TBR Challenge: Galaxies and Oceans by N.R. Walker

galaxies and oceans

This title may be purchased from Amazon

Seizing his one chance to escape, Ethan Hosking leaves his violent ex-boyfriend, leaves his entire life, and walks into the path of a raging bushfire. Desperate to start over, a new man named Aubrey Hobbs walks out of the fire-ravaged forest, alive and alone. With no ID and no money, nothing but his grandfather’s telescope, he goes where the Southern Cross leads him.

Patrick Carney is the resident lighthouse keeper in Hadley Cove, a small town on the remote Kangaroo Island off the coast of South Australia. After the tragic death of his lover four years ago, he lives a solitary life; just him, a tabby cat, the Indian and Southern Oceans, and a whole lot of loneliness. He’s content with his life until a stranger shows up in town and turns Patrick’s head.

Patrick never expected to be interested in anyone else. Aubrey never expected to be happy. Between Aubrey’s love of the stars and Patrick’s love of the ocean, these two fragile hearts must navigate new waters. If they can weather the storm of their pasts, they could very well have a love that eclipses everything.

Rating: B+

N.R. Walker’s Galaxies and Oceans is a gently moving May/December romance between two damaged, lonely people who have good reason to be wary of falling in love.  It’s one of those books where, honestly, not very much happens apart from a couple of emotionally bruised people finding and falling for each other, but it’s so beautifully done, the chemistry between them so compelling that I was engrossed in the story from start to finish and blew through the book in just a couple of sittings.

I chose it for this month’s prompt because it’s set at the other end of the world – to me, anyway – on Kangaroo Island off the southern coast of Australia, and actually, it fits the prompt twice over.  Not only is the story set in a remote and unusual location, one of the leads is a lighthouse keeper, and although he doesn’t live IN the lighthouse (his house is just next door), several key scenes take place there and it plays a significant role in the story.

Twenty-seven-year-old Ethan Hosking has been in a relationship with his boyfriend Anton – Canberra’s only openly gay politican – for four years.  For the last two of those, Ethan has been subjected to violence and abuse on a regular basis, but he has no family or friends to turn to, no way to escape Anton’s controlling behaviour.  When the book begins, they’ve just arrived at the remote cabin Anton takes Ethan to each time he’s beaten him up – so nobody will see the damage – and then Anton just leaves him there while he goes back to the city.  Two days later, however, a massive bush fire laying waste to the national parks west of Canberra provides Ethan with a stark choice – stay where he is and end his misery that way… or make a run for it, make Anton believe he died in the fire and make a new life for himself somewhere far, far away.

Hadley Cove is a small town – population sixty-three – on the southwest tip of Kangaroo Island, South Australia, and Patrick Carney has been the lighthouse keeper there for the past six years.  Since the death of his lover Scott four years before, he’s lived a solitary life with just his cat and the ocean for company, occasionally venturing out to watch the penguins or the seals.  Like everyone else in Hadley, he can’t fail to register the arrival of a stranger, a young man who is staying at the run-down caravan park and looking for work.  Noticing the lonely figure clad only in jeans and a hoodie (neither warm enough to withstand the wind and the cold) staring out to sea, Patrick approaches him and strikes up a conversation – and immediately recognises the deep pain in his eyes.  They part soon after – Patrick realising he doesn’t know the other man’s name – and later that day, he heads out to the caravan park to see if he can talk the owner into giving the newcomer some work.  But it appears that’s already been taken care of;  Patrick arrives to find him already hard at work and learns his name is Aubrey Hobbs.

The romance between Patrick and Aubrey (Ethan adopted his beloved grandfather’s name when he reinvented himself) is a gorgeous slow-burn as they take baby-steps towards healing and love.  Patrick never thought or wanted to find love again – and feels guilty at the prospect – but something about Aubrey draws him in; it’s very clear the younger man has had a tough time of it, but Patrick never pushes for information Aubrey isn’t ready or willing to give.  And even though he can’t tell Patrick the whole truth – he wants to, but worries about dragging Patrick into a legal minefield – Aubrey is as honest as possible and very real when he talks about his life, his fears and his passion for astronomy.  Their connection is made quickly, but trust and deeper feelings are allowed plenty of time to develop, through shared meals (Patrick is an excellent cook!), visits to the ocean to watch the penguins come ashore or see the seal colony, picnics and stargazing (the one thing Aubrey took with him when he walked away from his old life was his grandfather’s telescope) at the top of the lighthouse.

