in his pocket.  August makes arrangements to fly up to Tallowwood the next morning.

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

I Buried a Witch (Bedknobs & Broomsticks #2) by Josh Lanyon

This title may be purchased from Amazon

Cosmo Saville adores his new husband but his little white lies—and some very black magic—are about to bring their fairytale romance to an end. Someone is killing San Francisco’s spellcasters—and the only person Cosmo can turn to—the man who so recently swore to love and cherish him—isn’t taking his phone calls..

The only magic Police Commissioner John Joseph Galbraith believes in is true love. Discovering he’s married to a witch—a witch with something alarmingly like magical powers—is nearly as bad as discovering the man he loved tricked and deceived him. John shoulders the pain of betrayal and packs his bags. But when he learns Cosmo is in the crosshairs of a mysterious and murderous plot, he knows he must do everything in in his mortal power to protect him.

Till Death do them Part. With their relationship on the rocks, Cosmo and Commissioner Galbraith join forces to uncover the shadowy figure behind the deadly conspiracy…

Can the star-crossed couple bring down a killer before the dark threat extinguishes love’s flame?

Rating: B-

I Buried a Witch is the middle book in Josh Lanyon’s Bedknobs and Broomsticks trilogy, a series of fantasy/mystery/romance novels set in and around San Francisco and featuring witch and antiques dealer Cosmo Saville and his husband, John Joseph Galbraith, the Commissioner of Police.

The books don’t really stand alone as there’s an overarching storyline, (and the previous book raised more questions than it answered!) so if you haven’t read book one, Mainly by Moonlight, then you’ll be a bit lost if you start here; and it also means there will be spoilers in this review.

Mainly by Moonlight introduced readers to the world of the Craft (as Cosmo and his fellow witches refer to themselves) and its hierarchy; Cosmo is pretty high up in the pecking order, being the son of the witch next in line to be Crone (chief witch!), the Duchesse d’Abracadantès.  Cosmo is preparing to marry the man he’s fallen head-over-heels in love with in just a few short weeks, and to say that the duchesse is not at all happy about her son’s decision to marry an ordinary mortal would be a massive understatement.  She drops a bombshell when she tells Cosmo that John is under a love-spell; Cosmo is furious and insists that the spell be lifted immediately, even if it does mean that there’s a chance he’ll lose the love of his life.

While Cosmo is looking for signs that John is falling out of love with him, he’s also dealing with a number of troubling incidents ranging from the murder of a business rival to the sudden disappearance of one of his oldest friends, to another close friend being put into a coma following a hit-and-run, and to top it all, discovers the existence of a secret organisation whose activities threaten the entire Craft.  As the day of the wedding draws closer, Cosmo is relieved to discover that John doesn’t want to call it off, even though Cosmo can’t ignore the subtle changes that have started to take place in their relationship.  He’s so deeply in love that he carelessly ignores the warning signs that perhaps entering into marriage without having told John the truth about himself is not the best idea.

At the beginning of I Buried a Witch, Cosmo and John return home from their honeymoon in Scotland and are starting to settle into their new home.  Sadly, however, it’s not long before things between the newlyweds become strained and Cosmo is forced to admit that he has no-one but himself to blame for the tension between them.  When he discovers that several members of the local Wiccan community have been murdered in various gruesome ways, Cosmo wants to be allowed to help with the investigation; his knowledge of Wiccan customs, together with his witchy insight and understanding of possible motives surely make him the person best placed to provide the sort of information the police will need, but John makes it clear, in no uncertain terms, that he doesn’t want Cosmo going anywhere near the investigation.  Cosmo, of course, is having none of it, and the shit hits the fan when, during an argument, he tells John the truth about himself.

John, utterly stunned and furious at the deception, packs his bags and leaves that night.

Cosmo is devastated but not ready to give up on his marriage quite yet, even though John refuses to see or speak to him. While he tries to find a way to repair the damage, Cosmo can’t help continuing to look for solutions to the various magical conundrums that surround him. Who is the so-called Witch Killer and how are they connected to the murder (in book one) of Seamus Reitherman? Who is responsible for the hit-and-run that almost killed his friend? And worse, who is trying to kill him? Combined with some of the questions left over from the first book, there’s a lot to unravel here, and clearly some of these questions won’t be answered until the final book in the series, Bell, Book and Scandal.

I continue to like Cosmo as a character; he’s made mistakes and doesn’t always listen to good advice, but he’s smart and funny and kind-hearted, and I really want him to get the HEA he wants and deserves. The trouble is that at the moment, I’m not convinced that John is the man for him. In my review of Mainly by Moonlight, I said I recognised hints that there was more to John than meets the eye; the fact that he seemed able to deflect much of Cosmo’s magic appeared to be important, and I was eager to find out why, but the reason given here – if it’s the real reason – is almost an afterthought and does nothing to shed light on John’s character. In fact, he continues to be overbearing and dismissive of Cosmo; the scene in which John expects Cosmo to deal with the contractors coming to build a pool at the back of their house when Cosmo has said, explicitly, that he’s terrified of water and doesn’t want a pool left me wondering (again) what on earth Cosmo sees in him. But then, John will do or say something that indicates he really does care a great deal for Cosmo, and I’m rooting for them to find their way back to one another. In fact, there’s something of an epiphany for Cosmo when he finally realises that theirs has never been a relationship between equals and that if they’re to have any chance at a future together, he must stop trying to be someone he’s not and start to assert himself – and most importantly, be himself.

I dithered a bit when it came to assigning a final grade for this book. I was caught up in the story and in spite of my reservations about John, I ended up really wanting him and Cosmo to work out their differences and make a fresh start. But then perhaps that’s a testament to the author’s skill; she’s created two very different characters in John and Cosmo, and in spite of the fact that one of them is much easier to like than the other – I usually find it difficult to enjoy a romance in which I feel one character doesn’t really deserve the other – has written them and their relationship in a way that has me wanting things to work out for them. I might not love John, but I believe, honestly and truly, that Cosmo does – and that makes me at least want to like him. So it’s a low-level recommendation from me for I Buried a Witch; I’m invested enough to want to see all the mystery elements brought to a conclusion and to see how John and Cosmo are able to come back from their separation and make their tentative reunion into something solid, so I’ll be picking up the final book in the trilogy when it’s released in the Spring.