Too Hot to Handel (John Pickett Mysteries #5) by Sheri Cobb South (audiobook) – Narrated by Joel Froomkin

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

When a rash of jewel thefts strikes London, magistrate Patrick Colquhoun deploys his Bow Street Runners to put a stop to the crimes. The Russian Princess Olga Fyodorovna is to attend a production of Handel’s Esther at Drury Lane Theatre, where she will wear a magnificent diamond necklace. The entire Bow Street force will be stationed at various locations around the theatre – including John Pickett, who will occupy a box directly across from the princess.

In order to preserve his incognito, Pickett must appear to be a private gentleman attending the theatre. Mr. Colquhoun recommends that he have a female companion – a lady, in fact, who might prevent him from making any glaring faux pas. But the only lady of Pickett’s acquaintance is Julia, Lady Fieldhurst, to whom he accidentally contracted a Scottish irregular marriage several months earlier, and with whom he is seeking an annulment against his own inclinations – and for whom he recklessly declared his love, secure in the belief he would never see her again.

The inevitable awkwardness of their reunion is forgotten when the theatre catches fire. In the confusion, the Russian diamonds are stolen, and Pickett is struck in the head and rendered unconscious. Suddenly it is up to Julia not only to nurse him back to health, but to discover his attacker and bring the culprit – and the jewel thief – to justice.

Rating: Narration – A : Content – B

This fifth John Pickett mystery is a bit of a departure from the other books in the series in that our hero spends a rather large part of it unconscious, leaving his lady-love, Lady Julia Fieldhurst to the bulk of the sleuthing when it comes to solving the mystery of some missing diamonds. That said though, John is nonetheless a major presence in Too Hot to Handel, and Joel Froomkin’s hugely entertaining narration kept me engaged throughout, so I didn’t feel the slightest bit short-changed.

Note: There will be spoilers for earlier books in the series in this review.

It’s three months since Bow Street Runner John Pickett said farewell to the woman he fell in love with almost a year earlier, and a matter of weeks before the case for the annulment of the “irregular marriage” they inadvertently contracted in Scotland comes before the ecclesiastical court. At the end of the previous book, Dinner Most Deadly, he declared his love for Lady Julia Fieldhurst, but also said that they should not meet again; he has always known that the huge gulf in their stations makes any relationship between them impossible, and it’s become too painful for him to keep spending time with her while knowing she can never be his. For Julia it’s been three long, colourless months and none of her usual activities hold much interest for her any more. Even a night out at the theatre is dull until, on the way out, she hears a distressed older lady claiming that her jewels have been stolen. Recalling that the Duchess of Mallen’s rubies had also disappeared while that lady was at the theatre, and that they had been recovered by the Bow Street force, Julia suggests sending for a Runner, and for a few brief minutes, is excited at the prospect of seeing John again – only to come crashing down when someone else appears in his stead.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

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Unfit to Print by K.J. Charles


This title may be purchased from Amazon

When crusading lawyer Vikram Pandey sets out in search of a missing youth, his investigations take him to Holywell Street, London’s most notorious address. He expects to find a disgraceful array of sordid bookshops. He doesn’t expect one of them to be run by the long-lost friend whose disappearance and presumed death he’s been mourning for thirteen years.

Gil Lawless became a Holywell Street bookseller for his own reasons, and he’s damned if he’s going to apologise or listen to moralising from anyone. Not even Vikram; not even if the once-beloved boy has grown into a man who makes his mouth water.

Now the upright lawyer and the illicit bookseller need to work together to track down the missing youth. And on the way, they may even learn if there’s more than just memory and old affection binding them together…

Rating: A-

K.J. Charles always finds fresh, new angles to pursue in her stories and peoples them with characters in unusual walks of life – and her new novella, Unfit to Print, is no exception.  Set in late Victorian London, one of the protagonists is a purveyor of naughty books and has a shop in Holywell Street, which was, at that time, the centre of London’s porn trade; while the other is a somewhat uptight lawyer who views the whole business with a degree of distaste.  The novella boasts a mystery to be solved, a relationship to be rekindled and a mountain of filth to be shifted, and all of it is deftly and expertly done in well under two hundred pages.