The small secondary cast adds depth to the story and the setting is brought so vividly to life – the stormy skies, the biting wind, the fierceness and unpredictability of the ocean – that you can feel and see it all.  The writing is smooth and assured and lyrical, and I particularly liked the way Scott is present in the story, as someone who will always be important to Patrick and would want him to be happy; Patrick’s imaginary conversations with him are funny and poignant, but he never overwhelms the story and encourages Patrick to live his life.  I loved that Patrick, the lighthouse keeper, becomes the beacon who guides Aubrey to safety, and the idea of Aubrey being led to Patrick by the stars is one of the most romantic things I’ve read recently;  lost in the bush after the fire, he remembers his grandfather’s words about the Southern Cross – “the tail points south, always”.

“The Southern Cross is what brought me here.  The constellation.  I followed it, here, to this island.  To you.”

My quibbles with the story are small ones. The ending feels a bit rushed, and maybe Patrick holds on to his guilt over moving on for a tad too long, but those are the only things that didn’t quite work for me.

Heartfelt, sensual , touching and uplifting, Galaxies and Oceans is a gloriously romantic character-driven story about overcoming adversity and finding home.

Code Red (Atrous #1) by N.R. Walker (audiobook) – Narrated by Nick J. Russo

code red

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

Maddox Kershaw is the main vocalist of the world’s biggest boy band. He’s at the top of every music chart, every award show, every social media platform, and every sexiest-man-alive list. He’s the bad boy, the enigma, the man everyone on the planet wants a piece of.

He’s also burned out and exhausted, isolated and lonely. Not in a good headspace at the start of a tour.

Roscoe Hall is Maddox’s personal manager. His job is high-flying, high-demand, high-profile, and he loves it. Maddox has consumed his entire life for the past four years. Roscoe knows him. He sees the real Maddox no one else gets to see.

He’s also in love with him.

When the tour and stress become too much, when the world begins to close in, Roscoe becomes Maddox’s lifeline. But as Maddox knows already, and as Roscoe is about to learn, the brighter the spotlight, the darker the shadow.

Rating: Narration – B+; Content – C

I’ve been a fan of N.R. Walker since I listened to her fabulous Thomas Elkin series a few years back and I always look forward to reading or listening to her newest releases. Code Red is set in the music world and features a romance between the lead singer of the biggest boy band on the planet and his manager/handler. Nick J. Russo’s narration is as reliably good as ever, and I enjoyed certain aspects of the story, but unfortunately, I didn’t find the romance to be particularly compelling.

At twenty-three, Maddox Kershaw is the lead vocalist for Atrous, currently the most famous, most popular boy band in the world. He and his four band-mates – the closest thing he has to family – have spent the last seven years writing, recording, performing and touring; it’s fame and success beyond their wildest dreams, but for Maddox, it’s begun to turn into something of a nightmare. Their schedule is relentless; their current tour comes hot on the heels of recording a new album which followed hot on the heels of their previous tour and previous album; there’s been barely time to take a breath let alone a break. When this current tour begins, Maddox is already showing signs of burn-out, and with so many people relying on him (fans, employees, his fellow band members) he’s desperate to keep his issues a secret from everyone around him.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

Dearest Milton James by N.R. Walker (audiobook) – Narrated by Glen Lloyd

dearest milton james

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

Malachi Keogh finds himself in a job he neither wanted nor asked for when his father, boss of Sydney’s postal service, sends him to the end of the business line, a.k.a. the Dead Letter Office. Malachi expects it to be tedious and boring, but instead discovers a warehouse with a quirky bunch of misfit co-workers, including a stoic and nerdy boss, Julian Pollard.

Malachi’s intrigued by Julian at first, and he soon learns there’s more to the man than his boring clothes of beige, tan, and brown; a far cry from Malachi’s hot pink, lilac, and electric blue. Where Julian is calm and ordered, Malachi is chaos personified, but despite their outward differences, there’s an immediate chemistry between them that sends Malachi’s head – and heart – into a spin.

To keep his father happy, Malachi needs to keep this job. He also needs to solve the mystery of the pile of old letters that sits in Julian’s office and maybe get to the bottom of what makes Julian tick. Like everything that goes through the mail center, only time will tell if Malachi has found his intended destination or if he’ll find himself returned to sender.

Rating: Narration – B; Content – B

Dearest Milton James is a charming and delightfully frothy contemporary romance in which the two leads fall in love while tracking down the author of a series of ‘lost’ letters written fifty years earlier. It’s an easy, undemanding listen, with a lot of humour and a lot of heart, and new-to-me narrator Glen Lloyd (a native Aussie, I believe) delivers an animated and engaging performance.