Vikram Pandey and Gilbert Lawless are from minority – albeit fairly well-do-do – backgrounds, and met at boarding school several years before the story opens.  Vik’s father had been a high-ranking government official in India, while Gil is the result of a liaison between a black housemaid and a wealthy gentleman who publicly acknowledged him, paid for his education and treated him as a son.  Gil and Vik bonded at school and became the best of friends in spite of the fundamental differences in their natures, Gil seeming never to have a care in the world while Vik was always a little uptight and reserved. But one day when they were sixteen, both their lives were upended when Gil disappeared without warning or a word to anyone.  Vik was devastated, but his enquiries at school were always met with stony silence and disapproval, and eventually he stopped asking about or looking for Gil, believing him to be dead. He must be, or surely he’d have got word to Vik somehow, to tell him what happened.

In fact, Gil was removed from school and pretty much cast onto the streets on the day his father died and his half-brother inherited the estate.  Gil begged and scraped a living and now runs a small bookshop on Holywell Street near the Strand which, at that time, contained the largest concentration of porn shops in England.  Gilbert Lawless, Bookseller is Gil’s two-fingered-salute to the brother who, he later learned, cheated him out of his father’s last bequest, as well as to the “kind of respectability that means keeping other people in line while you do as you please.”

He is surprised when his cousin Percy asks him to attend Matthew Lawes’ funeral – and not at all surprised when he discovers there was an ulterior motive for inviting him. It seems his uncle was a connoisseur of pornography of all sorts, and faced with a massive library of books and photographs which could cause the family huge embarrassment, (not to mention large fines and possible imprisonment!)  they want Gil to take it all away and dispose of it.  Gil isn’t interested in most of it, but some of the books – one of them particularly rare – catch his eye, so he decides he might as well get what he can out of it, and agrees to have the lot transported to his shop.  It’s when he’s looking through some of the photographs that he recognises the likeness of a young lad – a rent boy – named Errol, who was found dead in a local alley just three weeks earlier.

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

Dinner Most Deadly (John Pickett Mysteries #4) by Sheri Cobb South (audiobook) – Narrated by Joel Froomkin

dinner most deadly

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

When Julia, Lady Fieldhurst, returns from Scotland restless and out of sorts, her friend Emily Dunnington plans a select dinner party with half a dozen male guests from whom Julia may choose a lover.

But Emily’s dinner ends in disaster when one of her guests, Sir Reginald Montague, is shot dead.

When Bow Street Runner John Pickett is summoned to Emily’s house, he is faced with the awkward task of informing Lady Fieldhurst that their recent masquerade as a married couple (Family Plot) has resulted in their being legally wed.

Beset by distractions – including the humiliating annulment procedure and the flattering attentions of Lady Dunnington’s pretty young housemaid – Pickett must find the killer of a man whom everyone has reason to want dead.

Rating: Narration – A : Content – B+

Note: This review contains spoilers for earlier books in the series.

Sheri Cobb South’s series of historical mysteries featuring the charming young Bow Street Runner John Pickett continues apace with the fourth full-length novel in the series, Dinner Most Deadly. It’s another enjoyable mix of murder-mystery and romance, but here, the romantic angle is as much the focus as the mystery, as John and the love of his life, Lady Julia Fieldhurst, struggle to deal with the ramifications of their recent masquerade as Mr. and Mrs. Pickett in book three, Family Plot. This instalment is particularly angsty in terms of their continuing relationship; John has been in love with Julia since they met in book one, In Milady’s Chamber, and while it’s taken Julia longer to realise the truth of her feelings for the thoughtful, insightful and achingly sweet young man who is so devoted to her, she is finally starting to see them for what they really are. But… a viscountess and a thief-taker who earns the princely sum of twenty-five shillings a week? The social divide between them is too great to permit even the merest nodding acquaintance.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals

His Wicked Charm (Mad Morelands #6) by Candace Camp (audiobook) – Narrated by Will Thorne


This title may be purchased from Amazon

She’s too prim.