When the story begins, Malachi Keogh has been pretty much dragged by his father – the boss of Sydney’s postal service – into the office of Julian Pollard, head of the Mail Redistribution Centre, (which, despite being re-named a while back, is still colloquially known as “the Dead Letter Office”) – the place where all the city’s undeliverable mail ends up. Malachi has just been fired (again) – this time, because he stood up for a colleague who was being discriminated against – so his exasperated father pulls a few strings and gets Malachi this job with the warning that he’d better stick at it.

You can read the rest of this reveiw at AudioGals.

TBR Challenge: Switched by N.R. Walker

switched

This title may be purchased from Amazon

Israel Ingham’s life has never been easy. He grew up in a house devoid of love and warmth. Nothing he ever did was good enough. The fact Israel is gay just added to the long list of his father’s disappointments.

Then a letter from Eastport Children’s Hospital changes everything. A discovery is made, one of gross human error. Twenty-six years ago two baby boys were switched at birth and sent home with the wrong families.

Sam, Israel’s best friend, has been his only source of love and support. With Sam beside him every step of the way, Israel decides to meet his birth mother and her son, the man who lived the life Israel should have.

Israel and Sam become closer than ever, amidst the tumultuous emotions of meeting his birth family, and Sam finds himself questioning his feelings toward his best friend. As Israel embraces new possibilities, he needs to dissect his painful relationship with his parents in order to salvage what’s left.

Because sometimes it takes proof you’re not actually family to become one.

Rating: B

The phrase “you must have been switched at birth!” is often said as a good-natured jibe between siblings, but that’s the exact premise of N.R. Walker’s Switched, the story of a young man who, at twenty-six, discovers he’s not his parents’ biological child due to a hospital mix up.  One could – perhaps – be excused for thinking that a premise like that would lead to an overly contrived or melodramatic story, but Switched is neither of those things.  It’s an emotional and angsty read that combines one man’s path to self-discovery with a heartfelt and sexy friends-to-lovers romance, and although there were a couple of things that didn’t quite work for me,  I enjoyed it a lot.

Coming out as gay in his teens was just one in a long string of disappointments Israel Ingham ‘inflicted’ on his parents.  Even now, when he’s doing what was always expected of him and working as junior executive manager in his father’s company – the position he’s long been groomed for – he’s well aware that nothing he does is – or will ever be – good enough for them.  It’s frustrating, but he’s kind of learned to live with it.  He’s good at his job, he has some great friends, plenty of sex when he wants it… his life is good and he’s learned not to wish for something he’ll never have – a normal and loving relationship with his parents.

When the book opens, Israel is irritated at having to take time out of his work day to attend what he assumes is some sort of fundraiser at Eastport Children’s Hospital in Sydney.  But that misapprehension is quickly corrected when he and his parents are met by a lawyer – who informs them that Israel is not their biological son.  He and another male child, born on the same day, were accidentally switched, and the mix-up has only recently come to light.  While his father is busy ranting and raving and his mother just sits there, expressionless,  Iz’s heart is racing and his mind is spinning.  Could this be the reason he’s never felt as though he truly belonged in his family?  Could he, at some deep, subconscious level, have understood that he wasn’t truly part of it?

Iz is – unsurprisingly – completely thrown by this revelation.  He’s angry and scared and confused, he feels he doesn’t know who he is any more, doesn’t know how to feel or what to do about… well, pretty much anything.  Luckily for him, his best friend Sam is there for him, just as he’s always been, and makes it clear that no way is he letting Iz go through this alone.  He drops everything to be with him and to be whatever he needs – someone to pull him out of his funks, someone to make him laugh, someone to forcibly ‘kidnap’ him for the weekend to provide a distraction … Whatever Iz needs, Sam is there.  They’ve been friends since their schooldays and are obviously very close;  it’s also obvious – to the reader, if not to Israel (who has no clue) – that Sam feels a lot more for him than friendship.

The author does a good job weaving together the three central relationships in the story – Iz and Sam’s romance, Iz’s burgeoning relationship with his biological family, and his ongoing relationship with his parents.  His anger and frustration, his confusion over his identity, his feelings of validation almost, as he realises that there’s a reason he never felt as though he belonged, his need to work out who he is and where he belongs now, all are very well conveyed and I really felt for Iz as he flounders while trying to process it all, and slowly – with Sam’s continued support – starts to make sense of it.