Lilah Holcutt dislikes Constantine Moreland from the moment she meets him. He may be handsome, but he’s frivolous, rash, impulsive and, worst of all, a flirt. Now that Con’s twin brother has married Lilah’s best friend, she’s seeing way more of Con than she’d like. And when Con’s sisters are inexplicably kidnapped, Lilah’s own curiosity and stubbornness get the better of her, and she finds herself swept into Con’s investigation.

He’s indifferent to propriety.

Con knows that Lilah hates him — he just wishes she weren’t so devastatingly beautiful, that he weren’t so attracted to her. Especially since they’re working closely together to solve the kidnapping, an adventure that leads them to Lilah’s peculiar childhood home, Barrow House, which sits atop an ancient fen and features an eerie maze on its grounds.

They’ll have to join together to conquer a sinister force.

The more Con and Lilah uncover, the more they’re convinced that the answers lie buried deep within Barrow House — answers to a mystery darker than either of them could ever have realized.

Rating: Narration – A : Content – B-

This is the sixth book in Candace Camp’s Mad Morelands series, which originally comprised four books, but which has been expanded to include stories for the two youngest Moreland siblings, twins Alex and Con. His Wicked Charm opens not long after His Sinful Touch ended; I wasn’t overly impressed with the storyline of that book (my content grade was C+) which I found clichéd and somewhat clumsily executed. His Wicked Charm is an improvement, mostly due to the fact that Con is a more engaging character than Alex – Con is lively and funny where Alex was quite dour – but even so, the story meanders and lacks focus, and the paranormal elements are rather corny and melodramatic.

Constantine Moreland and Lilah Holcutt disliked each other from the moment they met. She thinks he’s too impulsive and not serious enough, and he thinks she’s too proper and bound by convention, but now Con’s brother has married Lilah’s best friend, they have to play nice. Needless to say, they are rarely successful; Con delights in needling Lilah by flirting with her outrageously, and most of their interactions end up as arguments. So, it amazes both of them to find that when the situation calls for it, they can actually set those differences aside and work together to achieve a desired outcome – in this case the rescue of Con’s mother and sisters, who are abducted off the street during a demonstration in support of female emancipation. Lilah insists on accompanying Con when he sets off in pursuit, but it turns out that the ladies are on the verge of rescuing themselves when the couple arrives (as detailed in the short story included at the end of the audiobook, Their Unexpected Adventure), but they still have to work out who kidnapped them and why.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

Mine: A Novel of Obsession by J.L. Butler

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Young divorce lawyer Francine Day has methodically built her career doing everything right. She’s one big case away from securing her place among London’s legal elite. But when she meets her new client, Martin Joy, the natural caution that has protected Francine and fueled her rise melts away. Powerless to fight the irresistible magnetism between them, client and counsel tumble into a blistering affair that breaks every rule.

Though Martin insists his marriage is over, Francine doesn’t believe him. Certain details he’s told her don’t quite add up. Consumed with a passion she cannot control and increasingly obsessed with Martin’s relationship with his wife, Donna, Francine follows the woman one night . . . and discovers her having dinner with her supposedly soon-to-be-ex-husband.

The next morning, Francine awakens in her neighbor’s apartment with blood on her clothes and no recollection of what transpired after she spied Donna and Martin together. Then Francine receives more devastating news: Martin’s wife has vanished. That dinner was the last place anyone has seen Donna Joy alive.

Suddenly, Francine finds herself caught in a dangerous labyrinth of deception, lies, and secrets, in which one false move could lead to her undoing. What happened that night and why can’t Francine remember? Where is Donna and who is responsible for her disappearance? The further Francine goes to find answers, the tighter the net seems to draw—around her lover, herself, and the life she’s meticulously built.

Rating: B

The premise for J.L Butler’s Mine sounded really intriguing, as did the idea of a barrister heroine, so I jumped right in and was immediately pulled into the story.  I don’t read many mysteries (I tend to prefer romantic suspense), but this one grabbed me right away, and even though there were a few things about the plotline and central character that made me scratch my head, I was pretty much gripped from beginning to end.

Francine Day, a hard-working barrister in her late thirties is a bit of a misfit in her profession. She comes from a working class family, she doesn’t have a public school education and she’s from Lancashire, her voice still carrying a bit of the northern twang she grew up with.  She works mostly in the field of family law, and has made herself a reputation as one of the best divorce lawyers around, specialising in the marital splits of the very wealthy.  It’s this reputation that brings her a client by the name of Martin Joy, an obscenely wealthy investment banker whose wife is out to take him to the cleaners for everything she can get.  Donna Joy wants half of everything Martin owns, including half his future earnings – and he wants to protect the company he and his friend, Alex Cole, have built from nothing.

The initial meeting over and arrangements made for the preliminary hearing, Fran is surprised to bump into Martin a few days later, in Selfridges of all places, and he invites her to have a drink with him.  One drink leads to another and eventually leads to their ending up in bed at Martin’s East London apartment and to a passionate affair that is completely outside Fran’s normal experience of sex and relationships.

This should perhaps ring the alarm bells.  She’s built a career on being upfront and doing what’s right – possibly as a reaction against her rather ‘wild-child’, rebellious adolescence – and she’s being encouraged by her colleagues and superiors to apply to take silk (which means she will become a QC, Queen’s Counsel, which is a prestigious appointment in her profession), and needs to keep her nose clean.  But she’s never felt this way about anyone and the thrill of being with Martin pushes all thoughts of her career into the back seat.  Eventually, however, the stress of keeping their relationship a secret begins to take its toll, and Fran finds herself gradually drowning amid the lies, her heavy workload and the hints of resurgence of the bi-polar disorder that she normally keeps under control through medication.  Even as she recognises the absurdity of her actions, when she suspects Martin is lying to her, and that perhaps his marriage is not as dead as he claims it is, Fran follows him one night and sees him meeting Donna, for a meal and then continues to watch them as they return to her house late that night.

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

Iron and Magic (The Iron Covenant #1) by Ilona Andrews

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No day is ordinary in a world where Technology and Magic compete for supremacy…But no matter which force is winning, in the apocalypse, a sword will always work.

Hugh d’Ambray, Preceptor of the Iron Dogs, Warlord of the Builder of Towers, served only one man. Now his immortal, nearly omnipotent master has cast him aside. Hugh is a shadow of the warrior he was, but when he learns that the Iron Dogs, soldiers who would follow him anywhere, are being hunted down and murdered, he must make a choice: to fade away or to be the leader he was born to be. Hugh knows he must carve a new place for himself and his people, but they have no money, no shelter, and no food, and the necromancers are coming. Fast.

Elara Harper is a creature who should not exist. Her enemies call her Abomination; her people call her White Lady. Tasked with their protection, she’s trapped between the magical heavyweights about to collide and plunge the state of Kentucky into a war that humans have no power to stop. Desperate to shield her people and their simple way of life, she would accept help from the devil himself—and Hugh d’Ambray might qualify.

Hugh needs a base, Elara needs soldiers. Both are infamous for betraying their allies, so how can they create a believable alliance to meet the challenge of their enemies?

As the prophet says: “It is better to marry than to burn.”

Hugh and Elara may do both.

Rating: B

I read and enjoyed Ilona Andrews’ recent Hidden Legacy trilogy and was keen to read more of the authors’ work, so I nabbed a review copy of Iron and Magic without realising it’s a spin-off of the popular, long-running Kate Daniels series. Which I haven’t read. But I was intrigued by the blurb, which promises an uneasy alliance between a disgraced warlord and a magical being who should not exist, and when I realised that the aforementioned warlord was actually the villain in the Daniels books, I was even more intrigued – I do love it when a bad guy is transformed into a hero.