One of the things I like about friends-to-lovers romances is that moment when one person starts seeing the other in a new light, and watching Iz slowly starting to see Sam as an attractive man and not just as his best mate was one of my favourite things about this story.  Their romance is a bit of a slow burn in that respect – and there’s some frustrating miscommunication along the way as Iz starts to think he’s too dependent on Sam (which he is, really) and that maybe if he puts some distance between them the attraction he’s begun to feel will fizzle out. (Good luck with that!)  Fortunately, this isn’t allowed to go on for too long, and Iz does get his head out of his arse before too long.  Unfortunately,  however, it’s as the result of what I term the ‘third-party-nudge’, and I’m not a great fan of stories where it takes an observation by someone else to galvanise one of the protagonists into action.

That’s my main quibble about the romance though – otherwise, it’s sweet and hot, and Sam and Iz are obviously perfect for one another. The UST is delicious; even though the story is told entirely in Iz’s PoV, Sam’s longing for something more with his friend is palpable – and the evident affection, trust and understanding between them is just lovely to see.

Also lovely – Israel finally getting his wish for a real family, one that loves and accepts him unconditionally.  Donna, Nick and his other siblings (a brother and sister) are warm, welcoming, genuine people and I really enjoyed their interactions.  Iz’s other family is not neglected in the story, and we see him working out how he wants to relate to them in future.  Despite their lack of attention and affection and everything else his parents put him through, he makes it clear that he’s willing to try to work things out rather than completely cutting ties with them – and by the end of the book it appears that they are willing to make the effort, too.  It’s clear that they’re unlikely ever to have a close, touchy-feely relationship, but there’s a sense of hope that they can build something better than before.

Switched is a well-written story that examines the nature of family and belonging in a poignant and thought-provoking way, and the romance between Israel and Sam is nicely done.  Despite a few reservations I enjoyed the story and the characters, and would certainly recommend it to anyone looking for a romance with an unusual storyline.

Sixty-Five Hours by N.R. Walker (audiobook) – Narrated by Nick J. Russo

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

Cameron Fletcher and Lucas Hensley are advertising executives who have 65 hours to pull together the campaign of their careers. Sixty-five hours to get along. Sixty-five hours to not kill each other. Sixty-five hours to fall in love.

Rating: Narration – B+: Content – B-

N.R Walker’s Sixty-Five Hours is a cute, fluffy and very sexy antagonists-to-lovers story that centres around two advertising executives who are given the job (i.e. they’re voluntold) of coming up with a campaign to woo a potential new client in, yes, you’ve guessed it, just sixty-five hours.

Lucas Hensley has worked at Fletcher Advertising for six months, and for all of that time has received only scowls and the cold shoulder from the “gorgeous, fucking arrogant, sonova bitch” in the office across the corridor, the boss’s son Cameron Fletcher. When he’s summoned to a meeting at which only the two Fletcher men are present, Lucas isn’t sure what to expect, but it certainly isn’t to be offered the opportunity to work on a pitch to land an account that could be the making of his career. It turns out that the largest manufacturer of “lifestyle products” (i.e condoms, lube and sex aids) in the country is looking to change their agency – and Fletcher has managed to secure a meeting with the company’s top executives. The downside – Lucas and Cameron are going to have to work together on creating the pitch, and they’ve only got sixty-five hours in which do to it. Being sequestered for the entire weekend with stuffy, pompous Cameron Fletcher is a far cry from the way Lucas had envisaged spending his weekend.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

The Dichotomy of Angels by N.R. Walker (audiobook) – Narrated by Nick J. Russo

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

Nathaniel and Chasan are no ordinary angels.

Destiny chose them to be twin flames, fated mates. But Nathaniel has avoided Chasan for nearly a thousand years.

When sent to Earth on a mission to live and work together, Nathaniel comes face-to-face with his destiny. Short-tempered, petulant, and grumpy, he hates the idea of being fated to anyone and has chosen an existence of isolation rather than spending time with the calm, kind, and serene Chasan. But now he has no choice.

One is fire, the other is air; a true dichotomy of angels. Together they will be ignited, or they will be extinguished. This assignment will seal their fate either way.

Rating: Narration – B+; Content – A-

I read N.R. Walker’s The Dichotomy of Angels when it came out at the end of 2019 and loved it. It’s a clever, funny and poignant story about two angels who are sent to Earth on a mission, with a sexy and angsty romance at its centre, and I was delighted when I learned it was getting an audio release, too.

Nathaniel and Chasan are angels from the same order of the same hierarchy, but they’re polar opposites. Nathaniel is dark to Chasan’s light, fire to Chasan’s air and grumpy to Chasan’s tranquillity. But though they’re opposites, they share a unique bond, a twinning of souls that is incredibly rare, but the bond is not complete until they have both accepted it – and Nathaniel refuses to do so. Saint Peter doesn’t know how much longer the burn of the twin flames can be ignored before it will die out or consume both angels, and it’s time to do something about it.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

Quickie Reviews #5

I always mean to do these more regularly but… you know, life. Anyway, like many people right now, I’ve got a bit of extra time on my hands, so I’ve pulled together short reviews of a bunch of books and audiobooks I’ve read and listened to over the past few months but haven’t written full-length reviews for. If you’re looking for a read or listen to keep you company over the next few weeks, maybe you’ll find some inspiration here.


Two Man Station by Lisa Henry

Gio Valeri is a big-city police officer who’s been transferred to the small outback town of Richmond with his professional reputation in tatters. His transfer is a punishment, and Gio just wants to keep his head down and survive the next two years. No more mistakes. No more complications.

Except Gio isn’t counting on Jason Quinn.

Jason Quinn, officer in charge of Richmond Station, is a single dad struggling with balancing the demands of shift work with the challenges of raising his son. The last thing he needs is a new senior constable with a history of destroying other people’s careers. But, like it or not, Jason has to work with Gio.

In a remote two-man station hours away from the next town, Gio and Jason have to learn to trust and rely on each another. Close quarters and a growing attraction mean that the lines between professional and personal are blurring. And even in Richmond, being a copper can be dangerous enough without risking their hearts as well.

Rating: B

With two cops as leads, I’d thought this might be more of a mystery/suspense story, but it isn’t; rather it’s a fish-out-of-water tale as a disgraced big city cop relocates to a small rural community and discovers that policing there is very different to the sort of thing he’s used to. Lisa Henry evokes the small town/back of beyond atmosphere really well – although this town isn’t at all small really; Jason and Gio’s “beat” covers a massive area, but it doesn’t boast all that many inhabitants.

Amid the series of vignettes as to the various disputes the pair are called upon to work through is the relationship that gradually grows between them. They get off to a rocky start because of what Jason has heard about Gio’s reason for relocating (that he was an informant who got another officer dismissed from his job), but as they work together and get to know each other, Jason starts to wonder if that’s the whole story. (Of course, it isn’t).

Jason is a widower with a ten-year-old son, and is only just realising that he really needs to make proper childcare arrangements. Before, his two neighbours – a young couple with kids of their own – would always pick up the slack and were happy to help out when Jason had to answer a call at night or worked long shifts – but now they’ve moved away, he’s struggling to reconcile the demands of the job with his job as a father.

The slower pacing works and I enjoyed the book overall, although I would have liked a stronger romance. There’s a definite attraction between Jason (who is bi) and Gio, but a few pages before the end, Jason tells Gio he’s still in love with his dead wife (and he’s still wearing his wedding ring), which was unexpected and seemed a really odd move; and although they’re still together six months down the line (shown in the epilogue) it felt to me as though there was more to be said about their relationship. There are no ILYs – which is fine when I feel that the characters are committed to each other – and I don’t necessarily need the mushy stuff, but their emotional connection wasn’t quite what I’d hoped for by the end.

Even so, I’m giving this four stars because I really did like the story and the characters. I’m going to pick up the next book soon.


Leaning into the Fall by Lane Hayes

Narrated by Nick J. Russo

Nick Jorgensen is a quirky genius. He’s made a fortune in the competitive high-tech field with his quick mind and attention to detail. He believes in hard work and trusting his gut. And he believes in karma. It’s the only thing that makes sense. People are difficult, but numbers never lie. In the disastrous wake of a broken engagement to an investor’s daughter, Nick is more certain than ever he isn’t relationship material.

Wes Conrad owns a thriving winery in Napa Valley. The relaxed atmosphere is a welcome departure from his former career as a high-rolling businessman. Wes’s laid-back nature is laced with a fierceness that appeals to Nick. In spite of his best intention to steer clear of complications, Nick can’t fight his growing attraction to the sexy older man who seems to understand him. Even the broken parts he doesn’t get himself.

However, when Wes’s past collides with Nick’s present, both men will have to have to decide if they’re ready to lean into the ultimate fall.

Rating: Narration – B; Content – B

Nick is a tech genius who doesn’t do well in social situations and frequently comes across as an arsehole; Wes is more than a decade older and considerably more chilled than Nick, but seems to just ‘get’ him – even the parts of himself Nick doesn’t fully understand. I liked the way their relationship developed; laid-back Wes is a great foil for Nick, who is sometimes driven to the point of obsession and oblivious to everything around him. There’s plenty of hot sex, but there’s an emotional connection, too -Nick has never clicked with anyone the way he has with Wes, and realises that for the first time ever, he’s developing feelings for someone that go beyond work or friendship.