For anyone – like me – who hasn’t read the other series, I’ll try to give a bit of background information without getting too bogged down (and here I’ll say “Thank You” to my fellow AAR reviewer, Maggie Boyd for giving me a few pointers). Iron and Magic is the first book in the new Iron Covenant series, and is set in the Daniels universe, in a near future in which technology and magic vie for supremacy. When the tech is up, magic doesn’t work and vice versa, and there’s no way of telling when a magic wave will hit or how long it will last. Hugh d’Ambray, the Preceptor (leader) of the Iron Dogs was once the right hand of Roland, the god-like being who is Kate Daniels’ father, but has been cast out and is no longer in Roland’s good graces or under his protection. When we encounter Hugh at the beginning of the book, he’s been on a massive bender, he’s heartsick, directionless and heading downward in an ever increasing spiral of hopelessness and despair. The life he knew has been ripped away from him, along with his sense of self and his place in the world, and he’s a complete mess when he’s found by some of his men who tell him that the Iron Dogs are being wiped out by the Golden Legion, the necromancers who ‘operate’ Roland’s army of mindless vampires and are led by Landon Nez – who hates Hugh. Who hates him right back. The pair had been Roland’s two enforcers, and with Hugh’s exile, Nez’s power has increased. The news is bad – from a force of thousands, the Iron Dogs now number only three hundred, and clearly, Nez is intent in wiping every last one of them from the face of the Earth.

Hugh built the Iron Dogs into more than a fighting force; he forged a brotherhood, “a family, where each of us stands for something greater”. Hugh’s realisation that the remainder of his men need him to lead them finally sobers him up, and his determination to do what he can for the loyal Dogs who have always followed him is the first indication that this character – seen as a ruthless killer, a conscienceless butcher – is redeemable.

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

Murder Takes the High Road by Josh Lanyon (audiobook) – Narrated by Gary Furlong

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

Librarian Carter Matheson is determined to enjoy himself on a Scottish bus tour for fans of mystery author Dame Vanessa Rayburn. Sure, his ex, Trevor, will also be on the trip with his new boyfriend, leaving Carter to share a room with a stranger, but he can’t pass up a chance to meet his favorite author.

Carter’s roommate turns out to be John Knight, a figure as mysterious as any character from Vanessa’s books. His strange affect and nighttime wanderings make Carter suspicious. When a fellow traveler’s death sparks rumors of foul play, Carter is left wondering if there’s anyone on the tour he can trust.

Drawn into the intrigue, Carter searches for answers, trying to fend off his growing attraction toward John. But as unexplained tragedies continue, the whole tour must face the fact that there may be a murderer in their midst – but who?

Rating: Narration – A- : Content – B-

I’m a relative newcomer to Josh Lanyon’s work, although I’ve enjoyed the few books of hers I’ve read or listened to and am definitely planning on reading and listening to more. Murder Takes the High Road is a new standalone romantic mystery set in Scotland, wherein our hero, California-based librarian Carter Matheson, is spending his holiday on a To Die For tour of the locations associated with the work of his favourite author. If you enjoy stories in which the author throws a subtle wink or three in your direction, then this is likely to appeal; Ms. Lanyon references many of the conventions and tropes found in genre fiction, name-dropping everything from classic mystery writers to Midsomer Murders and skilfully creates a Christie-like scenario culminating in a shocking murder at a remote Scottish castle. It’s low-angst, light-hearted fare, and the focus is definitely on the mystery – so anyone expecting something akin to the author’s normal brand of romantic suspense might be a bit disappointed. Murder Takes the High Road is more of a “cozy” mystery; it’s enjoyable, but lacks the steamy, fast-paced thrills I associate with the kind of m/m romantic suspense novels I’ve been listening to lately.

Carter Matheson definitely fits the definition of a superfan when it comes to British crime author Dame Vanessa Rayburn. There is only one To Die For tour each year and the highlight is the four nights spent on a remote Scottish island owned by the lady herself, where her superfans get to stay in her castle, spend time with her and talk to her about her work.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.