The conflict comes fairly late in the book and although it seems a little contrived, it does actually fit with Nick’s character – he gets worked up and anxious easily and does tend to blurt the first thing that comes into his head, and the ‘black moment’ works because of it.

Nick J. Russo narrates and does a great job!


Setting the Hook by Andrew Grey

Narrated by Greg Tremblay

William Westmoreland escapes his unfulfilling Rhode Island existence by traveling to Florida twice a year and chartering Mike Jansen’s fishing boat to take him out on the Gulf. The crystal-blue water and tropical scenery isn’t the only view William enjoys, but he’s never made his move. A vacation romance just isn’t on his horizon.

Mike started his Apalachicola charter fishing service as a way to care for his daughter and mother, putting their safety and security ahead of the needs of his own heart. Denying his attraction becomes harder with each of William’s visits.

William and Mike’s latest fishing excursion starts with a beautiful day, but a hurricane’s erratic course changes everything, stranding William. As the wind and rain rage outside, the passion the two men have been trying to resist for years crashes over them. In the storm’s wake, it leaves both men yearning to prolong what they have found. But real life pulls William back to his obligations. Can they find a way to reduce the distance between them and discover a place where their souls can meet? The journey will require rough sailing, but the bright future at the end might be worth the choppy seas.

Rating: Narration: A; Content B

Sweet character-driven romance between a workaholic businessman, groomed by his parents to take over the family engineering firm, and the owner of the boat he charters a couple of times a year to go fishing.

A bad storm following William’s latest fishing trip leaves him stranded in Florida for a few days; Mike invites him to stay with him (he lives with his mother and ten-year-old daughter) and the nacent attraction they’ve both been feeling for years now becomes impossible to ignore or resist.

They’re from very different worlds, but no matter how strong the emotions growing between them, Mike’s life is in Florida and William’s is in Rhode Island. Yet the months apart after William’s last visit only prove to both of them that there’s something between them worth exploring, and both men have to decide how much they’re prepared to sacrifice in order to be together.

It’s nto going to win any prizes for originality, but Setting the Hook is an enjoyable story featuring likeable characters, and of course, Greg Tremblay’s narration was flawless.


Red Dirt Heart by N.R. Walker

Charlie Sutton runs Sutton Station the only way he knows how; the way his father did before him. Determined to keep his head down and his heart in check, Charlie swears the red dirt that surrounds him – isolates him – runs through his veins.

American agronomy student Travis Craig arrives at Sutton Station to see how farmers make a living from one of the harshest environments on earth. But it’s not the barren, brutal and totally beautiful landscapes that capture him so completely.

It’s the man with the red dirt heart.

Rating: B

Lovely and just what I needed right now.

Charlie Sutton is just twenty-five but is now the owner of the 2.58 million acre Sutton Station in the Northern Territory, Australia. He loves what he does, even though he knows he’s likely to spend his life alone; he’s gay and closeted, his late father having insisted that “no fairy” was ever going to be able to run Sutton Station and that it needed a “real man”. Yes, his father was an arsehole, but those words struck so deep that Charlie – although he’s doing a terrific job – can’t seem to see beyond them.

Enter Travis Craig, an agronomy student from Texas who has come to Sutton to see how things are done as part of an exchange programme. Travis is handsome, confident and, as quickly becomes clear to Charlie and his staff, knows his way around horses and cattle; he settles in quickly, becoming part of the team and establishing friendships with the others, but Charlie tells himself he must keep his distance.

There’s not a lot of angst in this one (a bit of very plausible drama in the second half worked well to ramp up the tension) and it’s mostly the story of Charlie learning to let go of his father’s bigotry and be his own man, and finally allowing himself to believe it’s possible for him to live his life with a loving partner by his side.

There are some great secondary characters (I loved Ma, who rules the kitchen with a rod of iron… or spatula, whatever) and the author’s descriptions of the Outback setting, the “red dirt”, the night skies, the sunsets are fabulous.

If you’re looking for a simple, well-written story that will transport you somewhere else for a few hours, this could be just what you’re after.


The Prince and his Bedeviled Bodyguard by Charlie Cochet

Prince Owin

Being a fierce predator – not at all adorable, despite my graceful stature – the last thing I needed was a bodyguard. Especially a wolf shifter, whose presence alone was an insult to my princely principles. 

As prince of the Ocelot Shifters, I prided myself on my infallible feline instincts, uncompromising dignity, and flawless fashion sense. If having a canine follow me around at all times wasn’t bad enough, I now faced the most important moment of my entire life. 

The time had come to prove I was worthy of my crown. If only I could find a way to get rid of the pesky bodyguard…

Grimmwolf

When the king of All Shifters asked me to guard Prince Owin, I admit I had no idea what to expect. Cat shifters tend to be a little intense, not to mention kinda cranky. Owin was no exception, though he seemed crankier than most. 

Being his bodyguard was proving to be one of the greatest challenges of my life, but not nearly as great as convincing him there was something special between us. 

When Owin was tasked with a perilous quest to prove his worth, I was determined to keep him safe, even if the same couldn’t be said of my heart.

Rating: Narration: A; Content B-

I wanted something short and sweet and this definitely fit the bill. The prince of the ocelot shifters has to team up with his bodyguard, a wolf shifter, to fulfil a quest set him by the king of all shifters… of course, they spar like cat and dog (!) and shenanigans ensure.

It’s not deep and the worldbuilding is minimal, but it’s a helluva lot of fun, especially in audio where Greg Boudreaux demonstrates once again that he’s a master of comic timing (and just about everything else when it comes to narration!)

Quick, fun and sexy – just what I was looking for, and I’ll probably pick up more audios in the series as they become available.


Sergeant Delicious by Annabeth Albert

Soon to be ex-marine Xavier has a bright future as a firefighter. But stationed far from home, he’s lonely and homesick for more than just his favorite foods. Thinking ahead to his homecoming, he responds to an ad seeking a date for a special gourmet dinner, but he doesn’t anticipate an immediate connection with the intriguing foodie who placed the ad.

Food writer Damien is looking for his big break, and reviewing an uber-exclusive secret restaurant may be exactly what he needs if he can score a date to go with him. He doesn’t expect to enjoy corresponding with Xavier quite so much, nor is he prepared for his powerful surge of lust for the hot marine.

However, Damien’s had more than his share of bad luck when it comes to romance, but Xavier is determined to win Damien over. Course-by-course, they fall deeper into like. When they finally give into their passion, sparks fly. But is it a flash in the pan or the recipe for lasting love?

Rating: B-

A sweet and sexy short story previously published in a charity anthology, Sergeant Delicious begins with soon-to-be demobbed Xavier answering an ad from “fun foodie guy” (a food writer) who wants someone to go with him to an upmarket dinner on Valentine’s day. The first part of this short story/novella shows the pair getting to know each other a bit via email, which makes the attraction they experience when they meet more believable. Both men are likeable and down-to-earth, and one of the things I really appreciate about novellas when they’re done well, is that the shorter page count doesn’t leave room for silly misunderstandings and other distracting plot points; and this is one of those that’s done well. The author doesn’t allow Damien’s hang-ups to get in the way (in fact, making good use of them! *wink*) and devotes all her page time to building the relationship between the leads.

A quick, fun (and did I mention sexy?) read.


Bitter Pill by Jordan Castillo Price

Narrated by Gomez Pugh

There’s a new drug on the streets called Kick. The side effects are so brutal, most folks only try it once…unless they’re psychic. Then they do it until it kills them.

Psychic medium Victor Bayne is well acquainted with pharmaceuticals, from the Auracel that blocks his ghosts to the Seconal that offers him a blissful nights’ sleep. But he’s managed to steer clear of street drugs…so far.

Jacob Marks has a medicine cabinet filled with every over-the-counter remedy known to man, but none of them are doing much for his mood—and his long, fruitless days of combing through records at The Clinic are taking a heavy toll.
But their lackluster investigation does have one silver lining: a front row seat at The Clinic when the first Kick overdose comes in. And as scary as the drug might be, if it truly does augment psychic ability, the appeal is not lost on Vic.

Because the very first hit never killed anyone.

Where did Kick come from? Why is it so addictive? And why is everyone at The Clinic acting so darn shady? That’s what Vic intends to find out. And if he’s lucky, he can also expose a shadowy figure from Camp Hell.

Unfortunately, the demons of his pill addiction might prove just as deadly as his long-buried history. He thought he’d managed to ditch that pernicious habit. But what if it was only lurking in the shadows, waiting for the best time to rear its ugly head?

Rating: Narration: A; Content A-

Gah, I love this series so much, and it seems to get better and better! So much going on here besides the actual plot, about the investigation into a deadly psyactive drug (Kick) that is killing psychics. I’m loving Vic’s character growth, especially over the last few books as he’s finally realising what it’s like to work with people who respect him and is really gaining in confidence as a result. He still can’t quite believe it, and is still as endearingly self-deprecatingly shambolic as ever, but we – and Jacob of course – see it and appreciate it. And I like that we get to see Jacob’s more vulnerable side; he’s one of those people who, by virtue of his good looks, imposing physique, intelligence and charisma has come up against little in his life that he hasn’t been able to deal with, but that’s changing, and although he’s still very much the Jacob we all know and love, that extra dimension to him is great to see.

Vic and Jacob’s relationship continues to grow and their love for each other to deepen; they get to work with Zig and Carolyn again, and we get some closure for one of the characters who’s been around since book one; Jackie, the ghost who spasmodically haunted Vic’s old appartment. Her story is a tragic one, and the author does an amazing job in the scenes where Vic and Jacob find out the truth of what happened to her and then help her to move on – they’re incredibly poignant and Gomez Pugh is simply brilliant in them and captures every single drop of emotion.

On the subject of Mr. Pugh – his portrayal of Vic is so absolutely perfect that it’s easy to forget sometimes just how good he is at the rest of it. He can produce an amazing variety of character voices for what is, after eleven books, a large secondary cast, many of whom have appeared in several books throughout the series, and his inventiveness (and consistency) is remarkable.

And – whoa, that ending! When’s the next book out?!

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.

Visiting the crime scene the next day, August is impressed with Porter’s efficiency in preserving and documenting it and with the way he directs his fellow officers and the other personnel who have been called in.  He and Jacob are preparing to leave when the younger officer makes an unexpected discovery;  there is a second set of remains near the first – together with a note and a silver cross. The body count has risen to ten – and given the distance between Tallowwood and Sydney, this opens up the distinct possibility that there may be more victims to be discovered between the two locations – and they could be looking at the work of Australia’s worst ever serial killer.

The mystery plot is skilfully constructed and moves at a steady pace, with each reveal building on the last and moving inexorably forward in a way that gradually heightens the suspense, winding it slowly tighter and tighter until it reaches breaking point.  The last third or so of the book is taut with tension and kept me glued to my Kindle; there’s one plot point I thought terribly unlikely, but the rest of it was brilliantly done.   The romance between August and Jacob is adroitly woven throughout the story, and for me, the balance between the mystery and the romance was just about perfect.  The relationship builds slowly and is fairly low-key, but the attraction humming between the two men is palpable and the affection that clearly develops between them feels genuine.  As I said at the beginning, the events of the story take place over just a few days, and I appreciated that the author doesn’t rush anything about their connection; it’s subtle and progresses gradually as mutual respect is followed by deepening mutual understanding and gentle, flirtatious teasing, and feels exactly right for the place the characters are in mentally and the overall tone of the novel.

The characterisation throughout is very good and I really liked both leads.  August and Jacob couldn’t be more different in many ways, yet they click from the moment they meet and find they make a good team.  August has closed himself off since the death of his partner and has nothing in his life but his work, but something about Jacob draws him and he finds himself telling him things he’s never told anyone and opening up in a way he never has.  It’s as though he’s gradually coming back to life before our eyes, every day finding pieces of himself he thought lost and gone forever.

Jacob is the exact opposite of the reclusive August.  Outgoing and good-natured, he’s well-liked and a mainstay of the community, part of the local rugby team, running clubs and summer camps for local kids and acting as both LGBTQIA+ and Aboriginal liaison officer. Being a gay, Aboriginal cop in a small town has its challenges, but he loves his job and wouldn’t want to live anywhere else.  He senses the deep sadness August carries within him, and finds himself wanting to make him smile; and Jacob’s open-heartedness, his loyalty, his insight and his enthusiasm for everything around him are exactly what August needs to coax him out of the “self-imposed exclusion zone”  in which he’s been existing, and it’s beautifully done.

The supporting characters are strongly written, and I especially liked Jacob’s wonderfully supportive family – his parents run the local pub –  and the way in which they immediately welcome August into their circle, offering him the warmth and acceptance he never got from his own family.  I also appreciated the glimpses we’re given of Aboriginal culture and the part it had to play in the dénouement of the story; in fact there were only two things that didn’t really work for me in the whole book.  One was the fact that, despite so many murders by someone using the same MO, August’s superiors refused to take the serial killer idea seriously; the second came near the end when Jacob has a seriously TSTL moment that felt completely out of character.  But the story was so compelling and the characters so captivating that I was able to suspend my disbelief sufficiently so as to be able to set those issues to the side.

Overall, Tallowwood is a gripping read that combines a thrilling suspense plot with a beautiful slow-burn romance, and I have no hesitation in recommending it highly.